Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Clean As a Whistle

Hurricane Sandy didn't do much damage where I live. There were a few power outages. My daughter and son-in-law lost power for a day, but not long enough for it to be a hardship or for them to have to make any changes in their habits. The story was similar for most people I know in Southern Maine.

For the most part, our lifestyles have changed so significantly in just a few decades that most of us aren't equipped to live without electricity - even for a few days. In effect, we've put all of our eggs in the electricity basket, because coal-fired and nuclear energy power plants have made electricity not just available to even the most remote locations, but also have seemed to make the energy cheap - or at least affordable to the average person. It's not, really, either cheap or affordable when one considers the hidden costs in environmental degradation, but that's also just a smoke-screen, because the true, the absolute true cost, is mostly paid for by government subsidies to Big Energy companies, and these subsidies have helped to build the trillion dollar deficit our government has incurred. When/if the government is no longer able to meet its obligations to those Big Energy companies, be assured that the cost of doing business will fall onto the increasingly less sturdy shoulders of the consumer - that would be you and me.

In fact, that supposedly cheap energy is already priced out of range for some people, who incur huge debts during the heating season and end up with no electricity when it warms up enough not to be deadly and the power company can flip the switch to the off position for those who haven't paid the bill.

And the electric company has every right to do it, too.

See, for as much as we have made ourselves believe that electricity is a necessity, everyone (everyone including the electric company and the government) knows it's not, and while the power company can't turn off the electricity during the winter here in Maine, they can cut the power, when heat is no longer an issue. The bottom line is that providing electricity to our homes is a business, and the bottom line for business is the dollar sign.

Deus Ex Mahina and I have worked very hard to minimize the amount of electricity we use in our home, and I am, actually, pretty proud of the fact that we use one-third of the average. Most of our usage goes to powering our fairly antiquated refrigeration appliances. In particular, the freezer.

We also have an electric stove, and the washing machine is electric. We have fish tanks, which have heaters and filters that run on electricity. We have several computers (all laptops, but we also have a few LED and LCD monitors). Our tankless water heater uses propane, but it has an electric igniter, which means that if we didn't have electricity, even if we have a full tank of propane, we wouldn't have hot water.

Even with all of those electric things we use every day, not having electricity would be an inconvenience, for us, but not a hardship.

I would, definitely, miss my showers, though, because I'm one of those spoiled suburbanites who showers every day, and while I don't always wash my hair, I do like to, at least, get myself all over wet - preferably with hot water. When we had a regular hot water tank - also propane - we could just light the tank with a match (like some people light their gas stoves), let the water heat up, extinguish the flame, and have hot water until the tank cooled down.

We can't do that now, but we do have other options.

Several years ago, when we lost power for half a week, it was cold enough outside that we had the woodstove going. I put a stock pot of water on the woodstove, let it get almost to boiling, and then, filled up a wash tub that I'd put in my shower enclosure. We squatted or stood in the tub to clean off. My daughters called it our "farm girl" bath - girl, because it took us a day or two to convince Deus Ex Machina to try it out.

My galvanized steel wash tub cost around $30 at a local feed store.

In the movie, The Scarlet Letter with Demi Moore as Hester Prynne, there's a scene in which she takes a bath. Essentially, she does the same thing we did, except she doesn't have a shower stall. Instead, she sets the wash tub up in, what is probably, her front room. She holds a sheet around her with one hand and washes herself with the other hand.

There's a cheaper solution, though, and next time we're faced with no hot water, I plan to use the jug shower method. It's pretty simple. Basically, poke some holes in the lid of a jug - something like a bleach jug with a screw-on lid would work well. Fill the jug with hot water (water can be heated using a candle, although it would take a long time. Sterno fuel at the grocery store is cheap). Since I have a shower stall, I'd just bring the jug into the shower with me and turn it upside down when I needed to get wet. One could get really fancy with it, use a larger container, add a shower head, and make a hanger of some sort.

The fact is that not having electricity doesn't have to mean that we can't still have all of the lovely modern conveniences that we've come to enjoy - like daily hot showers. What it does mean is that we might need to rethink how we accomplish those tasks ...

... but, for me, the reimagining the possibilities is part of the fun.

1 comment:

  1. It's officially 48 hours without power and it hasn't been so bad, even though I grumble about it. My hot water tank runs off the gas furnace so even though I don't have heat, I can take a hot shower :)
    I do miss the internet since I can't follow what is happening in my neighborhood. Our local radio station lost power (or their transmitter).
    Many, many thanks to our local library for staying open late tonight so we could all have someplace to go and keep warm while we use computers and laptops! I've always made use of the public libraries, and this makes me appreciate them even more.
    I agree with you 100%...doing without really isn't so bad.

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