Posts from the ‘Energy’ category

Goodbye Chlorine. Hello Natural Swimming Pool!

This blog has been contributed by Hobart local, Jenny Calder. Enjoy!

In May last year myself and two friends bought a home in South Hobart with a glorious mountain view and plenty of sunshine (co-ownership – a novel way of housing ourselves – don’t rule it out). It also had a 10m long swimming pool, used over the last 30 years by the previous owners to operate a learn to swim business.

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Not being fans of chlorine, or large amounts of maintenance, I started researching natural swimming pool options. It turns out that the conversion of pools to natural ponds is an idea gaining in popularity as the the children of the baby-boomers move out of home. It is being promoted by several NSW councils, and has even been featured on Gardening Australia. So, after hosting an unconventional pool party on the winter solstice, we turned off the chlorine. It wasn’t long before it evaporated away and the water turned a glorious shade of green.

 

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Our pool had begun to come alive! I made a trip to the Ridgeway Nursery and introduced a diverse selection of native water plants. I have planted them in pots, placed on top of various pieces of submerged plastic furniture, all from our friendly local  tip shop. The plan is to fill one third of the pond with plants, which will oxygenate the water and use nutrients that would otherwise be used by slimy algae and pond scum.

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I have also introduced azolla and duckweed. Azolla is a free-floating, nitrogen-fixing, water fern, often seen with a red tinge on farm dams. It and its companion duckweed multiply at an incredible rate, and can be scooped off and used in compost. Being high in protein it has been promoted as a supplementary food for chickens. On experimentation, they don’t seem to like it that much, but they do like picking off the bugs and occasional tadpole that come with it.

The evolving ecology of our backyard water-body has been a fascinating process to watch. Six months on, the plants are growing strong and an increasingly loud chorus of brown tree frogs have taken over the night air in the summer time – I am amazed by how much noise such little critters can make! Tadpoles, water boatmen, back swimmers, tiny snails and other weird and wriggly creatures abound, and there are very few (if any) mosquito larvae (we had a pond-dipping and water bug identification afternoon to investigate).

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Dragonflies visit regularly, spiders have spun webs between the reeds, and a pair of wood ducks have made a once-off appearance. I have also planted several pots of mint in the pool, which are providing us with plenty of delicious tea, and we have also started stacking rocks and placing succulents around the pond edges to create hiding places for frogs and skinks. In the future I hope to install a small water pump to circulate the water through an external gravel and reed bed. This will further cleanse the water, and hopefully we can still enjoy fresh, chlorine-free swims!

IMG_3466Jenny adding more plants to the natural swimming pool. She’s wearing a wetsuit as it’s pretty cold in Tassie right now.

home   The pond and young orchard in Jenny’s garden – a blossoming hub or biodiversity

There are many inspiring more swimming pool naturalisation projects to be found online, such as this one. Another inspiring project is Garden Pool, where a family of four are growing most of their own food in an aquaponics system in a converted pool. One day I’d like to look into this too, but the short term plan is bringing biodiveristy into our backyard by creating habitat for some of the amazing metamorphic wetland creatures we share the planet with!

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How to Make Biochar with a Dome Kiln

This post has been written by Mike Thomas, a great bloke who was a student on our 2013 Permaculture Design Course. Enjoy!

Last summer at the ‘Plumplot’ (our farm in Margate, southern Tasmania) we built a dome kiln with the aim of making biochar.

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I’ll start by explaining biochar and pyrolysis, explain the Dome Kiln and then expand on our experience.

Biochar:

Is charcoal formed for the purpose of:

  1. Increasing soil fertility by housing bacteria and binding nutrients.
  2. Returning captured carbon almost permanently to the soil

(charcoal is about 50% carbon whereas ash is about 5% carbon)

Historically biochar was used to enhance the fertility of the Amazon basin where most soils are only able to grow crops for up to three years and heavy rains leech the ground of nutrient.  Boosted with biochar  and the right bacteria those lousy soils were able to support civilisations.  It is well worth watching the BBC documentary ‘The secret of El Dorado’ which explains this further .

Current scientific studies show mixed results with regard to biochar in different soil types; some showing a 100% improvement and others showing a depletion in fertility.

Pyrolysis:

Biochar is made by a process called pyrolysis. This is the chemical process which occurs in material which contains carbon (such as wood) when it is heated with minimal oxygen.

Pyrolysis can therefore happen in a heated barrel with the lid on and a couple of holes drilled in the side. It takes a lot of wood to keep the barrel hot; In my experience was an inefficient design. Commercial operators have much larger furnaces working on a similar principle.

A cone kiln is a design which originates in Japan. Cones can be made from a sheet of metal or dug into a hole in the ground.  Layers of wood are burnt sequentially such that the layer above ‘steals’ the oxygen from the layer below.  When the cone is full,  the kiln is doused with water and may be covered to prevent oxygen entry. It will remain hot and voila! the contents undergo pyrolysis to form char.

Dome Kiln:

Our kiln is a pit style brick lined cone kiln made in a dome shape.

Advantages of our design are:

  • 2 metre diameter allows huge volume compared with most metal cones for similar burn time
  • Dome shape has a greater volume to lid ratio than a cone
  • Easier to reach the centre from the edge
  • Brick lined pit prevents edge breakdown and mud formation
  • Brick and crusher dust has good heat capacity
  • 1 metre crusher dust edge minimises fire risk

2Kiln construction detail showing support bricks and use of crusher dust

For us the dome kiln solved three problems:

  1. Use of excess wood not suitable for the fireplace
  2. Leaky dam = messy mudpit with no function
  3. Poor soil may be improved

Dome kiln materials:

  • Leaky dam
  • Salvaged bricks
  • Crusher dust (4 trailer loads)
  • Clay as mortar
  • Cement for final brick layer.
  • Flat metal for lid joined and cut to shape

3Kiln site pre construction showing failed dam. See spades for scale in top right hand corner

Substrate

  • 3 ute loads of wood from Cass our friendly and generous neighbour
  • Big pile of olive and apple prunings

Position considerations

  • Easy access
  • Near water for fire safety and dousing
  • Fire retardant vegetation nearby (deciduous trees)
  • Smoke moves away from neighbours in prevailing winds
  • Flat or downhill to garden

Drying the kiln

Initially we had a problem as the most rain in about 30 years fell two days before our Dome Kiln ‘first burn’ party. With three helpers and a few buckets it didn’t take long to empty it out.

4Blooper!… lots of water in our kiln!

5Severin and bucket after emptying the kiln

6Kiln drying with a hot fire from prunings

The burn

We laid the first layer of wood on pruning coals and when it was burning well carefully placed the next layer.  When this layer was burning we laid the next and so on.

7Wood layers at half full

8Lengths of wood that spanned the diameter of the dome made it easier to lie each layer flat

After 4 hours when the kiln was full we covered the burning wood in horse manure (to exclude oxygen and start building soil) and hosed it down. Finally we placed the metal lid on top.

9Amy shovels the horse manure to cover the char. See lid in background

10Lid in place – Loads of smoky steam escaping!

11Two days later… Biochar!!!

The kiln held about two cubed metres of char. I set up a flat metal ‘anvil’ where the char could be crushed easily by walking on it in our helper Severin’s big boots. He crushed and moved it to the garden in two half days.

12Amy and a sample of the final product

*Acknowledgements and thanks for building this dome kiln go to…

Severin, Freya,Kati, Petra, Anna, Amy Lau, Marcus Higgs,  Finn Fagan, Cass Rea

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Electrify Your Bike!

For a while now we have been thinking about electric bikes.  Don’t get us wrong, we love the hair raising joy of blasting down a hill and the integrity of connecting directly to our pedal powered freedom machine.  However we have also noted that the keenness can wear thin riding home in the dark drizzle in the middle of winter facing hill after hill.  Plus, we’ve got a little baby now and are anticipating carrying her (and stuff) around.

Enter the electric pushbike.  These have evolved a fair bit over the last five years, firstly motors have become more efficient/powerful and most importantly battery technology has leaped forward thanks largely to mobile phones.

IMG_2433Hannah with her newly converted electric push bike – super stoked!

A few of our E-bike considerations

Buying a new E-bike Vs Converting existing?

There are lots of new E-bikes out there ranging in price from $1000-$5000 dollars.  Unsurprisingly, at the cheaper end they’re pretty poor quality, at the top end, amazing.  We chose to convert Hannah’s existing bike instead of buying a new one as her bike frame is super sturdy and has good components. All up, the quality conversion kit we got cost around $1000 which saved us some cash (yay).

 IMG_2151The bike (minus seat) before conversion. This black beast has been around for a decade, done a few laps of Tassie and some decent kilometres in various parts of Australia.

Hub drive Vs Direct Drive?

Hub drives sit in the wheel and are a very clever bit of tech.  They do however move a considerable chunk of weight to the front or the back.  They also require extra strong forks to handle the force the motor exerts- hence why many e bikes look a bit overweight.

Direct drives have the advantage of powering through the existing gears of the bike, in effect increasing the power, especially at low speeds.  Given the last part of a path to our place is a 30 degree slope, this is essential.

We tracked down a relatively new design that is very elegant.  The motor is installed through the bottom bracket of the bike.  In effect this delivers the weight and energy to the strongest part of the frame.

Legal Vs Illegal?

A 250 Watt motor is the largest you can use without registering the vehicle.  This law is derived from this being the upper amount of energy a pedaling human can supply.  As a useful vehicle, say for towing a load, a larger motor would be great. However given the legalities we opted for a road legal 250W motor

So what is it?

We purchased a Bafang 8 Fun 250W Middle Drive Motor.  The Manufacture is Chinese and focus their work on electric bikes.  They have been around for a while and have good reviews of their product build and specification.  These kits are available from here and there.

First off, I took the opportunity to strip off many of the old components, give the bike a clean and a new paint job thanks to some spray paint I found in the shed.

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 The Kit

The kit arrived in two box’s.  One containing the motor and controller, the other the battery and charger .  This photo shows all the components laid out on a table.  Neat, clear and only one way to attach all the cables.

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We went to the Hobart Bike Kitchen to do the conversion work.  The bike Kitchen is great!  If you want to know more check out this nice video about the bike kitchen from our friends at Sustainable Living Tasmania.  The bike kitchen is open on Sundays, click here for more details

IMG_2224The Hobart Bike Kitchen in action

Attaching the Motor: Firstly I had to remove the pedals, crank and bottom bracket.  Most folks will need to visit a bike shop or bike kitchen to access the tools to do this. Dan and Matt from the bike kitchen gave me a hand to remove the Bottom Bracket (thanks), which was seriously stuck.

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Next the motor and sprocket where assembled.

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The motor was then inserted in the bottom bracket, and two collar nuts attached to hold it in place.

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Then I re-attached the cranks and pedals.  The one tricky thing is that I now required two left hand pedals and cranks!

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Then I reattached the chain.  I actually bought a new chain and rear sprocket so the drive train is all strong and tight.

Setting up Your Handlebars.  Here I have attached all of the components to the handlebars.  It includes two new brake levers (the extra cable from them tell a sensor to turn off the motor when braking), there is also a controller (in the center) and the on-off and booster switch on the left hand side.  I had to remove one gear changer because the front gear has changed from 3 cogs to 1 cog.

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Next the battery pack is attached, this unit attaches to the lugs that hold on the water bottle. The speed sensor and magnet are then attached to the back wheel. A the last bit is to connect all the cables neatly.  Viola, an electric bike!

IMG_2516Sexy beast

So whats it like?

Awesome. This bike is great fun to ride.  The weight is down low and it feels very similar to a normal push bike.  It also hoons up and down hills.  A standard 30 minute ride home (up decent hills) is down to 12 minutes – yay.  Just can’t wait for Frida (our little babe) to grow a bit so we can get her out and about!

IMG_2521Frida and I loving on the new bike

What an Energy Nerd Says (that’s me)

This bike has a 12 Ah, 36V Battery.  This can supply a maximum of 432 Wh of energy.  At an average speed of 25Km/h using 250W we can travel for 1.7 hours or around 43Km.  This equals about 10Wh per km.   This 43km is powered by around 30 minutes of our home solar power system, or the equivalent of a 100W light globe for 4 hours.  I think this is pretty good value for energy, and on our solar and hydro powered Tasmanian home, 100% renewable.

When compared to a car that gets about 10km per litre of fuel, and petrol contains about 9.1 kWh per litre.  This means a car is using 900 Wh per km.  That is heaps more than 10Wh per km from the e-bike

Are you interested in Electric Bikes?  Well Bike Tas is organising an E-bike rally in Hobart this weekend.  A bike ride over the bridge and an expo of electric bikes at Bellerive Oval.  AWESOME!

* Your blogger is Anton Vikstrom, co-director of Good Life, gardener, maker, father and all round good guy.

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Rocket Stoves: Simple & Efficient Systems for Heating Water & Other Stuff

Just to clear the air, rocket stove systems do not involve rockets, nor is it rocket science.

What are they then?

The original rocket stove was designed to be an efficient cooking stove powered by a small fire fueled with twigs and tiny sticks rather than wood logs. It’s burned in a simple high-temperature combustion chamber containing a vertical chimney and a secondary air supply, which ensures almost complete combustion prior to the flames reaching the cooking surface. In summary it’s super efficient, simple and low-tech, meaning almost anyone can build one anywhere in the world. 220px-Rocket_stove The basic design for both a small or large rocket stove can be seen above.  Due to their low-tech nature, they have been particularly valuable and appropriate for environments where people don’t have easy access to electricity or abundant resources. Of special note, are some developing countries which have benefited from building small rocket stoves for cooking purposes, improving quality of life and use of resources. As they’re so easy to build, there are very few barriers (if any) for people making their own – no engineers required (yay).  At a cook stove level they have also been mass-produced at very low prices.

The principles were described by Dr. Larry Winiarski from the Aprovecho Research Center in 1982 and since then stoves based on this design have won many awards, and others have gone on to develop other ‘rocket powered’ items including mass heaters and showers.

A rocket powered shower?  This works by directing the heat from a rocket stove to heat water.  This can simply be a tank situated above the fire, or a water jacket system as used in conventional wood fired water heaters.  For the direct heat systems featured below you require bricks to fashion the fire, a hot water tank (preferably recycled), flue materials, a tank stand and plumbing fixtures. On top of this you need a dose of enthusiasm and a large bucket of mud!

Rocket power shower sketch

Warning: We know this is exciting but there are a number of things to take care of.  Firstly be careful not to burn anything you don’t want to burn.  Secondly and most importantly a hot water boiler contains considerable energy and if poorly designed can reach high pressures and even explode -that is why your home system has a pressure release valve.  Low-tech alternatives can prevent a high pressure situation, familiarise yourself with how to do this safely if you wish to proceed.

Here are a couple of examples of rocket powered showers built by Tim Barker, an international rocket power expert who’s based in S.E Queensland and just happens to be teaching our rocket powered shower workshop this April 25-26 in southern Tasmania!

In it’s most basic and super function form – a rocket shower can look like the one you can see below. You don’t need to spend time, energy and dollars on beautification to get easy, hot water. Tim built this system at the Permaculture Research Institute, you can watch this short youtube flick (narrated by Geoff Lawton) to be talked through the full process of how to build it yourself.

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Using the same design, Tim also built the rocket powered shower below with Very Edible Gardens in Vic recently. The corrugated sheeting means you don’t have to build a rain cover over the top. Brilliant.

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Image by Very Edible Gardens

 The fire is lit in the cob structure below the corrugated iron cylinder. The heat from the fire is directed into this cylinder where it heats up the water.  The water in the tank is not used directly to shower with.  Cold water is piped through a copper coil in the water tank.  The water heaps up in the coil and is then plumbed to the shower stall.

13947568659_b75f1de5a8Tim Barker on the left with a rocket powered shower system part-way built. This photo hilghlights the insulation layer which keeps the water hotter for longer. Image by Very Edible Gardens

Example number two is from Milkwood Permaculture, their design is slightly different to Tim’s in that their hot water tank is vertical instead of horizontal. It is much more similar to a conventional “wet back” hot water system seen on many rural properties.  In this system the rocket stove is contained in the cob structure at ground level.  The hot flue gas then heats a “wet back” (the steel box)  The wet back circulates water to the storage tank on the right and from there can be used later.  The photo below shows it in the “nude”

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3420481892_e1a4b4c736_bMilkwood’s diagram showing how it all works

rocket-stove-water-heater19Sealing it all up with cob adds an extra layer of insulation plus it looks beautiful.

Something else we’ll be featuring and making  on our upcoming workshop is the portable rocket stove, used for cooking in the home, on the farm, at a street party, when you’re camping or at your local tool library – as you can see Megan doing below. These systems are wonderfully basic and effective and can be made from items found in a junk pile.

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Portable rocket stove for easy cooking anywhere, any time – as demonstrated by Megan at the Brunswick Tool Library. Image by Very Edible Gardens.

Rocket power is for people looking to decrease their energy consumption and increase their connection to simple and sustainable methods of generating energy for their own needs. Whether you’re in the urban environment or on the land – live by yourself or with a whole mob of folk there’s a rocket system appropriate for you and your context.

** Join us at our Rocket Powered Showered workshop with Tim Barker this April 25-26 in southern Tasmania to build your own. You’ll also get to make your own portable rocket stove for cooking! **

Great resources…

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One tree, many uses

Over the past month or two we’ve been slowly cutting down some rather large cyprus macrocarpa trees which were looming over our house. One in particular was massive and blocked a large portion of sunlight to our house and garden and was a significant fire hazard. As soon as we moved in we acknowledged they ‘had to go’ due to practicalities, but we’ve been avoiding the enormity of the task.

It’s such a big task that at one point we tried outsourcing the job to a contractor to chop and mulch it (except the key logs). However when his machinery literally starting sliding off our hill and people’s lives were threatened we called it off. And so, we named it up as another ‘character building’ exercise and have been slowly but surely chopping it down and using as much as possible on site. Here’s how.

Fence Posts

We recently built a floppy fence on our eastern boundary line. Conveniently, we have no termites in Tasmania (yay) and macrocarpa’s timber is well known for its durability for outside uses, so it’s highly sort after for landscaping purposes. Generally it’ll last around 15 years before showing signs of needing replacing, and sometimes more. It sure is doing a swell job supporting our fence line!

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 Retaining walls

Anton’s just created this very organic looking, strong and down right beautiful (in my humble opinion) retaining wall for part of our orchard. It hugs the bottom of a slope and is home to our apricot and almond trees, soon we’ll also have a diverse understory sprawling throughout.

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To make them so sturdy, Anton drilled a big hole through the small logs and used some old water pipe (hard steel stuff) as ‘pegs’ which he put directly though the wall and staked into the ground. We then lined it with geofabric and filled it in with juicy top soil.

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Mulched pathways

We don’t have a chipper. Instead Anton’s been using his chainsaw to ‘mulch’ the greenery that’s come off the macrocarpa and using it as much needed mud proofing on our paths. This has worked surprisingly well. A key thing to be mindful of when using macrocarpa on pathways is that it’s anti-fungal, in an orchard (as the path below is) this isn’t ideal as we REALLY want fungi to thrive in this environment. To speed up the breaking down process we’ll be adding a bit of blood and bone amongst the path. We’re also planning on finding some mature macrocarpa plantings elsewhere which have rotting leaf/branch litter beneath the trees with visible fungi growing and inoculating our paths with it… We’ll see how that goes.

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Espalier fence posts

We’re espaliering part of our orchard so we can fit more trees on our urban block. Providing the backbone for this framework are three long (around 5 metres) logs we salvaged from the tree which are doing a bang up job of looking spunky and supporting our very young trees and kiwi fruits.

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They’ll also eventually have seasonal netting put over them to protect the fruit from being picked off by the many birds which swamp the gardens and orchards around our neighbourhood come harvest time. We put these cute silver caps on the top of each post to ensure the netting can be smoothly put on and off, without getting caught on the rough timber.

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Some of the posts were roughly cut down in size, all with the chainsaw, it’s rough but does the job wonderfully.

Stairs

Stairs – we love em and seriously need them to navigate our slope safely. Once again the macrocarpa has come to the rescue to provide all the materials to create these spunky and solid stairs. We’ve back filled them with sawdust to create mud free, level steps. Below you can see David Holmgren helping bed down the sawdust while he was staying with us recently… Yep, even David gets put to work when visiting. Actually, we couldn’t stop him from wanting to help out with whatever was happening. Seriously top bloke that one.

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We’ve also used a lot of the green mulched needles as deep litter in our chook run which they’re loving scratching through and chopped up a large fire wood pile for coming years. And finally (or maybe not) we’ve left the main trunk (with some short branches) in the ground in order to build an adventure tree house! Apparently it’s for our kid (arriving in late 2014), however it’s quickly becoming Anton’s most desired place for evening beers, so I think it’s really for him. We’ve left one of the tall spikes you can see Anton sitting on below as a flag pole – because, you know, that’s super important.

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The question we asked ourselves at the start of this whole process was, how can we utilise and respect the embodied energy of this massive tree? Our answer was to convert that energy it’s put into growing so big all these years into creating numerous functional and fun structures which will continue to live on for time to come. So, here’s to many more years of our cypress macrocarpa living on in its new and many forms!

* Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.

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Solar Systems & Power Use

One of the most irritating conversations around is the opinion that we need more coal and nuclear systems to supply the amount of energy required to maintain our desired standard of lifestyle. Firstly the desired lifestyle of McMansions, heated swimming pools etc is short-sited, unsustainable and unrealistic for the vast majority of our world. We can live incredibly well utilising this amazing thing called renewable energy (you might have heard of it) and a bit of common sense.

We’ve just got solar panels for our home. While we bought them last year (before the feed-in tariff changed) they’ve only just been installed last week. In fact they haven’t even been officially connected yet so aren’t even working – but don’t they look the part.

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Our brand spanking new solar system has a pretty sweet view. This photo was actually taken at moon-rise so doesn’t look very sunny

What system did we get?

We got a 1.5 kilowatt system which most people think isn’t big enough, however it is if you use energy consciously and efficiently and have a small household (there’s only two of us). Our current energy use looks something like this…

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In Tasmania (and probably everywhere) you can find this graph on your power bill which shows your energy use compared with your own a year earlier and the standard energy use of others. You can see our energy use has gone down compared with this time last year – the main difference is that since then we’ve installed ceiling insulation and draft proofed the house. 

We actually know we can get it even lower than our current use as a decent portion consists of our electrical hot water/cooking stove system – more on that below.

Just a side note – if you’re considering getting solar panels, be sure to check the condition of your roof first. Ask yourself how old is it, is it starting to leak, or has it been painted with lead paint? Our roof was both old and had also been painted with lead paint (not good if you want to catch rain water), so we had to replace it which wasn’t cheap. But we installed it all ourselves with the help of Anton’s wonderfully crazy Swedish dad which kept the price down and the good times up.

While some believe that if you get solar panels you can leave your lights on all night because it’s ‘free sun’ energy we think different. Here’s a whirlwind tour on some of the basic things we do to keep our home and lives comfortable and energy use low.

Cooking

We have an electric stove/oven which we inherited with the house – to keep energy use low we do three things.

1. We use the ‘hot box’ system which simply means we bring the pot of soup/stew/rice to the boil then turn the stove off and put it into a box (of any description) with blankets/cushions stuffed around it to keep the heat in. These days I don’t even bother with the box and just stick it in one of the corners of the couch and cover it with cushions which works perfectly. This is a brilliant system where you never burn anything and the food turns out perfectly. Love it.

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These days we simply use blankets/pillows and our couch, but the image above shows how you can make an insulated, spunky hot box. Image from here.

2. We don’t have a stove top kettle because sometimes (a little too often) we’d forget about it and it’d just boil away, which I hated with a passion. So we now have a plug in, bench top kettle which works a lot better for us. This is a solution for absent mindfulness for both gas for electric stoves.

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Our bench top kettle and our thermos which we put in any excess hot water to be used later

3. Thirdly, we invested in a quality stainless steel pressure cooker which was a bit of a revolution. No longer do we spend 5 hours cooking various pulses, instead we now pump them out in half and hour. Before getting the pressure cooker we had pretty much stopped eating chickpeas as they just took too long.

Heating

The previous owners put in two heat pumps and a new wood fire…. and no insulation – crazy we know. We do use of of one of the heat pumps irregularly when we get home late in Winter and it’s dark, really cold and we need warmth quick smart. Otherwise we use the wood fire which is superior in every way as we have access to local and ethical timber. We  make sure that only room/s we’re using are heated instead of the whole house and we’re not afraid to simply wear jumpers when we’re cold instead of insisting we should be able to wear bikinis in our lounge room.

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So far we’ve managed to source all our fire wood from our own block or our neighbour’s bush. We’ll need to buy some timber in later this Winter, but we’re doing our best to harvest as much as we can locally first.

Insulation & Draft proofing

Our house is affectionately referred to as a timber shack, better suited for balmy north Queensland (i.e. the hot tropics) then our cool temperate climate. But we love it as it’s got particularly awesome sun access and windows facing north. When we arrived there was not one scrap of insulation so we quickly got busy insulating the ceiling as this is where most heat loss occurs (we’ll do the floor and some of the walls soon). We’ve also draft proofed our doors and windows which is the most basic and effective thing home owners or renters can do as it makes an immediate and significant difference.

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We took this photo while re-roofing our house showing the R4 Earthwool insulation which, by the way, has 0% wool in it.

Hot Water

The elephant in the room using up most of our energy is our electrical hot water system. One day (when this system dies) we’ll replace it with a solar hot water system, until then we can’t bring ourselves to throw out infrastructure which is working, so we’re making do with it for now. We’ve done some simple things like given the hot water system (which sits outside in the coldest corner of our block) an insulation ‘jumper’ so it doesn’t have to work so hard to heat up water all the time. We turned the thermostat down to around 60 degrees, any lower and this can encourage harmful bacteria to thrive and installed a water wise shower head. We also don’t shower every day (unless we’re covered in mud) as it’s usually unnecessary. On average we have 2 showers a week which is more than fine.

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Before…

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And after

Overall we estimate that we’ll be able to generate approximately 60/70% of our energy from our 1.5kw system. One day when we get solar hot water to replace our current electrical system, this will increase to close to 100%, in fact it’ll probably do all of it. We’re also aware things change, that one day we’ll have a kid, perhaps a even a house mate, therefore we may need to increase the size of the solar system. We’ll do so as needed, but hand in hand with living with some common sense guidelines as outlined above to keep the energy use low, while ensuring our quality of life is comfortable, enjoyable and abundant.

Interesting Resources

  • Beyond Zero Emmissions: The Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Stationary Energy Plan outlines a technically feasible and economically attractive way for Australia to transition to 100% renewable energy within ten years.
  • ‘Your Home’ has lots of information around energy issues for your home.
  • The Alternative Technology Association have a huge amount of knowledge and resources to help you choose the best energy systems for your home.
  • Sustainable Living Tasmania, a local NGO who can help you retrofit your home (rental or otherwise) to be as energy efficient as possible. They’ll also provide a stack of free advice and point you in the right direction for doing anything ‘sustainable’ with your home.

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.

 

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