Sunday, 19 October 2008

Home production of simple needs

Rhonda Jean
Down to Earth

It's easy to get caught up in posts about producing food when we're trying to live a frugal and sustainable life but the truth of it is that there are other things we can be doing in our own homes that will help us move towards a simple life. Food and groceries are the easy ones because they are products we use everyday but other things can help up live well and remain green, and be doing it quietly in the background.

Above is a photo of part of our roof. Further down, unseen in this photo, is an unused satellite dish that we used to use for our pay TV, but what I have photographed is far more exciting than that - in this photo are our solar hot water unit, some skylights and a whirlybird. Australia has been making solar hot water systems for at least 30 years that I can remember. We have had solar hot water for 25 of those years. It's fairly cheap to install and free to run. Ours can be plugged into an electrical socket in case of a few days of cloudy weather, we rarely use that. When we know bad weather is coming, Hanno and I are very conservative with our water usage until the sun shines again. That way we have enough water for showering and we don't have to rely on electrical or gas to heat it. I think we've plugged into the grid with our system maybe twice since this unit was installed, which was about five or six years ago. This unit and our previous ones have all been Solarharts and we have never had a problem with any of them.

There are two skylights in the photo but we have three installed, they are in the kitchen, the spare bathroom and laundry room. We installed them because we needed more light in the house and I didn't want to have lights on all the time. Shortly after we came to live in our home we built verandahs front and back. We needed sheltered areas for drying clothes, storing bits and pieces and an area for the dogs to sit out of the sun and rain. But our main reason for adding the verandahs was to create cool air around the house. In the style of the old colonial houses, we wanted to create cross ventilation of cool air through our home and for this reason, our house is comfortable in all but the hottest summer weather. The air is cooled just outside the windows and doors, and by opening the windows and doors the cool air flows in one side of the house and out the other. There is more information about passive design here.

There is a price that is paid for that cooled air, the rooms are darker because of the verandahs. No sunlight reaches the windows and while that is fine, it makes the rooms inside darker. Enter the skylights. They give us good natural light every day and have paid for themselves over the 11 years they've been providing that light.

Whirlybirds are a great idea in any hot climate. We have two and they've made a big difference to the heat retained in the house during summer. True, there are days when nothing like this helps, but there are many days when it's hot outside but okay inside because the hot air is constantly escaping from the roof.

I've blogged about our rain collection tanks before. We have two tanks that hold a total of 15000 litres and that is the water we use to keep our vegetable garden going. The tanks silently collect rain water, with no help from us, and that water is stored until it's needed on the garden. If you can harvest some of your rain water it will be a great help in maintaining a sustainable vegetable garden.

So that is some of the hardware we're using here but how could I leave a post about home production of simple needs without mentioning sewing and knitting. The ability to sew and knit will help you keep your family clothed. Mending will help you look after the clothes you have and will keep them wearable for a much longer period. I think of the days I used to throw away clothes that needed mending as the 'dark ages'. That was when I had more money than sense and before I realised that by teaching myself a few simple skills I would be a much better custodian of my belongings, and in doing that would cut down dramatically on what I need to buy.

Simple living isn't all about cooking from scratch and stockpiling, it's a holistic approach to life that relies as much on your silent partners working away in the background, and your ability to reskill, to look after what you have and to produce as much as you can at home. Sometimes there is a price to pay to have the hardware installed, but often our lives are made easier and greener by just learning how to do something we couldn't do before.

I would be really interested in hearing about what you have at your home that helps you live simply. Do you have water tanks, knitting needles, a sewing machine, solar panels or a solar oven? How have you reksilled yourself? What do you know now that you didn't know last year? If I walked down your street today, what would make me know that yours was that one house where people were getting back to basics and living a simple life?