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Monday, May 23, 2011

Low tech better than no tech

It's really nice to have electricity, high speed Internet, running water, an automatic furnace, and all the other conveniences of modern life. Over the years, I've put a significant amount of my efforts into keeping my modern services and conveniences running in an off grid world. The effort has paid off. When the grid goes down, I still have cold beer, hot showers, computers, a TV and stereo, thanks to my solar electric system -along with other alternative energy systems.

That's the high tech solution. It's pretty reliable, but nothing is fool proof. (fools being so clever.)

Let's say something happens, like a massive solar flare, takes down both the grid and my personal energy system. It doesn't even have to be anything that dramatic. Imagine the grid goes down: ice storm, mechanical failure, terrorist attack, non-payment of bills, whatever. Then later, some critical component of the alternative energy system fails. Then what do I do?

Well, I could haul water with a bucket. For heat, I could cut firewood with a manual crosscut saw. Toilets could be flushed using a bucket, as my septic system is totally a gravity flow system. It doesn't require an electric waste pump, as many do. Bath water could be heated over the woodstove. While these methods work, they take a lot of effort. They also require at least one strong person in good health.

There are some pretty low tech solutions that could make life a lot easier. Instead of hauling water with a bucket, I could finally get around to installing my hand pump. I bought one to tap into the old shallow well next to my house and never quite got around to installing it. It's time. On a cold stormy night, it'd be much easier to pump the handle a few times rather than climb down the hill with a bucket. Even a child could do it. An adult with a sprained leg could do it, while hauling water with a bucket would be agony.

Running the big woodstove will keep me warm, but it eats a lot of wood. It would eat less wood if my basement was better insulated. That project is going higher on the list. I've got most of the materials and tools I need. About another $50 in odds and ends should do it. Actually, I'm also thinking of replacing the big woodstove with a rocket stove. They use a lot less wood, and can be fed with smaller pieces of wood, like branches broken off in the wind. That's a lot less sawing.

I'm glad I have a few thousand books in the house. If we are ever stuck in the house with low tech, it'd be nice to have something to read. How to books are great, but have some entertaining fiction too. It's important to have something to life your spirits. For the same reason, some musical instruments are a good investment. Make your own tunes rather than rely on recorded music.

If you haven't gone high tech alternative energy yet, don't despair. Think of inexpensive low tech solutions that will make your life better. It might be something as simple as some good sleeping bags to keep you warm when the power goes out. Even those of us with good alternative energy systems should have a lot tech backup plan.



  1. My thoughts have always been, get the low tech stuff first. Then work on higher tech. The low tech will generally store forever.

  2. Is the tank that holds rainwater from
    the roof high enough that water will
    flow to the house?

  3. I think the plan of mixing the high tech and the low tech stuff is a very good idea!

    Besides, it's always fun to play around with!

  4. low tech usually means you can build it, make it, maintain it, or repair it

    or create extras for trade...