I’ve adopted a policy in our motorhome of “Pain in the Ass Conservation”. That’s the best term I can come up with at this early hour. What it comes down to, is a little taste of rural homesteading in an urban setting.
Picture a vacant patch of woods with no utilities where you decide to build an off grid home. You’ve chosen to erect a wind turbine and solar panels for electricity. The batteries require regular maintenance and inspection. Your water is collected from a rainwater catchment system or shallow well. The homes grey water is filtered by a botanical cell maintained by yourself. A composting toilet is built or installed requiring regular turning and changing. Heating and ventilation is managed by a combination of opening and closing windows / vents, burning biomass, propane heat, fans, thermostats, and the like. All in all, it’s a lot of work managing these resources. With all the time and thought put into the job, it makes sense to conserve because everything needs to be imported onto the property; likely by yourself. It’s not the life for everyone, but it was nearly my life until a few months before we moved to Portland.
I still desire that life, but in a slightly different setting: the city. “Urban Homesteading”, I would call it, for lack of a better term. Living right on top of seemingly unlimited resources, but choosing not partake in their bounty, is a bit much for some folks to swallow; they just don’t get it. Having moved into a motorhome to save money, and in order to force ourselves to downsize, has put me into the interesting position of living in a a pre-manufactured self contained home. Granted, it was never designed for full time living, it has everything a couple needs for off-grid living, at least for a few days.
A battery bank stores enough electrical energy to light, ventilate, and operate the propane appliances. Solar panels are easily adapted to extend the capacity. A full tank of liquid propane provides hot water, refrigeration, and cabin heat. A 66 gallon fresh water tank with onboard pressure pump, and a 32 gallon grey water tank, lasts a few days. The 22 gallon backwater tank takes weeks to fill.
What I have here is an opportunity to see how much of these resources I use. I want to use less, yes, but only using more efficient appliances or light bulbs because I think they help, teaches me nothing about using less in the first place. It also makes it next to impossible to evaluate my progress. Instead, I force myself to utilize the onboard resources I have available to me, and treat them as the finite resources that they are.
If I were to take a long hot shower, rather than the NAVY shower that I’ve been perfecting, I would quickly use up the contents of the fresh water tank and fill my grey water tank. The lesson is learned because I must go outside periodically, drag out some hoses and service these tanks. I live like this intentionally to train myself to conserve these resources. I could get larger propane tanks that would only need filled once a month, but I prefer the smaller 20 pounders that get changed every few days. Soon, I plan to haul BBQ propane tanks back and forth to my workplace for refilling. My water readings could be taken by an automated system, but instead I take them manually each morning and every time a tank is serviced. I even have plans to build a pedal powered refrigerator and/or water heater as well as the water pressure pump, in order to make these resources feel more laborious.
Implementing readily available technology can easily free me from these tasks, but I have been living in such a way my whole life and old habits die hard. My plan is to make the management of these resources a pain in the ass, and in time, both technology and a lifestyle will develop such that my utilities are harvested from the local environment and largely manage themselves. Waste heat from one process supplies another, grey water is filtered and reused, heat by a biochar heater or a solar powered heat pump, electricity is sourced from the sun and wind, and so on. See: The KillCap Catalogue
I order to make some of this happen, I need data. I require feedback so I know what I’ve used, what I have left, and how long it will last under present conditions. I seek resource security and independence from the utilities. This is part of my retirement plan. This is part of a moral life. This is my life.