This era in history may be remembered as the "Peak Age", a brief time when nearly all materials used to power and create our society reach the maximum extraction and production potential. Past this point, all of these resources become increasingly difficult to extract until they are no longer economically viable resources to be using. There are hundreds of examples of resources, currently embedded in our industrial society, which have reached their peak in the 50 years surrounding 2010, but the one which will most impact our society is petroleum.

The goal of living for 100 days without oil is to understand the extent of our dependance on oil in American society today. Specifically, how it will affect my life, as a 25 year-oil living in Minneapolis, MN. By using myself as a metric I can take a close and conscious look at where oil dependance occurs in all aspects of our daily lives : How we transport ourselves from one place to another, what we eat, how much waste we create, how water is cleaned and transported, where oil is used as; an energy resource, in conventional medicine and for hygiene and how oil affects how we entertain ourselves and communicate with others. By demonstrating how someone would be forced to live without using any oil resources, outlining both what the sacrifices will be as well as the benefits, we can can identify the many systems which will have to be re-designed in a world without cheap oil, and explore a new way of living in which we live in an energy balance.

(At the bottom of this page is a link to my version of a flow diagram of 'Where Petroleum Exists in Our Daily Lives' (using information from the Energy Information Administration-Annual Energy Review 2008 fig 5.0 Petroleum flow) click and zoom to enlarge)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

threeACTIONS Project

A lot has happened since last posting here.

Since March 2011, I have been working in collaboration with public policy graduate student Megan Hoye, on a project we have titled the threeACTIONS Project.   

The project explores how combining many individuals’ understandings and personal experiences can affect how design solutions are realized at a larger infrastructure and policy scale. Participants will choose three actions from a list of 50 which they are personally interested in exploring, and they will commit to these sustainable actions in their lives for a period of three months. 

They are grouped into cohorts of people who chose similar actions, creating small groups who can share and track each other’s experiences and providing support and incentive to continue. In addition, experts on topics of water, waste reduction, energy use, local foods and transportation systems will be brought in to further inform and encourage participants.  
The goals of this project are threefold.

First, to connect participants to information and experts which can help grow their knowledge of sustainability issues.

Second, to help individuals experience new lifestyle habits that challenge their norms and assumptions about sustainable living, while expanding their openness to future change. 

Third, to use this body of shared experience to inform policy and infrastructure level change to make efficient and sustainable choices the easier, less expensive and more enjoyable choices. 

There is no invaluable experience. If a chosen action is found to be impossible based on a person’s current living situation, it is important to document their struggles. In the same way, people who are successful with their actions provide valuable information about their successes. We want to provide individuals with a supportive community of diverse participants with whom they can build shared values about issues relevant to their experiences during and after the project.  

This kind of approach allows design to expand upon the making of sustainable environments, going beyond building performance. 

There is an attitude that sustainable design must fit within the parameters of the kind of lifestyles we are used to living instead of allowing the buildings themselves to empower and teach inhabitants to live in more sustainable ways. This approach leads to solutions such as low-flow water fixtures which allow inhabitants to use less water, but they don’t create a need for people to have any understanding of these systems. While building performance and material construction are crucially important pieces of creating sustainable living environments, our work as architects should not end there. 

The pilot program of the threeACTIONS Project will begin in June 2012 and can be followed through our facebook and twitter pages as well as our website:

If you are in the Minneapolis, MN area and are interested in being a participant in the project, apply on our website!

This post is likely to be the final post on this blog as my focus changes from the individual experience of my project to bringing these issues to my local community.  Thank you to all the anonymous readers who have all had a supporting hand in the creation of both of these endeavors!


Wednesday, April 13, 2011


13 April, 2011

The May issue of Minnesota Monthly just came out and has a 2-page article featuring my project!  Thanks to Ellen Burkhardt for a well-done summary of my experience and the metrics that go along with it:

(click to enlarge)

Now for an update on my current efforts.  As I mentioned before, I've spent that last few months compiling my '100 days' experience into a 170 page document which is a much more complete description and analysis of the facts behind the issues I explored here as well as a series of design considerations presented as hypothetical solutions to many of the things I struggled with during the project.  Because the project was essentially exploring what systems exist in our current society to support a world post-cheap-oil, many of these design solutions focus on the urban form, while the others focus on the scale of our homes. 

I'm working on exploring publishing options at this point.  My desire is to make this information as available as possible to anyone who might be interested in exploring changed actions in their lives similar to those I explored.  The publication will be titled '100 Days Without Oil: Lessons learned from attempting to live in a resource balance.'  Please check back for more information about this soon!

On another front, I have been collaborating with a public policy student at the University of Minnesota to brainstorm how we can continue the work I began with this project at a larger, community scale.  While we are still generating ideas for how to carry this forward, our goals are to attack this problem from its two ends- both from the bottom up (as my project was) and from the top down (in environmental policy changes).  I'll continue to update on our efforts here!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


November 22, 2010

Day 100

Day 100

Day 100.  I know it's been a long time coming to post this and I apologize to many of you who have supported this project by reading my daily posts for leaving you all hanging for so long! 

I DID, in fact, finish this project.  And I would like to share my experience of the end of the project, the day after and my reflections and the conclusions I have come to in the months since I finished in November in this and the following posts.

Writing this post retrospectively, of course I am having to rely on the notes taken from that day:

Waking up to the last day of this project, it does not feel quite as spectacular as I had envisioned it.  However, thinking back to the 99 previous days of changing my lifestyle in an effort to come as close to living in a resource balance I realize just how drastically my views of lifestyle choices have changed. These changes have become habit and only in the context of looking back to the way I used to view things can I truly appreciate the extent of change in my life. 

The best example of my changed awareness is in my food shopping habits.  Before the project was even an idea in my mind, my regular grocery habits included shopping at a chain grocer which was is 7 blocks away from me.  While I would sometimes walk there, more often I drove.  I shopped at the co-op only 2 blocks away from my house only rarely.  It wasn't important to me to buy organic foods, and though I was aware of the issues of food transportation I never made a point to buy locally.  When buying produce, I used the plastic bags provided for me.  I would bag up a couple of tomatoes or a head of lettuce.  Looking back I think I simply had never been exposed to another way of shopping for food.  Years of watching my mom bag up produce made me think this was just how it was done. I never thought twice about it.

Thinking about the many decisions I made about buying food now after doing this project I am amazed by how many of the decisions I made were made simply out of habit.  It took my conscious effort thinking about the impacts of each decision to realize that there was, in fact, another way of doing things.  This isn't brain science it is simply awareness.  I now shop almost exclusively at the co-op.  Not only is it closer, but I have a deep appreciations for their efforts in providing local and organic food.  Anything that I can buy in bulk I choose to do over packaged goods.  I've realized that it is not only fresher food, but is saving me money to shop this way.  I never bag any produce in plastic, there is no need for most vegetables and I use reusable cloth bags for anything such as bread that needs to be protected. 

I look back on all the categories of the project in the same way in which I do with food. I realized that I could bike and walk to many places I shop, run errands and do work every day.  It wasn't that I was opposed to walking before, it just simply didn't cross my mind.  I became aware of how much waste can be diverted from landfills by buying food in bulk and ate fresher and saved money in the process.  I became aware of different ways of using water and energy as well. 

The realizations of how drastically different I now view most of the actions of my lifestyle is not surprising to me knowing that I spent 100 days making a conscious effort to take a close look at my life.  In most cases, these changed habits were not a sacrifice but simply a changed awareness and acknowledgment of learning to do things in a different way.

In this way, I spent today like any other day in the project, but thought quite a bit about what had changed in my life, why it had changed and whether many of my new habits were here to stay...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


21 November, 2010
Heating costs proved to be by-far the largest energy user in my house.  Although my house has natural gas-heated radiators, by converting Therms to kWh, I could compare the energy used for space heating to the energy used for all other electric uses.  Space heating requires an average of 704 kWh/week, whereas my fridge uses 3.8 (previously 11.6) kWh/week and I use about 1.6 kWh/week (previously 12.6)  for all lights.  Water heating came in as the second highest energy user at 11.2 kWh to heat only 15 gallons per day (41.5 kWh/week before the project). 

This presents a big challenge because unlike many of the other electrical uses which can be minimized or even eliminated, space heating in a climate like Minneapolis is a necessity.  When I discovered what a huge energy user space heating is, (and that it couldn't possibly fit in my 3 kWh/day budget) I couldn't help feeling like all of the rest of the electricity savings I had been changing had been somewhat in vain.  While there are sustainable solutions to this problem, they, unfortunately, aren't ones which can be easily retrofitted to homes.  Passive solar houses are a great solution and proven to work in northern climates, capturing the heat from the sun in thermally massive elements in the house and slowly venting the heat into the living space.  However, in dense metropolitan areas this is a challenge as not all homes have access to solar exposure. 

So many of the changes I made during this project got more difficult as the weather turned colder, local foods disappearing, harder to get around by bike..., but space heating may be one of the biggest challenges for designers in cold climates as fossil fuel energy becomes increasing scarce and expensive. 


November 20, 2010

I feel that trash may be one of the easier ways to make big impacts with small (but consistent) changes to our lifestyles.  In my experiment, I managed to; eliminate organic waste with worm composting, dramatically reduce food packaging waste by buying in bulk, and focused on reducing ALL waste, not just waste which cannot be recycled.
Starting a compost bin was quite an adventure having never grown up composting and being totally unfamiliar with it.  I started composting without worms.  I built a bin made of two rubber tubs which stack inside of each other.  One is slightly shorter than the other and has holes drilled into it so any liquids drain into the lower bin to reduce sludge buildup.  However, after a few weeks of 'composting' I had attracted a lot of bugs in my bin and the food was molding and rotting.  Consulting with a friend who is a composting veteran, I realized that it is easier to start with some organic matter (dirt) already in the bin and that ventilation is crucial without worms.  By this point, my bin was full of maggots (yeah gross) and we decided it was best to start over and do it the right way.  My friend brought me some worms from his bin and I started with a little dirt, food scraps, my new worms, and some damp newspaper for bedding.  Once I had enough accumulated compost I could stop adding newspaper and the worms have done the rest of the work for me for 4 months now.  Some of the common misperceptions about composting are:
Common Misperception #1- It doesn't matter if you compost because organics will just decompose in the landfill. 
I thought this for a long time until I learned that decomposition can only happen in environments with oxygen.  Since landfills are so tightly packed with matter, they become anaerobic environments, turning any organic matter into sludge at best (or simply not decomposing at all).  Because of this, that banana peel you are throwing away might as well be a milk jug because it isn't going anywhere. 
Common Misperception #2- Compost will accumulate and I have no where to put it!
Worm composting is somewhat magical, in that the worms seem to moderate their population to eat as much waste as you throw in the bin.  More food=more worms, less food=less worms, and after 4 months, my compost is at the same level it was at month 1.  The compost becomes a dense, nutrient-rich mixture which is perfect organic fertilizer for indoor plants or to use in a backyard garden in the spring.  However, accumulation has proven not to be a problem. 
The second big change to reduce waste is getting in the habit of buying in bulk.  Luckily, I live 2 blocks away from one of the most awesome coops in Minneapolis-The Wedge, where there is a huge focus on stocking local bulk foods.  For over 3 months I was able to buy only local food and make no packaging waste by; buying milk in reusable containers, bringing my own egg trays, and using mason jars to fill up with bulk foods, spices and oils.  The only exception was cheese (which in the future could be packaged with compostable wrap).  I found local breweries within biking distance which sold refillable growlers for beer or only bought drinks on tap, no bottles.  I changed eating habits and learned to cook with what I could find in bulk when options get more limited.  In the process, I learned to cook from scratch many recipes which I would normally just have bought pre-made: tortillas, fresh rolled pasta, crackers, bread, pasta sauces, pesto, scones...the list goes on.  I eliminated countless preservatives and food additives from my diet which normally come in package foods. According to one of the managers of the Wedge, most of the food in bulk is much fresher than packaged foods as it is allowed to bypass a few steps of the shipping and storage process.  Lastly, I saved money.  Anytime you are buying any pre-packaged food you are also buying the container.  A link to a blog post on this is found here:
Lastly, I focused on reducing ALL waste, not just waste which cannot be composted or recycled.  Although recycling is certainly better than simply throwing items into a landfill, there is still a significant amount of energy involved with transporting this waste.  Recycling trucks (as well as garbage trucks) get around 3.2 miles per gallon, so a trip to even a nearby recycling center contributes significant carbon emissions and fossil fuel depletion.  The better option is to find ways to eliminate this waste in the first place, only using what you absolutely cannot avoid.  While there are not yet many alternative options for household items, food packaging has come a long way and ends up being the majority of our packaging waste anyway.
I collected all waste for the project and ended up with a box of glass bottles and another box of paper products, milk pull tabs, caps for jars and bottles, twist-ties and some plastic packaging.  I ended up with half a paper bag full of material which could not be recycled, and about 3 paper bags full of recycled material. 
100 days of trash

twist-ties from greens, milk sealers, assorted caps and a few plastic tubs

recyclable paper products and carboard packaging

bag of actual trash, which cannot be recycled, mostly plastic packaging

glass bottles, sunflower oil

In the end, while I have not figured out how to eliminate ALL waste, a major dent has been put in this impact by adopting different food-buying habits and feeding my worms!

Monday, January 3, 2011


Hello Everyone,

I promise I'll finish writing the last 3 posts of my blog ASAP, however, in the mean time check out what I'm blogging for 'No Impact Week'.  Yes! Magazine has asked me to participate in Colin Beaven's (of No Impact Man movie) week-long experiment in living with less impact.  I think it will be an interesting way to revisit my project after a month of living back in the real world, and hopefully permanently get back into some habits that I've lost touch with. 

Here is a link to the first blog post, Day 1-Consumption:


Wednesday, December 1, 2010


19 November 2010

In a post cheap oil world we will be at a loss for many forms of energy we currently depend on, primarily transportation fuels.  However, electricity in the form of renewable energy will still be plentiful, it is just a matter of capturing it.  Being in a city, wind energy isn't a first choice option In one of my first posts I calculated how much solar energy could be captured utilizing my entire roof.  I disregarded cost of the panels in this scenario assuming that without oil or coal electricity, people would be more willing to maximize their systems regardless of cost.  However, I choose a middle-of-the-road panel efficiency of 8 watts/sq ft (I've seen up to 16w/sq ft).  Dividing the total solar roof array by 6 people I came up with a personal electricity budget of 6.82 kWh per person per day.  This number seemed pretty high, however, and would actually cover our current electricity use according to our bills.  Because of this and to take into account less efficient panels which are more reasonably priced currently I cut this number in half to come up with an electric budget of 3.4 kWh per day. 

Similarly to my water calculations, I then measured all of my daily electricity use with a Kill-A-Watt Meter to come up with metrics. 

I found that I use about 6.7 kWh per day.  Unlike water use, however, the small-wattage devices such as light bulbs really add up because they tend to be the ones which are on for the most hours of the day.   Regardless, it is still interesting to experiment with alternative ways of accomplishing tasks without electricity.  Before the project I calculated that I typically have about 6-7 light bulbs on at any given time the hours that it is dark outside.  I reduced this use to making sure I only had two light bulbs on at a time.  One of the things I tried to supplement this light was making my own candles-out of soy wax because regular wax is a petroleum product.  I used only candles for light for a few weeks but found that I needed at least one light bulb on for reading. 

I researched how much energy was involved with various methods of cooking: toaster oven , electric oven, stove burner and microwave.  I found that microwaving is about equal to the energy use of an electric stove top burner.  An electric oven is about twice this energy.  On Day 24 I blogged about the rise of electric use in homes throughout the last 50 years.  With more and more appliances using electricity instead of manually operating, the small uses end up added up to a lot. 

I eliminated some uses of electricity entirely including; hair dryers, use of the oven, cut light bulb use 75%.  I began using a mini fridge instead of the large one and saved 2/3rds of the energy for refrigeration.  There were added uses of electricity during the project as well.  I started using a high-intensity fluorescent grow light to grow food indoors and had to make up for this use with my other electricity savings. 

Below is a chart of before and after electricity use:

Lastly, I explored the use of solar power by visiting the PassiveHaus in the Woods as well as volunteering with the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society at their state fair exhibits.  I tried out my own application of solar power on a small scale by building a solar-powered stereo which mounts on my bike.  These experiences gave me an understanding of the potential of solar power, but also how far we have to go to meet our current energy needs.