Living Sustainably

Aquaponics | Rain Harvesting | Composting | Other Green Products

Archive for March, 2009

New Electric Cars Coming – From Volkswagen?

The new Volts-wagens are a partnership with Toshiba (drive units, power electronics and lithium batteries), and the stated goal is to be the first manufacturer to provide a series of large scale production electric vehicles, under the umbrella “New Small Family”.


Make your own DIY Water Filter

construction_schematicThere’s a lot of info on the net for building your own water filtration. One of our favorites is the Slow Sand Filter, because it uses every day common materials (sand, gravel and a container). Here is one design that is easy to duplicate using whatever containers you can find. I’d suggest 35 gallon drums. 5 Gallon pails could work but may not give enough filtration.


Gardening time is soon upon us. Try the Earth Box.

Have bad soil? Need portability? Want to try something novel? Try an Earth Box. This planting box contains a self watering system, custom blended soil, and the ability to move it around depending on your needs. Check it out at


Cleaning Vegetable Oil with a Centrifuge

0c-50-with-mount-080401In our quest to be environmentally friendly, and cheap (I’m Scottish), we became a dealer for Diesel Craft Centrifuges. These units filter used vegetable oil (and motor oil) to a degree far finer than a filter can, and mounted onboard the Suburban, we can collect and filter as we go on a long trip, without the mess of filters and buckets. A suction hose with a 150 micron strainer, a gear pump, into a collection tank, then through the centrifuge to the vehicle’s veggie tank. We will be posting descriptions and prices at shortly.

On a side note, we picked up a functioning Singer Sewing Machine, treadle powered, in better than decent condition from a Freecycle member today.


Converting the Diesel Suburban to Veggie

The conversion of our ’96 Diesel Suburban to 100% used vegetable oil (not biodiesel and definitely not diesel secret junk) continues. Over the years, we have worked with a variety of parts, always fine tuning and improving the system. Here are the parts for our conversion:

Coolant heated fuel pickup / tank heater –
Heats the fuel at point of pickup, doesn’t require complete tank heating.

Electric lift pump –
Take the load off your injector pump, mount at veggie tank.

2 Heavy duty, high volume 3 port fuel valves –
The most reliable way to switch from the diesel to the veggie system. Stay away from the problematic Pollak valves.

Coolant Heated Filter –
The diesel and vegetable systems are separate, with their own filters.

Electric Injector pump fuel heater –
On startup, there is cold veggie in the lines up front and in the valves that does not get heated. When switching from diesel to hot veggie, this “slug” of cold veggie hits the injector pump first. The electric IP heater mounted right at the input of the injector pump eliminates this possibility.

PMD relocator kit –
Relocating the fuel computer module from the injector pump is a necessity in this model vehicle. There are two 500 watt transistors that produce quite a bit of heat, and the extra heat from the hot veggie is enough to give it fits.

More detail on past conversions and collecting and filtering vegetable oil can be found at


How do I go off grid with solar and wind?

We have been getting a lot of requests for information on how to conserve energy, how to go off grid, or even partially off grid with wind and solar. I recommend two things to help educate yourself. First you need to know how much energy you are using. Your monthly electric bill will show you a total kWh consumption, but for tracking individual items for daily consumption, you need a $20 device called a Kill-A-Watt. You plug an appliance into this, and it tells you how much energy you are using, now, and over time. This is important for planning and design purposes. The second item I recommend is Bill Kemp’s “The Renewable Energy Handbook”. One of the best resources for educating yourself on what renewable energy is all about and how to implement it. Another $20 well spent.

A good discussion group for all things off grid is the Simply Off Grid group at


Our Little World – The Climate Movie

A while back, we reported on a important little movie called “The Story of Stuff“. All about the process of manufacturing, use, and disposal of our “Stuff”.

Now another important work has come out called “Our Little World – The Climate Movie“. This is a must see, documenting where our products (and energy) come from, how far they travel, and the results of their manufacture. Do not miss these!

On a related note, here is one place all that “Stuff” goes when we are done with it, and sometimes before we get it:


Greywater Friendly Laundry Detergent

Our pick for biodegradable laundry detergent that is plant friendly for our greywater system is ECOS Free & Clear. 50 loads for under $10.

ECOS Free & Clear
Liquid Laundry Detergent

ECOS Free & Clear has the same load yields as our regular ECOS, but does not contain any essential oils for fragrance, nor does it contain any soy based fabric softener or cellulose optical brighteners. ECOS Free & Clear is for people with strong sensitivities to fragrance, fabric softeners, or cellulose optical brighteners. The Ph for ECOS Free & Clear is neutral. No coloring is added. Because natural ingredients are used color and consistency may vary. ECOS Free & Clear can be used in front loaders and high efficiency wash machines. ECOS Free & Clear can be used in grey water systems and is septic system safe.


Off Grid, Self Sufficient Humor

A good friend sent this to me this AM. Thought it fitting. Thanks, Beth:



Vegetable Oil: Transportation and Home Heating Fuel

This week we picked up a ’96 Diesel Chevy Suburban, and a large fuel oil furnace, both to be converted to run on used vegetable oil in the next few weeks. Keep checking back in to see our progress.

The furnace will have our Babington Burner installed, which allows the use of used vegetable and even motor oil. For environmental reasons, we use vegetable oil.

The Suburban will be converted to a two tank operation, with the vegetable oil tank heated with coolant. See our Wiki and Photo Album for more details.