Great rechargeable battery deal at Walgreens

I just found this great deal at my local Walgreens and wanted to share.

Walgreens sells Energizer rechargeable batteries, size AAA, in packs of 4, normally $12.99. At my store (through 3/28/09), they are on sale for $7.99 per pack.

In this month’s EasySaver catalog, customers can get a rebate of $10 for buying two packs of Energizer batteries (or $15 for three packs). That rebate is increased by 10% (to $11 or $16.50) if you choose to have your rebate added directly to a gift card instead of sent by check. To claim a rebate via gift card, you can submit rebates online anytime during March. The balance can be added to your existing gift card automatically.

If I claim my rebate for these packages, I’ll ultimately get them for $3.13 a pack including tax. This is perfect as we are seeking to convert all our batteries to rechargeables.

I’m not sure if the sale is at all retail outlets — if you find out, let us know! But it’s sure worth checking. I don’t need any more AAA batteries, but I do need AAs, so I will be checking back before the sale ends just in case I can claim that 3-pack rebate.

As always with deals, YMMV.

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How to hang out laundry

Spring is here, and it’s a great time for all of us to create backyard replicas of those classic springtime images of clean clothes whipping dry on a clothesline.

(Why is there no ACTUAL image today? I tried, but the camera is not cooperating.)

Anyway … as you very likely know, hanging clothes out to dry has many benefits:

  • Uses natural solar and wind energy to dry clothes instead of electricity, natural gas or propane.
  • Adds that fresh, outdoor smell.
  • Does light sanitizing from the sun’s rays.
  • Saves $70-$80 per year if you can hang out laundry for 7 months (compared to using an electric dryer).
  • Eliminates 1,500 pounds of carbon emissions if you do it 7 months a year.
  • Gives you a little bit of exercise and a chance to get outside.

If you haven’t hung out clothes before — or haven’t done it for years — here’s a primer on how to make it enjoyable:

  1. Launder clothes the night before (if your climate doesn’t cause them to mildew by morning) or at the crack of dawn, then get out and hang up the clothes in the morning. I guarantee it will be one of the best parts of your day. Take them down in the evening for a few minutes’ respite. Breathe the fresh air, enjoy the sun pouring vitamin-D-generators into your skin, listen to birds, and be happy you are not stuck in traffic, sitting behind a computer, listening to babies cry or whatever comprises much of your time.
  2. Make it easy. Get the tools you need. Set up a clothesline (a traditional line, a retractable strung between home and garage, a line across your patio or a revolving “umbrella” clothesline).
  3. Get enough clothespins. The wooden ones are more eco-friendly and more lasting. Find them at dollar stores, large Asian markets like Har-Mart, Wal-Mart, etc. Put them in a hanging basket (even a milk jug cut out for access) to easily reach them.
  4. Save your back by elevating the basket. I put my basket on an upturned large flowerpot next to my umbrella clothesline. My former neighbors had put wheels on a basket so it rolled along their line.
  5. Fight wrinkles. Many garments — like linen — come out less wrinkled on the line, especially if it’s breezy. Give woven cotton garments a good shake (or three) before hanging to shake out wrinkles. Take a look after hanging to make sure a cuff isn’t turned up — it will dry that way if it is. For extra wrinkly garments, or “wrinkle-resistant” clothes that wrinkle on the line, throw them in the dryer for a few minutes while damp to get out wrinkles. If you’ve washed the garments several times, they should be fairly colorfast when they are nearly dry, and all colors can go in one load to conserve energy.
  6. Crowd synthetics. It’s not mandatory! But if you are running out of clothesline, remember that 100% polyester and polar fleece dry very rapidly and without wrinkles. In a pinch, I hang my daughter’s fleece PJs by one clothespin and crammed together — and they still dry faster than other clothes.
  7. Simplify socks. I pull socks out of the load as I remove it from the washer (or hang up the load and leave socks in the basket). Then I drape them over a folding rack instead of hanging them on the line. Somehow, working a clothespin onto every single sock just ups the annoying factor a little too far.
  8. Flip shirts over. I hang shirts upside down (from the hem) to minimize wrinkles and ensure that if there are any weird nipply things from the clothespins, they are at the hem instead of the shoulders. (There’s nothing like glancing in the mirror at lunchtime only to see that you have a knob of fabric sticking up from your shoulder.) Or, hang clothing on hangers — but for the broad- or narrow-shouldered among us, double check to be sure the shoulders lie smoothly on the hangers. For button-placket shirts, I hang the shirt upside down with a clothespin at each side hem. Then I lap the plackets over each other and clip the center, too.

9 money-saving home fix-ups

The Internet is buzzing this week with ways to save money on adding efficiency to your home. Most likely, January heating bills have been rolling in, and with the economy in its current tizzy, belt-tightening is the watchword.

Fortunately, even if you’re living pretty lean, odds are good that you can save some more money by tightening up your house. With utility costs rising, a penny saved is truly a penny earned — or, today, one you don’t have to earn. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  1. Do it yourself. If you have more time than money (or even a fairly balanced time/money ratio, or you just like to keep those pennies to yourself), do some research, ask savvier friends/neighbors/relatives for advice, and give a project a shot yourself.
  2. Find one of 50 things from this list to do. This Old House has a list of 50 DIY ways to save money. Odds are good there’s at least one that applies to you. I’m especially intrigued by the $50 Black & Decker Thermal Leak Detector that allows homeowners (or renters) to find leaks so you can correct them.
  3. Change your lightbulbs. You might have already installed CFLs. But new technology is around the corner, so if you haven’t done it yet, read The Simple Dollar’s extensive overview of lightbulb technology — if nothing else, you’ll be equipped to persuade others if you peek into their light fixtures and see that they haven’t made the change.
  4. Consider dual-flush toilet technology. This is the special flushing science that offers a light rinse for #1, and a super swish for #2. When I went to Germany in 1989, the toilets were this way, so I remain perplexed as to why dual-flush commodes are exotic extras that cost $300 in the U.S. But now an ingenious American has invented a way to make your current toilet dual flush for $30, made in the USA. Their calculator estimates our family would save 9 gallons a day, a savings of $6 (and about 3,300 gallons) a year.
  5. Take tax breaks. If you install energy-efficient upgrades to your home — from HVAC systems to insulation to solar to doors and windows — you can receive a tax credit on your 2009 federal income tax return. Additionally, some tax credits are still available for buying hybrid vehicles from certain manufacturers. The full list is here.
  6. Replace your water heater with a tankless version. If your water heater bites the dust, replace it with a tankless or on-demand heating unit. You’ll gain floor space in your utility room and hot water when you need it — and save lots of money. This super-duper version (not endorsed by me; found via random search) costs about $1,100 and says it can power two showers at once. (Our tank version can’t do that … or not for long.) It also qualifies for a $300 tax credit. Mr. Electricity’s site gives a great rundown of all things hot-water-heater, and gives a rough ballpark that a gas-fired tankless unit might save around $100 per year, with installation costing $1,200 more than a tank version. But tankless heaters might last 20 years compared to a tank heater’s estimated 10-year lifespan. Ultimately? With the tax credit, the tankless version might cost $900 more per year. It will pay for itself in 9 years and last 11 years after that.
  7. Insulate your tank water heater and pipes. I have been putting this off, but for $20 you can buy a water heater blanket that keeps heat in the tank. (Our water heater is 4 years old, so replacing it doesn’t make sense at this point.) Insulate the pipes for bonus water and energy savings. Pipe insulation costs around $0.16 to $0.66 per foot. Tip for the not-so-plumbing-savvy: Measure your pipes first and get insulation that fits. Water pipes come in different diameters!
  8. Check if your utility offers rebates. Our utility company is subsidizing the cost of CFL bulbs (at various local retailers) and offering rebates for energy-efficient upgrades. For a tankless water heater, for instance, they will rebate $100 — which would take the payback period down to 8 years instead of 9 years.
  9. Rent, don’t buy. Check a site like Zilok, Craigslist.org or Kijiji to see if you can rent a tool you’ll need only once rather than buy. Check into local resources — I saw recently that a blog reader had checked out a Kill-a-Watt device from their local library to measure their electricity usage – what a great idea!

What am I up to?

Here’s what I plan to do to tighten up my own house some more:

  • As I mentioned, I vow to insulate my water heater.
  • Our dining room has a dimmer switch, rendering CFLs unusable. It’s the only place where we still have incandescent bulbs. And we don’t dim the lights. I will replace the switch with a standard switch so we can use CFLs here.
  • We purchased an energy-efficient pet door. But then we realized our old wood door is horribly inefficient. With the tax credits now available, we are hoping to install a new, energy-efficient entry door and put the dog door into that entryway.
  • Again, with the tax credits (10% of the cost of windows and doors), we would love to replace a very large picture window in our living room. It’s the only window that has not been updated from the original 1950 construction. Every year, we put plastic over it, but a new window would save heat in the winter and avoid burning us up with the death-ray-like light that it beams into our home in the summer.

How about you?

Do you have any ideas for home improvements? Maybe this weekend is a good time to start …

What green actions do I still do?

About a year ago, I added a feature to my blog (over in the right-hand column) listing what we do to live greener. With a new year underway, I thought it was a great time to revisit this list and see what we’re still doing.

If you’re new here, the links will take you back to some of the relevant posts on each of these topics.

1.    Hang laundry to dry – SORTA – I hung laundry all spring, summer and fall, but this winter, I have fallen back on the dryer. I’ve been too busy to do a load each day, which is the best way to have enough space to hang our laundry. And Mr. Cheap loves that his shirts come out of the dryer unwrinkled, so he doesn’t have to iron them. I hung laundry out the other day in our unseasonably warm weather, and I’ll do it again this spring. Downside: Our electricity bill has increased.

2.    Use wind-powered electricity – YES – We still pay to purchase all wind power from Xcel.

3.    Do not accept plastic bags – YES – Very seldom does a plastic bag enter our house — usually only when Mr. Cheap goes somewhere without bags or means to carry separate items home.

4.    Compost food waste – YES

5.    Choose recycled purchases when possible – YES

6.    Recycle paper, cardboard, metal, plastic – YES – And in fact, we are recycling more types of plastic (including tubs and plastic caps) and materials like Styrofoam through special occasional trips to Ecocycle.

7.    Turn off lights we’re not using – SORTA – I always do this; my family is less consistent.

8.    Turn off water while rinsing/brushing – YES – Little Cheap even does this in public restrooms while sudsing her hands.

9.    Use high-efficiency washing machine – YES

10.    Dishwasher – full loads, water saver, turn off dry cycle – YES

11.    Turn refrigerator temp up to 43F – YES

12.    Buy many items used – YES

13.    Recycle, Freecycle, consign, donate instead of trashing items – YES

14.    Use cloth handkerchiefs – YES – We have tissues for others’ use at our home, and we are buying recycled tissues.

15.    Use cloth napkins – YES

16.    Print on both sides of paper and re-use paper before recycling – YES, and we try to reduce printing as much as possible.

17.    Unplug appliances – SORTA – We added a timer to our coffee maker to turn it off when not in use, and we unplug what we can. The computer goes to deep sleep when not in use, and we turn off the TV, Wii and DVD player at a power strip when not in use.

18.    Bring own water bottle & coffee cups – YES – I have invested in more coffee cups (on clearance! — including a BPA-free one for me) to help make this easier.

19.    Grow our own vegetables – YES – and we purchased most vegetables this year from a CSA.

20.    Drive gently to get better mileage – YES – although I don’t know if it really helps!

21.    Reduce hair dryer use – YES

22.    Use low-flow toilets – YES

23.    Flush less – YES

24.    Choose EnergyStar appliances – YES

25.    Add low-flow showerhead and faucet aerators – YES

26.    Get books/movies at library instead of buying/renting – YES – We are careful about what we buy, especially movies, which we realize we don’t watch repeatedly.

27.    Use evaporative cooler, not A/C – YES

28.    Use programmable thermostat to turn heat down at night (55F)/when gone – YES

29.    Use bio-friendly soap – YES

30.    Clean with baking soda and vinegar – YES

31.    Buy organic and/or local foods – YES – We have cut down on coupon usage primarily because we’re more focused on organic and local.

32.    Eliminated subscriptions (1 newspaper, 12 catalogs, 2 magazines, 4 companies) – YES

33.    Choose “cleaner” energy-using appliances – YES – This means using the electric kettle (if you read that linked post, check out the update here, too) over the gas stove burner because our wind-power electricity is easier on the environment than our natural gas stove.

34.    Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs – YES

35.    Make own foods (less packaging) – YES

36.    Buy bulk products & refill to reduce packaging – YES

37.    Wash and re-use plastic bags we do use – YES

38.    Use cloth toilet “paper” – NO – I’ve given this up — it hardly seemed worth the hassle of washing all those little cloths and dealing with odor. We used about 35 rolls of toilet paper in 2008, and we purchase recycled one-ply paper. By these estimates that comprised about 0.13 trees.

39.    Use reusable menstrual products – YES

40.    Use public transportation when possible – NO – haven’t been doing this much. It will cost my husband more and be more inconvenient to take the bus to work, especially when he lugs his “teacher bags” along, so we haven’t done much with this one. We try to walk where we can.

41.    Combine errands – YES

42.    Electric blankets instead of space heaters – YES

43.    Reuse gift wrap – YES – and made my own reusable bags this year.

Phew! I have about a 90 percent consistency rate.

Do you have a green action you’re really proud of? Something hard to do? Something you want to try? Something you wonder about?

Cleaner cars OK’d by Obama

Good news on the car emissions front. This today from the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Less than a week into office, President Obama announced monumental decisions this morning that show America and the world that he will lead our country in a bold new direction to protect the environment and fight global warming.

The President directed his EPA to immediately review the Bush Administration’s denial of the right of California and other states to set global warming pollution standards for new cars. He also directed the Department of Transportation to set higher national fuel efficiency standards.

What will that mean in the real world? If Obama’s EPA, as expected, approves the California program, new cars sold in that state and at least 13 others will have to reduce their global warming pollution by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016. And the Department of Transportation will require more efficient new cars to be on the road starting in 2010, and set a course for the average new car to achieve maximum feasible fuel efficiency by 2020.

Simply put, President Obama is not just stepping up to the threat of climate chaos. His call for a fleet of cleaner cars will help reduce our dangerous dependence on oil and push automakers to make the cars that the world wants and needs in the 21st century.

NRDC’s climate attorneys were present at the White House this morning, and you can imagine their elation at this historic breakthrough. Thanks to your support, NRDC led the fight in 2002 for California’s Clean Cars Law — the very first law to cut global warming pollution from automobiles.

And when the Bush Administration and the automakers threw up roadblocks to that law, NRDC and our partners took the legal fight all the way to the Supreme Court — and won. But the Bush EPA persisted in its unlawful obstructionism until the bitter end.

This morning, President Obama took America’s foot off the brake and put cleaner cars into high gear. The automakers should be lining up to thank him. This is just the kind of turbo-charged policy they need to start producing cars that are better for the planet, better for consumers, and better for the economy.

This is especially good considering news that was released on NPR today that global warming is irreversible, for practical purposes — meaning that we should reduce our carbon dioxide emissions NOW to try to have a positive influence for people in, oh, a thousand years.

Saving on winter heat

It’s wintertime, and the heat bills are soaring – especially for those of you in the frozen upper Midwest and Northeastern U.S., or in Europe.

Heating time is big business: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average American home will spend $990 on heating this year.  Here are some tips on saving energy in the wintertime courtesy of Bills.com – with some extra notes on what we do.

1)    Protect your system. Change furnace filters regularly to keep your air clean and to ensure maximum air flow. If your home, apartment or condo unit has an individual furnace or boiler, have it inspected by a professional. A furnace that works properly will be more efficient and less likely to fail. “For maximum savings, ask the service person for tips on ways you can maintain your system yourself,” president Ethan Ewing suggested. WHAT WE’VE DONE: We have not serviced our furnace in a while. We did the first year we were in our home. We do change filters regularly.

2)    Turn down the heat. If your health permits, lower the thermostat to 68 degrees (or even lower). For every one degree the thermostat is lowered, heating costs decrease by up to 5 percent.  At night, or when the home is empty, lower the temperature as far as possible while protecting your health and the safety of pipes. If necessary, stay cozy with an electric blanket. WHAT WE’VE DONE: Our thermostat is set to 68 during the morning and evening, 64 during the day and 58 at night (55 just felt too frigid). We do love our electric blankets, and I use a space heater in my office as needed.

3)    Program the temperature. Make furnace settings automatic by installing a programmable thermostat. These devices cost about $40 and are simple to install. WHAT WE’VE DONE: Our current house came with one, but I installed one at our old house. So easy! If you haven’t done it, do it — this is the simplest electrical project I’ve ever done. I think it was my first, and it just took a few minutes.

4)    Save hot water energy. Turn the temperature on the hot water heater to 120 degrees – or, if yours is equipped only with a scale, turn it down a notch. Most people can save up to 10 percent of water heating costs, maintaining plenty of hot water (and the water will be less likely to cause accidental scalding). If the hot water heater is situated in a cool area, consider adding an insulating jacket to help maintain water temperatures and reduce heating time. Insulate the first few feet of pipe that transport hot water from the water heater. If you need to replace a water heater, consider a tankless or “on-demand” unit. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates these appliances are 8 percent to 34 percent more efficient than conventional hot water tanks. WHAT WE’VE DONE: I tried turning the water heater down, but it really affected how warm our water was. Our water heater is just a few years old, so perhaps it already is efficient. I would love a tankless heater if the time comes to replace this one.

5)    Insulate. Carefully inspect your home for drafty spots where cold air can enter. The most common culprits are doors and windows. Install weather stripping and door sweeps to block drafts. Add old-fashioned “draft dodgers” for a quick fix at exterior doors. Other common areas for air leaks are locks, outlets, air conditioning units and recessed light fixtures. Cover outside vents, including air conditioning units. If possible, install insulated electrical outlet boxes and light fixtures. The Energy Star program offers a free guide to home insulation at http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=diy.diy_index. WHAT WE’VE DONE: We installed door sweeps on our metal security doors at front and back, and they make a BIG difference. We also bought weather stripping for drafty windows, but it is still sitting in the closet. I do plan to make a draft dodger for our front door — I made one at our old home (a simple fabric “sock” filled with rice) and it was really helpful. We also are working on putting in an energy-efficient dog door for our outdoors-crazed pooches.

6)    Shop around. Those who purchase fuel oil have a choice of energy providers. Do compare prices to obtain the lowest rates. WHAT WE’VE DONE: Doesn’t apply to us here in natural-gas-rich Colorado.

7)    Take a tax credit. In 2009, homeowners who add certain efficiency measures to their homes can take a tax credit of up to 10 percent of the cost of the materials used, up to $500 per home. Learn more at http://www.energytaxincentives.org/consumers/insulation_etc.php. WHAT WE’VE DONE: This inspired us to look into a new window for our front picture window (the only window on our house that has not been replaced from the original) and perhaps new front and/or back doors, both of which are old, single-layer wood doors.

“These changes can make a real difference in home heating costs this winter and provide a good start on your 2009 budget,” Ewing said. “You can feel good about saving energy — and keeping more of your money in your own bank account.”

About Bills.com (www.bills.com)
Based in San Mateo, Calif., Bills.com is a free one-stop portal where consumers can educate themselves about complex personal finance issues and comparison shop for products and services including credit cards, debt relief assistance, insurance, mortgages and other loans. As the online portal to Freedom Financial Network, LLC, the company has served more than 50,000 customers nationwide since 2002 while managing more than $1 billion in consumer debt. Its RSS feed is available at http://www.bills.com/news_releases/.

What about you? Do you have more tips to share? Please do!

Last chance to get a hybrid vehicle tax credit

If you are looking to buy a hybrid vehicle, you might have heard about the federal income tax credit for purchasers of those cars and trucks.

The credit, however, begins to phase down and then expire after any given manufacturer has sold 60,000 of its hybrid vehicles.

It also only applies to new, purchased vehicles. If you lease the car, the car dealer/lease company gets the credit.

If a new hybrid purchase is on the horizon, full or partial credits are still available for these 2008 models:
– Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
– Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid
– Ford Escape Hybrid
– GMC Yukon Hybrid
– Mazda Tribute Hybrid
– Mercury Mariner Hybrid
– Nissan Altima Hybrid
– Saturn Aura Hybrid
– Saturn Vue Green Line

Toyota and Lexus vehicles are out.

If you buy a Honda Civic Hybrid 2008 model before Dec. 31, you can claim a $525 tax credit.

Looking to buy next year’s model? Only the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner will qualify for a tax credit.

Get the complete scoop at the Feds’ site here.