The Atomic Home

One of the things we intend to do with our new house is to make it as self-reliant as possible. We’ve lived for a long time depending on the resources of a landlord or an organization to provide the functionality we need from a home. Although we’ll probably never be one of those people who can live “off the grid” — at least not in this country — there’s a lot of things we want to learn about ensuring the independence of our own home.

There’s a lot of basics I need to learn more about, for example. I’m relatively competent with basic wiring, but the other day I removed a lightswitch in Abigail’s room to put in a dimmer, and ran into a wiring setup I’d never seen before. I can network my home and set-up my home theater better, maybe, than the average geek. But I don’t know the first thing about plumbing or carpentry, and I’d like to have at least some cursory knowledge in those areas.

A happy, and natural, side-effect of this goal is that our home will become more ‘green’ the more we lower our outside dependencies. I’ve found that regardless of your political view point or opinions on Global Warming, lately ‘green’ has been a pretty universally accepted “Good Thing” — simply because it reduces costs. Everyone wants to save money these days.

We have some large goals in this area, and some smaller ones we’re working on. My dad-in-law built his own industrial-strength wood furnace at their place in the country. This summer he hooked it up to heat the pool. For the winter he’s setting it up to heat their hot water tank, warm their house, and even pre-heat the air for the dryer. I’m not sure we’ll be able to do anything like that, but I am very interested in solar power.

Some friends of ours, who usually live in Africa, wired their place there to run completely on solar power, when its available, with a fall-back to a generator if it gets too cloudy, and once the batteries are drained. They, of course, have no other options, so were pretty motivated to get it working. They also are able to be fairly picky about what appliances they run, and when. One of my goals is to get my entire home office running on solar power, falling back to grid power only when the batteries are nearly dead.

Here’s a couple of the smaller things we’re working on in the short term, that have already started saving us money:

  • Timers: The home theater equipment, both upstairs and downstairs, is on timers. Most home theater devices are never really off unless you remove their power. If a device has a remote control, its drawing power even in its “off” state. LCD and Plasma TVs are fairly big offenders in this area. Your XBox 360, PS3 or Wii are also pretty bad.
    Upstairs we bought a powerbar with a timer built-in. It even has a little back-up battery so your program is never lost. Downstairs we have a more heavy-duty outdoor timer on the equipment. Late at night, a computer upstairs runs a script to cleanly shutdown itself and a remote script on the AppleTV to do the same. Shortly afterward the timer kills power to all the devices.
    Although I don’t have accurate numbers, our power bill has been below the previous “average” by $10 or more every month since we got the timers in place.
  • Dimmers and motion sensors: We’re still rolling this plan out, but where ever possible we’ll be using these kinds of switches to provide only the light needed in a given room. In the kids rooms, in particular, we rarely want the lights on at full brightness anyway. In the garage and laundry room, a motion sensor makes lots of sense.
    These kinds of switches do mean you can’t use (cheap) CFL energy-efficient bulbs, but you can invest in dimmable CFLs, or use halogen high-efficiency bulbs which are almost as good, and don’t contain mercury.
  • Gardening and composting: Both of these are Nicole’s pet projects. I’m not really sure how composting saves money, but its certainly ‘green’ and we feel better about reducing the amount of garbage we produce. Nic’s parents have grown their own vegetables in their garden for years. They taste better, save money, and are good for the environment.
  • Cut the cable: OK, not as green, but this is a great money saver — do you really need your $40-or-more/month cable TV? No seriously, is there anything you watch on TV that you can’t get over the Internet for free or cheap? This may be the realm of the geek for another couple years, but the technology is getting better and easier to use. We don’t need cable — not even for even for events best watched live. We watched and followed the election coverage online the other day, and not once longed for commecial interuptions.
    We could do the same thing with the telephone if I didn’t work from home. Skype provides decent telephony for free-to-cheap that’s more than sufficient for personal use. Alas, despite our efforts, it doesn’t quite hack it for business use.
  • Use your library, buy used: We learned this lesson early from a family who is frugal, wealthy, and not at all “green.” Your local library has a massive selection of great books, and probably has a decent array of movies that are free to borrow. Your children rarely need brand new clothes or toys — used stores rock, and the clearance shelf is a great place to shop!
  • Walk more: I’m a hypocrite here. I have bad feet, so I’d be happy to drive half a block to the mailbox — if it weren’t for Benjamin, who loves going for “wwwwalks!” One of the nicest things about living in a small town, though, is that once you get past the lame excuses, there’s really nothing you can’t walk to get. Gas is finally getting cheaper, but we’re down to one car for the winter (maybe forever) and we’d prefer not to use it unless we have to. I understand walking is good for you too…

Ultimately, it’d be awesome if the only service our home needed to pay an outside organization for was Internet. Its probably not feasible in North America, but the closer we can get to that goal, the more money we save.
It probably goes without saying that there are wide variety of bad habits that, if eliminated or avoided, can probably save lots of money too.

How about you? Does anyone else have any ideas for saving money, reducing your dependencies and improving the environment?

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3 thoughts on “The Atomic Home

  1. All good stuff, and yes, there are a lot more particulars that you could cite. But the overall motivation has got to be that what ever you earn, whatever you own, whatever is given to you, doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to God. I know many at this site know that, and that is a good thing. Just keep this as the main thing, and all the rest falls into place.

    One of the really great initiatives under the Kennedy adminstration was the impetus he gave to the Peace Corps. Thousands of young people went out all around the world helping poor nations dig wells, plant trees and build houses. Those experiences changed them, made them leaner and more self-reliant, less dependent on a materialist society and more willing to cut back on their own excesses. I’m hoping Obama’s leadership can bring the same kind of self-reliance and self-control back to a nation that is simply drowning in ‘wretched excess.’

  2. Buy used as much as possible. I always look at goodwill first for all our clothes, household stuff, etc. Saves a bunch. Example – I got Kaeden a London fog down winter coat, a great toque, and some snow pants for $6.25. He loves them, he’s warm, and we didn’t have to spend $50+ dollars 🙂

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