July 21, 2015

Living Without Air Conditioning

"In what seemed like a one step forward, two steps back move, we ended up using the last of our homestead savings on two things: a wood cookstove for the kitchen (one step forward), and an electric air source heat pump (two steps back)."
Chapter 8, "Energy Self-Sufficiency"

It was almost five years ago that we replaced our old oil-burning HVAC with a new heat pump. I blogged about it, sharing my mixed feelings over getting it. I also mentioned that if we had an air conditioner I would use it. And we have, until this summer.

Energy self-sufficiency has been the most elusive and problematic of all our lifestyle goals. Many folks (including us at one time) think it is simply a matter of replacing purchased power with an off-grid alternative such as solar and/or wind. If one can afford to buy and maintain the systems, and has adequate sun and wind, these are feasible. If not, well, they aren't. (See "Energy Self-Sufficiency? Still Just A Dream")  Even with alternative energy, however, I doubt that very many off-gridders run their air conditioning, even if they have summers similar to ours.

(That's 35 - 37 Celsius). July has been a few degrees cooler. 

The other option to being off-grid, is to be non-electric. I lived this way for close to three years in the past. But that was a long time ago and everything was simpler then. No electricity simplifies things tremendously in some ways, but presents problems of its own.

Our part of the country (southeastern US) brings a number of challenges when it remains this hot, particularly with food preservation and storage. (See "Food Storage in the South") Perishables and leftovers don't keep long when the kitchen and pantry are 90° (32°). Lacto-fermenting (sourdough, sauerkraut, kefir, cheese making) becomes difficult as well. If we could somehow manage to generate even just a little of our own electricity, it would go to the refrigerator and freezer.

The decision to not use our air conditioning this summer was one we both knew was coming. I've kept the thermostat set at about 80° (27°) anyway, so that turning it on never really cooled the place, it just took the edge off the heat and humidity. This was not for a noble cause, such as reducing our carbon footprint, this was simply what our budget allowed. Taking the next step was just a matter of making the decision and living with it.

How Riley beats the heat.

Obviously, we're surviving! And we are not non-electric, which I think needs to be pointed out. We open the windows when the outside temperature cools down in the evening and use box fans to vent the hot air and pull in cooler air. In the morning, when the thermometer climbs until both indoor and outdoor temperatures are about the same, I close the windows and pull the curtains and blinds on the sunny side of the house. We start the day at about 15 Fahrenheit degrees cooler than outside and end it about 10 degrees cooler.

Replacing most of the old, original windows with energy efficient ones, plus proper insulation in the walls, has helped tremendously. We installed ceiling fans in the kitchen, living room, and bedroom, and the moving air makes all the difference in the world.

One thing I have become aware of, is how much heat the refrigerators and freezer generate. I have an extra fridge and my chest freezer in the pantry.

An extra refrigerator and small chest freezer reside in my
pantry. I've been dismayed at how much heat they put out.

My pantry is now the hottest room in the house. The fridge in the kitchen puts out a lot of heat too, as does washing dishes, which adds a lot of humidity (as do showers). I could add cooking, but I use either my solar oven or my summer kitchen for most of my cooking plus canning. That helps keep a lot of heat and humidity out of the house.

I confess that I'm looking forward to cooler weather, but have to admit that an electric bill of only $65 a month has been one small reward. We find ourselves willing to work outside more too, because the temperature difference between inside and out isn't shockingly severe. In fact, if the humidity is lower outside and there's a breeze blowing, it can feel more comfortable than inside, even though the thermometer says it's hotter.

Of course, not everyone has the same homesteading and lifestyles goals we do, and there's nothing wrong with that. That being said, reaching one's goals (whatever they are) is not always easy. Challenges and problems present themselves along the way which must be dealt with if the goal is ever going to be reached. Dan and I still don't have all the answers when it comes to energy and electricity, but we're taking whatever steps we can.

60 comments:

Jason and Michelle said...

My power bill for June was $45. The temps jumped up to the 100's, so we had to use our AC. Our power bill this month is $146. We planted trees and hung curtains. We are planning on replacing windows next spring. We have never used AC before we moved here, our goal is to not use it. We don't want to pay that much in utilities.
On the plus note, my gas bill was $17. The month before $34.

Kirsty Udall said...

That's really interesting Leigh, I would love to somehow be independent of the grid and both energy generation and reduction in energy used interests me. It never gets anywhere near as warm here so A/C just isn't fitted in any houses, it's more a problem to be warm in winter, but wood stoves can go a long way there. Our problem is more that without being very sunny, solar just doesn't make as much power and getting a wind turbine is very difficult.
I've been considering replacing our oil burning boiler with an electric air source heat pump so I'll have a look at your post, thanks!

Leigh said...

I hear you. All of those measures really do help and I don't know if we could have toughed it out if we'd had this summer before getting all those new windows plus insulation in.

Interesting about the gas bill. We don't have is gas, although we did consider having it put in.

Leigh said...

Kirsty, we have the same problem here for solar. Some years we've gone for months without sun, so putting solar in would be an expensive proposition for a system that would be iffy on production. The same is true for wind.

An air source heat pump might be a good option for you. I live in a part of the country where the emphasis is on A/C because of the heat. In winter, however, the heat pump does a very poor job of heating, so a source of auxiliary heat is included, usually gas but often electric. When we had estimates done they all tried to talk us into installing gas for the auxiliary heat, but we figured our primary source of heat is the wood stove, so we didn't take on the added expense putting in a natural gas system. I can tell you that when the electric heat strips kick in, the electric meter spins around like a top! They really suck down the juice and if we're just using the heat pump without the wood heater, our electric bill is higher during winter than it is in summer. Long story short, heat pumps work best in climates with very mild winters!

Gill - That British Woman said...

our temps with the humidity factored in have be higher or the same as yours. I do not do well in the heat at all, so it is the one luxury I will not or cannot do without. I dread to think what our hydro bill will be this month.

Ed said...

As I have mentioned, we live among lots of Amish and they by point of religion, all live off the grid. They help reduce heat indoors by having propane refrigerators and freezers and also have outdoor kitchens. Since they don't have box fans or ceiling fans, they sleep in later during the summer months when it is cool inside and as it warms up, migrate outside under the shade trees. You can find them there until late in the evenings before they head back inside.

Thinking now about this lifestyle, I can see how it fosters a sense of family by driving everyone outside where they have just themselves under a shade tree for entertainment instead of televisions, phones, computers, etc.

Thistle Cove Farm said...

Currently, I live in southwest VA, Appalachian Mtns. and temps have been in the mid 90's with extreme humidity. I don't use a.c but get a good cross ventilation going with open doors/windows and ceiling fans. After spending 1/3 of my life in this large farmhouse, I'm readying to move to a house 2/3 smaller and, hopefully, smaller electric bills. One plan is to put in an attic ceiling fan to pull the house heat out of the house...marvelous way to cool down the house.Most windows have thermal drapes, all have storm windows and for a house that's 115 years old, it's not too bad. I did unplug everything that sucks electricity in rooms I don't use; was amazed at how much that helped.
I think I've used the dryer twice this year...right now, clothes are soaking wet on the line because they got an "extra rinse cycle" in yesterday's downpour.
I despise heat pumps...hate them with a passion! The most important things, no matter where one lives, are "heat and eat"...one MUST be able to provide shelter, food and keep warm and that's only possible with propane or wood stoves. Electric lines go down all too often.
I wonder at the comparable costs between energy sources; it averages out each person in the USA uses about 9 pounds of coal per day.
Even so, especially since Dave died, and the older I get, the more I look to what's physically easiest for me. If that means a tad more money spent on electricity...so be it.
I'm the most important, expensive piece of equipment on this farm. If I go down, it all goes down.

Farmer Barb said...

I just did a quick check of my utility bills. My air handler/cooling units are OUTRAGEOUS in their use of energy. Given the humidity here and the heat, the only impact I could make was to foam insulate the roof and the foundation. It cut my usage in half for the summer months. What I need to finish are the light blocking drapes for the east and west sides of our house. I like the view, but it comes at a price.

Renee Nefe said...

We keep our AC thermometer set at 80 (f) in the summer. If the upstairs gets too hot we'll open the windows at night to cool things off (thankfully this summer the temps do drop when the sun goes down...we've had some summers where that hasn't happened) I keep the windows on our West side covered.
I'm wondering for you if it might be cooler under the house for some of your food storage? I know it would be some added expense in building an animal proof place and I know that a root cellar is in the future plans, but perhaps this might be feasible? When I lived down south we used to store potatoes under the house (note: this wasn't our house it was the house on the property that we grew the potatoes on.) Perhaps the humidity would rule this out?

Penelope White said...

Wow.... My power bill is $300 this month. And its off when we're at work. I can't without AC. I'm encouraged that it can be done, though. Good tips

Nancy LittleHomesteadinBoise said...

I grew up in S. Calif. with no AC. We did the same thing- open the house at night and in the morning to cool off, then close things up. Spray mist our sheets before bed, shower twice. Fans, and drink a lot of water! We use our AC, but also use fans and insulated curtains. I was wondering if there's a way to move your extra fridge and freezer to a garage if you have one? We have our freezer and spare mini fridge in the garage. No space used inside and no heat. That could help. And do you have an attic exhaust fan? There are solar and electric ones. Ours died and our power bill shot up, but hubby installed a new motor for $55.00 and it's working! Protects the roof too...

Harry Flashman said...

I don't see how you do it. The temperature outside on my porch, in the shade , right now is 85, much hotter in the sun. The relative humidity is low for this time of year, only about 68 percent. But we have days where the inside temperature gets over ninety and the humidity is nearly 100 percent. Even if I could stand it, which I doubt, my weapons would rust, my clothes would mildew, and my other supplies would be negatively impacted. I use window units , 5000 btu range, and keep everything sealed up. I don't even burn lights when I don't need to, in order to keep the heat down. My power bill runs about $100 to $130 a month in the summer months.

You and your husband are made of sterner stuff than I am.

P.S. my ferrets said to tell you they are never going to come visit in the summer, even though they want to meet the pigs.

Leigh said...

Gill, humidity makes such a huge difference. When ours is low, it's tolerable. When it's high, it's not! Sadly, it's always more humid in the house.

Leigh said...

Interesting, Ed. I've been thinking lately about the agrarian life, and how folks want to equate it to isolationism. I honestly think the opposite is true. Agrarianism pulls people together by nature of needing to work together. If anything isolates people, it's phones and computers.

My grandparents' house used to have a sleeping porch. It was a screened in room on the second floor of the house, where the family would put beds in summer and sleep. They eventually turned it into my grandmother's sewing room, but I remember sleeping on their screened in front porch when I was a girl. I wish we could have something like that here.

Leigh said...

Very well said. So much is learning how to adapt one's lifestyle and then learning to be content with it.

I've wanted one of those attic ceiling fans since we bought the place. They can really cool a place off in a hurry in the evening. It's still on "The List." :)

Leigh said...

Barb, that's an amazing savings. Well done!

Leigh said...

Well, we've been talking about a root cellar, trying to think of the best place to put one. The crawl space is cooler, but we've been thinking of digging something out close to the house. We might could under, i.e. the crawlspace, but we'd have to be careful of the foundation. Potatoes is one of the things I'd need a root cellar for!

Leigh said...

Yikes, that's really high! I think it's harder to stay cool in the more urbanized areas because all that concrete and blacktop retain heat. If we lived under different circumstances, it would be a lot harder than it is now.

Leigh said...

Nancy, we don't have a garage, but that is a good idea. I wanted the fridge and freezer in the house rather than on the back porch to keep them from having to work overtime in summer, but they have to work overtime anyway!

We've talked about attic vent fans as well, and priced solar ones. That's as far as we've gotten but your results are encouraging. It's something we should move higher up on the To-Do list.

Leigh said...

Harry, are you telling me you spoil your ferrets with air conditioning? Waldo could show them how to stay cool in a nice mud bath! Nothing makes for happier pigs except food.

Sounds like the window A/C is pretty economical, much more-so than the central units. You are right about the mildew and humidity; they are a booger-bear. The other week we had company for dinner and I went to put a fresh table cloth on the dining room table. There was a coating of green mildew all over the table and chairs! Yuk! I had to give everything a good cleaning.

Debby Riddle said...

Wow, I know what that feels like, and it isn't fun. We have days over 100 but not the humidity, so a swamp cooler works in town, and lots of insulation, coupled with the Alpine climate of the mountain, make it workable. We don't use AC in our cars, but try to plan trips for the coolest parts of the day. I think our bodies adapt in time.

Bateman Homestead said...

I have gotten totally spoiled down here in NC, but like you, my electric bill was a shock. I am trying to get better about the ac, because I just can't afford a high bill. Funny thing is, I didn't grow up with ac, it's just since I moved down here that I started using it. One of my major goals is to get some sort of shade on the back of the house, so that in the afternoons it's not so hot when the sun is beating on it. Temporary fix will probably involve some tarps as a shade cloth.

Deborah said...

I appauld your tenacity. I find the older I become, the less I can tolerate the heat. If it is hot, I cannot sleep. If I don't sleep, then it's all bets off. When we move, solar power that can handle ac is a must.

Patty@inStitches said...

we have one window unit in our main room - it cools the kitchen/dining/sitting room area. none of other rooms are a/c. Since I pay the bills I keep tabs on how much we're using. at night we throw open doors on opposite sides of the house and let the breezes blow. but our house is all electric so the bill is still high inspite of everything we do.

deborah harvey said...

just looking at a column from 2012.

military man who served in hawaii told me this trick when we lived in florida.
put a table lamp with a 15 watt bulb in your closets and leave on all of the time. keep it away from clothes et cetera.
goodbye mildew.

moths? freeze all as it is harvested for 24 hours or more then oven seal.
oven sealing covered on 'ask jackie' at 'backwoods home magazine', or at 'countryside ' magazine.
oven sealing may be enough without the freezing.

Lynda D said...

I dont know how we will cope with the expense when we retire but my two men, will not and wont do without AC. I think wind vents in the roof would certainly help us as when i've popped my head up in the manhole (we have storage up there) its been stifling. They are not expensive, just a pain to install but i think im going to insist this coming summer. You can get solar vents as well but a little more expensive. It helps when all the occupants are on the same page.

Theresa said...

I can vouch for the efficiency of a whole house fan. We opted not to put AC in the house when we built it but did install a whole house fan and it works a wonder. I do cheat though and have a small window AC unit in the master for those nights it just feels too hot to sleep. All told it adds about $35/month. to the electric bill when in use. For a few extra good nights sleep, priceless.

Fiona said...

Great post and comments. Our new home is Amish....no Ac....NO electric. It has propane lighting which surprised me with how bright it is....and how hot! Good for winter. We toured the home on a 92 degree day and it was not cool like AC but quite liveable. We run our AC warmer and it is much easier to go outside. We do become dependant on it.

Erika Keller said...

Our old house had an attic fan and the walls were three courses of brick with insulation on the outside. As long as we could cool the house down at night those bricks would keep the house cool for a few days. Everyone thought we were crazy for closing the house up during the day but you had to hold that cool air in. Our new house has poor insulation and no bricks but we still only run the AC occasionally. We are trying to figure out how to get an attic fan into this tiny cape cod style house with no attic. My biggest problem is mold/mildew growing in the dust during the summer (since housework always takes a back seat to gardening!)

Sandy said...

Leigh,

No a/c running in the warm of summer, I wouldn't mind it if the temperature wasn't in the 100's and the humidity levels weren't high.
We have our a/c on now in the house because hubby and I can't sleep in the heat here. What also makes it miserable with the heat is if you're going through the change of life, and have with hot flashes at the same time. Recently the hot flashes have been calming down for me......which is a good thing:-)

I love the idea of a sleeping porch with a screen. If I lived in a cooler climate, this would be something I would do. You could pickup a tent which has a screened in roof with a removable top to sleep in at night when the temperatures cool. My husband and I go camping with a tent that has a removable top when it's cool out, and just love it.

kymber said...

Leigh - you guys sure are troopers and so are many of the commenters here! i would just about die in those kind of temps! and the humidity - ugh! when we lived back in the city, there were many days when the humidity was unbearable (nothing like yours, tho!), but our city house was designed to not need the a/c. and now that we are here at framboise manor, because we are so close to so many water sources, including the ocean, even on the hottest days we still have the cool ocean breeze. i think you guys should really look into the attic vent/fan and the sleeping porch. hang in there. you are made of way more sterner stuff than me!

your friend,
kymber

Kris said...

I know my kitchen gets heat from the 'fridge doing it's thing - removing warmth from the insides - and I often wondered if there is a way to vent this heat to the outside in summer (and then close that vent in winter when you WANT the heat). I imagine you keep all pantry windows open 24/7 during warm/hot months. As for your elec bill, you must have much higher rates down there than up here. I run A/C (set at 75), a dehumidifer, upstairs exhaust fans, well pump, washing machine, 'fridge, freezer, stove, TVs, computer, lights, small appliances, etc and my bill is only a couple $ more than yours. (Trust me, I don't use all of them all the time - I'm really frugal power-wise.) I applaud your pragmatic fortitude. You guys rock!

Kris said...

P.S. First thing I did when I bought this house was insulation and energy efficient windows. All doors are sealed. Made a HUGE dif in my heating/cooling $$ right off the bat.

Leigh said...

Debby, I think you're right about our bodies adapting. And it certainly does help to plan all activities according to the coolest and hottest parts of the day. I find my worst days are the days I have to do errands. I don't use A/C in the car either, but after going into stores and the library, the heat and humidity feel worse than ever!

Leigh said...

Stephanie, shade helps sooo much. Of course, you live in a mobile home, so insulation and windows probably don't help much in either summer or winter. Shade cloths sound like an excellent idea. I should try to figure out something like that for us too.

Leigh said...

Deborah, I would be extremely interested what you figure out about using solar power for A/C. I know there are a lot of tips and tricks for home building that help keep a house cool. Modern homes don't employ them because it's expected everyone will use some sort of climate control.

I confess that on hot nights I don't sleep well either. This is where fans really help, but sometimes I just get up and do something else until it cools off enough to sleep.

Leigh said...

Patty, from what I'm reading in the comments, those window A/C units are really a better bargain than central A/C. Have to love those breezes, though.

We're all electric too, and we considered putting gas in. Even though our electric bill would go down if we did that, I kinda doubted that our overall utility bill would change much. I figure that if I'm buying energy, then it's still an expense no matter the source.

Leigh said...

Very good tips, Deborah, thanks.

I confess we have a terrible problem with pantry moths. But since we're harvesting such large quantities (like a quarter to a half acre worth), I haven't figured out an alternative to freezing. :(

Leigh said...

Our attic is stifling in summer too, and I have to agree about some sort of solar vent fan. After all the suggestions in the comments here, I'm going to research one of these once again. I did so a number of years ago, but I think the price was a bit out of our range at the time. Maybe I'll come up with something better.

Leigh said...

Theresa, good to hear from you! I would love to have one of those whole house fans, but haven't been able to talk Dan into one yet! And it seems that the window units are much kinder on the electric bill than trying to cool the whole house, from what everyone is saying.

Leigh said...

Yes, it's all a matter of what we get used to! I hadn't thought about propane lighting, but I know kerosene lanterns sure do put out a lot of heat! Still, solar just for lights would probably be economical, as compared to powering a whole house. I'll be interested in what you decide to do for energy in your new home.

Leigh said...

Sounds like the builders of your old house knew what they were doing! Dan's been reading a book that mentions a number of old builders' tricks for keeping homes cool in summer.

Have to agree about the mold and mildew problem. Ventilation helps a lot there, even if it isn't cooled. It's just getting good ventilation in the right places!

Leigh said...

Sandy, I know all about those hot flashes. The only time they're welcome is in the winter. LOL

A tent with a removable top sounds like a great idea for summer sleeping!

Leigh said...

Well, it's sort of a "bloom where you are planted" sort of thing. Secretly, both Dan and I would love to move farther north! I have to agree about the attic fan and venting. That really needs to be moved closer to the top of the to-do list.

Leigh said...

Wow, you can run all that and have a comparable electric bill? That's amazing. Our bill for June was $63.06 for 460 kilowatt hours of usage.

We've seen a wonderful difference as we've added insulation and new windows. I'm not sure we could be doing this if we hadn't done that!

Leigh said...

I forgot to mention that Dan has been looking at ways to vent rooms (or the house) without a fan. They used to use shafts which would draw hot air up and out, allowing cooler air to be pulled in at the bottom. We will probably put our first experimental one in the pantry. Like everything else, however, it takes time to get to a project, but it's on the list!

dindin said...

i just have to tell you about my a/c. i am retired and could not pay 6500 $ for a new a/c in my redo home so i looked into mitshibishi mini-splits. two cost only 2500 $ and i have one at one end of my 1000 sq ft houseand one at the other end. i am cool and comfy and my electric runs between 50 and 60 $ per month all year , i love them.

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

Hi! I admire what you are doing. Good for yous. At this point in my life and age and the fact that I have Lyme disease now I don't think I could handle it. The low electricity bill sure sounds wonderful! Nancy

Leigh said...

You know, we looked at those mini-splits and now my son has been talking about replacing their window unit with central air. Turns out it would cost $10,000 because ductwork would have to be installed too. I couldn't think of the name of the Mitshibishi units, so I was so glad you mentioned them! Good feedback on their energy efficiency too.

Leigh said...

Nancy, that would certainly make it tough. I sometimes wonder how folks managed before air conditioning.

Lucía Moreno Velo said...

We are having a very hot summer in Madrid (Spain). We are reaching temperatures over 40 ºC during the day. In my little town in the mountains, where you could always count on wanting a blanket at night for sleeping in the summer, it's so hot, some nights we have not been able to sleep well. We are taking cold showers and I have shaded our small vegetable garden. The plants simply could not take the heat. Imagine that: I have shaded the tomatoes!! We don't have air conditionning. I never have and I have lived in very hot places, like Cartagena, which is in Southern Spain, near Africa. We open all windows at night and close them all, shades and all, as soon as the light hits them. We keep West windows open during the morning and open East windows when the sun's moved West. By closing windows (and shades) this way we can keep the temperature very confortable. I must add that we don't have fans, either. I also must add that we have very strong shades, that lock out the light completely. if you don't have them, I have seen in Morocco windows and doors closed with carpets hung from the frame of the window/door. Keeping hot air and light/sun out is vital for this to work.
I still envy your 65 dollar bill. We spend so much more!!
Lucía

M.K. said...

Somebody else might have already said this, but have you considered a single attic fan? I grew up with one of these in our old houses, and they make a huge difference in the early evening. They work a lot better than box fans in the windows. We plan to install one as soon as we can. I watched a video from This Old House recently on how to install them -- they fit between the existing floor joints in your attic. They really PULL in that outside air, once it's a bit cooler in the evening out there. Will be watching this part of your life closely as we are also in the SE and want to reduce our electricity costs.

Leigh said...

Oh yes! Both that and an attic vent fan; both are on are wish/to-do list. I've lived with a whole house attic fan and am hearing really good reports on the effectiveness of the vent fans. Hoping for both one of these days. :)

Leigh said...

Yikes, that's hot! It's probably all the harder too, because you don't usually have those kinds of summers. Excellent tips for keeping the house too. Thanks Lucia.

Off-Grid Homestead said...

I feel ya,, we are in NC, and have had days of near 100 with about 80% humidity.
since we are off the power grid, we have no air conditioning and verrrrrrrry limited fan use,, no fan at night( cant use extra power like that all night when the sun isn't shining,!! its been tough to say the least.!!!

Leigh said...

Dan and I talk about getting completely off grid (doubtful) it makes me think carefully about how we use electricity. I applaud your commitment, because I know it isn't easy..

Leah said...

I am very in awe of you leigh! I can't do even the mild heat and humidity in central Minnesota! However that is probably more due to the fact that my body doesn't deal well with the heat. In any case congratulations for getting that much closer to your goals!!

Leigh said...

Thanks. :) I never thought I could do it either, but we keep our thermostat set so high, that it always feels hot in the house anyway. The one thing I missed was having the humidity taken out of the air. But with the fans and managing opening and closing windows, we survived.

Lynn Askew said...

Here in N. Texas A/C is a necessity for me, but we keep it at 78 most the time. Sometimes I get a chill and turn it off for a while, but we currently consume a LOT of electricity. Thankfully, we have great rates (3.4cents/kWh), because I have a family of 7, with a fridge and a freezer, 4 computers, 2 TVs, game systems, on and on, but our last summer bill was still less than $100. We have gas heat, not sure what our heating bills will look like yet. The big expense where we are is water, our bill is regularly near $100, and for someone used to well water it regularly gives me heart attacks. We're still in the city, with plans to buy our little piece of heaven in the next few years. I really want to build instead of buy if possible, so I can be assured of things like insulation, air flow, energy saving measures, etc. This blog has been an invaluable resource as I research, thanks Leigh!

Leigh said...

Lynn, you are so right about being able to build your own place. You can plan your needs right into your design. Sometimes I really wish we had been able to do that. We probably would have if we had started younger, except considering the time and resources it's taken to update our old house, we just should have bought undeveloped land and done it ourselves.

That's excellent about your electric bill, and I hear you on water. I'm guessing the lions share of that is for sewage. When we lived in the city, sewage tripled our water bill.