Saturday, January 21, 2017
We have lived in our new house for nine months. Over that time I have attempted to keep the electricity bills in check. I banished a lot of appliances - I don't use a tumble dryer, a dishwasher, a TV, a vacuum cleaner, or a bunch of small appliances. When I moved to the new house I bought the smallest, most energy-efficient refrigerator I could find that wasn't a bar fridge. I heat with wood, and we use a couple of small heaters on a cold morning.
I have had three electricity bills during that time, each of them tells me I use about 16kWh per day. That is 5.3kwh per person per day, or 486kWh per month in total for our household, or 5840kWh per year. This puts my electricity uses squarely on the Australian average per household of 5817kWh per year. But when you take a closer look at the figures, this is not taking account of national energy use, merely electricity use. In most states houses and hot water are heated with gas, whereas in Tasmania we mostly only have the option of heating with electricity - so Tasmania's figures (you can see the breakdown of electricity use between states if you scroll down the page in the link above) are for practically all our energy needs. At our place, as I mentioned, we heat with wood, and we also use bottled gas for our stovetop - we go through about 2 barbeque gas bottles per year - but everything else is achieved with electricity.
The average electricity usage for Tasmanian households in 2014 was 8813kWh. So I use 34% less electricity than the average Tasmanian. This is a very similar percentage in savings to my driving numbers - there I discovered that I drive 38% less than the average Tasmanian. There seems to be a theme here..
Now most of that electricity saving is because I don't heat with electricity. But that 16kWh per day seems awfully high for a household with so few electrical gadgets. I drilled down into my electricity bill and discovered that 60% of my electricity use goes to hot water. Sixty percent!!
Three things stand out here:
1. Yes, I admit it, we all love our very long, hot showers. We definitely need to do something about that. And yes, by 'something' I mean we could all have shorter showers.
2. Our hot water is hotter than it needs to be. We tested the temperature of the hot water at our kitchen sink, and it is 56C (133F), which is 6C (43F) higher than it needs to be. It's even higher in the bathroom, including the shower, which is nearly 60C (140F). In order to lower the thermostat though, we need to move an armchair and a heavy cupboard which are in front of the secret trapdoor which hides our hot water cylinder.. and probably call the nice plumber to do it, as the hot water cylinder needs to be at least 60C (140F) to kill bacteria and I have no idea what I am doing. Presumably lowering the thermostat will lower our electricity consumption, while using the same amount of water which seems like a good deal. But yes, of course we will have shorter showers. Of course.
3. We are excellent candidates for solar hot water. Does anyone out there have a solar hot water system? Does it heat up the water enough? I suspect that winter in Tasmania is not great for solar hot water, but I am willing to stand corrected on this. I am also quite interested in the idea of connecting my wood heater to the hot water system, but have no idea what is involved. The fact that my wood heater is inside the chimney space will probably make that more difficult..
I would also like to put some solar panels on the roof. But we have an awkward roof for solar panels - gables all over the place, and no long flat run of roof with the right aspect. I will get the solar panel people to have a look and see what is possible. But first, I need to use less electricity. To start with we will tackle the showers.. and then.. well, I am sure I will think of something but there is not a lot else that we use. We have a tiny oven that we could use more efficiently by batch cooking. The girls have their laptops on all the time, and are forever charging up their phones. They also use the hair dryer and make rather a lot of smoothies in the blender. I give the electric kettle an excellent workout and use the washing machine a lot. I am pretty sure I can't use it any less though, because already we re-wear our clothes a lot, and probably wash sheets and towels slightly less than we should:)
Tell me what you do to save electricity.. and how I can save more at mine.. there are probably dozens of small things that I haven't thought of that would add up to savings over time.
By the way, if you are in Australia you can enter your postcode here and discover how your electricity usage compares to the rest of your suburb. The residents at my post code use even more electricity than the Tasmanian average. Apparently. My neighbours must be taking long showers as well.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Rosy, me and The Girl facing a stiff on-shore breeze.
Photo by Posy
We have just spent three days at the beach with no internet. I read three novels, we all slept a lot, and played stupid games, like sports trivia quiz, which was very funny because none of us knows the first thing about sport. We watched a movie. We lay on the beach and read, clambered over rocks, lay in bed and listened to the rain. The girls all went swimming in the freezing cold ocean and I... minded the towels.
Earlier this week the deep-thinking and adventurous suburban homesteader Wendy wrote about The Riot for Austerity challenge I set for myself, and called it The Quiet Riot. I like that. Here we are in the suburbs, a little quiet family, beavering away at reducing our consumption to help make it possible for us all to have a quietly fulfilling life on this little blue-green jewel of a planet into the future. And all over the cities and the suburbs and in the countryside all over the world other families are doing the same. And together our quiet rioting may chip away at the huge monolith of consumerism. Of course, it may make only the tiniest little dint in the bottom left-hand corner. But if you are going to topple a monolith, you have to start somewhere.
One of the reasons I want to do this is because when people say that it is impossible to live with less I want to be able to put up my hand and say, "Um, actually it isn't. See?"
Another reason is to become both more dependent and independent and creative. Limits force us to be creative, to try new things, to think our way around problems, to ask around, to rely on our communities, to learn how to make, mend and reuse and look at life in new and different ways.
And yet another reason is that I want to have a stab at not being a 21st century-living-in-a-bubble-of-privilege softie. You see I am generally the person who chooses not to swim in the freezing cold water, or go out in the rain, or stretch myself to my physical limits. I love my creature comforts, as most of us do. But that's really not how our minds and bodies want us to live. We most of us need a bit of a challenge, and this seems as good a way as any to get me out of my high-speed, highway armchair or out from under the hot shower and away from all that tempting fake food that comes wrapped in a packet.. We only have one short life. We might as well do something interesting with it.
And as Wendy pointed out in her Quiet Riot post, consuming less is just more thrifty. My ultimate aim is to work less and spend more time growing strawberries.
So, after driving just over an hour each way to the beach and back, now we will be having a bit of a driving fast for the next few days while we stretch our legs and walk our way through our lists of things to do. And next, I will be tackling the dreaded electricity bill... come and help me quietly riot away at making the next bill the lowest yet.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
This morning I have been 'renovating' all the pots in my miniscule front yard. Potted plants need lots of love, as they don't have a huge reservoir of nutrients like plants in the soil do. I pulled out spent plants, pruned the others, added blood and bone, pelletised chicken manure and a little white gardeners' lime, then topped up the pots with a local compost made from green waste and left-over whey from a dairy. It is amazing stuff! Now I am prospecting around the garden for flower seedlings to brighten up what is a rather bare and barren space. So far I have transplanted calendula, viola and granny's bonnet seedlings, and a couple of strawberries. I also added some lettuce and basil seedlings. A friend gave me some thyme a few weeks ago, and I just remembered it is still sitting in its pot in the vegie garden (that's how I make sure it gets watered on a regular basis), so that can go in as well. I took some cuttings of dianthus plants from my mum's yard last year, and they are just about to flower. Love free plants! My last job out here will be watering all the seedlings in with seaweed concentrate, which encourages root growth and reduces transplant shock.
This week I harvested the garlic. Last year I planted the garlic in pots as I was moving house. Garlic doesn't ever seem to really thrive in pots for me, so the bulbs are rather small. But what is worse than a small garlic harvest? No garlic harvest. I am happy to have a couple of months' worth of garlic stashed in the kitchen..
The Girl made lemon butter - this is what's left!
I made yoghurt! It's taken me a year or so of talking about it, but finally I bit the bullet when I found 2l of milk marked down to half price at my local whole foods shop. Then I had to make the yoghurt that afternoon before the milk went off! I used this thermal cooker recipe, but instead of making a small jar of yoghurt, I filled up the whole thermal cooker pan with milk. I left it overnight and in the morning it was a bit sloppy still, so I drained it in a colander lined with cheesecloth. Now it is a beautifully firm, quite mild yoghurt. I am very proud of myself, and the dog is getting whey with all his meals, so he is happy too. Honestly, after all this procrastination, it was ridiculously easy. There is no need for a yoghurt maker, or a thermal cooker or anything special. You can find recipes for making yoghurt in a slow cooker, or even leave it to set in a thermos.
Two big pots of yoghurt
Even better with lemon butter..
Rosy made muffins with some black bananas. Which makes me think - muffins with yoghurt and lemon butter? Mmm..
This week I have made sure to accomplish multiple errands on each trip out in the car. That must be helping the reduce the total driving hours... mustn't it? At least it is in the forefront of my mind. Mindful driving. Is that better than mindless driving? Rosy got her L2 license. She is so proud! Now fifty hours of driving are in my future. I will save up all my errands for her to drive me. One day last week she drove me on a round trip accomplishing four errands, culminating in filling the back of the car with bags of compost from the garden centre. She was so thrilled.
However, the dreaded back-to-school ordeal is just a few weeks away, and Posy's first year of high school will begin. Recently I made Posy try on all of Rosy's old school uniform, and I am pleased to say that we will only need to buy new school shoes and new socks this year. And maybe a school bag. I have asked The Girl to ask around her school friends to see if there is an old school bag languishing in the back of a cupboard somewhere that we could buy (Posy needs a 'proper' school-branded school bag). The socks, of course, can only be bought from the school uniform shop, although some very enterprising girls from The Boy's year did buy white socks and draw a blue line around the top themselves..
This week we have eaten lemons, garlic, beetroot, strawberries, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, peas, lettuce, rocket, spinach, warrigul greens, rhubarb and our very first potatoes from our garden:)
I planted lettuce, basil and zucchini seeds, and harvested last year's beetroot seeds.
First beetroot of the season. I also cooked up the leaves with garlic and butter.
Tell me about your green and thrifty week..
Thursday, January 12, 2017
Little House on the Prairie illustration by Garth Williams
I am so excited reading all of your comments about driving from the last post. There seem to be two camps - people who live out of town and organise themselves super efficiently to batch all their errands together in their occasional trips to town, and people who live in walkable communities who walk and bike to do all their local trips. And then there is the third camp, which is me, who clearly could do better. I am inspired and motivated by both groups.
I think there are two stories I need to tell myself. One is that most places I need to go are much closer than I think they are. When you hop into a car to drive everywhere you start to believe that walking is much harder and takes much longer than it actually does. The other story is, that when it comes to using the car, I need to believe that I am living in the Little House on the Prairie. I can't find the quote now, but I loved the line where Pa declared that they would all just have to make do with whatever it was that they were out of, "because you can't go running into town every few weeks for every little thing..". I am imagining the huge effort to get the horses hitched up and to drive for hours over a muddy cart track to get to town - that level of organisation and necessity should go into every car trip I make, because I am using such a lot of such a precious and irreplaceable resource to do it.
I have been very inspired by two blog posts by Karen Allen, an intrepid city biker and sustainability enthusiast from San Francisco. In her first post about reducing the amount of oil we use in our lives she included a nifty quiz to calculate approximately how many gallons of oil each of us are using per year, some in surprising hidden places. I took the test and reported my findings in the comments. It would be fascinating to see some more results! The most difficult part for me was transferring the US imperial measures into litres and kilograms and back again, but google conversion calculators are our friends! Part 2 of the series focuses on ideas to get the oil out of our travel - and this is exactly what I need to hear this week. From thinking about where we live to where we choose to shop and go to the dentist to how we get around to changing our perceptions of car use, I am challenged and inspired by the issues in this post, and feel like Karen has opened an important discussion. Our love affair with cars just can't continue..
Angus Wallace blogs from Adelaide where he is busily converting his suburban family home into a sustainable oasis. His latest post also gave me pause for thought. He points out that 1 litre of petrol provides 10kWh of energy, making his family trip to a free-range zoo out of town very expensive in terms of energy use:
So the round trip is about 130 km. Our car uses about 8 L per 100km on the open road, so that works out to about 10.4 L of petrol, which is about 100 kWh (each liter of petrol has about 10 kWh of energy). For us, that is a month's worth of energy (as consumed by our house of four people) used in 1h:20m of travel.
Now, two things strike me here - one is the thought stopper about the energy embodied in a litre of petrol, the other is how little electricity Angus' family uses in a month - approximately a quarter of what our family uses. So when I start in on attacking my electricity use next week, I hope Angus will weigh in!
My car uses about 8.5 to 9L per 100km on the open road, and about 10L per 100km for town driving (for those of you in the US, a litre is approximately equal to a quart, or 0.26 of a gallon, so 10km per litre is about 23.5mpg for town driving in my car, and, I hope my maths is correct, that means that each gallon of gas pumped over there in the USofA embodies approximately 40kWh of energy).
All this really means is that driving a car = huge expenditure of energy, and that maybe, just maybe, we can think of better things to do with that energy than to use it to pick up loaves of bread from the shop.
Both Karen and Angus use and recommend bikes and electric bikes. Commenters on the last post ride bikes. All the people dressed in lycra who clutter up all the local cafes every week-end morning ride bikes. Me, I am very afraid of bikes as I am incredibly unco-ordinated, and also live on the side of a very steep hill. In fact, a lot of my town is on one side or the other of a number of very steep hills. I feel like a whiny scaredy-pants as I whine and complain about this, but there you have it. Still, all the enthusiasm here about bike-riding makes me almost think that I could maybe have a little look at the possible idea of maybe possibly looking at an electric bike. Maybe. Please tell me everything you know about them in the comments. Start at the very beginning. I know nothing. Do you ride a bike? I delegated bike riding teaching for the children to my ex-husband, and actually haven't ridden a bike since approximately 1984. So not only are the hills steep, but also the learning curve..
And I'm not promising anything..
Monday, January 9, 2017
My first challenge for reducing my consumption this year is going to be driving. It is all about driving at the moment at our place. I have two girls on their L plates. Rosy is going for her L2 license on Saturday, which will then allow her to work towards her P plate test, which means she will be able to drive without a supervisory driver. It takes fifty hours of supervised driving to get P plates in Tasmania. Thankfully so, as most other states require a lot more. Rosy has already done about twenty hours to get her to her first basic driving test. The Girl is just finishing off her fifty hours and has her P plate test in about three weeks. So many driving hours.
I try really hard not to just 'go out driving' with the girls, but make them drive me places we already need to go, but still, it all adds up. I often wonder quite what the point is. A lot of young people all over the developed world are deciding not to learn to drive. If the next generation decides not to learn to drive it will be excellent, as public transportation will become a huge priority. The Girl herself will (hopefully) get her license in February, then go back to university in Melbourne where she doesn't have a car, but gets around on public transport all year.
Maybe my very best option for driving less would be to pretend I can't drive. Or at the very least, treating driving the car like a dreadful embarrassment. The most compelling and hilarious article I have ever read on the stupidity of car use is by Mr Money Mustache. If that doesn't make you feel slightly embarrassed when you hop into the car, nothing will.
Now down to brass tacks.
I was moaning and sighing at the thought of finding all the statistics to do this project, but as it turns out, Mr Google is our friend. Tasmanians drive an average of 11,900kms (7394 miles) per year (stats for other Australian states here). This is lower than the Australian average of 13,800km (8575 miles), just a little lower than the UK average of 12,700km (7,900 miles) and waaay lower than the US average of 21,687km (13,476 miles).
This is not particularly surprising as Tasmanians are very parochial. We don't stray far from home. When my parents bought a house in the lovely country town of Longford I was appalled to think I would have to be driving nearly half an hour to visit them (of course, this is much closer than South Australia, so all good. And Mum and Dad were very brave to move all the way here and have found a wonderful community in their wee country town. But still half an hour!).
Anyway, I have been doing hard maths sums and have worked out that I drive 7427km (4615 miles) per year. After more hard sums (actually, I needed advice from The Girl for this) I have discovered that I drive 38% less than the average Tasmanian. To drive 90% less I will need to drive only 1190km (739.4 miles) this year. Goodness. That won't get us very far. And next week the girls and I are driving to a friend's shack at the beach for a few days. And the girls are booked in for four hours of driving lessons between them in the next few weeks. In my car. But that's ok. We will work this out.
The truth is, for my daily life I rarely need to use the car. I walk to work. I can walk to any number of local shops to buy food, and most essentially, the library is only ten minutes' walk away. Well, the library and the rest of town as well. The girls catch the bus to school and have lots of friends in walking distance. This was one of the most important considerations when I moved house - to be in walking distance of most of my life.
Ironically, there is a Coles supermarket within walking distance as well. But I swore off shopping at giant supermarket chains last year. Tasmania does have independently owned supermarkets, but there are none within walking distance of me. The wholefoods shop I love where I buy all my bulk dry foods is also about fifteen minutes' drive away, next to the girls' highschool. Last year I cut my trips to the wholefoods shop to once a month, and so I am thinking I could make just one run to the supermarket at the same time for things like cat and dog food and toilet paper. But think of the organisation required! Forward planning is my absolute nemesis.
Driving children to activities is also a big driving black hole. Mind you, there are ways around this. I have been vaguely talking to the hockey mums about carpooling for the last three years. Everyone agrees that is is a good idea, but we haven't quite managed to arrange it yet. This could be the year..
I am beginning to see a pattern here, are you? Not driving as much seems to necessitate a modicum of organisation. Jumping in the car seems so effortless, but the truth is we are using up a finite and precious resource to move a tonne or so of metal and plastic.. to pick up a loaf of bread. It sounds really stupid when put like that..
So this is my plan. Reduce driving to essential trips where there are no other alternatives such as walking or public transport. Explore those other alternatives..
Tell me about your driving patterns. Do you drive more or less than the average in your country? Is there anything that leaps to mind that you could do to save some driving here and there?
Saturday, January 7, 2017
Diogenes by Jean-Leon Jerome.
Diogenes may have chosen to live in a barrel, but he had very nice muscle definition, and four lovely puppy friends. What more does anyone need?
One day Diogenes the philosopher was down at the stream washing vegetables for his dinner when Plato strolled by. "You know," observed Plato, "if you learned to court the king, you wouldn't have to eat vegetables for dinner."
"Mmhmm," grunted Diogenes, "and if you learned to eat vegetables for dinner you wouldn't have to court the king."
Me, I am one of those who would rather eat vegetables than court the king.
This new year I do have a resolution. To live lighter. To live more on the eating-vegies-with-Diogenes-in-his-barrel end of the economic spectrum. One day in winter I was walking the dog and watching some rather bedraggled birds huddled in the trees, and it occurred to me that if I was willing to put up with the same degree of discomfort that birds do in the winter, then I too could be 'free as a bird'. After about three seconds of reflection I rejected that idea, but I have since modified it. Now my plan is to reduce my footprint down to the minimum I need to live a cheerful and fulfilling life. I haven't got there yet. I mean, I have a perfectly cheerful and fulfilling life, but I haven't reached the sweet spot where I am at minimum expenditure for maximum return. I have started on that delicious downward slope, however, and here is how the plan is going so far:
I moved from a large house with a pool to a small house with plenty of space for growing food (going well) and keeping chickens (still a future project). I ditched some of my appliances - I don't have a dishwasher, tumble dryer or TV at my new house (well, I have a TV in the wardrobe that comes out sometimes to watch a DVD). I have discovered that with wooden floors I use a broom and don't need a vacuum cleaner (anyone want one?).
Without these appliances and with a wood heater for winter heating we are using much less electricity. Because we are living close to the centre of town we are walking a lot more and driving less. After my Buy Nothing New year I have become used to hunting for second-hand goods, or sometimes buying local or handmade. I sometimes fail at this, especially with clothes for teenagers.. but more on this another day. Anyway, I have made much progress and rarely walk into a department store these days.. except with a teenager..
I have long been an advocate of local food, and recently decided not to shop at supermarkets any more, which frankly is a little trickier than I had anticipated, due to forward planning, or the lack of it, and the way the big supermarkets are conveniently always open. Still, for the most part I am making progress towards living lighter, but want to ratchet it up a notch.
Anyway, I ran my idea past the girls, who by this stage are used to my bright ideas, and mostly ignore me, but The Girl, who can be very practical, thought it might help if I quantified my goals (she knows she is quite safe because she gets to go back to university in another state, so she can afford to encourage me). I found that idea rather intimidating but then remembered Sharon Astyk's Riot for Austerity project of 2007 and 2011 where she encouraged people to see if they could live on ten percent of an average American's use of earthly resources. I remember seeing it on-line at the time and thinking that I couldn't possibly do that, but now here I am several years later, willing to give it a go. I might use her 2011 numbers for American usage, or I might try to find 2016 numbers for Australian usage, but really, I am sure they are very similar.
So here are my goals for the year. I will reduce my consumption to ten percent of the amount of energy and new goods used by an average Australian. Categories used by Astyk are Transportation Energy, Electricity, Heating and Cooking Energy, Water, Garbage, Food Energy, Consumer Goods. I undertake to examine all of these areas, mostly in a haphazard manner and without doing any difficult sums. Near enough will be good enough for this project. I do not know how to make an excel spreadsheet, and I intend to keep it that way. Now, it seems like a terrible way to start a project, but I am kind of expecting that I won't meet the goal. I am very interested to see how low we can go without feeling miserable and deprived. But what if I only reduce consumption by 50%? Well, that will hardly be a failure, will it? This is really a game you can't lose.
If there is anyone who would like to join me, I would be more than pleased, in fact I would be absolutely delighted! Or come along for the journey and point out what I am doing wrong, and make helpful suggestions. I love a conversation.
Once, Alexander, King of Practically Everywhere, and otherwise known as Alexander the Great, came to visit Diogenes who was sprawling in the sun next to his barrel. Alexander asked Diogenes if there was anything he wished for that the king could provide for him. "Well," answered Diogenes, "now that you mention it, you are standing in my sun. If you could just move that way a little, no, a little more, a little more. Ah yes, that's perfect. Thanks."
And as he left, Alexander remarked that if he could not be Alexander, he would be Diogenes.
Because the thing about wanting nothing, is that then you have everything..
Monday, January 2, 2017
Rosy went to visit a friend at her family's shack at St Helen's for a few days (a shack, in Tasmanian parlance, is not a tumbledown hovel, but a second house at the beach. Lots of Tasmanians have shacks that have been passed down the family for generations. The rest of us make friends with those who do..). The Girl and I drove Rosy there to drop her off. The lovely little town was heaving with holiday visitors, so we scurried away up the coast and found ourselves a beach for the afternoon. Here is The Girl looking glamorous.
Here we are trying to take a selfie with a classic camera with absolutely no capacity to see what we look like. This is the one with both our heads in it.
We lay on our towels on the sand and read all the best bits in our books to each other. When we were roasted to a turn we splashed in the sea. While it may look a beautiful tropical blue, the water is actually only slightly above freezing point. Refreshing. We watched the clouds, collected shells, walked on the sand, had a little nap.
On the way home we climbed a little way up the St Patrick's Head trail. St Patrick's Head is a perfectly triangular small mountain that dominates the skyline for about an hour on the road to the coast. The Girl and I couldn't resist investigating the trail on the way home.
Its lower reaches are incredibly picturesque and easy walking, especially if you find the perfect stick to help you along.
Then the track winds up through a mysterious rainforest, where we stood among the giant ferns between fallen logs listening to the occasional call of a bird.. and nothing else at all. It was like we had fallen off the edge of the world. But then we headed back down, not being dressed for scaling sheer cliffs on the side of the mountain.. I know, where is our sense of adventure?
Sometimes we are granted a perfect jewel of a day, and this was one of them. Blue skies, sand, sea, a rainforest, the company of my lovely girl. I am truly the luckiest woman in the world, and if this is 2017, bring me more:)
The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Child's Garden of Verses