Posts by — Kelly Mead

Home for less than $20,000
by KELLY MEAD on JUNE 29, 2012 - 14 Comments in off-grid-101

But will the neighbours let him stay?

An electrician from England built himself and his girlfriend alarge comfy home for less than $20,000, (£12,000). Daniel Bond turned a double-decker bus into his new home after being priced out of the housing market

The couple were unable to afford a deposit and found it almost impossible to get a mortgage because he is a self employed electrician and the British banks are not lending. So he rented a scrap of land in Kent, Southern England, and spent four months turning a neglected vehicle into a two bedroom home
It is kitted out with a double bedroom, a twin bedroom, kitchen, TV lounge, bar, toilet and bathroom. (more…)

Five tips for preppers
by KELLY MEAD on APRIL 10, 2012 - 3 Comments in food

Urban survival - a good exercise

If the power in your area suddenly failed,  would you have a backup plan for your family’s food? A power cut will also shut the local water utility – so what source would you use for clean drinking water?

Ever looked for a way out of the maze of food chemicals and air pollutants that is modern life?  For your children’s sakes, if not your own -here’s a few tricks to reduce the long-term effects or even avoid them altogether.

Its not enough merely to reduce or eliminate toxic chemicals.  You need to adopt a more positive and decisive strategy involving proper nutrition, survival skills, and understanding self-sustaining living systems if you want to be ready for whatever may come your way.

From currency crisis to eco-disaster to Iran or China inspired conflict, political and economic threats can lead to social upheaval, jeopardising the everyday systems of living that most of us take for granted.

Here are 5 tips that will prepare you to survive in the event of life-altering changes: (more…)

Powering your cell phone
by KELLY MEAD on MARCH 25, 2012 - 0 Comments in mobile

Three phones is too many but three batteries makes sense

I know, I know – how do you call yourself off the grid when you have a cell phone so rooted to your ear that you would need surgery to remove it?

Whatever. We take life as we find it, and in most cases these days that means heavy smartphone usage is the norm off the grid. And that means battery maintenance is crucial to our daily peace of mind. And this info is useful not just to off-grid types but to anyone whose life is mobile but who needs to stay in touch via multiple media whilst they are on the road.

Cell phones and tablets have become incredibly powerful over the past few years, but the batteries, sadly, have not kept up. But there are a few ways to keep phones alive long past their normal exhaustion points. (more…)

Electric filling station
by KELLY MEAD on DECEMBER 17, 2009 - 2 Comments in energy

electron filling stationNew York’s first solar-powered electric vehicle (EV) charging station is open for business.

It is the first in New York State and one of few world-wide. The charging station was built by Beautiful Earth Group, a New York-based sustainable energy company,and sits on an industrial lot near the company’s headquarters in Red Hook, Brooklyn, overlooking New York Harbor and downtown Manhattan.

Designed and built by BE, the station is off-grid, modular, constructed with recycled, decommissioned steel shipping containers and entirely powered by state-of-the-art Sharp 235 watt photovoltaic panels.


A Natural Home
by KELLY MEAD on JULY 25, 2008 - 1 Comment in energy

A manufactured log home during construction
Super Good Cents log home, Idaho .
Pioneers living in log cabins were part of American frontier times. Now its part of the new frontier — living a healthy and self-sustaining lifestyle.
The choices available to those wishing to build a log home range from factory pre-cut to handmade on-site. Pre-cut kits are nothing new and have been available since 1923. Most manufactures will allow homeowners to customize their design to make it almost as one-of-a-kind as those handmade on-site.
A plus of log homes is that since most log homes are produced from local renewable wood sources they use much less energy (more…)

Calculating Possible Energy From A Stream
by KELLY MEAD on JULY 22, 2008 - 2 Comments in mobile

A Typical MicroHydo Power System
A Typical MH set-up on a river.
If you have a stream, you have a renewable, natural source of energy that, if done right, can have little to no impact on the environment around you. Using water as a power source goes back to ancient times. Roman was known to power their empire on it. There is abundant supply of streams and rivers that criss cross the US making micro-hydro power feasible. That is especially true in remote wooded areas where other natural energy, such as solar or wind, would be harder to integrate into the existing environment.

A micro-hydro power system needs a sufficient amount of falling water to be available in order to be feasible. Mountainous and hilly sites are best suited for this type of renewable energy. To figure out the amount of power that is possible from your water source you need to know the head and flow of your stream. The head is the vertical distance of the falling water. While the flow is the speed the water flows at.

A micro-hydro power site usually falls into either a low or high head category. A higher head is better due to needing less water to produce energy as well as the equipment being cheaper than those with a low head. A change in elevation that is less then 10ft (3 meters) is categorized as low head. Anything with a vertical drop less than 2ft (.6 meters) will make a micro-hydro power system not possible. Though if you have as little as 13” of water depth you are able to utilize a submersible turbine, which was originally designed to power scientific instruments being towed behind exploration ships.

There is both a gross and net head that needs to be calculated. The gross head is the vertical distance between where the water enters the penstock, pipes that convey the water under pressure, to where the water exits the turbine. You calculate your net head by subtracting the friction that is caused by the piping and the turbine itself.

While the best way to get an accurate gross head is to have a professional survey of your desired site, you can do a rough estimate yourself. You can use the hose-tube method by taking stream-depth measurements across the width of the water supply you intend to use. Once you know where you intend to place the beginning of the penstock and the turbine you can follow the direction below.

The Hose-Tube Method is done by:

  1. Make sure you have all supplies needed: Someone to help, 20ft to 30ft (6 to 9 meters) small diameter garden hose, Funnel, Measuring tape or yardstick
  2. Stretch the hose down the water channel from desired entrance to the penstock (usually the highest elevation)
  3. One person place the funnel into the hose upstream as close to the surface as possible
  4. At the downstream position have the other person lift their end until the water ceases to flow from it.
  5. Then measure the vertical distance from the surface of the water to the end of the hose. This is your gross head for this section of the waterway.
  6. Then move the funnel end of the hose to where the measurement was taken and once again stretch your hose down the water channel and repeat steps 3 thru 5 until you reach your desired position for the turbine.
  7. Once you have completed your measurements for each section, from entrance to pipes to exit from turbine, add them together for a gross head of the site chosen.
  8. To be conservative in your measurements it is best to subtract 1 – 2 inches (2 – 5 centimeters) from each measurement before adding to account for water that can continue to flow after both ends are level.

The flow of your waterway can probably be found at public sources; such as a U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, your county’s engineer, or local water supply of flood control authorities. If the flow is unavailable from these sources you can also do a rough estimate at the site yourself. There are two simple methods for this:

1. The bucket method which involves damming your stream to divert its flow into a bucket or container. The rate at which the container fills is the flow rate. If you used a 5 gallon bucket and it was filled in one minute then your flow rate would be 5 gallons a minute.

2. As long as the water isn’t fast flowing and/or over your calves you can use weighted-float method. This involves measuring the depths of the waterway across its width. To do this you will need: a helper, tape measure, yardstick, weighted-float (a plastic bottle halfway filled with water will do), stopwatch, and graph paper. Then to calculate the flow for a cross section of the waterway at its lowest water level you need to:

  1. Find the most uniform depth and straightest stretch of the waterway
  2. Measure the width of the waterway at the narrowest point
  3. Use the yardstick vertically to measure the depth at 1ft increments. You may wish to use a string stretched across to mark the increments.
  4. Plot the measurements on the paper to give you a cross section diagram of the waterway
  5. Calculate the area of each section by determining the areas of the rectangles (area = length × width) and right triangles (area = ½ base × height) in each section
  6. From the section you measured mark a point at least 20ft upstream
  7. From there release your weighted-float and time how long it takes to reach your measured part of the waterway. Be careful to not let the weighted-float drag on the streambed at anytime.
  8. To get your flow velocity divide the distance between the two points by the seconds it took the float to travel. Doing this multiple times and using the average will you give you a better measurement
  9. Multiply the velocity average by the cross-sectional area of the stream
  10. Finally you need to account for the roughness of the bed of the waterway. You will need to multiple the results by either 0.6, for many rough stones on the bottom, 0.7, for only small to medium stones on the bottom, or 0.8, for a smooth sandy type bottom.

Once you have the flow and head calculations you can estimate the power outage for a standard microhydropower system, which has about 53% efficiency. To do this you multiply the net head by the flow then divide by 10 to get the output in watts.

net head [(feet) × flow (gpm)] ÷ 10 = W

Caution: Please remember that flowing waterways will have variable flows throughout the year. So taking the measurements at the waterways lowest average for the year can ensure that enough energy output is available to support your energy needs.

When you are considering this alternative for your personal energy system you need to consider the power output that is possible, the price, and legal issues, such as water rights and permits. These issues taken as a whole will help decide if this renewable energy is for you. Considering the low impact on the environment, the ability to build it yourself with locally available parts, and the fact that it has been used for thousands of years makes this natural energy stand alone in todays search for alternatives to the conventional power supply.

Make Sense of Water
by KELLY MEAD on JULY 9, 2008 - 0 Comments in water

Look for this logo on the label of water products and programs to save you water and money.

Managing water has become a growing concern. Though the Earth has abundant water only about 1% is actually available for human use. So taking into account that population and the demand for usable water will be increasing in the future while the supply will remain constant, a decision to increase efficiency by consumers at large was made.

The average American household uses about 100,000 gallons of water a year. And some of that is waste. That adds up to about 900 billion gallons of wasted water from just American households. Off-grid or not – give your bathroom a high-efficiency makeover, and save more than 11,000 gallons annually (over 10%).

Installing WaterSense toilets and faucets or faucet accessories reduces water bills, and the upgrade could pay for itself in a few years and continue to save water and money for years to come.

Replacing all the inefficient toilets in the US alone with WaterSense labeled toilets the US nation could save 640 billion gallons of water that is literally being flushed away every year.

The program works by promoting water efficiency and the products, programs, and practices that can be used every day by people. It was open for public input on May 22, 2008 when the draft specification for water-efficient single family new homes was released. These are open for public input until July 21, 2008. So even though products will be hitting the shelves and programs will be starting soon the complete specifications for this program will not be finalized until later.

Programs and products that meet the performance and efficiency criteria of this EPA program will be allowed to carry the WaterSense label.This can be a big help for those who are remodeling, or trying to cut down on water use for either drought or monetary reasons. With this new label you are assured that these products will perform well, help you save money, and even help to encourage move innovation in the creation of even better performing water products. You can visit the EPA website to see a list of water-efficient products

They have designed many of the products to not require a change in your lifestyle, just in the water you use. Changing faucets, toilets, landscaping devices, etc. is all that is needed to make a positive impact on both your wallet and the environment. For those who live in drought prone areas that can make a big difference if as a community you change over to these new easy to identify products.

Growing communities are now faced with the problem of not only needing an increased supply but the infrastructure to support it. The WaterSense program is also designed to help these communities to build that infrastructure in the most efficient way. This is not a concern for the average citizen but knowing that this program is designed to help the community at large as well as the individual means more water for everyone.

Cheap Water Filter for Everyone
by KELLY MEAD on JUNE 19, 2008 - 10 Comments in water

The Australian National University (ANU) scientist Tony Flynn has developed a process to create water filters from commonly available materials. The materials need to also be fired, which can be done without a kiln or other western technology, by using common manure.

An estimated 80% of all sickness in this world can be attributed to unsafe water and sanitation according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That can be seen in the annual 1.5 billion episodes of diarrhea in children under the age of 5, with about four million of those being fatal.

Since historically water filters have had to be imported to developing nations, which means increased cost and reduced availability for the populace. With the new filter design made from common place materials available in even the most remote places.

“These filters are a hollow ceramic vessel filled with charcoal. They are intended to filter out suspended silt and bacteria. However, at around $US5 each, they’re too expensive for individuals in many developing communities to consider purchasing,” stated Mr Flynn. “They are very simple to explain and demonstrate and can be made by anyone, anywhere. They don’t require any Western technology. All you need is terracotta clay, some used coffee grounds or tea leaves, a compliant cow and a match,” Mr Flynn continued “Everyone has a right to clean water, these filters have the potential to enable anyone in the world to drink water safely.”

Filter production is simple:

  • A handful of crushed dry clay
  • A handful of common organic material, such as coffee grounds, rice hulls, or used tea leaves
  • Add water, just enough to make a stiff biscuit dough like mixture
  • Shape into a cylinder shaped pot closed on one end
  • Dry it in sun
  • Place dried filter on a layer of dry manure, a little straw, dead leaves or shredded bark
  • Add two more layers of manure mixture on top
  • Light the straw, dead leaves, or shredder bark
  • Keep fire going until pot is completely cured (less than an hour in most cases, as different materials will mean different times)

Since using a potters kiln can take up to eight to nine hours to achieve the temperatures needed, which can be achieved using this method in a hour or less. Also with the expensive of such a kiln being prohibitive to most people, this is an excellent method anyone can make use of. Especially since no additional technology, or added insulation is needed being able to drink safe, filtered water water in almost any location on the planet. As long as water, manure, red/yellow clay and human organic debris you can make a filter that traps pathogens.

This design is purposely not being patented in a hope that it can be freely used around the world. Their belief that even third world countries should have the ability to have clean safe drinking water.

When the organic material is burned away inside the clay during the firing process it will leave cavities that can trap pathogens in the water. It is based on the basic principal that these cavities are big enough for water to pass through while being too narrow for the dangerous pathogens and the fine materials that make water muddy and unpleasant. Testing was done with E-coli bacterium and saw the filter remove 96.4% to 99.8% of the pathogen, which is well within the recommended safe levels.

This invention came from the a World Vision project that involved the community of Manatuto, in East Timor. This project was to rehabilitate a small community of potters that was devastated in the East Timor’s civil war for Independence. It was hoped that by helping the potters to produce filters would help in two ways; one give the community clean drinking water and two provide a means of revenue for the community by producing and selling them.

Using one filter it was found to produce a liter of clean water in two hours.

Be Tankless
by KELLY MEAD on JUNE 15, 2008 - 0 Comments in water

Being tankless in heating your water is an easy, if somewhat costly, upgrade that you can see immediate benefits from. Costs can vary from about $150 for point of use water heater to household ones starting about $450 going up to $1000 or more for top of the line models. Point of use models install directly under the water fixture which also means less heat loss and you can convert your water heating system slowly one water fixture at a time. But since most houses have at least two sink and a tub you will already go over the cost of the cheapest whole house tankless system. On the plus the up front cost can be spread out over time, and for smaller places such as boats, RV’s, campers, etc. it might just be what you are looking for.

The average household spends $50 or more a month just to keep hot water at the ready. This means that the hot water is heated and then stored in it’s tank to wait for use. Just like anything else that id hot and left to sit heat loss happens and then it needs to be re-heated, which just starts the cycle over again. Once the water is used the cycle is again in place till that water is used, and so on. That is a lot of wasted energy you are paying for just to have the convenience of on demand hot water. At that hot water is finite since the average tank system holds about 40 galleons and tankless can supply an infinite supply. Chyanging over to a tankless system lets you use as little or as much hot water as you need without the worry over running out or heating more than needed.

The lifespan of a tankless water heater, 20+ years, is almost double that of a convential water heater, 8 to 12 years, Also a tankless system is serviceable while most tank water systems are not. Tankless systems also can be installed outside your home or in a fraction of the space vacated by your convetnional one. It’s almost like adding a small closet to your home of usable square footage.

The conventional water heater is only about 40% to 60% energy efficient do to the heat loss through the exhaust and the walls of the tank. While tankless are 60% efficient for the gas version and 99% efficient for the electric version. So for those of you who have or are looking to change to personal energy systems this is one less drain of your limited energy production without lossing the comfort of hot water on demand.

For those who use radiant heat, tankless systems can work for you too., They can be installed in RV’s boats,mobile homes, sheds, barns, etc. So the applications seem almost endless for anyplace you need/want on demand hot water production. Plus since there is no storage tank associated with this system you won’t need to worry about it freezing and bursting in frigid temperatures. So there will be no messy floods to clean up as you can have from leaking or broken tank water heater systems.

Venting for theses systems is also flexible as some can be vented horizontally and vertically, some can even be vented through existing chimneys. Most of the newer models also have computer-monitored safety devices with automatic water and gas valves to make them as safe as possible.

Payback for the additional cost of these tankless varieties is 3 to 7 years depending on usage and model bought. If you have a smaller household the payback will be seen faster as you will no longer be constantly re-heating unused hot water. For a larger household the convience of multi-showering, either in a row or at the same time, will be noticed right away. That means no more worrying about when the 40 galleons are used up, about 20 minuets, when you are all lined up in the morning to start your day.

For anyone desiring a better way to have hot water in their home look into these tankless water heater at your local hardware/home improvement store or research models on the net. The benefits definitely outweigh the higher price tag. In addition you are adding value to your home.

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