Thursday, January 27, 2011

The big problems #'s 1 and 2

So I'm sitting here thinking about what the big problems our household will have transitioning to a low/no-energy future. I'm trying to think mainly about things that will be large structural issues, and ones that we can plausibly do something about. So, for example, how we will heat our house is something we have control over, and that we don't have good solutions for. Maintaining a public school system, on the other hand, is really not something we can personally do much about (though you'd better believe I will fight for it whatever ways I can).

Big Problem #1 = heat
The first thing that comes to mind, and what was rolling around in my head and eventually turned into this blog post, is heat. Right now we have no way to heat our house without our furnace or, at least, an electric-powered infrared space heater (which is really cool [er, hot] but not relevant right now). If for any reason we don't have access to gas or electric, we will get cold. Fast. I believe our furnace relies on electric power, too, so even if we still have gas, we don't have heat. But hey, how often do we have power outages? Oh... yeah, often. Right. But not extended power outages! Surely that will never happen! Oh... um... fine.

What are our options here? Well, we have a chimney, but it's been walled over in our house. Also, the chimney itself is in fine shape, but there is no lining or anything--it's just brick. So one of the most obvious options would be to have the chimney lined ($2500), access the chimney on the first floor, and install a wood stove (woodstove = $500-1000; guestimate for the construction = $1500). Naturally, this creates some new problems:
  1. the fridge in the kitchen butts up against the wall that houses the chimney. Now, in fairness, if we're in no-electric-world, a functioning fridge won't be much of an issue. But I expect that we'll at least have electricity for some time, and that time will overlap with periods where we would like to use our stove. And even if we don't use the fridge with electricity, we might still use it as an icebox, or for "cooler" storage. So the fridge might need to be moved, or at least insulated around; that's more money/remodeling.
  2. A source of wood. Okay, now, in fairness, I personally manage over 300 acres of classified forest for my job, so I could probably kill a day or two with some friends thinning trees. But really, that should stay here on the property of my employer (even if I offered to pay, they'd probably prefer to have the wood, since they have a biomass heater themselves). We do live in a wooded area, so I expect we could find a source, but we certainly don't have one right now, and nothing particularly nearby.
  3. Type of fuel. Maybe it would be better to get a pellet stove? I mean, damn they're cheap. Except... where the #$*% would I get pellets once The End Is Nigh? Okay, maybe no pellet stove.
What other options are out there right now? There's geothermal, but that's still dependent upon some source of fuel--electricity or gas. Solar in winter sucks around here. Wind, too, ain't a great bet. If we could bank enough energy from solar in the summer to use in the winter--maybe that would work? We'd have to convert to an electric furnace, which would probably cost more than all of the work putting in a wood stove would cost anyway, and the cost of the solar installation makes my head spin. I'm not thinking of anything else. Suggestions? Blessedly, even in the absence of a heat source, our house tends to stay over 40*F, which is certainly livable, if uncomfortable. But I would loooove to purchase and tear down the house to our south! Ooo, that would make our house much warmer right there! (And would also cost more than everything else I've suggested so far, with far less return on investment; ah well, so much for dreams.)

Big Problem #2 = cooking
Okay, so the connection between problem #1 and #2 is pretty obvious. Unlike heating, we do have a few ways of cooking in the absence of gas or electric. We have a camp stove, to start with, which is a good short-term solution. We can cook for a few days or even a few weeks on that. There are also rocket stoves, which I've not made yet, but think I could, and we can cook over those. (Hey! Rocket mass heaters! That could also be a heating solution! Hmmm... will mull that over.) There are also solar ovens, which we could use in the summer and MAYBE in the winter here (big ole maybe). These are all great, but have some problems:
  1. Other than the camp stove, we don't actually have any of these things (yes yes yes, I do see those things over there on my To Do list, why thank you for noticing).
  2. The time we're most likely to lose power in a short-term fashion is the winter; all of the above cooking items must be used outside for health and safety reasons, and in some cases (solar oven) may not work for crap when it's cold. We need a way to cook when it's cold that won't cause us to get frostbite or die of carbon monoxide poisoning.
So what would be a good fit here? A wood cookstove. Duh. Did I quote $500-1000 for a woodstove? Silly me, make that $1500-3000. But still, could be worth it, yah? If we went that direction, anyway. Does anyone know if you can cook on any part of a rocket mass heater? Hmmm...

Okay, those are some thoughts. Probably more thoughts to come. I spend a lot of my time thinking.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Dear Blog Reader,

I think this is the first time in quite awhile that I haven't told the previous year not to let the door hit its ass on its way out. 2010 wasn't too bad, maybe it was even good. More good than bad happened for our family, by a long shot. There's so much I want to say in this post, but my brain just isn't fitting itself properly around it. When all else fails, try a silly metaphor, right? So, I'd like to summarize this year with the following photo:

Let's allow this humble bobbin of homespun to represent a lot of what has gone on in our home this year. Please, allow me to elaborate.

Well, first, it's just awesome. The fiber is from a little local dyer named Dyeabolical Yarns in St. Louis, near where my mom lives. When I saw this colorway my heart totally melted and I sent my mom one of those "PLEASEPLEASEPLEASE CAN I HAVE THIS FOR CHRISTMAS PLEASEPLEASEPLEASE?!?!" emails. The colorway is called "Little Bo Peep". Sounds like me, right? *snort* But it is awesome. I haven't even plied it yet. I'm calling it my "Yearlong Yarn" since I started it on Dec. 30, 2010, and finished it on Jan. 1, 2011 (at 1:30am).

Anyway, I digress. First, I should refer folks to my post on spinning and my own personal mental state, and point out that I am still happily spinning away. So there's that.

Also, this represents my new job, which I've prattled on and on about elsewhere. A lot of my job is about fiberwork, since we have alpacas, and hence, a sea worth of alpaca fiber. So my homespun often reminds me of my day job, and since my day job is so awesome, that's okay. Some folks here will remember than in January 2009 we were finishing up 9 months of unemployment, and were quite literally one month away from "Uh... I don't know what to do now, actually." I got this job in the middle of that month, and I cried when I accepted. The job has provided monetary and mental stability, which is worth more than a King's ransom. Considering I work for the Sisters of Providence, I cannot help but at least consider that there was a Providential hand in all of this....

The homespun also represents our family's ability to remain true to our values of homemaking and homecare. This is somewhat because my salary is decent, but also because our lifestyle is much more frugal than most, and because I have a husband that is willing to buck accepted social norms in order to stay home and learn how to manage our household, which is not easy. I am more blessed than I have any reason to deserve to have a husband like Brian. Not just blessed--straight up lucky. Becoming a homemaker is hard for a woman in our society, but at least it's still socially acceptable. A man as a homemaker is becoming more common, but still isn't considered appropriate. It is so bizarre to me how much we have devalued the most important of careers--home & family care, teaching, farming. It's insane. But screw society. Having one adult at home, at least part time (by preference, full time) has always been important to us, and we're lucky to be able to keep to this value, no matter what anyone else thinks. Oh, and ginseng. Never underestimate the value of ginseng in a family with depressed individuals--seriously.

And also on the homemaking front, let's not forget the chickens, and our expanding ability to be more self-reliant. Now, we don't delude ourselves that we'll be able to become fully self-sufficient on our little under-1/10-acre lot, and frankly I don't even think that this is desirable. I would vastly prefer working together with my neighbors to create a more self-reliant neighborhood, and working with local businesses to create a more self-reliant community. But we can live as much of the values as we can, and get better and better about it as we go. We can be one of the families that helps others see how a different, slower, lower-energy life could look, and that really it's pretty cool. AND, to that end, we will hopefully be scheduling an Urban Chicken Open House this spring! Woo-hoo! (My husband said it was okay--really!)

One of the frustrating things this year has been the relative lack of progress on starting our local foods co-op. We continue to grow in membership, but we are not bringing in the investments and member loans we need to really get off the ground. But we have an amazing team of leaders who, somehow, remain dedicated to this, and a membership that is being patient and forgiving and, hopefully, will soon begin to really step up and make our store a reality.

There's just so much else to say, but no way I could fit it all in here. I didn't even come close to finishing the "To Do 2010" list, since most of 2010 was spent adjusting to our new lifestyle. But hope springs eternal (as my boss loves to say), so I will rename that list "To Do 2011" and maybe even add a few things to it. I've got posts rolling around in my head already for the upcoming year. I hope you'll stick around, and share your wisdom with me whenever you can. Y'all have been invaluable to me, and I wish each of you the best of New Years, with prosperity and happiness in everything you do.