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Squeezing every drop from a dollar

A one-man crusade to cope with higher energy costs.

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When I go on my daily four-mile walk and see a penny lying on the ground, I pick it up. Scottish habits die hard, even when your family has been in America for over 300 years.

Recently here in Arlington, Va., the lowly penny became symbolic. For the first time, it now costs one cent to draw a gallon of water out of the tap in your home. Yes, even water prices are going up fast. Enjoy a long shower? That'll now be 40 cents. Wash your car? Fifty cents. Water the lawn for an hour? Two dollars.

Gasoline, airplane tickets, cooking oil, bread, and now, water – sometimes it seems that the price of everything is headed for the moon.

But you can do something about it.

My concern about higher prices started three years ago. That was when I wrote a series of articles for the Monitor about future supplies of energy. The outlook was glum then, and looks even glummer today.

So in the past three years, I've come up with several things that helped me deal with rising energy and utility costs. Among my most effective tools (no joke!):

A piece of strong cord.

A collection of buckets.

A knob that says "Hot" and "Cold."

A well-trained right foot.

The specific problem that motivated this energy crusade was the rising price of natural gas. Prices zoomed from 54 cents per 100 cubic feet in 2002 to 95 cents in 2005. Now it's $1.04.

At first I did things that experts recommend. I boosted the insulation in my attic from four inches to 16 inches. I put in 14 new double-paned windows with argon gas insulator.

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