Can I lower my monthly costs??
dreambee
March 24, 2014 in Design Dilemma
Hi all, after spending my first winter in a new home I have second thoughts of having bought the right home. The heat is oil and had cost $1100 PER MONTH during the winter. My driveway is long, I had it plowed 7 times through the winter and the plow bill is $1800. The cleaning lady foe the area wanted to charge me $30/per hour for cleaning (!!). The electric per month runs at about $450. I have gotten so upset with the bills related to this home I was unprepared for. People overcharging for their services is one thing but systems like heat and electric being this costly is another. Now I want to take a closer look at my options for updating and what that would could versus the benefit it would bring.
Solar power of course is something I have been reading about. For the heat someone mentioned to me switching it over to gas would be cheaper but what would that entail?
I am so glad this winter seems to be behind us, I lived and learned. Growing pains.
I do love the home itself very much.
For plowing I looked into getting a plow attachment for my SUV. How do you plow your snow (if it snows in your area) and what do you do to keep your costs down?
There is a lot of acreage here and the previous owners told me they had the grass professionally landscaped but I certainly do not intend to do that. Would it be so bad if my grass just grew naturally and wild?!
I would love to read your experiences and ideas or tips as I have always gotten wonderful inspiration and help from fellow houzzers! Thank you so much!
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dreambee
I should probably add that the home was originally built in the late 50's and has newer Andersen windows
March 24, 2014 at 1:50PM   
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hanna1984
You should have researched the costs associated with ownership before buying. However, hindsight is 20/20 and now you need to look for ways to cut other expenses. You have choices to make.
March 24, 2014 at 3:34PM     
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PRO
Mark Bischak, Architect
Investigate the house's existing insulation and see where you can add, the attic/roof/ceiling is the most important. See if there are ways for air to escape through windows, doors, material transitions, or other cracks. Turning down the thermostat generally or during certain parts of the day. See if there are other heating fuel options available that may be less expensive such as natural gas, or perhaps supplement the heat with a wood burner of some sort. Adding storm windows, or insulated window treatments may be an option.

There may be a local professional that could come to your home and give specific ideas to your home. I know what you are experiencing.
March 24, 2014 at 4:48PM        Thanked by dreambee
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troysmommy
I've re read your first post and it does sound as if you are encountering huge unexpected costs. Here in Canada it is common to ask what the previous year's heating costs were before you make an offer tot purchase. Our home inspector was up in the attic to tell us how much insulation was there. Did yours?
Sounds like a case of Buyer beware.
March 24, 2014 at 5:24PM     
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jnjhewitt
Check for a public agency in your area that can do an assessment of the house. Often this is free or relatively inexpensive. That agency can advise you about any local, state or federal rebates may be available on energy saving products such as a high efficiency water heater, conversion to gas, insulation, etc.

It sounds like you may need to try a multi pronged approach

Good luck!
March 24, 2014 at 5:34PM        Thanked by dreambee
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hanna1984
Hopefully one or more of the suggestions Mark gave you will help you save money immediately. If you have to add insulation or make upgrades, the money will come out of your pocket now, but over the next few years you will get your money back in energy savings. Solar power isn't practical for most of the United States. How many days of sunlight do you have in a year? Recovering the cost of installation would take years! You have to be realistic. Tighten your belt now.
March 24, 2014 at 7:20PM     
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dreambee
Amazing!! Thank you so much for the constructive feedback! Thanks to it I now have an appointment for an energy audit set up and I can't wait to tackle this home!! Thank you!
March 25, 2014 at 10:58AM     
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dreambee
Ps.: of course I did inquire with the previous owners about their monthly utility coats which were expressed as being nowhere near the amount mine have turned out to be in reality.
March 25, 2014 at 10:59AM     
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studio10001
Check w local regulations before letting the lawn revert to meadow. Adding perennial beds, shrubbery and hardscaping are additional ways to reduce mowing.
March 25, 2014 at 11:03AM     
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dreambee
Thank you so much @studio10001
I was now also looking at zero turn movers/ tractors which might be an investment up front but might pay off given that there are 7 acres of grass here. Have you perhaps had any experiences using such movers?
March 25, 2014 at 11:07AM     
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dreambee
Sorry I meant to write "mowers" not movers
March 25, 2014 at 11:08AM   
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mfwolfe
First of all, this has been a terrible winter for almost the entire United States, so take that into account. Secondly, an energy audit is an excellent idea. Put money into insulation etc and it will pay off.....eventually. It does take awhile and the savings will not be dramatic.
Next, plowing. We live in a community with no city services and about 90 per cent of the residents pay to have roads plowed. An SUV with a plow will only plow small amounts of snow, and , more importantly it cannot move huge drifts around, so you end up with stacks of snow where you may not want them. Our guy finally invested in a plow with a snowblower...big sucker...and that does the job best with our 12 inch storms.
Next, gas will only be available in certain areas. If you are only 200 yards from a gas line it could cost 10,000$ to hook up. Best bet is a wood stove or pellet stove to supplement the oil heat. We have a 1700 sq foot house with excellent insulation and windows and run the wood stove about 12 hours a day. Our oil bill was 2400$ for the past year. Another thing about oil or propane. Most companies have a prebuy program where you buy a years supply in May at the lowest price of the year. Saves quite a bit most years. This year it was a huge savings.
Sorry about the housecleaning, but doing it yourself does keep you warm. That is a joke.
Mowing is definitely a way to save. You don't need the fanciest mower but you do need one with a very wide cutting width and a mulcher.
I consider being able to live in a rural area the most wonderful thing that has happened to me as far as living accomodations go. But just like everything else you have to make a cost/benefit analysis and for some people quiet, wildlife and beauty just aren't worth enough to put up with the grief. You didn't mention power outages or falling trees. You got off lucky!
March 25, 2014 at 11:28AM     
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mfwolfe
Just saw 7 acres. You would need a tractor with a swather to mow that much.
March 25, 2014 at 11:29AM     
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bungalowmo
I also have heating oil. What I do in the wintertime is to close off rooms I don't use. In my bedroom, to assist in warming the room up, I have a box fan I set on low directly in front of the radiator.

I keep my pantry and my back office closed off with those beanbag things at the bottom of the door. I keep the spare bedroom closed up too. I had my oil topped off on Dec 13th. By the end of Jan I was on 1/16th of a tank! (250 gal) That fill up was $850!! Just last week they came by & topped it off again...$560.

I'm feeling your pain. With a 1300 sq ft house, this is pretty high. I'm not sure where you're at, but this was my situation in Northern Virginia.

I wouldn't think this is going to be the "norm" for you for heating....this has been one of the coldest winters on record (and it's snowing again right now!)

Chalk this year up to beyond average.

As far as the cleaning lady....don't have one. I clean my place myself. I also just got a riding mower last fall for $250 & the shed to go with it for another $100. I have 1/2 acre & do all my yard work myself.

So....how to cut costs? Don't farm out what you can do yourself. I may not "want" to do it all the time, but it's part of owning a home & paying everything myself. Balance out my time over cost to have someone else do it.
March 25, 2014 at 11:30AM     
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Sigrid
A roomba is cheaper than a cleaning lady. It won't do a perfect job, but it will significantly improve cleaning while reducing your effort.

On a cold, windy day, go around and feel near your windows, doors, cracks, etc. Check out average heating costs for a house the size of yours. In my house, closing curtains at night makes a big difference in heat loss, particularly on a windy day.

Get your furnace serviced. Talk to the technician about it's age and efficiency. New furnaces are quite efficient, if you have an older one, replacing it might be a good bet.

If you live in New England and you have an older house, investing in insulation, reducing heat leaks, and efficient furnaces will probably produce a bigger payback than solar.

Solar requires a sunny, south-facing roof. Trees providing shade and roofs that aren't aligned to catch a lot of sun can make solar not worth while.

You can have a meadow for a good part of your acreage. You need to talk to people because in some places, a meadow is habitat for nasty bugs, like ticks. In other places, the worst you'll get is fat and happy bumblebees. Many meadows are mowed once or twice a year, but you'll need a mower that can handle a meadow.

Turn off the lights when you leave a room and when the weather cooperates, hang your laundry to dry. My library has a device you can borrow to tell you how much power various appliances draw.
March 25, 2014 at 12:02PM     
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Christalyn
Your large savings will come from the large ticket items -windows, wall, and roof. There are other things you can do in the winter to save money.
1. Put your water heater on a timer and insulate your heater. We did this and we only warm water from 8 pm to midnight. Our bill went down $50 a month and our investment was a $40 timer and $30 water heater blanket. My kids are home schooled and they are home all day and we never run out of hot water.
2. Find out if your power company has a program that gives you lower rates for usage during non peak hours. You may just need to adjust the time you cook dinner, or dry clothes. The savings with that program could be substantial.
3. Close off rooms that you are not using. Close heating vents and air returns in those rooms and weather strip the door.
4. Shrink rap your windows.
5. Change out your incandescent light bulbs to LED.
6. If you have a second refrigerator or a stand alone freezer, empty it, clean it, put descant in it, and unplug it for the winter. Try and only use it during the holidays.
6. Get a set of footie pajamas to wear over your clothes and turn the heat way down. (Oh The stories my pizza delivery man must tell about us).
March 25, 2014 at 1:00PM     
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dreambee
Thank you so so much @mfwolfe @bungalowmo and @Sigrid !!!

When I was reading your wonderfully valuable experiences and help I was embarrassed to realize with everything that I have done to make my house a home since I moved in...I hadn't put up curtains yet!!! And yes, with a winter as extreme as this one had been that of course must have made matters worse!! I am so glad for all your feedback!
Yes having the furnace checked will be good, I noticed that the thermostats have "change filter" flashing, perhaps that adds to the system having to work harder!
I noticed there is a programmable timer in a closet in the study room and after pushing lots of buttons found out that they regulate outdoor lights that aren't directly visible from the house. The timer says they were set to turn on between 5pm and 11pm! There goes my electric bill!!!!
There is also an outdoor jacuzzi which I personally hardly ever use but I can't seem to find an "off" button on it so it always heats the water. Perhaps a spa and pool person could for the next winter just winterize it somehow empty it out and turn it off?
I am glad you mentioned that robot vacuum cleaner because since I got a new puppy which currently sheds a lot (he is just 11 weeks old ❤️ ) I have been reading articles about the roomba and was thinking that might be a good investment! I also saw these smart phone controllable thermostats I would be interested in!
For the meadow, yes I am sure ticks would be an issue! The vet just told me yesterday that this area here has so many ticks! I have little horses so they could graze off some of the grass but I think having them eat it all would not be good for their figure or health ;-)
I am really so glad for your experiences, that's exactly what I needed having just moved to upstate New York and not being familiar with the lifestyle of snow and more snow :-)
March 25, 2014 at 1:16PM     
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dreambee
Dearest @Christalyn !!!
THAT PHOTO!!!! That picture just took the sting out of the bills in front of me wanting to get paid!!! Thank you!!
You certainly know how to manage life!! It is funny you mention the footsie pj's because I looked at one twice this winter and my girlfriends asked if I was serious!

1. I love that water heater advice! I need to look into how I can do this with mine.

2. That sounds like wonderful advice I also didn't know about. I am often able to make my own schedule so off peak for me would be just right!

3. + 4. + 5. We used to do this in an apartment I once lived in, I remember it yielded much help! It feels so good to get back the sense of some self empowerment!

the holiday freezer, I get the sense that you take life lightly which reminds me of this saying I read the other day: "don't take life so seriously, you're not gonna make it out alive" ;-))) a quality I admire!
March 25, 2014 at 1:27PM     
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PRO
HomePro Central On. inc
Hey dreambee
Here's a couple of thoughts re your heating cost, oil heat is a common system for rural heating, but probably the worst from an efficiency stand point. When these furnaces are brand new their efficiency is maxed out at about 85% so basically .15 cents of every dollar you spend on fuel is going up the chimney and that's when the oil furnace is brand new. Statistical life expectancy is about 25 years . That being said oil burners are not typically smart enough to stop running but that efficiency we spoke of is way down in the toilet some where . As far as options solid fuel ( wood) is nice unless u are having to buy it with your acreage you may have some dead wood around. It's a lot of work and a big expense to get a properly installed set up oh did I mention a lot of work.
If you are rural I am assuming that you will not have natural gas so propane would be the other option, while the fuel is not a lot cheaper ( in some areas =in price) the benefit is that the high efficiency units can run 94 to 96% that spells savings.
Another option would be an add on heat pump to your existing furnace. I was not a big fan of air source heat pumps but Mitubishi has a new system out that works effectively down to -40 F
This is an investment however here in Ontario they run about 12 grand ( probably a lot cheaper in the states) the cost of operation is very minimal as all the heat is extracted from the winter air.
Alternatively a programable thermostat when set can chew about 9% off your heating cost and another 4 or 5% can be cut by simply running your furnace fan on manual vs auto at your stat.
Things like changing your filter on a monthly basis will ensure your furnace is not cycling on and off which would increase your heating cost, and of course that annual service is very important.
Anyway just a thought
Hope that helps
Homepromike
March 25, 2014 at 1:42PM     
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bubbasgma
Great thread!!!
March 25, 2014 at 2:09PM     
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hanna1984
Don't feel embarrassed about the curtains - I just ordered some for our house that we bought this past summer :) We experienced "sticker shock" this winter too. We don't have cable tv, we stopped eating out and ordering in and we went behind the kids and turned off the lights when they left the room, etc. Unexpected expenses pop up. It seems like yours just popped up all at once :)
March 25, 2014 at 2:31PM     
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studio10001
I have used a commercial model, dreambee, and am not certain I would agree about the necessity for a swather, for reasons other than economy. A commercial zero-turn used on a weekly basis can handle your acreage, and might eliminate the need for a trimmer; it is an expense, as you mentioned. I can't attest to any particular residential model that could handle the work, but will point you to dealers of Exmark or Walker to pose that question to.
March 25, 2014 at 3:08PM     
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Emily Hurley
Some great advice here for just about anyone. :)
March 25, 2014 at 3:24PM     
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bubbasgma
Christalyn...Very practical, do-able, down to earth advice! Thank you!

My water heater is gas, so not sure if it can be put on a timer, but will definitely check that out!

And the freezer, yes!!! Doesn't make much sense to "stock up" on sale items, only to pay the high carrying costs of operating the freezer! I like having it for parties and holidays, but with some careful planning it WOULD be possible to unplug it most of the year! Thanks!
March 25, 2014 at 3:24PM     
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dreambee
As I am reading all this wonderful advice and the lived experiences in this thread I am so grateful for I am thinking....I can do just about anything on my smartphone like order food through an app without even making a phone call, navigate driving all the way from the westcoast of the US to the eastcoast, track fertility, know what my uncle across the world is doing...but I don't know how to run my homes own appliances like a furnace, water heater and more. I say there should be an app for all that ;-)
March 25, 2014 at 3:49PM     
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dreambee
@studio10001 thank you so much! Exmarks are the ones I am looking at!
I have seen new ones and also used ones but I don't quite know what the hours on the engine mean, I mean that effect a certain amount of usage would have on the performance of these mashinemaschines
March 25, 2014 at 3:51PM     
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danieBOB
I had a bit of sticker shock with my first heating and electricity bill this winter too. I was so enameled with having a heater that actually worked (don't get me started about my apartment) that I left it on all the time. That combined with a slightly larger home, old windows and central heating from the 80s (or earlier) meant almost $300 out of my pocket for 1 month. Ugh. So I went back to what we did in our old apartment: wear socks, slippers, sweaters, and turn down the heat. Open the curtains when it's sunny outside. Make sure the lights are off.

My wish list is:
New windows
New heating (ours is from Montgomery Wards)
Insulate
Solar panels (someday)
Instant hot water heater
March 25, 2014 at 3:59PM     
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studio10001
I wouldn't trust it to tell you much; if you are looking at used models and the meter is inaccurate, you'd have no way of knowing. A reputable dealer and a good warranty are your best friends in the search.
March 25, 2014 at 4:17PM     
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PRO
JudyG Designs
Ask for an energy audit from your utility companies. Even in a frigid climate your bills are out of the ordinary.

Get on a monthly budget payment plan.

I live in the Northeast and winter has been unusually stormy. My gas bill is about $250. and electric $181.00. My home is over 3,000 sq ft and we are warm and cozy.

Something is wrong.
March 25, 2014 at 4:56PM     
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bungalowmo
@danieBOB...before you go ripping out those old windows (mine are 100) read this below,
It's actually good info for anyone living in an old home and considering getting rid of their original windows.

Straight from the National Trust for Historic (or just old) Preservation: http://www.preservationnation.org/information-center/sustainable-communities/buildings/weatherization/windows/#.UzIcFFdYIUM

They show you what you can do & how you can get tax credits.

Also.... http://www.oldhouseguy.com/windows/
MORE excellent info.

Don't let the ads & promises sway you. Get the facts. I've done several of mine & they will all be done at one point or another.
March 25, 2014 at 5:22PM     
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Judy M
7 acres? can you rent out some of the land to a farmer? do you have a barn that you can rent to someone with a horse?
March 25, 2014 at 5:36PM     
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dreambee
@JudyG Designs
Thank you so much! That is a really helpful comparison! My house is about 4500 square ft. Last month I only spent two days there and got a $540 energy bill :-(((
March 25, 2014 at 6:04PM     
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studio10001
ouch.
March 25, 2014 at 6:18PM     
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dreambee
Dear @Judy M
That sounds like a wonderful idea! I have thought of the horse barn before, I have a 4 Stall barn with loft, wash room and tack room and a little bathroom. I used to have automatic waterers in stalls and paddocks but they were running on thermostats and I thought perhaps that's what costs so much energy so I turned them off. I so have an Outdoor riding arena. When I mentioned renting out the barn and acres of fenced in pastures to someone with horses they said it would be a liability concern for me and I would need a specific insurance to cover me in case something were to happen to a human or horse. I don't really know horse people or equestrian realtors that could make such a rental happen.
March 25, 2014 at 6:36PM   
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dreambee
@studio10001 the pain made me write this thread which I am very glad I did
March 25, 2014 at 6:38PM     
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Judy M
I guess you'd have to do some research. Of course, if a lot of people around you have that much land, the need might not be there. I have heard of people leasing out land to people to farm it.
I think the energy audit is a perfect first step. But consider the possibility of making the land work for you.
How about the barn as storage for someone with large equipment ( backhoe, construction materials etc.) a goat farmer? (some of them are into making organic cheeses to sell and maybe the goats can graze on the land ( less mowing, right?)
March 25, 2014 at 6:43PM     
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Judy M
Where I live, people plant christmas trees and then sell them for $100 each ( of course it takes years for them to grow) the same local farm has strawberry picking in summer and pumpkin picking in the fall ( with hay rides) and they just expanded to a vineyard with wine tasting.

Your barn could become a wedding reception venue especially with a small vineyard, perhaps leasing it for other purposes would work.
March 25, 2014 at 6:48PM     
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dreambee
Thank you very much @Judy M!
That all sounds enticing!
I have also wanted to do vacation rentals of my house as it is not my primary residence and often unused. I have done vacation rentals before through websites like Airbnb and vrbo and of course it had its pro's and con's but I have always enjoyed the extra cash flow it can bring (minus the taxes they make you pay with their 1099's ;-)
But with the recent attention on vacation rentals in different places of the US being illegal I am really confused as to it now being legal or illegal where I live and own my own home. I would think that on my own property I get to do as I choose but have looked into it a little closer and in an area zoned for single family homes I am not so sure. I would want to be sure before doing it here. If I were allowed to there has already been a lot of interest as my home had been featured on several design and lifestyle blogs.
I really like your idea of the barn for weddings! That sounds so romantic and like it would bring good energy as well!
I will google the rental for horse owners maybe I'll find something!

Ps.: I went inside the room of my house I have never given any attention to, the furnace room, and it looks like my water heater is insulated
March 26, 2014 at 5:15AM     
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foreverfarm11
$30/hr to clean a home is expensive, you should be able to find someone cheaper - if not, I suggest you clean your own home. I have a very long driveway and then a shared driveway, my husband takes care of it. He has several options to use, first he has a plow he can attach to his lawnmower - but he hates putting that on and taking it off, we also have a snow blower. He doesnt want to get the plow for his truck, so next year I am thinking we may buy some type of dune buggy type vehicle with a plow on it. I am not sure where you live or how cold it was but I live in pennsylvania - I had $1000 worth of propane delivered in November (gas is not available here) -and I am still going strong. Definately check your insulation. I even have my basement insulated to some degree. as for the electric bill...thats going to be high in the winter and summer (heat or air conditioners being run). how big is your house!
March 26, 2014 at 5:47AM     
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soozmacrae
How about selling off some of your acreage. Especially if it is a burden to maintain. Invest the money on equipment to help with winter snow.
March 26, 2014 at 3:33PM     
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PRO
Mark Bischak, Architect
Split off part of the property and build an energy efficient house on it. Sell the existing house and live (vacation) in the new house. How's that for an architect answer?
March 26, 2014 at 3:44PM     
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PRO
Cancork Floor Inc.
The size of the home, the age of the build and the type of fuel are all adding up to big price tags. Upgrade/update your heating = geothermal (they drill down several hundred feet and then back up in a "U" shape, thread water tubing down and back up) will have a large "upfront cost" but then it turns into "$0 per month" after that...you will be paying for water to the property, but all other forms of heat will come from the heat in the earth. Geothermal heating is new, it is growing in popularity because it is almost 100% efficient.

Insulate, insulate, insulate. The size of the home means you have a large "skin" (outside walls) where all that heat is escaping. By insulating (especially if you go beyond code for your area and start working with "very cold" climate levels of insulation) you will drop the heating tab (so long as you stick with oil/natural gas/electric) by as much as 40%.

While you are working on the walls - look to the doors and windows as the greatest "holes in the wall" that leak heat. Get it all done at once (to install insulation...you need to damage some drywall; to install new windows you need to disturb/damage drywall/insulation).

Sorry to say, but oil heat is one of the most expensive ways to go. As soon as you rip out that beast you will see instant savings.

And 7 acres is a nice little "hay field". Hobby farmers would love to work that section. So long as they maintain it...they can have the proceeds = win-win for everyone.
March 26, 2014 at 3:56PM     
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Denita
Yes, that outdoor Jacuzzi heating all winter everyday has got to cost a bundle! I am in the south so I don't know how to save on costs in your area, but there has to be an expert in your area to contact for info.
March 26, 2014 at 4:07PM     
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PirateFoxy
If you have horses you need to consult someone about setting up proper pastures for them on your acreage. You do need to be careful how much grass they get and what kind of grass it is and the time of year, but if you get set up nicely then they can graze a fair amount of the time and it will cut back your feed bills. The thing is that you'll want at least two pastures for proper pasture management, if not more. (Depends how many horses you have, if they can all go out together, etc.) But the idea is that you can move them between pastures so none of the pastures ever get eaten right down to bare ground. There is still some work required in the pastures, spreading manure and so on, but before you do anything else with landscaping I'd look into the pasture needs to make sure you don't spend money on anything that will be not suitable for using the land for pasturing, or will mean duplicating equipment.

I would also advise caution with renting out the barn - hang out on any online horse forum and you will hear plenty of horror stories and a laundry list of problems that can come up. Some people obviously do it happily, but I would definitely do plenty of research before going down that road. (And yes, you will likely have to get additional insurance.) You want to know what you're getting into and have a good agreement in place and an understanding of the costs. (In addition to insurance, horses can be very hard on buildings and fencing, so you need to make sure that your agreement either stipulates how things are to be maintained and how things are paid for if the person doesn't keep things in shape, or be charging enough to pay for doing the needed maintenance yourself.)

If you are interested in renting out, the idea of using it as a hay field is probably one of the most promising - you might still need extra insurance to cover yourself against any accidents that might happen on your property during farming, but if people in your area do hay then you are likely to find a taker and hay costs are high enough that many people would be pretty happy to have some extra land or to grow their own.
March 26, 2014 at 5:06PM   
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kathleenhep
have a look at our underfloor heating at www.ukwarmfloor.com It is electric underfloor heating with the lowest running costs on the market today! It also runs from solar power.. email me i would be happy to help
March 27, 2014 at 12:19AM   
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Sigrid
March 27, 2014 at 7:48AM     
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