Posts Tagged ‘Energy Efficiency’

The Homesteading Retreat Weekend

(or more specifically the “Dispelling the myths and showing the realities of the homesteading, independent, sustainable, independent ‘life in the country’ dream” totally awesome weekend!)

Michelle and I have had great success with our one day workshops over the years. We are grateful to the many people who’ve come for the day to learn about our experiences and outlooks on energy systems, food production, the economy, security and the reality of living the homesteading dream.

People have often traveled great distances to get here, and then they have to travel home on the same day. Some, especially our American guests, have stayed in nearby motels. I’m sure this allows them a chance to wind down before they head back to the city, and so Michelle and I have often discussed allowing people to stay overnight here to avoid this.

One of the reasons we don’t usually offer an overnight stay after a workshop is because of my voice. For many years I did workshops at colleges where I’d have a morning workshop followed by an afternoon workshop which meant 6 hours of talking loudly, as well as the whole before/lunch/after informal chatting. I believe in keeping people awake, so I talk loudly (and much to Michelle’s consternation …’quickly’) and spend a lot of time shouting and cajoling and doing my best Sam Kinison imitation which ends up with me collapsing on the floor … just to make sure that people are paying attention to the part on … energy efficiency, or the basics of home security, or the world according to Cam in general.

Anyway, my voice was usually gone by the end of the day and I would have to spend most of the following day (usually a Sunday) not talking. Michelle LOVED IT!

The result is that I’ve learned I need to be more careful with my voice and it seems to be working. I do way less yelling and friends say they miss the old ‘angry Cam.’ Alas.

So we have decided to offer our first “Homesteading Retreat Weekend.”

I’m also calling it the “Dispelling the myths and showing the realities of the homesteading, independent, sustainable, independent ‘life in the country’ dream” totally awesome ‘this must be just like livin’ in paradise’ weekend. I have never been one who believes in being short and concise. Long-winded and convoluted is more my style.

For this workshop our guests will be able to arrive on Friday night, which means they won’t have to get up really early and commute to our place. We’re excited about that.

The weekend will include three meals on Saturday, beginning with our totally awesome Sunflower Farm breakfast, which I rave (and blog) about constantly because it’s my favorite meal of the day. Then we’ll do the workshop as we have in the past. We focus on energy in the morning – all elements of it including solar, wind, wood heat, solar hot water, hot water production in general, propane back up, geo-thermal, etc. After lunch we focus on food – first on production with extensive tours of our gardens, then discussions of all areas of food preservation and storage. Then after the afternoon break we talk about all those things most people at the workshops seem to want to talk about most – economics..i.e. alternative currencies, security, and how do I tactfully put it…ah….er…sensible preparation for potentially temporary disruptions to those modern luxuries…i.e. electricity, water, heat.. that we often take for granted.

At our past one-day workshops, it was at this point in the day that this seemingly divergent group of people in our home would begin to find out what they have in common and that is when the best sharing would take place. So this time at our weekend-long retreat, the discussion gets to go right into dinner and beyond. I’m very excited about that. At our lunches once people get talking I often find it hard to drag them away from their conversations with complete strangers who they are now the best of friends with, to get out to the gardens to talk about important stuff … like horse manure.

On Sunday morning, we’ll enjoy another utterly fantastic life-altering Sunflower Farm brunch (OMG Michelle absolutely hates it when I build stuff up and create unrealistic expectations) … did I mention you’ll use this brunch as the standard for which you’ll compare all other brunches for the rest of your life, none of which will be up to scratch? Nope, no pressure here.

And after that you can do what you want on Sunday. Hang out and chat. Get the hell out because you are soooo tired of hearing me drone on that you feel that you’ll need some sort of brain cleanse to ever think clearly again. Go for a bike ride, canoe on Fifth Depot Lake, help me weed the garden, load a box up with vegetables to take back to the city … you name it. I think what I’ll do is offer a long walk on the property. People only get to hear me wax poetic about the magic of being temporary custodians of our 150 acres of paradise, so this weekend I’ll have the chance to take guests out and explore it themselves. If you’re desperate for bird watching or hope to see deer or otters, we’ll leave Jasper the Wonder Dog at home. Or we can take him and he will sprint miles ahead of us and sprint back to us and bound and leap with the joy that a border collie just seems happy to spend his day doing.

So there you have it. How’s that for a sales pitch? Two nights, 4 meals & refreshments, the undivided attention of 2 individuals who have lived the homesteading reality for 2 decades and will give you their honest assessment of what’s realistic and what’s not, and time for reflection by a pond and recreation in the heart of “Land O’Lakes.”

The cost for the weekend is $700/couple. We’re saying ‘couples’ because so often at our workshops people say, “Oh I wish I’d brought my spouse because ‘they’ need to hear this…” This way you both experience it so you lose the personal bias when get home and say “Homesteading is totally awesome!/totally unrealistic!”

We offer home cooked meals, peace and quiet, infinite perspectives on your retirement goal of moving to the country/quitting your job and moving off-grid/getting out of suburbia and earning an income away from the rat race, etc. It’ll be a blast.
We’re doing this the weekend of August 18-20th. The lakes will be swimmable (i.e warm enough.) The garden will be at its prime which means much of your food will be picked hours before its cooked. Hopefully it will be great weather for your bike ride or walk in the woods and to hear the loons on Sixth Depot Lake at night so you can you turn off your white noise machine. That weekend falls just before a new moon which means if there aren’t clouds you can spend the night in complete darkness realizing just how puny and insignificant you are in comparison to the expansiveness of the universe and its billions and billions of stars you see from our front yard. And you’ll be able to pick a box of veggies to take home with you to enjoy all week long.

We are going to limit this to 3 couples. We think this is the most workable. I’m thinking from the interest we’ve had in the past it will be booked quickly and I think we’ll only offer this once this year. Send Michelle an email at m.d.mather at gmail.com to ask questions and reserve your spot. I’ll give our blog readers a few days to respond before we put it out there to the rest of the ‘interweb.”

Hope to see you soon! For some photos of our place be sure to check out www.sunflowerfarm.ca

(If you are interested, but that particular weekend isn’t good for you, let us know and we might be able to change the date.)

 

 

 

The Net-Zero-Carbon House … almost

Years ago, Michelle and I did a ‘green’ show in a big city and a person perusing our books informed us she had gone “completely solar” in a somewhat, dismissive, ‘that was soooo easy’ sort of way. I was intrigued. We’d been off-grid for a decade and were still a long way from being completely free of fossil fuels. After several probing questions, I was able to qualify that what she meant was that all of the calculators in her home were now solar powered … and I’m pretty sure that even back then it was hard to buy a calculator that wasn’t.

I just made the mistake of reading a great book by Andrew Nikiforuk called “Slick Water, Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World’s Most Powerful Industry.” It’s about the challenges of living in a place like Alberta that has a huge industry fracking to get at natural gas. (http://andrewnikiforuk.com/)

It reminded me that we must have hit ‘peak fossil fuel energy’ for companies to be putting so much effort (and energy) into forcing out things like shale oil and natural gas. It also reminded me that the choices we make, in our purchasing decisions and how we choose to live, impacts other people. The book follows one woman’s challenges with the results of fracking around her rural home, and the lawsuit she eventually launched to try and draw attention to the impact of resource extraction.

As I read a bit more each day and went further and further down the rabbit hole of modern day energy production I was getting more and more critical of what I was up to in my own home. In July we just breeze by being completely “solar,” and I mean more than just using solar-powered calculators. I mean everything from cooking to hot water, and this is a big deal. We are very proud of it. It feels great.

In November and December, it’s much more of a challenge. As I remind people in my workshops, in the northern U.S. and Canada (according to Natural Resources Canada) 60% of your home’s energy requirements are for heat, then 20% is for heating water, and the remaining 20% is for all your other electrical needs … washing machines, toasters, TVs, computers, electronic toast butters … all the essentials.

We’ve got the heat covered by heating with wood which is carbon neutral and which I’ve blogged about … on and on … ad nauesum. The real challenge right now is hot water. We have a Solar Domestic Hot Water (SDHW) heating system which we invested $5,000 in. But it is pretty ineffective when the sun is only up for about 2 ½ hours a day and barely clears the tree line because it’s so low and basically gives us zero hot water. So, we improvise and use our marvelous woodstoves for hot water. I say woodstove (s) plural because we one in the house and one in the guesthouse.

Every second day or so I heat up 4 or 5 stock pots of well water on the woodstove for our bath. Michelle has the first bath because she can stand it scalding, and then a while later when the water is humanly tolerable I use the same water. Then we leave that bath water in to heat the bathroom in the cast iron tub, because the bathroom is on the north side of the house and a long way from the woodstove. In the morning I use the bath water to flush the toilet. Sure, it’s “Little House on the Prairie-ish” but I love it. It just feels right. We are in complete control of all the inputs, including the massive amount of energy required to heat a bath full of water. When you live in a typical house and just pay energy bills and turn on taps and get hot water out of them, you never really have a handle on the enormous energy required to make that possible. And you never think if you heat with a fossil fuel, what the impact is on someone who lives near the well where that propane or natural gas came from. I strongly recommend you read “Slick Water” to give you some perspective.

The challenge is that we use hot water for other stuff. Like dishes. I only do them with a kettle of hot water heated on the woodstove. And shaving. I only shave with a kettle heated on the woodstove … first sink full to shave, second sink full to rinse the soap off. Hand washing … well, our bathroom is so far from the hot water tank that we’re used to washing with cold water by the time it gets to the bathroom taps, so I just wash them really well occasionally with hot water … from the woodstove.

So … heat … check … net-zero-carbon. Hot water … check … net-zero-carbon.

Cooking … ZZZZZT (loud gameshow buzzer sound when you get the answer wrong). We have a propane cookstove. A woodburning cookstove is in the plans, but right now in the kitchen there is a beautiful, monstrous piece-of-art propane stove reeking havoc on some poor fellow human who moved to their piece of paradise not realizing they were near a coal-bed-methane deposit.

So breakfast preparation starts an hour prior to eating. Kettle for coffee goes on the woodstove. Hashbrowns and eggs are cooked in cast iron pans heated on the woodstove. Bread is toasted in a cast iron pan on the hottest part of the woodstove. This is my favorite way to eat toast because it’s less dried out than using the electric toaster. I do so love toast. Michelle makes the most awesome bread to toast!

After breakfast, dishes are washed in woodstove-heated hot water. Water for the chickens is warmed up using water heated on the woodstove. Ugly sweet potatoes and potatoes that I’ve had in the root cellar go into a stockpot on the woodstove, boiled until mashable, then served warm and mashed to the chickens. They love these and devour them, especially on a cold day.

There are some days when it feels like I spend the whole day trying to live a typical North American lifestyle in terms of what we accomplish, while doing it pumping no carbon into the atmosphere, so feeling like I am living on the prairie a hundred years ago … but with internet and Netflix.

So if your response to reading this is “Well, see, you can’t realistically live without fossil fuels so why even think about the impact of their extraction” I would suggest that’s simply not the case. Most of our readers live plugged into the electricity grid and could be heating their home, which uses 60% of energy needs, with a ground-source geothermal heat pump. This provides some hot water as well. If you live in a state or province where electricity is generated with coal, you could purchase zero-carbon energy through an intermediary in Canada like “Bullfrog Power.”

Yes, you will pay a premium for these options, but it’s not usually a large premium. If you like and respect your neighbors like I do, you could never imagine doing anything that might impact them, such as digging up your yard if it was going to affect their water supply. If you start thinking on a bigger picture basis about your purchasing decisions, making these changes is much easier. And with a geothermal system your spouse won’t roll their eyes at you as you come up with new and more complex ways to use less or zero fossil fuels. It can be a fun game, until it’s not. Then you’ll need to clean the bathroom or something to get back in their good books, and no one wants to go down that road, least of all me.

(p.s. We do fall down as we do use a bit of propane and I still own and drive a car … but I’m working on it)

Such Are the Dreams of the Everyday House-Husband

(aka If I Have to Wash Another Dish I’LL SCREAM!)

No really, I am sooo sick of doing dishes it’s unbelievable!

I was never a big Glenn Campbell fan, but I like his music and with so many hits it’s hard not to be aware of them. I watched a documentary about his battle with Alzheimer’s recently which was quite interesting. Lately a lyric keeps running through my head … “Such are the dreams of the everyday housewife, you see anywhere any time of the day… the everyday housewife who gave up the good life for me.” Only I change ‘housewife’ to ‘househusband’… and I haven’t given up the good life, in fact, ‘I’m livin’ it baby!”

Unfortunately, right now that involves the dishes. A lot of dishes. Mountains of dishes! Every day. Constantly. They never stop. How two people can make sooo many dishes is beyond my comprehension. Personally I think Michelle secretly sleepwalks and goes downstairs and takes dishes out of the cabinets and puts them on the counter to be washed. This is just a theory at this time until she’ll let me buy one of the trail cameras to prove it.

During the growing season Michelle does most (almost all) of the dish washing. I manage to avoid them by working outside from sun up to sundown … because … well … exhaustion is way better than washing dishes in my opinion.

Right now though Michelle is working on a contract from home so she’s the breadwinner, and the ground is frozen so I can’t spend as much time outside. So I’m on dish detail. I never actually minded doing the dishes but it’s starting to creep up on me.

As I feminist I always vowed that my daughters would see me doing household tasks. In our house, cleaning the toilet is my job, or ‘men’s work,’ because, well, I’ve been in public washrooms and my experience is that men should be living in caves and therefore are probably responsible for most of the cleaning that needs to be done in the bathroom. Obvious apologies to my sons-in-law for setting this standard.

Anytime the kids are home I do most of the dishes too. Everyone kicks in on most things, but Michelle shoulders the bulk of the cooking and so I do clean up. My attitude is if my grown kids do hours’ worth of driving to get to our place, they should relax while they’re here and I’ll do a few hours’ worth of dishes.

But this winter I’m finding that the dirty dish piles are just endless, and it’s just Michelle and me here. I’m my own worst enemy. We spoil the chickens and that doesn’t help. We had a great harvest of potatoes for the CSA this year, so there was an abundance of ‘chicken grade’ potatoes as I call them, so every couple of days I have a stock pot on the wood stove cooking potatoes, which I then mash and serve warm to the ladies. They seem to love warm mashed potatoes on cold days, so there seems to be an endless supply of new pots and things needing to be washed… constantly. And if I had half a brain I’d soak the potato masher, but I invariably forget so the starchy mess just gets petrified on there requiring soooo much scrubbing to remove.

I know what you’re thinking. “Cam, that’s what they invented dishwashers for, you moron!” I get it. There are labor saving appliances out there. But we live off-grid and I don’t think I can reasonably justify the electricity required to run one of those machines. Some days and most seasons I could, but not this time of year. Secondly, I hate dishwashers. They suck. They leave the dishes with this creepy filmy feeling. Oh, and from an energy perspective, they can only clean dishes by nuking them with hot water … so much scalding hot water that it can blast baked on cheese from the lasagna three nights ago. Think about it. Think about how hard it to wash some stuff off after the dish has sat there for a while. Even scrubbing by hand with steel wool. And that the whole concept of a dishwasher. Let the dishes sit and get the crap really hardened on there ‘until you have a full load’ … i.e. to do the right thing for the planet, then use massive amounts of energy to nuke the stuff off. Come on! They are bad news. Dishwashers should be outlawed.

I will now get hate mail from the ‘Dishwasher Fans of the World” club and be harassed on social media for being a luddite. I am prepared for that. Luckily I’m not on Facebook anymore to avoid all those “Dislike” posts.

Instead I will accept my lot in life. I will accept the endless hours at the sink, hands immersed in zero-carbon hot water heated on my woodstove, manually scraping that baked-on stuff, using my own personal energy rather than some created at a centralized power generating station hundreds of miles away with who knows what environmental impacts.

And I will enjoy every meal on dishes free of the tyranny of the dishwasher oppression that leaves that gross feeling on the dishes and glasses and cups. Every cup of coffee I drink will be in a mug removed from the legacy of some “New and Improved” dishwasher pod created in some lab to substitute what your mother did for you lovingly and with her own elbow grease.

As I do my dishes, the old fashioned way, I will contemplate the fate of the world and solve its problems with my mind free of clutter and focused on the big picture solutions. I will be grateful for so many blessings … to be born at such a great time in human history, in such a great country … and to the have the right to choose to not have to submit to the tyranny of an electrically powered dishwasher, but to be able to savor the satisfaction that comes with looking at a dish rack of drying clean dishes, that I lovingly washed. And I will step back before I put them away and say … “I did that.” That is my blood, sweat and tears in those clean dishes. I did that.

And I will look out the window beside the sink where I can see the garden, under a blanket of snow, where soon I will begin growing the food that will ultimately dirty these plates that I wash. I will think, that once I get out and get my hands in that soil, that dish detail will return to being a shared responsibility at Sunflower Farm … and I will think… spring can’t come soon enough!

Sorry about the rant. Thanks for listening.

(The photo below is not mine but you get the idea….)

By User:Mysid (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By User:Mysid (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Myth of Relaxation When Homesteading

I think there is a myth out there among people who live in urban areas and work in jobs that they aren’t overly enthused about. The myth involves the glamour and romance of a move to a rural homestead. I get it. I had it for many years before we moved off the grid. And perhaps it’s not just the image of sitting and drinking tea by the fire while reading novels that attracts people. Sure, we all know there will be work involved, but sometimes I think many people don’t realize the scale of the work that is involved.

If you consider the original homesteaders 150 years ago, they worked from dawn to dusk, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, then probably died at about the age of 29. Today we have all these amazing modern machines that make our lives so much easier, but we still have to power them. If you use gas/diesel/propane, you still require an income to purchase them. So you’re either doing the work yourself manually, or working to earn an income to purchase these miraculous (personal) energy savers.

You can go off-grid like us, and generate all your own electricity, but to generate it in the volume you require to live independently requires a massive capital outlay on equipment upfront. So most off-gridders make a casual deal with the devil. We try not to sell our entire soul, but just enough of it to put some gas in the chainsaw and some diesel in the generator for the cloudy months (like right now) when no amount of photovoltaic panels will allow you to live anywhere near a typical North American lifestyle. Oh, you can go all ‘Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on The Prairie” and have a hand pump for the well and read by candles or just go to bed at 5 pm, but if you’re used to those luxuries … like refrigerators and lights … then you have to make some compromises.

Michelle and I have the added challenge of trying to get our house to as near zero-carbon as we can. Many people move off-grid and simply switch all their thermal or heat loads (hot water, cooking, clothes drying…) to propane. This is an expensive fuel, and if you move off-grid partially for environmental reasons, then you just lost the battle. Sixty percent of a northern home’s carbon comes from heating, 20% from heating water, and 20% from all those other electric needs like refrigeration, water pumping, TV, etc. So really, just putting up some PV for 20% of your home’s energy requirements is a huge waste of time if you switch the other 80% (heat and hot water) to a fossil fuel.

Michelle and I heat with wood which is carbon neutral except for the cutting and splitting of it, and we are increasingly moving to more ‘solar powered’ electric chain sawing and splitting. We have a solar domestic hot water (SDHW) system which provides about 60% of our hot water using the sun, but then we have to make up the difference without using propane. Again we use carbon neutral wood.

So here’s a typical day for me right now.

I get up early and start the fire in the woodstove. I put the kettle and some cast iron fry pans on for our eggs and hash browns. Then I feed the chickens. Then I bring in firewood. Then I start breakfast which takes a while since I juggle multiple items on the woodstove. If we experiencing a really dark period, as we have been for the last two weeks without sun and not much wind, I also use a cast iron fry pan on the woodstove to toast our bread. (We like to call it ‘the griller’ using a horrible fake British accent.) For 11 months of the year we use the electric toaster but during some dark periods I do everything I can to avoid using electricity that will require me to run the generator (gasoline) more than absolutely necessary.

After breakfast we do the dishes with hot water heated on the woodstove. Then I shave with water from the kettle that I pour into the bathroom sink rather than using the hot water tap. I don’t use the hot water tap because there has been so little thermal energy from the sun, the hot water tank (propane) is lukewarm and I don’t want the propane to come on and heat up 40 gallons of hot water. And yes, I should have an on-demand hot water tank but I haven’t gotten around to that yet.

I usually also put on a pan of our lower grade potatoes and sweet potatoes to cook for the chickens. They like a warm treat first thing in the morning and sometimes before they head to bed (their roosts in the chicken coop.) After breakfast I head outside and right now I continue to do work in the gardens and greenhouses. Even in mid-December the jobs seem endless. Once the ground freezes, which it did 2 weeks ago but thawed again recently, I’ll switch my daytime activities to cutting firewood. To minimize my use of gasoline, I bring down trees with the gas chainsaw, then drag them in longer lengths back to the house to be bucked into woodstove-sized logs with the electric or battery powered chainsaw, and then split with the electric splitter (all carbon neutral).

If it’s bath night I fill up big pots of water and put them on the woodstove by late afternoon so they’re ready for that night’s bath. I also fill up buckets of cold water and let it sit during the day to warm up. Baths take forever by the time I run the bath, clean out the pots to try and minimize the mineral build up on them from our hard water, and dry the buckets I filled during daylight hours. We leave warm water in the cast-iron bathtub overnight to dissipate heat into the bathroom, then I flush the toilet the next morning using buckets of bath water. It ends up in the same septic system and this way I get one more use of the water that required electricity to pump it up out of our well.

Some days I also peel and boil some potatoes to be ready for the next batch of hash browns, and do another load of dishes. Michelle is busy putting away the laundry that she dried on racks inside the house since it’s too cold for the clothes line outside. One little job after another, and the next thing I know my whole day has passed by!

I am not complaining. I love living the way I do. I love everything I do. I can’t imagine living any other way. There are times during these activities though that I think to myself “Holy cow this is an immense amount of work!” I am constantly trying to find more labor saving techniques to minimize what we have to do each day, but I think I’ve picked all the ‘low hanging fruit.’ Most other options involve the use of fossil fuels.

We have bookshelves full of books, many I have yet to read, and many that I want to re-read. By the time dinner is done though, picking up a book is a sure way to put me to sleep while sitting straight up on the couch! Netflix, on the other hand, or a video from the video store will keep me awake and entertained until 9 pm which is finally official bed-time. Yup, we’re a pretty wild and crazy bunch here at Sunflower Farm at night. Now that I think of it, we’re pretty boring and mundane all day too. Just the way I like it.

the-warmth-of-a-woodstove

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The Title Fight for Battery Supremacy

Ever since Tesla announced their new Powerwall, we’ve received lots of emails and messages asking us for our opinion on this new product. So here is my quick response. Now I am heading back out to the garden!

The Tesla Powerwall

Ladies…. and. …Gentlemen (said with long pauses, like before a boxing match) … Welcome to the premier event in the battery fight world!

In this corner, weighing in at … well… not much… using state-of-the-art lithium-ion technology… backed by a financial and tech super-heavy weight… with more hype than sliced white bread when it was first introduced… Elon Musk’s Tesla Superwall Battery for the Home!

In this corner, weighing in at… well… a bazillion pounds… using a 100 year-old lead-acid technology… backed by… well, no one really, with media hype that is … well… non-existent… Cam’s Off-Grid Deep-Cycle Lead Acid Batteries!

And there you have it. In 17 years of living off-grid and many years of doing workshops on off-grid living and blogging… I have never had so many people ask me my opinion about anything… let alone something as cool as battery technology that the manufacturer says would work great with solar panels charging them. How awesome is that!

But I have to remind myself of the caveat. Most of these same people are probably aware that solar panels cost about a tenth of what they cost when I started buying them. They are crazy cheap right now, but we still haven’t seen a widespread adoption of them by individuals. Generating electricity is still something that, for most people, someone else does for them.

Everything I read tells me that the Tesla batteries are great. And there will be early adopters. But the hype seems to be related to this paradigm shift they will spearhead in which individuals will take personal responsibility for powering their own homes. And I’m not sure how likely that is.

My batteries that cost about $5,000 are a deep-cycle lead acid technology that is designed to be cycled up and down many times. I should not let them go below 50% of their charge so I have to watch their state of charge and I have to periodically add distilled water to the electrolyte. So they are not maintenance free. Each of my batteries weighs 270 pounds, so when I leave the house I do not worry about intruders stealing my batteries. They came with a 10-year warranty and if I treat them really well, I should get 17 to 20 years of life out of them. At that time someone will purchase them from me for the value of the lead in them, which will be recycled into new batteries.

off-gridbatteries

The Tesla battery will be lighter and have less maintenance. That’s awesome.

I’m not sure they will meet most people’s expectations though. In my case I know I can get through 3 cloudy days in November, as long as I switch all my thermal (heat) loads to propane and wood. If I’m just running the fridge and freezer, TV, computers, lights, and small electric appliances I’m fine.

The problem will be someone in an urban environment who is not into the whole “paying attention to their energy use thing”, and the family may try and switch to the batteries and someone in the family will warm up a pizza pocket in the toaster oven for 15 minutes and suddenly the potential of the batteries will not meet the hype. A few times of not being disciplined to watch your electricity use could quickly dampen your enthusiasm for the product.

If you use them just to run non-thermal electric loads they will be awesome, but from an environmental point of view here in the north and for the northern parts of the U.S. 60% of your home’s energy use is for heat, 20% is for hot water and the remaining 20% is for appliances. So if you heat with natural gas or oil, and make your hot water this way, then installing a set of these batteries only helps with 20% of your energy requirements. What you should be doing is installing a geo-thermal/ground source heat pump to stop burning natural gas for your heat. What you should do next is install a solar domestic hot water to reduce your natural gas use to produce hot water. Then you should install one of these battery banks and some solar panels to charge them.

This is exactly what happened in the province of Ontario with the Green Energy Act. We had very low carbon electricity because of our nuclear plants and hydro. They introduced incentives to put solar panels on roof-tops and they killed the solar domestic hot water and geo-thermal industries. People didn’t do the right thing. If they had just put a price on carbon, the market would have sorted this all out. When government meddles they inevitably get it wrong.

We moved to our off-grid home the year after the 1998 ice storm that devastated this part of the world. As I did workshops at colleges throughout the area I’d ask people to raise their hands if they’d been without electricity for a week. Most hands went up. 2 weeks? A lot of hands. 3 or more weeks, still a fair number of hands. Then I’d ask how many people had bought backup generators. Very few hands.

There’s this inertia that keeps people from doing what they should do. “Well, another ice storm is highly unlikely, so I’m not worried. And besides for the price of a generator I can get an all-inclusive week in Cuba, so I’m takin’ the personal gratification now baby! And that includes booze!” Because really, who wants a gas generator sitting in their garage that they may never have to use? And really, not being able to keep the lights on, heat your house, have a hot shower or keep food cold, really it wasn’t that bad.

If you want backup power for an electricity blackout, a $700 gas generator is a better investment than $3,500 for the Tesla Powerwall. Not good for the planet, but better bang for the buck. If you want to save the planet, look at how you heat your home and hot water first. These are by far much greater contributors to our environmental challenges.

So there’s my rant. I wish Elon Musk all the best. The lithium-ion battery in my new 20V drill and 40V electric chainsaw are awesome! I can hardly wait to see how these batteries perform. We have been early adopters of new technologies since Michelle bought one of the first Macintosh computers to roll off the line in 1984. She bought it because she had a good job and I kept bouncing around from sales job to sales job. By being early adopters we helped drive down the cost of solar panels that people should be buying today, because it’s an existing technology and it works. But for most people that vacation abroad or that new deck’s worth of outside living room furniture, or that newest type of coffee maker that uses non-recyclable pods and plays your favorite music while it brews is by far the sexier choice.

Once some developed country’s politicians have the intestinal fortitude to put a realistic price on carbon and then start ratcheting it up, products like this will fly off the shelves … just like all those other new and exciting ‘must-have’ consumer products.

Here’s Elon Musk introducing the new Tesla Powerwall, just in case you missed it!

Heating With Wood

For years I’ve thought about putting together some basic manuals for my daughters in case they are ever at the farm and we are not here. There are often times after working in the bush cutting firewood all day when I suggest to Michelle that this may come sooner rather than later. Then I snap to my senses and realize there’s only way I’m leaving this place… in a fridge-sized cardboard box.

So here’s the first of a series of manuals for my daughters on heating with wood. I believe it will be helpful even for our city readers because as I recommend in my book Thriving During Challenging Times, having a back-up heat supply, like a woodstove, is a good idea no matter where you live.

The challenge with heating with a woodstove is using it properly and most effectively, which after a decade and a half here at Sunflower Farm, heating exclusively with wood, I think I finally get it.

Wood Selection

In The Renewable Energy Handbook by William Kemp (a book we published) there’s an appendix that lists the BTU output of various woods. Red Oak is 27,000 BTU/cord. Poplar is 18,500 BTU/cord. But there is a great reference that I’d like to emphasize here because of a number of questions posted by readers on my blog about cutting down a big pine tree on Valentines Day (romantic fool that I am) which is available here if you haven’t read it yet.

 “All firewood has the same heating or carbon content PER POUND or kilogram of mass. However, the density of softwoods is much lower owing to increased air and moisture content, resulting in lower BTU content per unit mass.”

You can tell an engineer wrote this!

The chart also has an entry “Firewood by weight (all types) 8,000 BTU/lb.” So it doesn’t matter what you heat with, all firewood provides heat, you just need more softwood to do the same job. Many of our readers only have softwood near them, and that’s just fine, you just need to cut and burn more.

I find I am increasingly heating with softwood even though we own 150 acres of mixed hardwoods. This is because we are expanding the gardens around the house to run our CSA and to allow more sun to hit the gardens I am cutting back the trees, which are mostly pine and poplar. Yes they’re technically more work per unit of heat, but then again, they’re sort of not, because they don’t weigh as much once they are dry.

So, if I had a chunk of pine and a chunk of maple ready for the fire, and they were exactly the same volume and had both dried for one season, the maple would probably weigh almost twice as much. Trust me, with my aging arms I notice this. I’ve got to say that I kind of prefer softwood these days for this reason alone. It’s lighter!

So if your property only has softwood on it, don’t freak out. Just make sure you buy the absolutely most efficient woodstove you can and then just understand you’re going to need a larger volume of (in other words, more) wood to produce the same amount of heat.

My strategy for firewood is that right now I am cutting next year’s firewood. These are live trees I’m cutting down. So they will be cut and split by the spring, maximizing how much area of each piece is exposed for drying. They will sit outside in the heat or in the woodshed for the summer to dry. Our woodshed gets extremely hot during our summer heat waves so it’s like a wood kiln. I leave the softwoods outside because they are less dense and dry more easily. So by next winter the wood is amply dried and ready to go. Having a bit of moisture in wood doesn’t do any harm, as long as you burn the fire hot enough.

Burning it Hot and avoiding Chimney Fires

When I wrote the post on pine lots of people seemed concerned about pine. They felt that the ‘pitch’ would plug up a chimney and cause fires. Any wood that is too wet (i.e. freshly cut and not dried enough) will burn inefficiently and deposit creosote on the inside of your chimney, which could potentially cause a chimney fire.

So there are three keys to avoiding a chimney fire.

  1. Burn Dry Wood. Doesn’t matter what type it is, just don’t think you can cut a live tree in the fall and burn it that winter. You probably won’t be able to get it burning, but if you do, it will burn inefficiently and it’s dangerous.
  2. Clean your Chimney Regularly. I used to clean my chimney every year, but because I follow steps 1 and 3, I found that there was no reason to clean it that often. I now clean it every second year. All that I ever find is some fine ash that’s deposited inside. There is no creosote. There is nothing that could burn or start a chimney fire. I shall continue to clean it regularly though, just in case.
  3. Burn the Fire Hot. Here’s the trap we fall into some days. It’s kind of cold outside but not too cold. So there is a tendency to just keep throwing in the odd piece of wood once in a while and hope it will burn. The fire basically smolders and does not burn efficiently. This is the WRONG way to burn a woodstove.

You need to burn your fires hot. So once the fire has burned down to coals you need to put in lots of wood, stoke it up, get it roaring, then shut it down and let it burn in it’s proper airtight mode. This makes using a woodstove in the swing seasons much less convenient than say a natural gas furnace. But here’s the thing. A natural gas furnace and the CO2 that it emits are one of the things that are causing climate change. They’ve made the arctic so warm as to throw off the jet stream to create this polar vortex that is pulling all that cold arctic air south… all the way to Texas. So it’s kind of ironic that everyone’s had to crank up their fossil-fueled-powered furnaces to deal with the unprecedented cold, that these devices are compounding.

That woodstove of yours is carbon neutral. You’re just putting back into the atmosphere carbon dioxide that the tree pulled from the air and stored in its woody mass. Zero carbon.

So … great for the planet, but less convenient in terms of heating. So you’ve got to ask yourself, are you prepared for this little inconvenience for the greater good? I know I am.

And this is the beauty of having softwood in your arsenal of wood to burn. When it’s really cold we have hardwood, but on those slightly warmer days we can load up our woodstove with softwood. We will get less heat, and it will burn down faster, but at least we can keep the stove burning efficiently to avoid creosote build up.

And remember, smoke is wasted heat. So if you’re outside your house and can smell a smoldering fire smell, you’re just wasting heat… and money. Get in there, stoke it up, get it roaring, and shut it down into airtight mode.

In the fall and spring it is usually too warm to keep the woodstove going all day. So we crank it up in the morning, get the house toasty warm and then let the fire die. The house will gradually get colder as the day goes on. This is when we’re envious of people with homes that are more efficient than ours because a well made home will hold onto the heat better. Then by late afternoon or evening we crank up the woodstove again, burn it hot, and then shut it down.

Heating with wood is more work than heating with a natural gas or oil or propane furnace. I would never argue with that. It is much cheaper if you cut the wood yourself. As the price of fossil fuel goes up, so does your savings with heating with wood. If you factor in the $500 health club membership you don’t have to buy if you cut your own wood, you are way ahead with a woodstove. Hey, make it a $1,000 membership for you and your partner, and you just saved $2,000! Yee ha!

But a woodstove is an amazing way to heat. It’s carbon neutral and allows you to grow your own fuel. And there is absolutely nothing as wonderful as wood heat. There is no substitute for having a woodstove in your living room that provides heat to your home. “And when I come home cold and tired, it’s good to warm my bones beside the fire.”

In my next blog post I’ll discuss my strategy for starting a woodstove.

the-warmth-of-a-woodstove

 

Cooking with Gas … or Wood …

By Michelle Mather

Judging by the comments and questions on Cam’s post last week there is some interest in our cook stove. I wrote about it in our book “Little House Off the Grid” so I’ll give a quick synopsis here.

When we came to look at this house 16 years ago the current owners, Jean and Gary, had already moved out but they left behind some bits and pieces of furniture. One of the items still here was a large, antique cook stove.

old cookstove

It had originally been a wood-burning stove but at some point it had been converted to use propane. It didn’t come with the house though, since it was a family heirloom and so Jean planned on moving it. As you can see from the photo below though, our kitchen and dining room are one large room and the area designated as the kitchen does not have space for a modern box-like stove. So anything that we purchased was going to have to sit off to the side of the dining room table, where Jean’s old cook stove had been located.

dining-room-CFL

We moved into this house while we considered our stove purchase. We moved in here at the end of January and we used our propane BBQ for some cooking, but eventually we borrowed an old, white boxy propane stove from some friends. It didn’t take long for us to realize that a little white box wasn’t going to cut it. We needed a large, antique-looking cook stove to take the place of the one that had been here!

Luckily when we sold our home in the city we had a bit of money left over. Of course with the expenses of moving and upgrading electrical systems and all of the other issues that cropped up, it was soon gone, but not before we were able to use it for a stove!

We also rationalized our stove purchase with some fancy math. (If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all you know that Cam is the king of rationalization!) In the city we ordered a pizza every Friday night from our local pizzeria. It was about $20 a week or about $1000/year. Since we live too far from a pizzeria here, we don’t even have the option of having pizza delivered. So we make our own every Friday night, saving the $20+. So, a few years of making our own pizza paid for our cook stove!

At the time we bought our cook stove it was available as an electric stove, a wood-burning stove or a natural gas/propane one. Back then our electrical system is not what it is today, and we didn’t think that we would ever be able to use electricity for cooking. That left either a wood burning one or a propane one. My mother, who had lived in an off-grid cabin with my father when he first returned from WWII, recommended the propane one. She had cooked on a wood burning cook stove and reminded us that we wouldn’t want to have to start a fire during the heat of the summer just to boil a kettle. Since we didn’t even own an electric kettle at that point, assuming that we couldn’t use one with our off-grid system, this made sense. Plus, we knew we could use our woodstove in the living room for simple cooking tasks during the winter months.

So we ordered a propane cook stove from Heartland Appliances and it was made for us in Kitchener, Ontario. It came in white, or in fancy colours like cobalt blue, cranberry and green. We chose the green one and it took a few weeks for it to be manufactured and delivered to us. There was a matching refrigerator that we didn’t purchase and now I notice there is even a matching dishwasher. (http://www.heartlandapp.com/)

It is a lovely cook stove. I love cooking with propane since it heats up quickly, turns off (and cools down) immediately and provides a good temperature for all of my baking and cooking. It has some downsides though. Many modern appliances have been designed for easy cleaning. This one was not. Spills quickly become baked on to the stovetop and have proven difficult to remove. Every few months I do a very thorough cleaning of the stove and the oven and I even use metal polish to brighten up the chrome. It does tend to get dull very quickly.

In the time we have owned this stove, our electrical system has changed and our desire to make our home as low carbon as possible has increased. We now use electricity to do much of our cooking during the best months. During November, December and part of January when we aren’t producing much electricity with our solar panels, we aren’t able to use electricity for cooking. But as soon as we turn the corner and begin enjoying longer, sunnier days (and this has happened recently here already!) we bring out the electric kettle and electric hotplate and eventually the electric toaster oven. It’s nice to have the propane cook stove during cloudy spells or for meals with multiple items/courses, but for the most part, if we can use electricity for our cooking and baking, we do so.

During the winter months our woodstove is on heating our home, so we find ourselves using it for cooking more and more. In fact most mornings, our entire breakfast is cooked on our woodstove. There is always a kettle (or two) boiling away, but as soon as we fire up the woodstove to heat up the house on a cold winter day, we begin using cast iron pans to cook our eggs, home fried potatoes, veggie bacon or tempeh and sometimes even our toast! Unfortunately the top of our woodstove is beginning to look like the top of our cook stove – food spills get baked on immediately!

the-warmth-of-a-woodstove

Recently we have begun to look for a wood-burning cook stove. We looked at some new ones the other day, but unfortunately I don’t think we’ll ever be able to afford to purchase a new one. So we are keeping our eyes open for a used one. I’m not sure if I am ready to completely give up the propane stove and so where would be put a wood burning one? I can see our kitchen/dining room is about to get very crowded!

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If you’d like to read more about our adventures in off-grid living, be sure to buy a copy of our book “Little House Off the Grid.” It retails for $19.95. Order it from http://www.aztext.com/howtoorder.html for just $25, shipping included!

We’ll even autograph it, if you’d like!

 

 

 

Sunflower Farm is Brighter Than Ever!

“Our house is a very, very, very ‘bright’ house”. It’s ‘fine’ too, but it’s also very ‘bright’, even though we’re off the grid.

The only concern that Michelle had when we were contemplating purchasing this off-grid home was that she didn’t want to have to live in the dark. Oh, she isn’t so wasteful that she leaves lights on all over the house, but she also didn’t want to feel like she was living in a cave.  So we keep our home well lit. It took a decade of learning about energy but it turns out that lighting actually accounts for a very small amount of our overall energy use, so it never made any sense to me to walk around bumping into things in the dark. As a male, I am able to do that consistently with the lights on.

I have often noticed how many homeowners will leave their porch light on when they leave for work on a dark morning. Many people leave their porch lights on overnight too. A 100W incandescent bulb uses almost 2-1/2 kWh (kilowatt hours) of electricity in a 24 hours period (24 hours x 100 watts = 2400 watt hours = 2.4 kilowatt hours). We often run our home using just 5 kWh/day, and so those homeowners are using half of our total daily electricity consumption just by leaving their front porch light on. These are often the same people who complain about the cost of their electricity.

I was always happy with the light we got from our compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) but some people rebelled against them. They didn’t like the light. Or they didn’t like the higher cost of the bulbs, despite the fact that they last much longer than an incandescent bulb and save money on the household’s electricity bill. Again, these are often the same people who complained about their electricity bills. We found a lovely stained glass overhead lamp for our dining room table that has a lot of yellows in it. It helps to soften the glare that causes so many people to complain about when they use CFLs.

dining-room-CFL

Now Canada and the U.S. have phased out incandescent bulbs and it sounds like some people were stockpiling them. These must be people who really love their Easy Bake Ovens because incandescent bulbs are much better producers of heat than light, hence the ability to bake a small cake with a 100W incandescent bulb.

LED lights have become more readily available in recent years. I have watched the price of LED lights and I still don’t think they’re cheap enough for me to cost justify switching my entire home over from CFLs. At $15 to $20 or more a bulb versus a buck or two for CFLs the increased efficiency will take a long time to pay for.

Recently though I was in Canadian Tire and I experienced one of those “Yee Ha” moments. The stock of incandescent bulbs had been removed (or were sold out in advance of the ban?) and there was a huge influx of LEDs taking up the vacated space. I have always wanted to change the incandescent bulbs in our fridge and freezer and the light over our cook stove. I could never find a CFL small enough to fit and I had heard that using LEDs in a cold environment might be problematic.

I had found an LED bulb online for $12. The description claimed that it would work in appliances but I didn’t feel like ordering it and then discovering it didn’t fit or didn’t work. Previously I had checked at lots of different stores and had never found anything suitable. But finally that day at Canadian Tire there it was. An LED with a regular base that would fit in our appliances… for $12! So I bought one, tried in it all the places and then bought two more once I confirmed that it worked.

LED-package

I AM SO PUMPED ABOUT THESE! Think about it. I’ve gone from a 40-watt heat-producing bulb in my fridge to one that uses just 2 watts, produces the same light and doesn’t provide any heat. I always found it ironic that every time I opened my fridge door I had this little heater in there that started warming the air. Our friend Jerry shared this philosophy to the point that he had removed the bulbs from his fridge. This sounds logical but my experience was that it took me twice as long to find anything in a dark fridge, which caused me to leave the door open longer, so I’m not sure there was a savings. Now I have the best of worlds, light with next to no heat.

Does it mean my world is pretty small, the fact that I’m so excited about some new light bulbs? Yes it does! But I’m okay with that. Every time I open the fridge I marvel at the wonder of it all. Unfortunately there is a downside to the new 2-watt LED bulb that I installed over my cook stove. When the bulb was 40 watts we rarely turned it on and so it was easy to ignore the spills and messes on the stovetop. And when you don’t wipe them up quickly then tend to get baked on. So we’ll have to be much more diligent of cleaning the stove top, now that it is illuminated!

LED-stove-light

And that fridge bulb! How great is that! No longer will I go into the fridge with a mapped out strategy of where I’m going and what I’m getting so I can close that fridge door as quickly as possible. Nope, not me. I’m going to lean on that door, just staring at the inside of the fridge, thinking, contemplating life, just like all the people you see in movies and in TV shows, staring at their fridges.

Freezer-2W-LED

Well, no, probably not. I don’t think I could ever be THAT energy wasteful!

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If you are looking for a new recipe, check out our daughter’s food blog. She has enjoyed cooking and baking since she was tall enough to reach the stove and so I really enjoy seeing what food she has been creating and enjoying now that she’s “all grown up.” Take a look and say hello while you are there! http://pamplemoussi.com/

Heating with Softwood

Readers of this blog often inspire a post by asking a question. I figure that if one person is interested, it probably means that others have wondered the same thing and so I sometimes write an entire post in order to answer a question. This time I had just written this post (but hadn’t published it yet) when Brian happened to ask, “is that Poplar you are cutting up? If so, how does it hold the heat? What is the average burn time for a block?”  This question was in response to the photos in my post, “What the Well-Dressed Woodsman is Wearing this Season.”

I’ve spoken with many people, especially those out living out west, who feel that they couldn’t heat with wood because all they have is softwood in their area. I had never really thought about it too much until this year when I started to pay attention to what wood I heat with.

We have two buildings on our property, both with about 1,200 square feet of usable space.  The guesthouse is 25’ x 25’ x 2 stories, so 1,200 sq. ft. The main house is story and a half, and an “L-shpae,” but still close to 1,200.

Our main house was built in 1888. It was insulated and new windows were installed about 20 years ago and while it’s fairly efficient, it’s not leak proof. Since we live in an area with radon gas, I don’t mind the air turning over fairly frequently.

Our guesthouse was built about 20 years ago. It is frame construction using 2”x 6”s so it is much more efficient. It also has lots of windows on the south side and very few on the north side.

guesthouse

We use about 1/3 as much firewood to heat the guesthouse as we do to heat our main house and I use softwood in the guesthouse woodstove. It’s actually poplar, which is as soft a wood with as little (few) BTUs of heat value as you can get. Poplar contains 18,500 BTU/cord versus 27,000 BTU/cord for oak or 22,000 BTU/cord for maple.

Now I need to qualify a few things. We do not keep the guesthouse as warm as the main house. I have to keep it heated because that’s where our battery room is, and we cannot let our deep-cycle lead acid batteries freeze, and their performance goes down as the temperature drops, so there is an incentive to keep them warm.

My office is in the guesthouse, so I like to heat it to keep my hands from freezing up on the keyboard. But I don’t want it too hot. My strategy during a cold spell in winter is to have a big fire on Monday to heat the building up. On Tuesday I don’t need a fire and if it’s sunny on Wednesday and Thursday it often warms my office and the rest of the building up enough to not need another fire. If we have cloudy week though I may have two or three small fires during the week.

We keep the main house much warmer, and are always heating kettles, dinner, bathwater, etc. on the woodstove, so we naturally use much more wood there. I’ve always used softwood in the swing seasons of fall and spring, and saved my hardwood for winter. We moved here shortly after there had been a gypsy moth infestation, which had killed many oaks. The oak leaves came out in the spring, the moth larvae ate them. When the trees tried to re-leaf, it used up so much energy that many of the oak trees didn’t survive. So during our first decade here I was just trying to keep up with cutting 150 acres of dead oaks. I have cut most of them, many which had fallen over after their roots had rotted, so now I’m more conscious of what I cut.

I have been trying to cut back some areas near the house that I think will eventually be a wheat field in the future. It is surrounded by poplar, so I’ve been cutting those and burning that wood in the guesthouse. And it’s fine. Yes I need a bit more of it than if I was burning hardwood, and yes, technically I have to fill up the woodstove more often because it burns through the fuel more quickly, but it still has lots of heat in it. And I’ve got to tell you, I love cutting live wood like poplar. When all that I was cutting was hardwood from dead oaks they were making my chainsaw blade pretty dull pretty quickly. Cutting live poplar is like cutting “butter.” Around here poplars grow like weeds, so I can cut an area then a few years later the smaller trees are back ready to be harvested.

poplar-pile

with two more rows, for a total of six, it's more than enough to heat the guesthouse

All this to say that if you are concerned about only having access to softwood in your area, well, you shouldn’t be. Build a really efficient home. That’s the key. The less heat that escapes, the less wood you’ll need to burn to heat it. From a sustainability standpoint I’m sure you can grow more than enough fast growing poplar on 10 to 20 acres to heat a home. And if you were managing your woodlot, and made sure to plant some hardwoods, like maple, in the mix, by the time you’d thinned all the softwoods a couple of times the hardwoods would be ready.

It’s just another reason that I love heating with wood. No drilling rigs for oil or natural gas. No trucks bringing out propane. No fracking. No pipelines. Just you and some tree seedlings. And once the woods get going, there’s no stopping them. The trees here just keep coming and coming in waves. I can’t cut them fast enough. They’re renewable, and sustainable, and the trees “fix carbon” from the atmosphere in their woody mass that is released when they’re burned, just like if they fell down and rotted. They are releasing the same amount of carbon they absorbed; hence heating with wood is carbon-neutral.

When I’m 85 and living comfortably on my Canada Pension Plan (social security) I’ll have all winter to cut firewood. I’ll have to pace myself, but it’s something I look forward to. Just like I look forward to every weekend when I know I get to put on my chainsaw pants and heat the house!

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Some reminders – Our next full day workshop here at Sunflower Farm is on Saturday, May 4th. Let me know (michelle at aztext dot com) if you’d like to join us!

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Every Day I Am Forced to Add Another Name …

….to the List of People Who P*ss Me Off!

Years ago, Michelle gave me a Calvin and Hobbes T-shirt with this quote and apparently, it’s timeless. Because contrary to the popular perception that I’m a sweet, people-loving, Buddhist type who sits in his forest sending out positive vibrations, even here in paradise there are times when people are able to annoy me. Rick Mercer, a popular Canadian comedian who is well known for his rants, just wrote about the health benefits of ranting (http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/09/21/why-i-rant/), so please indulge me as I share some of my pet peeves.

  • When we’re walking our dog Jasper, even though there are rarely cars on our road, when people do pass not only do they not slow down from their 80-km/hour speed, or even take their foot off the accelerator for a minute as they pass, they don’t even shift to the other side of the road. “Hey moron, in case you didn’t notice, you haven’t passed a car in 20 minutes, so you really could give us a few feet of clearance!” I’d like to start walking with a spike strip to throw down in front of these cars but then I’d just have to pick up the pieces after their tires blow.
  • When there are long lines at cash registers and a cashier opens a new cash and says, “Can I help someone over here?” rather than asking one of the people who has obviously been in a line for a while if they’d like to come over. Inevitably the person at the end of the line who hasn’t had to wait any time at all rushes over to be first in line at the new cash. Luckily I rarely shop, but this seems to happen way too often. If I shopped more often there’d be a lot of abandoned merchandise dropped in a pile when some ignorant cashier pulls this stunt and I happily left.
  • Canadians who spend $40 (at least!) on gas to drive to shop in the U.S. even though our dollar is basically at par. Really? You save that much money? How about we start deducting these shopping trips and adding them to your hospital visits because really, how do you think we pay for universal healthcare?
  • Politicians who spend years in opposition criticizing a government for abuses of power, and then are even worse when they finally get elected. Have you no pride? Or backbone? Don’t you stand for anything?
  • Cars that fly past me on the highway, where I’m usually in the slow lane, then jump back into the slow lane ahead of me to exit the highway, slamming on their brakes because they hit the deceleration lane going 140 kms/hour. Really? It never occurred to you to pull in behind me and start decelerating before you hit the off ramp? Gasoline is WAY to cheap when I see how common this is.
  • The moron who dumps his garbage in the ditch near my house every Monday on his way to work after a weekend at his hunt camp. Someday I will hear your vehicle slow down and I will get your license plate and there is a $25,000 fine for dumping garbage on our road. So wouldn’t it just be easier to take and put it out at your curb in the city… FOR FREE!
  • When you read one of those editorial space fillers in newspapers under the heading of “Tips for saving money on fuel” when gas prices spike (Oh, which is ‘always’ with peak oil) and they suggest “Removing anything heavy from your car that isn’t necessary, because this cuts down on fuel economy.” You mean like the tires or the engine? How about this? Rather than buying a 6,000-pound F150 why not buy a 2,000-pound Honda Fit and you can load it up with lead bars and still get infinitely better fuel economy. Because ultimately fuel economy is a function of vehicle weight, so that cross-over SUV that gets “Best in Class” mileage, gets best in a class of vehicles that get bad fuel economy, no matter how many library books you take out of the back seat.
  • Those new hand dryers in public washrooms that dry your hands quickly, but also cause permanent hearing loss because they’re louder than a 747 jet engine. Hey, try this, save the electricity, wipe your hands on your pants, or wave them back and forth as you leave the washroom, like I do. You’ll look like you’re having a great time and they’ll be dry before you get to the lineup for coffee.
  • Those “get out of personal debt” TV shows where they help people come up with a budget to get out of debt, and claim that “After 18 months of following our budget your debt will be paid off and then you can invest and you’ll have $1.5 million when you retire!” What? First off, those people will hit the nearest shopping centre the minute the film crew leaves, and even if they did manage to save some money, the investment income forecasts must assume about a 12% Return on Investment! The last time I heard someone offering or guaranteeing that was Bernie Madoff. How’d that turn out?
  • The proliferation for drugs that seem to provide negligible benefit to society, that are so mercilessly advertised on TV. There’s one for “dry mouth syndrome.” So, do you take that with water? And don’t you think just maybe drinking a glass of water MIGHT HELP YOUR DRY MOUTH SYNDROME? Or the one for “restless leg syndrome that I see advertised on TV… Let me get this straight? Your legs get restless sitting in front of the TV for hours on end? Maybe you need to get out of your darn LaZ-boy and go for a walk. Or the endless barrage of drugs aimed at men to help in the “relationship” department. What is so romantic about his and her claw foot bathtubs, whether they are in the forest or on a beach?
  • And this one is from Michelle …. Husbands who monopolize the TV channel changer to avoid commercials and end up forgetting to go back to the original show and cause their wives to miss their favourite programs….

Thanks for listening.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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