Friday, March 06, 2009

Working toward a human-powered house

We're slowly moving toward more renewable energy here at Little City Farm - not only switching to a green energy provider, but also trying to reduce the use of electricity in our home. We got rid of the dryer long ago (even in the winter I can "freeze-dry" the diapers or bedsheets!), have never owned a microwave, and naturalized our lawn so we don't need to mow (we have an old-fashioned push mower for that tiny patch of grass left). Around the house we are conscious to turn off lights when leaving the room, keep our thermostat low and wear extra sweaters and slippers (we keep a basket of slippers by the front door for all guests to choose from), and turn off idling computers or "phantom lode" appliances like the stereo or DVD player.

Now we're slowly moving toward hand-powered appliances and tools - in the kitchen we're looking for a handcrank blender, coffee grinder, and grain mill; for the workshop we have a nice collection of hand tools like hammers and hand-saws; and for lighting we have several hurricane lamps, and a new candelabra in the dining room (we don't have any electrical lighting in the dining room, so have "romantic" candle-lit dinners every evening whether intentional or not!).

Now the fridge and freezer are another story. We have a plan to build a great root cellar/cold room in a section of the basement that's being renovated this summer. That will take care of cold storage for bushels of produce, as well as storage for our canned and fermented foods. I'd love to get plans for an old-fashioned ice chest, and Greg thinks he can build this kind of box under the kitchen sink adjacent to the outside wall. In winter it would be cold enough from the outside wall (or, alternately we could just store fridge-necessary items outside or in our front porch which is basically like a fridge anyway). Maybe we just need to learn to eat even more in season - what do we really need to store in our fridge in summer months when fresh produce can be harvested daily for meals. We don't eat meat so there's no need for storage of that kind, and otherwise it's mostly condiments, the occasional cheeses, tofu/tempeh, ricemilk and sometimes left-overs taking up shelf space in the fridge! As for the freezer, I think we'll start moving away from storing food items longterm in there - it's questionable already given they are stored in plastic ziploc bags or plastic containers (doesn't the plastic leach into our food if it's sitting in that space for months on end?). Otherwise, berries could be canned or made into jam; beans and peas can be eaten fresh, dried, or pickled/fermented; and the other items in the freezer are excess baked goods kept for a rainy day (or when surprise guests show up). Seems that the freezer should be an obvious one to let go of, and probably not too difficult to make that switch.

Ok, then there's the computer...and though we don't have tv channels, we do use our very old vintage television to watch movies. I guess we could work toward these being solar powered...

We'll keep you posted on plans for the ice chest, and for now do some more research on finding the best grain mill out there. We've come across Berry Hill Farm (near London, ON - and Lehman's Hardware (Ohio - who both have great catalogues filled with homesteading items. There is also a new book available from New Society Publishers out west called "The Human Powered House", with simple designs for various bicycled-powered appliances. Here's their quick review of the book:

The Human Powered House: Choosing Muscles Over Motors
By Tamara Dean

What if I could harness this energy? An unusual question for anyone putting in a long stint on a treadmill perhaps, and yet human power is a very old, practical and empowering alternative to fossil fuels. Replacing motors with muscles can be considered a political act -- an act of self-sufficiency that gains you independence.

The Human-Powered Home is a one-of-a-kind compendium of human-powered devices gathered from a unique collection of experts. Enthusiasts point to the advantages of human power:

  • Portable and available on-demand
  • Close connection to the process or product offers more control
  • Improved health and fitness
  • The satisfaction of being able to make do with what is available

This book discusses the science and history of human power and examines the common elements of human-powered devices. It offers plans for making specific devices, grouped by area of use, and features dozens of individuals who share technical details and photos of their inventions.

For those who want to apply their own ingenuity, or for those who have never heard of human-powered machines, this book is a fine reference. For those who are beginning to understand the importance of a life of reduced dependency on fossil fuels, this book could be a catalyst for change.

1 comment:

  1. Great post :) Thanks for the book reference, I am just now starting to search out ways to store energy from stationary bike perfect timing!
    I'm wondering though, when you "freeze-dry" your laundry how do you get it soft enough to not scratch the skin...I'm thinking particularly about the diapers...I know my Grandma used to iron sheets off the line...what do you do?
    Smiles, DianeM :)