Frugal Eldercare: Free Winter Humidifier

Earlier this month, my husband complained that he had started having nosebleeds due to dry winter air. He felt that I should fire up the humidifier for the winter. Indeed, the nighttime temperatures have now sometimes dipped into sub-freezing, and the air does feel dryer.

I have a very cute, pink plastic Hello Kitty humidifier that amuses my family and most visitors when they see it. When running, the water vapor comes out of the top of the cat’s ears, almost like an angry cartoon character. It’s a strange juxtaposition because the cat’s face is an innocuous smile. Despite my liking for the appliance, I decided to delay starting it and try a cheaper, lower tech solution instead.

This year, we moved our laundry drying rack indoors for the winter, and placed it in the attic, which is warmer than the unheated portion of the basement it usually lives in during winter. While I have to trudge up the steep attic stairs with a laundry basket of wet clothes, the effort has turned out to be worthwhile. Drying the clothes indoors has the same effect as running a humidifier. My husband has stopped having nosebleeds.

There have been other benefits as well. The clothes dry faster in the attic than in the basement, usually in one day, instead of several. In the past, I used to pull damp clothes off the drying rack and toss them into the electric dryer because they were needed before they were dry. Now, the clothes are drying nearly as fast as in summer, and I have only used the electric dryer for drying bed linens which are too large to fit on the clothes drying rack.

I also checked my electric bill and saw that this simple change in behavior caused my electric usage to drop from 1067 kWh in 2013 to 817 kWh this year. Or, a drop from 17.49 kWh per day to 14.58 kWh per day, a decrease of nearly 17% in my electric bill over last year!

Without an itemized electric bill, it is very difficult to know exactly how much energy an appliance is actually consuming. A device, called the Kill-o-watt, can measure each individual appliance’s electrical load. The user then needs to convert the kWh used per appliance to cost per kWh in order to ascertain the cost of running each appliance. Seattle residents can rent a Kill-o-watt from the Seattle Public library for free.

The Kill-o-watt costs somewhere around $20 to purchase, but we took advantage of a state-subsidized professional home energy audit instead for $125. The professional audit gave us a lot of useful data that a single meter like the Kill-o-Watt could not provide, like the fact that our attic was so poorly insulated that we were losing an astonishing 70% of our home’s heat through the roof!

From the graph, you can clearly see that I started hammering away at all the electrical usage in the house starting in June of this year. This summer was the tipping point of reversing our trend of using more electricity with Dad living with us. However, by August there wasn’t much left that I could change except running the electric dryer.

Clothing also lasts longer when air-dried, saving a large sum of money. This is a hidden benefit of using a clothes line or drying rack instead of an electric dryer. However, I had to do some research to figure out how much longer clothes last. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a lot of information that tells us exactly how much longer clothes last with air drying. One website mentioned that air drying garments with elastic will double the life span of the elastic. That means if the average bra costs $40, and needs replacing once a year with heat drying, a woman can cut the annual cost of a bra to $20 per year by air drying. If the lifespan of all garments are doubled with air drying, then the annual cost of clothing purchases will drop by 50%. Since Americans currently spend $1700-$2000 per year on clothing, cutting that cost in half would yield an extra $850-$1000 per year. When trying to come up with the extra $5000 per year needed for eldercare with a finite income, increasing the lifespan of clothing makes sense.


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