Airing Our Dirty Laundry

Let’s face it folks, clothes dryers suck and even Martha Stewart agrees with SurviveLA that the way to go is the old-fashioned clothes line. SurviveLA put a retractable line up in the back yard this week to replace our hated Kenmore dryer. May the bastards at Sears suffer Pharaoh’s plagues sprinkled with Job’s scabies for designing this ugly, awkward and inelegant machine. Besides, with the blazing hot sun of Los Angeles, it makes perfect sense to use our region’s free solar power.

So why air dry? Let’s do the math. Assuming our (gas powered) dryer uses an average of .22 therms of natural gas per load at our gas company Sempra Energy’s August rate of 59 cents per therm, by using our clothes line we achieve the admittedly not too impressive savings of 17 cents per load. If we had an electric dryer we figure that the cost would be about 44 cents per load if the dryer consumed four kilowatts for a 45 minute spin. And remember that when you use electricity in Los Angeles, thanks to the Department of Water and Power, you are burning coal in Utah.

Now we would continue with the math, but that would involve amortizing the cost of the dryer and math is a shaky subject for us. Suffice to say, that gas is not the only cost. We think the greatest savings over time may be that air drying is simply better for our clothes. Besides, it’s another excuse to get outside and get in touch with the natural world i.e. the weather.

For those folks pressed for time and unable to enjoy the blessed idleness that pervades the SurviveLA compound, another drying alternative exists — the Spin X dryer. Made by the Krauts, this thing is sort of like those small spinning machines you stick your bathing suit into at the swimming pool. The Spin X spins at 3,300 rpm, and according to the manufacturer will remove 50% of the moisture of a ten pound load in three minutes. You will still need to air dry your clothes after they come out of this thing. The Spin X might be a good option for apartment homesteaders as it just hooks up to a regular 110 outlet and does not need a drain line. Water from the clothes is sent out the front of the unit into a small container that you must empty. A Spin X will set you back $469.

No discussion of dryers would be complete without mentioning the recent scandal in Britain wherein three bored firemen nearly lost their jobs for filming a member of their department taking a ride in a dryer. A hearing ensued and the firemen involved in the incident had to issue an apology, “We recognize that our behaviour was totally irresponsible and we are genuinely ashamed and would stress that no one should try to copy the stupid act.” For the idle out there you can watch the video here. Just don’t try this stunt in the Spin X, as the manufacturer also promises “1,340 G forces”.

Ridin’ On

SurviveLA was stunned into silence late Tuesday night upon hearing about cyclist Jen Diamond’s horrific accident which occurred early Sunday morning. Apparently a driver deliberately ran her down and fled the scene. To add insult to injury, the LAPD dragged its feet on the investigation until calls to Eric Garcetti’s office got the councilman to intervene and get the LAPD to take this crime seriously. Thankfully, Jen is recovering at home and pledging to return to her bike as soon as possible. Read her diary here.

So why do we bring this up on a blog devoted to urban homesteading? SurviveLA believes that the bicycle is the most elegant of all human inventions, and is the single greatest solution to our nation’s transportation mess. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun. Unlike the automobile, it does not alienate us from each other nor from our environment. As J.B. Jackson put it, “The bicycle had, and still has, a humane, almost classical moderation in the kind of pleasure it offers. It is the kind of machine that a Hellenistic Greek might have invented and ridden. It does no violence to our normal reactions: It does not pretend to free us from our normal environment.”

A bicycle is a great way to save money and true self-sufficiency entails being as economically prudent as possible. We can recommend compact fluorescent bulbs, hand washing clothes and a myriad of other energy saving ideas that will lesson our impact on the environment but at most save a typical household maybe a few hundred dollars a year. On the other hand, getting rid of a car and replacing it with a bike, which we were able to do, can save the typical household an average of between $8,000 and $12,000 a year. We realize that not everyone can get by without a car, and between the two of us here at the SurviveLA compound we still have our junky Sentra, but even if you just replace a few trips with a bike ride, at least you’re getting some exercise and connecting with what it feels like to be a kid again.

So why aren’t more people ditching the car keys? What’s the biggest objection to riding a bike in Los Angeles, and for that matter any big city in America? Overwhelmingly, what we hear from people is that they are afraid to ride in traffic. It’s fear, and frankly hearing of Jen’s ordeal made us want to do what most folks in LA do with their bikes — stash them in the back of the garage and let them collect dust. But Jen, in her weblog about the incident, says

As soon as I am physically capable I will be back on my bike. I can’t wait to feel the wind on my skin and through my hair as I descend through gorgeous Griffith Park. Riding isn’t that dangerous. I just happened to have a twist of fate that intersected me & a maniac. Ride as safely as you can, walk as safely as you can, drive as safely as you can. You can’t stay inside hiding. In my home town a woman was actually run over by a truck in her own house. It drove right through and hit her.
Ride safe, ride strong.

Robert Hurst, author of The Art of Urban Cycling, calculates that driving is twice as deadly per hour of exposure as riding a bike. Still, the risk of injury on a bike is higher, though mostly due to simple falls, not car/bike collisions. But it’s still hard for most people to overcome the fear. To banish those fears we need to force our cities and police departments to make cycling safer. It’s an urban homesteader’s duty to be involved with our communities and a big part of that duty is making our cities more bikable. What a tragedy it is to see people who drive to a gym so that they can ride a stationary bicycle!

Unfortunately, the City of Los Angeles does not take cycling seriously. Senator Barbara Boxer speaking at the Mobility 21 summit in Los Angeles last month said,

. . . we should do far more to get people out of their cars.

Complete streets are one example. This means including bike paths, sidewalks, and ramps for the disabled at the beginning of the planning process not treating them as an afterthought.

Let’s face it: This is not just about the future of our roads, but also about the future of our children, who are suffering most from the obesity epidemic in America.

Not so long ago, more than two thirds of children traveled to school by foot or on bicycle. Now it’s less than 10 percent.If we make walking and biking a more practical choice for all ages, we can combat congestion, improve air quality, and promote better health all at the same time.

For too long the LA Department of Transportation has treated cycling and walking as an afterthought, if they thought about them at all. We urge everyone to call, write, fax, or email LA DOT bicycle program coordinator Michelle Mowery to tell her that the deaths and accidents cyclists have suffered in the past few months are unacceptable and that we want complete streets and respect for cyclists and pedestrians. Tell her that we want bike lanes that don’t put us in the door zone and that don’t end before reaching useful destinations. Tell her that we want bicycle boulevards and traffic calming measures to make our trips safer. Tell her that we want bike routes free of dangerous potholes and debris. Tell her that we want the transportation engineers responsible for the bicycle infrastructure to actually ride the things they design not drive them. In short, tell her that we want the things that other more enlightened cities around the country and the world already have. Let’s make LA a great city to live in. Let’s ride.

Michelle Mowery
Bicycle Program Coordinator
City of Los Angeles
Department of Transportation
100 S. Main St., 9th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Telephone: 213-972-4962
Fax: 213-972-4919
[email protected]

Hexayurt

SurviveLA reader jbjhill, responding to our rant about designing for a world dominated by 4 x 8 building materials, sent a link to this unique yurt-shaped emergency shelter which can be built out of 4 x 8 sheets of nearly anything (the globe shaped thing on the right is an inflatable satellite dish). Designed by software engineer Vinay Gupta, who is working on this project full time, the “Hexayurt” costs somewhere between $200 and $500 to build, and requires only six cuts for each unit. The Hexayurt stacks flat for easy deployment in emergencies.

Gupta has a suggested “Infrastructure Package” which includes heat, lights, water purification, and a composting toilet bringing the cost up somewhat, but still much less than FEMA’s $30,000 trailers.

While not the most thrilling video (at least as compared to this), thanks to the wonders of youtube you can watch Gupta assemble an 8 foot Hexayurt:

Street Signs and Solar Ovens

If SurviveLA put together a museum show it would, pretty much, look like an exhibit currently at the Craft and Folk Art Museum entitled “Street Signs and Solar Ovens: Socialcraft in Los Angeles” which is on view until December 31st. Curated by the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, this timely show focuses on objects that demonstrate creative, low-tech solutions to the environmental and political mess we find ourselves in.

We were particularly struck by the display case full of soda cans transformed by LA survivalist Christopher Nyerges into a variety of uses including lamps and stoves (see SurviveLA’s earlier post on creating a Pepsi can stove). Nyerges also contributed two improvised solar ovens, one made out of a discarded pizza box.

Other highlights include a functioning still by Alison Wiese, the stunning knitted clothing of Lisa Auerbach, items from the Path to Freedom urban homestead and contributions from the fine folks at C.I.C.L.E.

So, get on your bike, head down to the Craft and Folk Art Museum, and see this provocative show!

Craft and Folk Art Museum Hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 11am – 5pm
Thursday 11am – 7pm
Saturday-Sunday 12pm – 6pm

Museum Admissions:
$5.00 adults
$3.00 students/seniors
Free for children 12 and under
Free admission on the first Wednesday of every month.

Location:
5814 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Kent’s Composting Tips and Secret Weapon

Today in our continuing dialog on composting, a guest post from Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition board member, Kent Strumpell who we met up with at this week’s inspiring LACBC awards gala:

I’m sure there are more correct procedures, but this is what I’ve found works.

I use a compost bin that has direct soil contact. I think this allows the introduction of soil organisms and serves to drain the pile if it gets too wet. I’ve done this same process with free standing piles as well.

I start with a small pile of dry leaves and add a load of kitchen scraps. I also add a couple shovels-full of rich soil to get things started, particularly with some worms and bugs to propagate the new pile. I’m not fastidious about what goes in, so the occasional fish and chicken scraps and leftover cat food gets into the mix, even oily stuff, but mostly it’s the usual veggies, fruits, paper napkins, etc. Though experts say no fats should go in, I’ve yet to see (or smell) a problem.

Each time I add new kitchen scraps, I add 1-2 shovels-full of dry leaves and some water if needed, turning and mixing the old and new stuff with a cultivator or shovel to aerate the pile. The proportion of dry to wet material is important. There should be enough dry leaves so the compost is kinda’ fluffy and moist, not soggy, but the dry material shouldn’t overwhelm the wet either.

Now the secret. I cut a piece of black 6 mil vinyl to approximately cover the pile and lay this directly on top of the compost (anything similar will work). I’ve found this helps keep the pile moist when I’m not able to check on it (sometimes for a week or two) and the bugs and worms seem to thrive underneath this membrane. I got the idea after noticing that I’d find rich bug habitat under boards, etc. laying around my yard. My compost piles teem with worms, sow bugs and other critters, all working hard for me. If you do a free standing compost pile, cut the plastic big enough to cover to the ground and hold it in place with rocks or bricks.

I add my scraps about once or twice a week. I don’t use the pile to consume large quantities of leaves, I just add enough of them to keep things in balance. It easily keeps up with my kitchen scrap production and gives me a rich, dark compost about like coffee grounds when it is done. I draw finished stuff off at the bottom occasionally. Or, if I want to use the whole batch, I stop adding to it for a few weeks so it can digest everything.