Thursday, March 26, 2009

the utility-free, no um carbon-free, or maybe make that the fossil fuel-free weekend


UPDATE: The weekend was a success- or at least I think so. ;-) I turned off the water and the electricity early Saturday morning and turned everything back on Monday morning- 48 hours of no electricity, running water or natural gas. I'll share the details in a new post soon.

Perhaps I should just call this post, "the idea my wife really doesn't like." That would be more like it. ;-)

Many of us have experienced the short term loss of one or more of the fossil fuel based resources we have come to take for granted in this country. Electricity blackouts have happened to almost everyone during a bad storm. Some of us have been without a car while ours was being repaired or without water for a few hours while work was done on a mainline. Well this weekend my family is going to voluntarily turn off all of our utilities. Yes we're going to turn off the electricity at the breaker box. We're going to turn off the water at the street. We're not going to turn off the natural gas line. I'm not even sure how to do that but we're not going to use the stove or the hot water heater (since we won't have running water) and we're not going to drive anywhere either. Basically we're going to try not to use fossil fuels and we're going to do all this on purpose.

I've been called crazy before so that's not really the problem. The problem, or the list of problems I should say starts with the fact that my family is suppose to take a potluck dish to a party Saturday night and it looks likely to rain on our solar oven idea. The plan right now is to take a crock pot over early and use their electricity. Yes I know that sounds like cheating and I can't wait to hear what our party hosts will say.

We have other problems too. Hot showers are nice- real nice- too nice and while I can explain, academically, the need for cold showers this weekend to my wife (not that she'll be excited by the prospect mind you) it'll be much tougher to explain the cold bath to my 3 year old and my 1 year old will scream bloody murder. I'm thinking maybe our kids could go two days without bathing.

And what about basketball. For those off you who don't live in the southeast I bet y'all thought that Christianity was King in these parts. Well you've never been to the March Madness Church of the South. Here's a question. Is it cheating if I listen to a basketball game on the radio if I use rechargeable batteries and have them ready before sundown on Friday?

If all this sounds like torture, that isn't the point. Really it's not. This is an experiment, a lesson event, a learning experience for our family. We're careful about not wasting resources but we want to know (OK mostly I want to know) what it's like to go without all this stuff even if it's just for a little while. What will we miss the most? What seems really important that we could probably do without more often? Does turning off any of this make us feel better, make us closer as a family or just make us mad and insane. What would be the hardest part of having the utilities turned off?

And that last question is a real one for many more families in the US as financial troubles lead to an increasing number of households unable to pay their utility bills. In this video financial adviser Ray Martin offers suggestions to help keep your utilities on but what happens when that's not possible; when paying the rent or the mortgage and for food means not being able to pay for electricity. That is what's happening to an increasing number of Americans. My family is not in that position right now and I hope we won't ever be in that position but why not spend a weekend in a controlled experiment to better understand what we would do, what is possible and where our vulnerabilities are were we ever to face utilities being turned off for financial reasons or otherwise.

Obviously I won't be able to respond to comments or share this experience with readers until Monday morning because, I'll be without electricity until then. If you'd like to join in feel free to turn off your utilities and park your car as well. Just be sure to stay safe and do this as a way to better understand your needs and vulnerabilities not just as a way to annoy your kids and frustrate your wife.

6 comments:

Ray Shem said...

I love this idea. Instead of Earth Hour at 8:30 on Saturday, you're doing an entire Earth Weekend!

From the Farm said...

That's a great idea - you will immediately see areas where you're prepared less than you'd like to be!

>Is it cheating if I listen to a basketball game on the radio if I use rechargeable batteries and have them ready before sundown on Friday?

Unless your charger is solar - probably yes :) But using emergency radio with built-in manual generator is not.

Daphne said...

It is so cheating to use batteries to listen to the basketball game. Now if you can charge them with a bike, I'd give it to you ;>

I would think the biggest issue for two days is losing the food in the freezer. I wouldn't turn my power off. I'd tape the freezer shut so I couldn't use it maybe, but I'd keep it going. If I knew I couldn't afford to keep a freezer, I would can more and freeze less.

gaiasdaughter said...

Hurricane Ivan gave us a crash course in going without utilities for an extended period, and it wasn't all that bad (except for the hot showers -- we really missed the hot showers). Of course, we had the National Guard handing out ice and water and the Red Cross coming by once a day with hot meals, so we weren't entirely without. It was amazing, however, how well we got along without air conditioning, TV, and even flushable toilets (well, they did flush, you just had to fetch a bucket of water from the canal before visiting 'john'). And the neighborhood established a new tradition we carry on still today -- beer-thirty. That's the time of day when everyone is exhausted from hauling debris in ninety degree temperatures and ninety percent humidity. You pull up a camp chair (who cares if it leans a bit to one side and the back is probably in Cuba by now), pop open a beer (or a bottle of red wine if you forgot the ice for the ice chest), put your feet up, and watch the stars come out (you can actually see them when the lights are off!) Our community is much closer now, thanks to shared deprivation, and we're much stronger. We know we can do it if we have to.

But next time, I am going to make me a solar heated shower -- enough of that cold stuff!

Anonymous said...

We've been doing these kinds of weekends at our place for several years. We never cut the propane off since we have to heat with it and our stove is propane too. When we cut the power we lose the electronic ingnite on it. But we use matches to get the burners going.

With our kids it has become a much anticipated deal. Becuase then they have our full attention. We use alot of beeswax and soy candles. Play alot of board games or read out loud.

During the summer we do no electric weekends..and pitch tents in our wooded yard. Use water from our rain barrels to clean up and water gardens. The kids think it's a hoot to have to haul water to "flush".

It takes some sort of planning. Since we do this quite frequently it gotten more fun to go w/out electricity.

And yes its sheating if you used a radio with rechargable batteries! They have great solar radios out now. We got a solar radio/flashlight at Target 9 years ago. It can be powered by batteries or solar. We never did buy batteries for it. the flashlight is kinda lame but the radio works great.

Hope you had a great weekend!

Buy Viagra online said...

I also love this idea. Instead of Earth Hour at 8:30 on Saturday, you're doing an entire Earth Weekend! great great, it seem so really amazing, thanks for posting this and sharing with us .