Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spring Has (Almost) Sprung!

Well, we have been getting ready for Spring this week on the homestead. We have ordered our seeds, measured the garden, and constructed our cold frame. Last year when we started our seeds, we started them in the house. This worked out ok, however they didn't receive enough sunlight, and they were in constant danger of being eaten by Bob (the cat). So this year we realized we needed to do something different, and decided to build a cold frame.

                                                  Here is a picture of the finished product:

The frame will work like a miniature green house, the sun shines through the plastic and heats everything up and is trapped. Plants thrive in a warm, bright place so it will be perfect for starting them when it still is too early to put them in the ground. A huge benefit to having a cold frame in a colder climate like we live in is that it will extend our growing period. It is hard to judge when the last frost will be here in Michigan, so we will be able to start our plants early without having to worry about losing them to frost.

We took a trip to our nearest Menard's to purchase supplies. After a lot of research we found that Menard's was the most cost efficient place to get twin-wall polycarbonate (a.k.a.: greenhouse plastic). We considered using old windows as a substitute for the Polycarbonate, however since we built it onto the side of the house, we risk losing them to the icicles in the winter. If you were to build one independent from your house however, using old windows is a popular choice, and a great way to recycle.

Our materials included:
And a few miscellaneous hardware items. (Nuts, bolts, screws, etc.)

We (and when I say we, I mean Cody) built the frame on the side of the house as we are going to use it as a passive solar air exchanger in the winter, so we really only built 3 sides. We did have to remove the siding from that part of the house, but we are going to reuse that siding to cover the area that we added the pantry to.

                                          Cody pulling off the siding where the frame will be:

Cody didn't have any sort of blueprint for the frame, so he just built it to fit our needs. It only took about 2 days, and the whole project cost us about $200. First he built the frame and added the plywood to seal the ends. Then Erin painted the frames to match the house. Once the paint was dry Cody insulated the ends and stapled foil insulation around the entire inside. Next he added the Polycarbonate sheets to the top, attaching them with the hinges so we can easily access the inside. Lifting the sheets will also work as ventilation for the plants later in the spring when it gets warm enough. It provides us with approximately 48 square feet of growing space. We built it on the South side of the house for maximum sun exposure.

                                                       Another view of the finished frame:

Now that we got this project done we are really looking forward to starting out plants! Since our season will be extended and it will protect them from frost we will be able to start them soon!

Monday, March 12, 2012

It IS Easy Being Green......

Kermit the Frog has been telling us for years "It's not easy being green." Well, we are here to tell you, Kermit is wrong. As a matter of fact, it IS easy being green! This past week we have been working on simple projects around the house that make living green an easy thing to do! Of course we have been recycling, and cutting back on paper towels and other disposables, which are a few easy ways to be green but we decided to take it a little farther with some DIY projects that make green living easy.

The first project we tackled was to replace our current porch light with a motion sensing light. This is a greener option because it conserves energy and saves on electricity. We would turn on the old light when we left the house so that we could see when we got home after dark, and it stayed on the entire time, wasting electricity. The motion sensing light still runs through the old light switch so that we can still turn it on only when we want it, but it doesn't draw power the entire time because the light only comes on when it senses motion. The nice thing about this light is that you can set the length of time that you want the light shining for, and the sensitivity so that it doesn't come on every time the wind blows!

In this picture, Cody is wiring the new light into the old wiring, so we can use the same switch! (Please pardon the looks of the house, as we just bought it and it is a work-in-progress)

 Here is our new light!! It cost about $50 from Home Depot. It took about 15 minutes to hook up.

The next project we worked on was insulating the water heater and hot water pipes. Did you know you can buy a jacket for your water heater?? Apparently you can! This was a very simple and quick project that has made a noticeable difference in out water temperature already! The insulation of the water heater makes it so that the tank doesn't lose heat and doesn't re-heat the same water as often, wasting energy. The insulation of the pipes allows the water to stay at the maximum temperature all the way to your faucet, thus minimizing the amount of hot water you need. It cost about $35 dollars for the supplies, and took about 2 hours to complete.

This first picture is of the tank in its new jacket! 

 Here are the pipes with their insulation on them! (Again, sorry for the background, our basement is also a work-in-progress, its like a spider sanctuary down there......Erin won't go near it hehe)

The most advanced project that we accomplished this week was hooking cold water up to our washing machine. Before we bought the house, it sat vacant for about 5 years, and was not properly winterized. Because of this, and the fact that Michigan has some harsh temperatures in the winter, the pipe running cold water to the washer burst. We have been washing our clothes in only hot water, which worked, however it wasn't energy efficient. We had to cut out the old section of pipe and solder in a new piece, also we had to replace the valve that connects the pipe to the washer. Cody got to practice his soldering skills a lot this week! It cost about $50 and took about 5 hours to complete. This will save us money in the long run because we won't be using so much hot water, and as per Erin's mom, it is better to wash your dark clothes in cold water anyways! This project will make our lives so much greener because of the energy it preserves, because as we all know, laundry is a never ending cycle!

The new section of pipe soldered into place.

And finally the easiest change we have made is using power strips(surge protectors) around the house. There is a phenomenon called Phantom Loading (dun dun dun), which means that our electronics such as televisions, radios, dvd players, microwaves, etc. draw power even when we think they are off. These are known as "energy vampires," basically anything with a stand-by setting is still drawing electricity even when it is shut off. All the lights and clocks that are still going on these electronics use power, and although it doesn't seem like a lot, it is like a dripping faucet and when it is going all the time, it really adds up. A large portion of a homes energy usage is due to phantom loading(depending on where you look, the statistic range from 6 to 60 percent, but it obviously varies per home). By plugging your electronics into a power strip you can just flip the switch when you are not using them and stop the energy vampires. I mean, do we really need 3 clocks in the kitchen?

These projects serve many purposes, including raising the value of our home, saving us money when it comes to the electric bill, and most importantly making our home more energy efficient!

SO, regardless of what Kermit may tell us, it really IS easy being green!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Winter Wonderland

A snowstorm hit Northern Michigan with fury Friday night. 30,000 of us were out of power for over 48 hours.

That is a picture of a road. The snow is so heavy that those strong maple branches that are usually above my head are now touching the ground. It was a cold day, and us Firefighters/EMT's were going non-stop. Police declared a state of emergency on the roads and we were out of power until Sunday evening. This is  why it is important to have basic knowledge of sustaining yourself. Even if you aren't living off the grid, or providing all of your food and electricity, you should be able to go a few days without relying on others.  A foot snow can knock out a whole county and many are unprepared to face such an issue! Every grocery store and restaurant closed down, so it is important to have your food preserved, and an alternative energy source!

Preserving your own food through canning, dehydrating, pickling, etc. is a good way to ensure that even if you aren't able to use your stove or run to the store you won't find yourself going hungry. It is a simple way to store the produce from your garden so that it lasts for a substantial amount of time. There are plenty of resources for learning how to preserve your own food and it will be a useful skill when it comes time to save your goods and they will be available when you need them.

Here is a link to some of our favorite books that include information about preserving your own food: http://www.skyhorsepublishing.com/author/?fa=ShowAuthor&Person_ID=3

Another important thing to have when emergency strikes is an alternative source of heat and energy. Some alternative energy sources can be as simple as a small generator. Enough to run a space heater would be sufficient to ensure your pipes (and you) don't freeze! It is not a good idea to wait until you are out of power to buy a generator because it is when you lose power that everyone flocks to the hardware stores to stock up! (Please ensure that you read the user manuals and warning on your generators, and DO NOT use them in enclosed places as you risk Carbon Monoxide poisoning!!!!) Other more long term solutions for alternative energy/heat sources include solar panels, wind turbines, wood stoves, pellet stoves etc. These are all ways to not only ensure that you will always have heat and power, but they conserve energy and are conducive to a greener way of living.

Building a homestead, living green, and being sustainable are not only healthier and happier options, they can help you to be prepared in a state of emergency.