Electric & Gas Frustration

dadoesJanuary 12, 2009

Granny's last electric + gas was $228. (My house, three times larger than hers, was $150.) That's more than 25% of her monthly income! I had to pull over $12,000 of her savings last year to cover the deficit of her caregiver, plus the constantly-increasing usual household expenses. Part of the problem is her electric retailer is very expensive, I need to find another. But also ... she no longer understands about finances, the need to be reasonable with electric & gas use. If I try to press the point, she can only see the extremes of either being "warm" or shutting everything completely off.

We're on the central Texas coast, not exactly the land of ice and snow. The temp can be 65°F outside, she has 81°F inside. Or she's complaining of being cold, sitting in her rocker in the living room, by a window, with a blanket folded on the sofa nearby. I was there this afternoon, 60°F outside, I literally broke into a sweat, in short sleeves.

She'll run the washer & dryer for two dishcloths and two dish towels. I turned the water to the washer off, advised the caregiver (who comes mornings 'til 1 PM) that I'll pick up the towels whenever I stop by (usually daily) and do them weekly or so, but she can turn it on if they need to run sheets or clothes, then back off. Somebody is still running them much too often, I can tell by the controls being reset.

She's left-handed, so constantly turns the single-lever kitchen faucet to the left side, using hot water for everything.

She has a portable electric space heater with electronic controls. Set it to a reasonable temp, she unplugs it to move to another room and the controls reset to maximum heat. So I bought a Vornado with a dial thermostat, set it to a reasonable 72°F. Covered the controls to ward-off her getting to them. Somebody tore the cover aside, cranked it to maximum. She claims she didn't do it, but I'm sure she did, doesn't remember.

So what am I to do? Let her run the house like an oven 'til the money is gone ... then what?

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I haven't got any great ides. I know the elderly are always cold, so it's not really surprising that the temperatures are turned up in her house. It's also not surprising that you're breaking out in a sweat during your visits. I do the same when I visit my mom.

One thought would be to get an updated thermostat, if she's got central heating. You could then program the temperatures for different periods of time during the day. You could also buy one of those protective keyed plastic boxes that you cover a thermostat with. You've seen them in offices, etc. That way no one could adjust the temperature without a key. You'd be in control of who'd have access to the thermostat.

But you might have to reconsider what you think is an optimum temperature for her. Perhaps 75 degrees is as low as you can go.

If she's adjusting things and doesn't admit to it or remember doing it, I would strongly suggest forgetting about electric space heaters of any kind. If you're dealing with someone not fully aware of things, you could be risking serious injury or even fire.

You can have the hot water temperature set so it doesn't run so hot. Might be a good idea anyhow to avoid burns. You can also install products that help to conserve hot water. Ask a plumber or someone at a plumbing supply store or big box hardware store.

It sounds like your grandmother is confused and not understanding things well. It sounds like you're beyond really being able to reason with her, so you're just frustrating yourself. I realize that you want to conserve her money so she can spend many more years in her home. But it may not be possible. How old is she? This may be just the beginnings of frustrations for you. Good luck.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 12:38AM
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Yes, we're firmly into the dementia, Alzheimer's (not officially diagnosed), and memory loss scenario. That's why the caregiver has been arranged, going on 18 months now.

Age 89. Birthday today, in fact! :-)

Other than the mental situation, she's not all that bad physically for 89. Which is to say, she may outlive her funds.

There is no central air/heat. One small open-flame natural gas space heater, the electric space heater, and a window unit with heat that wasn't used much on that bill. The water heater is electric. Clothes dryer is electric. Stove is gas, but there's not a lot of cooking. Local codes no longer allow for open gas heaters in bedrooms or bathrooms. When the gas plumbing was redone some years ago, there could only be the one in the kitchen area, the bedroom and bathroom gas taps were eliminated, so there's no choice but to use the electric space heater to supplement. The house is small, 2 BR, about 815 sq ft., 63 years old, wood-frame construction. Some insulation and improvements have been added over the years so it's not all that bad.

Last year when natural gas prices went to skyrocketing, I opted to use the window unit as primary heat, which ended up being a rather large mistake.

The hot water temp is already turned down some. She doesn't understand single-lever faucets, that any position away from cold includes some hot in the mix. Maybe I could flip the cartridge 180°, or swap the hot/cold connectors, that would at least put the hot side away from her natural left orientation.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 4:00AM
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"Other than the mental situation, she's not all that bad physically for 89. Which is to say, she may outlive her funds. "

It may be time to face the reality of the bigger picture. She is not going to listen to reason, understand what you are saying, or even care.

And she is never going to improve. What happens next? When she leaves the flame on the range on? When she confuses her medications? When she falls? Hopefully, those things won't happen, but you need to be looking a little farther down the road.

You're up against a brick wall, I am afraid, and there is no going back, or her understanding the situation. And not all dementia is Alzheimer's

You spoke of a caregiver? For the last 18 months? How many hours, what chores? The caregiver should have some control over the heat and the laundry, check in there and find out the other part of the equation.

Or your grandmother may have reached the limit of what her caregiver can do for her in the hours available.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 9:58AM
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It's time to start looking around for other suitable accomodations. Get her on a waiting list. That way, if there is an accident or illness, you won't have to make a decision in a hurry.

That open flame gas heater could be a disaster just waiting to happen. Be sure it's covered in such a way that she can't get to it to stick a piece of paper in it, or have a bathrobe swish into the flame.

I have no idea what you could do to properly heat her house other than installing central heat. I doubt that it would be feasible to do that. This sort of thing just doesn't have a happy solution.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 10:24AM
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Is there any assisted living in your area? Check with the council on aging or your local senior center. Like some say, it will only get worst until a disaster occurs.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 6:30PM
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It sounds like what you're saying is that all the heat sources are some sort of space heaters -- "One small open-flame natural gas space heater, the electric space heater, and a window unit with heat..." Are there no built in heating units at all? If so, that's a serious problem for someone whose mental abilities are diminishing.

At this point I think worrying about heating costs is less of a problem than worrying about safety issues. Someone who is beyond understanding how to use the faucets, who's running the washer & dryer for 2-3 items, who won't cover up with a lap blanket, who moves heaters, etc., probably isn't able to take safety precautions either. To me, that is a big concern.

Even if you somehow solve ALL the heating problems, her diminished capacity is going to create a host of new difficulties. She may even need more care and oversight now than she's currently receiving. Try to think ahead.

You can always pull the breakers on the washer & dryer so only the caregiver can use them. Who does the cooking? You might consider shutting off the gas to the stove/oven and just have a microwave and toaster oven (one that won't heat for longer than 30 minutes at a time).

There are hot water heater timers you can install to save money. Check out this site:


If she's used to the two separate faucets, is there a reason why you can't get a plumber to install the kind of faucets she knows how to use? It might be more cost effective and less frustrating for you to just give her the technology that she can understand and use correctly.

I'd definitely look into installing heating in each room of the house. Don't tempt her with moving heating units from room to room. That's a recipe for disaster. Here's a website that has some baseboard electric heaters. These look safer than anything that is standing and could get knocked over:


Finally, here's a link to a wall heater that can be installed without fear of tipping over:

Here is a link that might be useful: E Heat Wall heater

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 8:10PM
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I agree with everyone else. It sounds as if there's more to this than your saying. If she's not understanding her finances, how to use the faucet, running the washer & dryer for two dishcloths and two dish towels.

I'm scare to ask but is she still driving?

I think you really need to look into getting her placed into an assisted living home. It's not going to be easy but it's sure will save you from guilt if anything was to happen to her.
Sounds like she maybe alone for half the day on into the night. Expected for the hour or so you go check on her and the caretaker.
I wouldn't want her left alone due to when one ages with problems like your grandmother they can be fine one hour and not the next.
You need to be concerned if she might walk outside and get confused and become lost. A strange coming to her house and she thinks they are someone she knows invites the in.

Like I said it's best to take precautions, for her and yourself.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2009 at 8:46PM
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The kitchen faucet has been there for years, she knows how to use it in terms of turning the water on/off, she just doesn't understand the mechanics of single-lever faucets in regards to excessive hot water use.

I've been handling her finances for probably the last 15 years, long before the mental deterioration started.

The house has the same kind of heating that has been there for 63 years, this isn't something has changed recently (well, except the window unit with heat doesn't date that far back). Moving an electric space heater such as a Vornado isn't a problem, they're intended to be portable. The gas unit is in her kitchen, away from "living area foot-traffic." That's part of the problem, it's on the opposite side of the house from the bedrooms. The window unit is nearby in the kitchen. Yesterday evening I set it on low fan-only, which nicely (and economically) picks up the heat and blows it across to the other side of the house ... but she'd soon complain about it blowing "cold air" ... being accustomed to the gas heater, she expects heat to be a continuous HOT blast.

She stopped driving 6 years ago.

The caregiver is there Mon-Fri 8 AM to 1 PM, which about all granny can tolerate without going into a fuss about it. I live not more than 2 miles up the road, call (or she calls me) and/or stop by several times per day. I'm not the only family, just the nearest. She's far from neglected. Short of physically forcing her out (or the house burning down), the only way she'll leave her house is if she has another stroke resulting in incapacitation or deteriorates mentally to the point it can be done without force. Her mother and husband died in that house, and by golly, she intends to as well.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2009 at 5:22PM
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Dadoes, no one is thinking that you're neglecting your grandmother. We perfectly understand that you're trying your best to accommodate her desire to stay in her home. Most of us have had to deal with similar situations. The difficulty is that sometimes we are not able to fulfill the elderly loved one's wishes. Their health may deteriorate too much to be left in their own home; or their mental condition may diminish too much. Sometimes the caregivers themselves cannot physically or emotionally keep it up any longer. That's why it's good to have thought about other options and alternatives. None of this is easy.

My thought about getting separate space heaters for each room was to eliminate her bending down, picking something up, unplugging it, finding a new (and safe) place for it, & then plugging it back in. That's an awful lot of steps for an elderly person & confused person to deal with effectively and safely. Having heaters in every room would eliminate the need for moving the sole heater around so much.

I understand completely the "cold air" complaint, and as I said before, it's pretty typical for an elderly person. They crave warmth, and it's useless to fight against it. I also understand the hot water situation. My hands are always cold, so I turn the hot water on for washing my hands and when I wash up a few pots and pans by hand. Again, I don't think you can fight against that.

As I said before, I think her personal safety is more important right now than worrying about heating bills. There are products out there that could help you lower costs and provide more safety.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2009 at 9:53PM
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I second shambo's statement we're not thinking that you are neglecting your grandmother.
From the sound of it you've done a beautiful job caring for your grandmother.
It's just that the problems you are telling us is a big sign that she is in more need of care than you or anyone in the family has time for. There comes a time when she will need full 24/7 care and watchful eye's. We can't help if we have to work to eat and have a place to live that's life.
It is often outsiders that see or hear or in this case read into what is being said.
It's like leaving a 3 year old home alone, they do not know how to fully care for themselves. This is were your grandmother is in her life.
I can fully understand she wants to live and die in her home like her parents. I have the same problem with my dad. He lived in his home for 52 years and his parents lived next door from the time he was 6 months old so he lived in the same place two homes for 76 years.
He had congestive heart failure and then a pacemaker put in, I knew he could not care for himself and I'm unable to care for him, So I had to place him into a home. It's not easy but I know he's safe. Dad can't use the phone due to dementia, so he can't call in to check his pacemaker. Plus he was taking his medicine wrong and he lost one medicine. I knew his time was running out of being able to stay at home alone but I kept a close eye on him driving over to his home 25 miles away getting everything he needed, taking him to his doctor appointments ect.
We know were your coming from we've been there. We know how hard it is.
My grandmother had dementia and my uncle who lived with her woke up in the middle of the night to see the front door open and grandmother walking down the street. Lucky for her he found her before she hurt herself or someone hurt her.

Take care, Barb

    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 11:09PM
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