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  • Living without a Fridge in the City

    February 20th, 2009

    The urban environment is especially suited to living with either no refrigerator or a scale-downed cooling system.   With population density comes easy access to fresh foods at most times of the day,  and it can become a real pleasure to shop for fresh food daily.

    I undertook my fridge-less experiment two years ago,  and I have never regretted it!  also, i’m still alive!!   and I have been learning some extremely interesting things about food and storage techniques.

    Refrigeration certainly will prolong the life of foods,  it is however, entirely dependent on a stable electricity supply and this weakness quickly becomes clear in a power failure.

    And, of course, the other reason for rethinking the refrigerator is the use of Freon, a nasty ozone-depleting gas.  Although honestly,  my main reason for rejecting the refrigerator was the horrible background noise it produces,  not to mention the distint click-click-gurgle my particular beast had developed.

    Food Storage Tips:

    Below are some tips to storing food for longer than a day.  My ease of adapting to life without a fridge is helped by the fact that I don’t drink milk,  so I can’t comment on an alternative way to store milk.

    Fruits and vegetables:   buy fresh daily,  store in a cool dry place

    Greens:   greens,  and chives can be stored like cut flowers,  in a container with a bit of water  at the bottom.

    Eggs:   eggs last a very long time if rotated every few days

    Yogurt and Cheeses:   Last just fine for several days,  In fact this is how alternatives to dairy products came into being,  to extend the shelf-life of fresh milk.

    Sauces, and condiments:   most commercial condiments are so full of preservatives and do not actually require refrigeration.  Most can be stored for 6 months after opening.   Any degradation that may occur can be seen or smelt.   Sauces that are going to be boiled or cooked are fine to store in a pantry, as well.  However it is very convenient to buy in small quantities and eat within a few days

    Fresh Meat:   buy daily.  wrap in paper to keep cool until ready to eat,  cook thoroughly.

    Sausages, preserved meats:  It is easy to find sausages and jerkys that do not require refrigeration.  wrap in paper and store in the pantry.  A local butcher shop may have air-dried sausages.  (In Nanaimo,  you can find them at Nesvog’s)

    Homemade soups:  Large soups can be left on top of the stove in the pot they were cooked in for 24 hours.   Put the lid on to maintain sterile conditions and bring to boiling again when ready to eat the next day.

    Alternatives to the conventional fridge:

    Evaporation coolers:   a basic design consists of a porous clay pot placed inside a larger clay pot.  The space between is filled with sand and kept moist.  The evaporation produces a cooling effect.

    Thermoelectric cooling:   this is what I use at home if I really need to cool something.   The premise simplified is that an electric current is run through a series of plates.   One side gets hot,  and one side gets cold.   the current can be reversed to produce either a cooling or a heating effect.   Peltier coolers are easy to get and completely functional,  they are compact, quiet and contain no mysterious gasses or chemicals.

    Outside:   It’s winter,   you are heating your home,  yet cooling a small portion again.  hmmm…

    If you are wanting to get back in touch with your food,   consume more fresh foods.  rethinking the way you store food is in order.   It could mean switching to a smaller under the counter fridge or a very desirable (but more expensive)  refridgerated drawer system (so nice).   Search for peltier coolers and you will find a suprising choice of nifty little machines!

  • Energy Management, Indoor Environmental Quality and LEED

    December 2nd, 2008

    Green building is currently in the process of being defined (please see the canadian green building council website www.cagbc.org ), but it generally does use some new engineered technologies and innovations that old school carpenters may not be familiar with, making it more expensive and more difficult to do. This raises the question of whether or not it is worth the added cost and trouble, that is if you can find someone who really knows how to do it.

    Doing it properly is the key. Green building is meant to address all parts of the building simultaneously, creating a system that works together as healthfully and harmoniously as possible. Energy use, water use, and air quality are all important design elements, and all need to work together. This really requires a whole new way of designing buildings, and raises the question of how the new “green” building products can really integrate themselves into the old way of doing things. Using just one or two green building products to raise your buildings profile may be a hazardous proposal, and not to your benefit. Here is a story that may illustrate my point.

    I went to a new “urban eclectic” condo development recently to look around. The units were well-priced, not too expensive at all, and modern looking. The sales person told me that they could not create affordable units using green building, but that they did go as far as to have triple paned LEED quality windows. (tapping the glass) As I walked around I noticed the new carpet, linoleum, adhesive attached plastic tub surround, mdf mouldings. Pretty much everything else in the building was as gluey and manufactured as you can get. I could smell the formaldehyde from the carpet. Suddenly the triple-paned barely-openable green windows made the condo seem like a death trap! Holy Shit! Get some fresh air in here people! I’m not a crazy person! Am I really the only one who can smell this?!

    Green building, with LEED as its forerunner, is primarily concerned with efficient energy management. LEED stands for The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Using Energy efficiently is in itself is a noble cause, however the energy that it is using efficiently is often the same old fossil fuels. This is a recognized drawback to believing in LEED being the future of sustainable design. Sealing the building completely so that you can utilize every square inch of hot air your gas furnace or geothermal heating system pumps out seems to make sense to conserve energy but the danger is there, especially if you go halfway like the condo developers did, of trapping dangerous fumes inside your house with you.

    Here are some questions to ask yourself when looking at green building products:
    How is this made? What sort of chemicals does it contain? What sort of processing does it undergo?
    Where is this made? How far did each component travel before getting here?
    How is this really going to benefit me? and most importantly, How will this work with the rest of my building?

  • Volatile Organic Compounds 101

    September 17th, 2008

    VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds.  When talking about Volatile Organic Compounds in paint,  this means that certain chemicals in the paint will become vapors when exposed to air.   This becomes that paint smell that is noticed by everyone and bothers some individual.

    Not just paint can emit volatile organic compounds.   Carpets,  laminated wood furnishings and almost all plastics emit some vapours.  This is why off-gassing new carpets is so important before installing in your house.

    The harmful compounds become even more of a problem in inadequately ventilated interiors.  This can lead to what is being called sick building syndrome.   The conventional style of building today is very much concerned with sealing the building envelope.   This is done with vapour barriers to ensure that no moisture can get in and also so heating systems become more efficient because less warm air is lost through drafts.

    The downside to this is that you are essentially sealing yourself in with a range of irritating chemicals,  such as formaldehyde in carpets and laminated furniture.   Without allowing a building to breath,  there is nowhere for these vapours to go.   Offices are notorious for this.   The office smell that has become so familiar to office workers is a mixture of volatile organic compounds trapped in poorly ventilated spaces.

    This is where the term green building differs slightly from natural building.  Where green building is primarily (and fairly) concerned with efficient use of heating resources.  Natural building methods utilize the safest materials to improve building air quality.

    In terms of paint,  latex paint certainly emits VOCs.   Paints labelled “zero VOC” is missing certain chemicals, usually related to drying times,  as a consequence zero VOC paint will often dry at a different rate than standard paint.   Also a paint can only be zero VOC if white.   Pigments will add compounds to the paint.   Low VOC usually refers to a pigmented paint.

    The difference when using paints that are considered zero or low VOC is that there is a distict lack of irritating odor when painting and during the drying time,  although once dry, there is no noticeable difference in appearance between standard and low VOC paints.  They are generally more expensive than a standard paint but certainly worthwhile for use in interior painting for individuals who are ill,  pregnant,  chemical sensitive,  or just generally concerned with their interior air quality.

    To learn more about this subject, I would recommend this article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volatile_Organic_Chemicals

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