Saturday, March 27, 2010
When the simple life isn't
When I first moved to this part of the mountain, I rented a great house that was off the grid. This was right up my/our alley, as our intention was always to build some sort of alternative home and be responsible for making our own power.
The four years I lived in that house were quite the education, to say the least. I had a small group of solar panels that were so high up on the roof, only Santa Claus or Spiderman could have gotten up there to clear the snow in winter so I could get power. The batteries were probably on their death beds when I moved in, and my first winter there, I quickly learned that the generator the landlord had so generously left for me had a broken pull cord on it. Oh...and did I mention the home made 12v refrigerator that had an interior temperature of about 50F and no freezer?
There are lots of stories that go with that house. For now, I just want to say that having that experience was the basis for making sure when we planned our own system so that we would have ample power, plenty of backup, and no single point of failure. It all worked pretty well until the years slowly filled our home with the trappings of the power world...freezers, flat panel televisions, computers, printers, and so on. It's funny now to look back and to think I originally returned the top of my stove to be exchanged for a more traditional warming oven like you'd find on a wood cook stove, so we'd have no more phantom electrical loads from the fan and light and clock (if you're not on to phantom loads...this is all the electricity things like your television use when you're not using them and you think they're not using electricity).
This past fall we had an additional set of panels installed and an entirely new inverter system. We now have the ability to produce electricity to feed back to the cooperative. Instead of those small batteries we had before, we now have batteries that weigh a hefty 1,200 lbs. each. The inverters live in a cupboard on the outside wall of our house (thank heavens...I am weary of electrical noises and buzzing). It was all just great, for a while.
It appears now there is trouble in River City. Something didn't get hooked up properly and the batteries are always in recharge mode. It's causing a smell to leak into our house (think: crates of rotten eggs). Thank heavens Mr. Sunflower is an electrical engineer and has the ability to trouble shoot and work with the team who did the installation to try to find a way to make this all work as it should. If I lived here with this alone...well...I think I wouldn't want the bother.
We're still getting power (from the grid instead of our own system), but it's causing me to really think about how (and why) we do these things to ourselves. We look for some level of simplicity in our lives, and end up creating the same mazes we left behind. Do I love having a freezer after living without one for 4 years? You bet. Do I love using my microwave for reheating my coffee? Yepper! Would I want to have no surplus electricity and not be able to use this computer? No way. Oh...and ask me how passionate I am about my clothes dryer, after tromping through mud and snow to bring in clothes from the line for those 4 years!
So, here I am, conflicted. Sometimes I think maybe it was just fine when I had limited batteries, one 12v light bulb and used a kerosene lamp at dinner time. I ate a far healthier diet with little refrigeration. Now that I think about it, I read a lot more in those days, too. Oh...and in retrospect, those 4.5 years without a land line telephone we're so bad, either.
So I think what I'm concluding is that the simple life is something I need to create in my head more than relying on my surroundings to give me that feeling. Maybe I should start there and work from the inside out?