The Low Energy Fridge

Awhile back on the Riot for Austerity on-line, support site, I saw a link to a refrigerator that claimed it only used 0.1Kwh/day. I was really intrigued by this and anxious to give it a try. Although it has not lived up to its extremely low energy use, it is quite a bit lower than the average fridge. Lower than average is what I seem to be about these days so we have stuck with it. Until Thursday.

Thursday was the day Tropical Storm Fay was scheduled to blow through the area. Schools were canceled and I was fed up with my 6.8 cubic foot fridge. So was my husband. Not only is it small, but it is a cube, so you have to layer everything in there and things can hang out at the bottom for weeks unnoticed.

Last year we had your regular fridge, 18 cubic feet, freezer on the top, no frills. I realize this in itself was less than average, since most people I know have larger fridges that tend to be side by side. These use a lot more energy. Our 1999, no frills 18 cu ft energy star fridge was using 1.6 Kwh/day. That is 585 per year. So what we did was buy a 6.8 cuft chest freezer for $200 and a temperature controller for $60. The temp controller allows you to over ride the freezer control so it maintains a temp of 38-42F. You plug the temp controller in the wall socket and the freezer into the controller. The controller turns the freezer on when the temp gets to 42F and then off when it reaches 38F. We have a killawatt meter to measure energy use. It told us that the new fridge was averaging 0.3-0.4kwh/day. Usage fluctuates more here in Florida, with higher energy use in the summer.

One of the main draw backs to doing this is that you no longer have a freezer. Well if you are like us, then you already had a 12 cuft chest freezer to store all your garden produce. So we really did not need that small freezer attached to a stand up fridge. If you are a small family, your needs could be met with two small chest freezers and one controller. Buying everything new might cost less than $400.  Not bad to get more freezer space than a small fridge with freezer would provide.

Our family of four was having trouble using such a small fridge. 6.8 cuft isn’t that small, but doesn’t lend itself to great ease of use. It made it so my kids had to depend on us to get most things out for them, unless it happened to be right on top. The milk never was.

So FINALLY, this past Thursday, I was charged up by the storm, and decided to make a major change. Did we run out and buy a huge fridge to make up for how we had deprived ourselves? No, because we really had not, we just switched the fridge with the freezer. So now we have a 6.8cuft freezer and a 12 cuft fridge. WOW, it was SO easy. Aside from moving everything out, cleaning the inside and switching all the contents, the only thing I had to do was move the temperature controller. I think we will even save energy and money.  You see, keeping a freezer cold, uses more energy than keeping a fridge cold. Since we are keeping less space and stuff frozen. I have not hooked the killawatt up to the “new” appliances yet, but can let you know in the future what the energy use is.  Now maybe you are asking yourself-well where is all the garden produce going now? Well in the past year I have learned to preserve food by canning, lacto-fermenting and drying. I have a hot water bath as well as a pressure canner. So I shouldn’t need as much space. So far I am happy with the new arrangement, until I go digging for something at the bottom of the freezer. Atleast it isn’t a daily occurrence like it has been. Now on to some photographs.

6.8cuft chest freezer in refridgerator space

6.8cuft chest freezer in refridgerator space

We chose the 6.8cuft freezer because it would fit into the space where our refrigerator was. This picture was taken after the swith so the controller is not shown. Now our freezer is in the kitchen and the fridge is in the laundry room. So far, no big deal.
Temperature controller

Temperature controller

Sorry it is blurry. It is a Johnson Controls temperature controller. It was purchased at a brewing supply store for $60. You can get them online if you don’t have a supply store in your area. Notice at the bottom of the picture there is a small wire sticking down next to a large one. The large one is the power cord and the small one is the wire that leads to the temperature sensor that goes into the unit. See next picture.
Temperature sensor inside "fridge"

Temperature sensor inside

 At the end of the wire is a thick piece of metal that measures the temperature inside the unit.

Inside of 12 cuft freezer-now fridge

Inside of 12 cuft freezer-now fridge

This is our 12cuft chest freezer. I have like items organized together. Veggies in the center basket, cheese, sour cream and tofu in the basket on the right. Eggs and miscellaneous on the left. Then there is a lot of room under the baskets.

On the left of the photo you can see the black power cord and the silver temperature controller wire. The wire lays across the top lip of the box and continues in under the left basket. 

I think we will be happy with this new arrangement. Would you be?







An Entire Year of Rioting for Austerity

I have had so much fun being a part of The Riot for Austerity/ 90% reduction project. The project started last June 1st and our family joined in July. Sharon Astyk and her friend Miranda were discussing George Monbiot’s book “Heat”, where he discusses the need for industrialized nations to reduce their emissions by 94%. They wondered what a life would be like lived that way, since Chinese peasants seem to be the standard for low impact living. So they challenged each other to reduce there consumption and emissions by 90%, which makes accounting easier than 94%. They did this on their blogs and what do you know, other people decided to give it a try as well. So they ended up being amazed that over 1000 people were interested in joining them. Before March 2007, I had never read a blog. I’m not sure I even knew what one was. I started by reading No Impact Man by Colin Beavin. His blog linked to Sharon’s and The Riot, and that is what got me where I am today.

So today I am revealing what a year of rioting figures look like in our household. When doing the numbers, we figure up how we compare to the rest of the country in terms of consumption of resources. We are a family of four, living in the USA,  so our numbers are compared to the average American or average American household. Figures can be represented as a reduction of average use or as a percent of average. I’ll list both so as not to confuse anyone. There are seven categories for this project.

Gasoline:  The average American uses 500 gallons of gas per year. So  a typical family of four would use 2000 gallons a year. I break that down to 166.67 gallons a month. We used 230.72 gallons over a year. That is 19.2 gal/month and is 11.5% of average or an 88.5% reduction . And as reported previously, this does not include airline trips taken in November or any other time. So to be completely honest about the whole deal I am figuring up what these flights actually cost in terms of fuel use. I did a bit of research and found that according to one source a long haul flight gets 30mpg/person. Another site helped me figure out how many miles from home to Honolulu. 9,650 miles divided by 30mpg gives me 321gallons per person and with four of us equates to burning 1,287 gallons of gas for our vacation. A vacation I might add was planned and paid for 8 months before the riot began. Then in October my husband took my son to visit his Aunt and Grandmother. That adds another 198 gallons. Then in February our daughter flew to Indianapolis with my mother to go to a wedding and that adds another 73.4 gallons. So the grand total is really 1789.12 gallons. And that my friend brings us way down, or way up to 90% of average use or a 10% reduction.

Electric: The average household uses 900 kwh/month or close to 11,000/year. We used 4983kwh over a year. That is 415.25kwh/month so our usage is 46% of average or a 54% reduction. Many people doing the riot have the option of buying green energy. Wind and hydro give you an additional 75% reduction and solar gives you 50%. We pay for 750kwh of green energy each month, only ours is 5% wind and solar combined and the other 95% is landfill gas. I was never able to figure out what further reduction we should get. If in fact I could get a 50% reduction that would bring our electric use down to 23% of average or a 77% reduction. If it was more of a 25% reduction then it would look more like 35% of average or 65% reduction. 

Therms:  The average household uses 83.3 therms of natural gas per month or 1000 therms over the season,  much of it is used for heating. We have used no gas heat this past year, but did heat water and cook with gas. We used 112 therms over the year or 9.3/month. That equates to 11.2% of average or an 88.8% reduction. Having purchased a solar water heater, our future outlook is 4-6 therms per month or about 60 therms per year. This would be 6% of average or a 94% reduction.

Garbage:  The average person creates 4.5 pounds of garbage per day. A typical family of four would then produce 540 pounds of garbage per month or a staggering 6,480 pounds per year. We created 157.5 pounds of trash and 402 pounds of recyclables during the past 11 months that I have been weighing ALL our garbage. Recyclables count 80% of trash so the 402 pounds becomes 321.6 pounds. Adding the two together gives us a garbage total of 479.1 pounds for the time period or 43.5 pounds per month. That gives us 8% of average or a 92% reduction.

Water: The average person uses 100 gallons of water per day. That is 400 gallons per day for a family of four and 12 Kgallons a month. Over the past 12 months we have used 26 kgallons of water. According to the Riot rules, water for irrigation of food is not counted. We had a drought during our growing season and are estimating we used 6kgal to water the garden. That leaves us with 20kgal to account for. That would mean we used about 1.7 kgal/month which is 14% of average or an 86% reduction.

Consumer Goods. The average American household spends $10,000 a year or $833 a month. We easily spent the average amount of money since we purchased quite a few high ticket sustainability items such as a solar water heater, two low flow toilets, a pressure canner, a water filter, a new freezer oh yes and new windows. Having recently moved into a new/older house we have many things to upgrade and certainly not just for cosmetic reasons. A new roof is in our future as well as some new flooring. Not calculated.

Food: Food is a difficult thing to measure. Do you measure by weight, serving or by dollars spent. I never did any of these things because I could not keep track to that degree. So I can only say that our family went from eating a diet of mostly processed foods to one of few processed foods. We mostly buy fruits and veggies that are local and in season or pick directly from our garden. I have been buying much of our food from bulk bins and cooking dried beans and grains from scratch. The ideal that we have been shooting for according to Riot guidelines is to eat at least 70% of your diet from local and organic sources. Then 25% of your diet can come from bulk, dry goods like beans and grains, also loose tea or fair trade coffee. Then wet goods like conventionally grown meat, fruits and veggies, oils and milk should only make up about 5% of your diet. This last category is what makes up the larger portion of the average American diet. We started out at least at average and have ended up making it to 35% local/organic, 50% bulk, and 15% wet, conventional. This is the category we need the most work in. Getting enough local food is hard in a society that doesn’t value it. 

I enjoy calculating our numbers, heck I even enjoyed weighing all the trash. It was just so satisfying to see the difference you could make. Why don’t you try some of the easier things. To make things even easier, there is a calculator on the Riot site that will figure things up for you. You don’t have to join the Riot, just become aware of how much of our planet’s finite resources you are using.   

The best advice I can give anyone in how to make a difference to our planet is USE LESS. Use less of EVERYTHING.             

Independance days July update

I am back from a long vacation and catching up on everything.  We worked like crazy finishing projects before we left. It seems that we should go away more often so we can get things done.

Two cool things that happened on our trip were getting to meet Sharon Astyk of Causabon’s Book and Danielle from Touch the Earth Farm.

 Here is what we got done.

PLANTED- 15 feet of okra (60) plants

HARVESTED- lots of tomatoes and peppers, six eggplant, two seminole pumpkins, black eyed peas and some green beans. After returning I harvested 16 cayenne peppers and a pound of pineapple tomatillos. Everything is looking sick and near the end.

PRESERVED- Froze tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Made 3 batches of blueberry jam and one of raspberry jam at friends house.

STORED-eight more boxes of pasta, four boxes rice/couscous mix. One jar raspberry jam, one jar cranberry vanilla jam(thank you Sharon).

PREPPED-Built yard onto our chicken coop

MANAGED-Put older hens in with teenager hens. Cleaned all animal cages. Let turtles return to wild. Mowed yard and garden paths. Helped weed friends gardens, helped Danielle trellis her tomato plants in her market garden whew!

COOKED-nothing new

LOCAL-nothing new

REDUCE WASTE-Took seven garbage bags of clean clothes that I retrieved from a dumpster to a thrift store that doesn’t charge for clothing only asks for donations.

NEW SKILL-Learned to make tortillas and a soft set cheese from Danielle.

What am I doing?

First I want to say that I appreciate all the comments I get on this blog.  One person said they liked the clothing and dumpster diving posts, but to please post about how I was getting to my Riot goals, like using little water. Another person said they liked the water saving posts but missed the trashion posts. Well, I will see what I can do about trying to post on both. I actually had been taking a break from dumpster diving since it fills my house with stuff and creates quite a bit of laundry. It is impossible for me to just pick out a few things that I like and to leave so much good stuff.  When I go, I always come home with a trunk full! My mother in law came to visit for two weeks and so I put the diving on hold to get the house cleaned up. Then I didn’t dive while she was here, even though she thought it was great and took home several garments. She is even planning on telling her friends exactly where they came from. She said it was half the fun. These are two tops I found in the dumpster that still had the tags on them! She loved them both.


Then in two weeks my sister in law comes, so I have to get the house cleaned up again. I may allow myself one trip this week and then no more for awhile. I really miss diving. The treasure hunting aspect of it draws me as much as getting free clothes or saving things from the landfill. As the weather heats up I find I don’t have as many shorts as I would like.  And surprisingly I have lost some weight, so that some of the shorts I got three of four months ago are not staying up so well.

I may do some scavenging and have a yard sale. We have too much stuff in our house. So we could have a successful sale I think. Have to decide if I want to go to all that trouble.

I have also been very busy in the garden. Planting, watering, weeding and some harvesting as well. I plan on doing a post on pickles, my garden, and a few more on saving water.

Wastewater Wantwater

It is difficult thinking up really good titles for posts. If the title doesn’t explain things this will. This post is about how to irrigate your garden or water your plants without taxing one of our most precious resources.

First off I have to say that using fresh drinking quality water to water your lawn/grass is in my opinion a big waste. I am not saying you cannot have grass. We have grass in our yard. We have more grass than I would like, but it came with the house and it is hard to get rid of. We do not irrigate our lawn. It turns brown in the winter and occasionally in the spring when there is no rain, like right now. It has not rained for over two weeks where I live. So consider where you live, how much rainfall you get and what kind of ground cover is best suited to your region. Sometimes, rocks are the best ground cover.

If you just have to have a lawn that needs irrigation then the least you should do is have a grey-water system installed. All the water from your shower, bath and laundry can be diverted to a tank to water your grass. Some municipalities even offer this as an option to hook up to. If you cannot hook up to a grey-water system and you do have a sprinkler system, then use it to its fullest potential. Do not water when it is raining. Water only once a week. Test your system to see how long it takes to fill a tuna can with one inch of water. Only run the system for that long each week. Many people over water their lawns. Use less or no fertilizer and leave your grass long, say 3 inches tall to keep it lush and healthy. It retains the moisture better that way.

If you have a garden, be water wise. Know how often you need to water. Know which plants need more water. Also, water at the right time of day. Our utility prohibits watering from 10AM to 4PM. This is when the water is most likely to evaporate the fastest. Overhead sprinkling is probably the most inefficient method. A lot of the water can be lost into the dry air.  Here are some articles on watering.

Prepare your soil at the beginning of the season to hold the water longer. Mulch the surface of the beds to help retain the moisture. Using drip irrigation or soaker hoses uses up to 50% less water than overhead sprinklers. Drip irrigation can be specifically designed to water each plant as opposed to the whole garden which would include the paths. Unless your paths are a walkable ground cover, they don’t need watering. Here is a great article on using grey-water in your vegetable garden.  

The biggest take home message I got from that article is don’t water root crops or leafy greens with grey-water. Also rotate between grey and fresh. There are guidelines on how much to use and what not to put into the water to begin with.

No matter how much rainwater you get annually, I think a rain barrel is a fantastic idea. There are plenty of places to buy really expensive ones or you can make one fairly cheaply.  This site  has a wealth of information on rainwater collection, rain barrels and irrigation.   We have several rain barrels that we use for irrigation as well as toilet flushing. Rainwater also is excellent for washing hair and clothing since it is naturally soft.     


Above is our rainwater collection system we currently use in the garden. We have a 26′ x 12′ shed with a metal and plastic roof. The rain gutter catches the water and diverts it to the first barrel. My brilliant husband figured out that the water would automatically syphon from one barrel to the next with a piece of garden hose that reaches from the bottom of one barrel to the bottom of the next. The hoses have to be filled with water, pinched off in the middle then shoved quickly into each barrel. Takes two people. Also the barrels have to have and maintain enough water to keep the ends of the hoses covered with water, otherwise the syphon action is disrupted. We did it this way because for the short term it was easier than connecting all the barrels together and elevating them to drain one into another. The last barrel is an open garbage can for dipping my watering can into.


These are pictures of rainwater collection up near the house. My daughter is transferring water from a full container into empty ones. She has a lot of fun doing this. We try to collect as much water as we possibly can since this time of year can be very dry. You do have to watch the barrels for mosquito larvae and empty those barrels sooner or use a net to scoop them out and feed them to your fish. Covering the container can prevent the mosquito from laying her eggs in the water in the first place.

On not wasting water while bathing

According to this study done at Princeton, Students took 12.5 minute showers. If the showers were fitted with the current required 2.5 gallon/minute shower head, the water usage would be 31.25 Gallons per shower. The Princeton study was done because not all their dorm showers had low flow shower heads. Some used as much as 4.25gallons/min which for a 12.5 minute shower translates to 53.125 gallons per shower. The author of the study hoped to show how much money could be saved by switching all shower heads to low flow. Quite a bit it turns out.

At this site I copied the following:

The following is a simple bathroom tip to reduce your utility bills. Take showers instead of baths, but limit the length of the showers to five minutes. A typical bathtub requires about 30 gallons for a bath. A standard shower head will flow about 3 gallons per minute. In five minutes, this uses only 15 gallons of water.

Install a low-flow shower head with a sudsing shut-off slide valve. Many common low-flow shower heads have them. While you are sudsing and scrubbing, the sudsing shut-off valve slows the water flow to a trickle. This trickle will maintain the water temperature adjustment and eliminate a shot of very hot or cold water when you slide it open again to rinse. Using a low-flow shower head with one of these valves can cut the total water usage to under ten gallons saving thousands of gallons of water per year.

So you can see, to save water, start by showering instead of bathing in a tub. Then make sure you shower head is low flow. You can see how much your shower uses by holding a bucket under it for one minute. Use a stop watch and get a friend to help if you need to. Use a five gallon bucket and remember water is heavy. If you wrap a washcloth around the shower head you wont have to hold the bucket. Once you know what your flow rate is, you can decide if you need a new head.  As mentioned above, a shut off button is really useful in saving water. If you are buying a new head, make sure it has the shut off.

The last thing to do is take a short shower.  Get wet, turn off the water, soap up, shampoo or otherwise wash hair, turn water on, rinse, condition or vinegar rinse if needed, rinse again and you are done. Three minute shower at 2.5 gallons per minute is 7.5 gallons. Not bad.

Want to do better than that? We take bucket baths at our house. It became necessary for us to do it that way because we set up a makeshift water heater outside.

solar water haeterIt does not connect to the house or shower. So we fill up five gallon buckets with however much water we want according to how hot it is.

bucket for bathingIt can get up to 140F. In that case I only fill to about 2 gallons and carry it in to the shower. I fill it with two  more gallons or to the right temperature. Then I use a one quart plastic container to ladle the water over my head. I find four gallons to be plenty. This is not fun to do in the winter, but then again our solar water heater does not work so well then either. Any day now we will be having our makeshift one replaced with a modern technical solar water heater which will allow us to have solar hot water to all parts of the house.

collection bin  Recently I started standing in this plastic bin to catch the water so we could recycle it as toilet flushing water.

   bathing tubWe use this metal bin to bathe the kids outside. They really like it. They are still young. We can use the water on landscaping after it cools.

The only other tip I could mention is about bathing frequency. In our country it is fairly typical for people to bathe 1-2 times per day. Really think about how much bathing you need to do. Can you just freshen up a bit? Do you really need to wash your hair every day? I bathe twice a week in cooler months and 2-3 times a week in hotter months. If I am just sweaty I could rinse off in a gallon of water. Think about it.

Don’t waste the water

A comment I received from my last post has pushed me to write about how people waste water and how you can learn not to. Stephanie commented that she was impressed with our low water use and wanted to know how we did it. It would be a very long post to highlight all the things we do so I will break it up into segments. Clothes washing, bathing, irrigating, dish washing, toilets etc.

If you want to learn how to save water or to not waste it, take a day and look at where all the water goes. At the same time, imagine what would be different if you had to haul that water in five gallon buckets from a lake stream or river in your back yard. I think what confuses people is that it can be so difficult to comprehend how much water each activity really uses.

One of the biggest water users can be the washing machine. Top loaders can use 40-60 gallons per load. Some families wash 400 loads a year. If you wash a load a day at 40 gallons per day, that is 1200 gallons a month.  A front loader can cut the water use in half. If you cannot get a front loader then wash clothes less often. Many items of clothing do not need to be washed after one wearing. Pants, sweaters and pajamas for example. Towels can be used more than once. Rethink how often your sheets need washing. Use or wear things longer than normal to save the number of loads you need to wash.

         frontloader                        washer greywater

For those who want to go beyond the norm to save water while doing laundry, see if you have the option of saving laundry water to flush toilets, water trees or other landscape plants. There is a long flexible tube at the back of your washer that discharges the water to the sewer or septic. If you pull the tube out of the pipe you can insert it into another pipe to redirect the flow. We are able to stick our tube though a window and have the water run down a pipe into a garbage can. We do not have a basement. The washer is level with the ground outside. Our front loader, when washing a full load, uses about 25-30 gallons of water. It fills our garbage can. We use a biodegradable soap and use the water to irrigate our corn and fruit trees. If I used two containers and were paying attention, I could collect the rinse water in a separate container and reuse it to wash the next load.

If you want to go even a step farther, I have heard of people who shower with the drain plugged, and then they throw the laundry in the tub to wash recycling the water. Then they haul it to the washer, spin the water off, do a rinse cycle and their done.

Our family of four, two adults and two small children, does an average of four loads a week. When I bring home clothes from the dumpster I wash them and it adds, on average, two loads per week. We are still able to only use about 16 gallons per person per day. Our goal is 10.

For today, just become aware of how much water you use on a daily basis for activities. Check back to find out how to save water bathing.


42 ways to not make trash

Colin Bevin AKA No Impact Man is the person I credit with turning me around from being an armchair environmentalist to one who talks the talk and walks the walk. He had a light bulb moment over a year ago and decided to see if he could live a no impact life for a year. It was a gradual transition to get there and now that his year long project is done, he is deciding what he wants to continue doing. He is also becoming more politically involved.

His post on April 10th talks about what he and his wife have done to decrease the amount of trash they create on a daily basis. I thought it would be a useful thing to pass on and a great way to introduce you to a fascinating person.

Going Shopping

Yesterday I received my rebate check from the government, woo hoo. I am going shopping! I’m sending my kids to Disney for the day with my parents and I’m going to hit ALL the outlet stores in Orlando. Maybe we will rent a Hummer for the day to drive down there. Thanks for the cash George! I want to do my part for the economy. Spend, spend, spend! We don’t want a recession or even a depression. But what are we trying for? A procession? An excession? Oh who cares, lets buy shoes.


I’m still sick and still going through disposable tissues like crazy. My head is full of gunk and I just can’t do an interesting post right now. Please stay tuned

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