Get a clothesline or please shut your mouth about climate change

clothespins

We’re living in times that are undeniably permeated with hotly-fueled, often polarized debates about many topics. One such topic that certainly has a large share of the opinionated conversation market is “climate change”.

We aren’t here to offer support to either side of that debate. To the denying side, we say that care of the environment is an essential duty given to us by our creator regardless if one believes the climate is truly changing or not. We aren’t doing a good job with this task and need to be honest about such!

To those on the other side, furiously and vigorously raising the climate change alarms we also have an admonishment – buy and use a clothesline immediately or please shut your mouth!

If you have one, good! Now go get your neighbors on board with using them.

We’ve participated in many conversations with people of all stripes, many of which are very concerned about climate change. Many of these have notions of how extreme measures must be taken to curtail the use of fossil fuels and how renewables will solve all our problems. Often the suggested solutions are mind-numbingly complex and the outcomes somewhat minimal or worse, undefinable.

One question we often immediately ask such people is “do you have a clothesline?” To which the majority respond with “no”!

Many of these fiercely chanting about climate change would  probably put a single item through a dryer cycle, go make some toaster treats, microwave some popcorn, and watch their 90″ tv (while texting on their smartphone), then perhaps take a nice long hot shower, iron their clothes, get in their cars and drive two miles to get a cup of coffee – single-origin and fair trade of course, before returning home to peruse facebook for several hours before retiring to bed where they might turn on the tv (for white noise of course) while they sleep.

Folks, sometimes there are simple answers to complex problems. Most of us needn’t look further than the mirror to find the source of most environmental issues.

We aren’t suggesting that clotheslines will solve all the large environmental issues of our planet. Changing our consumption patterns would be a good start tho!

Regardless, the difference that would be made by clothesline use alone offers perhaps the highest return on investment that can be found in the area of consumption changes.  They can cost as little as zero. They require no special knowledge or skills. They require no appreciable learning curve and almost every household can participate in their use.

It’s hard to pin down exact numbers, but most data we have found places clothes dryer energy consumption between 12% and 20% of energy consumption in an average household in The United States. In most households, particularly those with electric clothes dryers, only electric-based heat, and hot water consume more household energy.

Imagine for a moment if all households that used a clothes dryer invested in a clothesline? With nearly 126 million households in the US alone, the possible beneficial impact to the environment (not to mention, family finances!) are not trivial, offering a reduction in energy usage of up to 20%! Those with gas dryers also reduce fossil fuels and still benefit similarly. There isn’t a household that wouldn’t benefit from such with the exception of a few nudists here and there 😉

There is NO simpler solar device, nor one more accessible to the masses than the clothesline.

Folks, if you’re unwilling to do the simple things to contribute toward solutions to global issues, in our book you’ve lost all credibility and with it, your rights to complain about these problems.

Honestly, what basis do you have telling others how their lifestyles should change to address climate change if you yourself can’t make such a simple and meaningful change? Such a change requires no expensive renewables installation, no rebates, no governmental agency or legislation to address.

Ah, but you have an HOA that prevents clotheslines! As the old saying goes – “think globally, act locally”. Start your political efforts with your HOA to allow these climate-saving changes. If you can’t get one neighborhood to change, you think we can get entire nations to do so?

The world belongs to all of us, and if we are to care for it properly, we all must be responsible for such. All should be equally responsible for taking personal steps such as these to reduce consumption. If you can’t do that much, kindly remove yourself from debating such things because you might be a hypocrite.

Anyone can homestead – today!

We get it.. we’ve been there… longing for better days ahead when we might have more land, more time, more space, more dollars… The future is always so elusive and discouraging at times! Hope often seems to disappoint us, doesn’t it?

One of the worst mindsets to fall into for someone striving for hoped-upon future – whether that being grid-independence, homesteading, self-employment, or anything – is thinking it all has to happen right now. Impatience can prevent you from taking any steps towards your goals.

Regardless of your situation today, there are things you can do TODAY to prepare you for your future homestead:

Develop your library

You’re going to need to know a lot to live a homestead lifestyle, especially if off-grid or off-grid capable (“OGC”). Sure, you can learn a lot on YouTube, but do you really want to rely on a service that could be there one day and gone the next? Invest in real, paper-based, low-tech books about subjects you want and need to know about. Energy, plumbing, building, gardening,

Learn skills that you can put into practice now

Some skills that you’ll need can be pursued in almost any environment.

  • Food preservation is one such skill.
    • Learn to home can food
    • Learn to dehydrate food
    • Learn to make preserves
    • Learn to pickle
    • Learn to make fermented food and drinks
  • Learn to knit
  • Learn to sew
  • Learn about electricity
  • Learn about plumbing
  • Learn first-aid and CPR (hopefully, you’ll not need the latter!)

Get to know others around you who are homesteading and, off-grid or off-grid-capable

Ask around to find out who in your area or community is already living these kinds of lives. Who is it that raises their own food, produces their own energy, etc? Make an effort to get to know these people and learn how they live. Most, after getting over the initial awkwardness of wondering who you are, will probably be inclined to share their knowledge and insights with you. Bring cookies  – it will help! Or canning jars 😀

Volunteer to help those already doing it

Once you find people living the lifestyle you hope to live, offer your time to help – even if it’s not much. Firstly, if you don’t have time to help now, you definitely won’t have time to live this lifestyle! Secondly, there is a lot of hard-work and time involved in living a homestead or off-grid/capable life. Helping those already doing it would be appreciated and you’ll gain first-hand knowledge and experience that could serve you well for decades. Consider it mentoring! You’ll also see first-hand what it is really like and know for yourself what you might be getting into. Many could save themselves great expense and hardship doing a “try before you buy” run at homesteading.

Look for classes about related subjects

Many municipalities offer classes to their citizens. The land-grant university system resulted in most counties having an Extension Office. These Extension Offices often teach many useful classes on gardening, composting, and other useful skills. They’ll also put you in touch with like-minded people. Learn how to garden. Learn how to weld. Learn how to shoot a firearm.

Get to know senior citizens

Most senior citizens alive today grew up in a time when many of the skills necessary for living these lifestyles were commonplace. Get to know them, ask questions. They’ll likely be delighted to share their stories and knowledge with you and you’ll be honoring their experience and life by providing them the company.

Consider your energy consumption, then lower it

Many people are absolutely in the dark (pun not intended) about the ability to maintain their energy consumption habits in an off-grid or off-grid-capable context. For example,  the solar power necessary to support a home of several thousand square feet with all the modern amenities could cost $100k.

Living off-grid full-time or part-time requires changes to consumption habits, usage patterns, and also realistic expectations. No need to wait until later to start these. Begin today to set goals for reducing your energy consumption by a percentage. Once you achieve that, go to the next level and so forth. Doing so will be good training and also allow one to understand how much energy would be required to live off-grid.

 

Raised beds with pressure treated lumber?!

Pressure Treated?!

If you’ve ever looked into raised beds, you’ve likely looked for the materials to build them out of and, if wood, probably come across mixed advice when those discussions center around using pressure-treated (PT) wood.

Out of the abundance of caution, we’ve always steered clear of pressure treated wood – that is until recently. We decided we’d do our best to safeguard against what some worry about and see how it goes. We can’t help but believe that fresh produce grown in pressure-treated beds is any worse than most of the contexts where food comes from commercially. Furthermore, gardens near populations where pollution is a problem likely pose a higher risk of causing health issues.

To be clear, we’re NOT recommending you do this. We just decided to give it a shot and describe here how we built our beds. These instructions would be just as useful for non-treated lumber – they’d just last a lot longer.

Materials:

We started with these nifty raised bed blocks from Home Depot:

Next, we purchased our pressure-treated lumber. We were aiming to make long beds that were as wide as possible but still allow adults to reach the center of the bed from the edges. We ended up making beds that were approximately 5′ x 15′ and about 16.5″ deep (three courses of lumber) followed by another 1.5″ cap layer, so 18″.

Each bed required:

  • Beds
    • (12) corner blocks
    • (2) 1/2″ by 10′ rebar cut into 4 x 36″ pieces.
      • This leaves about 18″ of support in the ground.
    • (8) pressure treated 2″ x 6″ x 16′
      • 3 for each of the long sides
      • 2 for the long sides of the top frame
    • (4) pressure treated 2″ x 6″ x 10′
      • 3 cut at about half to form the short sides
      • 1 cut at about half to form the short sides of the top frame
    • Misc scrap wood for supports and accouterments
    • Screws
    • A dozen or so standard poly feed bags (scraps from animal feed).
    • Staples
    • Wood chips
    • Soil
  • Waterers:
    • (3) 10′ lengths of 4″ solid drain pipe (with flared ends)
    • (3) 90° drain pipe or schedule 40 PVC elbows
    • (2) 4″ PVC caps
    • PVC glue (primer probably not necessary here)

Tools needed

  • Circular saw
  • Small sledgehammer
  • Digging tools for leveling
  • Cordless driver (for screws)
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Tri-square
  • Stapler
  • Tractor (filling 15′ x 5′ beds without a tractor is no fun!)

The process

We live on a mountain. Nothing is easy when you live on a mountain, except falling down the mountain or finding runoff water where it ought not be! Garden on a mountain long enough and you’re likely to have one leg grow longer than the other 😉

Our first step in building the beds was to excavate flat areas for our beds. Oh, what fun. We used a combination of a backhoe, shovels, and many curse words.

Once excavated, we placed the corner blocks, leveled and plumbed them to one another, then drove rebar into the ground through the first block of each corner, leaving ample rebar for the two additional courses. You don’t pound that all the way in until the bed is complete and ready for the top “frame”.

We then proceeded to place the lumber into the “grooves” of the blocks. They just sit in there in slots – no screws or nails. We added three “courses” to get the depth we desired. We used scrap wood to cut braces to screw vertically to the long sides to keep them tightly together (see two in the picture below).

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We used the scraps cut off of the top layer (45 degree cuts) to make side supports as seen on the end here. We fastened it all together with screws.

Now, we still have our concerns about pressure-treated lumber and want to minimize exposure as much as we can…

We have a massive amount of used feed bags so we decided to line the bed with them to keep the soil from having any direct contact with the pressure-treated wood.

Unfortunately, we got the idea for that after we put the top frame of the beds on, so we took the top frame off, stapled them to the top edge of the last course of the bed, and also to the bottom of the sides, making it nice and tight. We did it this way to keep the feed bags firmly attached and to avoid ugly fraying bag edges. Once the top frame goes on (with screws), it makes a nice clamp for the bags. The bed material holds the bags up against the wood.

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Here you can see the feed bags lining the bed. Only the brick edges have contact with the soil

Watering

We had prior experience with copious watering chores and decided to borrow some concepts from Hügelkultr for our raised beds. We did so first by adding about 1-2″ of wood chips to the bottom of the bed. This does a few things…. first, it helps to wick water up into the bed when it does rain, and then it holds it there quite well since there isn’t any easy opportunity for evaporation.

To be double sure that we would have drought-tolerant beds, we also added custom waterers made from 4″ PVC drain pipe. We drilled 1/32″ holes every few inches along each side of the pipe. If you were to look down the pipe so that the opening appeared as a circle, we drilled holes at about the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions, and about every 6 inches down the length of the pipe.

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The pipe is capped at one end and then has a small stack that extends out of the bed and is loosely capped for filling. Then the whole waterer pipe gets buried with wood chips.  We added wood chips to about the top of the pipe.

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Note: We added horizontal braces (made of cedar) to add support across the bed and prevent the sides from bowing under the weight of the soil. These also pin the waterer down firmly.

This approach results in about 6″ of woodchips in the bottom of the bed and an expedited way to get water into them. This left us with a remaining 12″ or so of planting depth.

The idea is to saturate the woodchips so that they retain moisture and cause deep rooting of plants. It is also to prevent water loss. For what it’s worth, just from our common rainfall, we did not do any watering on these beds this year and had pretty nice results. We used these waterers in other beds with the same result – NO watering.

Most people water the surface of their garden beds, which requires a substantial volume to soak the root zone of the plants. It’s a waste of water and time in our experience. It also discourages deep rooting. This approach soaks all the rainfall UP into the bed as well as down from the surface and saturates the wood chips. From there it maintains an even moisture level that is almost impervious to evaporation through heat and wind. It is a huge time saver even without the watering pipes. We just used those so that if ever there is a long drought, we can maximize our watering efforts.

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Finally, we add a mix of mushroom soil, topsoil, and rabbit manure to the beds, followed by another thin layer of wood chips (to prevent evaporation and for mulch). All that was left was to plant them.

Note: We’ve had plenty of armchair gardeners critique using woodchips like this, but we can’t argue with our success. Forests don’t demand only composted leaf litter and debris take residence on the forest floor so demanding only heavily composted wood chips in garden beds is erroneous. We aren’t using as a soil amendment but as a soil cover. Even a cover of newspapers would be better than nothing! I’d rather have a cover of plastic than no cover. There is a word for uncovered landscapes – “desert”.

Lastly, we stained the outside exposed wood using Cabot Australian Timber Oil (“Carribean Walnut”). We love that stuff!

Summary

If we die of cancer, you the reader can point to this post and proclaim where we went wrong. If we don’t, we can at least enjoy these beds for a a decade or more and the fruits that we grow in them.

Please feel free to ask questions or share your experiences with pressure treated garden beds in the comments below.

Are we “Survivalists”?!

Did the title of this post catch your attention? Good. Many, many people sneer at the thought of being a “survivalist” – or “prepper” and not without cause. Many are turned off by paranoid proclamations of doom and gloom and the accompanying encouragement to run for the hills, store up food and water, heavily arm themselves, etc.

Then there is the sustainable homesteading crowd. For some, those words might conjure up images of venturing out west on a covered-wagon train, eating cornbread and beans over a campfire as you hand-clear a hundred acres of raw wilderness with an ax and saw.

“Sustainable Homesteading” – might conjure up other pictures of a bunch of dreadlock-sporting granola types howling at the moon and dancing around a drum circle.

We sometimes get curious looks or inquiries about ourselves. Are we “preppers” or “survivalists” or “homesteaders”, “farmers” perhaps? It’s a difficult question to answer without some explanation.

We would propose that if one were to pursue one of these things, in time they’ll become the others – at least in part.

Now we’re not saying that if you try growing your own vegetable garden, you’ll end up living in a bunker with 25 years of freeze-dried food.  It’s just that the path to being sustainable followed far and long enough, is likely to result in you being a pretty good survivalist whether you want to or not. Likewise, the journey of a well-thought-out survivalist is going to eventually lead toward a life of sustainability.

Why is this?

Because you cannot be/do one without the other. In order to be sustainable, one must be able to provide for a need indefinitely without exhausting all their resources in doing so. So for example, to be sustainable regarding food, one must be able to provide an ongoing, inexhaustible source of food without exhausting their means to keep doing so.

Hmmm… sounds exactly what a prepper or survivalist might ponder as they think about how to indefinitely provide food for themselves and their family in the event of an emergency or disaster. In order to truly “survive” some scenarios, one would need to do so sustainably, or their survival would have an expiration date. That wouldn’t make for a very good survivalist!

To be survivable long-term requires being sustainable. If one is sustainable, they’ve provided continuity for doing what needs to be done for as long as it needs to be done. Those people, whether they like the name or not – are in some senses “survivalists”.

At the deepest level, someone pursuing sustainability is doing so because they want themselves or their environment to flourish despite whatever else is going on in the world. Nevertheless, many (including ourselves) don’t consider ourselves “survivalists”. We would prefer the term “thrivalists”, because what we do, we do to thrive, not to survive. What is the point of the latter without the former?

Why bring all this up? Because the journey to simple, by nature, is a movement toward being sustainable. This entails reducing dependencies on systems and resources that are without and managing those within to the best of your ability. If we can’t keep doing what we do, we haven’t accomplished all that much.

A survivalist might do things because they expect systems to fail. A thrivalist does them because a life that is not contingent upon these things is not enslaved to such things.

The great news is, as one becomes more sustainable, they’re prepared for times if and when those systems and resources ever become unavailable. That’s exactly what the survivalist hopes to accomplish and that is what the sustainable homesteader aims for as well. For us, we’ll stick with “thrivalist” since no other term does justice to our intentions.

 

A reasonable plan toward residential solar or other renewable energy

Solar Installed

Solar energy is expensive. It currently costs more than grid energy, leaving many people to conclude it isn’t worth it. If your motivation to choose alternative energy is mostly to save money – you won’t get that outcome with this information.

At present – establishing alternate energy at home has not yet reached financial parity with grid power. For most of the general public, an investment in your own private renewable energy infrastructure is going to be more expensive, or at best break even. There are exceptions – like those with exceptional wind or hydro capacity on their property, however, most people won’t be the exception.

So…. is saving money the only reason to pursue renewable energy? No! Here are some other solid reasons for doing so:

  • More energy independence
  • Emergency power
  • Energy reliability or performance
  • Earth stewardship (* this is a nuanced idea)

In our case, we work from home – one of us as a web technology consultant. Lost power = lost work = lost income. Rather than have to pack up and go to town every time the power goes out (which is often not possible due to weather), it made good sense to install solar for backing up the business.

For those just interested in living on the cheap – stop reading this now. Other than some tips that might help you save 10-15% on your current energy bill, you’re not going to find much else below.

Below is a plan for “baby steps” one can take toward obtaining and using renewable energy. This is a plan that requires on-going, incremental changes and investments rather than a large, all-up-front expenditure. This approach delays the more significant costs until they are the only remaining ‘next step’. Doing so helps avoid financing these steps and also allows one to learn along the way and revise the plan as necessary. This should ultimately make renewable energy less expensive to implement in the long run but still allows a family to benefit along the way.

The following steps will allow your household to accomplish energy reliability, security, and sustainability in increasing measures over a period of time. You could compress these steps into months, or stretch them out over years of decades. Anyone can follow this approach in a time-frame that meets their budget.

Step 1: Measure and Monitor Usage ($)

If you don’t know how much energy you consume, you cannot adequately determine what you will need from a renewable energy system.  Likewise, if you cannot adequately size an emergency backup generator system without knowing what you need. You could easily spend an unnecessary $1-2k on too large of a generator sheerly for not knowing the loads you will need to support.

Measuring consumption is uber important! Our first step doing so was to purchase a Kill-a-watt (~$40). This allowed us to see what individual appliances were consuming, find and remove “ghost loads” (things that consume power when not “on” or “in use”) and gain insights into our usage.

Next, we invested in a system called The Energy Detective (TED). TED allows us to measure all our energy use for the entire household, down to the second. We have a large and complex household electrical system, so we got the TED version that monitors up to 4 panels. Our cost was around~$500, but a typical cost would be between $150-$299. Though we’ve not tried it, Neurio, another home energy monitor looks promising.

Some may already be balking at such expenses. Let me encourage you with this: It is typical that when a household starts to monitor usage to see a resulting decrease in use of around 10%.  Awareness of use causes changes to behaviors and patterns. What is 10% of your electric bill and at what point is a $200-299 investment worthwhile to make such an investment?

Step 2: Reduce consumption (FREE to $)

With an awareness of how you are using energy comes an almost-automatic reduction in usage. When you begin to associate dollars and cents with things being on/off, you start to change your behavior. You also start to consider what can be done to reduce your usage.

Get this idea in your mind now… By reducing your consumption immediately, you are ultimately reducing the size (and therefore cost) of a renewable energy system. Make sense?

There are three main ways once reduces consumption:

  1. Changing behavior
  2. Managing use
  3. Replacing offenders

Changing behavior – These are mostly simple changes – like choosing to run your dryer less or at times that are less expensive. Or, even better, get a clothesline – one of the best and cheapest solar appliances ever invented! Changing behavior might also entail turning lights off when you leave a room, turning your computer off when you’re not using it. That sort of stuff. These changes are usually zero cost.

One idea we really like is taking one day a week to have an ‘energy sabbath’ of sorts. Turn off / unplug everything non-critical and focus on togetherness. You could stand to save 15% of your power bill, reduce pollution, and be better off for the time spent together.

Managing use – Similar to changing behavior, managing use includes establishing minimal devices that manage how and when power is consumed. An example might be power strips that turn off peripheral devices  (printer, DVD player, XBOX) when a related main device such as a tv or computer is turned off. These require minimal investment but reduce consumption.  Another great example is the addition of low-cost means of reducing electric energy consumption. This might entail installing (and using!) a clothesline (can you tell we’re fans of clotheslines?) or installing a wood stove to rely less on electric heat.

Replacing Offenders – Though not always necessary, sometimes the best investments one can make in their energy consumption can entail replacing appliances or devices that inefficiently use energy. Still using a fridge or freezer from twenty years ago? Upgrading those appliances to Energy Star, or otherwise, more efficient versions will offer your more payback in the long run than keeping them. The same can be true of water heaters, furnaces, etc. Again… remember that the lower your energy consumption now, the smaller the renewable energy system you will need, and you may potentially have more funds to dedicate to such from paying less for electricity.

Step 3: Isolate critical loads ($$)

You are going to quickly discourage yourself away from backup or renewable energy if you try to size either system based on your total electricity use. Forgeddaboudit! Instead, determine what are your “critical loads” and seek to first back them up (ie. with a generator) and secondly, later on, to run them from renewable energy. You’ll thank us that you took this approach if you do since you’ll have much better understanding of how things work.

This step involves auditing all your electrical circuits to determine which ones are critical or essential. For example, if you live in the country, this might include your well pump, septic pumps, etc. For most people, it will include a refrigerator and/or freezer. It should include some lights. Here’s a great way to determine this… Carefully consider what your “must haves” are in the event of a power outage of seven days and place every circuit in one of three columns: “Don’t need”, “Nice to have”, “Must have”. If you take our “energy sabbath” idea to heart and try this throughout the year, you should already have an idea what things you must have operational.

Once you’ve done this, you should begin to physically isolate those critical loads. This is often done in either a generator panel or a sub-panel that is wired into/alongside your main electric panel. The goal here is two-fold. 1) Separate the circuits and 2) provide switchable backup power to these circuits. This is work best done by professionals or very capable DIYers.

Our critical loads, isolated in their own sub-panel(s)

Our critical loads, isolated in their own sub-panel(s)

In the future, if/when you get to renewable energy, it will be far easier to do when your physical infrastructure has organized these critical loads into one place.

Furthermore, measuring your critical loads (ie. with a TED or other energy monitor) is also easier at this point. This point is worth emphasizing. When your loads are isolated – even if not yet backed-up, you can now measure them independently and begin to do so right away. Measure them for a few months, or a year or even better a full year. You will gain valuable information needed to accurately size a backup power solution and/or an alternative energy solution.

Why? Because you will gain information such as your persistent, average, and peak electrical loads on your critical circuits. With this information in hand, you can determine the exact size of a backup generator, solar panels, wind turbine, batteries, etc. You will also be able to determine what items from your “Nice to haves” might be able to be moved to your “critical loads”.

Take it to the next level: Energy consumption is meausured  (in North America) in kWh (killowatt hours). That is a measurement of “watts hours” (Wh) divided by 1000. A Watt Hour (Wh) is the measurement of watts consumed x the hours used. If you had a 100 w bulb on for 24 hours a day (100 W x 24h = 2400 Wh). To get the kWh, divide this by 1000 (2400 Wh / 1000 = 2.4 kWh). Add up the watt hours of all the appliances you want to support with solar, and you’ll get your total Watt Hours. Just don’t overlook that not all appliances run constantly, but at intervals throughout the day. A simple enery monitor such as a Kill-a-watt does all this work for you.

Watts is a measurement of  Amps x Volts. So if you have an appliance that uses 15 Amps and a voltage of 12oV it will use 1800 Watts. Now… if you then run thata 3 hours a day, what do you suppose the Wh might be? If you guessed 5400, you’re correct. And in kWh? Yes, 5.4 kWh!

These numbers are important for all conversations pertaining to sizing backup or renewable energy.

These steps require the help of a qualified professional and WILL cost money – perhaps several thousand dollars. However, they are a worthwhile investment into your future and will save you potentially thousands of dollars wasted on over-sized solutions later on.

Step 4: Backup Essentials ($$)

When you isolate your critical loads, it is now far easier to back them up. Usually, this is done with a generator, some sort of physical transfer switch, and a generator input receptacle. If you’ve done the steps above, especially monitoring, you will know what your critical/essential loads require and what size generator is necessary to meet those requirements.

Once again (unless combined with the previous step), the services of a qualified professional electrician are required here. The cost is not trivial, but not unbearable either. You will need to purchase a generator, transfer switch, and a means of connecting the generator to the transfer switch. Additionally, you will need to secure the services for connecting all these things together.

When you are done, you will have the means to run your critical electrical circuits on backup/emergency generator. You will also then have much of the infrastructure in place for eventually powering these same loads with renewable energy.

How we did it: When we were at such a phase, we used a simple double pole, double throw (DPDT) switch that had two inputs – one from our main service panel, the other from a generator outlet. When we needed to run the generator, we’d move the switch into the “generator” position, start the generator, and be on our way. When we were finished with the need, we’d shut down the generator, return the switch to the “Utility” power position, and resume normal life. This is not automatic but is also very affordable.

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Portable Generator outlet - just plug in the generator and flip the switch when needed.

Portable Generator outlet – just plug in the generator and flip the switch when needed.

Step 5: Add Batteries, Inverter, Charge Controller ($$$)

Now it’s time to determine how much energy you want to store. This is done by multiplying your critical loads by the number of hours you want to operate them by batteries, factoring in the percentage of the battery that can be used without reducing their longevity. For example, if your critical loads required 10 kWh/day, and you wanted two days, and you wanted to never draw down more than 20% of your batteries, you would need to have enough batteries so that 20% of their combined stored energy amounted to 10kWh per day for two days (or 20kWh).

In industry terms, the number of days you wish to be able to run without recharging your batteries is referred to as “Days of Autonomy” or “DOA”.

Here again, knowing your real needs/usage (through monitoring) is critically important. Otherwise, the best you can do is guess and your guess is likely to be way too large (expensive) or way too small (inadequate).

This may seem an odd step to some. Why install batteries before any sources are producing power?

Here are some reasons for doing so:

  1. They are the infrastructure for off-grid or grid-interactive solar or wind applications. If you never want to be able to use your renewable energy when the utility power is unavailable, you don’t need this step. However, what sense does it make to have potentially tens of thousands of dollars in renewable energy and not be able to use it when you need it most – in a utility outage? Believe it or not, most home solar installations in our country are what are called “grid-tie” systems and cannot operate, or operate at a greatly reduced capacity during a utility failure.
  2. With batteries and a generator in place, you can operate a generator only long enough to re-charge your batteries during an outage. For example, if it took two hours to charge your batteries but they could support your critical loads for 24 hours, you’d only need to run the generator for two hours every day vs the entire length of an outage. In short, batteries extend generator fuel.
  3. Optionally, using the right equipment, you can program your system to use grid power or battery power based on peaks and lows of cost. This can be done by re-charging batteries using grid power when rates are low and using generator power (in the case of automatic backup generators) when grid power is at peak rates.
Solar batteries can be heavy - this one is 2200lbs

Solar batteries can be heavy – this one is 2200lbs!

Step 6: Add Renewable Collectors ($$-$$$)

With all the above done and with the proper equipment, you can add in renewable energy products such as solar panels, wind turbines, or micro-hydro. It’s important to know how/what you intend to do at this step before purchasing the equipment from Step 5 because you need to ensure everything plays nicely together.

With renewable energy sources, you are probably not going to save a lot of money. In our case, we probably save $15-$20/month. That’s nice and all, but not even close to worth the investment if it were for financial gain. What you will gain is “fuel extension” and additional (redundant) source of energy.

Step 7: Learn, learn, learn

Owning and maintaining equipment such as above is NOT simple, hence one of the reasons we’ve avoided blogging about it 🙂 Nevertheless, it is doable! To get the most out of the experience, invest time into learning everything you can about these subjects.

 

Why your family should own a quality water filter

We’ve blogged plenty of times about water and the need to have access to good, clean, quality drinking water.

Something every family in the world should consider is this… Where and how do we get access to good, clean, healthy drinking water?

Many in the world cannot answer this question because they have nothing but unhealthy, compromised water to drink. That’s why our family supports organizations like World Vision. However, even those in well-developed countries such as the United States can have compromised drinking water. Most Americans and Europeans wrongly assume that they will always have access to good, clean, healthy drinking water. So let’s ask a follow-up question to the the above question.

Is there anything that could happen that would interrupt how and/or where we secure good, clean, healthy drinking water? Or how about this… What dependencies are there for us getting this water? Is a utility company responsible. Must electricity be present? Must we be able to drive to a store to get water?

Water is essential for life. Without it, most people can survive just around 3 days or so. Yet, for something so important, we invest very little thought, time, and resources into making sure we can continue to have access to such a necessary resource!

Most of us are utterly dependent on systems and variables beyond our control for our water and many other needs. Consider this… A utility could encounter a problem and need to shut off water. The power can be turned off. The store could run out of water. Bottled water companies could shut down. Truckers could go ons strike. A water main could break. The weather could prevent you from reaching the store. The well could break.

These are not extreme, apocalyptic scenarios. These are common events. These things WILL  happen – and they do all the time. Just ask anyone who has been without power for several days due to flooding, hurricanes, etc. All the victims of these events have quickly realized how delicate access to clean water and other necessities can be. A few gallons of water squirreled away in the closet is better than nothing, but it’s not good enough!

Our family has developed our own “Preparedness Pyramid” approach for planning for unexpected things like this. This process allows us to determine how we would meet any need for our short term, intermediate, and long term needs. You can read more about our planning strategy here.

It is our belief, that every family should have a water filter on hand. Not the water pitchers with carbon filters found at Stuff Mart, but a quality product built to make undrinkable water potable.  Yes, these will cost you money. However, the costs are very small and would be of no consequence when clean water is necessary for life to continue! Is your life or the life of your loved ones not worth $50, $100, $200?

My past experience consulting with those going on extended outdoor adventures gave me the opportunity to get an education on these matters, and also learn about some great vendors and products in this arena. Further my own experience backpacking, camping, and several extended trips to third-world countries have given me practical experience in with the tools and processes for making water potable (drinkable/useable) and, unfortunately – what happens when you don’t 😦

So it was without doubt or hesitation that we recently purchased the Katadyn TRK Gravidyn Drip Water Filter. Katadyn has been a world leader in water filtration for a looong time. We’ve been following and using their filters for about 20 years. This filter is perfect for a family of group of families looking to provide emergency fresh water. If you can have only one device for making water drinkable – get this one!

We like this filter because:

  1. It can provide for a family or reasonable-size group of people (1-6 people’s full-time needs) – this could be stretched to meet the needs of more in my opinion.
  2. It can be cleaned and used over and over again for an average of 150,000 litres of water. The cleaner you can make the water going in, the longer it will last.
  3. It’s gravity-fed, meaning it’s simple, passive – requires no pumping and has no moving parts
  4. It can serve functions on picnics, camping trips, and emergencies
  5. It’s robust enough to meet your families needs for weeks to months – long enough for normal systems to come online again or more permanent alternatives to be developed.
  6. It’s a Katadyn, duh!
We’d be happy to answer any questions about sustainable, emergency water source planning you might have. Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line!

Land/Auction Update

Just realized today that we neglected to post any updates regarding our recent trip to auction to bid on a 37 acre farm.

Well, we went there ready to bid. We set a price we all agreed on. We were ready to go.

The bidding quickly got beyond our max price. We never even got to bid. That’s a good thing because we learned enough about auctions to know NOT to bid until certain times, and also never to go over your max amount. We felt good that we didn’t do anything stupid. As it was, the winner paid about $100k more than we would have. That’s about $100k more than the land was worth. That buyer is gonna have a hard time getting a bank to finance the deal and/or will have more invested in their property than the property is worth.

So… this farm was not for us. At least not at this time. We have no idea what Jehovah has in store for us. We’re content with the outcome. More than that, we’re excited about the relationship opportunities that happened because our consideration of this endeavor. When people think about doing something like this, there HAS to be some intense discovery and conversation about one another. For me (Andrew) that was the big reward of this experience. Way more important than getting land. We were able to work together, lay aside petty differences, past hurts, future fears and a whole lot more and still decide that we could love one another despite those things. Truly amazing! I don’t care if we ever get land if we can keep growing in those kind of relationships!

So, we’re still looking for viable land and the means to acquire it. In the meantime, we’re endeavoring to help one another live simple, pleasant, and rewarding lives together. We’ll keep you posted!