Still Truckin’

What to say after such a long time since our last post!  Well, to begin we’re still here and we’re still working.  Big projects, little projects, and unexpected projects!

Our biggest unexpected project was a gas leak we had in the basement over this past winter.  And by a gas leak I mean 3 gas leaks.  (Most of the gas lines haven’t been touched since the house was built in 1903!)  So, Tabor and I got to working on it.  It was an easy fix – or so we thought…Long story short and three trips to the hardware store later we ended up hooking our furnace back up to the line since it was going to be down to 14 F that night.  We left the gas water heater and stove disconnected that evening.  “Well, this off-grid’ing project really accelerated itself,” Tabor said between swigs of a well-earned beer.

The next morning I said, “Dammit Tabor!  You’re a genius,”  Which I say every morning but it was extra special that particular day.  I mean, why hook these appliances back up when we’ll be disconnecting them eventually?  It was over winter break so I didn’t have any classes – what a great opportunity to have the time to get this done.

I called up my dad who is a retired electrician and he came over and we figured out what kind of electric hot water heater I’d be able to operate once I switch over to my own electrical production.  W purchased and installed a small 20-gallon hot water heater.  Everyone always asks me if we run out of water but I’ve tried to run out of water in the shower and can’t.   Since we installed low-flow shower heads, it takes over 20 minutes to run out of hot water.  Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Our gas oven range was the next appliance which needed replacing.  We swapped it with a toaster oven and hot plates we had laying around.  Both run on electricity.  Too easy!  I want to expand on this but I really don’t know what else to say..  The toaster oven is silver-y in color.

“But Rob,” you say, “You’re still getting your electricity from Duke Energy which uses coal to fuel their power plants.  And that coal comes from the Appalachian Mountains where over 400 mountains are slated to be leveled to get at all that yummy coal.  What good is it switching from gas to coal?”

Well, we thought of that and switched over to an electrical provider called Ethical Electric which sources all 100% of their electricity from renewable resources.  (Hit me up if you switch too and we can both get some mullah off of our bill.)  So, all of our electrical power is provided by either wind or solar!  It is about .03 cents per kWh more expensive than using coal which, if my calculations are correct, means that for every 100 kWh I use I spend $3 more dollars than I would have.  Bad.  Ass.

I originally thought gas was going to be the most difficult utility to disconnect from since there are three separate appliances: stove, water heater, and furnace.  But, in less than a week we disconnected from two of them!  You know what they say: Necessity’s mom makes inventions.

The Chickens Today


Busy busy the morning of 7/29/15

We at the Earnshaw Ecohouse value biodiversity (as any good ecosystem does). This summer has seen a massive increase in the variation of both flora and fauna, but it all began on May 10th, right when the weather started to rapidly warm. On the way home from a house camping trip in Indiana, we stopped in Mt. Healthy to celebrate Mothers Day by adopting nine tiny hatchlings. They spent a few weeks in a little plastic tub being coveted by Amelia’s hungry gaze before they were migrated to their cozy coop on the west side of the house. It’s been amazing to watch them grow in this short time! It’ll still be a couple months before they start laying eggs (or before we know how many of them are hens, for that matter), but in the meantime it’s been a blast getting to know ’em! By far the cutest thing about them is the fact that they tuck themselves in at night. In fact, the sun’s going down so I better go downstairs and shut the door to the coop!


Hey I’m walkin’ here!

Mindfulness by the Bucket

We’ve disconnected our kitchen sink from the sewer system. It didn’t take much – just a matter of unscrewing a couple of PVC fittings. Now, instead of being but a drop in the eighty million gallon bucket that is the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati, our dish-washing water slowly fills up a five gallon bucket. When it’s full, we find other ways to use that water.

This practice has reduced the house’s water consumption by about thirty gallons per week. But it’s a little more difficult to put a number to how much it has benefited me in other ways. Doing dishes had always been a mindless task. I would even look forward to it as such. There’s nothing quite like repetitively washing junk off stuff to quickly transport oneself to a state of relaxation and disengagement. But now, the trickling of water into the bucket serves as a constant reminder that what I’m doing is work, the resource I’m using is a gift, and this kitchen isn’t what it was built a hundred years ago to be, but rather what we decide it is today.

I moved into this house for a lot of reasons, but as the months go by I’m realizing that what I value most is the opportunity to practice being present – to do whatever it is I’m doing with all my might. And while part of me may miss those mini holidays at the kitchen sink, a bigger part of me delights in having found a few more minutes in my day to spend in the now.


Cincinnati, underfoot

By and large, we’ve grown accustomed to only seeing and interacting with the top layer of Cincinnati. I seldom appreciate that beneath the level and impervious pavement of Highland Ave, besides the municipal infrastructure, there is soil, a biological history of erosion and ecological succession.

IMGP3304 IMGP3305 IMGP3323 IMGP3325

In purpose, the urban, as a dense and hardy human habitat, is no less natural than an ant hill. In function, on the other hand, the urban is increasingly discordant with the more-than-human ecosystem.

The taproot of ecological consciousness is likely the appreciation that all human endeavor is contained by but also comprises nature. Ecohouse practices like water catchment, composting and gardening begin to harmonize our urban experience with the functions and cycles of the local ecosystem and accumulate, in mind and matter, to produce an ecohouse culture. These simple practices reveal that culture is, to some degree, a choice we make daily. The ecohouse is simply a context that empowers a few Cincinnatians to cultivate values and practices of a deep(er) ecology.

Paraphrasing the resident ecohouse oboist: intentional community is mindful daily routine. If, through more mindful daily routine, a single household can incubate a hyperlocal culture that appreciates the city as a single layer enmeshed in a broader ecology, then why shouldn’t we expect — and demand — the same from the city?

Suggested reading: The Work of Local Culture by Wendell Berry

March’s Electricity Bill

So, the electricity bill for March was only $27.  On average, the electricity bill is $65/month.  A difference of $38.  It is worth noting that we have four people living here now.  In the past there’s usually only been 3 people living here.    Being able to increase the population while reducing consumption is a significant feat.

Part of taking a house off the grid is changing your behavior first and then changing the structure of the house.  If we were to switch to our own small solar system tomorrow, we’d be extremely hard pressed to maintain this level of comfort which we are accustomed to.  By taking the time to make changes incrementally we will be able to make this transition smoothly and successfully.

The fridge and dryer are the biggest uses of electricity in our household.  So, we concentrated on reducing or eliminating those appliances in the previous months.

The previous post told of how we switched our fridge to a mildly converted chest freezer thus saving us $180 over the course of the year. The amount of coal that saves is approximately 1100lbs!

Next was the dryer which was the easiest thing to get rid of.  During my travels in Europe, I noticed that a lot of people still didn’t use dryers even though they were able to afford it.  So, with that in mind I unplugged it and then set up an open area in a spare room to allow clothes to dry during the winter.  Now that it’s spring, we’ll be able to dry the clothes in the sun.  For us, the dryer costs roughly 4kWh or 4 lbs of coal or $0.10 to run for 1 hour.  (You can get general power consumption numbers from hereHere‘s the formula to convert Watts to kWh.)

When I look at the dryer only costing a dime to run I think, ‘Who cares!  It’s a dime!’  But when I think of it in terms of 4 lbs of coal to run that thing, then it is an entirely different animal for me: 2 Loads of Laundry/Week x 52 Weeks/Year x 4lbs of Coal/Load of Laundry = 416lbs of coal required to dry one person’s clothes every year.  Now that four of us have kicked the habit that’s 1664lbs of coal that we ain’t using.

We’re also a little more mindful about leaving lights on when not in the room.  Finally, there’s a lot of appliances which still draw current when they’re not turned on.  (It’s called a ‘vampire draw’!)  Take my cell phone and laptop chargers for example.  They draw just as much power whether or not they’re charging anything.  So, I try to remember to unplug them when they’re not in use.

I hope you enjoyed reading this!  It’s been a fun adventure as we figure out different ways of doing things.






Keeping My Cool About Refrigerators Part II

Soon after I posted the first blog about refrigerators my dear friend Dawn who works at Hostel in the Forest located in Brunswick, GA shared a link about how the hostel has tackled the problem of refrigeration.  And wow, has it really worked!

In short, by substituting one’s fridge with a “converted” chest freezer we’ve been able to significantly reduce our electrical consumption.  ‘Why a chest freezer, Robbie?  Also, how did you “convert” your chest freezer?’  Well, I’m glad you asked.


The face-off! It’s going to be a cold fight…


First, chest freezers are designed to maintain a colder temperature so they are generally better insulated.  Second, when I open my regular ol’ fridge all that cold air spills out of the bottom.  Then, hot air rushes into the top.  The air in the top of the fridge must be cooled down which makes the fridge run more often.  When I open my chest freezer, the cold air just chills (pun intended).  There is very little air exchange which doesn’t cause the chest freezer to run near as often.  Third, in this particular experience our chest freezer is smaller than our refrigerator which also saves energy.

I put the term “conversion” in quotation marks because it is so simple to make one’s freezer run like a fridge that it’s harder to spell conversion than it is to convert the chest freezer.  All you need is a thermostat like the one pictured here which we got for about $50 on ebay:


Johnson Control Thermostat Model A19BAG-1E

Place the thermocoupler into the chest freezer and plug the thermostat into the wall.  Then plug the chest freezer into the thermostat’s outlet.  Set the temperature (ours is at 35F).

The thermostat switches the electrical flow to the freezer on and off according to the freezer temperature.  So, when the freezer gets above 35F the thermostat allows electricity to flow to the freezer and the freezer switches on and runs.  Then when the thermostat senses that the temperature is below 35F, it turns off.  In essence our freezer is now acting as a fridge.  It’s really that easy.

‘But really, how much energy are you saving?’  Another good question.  According to our kWh meter, the fridge was using 1400 lbs of coal per year.  Our chest freezer uses 110 lbs of coal per year.  That’s 12 times more efficient than the fridge.  In terms of dolla’ dolla’ bills being spent, our fridge was costing us roughly $200/year.  The chest freezer will cost us about $20 per year.  So, the lesson is that even if you hate the environment it can still make sense to switch to this set up which we’re using and save $180/ year on your electricity bill.

A big thanks to Dawn for providing us with the information and another big thanks to Tabor for delivering the chest freezer!


A live-action shot of the ‘Kill A Watt’ monitoring our electrical usage.


Looking comfy in the kitchen.





Potluck March 29, 2015 From 11 – 3

Bring friends!  Bring a dish!  We’d love to meet you and show you the projects we’ve been doing in the yard, in the house, and other things we haven’t broken yet. 😉

287 Earnshaw Ave

Cincinnati, OH 45219

Hope to see you all there!