Archive for February, 2009

A dark post-economic-crash moment

Dmitry Orlov is at his cheery best again, writing an article called “Social Collapse Best Practices“. In it he describes the grim future awaiting America if Obama’s administration continmue to try and resuscitate Business as Usual. 

What should their realistic new objectives be? Well, here they are: food, shelter, transportation, and security. Their task is to find a way to provide all of these necessities on an emergency basis, in absence of a functioning economy, with commerce at a standstill, with little or no access to imports, and to make them available to a population that is largely penniless. If successful, society will remain largely intact, and will be able to begin a slow and painful process of cultural transition, and eventually develop a new economy, a gradually de-industrializing economy, at a much lower level of resource expenditure, characterized by a quite a lot of austerity and even poverty, but in conditions that are safe, decent, and dignified. If unsuccessful, society will be gradually destroyed in a series of convulsions that will leave a defunct nation composed of many wretched little fiefdoms.

Not the happiest picture! He then goes on to describe the advantages that the USSR had during its collapse.

Essentially, because supplies of food were already poor, people had already adjusted to growing their own and obtaining supplies from elsewhere within walking / public transport distance. His suggestion for the West is to prepare for human scale farming, in or near urban centres. Identify spare spaces (or spaces that will become spare when fuel becomes scarce – car parks, some roads, overpasses etc – and transport soil in to produce raised beds. He suggests this once-off transport of soil will be easier than ensuring regular transport of produce into the cities. 

Their population density – many generations to an apartment – while a negative in prosperous times can be seen as aiding their resilience.  The density lends itself to good public transport and larger scale, more efficient, heating. In addition, they did not face the spectre of eviction as the first consequence of economic crisis. He contrasts this to the unsustainable nature of American suburbia with its car and heating-fuel dependence.

He has an interesting take on security – the thing that results in so many Americans’ response to peak oil being to lock them selves in a cabin in the woods surrounded by weapons. He takes the pragmatic approach of making friends with the many out-of-work soldiers and police that will be around – the if you can’t beat them, join them, approach.

The interesting thing I take away from this is one of his early insights:

Here is the key insight: you might think that when collapse happens, nothing works. That’s just not the case. The old ways of doing things don’t work any more, the old assumptions are all invalidated, conventional goals and measures of success become irrelevant. But a different set of goals, techniques, and measures of success can be brought to bear immediately, and the sooner the better.

The message is – get your head, and house – in the right place before you need to. Then you stand a reasonable chance of getting through this, and getting your family and friends through it too.

Energy Efficient Ecolectric Toaster

ecolectrictoasterNot electricity-free, but apparently 34% less electricity than other toasters – not a bad start!

Made by Morphy Richards, it seems to be available almost everywhere for around £34-35. You can get one from the Good Energy shop, which would seem to be an ethical way to buy.

Get paid for your Solar Hot Water

solarthermal-300x225This sounds a bit too strange to be true, but it does appear to be above board. I’ve emailed them to check and we’ll see what the response is. 

Anyway, what am I talking about? Good Energy – suppliers of 100% renewable electricity – are just starting to roll-out a Renewable Heat Incentive. On this programme they will pay you 4.5p per kWh you produce. Don’t worry, you do not need to work out a clever way to trasport the hot water back to Good Energy – you can keep using the hot water, your bank account just gets an additional warm glow too.

Shopping List – latest update

Steadily firming up the shopping list for our new house – here’s the latest list, with links. 


Dining Room

  • Expandable table


  • Instant-heat to stand in front of (Gas?)


  • Wood-fired stove
  • Central Pendant light in diffusing shade – 12v CFL?
  • Two Standard/Reading Lamps – 12v CFL?


  • Kitchen Scraps Compost: Black Soldier Fly Composter / Worm Farm 
  • Firewood store, and at least 12m³ of wood
  • Greenhouse with Aquaponics system

Heating & Hot Water

Power & Light


Reducing our Water Charges

Having been looking at increasing our resilience and reducing our impact by using rainwater internally from a large Rainwater Tank, one thing to note is that it can also save us money. Firstly we need to get a meter fitted, so that we’ll only pay our standing charge plus actual water usage. If we’re not using any external water then, according to United Utilities’ Rate Sheet we could be paying as little as £43 a year – saving about £100 a year. Secondly we can apply for a reduction in our Sewerage charges as the water will no longer be entering the sewer. It’s not a huge reduction  – about £34 a year on the fixed charge, plus about £100 a year on consumption charges, but better than nothing! 

So in total we’ll probably save just over £200 a year – not enought o make it a no-brainer investment decision, but certainly a nice bonus for something we were already wanting to do.

Using a Wood-Burning Stove in a Smoke-Control Area

esse100seThis is something we need to work out – our new house will be in a smoke control area. To check whether you’re in a smoke control area look up your local authority here. If you are then the only wood or multi-fuel burning stoves you can fit are listed on the exempt appliances list. It also explains what types of fuel you’re allowed to burn in them.

There is a good collection of the usual suspects – Clearview models, the Dunsley Yorkshire range, several Rayburns and Morsos. And some I haven’t looked at before – Dovre, Hwam, some Stovax models, and Westfire. Stoves Online have a great list of their clean-burning stoves, with links to piccies and details

In a surprise, Esse do not have any models on the list, but a quick check of their site shows that they have just launched (9th Feb) a new model that is OK in smoke-free zones. It’s the compact 100SE model – as shown in the photo!

Rainwater tanks

grafcarat6500lAs promised in my previous post about drinking water, here are my thoughts on our rainwater storage.  In our current home town of Brisbane, Australia, the dams that supply our drinking water recently bottomed out at around 14% capacity. The severe water restrictions that we’ve had for years have meant that even in our inner-city suburb about half the houses have rainwater tanks, as without them you are effectively not allowed to water your garden. These aren’t your British-style 200 litre water-butt either. Hardly any would be less than 3000 litres, most would be 5000 litres, and quite a few have 10,000 litres. We’ve currently got two 3000 litre tanks, plumbed into to an underground weeper hose that runs through all the garden beds, controlled by a programmable timer that runs the two watering circuits on alternate days. This has ensured that we have kept our lush tropical garden alive through a seven year drought.

What it doesn’t do is supply any water to the inside of the house. For a while we did use it for our washing machine (a separate tap that we connected the cold water hose to) but as this required a manual changeover it only happened rarely.

To peak-oil-proof our water supply I want our UK system to be fully plumbed in to the house and able to supply our basic, emergency  requirements, and ideally all our requirements. I’m going to try to do this relatively scientifically – based on the Tank Size Calculator from RainWater Harvesting. Manchester provides a very different scenario to our Brisbane rainfall – there’s 400mm less a year for a start, and it is more evenly spread thoughout the year, minimising the need for a huge tank to cope with peaks and troughs.

With our roof area (about 100m2) and Manchester’s annual rainfall (806mm) we can expect to collect around 64,500 litres/year (at 80% efficiency). That sounds like a huge amount, but when you consider that our current water consumption is around 250 litres a day, we currently use 91,250 litres/year! So to be self sufficient in water with our current roof size we’ll need to reduce our in-home water consumption by around 30% – that looks like the subject of another post!

So what size tank do we need to make sure that we collect as much water as we can, without wasting any? I concocted my own monthly water use chart, based on meeting a target of 170 litres/day (then found out that there’s a very good one in the RanWater Harvesting spreadsheet!).  From looking at this (below) I’ll have a shortfall of 3000 litres in the first year – so in this table I’ve pre-filled the tanks with 3000 litres to ensure that they don’t drop below zero. In reality this “top up” would happen in stages during the year depending on our actual daily consumption to give us the chance to be extra-economical as the levels drop. 

  Rainfall /mm Water Collected /litres Available Litres
Water Used
(170 l/day)
Storage at Start   & End of      Month
Jan 71.5    5,720 184.5     5,270 450  3,000     3,450
Feb 51.8    4,144 148.0     4,760 -616  3,450     2,834
Mar 64    5,120 165.2     5,270 -150  2,834     2,684
Apr 49.1    3,928 130.9     5,100 -1172  2,684     1,512
May 53.8    4,304 138.8     5,270 -966  1,512       546
Jun 66.8    5,344 178.1     5,100 244     546       790
Jul 59.5    4,760 153.5     5,270 -510     790       280
Aug 70.9    5,672 183.0     5,270 402     280       682
Sep 69.9    5,592 147.2     5,100 492     682     1,174
Oct 86    6,880 221.9     5,270    1,610  1,174     2,784
Nov 81.9    6,552 211.4     5,100    1,452  2,784     4,236
Dec 81.4    6,512 210.1     5,270    1,242  4,236     5,478
Year 806.6  64,528 176.8   62,050   2,478    

In this our water storage peaks at around 5,500 litres, so unless we manage to keep at or below our tight 170l/day target for several years there is limited benefit to installing a tank any larger than 6,000 litres

Tank Suppliers


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