Thursday, July 26, 2012

Revisiting My Strategic Homesteading Goals: Productive Shelter, Part 1

It has been a very long time since I've written about my homesteading goals.  So long, that when I re-read the goals I put down in my first post and my post about My Homesteading Goals, I was amused by how undeveloped they were.

If you re-read the steps outlined in The Start of the Journey, you'd see that in my homesteading/permaculture naivete, I really thought that it could all happen that fast for me, even though I really had no money saved, didn't have a job at the time, and was planning on applying to a permaculture internship that was WAY over my head.  Needless to say, most of 2012 has passed, and none of those steps actually took place, other than working and saving up a little money, and practicing gardening (a little, though I'd say a LOT has happened since moving into the apartment I'm in now, which I mentioned in my post on Monday).  In many ways, I'm glad that things have happened the way they did.  I've had a lot of time to read about a variety of styles to approach sustainable living (as well as develop my thoughts on regenerative living), I've met a lot of people who have shared many good ideas with me, I have a career that is more stable for achieving my real goals, and I have a partner who shares those goals and wants to help achieve them.

So what are those goals, and how have they changed over the past three years?  First, I want to revisit the goals I outlined in My Homesteading Goals post.  It was a relatively long post, as this post and it's subsequent posts will turn out to be, so I'm going to examine them one or two at a time.
1. I want a house on my homestead that is as reliably self-sufficient as possible. I want it to produce its own energy in the form of solar, wind, micro-hydroelectric, or any other sustainable technique. I want it to have the ability to passively heat or cool itself using good design principles tailored to that end. I want it to make the most effective use of its waste, such as recycling greywater, effective removal and treatment of black water, or using heat from cooking to heat the home during the winter. And the house itself should be some sort of producer, perhaps by incorporating an integrated food-producing greenhouse into the design, and definitely by capturing and efficiently using rainwater. To my knowledge so far, the best design for a home that meets all of these goals is an Earthship Biotecture as conceived by Mike Reynolds. Though it may not be the first structure I live in on my homestead, this is my ultimate goal for my house.
Well, the heart of my goal here has not changed.  I do want my house to be as reliably self-sufficient as possible.  Energy production will be an important part of what I'd like to have, though not in the way I was thinking about it 3 years ago.  I've since learned that reducing my energy consumption will be far more valuable to me in achieving the liberty I'm looking for in this house.  In mid-2009, I was thinking I'd need your standard 5kW solar array, etc., in order to meet my energy needs.  Although I didn't know it at the time, I was on the right track with passive heating and cooling, because those would constitute a major reduction in energy needs.  But I was still trapped in the TV/washer/drier/lights/computers/etc. mindset, and thought I'd need the kind of energy used in a normal house.

I would now love to build a home and change my lifestyle to a point where a 1-2kW electricity production array was more than enough.  I would still like enough electric power to run a computer and the things that go with it (so I can keep writing this blog!).  I would still like some electric lighting, and a drip coffee machine (maybe, though I could be convinced to switch to french press I suppose), and limited kitchen appliance use (I love cooking).  But there are things that homesteading for a living affords me that I had not realized before.  When I am homesteading, I won't have an alarm clock to wake up to.  I know not having an alarm clock is not a big electricity saver, but it implies many things.  It means I'll be able to allow my body to find a more natural cycle in tune with the sun.  It means I won't use as much (if any) electric light on most nights.  Candlelight will be preferred above electric lighting anyhow, as it is much more natural and doesn't throw off your circadian rhythm the way electric lighting does.  I'll have the freedom to go outside, read books, play with my dog, play with the earth, and not try to be entertained by the television because it's dark outside by the time I get home from my job.  I might use something like a french press instead of a drip coffee machine because I'll be able to more leisurely make and enjoy coffee, rather than trying to get a quick fix before rushing off to work.  I won't spend as much time in front of a computer because I won't need it as much as an educational tool or as a form of revenue.  I'll be educating myself by practicing techniques and testing theories in the real world, and I'll be generating revenue by creating real products, or teaching others about what I'm doing.  Basically, I think more natural patterns of living will drastically reduce the need for electricity because I'll be entertained and fulfulled in more simplistic ways.

My need for a refrigerator will be reduced as well.  Eating fresh vegetables and herbs and storing produce in more traditional methods means not needing as much refrigeration to store them.  In fact, I can conceive of  a situation in which I could utilize a deep freezer, packed as full as possible for efficiency, for storing meats that I gathered from livestock or hunting and only a very small fridge that I use for limited amounts of dairy, butter, opened jars of home-canned goods, and a few bottles of homebrew.  This fridge and deep freezer would likely constitute most of my electricity needs, and if used efficiently would not constitute much.  I also believe I could supply the energy needed for these items off of a very small solar array and battery backup system.

I would like to eliminate the need for a washer and drier by just having less clothes.  If I don't have a "traditional job" in which I need to maintain appearances by wearing a different set of clothes everyday, then I'd be much more likely to wear the same pair of overalls or pants for a few days in a row, switch out a couple of similar undershirts for a few days, and then wash the 8-12 or so articles of clothing (underwear and socks in there too, of course) by hand.  I've seen many neat contraptions that utilized a stationary bike to "power" a washing machine, and think I could rig up something similar, which would make my clothes washing bacon 'n' eggs powered!  (NOTE: I have yet to even attempt to convince my girlfriend of the virtue of less clothing, and it could prove to be an insurmountable task.  I think I'll save this for when the time comes.)  Washing and drying by hand will save a lot of electricity.

With computers/coffee maker/limited electric lighting/freezer/small fridge taken care of with some possible combination of solar/wind/micro-hydro, and clothes washing taken care of by hand, that leaves heating and cooling as the only thing left to address on the energy side of things.  Here I again think I have a good solution.  But, I'm going to save it for my next post, because this one is already too long.

Next Thursday I'll post Revisiting My Strategic Homesteading Goals: Productive Shelter, Part 2.  Thanks for reading!


  1. i wish you overcome your worries soon and achieve your goals before starting of 2013

  2. Thanks! I'm not too worried, I just think it's important to live lightly on the earth and leave as many resources as we can for future generations.

  3. I've been reading these posts to get caught up before my trip to Portland next week. Excellent as usual, informative and humorous! Plan for a Szybala night on the 10th, 11th, 12th-ish.

  4. I am looking forward to that tremendously. Kelsey is excited to meet all of you as well, it'll be a Williams-Szybala bonanza!