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Posts Tagged ‘Bargains’

Make an airtight diaper pail for less than $5

23 Feb

Homemade, airtight diaper pailsFor me, the benefits of cloth diapers (saving money, avoiding blowouts, and reducing trash output) easily outweigh the inconveniences (washing, stuffing, and storing the diapers). However, storing three days worth of smelly diapers requires several effective diaper pails to keep the house from smelling like a litter box. Diaper pails can be surprisingly expensive, though, so you may want to make your own like I did. Why spend $30 on one bin when you can have a whole fleet of them for less than half that much?

For less than $5, you can make a diaper pail that will easily hold a day’s worth of diapers; I use three of these bins in different locations around the house so we never have to carry a dirty diaper very far. It is a simple matter of buying two identical trash cans and making minor modifications so one trashcan can serve as the lid for the other.

Tools and materials:

  • Two FNISS wastebaskets from IKEA ($1.99 each as of this moment)
  • Cabinet knob
  • Foam pipe insulation
  • Utility knife
  • Drill
  • Duct tape or gaffer’s tape

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Furnace filter + box fan = cheap air filter for allergies

02 Sep

Allergy fan anteriorIf you are allergic to dust, pollen, cat dander, or other respiratory irritants, you may benefit from an air filter to remove these particles from the air you breathe. These can be expensive.

You also may be cheap and/or skeptical like me. Before buying an expensive piece of hardware, I often try out a cheaper version first, both to make sure the technology is worthwhile and to check if the cost of the fancy version is really justified. If the cheap option works, I say stick with it!

If you need an air filter temporarily (such as while visiting a house with a cat) or just like finding the cheapest solution to your problem, you may want to try the simple contraption you see here. In combination with regular doses of Claritin, this slapdash-looking filter has kept the wife happy on trips to dusty or cat-friendly places. My air-filtration system requires only three materials:

  • A common 20″ electric fan (often called a “box fan”): These are available for $20 or less at all kinds of stores.
  • A standard 20″ x 20″ pleated air filter (usually used for household HVAC systems): These can be $3 to $20 apiece depending on the size of the particles it removes. If you have severe allergies, you may want the expensive ones that remove the tiniest particles.
  • Duct tape: Any kind will do.

The construction is simple, but it is not quite as simple as just taping the filter to the fan. Follow these steps for best results:

  1. Place the filter in front of the fan and make sure they are are aligned properly. The filter will have an arrow printed on the edge pointing in the desired direction of airflow. Make sure the fan will blow air against the back of the filter in the direction of the arrow.
  2. Tape every edge of the filter to the fan. You want all of the air blown forward by the fan to go through the filter, so don’t leave any gaps. Multiple layers of tape may help.
  3. On the back of the fan, tape over all four corners of the rear grate to reduce blowback. The filter is square, while the fan’s blades trace a circular pattern. When the fan is running, some of the air pressure will leak out the back of the filter, especially at the corners farthest from the thrust of the fan blades.Covering these areas will increase the fan’s effectiveness by reducing the flow of air back out of the fan and increasing pressure against the filter.
  4. Set the fan to its highest speed to maximize the pressure against the filter. Lower speeds may not result in much airflow due to resistance from the filter. The medium and high speeds are best for providing an effective breeze through the filter.

Allergy fan posterior

If you want to clean the air in a closed bedroom to help you sleep, leave the fan running in the room with the door closed. If you want to avoid allergies in a larger space, aim the fan at yourself for a continuous stream of filtered air.

There are a few maintenance issues. Over time, the filter will become clogged with all the dust it has collected; cut or peel off the tape and install a new filter. Check the taped edges occasionally for tearing or peeling. You should also expect the fan to wear out faster because of the additional stress put on the motor from the pressures generated by blocking the air with a big filter. I suspect this would be seen by a decrease in fan speed, airflow, and electrical efficiency; I’ll have to study that part in the years to come.

 

Cloth diapers: better, cheaper, and a bit more work

07 Feb

Diapers and dinosaur modelIf you have a baby in need of diapers, you might be surprised at how easy cloth diapering can be. I have been using cloth diapers on my daughter for five months and have only good things to report. In my experience, cloth diapers have been better than disposable diapers on nearly all levels. I’ll admit that disposable diapers are simpler and more convenient than their reusable counterparts, but they also seem to have more leaks and blow-outs, too, which is far from convenient. Just as important to me: I’m on track to save hundreds of dollars on diapers this year alone because washing diapers is cheaper than buying disposable ones.

There are lots of brands out there and a lot of choices to make. I’ll explain how I chose these diapers and how to use, wash, and maintain them.

What kind of diapers to get: The diapers shown here are the bumGenius “Cloth Diaper 4.0 One-Size” model. This style of diaper comes in two parts: a sturdy shell with elastic and fasteners to hold it on, and a removable microfiber pad that fits inside to absorb any liquid and keep the shell leak-free. Two-part reusable diapers are common these days, but there are also all-in-one diapers that let you skip the step of stuffing the pad into the shell before you use it. I prefer the two-part variety because I can dry the shell and the pad separately. Line-drying the shells makes their elastic and quick-drying capabilities last longer, while the pads will dry quickly in any dryer with no ill consequences. The pocket style also lets me stuff in an extra pad when desired, such as for overnight or traveling.

Diapers on drying rack Diapers and inserts Pile of diapers

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Kill weeds for free with sunlight and trash bags

12 Aug

Untreated-vs-treated“Green.” “Biodegradable.” “Sustainable.” These terms sum up a lot about how I try to live my life, and yet they carry hidden baggage beneath their friendly exteriors:the ecologically-friendly, non-toxic, all-natural alternatives are more expensive and yet less effective than their more-toxic cousins.

Take oven cleaner, for example. Conventional oven cleaning spray is nasty stuff, but it works — it makes a tough job much easier. Cleaning an oven “organically” takes laborious scrubbing and a lot more time. I wish this weren’t the case, but it’s true. After all, if the non-toxic way was cheaper and easier, wouldn’t we all be doing it already?

Therefore, I feel I must celebrate any “green” option that actually saves both money and effort. Today’s example: Black plastic bags can kill grass and weeds on your patio at no cost to you. I have reclaimed an overgrown patio without pulling a single weed or spraying a single chemical by using a few trash bags and the power of the sun. The only cost to you is patience.

Method: Wait for sunny weather. Cover the area of vegetation that you wish to kill with any kind of black plastic. Put rocks or other weights on the plastic so it stays in place. Leave the plastic there for at least a week, if possible.

What will happen: Any vegetation underneath the plastic will wilt and die. Given enough time, the roots will die as well.

Patio setup for weed killing experimentScientific explanation: The color of an object is determined by what kind of visible light it reflects best. White materials look white because they reflect all colors of visible light, which look white when combined together. Black materials look black because they absorb most visible light rather than reflecting much of it, making them dark in appearance. The absorbed light energy then radiates out as heat (a.k.a. infrared light, which we cannot see). Sunlight absorption is what makes the black plastic effective against plants. First, the plastic prevents the plants underneath from receiving any sunlight, which stops their growth. Second, the absorbed sunlight also heats the plants far beyond their comfort zone. The plastic keeps fresh air from circulating across the ground surface, and the high temperatures beneath the plastic during a sunny day will roast the plants to death. Given enough time, this will kill the roots under the ground and discourage the plants from growing back. This is also why trash cans will create a patch of dead grass right under each can.

My evidence: I treated different patches of my brick patio with black plastic for at least a week at a time. During this time, I did not mow, weed, or poison anything on the patio. I left parts of it untreated to serve as the control group (vital for measuring the results of the experiment). I took photos to record how well the plastic killed the plants and how quickly the plants came back. The photos speak for themselves: the treated patches remain almost entirely clear of plants, while the untreated areas are so overgrown that the bricks are barely visible. The only plants to survive the treatment were located under the edge of the plastic where light, air, and moisture could pass more freely. Moisture trapped underneath the bags did lead to some temporary green mold growth on the bricks, but that faded away after a bit of direct sun exposure when the bags were removed.

Cost to me: under $1 (the bags can be reused repeatedly, which will make their initial cost even more negligible over time, or you can use them as trash bags when you’re done). Of course, this will cost more if you want to treat an entire patio in one shot and need lots of coverage.

Time spent: 5 minutes placing and removing the plastic.

Detailed 'after' shotAdvice: Use the thickest, largest, darkest material you have. A grid made of individually-weighted garbage bags will work (as I demonstrated here), but some weeds may survive at the edges of the bags where air and light leaks in. A dark tarp should work, but beware: some tarps include a reflective liner to reduce heat buildup, which defeats the entire exercise. Plants can still invade when you’re done, so you should expect to repeat the process at least once a year (or more frequently if the plants come back faster).

Overall value: High. You have to plan in advance (and accept the unsightly plastic for a week or so while it does its job), but you don’t have to pull weeds manually, spray toxic herbicides, or spend more than a dollar on the project.

 

Build a tabletop easel in two minutes for $2

23 Jul

Frames on easels With too much framed art for our walls, I wanted to be able to move any frame from the wall to a table and back again as desired. Unfortunately, frames designed to hang on the wall usually don’t come with a hinged stand because the weight of the stand makes the frame hang crooked on the wall. I looked around for small easels and found that even small, simple easels could be surprisingly expensive. I saw no point in spending $14 for an easel when my frames and art are already so cheap.

Enter my good friends at The Dollar Tree. I found laptop stands there that look like broken, two-legged easels. They’re meant to prop up your laptop from below to allow air circulation to keep things cool. The main legs on each stand are adjustable to a variety of lengths. I had a brainstorm and bought all of the black laptop stands I could find at $1 apiece.

With the addition of a few carefully-placed zip ties, a pair of laptop stands becomes an adjustable tabletop easel that can accommodate different sizes of frames and display a frame at any desired angle. That’s quite a bargain for $2 (or perhaps $3 for the first one if you need to buy zip ties). These are great if you have a lot of art and/or don’t want to put holes in your walls. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Better living through vinegar

13 Jan

Fluffy towelsThree ways to improve your morning routine for under $1

I think modern America is entirely too clean. Perhaps we should blame a lifetime of television advertisements for BRAND-NEW, LIFE-SAVING, home cleaning products that only a neglectful monster would try to survive without. I’m all for labor-saving bathroom cleaners and so forth, but please remember that using antibacterial treatments on our hands and countertops as though preparing for surgery does nothing but breed resistant bacteria and line the pockets of cleaning-product vendors. Moreover, there are often simpler, less-expensive alternatives to the myriad brightly-colored bottles found in the cleaning aisle.

Vinegar is one such miracle product — a cheap, effective, non-toxic cleaning agent with has no lingering effects (true, it has a distinctive smell, but that disappears quickly once the vinegar is wiped up or allowed to evaporate). I’ll skip the hippie justification for the moment and put it simply: You can take better showers, use softer towels, and drink tastier coffee by tomorrow with under a dollar’s worth of vinegar. Find me another cleaning product that can improve your entire morning routine so cheaply! If that isn’t enticing, you must live in a different world than I do or never have to get up and get ready for work. You are free to stop reading, and I am jealous of your life. Read the rest of this entry »

 

A lifetime supply of vanilla extract

02 Jan

Vanilla extract finished bottlesReal vanilla extract usually comes in small bottles at surprisingly hefty prices. I assume the scheming vanilla barons of the world can’t trust us with too much of their delicious extract at one time. I use vanilla extract casually in lots of things (in sodas, ciders, and smoothies, just for starters) and thought it would be a good exercise to make my own. It turns out that you can make a self-replenishing bottle of vanilla extract with just vodka, vanilla beans, and patience.

Vanilla beans may seem exotic, but the magic of the internet puts them right at your fingertips. A quick search finds many online vendors, including Amazon. Vanilla beans can be fairly inexpensive in bulk (under a dollar each), so I bought a large bunch and made a massive batch of vanilla extract for holiday gifts (I didn’t want to post about it before and give away any surprises). Along the way, I’ve ended up with plenty of vanilla extract for my own evil purposes. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Make a wine aerator from plumbing fittings

22 Nov

Letting wine breathe involves exposing it to air for up to 20 minutes before drinking it. This will generally improve a wine that has not yet fully aged, particularly a high-tannin red wine like a Syrah or Cabernet. On the other hand, a wine expert might gasp in horror (losing his monocle in the process) at letting a well-aged Pinot Noir breathe. Those of us with less-refined palates or a taste for bargain-hunting may get more bang for our bucks by letting our cheap wines mingle with the air before drinking them. Wine cannot breathe well in the bottle because there’s so little surface area exposed to air. Common breathing methods involve pouring wine into a decanter, which has a broad cross-section for maximum air exposure, or just pouring a glass and letting it sit for a while.

Of course, impatient cheapskates everywhere want to make this process go faster. Enter the wine aerator: a device intended to expose wine to a lot of air in a short time so that it can go from bottle to glass to mouth almost immediately. Vinturi makes a well-known, well-regarded aerator; it looks handsome and makes a cheerful slurping sound as wine funnels through it into your glass. However, the Vinturi aerator costs anywhere from $24 to $40 (that’s actually cheaper than it used to be), which is just enough that I decided to build my own aerator. I’ll show you how to do it with $10 worth of plumbing parts. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Halloween decorations should be creepy (and cheap)

18 Oct

Store displayHalloween is my favorite holiday (after the ones with presents and the ones where I get to eat cake all day). Judging from the cutesy, neutered Halloween decorations I’ve seen, it appears that America wants to forget that Halloween is supposed to be scary. If an October passes without me fearing for my life during a horror flick or at least worrying about skeletal hands creeping out from beneath the couch, then the year gets chalked up as a personal failure. (watching The Orphanage guaranteed that I would succeed this year). Thankfully, the wife and I have a deal: in October, we watch horror movies; in February, we watch romance movies.

October is also when I get to break out the Halloween decorations. I’ve assembled my own batch of Halloween icons over the years, and I try to add something new every year. Today, I’m going to go through some ways to bring the true, creepy spirit of Halloween into your house with minimal expense and effort. My specialties include creepy creatures in jars and horrifically-labeled bottles.
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