Monday, February 06, 2017

Electrical Gadgets: How to be more efficient

ELECTRICAL GADGETS  [part one: Lighting]
 [Based on a chapter from "The Self-Sufficient Home," available from Amazon, or the Store at]

You want to be a bit more self-reliant, but it all seems so complex, so confusing, so expensive.  How do you begin?  Let’s start with our use of electrical appliances. 

If you already live in some remote cabin and you don’t have electricity or electrical appliances, then you don’t need this information.  You’ve already figured out that life will go on without electricity. You’ve learned that you can simply do without.

However, our life and health can be enhanced by some use of modern appliances, and if we select these appliances carefully, and reject others, we can improve the quality of our lives and still make a positive contribution to the health of the environment.

Let’s take a walk through the modern household and see what can be done more ecologically.

1.      You can do without some electrical devices.  This may mean at least slightly altering your behavior, and taking the time to consider if a non-electric device or appliance will work just as well, if not better than the electric one you’re about to switch on. 
2.      Learn to use your existing appliances more efficiently. This too may require some changes in your habits, but once you realize the cost of your inefficiency and waste, you’ll not only feel good about this, but  you’ll be saving money.
3.      When you purchase new appliances, buy the most energy-efficient ones you can find.  This step often will involve a higher initial outlay of cash, but will save money and energy over time.

In general, you will pay about four to five times as much when you go to the local hardware store or supermarket to purchase a flourescent bulb.  Some folks will just react to the higher price, and say “Whoa!” and then reach for the incandescents.

But consider that the flourescent will last about five times as long, and they use about one-quarter the power.  The modern flourescents are as bright as comparable incandescents, and do not give off the heat that incandescents do. 

I can recall when I had all incandescents in my home, it seemed that I was always changing the bulbs when they burned out.  A bulb never lasted more than 9 months or so, if that.      But I have  been using the same compact flourescent  bulbs in my home for over four years now. These provide sufficient light, and apparently are hardier since they get bumped as much as the incandescents did.

Once you start to produce your own power, you’ll find that you’ll automatically think about every energy use, and you’ll want to conserve electricity whenever possible. 
Switching all your lights to flourescents  or LEDs is an easy first step.

A large part of energy self-reliance has to do with self-control and discipline.  This needn’t be “painful,” but it does require exerting the mental discipline to get yourself accostomed to a new habit.  For example,  don’t just leave lights on if you’re not in the room. Turn them off when  you’re done. 

Electricity is not the only way to light your home.  Part of the problem that we face today is over-specialization and lack of interdisciplinary thinking when it comes to building homes.  Have you ever been in an Amish home or workspace?  Since they choose to use NO electricity, they build their homes to take advantage of as much natural lighting as possible.  Though this may not always be possible in some settings, it is obviously an under-utilized method of bringing light inside.  Simply design the house to face the sun – typically the south – and have large south-facing windows so that we get the maximum amount of light indoors by virtue of the design alone.

There are also all the traditional stand-bys that most people think of only in emergencies: candles and lanterns.

Tim Matson has written an excellent 89-page book called “The Book of Non-Electric Lighting: The Classic Guide to the Safe Use of Candles, Fuel Lamps, Lanterns, Gaslights, and Fire-View Stoves.”  Originally written in 1984, there is now a revised 2008 edition. He includes how to make your own candles.  He describes the various kerosene and parrafin wick lamps, and the unique Aladdin lamp.

Light tubes
Light tubes are made by various manufacturers, and are installed from the roof to the ceiling of a room. During the day time, they bring the light into the kitchen or living room so you don’t need to use electricity. This is a relatively simple way to bring light inside, during the day.

In Ted Baumgart’s home in La Crescenta, I attempted to turn off the light when I departed his bathroom, and wondered why the light did not go off.  His bathroom was brightly lit from the sunlight coming in through the light tube.  It was brightly lit and I was once again befuddled that so many “experts” say that such simple technologies are impractical.

The Amish
Peter Gail took me on a tour of Amish lands in 1999, where we visited some of the woodshops and stores in the rural Ohio.  Amish eschew electricity, but do use lanterns for light.  (Most of their work tools are hand-operated).  I was most impressed by the manner in which they built their homes and work spaces.  Large windows were on the south sides of the work spaces, facing the sun, taking advantage of natural lighting as much as possible.

How many of today’s architects, and developers of our urban sprawl ever take orientation to sunlight into consideration?

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