Around noon today, I officially concluded my 31 days of Project 31. I’m still here, though I’m no longer strictly adhering to the rules I’d setup for my month-long challenge. One of the first things I did was to start up my car, just to make sure the battery still had enough juice (I hadn’t bothered charging it during Project 31). It started up just fine, so I know I can get out any time I feel like it. About the only other change is that I’m back to drinking tap water I previously hauled in from town. I’m out of clean snowmelt, and I’m not entirely certain the months-old water I’ve been drinking for the last few days is actually all that clean.
Anyway, I’m sure I’ll be writing a few posts about Project 31, but in this post, I’ll report on how things ended up in terms of water, food, fuel, etc, etc.
I succeeded in meeting my goal of only using water I’ve harvested on my property. The weather was very cooperative, and despite weeks of completely dry weather leading up to Project 31, I got a nice snow storm on Day 0. All told, I got probably about 24 inches of snow during the first half of Project 31, so I was able to harvest plenty of snowmelt by packing snow into a pot and melting it on my wood stove every night. Most of the snow on the ground had disappeared by last week, but I had enough filtered snowmelt stored to last me up until 2-3 days ago, when I switched to my “backup” source: water from a bin I’ve had out for months. My stomach got a little upset yesterday, and I’m suspicious of the water. While snowmelt is unlikely to harbor biological contaminants, the water in that bin has been exposed to the elements for months, so it’s possible it might’ve picked up some bugs. The water I drank had been filtered previously and placed in an unmarked container, so it wasn’t until after I drank the water that I remember where it’d come from. In the future, I think I should be a little more careful about marking potentially contaminated water so I don’t forget to boil it first.
My food stores did remarkably well, and most things lasted far longer than I’d expected. I still have some fresh vegetables left (some potatoes, one red cabbage, a butternut squash, about a pound of brussels sprouts) , and ate the last of my fresh meat for dinner tonight. The only losses to spoilage were one zucchini, one sweet potato, and bits of a couple of tomatoes (most of which remained salvageable). So, considering how I didn’t use any refrigeration other than a couple of coolers, that’s not too bad. Of course, average temperatures of around or below freezing certainly helped keep things fresh.
I’m also happy with the variety of food I had. Even though I haven’t eaten out in a month, I’m not really craving anything, which is a bit surprising. I guess cravings, whether we know it or not, may often be triggered externally. For example, next time I go out to the city and see signs for all kinds of restaurants, I might suddenly crave fried chicken, or sushi, or chinese food, or greasy diner food, or…. But, here, away from such temptations, I’m perfectly happy with what I have/had.
In terms of quantity, as I’d initially predicted, I ended up with a surplus. I hardly touched any of the non-perishable foods, I still have a dozen eggs, a loaf of bred, a small stack of tortillas, most of a 2-pound block of cheese, an entire block of salted pork, and the vegetables I mentioned earlier. Overall, though, I’m glad I had an overabundance of fresh ingredients because the threat of spoilage compelled me to cook and eat fresh cooked meals. I wish I’d brought less meat, especially since I had so many eggs, and I think I could’ve done without bread. I was able to bake scones, so I’m pretty sure I would’ve been able to bake other bread-like substances as well, if I had to.
I started off with just my 100W solar panel, then setup the 45W panels part way in. For the most part, that was enough power, and my battery array generally stayed well above 12V, usually in the 12.3-12.6 range. That all changed in the last week, when I started spending a lot more time on my laptop to follow the news from Japan and keep in touch with my family. It’s also been mostly overcast this past week, so with those two factors combined, my power deficit skyrocketed. I decided not bother conserving power too much because I knew Project 31 was almost over, and estimated that I had enough reserve power in my battery arrays. My estimation was off by a day, and my battery array got down to 11V last night, at which point my inverter shut down. Mostly, that just meant I had to stop using my laptop, and to some degree, that was a quality of life improvement. I lit candles, switched to battery-powered lights, listened to music on my battery-powered iPod speakers, and read a book instead of obsessing over the news.
At this point, I think there are two ways to think about this power outage on my last day. Most people will probably say that I ran out of power. The other way to think about it is that I used too much power. The solution changes depending on which perspective you take. If I ran out of power, then I need more power (i.e. add more generating capacity). But if I’d used too much power, the solution is to simply use less. I’ve considered getting something like an iPad, which would use less power than a laptop. Ironically, though, for the price of an iPad, I could buy another 200 Watts of solar panels. The third option is to buy neither, continue to use my laptop, but to use it less. So, actually, there are 3 options: increase efficiency (buy an iPad), increase energy supply (buy more PV), reduce consumption (read more books).
Gasoline – Didn’t use a drop. Yay!
Propane – Used about 2.5lb, so a little more than my goal of 2lb.
Heating – Only burned wood from my property. I ran out of chopped wood in the last week, but had plenty of wood in 2-3ft lengths stashed under my hut that I had to cut to 6-8″ lengths. It’s been too wet for the last couple of weeks to harvest more wood, though there were a few days in the middle when I was able to shore up my supplies. Using my cordless saw to chop wood became a problem towards the end though, when I started running low on power. I’ll definitely be getting a bow saw, as many readers suggested.
Hut 2.1 proved to provide adequate shelter during this very wintery month. During Project 31, there were 3 winter storms, with snow accumulation up to 16 inches, temperatures down to -10F, and winds gusting up to 45mph. Through it all, Hut 2.1 kept me warm, dry and happy, and that’s about all you could ask for from a home.
Improvements made during Project 31 include the raised insulated floor, the kitchen, and a desk. The only major project I didn’t get around to was the kitchen sink. I’d originally planned on putting a bathroom inside Hut 2.1, but decided that I’d rather have more open space in the hut than a bathroom. The outdoor composting toilet suffices for now, though I might put a roof over it so I don’t have to do my business in the snow.
I was somewhat ambivalent towards having an internet connection for most of Project 31. On the one hand, it allowed me to update my blog and upload pictures. I also occasionally chatted with friends, and I think that was enough to keep me from getting lonely. On the other hand, I ended up spending way more time on my laptop than I would’ve liked. I read far fewer books, and probably spent less time outside than I would’ve otherwise.
During this past week, though, I’m glad I had an internet connection, even if I used it to follow news a bit more obsessively than was probably necessary. If I were out here without access to information, I probably still would’ve heard about the earthquake and the nuclear disaster, but I wouldn’t have been able to stay up to date, and I know that would’ve driven me nuts. I’m also glad I was able to stay in touch with my family. I can’t think of another time when I exchanged as many emails and Skype calls with my family as I did this past week.
Over all, I think I’ll keep the internet connection, and try to find other ways to moderate/regulate my usage. So, this is an open problem for now.
Personal hygiene is overrated. I took a shower once during Project 31, when it got warm and I got a little sweaty. But, other than that, I haven’t really had the desire to bathe. I don’t know of any other animal that bathes obsessively like humans do, and frankly, I don’t think it’s actually healthy. In my experience, there are 3 parts of your body you need to keep clean: your feet, your hands, and your mouth. If left alone, your feet can practically rot away, dirty hands could be a problem if you use them to eat or prepare food, and you’ll lose your teeth if you don’t brush and floss regularly. But just about everything else takes care of itself.
… will be posted in another post. My laptop is almost out of power, so I’m just going to post this.