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Posts Tagged ‘thrifty’

  1. Tune your own piano

    January 1, 2012 by Karl

    piano berry berry berry berry berry

    This article will teach you some of the basics of how to tune your own piano.  If you are a thrifty and frugal minded piano owner, this is for you.

    I grew up in a musical family. My mom was a piano teacher and concert pianist, and we all sang and played various instruments. One thing that has stuck out in my mind was how temperature and humidity sensitive pianos are.  If they are not kept at a constant humidity throughout the year, they go out of tune in as little as a few weeks. This can be a very expensive proposition for a finicky ear. I remember the piano tuner coming over regularly to keep both our pianos in tune when I was a child.

    Now with my own family, my daughter was taking lessons and practicing on a cheap electronic keyboard, so my wife started pressuring me to get a piano. I instantly started seeing dollar bills flying out the door at the first mention of a piano. Not only would we have the expense a piano purchase and moving of the beast, but keeping it tuned was going to be a nightmare.

    I slowly warmed up to the idea of buying a used piano from a local thrift store or finding one on Craigslist, but the cost of maintaining the thing seemed non-negotiable until I looked into the option of tuning it myself.  I realized that I could get the necessary tools off Amazon for about half the cost of bringing a piano tuner in for one visit.  All I needed was a laptop, some free (or evaluation) software, a tuning hammer (for some reason piano tuners call their wrench a hammer), and some “black wedge thingies” which I later found out were called mutes.

    Armed with this information, I was now actually excited about finding a piano to fix up and tune.  With a quick search, I found one on Craigslist for $50.  When I went to look at it, I almost didn’t take it because it was in such seemingly bad shape, but the woman was desperate to get it out of her house and lowered her price to $25, which was simply too good to pass up.  I probably could have gotten it for free if I pushed a little harder, but just couldn’t bring myself to do that.

    Some friends helped me load it onto my trailer, and before long it was parked on our living room floor.  I was beginning to think that I had just purchased a $25 carpet weight when I opened it up and started sucking out wads of cat hair with the vacuum cleaner.  Two of the keys played at the same time when either one was pressed down, and I discovered someone had jammed a house key between these piano keys.  Once removed, they worked fine.  I also found a quarter between another two keys, which oddly was not causing an issue.  A little furniture polish had it looking much better, but the piano was still desperately out of tune.  My newly purchased tools were still on the delivery truck passing through somewhereville USA, so I took some time to go to the library and take out a few books on piano repair.  I highly recommend doing some background reading if you want to attempt your own piano tuning project.

    UPDATE 2/9/12

    I have now revised and re-posted this article here:

    Sorry for the inconvenience.

  2. Monitoring your electric usage

    December 30, 2011 by Karl

    Electric Meter berry berry berry berry berry

    Learn how to monitor your own home electric usage from minute to minute.

    Many people have heard of, or become familiar with the Kill A Watt electric meter.  This is the first step in taking charge of your electric bill, and building a true understanding of how much electricity different appliances in your house are using.  It can be purchased at, but also many libraries have them available for loan.  Check with your local public library to see if they have one available.

    This meter plugs into a standard outlet (US) and then an appliance is plugged into the device.  The Kill A Watt meter gives you an instant view of how many watts (power) the appliance is using at the moment, but many appliances use more or less power depending on what it is doing at the moment.  For example a computer reads different at start-up than it does during normal running, and different again in sleep mode, which is less.  To get a good solid reading for the appliance, you want to leave it plugged in for at least 24 hours on a day of typical use, to get the best kilowatt-hour reading.  Kilowatt Hours (KWH)  are what the electric company tracks to figure out what to charge you.  One Kilowatt Hour is the amount that a 1000 watt light bulb would use in one hour,  or what 10 – 100 watt light bulbs would use in one hour.  When you look closely at your electric bill, it doesn’t look like it should cost too much to light a house at 10-20 cents (US) per KWH, but it adds up very quickly.  Keeping these same  10-100 watt light bulbs on 24 hours a day for 30 days (24 x 30), uses 720 KWH.  That means that you may be spending $72 to $144 per month to light those bulbs depending on the electric cost per KWH in your area.  Of course this is an extreme example, but it gives you a simple illustration that is easy to understand.  Naturally these lights are going to be turning on and off throughout the day and night, which makes this more complicated.  Next we need to look at all the other things in the house that use electricity.  The more we can choose not to use, or to turn off as soon as we are done, the more we will save.

    The Kill A Watt is good for discovering how much single appliances cost on average, but it is limited.  It cannot measure the amount of power that ceiling lights are using for example.  It is not good at measuring what high power devices are costing you, such as your hot water heater, electric range, electric clothes dryer, well pump, or heating and cooling system.  These devices do not plug-in to a standard outlet, making the Kill A Watt useless for measuring these devices.

    There is another device out there that fits the bill.  It is called the EnviR SmartR Monitor it is also called the Current Cost monitor depending on what you search on the web (they need to work on their branding a little bit).  This device has some simple clamps (they look like chip clip type clamps) that clamp over the main power wires coming into your house.  These clamps plug into a small radio transmitter that sends a signal to a monitor that you place somewhere in the living space of your house.  It monitors the electric in your whole house, and updates every 6 seconds.  It reports how many KWH you have used in the past day, week, and month.  It gives you a real-time reading of the overall power you are using.  You can watch it change as you turn lights on and off.  You can get a sense of what is drawing the most power in your house, and how that can be reduced.

    Within the first two days of having this monitor in our kitchen, my 9-year-old daughter (unprompted) started turning things on and off to see how much is was costing.  This is the daughter who left the lights on all the time.  Now her behavior is starting to change!