So … yeah. Three years between posts. My excuse? We’re just too bloody busy. So busy, in fact, that while we continue to adhere to a more or less environmentally friendly lifestyle, we haven’t really done anything new since that last post. We’re just maintaining.

That said, we have discovered a new product or two, and we’ve seen our efforts pay off in several practical directions. As winter settles over us and my hippie instincts kick into high gear (an annual occurrence for as long as I can remember), I’m feeling inspired to write about the joys of living lightly. A few quick updates:

1. Product endorsement: LED lights have taken a quantum leap forward in terms of quality and price since we bought our first one in 2007. Back then, they were hard to find, expensive (over $30 apiece, plus shipping), and ill-suited for general illumination. Today, LED “bulbs” are much cheaper ($10 to $20), readily available at big-box hardware stores, and will illuminate a room as evenly and effectively as the spiral CFLs we’ve been using since the late ’90s.

2. Solar panels: Still going strong. We still have cheaper power bills than any of our friends, and we’re still delighted with the performance of the system.

3. Chickens: Hot weather and old age took their toll on our flock, so we bought two buff Orpingtons and a barred Rock from an ol’ boy down at Broken Arrow. They’re producing well and seem to be getting along well with our rooster, Bond, who is a remarkably quiet chap.

4. Bees: We had a record honey harvest and captured an incredibly strong, productive Buckfast swarm this spring.

5. Garden: Droughts, heat waves, blossom-end rot, fusarium wilt, and an intolerably busy schedule have more or less destroyed our tomato crops every year. Someday, when I’m not a teacher any more, I will have time to baby my plants and get them through these issues. Until then, the best I can do is support the local farmers’ market.

6. Woodstove: We haven’t had to pay for heat since the ice storm of 2007. Between that and Oklahoma’s frequent tornadoes, we find a steady supply of firewood piled up on curbs, readily available to anyone with a truck, a chainsaw, and a little initiative. I just used some of the money we saved on heat to buy a ridiculously expensive teakettle from Lehman’s.

Apologies for the long delay between posts; it’s been an insane year.

Anyway, we are now getting ready for winter here at the House of the Lifted Lorax. We had more insulation installed in the attic a few weeks ago, so we should be able to stay warmer while consuming less energy this winter.

This afternoon, Ron winterized the chicken tractor by installing a little corrugated plastic around one end to block the wind while letting in the light. Here’s a picture of his handiwork:

I was cleaning the kitchen this afternoon and found a couple of styrofoam trays I’d saved, so I turned them into insulation for the outlets. If you want to try something similar, here’s a quick how-to:

1. Gather your materials. You will need styrofoam trays (the kind that come with meat or mushrooms), an Xacto knife, a pen or pencil, an outlet cover, and — if you want to be really precise — a ruler.

2. Lay the outlet cover on the tray and trace around it with a pencil.

3. Cut along the lines. You can use the ruler if you want. I didn’t bother, because the styrofoam cutout is concealed between the outlet cover and the wall anyway. To install it, just put it under the outlet cover and screw both into the wall. (The notch in the middle is for the screw to go through.)

We had the chimney serviced in September to make sure it was safe and ready for winter. Aside from a few spiders hiding out behind the stove, everything was copacetic.

I was chilly this afternoon, so I burned a little cardboard and a couple of pieces of bark in the stove. It wasn’t a big fire or a particularly hot fire, but it was just enough to warm me up and remind me of the nicer parts of winter: toasted marshmallows, slow-cooked posole in the Dutch oven, and Red Zinger brewed from water heated in the teakettle.

Emily

On July 18, 2007, our home solar system of nine 170-watt solar panels and a Sunny Boy inverter was fired up.

About one year later, the system has generated a total of 2,130 kilowatt-hours of electricity. Taking away 10 days because of a power outage this winter, that translates to an average of 5.96 kilowatt-hours every day.

We’re very happy with the performance of the system, as it’s generating about 90 percent of our power. We might add more panels in the future to get us to the 100 percent mark, but we’ll probably first take steps to reduce our power consumption more, including adding insulation to our attic. It’s already insulated up there, but it probably could use more.

Since climate control is our big power-sucker, especially in the summertime, it only makes sense to cocoon the house from the outside elements.

Recently, something happened that we’d always dreamed of when we first installed our solar-power system in July 2007 — we generated more power than we used.

I had a hunch it might happen in April or May. Those were the days in which we saw a lot of intense sun but mild temperatures — perfect conditions for solar-power generation. In fact, one day in early May, we generated an all-time high of 10.02 kilowatt-hours of electricity, and there were several other days of 9 KWH and higher.

According to our AEP-PSO bill, the meter reading on April 25 was 89377. On May 27, the meter reading was 89354. (Remember, this is the utility doing the reading, not us.) That meant the solar array was generating so much juice that month that the meter turned backwards to the tune of 23 KWH.

I always wondered what that would do to utility bill. The residential service total was $13.95, but the actual amount due was $12.64. AEP-PSO credited us $1.31 for the power the power we provided to them.

After seeing their KWH totals go lower instead of higher, it wouldn’t surprise me if AEP-PSO repairmen come out for a third time to replace the meter. It’s not like that hasn’t happened before.

Apologies for the long delay between posts. Things have been pretty crazy here at the House of the Lifted Lorax this summer, with a lot of travel and a lot of projects to complete.

Our big sustainability news this spring was the addition of three new beehives — one in the backyard and two at organic farms near Bristow.

It’s been a great season for honey, with lots of rain and lots of plants blooming for our girls to work, so we decided to do an early harvest from our biggest hive to make room for some new Bee-O-Pac frames, which are a type of plastic packaging that you install right in the hive to allow for easier collection of comb honey.

We bought an inexpensive plastic extractor and put 10 frames through it this week, ending up with about 30 pounds of honey. I brought the camera along, and we made a digital video of our project, which I posted to YouTube and also turned into a Podcast.

I’m hoping to do more Podcasts about our sustainability efforts in the future, so check back often or subscribe here.

Emily

A classic, in honor of Earth Day.

If you haven’t already, go do something nice for the planet. A few quick, easy ideas:

Replace an incandescent lightbulb with a CFL.
Take a shorter shower.
Shut off the water while you brush your teeth.
Bring your lunch to work in a reusable container instead of ordering takeout.
Consolidate errands to reduce the amount of driving you do.
Walk, bicycle, carpool, or take the bus when possible.
Try a vegetarian or vegan recipe.
Support your local farmers.
Shop at Goodwill.
Recycle.
Precycle.
Buy a Terrapass.
Calculate your environmental footprint.
Unplug the computer when you finish using it to reduce phantom loads.
Take your own reusable cloth bag when you go shopping.
Install a water filter on your kitchen faucet and use it to refill water bottles instead of buying more.

Emily

April 15th is the last frost date for our planting zone, which means most of the gardeners in Tulsa will be busy getting their hands dirty this weekend.

If you’re planting this weekend, resist the temptation to put your peppers in the garden this early. Most crops will tolerate cool weather, provided the temperature doesn’t dip below freezing, but peppers do best if you wait until nighttime temperatures are consistently in the 50s or higher before you plant. Putting them out early won’t kill them, but it definitely stresses the plants, and it doesn’t do anything to speed up their growth; if anything, it slows them down.

I generally wait until early to mid May to plant peppers. Waiting a few weeks doesn’t hurt the plants (provided they’re not rootbound; if they are, just transplant them into bigger containers), and they get off to a much better start if you wait and put them out when it’s warm.

Emily

The House of the Lifted Lorax got a little publicity in yesterday’s Sand Springs Leader. The article isn’t online, but the lead story in the homebuilders’ guide that ran in yesterday’s paper was all about our efforts at sustainability here in Red Fork. The story starts with a well-written little riff about me turning the compost pile, and it goes on to talk about our chickens, bees, lightbulbs, solar panels, Energystar appliances, etc., etc., etc. It’s a pretty lengthy article, with several photographs (including shots of a CFL, an egg, a red wiggler worm crawling around on my hand, and two images — one color and one black and white — of me turning the compost while decked out in tie-dyed hippie regalia) and a list of tips for making your own home more energy-efficient.

If you happen to be in Sand Springs in the next couple of days, you might pick up a copy. The article contains lots of good information.

Emily

Spring has arrived, and with it is a significant jump in our solar array’s production.

From Feb. 19 to March 19, our solar panels produced 158.3 kilowatt hours of electricity. So that means in 29 days (remember, February is a short month), the solar-power system produced an average of 5.46 KWH per day.

It’s apparent to me that some of the best production days are not in the summer, but in the spring and fall when temperatures are mild but the sunshine is intense. Hot temperatures depress solar panels’ efficiency 5-15 percent. But in the milder months, it’s not uncommon to see days of 8 KWH or higher. Just yesterday, I saw the inverter read 8.12 KWH with several hours of sunshine remaining.

If you haven’t done so yet, now would be a good time to think about scheduling a service call for your air conditioner. If you wait until summer hits, you’ll have to pay more for a technician to come out and check on your air conditioner — if you can get somebody at all.

Before you run your air conditioner for the first time, clean or replace the filter. As a general rule, this should be done every three months; if you have pets that shed a lot, you’ll need to do it more often. A clogged filter can seriously drag down your air conditioner’s efficiency, and it can also shorten the life of the system.

Go outside and make sure there are no obstructions around the exterior unit. If the vents are blocked or dirty, remove any obstructions and hose off the unit to make sure there’s no dirt clogging things up. You want air to circulate freely around it for maximum efficiency. When you mow, make sure the mower is not blowing grass into the vents; if it is, turn around and approach the unit from the other direction.

If you have a recurring problem with grass and dirt clogging the vents, you may want to dig a trench two or three feet wide and a couple of inches deep all the way around the unit, place some edging material around it, and lay down mulch cloth and gravel to create a clean space so the vents stay clear.

Have a service technician check the system to make sure it’s in good working order. Make sure the ducts are not leaky, and find out whether they are adequately insulated; if they aren’t, you’ll want to remedy that situation promptly.

Make sure the technician you hire is licensed, bonded and insured, especially if you are in the position of having to replace your system. If you’re buying new equipment, make sure it has the Energystar label — meaning the government recognizes it as energy-efficient — and ask your installer for advice on how to make the system run as efficiently as possible.

Our air conditioner is pretty good, but it’s by far the biggest energy hog in our house. We can’t afford to replace it right now — nor does it really need to be replaced — but we’re planning to keep the thermostat at 78 or above all summer so we don’t waste any more energy than we have to.

Emily

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