Switching to A Heat Pump

20230407_153058Part 2 of Julio’s Series on Clean Energy at Sol Homestead

Have you ever felt the metal fins on the back of your refrigerator? They can be very warm. That’s because your refrigerator transfers heat from the air to a refrigerant that absorbs the heat, making the air inside your fridge cold enough for milk, fruit, vegetables, etc. The refrigerant then evaporates, is compressed, and passes through a condenser where a fan releases the heat out of the back of the appliance. This is also how air conditioners work. Air is sucked into the unit, heat is transferred to a refrigerant, cool air blows through your home, and hot air blows outside. Heat pumps are just air conditioners that work in both directions (blowing hot or cold air into your home and cold or hot air outside).

It turns out that heat transfer via air circulation as I’ve described can be much more efficient than combustion-based temperature regulation at sustaining a home at room temperature. Internationally, this has been understood for decades. Air source heat pumps are all over Japan and Europe; ground source heat pumps (same idea, but pulling the air into the unit from a hole in the ground rather than the ambient air near the outdoor unit) have become popular in higher latitude areas (Canada, Norway, Greenland, etc). Consider that other heating methods still need a blower fan to circulate the heated air through your home; heat pumps are systems where the air circulation is most of the work done to maintain a set temperature.

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Sol Homestead Is Solar Powered

By Julio Santana

Happy Earth Week! One of our goals is to live gently on our acre, recognizing the impacts that our choices have on the environment around us. This past year, Julio has worked hard to take on the effect of the energy we use to power everything from our cars to the deicer for animal waterers. This is the first in a two-part series he has written about clean energy at Sol Homestead. -Kasey

IMG_20221026_082935326Since Sol Homestead’s solar panels powered on in late October, we’ve observed a significant dip in our electric costs month to month relative to previous years. This is in spite of fueling one of our cars with electricity, which increases our electric consumption significantly. It was quite nice to see a reduction in after-tax dollars spent both on powering our homestead’s electric needs and in fueling one of our vehicles – especially since it’s been an extra cold winter in Colorado, natural gas prices have been high (dollars towards natural gas consumption have increased).

Recently, our power bill posted for February 24th through March 27th; the electric portion is $3.83. Those are just the fixed infrastructure costs to have electric service. We generated a surplus of 40 kWh relative to our usage over that span (~1.5 days’ worth of winter/spring time electricity inclusive of car battery charging).

Given that we’re hitting the long days of the year and that we are banking electricity credit from excess solar generation with our power company, I expect that we will only pay for the fixed infrastructure costs (ie, the service line drop, ~$5/month) for the rest of our time at this location. The cost of fueling one of our cars and of all of our home’s electric needs is accounted for in the solar panel installation (breakeven in about 8 years, depending on actual electric usage and unit cost of electricity).

The trajectory of renewable energy cost to households echoes the rapid commoditization of consumer-grade electronics and personal computers in the 1980s and 1990s. “By the time a statistic is written down, it’s already out of date. That’s how fast renewables and other clean technologies are becoming more affordable.” summarizes Leah Cardamore Stokes in her essay “From Destruction to Abundance” in Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story From Despair to Possibility.

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Our Favorite Eco-Friendly Swaps for Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! On our homestead, one of our goals is to reduce waste and take good care of our land and animals in a way that is healthy for the ecosystem that we live in. To that end, we are moving toward renewable energy as much as we can, trying to buy less stuff, and continuing to eat a meat-free mostly plant-based diet. We are certainly far from perfect, but we try to keep striving to do better. 

I do think that it is important to remember that the idea of an individual carbon footprint was a marketing strategy to distract people from the damage done by big oil companies. To fight climate change, we have to hold companies and governments accountable for their role, vote accordingly, and keep the pressure on. I also subscribe to the Future Crunch newsletter to help with my climate anxiety. 

Nevertheless, we are not off the hook for reducing our own impacts as well. Here are some of our thoughts on reducing our impact this Earth Day. 

Don’t Fall for Greenwashing

Early this week, I started to get emails about Earth Day sales. Although I am not one to sniff at a coupon for a product I already use, the very idea that there is something “green” about a sale is kind of laughable. One of the biggest ways that we can live more sustainably is by buying less stuff

It reminded me of a struggle I had recently over a body wash we were using, but which I discovered had been “Green Washed.” Green Washing is when a company uses marketing smoke and mirrors to appear more eco-friendly than they really are. My complaints with the body wash in question were that it is produced by an “eco-friendly” company owned by Unilever, which tests on animals, and that it contains palm oil, a nearly ubiquitous ingredient linked to deforestation of tropical rainforests. Certainly, this product was “greener” than some other options, but in trying to find a body wash that did not include palm oil, I just ended up switching to vegan, palm-oil-free bar soap. That also meant no plastic bottles. I’ve been happy with the switch, but the experience was eye-opening. 

Fast Fashion, Worn Slow

The fast fashion industry is terrible for the environment and relies heavily on fossil fuels not only for production but also for shipping. The whole business has been built on releasing more and more styles in shorter and shorter seasons, and making clothes less durable so that they have to be replaced more frequently, making the cycle hard to break for the average consumer.  This rapid increase over the last century has been really bad for workers and the planet. 

One idea I’ve seen that I really like is “fast fashion worn slow.” The idea is to buy clothes that you need, or really love, but to buy much fewer (perhaps 75% fewer) garments overall and wear them for longer, moving away from the idea that you can’t repeat outfits, even for big events. It’s also important to take good care of the garments you have, washing them in cold water, and line-drying the less durable fabrics.  And thrifting helps too, of course.

IMG_20210803_081806030Become a St. Kateri Habitat

We are proud to be a St. Kateri Habitat. This program, run by the St. Kateri Conservation Center, encourages Catholics, Indigenous people, and “people of good will” to use the land they own (homes, businesses, schools, etc.) as healthy habitats for people and wildlife, with an emphasis on native plants and ecosystem services, as well as religious expression. Making your property a habitat is not as hard as you might think and it has been really rewarding to us, helping us think carefully about what we plant and how we care for our habitat. 

The Zero Market

923A24A3-ADA4-4668-951C-E8748D88216FIf you are local to Denver, check out The Zero Market (at Edgewater Market or Stanley Market). It is a good place to get products to replace single-use options, but it is best for buying household and beauty products in bulk, refilling your own containers to keep them out of the landfill. While not necessarily cheaper than buying soap, etc. in single-use packages, the quality of their refills is excellent, and you save those plastic containers. I take my own glass jars and get refills of hand soap, dish soap, air fresheners, tea, dental floss, and rosewater. Their rosewater is the best I’ve ever tried and I also really like the smell of their Sweetgrass room refresher spray. My mom loves their save soap. The Zero Market has a rewards program in which you earn a point for every container you save from a landfill, but they also regularly send out coupons, which helps with the cost/benefit equation. Recently, I was really excited to buy half of a shampoo bar from them for $3.50. I have wanted to try that switch for some time, but I have long hair and didn’t know if it would work for me, so the low investment was great. So far so good!


I am still struggling to get composting just right, but in the meantime, our food scraps are decomposing in two compost tumblers instead of releasing greenhouse gasses. Composting is an easy but impactful way to reduce waste in your home and there is a ton of information about how, why, and where to do it, as well as urban composting services (even in Denver) if you want to get started, but don’t want to manage the pile. Right now, I am a little compost obsessed, so if you want to talk about it, hit me up!

Reusable Cotton Rounds

D20466CD-D981-4377-8140-5EFB1D6C7702An easy low-waste switch is to use reusable cotton rounds. I bought my set off of Etsy years ago and they’re still going strong. Now, you can find them everywhere. I wash them in a lingerie bag that gets tossed in with my other laundry. I also got reusable nail polish removal pads from Zero Market and they were a game-changer. One side is slightly scrubby and so the nail polish comes off so much better than with disposable tissue. (Ella + Mila is my favorite cruelty-free brand of nail polish, by the way.)

No Paper Towels or Napkins

514D0020-9362-4A0D-AFB9-45BC9EE17FA3Back in 2018, I bought a couple of packs of cheap washcloths and have been using them, washing in hot water, and reusing them instead of paper towels since. Some of them are starting to get tattered, but I set them aside for really bad messes or for cleaning up things like paint. We also use cloth napkins instead of paper. Once (or twice, depending on the toddler) a week, I wash and dry them, which does use energy and water, but less than producing new paper products does. Back when we made this change, I was worried that it would be a heavy lift, but, even when we had a shared apartment laundry room, it was not a big deal, and folding the cloths and putting them away (we use a basket in the kitchen) is actually a meditative task for me. Between washes, we put the cloths in a bucket under the sink, out of the way. We do keep a roll of paper towels for emergencies such as dog barfs, but that’s it.

Bamboo Toilet Paper and Toothbrushes

FE00CFCD-2B79-457E-B2DA-DA18C4100D53We have a subscription to Who Gives A Crap and it lasts us a loooong time. We were set during the great 2020 toilet paper rush, too. 

We also switched to bamboo, biodegradable toothbrushes. A plastic toothbrush basically lives forever. I have one I reuse for cleaning tight spaces, but I don’t like the idea of our household putting at least 8 in a landfill each year. Not only do these babies take care of that issue, but they also look and feel chicer than a plastic toothbrush. I was even able to find some for our toddler. 

Biodegradable Floss 

In the same vein, I looked at the pile of floss building in our bathroom wastebasket and didn’t like it. At the Zero Market, I got us each a roll of biodegradable floss. They came in the cutest little glass vials with a screw-top lid that makes it easy to replace the roll when it runs out. This switch wasn’t as cheap as our old floss, but the biodegradable floss lasted longer than I thought it would, so I felt okay about it in the end. We ran out when I wasn’t planning a trip to the Zero Market soon, so I found a similar product at the grocery store. Reducing waste is getting easier and more popular! I still like the glass vial better though.

What are some of your favorite eco-friendly tips, product swaps, or resources? Let us know. Happy Earth Day! 

Leave Your Dandelions (And a Manifesto Against Lawn Culture)

IMG_20210507_101819446Soon the dandelions will be in bloom all over the lawns of America’s suburbs, and they present an opportunity for you. The blossoming of these little yellow flowers is your chance to help the pollinators without spending one cent or, in fact, doing anything at all. You can be a rebel, a little bit countercultural, and support the health of pollinators in the ecosystem that sits right outside your home. 

As much as people like to prune and tame and labor over manicuring their lawns, they are actually part of an ecosystem, and our human activity can either coexist with the creatures there or work against them. In the spring, dandelions are one of the first food sources for bees coming out of hibernation. Cutting down those dandelions deprives the bees of that meal. Worse, spraying the dandelions with chemicals can kill the bees outright. For the sake of the native bees or your neighborhood beekeeper, please PLEASE do not spray the dandelions. Even better, leave them to grow. 

IMG_20210517_125513971Dandelions aren’t just good for the bees; they’re also beneficial to your lawn and the other plants you grow. The taproot of the dandelion helps to draw nutrients in the soil upward, making them more readily available to green things growing nearby. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can eat the dandelions in a salad or make tea out of them (LawnStarter). They have a wide variety of nutrients, which is why they used to be considered valuable, not a weed to dispose of. 

The humble dandelion is a good example of how the rise of lawn culture put our ecosystems and our relationship with nature out of balance. It used to be that owning land was valuable because of what land provides—a space for growing food. Certainly, land ownership offers other cultural and ecological benefits, but the idea that you would own land, however much, and work hours each week to grow an invasive crop that takes an obscene amount of water and chemicals to maintain, and out of the bargain you got—what—a sense of fitting in? That nonsense, my friends, is a bourgeois display that says you can afford to waste precious natural resources. It all goes back to the French aristocracy (the ones who eventually were beheaded when the people couldn’t afford bread) (Medium). We really can’t afford to waste these resources, either. There are 40 million acres of lawns in America (Salon). Imagine if we did something healthier and more useful with even half of that land. 

Lawn culture is an expensive waste of time, energy, and water. I’d be thrilled if we did away with it entirely, personally. I’m going to tell you why. And then I’m going to give you some ideas of what to do instead. 

Why Manicured Lawns are Bad for the Environment

  • The carbon emissions from gas-powered lawnmowers, leaf blowers, trimmers, etc. are super wasteful (The Week). We have an electric lawnmower and tools from Ryobi that we are happy with. 
  • Grass lawns are a monoculture of a non-native species that does not support the biodiversity needed for healthy ecosystems (Discover Magazine).
  • Fertilizers used on grass are terrible for the ecosystem. They are very high in nitrogen which throws the soil’s nutrients out of balance. If you live on or near water, those chemicals wash into the water, causing an algae bloom which chokes out the sunlight, damaging the biodiversity and health of the plant and animal life meant to live in the water. (Greater Greater Washington)
  • All this grass is potentially very flammable in areas prone to wildfire, especially in drought, which is increasingly everywhere (PBS).

What to Do Instead of Mowing Your Lawn

  • A recent study showed that mowing your lawn every two weeks instead of every week was beneficial to the bees. So a middle road is possible! Just mow less frequently. (USDA)
  • Build some garden beds for wildflowers or a vegetable garden, or plant some trees. Adding diversity to the plants in your yard will boost the ecosystem, especially if they are plants native to your area. Less square footage to mow, too. 
  • Don’t use chemicals. Period. Your lawn might not look perfect. And I’m sorry, I don’t actually care. Grass gets brown when it’s dry out and then greens up again when there’s moisture. That’s how the plant works. 
  • You could also grow a ground cover other than grass. There are plenty of species that require a lot less water, grow slower, and provide food and shelter for insects and creatures. Less maintenance, more biodiversity. Finding the right ground cover for your area will take a bit of research and work, but that’s just time you’d be mowing your lawn, anyway.
  • Read a book. 
  • Take a walk. 
  • Make a jar of “wishes” for your favorite young (or young at heart) person using the puffy seed balls of your dandelions. 
  • Make a cute “Pardon the Weeds. I’m Feeding the Bees” sign.
  • Save money. 
  • Take a nap. 

Lawn culture comes with a lot of baggage in American life. It’s tied up with ideas about prosperity, hard work, good civics, being a good neighbor, sometimes the actual law (The Atlantic). If you have an HOA, there might be little you can do to buck this bologna, aside from mowing every other week. Really, though, it’s all so unbelievably wasteful. 

But, Kasey, you might say, you have a half-acre of…dirt. And that is true. The alpacas eat everything before it can grow much. But in our back yard, we keep it low-maintenance, mowing about once a month, letting the alpacas eat the grass, not wasting water on it, and focusing our energy instead on the pollinator and vegetable gardens. We have a lot going on on the homestead, and, frankly, not spending a lot of time tending to the grass—easily the least useful plant we grow—is a relief. 

Join us, won’t you: let the dandelions grow, mow your lawn less, and have a beer instead, you rebel, you.