Thursday, 16 February 2012 16:00

Sustainability - a popular term

Sustainability has become a popular term in the past few years. A few people have been preaching it for many years but most of us are just starting to catch on in the past decade or so.

Websters Dictionary defines sustainable as:

a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged

b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableA lot of people think that if you live off grid you are being “sustainable”. I don‘t agree with that but there are certainly aspects of our off grid lifestyle that are sustainable. We grow as much of our own food as we can and that food produces its own seeds so we can do it over and over again. We heat our home with wood that comes from trees that we grow on our property. We will never use as much wood as we can grow so our heat source is entirely sustainable.

I like to think of recyclable materials as sustainable. Anything you re-use by way of recycling is helping to keep that resource from being depleted or permanently damaged.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe heat our home with a masonry heater that is 95 to 98% efficient. It burns so efficiently there is almost nothing left to emit into the atmosphere. We had the designer/mason attach a masonry kitchen stove to our heater. We use that to heat our house in the milder temperatures and to cook with. Every time we use it to cook or heat we are saving on propane use. Because our trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen it is possible that we are actually having a positive impact on the environment instead of a negative one. I’m not talking about global warming here, just common sense that producing toxic greenhouse gases can’t possibly be a good thing. The less we produce the better.

Walking and even riding a bicycle are forms of sustainability. You are helping to keep the fossil fuels from becoming depleted. Buying a used home is another example of sustainability. For that matter buying used anything would also apply.

Should we feel guilty if we aren’t 100% sustainable? I don’t think so. To be completely sustainable, one would have to live completely off the land using food, shelter, and tools that came from the land. That isn’t really a practical reality in todays modern world, however having said that, I can also say there isn’t any excuse for wasteful activities that are entirely preventable.

We all have different ideas about how far we as a society should go towards sustainability but I don’t think anyone can argue that sustainability is a good thing and anything you do in that regard is a step in the right direction and the sooner the better.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website  and Off Grid Works.


Related items

  • Spring To Do List

    We might have called this blog “after the snow leaves” instead of spring. At elevation 4200’ spring is a pretty short season. We don’t see the end of snow until the end of April and then it seems spring is only visible during the day for another month because it still freezes at night. It’s not just the snow. We have to wait for the ground to thaw as well. In short we really don’t get to go to work outside until sometime in May and by that time the “to do” list is pretty long.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableAs you can see by previous blogs we are already growing vegetables before spring even gets here.

    We need to get the boat and gear ready for trout fishing because they only seem to bite in late May and early June and then again in the fall. We rely on those fish for part of our pressure canned food supplies we stock our pantry with the year round. Besides fishing is fun and after a long winter being cooped up it is time for something different.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableThe garden has to get re-leveled and roto tilled. That takes two different days before it is ready to plant. We got ours done May 15 and 16 this year. After that it is time to plant. Our garden is pretty good sized so planting is an ongoing process throughout May and June.

    There always seems to be fence to repair. The deep snows tend to do the most damage to our fences every year.

    We clean our chimneys of creosote and the masonry heater as well. Then we shut it down until October. We have to clean the stone face with vinegar and water.

    When the ground freezes deep enough some of our gutter tight line drains freeze as well. We have to take the downspouts off and hook up temporary drains for when the snow melts off the roof all winter long. So once the ground is thawed we have to remove the temporary drains and put the downspouts back on so we can catch rainwater for our cisterns.

    It’s a good time to run vinegar through the tankless hot water lines to get any mineral deposit buildup out of those lines.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe can’t forget one of our bigger tasks is wood cutting. I cut the trees down in the fall to get them to start curing and in May we start cut, split, and stack the wood. All six cords. We may not burn that much but I like to have extra just in case. You really want to get this work done before it gets too hot.

    The horses, cats, and dog all need extra grooming because they are all shedding their winter coats.

    Much of the equipment has been sitting all winter and the tires need to be refilled with air. I maintain all of my equipment in the fall before winter so it is ready to go on the spring but the tires still need air from sitting so long.

    The winter hay area needs to be cleaned and organized. Mouse traps set in the barn when it warms up. For that matter we also usually clean the barn.

    I spend about two days repairing our three mile long road from the winter thaw damage. That work is a timing issue. It has to be done after the thaw but while it is still damp and before it dries out and turns to moon dust.

    It’s a good time to clean and rearrange the pantry. Take inventory of what is left over and what we will need to replenish our supplies.

    This year we have to make arrangements to leave for a few days to attend the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, WA on June 2, and 3rd. That only adds to our hectic spring schedule but we will find a way because we really want to go to the Fair.

    All in all it is a pretty busy time for us. We have these things to do as well as our “day jobs” and running our two websites. It’s a lot of work but it’s what we chose. Why is a whole ‘nother blog.

    Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website  and Off Grid Works.

  • Convenience vs Sustainability

    Green living, off grid, and sustainability are words that are often mentioned in a way that would make them interconnected. This isn’t a blog about semantics but rather an analysis of our own progress towards these three terms in the pursuit of our off grid adventure.

    It’s not my intention to have a discussion with anyone about what is right or wrong, how far we should go to clean up our act concerning the environment, or where to draw the line between things like pipelines vs. wildlife and other hot topics that headline national and local news. Many of these issues need to be decided on a case by case basis and considerations given to both need and effect.

    This blog is more about the choices Laurie and I have made between convenience vs. sustainability in our pursuit to go off grid.

    I’m not sure we ever intended to become “green” but rather chose to utilize better practices in some areas of our lives that just made sense. I’m also pretty sure that if you went around asking everyone what “green” meant you would get as many different answers as the number of people you talked to.

    I think anything you can do to improve the quality of the world we live in or lessen your impact should be considered green and I would hope that most people would consider that to be just good common sense.

    It makes sense to recycle and reduce waste. It makes sense to use less fossil fuel or emit less smoke, exhaust, or other unhealthy toxins into the air we breathe. How could anyone argue against that?

    Laurie has managed to drag me into the recycling world at least to the extent that I now pay attention and participate for the most part. We pay attention to the things we do that would cause pollution or other harm to theenvironment and try to keep our impact to a minimum.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe’ve installed a heating system that utilizes the trees we grow on our own property and the emissions from our masonry heater are 95% efficient. We can grow more trees than we need for heat so I consider that to be a plus in the green department.

    We’ve become much more efficient and less wasteful in how we purchase goods, use fossil fuels, and how far we go before we replace an item. Many things now get repaired and reused instead of throwing them away.

    Over all, I would have to say we’ve made improvements in the green category.

    We’ve definitely managed to go off the grid. We manufacture our own solar power, are independent in our waste management with a septic system, and we have our own water source and power to access it.

    Sustainability is a whole different animal. We are not 100% sustainable but our off grid experience has put us much closer to sustainable bragging rights than before we moved in here.

    We still use propane in our living system. We use it for our stove, dryer, tankless hot water heater, wall heaters, and backup generator.

    We can eliminate the dryer if we want to and often do dry our clothes on a clothes rack inside or outside. Did you know you can save over $285.00 per year by drying your clothes naturally?

    We could go without the backup generator if we had to. Just quit using electricity when the sun disappears for days at a time as it often does in our area.

    Our wall heaters don’t really count because the only reason they are there is if we want to leave the house in the winter unattended and don’t want it to freeze. They are for backup use only.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableOur propane stove also doesn’t really count because we had a custom made wood burning masonry stove put in our kitchen that works quite well. So if we REALLY WANTED TO, we could be sustainable with the exception of convenient hot water. Of course we could heat water on our wood fired kitchen stove if we had to. The only reason we don’t have solar hot water is because I wasn’t convinced the current systems available would perform the way we wanted to in the really cold weather and when the sun isn’t available.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableFor true sustainability you also have to grow your own food. We do have a big garden in the summer and pressure can and freeze a lot of vegetables. We can grow veggies almost all year long in our attached insulated cold frame/ raised beds. We pressure can much of the trout we catch in the local lakes. We have chickens for eggs and meat. We even have horses for transportation in a worst case event.

    So at this point we are not sustainable but only by choice. We chose the more convenient propane stove, dryer, and hot water appliances over true sustainability.  We chose to draw that line in a different place than others might have but I can still say we are a lot closer to sustainability than we were and we could be sustainable if we truly wanted to be.

    I feel good about what we’ve done because I know we have made improvements and are a lot better off than we were. We are greener, more sustainable and we definitely live off grid. I think those are all good things.

    Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website  and Off Grid Works.