Limiting cost of living

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Vera, Oct 9, 2005.

  1. Vera

    Vera Well-Known Member

    Aug 22, 2003
    Not sure if the title describes what I have in mind. Basically, I'm looking for hints and tips for a low-cost lifestyle. Let me explain...

    I'll be moving fairly soon and am still looking to find the kind of property I'll be happy with for years to come. Now, this place will be out of town (if it offers city water or sewer or has a side walk, or if the "lot size" is measured in feet, I don't want it), but I'll still have to have electricity and phone service.
    So, we're talking rural in the woods with well, septic, electricity and phone.

    Now for the low-cost part. I'm looking to keep living expenses to a minimum without giving up on the basic comforts my body needs (I have lupus and can't just live like cave woman anymore). Meaning, I can do composting toilet, but can't do outhouse (i.e., trekking through the winter snows and bone-chilling cold every time I need to run). Can hang laundry to dry, but can't wash by hand. Can use a wood cookstove, but need something easier as a backup for sick days and for summer-time cooking. Wood stove for heating goes without saying though.

    For example, what ways are there to keep warm water around for hand-washing 2684 times a day, without making a water heater work every time I feel like washing my hands? Is there a way to set something up with flowing warm water for this purpose?

    Another example: Washing machine. Is it more cost-efficient (as electricity and water use go) to have a large washer and do laundry less often or a one-person-sized washer and do laundry more often? I'll buy a front-loading washer, but even they come in different sizes, I think.

    Next, since I'll be sick woman living alone in the woods, I've been thinking about a cell phone to carry around with me. If memory serves right, there's some kind of service available in some areas that's only used for emergency calls. Meaning, you can't make or receive regular calls, but you can call 911 at little or no cost. Does anybody know where I could find out more about this kind of thing?

    I've also been thinking about supplemental alternative energy. Can't afford a full-blown solar or wind system, but would some smaller setup help cut energy costs? If so, what's on the market for that, how is it used, what does it cost?

    And then there's preparing for a power outage. Here, I'm on a well... when the power goes out, I can heat with my woodstove, but that's about it. No lights, no cooking, no water (the well is electric, of course), no water heater, nada. How do you set up a household with power outages in mind? I guess the water would be the most important item.

    Any other ideas, anybody? I'm wide open to suggestions :)
  2. Ole Man Legrand

    Ole Man Legrand Well-Known Member

    Nov 15, 2003
    Vera A solar water heatiiing system with a water stove back up was the best money I have invested. It saves me at least $40. dollars a month. I think you probably have more sun than we do. The water stove also heats the house in the winter. In the summer we eat mostly out of the garden. WE freeze our corn in the shucks eliminating alot of labor. Good Luck. Jay

  3. Jo

    Jo Well-Known Member

    May 10, 2002
    Do you get Countryside magazine or Back Woods Home, they have had lot of ideas .......also check out the library for books, so much information is out there.
    Just found another site tonight
    You can get a propane gas heater looks like wood stove but gas and it burns with out electric to start it. The fan does need electric but the stove works with out it. . I got the Vermont Casting Stove and just love it, I can buy my propane in the fall when prices are lower. I got a 500 gallon tank (holds about 385 gallons) and for a small house last all winter.
    What about keeping a tea kettle on the stove for getting warm water to wash with or have a cup of tea. Also you can turn your hot water tank off during the day and just turn it on about hour before needing it. We turn ours off when we went on vacation this year.
  4. Rick

    Rick Well-Known Member Supporter

    May 10, 2002
    Hi Vera

    If you don't want to invest the effort or money for materials in the solar set-up, you might consider this for water, dishes and bathing.

    We have the 2 galon and 5 gallon coolers with spigots at our homestead. We put water from the wood stove into them (leave some cool water at the bottom so you don't melt the thing) and use the spigot for washing hands and doing dishes.

    For Bathing we fill up the rectangular coolers (I call them warmers) with hot water, and drain into our tub from the drain plug. We stack a second one on top of the first, and then a folded blanket or tarp on top for extra insulation. It keeps bath water hot for over 10 or 12 hours.
  5. ellebeaux

    ellebeaux Well-Known Member

    Aug 18, 2004
    Vera, I'll be interested to hear what others suggest - you bring up a lot of points.

    Since you will be having some bad days when you are not feeling up to hauling wood, I think one of the biggest things would be to do as much energy conservation as you can - passive solar, double-paned windows, window quilts, etc. Also don't buy a very big house!!! I think a basement would be a good idea, though. If the power goes out, you can stay at a constant temperature longer underground.

    Use Energy Star appliances to keep your electric costs down. I just bought a $650 Frigidaire front load washing machine from Lowe's - my electrical use on it will be less than $15/year and I'm using about 2 tablespoons of detergent per load. It uses less than 15 gallons of water per load. Very cool!

    I've been looking into pay as you go cell phones. They cost about $40 to buy one and then about $20/month for a small number of minutes.

    Maybe you could do an on-demand propane heater for your bath water and use passive solar to warm water in the sun for washing your hands all the time? Or a tea kettle on the woodstove?

    Collect rainwater in a cistern. Make a solar oven.

    Boy you are making me think of things I want to do!

    take care,

  6. Ruby

    Ruby Well-Known Member Supporter

    May 10, 2002
    I have heard about the cell phone thing. But the problem is depending where you are you might not be able to get a signal. Even the 911 will have to have a signal to get out.
  7. Explorer

    Explorer Well-Known Member Supporter

    Dec 1, 2003
    Far West in the White Mountains, Arizona
    people buy cell phones to keep in the car for "emergency use only." They often pay rates such as $15/month, one-time sign-up $150 service fees. These fees are NOT necessary.

    You can use a used cell phone to call 911 without paying anything at all. Cell phones are regulated by the FCC. The FCC requirements state that ALL cell phones, regardless of the status of service (or even the lack of service,) shall be able to dial 911. Whether you have a telephone number or not, whether you have signed up for service or not, the cell phone can connect to 911.
  8. fordy

    fordy Well-Known Member

    Sep 13, 2003
    Whiskey Flats(Ft. Worth) , Tx
    ...........................Vera , for warm water during the winter , they make heating coils that work with(in) a wood stove , you could have an insulated tank say 100 or 200 gallons , situated on a stand at maybe 10 feet high . Then use a 12volt dc pump to circulate the heated water to the heater and back to the tank . It would then gravity flow to the various points that you piped it Too . Or , you could put the tank on the floor , and use another 12 volt dc pump to pressure pump the warm water to all your outlets . These 12vdc pumps are used for travel trailers . They will also run off of a passive solar system . fordy... :dance:
  9. lacyj

    lacyj Well-Known Member

    May 14, 2002
    Calif, The Mother Lode
    I have heard that any cell phone with a charged battery will work for 911, even without having it signed to a service. It is why battered women are being given free, used phones at shelters. They are only good for 911...
  10. scgirl

    scgirl Well-Known Member

    Jan 25, 2005
    In preparing for a power outage, I know only the basics. Get some large containers to save water in. Have candles, oil lamps or such available for lighting. We had a set up that ran on a car battery or generator, but I don't know the specifics, although I'm sure someone here would know. If you have a wood stove, there's your heat and cooking source. We also had a small propane stove salvaged from a camping trailer, hooked up to a small propane bottle--very portable, and we could move it out of the house if we wanted.
  11. Vera

    Vera Well-Known Member

    Aug 22, 2003
    WOW!! This is great input!

    Ok, my new home will be in the Northwoods, so the winters will be long with short daylight hours. Meaning, there'll have to be a "hybrid" system for energy and water. Mix and match, so to speak. Something for dark days, something for sunny days, something for cold days, something for warm days, etc.
    You gave me some fantastic ideas to work with:) Keep them coming!

    One thing I'll try to avoid is using oil/gas/propane unless absolutely necessary. Not that the winters between there and here are in any way comparable, but I left the propane supply to the house turned off all winter last year (it runs two heaters) and used only wood heat and fans to distibute the heat through the house, and it works. Not sure how it'd work in northern winters, but the main worry would be to keep pipes from freezing and they make insulation and heat tape for that.

    Love the double-cooler-with-blanket idea for hand-washing water! I think I could build some sort of insulated container with a spigot and a little sink below, to be filled with hot stove water for small warm-water needs throughout the day. Maybe make it big enough and set it high enough for showers, too?

    Thinking of water, maybe there's an idea for melting snow in the winter in a setup involving a container with double glass top set in the sun, or some sort of container-on-woodheater. Burn a bit of wood, get free water for plants and pets, to make coffee, etc. Could be set up to catch rainwater during the non-snow season. Sort of like a small cistern with a heater below?

    The freezer I have is relatively new and has a good energy rating, so I'm taking that. Will buy a new washing machine after the move for low water/energy consumption (Beaux - $650, ouch!! But frontloaders are the way to go). If the other appliances that usually come with a home are older, I'll replace them too.

    Cell phone, fantastic news!! I'll see about getting one just for 911 calls. There's no service right here where I am now, but it'll be a relief to have it during the 1900-mile move, and with any luck, service will be widely available up there in flat country, trees or not :)

    I guess I should really read up on this 12v dc thing... it's been mentioned before and sounds like it comes in handy for a variety of setups. Electricity of any kind is something that makes my poor lonely brain cell go "huh??", but so was selling a house which turns out to be a manageable feat after all, LOL!

    Independence, as much as possible in this day and age, it's a beautiful thing. Planning to live with the least amount of monthly expenses, finding ways to be less dependent on public utilities while still being comfortable and safe, I like that.
    Over the last decade or so, I've learned what it's like when you have not many options and no money to pay for what you need. A few mountain winter months without heating when you can't buy propane SUCK. Hauling water in milk jugs and canisters when the power goes out or your well pump breaks SUCKS. I have every intention to keep from putting myself into a situation like that again. Starting over elsewhere, in new territory, should prove a wonderful opportunity to work on all that :sing:

    Keep the ideas coming... you're doing great!
  12. deb

    deb Well-Known Member

    Jul 27, 2002
    I guess I would first focus on buying/building a house that will fit your needs. Most houses that were built with a central heating system would not be stay warm with just a wood stove. Looking for a House with an open floor plan is probably your best bet.

    Windows. Besides energy efficiency, looking at the placement of windows is really important. We rented a house for 3 years that had the darkest kitchen I've ever seen! It was impossible to cook in that kitchen without using the room light - even at noon on sunny day! How your windows are placed will really determine how much energy you need to use to light your hous, esp. in winter.

    The house we bought 2.5 years ago was built in 1865 and most of the windows were placed so that the sunlight coming in would light up the room. The rooms that don't get enough sunlight now are the ones that were remodeled after the house got electricity in 1947. The remodeled rooms have windows that were moved and/or replaced by smaller ones and they don't catch much light. I would like to replace/move these windows over times.

    I suggest that you have propane set up at your house as an emergency back up. A bad fall, a hurt back or a case of pneumonia will make bringing in firewood almost impossible. You don't need to have a lot on hand, but having a propane tank connected to your house means that you can get heat when you need it and you can always get more propane delivered with just a phone call.

    You don't say where in the northwoods you are going to live, but here in WI there are some winter days when you don't really want to go outside! I have vivid memories of a Christmas Day about 4 years ago, where the high temp at noon in the full sun was -22*. The winds were very gusty, but I can't remember the wind chill. I did take the dogs out, but I was so thankful that I didn't have to stay and work outside for any length of time. Just walking outside was enough to make the snot freeze in my nose and give me a horrible sinus headache!

    in wi
  13. Maura

    Maura Well-Known Member Supporter

    Jun 6, 2004
    Michigan's thumb
    We have in-floor heating. Your hot water heater heats up the water, the water is circulated under the floor, then back to the tank. Much more efficient than forced hot air. When we lost power last year, the temperature in the house slowly dropped from a comfortable 68 until by the third day it was cold.

    We know people who heat with corn. Apparently, maize is more efficient than wood, and cheaper if you have to buy. You can get an automatic feeder. If you have trouble moving around, corn may be much easier for you than wood. With a power outage, you'd need to manually load the corn, but using a gravity system makes this easy. Once you start looking, I think you can find models that will heat the water for you as well. If you are not going with infloor heat, on demand water heaters may work for you. You have one in the bathroom, and one for the kitchen sink. Water is only heated as you use it. If you do have a power outage, you can set your camping water heater in a sunny window. Since you will keep a large container of fresh water on hand, you will have enough water for at least a couple of days for drinking and hand washing, and sponge baths. Do not use plastic for long term storage of water.

    I don't think front loaders come in tiny sizes, but you can do small loads if you like. With the front loader, it is more energy efficient to do one large load than two small ones. I line dry everything, in the winter I use racks.
  14. wildwestwoman

    wildwestwoman Well-Known Member

    Jul 28, 2005
    Ash Fork, AZ
    If you don't have cell or phone service you might consider a ham radio. I'm studying for my amateur license right now and it's not that hard. There are even guides that give you all the test questions and correct answers. I'm new to all of this but I think you can set it up so that your radio runs on a generator. You'd have access in all kinds of weather etc.

    Good luck with your move.

  15. moonwolf

    moonwolf Well-Known Member

    Sep 19, 2004
    You mentioned you'll have well, septic, phone, and electricity. That covers most of essentials to work with from that infrastructure very well. Basically, I that is all I have even though I am along the highway, it isn't much different except for the road access is better.
    You won't need to mess with composting toilet if you have septic system already. An outhouse is nice in a distant part of your property or by the garden just as a backup and convenience.
    The best thing for water backup and use is a cistern. If you eavestrough on the house, you're half way there. Either collect in barrels or if there is a basement can fashion some system of collectin water (in a pool, or wall off part of the basement for water storage, etc ). Snowmelting days will add water to the cistern from the roof.

    Backup energy for power outages is a reasonable generator that you'll probably not have to use that often. A 2500 watt inexpensive gas generator will operate necessary pumps and heat distribution for emergencies.

    For washing clothes, if you are looking for a new washer, look for the low energy consumption types. I'de have a medium sized one and operate it only once a week or so at the most.

    The best investment for wood heat is an outdoor wood furnace. These have been around for years now and often a good used one comes on the market you could get. Maybe not right away, but for the next year or future. My neighbor got lucky and found a Central Boiler unit better than mine for only $500. Mine cost $4000 new, but you have to watch for units that leak or rust out before buying a cheap one. He found one in perfect condtion which amazed me, but often these deals come up if you ask around the area. With an outdoor furnace (he installed his in the garage and a chimney out from there) you can heat all the hot water you want for nothing basically. The catch is wood supply, and if in the northland there usually are the logger folk who can put you onto delivery of a load usually of 10 or 12 cords of 8' lengths which you might cut to stove length with a chainsaw (something like 'wild thing' costing about $150). You'll save money doing the wood heat over any fossil or other fuels likely.

    Best saving for cooking is with a microwave. Using an electric stove occasionally might be cheaper than investing in a more expensive propane.

    The rest, I don't know, except as you regain a lifestyle of storing home grown food by dehydrating, canning, smoking, and freezing (free again in our cold winter months outside freezer not have to plug in) it will save money and likely healthier also than buying a lot of storebought stuff that needs more preparation? :shrug:

    Usually it seems the bigger expenses creap up unexpectedly like vehicle repairs, insurance, taxes, and maintaining a job, because if you have to 'get there' to your job it requires more to support that. If one can live on the homestead with less need of travel, that can be a bonus also.
  16. carly

    carly on winged flight...

    Mar 20, 2003
    I live remotely and live alone too, when son is away with girlfriend. And he is getting married next year and I will be older <60> and I will be alone.

    Here is what I have done and some of the provisions i have made:

    Got the Trac Phone witha minute card you buy. Cost of phone $38 at Walmart--cost of minutes, as much as you want to spend. I get 120 minutes at a time. I programmed in my friends , 911 and my doctor, son etc. I have tons of tress alll around me but it works fine. EMERGENCIES ONLY.

    Bought a small house---1130 sq ft. I put in a PELLET STOVE which was a little costly 2500+ dollars but the pellets will cost me 475 for 6 months of heat. There was no heat here, but the house was insulated---I drilled holes and checked. <filled em in too>

    I reinsulated the attic and upper crawl spaces with R30 fiberglas insulation. Shut all un needed rooms off in winter. Heat rises, they will be ok.

    Had the tiny basement cracks fixed and foamed insulated, had the peipes wrapped with heat tape <which is only good when electricity is working, then had the heat tape wrapped with foam insulatiion over it. Had the crawl space under the house insulated.

    Checked every window after I lowered the storm windows for the winter last week. Calked every tiny spot where I could see sunlight coming in. This was not on the frames but the wooden sashes that the frames rest on.

    Put strip insulation around the kitchen door frame and under the threshold where I could feel air.

    Ordered and recieved 2.5 tons of 40 lb bags of pellets. They are to be stored in my all weather shed being erected Tuesday.

    Trimmed all trees and branches, that would possibly fall on house.

    Last, do NOT drink melted snow!!!!!!!!!!!!! Get in cases of bottled water--Walmart has it CHEAP. You will end up with an infection or girardia from "natures" water......NOT good! I have 10 cases in the hall closet now and will buy more each week. If you have a pet---get a LOT of dry cat food and dry dog food on hand. I have 2 big bags of cat now and will buy 2 each time I shop until I feel safe. I have 6 cats.

    Buy canned food. Veggies, tuna, soups etc and be sure to have a hand operated can opener. I used to cook over an open fireplace years ago when the power went out, worked great. If no fireplace, use a small barbeque grill with charcoal on the porch you may have or outside right near the door, but not TOO close. You can heat water on these just fine, I have done it. Also can cook on it!!Duh!

    I also have used just one room at a time for heat if I thought the cold snap would go on and I would be close on pellets. I have had more than one pellet stove.

    A word on woodstoves:

    Here where I live, there is talk about not letting people use woodstoves anymore due to the EPA standards for air pollution. I got on the website for the EPA and there it was, in plain sight. So, be careful on what you get....I prefer pellets cause they are less work for me <can't haul it in anymore> and also burn VERY clean inside, no smell.

    One last word:

    Knit some nice haevy warm socks!!
    Good luck girl.
  17. moonwolf

    moonwolf Well-Known Member

    Sep 19, 2004
    Not true. Giardia can't fall from the sky in rain or snow. It is in beaver ponds and other bodies of water like that, so avoid drinking those sources raw. Snow or rain collected water needs to be disinfected and filtered as any other source of water, such as the well.
  18. sidepasser

    sidepasser Well-Known Member

    May 10, 2002
    GA & Ala
    Hi Vera,

    I can tell you are getting excited about moving, even though it is alot of work, you can "start over" and do things the way you want to.

    Everyone here has given you a lot of good advice. I don't know where in the "north woods" you are traveling to live, but I would think you might want to invest in a couple of kerosene lanterns in case the electricity went out. Or maybe the coleman type lanterns so you won't be "in the dark" all the time if the electric goes. And pick up some extra mantles and/or wicks to have on hand.

    I know when I got hurt and could not haul wood to the house, I was thankful for my kerosene heater (got it used and it works great). I only used it during the time I was hurt so the kerosene didn't cost very much. I tend to think about stuff like "getting hurt" since I am here alot by myself and wood tends to be heavy if you get a busted ankle (like I did) or a really bad cold and don't feel up to going out and hauling the wood in.

    if you use a wood heater, you can get one with the flat top that gets hot so in the event of no electric, you can still cook on it. I do that with my fisher stove cause down here, every ice storm guarantees I'll be without electric for at least a day, sometimes more. Cell phone: people are correct in that you can get a used one that doesn't require signing up for any plan that will connect to 911 (be sure it is digital as well as analog, even though analog is on the way out, some areas cannot pick up digital signals but will receive the analog still). I didn't use trac phone, but did use Virgin mobile and could buy as many minutes as I needed and could recharge the minutes just by calling in to the company and punching in the amount I needed - they charged it to my debit card which also acts as a credit card and the amount was taken out for the amount i needed. Never had a problem with it and no monthly "plan" fees for a bunch of stuff I didn't need.

    Hope the move goes smooth and you get settled in before winter comes!

  19. kemrefarms

    kemrefarms Head Weed Wrangler

    May 9, 2005
    Northern California
    I know where the white mountains of az are, having grown up in Morenci long why exactly are you moving? other than the cold......and the is such a beautiful area. Probably not too good for the lupus tho.
    do you know where exactly you are moving to?
  20. Terri

    Terri Singletree & Weight Loss & Permaculture Moderator Staff Member Supporter

    May 10, 2002
    If you heat with wood, why not just set the thermostat on low? The heat would then come on if it falls to 55 or whatever you set it at, and your pipes will not freeze. Your heating bills will remain low because you will heat mostly with wood.

    Also, if you have an outdoor freezer during the winter, then you could freeze jugs of water in it. If the power DOES go out, take in some jugs and thaw them near the wood stove.