Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Cutting back the kilowatts

It's like cutting back calories, but easier! And you don't have to give up chocolate!!

I started out with the best intentions to get the filing done, but got sidetracked when it came to electricity bills. I wonder how our usage has changed over 3 years.........

An hour and a few excel charts and formulae later I discovered our annual average KWh per day has dropped from 25.8 in 2006 to 19.8 in 2008. That's a decrease of 23%. This is in spite of the fact that I started working from home during this time, which meant more electricity use during the day. 19.8 is still higher than I would like, but given that we use electricity to pump our water, plus the home office, I'm really pleased by this progress.

I should point out that we currently do not have solar hot water (it's coming when the existing system finally needs replacing), AND our hot water system is too big for just 2 people, so 5-14kw per day (depending on whether we have a bath or not) is accounted for by hot water.

You can see in the chart below we have made the biggest savings in the 'winter' quarters: Apr-Jul (29% decrease 06 - 08) and Jul - Oct (39% decrease 06 - 08!!!).

But the best thing about these decreases? We didn't have to spend a lot of money to make these savings. We did spend money on:
  • gradually replaced curtains with blockout-type curtains for better insulation (when they were on sale, of course!) (2007 - 2008)
  • making old fashioned draft-stoppers for all the doors (2008)
  • replacing power hungry old electric oil heaters with newer electric ones that have timers and temperature sensors so they cut in and out as required, and can go off overnight (eg in the bedroom) (2008)
  • I bought a power meter to track how much power individual pieces of equipment use (2008)
  • converting to cf bulbs
  • replacing the electric kettle with a stovetop kettle (we have a gas storevop)
But there were still more simple behavour changes we made that have clearly made a huge impact:
  • over time I've gradually turned down the temperature on the hot water unit to minimise reheating time
  • we 'curtained off' the end of the house that we don't use unless guests are here, so we're only heating the part of the house we use
  • in 2008 we 'decomissioned' the second bathroom unless guests were staying - so that meant turning off the second small hot water unit for that bathroom, and not having to heat the bathroom in winter. I think this was strangely the 'hardest' adjustment as we quite liked having our own bathroom each!!
  • in 2008 I relocated my home office to the end of the house that we use in winter - so I now share this room with Jerry. This was also something I resisted as I quite liked being able to have the office a bit more seperate to the rest of the house, and Jerry liked having his own room. However, as my office was in the "curtained off", and therefore unheated part of the house, I was using a lot of power to drag the temperature up from 12 to 16 every day, and running a heater 5-7 hours per day. It was a bit mad looking back on it. In the new study I might only have to run the heater for an hour or so on really cold days. And I can always just pop around the corner and warm up by the fire.
  • in 2008 I also 'bubble-glazed' the study/office windows to keep the room warmer, but still let in light.
  • I switched to only using 'eco' mode on the dishwasher (which saves about 50% of the power compared to the normal cycle that includes drying)
  • I use my slow cooker as much as possible in winter rather than the oven to cook meals - and I try to make enough for 4-6 serves per meal to make the most of the power use
  • We have progressively removed light fittings from our halogen track lighting eg over the dining table we had 6 (or maybe 7) and now we only have 4. In the main living area we had 5 and now we have 3. In addition we try to use lamps with cf bulbs rather than the track lighting whenever possible.
  • We have used insulting foam or mud to seal gaps that were letting in drafts
But of course, there is still more we can do! On the power saving to do list are:
  • solar hot water
  • finish replacing old curtains with insulating curtains in the rest of the house
  • moving from rod and ring style curtain fittings to track fittings so we can get the curtains closer to the window (pelmets just woudlnt work in our style of house)
  • replacing the old standard fridge with a chest fridge
  • keep up with the gap-sealing work
  • opening up the chimney to expose more flue and replacing the fireplace with one that I can put a pot/kettle on to slow cook food during the day / keep water hot for a cuppa .
Alas most of these need some serious $$, so I'd best get back to work!!

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Making Ricotta

Matron of Husbandry over at the simple green frugal co-op posted some instructions a few days ago for making your own ricotta. It looked ridiculously easy- except for the milking your cow bit - I cheated and bought some from the store! - so with lasagne on the dinner menu last night I decided to give it a go.

I won't post the details here as the instructions in the link above are excellent. But here's a few photos to prove that it works! For those that are interested 2L of milk yielded 325g of ricotta. I used apple cider vinegar, and it required about 3 tablespoons (60ml) to get separation.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Snapshots of yesterday

Yesterday I made 11 jars of lemon jelly, and canned 4 litres of home grown tomato and courgette mix.

While I was working the welcome swallows were teaching their young where the best bugs could be found........or maybe they were just supervising my kitchen work!

I spent quite a bit of time working...

but still managed to fit in a load of washing

and I found a new recipe to try from the latest Good Food Australia mag (potato, chick pea and spinach curry). Of course I added extra chilli so Jerry wouldn't notice there was no meat!!!!!

Tonight I'm trying a chicken salad with peach salsa from the same magazine. I know it's naughty to buy them when I have so many cookbooks, but there are so many tasty things to try, and the shiny cover and glossy food pics just call to me from the newsagent ....

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Yesterday's harvest basket

The tomatoes are finally ripening - yesterday we picked 4kg of a mix of amish paste, zebras, purple russians, beefsteak, red fig and tommy toe. Oh, and another 2kg of courgettes....

Of course, when you're taking photos of your harvest you need to keep an eye on your chickens...

or they will just help themselves!!!!!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Handmade heaven

When I cleared out my PO box today I found a welcome treat! My parcel of handmade soap from Kirsty at Gobblers Run. Kirsty makes the most gorgeous soaps (visit the website and look at the pics of the coffee soap, for example).

But with my dodgy skin I went for the low/no/natural fragrance options. In my lovely recycled paper goody bag (which even had my name on it!) there was
  • Goats milk soap
  • Goats milk soap with honey and oatmeal (smells good enough to eat!)
  • Pure castille soap
  • Shaving soap (olive oil base with french clay and shea butter)

Don't they look lovely?

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Fire update - things calming down

Here's the latest from the fire services.

Update as of 0200hrs 12/02/09

Yesterday’s continued calm weather conditions have allowed fire fighters to make good progress on a number of important back-burning operations within the Beechworth Fire area.

Fire crews are patrolling and mopping up where possible overnight and will continue to work on containing fires today (Thursday) including back-burning and bulldozer work.

The fire was downgraded from alert to 'awareness' yesterday, and at the community meeting we attended the district commander was reasonably confident that (barring unforseen weather conditions) they would be able to mark the fire as contained by the weekend. There's still lots of work going on down the road from us on mopping up, backburning and taking care of dangerous trees, but we're not in danger - so we were a lot luckier than others further south that are still going through it all.

I just want to say again that I think the CFA are absolutely brilliant! Our favourite winemaker has been out there all week, in his own vehicle, fighting fires. I can't say enough about their tireless (and often unpaid) dedication. Please, if you see or know any CFA / Rural Fire volunteers in Vic or in your state - tell them what awesome humans they are for doing what they do!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

We're safe!

Thanks to all the friends and family who've been ringing, texting and emailing (although we only just got the power back after nearly 24hrs without.)

To those of you in Australia that heard about the Beechworth fire - it started about 300m from our property about 6:30pm. We lost power about 6pm and have since found from a neighbour (who reported the fire) that it was sparked by a downed power line in grass. It's now burned over 22,500 hectares. Bloody scary stuff. We went out several times between 6 and 6:30 and saw and smelt nothing. Then Jerry opened the front door and bang! smoke and visible flames and then firetrucks came.

We had filled our gutters in the morning, and had done a tidy up and filled the fire pump as it was going to be such a bad day.

Jerry's never moved so fast! He was out, on with the sprinklers and got the fire pump going (I am so happy we had that to run the water, plus the tanks on the hill so we still had water). I got my gear on and was out putting other sprinklers on. Luckily the wind was blowing away from us so it didn't jump the road to our place, but frankly it's as close as we want to get. We also learned some useful things to adjust our fire plan. We've had power back for an hour or so now, but it's still tense as the fire is moving towards the other side of town, and you just can't be sure what the wind will do. Our road is still closed, and crews are working blacking out and keeping an eye on burning stumps. It is also very smokey.

But so far we are on alert, but safe, and in no immediate danger unless the winds reverse directions. We are VERY grateful that we are no worse off - many, many others have not been so lucky (50 is the latest death toll), and it's not over yet.

Here's some pics: but there are many more on flikr here:

This morning - standing at the bottom of our road. The pic on the left shows our main paddock, the one on the right I turned 180 degrees, so you can see it was pretty darn close!

Trees stumps were burning after 12 hours

See more photos on flikr here

Friday, 6 February 2009

Batten down the hatches

Extreme fire weather is back to bite us, after a few days reprieve from the 40s. This is what the premier had to say in The Age newspaper

Victorians should cancel whatever plans they may have had for tomorrow and take whatever steps necessary to prepare for what Premier John Brumby is calling the "worst day in the history of the state".

With temperatures set to soar to the mid-40s throughout Victoria, Mr Brumby said the conditions were worse than those that preceded the devastating bushfires of Ash Wednesday or Black Friday.

"It's just as bad a day as you can imagine and on top of that the state is just tinder-dry. People need to exercise real common sense tomorrow," he said.

"If you don't need to go out, don't go out, it's a seriously bad day.

"If you don't need to travel, don't travel.

"Don't go on the roads. If you don't need to use the public transport system, don't use it.

"If you can stay at home, stay at home.

"If you've got relatives who are elderly, if you've got friends, if you've got neighbours, please call on them.

"Ring them ... it's going to be a terrible day for anyone who is ill or who is old.

Mr Brumby said he expected Melbourne to reach 43 or 44 degrees with similar temperatures throughout the state, reaching as high as 46 in Mildura.

He said if anything, the expectation was for the day to be even hotter rather than cooler.

He recalled scenes last week of wooden power poles self-igniting.

"I can't stress this enough, I know that the chief fire officer has been out and he said it will be as bad as you can get and he's not exaggerating," Mr Brumby said.

I've swept around the house, done a tidy up, and our fire kit (including new face masks with filters and eye protection) is ready to go. All that remains is to keep everything crossed that we don't need it.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Do these chicks look ready for eating?

These are our two 5 week old chicks (a pure dorking, and a dorking light sussex cross) with their mum. They're not big enough to eat - not even as a snack. However, if they were commercial intensively reared chickens by now they would be in a supermarket freezer with a 1.6 or 1.8kg label on them. It's a frightening thought.

To learn more about intensively reared chickens take a look at chicken out.

One of my aims for this year is to get to the point that we eat 100% locally grown (and preferably home butchered) meat, raised the "old fashioned" way. We've managed it with lamb, and almost with pork. Next step is expanding our chicken accommodation so we can eat our own chickens, and finding a good beef source. Of course, this means we will be eating less meat, but I'm OK with that - and Jerry is getting used to the idea - particularly as the meat we do eat has such a great flavour.

Oh, and by accident I stumbled upon the new egg hiding spot yesterday - in behind the worm farm! Must be cooler there. I had assumed the chickens had just stopped laying due to the heat :)

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