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Old 08-22-2010, 11:05 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Urban Cabin

I recently tried to buy a house at tax sale in my old hometown. My goal was to do an experiment on living without utilities, or better said with minimal utilities, because I planned to use a natural gas space heater for winter heat. The house I tried to buy was within easy 10 minute biking distance of downtown and $350,000 condos. I really like my old hometown, even if it is somewhat run down, and if I could get a cheap house with no mortgage, I could probably retire soon.

I did not win the auction, someone else outbid me by $1000 and got the house for $6000. I did not want to pay that much for the house, it needed some work and even if in good condition, it was only worth 30k in that neighborhood. It was probably better for everyone that I didn't get it, because I might have gone out in a blaze of Gran Torino glory. The neighborhood was actually not too bad, it was much better than my old neighborhood. The biggest problem I would face would be if city building code officials figured out I was living in a house with no water or power. I was hoping they had bigger problems to deal with and if I kept the house painted and the yard mowed that they wouldn't bug me.

Here is the concept I wrote up, trying to figure out how I would change my lifestyle to live without utilities. These techniques are based on some wilderness backpacking skills, some urban backpacking skills (European vacation type backpacking), and living on a sailboat skills. I have a sailboat where I already use many of the techniques.

I probably will not use this system, although I am still checking out the tax sales. I may focus on a rural area. I may just live on the sailboat for a while.

Here are my notes.

Urban Cabin

Concept: buy a house at the tax sale and have all utilities turned off.
Try changing lifestyle to allow for a no utility house.

Systems that need to be accommodated:

Rain barrel as water source
install gutters all around roof, lead to barrels with overflow tubes to yard
transfer water from outside barrels to inside barrels
will it work in winter?
Keep barrels in basement, try to fill many barrels in fall
6 barrels, 300 gallons maybe enough for 90 days of winter for one person
insulate if necessary
maybe 12V water pump to move water upstairs to kitchen and bathroom storage jugs
or just fill jugs and carry upstairs

drinking water
use backpacking water filter and rainwater

Washing clothes
Use polyester and other synthetic fabric clothes, they dry quickly
Wash small clothes in a washbasin in the evening, hang them up to dry overnight.
Use a pail and plunger for large clothes.
twist wring clothes to semi-dry, or get a wringer.
Use a clothesline. Inside, hang a clothesline over a bathtub or shower so drips don't hurt anything. Outside, use a clothesline for larger wash days.

Shower
pressure shower from spray canister, pesticide sprayer type.
Add hot water heated on stove,
Either use thermometer or use the 50% room temp, 50% boiling water method.
Go to gym for real showers

Bathroom Sink: brushing teeth, shaving
washbasin
hot water from stove
Use coffee type airpump thermos to hold hot water overnight
use sink drain to dispose of water or put in toilet

Kitchen Sink: washing dishes
Use coffee type airpump thermos to hold hot water overnight
washbasin
hot water from stove
use drain to dispose of water

Toilet
use rain barrel water to flush
use grey water to flush
pour from pail into toilet bowl

Furnace, heat
natural gas space heater, no electric load
locate on lower floor in living room, near stairway
use heavy curtains to block or allow heat flow upstairs or to other rooms
If you are in living room, close curtains and keep warm
If you go upstairs, open curtains to stairway to heat upstairs
close doors to unused rooms.

Air conditioning
open windows at night
12V fans above bed? Too much electric use.
Open windows on all sides of house, cross ventilation

Refrigeration
none, use a case or cabinet secure against vermin for food
locking plastic containers
dried vegetables
dried food
buy fresh food the day you cook it
go out for ice cream

Lighting
12V solar system
50W panel or 100W
T105 batteries or marine deep discharge trolling batteries
circuit breaker
12V LED lighting system
use existing wiring?
Lockout main breaker so no one can turn on the 120VAC power
Use fuses and circuit breakers at battery
keep loads very low. Under 5 amps
check circuit for infinite resistance between power and ground, turn off if there is a connection
Only power led lighting and computer
If using inverter, connect direct to battery, not through house wiring
Cover outlets with plates to prevent someone from plugging in 120VAC appliance.

Vacuum cleaner
Don't use a vacuum cleaner
remove all carpet
paint wood floor or add Pergo flooring
sweep and damp rag to clean
use throw rugs, take outside and shake them out

Battery clocks

Laptop computer running on 12V
no tv
charge computer and cell phone in car when driving (if you commute by car)
Or use house 12V system

Music
Boombox connected to 12V

Internet connection
get outdoor antenna
try to find free connection
or get cell phone with plan

blender
maybe don't need one

Fridge
at first don't use a fridge
If you want to get one, use chest freezer on dedicated inverter with temp controller
possibly with arduino and thermistor, and relay to act as controller
separate solar panel and batteries from house system?
Maybe go with Engel cooler

Stove
Natural gas stove and oven

Car
Get job close enough to bicycle commute
Live in city and use bus to go shopping
Probably don't need a car in the city
If you get one use hypermiling techniques

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Old 08-22-2010, 11:24 PM   #2 (permalink)
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My electric coop keeps jacking the monthly service fees, to the point where I'm about to tell em to stick it and I'll go off the grid. Most months the service fees and taxes are greater than the electricity charges!

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