Prepping, homesteading and living the simple, green, independent life.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Ultimate Extreme Clothes Dryer Vent!

The other day my wife noticed that the floor around our clothes dryer was really cold. We had always noticed that the air in our dryer was always a bit cooler but this was really colder than usual and winter isn't even here yet!

I'd been considering changing our dryer vent to a better quality model that would prevent cold air from entering for a while now but kept putting it off. With the cold entering like that I couldn't put off any longer so I made a trip to my local Home Hardware store.

I'd seen energy efficient vents before at Home Hardware and had a particular model in mind. Strangely I couldn't find any energy efficient models at either Canadian Tire or Walmart.

There were only two models at the store but I picked a model by Broan. The other vent was not only more expensive but came across as a gimmicky "as seen on TV" product. Broan is a well known brand and it looked more like a regular vent only larger.

Basically instead of vent flaps that open and close it has a styrofoam ball that rolls forward and up when hot air is exiting. It rolls back and seals the vent when the dryer stops. The vent cover is also well insulated with the walls made of 2 inch thick foam.
By replacing the vent I was also able to see what was inside my exterior walls: straw. My house was built in the 1930 and straw was a common insulator back then but unfortunately it doesn't insulate very well. If we weren't planning on moving in less than 5 years I'd remove the interior drywall and put in spray insulation with a high R-Value but it probably isn't worth the effort.

Hopefully this will help a bit with heating and with a new basement door also coming soon, whoever buys this house is gonna be getting a pretty energy efficient home! 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Raking Leaves is for Suckers!

I hate raking leaves.  In fact, I usually don't rake them at all or do the minimum necessary to make the yard look half-decent.

We have two large maples which dump a lot of leaves on our small 20 x 30 back yard so I felt very smart when it occurred to me that I could just use the lawnmower to turn the leaves into mulch.  No more raking ever again!  I felt very smart to have figured that out all by myself but that didn't last because I quickly realized that a lot of people do this.

The weather was nice today so my wife and I decided to get the yard ready for winter and I broke out the lawnmower for my anti-raking experiment.  I set the blades a little higher than normal because I didn't want to harm the grass.  Result: I'm pretty impressed!

As you can see in the pictures the mower really did a good job of breaking down the leaves.  Where you'd see nothing but leaves at first you'd see mostly green after the mower went over them.

It also occurred to me that when making compost the guides always say to include a good mix of greens (nitrogen) and browns (carbon).  It just happens that a good source of greens and browns are grass clippings and dry leaves respectively.  By mulching these leaves they'll have the winter and spring to break down and turn into natural compost.  I guess there's a reason mother nature doesn't rake the leaves eh?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Food Dehydrating Fun!

A few weeks ago I received my Excalibur dehydrator in the mail. I bought a refurbished model with a 10 year warranty for $160 at the companies website (they're regularly over $200) but shipping was another $56 and duty was $27. I'd recommend looking into the Canadian supplier, Basic Life Essentials, to lower shipping and avoid duty taxes. You can also order them from Amazon.

There are less expensive dehydrator brands out there but if you want to seriously get into dehydrating as a way of preserving and storing food I'd go for an Excalibur. I used to have one of the smaller less expensive models. They're good for trying out dehydrating and making a few snacks but f you want to dehydrate a bushel of apples that you pick up on sale at a farmers market or do a whole 10 pound bag of potatoes you'll need the Excalibur. The other models aren't large enough and it would literally take a week to dry all those apples or potatoes. For this reason I'd also recommend getting the 9 tray Excalibur instead I'd the 4 tray model if you can afford it.

I've been trying out tons of different foods in the dehydrator and so far I'm pretty impressed. You can eat the foods dry themselves or rehydrate them to use in meals. When you dehydrate the food the texture is never the same as fresh but that's okay if your using them in stews, soups etc.. To rehydrated them I boil the dried food for a few minutes. You can also steam your veggies to rehydrate them.

(Above: dried tomato, red /green peppers, celery, mushrooms, broccoli, potatoes and my assistant)

The dried peppers in my homemade salsa are pretty good. The potatoes are excellent pan fried or in a stew but they're too thick and slimy mashed. Rehydrated apples in an apple crisp are also really good.  Tomatoes come out soft but are good for soups.  As for broccoli, the stems get too tough so just dehydrate the tops. I haven't done onions or garlic yet because supposedly they really stink up the house and it's too cold to open the windows to ventilate.

My general idea is to buy veggies on sale and dehydrate them so they'll last a long time. I got a bunch of mason jars for my birthday and bought oxygen absorbers from that Canadian supplier I mentioned above. If I put the dried food in the jars with the O2 absorber it should last at least a year though various sources claim they'll last up to 5 even 30 years! Personally 5 years seems the limit to me and after 2 years I'd be wary.

The website Dehydrate 2 Store is a great resource with tons of recipies, tips and how-too videos.  The book "The Dehydrator Bible" also has a lot of great tips and recipes which is where I found my recipe for apple crisp.

I'm learning that there are a lot of different methods and recommendations out there so if you want to get into dehydrating try different things and have fun experimenting!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Our Water Bill VS Our New Washing Machine

Exciting times!  Our food dehydrator AND the latest water bill arrived yesterday!

After I've tested out the dehydrator more I'll blog about it but for now a quick post about the effect our new high efficiency washing machine has had on our water bill.

Our previous water bill showed that we used 46 cubic meters of water during the first 4 month billing period of January to April.

This latest bill showed that we only used 29 cubic meters!

I suck at math so correct me if I'm wrong but:
46 cm - 29 cm = 17 cm
17 cm / 47 = 36%

So that means we've used 36% less water!

If you've been reading this blog you may remember that our first water bill showed 79 cubic meters used!  I estimated though that our average was around 58 c.m. since our newborn baby probably bumped up our usage in the first billing period.

So this means that since earlier this year, we've dropped our water use from 58 c.m. to 29!  That's a 50% reduction!  Hopefully this trend will hold.

As I said before, I'm very impressed with our new LG high efficiency washer and dryer and would recommend them to anybody.

With the money we're saving from using less water and electricity while doing our laundry these machines are going to pay for themselves in a year or two!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Advantages to Storing Food

"Are you expecting some a disaster or something?", my wife said after I set up our new can organizer.
Tth Cansolidator is a can organizer that I bought through Shelf Reliance, which are actually meant to go in cupboards or pantry shelves. The plastic is pretty sturdy and it's easy to put together but if I had the money and space, I'd probably have gotten one of the larger metal framed shelving units. 
The basic idea with these is that you put new cans in the top slot and when you want one you pull it from the bottom slot. When you pull out a can, the others roll forward. This way you're always pulling out the oldest can and you automatically rotate your supply.
I've seen designs online to build your own out of cardboard and some really interesting do-it yourself systems between wall studs or using old dressers.
I really wanted to try making my own out of cardboard but I broke down and bought the Cansolidator since I never had the time.
When you begin storing food a lot of people have reactions similar to my wife (who I think was only half-joking).  For some reason you get labeled as a paranoid hoarder.
Back in the ice-storm of 98 I remember driving out with my parents to the only grocery store in town that was open.  The power was out everywhere and the only way we could see was with our car headlights. 
The grocery store was on the other side of town and the roads were pure ice.  I recall almost ditching the car a few times and when we finally got there, the store was almost totally empty.  I don't remember everything that we bought but the only meat we could find was a stick of dried pepperoni and since all the bread was gone we bought pitas to make sandwhiches.
Luckily the power was only out in our town for a few days and we had enough food to last that long.
So ya, having a few weeks worth of non-perishable food would come in handy if there's an emergency like that but this isn't the only reason.
First off, the food is something I'm gonna buy anyway so the money isn't wasted.  This is why it's important to follow the saying of "eat what you store, store what you eat".  Think about what you often buy and eat; there's usually quite a few things that you use a few times per month.  To be more accurate, you could even make a log of what you buy and eat.
Secondly, it's also just handy to have the food on hand.  If guests come over you don't have to do a grocery run and if the stores are closed you're not stuck.
For me however, the main attraction is reducing our overall cost of food.  By stocking food you're never in a situation where you "have" to buy a certain item.  Thanks to this I can watch the prices of items I stock and only buy when the price is low.  For example, one item I always keep stocked is Kraft Diner.  I've seen the price for KD be anywhere from 50 cents to $1.40.  My rule is that I buy when it's less than 80 cents so if KD is over a buck one week, I know I can hold off on buying until the price drops because there's a dozen boxes at home.
It may seem like a big expensive job, but if you just buy one or two extra things each time you do groceries you won't notice it.  I figure I only spend an extra $5 or so each time but it's surprising how fast you can stock up.  In no time you can be a paranoid hoarder too!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

You Know You're Getting Old When...

A few weeks back we received our new high-efficiency front loading LG washer and dryer set and I have to say, I'm pretty impressed by them.
The set was only around $1000 (on sale) but I felt like I'd gone from a Chevette to a Cadillac when compared to our old set.  A cute little luxury feature is that they play a little song when a load is done.  I told my wife I've always dreamed of having a somebody who loved housework so much that it sang to her.
The washer is very efficient at conserving water.  In fact, at first we weren't sure if we hooked it up properly because we couldn't see any water through the glass door.  It turns out that the machine weighs how much clothes are in it and only uses enough water to soak the clothes. I'm very curious to see how this affects our next water bill because I estimate we've gone from using approx. 20 litres a load to maybe only 4 or 5.
Although these style of washer do take longer to clean a load (about an hour), we can do much larger loads so the time spent works out to about the same.
Another thing that's great about the washer is that it spin-dries the clothes so well that they come out of the washer just damp and almost dry.  Sometimes I have to think twice if a load has even gone through the washer since so much water is removed. 
As for the dryer, I'm a little disappointed that it was rated as only average when it comes to energy use, however we're noticing that most loads get dried in under 25 minutes. Not only does the washer do such a great time spin-drying, but the dryer also has a sensor that can tell when the clothes are dry and it will shut itself off.  Very often the timer will show 30 minutes or so left but then a couple minutes later it shuts off because the clothes are dry!
In a few years time, after we build our next house, I'd like to look into getting a similar style propane or natural gas dryer.  This would really reduce our energy use.  Sure we could use a clothesline to dry our clothes, we used to and probably will again some day, but with two little kids it's much easier to just use the dryer.
On the "luxury" side of things I'm impressed by how huge the interior of the dryer is and it's kinda neat to have a light inside it.
So far the only minor downside to these is that I find we have to remember to leave the washer door open to allow it to dry out.  The front loading door is water/air tight and I've noticed that if we forget to leave the door open it is still damp inside days later.  I'm afraid that this could lead to a musty smell and maybe mold which probably explains why the washer has a "self-cleaning" feature.
We're pretty happy with our new washer and dryer set but also a little depressed.  When you reach the stage that the most exciting thing in your life is your new washer and dryer you know you're getting old!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Control Your Home Thermostat On the Internet!

Today a fellow from our natural gas company came by to install a new thermostat as part of the Peaksaver program that we signed up for.
If you haven't heard of Peaksaver, basically what it does is allow the Ontario government electricity provider to turn off your central air conditioner for 30 minutes during periods of high demand.  This is supposed to help reduce demand and prevent blackouts (though considering the Toronto blackout that happened during the Queen's visit it doesn't seem to be working).
I had heard of Peaksaver years ago and was originally dead set against having the government controlling my air conditioner; however a few months ago more details and new incentives flipped me to the other side:
1) A Free Programable Thermostat
I haven't had good experiences with programable thermostats; they never seem to work properly!  We tried programming our current one but for some reason it never worked. In winter we had set it to go down to 20 degrees while we were at work and to go back up an hour before we got home.  A number of times when we got home however the thermostat was at 16!
Hopefully the one they installed will work properly.  At the very least it can't work worse than what we already have.
2) The Ability to Set Thermostat Over the Internet
This is really what sold me on signing up for this program.  I'd like to be able to monitor the temperature in our home while at work or on the road with my iPhone.  I can't stand hot humid days so it would be great to be able to come home to a cool home if we had forgot to turn on the AC before leaving.
3) Turning Off the A/C Won't Affect Us
According to the Peaksaver website, they only shut off the air conditioner for 30 minutes during which time your furnace fan will still run and blow cool air.
Secondly they only turn off the A/C during peak hours which are weekdays between 1:00 PM and 6:00 PM.  We don't get home from work until about 4:30 so we probably wouldn't notice it.
They also don't turn off the A/C during weekends and holidays either.
Lastly, we usually only use our A/C for a week or two the whole summer.  We've got two big maples that shade our house and we open the windows at night and close them during the day to trap in the cool air.
There are other minor incentives like a $25 credit on your utility bill and helping the environment but to be honest, these didn't really interest me.
I'll update later on how things are going and post any problems we have.  In the end the thing that really finalized my decision to try Peaksaver was the sentence, "You can opt out at any time".

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy Day!: The Water Bill Arrived!

After being shocked a few months ago with a water bill of over $240 I decided to do a few things to cut down on our water use.
We converted our main toilet to a dual-flush and installed a water saving device on the second (haven't switched it over to a dual yet). We also installed a new low-flow shower head and have generally tried to be more conscious of how much water we've used.
Since then I've been looking forward to our next water bill to see how much we cut down on our water usage and it arrived yesterday.
It went from 79 cubic meters to 46!
That's a big reduction.  Almost too big a reduction for just the few changes we made so this got me to thinking about what could be different between the two bills. 
After a few minutes it hit me...we had a new baby back in the fall during the period of the first bill.
The extra loads of laundry that had to be done separately with a gentle baby soap could be why the last water bill was so high.  The water for baby formula and baths probably didn't help either
With this in mind I checked our last water bill from before the baby was born: 58 cubic meters.
I think this amount of 58 was probably our average, but with the baby laundry no longer washed separately and the conservation steps we took, it dropped to 46.
So really our drop is probably more like 58 cubic meters to 46.  Still pretty good I think.
What will be very interesting is to see how much lower our bill will go with the new high efficiency washer and dryer set we got last week (which I'll post about later when I have a chance).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Strawberry Picking

Our family went strawberry picking this morning, it's a fun thing to do once in a while and I think it's a good way to help our 3-year old daughter realize where food comes from.

While my wife picked berries with our oldest I went for a walk around the farm with our youngest in the stroller.

The farm was huge and it seemed like they were doing succession planting which made sense.  The acre furthest to the east was were the most mature plants were and as you moved west the plants went from just sprouting to bare earth.

A few things I noticed made me wish there was somebody around who worked there to chat with though.

I was surprised to see that there were weeds throughout the fields.  Purple Loose-stryfe was everywhere which was odd because it seems to me like there isn't much of it along the roads this year.  In fact I think this is the first time I saw it this season.

Straw was spread out between the rows which makes good mulch and breaks down into the soil.  It also makes it easier for people to walk on.

The earth itself was pretty chunky from the clay-heavy soil we have around here.  The straw will add some organic material to the clay but I was surprised by how heavy the clay was.  This farm has been around for decades and I thought the soil condition would have been better.  Maybe strawberries like clay soil?  They seemed to be doing okay in it.

Speaking of the strawberries themselves I was impressed by how many there were.  The plants were pretty productive; even the very small and young plants had berries.

Our little plant at home has only produced a dozen or so berries so far and most of them were eaten by the robins.  I wonder what the farm does to keep the birds away?

I have lots of questions after this trip; I'm going to have to read up on growing strawberries!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pioneer Solar: PV System For Free?

I received a flyer from Pioneer Solar in the mail the other day which claims to help people get a solar system installed on their house, farm, or business for free. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, like most things there's good and bad points about it and what might be a good deal for one person might not for another.

Here's how it works:

The Ontario government recently started a program where homes and businesses / farms that install solar or wind power will be paid a guaranteed rate per kilowatt for a 20 year contract.

What Pioneer Solar does is install the PV system for "free" but for the first 10 years, the money you're paid by the government for the electricity goes to Pioneer Solar.  You get to keep the revenue from the 10 years left in your contract with the government though.

The example in the flyer states:

Solar System Earnings / Month = $840
Solar Finance Payment               = $780
Initial Monthly Earnings            = $60
Eventual Monthly Earnings       = $800 (after 10 years)

They're promoting it as an investment that's better than stocks.  One way of looking at this is that you'll eventually be earning a monthly income with no initial investment.

However, using the figures from the flyer this means that you'll have paid over $93 000 for the PV system.

From all the research I've done I estimate that a PV system large enough to power a modern but energy efficient home, would cost between $25 000 and $35 000 to professionally install.  If you do it yourself it's could be half of that and you don't need Pioneer Solar to apply for a 20 year government energy contract.

Another downside is that all this energy produced goes to the grid and doesn't isn't actually used for your home. I assume however that once you own the solar system after 10 years, you can turn it into a hybrid system to power your house. It's possible however that the 20 year government contract may disallow this (I've written Pioneer Solar and email to clarify this).

Despite those downsides, you're still getting a PV system for "free" and making an income for at least 10 years from selling the energy.

For those who are looking to go off-grid and be a self-sustainable as possible, the prospect of waiting 10 to 20 years to use the electricity might not be worth it.  Though the income it would provide would go a lot towards becoming independent.

If you're looking to help the environment and make some money however it might be a great idea.

I know if I owned a property right now suitable for such a PV system, I'd be giving them a call.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Green Building and Remodeling for Dummies: Book Review

I love the Dummies series of books.  They're quick reads packed with info that's presented in a clear and organized way.
Plus I love the fact that most of them are available in Kindle versions for much less than the paper version.
With the popularity of the Dummies books though, there are often many versions on various topics which makes it hard to decide where to start.  For example, when I wanted to read up on energy efficiency and self-sufficiency for the home I literally couldn't decide where to start.  There was Solar Power for Dummies, Wind Energy for Dummies etc.  There are even editions that put 3 or 4 books into one.  With all these choices I decided to go with a generalized book that touched on a number of topics so I picked "Green Building and Remodeling for Dummies".
Unfortunately it wasn't the book for me.  Not that it was a bad book, it just didn't focus on the topics I was interested in.  I was looking for info on how to build an energy efficient home, whereas this book focused on environmentally friendly building materials.  For example, aluminum siding may be recyclable and greener, however it doesn't offer any energy efficiency benefits.
I also found that the book was repetitive.  In the first few chapters it explained global warming and the importance of lowering CO2 but in what seemed like every chapter there was another paragraph on global warming (tip: if you write a book with "Green" in the title, your readers have probably already heard of global warming).
As another example, the author kept focusing on VOC fumes (Volatile Organic Compounds) which may be an important topic, but you don't have to remind me every second page.
For my taste the book also dealt too much with non-mainstream building materials like straw bale and adobe.  Straw bale homes may be cool but the added difficulty and costs of building one (finding contractors familiar with it, complying with building codes etc.) makes it unlikely that many people would build them. 
I would have rathered more info on more mainstream energy efficient options like engineered boards or Insulated Concrete Forms, which in my opinion were barely covered.
Green Building and Remodeling for Dummies: a good book to learn the proper distance to keep your clock radio away from your head to avoid elecro-magnetic waves, but not much practical info on building an energy efficient home.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Still think Organic Lawn Care Doesn't Work?

Wonder if they still think I'm nuts for planting clover, not mowing my lawn as short as possible and not using "weed and feed"?

Sure mine still has some brown too it but it's a lot less than the other yards.  Now that we've had a couple days of rain my yard is completely green while the others are still dead.

Water from the rain barrel helped too.  Another thing my wife thought I was nuts for getting at first.

FYI: That one patch of totally green that goes all the way to the street is actually where my lawn ends.  You can literally see where my property ends by the dead grass.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Quick Update for May

May has been a crazy month in our house which is why I haven't posted much.  New job, birthdays, anniversary and a death in the family.

Unfortunately we weren't able to get much done but we did take some important steps:

1) Cleaned Out and Decluttered Basement

After attempting to clean our basement I accepted reality; we rented a huge garbage bin and "cleaned house".
A lot of that stuff I hadn't touched in years and some of it had become so dusty that it wasn't worth it to clean it just so it could go back on a shelf.

We wound up bringing about 4 boxes of stuff to the local church second hand store however the rest went to the dumpster.  We actually wound up filling it twice!

It felt like a weight was taken off my chest and now when I go in our basement I'm amazed by how much room we have.

If you've got too much stuff and feel overwhelmed like I did I really recommend getting a dumpster and just getting rid of it all (the bin only cost $40 for the week).

2) Expanded Garden

Making the most of our limited space we installed more planters, this time on our front porch.  Since these are more visible to neighbours I planted a mix of veggies and flowers.  With the hot and humid weather we've been having they started sprouting a week later.

The ones we used are similar to those on the left, but we got them at Canadian Tire for only $5 each.

3) Joined Peaksaver Program

I had heard of the Peaksaver program before but I wasn't comfortable with the idea of the government controlling my thermostat.  Basically how it works is that they install a new programable thermostat which they are able to use to temporarily shut off your air conditioner during peak times in the summer to avoid black-outs.

I've since learned more about how it works and decided to sign up.  What made me reconsider is that these thermostats now allow you to adjust your setting over the internet.  This means that I can turn on my AC from work so the house will be cool by the time I get home.

I'll write more on this when they install the thermostat next month.

4) Looking into Buying Land

Last week we went to the bank to get approval to buy 4 acres of vacant land to build our next home in 5 years.

We're crossing our fingers to that everything goes through. If it does I'd like to plant an orchard and set up some permaculture systems this year so they'll be ready by the time we move in.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Do It Yourself Home Improvement: Book Review

I love the books done by DK publishers; their books are always very informative and very visual with nice photos to help explain the topic.

This is why when I was at Costco the other week I had to pick up the book, "Do-It-Yourself Home Improvement: A Step-By-Step Guide".

My wife asked me why I needed another home improvement book but this one was different.

I've read other books in the past but often the authors assume that you have a basic knowledge or tools an terminology.  The DK book explains even the VERY basic; it even shows you how to use a screwdriver, ladder and saw!  Believe it or not a lot of people don't know the proper technique to use these basic tools which includes me!

The pictures are very helpful and explain things step by step.  I wish I had this book years ago; it could have saved me from making a lot of mistakes.

Unlike other books it also was a true Canadian version, instead of an American book with a 2 page addition for Canadians tacked on.

Another great thing is that the book includes many green and energy efficient topics for the home along with excellent photos.  I learned a lot from this book on things like rain catchment and grey water systems which until now I wasn't able to discover much about other than that they existed and were available.

I really recommend this book. It's great for not only the beginner who wants to do a few simple things around the home but also for those doing major renovations or building.
                                                                                                                (Canadian version above with Link)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Global Warming Fail

 This is what my neighbour's yard looked like yesterday:

Luckily the side of my house that has the garden was sheltered from the snow but this has got me wondering about building cold frames for the garden.

Actual cold frames can be pretty expensive so I was thinking of using window well covers like the one on the left.  These are wedged shaped and are meant to go over a basement window so it doesn't have a back.  This would be fine for me since my garden is against my home's foundation, but for others you'd need to close off the back or use two back-to-back. 

Another idea that came to me would be too get a clear plastic storage bin of the "Rubbermaid" type.  These are less expensive than the other options but the plastic isn't very clear; though greenhouses that use 6 mil plastic vapour barrier have the same level of clarity and the plants seem to do fine in those.  Anybody have some experience with coldframes that can chime in?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Welcome to the Waterpik Experience!

A few days back my wife mentioned that the showerhead was getting clogged again and that we'd need to soak it in vinegar again.

Our last waterbill is still on my mind so when she told me this I thought, "What a great excuse to get a new water-saving showerhead!".

The model that had gotten blocked was a water-saving model and I had recently read that older models were prone to blocking in areas with hard water.  Newer ones also have rubber outlets so if they ever scale up you just rub them with your finger and it unblocks them and they're supposedly more efficient.

We picked up the Waterpik Ecoflow from Canadian Tire (on sale this week for only $23.)

What I really like about this one is that it has a shut-off button so you can turn the shower off without closing the faucet and losing your temperature setting.  This allows you to get wet, shut off the water, lather up and then turn the water back on to rinse off.

The package claims you'll save up to 77% water by using the shut-off button.

When my wife brought it home she wanted me to install it right away, but feeling lazy I intended to only read the instruction so I'd at least look productive.

"Welcome to the Waterpik Experience", the instructions exclaimed before assuring me that installation can be done by hand in just a few minutes.

With my aversion to physical labour satisfied and a sudden urge to see first hand the "Waterpik experience (TM)", I decided to give it a try.

The original showerhead came off easy enough, though I did need a wrench to initially loosen it.  The next step was to just screw on the new showerhead and attach it to the hose.  Pretty simple I have to say.

I turned on the shower and there was a small leak in the two connections so I used a wrench to tighten them and scratched up the plastic couplings (Grr...).

After this it was still leaking so I went back to check the instructions and noticed that the rubber washers had fallen out of the hose.

I unscrewed the showerhead and installed the washers (scratching the plastic further).  I decided to just tighten them by hand this time to see if it lived up the claim of "no tools required".

I have to say I'm pretty impressed.  It was pretty easy to install and if you do it right you probably won't need tools.  If you avoid the mistakes I did the whole process can probably be done under 5 minutes.

According to our last water bill we're looking at close to $1000 a year for water charges.  With that expense my wife and I have been talking about getting a new high-efficiency washer which would probably pay for itself in a few years.

With a new shower head, dual-flush toilets and soon a new washer we're curious to see what our next waterbill will be like!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Simple Living: CDs and DVDs

If like me, you were a teen in the 90's, you probably have a huge stack of CDs like I do.

I would also bet that, like me, you rarely listen to any of those CDs. Over the last few years I've also noticed the same thing with my DVDs.

I had a whole shelf of CDs and DVD but never touched 99% of them except to dust them . Okay, I don't actually dust, but you get my point. They had become a nuisance that took up a lot of room, so I decided to do something about it.

First thing I did was get rid of those I had no intention of ever listening or watching again.  I brought the DVDs to Blockbuster Video which bought them for over $60.  There isn't much demand anymore for used CDs so I just dumped them off at Value Village.

I then bought a couple of those huge CD binders that can hold over 300 CDs.  One binder was for music the other for movies.

After all the disks were in the binders however I was left with a huge pile of CD and DVD cases.  I removed the paper inserts from the cases and sent the plastic shells to the recycling bin.  I still had some emotional attachment to them so I kept the paper inserts in a box.  That way "just incase" I can put them back together by buying new cases but I'll probably get rid of them soon too.

By this point my stuff which took up a whole wall unit was now only taking up half a shelf and a small box in the basement.

Also, while I was in the mood, I decided to put all my CDs on my computer.  After converting the music flies I backed them all up on DVDs.  All my 200+ albums fit on 4 DVDs!

Today I rarely buy CDs; perhaps only one a year.  I do love purchasing music through iTunes for my iPod though.  I'm seriously considering getting rid of my remaining CDs and just going iTunes.  It's much more convenient, cheaper, better for the environment and it doesn't take up shelf space!

DVDs are also following the same path.  I used to buy at least one a month but I'm down to maybe 4 a year. I have to REALLY enjoy a movie and be sure that I'll watch it repeatedly for me to buy it now.  In fact, soon I'll just download copies of the movies I really like and "rent" online the ones I'll only watch once.

In a few years I'll probably also feel this way about books and video games.

Then I'll have plenty of shelf space and nothing to put on them; maybe I'll drop off the shelves at Value Village too!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Newest Excitement In My Life: Dual-Flush Toilet!

Last week I got my quarterly municipal water bill: $240!

That's about $1000 a year I'm paying for water which dries out my skin and reeks of chlorine.

This was ample motivation for me to finally get around to installing a dual-flush adapter to our existing toilets.

I picked this thing up at Canadian Tire for around $35 and it was VERY easy to install.  All I needed was a wrench to remove the old handle; the rest just goes in by hand.

Here's what it looks like out of the box:

The blue circles on the left is the water-water saving fill valve I installed a couple weeks back.  The white part on the right is the new dual-flush adapter and the white box on the left is the button which replaces the flush-handle.

Although it was easy to install, it took me almost an hour to adjust if so the "quick flush" option worked properly, but it was well worth it.

This is what the toilet looks like now with the buttons where the handle would be:

Now it takes 6 liters to flush "solids" (same as before) but it only uses about 2 liters to flush "liquids" using the "quick flush" option.

Watching the water level drop using the quick flush it only dropped about 3 inches, about a third of the water in the tank, but that isn't the best part...

The instructions that come with this device gives you tips on how to make your toilet more efficient.  One things it recommends is cleaning out the flush jets under the rim of the bowl with a wire.  When I couldn't get the adjustment right I decided to try this out and it made a big difference.

In fact it works so well, I find that I can flush "solids" with the quick-flush option!

This means that we'll reduce our water use by over 60% and it is estimated that toilets make up 30% of water used in the average home.

Now I have mixed feelings about receiving my next water bill; I'm not looking forward to paying it but I can't wait to see how much we've reduced our water use!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My Quick and Easy Square Foot Garden

Here's my little garden that I did last week.  It's a modified square foot garden where instead of a 4 x 4 bed this is 1 x 28.

I have a small 50x 50 lot so there isn't room for anything much larger.

The walls of the bed are plastic fake stones.  They're $15 for 9 feet at Walmart and Canadian Tire.  I got 3 of them which I figure is cheaper than the wood I was planning to make it out of. I do plan on hammering wooden stakes in the outside ground to make them a little more stable.

They were super easy to set up too; took like 20 minutes.  I put cardboard on the bottom of the bed to get rid of the grass.  After the cardboard kills off the grass it will breakdown into the soil.

I tried to use "Mel's Mix" (the fellow who developed Square Foot Gardening) of  1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 peat moss though mine is a little heavy on the peat moss.

That's peat moss on the left, vermiculite in the middle, and compost on the right.  I put it all on the tarp because not only does it keep your lawn neat, but it makes it easier to mix.  All you do is lift up each side and corner and it all rolls on top of itself.  If the tarp isn't too heavy you can just pick it all up and dump it in your garden bed.

I then used sticks around the house to mark off the one foot squares.

Each square has a different plant/vegetable.  I rotated it by root veggie/leaf veggie/herb/flower/ fruit veggie.

As you may be able to see I've got downspouts and rain barrels on each end of the garden.  I plan on installing a drip hose on them to help water the garden later.

I think I'll also install planter boxes on my front and back porches to plant more veggies and my wife is excited about putting a dwarf cherry tree in the front yard.

This is my first attempt at gardening so hopefully everything works out all right. So far it looks good because one week later I've already got radishes sprouting!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Simple Living: Getting Rid of "Stuff"

"The stuff you own, owns you."

I know that saying sounds bizarre and maybe a little paranoid but in many ways it's true.

In my the back of my mind I'm always thinking, "I have to clean up and organize; my house is too cluttered.".  It's a little thing but it's one more stress in my life and it takes time away from more important things.

Cleaning and organizing is just a temporary fix though. Eventually the "stuff" will get out of place and you have to go through the process again.  The only permanent solution is to get rid of stuff and only keep essentials (or better still, don't buy it in the first place).

Getting rid of stuff actually feels very liberating!

Not only does it make your house more tidy, but by only keeping what you truly need and use you're also evaluating your own life and thinking about what's important to you. You may think "I can't live without that", but by getting rid of stuff you're proving to yourself that you can!

My advice to get started is to go through all the storage boxes in your house.

This is why I actually love moving; you evaluate all your stuff twice over.  When you pack the moving boxes you think, "is it worth packing or should I junk it?".  Then when you unpack in your new home you tend to first unpack only the stuff you really need.

If you haven't opened a moving box after more than a year, you should really ask yourself if you truly need whatever is in that box. That also goes for any other box, bag, shelf or storage area in your home.

There are also many option to get rid of the junk besides just throwing it in the garbage:

1) Charities

Places like the Salvation Army, Goodwill or Value Village sell these used items for charity funds.  Just pack the stuff and drop it off.  Some charities will give a tax receipt for drop offs or a coupon for use in their shop and some will even come to pick up the stuff!

2) Freecycle

Freecycle is like on-line classified ads which features only free stuff. It's all done by volunteers and is usually done through email lists or online forums.  Naturally to prevent people abusing the system you're not allowed to re-sell the items you get for free.

We've gotten quite a few things through our local freecycle and it's a great way to build a sense of community.

3) Garage Sale

A little more work than the other options but at least you'll get some money out of it.  The downside though is that you'll probably still have stuff left which means you'll still have to get rid of it somehow.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Product Review: Hydroclean Water-Saving Toilet Fill Valve

The other week my wife surprised me with a gift that only a prepper could  get excited over: a dual-flush toilet retrofit!

I'm really excited to try out this gadget, however when I read the instructions I found out that it doesn't work with the "ball and lever" floater style fill valves.  I'd have to switch over my toilet first before installing it.

There are many different types of fill valves and company that makes the dual flush recommends their own which also has a water saving feature. I picked one up at Canadian Tire for around $17.

There is also a "deluxe" version for $19 that includes jets which supposedly clean the inside of your toilet tank with each flush.

Installing it was super-easy and just took around 10 minutes.  The only tool I required was a wrench to remove the old fittings, the rest is done by hand.

These things are supposed to save water through a little lever valve where you can adjust how much water goes down the refill tube and into the toilet bowl.

The instructions include a simple technique to determine the proper amount of bowl water, however I decided to try the "trial and error" method.  I placed the valve at half open and there is a noticeable difference in the amount of water in the bowl.  As far as I can tell this hasn't affected the flush and I estimate we're saving at least a liter each flush.

I'd recommend people try give this device a try, however, one thing to keep in mind is that it isn't meant to be used with those toilet pucks that you put in the back of the tanks.  The instructions don't explain why but I assume it's because the chemicals will breakdown the plastic parts.

Soon I'll get around to installing the dual-flush retrofit and I'll post the results.

Has anybody else tried these gadgets or a similar device?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More Tips My Wife Hates

People seemed to get a kick out of my post about tips that my wife hates so I thought I'd keep it.

I should let you know though that she doesn't hate all these things.  She seems to range from strong dislike to tolerance with a dash of "my husband is odd".  I should create a "Spousal Colour Scale":

Red: Strong Dislike

"There is no way we're doing this. I'm afraid Chidren's Aid will come for the kids."

Orange: Dislike

"Bad idea.  Rework it and maybe try again later after I've calmed down."

Yellow: Toleration

"I think you're odd but it's not worth the fight so don't push it."

Green: Acceptance

"I was skeptical at first but it was a good idea after all."

Push Lawnmower (Level Green)

I hate gasoline mowers.  Pulling that crank over and over, flooding the engine, the noise: not worth it. Plus I don't like paying for gasoline and the hassle of running out during the middle of a job and having to go get more.

That's why when we moved to our current house with a small lot I thought I'd try out a push mover and it works pretty well.

You get a bit of a workout pushing these things so I wouldn't recommend them for large lawns.  I'd also suggest not buying the cheapest model out there which is what I did and ever season I have to replace a bolt here and there.

These reel-style mowers are actually supposed to be better for your lawn because they don't flatten it down and they give a cleaner cut than gas mowers.  On the other hand if you let your lawn grow too long it will have difficulty cutting and your lawn will look spotty.  When ever I'm overdue for a mow, there's always two or three dandylion stems which the mower can't cut.  When the plants get too tall the reel just folds them down rather than cutting them.

I also hose down the blades and gears with WD-40 before and after every use to prevent rust and to stop it from schreeching as the wheels turn.

The push mower does a good enough job but I think very soon I may buy an electric mower.

Yellow, Let It Mellow (Level Orange)

As I've mentioned before we live in an town where your water bill is determined by how much water you use so I'm always looking for ways to cut down.

This reminded me of when I was younger and we lived in the country with a shallow well as our only supply of water.  With a shallow well conservation was very important because you can run out of water during dry spells which actually happened a few times!

One of the things we did back then was to only flush the toilet after the second time urinating.  It may sound gross but it was pretty common actually.  You may think that smell is an issue but it surprisingly wasn't and if it was that was usually a sign that it was time to flush because somebody didn't count right.

Flushing an average toilet actually uses between 6-11 litres of water!  That's a lot of water that can be saved by only flushing when necessary.

Unfortunately, my wife doesn't think this is a good idea . I can only "forget" so many times and "I don't want to wake the baby" only works when she's sleeping.  Therefore I need to find a compromise (she also doesn't accept using the hedges in the back yard).

Due to this we're looking into converting our toilets over to the dual flush type which have two buttons on them to flush: one for a small flush for "liquids" and the other big flush for "solids".

The dual flush supposedly only uses one litre for liquids which is great...but I keep reminding myself that "forgetting" to flush uses zero litres...

FYI: If it's brown, flush it down.


Clover Lawns (Level Green)

My back yard is mostly clay and it's heavily shaded which makes it hard to grow grass.  Not even "weed and feed" chemical sprays worked.

After 3 years of trying I decided to check out a book on organic lawn care and learned about clover.  It turns out that years ago a lawn full of clover was seen as desirable and not just full of weeds.  Clover also deposits nitrogen in the ground which helps other plants grow.  As an added bonus it requires less mowing than grass.

It occured to me that if I couldn't grow grass, maybe I could grow clover?

I asked a few of my relatives what they thought and the reaction was pretty much, "Why would you deliberatly plant weeds?".  Well, in my opinion, clover is better than clay mud and moss.

So after everybody said I was nut, I went to Canadian Tire and bought a bag of white clover.  I heard clover was easy to grow so I just spread it around by hand, especially in the really bare patches.

Well, within a few weeks, with hardly any effort at all, clover started to grow!  In fact, as I write this, the clover is the only thing growing in my yard this early in spring.

I've heard of people converting their whole property to clover but for now covering at least now my kids can play in the backyard without getting covered in clay.

The treehuggers got something right I guess.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cubicles Will Be the Death of Me

My mom says that when my great-grandfather knew his time was coming he put on his boots, went out to his barn, lied down in the hay and passed away.

When my time comes where will I go?

I refuse to let it be in a soulless cubicle maze, with their temporary walls, in "business casual" with a parking garage being the last thing I see out the window.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Setting Goals and Life Plans: Our Dream House

As I  mentioned in the last post, our plan is to begin building our dream home in 5 years or so.

Many people build their own homes though; what does this have to do with prepping and modern survivalism?

Building our own home actually involves prepping in two ways: planning for the home and living in the home.

1) Planning for the home

Part of modern survivalism is financial preparedness. By paying off debts and saving money we're moving to a position where we'll eventually be able to afford to build this home.

Secondly the things we're doing now are preparing us to live there.  For example, I'm reducing our electrical use because I want our dream home to eventually be off-grid.  Getting us used to energy conservation now will help us adapt to our new home.

Currently we use about 1200KW a month, but in our new energy efficient home I estimate that we will use between 5-700KW.  Amazingly, despite being a larger home with more gadgets, thanks to energy efficiencies our needs will be less.

My family and friends might think I'm nuts obsessing over things like CFL bulbs, my small vegetable garden and organic lawn care but they don't see the big picture.  Each one of those things are little preparedness steps to freedom!

2) Living in the home

Once we build and start living in this dream home I'm hoping to start living the prepper dream!

I don't think I've clearly stated it before but I'm hoping this new house can become a "homestead" that will provide for most of our needs: electricity, heat, food, water.


By being super-energy efficient my goal at first is to greatly reduce utility expenses.  Eventually I'll upgrade the system with so we'll be able to comfortably live during a winter power blackout and hopefully eventually reach the point where we can live off-grid.

For budget reasons I plan on starting with a minimum of 5 165W solar panels tied to the grid.  Over time I'll add more panels and a battery bank so we can have power during blackouts.  We'll also look into if a windmill generator is feasible.  Eventually I'd like to be able to live off-grid so we won't cut off the grid totally  because in case of emergencies it can be our backup.

Secondly, if we do things right we'll actually be able to make money by selling excess electricity to the grid!

We'll also save a lot of electricity by switching our stove, fridge and dryer to ultra-efficient propane models and cooking when I can with a solar oven.  If I can convince my wife, we'll cook with an old-style kitchen woodstove (but with modern technology) to be truly off-grid.


For a number of reasons I want a minimum of 4 acres for our dream homestead.  One of these reason is because we want to install geothermal heat exchange to heat our home and water.  The pipes used in this system are often installed horizontally beneath the frost-line so we'll need room to do this.  The pipes can also be installed vertically but we don't want to limit ourselves to one option.

Geothermal is very energy efficient however it needs electricity to operate the heat pump so we'll include a wood stove as a back up source of heat for on the very cold nights or when the power goes out. Hopefully much of our wood will come from our own property.  Another great thing about geothermal is that it can also be used to efficiently cool your house in the summer by just reversing the pump!

Heating our water will be done using an instant-on tankless water heater.  Geothermal will also be used to pre-heat the water to further reduce the energy use.  I'll also look into solar water heating, especially for the planned indoor pool/sunroom.  It's possible that solar heating and geothermal could provide most of our hot water apart from the coldest winter months!

Lastly, we plan on building our home with Insulated Concrete Forms.  There are kinda like big styrofoam Lego-blocks that you build a home with.  After you make a wall with them they're filled with concrete.  This makes a very sturdy and energy efficient structure, (also water/air-tight, bulletproof, fireproof and hurricane/zombie resistant). With an R-Value of 45  ICFs will greatly reduce our energy needs.


I'm currently learning all I can about organic gardening and permaculture.  I don't knock those that use fertilizer and weed chemicals, however, to me that seems like a lot of work that you have to do every year.  I'd rather do it all naturally and although it might not look as pretty, at least it will be self-sustaining and low-maintenance.

My plan includes, a small orchard, a greenhouse, a number of raised bed squarefoot gardens, a goat to "mow" the grass and possibly milk and maybe chickens and bees.

With enough acres I could also start hunting or allow other to hunt there in exchange for some of their game.

These won't be enough for us to live completely off of but every little bit is less that I have to rely on the grocery store for and less sales taxes to the government.  It all equals more money in my pocket!


As I've mentioned before, living in a rural area will allow us to have our own well and avoid paying municipal utilities.  However, having and managing your own source of water also means that you must become a conservationist.

We plan on installing dual flush toilets and a grey-water recovery system in our homestead.  This will save the water from the sinks and bathtubs to use for things like flushing the toilets or watering the lawn.

We'll also install a rainwater harvesting system to save all the water that falls on our roof.

Not only will this prevent our well from drying out, but it will also save electricity by using the water pump less and it will extend the life of our sceptic system.

Our homestead plan will probably change and it may take longer than expected but one thing is for certain:

When the zombies come; we'll be ready
If I look in a mirror while dreaming this is what I see.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Reader Asks How to Pay Off Student Loans

A reader posted this in the comments of my last post which I think deserves a post of it's own as a reply:

"I borrowed 12,250 for my college education to become a Registered Nurse. I took out these loans in the early 90s and after three deferments and consolidation I owe 30,000. I want to go back to school but because my loans are now over 23000 I am not eligible of student loans. I need help paying my student loans down fast. Does anybody have any ideas."

 First off: are you being denied because of debt, or is it specifically because it's student loans?

If it's just due to the student loans then it sounds like all you have to do is get it to under $23K from $30K; a $7K difference which makes it more manageable.  One quick way to do this would be to switch $7K worth of the loan to another form of loan, like a line of credit maybe.

Are you in Canada? If so I'd check the provincial and federal websites for any help that might be available, though it sounds like you may have exhausted most of what they offer already.

The only advice I have to give are the basics that everybody else gives (which is because they work and because there are no easy quick fixes):

Stay in School and this too could be you!

1) Use Savings

If you have any savings I'd consider liquidating them to pay off the debt.  Most likely the interest you're paying on the debts is more than you're making by saving.  If so it would make sense to use them to pay off debt.

2) Liquidate Assets

Any assets, things you own, that you can sell to pay off debt? I'm thinking anything from a car to a CD/DVD/Videogame collection that you don't use anymore.  You could go the quick way and bring the stuff to a store that sells used games and movies / pawn shop, or you can put more effort into it and try ebay where you could probably get more money.

You could even collect all the junk around your home and hold a garage sale.  I've got dozens of boxes of stuff that we've never opened since our last house move and I'm sure I could get a couple hundred if I had a garage sale.

3) Do a Budget

It may sound boring but make a budget .  I do mine like a personal balance sheet with expenses on one side, income on the other and then a plus or minus balance of the difference between them.  I use a spreadsheet through Google docs to do this.  In fact, Google Docs also has pretty good budget and personal finance templates that you can use.

Once you have all your expenses written down go through them one by one and brainstorm what you can do to reduce them.  Do you really need a cell phone and a landline phone?  Can you cut back on the number of TV channels you subscribe to? Can you go down to high-speed light instead of the ultra unlimited internet service?  Can you shop at a less expensive grocery store and use coupons?  Can you reduce electricity use, turn down the furnace and water heater?

Every little bit counts and I bet they can add up to a couple hundred bucks a month.  Take those savings and plow them into your debts.

4) Cut up credit cards

At the very least don't carry them on you.  Put them in a block of ice in your freezer or at a relatives home if you want to keep them in case of an emergency.  This way you either have to thaw it out or drive across town if you want to use them which makes impulse buys less likely.

5)   Increase Income

Is it possible to get a second part-time job or maybe a small business on the side?  Summer is coming and you can offer to mow lawns for 10-20 bucks for example.

At the very least there's nothing wrong with working places like McDonalds.  Nothing makes me madder than people who put down "McJobs"; a man doing what he has to so he can provide for himself and his family shouldn't be looked down on.

6) Automate Your Finances

Do you do online banking?  If you're in Canada I'd recommend looking into President's Choice Financial.  I love PC Financial and I've set up my account so that as soon as my pay is automatically deposited all my bills and debts are automatically paid.  I get paid every two weeks so I break down my monthly payment in half (though I try to throw at least an extra $10 more than the minimum).  This also has the effect of cutting down your interest faster meaning you pay off the debt quicker.

I know if I keep the money in my account I'll be tempted to spend it on other things so I do the opposite of the old "pay yourself first" rule.  I pay my debts first and thanks to my budget I know what ever is left in my account after the debts are paid, is enough to live on until the next pay.

8) Debt Snowball

Lastly, as I mentioned in the last post you can use the snowball method for paying off debt, where you pay your smallest debt off first and then you apply the amount that you paid to the next smallest debt.  For example, if you pay $50 to debt A and $100 to debt B, after you've paid off A, you'll start paying $150 to B, and on and on until debt free.

Personally, I'm using a variation on this plan where rather than paying off the smallest first I'm deciding to pay off the debts in the order of their financial impact VS balance.  I'm more interested in freeing up cash flow and increasing my net balance so I'm looking at which debt will give me the most "bang for my buck".

For example, I have a small $1000 debt that I could pay off in month or so however, my minimum monthly payment on that is only $20 and the interest is only 6% so I'm leaving it for now.  I'd rather use that $1000 to pay off the $2000 credit card debt which is costing me $200 a month and is at 15%.

Everybody's situation is different though so without knowing more details (married, kids, unemployed?) it's hard to get into specifics.

Good luck though; it will be a tough few years but it will be worth it!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Setting Goals and Life Plans: My Plan

 "Yes! Setting goals is AWESOME!"

Short-Term (within one year)

- pay off credit cards (2 down, 3 left)
- pay off student loan

Medium-Term (within 5 years)

- start education fund for kids
- pay off mortgage
- begin building new house
- pay off car loan (2 years)

Long-Term (longer than 5 years)

- retire (12-20 years)
- move house off-grid (10 years)
- start business (10 years)
- purchase rental property
- pay off new home (10 years)
- buy RV (10 years)

Using the snowball method to pay off debts I'm hoping to very quickly pay off debts.  2 credit cards down this year, 3 more to go.  The money saved from not paying credit cards will then go to my student loan and have that paid off by around the end of the year.

This will free up hundreds of dollars a month for my family some, of which we'll use to begin Registered Education Savings Plan (RESPs) for our kids.  The rest will get plowed into our mortgage and pay that off as quickly as we can.

We've been lucky with our mortgage (though "luck is 90% smarts") in that we've been able to pay it off pretty quickly.

In my opinion, 99% of the time it is always better to own a home rather than rent.  By owning you're building equity, improving your credit rating and increasing your net worth every month instead of your landlord's.

We started off with a small inexpensive "fixer-upper" house about 7 years ago.  The mortgage was cheaper than our rent and the time and we only paid $65 000 for it.  My wife and I withdrew money from our RRSPs for the down payment.

A little trick we used to "borrow" a down payment is to take out one of those low-interest "RRSP Catch-up" loans.  If you that money in your account for at least 6 months you're then elligible to withdrawn it under the government program, "First-Time Homebuyers Plan".

Normally your not allowed to borrow a down payment, but this method not only gets around that but it also gives you a tax break for it(the RRSP tax credit).

After about 4 years we sold the home for $78 000 and used the difference and equity to purchase a larger home.

The first smart thing we did was opt to pay our mortgage bi-weekly.  This helps cut down on interest faster because it only has two weeks to grow before the principle is reduced instead of one month.

This alone is estimated to reduce a 25 year mortgage by 7 years.

Secondly we picked a variable rate mortgage that is .5% below prime.  This means that over the last 2 years or so, as the Bank of Canada has reduced prime to deal with the economic problems, our mortgage rate has gone down and down.  We're now only paying 1.65% on our mortgage!

Variable rates aren't for everyone but if you're properly prepared  they can save you a lot of money because although the price may go up some time in the future, it's always lower than what you could get at a bank today.

Lastly, we stuck with  buying a home within our means.  I know a number of people my age who bought $300-400 000 "McMansions".  This is insane to me!  We paid $135 000 for our second home and with renovations and property value increases it was recently appraised at $160 00 only 3 years later.

Thanks to all this we're hoping to have the house paid off within 5 years.  We're planning to sell it for around $180 000, then using that money and a new mortgage to build a new super-energy efficient dream-home.  They money we saved from energy efficiencies will help us pay off this home within 5-10 years.

At least that's the plan...which is subject to change due to zombie attacks.

 "in which case this becomes the plan."

What's your plan?