The heart of our kitchen is a Stanley wood burner which we use for cooking, baking, water heating and to warm the kitchen. We also have a wood burner in the lounge that can heat the whole house when that is needed.
We have lived with out a “proper” fridge for many years now – we have two drawers in the kitchen instead which are built like a chilly bin. We freeze canisters of water in our freezer and then place them in the chilly bin.
Our washing machine is built in Kaiwaka – modelled on a washing machine in the Lehman catalogue it is hand operated.
For grass cutting we use a scythe as much as possible – it is great for exercise, it’s quiet and surprisingly efficient – we have not touched a brush cutter in years. We cut large amounts of scythed kikuyu grass to compost.
Our idea was to generate as much energy as possible on site and at the same time keep our energy consumption low.
Our house is one of four at the Otamatea eco village not connected to the national grid – we always liked the idea of being “independent” and of using renewable sources of energy where we can. When we looked at how much electricity we need, we arrived at about 3 kilowatts per day – this is about 10% of what a typical NZ household consumes. We like to challenge ourselves to use little electricity. Our consumption is so low, because we don’t use electricity for heating water or rooms or for cooking. This means of course that we need other sources of energy for these: Firewood and direct solar energy for cooking, baking and for hot water. We also use gas for cooking and baking in the summer when the wood fired kitchen stove is not going.
Our set up: We are using photovoltaic panels to generate electricity which is then stored in a battery bank. We draw the electricity from there through an inverter for the freezer, lights, stereo, TV, computer and other appliances that we use.
As a back up, when the sun doesn’t shine, we have a petrol driven generator that we use to equalize the batteries once every four to six weeks and also when we have not enough electricity in our battery bank.
It has been a steep learning curve for us – we did not know an awful lot about alternative power systems when we moved into our barn in 2000. It was exciting to have our “own” power … and no power bills. This does not mean that our electricity is free – to set up our system has cost a similar amount to what it would have been to connect to the national grid. After seven years our first battery bank had to be replaced and there have been other costs for repairs to the wind turbine. Occasional upgrades and replacements are part of the game and will most likely continue to happen. Overall I think our electricity is not cheaper than using the grid. We are happy with our choice.