How would you like to be completely self-sufficient?
It’s possible — especially if explored a step or two at a time. Start simple —
Grow a garden. Raised bed kits, like the version shown below (from Greenland Gardener), are easy to construct and fill with rich dirt. (Or build your own — Youtube is full of videos on the subject.) No-brainer crops include green beans, spinach and other greens, and that veggie with a reputation for excess — zucchini. (Pick them young, and you’ll keep up.) If your area has a fair amount of rain, add a tomato plant or two. (Cherry tomatoes kick out bite-sized fruit for salads and snacks.)
Even easier: Grow a few pots on your balcony or back step. A three-dollar basil plant will produce pesto and herb-flecked pasta all summer long. Try here for more tips on container gardening.
Transportation. Can you substitute bus or light-rail rides — or even better, a bicycle — instead of purchasing a car? Electric cars or scooters are a possibility, too, if you can afford it. If you need a car, a hybrid’s another option. (Or convert your diesel car to using leftover vegetable oil. A cousin did this…but their vehicle had a tendency to smell like french fries. However, they got a lot of miles to the gallon.)
Even easier: Carpool…or drive slower. (Most cars reach peak efficiency between 45-65 mph; go faster, and you waste more fuel.)
DOING WHAT COMES NATURALLY
Toilets. Everyone needs a safe (and preferably non-smelly) way to manage their daily needs. Although some cultures are already doing “thermophilic” composting, the risk of picking up disease remains. You need a hot system to adequately neutralize parasites. Fortunately, a lot of research has improved the past of thunder jugs and outdoor toilets; composting toilets are surprisingly effective, and provide a workable alternative to the expense of a sewer system. (Try ‘Humanmanure,‘ to start.)
Even easier: Fill a gallon jug with water, and sink it in your toilet tank – uses less water. Or install a low-flow toilet.
It sounds weird, but a quick spray of urine is reasonably harmless, yet quickly jumpstarts your garden compost pile. (Guys are expert at this — at our house, it’s called Husband’s “special touch.”)
Water. This essential has gotten scarce in the drier Western states…and every time a drought hits, it becomes a national issue. The less water you use, the lower your bill will be. Xeriscape gardening, using less water (see ‘toilets,’ above), and recycling your used (‘gray’) water all make a difference.
Even easier: use a drip system to water your garden and lawn, instead of sprinklers.(For real pennypinching, cut the bottom off a gallon milk jug, unscrew the cap, then bury the jug by your plants, small end down. Fill it with water; it will soak slowly into the ground.)
Let the sun do it. Research and improvements on solar panels have improved greatly, thanks to tax credits — Homeowners (primary or secondary residences) can currently take a 30% tax credit on installation costs for a wind turbine, solar water heater, or solar panels. Businesses can also take 30% off for solar water and space heating, solar thermal electric, as well as solar panels and wind turbines up to 100 kilowatts. This credit, like the one for homeowners, expires Dec. 31, 2016.
Start with a few solar panels — or more. This website explores the possibilities.
Even easier: Windows – lots of windows, especially if they’re double or triple-pane, with a translucent coating like Nansulate. Use tile floors or a stone fireplace as a passive energy storage — it will release heat slowly during the night.
It’s not just hot air. And finally, there’s wind power. The pioneers used windmills to pump water for stock tanks — something still done today out in more rural parts of the country. Off-the-gridders often combine wind turbines with solar power or other energy sources (like methane), for hybrid systems. (Especially effective during calm or cloudy days, when one or another of the systems is on the fritz.) Go here for wind possibilities.
Electricity can be used directly, or stored in batteries for future use.
Is your area windy enough for a turbine? Check with local weather stations, or the US Dept. of Commerce’s National Climatic Center in Asheville, NC. The higher the windspeed, more the power: a 10 mph wind average only has 1/8 the power of a 20 mph wind. (A high wind can recharge batteries quickly.) But if your windspeeds consistently vary, you’ll need to choose a generator that can adapt to the changes. (You also need to keep any storage systems near, and install your turbine away from obstructions.)
You don’t need a huge windfarm cluttering up the landscape.
Vertical curved turbines take up less space and can look quite decorative. (They also tend to be more stable in windspeeds.) The Windspire system, like that shown below, has been in increasing use in commercial properties, as well as residences.
Even easier: Give your dryer a break — and install a clothesline. Or use a dryer rack. It’s less stress and fading on your clothes, too. Or start out small with a small wind system to power a 12-volt battery. (Good for emergencies or power blackouts.)
Take a few steps, and in no time, you’ll be heading toward self-sufficiency...or, at the very least, making better use of your money and resources.