Natural Cooling: The Fresh Air Bed

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 8.04.38 AMTechnology, such as air conditioning, has a way of flattening the ups and downs of our life’s experiences. We trade seasonal heat and cold for a bland, indoor sameness. Prior to the late 1950s, when air conditioning appeared in homes and apartments, builders used to have to consider regional differences. After air conditioning you could build any house anywhere. You could replace walls with sheets of glass, overhanging roofs with modernist boxes.

Particularly in hot, humid climates houses often had a screened porch or balcony on which to sleep on a sweltering night. The early 20th century was probably the zenith of the screened sleeping porch.

Taft's sleeping porch. Photo: Library of Congress.

Taft’s sleeping porch. Photo: Library of Congress.

President Taft even installed one on the roof of the White House in 1910.

The early 20th century’s sleeping porch movement also had a bit an anti-modernity vibe. To mitigate the pollution and psychic toll caused by 19th century industrialization, sleeping porch evangelists recommended dozing outside in fresh air. Entrepreneurs marketed a number of solutions, in addition to sleeping porches, such as sheds, tents and the gadget I want to focus on in this post, the convertible indoor/outdoor bed.

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 9.37.06 AMThe California Fresh Air Bed Company
A number of patents exist for space-saving built-in beds that can switch between indoors and outdoors (Charles Hailey, “From Sleeping Porch to Sleeping Machine: Inverting Traditions of Fresh Air in North America“). The California Fresh Air Bed Company of San Francisco marketed a bed that converted from an indoor sofa to an outdoor bed. A 1914 ad in the Pacific Medical Journal describes the device:

It is built half inside and half outside, forming a handsome davenport in the room, and an ornamental balcony outside. Can be used as a full size indoor bed or by a very simple operation converted into an outdoor bed. Can be aired all day and yet be concealed.

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 9.37.17 AMIt’s a space saving mashup of the fold-up Murphy bed with the screened porch. It also reminds me of Thomas Jefferson’s alcove bed and the built-in ironing board in our kitchen. There’s a lot to say in favor of reviving the California Fresh Air Bed Company. I can say from personal experience, living in a house built in 1920, that space is at a premium. And, particularly in the late summer and early fall here in Southern California, it would be nice to be able to get some cool, fresh air at night. The downside would be all the light pollution: the overabundance of street lights, billboards, porch lights etc.

The Baby Cage

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A related and, perhaps, more harebrained outdoor sleeping arrangement was the window cage for your baby.

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An article on Mental Floss goes into greater depth on the brief reign of the baby cage which seems to have been a thing in England. You’d think that baby would get a bit cold and wet in London, but the “experts” thought the fresh air outweighed the cold and falling risk. There’s even a newsreel on the baby cage:

These days child protective services would stop by if you stuck your kid in a cage out the window.

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The idea lives on, but only for cats, in the form of the Cat Solarium and in many homebrew kitty window solutions.

But enough about cats, what we really need is to bring back the California Fresh Air Bed Company’s clever indoor/outdoor bed. As many consider downsizing to smaller houses, space and energy saving furniture such as this make more sense than the oversized sofa sectionals that plague our modern mega-houses.

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101 Eric Interviews Erik

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Between Kelly’s aortic dissection and my mom’s passing it’s been a difficult few months here at Root Simple. Eric Rochow of Garden Fork noticed that I haven’t put out a podcast episode in a long time and offered to interview me. So, on episode 101, you’ll hear Eric interviewing Erik about Root Simple, our books and my background. Despite the differences in the way we spell our names we have a lot in common! During the podcast we talk about:

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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Searching for Energy Vampires

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As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, I checked out a Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitor from the public library and I’ve used it to test most of the gadgets around the Root Simple compound. I focused on the stuff that’s plugged in all the time to see if I could discover any hidden energy vampires.

Unsurprisingly, the refrigerator uses the most power and costs around $81.67 a year to operate. At the risk of turning this blog post into an exercise in appliance virtue signalling, that’s not too bad. We keep the freezer full which helps conserve a small amount of power (empty space in the freezer or fridge takes more energy to cool). The fridge is often full of way too many condiments on their way to becoming compost, but this also probably saves a small amount of energy. And it’s a smallish fridge. Joining the radical fridge-free partisans of the homesteading movement would knock the power bill way down but I’m just not in the mood to give up my cushy first world lifestyle.

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The modem/wi-fi router/desktop computer combo that keeps this blog humming consumes around $18.15 a year (with the computer off). I’d love to have a large, theatrical kill switch that would simultaneously save energy and cut off the internet. This would stop the urge to compulsively check Facebook and watch YouTube cat videos. Hit the big red button and you’d have to settle down with a book. But the “internet of things” in our household (a “smart” irrigation controller and a Ring doorbell make this impracticable). The Man always finds a way to keep us connected and dependent!

Our old microwave consumes the next greatest amount of power at $3.88 a year. The microwave should definitely be shut off when not in use. It’s also old and I suspect newer models probably consume less power when not in use.

Speaking of newer gadgets, our ginormous Costo flat screen TV (they give them away when you buy a slice of pizza) doesn’t seem to use measurable power when turned off. And that flat screen has been turned off a lot lately since I’m peeved at another instance of a Hollywood film crew blocking my beloved Sunset Blvd. bike lane. I’ve decided to boycott the film industry again and read books until Hollywood brings us a new Tarkovsky (meaning my boycott will be permanent).

My next, and more mathematically challenged, Kill A Watt project is to compare incandescent and LED lighting. Stay tuned.

What measures have you taken to drive a stake through energy vampires?

Get a Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitor From Your Local Public Library!

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I’ve always wanted to geek out with a Kill A Watt electricity usage monitor and see how much power our household devices eat up. But I didn’t want to spend $22 on a gadget I’d only use for a week.

Thankfully, public libraries around the U.S., including our local Los Angeles Public Library, have Kill A Watts you can check out just like a book. I’ve got one right now and I’ve been running around the house checking out our gadgets. Some appliances, such as the refrigerator, that cycle on and off need to be left plugged into the Kill A Watt for at least a day or longer to get an accurate result.

I found the instructions for the Kill A Watt a bit confusing. Naturally, I looked up a YouTube video for a clearer explanation.

I’ll share my findings in a few days but leave you with this unsurprising spoiler alert: looks like LED light bulbs save power and it costs $33 a year to run a water fountain for our privileged indoor cats.

DIY Appliance Repair: What I did When My Dishwasher Start Button Stopped Working

When, in the middle of a terrible head cold last week, our dishwasher stopped working I had a meltdown. In my worst display of “first world problem” privilege ever, I actually fell to my knees and wailed. Then I calmed down and asked Dr. Google for advice.

In recent years, Dr. Google has become much more knowledgeable about the intricacies of appliance repair. Back in the dark ages, the internet only provided Beanie Baby prices and Nyan Cat memes. Now the internet’s coverage has expanded beyond the geeky and into the more mundane world of home construction and repair.

What to do when your appliance stops working
So when a major appliance breaks down I would suggest first consulting the Appliance Blog discussion threads. Even if you’re going to hire the job out it’s good to know what the problem might be and how much it will cost to fix. In my case I was able to figure out that the control panel had a bad switch.

The next step is to head to a parts supplier such as Parts Dr. I picked up the control panel for $137 including shipping.

Appliance Repair 101
The last step, actually doing the repair, is where YouTube comes in. You could probably learn to pilot a jet with YouTube instruction these days, and there’s now a decent amount of appliance repair porn to watch. I viewed the thrilling video above multiple times before attempting the repair.

It took less than ten minutes to swap out the control panel. Then I took a victory lap around the living room with much fist pumping. In the end, I probably saved at least $150 by avoiding a service call.

The interior of my Whirlpool Silent Partner III dishwasher has nicely designed modular parts that are easier to access than many other appliances I’ve opened up. But I have to say that, like many modern gadgets, I wish it had fewer features. All those buttons and circuits end up being a repair liability over time. We need to start a #fewerfeatures movement!