Archive for August, 2008


Everything They Want to Do Is Illegal

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Joel Salatin, author of Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front, knows exactly how these kids feel.

From the book description:

From child labor regulations to food inspection, bureaucrats provide themselves sole discretion over what food is available in the local marketplace. Their system favors industrial, global corporate food systems and discourages community-based food commerce, resulting in homogenized selection, mediocre quality, and exposure to nonorganic farming practices.

And for an extreme, couldn’t-have-said-it-better-myself, real-world example, take a look at this article from abcnews.com:

… Katie and Sabrina Lewis’ veggie stand, in the town of Clayton, Calif., where they sold homegrown watermelons for $1, has been shuttered by town officials who told the girls’ parents that their daughters’ venture violated local zoning ordinances.

“I think that they’re wrong,” dad Mike Lewis said of the town officials. “Kids should be able to be kids.”

The stand started about two years ago when Katie, now 11, decided she wanted to start selling produce from the family’s ever-expanding garden. The family had been growing its own fruits and vegetables on its half-acre lot and giving away armfuls of extras to friends and family.

“I thought, ‘No one’s going to buy melons,’” Lewis said, before telling his eldest daughter to “go ahead.”

Two hours later, Katie had sold out of melons.

Lewis said his daughter, now assisted by 3-year-old Sabrina, operated her stand on weekends, maybe 20 or so times during the year. They’d bring in about $10 to $20 a week.

“I take it and once I’ve got about $20 to $30, I’ll bring it to the bank and put it in my bank account for college,” Katie told ABCNews.com.

Lewis said the family got a call after the stand went up from a town employee saying that as long as the stand ran only on weekends it was fine.

But Clayton Mayor Gregory Manning said he first heard of the girls’ operation this past April, after two residents called to ask if it was legal. Two months later, a police officer was sent to the stand to tell the Lewises that the girls were violating zoning regulations that prohibit commercial activities in a residential area.

The stand also violates health regulations, he said, which state that food can’t be sold without a permit.

And while only two citizens complained, Manning said, “I find that for every person who calls you or writes a letter, there are 100 that feel the same.”

Clayton, located about 30 miles east of San Francisco, is home to about 11,000 residents.

Lewis compared his daughters’ stand to a more-common lemonade stand. But Manning said those, too, are illegal in Clayton, though officials typically don’t pay much attention because they don’t last more than a day or two.

“This is a pretty good operation,” he said of the Lewis girls’ stand. “I’m sure it’s very nice stuff.”

Katie said her most popular seller was the watermelons. Also big were zucchinis (75 cents for four small zucchinis and $1.25 for four of the larger ones) and eggplant, which was priced at six for $1.

Little sister Sabrina, Katie said, helped by picking flowers and hauling produce from the garden.

Manning said he’s not trying to be the bad guy in this situation, but that he has to consider the residents’ best interests.

“It’s not like we’re the Gestapo going out and closing down fruit stands,” he said.

Read the full article here.

Kuttner’s Take on “The Battle of the Bobs”

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Robert Kuttner, author of Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, has an insightful post on The American Prospect’s web site critiquing David Leonhardt’s forthcoming piece in the New York Times analyzing Senator Obama’s economic positions.

From the article:

Columnist David Leonhardt has a piece forthcoming in the New York Times Sunday Magazine that asks: where does Obama really stand on economic issues. It’s the right question—but along with some useful insights Leonhardt provides some odd answers.

In his view, Obama’s economic ideology is hard to chart on the usual left-right spectrum because it’s something new. Leonhardt refers back to the ideological battles of the Clinton years, which he calls the Battle of the Bobs, Rubin versus Reich. He writes:
“Bob Reich…argued that the government should invest in roads, bridges, worker training and the like to stimulate the economy and help the middle class. On the other side was Bob Rubin, a former Goldman Sachs executive turned White House aide, who favored reducing the deficit to soothe the bond market, bring down interest rates and get the economy moving again. Clinton cast his lot with Rubin, and to this day the first question about any Democrat’s economic outlook is often where his heart lies, with Reich or Rubin, the left or the center, the government or the market.”

True enough. But Leonhardt goes on to argue that “The battle of the Bobs may not be completely over, but it has certainly been suspended”—presumably in favor of a more robust use of government to compensate for what markets mess up.

Well, you could have fooled me. There are fierce battles going on within the Obama campaign and outside it among Democratic progressives and centrists.

Read the whole post here.

The free-market myth that wouldn’t die

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Proponents of the “free market” have a tendency to ignore one inconvenient fact: there is no such thing as a free market in reality. Never has been one. Never will be one. The “free market” is a myth, a fairy tale told over and over by newspaper columnists and TV pundits and quite a few professional economists. I’ve come across a few declarations of this myth lately that irked me (for example this infuriatingly ignorant and ignorizing dreck), and so I’d like to rant for a moment.

This is not to say that markets, as a system for organizing economic activity, are no good. There are some good things about markets, flawed as they always are. There are also bad things about them. Sometimes, the flaws are their saving grace! That’s because some “flaws” in what might otherwise be a fully “free” market (theoretically, that is, but only in theory since it simply cannot exist in reality) make the results of the market activity more socially beneficial. The opposite is also true: some flaws lead to worse social results, relative to what might happen if the markets were to be fully “free.” But again, that’s all pie-in-the-sky philosophizing, because markets are never, ever fully free.

Here’s photographic proof!

One result of a free market, proven beyond any doubt in multitudes of Econ 101 courses for the past century, is the so-called “law of one price.” As Wikipedia states,

The law of one price is an economic law stated as: “In an efficient market all identical goods must have only one price.”

(Where “efficient” is econo-speak for what laymen call “free.”)

Now even in the Econ 101 courses, the professors will mention some nuances to this blanket statement, for example to account for the difference in shipping costs to deliver an otherwise identical product from different locations. Similarly, as Wikipedia notes

The law also need not apply if buyers have less than perfect information about where to find the lowest price.

Yet here we are in the brave new 21st century, equipped with the world’s greatest information tools in history, and even still, prices for identical products differ by enormous magnitudes. An example: this Samsung 32-inch flat-panel TV, as shown through Google shopping.

Check it out… the lowest price shown is $382 and the highest price shown is 149% higher at $950. The screenshot doesn’t capture all the offers that the Google search unearthed, but obviously prices vary widely within those two outliers.

How can this be? How can there be so much difference in prices for an identical product? Well, economists and business analysts can probably offer quite a few explanations, but they all boil down to this: the market is not free. It is not efficient.

So keep that in mind next time someone says that all we need to do to solve some problem is to “set the market free,” “get rid of government interference,” or “blah blah blah.” As I implied above, sometimes it will make sense to reduce the government’s influence on a particular aspect of some particular market, but too many people have adopted a blindered ideology that the “free/efficient/unfettered” market represents an ideal that we should be always and everywhere be pursuing. Not only is that doubtful that the ideal is actually ideal, but it simply cannot be achieved, nunca. And as the “theory of the second best” teaches us, that means there is no good reason whatsoever to think that the best alternative is to move as close as possible to this unachievable so-called ideal.

Class dismissed!

Dreier: Obama’s Challenge Rises Above Corsi’s Abomination

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Well it seems we’ve entered the national “Obama book” discussion this week with a bang. We decided to publish our upcoming title, Obama’s Challenge, because the author, Robert Kuttner, came to us with an important progressive message at a time when it sorely needs to be heard. Serendipitously, Jerome “Swift Boat” Corsi released his converative anti-Obama book, Obama Nation, just a few weeks prior to our book launch at the Democratic National Convention on the 25th. This proximity of publishing dates has been picked by many as an opportunity to pit one book against the other.

For example, Peter Dreier, the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy program, at Occidental College, submitted an article at the Huffington Post yesterday in which he discusses the two books, though he largely just lambastes Corsi for trafficking in (what is now well-revealed to be) lies and distortion. Dreier is careful not to compare the two books so closely that they are seen as opposites, stating that Obama’s Challenge “is certainly not the liberal parallel to Corsi’s hate-filled attack. Kuttner’s book is not a valentine to Obama, but a serious political analysis of the potential — and pitfalls — of an Obama presidency.”

Dreier refers to Obama Nation as “little more than a hate-filled political hatchet job.” And asks, “What, if any, responsibility do publishers have when dealing with a book and an author like this? Given the controversy over Corsi’s previous book, should Simon & Schuster have hired a fact-checker to make sure that Obama Nation, which they are promoting as “non-fiction,” was reasonably accurate?”

The two books are different animals, with Obama’s Challenge clearly rising above. Dreier has this to say:

Kuttner’s serious book is meant to be read, discussed, and debated. In contrast, Corsi’s book is meant to be a totem for right-wing talk shows, bloggers, and columnists, and an opportunity to get its author on the conservative lecture and talk-show circuit and even, as happened last week, on CNN’s “Larry King Live” show. The challenge to which Kuttner refers is for Obama to appeal to what is most noble in American democracy. Corsi’s book appeals to our most sordid instincts.

Read the full article here.

Note: I’ll be covering the book launch from the Democratic National Convention on Twitter as @obamaschallenge. Follow for live coverage!

Taking on the System: An Interview with Markos

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Christian Avard, over at the Huffington Post, just posted an interview with Markos Moulitsas, founder of DailyKos.com and co-author of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics. In the interview they discuss Markos’s new book, Taking on the System: Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era from Penguin Books.

Having been involved in blogging for a long time, here’s my favorite bit of the interview. It describes perfectly my attraction to the medium.

Critics often say blogging is chipping away at the power of community and activism. Do you believe it’s replacing the current means of activism or is it adding to it?

Well as you read in the book, I’m a critic of traditional protests. I think an effective modern activism campaign requires a strong media component, because if you do something and nobody hears about it, you’ve basically wasted your time. What you want to do is maximize the number of people that find out about your action and use that attention to bring people over to your side. In the book, I talk about street protests that didn’t work. It’s not that the tactic is bad, it’s the way it’s traditionally been done. “Let’s all get together and make a lot of noise! Yay! Free Mumia!” That is absolutely useless. It’s almost counterproductive. So you have to have a media strategy, and blogs are a medium. It’s one way to get the message out and what I talk about in the book is you work your way up the media hierarchy. If you are effective and your activities are compelling enough, they will jump over into traditional media outlets. One excellent example was Cindy Sheehan. Her protest in Crawford, Texas, began as a blog and e-mail list phenomenon. It worked its way up the ladder. MoveOn started promoting it and then it jumped over to radio, television, and newspapers. It became a huge national sensation. It almost certainly had a huge affect on the national sentiment on the war in Iraq. But then it started to disintegrate. More causes showed up in Crawford to get their own media attention. Sheehan also began marching in traditional protests, demanding attention, visiting Hugo Chavez, etc. It all fell apart at that point. But that initial strategy was very much effective. I don’t think she would have gotten as far without the blogging component. I don’t think the Obama campaign would even exist if it weren’t for people-powered media.

Keep up the good work Blogfather.

Recipe: Chilled Thai Rice Paper Spring Rolls with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

The Following recipe has been excerpted from The Best of Bloodroot, Volume Two: Vegan Recipes by Selma Miriam & Noel Furie, with Lagusta Yearwood

chilled thai rice paper
spring rolls

You will have to find a market which sells Thai and Chinese ingredients. Note that we substitute a thick Chinese sauce called soy paste for Thai fish sauce. Try to choose fresh-looking, unbroken rice papers for best results.

  1. Soak 1 cup of the dried fungus called tree ears in water to cover for 5 minutes. Clean the tree ears of dirt and wood, and chop coarsely.
  2. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil in a medium-sized pot and add 1 oz. cellophane noodles and the tree ears. Simmer 3 minutes. Drain and season with 3 tablespoons soy paste and fresh ground pepper. Combine with 1 1/2 cups diced wheat gluten (seitan) and set aside to cool.
  3. Prepare 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons minced Thai basil or fresh mint and 1/4 cup chopped red onion. Combine in a bowl and set aside. Shred enough carrots to yield 3/4 cup and set aside.
  4. Pour water on a dinner plate or pie plate and dip rice paper rounds or wedge shapes into the water to soften, one at a time. Lift out onto the work surface and spread with wheat gluten-fungus mix. Top with shredded carrots, a dribble of soy paste, and a pinch of the herb-onion mix. Roll up, tuck in ends, and place on tray. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  5. Make spicy peanut sauce (see following recipe). Toast 1/2 cup peanuts and chop. Toast 1/4 cup sesame seeds also.
  6. Shred lettuce to serve as a bed under the spring rolls. Lay 3 rolls on top. Spoon a band of peanut sauce over the rolls. Garnish with mung bean sprouts, and the sesame seeds and peanuts. Slices of cucumber and red onion complete the plate.

10 servings

spicy peanut sauce

  1. Chop 1 teaspoon lemongrass very fine. Combine 1 tablespoon tamarind juice or 1 tablespoon lime juice with 1 teaspoon chili-paste-with-garlic (available in jars in Chinese markets), 2 tablespoons minced garlic, 1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter (preferable unsweetened, from a health food store), 2 cups coconut milk, 1 tablespoon maple syrup or agave nectar, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 cup shallots, minced. Refrigerate.

makes 3 1/2 cups

The G.O.R.E. Project: Heat Your Home with Renewable Fuels

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

The following article has been adapted for the web from Natural Home Heating: The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options by Greg Pahl.

Shifting from our current reliance on fossil fuels to the use of renewable sources of energy is a tall order. But every little bit helps, and changing the way we heat our homes is an important part of the larger initiative. Heating your home with renewables is a particularly attractive strategy because it’s something that you can do yourself, right now; you don’t have to wait for the government to act. Switching to renewable fuels may involve some modifications to your heating system, your home, and possibly your daily routine. There are many options, and each one has relative advantages and disadvantages.

The Sun

Technically, the sun isn’t a fuel; it’s an energy source. But for the purposes of this chapter, let’s consider it as a fuel. From a human perspective, the sun is an inexhaustible source of energy. Enough solar energy strikes the Earth in one hour to power all human activities for an entire year. Much of this energy turns into heat, but plants absorb some of it as light energy. The plants, in turn, transform this solar energy into chemical energy through photosynthesis. All of the renewable fuels we’ll be looking at in this chapter are ultimately derived from photosynthesis, except for geothermal.

Under the right conditions, the sun can be used as a “fuel” for both space heating and domestic-hot-water heating. However, use of the sun requires careful home design and becomes more problematic the farther north you live. Especially in most northern locations, some form of backup heat is required.

Solar Pros and Cons


Pros
  • Infinite supply
  • Nonpolluting
  • Brightens and warms a home on cold, dark winter days
  • Free

Cons

  • Needs to be part of basic house design for maximum effect
  • Not always available
  • Less practical in northern latitudes
  • Requires thermal storage to be effective

Wood

Wood is the oldest true heating fuel. Our earliest ancestors used wood for cooking and home heating for hundreds of thousands of years. But in the late 19th century, wood fell out of favor and was replaced by fossil fuels. Since the oil embargo in 1973 of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), however, wood has once again become a viable home heating fuel in the United States (in many other parts of the world, wood never stopped being a fuel).

Heating with wood does not contribute to global warming as long as it is part of a managed resource cycle that includes replanting trees. The carbon dioxide that is released when wood is burned is taken up by the replacement trees that grow in a sustainably managed forest. This cycle can be repeated indefinitely without increasing atmospheric carbon. The same rule applies to all “biomass” (wood, wood pellets, vegetation, grains, or agricultural waste) used as a fuel or energy source.

If you are considering heating with wood, find a reliable long-term source of firewood in your area. This may be difficult, especially in many urban locations, and could cause you to choose a different fuel source instead. Check local regulations too: concerns about air pollution caused by smoky wood fires have prompted some municipalities and states to restrict the use of wood-burning appliances. You will also need a place to store your firewood.

The heat production of wood varies, depending on moisture content and species. Most hardwoods typically produce around 29 million Btu per cord, while softwood only puts out around 17 million Btu per cord.

Wood Pros and Cons


Pros
  • Fairly low operating costs
  • Can be used in a wide variety of heating appliances
  • Generally does not require electricity
  • Low environmental impact if sustainably harvested wood is used and if it is burned responsibly

Cons

  • More dangerous than some fuels if heating appliances are not properly installed or maintained
  • Storage space and heavy physical labor required
  • Creates indoor dirt and dust problems
  • Requires a properly maintained chimney
  • Can cause air-quality problems both indoors and outdoors
  • Combustion gases can spill into the living space during a malfunction
  • May increase fire insurance premiums

Pellets

Wood pellets are a relatively new heating fuel developed following the OPEC oil embargo. Pellets for home heating are generally made from sawdust and ground wood chips, which are waste materials from processing of trees for furniture, lumber, and other products.The productive use of material that would otherwise be wasted is a strong argument for using pellets for heating purposes, but there are other good reasons, too. Because of their design, most pellet-fueled heating appliances burn fuel steadily and very efficiently, with extremely low combustion emissions. Pellet-burning appliances need to be vented but don’t require a standard chimney.

Heating costs for pellets are generally lower than for electricity, biodiesel, fuel oil, and propane and about the same as for fuel oil and natural gas. Bags of pellet fuel are easy to handle and store; far less daily labor is required than for tending a wood- stove.A pound of wood pellets produces about 9,000 Btu; this is equivalent to 18 million Btu per ton.


Pellet Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Competitive operating costs
  • Easy to store and handle
  • Burns cleanly
  • Low environmental impact
  • Steady heat
  • No chimney is required

Cons

  • Storage space and some physical labor required
  • Most pellet appliances require electricity
  • Combustion gases can spill into the living space during a malfunction

Video: Google Backs Enhanced Geothermal Electricity

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Our friends at TreeHugger recently pointed out that Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the search giant, is investing heavily in Enhanced Geothermal Electric Systems.

Geothermal electricity has been around for over a hundred years. Traditionally, existing geysers over tectonic plate boundaries are tapped to power turbines that generate electricity. Consequently, the power plants are tied to those few areas on Earth that have these faults. In the relatively new Enhanced Geothermal Electric Systems—first developed during the energy crisis of the 1970s, then quickly abandoned once gas prices dropped—a pipeline is drilled several kilometers into the earth and water is pumped in to create thousands of super-hot fissures that turn it to steam and send it back up through another pipe…look, it’s all pretty technical.

What it all boils down to (if you will) is that, rather than being limited to fault line zones, the new technology is potentially adoptable almost anywhere. Suffice it to say that in fifteen years, ten percent of the U.S.’s electricity could be coming to us from the warm, nurturing bosom of Mother Earth herself. That, in conjunction with the radiant smile of Papa Solar and the, um, hot breath of Uncle Wind, could finally end our dependence on foreign oil.

That being said, it’s important to note that the $10 million Google.org is investing is really just a drop in the bucket. The Energy Department estimates that something in the neighborhood of a billion dollars will be needed for EGS to be feasible on a massive scale. But this is definitely a good start. To paraphrase Lex Luthor, soon we may all have our little faults.

Sailboat Made of Trash Navigates the Pacific Ocean’s “Plastic Soup”

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

What better way to explore the Pacific Ocean’s sickening, plastic-coated cesspool known as the “Great Garbage Patch” than with a junk made out of…well, junk?

As CNetNews.com reports, Dr. Marcus Eriksen and filmmaker Joel Paschal of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation are sailing their craft of plastic bottles, recovered scrap, fishing nets, and—presumably—spit and bailing wire on a six-week journey from Long Beach, California to Hawaii to highlight the problem of out-of-control pollution in the Pacific Ocean.

From the article:

The activists wanted more people to share their disgust about plastic litter that swirls, relatively unexplored, in continent-size patches of ocean.

To that end, they have built a motor-less craft from 15,000 recycled beverage bottles, fishing nets, and the cockpit of a Cessna, and are sailing it more than 2,000 miles from southern California to Hawaii. They left Long Beach, Calif., on Sunday.

The 1.5-ton junk features a solar panel and wind turbine to power GPS and other devices. It’s made of six pontoons each 30 feet long, filled with 2,000 soda and sports drink bottles, and triple-wrapped in used fishing nets. Twenty sailboat masts provide a frame, secured to a cabin cut from a Cessna 310 fuselage.

On the last Pacific voyage that ended in February, Eriksen and Paschal helped marine researcher Charles Moore assess the extent of pollution in the waters leading up to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling mass of plastic debris some estimate to be as large as the United States.

In early tests, a sample showed 48 parts of plastic to each part of plankton.

Click to read the whole article.

Click to follow the journey on blogspot.

Build Your Own Carbon-Free Fridge

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

The following project has been excerpted from The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit by Stephen and Rebekah Hren

Renter friendly.

Project Time: Weekend.

Cost: Inexpensive ($50–100, but can be built with scraps, except the thermometer).

Energy Saved: High. Average refrigeration uses 8 percent of the average American energy budget.

Ease of Use: Medium. Food temperature can be uneven, making it a little less effective than a conventional refrigerator. Requires some attention to ensure proper function.

Maintenance Level: Low. A well-built box, protected from the rain, should last longer than a conventional fridge.

Skill Levels: Carpentry: Moderate.

Materials: Plywood, insulation, wood glue, screws, paint, caulking, gallon jugs, closable heating vent, thermometer.

Tools: Hammer, flat bar, drill, saw caulking gun, paintbrush.

Many existing homes have an excess of windows on the north side. Ideally, no more than 5 percent of a home’s windows will be on the north side, as windows inevitably lead to draftiness and heat loss in the wintertime, and northern windows are the biggest offenders. If you live in a cold climate and are in a home that has a north-facing window convenient to the kitchen, removing that window and converting it to an icebox could provide your refrigeration needs for over half the year. And this energy savings will come at a time when solar electric energy production is low due to short days, saving precious watts for other needs like lighting and movie watching.

Your goal in building a cold box is to take advantage of the coldest part of your home to do the work of preserving food, rather than using an energy-intensive appliance that cools down food in the heated part of your home. You will want to regulate this cold box to provide optimum unfrozen freshness while keeping the cold from entering your living space.

The basic cold box structure consists of a plywood box with an insulated door. A closable vent allows for temperature control. The vent is opened at night to allow in cold air and closed in the morning. In extremely cold places, it might be necessary to do the reverse and open the box for some part of the day in order to keep the box closer to 40 degrees F (4 degrees C) and above freezing. The shelf arrangement can vary to suit your needs but should allow for some movement of air within the box to maintain an even temperature. If you live in a climate where the average temperature is below freezing for a substantial part of the year, you can include a separate freezer compartment at the bottom of the box (remember, cold air sinks).

A great way to regulate temperature is with some kind of thermal mass that takes a while to heat up and cool down. The best readily available thermal mass is water. Plastic water jugs can be placed on the bottom shelf to maintain an even temperature, reducing overheating in warm spells and freezing in cold ones. Generally, the cold box will work whenever the nighttime temperature falls below 40 degrees F (4 degrees C), although it will still be somewhat effective at higher temperatures. Operation in colder environments may include replacing frozen water jugs with room-temperature water jugs, or increasing the insulation on the exterior of the cold box, or both. A thermometer (especially the min/ max recording type) can be a big help to determining how well your cold box is working. During the coulder seasons (spring and fall), adding ice in a bucket or tray to the top shelf can prolong the box’s usefulness. Using a cold box into the summertime becomes difficult. In addition to the warm days, there’s a good chance the outside of the box will get heated up by the morning and afternoon sun.


Click for a larger image.

Measuring the window. If working during cold weather, before removing the window you’ll want to build your cold box and have it ready to install. By removing the trim surrounding the interior of the window, you will expose the framing that locks the window unit into place without exposing the space to the outside, and you’ll be able to get an accurate measurement of the rough framing in order to construct the cold box.

To remove the interior trim, first break the paint around the window by using a utility knife to cut around the window where it hits the wall. Then use a hammer to knock a flat bar between the trim and window unit (on the inside of the window so as not to damage the wall material) and pry it off. The framing should now be exposed, making an accurate measurement possible.

To take accurate measurements for your box, you’ll need to determine if your window is a single unit or if it is double hung. Newer windows are single units and are connected to the house framing with finish nails through the exterior trim. Since the entire unit will be removed, you can measure the rough opening (the 2 °— 4s) to determine the size of your box. Doublehung windows are built in place and are typically found in older homes. Your cold box will fit into the space occupied by one or both sashes. By removing the bottom sash (after removing one of the stops), you can measure the opening and build the exterior dimensions of your box to this size (actually a little smaller to make sure you can fit it in). For both types of windows, you’ll be sliding the cold box in from the outside, so keep this in mind as you measure and build.

Constructing the cold box. Building the box is straightforward, just like building a basic cabinet. The easiest material to use is plywood. Three-quarter inch is ideal, although 5⁄8-inch or 1/2-inch should also work. Cut the back of the cold box first. Next, cut out the perimeter sides, top, and bottom. You’ll want these to be at least as deep as the water jugs that will rest on the bottom, with clearance for the insulated door. Glue the sides, top, and bottom to the back and screw together with 2-inch screws.

Building the shelves. The shelves need to leave room for air to circulate to maintain an even temperature, so if you’re building them with wood, be sure to leave an inch of clearance between them and the insulation of the door. Alternatively, these could be built out of a simple frame stapled with hardware cloth. Old fridge shelves could potentially be modified to slide in. The unit needs to be primed, caulked, and painted on the inside and outside to ensure longevity. The interior environment will be moist, so protecting the wood is important. If the back will stick outside near to or beyond the eave of the roof, the exposed portion of the box will need some kind of roofing to shed water away from the house.

Removing windows. To remove a single-unit window, you’ll need to pry the window free from the interior. When your cold box is built and ready to install, start the removal of the window unit from the inside of the house by sliding the curved end of your flat bar between the exterior casing and the outside of the rough framing and prying. Work your way around the window, making sure not to free the window completely, as it could drop to the ground. If you’re at all worried about this, have someone else outside to steady and catch the window, in which case you can continue prying until the unit is free. If you’re by yourself, loosen the window until you can see a gap between the casing and the adjacent siding on at least one side. Then go outside and, still using the flat bar, pry the window free from first one side and then the other. The moment when the window comes free can be tricky, especially if you’re up on a ladder. Employ a helper to steady the window from the inside if you’re at all uncomfortable.

If you have a double-hung window (composed of two separate sashes), the window will be easier to disassemble. The casing, stool, and apron can be left in place and the cold box can be fit inside the window casing from the outside once the sash or sashes are removed. If you remove the window stop on one side the bottom sash will come free into the inside of your home. The top sash could potentially be held in place by an additional stop, or it may be possible to easily remove it once the bottom sash is removed.

If the bottom sash is weighted, the ropes will have to be cut to remove it. Potentially, you could build a small cold box that simply replaced the bottom sash. Or, alternatively, the bottom sash could simply be opened and screwed into the top sash to steady it, and a cold box could be built underneath it. If you’re going to remove the bottom sash, you want to make sure not to lose the weights into the wall when you cut the sash free. Put a screw into the casing, hold on to the rope above where you cut it, and then tie the rope around the screw.

Installing the cold box. To install your box you’ll need to enlist some help. Once your box is built, remove the sash and slide the cold box into the opening from the outside. Have your partner properly position the box and then screw it into place while you hold it steady.

Adding the cold box door. The cold box door can also be made of plywood, either a sandwich with plywood in between or just a single sheet of plywood with some insulation board glued to the inside. Attach with hinges. The door can be held closed using a sliver of wood that turns on a nail or screw or a locking clasp.

Place your jugs of water in the bottom and once the cold weather arrives, you’re ready to go. Since installation in a traditional window is straightforward, you might consider seasonal use of the cold box, replacing it with the sashes during summertime.

Simplifying Coldbox Operation

The northern window box has the potential to be operated with much lower daily maintenance with the incorporation of a thermostatically controlled vent. While this would involve a source of electricity, the amount of power used would be minimal. Incorporated into the back of the icebox and set to open when temperatures are in a given range, from, say 32 degrees F to 45 degrees F, the automatic vent would regulate the interior temperature, keeping it from wild diversions outside of this range that would spoil or freeze food.


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