What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Blog Archive

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy Kwanzaa - Creativity/Kuumba

"Working diligently to continuously enhance our families, neighborhoods and people." from http://kwanzaaguide.com/

There is so much work to do to undo the damage that our consumerist growth based economy has wrought. We must work to cleanse the toxicity left behind by our addiction to fossil fuels, junk food, and the acquisition of unnecessary plastic objects. We must harness the creative genius within us as individuals and a community to create the world we want to live in.

The previous two days have been busy around The Sustainable Living Project and I failed to post the Kwanzaa principles. Here they are;

Cooperative Economics/Ujamaa: "Sharing and pooling our financial resources and goods and services for the common benefit of family and community participants with the goal of building and sustaining cooperative economic enterprises."http://kwanzaaguide.com/

Observing the ways of nature we see that it is cooperative more than competitive. Competition in human endeavour is corrupting while cooperation is character and community building.

Purpose/ NIA - "Fulfilling our duty and obligation to contribute to  the high and morally serious purpose of nation-building, i.e. the quest to recover and restore our people to their traditional greatness" see more at http://kwanzaaguide.com

Nia is crucial for living a meaningful life. In these times, when we face The Long Emergency we must work to create The Long Emergence. It is up to us to create the world we want to live in, with resilience, connectedness, unity, self determination, interdependence upon our neighbors, clean air, clean water, clean food, and clean energy. If we choose to be puppets and ignore the principle of Nia we will end up with the catastrophe that is even now being engineered by the globalized growth at all costs economy.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Happy Kwanzaa Day 3 Ujima- Collective Work and Responsibility

"Collective work and responsibility is a powerful force in the construction of family and community, and in healthy development of children. This principle instructs that we are all responsible for the welfare and success of each other. All adults, for example, are responsible for the welfare of the community and for the nurturing and development of children. Similarly, all adults are responsible and accountable for the success and failure of neighborhood schools and the safety of the community. Neighborhood safety is most definitively grounded in a network of caring adults who monitor the behavior and skills acquisition, i.e., education of children in the neighborhood. Hence, as indicated above, collective work and responsibility is a powerful and transformative value, which if observed by critical mass of neighborhood residents, would have the effect of raising our neighborhoods to a level capable of producing persons of moral, academic, and professional excellence." see more at

Ujima gets to the heart of community, exhorting us to look after one another and work together to insure our future, to take responsibility for our actions, resilience.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Happy Kwanzaa Day 2 Kujichagulia


"Kujichagulia principle says African Americans, like all people, need shared cultural values, symbols, rituals, and practices in order to give their families and children meaning and value, and identity and community.

The practice of kujichagulia/Self-determination affirms the right and responsibility of African Americans to think, to speak, and to act from their own cultural framework. By doing this, blacks make a contribution to the whole of humanity and thus are confirmed in their human worth. Blacks would do well to remember Mary M. Bethune instruction: “We as blacks must recognized that we are the custodians as well as heirs of a great civilization. We have given something to the world as a race and for this we are proud and fully conscious of our place in the total picture of mankind’s development.” for more see

For me this is about our need as an local culture to assert our self determination, to reclaim our independence from the globalized, corporate controlled economy of destruction. Yesterday I expressed my Umoja, Unity, by attending a local Kwanzaa celebration. Today I will express my Kujichagulia by practicing my drumming, studying resilience, stoking the fire with waste wood to stay free of fossil fuels where I can, eating home cooked food, and doing some Transition planning.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Happy Kwanzaa

Day one
"Unity/Umoja To strive daily to engage in practices which build bonds of affection and attachment to our family members, our school teachers, and our neighbors
Perspective on Unity
Promoting the unity of the human family is the task of the whole family. Unity is action on behalf of the family, calling us to help overcome the divisions among family members, and to strengthen the ties that define and bind us as family members. Unity is the spiritual and social gravity which pulls the family together- husband and wife, parent and children, and family and neighbor. At its core, the principle unity is about attachment- attachment to each others and most importantly to the values which define us as family, as community and as a people. On Unity Day, the family celebrates its togetherness (ingathering), the achievements of family members (the harvest concept of Kwanzaa)."
from http://kwanzaaguide.com/2010/12/december-26-day-one-of-kwanzaa-umoja-day/

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Man Born to Farming by Wendell Berry

The Man Born to Farming
The grower of trees, the
gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into
the ground and sprout,
to him the soil is a
divine drug. He enters into death yearly, and comes back
rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down in the dung heap, and
rise again in the corn. His thought passes along
the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has
he swallowed
that the unending
sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
like a vine clinging in
the sunlight, and like water
descending in the dark? - Wendell Berry

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

A Wendell Berry quote

"We have been winning, to our inestimable loss, a competition against our own land and our own people. At present, what we have to show for this 'victory' is a surplus of food. But this is a surplus achieved by the ruin of its sources." from Nature As Measure 1989

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Personal Sustainability quote of the day

The key is changing our habits and, in particular, the habits of our mind. - Pema Chodron

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Transition excitement

We are set to attend the Transition training on the 4th-6th of November in Sautee GA. They've got us a free place to stay that will let us bring Annie the dog and are being extremely helpful. We've also got another awareness raising presentation on the 13th of November and are busy publicising that. Additionally some folks in our neighborhood seem excited about it. WooHoo! At last we are underway with Transtion Hickory or Transition Catawba or whatever it ends up being.

For more info in Transition check out Transition US and or the Transition Network

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A personal relationship with Jevons

I listened to a wonderful interview with efficiency guru Amory Lovins on Science Friday recently and was so impressed with Mr. Lovins techno-optimism. With the effects of Peak Oil becoming more obvious on a daily basis we clearly need to pursue energy efficiency at all costs. However we need to do all we can to avoid the pitfalls of the Jevons paradox, whereby the increased energy, money, time etc available to us are not reinvested into pointless consumerism and wasteful energy, money, time etc expenditures, thereby cancelling out the gains from efficiency. Here is the Wikipedia definition of the Jevons paradox:

"In economics, the Jevons paradox (sometimes Jevons effect) is the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.[1] In 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons observed that technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal-use led to the increased consumption of coal in a wide range of industries. He argued that, contrary to common intuition, technological improvements could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption.[2]
The issue has more recently been reexamined by modern economists studying consumption rebound effects from improved energy efficiency. In addition to reducing the amount needed for a given use, improved efficiency lowers the relative cost of using a resource, which increases the quantity demanded of the resource, potentially counteracting any savings from increased efficiency. Additionally, increased efficiency accelerates economic growth, further increasing the demand for resources. The Jevons paradox occurs when the effect from increased demand predominates, causing an increase in overall resource use.
The Jevons paradox has been used to argue that energy conservation is futile, as increased efficiency may actually increase fuel use. Nevertheless, increased efficiency can improve material living standards. Further, fuel use declines if increased efficiency is coupled with a green tax that keeps the cost of use the same (or higher).[3] As the Jevons paradox applies only to technological improvements that increase fuel efficiency, policies that impose conservation standards and increase costs do not display the Jevons paradox."

So as we pursue more sustainable lifestyle choices it is important to reinvest in sustainability rather than consumerism. Examples might be; purchasing rainwater harvesting equipment instead of a new flat screen TV,  going solar instead of going nuclear or fossil (a choice you can make at home), repairing that old car rather than buying a new one (even if it is a more efficient one), choosing to work less for money and thus have more time to grow food or hang out with family (and also pay less taxes),  designing car free days into your schedule to reduce energy use while also encouraging fewer shopping trips, etc, etc.
In short, we need to develop a personal relationship with Jevons.

Check out the second half of the Radio Ecoshock Episode I've posted in the audio above for more on these ideas. Or you can click here for that audio file: http://www.ecoshock.net/eshock11/ES_110629_Show.mp3

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The deck takes shape

basic framing, with portal for tank access, step stringers, and some trex installed

cross bracing and notched post attachments

attaching Trex step treads to stringers, note temporary post and insulation 

notching the real post

Getting Annie used to the new surface, the hatch over a tank is just perceivable
The deck over the rainwater tanks is coming along nicely. Due to a problem with supply of quality black locust and the extra expense involved we opted to build the main frame out of treated pine and cover it with Trex, a  95% recycled plastic and wood chip product. The arbor and shade structure will be, hopefully, out of black locust. This deck will not only shade the rainwater tanks but the attached shade structure will shade the southeast facing wall and windows while providing a climbing surface for kiwi's and grapes. It also gives us back our east steps and entrance as well as access to the eastside rainwater diverter and first flush device for clean out.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Transition, cool weather and car free days

It's gotten quite cool here in Hickory, down into the 40s at night and only in the 70s during the day. We even used the wood stove this week, both for heating and cooking. We had a couple of car free days out of the last seven and it's looking like tomorrow will be car free as well. I'm mostly working on the deck, notching and putting in the posts, and I have to get the new porch timbers sealed in preparation for installing the new windows. Jacq has been very busy processing loads of basil into frozen pesto, clearing tomato beds, laying new soil and mulch before planting fall crops, and completing the glazing order. We have to get the windows in before winter. I spent some time today shoving recycled styrofoam all around the back of the rainwater tanks in preparation for freezing temperatures. As they get full sun in the morning, I hope that insulating the backs and tops will keep them from freezing this winter. We have been using a lot of rainwater for washing clothes as well as the garden. I also used it to mix concrete footers for the deck posts.
The really big news this week is that we had our inaugural Transition Hickory awareness raising presentation. The turn out was about 23 folks with limited publicity. Currently there are three more possibilities for talks as well. We hope that soon we will have folks stepping forward to be on the Steering committee. If you'd like to know more about Transition check out Transition US or watch the video above.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

World Car Free day

Well, we failed at going carfree on World Car Free day. But we went car free yesterday and for the last 2 weeks we've had 2 out of 7 days in each week car free, so I don't feel so bad. We try to have at least one car free day each week which really isn't so hard to do if you just put your mind to it. I think as oil prices continue to rise over the long term we will see more and more people finding that making their lives more car free really is worth doing. The thing is, we already have a really good reason to drive less,  climate change. So why wait?

Friday, 9 September 2011

Wrapping up the summer garden. Winter seed ordered. Finally!

At last we have placed our order for our winter seed and bulbs from Territorial, Multiplier Onions (somewhat of a perennial way to grow onions apparently), Elephant Garlic (to add to the two other types of winter garlic already due for shipment in October), shallots, two kinds of fava beans (an edible nitrogen fixing cover crop that will also grow tall enough to function as a privacy screen when almost all else is bare), an ancestral purple carrot, broccoli, and rutabaga. We've already planted lots of brassicas (collards, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts), parsnips, turnip, turnip greens, beetroot, radish, and a fresh crop of mammoth red clover as a cover crop on a new layer of soil in the experimental bed. We also found more blueberries, grapes and kiwis on sale at Lowe's garden center which will need to go in the ground before frost as well as a tea plant and a fig tree. There is parsley, stevia and chamomile to prepare for the greenhouse. Recently we've dried basil, mint, lemon balm, stevia, and the tobacco is drying upstairs. We've canned over 20 quarts of tomatoes in addition to having eaten at lest that much fresh, frozen two quarts of tomato sauce, and are halfway through eating three quarts of salsa. We've frozen about a quart of pesto and there are heaps of basil left in the garden. The garlic, onion and leeks were extremely successful but are almost gone now. The pumpkins are harvested early due to the stink bugs (the little buggers left us with only one butternut squash!) we've 3 or 4 watermelons left to eat and a few more still growing. We've eaten about 6 big and delicious cantaloupes and there is one more still growing. The grapes were tasty but not prolific, the nettle, lambs quarter, NZ spinach, sorrel and chard were prolific but under utilized. All our fruit trees are still too young to bear and the blueberries too only produced a handful as they are still small. With lots of green beans to eat and lots blanched and frozen, we have fab greens for winter usage. Also frozen are several bags of cabbage and collards which produced surprisingly until the end of July! So all in all the spring and summer planting was successful. A beautiful six foot turmeric plant is in flower as shown in the photo! We will probably leave this in the ground hoping that after the winter it will sprout again.

Another two out of five car free days

Had a car free day today, that's 2 this week again. It feels really good to just leave the beast alone. I guess it helps balance off all those weeks we had without a single car free day.

Dual Personal Sustainability quote of the day

"When we examine our body, word and mind, we try in vain to find anything permanent there. The concept of an individual person is only sane and valid if we consider it to be one single aspect of global interdependence" - Matthieu Ricard. I really like this quote as it reinforces our oneness and the importance of cooperation rather than competition as well the completely ludicrous pursuits of satisfying the non existent self via consumerism, a pursuit which is not only bound to fail but is literally destroying the conditions upon which our physical nature depends. This leads to the second quote, "Renunciation contains an element of joy, struggle, enthusiasm, and freedom: it is the relief of finally being freed from dissatisfaction" - Matthieu Ricard. The pursuit of increased sustainability has brought joyful renunciation, primary of which is any type of paid corporate American television service. And now every time I am in contact with this pernicious form of propaganda I am extremely dissatisfied and can't imagine anyone being willing to pay for it. Why not spend the money on good organic seeds, rainwater harvesting equipment, anything to increase your personal sustainability.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Personal Sustainability quote of the day

We do not become angry with the stick that hits us, but with the one who wields the stick. But the one who wields the stick is impelled by hatred, so what we should truly hate is hatred itself. - Shantideva As we move forward in creating a more just, sustainable and resilient culture we must not fall prey to divisiveness and blame. It is so easy to exclude those we think are most responsible for creating the problems we face in the first place. But we in the developed world are all complicit. Hatred will get us no where.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Personal Sustainability quote of the day

Confidence is closely linked to how well our perceptions match reality - Matthieu Ricard

Monday, 29 August 2011

Sustainable Living Video and 3 car free days!

Stoked that the last 4 days have featured 3 car free ones. In that spirit here is a video looking at a possible solution on the grand scale.

A new resident

Jacq leaned over to rotate a large pumpkin and found her nose to be a few inches from this golden orb weaver. This is the first one of these we have seen in our garden, perhaps due to the recent eradication of about 10 wasp nests in the old poles on the porch as we replaced them with new wood. Apparently, wasps particularly like to feed spiders to their young. In any case, she is welcome.

Personal Sustainability quote of the day on mindfulness

Change requires mindfulness. One must be aware of the conditions that lead to undesirable behaviour or mental states and act to avoid those conditions. In the practice of sustainability these conditions often lead to consumerism, poor dietary choices, wasting of time with pointless media, or unnecessary driving, for instance. Mindfulness is required to avoid the conditions that lead to these negative behaviours. Full awareness of the emotional triggers that lead us to seek solace in the acquisition of consumer items that lose their lustre within days of purchase, or the emptiness within which leads us to over-eat in an attempt to fill the void, the lack of planning that leads us to hop in the car to run insignificant errands that could be combined in fewer trips; and perhaps the most pernicious, the need to shut off our mental activity in front of a screen controlled by interests antithetical to our own. Mindfulness in all our actions is required. "We live under threat from painful emotions: anger, desire, pride, jealousy, and so on. Therefore we should always be ready to counter these with the appropriate antidote. True practitioners may be recognized by their unfailing mindfulness." - Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Personal Sustainability quote of the day

"When there's a disappointment, I don't know if it's the end of the story. But it may be just the beginning of a great adventure." - Pema Chodron. Keeping perspective in this work is so important.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Personal Sustainability Quote of the day

Attempting to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle is not just about your own resilience, comfort and security. It is also about creating conditions whereby the myriad creatures around us can thrive. For without the success of the ecosystems of your local neighborhood, your country and planet, your own resilience, comfort and security is at risk. "Just like space and the great elements such as earth, may I always support the life of all the boundless creatures. And until they pass away from pain, may I also be the source of life for all the realms of varied beings that reach unto the ends of space." - Shantideva

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Video - David Suzuki & Thich Nhat Hanh: Despair and the quote of the day

David Suzuki, Zen Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, and David Suzuki Foundation Chair Jim Hoggan in conversation about mindfulness, climate change and how to bring about the collective public awakening needed to restore health to the planet. In this video, Thich Nhat Hanh and David Suzuki discuss the challenges faced in protecting the environment and the importance of not letting despair cloud our ability to affect change. For more information about David Suzuki please visit - http://davidsuzuki.org/# For more information about Thich Nhat Hanh please visit - http://www.plumvillage.org/ "Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we're holding back." - Pema Chodron

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Storm damage

Wow! Yesterday a small tornado ripped up the neighborhood one of our rental units is in. We got an email that a tree was down and blocking the drive, I envisioned a branch or two but it twisted a full grown Bradford pear to shreds. Trees are down or ripped up all over the area including the nearby park. We've got a big cleanup job this week, lotsa firewood. I'll probably use the biggest bits to frame up a raised bed for the tenants, try to encourage them to grow some food. Today we just managed to clear the driveway for the tenants, fortunately no-one's car was in the drive when it hit and there is no damage to the house.

Personal Sustainability quote of the day

"Every morning, our first thought should be a wish to devote the day to the good of all living beings." - Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Friday, 19 August 2011

Personal Sustainability quote of the day

"Nothing goes right on the outside when nothing is going right on the inside." - Matthieu Ricard

Thursday, 18 August 2011

A tragedy, emotional turmoil and the personal sustainability quote of the day

Yesterday was a car free day. I love it when I can leave the beast in the driveway all day.

Yesterday evening we had a graphic reminder of the harm that can be caused by driving. Just after dark, as I stepped out to walk the dog I heard a loud smash and immediate cries of pain and distress followed by a car speeding by at near 60 miles an hour, speed limit there is 25. I hurried to the intersection to see what had befallen and to whom. A dog, a pit bull mix we had seen loose in the neighborhood hours earlier, was struggling to escape from one of my neighbors who was trying to help it. Even though it's hip and leg was crushed and it probably had a broken back it managed get away using only it's front feet. Annie and I stood stock still as it passed us by with the neighbor close behind. What I didn't know was that Jacqui had heard the accident and was frantically trying to find us afraid that it was Annie who had been hurt. She was beside herself when she finally found us and I was close to tears as well.  All I wanted to do was to find the poor beast and comfort it somehow. We stood and hugged to try to calm ourselves.

The police came and a whole cadre of neighbors gathered to look for the dog but it had disappeared.  Who would comfort it now, hold it till it died, stroke it's head and reassure it? How sad that due to reckless driving not only was an innocent dog maimed and left to die alone but so many people were distressed and angered. Jacq and I both lost sleep last night.

"Touch is the vehicle through which we comfort one another and are comforted, via hugs or clasps of the hand."  The 14th Dalai Lama

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Personal Sustainability quote of the day

So much about trying to create a more sustainable lifestyle, in a culture that encourages everything but sustainability, is about observation and openness to what goes on around us. This usually leads to the conclusion that some change is necessary. As always change can be challenging and even a bit overwhelming. Here is another way to look at it. From Jack Kornfield

"This is not a matter of changing anything but of not grasping anything, and of opening our eyes and our heart."

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

At last, a proper rainwater harvesting system!

Two of the giant ones just off the truck.
One of the smaller tanks heads up the drive past the ramp.
The last big one about to slide into place.
One 500 tank is elevated for distribution pressure
Checking the fill during the first rain; the temporary covers are for shade.
At long last, we have our water tanks. The semi arrived a day earlier than expected, but we were mostly ready. I had built a ramp with my friend Carl, as we were responsible for getting them off the truck. Jacqui and I rolled them down the ramp and onto the grass at the bottom of the drive. Three 500 gallon tanks at 100lbs each and three 1550 gallon tanks at 215lbs each, that's over 6000 gallons of storage. We prepared the way, swept the drive and moved obstacles, and rolled them into place one by one. Only one of the giant tanks is hooked up for now, and it's only collecting from a little less than half the roof, but we still collected around 200 gallons in a couple of very short downpours. As that one fills, we'll pump the excess into the less giant tanks, particularly the one mounted on the plinth to provide some pressure to hoses. The Rain Reserve diverter and the Beingwater First Flush units are working great. I'll have to duplicate that setup for the south side of the house as well. This will be routed to the other two giant tanks. Until we get the deck framed in above those tanks, we won't be able to hook the last two up, as we will have to move them to access the structure.  I've yet to do the drawings for the building permit for the deck, but hopefully will get that squared away this week.
Clearly the system is not complete, but it is already far superior to the drip to trashcan system I've been getting by with. The trash cans will go into service as comfrey tea brewing containers;, two are already full of composted horse manure I picked up yesterday.

Personal Sustainability

As my good friend Joe reminded me yesterday, in order to thrive one must look after one's physical existence, mental well being, social interactions and perhaps most important of all, your spiritual life. I get plenty of exercise, eat mostly organic local food, I rest, study and discuss. I've joined a local church and have become involved with my immediate community. And now I've returned to regular Buddhist meditation practice and study. As I consider my spiritual well-being to be part and parcel of my mission to live more and more sustainably, and to spread the word about the challenges that face us and the solutions I believe are evident, I will share a quote from learned teachers, here on this blog, on a regular basis. Today I offer one from Jack Kornfield.

"When we let go of our battles and open our heart to things as they are, then we come to rest in the present moment. This is the beginning and the end of spiritual practice."

Thursday, 4 August 2011

dry heat, tank prep, and canned tomatoes

Pad for the big tanks
Tank platform prior to decking
Tomato bed #4

Our first grapes
It's been in the mid-nineties round here with nary a drop of rain for days and days. We've finally had to start watering with city water. One of my nicotianas is taller than me and has flowered. The squash and melons have wilted every afternoon, only to bounce back in the cool of the evening. Our tomatoes produced enough to need a canning session and the basil is starting to go to seed, so we now have fresh pesto. We've also been enjoying some grapes from the bamboo arbor.

Our friends from Bermuda are visiting, and while Suzy helped Jacq with the canning, Carl and I built an elevated platform for one of the 500 gallon tanks I ordered. We also built a ramp for getting the tanks, three 1550 gallon and three 500 gallon ones, off the truck. I had hoped they would arrive this week but it is not looking likely. I've moved the rain barrels onto the pad until the big tanks get here.
Another project Carl helped me with is the first flush diverter for the collection system. The main diverter at the top of the gutter downspout clears out the big debris before passing on the bulk of the runoff to the first flush unit. It involves a kit of parts to which one adds various PVC pipes and fittings. The long 4" pipe collects the appropriate amount of the first runoff, later drained or set to drip, and then seals to pass the water onto the tank. 

First flush and main diverter

Friday, 15 July 2011

Yikes! We've been greenwashed!

We've finally been doing some research into the supposedly "Green" soaps we've been using in our laundry and kitchen sink. We are very disappointed in ourselves that we waited this long to do the research, but most of all in the corporations that have duped us into thinking we were making a better choice with their products. Perhaps they are better than Tide or Palmolive but they are still not good enough! With every day I grow more and more distrustful of corporations, but in this case I really should have known better than to trust in the first place.

The Seventh Generation products contain biocides and neurotoxins as preservatives as well as boric acid, and the ECOS product we just bought contains anionic surfactants that are negatively implicated in immune system response and allergies.  This of course begs the question, are these chemicals being removed at the sewage treatment plant, or are they being dumped into the lake to be returned to us in our drinking water?

Looks like we will be making our own cleaning products once we have used up this toxic stuff and will certainly no longer be putting the gray water from the laundry or kitchen on our landscape until it is gone. We will also try using Dr. Bronners for more of our household cleaning jobs as we are comfortable, at this point, with putting that on the garden until we can get the research done. As far as the drinking water goes we will have to wait until the rainwater harvesting system goes in and has been tested. We hope that this will prove the cleanest and cheapest source of water available.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Of Black Locust, Joinery, and Sweat

At long last the renovation to glass in the verandah has begun. I found a skilled carpenter willing to work with me who could find a source of locally harvested black locust timbers. This wood is highly rot and termite resistant.
Insulative strips for the slab.
Insulative strip, foam insulation, and flashing.

The first step was to dress the slab for enclosure. As this space will be expected to provide lots of solar gain in the winter to heat the house and help propagate plants, the slab needed to be insulated, where possible, to break the thermal bridge which would rob the space of heat. I fashioned strips of blue foam insulation, scavenged of course, with 3/8 inch exterior plywood glued on to provide a rigid and protective surface. We painted them up, see the previous post of Jacqui painting the last ones in the midday sun. These were then screwed onto the slab using tapcon screws. Over this we laid a thin strip of foam insulation, found in my father's garage, and then metal flashing with a drip edge. On top of all this we placed the 6x6 posts and a 2x6 sole board to form the base for the windows.

Of course we first removed the old posts which happened to be filled with wasp nests. I was stung the day I removed the step railings, and being somewhat allergic, I swelled up, flushed and went all woozy for the rest of the day. So unfortunately the wasps had to go. We had been co-existing rather peaceably with them since we moved in, but they wouldn't tolerate this level of disturbance, and I couldn't tolerate multiple stings. We sprayed them with dish liquid and smashed the ones that persisted in returning. OM MANI PADME HUM for the wasps. May they be reborn quickly!
Framed for windows.
Pretty, but not ready for sealing...

After the posts and sole boards were in, we measured the windows and framed in the openings for them. They won 't be installed until the wood has a chance to dry thoroughly and gets a coat of finish/ preservative.

We haven't finished the framing because some of the wood we had drop shipped to us was unacceptable, and we are waiting for replacements.
No more steps! We'll have to walk around now.

We also took this opportunity to get started on the deck that will go over the rainwater tanks. As the tanks will be in the way for the initial ledger attachment, we decided to get it done now. Tomorrow we hope the grading will take place for the tanks. This necessitated removing the east steps.

And oh yes, it was hot and humid, and we sweated buckets. The heat index was 99 degrees today, going up to 109 degrees tomorrow... a rest day! Welcome to the south in the summer.

Monday, 11 July 2011

A Mad Dog and an Englishwoman

90º and 70% humidity, Midday
I'll cover what she was doing in a future post but the amazing thing is that she chose to do it in the midday sun, and it was HOT that day! How is it that she, being from Northern England, can endure heat that keeps me, from the deep south, immobile. The dog is just MAD!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

All the fireworks I need

Holiday Fireworks
I really can do without all the noise, smoke, and crowds of this holiday. These gladioli are all the fireworks I need.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Sustainable living video - Jared Diamond: Thoughts on Managing Change

"In early 2011, ClimatePrep.org had a chance to sit down with Jared Diamond to talk about climate change, the challenges presented to conservation and development practitioners, and the opportunities he sees in confronting them.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond is a world-renowned expert on ancient societies. His now famous book, Collapse, is a study of the choices societies have made throughout history in the face of change -- climate change, as well as others -- and the consequences of such choices.

To learn more about ways people around the world are preparing for and responding to climate change visit www.ClimatePrep.org"

some more results regarding our efficiency measures

Today the outside temps reached 90º, the maximum inside temps reached 80º, no AC required.
When we got up this morning it was 76º inside, after our policy of aggressive morning ventilation was undertaken we got that down to 75º. For most of the day the house stabilized at 77º. At the hottest part of the day the house got up to 79º but we exacerbated the situation with a half hour of cooking, the oven really cranks out a lot of heat, which took it up to 80º.

So I'm still stoked, we got through a 90º day without using the AC! YeeHaw!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Household efficiency skyrockets while bank account plummets!

Just in time for the first days of summer, we have FINALLY  addressed two very important efficiency issues on the house at The Sustainable Living Project. In the last 2 weeks we have had our walls insulated, a process of drilling holes through the indoor plaster and blowing it in, as well as a new reflective metal roof installed over a layer of 1" foam insulation.

The walls; our brick walls get full sun for most of the day and that heat was going straight into the interior plaster, which is about 1" thick, and thence into the house. We shopped around for contractors, looking specifically for someone to use cellulose insulation as that is not only more sustainable but also less toxic. Not a single one would use it! They all use fiberglass. As the walls are sealed I believe we are avoiding exposure to the fibers, which have recently been listed by the EPA as a carcinogen, but we had to compromise on the sustainability aspect.

Being on a tight budget we have long ago reconciled ourselves to compromise when it is necessary. One of the rationales in this case is that the material is going to help us reduce our use of fossil fuels by improving the thermal efficiency of the house. Over time we hope this savings will offset the damage done in the manufacture of the less sustainable material.

On the North side, insulation first, metal on top, good riddance to the asphalt!
The roof, as with most homes here and all over the south, was covered in dark asphalt shingles applied directly over the wood sheathing. These shingles act like a massive thermal collector and the heat is passed directly indoors. In the summer heat this is lunacy! We have been planning to address this serious design flaw for some time but again, it took a while to find a contractor we were comfortable with that we could afford. He had never put a residential metal roof over insulation but was willing to look into it. After some consultation he determined that it would not void any warranties. But alas, again we compromised, going with his recommendation of foam insulation rather than a natural fiber board. This has several advantages, it is lighter, will not absorb moisture, and could be installed over the existing asphalt shingles. We really did not want to disturb the existing roof as the ensuing mess in the yard, where we grow our food, would have been quite toxic. So essentially these toxic petrochemical roofing shingles are now encapsulated under the new roof. And yes the same compromise principle applies, these materials will last a long time and will reduce fossil fuel use for their lifetime.

And oh what a difference this has made. Normally the upstairs renovation is 15º to 20º hotter than the downstairs. Now at most it has been 5º warmer. When we got up this morning, the outdoor temp was about 68º while indoors it was 74º. We embarked upon our usual practice of aggressive ventilation during the cool hours of the morning. The temp held firm at 74º. I believe this was due to the outdoor temp staying relatively cool for most of the morning as it was raining. Eventually the temp indoors dropped to 73º and later, as the outdoor temps got up to near 88º with full sun, our indoor temp rose to 75º. When I cooked a zuchini casserole in the oven at the hottest time of day the indoor temp climbed to 77º downstairs and up. I'm stoked! Essentially we've changed the way the house responds to temperature changes, slowing down it's response. This is good, as the indoor temps will likely be at their highest in the evening when the outdoors is cooling off we will be able to draw that cool air into the house to drop the temps which will continue to drop through the night as the walls will not be collecting heat from the exterior bricks. I'm betting we will not need the AC at all now. Additionally, in the winter the extra insulation should drastically reduce the amount of wood we need to burn to stay warm.

So far so good, but tomorrow, the solstice, the temps are supposed to reach into the low nineties. That'll be the real test.
the south side