Monday, September 26, 2011

Durham Fair 2011 (our 20th year)

It was Doug's and my 20th year visiting the Durham Fair in Connecticut. For Jack, his 14th year and Renee's 9th. We missed one rainy year, but this year's mud did not deter us. It was the same as ever but full of new wonders.

A close up of an award-winning quilt

Look at this gorgeous carved gourd.

In the youth tent, there are a plethora of unusual crafts; duct tape, painted rocks, pumpkin designs, recycled crafts, legos and more.

Even an award winning Lego tribute to September 11th.

Here's my favorite, a painting of what looks like Mother Earth by Durham's own Gail Thody.
Renee's favorite quilt with desserts and flower trim.


Horse teams pull nearly 5000 pounds of cement blocks.
Other teams rest nearby.
Renee loves the baby goats, chickens and bunnies.

Another example that people look like their pets.



And the usual oddities:
Measuring a record pumpkin, 1487 lbs.

The most beautiful cut flowers

Family fun:

See you at next year's fair. Will Jack be taller than his Dad and Grandpa then?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Riot for Austerity: Gas

How lucky we are to have a gas line coming into our home. There are people in this town without gas, and in the many days without electricity they were unable to cook or take a hot shower. I would have cooked on the grill in this case, but I'm glad to have had the choice.

While we use gas for cooking and hot water all year, we use it mostly to heat the house. To reduce our gas use, we did an energy audit and had the house sealed and insulated about 6 months after we moved in. In the cold months we keep the heat at 58 during the night and 62 degrees during the day. My mother is a terrific knitter, we wear her sweaters, hats and socks around the house. There are blankets that she knitted in every room ready for snuggling.

I have divided our average use into 6 cold and warm months from November to April and May through October. Our average gas use in those warm months is 18 therms/month. For the cold months it is 140 therms/month. For 2010, our lowest month was August with 9 therms, the highest was February with 329 therms.

Our house was insulated in the middle of the February 2010 billing cycle, and it made a huge difference. Comparing the November to February gas use (in therms) before and after insulating is dramatic.

November before insulation 87 after insulation 76
before insulation 166 after insulation 124
before insulation 329 after insulation 191
before insulation 259 (insulation installed during this month) after insulation 196

The average comparing these months (210 vs. 147 therms/month) shows a reduction of 30%. I do not remember the exact costs of insulating the house, but I know we got a $2000 state refund that covered about half the cost of all the sealing and insulation work. I estimate our mid-winter gas bills have been reduced by about $100 per month. I consider that a pretty quick financial return on our insulation investment as well as a real plus for the environment.

According to wikipedia, the average American household uses 980 therms/year. I'm not sure how this is calculated. Does it include houses, in Florida for example, that need a lot less heat but need more air conditioning electricity. What about people who don't have gas and use electric for cooking and hot water or oil for heat? Confusing. If you have a clearer statistic on gas use in the North East using gas for cooking and heating, please comment. Our total use from September 2010 to August 2011 was 956 therms, slightly less than average.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Riot for Austerity: Electricity

Riot for Austerity is a movement where people try to achieve levels of resource use that are ten percent of the average American's use. You can read more about it here at a post from Sharon Astyk's blog Casaubon's Book.

I'll occasionally discuss our household riot efforts on this blog. First, I'll document our use of electricity, gas, transportation, garbage, consumer goods, water, etc. as best as I can. I don't know if I can achieve these ultra low levels, but I want to record what I'm doing here and continue to reduce our use.Oddly enough, I am beginning our journey with an exploration of our electricity use after we've had 3 days without power from Hurricane Irene. How we endured (rather well I think) is partly a result of being good planners, but also lucky chance. We had water throughout, and have a gas stove and hot water that worked. Doug actually went to work in Boston where he had power and was able to recharge batteries that we'd use at night for light. After 2 days, I brought food from my freezer to my in-laws to prevent our local grass-fed meat and the vegetables and fruits I had preserved from being ruined. I brought them there in a cooler I had found last spring at the recycling center filled with ice purchased from a nearby business that had power. The proximity of power around us helped us do well. The lovely temperatures made it quite pleasant in the house. If this had happened in winter the food would have survived, but it would have been hard to live in the house.

When our electricity is working, our major use comes from: a rather small fridge; 1 regular and 2 laptop computers; a washer, dryer, and dishwasher; a 35" tv, dvd player and stereo on a surge suppressor that we turn off; and a dehumidifier and fans that run a lot in summer. We have no microwave, no air conditioning, and no cable box (no cable). At our last house (we moved to the Boston area 2 years ago), I had a nice drying line, but I haven't put one up here. That is one thing I'd like to do in the spring. I'll have to find an open spot that isn't under too many sappy trees.

On the positive side, 6 months after we moved here, we had an energy audit and replaced nearly every bulb with CFLs. We also had insulation blown into the leaky old walls of the house and lots of sealing and caulking done. When I discuss gas use, this change is quite evident. But it reduced electric use as well. In the 5 months prior to the energy audit Aug-Dec '09 the monthly average was 478 kwh/month. The Aug-Dec '10 average was reduced by 16 % to 401 kwh/month.

In the past year, our average energy use per month between Sept '10 and Aug '11 was 434 kwh/ month. We have 4 people living in our house, 2 adults, 1 teen and 1 tween. Estimates of the average kwh of electricity use vary. There are some that measure per household and some per capita. I found one study here that gave 936 kwh/month as a US household average. With that calculation we're currently using 46% of the US average. I'm not sure what number I should use so, I'll ask on the Riot Facebook group, see what they say, and report back.