Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Budget in Water

I posted on my other blog recently about how for the first time in my life I'm seriously applying myself to working within a budget, not just of money but also of time.  (You can read that post here, if you're so inclined.) 

Now that I'm doing this, I'm really appreciating the whole concept of a budget, which is really just a recognition of what one has and how to use it.  Living by a budget is a demonstration of how freedom can come through discipline.

One thing that occurred to me in playing with this concept is that while I was living on my land over the summer, I was living by a budget of water.  I had my two seven-gallon containers and I had icemelt from the ice chest, and that was it.  Having this limited water supply meant disciplining myself to use that fifteen or so gallons completely and creatively.  It meant I could see exactly what I had and where it was going, and so, as I posted earlier here, it was a rewarding experience. And I realize now that the sense of empowerment that comes with living by a budget is directly related to the ability to control one's resources.

What's interesting for me in the water budget framework is that most of us (including me, now that I'm living back on the grid for the winter) have no concept of how much water we "have" and how much we use.  So while we have the relative freedom of a seemingly unlimited water supply, which also doesn't burden us much in terms of cost, we are actually missing out on the empowerment that comes with budgeting.  And I don't just mean on an individual level; I see this is at the heart of the whole problem with the developed world.  How can we have a sense of responsibility about how we use water if we have no working concept of how much there really is and where it's all going?   

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Project Gingerbag House

In the Earthbag Building book, it's suggested that one make a model of one's house before attempting to build it.  While the idea intrigued me when I read it, I didn't seriously considering making a model of the Enviro Dome I'm going to build until this holiday season, when it occurred to me to make one out of gingerbread.

Since my house will consist of domes, I decided that I would construct my gingerbread model in the same way you make a clay coil pot, which would be similar to using earthbag tubing.  I looked around online to see if anyone else has made a gingerbread house this way, and while I didn't find any, I did find a few gingerdomes that were constructed in other ways, such as this geodesic one:  (The image is password protected, so I couldn't copy it in.) I also found a really cool site that features "green" gingerbread houses

I wanted to make the model as close to scale as possible, and I used plastic yogurt container lids of two different sizes as my templates.  They weren't precisely the right diameters, but close enough. 

I started forming the first "course" of "tubes" around the templates,


 but then realized I needed to place them on a base.

I used Jolly Ranchers topped by half a Life Saver for my door forms, and planned on removing them for the baking process, then putting them back in afterwards as the actual doors.

Justin was really good at making the "tubes,"

which I then moistened and stacked, trying to bring each "course" in just enough to get the corbelled dome effect.  Once the domes were finished, I removed the candy doors and replaced them with a tin foil form.

Into the oven went the house.  When it came out, it looked like this:


I had suspected this might happen, but other than the fact that I couldn't do my cotton candy berm now, I really didn't mind.  The purpose of this experiment was more about going through the process of creating the domes, rather than having some perfect finished product. 

In retrospect, building the gingerdome this way was more like building with cob than with earthbags.  And like cob, which needs to dry between building sessions, I should have baked a few "courses" at a time, just enough to give it some solidity before adding more.

Graeme and I were standing over the blob, gazing at it rather forlornly, when he said, "Wait!"  He turned the baking sheet around, and said, "Look - it's a perfect troll face."  And indeed it was.

Well, it wasn't quite what I'd had in mind, but who was I not to go with the flow?

That was one tasty face.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shimming the Tree

Here's a confession which will give you a very clear understanding of just how "inexperienced" a builder I was before beginning my housebuilding project:  I didn't even know what a shim was.  In fact, even after I looked it up because it was referenced in the house plans I bought from Owen Geiger, I still didn't really understand the term.

It wasn't until I helped Aly hang her doors that I truly comprehended shimming.  Thank God our friend Jeremy (who helped me move the bus way back when) was there too.  Because while Aly at least knew what a shim was, neither of us was really prepared for the exercise in precision that hanging doors is.  Jeremy, however, is a construction guy (and a really great teacher, I might add).  He was very patient with our ignorance, and walked us through the whole process.  Because Aly's doorway wasn't quite plumb, we had to make shims, so I got to see exactly what they are and what they're for.  Pretty nifty.   Jeremy even let me operate his circular saw, a first for me.  Turns out I'm pretty good at it, but power tools still kinda freak me out.

Sorry for the crappy quality; these were taken with my phone.

My second experience using shims has come unexpectedly.  I bought a Christmas tree last weekend, and while installing it in its stand, I realized the trunk was too skinny for the screws that hold it in place, so my four-year-old's dad helped out by making four shims, one for each screw.

Useful buggers, shims!  You just never know where they'll come in handy.