Riding on Moonshine: Our Energy Savings Update

Now that the taxes are finished, I’m back to figuring out how to save some more money by increasing energy efficiency.

Let’s start by looking where we are. I mentioned in my New Year’s Resolution post that I wanted to see a 10% reduction in energy costs for both our gas bill and our home. The good news is that we’ve made that and then some.

2002 Mountaineer

The 2002 Mountaineer’s EPA estimate is 14 MPG city. That’s my primary vehicle. We are currently getting 16 MPG. We are using full synthetic oil now, and I’ll have to see how a 5-30 weight viscosity holds up to a central North Carolina summer. If the SUV starts using oil (it just rolled 162,000 miles on the odometer), I’ll start blending some 10-40 conventional oil. I’ll be staying with the same brand (currently Mobil).

A book written in the early 90’s called How to Make Your Car Last Forever: Avoid Expensive Repairs, Improve Fuel Economy, Understand Your Warranty, Save Money** suggested blending conventional and synthetic motor oils as an alternative to running full synthetic (which is more expensive) and making a better blend. However, it cautioned to use the same brand so that the additives were the same. Conventional wisdom theorizes that mixing different brands is a bad idea because the additives are different and may theoretically cause problems.

My next efficiency experiment: Bosch Platinum +4s spark plugs.

I backed one of the plugs out to check on it earlier this year and I definitely need to change them. Since it was the OEM (Original equipment manufacturers) plugs, the plugs may have never been changed. While they’ve held up impressively, we’re still talking 15 year old spark plugs. It’s time for a change to restore some of the engine’s efficiency.

I’ve done a few driving calculations, and I have been averaging about 8160 miles per year, so about 2040 miles per quarter. Our first quarter mileage on the Mountaineer was slightly less than 2000, so I’ve met the goal of driving less to save money on gas.

Most of the credit for our gas savings, though, is just due to lower gas prices. The best price I found for gas in Raleigh in the first quarter of 2016 was $1.67 a gallon at BJ’s Membership Club on 3/8/16. Got to love those membership benefits!

Riding on MoonshineAn interesting maintenance note: on a warm mid-March morning, the Mountaineer would not start. I checked the gas flow and the ignition spark, and both seemed okay. Since the Mountaineer is a flex-fuel vehicle, I put a gallon of E-85 in the tank. (I keep a reserve gallon in the garage.)

After giving the SUV a good shake to mix in the E-85, the car started right up. It must have had a lot of condensation from all of the soggy weather we were having.

The next day I drove to the closest station in Raleigh that sells E-85 and put in 6 gallons. Amazingly, the Mountaineer started running and idling much better than it had been. However, the gas mileage for riding on moonshine dropped to 13 MPG.* Ouch!

And the E-85 was a lot more expensive at $2.40 a gallon compared to what most of the local gas stations were charging for regular unleaded gas.

If E-85 was available at a price lower than gasoline approximate to the lower efficiency, I would definitely use it as my preferred fuel.  I love idea of using E-85 (supporting farmers, fuel independence, American Freedom!), but riding on moonshine wasn’t the most economical choice.

For the problem of getting the car to run, though, It was probably the right move. I can only hope that lower gas prices don’t discourage the industry too much, as higher oil prices made E-85 more attractive and practical in the past.

Electrical Bill

Our power usage for the last 4 months has been outstanding compared to last year. Just look at these numbers!

Month 2015 2016
January 186.55 153.33
February 240.36 231.53
March 235.38 172.23
April 210.43 118.33
Total $872.72 $675.42

That’s not 10% savings, that’s almost 25%!

Historically, these have been our most expensive 4 months. According to Duke Power, our average bill over the course of the year has been $133.05.

Wow, water flow regulators are making a heck of a difference!

I also installed vent deflectors this winter to change the air flow away from the walls and channel more warm or cool air into the center of the rooms. You can pick these up cheaply at any hardware store, big box home improvement store, or at Amazon.**

While I’m sure our moves to save money are making a difference, I’ll admit we also have Mother Nature to thank for some of our savings. This winter the average temperatures were 6 degrees warmer than last year. That really helped our reduce our 4 most expensive electrical months.

Maybe this summer will be cooler! (grins)

Just in case it’s not, our next big energy project is to install a vent ridge on the roof. This will lower the attic temperature during the summer, decreasing our air conditioning costs. While the vent itself isn’t too expensive, it does involve removing the shingles on the ridge of the roof, using a circular saw to cut out a small strip of plywood on each side of the length of the roof and installing a series of vent ridges and then reshingling along the vent ridge…all without falling off the roof.

A much easier energy savings project is installing a new solar powered clothes dryer…aka a clothes line. Shifting jeans and other heavier clothes to outdoor drying is an easy way of saving a little money that we just haven’t set up yet.

Moving in to milder and then hot weather, it will be a challenge to keep our current rate of energy savings going. It does look like we are well on track for 10% this year.

I have a few other projects to pursue, like reducing our water heater temperature a notch and putting some lower viscosity differential fluid in the Mountaineer. Both should make our savings goals easier to reach. And I’m sure by my next update, I’ll have thought of at least 4 or 5 more things to try!

What moves have you taken this year to trim a little off your energy bills? Have they worked or did you need to rethink, as I did my E-85?

*I want a bumper sticker that says “Riding on Moonshine.” It would be great marketing for the flex fuel and E-85 fuel industry!

**affiliate links!

Image courtesy of ponsulak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net with changes



2 Responses to “Riding on Moonshine: Our Energy Savings Update”
    • Jon Jividen 04/25/2016

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