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helwen: (water drops)
I was thinking about this because of going to the hot tubs, wondering whether hot tubs or taking ibuprofen/anti-inflammatories used more water and other resources.

We go to a commercial facility, East Heaven, rather than having one of our own. So, there's the gas to get there, plus whatever energy is used to heat, move, and clean the water. When possible, we combine a trip there with other activities, which helps some. And East Heaven is able to clean and re-use a lot of the water, probably better than I can do it at home, although I haven't run numbers on that. Also, they use bromide salts, which aren't as nasty as chlorine.

Oh, and East Heaven's been in business since 1981 -- those are some venerable hot tubs :D They're well maintained, so I expect they'll be around for a good while yet.

I tried looking up how much water it takes to make pills (on average) -- it would be used for harvesting, manufacture, and processing of the ingredients, manufacturing the pills themselves, as well as for making the packaging (usually plastic) in which the pills come. Unfortunately I had no luck in this, as I kept coming up against "water pills" :P

Also, there is the fuel used to grow, harvest, manufacture, process, package, and transport the pills.

Then there is the possible long-term affects of the pills. One of the reasons I finally stopped taking anti-inflammatories this summer (only one aspirin since June 27), is that one of the possible side effects for Alleve was more sensitivity to bruising, and I was definitely bruising worse on self-defense nights than everyone else. I still bruise now, but not as badly. Diet change, stretching, some massages from Fitzw, hot showers and a few hot tub visits have kept things manageable.

And of course there are plenty of other possible side effects, which could lead to needing other medications... and then there's the effect on the environment, when those medications get into the rest of the ecosystem. Because people don't use all of the medication, even of the pills we take, nevermind ones that get flushed down toilets or thrown in the trash. Sewage treatment plants aren't really designed to deal with this stuff either, and so you see the reports of how much of various drugs are in the water, mutating plant and animal life, etc. That would, naturally, apply to people too, as we're part of the ecosystem.

I can't get away from all modern medications (or not yet anyway), but where I can, it's worth a try to do it, I think. And I think that the hot tub's water and energy use compares pretty favorably, even though I haven't done a scientific comparison of the numbers.

Energy Use

Aug. 11th, 2010 09:23 am
helwen: (water drops)
The Archdruid Report has started in a new direction in the past month, towards practical approaches to living a lower energy use life. Part of that approach is learning about how energy, matter, etc. really works in the world. It's useful to understand how nature does things, as the natural world has worked most of the bugs out of the system over many centuries, so if we observe it and learn from it, we have a better chance of lowering our energy needs by mimicking Nature.

For instance, energy use produces waste heat, which sometimes can be captured and used before it fully dissipates. Some buildings are designed to do this (usually in manufacturing or power, but not only them). A simple method Fitzw and I've talked about for the home, if you have a clothes dryer, is to run the exhaust duct over and down into and through a container of water and then back up again. The water acts as a lint trap and the room receives the exhaust as clean warm air -- useful in winter. Not sure how useful that is for us at this point, as I don't use the as often as some folks, but it's a good thought and would definitely work for some folks.

At our old house the water from the washing machine dumped into a sink next to it. I would catch a few buckets of rinse water (2nd rinse is best), and then dump that water back into the _next_ load of laundry. Saved water, electricity, and fill-time, so a winner all-around.

One of the reasons I'm such a strong proponent of insulating (homes and ourselves inside our homes) is that the investment of energy and materials into insulating cuts down on constant energy usage. Do the job right and you won't be using as much energy on a daily basis for _decades_.

Reduce, re-use, recycle, in that order.

Best way to save resources is don't use them. Think about purchases you make. Do you need it? What about the packaging? What happens to that plastic bottle? When you recycle it, is the recycling plant nearby? Do they ship it to China? Does it actually get recycled at all or does it end up in ocean with all the other plastic crap, entrapping animals or getting slowly broken down and eaten -- to perhaps eventually end up back on your dinner plate. And fish get used not just directly as food but also as nutritional supplements for growing fruits and veggies, too.

Second is re-use, and that's a great way to save energy and resources. We make too much stuff, and a lot of it wasn't worth the materials and energy used to make it. Friends, family, swaps, freecycle, Craigslist, tag sales, Salvation Army, Savers, etc. -- lots of choices out there. There are even clothing stores that specialize in good used office clothing and the more upscale goods. If you're handy with a needle, sometimes you can even re-tailor things from these places to be more suited to you. I've gotten silk blouses from a few dollars each from Savers in the past, so you never know what's out there.

And third, recycle -- and that isn't just paper, metal, and plastic anymore. But again, see my comments above, questioning where your recycling goes -- with the economy down, the need for paper for packaging/shipping boxes goes down, and literally tons of paper is sitting in dry dock, waiting for a company to buy them. Fitzw has figured out a barrel for us to use this year, to start making paper bricks. Even with reducing junk mail, we still end up with quite a bit of paper, so it's time to look at using the paper as a heat source. Recycling is also things like composting food scraps, or using them to feed appropriate animals, or repurposing things.

I might actually get that punching/kickbag made this year.... stuffed with old worn out clothing. And maybe if the stuffing needs changing down the line, the cotton and linen bits could be used to make paper by then ;)

But there must be other ways to re-use energy as it works its way from the sun down to background heat. Each part of our lives needs to be looked at, and thought given to what can be done to improve. We'll never be as good at it as Mother Nature, but it's certainly worth a try.
helwen: (Default)
What is sustainability? Now there's a hard question. What things should you do, what skills should you acquire? More hard questions. Try to be an expert in everything and you'll likely fail. Having some of the basics of a number of skills, with some specializing in things you have a talent for, plus some extra work on stuff you don't like doing but need it, and that might work better for you. Knowing folks you can exchange skills or goods with is a good thing too -- you know, that community thing ;)

Getting into the knitty-gritty of things like farming, and life gets interesting. Sharon Astyk posted this article: What are you breeding for?, which was really interesting. Talking about Wendell Berry and about breeding animals for specific traits, among other things... In our modern society, for instance, fewer breeds of dairy cows exist now, because breeding went towards a large, fast-maturing, grain-fed cow that produces lots of milk. Seems like a good idea unless you can't afford lots of grain and don't live in an area where lots of grain can be easily grown. That's something we're slowly working on, is how to make something like having chickens be more sustainable, more local (and hopefully cheaper too).

The same is true of energy solutions for homes, of course. Passive solar can be used in the Northeast, but works best nearer the equator. Active solar is more difficult to do, but is more effective here. A flat roof is fine in sunny California, and you could use it for growing food in places that don't have a lot of open land, but unless you're ready to get up there every time it snows, flat roofs aren't so great in the Northeast. Some years back, there were some good heavy snows and the maintenance folks at the Mall at Ingleside in Holyoke didn't keep up with it, and the roof collapsed over Sears. All the goods that could be salvaged were moved into some storefronts that happened to be empty at the time, with all the furniture and large appliances getting moved into large rented tents in the parking lot, and there were a lot of good sales during that time! Fortunately it happened after hours and nobody was hurt.

There are only a few things I think really work universally, as good ideas for folks to do:
- reduce, re-use, recycle (in that order)
- insulate your home (good in hot or cold weather)
- keep extra food and water for emergencies (makes it easier to wait for good sales too)
- exercise as you're able, eat as well as you're able, rest (being healthy saves money)
- don't buy lots of stuff you don't need
- pick up some basic useful skills like mending and cooking
- if you have land, rainwater catchment (assuming it's legal where you are. Even some folks in San Francisco do it on their porches)
- avoid high-tech solutions when possible (stuff you really need to be able to depend on should be fixable by you or a very local person, or locally replaceable)

Almost everything else is subject to your environs. When I first started looking at sustainability/low energy methods for various everyday life things, it was pretty confusing. You read about the great earthenware pots for keeping veggies cool and get all excited -- then realize it doesn't work in humid weather. Perfect if you live in Arizona though!

Just some stuff running through my head....
helwen: (water drops)
The Wind Does Not Blow Only 1/3 of the Time!

Good little article on wind-generated power/capacity.
helwen: (water drops)
Spreading Manure over Astroturf: Why Ad Men Hate Brown

Interesting article. The writer is commenting in part on the way Sharon Astyk's and some other folk's efforts at living a lower impact life are being used to psych other people out of living more sustainable lives by making it seem crazy to do more than recycle occasionally or be green in ways that don't involve spending lots of money.

Apparently Sharon's and a lot of other folks way of being "green", by spending less, is called being "brown".

Some of the comparisons of Green vs. Brown were amusing to me personally. I agree with some of them and not with others.

For instance:
• If it’s sleek, stylish, worn with pride or served on special occasions, it’s green.
• If it’s old, strung together, hidden away from company or not bought at a store, it’s brown.

I have clothing I'd consider 'brown' because of it's age only. Although L in particular now has some pretty ratty-looking clothing (working on a farm will do that), I've held on to some clothing because I can do repairs to seams that come undone, so it still looks just fine for "company". And we hang our undies indoors because we're like that, not because they're ragged or worse.

I don't usually buy clothing used -- although there's nothing wrong with that, and it's a great way to save money and the environment while beefing up a work wardrobe in particular -- just that those stores aren't usually near where I tend to travel. When they were, I did sometimes get clothing from them. In fact my freshman year I needed a full-length black skirt for choir and the only place I could find an affordable one was at a used clothing store -- it needed some repairs, but including the fabric for that it was less than a new skirt and I had one of the fanciest skirts there when I was done.

Anyway, I do have one sweater that's hemp & bamboo that I got a few years ago -- very nice and mostly held up well -- just discovered a repair I need to make on the right shoulder, a slight run in the knitting. But mostly I buy regular clothing at regular stores, and try to choose things that are fairly classic in style and that are durable. One of my favorite winter tops is probably around 20 years old! Unfortunately most things don't last that long unless they're handmade. Even spending a lot of money doesn't guarantee durability -- you need to know something about the materials used, you need to check the seams, and knowing just enough about sewing to do a bit of mending is useful -- or find someone who can do it for you.

I read another article today on how cotton, even organic cotton, uses a lot of water to grow. Plastic-based fibers use more fossil fuels but less water. Then there's energy and water used for construction into cloth and then clothing and impact of dyes used, etc. Really, it's enough to give one a headache!

So, my personal thoughts on clothing are to buy used if you're able and it makes sense as part of your wardrobe, by eco if it makes sense and isn't ridiculously expensive (and is durable!), and regardless of garment source, buy for classic lines and durability.

But most importantly, don't buy it if you don't need it.

Speaking of which, I did buy some nice, soft, thick knit shirts for me and L this week. Covington Men's line at Sears, on sale for $9.99 - 12.00. Some of our clothes really do need to be retired, and these should last a good long while. They are cotton, but I think they're a reasonable compromise and fit the budget nicely too. And on the warmth side of things, since winters here are fairly low humidity, the cotton does pretty well for keeping us comfortable, with a nice wool vest or sweater added as needed.

And L had to buy new pants and shoes for the employee conference he was just at too, as he didn't have anything "business casual" anymore. Said clothing will be reserved for non-farming activities.

On to other green vs. brown issues, I fail to see how turning the thermostat down is a major hardship, especially for kids. I know some folks are sensitive to cold because of their health and need more heat and I have no problem with that of course! But for folks without circulatory problems, they should be able to deal with putting on another layer or wearing fingerless gloves if need be, etc.

Personally, I was pretty much immune to cold as a child. In fact I went through most of the winters here wearing sneakers for as long as I could get away with it. It wasn't until I spent a few years in Hong Kong that cold became more of an issue for me. My brothers were much the same as kids, as were most of my friends. Mind you, in the '70s it was a big deal turning the indoor temp down to 65-68F! We had it at 68F day/55F night.

Now people are talking about 62F and the hardcore folks down to 58F. We keep ours at 64F because of the elderly cat. Between the folks downstairs (68F) and the insulating, the heat doesn't come on very often anyway. Once we have the woodstove hooked up I expect it won't come on very often even in January. It'll be interesting figuring out the new balance of fuel use -- we don't want to use a lot of wood either, since that doesn't renew quickly and we have to balance tree growth (carbon absorption) with wood use (carbon release).

So, horror or horrors, kids might have to wear sweaters or live more actively. Oh no!

Besides, does a parent on a limited budget choose to keep the thermostat higher or save the money for food and medicine? These are the real choices being made by real people.

Oh, I also disagree with the above article saying that community-building was only 'green' -- it's also 'brown'. In fact it could be argued that "neighborhood committees" are how some people get to know each other well enough to become neighborly, loan/fix a tool, etc.

Then again, I'm not really a "brown" person, I'm sort of between (I still use my fridge after all!).

Overall though, the article makes an excellent point, that people who use less energy and spend less on new stuff (esp. for keeping up with fashion/trends), and who promote or encourage this in others (either actively or simply by example) are the enemy of corporations who want to make an easy buck. Articles like the one about Sharon and other folks basically try to make it seem insane for people to want to be responsible or thoughtful of others less well off than them.

But there are no easy bucks anymore. People have to choose wisely and live within their means. That isn't green or brown and it doesn't have to be a deprivation if you change your mindset, it's just commonsense.
helwen: (MacGyver)
From the London Times

National Grid Overhaul and Upgrade

Possible Increase in Energy Costs

The National Grid is working on upgrading the grid -- needs an overhaul and room for future growth. Good that they're working on it, but it's going to cost. And it won't all be happening at once of course, as it takes time to overhaul something this large and complex.

National Grid reports that they have enough power for the winter, as long as nothing unforeseen happens (unusual cold snap, etc.) -- but their margin for November is less than 1/10th what it normally is. Let's hope that the weather is mild next month!

Meanwhile, the cost of power is already high enough that some British factories are in trouble and may have to close down next month. There is one bit of good news for residential consumers, and that's that the National Grid has frozen prices until January.

Of course my focus on the UK is because of the Daily Mail article that popped up on Energy Bulletin, but they aren't the only folks with stressed utility networks or high energy prices. ISO New England and the various power utilities here are having to work on improving the grid here as well, because demand has grown to the point where it's been taxing the system for several years. One of the reasons our electric bills have gone up (not the only one, but an important one).

No, I haven't found any articles on possible power outages in New England -- haven't looked quite frankly. At the moment I'm concerned with the more immediate problem a lot of folks are going to have this year, of being able to afford to heat their homes. Ashfield's having a meeting about that tonight in fact.
helwen: (water drops)
Lots of folks talk about living "green", but a lot of the "solutions" are expensive. Want to know the easiest and cheapest ways to green your life? Anyone who's read my LJ for a while has probably seen at least some of this here before, but I need to get some thoughts down for a possible newspaper article or series of articles, so if you don't want to see this stuff again, scroll on by.

Don't buy lots of new stuff. Whether it's cheapo cr*p or "green" recycled/sustainably grown/etc. stuff. Use what you have, re-purpose things, buy from used clothing stores (there are ones for career clothing in some places, even), get things through Freecycle, etc.

If you need to buy new, and sometimes you do, buy things of quality -- things that will last. If it's clothing, try to pick classic styles that will stand the test of time. That's one my mom tried to educate me about, although I do still fall prey to the occasional spiffy /trendy thing... just not as often as I used to :D Even then, they're usually things that will last several years.

Use less fuel for travel. Combine errands when using a car, walk/bike when you can, take public transport if it's available in your area. Even if you only cut down on a few trips by car per week, that's a Good Thing(tm).

Buy what you'll eat, eat what you buy. Don't let food spoil or go past its expiration date. Leftovers are not the food of the devil. Maybe they can be combined with something else (or each other). Maybe each family member will have something different to eat - it's not the end of the world. Food thrown out is money thrown out. Also, at least parts of most commercially bought food can't be recycled or composted, so then the waste also fills up the already full dumps.

Turn out the lights. This one's not quite so obvious. Turn out lights if you're leaving a room and won't be back within 20 minutes. Use CFLs primarily for lights that stay on for a while, but use incandescents for lights that aren't used often and/or for very long. CFLs use more energy than incandescents when being turned on...

Get up early and use more daylight. Sunlight and windows are your friends.

Insulate. Layers on the walls and floor are good -- wall hangings and rugs -- maybe even rugs on top of rugs, as long as the rugs aren't a tripping or slipping hazard. Best way to save money on fuel is to not have to use it.

In cold weather, wear layers. Keeping the heat lower in the home is more bearable if one is dressed warmly. Some people can keep the thermostat lower than others, but I've found that wool socks & good slippers, long johns under the slacks/leggings/skirt, and a few layers on top work for me. Vests are a favorite for me because I can stay warmer without feeling like a stuffed animal (three layers on the torso but only two on the arms). Fingerless gloves are great, indoors or out. People lose a lot of heat through their feet and their heads, so in addition to the socks and slippers, a scarf or hat can be useful. With some work and creativity, you can probably create a new fashion statement :D

I like scarves too, although for indoors a light silk one is all that's really needed -- real silk is great stuff -- beautiful, lasting, and possible to get or make for not too much, if you hunt around a bit.

Other heating methods. Make tea or hot cocoa. Hot soups are good too, for heating from the inside. Baking bread and then leaving the oven door ajar for the residual heat to keep warming the room for a while is another good way to "heat" your home. Candles - double for lighting in some cases (remember, don't leave flames unattended). I know people who've used them this way, to supplement the little heat for which they were using their furnace.

Get up and move around periodically, to get the blood circulating. If you want the movement to have purpose, spread house chores throughout the day. Throw in some light exercise while listening to some favorite music, or while singing a favorite tune.

Have friends over, or go hang with some friends. People produce, on average, 100 watts of heat.

Go to the library (does this sound familiar? I suggested it for getting free AC in hot weather...). Great place to hang out, read, maybe do a bit of knitting or crocheting. On rare occasions, maybe the mall or theatre... Years ago, when I lived with a bunch of friends in Northampton, we ran out of fuel on a Sunday. Wasn't kept track of or the gauge got stuck, I don't remember. Our choices were to pay extra for a Sunday delivery, or wait until Monday for a regular delivery. Gas (carpooling), dinner and a movie were about the same as penalty charge, so we opted to wait on the delivery and go to the mall, where the cinema was located. Then we all bundled up for bed that night -- it was chilly in the morning, but quite manageable. In general I'd still rather go to a library, but we had a good time that night :) And malls do usually have benches and at least one public eating area, so if the mall is closer one can always bring a book or knitting and hang out (preferably with friends -- more fun that way!).
helwen: (Default)
Had an interesting little convo over at [livejournal.com profile] baronessmartha's LJ just now, on whether or not to insulate the heating pipes in the basement. In one case it made sense to insulate the pipes because they were the pipes to the 2nd floor of a 2-family home -- the 2nd floor family would be paying to heat the 1st floor family's home. In the other case it was a single family home, with a somewhat damp basement, so leaving the pipes uninsulated helped keep the basement's humidity reasonable most of the year, and heated the floor for the first floor, helping to keep heating costs down.

I've written about insulating more than once here, but really, what is appropriate depends on the house. In our old house the basement walls were nice and thick, so we only insulated the floor/ceiling where the house walls met the foundation, to keep out air penetration. Oh, and also the back/outside basement down in winter, of course.

For the basics, it's good to insulate the walls, windows (shades/curtains), and roof/attic. Although some people use their attics as an additional layer of insulation... but at the farm here and also at our old house, heavy roof insulation would be nice because both are large enough to have rooms where one can work or have a spare bedroom. Insulation is useful year-round too, of course.

It's the fine details that can get interesting... some places are easier to insulate than others, apartments that have restrictions, etc.

How to heat/cool a home varies too, just in our little area here, nevermind the entire country, or other places around the world. In the newspapers, on tv, or in in-person discussions, a lot of folks seem to get fixated on one particular type of energy as what will 'save' us from the energy crisis, but it's never that simple. Passive solar works in the Northeast U.S., but not nearly as well as it does further south. Wood isn't a very renewable resource in Arizona. Wind only works well where there is a fairly consistent flow. Commercial wind is more limited in locations than residential wind. Passive geothermal works in our area for 9-10 months of the year, but you'd want an alternative source for the coldest days of the year. And so on.

For heating or cooling, air travels differently in different house designs. Some houses are rather poorly designed for circulation, and if you're looking at building or buying, or even renting long-term, that's something worth trying to figure out before you commit to a place. Victorian/Edwardian style houses for instance, usually have a staircase going all the way up to the attic, often in or near the center of the house. In our old house it was sort of in the center but going off to one corner/side of the house. It was great at sending a current of air all the way from the basement up to the attic -- a fire hazard if the furnace were to fail, or probably why the house had a couple of doorways with doors in them... But in the summer we could have the basement door open if it were cooler down there, and funnel some of the coolness upward. Regardless, we'd have the upper doors open and the windows in the attic, so the hot air could keep going.

Some houses are set up so that opening windows/doors at opposite ends of the building creates a cross-draft for cooling. Others have extended roofs on the southern exposure, such that there is shade for the southern rooms in the summer, but there's still natural lighting in the winter.

Sometimes of course, if one has access to and can afford the more wasteful methods of cooling or heating, you use them -- we've made it through a good part of the summer without A/C for instance, but I've finally asked L to put in one of the air conditioners in the living room, because the humidity just isn't letting up and I have work to do and I'm just not 100% functional in this weather. *sigh* I won't have it on all the time of course, but I was really hoping to not have to use it at all this year. But as I said, there's work to be done, plus I should make sure my breathing's as up to snuff as it can be for going to Pennsic at the end of the month.

And if you need A/C but can't afford it, I highly recommend malls and libraries (pref. the latter). Even for a few hours a day it can make a big difference. Heck, even if you can afford the A/C, go share someone else's when you can and save energy -- well, assuming you don't have to drive a ridiculous distance to get there...
helwen: (Laundry)
This one has some photos of stuff from the Orkneys. Might be of interest for historical and/or sustainability reasons.

L noted the highback chairs would be good for keeping heat from a fire in/around you too, not just keeping a draft off your neck.

Our own bed is a canopy-style, and now that we're in a smaller bedroom we don't need to curtain it in the winter-time. The box-beds are interesting, and I wouldn't mind having a slightly higher storage space under our bed, but I do like being able to hang up the laundry on our frame during the dry winter-time, better than having more storage. Although the story about the evicted couple was pretty funny...

Article on Project Laundry List

That got Lee thinking. One dryer, he knows today, eats up to $100 or more in power each year while emitting up to a ton of carbon dioxide. Collectively, America's more than 80 million dryers annually burn 6 to 10 percent of all residential electricity — second only to refrigerators and the equivalent of 30 million tons of coal or the output of the nation's 15 least productive nuclear reactors.

Lee, 33, sees clotheslines as the solution. But a growing number of housing complexes and communities, viewing them as eyesores that lower property values, have gone so far as to ban them.

Aiming to change attitudes and laws, Lee founded Project Laundry List. What began as a college campaign to promote clotheslines has grown into an internationally known nonprofit organization "to educate people," according to its mission statement, "about how simple lifestyle modifications, including air-drying one's clothes, reduce our dependence on environmentally and culturally costly energy sources."

NB: Yes, I do still use the dryer from time to time, even a few times this summer because of the funky weather we've been having. But I much prefer hang-drying -- better for the clothing and less ironing on my part. And of course with electricity going up in cost...

Page from Energy Bulletin on the difficulties people are having today, with increasing fuel and food prices

Detroit's population has dropped to under half what it used to be, with attendant problems of unemployment, crime, and the highest high school dropout rate in the country...

Senator Bernie Sanders started asking questions of folks on his web site, like how the rising costs were affecting folks... here's a couple of samples of answers:

A mother and father in rural Vermont: "Due to increasing fuel prices we have at times had to choose between baby food/diapers and heating fuel. We've run out of heating fuel three times…. The baby has ended up in the hospital with pneumonia two of the times."

A man in north central Vermont: "As bad as our situation is, I know many in worse shape. We try to donate food when we do our weekly shopping but now we are not able to even afford to help our neighbors eat. What has this country come to?"

... And the third article on this page is also in Vermont,

On June 11, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie held a press conference to declare an emergency in advance of this winter's heating season. Dubie admits he has no explicit authority to declare such an emergency, but he thinks that just saying the word "emergency" can focus people's attention and spur collaborative activity.

And boy, did a lot of announcements follow. The next day, Gov. James Douglas gave a speech to announce what he called the Vermont Fuel and Food Partnership and established a Cabinet-level task force (which he named Dubie to co-chair, along with incoming Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville) "to focus every effort and every resource Vermont can bring to bear to help manage the effects of higher energy costs on Vermont families."

Folks might like reading this last one in particular, because the politicians are actually getting their act together and proposing things to help the folks who are struggling to have both food and heat, and keep from getting sick.
helwen: (water drops)
I was reading about this project earlier this year, but looks like the kids at MIT (with some help from a Washington researcher's work), have created a highly efficient and much more affordable solar collector than any on the market. And apparently not too hard to build either... (which is to say, it doesn't have to be built in big fancy factories)

And here's their web site: http://raw-solar.com/
helwen: (water drops)
Have started reading this very cool page on Biomimicry: Are Humans Smarter Than Sea Sponges

Goes into how folks are studying nature and trying to use designs and processes from nature for things like getting power from ocean waves (with 'blades' like kelp that get moved by the waves) or considering how the humpback's fin design might work for windmills in low-wind locations. Also talks about stuff like how the parts could possibly be created by being 'grown' (if biochemically, then has reaction has to be able to happen at room temperature). Will probably take me a while to get through it all... whee!

Was talking about some of the above with [livejournal.com profile] fitzw, and had a thought as we were talking about a bunch of stuff of this not-so-crazy idea, which involves....

Stirling engines are cool devices, the design for which was originally invented in 1816 by Robert Stirling.

How they work

I like Stirling engines. They can be useful at different sizes, and although usually made of metal, parts of them can be made of wood. (Some parts must be out of metal though). They work using heat, and there are folks who are doing stuff at industrial sites with making them more efficient by using the waste heat from various processes, saving fuel. You can even get them to work with solar power, if they're small anyway...

I haven't given a lot of though to how one would make a Stirling-type engine (or something completely different that uses temperature differentials) in a sustainable fashion -- living on a farm, I tend to think more of what scrap stuff might I be able to find and re-use, but...

Wouldn't it be cool to have a whale-fluke windmill with a Stirling engine? I was thinking that the engine could be paired with wind and solar (and yes, I found examples of both online, so it's not original to me) -- here's a Wikipedia entry on all this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stirling_engine (just not with the whale-fluke blades)

Doing a search for "stirling engine wind" got me not only the above link but also links for sites doing real world construction of solar- and wind-power combined with Stirling engines.

Page with lots of links for Stirling engine info, from large-scale power projects to plans for building your own little engine: http://freeenergynews.com/Directory/StirlingEngine/index.html

T'would be very cool to build something like this, whether for generating and using/storing power, or cooling, or whatever. And of course we'd have to make it look nice, maybe paint or stain it, carve some detail-work in here and there... sort of... steampunk... as it were.
helwen: (MacGyver)

... which, oddly, reminds me that I need to get some maize seed... to try to keep grain costs from getting completely out-of-hand for feeding the chickens, and also cut down on having to order in grain, we're going to grow some corn for them (and maybe some for us too).

And if the oats do _really_ well this year, they might get some of that too.

Haven't ruled out rolling cages or building a cage next to the barn with ramps from the chicken rooms, but finding the time to build is definitely a factor...
helwen: (water drops)
Article on Nalgene, Bisphenol-A, and Pulling Items off the shelves that have it in them

As for me, I bit the bullet and picked up a couple of stainless steel vacuum bottles over at Faces. They were $14.95 each, but that's less than some other brands by $10. They have cover that doubles as the drinking cup like the thermoses some of us had as kids, and the cap that screws shut also has a button in the middle of the cap. When you want to pour out of the thermos, just push down on the cap and it opens these little vents so that when you pour it doesn't glug or blop out. Then push the button again and it's closed. Less risk of spills, easier to handle in the car or when hiking. They keep hot things hot for quite a while too. Maybe not quite as long as the big Thermos (R) we got earlier this year, but good enough for being on the road. Looking forward to trying them out on a hike, with keeping our water or other drinks cold!

Still loving the big Thermos, of course. We fell in love with the idea of having a vacuum-style container (two layers of stainless steel with space between them, avoid glass) years ago when we went to China and Tibet. They had huge ones there, in every hotel room -- especially in Tibet, where they were encouraging people to drink tea because they said it helped with acclimating to the high altitude. We'd have some before bed, and then the water stayed hot enough overnight to have tea in the morning! We've done the same here, boiling enough water to have some tea and fill up the bottle. Then we can have 2nd or sometimes 3rd cups of tea later in the day -- or if the water's boiled later in the day it might get saved to the next morning for tea. Great little energy-saver, only having to boil once for two different occasions. The big one we bought at Big Y, I think... cost $19.95 at the time, and definitely worth the investment. Electricity is more expensive in the hilltowns, although still not as pricey as in some other states. Still, everything we can do to cut down on electrical use, both because of cost in $$ and cost to the earth of using fossil fuels, the better. And of course, getting good quality long-term liquid carriers means not having to waste lots of water creating plastic bottles (which have Bisphenol-A in them). So, it's both directly and indirectly good for our health too :) Win-win-win!
helwen: (MacGyver)
Found this interesting bit: New York's Leaky Water System

Earth Day is coming up, April 22. Of course, it's more like Earth Week these days, with all the marches, festivals, concerts, fairs, and the occasional educational event. More and more folks are becoming more aware these days, and that's a good thing. The marketing gets to be a bit much at times though...

Got some raspberry and [EDIT:lemon balm Bee Balm] plants from [livejournal.com profile] harpnfiddle yesterday, and we think some valerian too. Also got pennyroyal and strawberries from Jeni! The strawberries are a funny thing, because I gave her some last year when we had too many of them, then we had to leave most of ours behind when we moved. Now I'm getting some babies back from her :D

Might start making up some gift bags this week... the fabric has been sitting staring at me for months, next to the sewing machine... I still have some gift-wrap paper, but I also used to make all sorts of crafty things like decoupage eggs (that can open), Christmas ornaments, etc. So, I have a bunch of fabric still that I wouldn't necessarily want to wear as clothing, but I don't want to just throw away. Hence, the gift bags. My eventual goal is for there to be enough of them at least in the local family circle that people will start using them in addition to or instead of the gift-wrap paper. Some of them got used instead as book bags and stuff, but that's okay -- better than being tossed! And last year my SIL Doris started up saving the larger pieces of wrapping paper for re-use again, as they used to do.

I could probably use some bags to store some stuff in, myself... and a few larger drawstring bags for trash collecting. We picked up quite a bit of stuff on our walk last week, but the plastic trash bags were getting really trashed themselves.

Cloth would mean we'd have to wash them -- mud, dirt or water mostly -- the food content of the trash has been pretty well eaten by critters or washed away by the snowmelt or brooks and rivers. But it was a real bummer only being able to use the trash bags once, for what I thought would be a less rough activity... didn't count on things like L having to climb down the riverbank into the thorn bushes to get the tons of cans that were down there. We don't just fill up the bags and take them to the dump, because some of it can be turned in to pay for the town's official trash bags (helps pay operation overhead), some of it is recyclable, and some is trash. So we have to sort it and stuff, and it would be nice if the bags could survive the sorting process, and then go on to be used at least one more time... so, more cloth bags.

I'm sure I have some durable fabric that would be useful for that... although I suppose if I don't have some I want to use for that, I could re-use some old clothing, like jeans or the outer layer of an old coat or an old bed sheet or something. For the non-sewer, there's always old pillowcases :D I think I'd feel safer picking up broken glass, too, than with a plastic bag...

Saw part of a show last night on National Geographic, called the Human Footprint, which did visual presentations of various things the average American consumes, like how many pints of milk in a year, or bread, or potatoes, or fruit. What goes into making disposable diapers, etc. They used actual containers and foodstuffs too, not computerized images, and had some interesting challenges in creating the shots -- like the dump truck that couldn't dump out the 4 tons of potatoes without help from two strong guys and a hand-operated hydraulic jack.

I knew that it takes around 6 bottles of water to create and bottle one bottle of water, and that power plants take a lot of water to run as well (nuclear take more than regular ones), but was still shocked by the amount of water used for one t-shirt. I think it was like 30 gallons! I should go to the Nat'l Geo web site and see if they have something more on that, as I don't remember everything they said about it. Probably the water used for irrigation for growing the cotton, for cleaning and processing the fiber, and cooling at the power plant that provides the energy for the knitting and sewing machines. But, not right now... have things to do today, and besides, their web site is being funky...

I did wonder about their comment that most pants and t-shirts only lasted about three years -- guess it depends on the quality of the clothing and also who's wearing them. Certainly some clothing is so badly made it doesn't make it off the hanger without some wear-and-tear, or through more than a handful of washings. And jeans in general aren't as durable as they used to be -- although they're usually more durable than chinos at least. When we buy t-shirts we usually get Hanes under-tees for L, and for fun tee-tops we only get the heavier ones, which can last for at least a decade.

I was a bit horrified that apparently the average American buys ~48 articles of clothing per year. Now, even taking into account buying fabric for making SCA and some modern clothing, L and I don't buy that much per year. And I know many of my friends don't either... which means some people out there are buying a _lot_ more than 48 items/year. Ick.

Yesterday L helped me finish emptying a couple of large boxes from the barn, some of it to be recycled, some to be used in the office or other places in the apartment. The computer books are starting to gather in one spot in the barn so that he can sort through them and see which ones he still needs and which ones will be going to the book trading center at the transfer point. One of the empty boxes got trashed in the move, but the other one we can flatten and save for future use, either by us or friends.

Summer is coming. Have to get the stick blinds up. Shade is good. More space in the barn is also good!

Speaking of summer... Must make insulated blinds for the south-facing windows in the bedroom! Aaaaaaa! The projects never end! Sigh.
helwen: (Default)
Dining by candlelight was lovely, of course. Not as lovely as what [livejournal.com profile] joyeuse60 and her beloved did, but we enjoy the more natural lighting. Even for tv-watching :)

We kept the lights off past the 8-9pm Earth Hour time, and if I needed to go to the kitchen to do something, I brought a lamp with me. L also used his mini-mag light on occasion, as he is wont to do. I have one as well, but I'm still not as good about remembering to use it. We know our space well, so really, unless one is doing some task-specific work that requires good lighting, candles or the occasional flash light use is mostly all that's needed after dark for us. Most night work we do tends to be things like sewing (clothing, books, embroidery), for which one only needs a nearby table lamp. Since our hallway lights are on the downstairs' electricity, the in-laws are happy that we don't have it on for hours and hours :)

Health Note: It's better to use lower-level lighting (not bright lighting, and especially not bright overhead lighting) late at night anyway, as it keeps your body from producing enough melatonin, which is stuff that among other things, helps you to get better quality sleep.

29 gallons of syrup made yesterday. Too cold today, but sap should run Monday. Possibly/probably more boiling on Tuesday. We're nearing the end of the season!

Wood stoves

Mar. 6th, 2008 09:25 am
helwen: (water drops)
Nice soapstone stove - hybrid, actually -- metal woodstove with soapstone on the outside. The stone retains the heat for longer heating of your space than just metal does. Keep in mind that they will take longer to warm up a cold room, for the same reason, the stone. But I think the residual heat on the other side of the equation lasts longer than how long it takes to heat up the stone...

Found some others too, including ones with ovens built in, but they weigh too much for a second floor apartment, plus they heat up more space than we have. They have both hybrid and masonry types. Nice-looking:

Article on soapstone stoves: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2005/11/elite_soapstone.php

Page with info on woodstoves (how to use, emissions, etc.): http://www.epa.gov/woodstoves/
helwen: (water drops)
Doctor, I have this recycling problem.... Some info on ecopsychology, something kind of new I think...

So, one of the things I sometimes write about (and of course think about!) is different ways to insulate one's living space, in order to use less fuel/power. As I've been wandering the internet looking for more info on various things, I've finally come across a few terms that are being used by other people (commercial and environmental types): "superinsulation" and "passive survivability". So, a couple new search terms...

Although really, "superinsulation" should be thought of more as "proper insulation". Cheap energy made it possible to spend less on construction of homes and offices. Major storms like the one back in '98 in the U.S. Northeast, and the storms this winter/spring that crossed the U.S. West-Midwest and up into Canada have shown quite clearly how inadequate a lot of modern construction is when people don't have power for several days. "Passive survivability" is the ability of buildings to be habitable for several days, winter or summer, without power.

As fossil fuel/power prices continue to increase, folks who can figure out ways to increase the insulation of their homes would be wise to do so, regardless of whether or not they think they'll ever suffer from a power outage.

I've been thinking about how to do 'superinsulation' as a combination of regular insulation materials (future place, not here in the apartment). I found out through Builditsolar.com's sundry pages about the Mooney Wall and also that cellulosic insulation is more effective than fiberglass insulation.

But I was also thinking about adding floor-to-ceiling cabinets on exterior walls wherever possible. Then I could store all our off-season clothing, fabric, blankets, SCA clothing, etc. in these cabinets, and that would be another layer of insulation as well as being storage space. If we felt that it were necessary, we could also hang a curtain in front of the cabinets, as one further layer of air trapping -- just step inside the curtain, go through whichever cabinet(s) to get what you need, then back out into the main space -- visually uncluttered that way too. Even a light-weight light-colored curtain would work, as anyone who's raised a window shade knows, on a very hot or cold day!

I like the idea of the light-colored curtain because it's better on dark days and/or at night, and with the curtains I could angle the sides that are near windows so that the light would reflect off the curtains and into the room, instead of being more constricted by the right angles: \___/ instead of |___|

Of course some space in the room gets lost to the curtain space, but I suppose that might be incentive to have less stuff... (back to the Japanese aesthetic there...)

If we were going to stay in the apartment longer, I'd probably work harder at tailoring our furniture to fit the spaces between the windows better... well, maybe I will anyway, just a bit at a time. We're likely to be here through next winter after all. It's just that some things work better/more easily if you can make them permanent.
helwen: (Default)
No more fluffy snow, sigh. It's raining today. The car has a coat of snow because thankfully it snowed a few inches first; should make clearing it off tomorrow morning a little easier, having the snow between the car and the ice coating it's getting. Good thing William was able to get that load of wood to the new customer, and also more into the house (separate from the wood already inside, because it has snow on it and needs to dry out). L helped out with that of course, and even I helped a bit.

Do-It-Yourself Alternative Energy and Insulation Projects Site. And Go Romans!! )

Small But Awesome Water Use Thing )

Weaving, PT, Spinning )

And I should write up a report or two today as well. And somehow, maybe Thursday? I need to get out and shop for small thank-you gifts for the teachers for Saturday. I was hoping to find the asian market in Hadley last week, but we had to go all the way to Amherst instead. I'd really rather not drive to Amherst until Saturday, when we'll be picking up one of our folks to go to Novice Schola. I thought blank notebooks with an asian motif on the covers would be both useful and attractive, and appropriate to this time of year, of course.

Novice Schola is on Saturday. My class scheduler, Lady Kathleen, has been marvelous! And of course the Event Steward, Baroness Fiona, is right on top of things, and Luta and Lady Una as well. Our liaison, Lord Detharlion has been keeping us up-to-date on things at the church too, thank goodness. Now we just need the weather to cooperate, so that we can all get to the site and have fun teaching and learning all day!

Novice Schola Event
Novice Schola Class Schedule


helwen: (Default)

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