21 July 2011

How low can you go?

I really enjoy living where we live. The climate is wonderful, we can grow food all year and unless we have a bad year, it's neither too hot in the summer nor too cold in the winter. We live on a small piece of land at the edge of a pine forest that is bordered by a permanent creek, lined with rain forest. In the old days, trees were cut in the mountains behind us and brought to a timber mill on the other side of our one lane street. Logs were launched from our backyard into the creek and floated downstream to the Pacific Ocean. There, sailing ships waited for the logs which were loaded and shipped to places far, far away. Stripping tall timbers from our forests no longer happens here but not much else has changed at this end of the lane since those days. There are ten houses here now, but the mango and nut trees they planted back then are still here, and when you're quietly working in the garden you can imagine those days when logs would have rumbled by, probably right through where our house now stands. 

Our front garden (above) and our vegetable garden (below).
The house from the back. You can see the solar panels, the solar water heater (right) a couple of skylights and the whirly birds. Of course, Hanno's ladder is there; he's often on the roof pottering around, checking or fixing things.

Life is good here and we hope that even after we've gone, this land will look the same as it does now and support the efforts of a hard working family - hopefully our descendants. The key to this is to protect the land, to keep it vegetated, to remain organic gardeners, to use as few chemicals as possible, to continue to encourage birds and wildlife and to remain radical conservers of the land we live on. We will continue to harvest water from the roof, generate electricity with our solar panels and as much as we can, live a low tech life.

Our outdoor sink and one of the water tanks. We wash vegetables and fruit here, and our hands, so we don't bring too much dirt into the house.

Part of our low tech approach is to gently manage our climate for our own benefit. We use what our natural environment gives us. We dry our clothes in the sun instead of using a dryer;  we use the soil to produce food; we use harvested water on our crops, instead of using town water; we use cross ventilation as much as we can to cool our home. When we first came here to live we installed whirly birds to extract hot air from the roof space; they're powered by even the slightest breeze. Hanno has just finished painting the entire roof with solar-reflective paint which makes a big difference to the temperature of the metal roof and therefore, the temperature inside in the hot months. We also have three skylights on the roof that bring more light to the kitchen, bathroom and laundry without needing to flick a switch.

Water is harvested from the roof and stored in three water tanks. This small one (above) is used to water pot plants on our front verandah. This tank is also used as a platform for food that defrosts in the sun. Even now in mid-winter, a shoulder of pork takes about three hours to completely defrost (below).

I sweep instead of vacuum, we removed our dishwasher a couple of years ago and wash up by hand. I would love to say that we harvest wood from our old trees and use it for heating but Hanno has an aversion to wood fires so we go without heating except on very cold mornings when we heat the kitchen for a couple of hours with a reverse cycle air-conditioner. I would also love to say we had an outdoor wood-fired bread oven that we use to bake bread, cakes and biscuits, but I can't. Maybe that is something I can look forward to in the future.

Beans drying in the warm air.

I wish we could use more low tech ways of doing house and yard work, or heating/cooling our home. I wonder what you're doing. I wonder if there are some things we've just not thought of but could easily do if we had a clue. So please, tell me how you manage heating and cooling, water, electricity, defrosting, cooking, drying and washing in a modern home environment. This blog has become a place for sharing ideas, often radical or forgotten ones, so I'd love to hear what you're doing in your home.

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