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Getting By With Less, The Sequel: Even More Good Ideas For Off-The-Grid Energy And Resource Preservation

As wise heads have often observed, the simplest things in life are the best.

This is one of those timeless truths that applies to just about everything connected to homesteading, including energy and resource preservation. Despite the fact that some try to portray the off-the-grid lifestyle as a flirtation with radical-ness, in reality it is the more conventional way of living that represents a radical departure from traditional wisdom and common sense, including the idea that the simplest things are the best. Because they are in touch with everything sensible, logical, and practical, off-the-gridders are always looking for ways to save energy and conserve resources, and when they discover methods for getting by with less that only require an easy adjustment of habits or a small investment of hard-earned money, they are usually ready to jump in feet first.

In the previous article, we looked at several different inexpensive and convenient ideas that could help homeowners save energy and preserve valuable resources. One simple article could never do justice to the cause of energy- and resource-use-efficiency, however, which is why we need to delve into this topic a little further before we call it a day.

So without further adieu, here are a few more bank-account-friendly suggestions on how to get by with less, for those who are living off-the-grid in spirit as well as in reality.

Lighting Your Home without Lightening Your Wallet

The two most basic principles of home lighting efficiency are already well known to dedicated energy savers: make use of natural light, and replace your incandescent bulbs with CFLs or LEDs. But there are more things you can do to fully exploit available light sources than just changing a few bulbs and putting in extra windows or skylights, and if you put all of these recommendations into practice, you should have no trouble shaving a few percentage points off of your overall rate of electricity expenditure.

  • Everyone knows about CFLs and LEDs these days, and hopefully most off-the-gridders have made the move to the latter in particular. But when people ditch their old obsolete incandescents, they have a tendency to choose new bulbs that match the illumination levels of the old ones. But what you should do instead is push the envelope downward; go with something that gives you less illumination— the minimum you can stand or that will allow you to see whatever it is you need to see. Most people go with bulbs that are brighter than they really need in just about every room, and if this includes you, the time has never been better than right now to break this out of this energy-wasting pattern of behavior.
  • Task lighting should be used in place of general illumination wherever possible. Do you really need the whole kitchen lit up when you are preparing something on the stove, or the entire living room to be brightened when you are curled up on the couch with a good book? Task lighting that will shine directly into the areas where you need light the most is the energy-efficient way to go, and there are a multitude of inexpensive options available depending on the amount of light you need and the exact purpose for which it will be used.
  • Try alternative types of low-power lighting wherever they might be appropriate. Battery-powered book lights, camping lanterns, and even good old-fashioned candles can work just fine in instances where you need some light but not a whole heckuva lot. Energy-saving light sources can not only get the job done just fine in a lot of cases, but they also tend to add a little atmosphere to the rooms they occupy.
  • A wicked queen once asked: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?” We are not sure about the answer to this question, but we do know this – mirrors placed strategically on the walls or even on the ceiling of a home can do an superb job of reflecting natural light from windows or artificial light from lamps or fixtures and bouncing it into unlit corners and other shadowed areas. Generally mirrors placed on walls opposite windows or directly behind lamps do the best job of scattering light throughout a room, but probably your best idea would be to experiment with various mirror arrangements to see what works well for you. Mirrors in the rooms of your home will allow you to exploit the illuminatory potential of your natural and artificial light sources to the nth degree, which is probably why Snow White ordered her prince to install at least a dozen mirrors in each room of his castle before she would agree to move in.
  • Dimmer switches and transparent light globes are nice additions to your lighting system because they will allow you to choose exactly the amount of illumination you need without wasting one bit of electricity. Without the former, rooms will often be too bright, while more opaque globes or fixtures will force you to buy stronger bulbs than you really need in order to make up for the light that is being shaded out.
  • It goes without saying that lights should be turned out whenever a room is unoccupied. People have a tendency to forget, however, and it can be difficult to change the habits of everyone in the household. One excellent way to change behavior is to institute a system of fines that penalize everyone for each violation. Anytime someone leaves a room without turning out the lights, and the transgression is discovered by another member of the family, the guilty party will have to drop fifty cents into a special piggy bank strictly reserved for collecting light-related fines. If you try something like this, you will be surprised at how quickly even the most habitual light-wasters will change their power-squandering ways.

Harness the power of the sun for your energy needs…

Don’t Let Your Water Run Down the Drain

Saving water can be every bit as imperative for off-the-gridders and their fellow travelers as conserving energy, especially for those of you who are living in arid environments. And if you happen to live in an area that suffers seasonal droughts – as most locations in the U.S. do – water can suddenly become a scarce and precious resource in a very short period of time, which is why saving water at any time of year can be a wise precaution no matter where you happen to reside.

  • The sky is one of the best sources of free water that we could ever hope to find. A system to capture rainwater is incredibly easy to set up – you only need gutters for your roof and some large barrels to collect the runoff, and before you know it, you will have an easy and convenient source of water that can be used to irrigate gardens, wash floors, windows, or walls, flush toilets, take baths, or even wash hair. If you are willing to shell out a little more to invest in a filtering and purification system, you could possibly use rainwater for drinking as well.
  • Low-flow showerheads are not costly, but they can cut down on the amount of water you use when you shower each day by a good bit. You should also use a timer to make sure you don’t stay in the shower any longer than five minutes, and if you collect the water in pails it can be used for the same sorts of things that rainwater would be used for (with the exception of garden irrigation, as any soap remaining in the water could damage sensitive plants). And unless you are planning to use rainwater, you should always take showers instead of baths, which can cut your water consumption down by two-thirds.
  • Instead of turning the faucet on and letting the water run continuously, you should use plastic bowls or pails in your sink when you wash dishes. One bowl filled with soapy water for washing and another with clean water for rinsing works great. Just in general, when you are washing anything from cars to boats to dishes to windows, you should use water in buckets, bowls, or barrels rather than just turning on a hose or a faucet.
  • If you are planning to remodel your bathroom or are in the processing of building a new home, compost toilets can be a great alternative to the normal flush units. Not only will they help you cut down on your water consumption a good deal, but they will also produce a nice, steady supply of good rich fertilizer for your garden. High-quality compost toilets can indeed be installed indoors in bathrooms as replacements for conventional flush toilets, but if you don’t feel comfortable with that, you could always put one in your garage, in the basement, or inside an old-fashioned outhouse for use during the warmer months. These units are not cheap, but if you need a new toilet no matter what, this is an option you really should consider.

Thinking Outside The Box

Ultimately, the most powerful weapon you have in the fight against energy and resource misuse is your own creativity. When you let that tiger loose from his cage, the sky really is the limit, and the chances are that you will be able to come up with all kinds of neat and interesting ideas on how you can get by with less.

To give you an idea of what we are talking about, here are three suggestions that can spur your imagination and help get you started:

  • During wintertime, it may be possible to shut your refrigerator/freezer down altogether (if you live in a cold enough climate, of course). Garages or other out-buildings could provide just the right temperatures for effective refrigeration, and if you have an old freezer or refrigerator that you could place in a spot where it would be protected from direct sunlight, you might be able to keep your frozen foods outdoors for at least a part of the year.
  • When the weather is warm, why not encourage your kids to spend their nights outside camping in a tent or sleeping in a tree house, where they would have no access to or need for electric power? And we are not suggesting they do this occasionally, but on a regular basis. The chances are they would love the experience and the challenge, and it could be a real adventure for them at the same time it is real electricity saver for you. Of course, you and your significant other could always make it a family affair and join them at least some of the time – if you are a dedicated off-the-gridder, a few nights a month spent roughing it in the great outdoors shouldn’t be too intimidating.
  • In wartime, it is common for nations that are short on resources to ration various critical commodities, including electricity. When this happened in the U.S. during World War II, rather than being resentful, patriotic citizens were more than happy to cooperate, and they learned how to get by with less because it was the smart thing to do and the right thing to do. Since you are busy trying to instill a similar attitude about doing what is best for everyone on your homestead, why not try some rationing schemes of your own to help really drive home the point about the importance of using resources wisely and intelligently? If you were to set aside ten hours a week when no one would be allowed to use any electricity, for example, and another ten where the water supplies would be completely shut off, and maybe include one or two days a week where no one would be allowed to drive or be driven anywhere, you could change your family dynamics in ways that would have lasting benefits well beyond what you would save in energy and resources. Everyone in your family would eventually learn to adjust their habits so that everything that needed to get done would get finished ahead of time, and no one would actually be deprived of anything they really needed to live a healthy, interesting, and productive life.

A Penny, Kilowatt, Or Gallon Saved Is A Penny, Kilowatt, Or Gallon Earned

For the most part, the types of suggestions contained in the “Getting By With Less” series probably seem like they are hardly worth the trouble. After all, most of them would likely only save you a few nickels worth of energy here or a few dimes worth of resources there. But here is the thing about all those nickels and dimes – they have a tendency to add up to real money a lot more quickly than you would have imagined was possible. Rather than taking them piece by piece, if you look at all these suggestions as integral aspects of a comprehensive program designed to help you take constructive action wherever possibilities present themselves, then and only then will you see the vast potential for savings that these ideas taken as a whole represent.

The simplest things in life are most certainly the best, and if you take that aphorism to heart, you and your family will soon find yourselves living in a way that is easy, convenient, inexpensive, and immensely satisfying.

©2012 Off the Grid News

© Copyright Off The Grid News

18 comments

  1. great ideas. Be aware composting toilets are great but do not use the compost in veggie gardens. It can be used around shrubs, flowers and trees.

    • I suggest reading The Humanure Handbook. It will teach you how it is possible to use composted human manure in your veggie garden. It is a great book.

  2. It is hard to adapt many of the ideas here as I am a renter. Many can be adapted tho. I bring in my outside solar lighting and place the solar panels near windows and the lights cast a great nightlight glow. The batteries last longer… they do not last as long outside in the cold weather. I am lucky to have year-round sunlight in some windows. thanks

  3. Watch out for putting your refridgerator in a cool place and then expecting the freezer part to work. It won’t because the refridgerator will not go on and the freezer will not go on either. I use a separate freezer and a small refridgerator with out a freezing compartment so my food is safe and the frozen stays frozen in the cool times. Keeping frozen food in the snow did not work because the snow acted like an insulator. I keep bottles of frozen water in the freezer when there is space and it makes the freezer more efficient.
    I agree with task lighting – I just want where I am to be bright as the winters are so grey where I live in northern Michigan. I need light in the winter.

    • You are right! I lost some meat that way, luckily only a couple pounds of old stuff that should have been thrown out anyway! If ambient temp is lower than refrigerator setting (usually about 40) but above 32, frozen food will eventually thaw. If you must use a refrigerator in this scenario, put a small light bulb, 20 watt or so inside the fridge, to force it to turn on once in a while. Seems counter productive from an energy saving standpoint, but the cost is cheap compared to the loss of a freezer full of valuable food.

  4. As for using the toilet compost, I have read that if you leave that compost site alone for 2 years then it is safe to use on a food garden, so I am planning on having a heap and a sign, then starting another heap and a sign, after the first heap is 2+ years old, etc. Luckily I have probably enough property to do several heaps and I figure when the SHTF my neighbors won’t complain. Also I have been considering the sawdust compost toilet, since there won’t be any/much electricity. Just my humble opinion.

  5. It is not a good idea to recommend LED lights as they are not a healthy alternative to incandescents. I would suggest correcting this mistake by publishing a retraction of that segment.

  6. I think this article needed more research.
    Last time I went looking a lot of states and/or counties had bans on composting toilets. Some were backed up with fines and jail time. Anyone bother to research this?
    Same thing applies to collecting rainwater. My state had laws that made it an arrestable offense and upon
    conviction could have meant time in prison, hefty fine and/or lengthening of sentence, plus a record that meant
    laws prohibiting a convicted felon from doing or possessing A, B, C, etc, etc. You, I’m certain, get my drift. And
    again anyone bother to research this?
    I don’t agree with all the meddling laws but I most certainly do not believe in courting arrest, jail, fines, etc.
    and I don’t know of any court that shows leniency when a defendant pleads ignorance of the law.

    • I’d probably move out of a state that outlaws collecting rainwater, I have a collection system in place use for washing clothes, flushing toilets and irrigation.

  7. When I have a bath in non-summer weather, I leave the bath water in the tub till it becomes room temp, then I empty it. The heat from the water is then kept in the house. If moisture is also needed in winter, then let the tub sit overnight or longer for moisture, without a humidifier using energy.

  8. Great tips! I was raised using many of these techniques. We had no running water and carried from a spring. Used an old wodeen two seater outhouse and although we had electric we used very little.

    BTW, I think making the act of collecting rainwater illegal is just crazy and would protest with everything I have! What is wrong with people?

  9. Do a “2-cent fridge”, on a chest freezer either wire in a refrigerator thermostat or use a power supply adjustable thermostat. I have one in service for two years, it saves power as the cold stays in when the door is opened and chest freezers have more insulation than a up right refrigerator. I also freeze gallon container when the temps drop below freezing outside and cycle those to the fridge.

  10. When you consider taxes and all the expense of going to work, a dollar saved is more like a 1.35 earned!!!!

  11. Some of the tips I use to get by with less are;
    1. Save bath water and dish washing rinse water for flushing the toilet
    2. Rain water for laundry, flushing toilet, scrubbing floors etc.
    3. Outside led lights for bathroom lighting
    4. Head lamps for lighting and working in basement, garage, and washing dishes
    5. Using hankies and white rags for the nose drips and washing with that rain water
    6. Folded flannel or baby wash cloths for female use
    7. Kerosene/alcohol heat in early fall and spring (gives me a credit on budget billing with energy company to use in cold weather)
    8. Candles bought as 2nd time around places or garage sales for light at my desk instead of a lamp
    9. Coast my car where ever possible saves a lot of gas
    10. Save all water from boiling potatoes, veggies etc. in container in the freezer for soups, roast broth etc.
    11. Turn heat down at bed time to 66 degrees or lower
    12. Buy my cloths 2nd hand or clearance
    13. Mend my cloths (use and wear out then use it as a rag)
    14. Use plastic grocery bags for my small garbage containers
    15. Wash and save the wax paper from cereal boxes etc.
    16. Wash and reuse Ziploc bags
    17. Cut SOS pads into smaller sizes saves a lot especially on big jobs
    18. Got rid of rugs and can dust and wet mop using rain water
    There are probably more but I think this might help some of you get started
    Keep saving and learning it will come in handy for times like unemployment or saving for that vacation

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