Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Non-power Devices

"H" wants to know what non-power devices I use on the farm. I'm assuming that he didn't mean the standard run-of-the-mill hand tools. Most people actually want to know where I substitute human power for electricity, gasoline, or propane. Or where I use wind, sun, or fire as my energy source. 

First of all, I'm off grid. We generate our own electricity via solar, but we do have a back up generator to use when needed. Speaking of generators, my two do use gasoline. So they are not non-power.  One is tied into the solar system. The other is portable for tool use around the farm. So even though I derive my electricity via a solar system, I still need to use gasoline powered equipment to keep it in top form. Thus no elimination of gasoline fuel here, but at least my electricity isn't from the grid and most of it is from solar.

My solar system charges my tool batteries, which include drills, sawsall, hedgetrimmer, weedwacker, and chainsaw. Yes, a chainsaw! I'll be reporting about that later. I find battery operated hand tools work fine in some applications. When they don't, then I bring out the portable generator. So even though I'm using a battery operated tool, it surely isn't non-electric. So these tools surely aren't what "H" is talking about either. 

I use the sun to dry my clothes most of the way. I'm in a very humid location so I need to resort to throwing the clothes into a propane dryer for 5 minutes to get the seams dry, otherwise the clothes mildew. Future plans call for a clothes drying hothouse. But to date I am able to limit my propane use by using a clothesline. So I'm not 100% non-electric on this task, though some day I will. But 5 minutes of propane is a heck of a lot less that 45-60 minutes per load. 

I use the sun power to dehydrate my fruits and nuts. And a solar fan ventilates the barn on hot afternoons. We are planning to install one in the house too. While I have a solar oven. I usually don't get enough good sun to cook a meal on a regular basis. But it can get a roast done during our drought years when we see long days of no clouds. Future plans call for a parabolic solar cooker to toy around with. I've never tried cooking with one, so it should be interesting. So in these cases, I'm using non-electric dehydrators, fans, and cooking devices. Bingo....just what "H" is talking about. 

Many homes in Ka'u have solar hot water. I could get solar warm water here but not hot, because good sun after 12 noon is not all that common on this homestead. Thus I don't have solar hot water. I could devise a wood fired hot water heater, but it's a low priority project at the moment. So "H", I admit that I use propane for now. But when we install a furo (soaking hot tub), we plan to heat the water with a submersible wood burner or maybe a rocket stove. At least I won't be using electricity to heat the hot water. Plus we have a Flo-jet DC (electric) pump for pumping our household water from the catchment tanks to the house system. Gosh, just about everything about my water system requires power, except for the gravity feed of the rainwater from the roof via the gutters to the tanks. 

Our house heat comes from a wood burning stove, which I also use for cooking and heating coffee water. But I do have a propane cook range as a back up. This past year has been too warm to run the wood stove, thus I've been using the propane range much more than usual. I've been looking into a rocket stove for outdoor cooking, which would burn wood. Happily I live where I don't need to have my house heated during the winter nor use air conditioning to cool it off on hot days. Big energy savings there! 

Now let's see what else.......
The sugar cane press is hand powered. So is the oil expeller for making my macnut oil. And the macnut cracker is hand operated. I process some of my fruits using a Squeezo, which is hand operated.  My meat grinder is hand operated. And I regularly use a mortar & pestal. But on the other hand, I frequently use my electric stick blender and an electric coffee grinder, although it is brief.

There are plenty of opportunities to use alternative power, but I haven't had time to toy with the ideas. Foot treadles could power tools (ex: lathe), small pumps, fans. Bicycle power has proven workable for powering pumps, grain thrashers, small generators, certain tools, etc. I know how to set up such things but haven't made any. May be once the house is finished I'll try toying with those ideas. 

Other alternative power sources could be dog, goat, or horse power. I've used my horse to pull logs instead of using a tractor or truck. Years ago before I moved to Hawaii I used to use dogs to pull a sled (I did recreational dog sledding), but haven't done anything like that on this homestead yet. But if for some reason gasoline became unavailable or unaffordable, I know how to make harnesses and train animals to help me out. 

There's lots and lots of non-electrical, non-gasoline/propane devices out there, but I generally don't need them. I don't need a garden seed planter, wheelhoe, or hand plow. Nor a hand operated apple peeler, potato cutter, pineapple cutter, ice cube crusher, deli slicer, cherry pitter, hand blender. By choice, I don't have a TV, DVD player, sound system, video games, clocks, outdoor lighting or flood lights, and any device that constantly draws power (microwave, electric range, phone systems, night lights, etc). 

I like having a refrigerator and freezer, but opt for ones that use very little energy (Steca and Sundanzer). I like having an automatic clothes washer, and have opted for a simple low energy use one. While I could indeed live without these energy users, it wouldn't be very convenient. I don't intend to ditch my freezer, frig, or wash machine anytime soon.

Yes, in many aspects I'm not self sufficient at all (my goal isn't to be totally self sufficient). I use gasoline and propane. But I have drastically cutback my use of both as compared to 10 years ago. And I am far more apt to do things by hand than my neighbors do, who tend to use powered machinery instead. For example, I hand pull my fencing instead of using a tractor. Hand pound in t-posts instead of using a tractor or impact drill. Use a hammer instead of a nail gun. Crack nuts and process cane with a hand machine instead of a motorized one. Hand remove rocks instead of using a backhoe. Hand paint my house and outdoor steps instead of using a paint sprayer. Again, these are simply my choices that I'm happy with. 

My choices are simply that, personal choices. There are times where hand powered sits fine with me. Other times, power equipment makes my life easier or saves me time......like my ATV which saves wear & tear on my body and gets jobs done in a fraction of the time. Yes, the cost is not just the use of the gasoline, but also the initial purchase expense and maintenance costs. Sometimes it's simply just worth it to me to use a piece of power equipment. 

If my goal were to go completely without using gasoline or propane, I suppose I could survive ok except for a vehicle. My area is not suitable to use a horse and cart (boy, I'd use a pony & cart in a flash if I could!) But ya know, I'm not really aiming to go totally without gas. I'm satisfied with being a low user. I've cutback my dependency upon them quite a bit and am satisfied thus far. 


  1. I keep hoping for a home-use affordable hydrogen fuel cell generator. If that was widely available, and if the electronics could have adequate EMP shielding, we would be far less impacted if a solar flare or other event occurred. Battery technology is a slow-to-change element, but newer designs of flow batteries could make life a lot easier, too, saving the oil for better uses.

  2. Thanks for all this, Su! When you get to the rocket stove, if you do, I'm interested in every detail! Also, I'm ready for a stove/oven soon and have been trying to figure out the ins and outs. Glow bars, battery run starters, etc. When we pass out on the road one morning, maybe you can share your choice with me. We are still grateful you turned on us to the Stecas...love them both. Mahalo, as always.

  3. Thanks for all this, Su! When you get to the rocket stove, if you do, I'm interested in every detail! Also, I'm ready for a stove/oven soon and have been trying to figure out the ins and outs. Glow bars, battery run starters, etc. When we pass out on the road one morning, maybe you can share your choice with me. We are still grateful you turned on us to the Stecas...love them both. Mahalo, as always.