Sunday, January 22, 2012

Utilizing utility

We received our latest utility bill a few days ago.

Usually, getting a three-figure utility bill in the dead of winter a month after Christmas tends to throw the checkbook — and the psyche — into sticker shock. (Originally I had a typo there that read "ticker" shock, but upon further review, I think the meaning is one and the same).

But this time it was a little different.

We have our bill averaged out so we know exactly what we're going to pay each month in utilities. It helps us maintain our budget without any surprises.

So when we get the bill, the first thing we look at is the "Due if True Up" line, which indicates how much we owe above the average, with the excess balance truly due up in June.

Except this month, our Due Up expense was in the minus three figures. Yay! It was sticker shock of a different stripe.

I'm not sure how long this will last, what with February and March still ahead of us. But we've taken our own measures to monitor our utility usage as best we can.

The main thing you have to know is that we live in a drafty wood-frame house that will be 100 years old in 2020. So on a cold, blustery day, the wind not only seeps through the window panes and door frames, but I think it actually somehow figures its way through the clapboard, lath and plaster and into our creaky senior bones.

I really don't want to put new energy efficient windows in the house since I enjoy the ancient wavy glass that's in there now. I'm pathetically traditional that way. I try to hang on, sometimes desperately, to anything that recalls my childhood. Wavy glass in old houses is part of that.

Late last winter, we bought a couple of electric space heaters — too late to make any serious impact on our bill then. But it was a beginning.

This year, we got a head start. Basically, we live in three rooms in our two-story house — the kitchen, den and bedroom. So in November, we closed off all the other rooms as best as we could. We then turned the thermostat down to 66. That seems to be the borderline setting between Kim saying, "I'm cold" and "I'm freezing."

If you ever visit us, bring your ear muffs, scarves and mittens.

Anyway, we have a small den. This is the room with the television, and we can close off the room with French doors. The space heater quickly makes the den toasty, and if that isn't enough, we can throw a comforter over ourselves as we snuggle together, layered in L.L. Bean flannel. Or, as a final measure, put another cat on top of us. Hey, whatever works.

The same thing happens in the bedroom. I might actually lower the thermostat to 65 for when we're sleeping, which helps promote the snuggle factor. Plus, we have a slightly larger space heater that oscillates in that room. As another plus, we have a furry 13-pound cat that sleeps on the foot of the bed with us.

No doubt the unusually mild winter to this point has helped significantly in lowering the utility bill. I like the weekly long-range forecasts that show 60-degree days passing by in succession.

But I have a sense that the measures we've taken to this point have been useful.

Just get me through February and March.

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