Friday, October 24, 2014

New roof

Having just finished the reno the last thing on our minds was spending more money. Then one thing led to another and we ended up splashing a lot more cash.

Firstly, Quin was diagnosed with a mould allergy. This meant that our slightly leaky roof was a big problem and possible allergy trigger. Then our builder recommended a roofer to us and said you won't regret going to tin from terracotta tiles, it will make your house way cooler in summer and warmer in winter. This sold us of course! We love our old house but she ain't the best insulated and we suffer a bit in the more extreme months.

So, tin it is. It cost an arm and a leg ($15,000) for the new roof, including Anticon insulation underneath for the best thermal rating. We are very happy with the early results, no leaks and it looks mint. We'll give an update when the thermometer reaches 40C, which will hopefully happen later rather than sooner.

Now, no more spending for us after a crazy expensive year. Let's see if we can pay off the mortgage before it all goes belly up again!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New PV system

We first got PV (photo voltaics or solar power) 6 years ago and the 1.1kW system has done us well. We recently had a new roof put on so we had to remove the solar panels and I thought it might be a good idea to upgrade our PV system at the same time. This is how the old system looked.

The 1.1kW system cost us $6,500 and in 2010 we qualified for the new WA Feed in Tariff (FIT). This pays us about 48 cents a kWh that we feed to the grid. The FIT runs for 10 years to 2020. A while ago our energy provider (Synergy) decided to reduce the amount they paid people who don't get the FIT for power fed to the grid from parity to what they charge their customers (28 cents) to about a third of parity (8 cents). That got me thinking, when the FIT ends what will our power bills cost us? The amount shocked me, about $600 a year for us measerly 5kWh a day users. I thought well I'll just upgrade my system in 6 years time and we'll be right. Then I thought wait a minute, why don't we upgrade now and the new, bigger system will pay itself off much more quickly with the FIT. I checked the rules which state that you can keep the FIT if you keep your original inverter. Luckily we got a larger inverter than our system required, a SBA 1700 which allowed for a bigger system.

So, now to choose new panels and sell the old. I thought it would be hard to sell the old Kaneka thin film panels considering new panels sell for under $1 a watt these days. However I was pleasantly surprised when an ad in Gumtree got many people interested. The first offer was $900 for the 1.1kW Kanekas, an offer I couldn't refuse. It turns out that the buyer wanted to upgrade his own system and needed that vintage Kanekas to be compatible with his other panels.

 We were told that we could overload the inverter by placing some panels facing west and some north, so we decided on around a 3kW system. The choice of panels was between Yingli, Daqo and REC. The first two are good quality chinese panels, the third very good quality European. We decided on the RECs which should give better performance over a longer period of time and have a world leading energy payback time of one year. The REC 260PE polycrystalline panels are now installed in two strings of 6 panels, giving us 3.12kW. This is the west facing, tilted array on the garage roof.

And here's the North facing array with the solar hot water system alongside.

This upgrade cost us around $4,600 including removal of the old panels. Subtract the $900 we got for the old panels and the total cost was $3,700. It should pay itself off in about three and half years and then we'll have another two and a half years of FIT before we go back to the stingy rate. Our power bills will be in the negative (ie a credit) for the foreseeable future so the money is a great investment as well as good for the environment. Despite being bigger in kW, this system is much smaller in physical footprint and this allowed us to move the solar hot water system further up the roof into a less shady spot.

Now, let the sun shine all day and the rain come at night...

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A preemptive strike against feral honey bees

We had an emergency situation here yesterday. Who did we call? Batman! The situation was a imminent swarm of feral honey bees about to move in to our nesting box. We noticed quite a few scouts hanging around and really did not want a swarm on our hands. Its happened once before and its quite frightening. Bees are loud and serious when they swarm and if they move in to a nesting box they will sting and kill baby 28s and make their hive. 

We called Joe from Natsync (aka Batman because he loves bats, possums and parrots - in fact all things Australian native). He was here in a flash to rid the box of curious bees armed with his bee suit and ready to unleash his secret weapon! Actually he didn't need the suit for just a few scouts so Quin quickly tried it on!

He took the box down and we found a dead fledgling in it. It was quite a mature one and Joe suspected that it was stung but probably the brothers and sisters had escaped. 

Luckily we had the secret magic bee repellent growing in the chook yard - wormwood! Joe packed it in a little mesh thing and placed it in the box. We put the box a little lower in the tree so in future we can stuff wormwood in the box ourselves next time it attracts the attention of some unwanted bee scouts.

So now our nesting box is all go for another clutch of 28 eggs. We're hopeful. Only a few hours later the box was being inspected by a lovely couple of 28s. I could just hear them chatting to each other. 'It looks lovely inside, Love'. 'Hmm, but its a little low on the tree, Dearest'. 'Yes, but you know, its all about location...'

We hope they move in!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Sustainable raw dog food

Since we got our Whippet puppy, Okey, we've looked into the best diet for him and concluded that raw food was the way to go. Wild dogs have evolved over millions of years to eat raw food and it makes sense that they still thrive on it. Most modern dog food is junk in comparison. Meat and other products that are cooked lose much of their goodness. Did you know that there's no requirement for dog food to have a good balance of nutrients and vitamins, etc. Instead it's full of the waste products from human food, like grains and other cheap fillers. Dogs aren't built to digest carbohydrates, they just pass straight through them with sometimes harmful effects (including hip and elbow dysplasia). Dry kibble or biscuits are also very low in moisture, mostly 11% compared to around 70% for raw food. This means that pets fed on this alone will often struggle to keep hydrated. The benefits of raw food include improvements in skin and arthritic problems. Anyway, I won't rant but I'll just say do some research yourself if you're interested. The book I've read is "Real food for dogs and cats" by Dr Clare Middle. Other useful links are BARF and a good Youtube video.

We started off by buying BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones and Raw Food) patties. These are easy because it's all prepacked and frozen. The big downside to them is the cost. 12 patties of 227g cost $25 here. That works out to $9.20 a kilo. The other factor which concerned us was the sustainability aspect (all the packaging, transport, issues over how the meat is farmed, etc). So, I decided that I'd look into making my own raw food. After a few tries I found the youtube video linked above. I liked that  it was an easy recipe and it was really raw (unlike others with cooked ingredients!). I've amended it a bit and here's my own version. Your dog will need between 20-30% of their body weight per week of raw food and raw bones.


3kg muscle meat, usually 2kg lamb and 1kg kangaroo for Okey
300g offal (a local pet store sells offal including tongue, liver, heart, kidney and brains, yum!)
2 whole raw eggs (shells included)
6 tablespoons yoghurt
300g vegies
2 cloves of garlic
6 whole sardines

Here's how I make it. First I pick most of the vegies from the garden and I add lots of variety. This brew has silverbeet, celery, parsley, brocolli, kale and carrot. They're mostly organic and local produce.

These are then blended along with the eggs, garlic and yoghurt.

It looks like this afterwards.

I used to blend the local sardines too but we found that Okey loves them straight from the freezer (doggy icey poles!). If you want you can just pop fish oil tablets in when you serve the food, we just prefer this method because we know the fish source is local and sustainable.

It was interesting finding out why some of these ingredients are used. The vegies and yoghurt contain most of the vitamins dogs need and replace what wild dogs get in the stomach of their prey (partially digested vegetables, fermented mother's milk).

Then I add the meat and offal, it's all from WA and preservative free.

I'd like to use all roo (free range and the most sustainable local meat) but Whippets are quite lean dogs and need fattier meats on the whole, so lamb's a good local choice. Here's what it looks like. It's not much fun for a vegetarian but it goes with the territory when you own a carnivore...

Then I simply put it in containers and freeze them.

When I serve it I add a pinch of Kelp powder and alfalfa or coconut oil. This brew costs us about $17.50 for 4kg, which works out to less than half the cost of BARF. Sure, it's probably cheaper to buy other dog food, but we figure that we should save money in the long run with lower vet bills.

Okey loves it. We also alternate feeding him a high quality grain free dry food which we add water to when we serve it. It's also important to feed raw meaty bones, so we give Okey lots of these (chicken necks and roo tail mostly). Soon we're going to fast Okey once a week, according to Clare Middle this is a great way to detoxify the liver and keep your dog even healthier.

Downshifting: it ain't that hard

So, what is downshifting? Well firstly it has nothing to do with changing gears in a car. Downshifting is when someone voluntarily decides to either work less or work in a lower stress job. Amy and I have been attempting to downshift for years now and I think we've got a good balance now. Amy has gone from full time to 0.6 and then 0.5 and I've gone from full time to 0.9 and just this week started to work 0.7. This means I work 3 days one week and then 4 days the next. Sure, we get paid less but we'd rather be time rich and ok money wise than time poor and rich. It makes a lot of sense for us since we have secure jobs and we live in the richest city in one of the richest countries in the world. At work people have been saying how lucky I am and how I'm living the dream and it made me think why don't more people do it?

I think one of the reasons is that bosses are too inflexible and employees are afraid to ask or are afraid they'll slip down the career ladder or won't earn enough to afford the nice things in life. There's a great book called Affluenza: When too much is never enough, by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss. They define Affluenza as "1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the Australian dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth". Sound familiar? It's a great book and I recommend you read it. The thrust of the book is that people are working longer hours, with more stress and that is impacting on their health, relationships and general quality of life.

A 2009 survey of 450,000 Americans found that the optimum income for happiness was $75,000 a year. "As people earn more money, their day-to-day happiness rises. Until you hit $75,000. After that, it is just more stuff, with no gain in happiness" (see this blog post for more info). Earning more could even make you less happy. To get that promotion do you need to work longer hours or miss out on some leave? Do you need to deal with more stress and take work home with you? Is it really worth it if it doesn't increase your well being?

Where did the 40 hour work week even come from? I read an article by David Cain recently which said it originates in the mid 1900's as a way to stop exploitation of workers doing 14-16 hour days. So why hasn't it changed in the last 150 years? Cain's theory is that it's because it's good for the capitalist economy. People who are tired, time poor, cash rich and unfulfilled need to have a release and the way they do that is by buying stuff they don't really need but that fills a whole in their lives. It may be a jet ski, a new 4WD or a quick trip to Bali and it keeps the wheels of industry turning. But we're not hamsters so you can jump off the wheel if you want!

So here's my to call out to employers and bosses. The next time someone asks you if they can work part time please say yes instead of the default no. Yes Jill, why don't we give it a try and see how it goes? Jill will be over the moon and work harder for you. You might even find that she does the same amount of work in less time (the average office worker does 3 hours productive work in 8 hours). Jill will be happier because she has more time for reading, yoga, etc. Husband Jack will be happier because the kids are happier (more attention), the dog's happier (more walkies) and because his wife's happier. Jack's thinking "She's less stressed, more relaxed, she's lost weight. In fact she looks pretty fit at the moment!" Now that can't be bad for a relationship can it? It's a win win situation, Jill's happier and her boss is saving the business money. She might even stay with the business longer and save them heaps more by avoiding recruitment and training of new people.

There's a chance that things slip at work and the boss says you need to go back to full time, but it was worth a try. How about this radical solution though, the boss says to Jill how about we hire a new part timer? Bob is an environmental scientist who's been unemployed for a year and gets the job. He's been depressed and stressed working 40 hours a week applying for non existent jobs for heaven's sake.He's over the moon to get a new job and realises he never liked full time work that much.  His partner Jim's happy too, but enough of that...

Now isn't that cool, making many people happy for the price of one!

Here's my call to employees. Ask your boss if you can go part time if you want to. If he says no, just nag him until he says yes. Tell him to read this post, tell him about Jack and Jill for Pete's sake, he'll get it. Don't be afraid about money, you'll probably be ok and you won't regret it.

But wait a minute say the naysayers. There's a catch, it's bad for the economy.  The economy is the most important thing in the world ever as our politicians like to preach. Well I'm not an economist but it seems we're always going on about productivity. How is it good for productivity for someone to get paid for 8 hours work and do 3? Isn't it more efficient to work less but better? Sure, there may be a drop off in jet ski sales, but big deal. Maybe we'll get the next GFC a bit sooner this way but I kinda think we need it for the planet's sake. Most consumerism drives climate change, creates waste and pollution and we or following generations will be hit with the bill sooner or later. Why not give Mother Earth a break and bring it on. So I say nay to the naysayers!

I plan to do more of the stuff I enjoy, like gardening, walking the dog, blogging (I wrote this post on my first day off!) and spending time with my son and heir (his inheritance may be smaller but he'll be happier). Have you ever had a weekend and on Monday thought, gee i need a weekend to get over the weekend? Well I don't get that feeling anymore. 

Haven't we lost sight of what's important in life? Isn't it more important to be there for a child's first steps rather than earning another dollar? Happiness is not measured by the amount of superannuation you have. Don't defer happiness until it's too late, live it now.Time is more precious than money I say. Go on, whether you're a boss or a worker give it a go. Work less, live more. Enrich your life not your bank account.

Happiness is contagious, go make some ripples...