Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cutting the Grid Apron Strings, One Appliance at a Time...

I've been thinking a lot about reducing our electric and natural gas bills as of late. Who hasn't? It's a crazy world out there and prices keep rising, not to mention the fact that as a culture in general, we're very vulnerable in the area of electricity and fossil fuel dependency.

Photo Credit
Our goal or focus as a family has been to 1) reduce our utility bills and 2) to become less dependent on utility companies in general. Living "off grid" meant either going with solar or wind power and producing our own energy. There really wasn't any other alternative in our minds.

But after reading a few blogs, conversing with Brenda of Freedom Acres Farm, and then reading Michael Bunker's book, Surviving Off Off-Grid, I've learned a lot over the last month and it's changed my mind a bit about our choices.

Going on solar power or wind power should only be seen as an intermediate step because you're only trading one dependency for another. This isn't to say you shouldn't use solar power, wind power, or some other alternative power source, but it isn't the grand solution to end all issues. Seeing solar as a way to ease into a life of less dependency is a more realistic option. And before one can even consider an alternative power source, you've got to cut back on your current dependency. Brenda really helped me see the need for this (thanks, Brenda!).

Now if I were to suddenly go through my house and trash every electrical appliance or gadget, I'd certainly have a mutiny on my hands, quick as a wink! And I won't attempt to list all our energy dependent appliances, but what I'm trying to do is cut the apron strings to the grid one appliance at a time. Let me give you an example...

This has been our coffee pot for the last several years. It's usually used on a daily basis, heating the coffee for about 2 hours before the hot plate shuts off unless we think about it and turn it off manually (not often). We like it a lot except that it stopped working the other day despite my regular cleanings and maintenance. Normally, we would have immediately gone out and purchased something similar, but this time, I talked with my husband about considering alternatives.

One option that we already had in the back of a cabinet is a French Press. I purchased this a couple of years ago when we were traveling, attending a retreat, and I needed my own low-acid coffee. It's a straightforward alternative in which you place the grounds inside the bottom, pour boiling water over them, stir, let steep for a minute, and then gently press the plunger down over the grounds. You can then pour your coffee. The French Press is easy to clean and simple to operate.

The drawback to the French Press is that it can't go directly onto a heat source (at least mine can't), the glass could easily break, and it doesn't keep the coffee hot. Think of this as an immediate coffee maker in which the coffee should be consumed as soon as it's brewed. Mine will make about 3-4 regular cups, so it's fine if you have a small group. However, if you want another cup, you'd need to start over.

A second alternative was an old fashion percolator; my husband's preference. We purchased this stainless steel model at an army surplus store before our camping trip to the coast. Another uncomplicated device, which holds coffee grounds in a basket containing small holes, while pumping heated water up a tube into the basket, allowing the water to wash over the grounds and then drain through the holes back into the pot. The cycle repeats itself until it's brewed to your preference. Since the holes in the basket are small, large grounds don't come through, but smaller grounds do. Some opt to use a paper filter inside the basket to prevent this.

The percolator can go directly on the heat source, keeps the coffee hotter, and can serve more people. Plus, you don't need to start over for that second cup.

Now both of these alternatives require an initial purchase, both of which probably required some kind of fossil fuels to fabricate and deliver. But neither require an on going fuel source other than the simple heating of water, either in the pot itself or another receptacle. An open flame from a campfire would do the job.  Neither of these options would I leave on for 2 HOURS to brew. I'm actually hoping to try the percolator on my wood stove this winter to see if it will get hot enough to actually work. If so, that's a heat source I'm already using, but I would be using it for more than one purpose.

Both options brew coffee differently than a drip coffee maker and thus both cause the coffee to taste a bit different. I don't know how to suggest testing this to see which is to your liking other than asking around to see if a friend has one of these to borrow. There will always be those who insist one is preferable over another. Let me just say, we're foodies to a certain degree, and a good cup of coffee is to be relished, but the truth be told, in time, you'll adjust to whatever you have - a probably like it.

One thing to consider if you are opting for the French Press... get a thermos. The kind that they use in coffee shops. Fortunately, I already had one and this did not require a new purchase (see mine in the photo). I can't tell you the number of times I've used this thing! Well worth the purchase price, I can assure you! In the winter, I use it for my hot beverage bar if I'm not using my electric tea kettle (which I'm reconsidering now!). Just heat one large batch of water each morning, pour it in the thermos, and you have hot water all day long. Instead of using electricity several times a day, you're only using it once a day, unless of course, you decide to heat your water on the wood stove!

Now you might be thinking that this little change isn't much and so why bother? What's the difference in a little ol' coffee pot? It's a small change indeed. But little things add up over time. Imagine changing 12 of your appliances over the course of a year? One per month? That would start to make an impact, now wouldn't it. Maybe not in terms of the world, but in your own immediate world, it certainly would! And if you're considering solar power, you're more than likely going to need to reduce your electrical usage if you want to go off grid anyway.

If we were to install solar realistically (and believe me, we've looked into it with 3 different companies), we could only generate 60% of what we are currently using. We'd still need to purchase the additional 40% of electricity - ON A GOOD DAY! That means, to be totally off-grid, we'd need to reduce our energy consumption by 40-50% before the solar was ever installed. Puts things into perspective a bit more, doesn't it?
Ryobi Power Usage Meter
A power meter will help give you an idea of how much each appliance is using in terms of kilowatt hours and how much that's costing you as well. We purchased ours, but I understand some local libraries will allow you to check these out if they have them. A quick google search showed me several right off the top. Once again, you may feel that your appliance isn't using that much electricity, so why bother. But a drop on the bucket adds up!

Obviously, each person will have that one appliance they just don't want to give up and they'd rather pay to use it. This is exactly why we should be allowed to govern our own lives and not have the government tell us what we can and cannot use. What's important to me, may not be important to you and visa versa.  But it's good to know there are alternatives, what they are, how to use them, and if possible, obtain them as a back up. Just in case.

What appliances have you cut off from the grid and what did you replace it with? Sharing ideas is what helps each of us think outside the box!

Simple Lives Thursday @ GNOWFGLINS


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