Little gadgets that help a lot

It’s been difficult trying to keep up with the blog. We don’t have the solar hooked up yet, so all of our electricity comes from running the generator. Usually we save that for the end of the day. Unfortunately, if you only have a few hours after dinner for computer usage, it usually ends up being used for work, as I am a software developer by profession, so I do need to put in my time for earning my pay. This doesn’t leave much time for blogging or other types of computer leisure activities, but I managed to snag a bit of time this evening to inform you of some fun things we have acquired.

As you may be aware, we are living off the grid, so our power consumption is measured carefully as we don’t have much of it right now. We have, however found a few very useful things that help us out.

This is the first thing: a water hand pump.

WaterPump

We don’t have any running water in our trailer, as to do so we would have to fill the tanks of the trailer and it is likely they would freeze during the winter. So we’re avoiding that whole problem by just using water in those 20L (5gallon) jugs you can buy at the grocery store. You see them often in offices attached to a cooler. Well, we don’t have the space or power to run a cooler, so this little hand pump that attaches makes it really nice as it uses no power and hardly takes up any space. We are buying our drinking water, but we are just saving the bottles and refilling them to get washing water. It may seem primitive, but once you get it set up and your routine set, it works pretty well. Let’s just say, we don’t waste our water 😉

Next on our list are these fun little guys: LED lights.

LEDLights01

LEDLights02

We are using two different kinds, due to the fact that we have fixtures with two different types of sockets. I got generic versions from amazon.ca, so I didn’t really shop around too much. These ones have very cool light, they need some more yellow in it. As you can get LEDs in just about any colour, I would imagine you can get some that give warmer light if you shopped around, but you also may pay quite a bit more.

These lights are nice, cause when you aren’t running the generator, they run off battery and we’re not talking an off-the-grid battery array. It’s just a simple 12v battery setup that is part and parcel with the trailer. It drains pretty quick. So having the least amount of strain on them is great. Switching to the LED lights means we are using about 10x less power when we run our lights. This is a good thing.

The last thing I’m going to show you is this little doodad: thermal cooker.

ThermalCooker05

Doesn’t look very interesting, except for all the foreign languages written all over it. However this little guy is a great saver on propane for cooking. Think of this as a replacement for a slow cooker. It comes with a stainless steel pot. It looks like this:

ThermalCooker02

You fill this pot with your soup or stew or chilli or whatever your fancy is, and bring it to a boil on the stove. Simmer it for a little while, the amount of time depending on what you are cooking and how long you want it to sit. We cooked an entire chicken as our first experiment and we simmered it for about 25 minutes. Then you take it off the stove and put it in its container.

ThermalCooker03

You then close the lid and lock it down. There are no power cords or fuel cells, it just seals in all that heat you just added by boiling the contents, making it extremely difficult for it to escape in the vacuum sealed container. Now, you just let it sit… for a few hours. As long as you like, really, though if you are planning extended cooking sessions (like overnight) it is a good idea to take the inner pot out and bring it up to boil again just before going to bed.

When you’re ready, you open it up, and everything is cooked just as if you had let it sit in a slow cooker for the same amount of time, only it doesn’t use any power.

ThermalCooker01

Imagine how much propane we would go through if we had to simmer a stock or stew or chilli for several hours. Using this, we can get the same results and only use a small fraction of the fuel needed. Even if you live in a conventional home, this is a good investment as it will save you power, especially if you like to use your slow cooker a lot. We use ours quite a bit during the winter as having warm soups and such is great during the colder months. I measured the electricity usage of the large crock pot we used to have and it pulls about 180 Watts on low. Now imagine running that for six to eight hours. In case you don’t math, that’s 1080 to 1440 Watts, or 1 to 1.4 kiloWatts, just for your slow cooker. The thermal cooker we have does the same thing, but only uses the power/fuel to get it started then it cooks on its own. Brilliant!

I have to say, the thermal cooker wasn’t cheap, around $200 at amazon.ca for the 4.5L (4.7quart), but it was TOTALLY worth it. The one we got (by Shuttle Chef or Thermos brand) had a lot of good reviews so we figured it was a good investment. It certainly has been. We’ve cooked a whole chicken, stew, chilli, coconut curried beef and a salmon stew in it so far. I’m sure we’ll have many other things to try in it as the winter progresses.

That’s it for fancy gadgets. I hope I’ll get some more time soon to post about some of the other things going on around here (like building projects) but as I mentioned earlier, power is a precious commodity right now. That is scheduled to change soon though, as the solar array has been ordered and is on its way. YAY!

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