Not everything about the links I share are going to be things I necessarily agree with or endorse, but they all have some valuable things to glean from! Take what you can use :)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Electricity is a WONDERFUL Tool but a LOUSY Master!

{Old post from another blog of mine. Since then we've really fallen back into the convenience of electricity (and back to TWO fridges too :p). As electricity rates have CONTINUED to climb we really need to get back on the wagon!}

I was perusing a forum for backyard chickens a while back and came across a thread where someone asked how to keep their chickens watered in the winter without electricity. The general consensus was....impossible. You simply HAD to have electric water warmers or at least electrically heated coops. Say what? Are you kidding me? People have been keeping chickens in very cold climates for a very long time, WAY before electricity came on the scene! I mean good grief! I guarantee you the early settlers didn't have electric chicken water warmers, neither were their chickens some magical breed that did not require water when the temperature dips below freezing! They would take their chickens water several times throughout the day, and it would be HOT water so as not to freeze so quickly. Effortless? No. Impossible? Not even remotely!

While not everyone has to worry about their poultry if the electricity were to go out, the vast majority of us depend on electricity for at least a few things in our lives! For most people, that would be for most things! There's nothing wrong with that in an of itself, I think electricity is a wonderful tool! What disturbs me is the level of dependency most people have on it! As in, if the power ceases to function, so do they! They do not have the knowledge or skills needed to accomplish even basic tasks without electric gadgets! BAD SITUATION!

Anytime you start talking about not being dependent on electricity you'll have words thrown around like "conspiracy theorist" or "doomsday prepper" or just plain "nutcase", but I'm not even talking about a situation anything like that! In the best of times, the electric grid is uncomfortably fragile. A well placed tree branch taken out in a storm can leave huge areas without power for anywhere from a few minutes to a few WEEKS! We've lost everything in our freezer more than once due to extended outages! Living in an area where power outages are actually quite common, it amazes me that most people I talk to look at me like I have antennae when I mention learning to do things without power. Seems like most people are more than happy to sit in the dark and just wait for the power to come back on. If they lose all their food, no problem, they'll just replace it. Well, I for one am not so financially well off that I can afford to simply replace everything in my fridge and freezer at a moments notice! Even if I were, what a waste to let all that good food spoil! I much prefer to take a little more effort and preserve our foods in ways that are shelf stable (like canning or dehydrating) so we don't lose it all should we be without power for a few days!

It goes beyond food preservation too! I was tired of our lives grinding to a halt every time the lights went out! I wanted to know that my days could continue on with relative normality should we have another black out like we did a couple winters ago (downed trees in an ice storm left large areas of southern Ontario without power, up to 2 weeks in some areas!). Also, the cost of electricity here in Ontario has been going up exponentially the last few years, and it's only going to get worse. While the hydro bill has never exactly been a pleasant one, it's gotten to be downright insane! We've been trying to conserve power in little ways for years but that just didn't cut it anymore! It was getting to the point where we were having to go without other things we needed just to keep up with the rapidly rising cost of electricity. Wanting to be prepared for an outage was no longer the most driving factor, we simply could not afford to keep using electricity the way that we had!

I asked myself a few questions to help me decide what changes needed to be made and in what order.

1) What are the worse power suckers?

2) Can I replace those with non-electric alternatives?

3) What gadgets would we rather save our electricity for?

The most power hungry appliances are the ones that create or remove heat. The dryer, the stove/oven, the freezers (we had 2), the fridges (had 2 of these too!). I got a few more drying racks so I could dry a full week's laundry at a time. I started doing most of the washing by hand too!

Not bad that it still works passably over 100 years later!
I started to whittle down the amount of stuff in the fridges. I dried what I could, canned what I could, researched what things we tend to keep in the fridge that don't need to be, and started to use up specialty items that I really don't need to have all the time. We're down to 1 fridge and soon we'll be moving to a cooler instead!
Cooler will go on the lowest shelf there.
We have an upright freezer and a chest freezer. We had everything in the upright but I'm going to move it all to the chest freezer because it's more energy efficient. Since we will have one freezer running I'll be freezing blocks of ice for the cooler. If we have a power outage we'll just buy ice for the cooler. For the stove/oven there's a few things I'm working on. I have the materials to make a solar cooker (just have to find them, still in storage in the basement) but I want to get an SOS Solar Oven too.  Now, since the sun isn't always shining, I'm also building a rocket stove and will get a Coleman Camp Oven to use on top of it. Of course we like to grill too, but since I don't see how being dependent on propane (or anything else you have to buy) is much less an issue than being dependent on electricity, I prefer to use things where the fuel is free, like sun and sticks! Not only will they mean I can still cook and bake when the power's off, but it means I can use my power sucking stove as a tool and not a necessity! I plan on sticking with the electric stove for canning, or for when the weather is just too yucky to cook out outside of necessity. Another thing I use to cut costs when cooking is to use a Fireless Cooker. Mine is a cooler with blankets inside for added insulation and a bean bag chair tucked over it!

These are the major ways we are reducing our electric usage (and thus our expenses), and it's working too! Dh was not convinced it would be worth it but seeing the last few electric bills has given him a change of heart! And it's only going down from there! I'm still working on replacing my small appliances with non-electric versions, but since they don't have quite as much an impact on total usage, I'm doing them more for personal satisfaction and so I still have some conveniences should the power fail :p.

As for lights, I do prefer to use electric lights, but we are pretty strict with only using them if necessary (during the day in rooms with big windows....not usually necessary lol) and turning them off when not in use! I buy up candles whenever I find them for a good price and kerosene for the oil lamps (lamp oil burns cleaner and with less odor, but it's more expensive. I don't want to mix fuels in the lamps so I just stick with kerosene), I also have a 5 gallon bucket of canola oil in the cellar. Not for cooking, but for emergency lighting if needed. I have a bunch of wire to make oil candles with.

Another consideration is water. We are on a well with an electric pump, No power = no water. I'll go into water conservation in a future post but for now, suffice to say, water is an important consideration! I keep as much water stored as I can, but since you need to plan for 1 gallon/person for drinking and cooking plus another gallon/person for bathing/sanitation, that's a lot of water if you want to store for more than a few days! I think a more sustainable way would be to set up a rain catchment system and get a good filter. I always planned on a Berkey, but after doing a little more research, I wasn't so confidant in that decision. I plan on going with a Sawyer instead.

Is getting on with less electricity as easy as using it for everything? No, it is more work, but I find the work satisfying and well worth the peace of mind to know our lives can continue almost as normal (well, as normal as OUR lives ever get lol) whether the power's on or not! It also means that we can afford to keep the power on for the things we really don't want to do without, like our computers, and with a smaller electric bill it leaves more room in our budget for more important things (such as the equipment we need to go even MORE off grid ;).

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