Riot for Austerity fist with Thermometer

Last year’s averages (calculated here) are mentioned as a baseline. I use this calculator.

Gasoline. I can’t wait for the temperatures to go up and the rains to stop so I can bike Amie to school.

9.96 gallons per person (pp) in cars + 10 miles pp on public transport

24 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 24.8%)

Electricity. This went up a lot because of the growing lights and heat mat. I’ll measure how much is consumed by the full setup of eight lights, heat mat and fan.

539 KWH (all wind) = 15 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s early average: 18.2% – we only switched to wind in the middle of the year)

Heating Oil and Warm Water. I’m relieved to say this number is finally going down. It’s warming up and we had some good thaw days. We still heat to 58F at night and most of the day. The wood stove goes on around 6 pm and goes till when we go to bed, heating the house to around 64F. I’ll count the second cord of wood we started once it’s finished. Also our warm water is heated with this oil.

50.15 gallons = 81 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 77%)

Trash. We did even better here. I reuse most unrecyclable containers for the seedlings. 90% of our trash is plastic food wrapping, so I watch the packaging of the food we buy, and try to buy mostly in bulk anyway.

3 lbs pp = 2 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 7.3%)

Water. This again crept up. We had four guests over for the holiday week and I also did a lot of washing and rinsing of last year’s plant and seedlings pots. Those seeds and seedlings also need a lot of water…  The lower one’s water consumption, the more these little bits count and jump into the eye. I’ll be happy to see the rain barrels back in use.

494 gallons of water pp = 16 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 16.5%)

Consumer Goods. Most of our purchases were towards the garden this month, so I won’t count them. For the rest we did well again, only splurged a bit at the MFA ($20 for a book and some small toys) and bought two magazine subscriptions.

$60 = 7 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 27.2%)

Riot for Austerity fist with Thermometer

Last year’s averages (calculated here) are mentioned as a baseline. I use this calculator.

Gasoline. This is the usual: still too high. When the temperatures go up I’m really going to work on biking Amie to school and back.

9.52 gallons per person (pp) in cars + 10 miles pp on public transport

23 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 24.8%)

Electricity. This went up a little because of the confluence of four things: we’re using the space heater in the bathroom more often, our new fish tank requires heating and filtering, we’re using the humidifier in our bedroom at night, and we’re internet-backing up our humongous desktop computer, which we use only for data storage (it’ll take 2 weeks this first time around!).

445 KWH (all wind) = 12 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s early average: 18.2% – we only switched to wind in the middle of the year)

Heating Oil and Warm Water. It’s been cold. Again. We heat to 58F at night and most of the day. The wood stove goes on around 4 in the afternoon and goes till when we go to bed – seems like, as soon as the sun goes down, our tolerance for 58F comes to an end.  With the stove I try to keep it around 64F. Our first cord is finished now, so I’m adding that (it was used over the last three months or so). Our warm water too is heated with oil.

71.4 gallons = 116 % of the US National Average

add 1 cord of wood: 140 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 77%)

Trash. We’re holding steady on this one.

5 lbs pp = 4 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 7.3%)

Water. This went up by a bit from the usual (14 %). Don’t know why.

443.8 gallons of water pp = 15 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 16.5%)

Consumer Goods. We purchased next to nothing this month. All I can think of are four little fish ($1.25 each) and fish food. (I’m, as always, excluding seeds and growing supplies.)

$15 = 8 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 27.2%)

~

It’s interesting to compare these last three months to the same months last year, to see what a difference our wood stove and the lowering of the thermostat are making in our consumption of heating oil (so I’m not reckoning in that finished cord):

Nov 2008- Jan 2009 (63F): 131.6 % vs. Nov 2009 – Jan 2010 (58F): 82.6 %

We had, of course, that crazy warm November in 2009… Still:

Dec 2008 – Jan 2009 (63F): 155 % vs. Dec 2009 – Jan 2010 (58F): 112.5%

It’ll make a noticable difference in the yearly average.  If only we could  eliminate the part of the oil that goes to heating our water, if only on warm days.

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With daytime temperatures in the single digits (F), I was motivated to cover the smallest, yet still considerably large, living room window with a thick quilt I had lying around. I just slung it over the curtain rod and then snapped on three of the handy pvc clips that hold the plastic to our hoop house. Then I tucked it in on all sides. It’s not what you could call sealed, but an improvement nevertheless. Amie likes it so much she wants to keep it on during the day, and I don’t mind because it still lets a lot of light through.

I’m hoping to find a couple of quilts that will cover the large bay window in the living room (to be removed during the day), and one small one for the bathroom window, where I will have to use a tension rod. All the little bits help.

Riot for Austerity fist with Thermometer

We’re back and Rioting again. I’ll again keep last year’s averages (calculated here) visible as a baseline. I use this calculator.

Gasoline. Well, there’s no way around it: Amie and I flew to Belgium – our first visit in 3 years – and I’m counting it as driving there, and back. I’m using our own cars’ consumption as a guide to how many gallons that is.

8.83 gallons per person (pp) in cars + 115.5 gallons pp on airplanes + 20 miles pp on public transport

302 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 24.8%)

Electricity. We’re still holding steady on this one.

354 KWH (all wind) = 10 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s early average: 18.2%)

Heating Oil and Warm Water. It’s finally winter and it shows in the numbers. The oil burner warms our place to 58F at night, and during the day we use the woodstove to keep it around 60F (I’m still not counting because we still haven’t used up that cord). On some days this month, however, it went down to 10 F and it took the stove and the oil burner to keep the house warm. We keep the Annex, which is not in use, at 45F with the oil burner. Our warm water too is heated with oil.

67.15 gallons = 109 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 77%)

Trash. We’re doing well on this one too.

5 lbs pp = 4 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 7.3%)

Water. This went down but of course two of the inhabitants we missing for half of the month. We’re keen on bringing this down to 10% and it should be possible. Toilet flushing, however “selective”, and showers, however short, are the weak points to address in the Spring (rain water holds the answer).

406 gallons of water pp = 14 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 16.5%)

Consumer Goods. Our main purchases in December were a camera and an aquarium (with accouterments) for Amie – I’m curious to see how much electricity the water heater and the filter consume.

$250 = 30 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 27.2%)


Riot for Austerity fist with Thermometer

We entered the second year of the Riot. I’ll keep last year’s averages (calculated here) visible as a baseline. In case you’re wondering, I use this calculator.

Gasoline. I added DH’s miles on public transportation (shuttle), which I neglected to do last year. This was an exceptional month, as we made a round-way car trip to NYC and one to Hanover, NH, as well as a couple unavoidable ones into town.

19.44 gallons pp in own cars +  45.33 miles pp on public transport

=  48 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 24.8%)

Electricity. Aargh, we left our coffee machine on for an entire weekend while we were away! We’re also occasionally using our small electric heater to warm up the bathroom for a bath or shower. Either way, all that didn’t make much of a difference in our wind-powered electricity consumption:

363 KWH (all wind) = 10% of the US National Average

(Last year’s early average: 18.2%)

Heating Oil and Warm Water. Most was for hot water. On those days when the day-time thermostat dipped below 58 F, we were on top of it with the wood stove. November has been so warm, in the 40′s during the day and at night around (mostly above) the freezing point. At night it’s been below 55 F inside only once, necessitating the furnace. For wood we’ve only used up one ring so far, which we calculated at 1/8 of a cord. But I won’t count it yet until we’ve reached that cord.

14.45 gallons = 23% of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 77%)

Trash. Our weigh-in of our trash for the 3 of us for 1 month was very low, thanks to watching the packaging of what we buy, not buying anything at all, and reusing anything that can be put into an arts and crafts project:

3 lbs = 3% of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 7.3%)

Water. We’ve put the rain barrels out of commission in anticipation of the freeze (that hasn’t come yet), and are flushing (selectively) with tap water again. Winter with its many and bulky layers also makes for more loads of laundry (though we’re careful: I do about three loads a week, at most). How to bring this down even more?! Any rain water flushing systems will have to wait till Spring…

444 gallons of water pp = 15% of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 16.5%)

Consumer Goods. This was an exceptionally expensive month. Several things needed replacing. The dryer that came with the house is about 20 years old and very slow and energy-consuming. I don’t worry about it in Summer because I line dry, but In Winter and Spring we can’t hang our laundry outside because of 1) rain and 2) wood smoke from our neighbor’s when the wind is wrong. I am line drying in our basement again, but we need the dryer for smaller garments, for quick drying, and for when we have a big load. So we bit that bullet and got an energy efficient but not too expensive new one. The old one we’re keeping – could we use that motor for a pottery wheel? – and we’ll be reusing the box for sheet mulch. We also bought a new winter jacket for DH, winter boots for Amie and Mama, and hats and socks. All that makes more or less for:

$600= 73% of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 27.2%)

Food. Our food consumption is steadily shifting to bulk, and I’m succeeding more and more in buying the “wet” foods like dairy and vegetables in the local category. It hurts to have to buy the staples we had counted on from the garden, like potatoes and onions, but there you have it. We’re hardly eating meat anymore, and we eat more (local) eggs. Our Winter Harvest is coming along well, thanks to the clement weather.

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Independence Days goes on and on and, round and round.

Not much to report this week: caught a bug and though it’s not getting worse, it’s not much getting better either, so I’m on a low fire here.

Plant. Nothing. The mung bean sprouting didn’t go too well: I must be doing something wrong.

Harvest. Usual (chard, kale, parsley). The one broccoli, I am happy to report, is growing a fruit – I’m happy to say it’s still exciting, to see a fruit grow. Harvesting the grass from the wheat berries.

Perserve. Roasted, pureed and froze more sugar pie pumpkin. Roasted the pumpkin seeds.  More pumpkins are stored in the basement, waiting for processing. Drying mint, sage, oregano and apples.

A good friend of ours came for a short visit and we showed him our pantry (the canned jars, the sugar and the bags of flour, beans and lentils in the chest freezer). It made him so intensely happy, and he gave me a hug, congratulating me. What a great reaction!

Waste not. Made field bag out of DH’s torn pants and the usual (Freezing our Buns, etc.)

Want not. No want-nots.

Build Community Food Systems. Nope.

Eat the Food. We ate what we harvested. I made a yummy fish-lentil concoction with the frozen bouillabaisse left over from our fish stew feast several weeks ago. And our homegrown basil pesto went over really well with our guest. We did do a take out yesterday, of Chinese food, since neither of us felt up to cooking: a sure sign I don’t have enough ready-made, warm-it-up meals in the freezer.

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Riot for Austerity fist with Thermometer

We finished our 12th month, we made it around the year! I’ll list this month’s consumption first and then I’ll discuss the yearly average.

Gasoline.

7.4 gallons pp =18 % of the US National Average

Yearly average: 24.8%

I just saw that I never calculated DH’s miles on public transportation (shuttle). I’ll start adding those in the next year.

Electricity. The only change we made this month was the firing up of the small chest freezer, and it doesn’t seem to have made much of a dent in our electricity consumption.

313 KWH (all wind) = 9% of the US National Average

Yearly average: 18.2%

Our present consumption is so much lower from the yearly average because we switched from conventional to wind in the fourth month of our Riot, which practically cut our percentage in half.

Heating Oil and Warm Water.

13.6 gallons = 22% of the US National Average

Most of this was for hot water this month, but it did fire up several times to heat the house, either at night or when I wasn’t on top of the thermostat (which is set at 59 F during the day and 55 F at night). This is good news, because it’s the same as our usage in September. That means the extra insulation and the wrapping of the hot water tank helped.

As for our wood usage, we haven’t used the kind of amount that would allow us to calculate how many cords we’re going through, yet. Once we reach one cord I’ll enter it all in that month.

But wow, the weather has been taking us for a ride this month! Today for instance started off coldish, around 57 F inside the house, so I was preparing to light the fire when I noticed on the outside thermometer that it was 60. I opened all the windows instead and within an hour it was over 70 outside and a nice 62 inside (our house seems to be well insulated, then). The same thing happened over a week ago, when all the windows of the house started steaming up, on the outside. We’ll have an almost tropical Halloween (with rain, though), then the temperatures will plummet again.

Yearly average: 77%

What can I say: it gets cold here in the winter months. We’re Freezing Our Buns as it is and the house is as insulated as it can get. We did make several improvements to that insulation, and we got a wood stove installed (renewable energy used responsibly), so let’s see what next winter brings.

Trash. Our weigh-in of our trash for the 3 of us for 1 month:

6lbs = 1% of the US National Average

Yearly average: 7.3% OR 31.5%

The second percentage refers to our construction/capital improvement waste, which according to the powers that be at the Riot count for half their weight.  So with that we still didn’t do too bad, and we’ll do better because I don’t see any major waste producing capital improvements coming up in the next year. Without that we did even better than the 7.3% suggests, because I usually eyeball the trash and this month’s actual weigh-in suggests that I’ve been overestimating. Our trash is mostly soft plastic and foil food wrappers and the occasional hard plastic casing of some electronic device, toy or pencil. Everything else goes in the compost or the recycling.

Water. The new grass is established, and there’s not so much canning anymore, so we’re back to normal at:

429 gallons of water pp = 14% of the US National Average

This will probably go up a bit as we put the rain barrels out of commission (they’ll burst if we let the water in them freeze) and need to start flushing tap water again.

Yearly average: 16.5%

I’m at a loss here as to how to get it down more. We already take less and short showers, don’t run the taps when brushing or washing, and use rain water to flush our toilets. Honestly I don’t understand how we’re still at 16.5% of the US national average…

Consumer Goods. Yesterday Amie and I went to Pearl, the huge arts and crafts store in Cambridge, and we went wild: we got new pencils, new drawing pads, a watercoloring set, sharpeners (one in the shape of a globe: Amie’s favorite) and an ellipse template, which keeps her happy for an hour. I also bought two books of poem by Jim Harrison and The Peterson Guide to Animal Tracks for Amie. And DH bought a battery charger. All that makes for

$112 = 14% of the US National Average

Yearly average: 27.2%

Food. Our food consumption is slowly shifting from local to bulk, but I’m succeeding more and more in keeping the “wet” foods, like dairy and meats, in the local category.

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Nothing much of anything happened this week: I’m a bit out of whack with DH gone, and I’ve also started working on the novel again (again!), while it snows. We had our first frost and our first snow, and the garden is in full Winter mode now.

Plant. Planted pak choi. That will be it for this year’s garden, I’m afraid. Started a few more sprout jars: I’ve got three going now.

Harvest. Last four carrots and three tiny eggplants, Swiss chard, kale, parsley from the garden. Fenugreek and wheat sprouts. I’m eying those four tiny green peppers on the plants I brought inside: they’re not growing anymore…

Preserve. Canned 4 pints of blueberry-basil vinegar I’ve had brewing for two months, then brought my big pressure canner downstairs, as no more produce flows in from the Farmers Market. I got the tiny chest freezer downstairs going and packed it with pounds of flour, rice, lentils, split peas, and seeds for sprouting. I am on the lookout for things like sugar pie pumpkins and potatoes on sale, for storing, but I guess I’d have to drive quite a bit further West or North to find good local deals. There are such big gaps in my food storage, it makes me quite despondent…

Waste not. The average temperature in the house is now 58F and I’m happy to say that, unlike last year, (when we averaged 63F), I’m having no problem with it. When it gets colder than that we start a fire. Amie is herself like a stove, she loves it colder, same as DH.

Want not. Aside from the freezer foods I also stocked up on elderberry syrup from Honey Gardens: there was a major sale on it at a local health food store, and I pounced. Amie gets two teaspoons of the stuff a day, and so far so good. I also got bought a cup of dried elderberries ($30/lb!), from which I want to make my own elixir or syrup.

Build Community Food Systems. None of this. I so wanted to go to the Massachusetts Relocalization Conference, but childcare fell through.

Eat the Food. We’re eating everything from the garden as it’s too little to preserve. Also started eating home-canned green beans and applesauce.

What We Do button (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Okay, I’m warning you. This one’s (perhaps) on the edge for this blog, but it was inevitable. It’s about our toilet flushing habits. So if you’re here to read about Amie’s drawings or how the carrots are doing (badly), proceed at your own risk.

This is the one aspect of our homestead that I don’t discuss with visitors to our home, even family and good friends.  The garden and the rain barrels always go over really well, the Freeze Your Buns and short showers are at the next level (where “different” creeps in). But this one… Even on the Riot Group the idea of toilet cloth drew some comments.

At some point I plan to put forward our homestead as an example of suburban sustainable living and low energy consumption. I foresee the awkward moment when it becomes clear to what lengths one has to go to get an 80-90% reduction of the US national average

So it’s nothing short of a coming-out issue. Here goes.

Given its daily and frequent use, toilet flushing consumes the most water in a household. Drinking water.

Here at our place we’ve been struggling with ways to minimize this waste. At first we didn’t flush after little job, but that left mineral stains in the toilet bowl, which necessitated more cleaning (albeit with all-natural products). Sometimes it smelled. Also, it wasn’t practical when we had guests or visitors. I found myself thinking each time the doorbell rang: “Did we flush?”

Then we hit upon the idea of “collecting nitrogen,” a euphemism for peeing in a container, the contents of which go on the compost heap. To deal with the toilet paper problem (we don’t want it in the compost), we decided to use toilet cloth (after little job), which takes up very little volume in the laundry. That minimizes the use of yet another disposable. The compost heaps and bins get daily bursts of fire.

{Update, in response to comment} The toilet cloths are saved with table napkins, hand and kitchen towels and underwear to be washed in hot water with a minimum of chlorine bleach – I wash everything else in cold water with bar soap, washing soda and borax, and I line-dry everything, of course.

But for big job we were still flushing all that drinking water down the drain.

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Then we installed our rain barrels. One of them is not within reach of the garden – it overflows into one that is -  but it is close to the back door. So every morning Amie and I go there to fill two 25 gallon buckets, which we put in a corner in our bathroom (lids on). We use that exclusively to flush the toilet.

Easy peasy: no smells, no yellow water and wads of toilet paper in the bowl, no wasting drinking water.

Several weeks ago a neighbor gave us an old rain barrel he was going to toss. It’s a large metal barrel that he painted green, and some of the paint on the inside bottom is peeling. I asked him if the paint contains lead and he couldn’t remember what kind it was, so we didn’t install it along with our food-grade rain barrels. Instead  we will put it on the last available gutter pipe, also conveniently close to the back door, and will use that water for flushing. At some point we might even figure out how to hook that barrel directly to the toilet water tank.

I asked DH if I could post this, and he said “I don’t get it,” as in, what’s so risque about it? I’m not so sure: this still seems to me as one of the things we do that sets us quite apart from anyone I know personally and the culture at large. Unless we’ve we all been hiding our toilet-flushing habits – which would only prove the point. Your thoughts?

I can cross two more items off my “Tools/Toys” list in the sidebar. “Lookit” (*) what arrived yesterday, one after the other:

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My Presto 23 quart high pressure canner, present from DH for my birthday

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Our new wood stove, present to ourselves for our 8th wedding anniversary

That’s two big pillars of self-sufficient living right there! I haven’t used either of them yet: it’s 90 degrees and the gauge hasn’t been calibrated yet. But I have canned, as promised:

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5 1/2 pints of (hot water bath processed) blueberry jam, present from me to my family

The jars popped right on cue as I lifted them out of the water and the seals have held, so they’re good to go into the pantry. What a good feeling! And Amie watched the entire process, explaining that she had to see how I did it because then she would know it too.  So right!

(*) I don’t know where Amie picked up this “lookit” business, but now I’m saying it too!