It has been a year and two months since we moved in and we are very pleased with the results.
As you know I live in an earth-bermed passive solar house in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Today is a rainy, overcast, and relatively cool day at12C or 60F and our house's current temperature without any heating is at 69F or 20.55C.
It has been a year and two months since we moved in and we are very pleased with the results.
The session started with Tracey Allen giving an overview of her passive solar house, its performance, as well as, some tips to incorporate free solar energy into existing homes. A copy of her Passive Solar Presentation is here.
Next presenter was Darcie Lanthier who provided an overview of an energy audit, noting the importance as a first step in any new energy diet or review.
The review covered everything from your insulation using blower door testing, infrared red imaging to see your cold spots or where the wind blows in, electricity usage, water usage and recommendations to improve those areas to save you money. Interestingly she noted that the age of your house has a huge impact on its insulation value depending on 2x4 studs, 2.x6 studs etc and how well they insulated.
A energy modeling software she recommended is free from Natural Resources called HOT2000 and a ton of other software you might be interested in.
Interested in having someone else do your energy audit: The Office of Energy Efficiency
31 Gordon Drive, PO Box 2000
Charlottetown, PE C1A 7N8
Ph: (902) 620-3690; toll-free: 1-877-734-6336
Fax: (902) 620-3796
Grant MacDonald of www.solarenergyworks.ca spoke next on both the solar hot air heater that he built himself for his house - see pictures at the right. It worked great for this winter. Then he gave an overview of each of his solar hot water systems that he sells and how they worked.
Great presentations all around and lots of information to consider in reducing your housing energy costs.
I hosted a session on Saturday titled: Sustainable Living - Working Towards a Prepared and Frugal Future. It was fun and I'm hopeful that the attendees garnered a few tips to help them in working toward a more sustainable life.
During our 'conversation' it came up that I don't have a conventional stove - drawing gasps from several women in attendance. The first words they said were, "how do you cook a turkey?'. My reply - I use a roaster that can sit on my counter for the three days a year that I cook a turkey dinner. And that started on the topic of fitting your needs not everyone elses. What works for me is a Breville Smart Oven ($200), a Salton Induction Cooker hotplate ($80), a double hotplate ($30), a slow cooker ($30), a griddle ($40), and a roaster oven ($50) on occassion. If you bake all the time and use your full oven then, of course that works for you. I bake small quanitities so my smart oven fits the bill while reducing my costs (a stove with induction cooktop costs at least $1,500) and reduces my electricity costs as less space to heat equals less cost to heat it up. It was also interesting that a gentleman in attendance came to tell me that his stove just broke and he was wrestling with the cost to replace it...he lives alone and said what you have is ideal for me. :-)
The challenge is to 'get out of the box' and think for yourself. What are your needs and what works for those needs? Re-think and don't be constrained by the 'box.' When we built our house 'everyone' was doing in-floor heating and I can't tell you how many people said, "you are making a mistake." With a passive solar house you rely on the floor to take in the heat, so logically if you are already heating it you defeat that purpose and waste your money. Now if you had oil heat, than maybe that would make sense. And my favourite - you have to have a tub for re-sale value, 'everyone' has a tub. Well I don't take baths and hate to wash a tub or even get in a tub to take a shower, yes we have had the all in one - horrible to clean and I don't like to clean more than I need to, especially bathrooms. We opted for a walk in shower made of tile, no doors to clean, no shower curtain...I love it! It works for me. I reduce my cleaning time and happily take a shower, and when if I'm ever in a wheelchair I can just roll in it, without doing a total remodel of my bathroom.
Clearly - where you spend and where you can cut waste is unique to you. Don't confine your thinking to what 'everyone' else does, look at smart options that fit your needs and you will be happier and most likely waste less time and money.
Here it is middle of January 2013, we moved in July 2012. The summer was a nice comfortable 70F or 20C. And our winter to date has been fanastic with the lowest recorded temperature as 60F or 15C and usually this occurs in the early morning before the sun comes up for the day. The days that the sun is shining it will reach 80F or 25C by noon...and if the sun stays out consistently then we are looking at a very hot afternoon like 90F+ or 30C+. This might seem like a problem but we simply open the windows and let the fresh winter air in to get the temperature down to a comfortable range. On days that it isn't sunny we decide on a case by case basis whether we will put on a small wood fire....since anymore than small and we again have a 90F+/30C+ situation. We have concluded that the number one important feature of our house is our solid seal - read no drafts! What we have learned from our Passive solar house is that how solid your exterior walls are make all the difference when keeping your heat in (we are very pleased with ICF - Insulated Concrete Form walls)....not everyone is building but this product could be for those renovating to insulate http://www.quiktherm.com/ NOTE I've not tried it and don't endorse it but saw it and thought what a great idea for those who aren't building but renovating.
Last night we held the first World Cafe - Sustainable Living for Home and it was fun, thought provoking and I hope helpful to those attending. This blog is my attempt to summarize what we discussed in the hopes that it might help a few more people on their way to sustainable living.
Working in groups of 4 people we sat in a cafe like setting with coffee, green tea and water provided...and a few candies too. The night was focused on two questions which then seemed to make the conversations take flight.
First a big thank you to Sherry Pelkey who was the host of Sharendipity Cafe - Creating possiblities in conversation.
Question #1 - What does sustainable living mean to me and why is it important in my life?
Question #2 - What actions can we take to move our lives towards sustainable living?
There was also 'Ah Ha's' board to post to and a 'resources' board to post. What was clear from the start was everyone in attendance was at different stages of sustainable living and that we all wanted to do more....as you are always changing and working toward what is sustainable for your situation....which of course changes too depending on whether you are just married or getting ready for retirement...or somewhere in between.
So what does sustainable living mean to those attending? Here is a partial list: trying to live and use things renewable, live independent; not rely on oil, large income, or on others (government maybe). If you were cut off from the world could live happliy. Own fewer things makes for a happier life (less stuff), keep it simple, no waste, less stress. We need key things for living; shelter, food/water, Maslow Theory. Nature is important to our lives and we should spend more time outdoors, growing food, learn different skills, and hanging clothes out on the line. We need to go back to go forward and 'living with meaning within our means.' There was mention of technologies being sustainble, the chains of a mortgage, wanting more free time, pride vs values, if money was no object what would we be doing?, buying smarter not cheaper, globalization and lowest common denominator, and more.
- continue to strive toward sustainability, work less - play more, land and gold vs money - sustainable retirement, community kitchen, community garden, sharing what you 'do' i.e soap making, save water - shower together, doing more slow cooker meals, review housing choices like strawbale, passive solar, earthship, tiny houses, a PEI local company making small houses - Lumber Shacks.
- less lawn and more garden, make your own wine, beer, soap, food, etc. indoor gardens (sprouting), e-reader or used books, used clothing swap, bartering, buy form local producers, shop with 'meaning', buy what you need not what you want, wait 24 hours to buy.
Reasons to strive toward a more sustainable life included: economic climate, environmental concern, and goal of being mortgage free. Discussion ensued on innovative ways to create our own food source i.e window gardens and how difficult it is to move from a 'consumer' lifestyle to a sustainable one.
Future - in the planning stages, thinking of having another meeting focused on a topic i.e How to be mortgage free? How to go solar? etc. Dates being considered January 14th or January 15th.
Resources (we don't endorse the companies just passing on information):
strawbale, passive solar, earthship, tiny houses, a PEI local
company making small houses - Lumber Shacks
Books mentioned at the meeting: (Check out our local library www.library.pe.ca/ )
- Your Money or Your Life
- The End of Economic Growth by Richard Heinberg (not at the library...will drop my copy down when I finish reading it)
- Who's your city? : how the creative economy is making where to live the most important decision of your life
- Wealthy Barber
- Smile is Beautiful
- Small is Possible
John Getson an attendee has offered to create a website where we can post resources and upcoming events. Thank you John and Shannon has offered to teach a soap making class. Thank you Shannon.
Details and background can be found here http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/SolarHomes/BermedICF/BermedICF.htm
Update: Update: Our electricity this month (October bill) was $85.59 including the $26.92 service fee so energy use was 453 kwh (we believe we can get this down further). Since moving in July 19th - we have used our wood stove 5 times and 2
of those were to test the new woodstove with once to re-heat our house after our son decided at 6pm in the evening while we were out to open some windows he was hot - then left the house, not realizing that you can't just turn on the furnace! :-) The other two were after three days of cloudy weather. Today, November 21st we woke up to a house of 60F or 15C and now at 8:20am it is almost 70F with the sun shining. Weather today outside "Issued : 5:00 AM AST Wednesday 21 November 2012 Today Clear. Becoming a mix of sun and cloud this morning. Fog patches inland early this morning. Wind northeast 20 km/h becoming light this morning. High 6C. (around 40F)"
We are very happy with our building choice. Building a Passive Solar House: My Experience Shared
While this solution is intended to suggest an alternative or new paradigm for government retirement pensions on Prince Edward Island, I'm sure it could be used just about anywhere. First a bit of background preamble.
In the news PEI will deficit $436 million each YEAR
on the current government pension plan. The government employees will now add in $8 million a year from their wages and PEI Tax payers will add in 23 million a year or a total of $31 million towards the $436 million yearly shortfall, now my math suggests that putting 7% of what is needed towards a shortfall puts us still short $405 million a YEAR or in terms of population a shortfall of $2,892/year per Islander...now I'm not an ostrich so I don't put my head in the sand, so don't blame me when I point out the obvious - government pensions as they stand now are Not Sustainable. To put it bluntly, the government either this one or the next one will have to tell government employees there is no more pensions...there is no more money. The facts really speak for themselves, I'm not anti-government pensions. But don't despair there is a solution.
Now this hasn't been researched...it is all just off the top of head but here is where I see PEI sitting right now.
・ Community based society. Let's build on that strength.
・ Birth place of Canada – we are trend setters even if we don't like change. So maybe we should capitalize on this and create the first sustainable living model in PEI.
・ Social democratic government – or at least that is what I learned in school years ago. This is a great place to be, theoretically it means we balance the social well being of citizens with the democratic process. Maybe we could even consider the economy working with the environment.
・ We are small so therefore should be flexible/adaptable.
・ The government of PEI owns land throughout the province.
・ PEI is building, albeit slowly, renewable energy.
・ The mindset that pensions represent cash or money. Think for a minute what if one there wasn't any cash to pay pensions (very real possibility) or two money wasn't worth anything (other countries have experienced this first hand). Keep that thought.
・ The wealthy want more than there share and this isn't just PEI.
・ Housing is the biggest expense for Islanders
・We have the opportunity to build on our status as the birthplace of Canada so let's create a sustainable living model for the rest of the country to
・Mini-communities are cropping up all over the world – sustainable housing with renewable energy, community gardens etc.
・ There are opportunities to generate new businesses for a healthy economy and ecology.
・ The world economy is collapsing or for those that want a rosier picture is having some difficulty right now.
・ The retirement pensions are grossly underfunded.
Go back to the question of 'what if there was no money?' or 'what if money was worthless?' Now consider one of the most basic needs is shelter. What if your retirement was a guaranteed place to live rent free?
A mini-community where 2 bedroom passive solar/ICF 500 square foot homes were built in a community setting that were powered/heated by renewable energy, cars that were powered by electricity generated on site, and that there was a community garden, maybe even a hen house to supply eggs/food for the community. And since I propose this as a retirement plan for government employees in place of money, a health care provider dedicated to the community to monitor medications etc.
On retirement an employee could take up residence free of charge for the remainder of their lives, open housing would be rented to off-set upkeep items. Cars would be community property and the community gardens would be also. Moving people out of the city centres would also alleviate other problems such as over development, water and sewer problems, importation of energy, and health care
I would suggest taking the $8 million/year from employees and $23 million from PEI Tax payers would more than cover this type of set up for 4,400 retirees or $7,045/year each...a mortgage on a 500 square foot house with infrastructure could be done with $587/month with additional funding from the actual fund itself.
This is just one idea of potentially many, if we just think a little different, since we are moving into a new era one that will require us to adapt and change to remain sustainable.
Usually I talk food but when you are simplifying and saving, there are many areas to save or in this case eliminate waste of money and environmental resources. We love our children and they love us but sometimes they just don't understand the power of waste and neither do we at times. Waste in many forms results in lost resources and money. We have been trying to stop the waste and here are a few ways we feel we have succeeded....feel free to add to the list via comments since I know there are way more than 10.
# 1 - Hot Water/Showers - Heat is one of our highest costs and if you don't have to pay the bill then the more heat the better. So why not take a nice long hot shower, not once but maybe twice or more a day. What is the big deal - ah wasted water and wasted heat and both cost money/resources! I'm happy to report we try to limit our time in the shower to what is necessary...and an occassional treat of a little longer one. That said my son has discovered that cold water showers are actually healthier for you - yeah! And he may be on to something check out this link 7 Healthy Benefits for Cold Shower or hydrotherapy.
#2 House Heating - Heat for our housing was also a biggie. Now in Canada the winters can be cold and most people heat with oil, gas or electric (some passive solar and/or wood too). Picture this: teenage son in his room and he flicks up the heat since it is 'freezing in here' he says as he is dressed in only boxer shorts. Before he goes to bed he opens his window (February of course), since he needs fresh air and heat. Yep - it happens, been there...but not any more - we live in a passive solar house so there is no heating to waste, at least that we pay for....he can open the window in February but then he will have to put on a sweater....moo ha ha.
#3 Food Waste - From my experience our families really want short order cooks in the kitchen 24 hours a day. Want and need are two different things and while my mother told me if you don't like what we are eating, you can make a peanut butter sandwich - I thought I will encourage my children to cook. And they are very good at cooking, I might add, one is a chef and other one could be if he wanted. Now while this is a great skill for them to the have when they move out, not so great for when they live home. Why you ask? Well now they don't eat what we eat (telling you after you made it), they also cook at any time of the day.....creating a greater potential for food waste. Leftovers present the greatest problem for food waste...that and having your fridge so full you can't see what you have. We are working on this one but leftovers are few and far between now, and we buy enough for a few days rather than fill the fridge all at once. Article on from CBC on wasted food.
#4 Electric Waste - It seems so small but it can sure add up leaving things plugged in. Ipods, computer cords, phone chargers and the list goes on and on. It is called phantom load check out this article on it. Now if the cord is attached to the device ok but most of the time you find the plug in the wall with no device to be seen in sight. Another awesome resource is Maritime Electric's house tour - very informative and nicely done.
#5 Leaving appliances/lights on - Have you ever left home and returned to find that every light is on in the house (Lights are on but no one is home!) - oh and no one is home. In our new house we put in motion sensor outdoor lights so if you aren't within a certain area they don't turn on. Great savings.
#6 Overuse of Appliances - Here is a good news/bad news type of situation. Son washes his own clothes - yes! Then removes one shirt and turns the dryer on a full load....not so good. For months we played the mom unplugs the dryer since she doesn't use it, while son plugs it back in to touch up his shirts so they are warm! New house has no dryer - problem solved. :-) Another good one is using the stove's oven part to heat up a few fries rather than the toaster oven. If the appliance is heat based then this has the potential to create wasted energy use...of which you pay for. We found that when we starting fitting the use to the appliance that we didn't actually use the oven much sold it with the house and bought a Breville Smart Oven - love it and it is easier on electricity.
#7 Buying stuff you don't need - This is a hard one. We have struggled and although we are getting better, it is difficult. We found asking the following helped: 1) Do I need it or want it? need buy, want no. 2) Do I have something else already that can be fixed or altered to work? yes - don't buy, no-buy. 3) Can you borrow it, if it only a temporary or one time use such as equipment? Yes -then borrow, no - consider renting and if you need it then buy 4) Can you get it at a lower price? or Get it second hand? Yes then do it. etc. You get the idea. The next very useful thing we did was become accountable to each other on our spending by writing it down - this saved some purchases! We also found in our new house that we intentionally limited our storage space so that we wouldn't be tempted to get 'stuff' since now we also had to think - where will it go?
#8 Banking - Banksters was a term I saw that made me laugh - Best advice - question everything and review everything, yes they do make mistakes. Consolidate your banking accounts (chequing) to one joint account since you will save time and money by reducing your service fees. Look closely at your savings vs your interest being paid. One person told me they have money taken off each cheque to go into a Canadian savings bond but they have a balance they pay interest on their credit card. You earn 1% on the savings bond if you hold it for a year while you pay 8%-30% on the outstanding credit card balance - pay down the debt on the credit card makes more sense. Pay off your loans/mortgages as fast as you can - Mort (Death) - Gage(Pledge) or Death Pledge to translate your mortage.
#9 Transportation - It would be lovely to own an electric car powered by renewable energy, however that costs money and we will save for it. In the meantime we are very good to group our trips and map out our errands to save on gas/mileage. Bike, walk and car pool where we can too. It all adds up.
#10 Housing - smaller is easy to heat, clean, maintain, and prevents accumulating stuff! We downsized from 2,600 square feet to 1,600 square feet to our now 1,200 square feet house. Three bedrooms and 1 bathroom, all I need to clean :-)
So tell me - what are you doing to save money and the environment since they seem to be related :-)
Tracey Allen loves to research, learn and write on all topics to do with gluten-free cooking, whole food cooking, saving, sustainable living and living life to the fullest.