10 December 2011

Shading the house for summer

The arrival of summer means time to roll out the window shades all around the house. Three stay up all year, one is stored away, and another is rolled up and tied on the roof through cooler weather.

east corner

west corner

We installed three new shades this year, as necessary pruning in the front yard had left some of our northeast windows too exposed to morning sun. The most significant of these is a shadecloth wrapping the exposed east corner of the house. We can't quite believe how much cooler the whole house is for reducing the morning sun on this east corner.

We also put a large plant outside the piece of southwest wall that is the head of Eva's bed, to cut the baking sun and try and keep her bedroom a little cooler. The plant doesn't like all that sun so we may need to reconsider how we shade that spot through summer.

Initial Time: Installing the threenew shades took about two hours. Rolling out or reinstalling last year's shades took about twenty minutes.

Initial Cost: Tyson spent about $20 on more shadecloth, timber and shade cloth clips.

Ongoing time or cost commitment: Nothing to do until we roll them up again in late April, except for the two smaller ones that blow in the wind and sometimes need to be pulled back off the roof.

Impact: So far no hot days have required the airconditioner, except for one when we were all sick and normal cooling was not enough. The office, now in the east corner of the house following a room shuffle, hasn't even needed a fan yet.

Past blog entries about shading can be found in December 2010 and December 2009. Note that the tarpaulin shown in the 2010 entry tore in half in strong wind as air couldn't escape through it, so we now only use permeable shade cloth to maintain air movement. We've had a couple of questions about how we fasten the shade cloths, so below are a series of photos to illustrate the detail of the operation.


timber on the first shade we put up is starting to weather after four years

12 November 2011

Rethinking water

Over the past few months I have noticed that my thinking about water has been shifting. We've implemented lots of water-saving steps over the past three years (see here, here, here, here, here, here or here) but my thought patterns are only just catching up.

Three things are new:
(1) I am almost always conscious when I am using water. This may sound obvious, but how often do you turn on a tap without really noticing that water, our precious resource, is being used?

(2) When approaching a task that requires water, I find myself first considering whether it needs 'first' water or can use 'second' or even 'third' water. For example:

Drinking and cooking - first water, every time.
Showers - first
Garden - second (third if it hasn't had chemicals in it)
Rinsing items for the recycling - third
Handwashing delicate items - first
Soaking nappies - second
Flushing toilets - third 
Teeth - first
Hand washing - first or second

(3) Before I allow water to go somewhere it can't be reused (down the drain, into the garden) I do a mental check of whether it can be caught and, if so, whether it could be used again if it was.

I find there are still jobs that probably don't need the very cleanest water that I haven't adjusted to using recycled water for. Mopping floors is one - the water is dirty after the first swipe of the mop, but I still struggle to start with water from, say, the washing machine.
Here are some examples of how water might get used multiple times in our house:

first: shower
second: toilet

first: handwashing clothes
second: soaking nappies (just water, no chemicals)
third: garden

first: rinsing vegetables
second: bowl in the sink for dipping sticky fingers in
third: rinse out something for the recycling

The photo above is a hand-washed item dripping into seedling trays.

We've started capturing washing machine water again to keep up with the demand for recycled water - some days we were running out and having to use water straight from the tap for 'second water' tasks!

Initial Time:You cannot change your habitual thought patterns quickly. I think 2-3 years of small water-saving changes were necessary for this subconscious thinking shift to take place.

Initial Cost: Zero (unless you need to buy buckets)

Ongoing time or cost commitment:This depends on the task, but usually if I analyse it there is an equivalent time in the task if the water is coming from the tap. For example, decanting water from buckets into a watering can and watering our pots and planters took me about 15 minutes today, so I initially thought 'yes, it adds time', but waiting for the can to fill from the tap takes about the same amount of time.

There is an ongoing cost saving as water usage is reduced - especially where it is hot water, as I have discussed before.

Impact: Based on how much water is waiting in buckets right now and what I've already used this morning, I estimate we will use about 100L of recycled water today. We recycle less in winter as we don't need to water the garden. Assuming we use half this much recycled water for half the year, we are saving/ recycling around 27,000 L of water in a year. 

Finally a pic for the person who asked Tyson how exactly we capture water in the shower.

27 October 2011

No buy no waste toddler activities

Eva had a birthday in September (TWO! Unbelievable) and received lovingly purchased gifts, most of which were toys. Our family members and friends have taken seriously that we don’t want a house full of plastic and the gifts were sensitively selected with minimal packaging. Still, it got me thinking about how much stuff we buy and/or throw away to entertain little people. I am trying wherever possible to find ways to entertain and educate Eva with minimal or no purchase or disposal of stuff. Here are five ideas that have worked for us:

1.   Found Object Cubby Houses
I’m told by my mum that the purple rug has been with our family for over thirty years. Although it retired from active service as a bed cover many years back, it is a much cherished picnic blanket and cubby roof.
She is writing on the butt-end of a used-up notepad – apparently not to be thrown away until all clear surfaces have something added!
The washing machine box cubby is also good for recurring painting activities. Thus far I have not bought paint or brushes, on account of hoarding from past purchases when I was involved in work with teenagers and uni students, but I concede that paint & brushes are not strictly ‘no buy’ items. (Thanks to my sister for bringing her washing machine box across town for us to use – the box from the compost tumbler got left in the rain and collapsed)

2.   Lids and Buckets

It took about a month of putting aside plastic lids from juice and milk bottles to get this collection. Initially I intended to punch holes in them to make a threading game, and I have two old shoelaces (washed!) ready for this purpose if I get to making holes.

Or they were intended as a sorting game.

But on account of temporarily storing them in a plastic jug, they have become primarily used for making cuppas. The buckets (from honey) are the mugs. If I’m very lucky Eva will make me a cappuccino.

3.   Olive tin drums
These were just too good to pass by when our local continental store had a pile out to take for free. 

These drum sticks are lovely smooth polished cross pieces from a chair that broke, although good strong sticks from our eucalyptus are equally popular. I’m sure our neighbours regret the day we found these – they are strictly an outside toy! They also make quite good side tables for balancing drinks and food when we eat outside.

4.   Water painting on the fence

Water painting is the ultimate no-waste activity, as the pictures dry away and the surface can be reused over and over and over. Honey buckets again – what wonderful useful things!


5.   Stones, dirt, a bucket of water, a rag

Eva can entertain herself independently for sometimes over an hour with this activity. Stones get dug into the (empty) pot-plant, dug out again, washed, dried, made into piles, wrapped in parcels, thrown to the ‘ducklings’ that she assures me populate our courtyard. And they make a thoroughly satisfying ‘sploosh’ when dropped into water from any height. These nice smooth white stones are left over from an activity I ran ages ago, for which I purchased them, but stones found in the garden would be just as good if a handy hoard like this was not stored in my cupboard.
I try to encourage left-over water from both the last two activities to always go into a pot-plant so it gets used twice, and to limit how many times Eva is permitted to refill her container, so that she learns not to just tip it out.

Initial Time: Cubbies usually take abut ten minutes to set up (not counting painting the washing machine box, which has been an activity in itself); Lids took about a month to save a decent collection, but only involved having a container by the sink to drop them in instead of into the recycling bin; everything else was the same time as it would take to get a shop-purchased toy or activity off the shelf.

Initial Cost: Zero

Ongoing time or cost commitment: Zero for these items. My commitment to no buy no waste activities in general may at times require a little extra creative thinking and set-up time but I think no more than might be spent wandering shops looking for things to buy.

Impact: I can’t quantify this in any meaningful way (except for one washing machine box, about ten honey buckets and fifty or so plastic lids not going into the recycling) but I think it has a significant qualitative impact. Firstly, Eva is learning to be resourceful about play, and that things can have many uses after their first one is finished. I’ve also had adults visiting our house say ‘what a good idea!’ about some of the no buy no waste things we have tried, so I am hopeful that we are inspiring others to also have a go at creatively using what they have rather than throwing it away or buying something else.  A teacher friend remarked that it was good to see someone else eying the recycling bin as treasure rather than trash, as she uses all manner of ‘waste’ items in her classroom (and her husband I think is still a bit taken aback at what she collects up as ‘teaching resources’ – anyone have any of those spindles that bulk discs come on? She is a few short...) 

The impact is about shifting how I and Eva and hopefully others see things.