12 December 2010

18 months on - progress report

I started writing this post in May, and just found it now in my saved drafts. Oops! I have updated and completed it, and here it is. Now titled '18 months on...' but initially '12 months on, as reflected in the intro.


Twelve months on feels like time to check how things are going. Did we keep up our commitments? How have they worked out for us? Are we going on with the project?

Weather sealing the front door - Yep, less drafty. My only comment is that it makes the door a bit harder to shut - if its not locked it sometimes swings back open.

Pipe insulation - It would be good to insulate the rest of the pipes but they appear to be unreachable. The insulation doesn't seem to be sustaining weather damage or coming away from the pipes.

Laundry & Dishwasher Powder - Right after we agreed to do this I accidentally bought a whole lot of regular laundry powder super cheap, and we had only recently purchased regular dishwasher powder, so we took a couple of months to work our way through that. The eco-friendly stuff seems to give an equally good clean.We buy either Earthchoice or Aware laundry powder and it is on special often enough that I don't have to pay the shelf price as quoted in my initial blog very often.

Hot Water Temperature - Cold weather came and went and our showers were still plenty warm enough in the morning.

Getting rid of 'standby' - It took a little while to get into the habit of switching the whole system off, but now it is second nature. The only drawback is that if we want to leave one thing plugged in, like a mobile phone charging overnight or a fan to speed up drying nappies in rainy weather, we have to leave the whole computer system on standby as there is only one power outlet in the office.

Shade Cloth on east wall - We considered rolling it up for winter, as the office got very cold  even during the day, but there is no direct sun on that wall in winter anyway, so we didn't bother. We wore ugg-boots and jumpers, wrapped blankets round our legs (well, I did - Tyson I think sees that as too much like a granny thing) and referred to the office as 'the icebox' for a couple of months. I seem to recall it was pretty cold in there the previous year too, so I'm not sure it was because of the shade cloth. Now its summer again and shade cloth is my friend.

Grey Water - All summer we carted buckets of water from the washing machine and showers to keep the garden alive. We didn't turn on a hose for the garden at all! When the rain started I didn't know what to do. It felt so wasteful to let the water go down the drain, but the garden didn't need it. We used the shower buckets to flush the toilet again for winter, but the washing machine had to just drain away. This summer we have enough water for the garden from showers and Eva's bath, as she is in the big bath now. Also, the buckets from the washing machine got quite grimey with soap scum and I haven't been that keen to return to using laundry water if we don't need to. Perhaps in the hottest months we will do it again. Tyson captured some laundry water last week when he needed to do five loads of washing in one day.
Irrigation - The system has been revamped for the new garden and works better than ever. As an added bonus, Eva loves the routine of carrying buckets outside and watching the water come around the garden. She has dug herself a lake under two spouters and watches it fill up and drain away every morning.

Heat Barrier Curtain -Still there, still working, no trouble at all.

Compost - Our tubs weren't working so well, and we got rats (which ATE OUR PUMPKINS!!! I can't tell you how cross I was, especially as I saw the last one get taken in front of me). Next we tried a pile in the garden, wrapped in plastic and hemmed in by bricks. We still got mice. Eventually we bought a compost tumbler. Tyson wanted one with a handle that goes round and round rather than end over end, but they are ludicrously expensive (about $800!!) and his friend who runs a hardware store assured him they rust out quickly. End-over-end can get quite heavy and awkward to turn, but so far not unmanageable. The only flaw in the system now is that we tend to be lazy about taking the scraps outside, and once the inside bucket is full I think organic matter does end up in the regular bin sometimes. 

Cloth Nappies - We are still using cloth. In the past year we have used about two packs of disposables (total 60 nappies?) plus a few disposable swimmer nappies. The system of cloth wipes only lasted about 6 months, though. I always felt like I was spilling water around the place, and the cloths seemed kind of scratchy for a little bum. At first I meant to replace them with softer fabric, but now I have admitted to myself that I am never going to do that, as disposable wipes are too convenient. But the cloth nappies... I am happy to recommend the brand we use (see original post) as we have had only one wet bed (and that was our fault for not getting the nappy cover on properly) and a handful of leaks of any kind.We had to buy more covers a few months back as the first lot were getting a bit small and their elastic was wearing out, and we will have to buy another round of covers before Eva is through with nappies, but the nappies themselves are lasting brilliantly.

Lighting - Still in place. No globes have needed replacement yet. I forget  they are anything but plain ordinary globes.

The Conversation -Its been a while since we revisited our commitment to living sustainably. But then, I think it has become embedded in our lifestyle, which was initially our hope in taking up the monthly challenge. We still like the idea but have trouble finding time to implement it every month. Its an ongoing but sporadic conversation now.

Now its December...

So as you can see, I have not been the least bit successful at keeping up with this blog. I have to confess that as we headed into the second year of our sustainability commitment we also began slipping away from doing something every month. Having said that, though, we are still averaging one thing a month and not naming it as part of the original commitment.

Things we have done this year since May:

Garden make-over. This involved help from about ten friends, bless them, especially the guys who forked a whole trailer load of woodchips in and then out of the trailer, and around the garden. The garden make-over was to reduce the water needed for the garden (and also to reduce the number of spidery corners as our little girl began to get mobile) and also, we hoped, to improve our vegetable returns. We installed a raised garden bed and Tyson reworked the gravity-feed irrigation system to service it. Most of the front courtyard was woodchipped to get rid of grass areas, and the remaining woodchips were used to mulch every pot and garden bed around the house. Initial time: one full working day with an average of five workers at a time, plus another day with two of us finishing things off. Initial cost: about $300 for sheets of corrugated iron and a few sturdy posts (all from the salvage yard), two trailers of good quality soil, and a donation for the woodchips that we collected from the front lawn of a church that needed to get rid of a large fallen tree. Ongoing cost: various bits and pieces, but no more or less that for any other garden - well, perhaps less, as vegetable seeds cost less than, say, pots of orchids, and the most successful vegies have been the ones grown from seed either harvested at the end of season or accidentally sown through the compost. Ongoing time: Less than for most gardens, as the woodchips stop most weeds and there is no longer grass to mow. Impact: Sorry, I just can't calculate that one. But I know that the new garden makes me happy, and I spent much of winter just enjoying looking at it out our windows.

Rugs and Carpets. Our living space is tiled, which in winter means it can get quite cold, but in summer it is lovely. This year we acquired two more floor-covering pieces for winter, making five rugs on the floor in winter. One was a second-hand piece from a nearby carpet store, which Tyson trimmed and turned around to fit under our dining table and chairs. The other was from his parents as they were replacing a large rug at their house. For summer we have lifted three of the pieces, leaving soft coverings only at the areas where Eva's toys are kept, so that she has some softer play space. Initial cost: zero (except maybe the $5 for a roll of duct tape for reshaping carpet pieces into the floor piece we needed. We didn't use the whole roll, of course) Initial time: about 15 minutes going through carpet off-cuts to find a decent piece; about 30 minutes for Tyson to work the carpet into a good shape. The rug given to us was no time at all! Ongoing time and cost commitment: about 5 minutes at the change of seasons to pull up and store or lay down again the rugs. Storing a couple of large rolled carpets through summer is also a bit of a space-taker. Impact: Its hard to prove whether we turned the heater on less in winter once the carpets were down, but I suspect we did, as my feet didn't feel cold when working on the laptop at the dining table. As for summer... Eva sometimes lies down on the nice cool tiles when it is hot but so far I have not got hot enough to shake off my social conditioning that says adults probably shouldn't be found lying on their kitchen floor.

Bamboo blinds for the back window.  We were given a couple of bamboo blinds so Tyson rigged one up on the back toilet window. This room gets the afternoon sun and absolutely bakes in summer. The blind fits perfectly and makes an amazing difference! Initial cost: zero, as the blind was a throw-away. Initial time: about 15 minutes to attach the blind - hooked into the small screen/vent at the top of the window with hooks Tyson made for the job. Ongoing time and cost: zero. Perhaps in winter we will decide to take 5 minutes and roll the blind up again at the start of the season. Impact: We never heated or cooled the toilet, but it was a very hot buffer between outside and inside temperatures. As it is now substantially cooler, the inside temperature is not pressured nearly as much from this side. Its also much MUCH nicer in there on a hot day - which, although it is not the toilet we mostly use ourselves, is a huge improvement as it is the room where nappies get dealt with.

Making Eva's Christmas present out of items salvaged from hard rubbish. The items: two dolls' houses. Tyson is in the process of renovating them, pulling bits off one to make the other perfect. So far everything he has done has used recycled materials from around our home, except for the rewiring of the lights. Initial cost: I think Tyson spent about $30 on wiring and little LED lights. He tells me he is working on a plan to put a solar panel on the roof and run the house lights that way. I'm not sure how serious he is. Initial time: Lets just say this is a labour of love for Tyson and he has spent many happy hours in the shed pottering about creating the perfect recycled dolls house. Ongoing time/ cost: hopefully zero, but probably a few repairs along the way. Impact: most of two dolls houses saved from landfill; numerous bits and pieces of household 'waste' saved from landfill (did you know a plastic honey sachet makes a great sink?); all of us saved from buying more stuff for Christmas for this one time, a tiny ripple against the great tsunami of Christmas consumption.

Shed vent. The shed is a tiny tiny place, from which Tyson has to unpack several items in order to have space for himself to get inside if he wants to use it as a work space. It is also extremely hot and humid, as it was built with no windows, vents, or openings other than the door. Tyson bought a vent and installed it so that hot air could escape into the roof space above the ceiling and thus through the tiles. I don't go into the shed except to reach in and get a broom or snail bait, but even those brief forays were unpleasant pre-vent. Tyson says the vent has totally transformed the place into a viable workspace. (For the record, no we didn't ask permission from the landlord. I'm sure he would have said yes - eventually. Everything takes forever on that front. We figure we've made an improvement, at our cost, so if he even notices the vent he surely can't complain). Initial cost: bout $15 for the vent. Initial time: I'm starting to forget details, but I think cutting a piece of ceiling out and fitting the vent into the space took about half an hour. Tyson is pretty handy. It would probably have taken me at least twice that long. Ongoing time/ cost: zero. Impact: we didn't heat or cool the shed, partly because there is no power point in there (you gotta love investment builders ... don't put anything in past the bare minimum specs if you won't be living there yourself!) but Tyson doesn't come inside wilting and need cooling down like he used to. Also I think it counts as a sustainable action to improve quality of living without increasing energy usage or global impact.

Better compost system. We decided to put some of the money left to us after Tyson's beloved grandmother died towards buying a decent (read: completely sealable) compost system. It works. It also seems to breed tomatoes, capsicums and pumpkins effortlessly. Initial cost: $200. Initial time: about an hour to assemble the tumbler, transfer the existing compost pile into it, and get the new tumbler settled into its garden home. Ongoing cost/ time: five minutes a day to put the scraps from the kitchen into the tumbler and give it a spin. Impact: great soil! and self-sown vegies. I don't think we will need to buy potting mix for a while. Also of course we are saving all that organic matter going into landfill.

Tarpaulin shading the northwest wall. In summer this wall soaks up heat in the afternoon, and transfers it pretty quickly through into the living area. Our clothesline is there, and last summer I had tried making sure there was washing on the line on hot days to provide some shading, but this was not really enough. This week Tyson has rigged up a tarpaulin to cover about half of the courtyard on that side of the house, shading much of the wall - and also a decent chunk of the shed. It is hooked into the gutters with metal hooks, and tensioned with shock cord (left over from earlier exercises in shading windows). So far we think it is helping reduce house temperatures. We haven't had a real heat wave to trial it on yet. Much of the clothesline is shaded now, but only the nappies really need direct sun and they can either go on the sunny bit or go on a free-standing drying rack out in the hot bit of the courtyard. Initial cost: zero (the tarpaulin was given to us by a neighbour who was getting rid of it; the shock cord was left-overs) Initial time: about half an hour. Ongoing time/ cost: this one will need to be taken down in heavy weather, as it blows around a bit. Its also quite noisy, so Tyson is thinking of ways to soften the scratchy noise of the hooks in the gutters. Even if it doesn't come down in heavy weather, it will need to come down at the end of summer.Impact: Reduced need for airconditioning in summer. Possibly also longer life for clothes that don't appreciate drying in direct Perth summer sun!

Front blinds. It took us ages but we finally found a spot suitable for the second of our donated bamboo blinds - a larger one. I was hesitant to allow Tyson to put the blind on the front living area window, as I love sitting in the lounge looking out at our front garden - especially since it got remade at the start of winter. However, we tested it out and to my amazement you can see right through bamboo blinds, much like a fly screen but not so grey! I'm sure everyone else in the world already knew this, but it was news to me. The blind is hooked into the gutter - no permanent fixtures. It can be retracted with a draw-cord, but so far we haven't bothered. Initial cost: zero (blinds were a cast-off gift). Initial time: about 15 minutes to put the blind up. Ongoing time/ cost: need for removal at start and end of season, and probably during heavy weather as they are loosely attached to the guttering. Its the lee side of the building, though, so not too punished by weather. Impact: I can have the inside venetian blinds open in summer without heating up the house dramatically - which is extremely good for my mental state when I am home all day with Eva on a hot day. I know shutting the blinds is good sustainability sense, but I get tetchy living in a cave. Somehow the sun still sneaks in the side of the blind until about 9am (later when its not the middle of summer), so the venetians are still shut then. Overall it seems this is making the room much cooler, hence less airconditioning. And the not-cave effect makes me happier about living in a shaded house.

Tyson's work. In October Tyson passed his 100th home sustainability assessment. That's something like 200 hours spent one-on-one educating people in their own homes about ways to reduce their impact. If everyone he visited reduced their energy bills by one unit per day (not an unreasonably estimate as an average) he would have taken about 21.5 tonnes of carbon out of the air (as of today). We heard yesterday of a family of four who he visited about six months ago who have since installed solar panels and made lifestyle changes so that their last energy bill was $1.05!