A Successful Bargain Hunt

By , June 27, 2015

Frugal living often means delaying purchases and taking more time and effort to shop for the right item at the right price. While many (probably most) Americans won’t do this, we find it worthwhile, even rewarding, in almost every case.

Last weekend we swept the cabin chimney. In the process we discovered that our chimney cap needs to be replaced. Heat and rust has degraded the cap that has been in place ever since we first saw the property more than 10 years ago.

Chimney caps are surprisingly expensive items. We learned this a long time ago, when we needed to replace the chimney cap on our home in Juneau. We eventually made our own cap to replace that one.

I didn’t want to go through that process again this time, so we began shopping for a commercial cap. I cursed our bad timing, as I had recently seen a used wind cap for sale at considerable savings on the Haines community Website’s classified ads. When I checked for it again, I couldn’t find the entry on the site.

The "new" chimney cap in place (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

The “new” chimney cap in place (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Michelle shopped the three hardware stores in Haines (yes, we’re small, but we’re a real do-it-yourself town!) and found a wide range of caps. The inexpensive ones appeared a little fragile; the expensive ones would be better, but no one in town currently carries the wind cap.

We found wind caps on line for about $120, within the price range of the better caps in town. The old cap would definitely last long enough for an ordered cap to arrive in the mail, or via special order from one of the hardware stores.

We wanted a wind cap particularly because it would provide the best protection against wind and rain. The wind profile around our cabin makes airflow very erratic. We don’t often have downdrafts in our chimney, but it does happen. Further, the wind cap creates a better draft on the chimney, which especially helps in the summer when we use the hot water heater without a fire in the main wood stove. It would likely help reduce creosote build up in the stove pipe, and more efficient heating.

We debated the economics of our various choices. Were we to order the cap we wanted, it would likely last the rest of our lives, or at least 30 years. For the same amount of money, we could purchase 5 of the inexpensive caps. We couldn’t estimate how long one of these caps might last, but if each one lasted 6 years, we’d cover the same 30 year span.

We decided to start with an inexpensive cap. We preferred gambling on a progression of lower quality caps lasting longer than expected rather than paying the cost up front, then waiting and hoping that the one item would survive the projected life span. The cap we need to replace was not any sort of engineering wonder, yet it lasted at least 12 years, twice our minimum need.

I asked Michelle to pick up a lower priced cap from one of the hardware stores, but suggested that she stop by the second hand store, Talia’s Treasures, first to check for caps there (see Museum of Lost Desires). I had a hunch that the cap advertised on the Web site might be for sale at the store.

My hunch proved correct! Michelle came home that evening with the wind cap in her pack. We got the cap we wanted at a savings of at least $80! As a bonus, we kept the money in the community. Our hunt for the best chimney cap not only led us to the model we wanted, it led us to the exact item we thought had gotten away.

For a collection of our frugal thoughts and practices, check out More Calories Than Cash: Frugality the Zeiger Family Homestead Way, our new eBook—exclusively (and inexpensively priced!) from our website!

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