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.

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!

Another Cincinnati West-Sider Going Green

It’s pleasant to hear about another person living where I grew up succinctly explain why it makes sense to ‘go green’:  “Unfortunately, sustainability is often far too politicized so that most who oppose “going green” are either underinformed or have confirmation bias. This shouldn’t be a political issue. The issue should be a blend of finance, ethics and risk management.”

Wintertime Irons in the Fire


Been spending a lot of time outside the past few days.  Built a fence (way in the background), dug some post holes, coppiced the walnut tree (it felt great to be swinging the axe again!), fixing the large fence there, and putting the finishing touches on the coop.  I’ve been learning a lot and am thankful for my friends and family for helping out and being patient while I’m learning-and-doing.  Only got the beard caught in the drill one time.  So far so good!

Keeping My Cool About Refrigerators

Refrigeration is bad ass. I usually think of meat-packers or the old brewery district in Cincinnati when thinking about impacts of refrigeration but it turns out it revolutionized a lot of industries: nurseries, sugar mills, chocolate factories, manufacturers of paper, glue, soap, perfume, and even tea companies use refrigeration.

Refrigeration is a technology. That sounds silly to me but it is. Some form of refrigeration has been around since at least 1,000BC: In China people would cut and store ice in caves or dig holes and line it with straw or other forms of insulation. Even before that, spices, salt, dehydration, and drying were just a few techniques people have used (and continue to use) for thousands of years prior to refrigeration to preserve food.

Is your fridge running? Mine is. It’s called the General Electric Profile. I haven’t spent much time thinking of this particular fridge but, I like it I guess. The energy star website tells me that my fridge uses 1,335 kiloWatt hours (kWh) annually. What the hell does that mean? What makes a kilowatt? The US Energy Information Administration says that on average it requires 1.09 pounds of coal to produce 1kWh. OK, so if my fridge uses 1,335kWh and it takes 1.09 pounds of coal to make 1 kWh, how much coal does my fridge use in a year’s time? 1,335kWh/year x 1.09 lbs of coal/kWh = 1,445.15 pounds of coal. That means 1,445 pounds of coal is required to keep my fridge running every single year. Damn.


If you live in Ohio, 86% of electric generation is provided by coal. (Coming in second is nuclear power at only 10%.) So, where does this coal come from? In Cincinnati Duke Energy is probably your energy provider and they like to use coal. If you spend any time along the banks of the Ohio River, you’ll see barges full of coal traveling by on their way from West Virginia, where coal is mined. Conventional mining these days includes a process called ‘open pit mining’ for the PC crowd but I prefer ‘mountain top removal’. Over 400 mountains are on the list to be destroyed or have been already.

Over the holidays a family member asked me, “Well, what do you care if those mountains are gone?” Well, I’ve spent some time in the Appalachian Mountains. For our senior trip, some friends and I chose to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. At 18 years old, 4 of us did a 200 mile trek, and for the first time ever we were on an extended trip by ourselves, in the wilderness, away from our parents, trying to be men (even as we were passed by a family with 2 small children– the youngest of which was a 9 year old boy!)

This is how one effectively eliminates soil, bedrock, and herds of trees, commonly referred to as “forests”.

I did another 200 mile section of the Appalachian Trail 6 years later with one of the original members of our senior trip when I got out of the Air Force. (On this trip I randomly stayed at the home of that same family which we met 6 years earlier. I happened to have my old journal with me and was rereading it when I realized that it was those very same folks I had met all those years ago. Say whaaaa…)

Needless to say I have some very fond memories of those mountains. I don’t want them destroyed and shame on me for participating in their destruction. The fridge is our biggest electrical consumer in the house here. So, by unplugging it, we’ll be able to put a huge dent in our electrical consumption AKA coal burning AKA known-carcinogen-emissions AKA electricity bill.

Food preservation and refrigeration have been around a long, long time. Electrical fridges for mass production have only been around something like 100 years. I’ll have to ask a scientist but, I’m pretty sure that people were eating before the advent of refrigerators. While living in the woods in northern Maine, to keep our perishables from perishing we’d simply fill up a cooler half-way with well water, which is naturally chilled from the earth. Inside the cooler we’d create a shelf above the water line to put our food on. Stick the cooler somewhere in the shade and simply change the water every 2 or 3 days. Bam! At the house I even have a cellar (which stays at 55F year-round) to put my cooler in! Bam! Bam! By substituting the mechanical convenience of a fridge with a couple of used coolers and a minute amount of labor, I can stop over 1400 pounds of coal from being burned.

Now, do I think that this is significant in any way to Duke Energy? That Mr. Duke will be knocking at my door with a bouquet and a tip of his hat, asking us to please continue using electricity? No, not in the least bit. Mr. Duke doesn’t wear hats. Do I think that on a personal scale that this is a significant achievement? Yes. By unplugging only one appliance, I am stopping over 1400 lbs of coal from being burned!  That’s a pretty big plug.  (Three-pronged if I’m not mistaken.)  Its importance is also important because this is only one action which is part of a whole collection of behavioral changes, technological substitutions, and shift in mentality which will affect a different way of viewing the world and participating in it. No hard feelings, Mr. Duke. Give my best to the Mrs.


Sources: All were accessed on 25 December 2014.  Happy Holidays!

What is an Intentional Community?

I’ve never really liked the term ‘intentional community’ to be honest.  I’ve always felt that it was some dirty hippie re-branding the term ‘commune’ first into ‘compound’ and now into ‘intentional community’.  But as I thought about what the house was, and what it is transitioning into the term grew on me.  Personally, I think that the house should be called “The Cincinnati Chapter of the Branch Davidian Cult” but everyone else said, ‘Nah’.  Whatevs.

Let me start with a brief history of the house.  For the past few years it’s been a share house with individuals renting out rooms and sharing the common areas like the kitchen, bathrooms, etc.  Everyone in the house is different in their own unique way, with their own points of view, and their own stuff going on like work, school, and friends.  The common thread amongst everyone in the house is simply that they all live in the same rental property.

But, what if you could change that?  What if you were able to get like-minded individuals all together?  I’m into gardening, living off grid, and all that green stuff.  What if we could bring people like that together; where we’d compliment each others’ way of living and provide support and optimism to some things that people think is weird (like collecting rainwater and filtering it into drinking water).

So,when I talk about re-seeding the front lawn with native wild grasses, or when we’re unplugging the fridge (this house’s single biggest user of electricity) and storing our perishables in a cooler in the cellar, I don’t get googly eyes like I do from most everyone else ever that is presently living in America.

I suppose all of that is just a way of saying that rather than living with strangers, you can live with people who think about things the way that you do, who want to live simply, and who like to do the same things that you do.  That’s all I feel an intentional community is.  People living together, not just because they all happen to be in the same city or that rent is cheap but, because they intentionally want to live together.

In theory of course.  In theory.  It all looks good on paper and sounds nice.  But it’s all about finding the right people.  And I think in a city of a million people, I’ll be able to find 5 or 6 others who feel and think the same way I do.

The Aqua Water: Part Uno

I’ve spent the past few weeks seriously looking into how we’re going to get this house off-grid:  Producing our own electricity, finding a different heating source besides natural gas, and disconnecting ourselves from the water system.  It’s exciting and overwhelming all at the same time!  Let’s just talk about water:

The average American uses about 100 gallons a day (in Cincinnati we use about 85 gallons per day).  So, for a house of 4 people, that’s a total of 400 gallons of water used!  And less than 1 gallon is for drinking water.  How is that possible?  Who uses that much water?

I spent the better part of a year up in northern Maine and our source of water was a well equipped with a hand pump.  No way anybody pumped 100 gallons of water out of that thing a day!  You wouldn’t have anywhere to put it.  The most I ever pumped out at one time was to fill a 5-gallon bucket for doing my laundry.  Twenty more five gallon buckets?  Get outta here.

It turns out that most of that 100 gallons gets used up while we’re taking a shower.  Most shower heads use about 3 – 4 gallons of water per minute.  If you take a 10 or 15 minute shower, that’s anywhere from 30 – 60 gallons of water.  It adds up fast, huh?  While up in Maine, we’d go swimming in the river.

Purifying water from the Ohio River is an energy-intensive process:  Pumping the water.  Adding chemicals to coagulate the sediments.  Adjusting the pH.  And adding chlorine and fluoride.  Cincinnati is also fortunate to have an extra process which most other cities don’t:  using a giant activated carbon filter which helps to remove organics.  It’s essentially a massive Brita filter.  Why do we have one?  Because the Ohio River is so damn dirty.  The Greater Cincinnati Water Works also maintains 2 treatment plants, 24 pump stations, 33 storage tanks, and 3100 miles of water mains.  Lastly, they test the drinking water 600 times a day (which is way more than bottled water).

It’s all great that they do these things but I’m not into all of the coal and oil that is used for filtering water and maintaining the infrastructure.  I want to minimize my water footprint first and then eventually install our own water catchment and purification system.

Currently, here’s the things I’ve been doing to save water:

  • Now that it’s winter, I’m not as sweaty and can reduce the number of showers that I take.
  • Also, taking shorter showers.
  • Yellow-let-it-mellow.
  • I installed a 55 rain barrel for all of my gardening needs.  It has never even come close to running out of water and I love watering my plants.
  • I keep a bucket in the shower to catch gray water to flush the toilet with.
  • And just always being kind of “on”.  Being aware of my water usage.  Being present and in the moment.  I mean, as best as I can do being’s I’m such a space cadet sometimes…

I’d say that none of the things that I’m currently doing has diminished my quality of life either.  I’m still clean and living the same life I have been with a few minor tweaks.  Everything’s great!  That’s all for now.  Next time I’m going to write about biosand and activated charcoal.  SWEET.