Living Sustainably

Aquaponics | Rain Harvesting | Composting | Other Green Products

Archive for July, 2009

Ban The Bottled Water

water_bottleBottled water is healthy water — or so marketers would have us believe. Just look at the labels or the bottled water ads: deep, pristine pools of spring water; majestic alpine peaks; healthy, active people gulping down icy bottled water between biking in the park and a trip to the yoga studio. In reality, bottled water is just water. That fact isn’t stopping people from buying a lot of it. Estimates variously place worldwide bottled water sales at between $50 and $100 billion each year, with the market expanding at the startling annual rate of 7 percent. Bottled water is big business. But in terms of sustainability, bottled water is a dry well. It’s costly, wasteful, and distracts from the brass ring of public health: the construction and maintenance of safe municipal water systems. Want some solid reasons to kick the bottled water habit? We’ve rounded up five to get you started.

ecouseableSo what’s the solution? Stainless Steel water bottles, with integrated replaceable filters. comes to the rescue. Save money, and avoid the issues mentioned above. These are very sturdy bottles, and turn some pretty funky tasting water into water good to drink, and easy on the tastebuds. We are happy with ours.


Alternative Energy Discussion Groups

Where do you go to ask questions, and talk with others about renewable energy topics? We have a series of discussion groups on a variety of topics related to living off grid, solar energy, rain water harvesting, and more:

12VDC_Power – We’re here to discuss 12VDC alternative power systems for off-grid homes, whether off-grid by choice or necessity. We’ll talk about any type of generation — wind, solar, hydro or whatever. And, we’ll also discuss storage and distribution systems for 12 VDC. And, not to eliminate anyone, we’ll gladly talk about 24 and 48 volt DC systems too. Our planet is rapidly running out of fossil fuels, and the pollution from those is destroying our environment. It’s time to utilize renewable energy and that’s why our group is here.

AlRutanMethane – This is a working group dedicated to developing methane digesters. This work was started by Al Rutan, The Methane Man.

AxialFlux – This group is dedicated to the Axial Flux Permanent Magnet Alternator, as designed by Hugh Piggott, with additional development by Dan Fink and Dan Bartmann of Otherpower, Steve Spence of Green-Trust and Jim Juczak of Woodhenge. This alternator uses rotating magnets and a fixed stator with handwound 3 phase coils. This design is applicable to wind, water, engine, even human and animal power.

DIYSolar – Home of the DIY Solar Install Guide This is a support group for those who want to install their own solar power system. There is an ebook, “DIY Solar Install Guide”, found at The eBook tells how to install your own solar power system. Includes tips on siting the panels, battery maintenance, and sizing a system.

DIY_Propane_Gen – Discuss convert your gasoline generator to multifuel, propane, methane and gasoline. There is an ebook, “DIY Propane Conversion eBook”, found at

DIY_Generator – This is a working group for home built generators and battery chargers for off-grid applications. We discuss instrumentation, smart charging, inverters and battery banks, and other off-grid components. The results of this group has been distilled into an eBook.

DIYVeggieDiesel – This is a support group for those who want to convert their diesels to run on vegetable oil.

DIYElectricVehicles – Building and modifying vehicles for human power, electric assist, and solar power.

HPWD – The discussion of any type of equipment or transportation using human muscles, usually leg muscles with cranks and chains. This includes generators, mills, drills, presses, boats, planes, and land vehicles. If a human muscle powers it, it’s on topic.

LogHomeTalk – Over time we have become a small log home community, separated only by distance we have become friends. We share a common goal of wanting to live in a log home. We also share the joy and pain of reaching that goal.

RainWater – A group dedicated to harvesting rain water as our source of water for household and garden needs. Water collection, purification, and storage will be discussed. Cistern construction, water conservation, system sizing and other topics are welcomed. Photo, Diagrams, and instructional material can be found in the files and photo’s section. Members may list photo’s of their installations. Links to other helpful sites are found in the links section. Grey water recycling is most pertinent, as are any topics that promote water conservation and non-aquifer depletion water sources like distillation of dew or sea water.

Resource_Conservation – Discuss tips for conserving energy and resources, and using it more efficiently. Download the guide from the files section.

SimplyOffGrid – This is for people who want to live off grid, at the same time, want to keep it simple as possible. If you are like minded, then you are welcome to join! We are all here to help each other out and to learn from common experience and research. Please post your links and research here so we can all glean from it. Book reviews are great too! Please share your experience, links, research and any tried and true ideas with us!! We share ours!


Has Electric Transportation Arrived?

This is not a real magazine cover, but someday electric transportation, whether two wheeled or four, is bound to make the covers of mainstream media. Electric bikes for under $500 are widely available now, and 3 and 4 wheeled, 1 and 2 person conveyances, including cars and trucks are available for those with deeper pockets, in limited numbers. The E-Zip shown is ours, and is charged by the solar panels shown. No fossil fuels necessary.


Building Soils for Better Crops, Organically

I borrowed a book from Melvin Martin the other day on soil quality. Now we have been gardening organically for a number of years, and using mulch and compost, but the book he lent me, “Building Soils for Better Crops”, does a great job of explaining the different types of soils, the critters found in them (beneficial and otherwise), the needs of the various soils and plants, and how to make exceptional growing soils. We give this one 5 stars, and have added it to our permanent collection. Not Melvin’s copy, we returned that one 😉


Building a solar array at

Last year we helped Jim Juczak and Scott Gilbert (Missionary to Tuva) build a solar array from some high voltage used panels Jim had gotten in a deal. They worked out really well, using a Outback MPPT controller. Here are our pictures of the build we did.


Conversations With Homeless Campers, Living in the National Forest

I have joked with friends on several occasions about I could soon end up living in a tent in the national forest. This still may happen. However, I egotistically assumed that my solution to economic catastrophe was an original idea. It wasn’t. I will have the company of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of other Americans.

On the way back from seeing the bears, I picked wild raspberries and blueberries. Once at the campsite, I roasted some sweet potatoes in hot coals. My dogs don’t like fruit, but they love sweet potatoes. After doing some reading in a book written by James Adair in 1776, it was time to do some more hiking.

Oh, and forget the image of a pristine park-like campground. We were in a area so remote, that rangers seldom even patrol it. The campsites are natural meadows beside a trout stream, that generations of campers have kept bare by the constant trampling of feet. The road was nothing more than a sandy trail. Fortunately, there is no clay on the tops of mountains here.

We took an even narrower trail to an even more remote area of hemlock groves. There I was shocked to come upon a camp site with a 20 year old car displaying a two year old Maryland tag, a tiny pup tent, a small vegetable garden and clothes hanging on a rope line. Oh, I bet they didn’t have auto insurance either. How dare they be so irreverent of the god, Commerce!

I was equally shocked when the young couple informed me that they had living here for a year and a half. They pleaded with me not to tell the rangers, since the rules are that you can only stay at the same location for two weeks. He had been in construction. She had been a public kindergarten teacher. Both had lost their jobs, and had moved to Georgia Mountains, where they assumed the winters were milder. They had been rudely surprised that the mountain temperatures were colder than Annapolis, where they lived before. Keep in mind, that they were in a small PUP TENT, where at that altitude, the ground was covered in snow for much of the winter. I don’t really see how they survived. They both were city folks, not a rugged Creek Indian like me, who had spent as much time as possible in the woods as soon as I could walk – and had grown my own food on a mountain farm for 17 years.


10 Easy Ways to Save on Energy at Home

These days, it’s more of a win-win than ever to save on energy. Every time you lower your utility bills, you put more money back in your bank account. And lower energy bills also means less energy consumed, which means less harmful emissions released into our environment. And what makes this an even better deal is you don’t have to overhaul your home (or buy a new one) to make it more energy efficient. There are many easy, effective things that you can do, with little investment and little or no DIY experience, to save energy at home. Here’s a list of 10 ideas to get you started.

1. Minimize Phantom Loads
2. Use More Energy-efficient Appliances
3. Change Your Light Bulbs
4. Install a Programmable Thermostat
5. Use Fans for Cooling
6. Seal Air Leaks
7. Make Windows More Efficient
8. Improve Insulation
9. Conserve Water
10. Plant Trees and Shrubs

Details at


Decoding Food Ingredients

Ever feel like you’re trying to decipher a foreign language when you look at the long list of ingredients printed on a package? Here, we break down common mystery ingredients — some harmless, some worrisome and some downright alarming.


DIY Solar and Wind

There are many scams on the internet promising to show you how to build your own solar and wind systems for $200 or less, that will get you “off the grid”. This is impossible of course, because the typical American home uses 1000 kWh / month or more, and their “system” can only produce 30 kWh or less per month, something the scams don’t mention in their pretty ads. A conserving home might use 300 kWh / month, and this is more in line with what a home made system can deliver. We have found a set of DIY documentation that actually will show you how to build your own solar panels, small wind turbines, and construct a complete system, while teaching you the basics needed to understand how that system works.


At Home In The Woods

Machel Piper and Febe Dancier’s 5-acre parcel of property in Winter, Wisc. includes the cob house, two storage buildings, a well, paths and gardens. Although the friends still purchase many of their goods from stores, they hope to become more self sufficient on their property.

Two women’s quest to get quite literally back to nature created a home a hobbit — but not all the neighbors — could love.