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Archive for October, 2014

Free Hot Water from Compost Wheelie Bin

Here’s a great tip given by a member of the Aquaponics Made Easy Forum on a cheap easy-to-build hot water system using compost.

The original question posted to the forum was “how to heat a fish tank over winter without any extra energy costs?” A hard thing to do. Thermal Mass heating was one answer but a crafty member posted a very interesting solution and swears that it works a treat. We’ve illustrated his simple design. It’s so simple you will think “Ah-ha! Why didn’t I think of that?”


Daryl from Windsor in NSW came up with an innovative solution using two ordinary wheelie bins that are filled with compost and a wound central pipe arrangement to turn cold water hot very quickly. How does it work?

“What I have made is a compost heater, inside a wheelie bin with 20 mm poly pipe coiled around the outside wall of a pipe – about 8 metres in each bin.” he says.

Compost can reach a core temperature of 70 degrees Centigrade. Conventional Hot Water systems are thermostatically set to heat the water to around 65 – 70 degrees centigrade. So at its peak this system will create very hot water for free.

“Then I load the first wheelie bin with grass clippings and horse manure and after two weeks load the second wheelie bin with the same stuff. After four weeks I empty and reload the first bin. You can leave the system running longer but the main heat production is in the first four weeks.” says Daryl.

Sourcing a wheelie bin in the city is quite easy. The main ingredients are Nitrogen and Carbon. Any green leafy material like fresh grass clippings is suitable as a nitrogen source. When mixed with an alternating layer of carbon such as dry leaves, shredded newspapers or cardboard the end result is ignited by micro organisms to create compost.

Make sure the mixture is well watered as a dry mix will not work so well. But harnessing the heat given off in the core of the wheelie bin is where this idea really shines.

The central vertical pipe could also benefit with a number of large size holes drilled into it to assist oxygenation of the compost heap core without turning the heap over as is the case with most conventional compost systems.

Daryl says you can enjoy quite a number of free hot showers before the system will eventually cool down and he advocates a rich grass mixture.

“If the grass is packed in tight it should hit peak temp in about a week and hold for about 3 weeks then start tapering off.

“It’s best if you can have a second bin started and just swap from one to the other. You can use other stuff in the bin like a normal compost heap but because the grass has so much nitrogen in it its start up time is much faster.

“A few years ago I helped build a large compost heap that had about 300 meters of 25mm rural pipe going through it. After 4 weeks this system was providing enough hot water for 35 people to wash up and shower with. I was there for 3 months and we kept adding compost onto the heap and it worked the whole time I was there, eventually you would have to dig out the pipe, use the compost, and start all over again. That’s why I used the wheelie bins”, said Daryl.

The end result is an endless supply of rich garden compost and lots of free hot water!


by Frank Gapinski

How to Create an Urban Emergency Evacuation Kit for Work

Natural and man made disasters can force offices full of workers to evacuate. In big cities, a disaster may also affect public transportation, leading you to find an alternate route home or away from the disaster. In an emergency, you may be on your own and will have to improvise. Create an Urban Emergency Evacuation Kit and store it at work in the event of an emergency to keep you safe and prepared.




Choose the right bag. Use a large, canvas, water resistant backpack with several compartments and padded shoulder straps. A waist strap will help distribute weight and make the bag easier to carry long distances. Since you won’t use this daily, you can buy an inexpensive one from a discount store, military surplus store, dollar store, or even from a local thrift store. Think function over fashion.

  • Add a luggage tag with your name and contact information to your bag. If possible, add some form of identification inside your bag such as an old employee ID. You may have left behind your handbag.


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    Pack enough food and water. Water is heavy to carry but you will need to have plenty available. You’ll also need high calorie snacks. Keep at least one sealed bottle of water in your bag and pack more if you can stand the weight. Make sure it’s in a durable container so you can refill it and close it easily.

    • Pack granola bars, S.O.S. bars, or protein bars that are high in calories and carbohydrates and store well long term. Food is not only necessary for energy, it can be great for morale. Dried fruit is also an excellent option.
    • Peanut butter (assuming you’re not allergic to peanuts) comes in handy tubes, is an excellent source of protein, and does not require refrigeration or cooking.
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      Pack reflective tape. Blackouts have shut down many cities, forcing people to walk miles. Cell service can be spotty or nonexistent. Subways can be down and vehicles backed up because of non-working traffic lights. Think ahead! Make a plan! Visit a fabric or athletic store or look online for reflective tape. Buy 1-3 yards as you will add it to your backpack and other items if necessary. It’s usually sold in rolls and is 1″ wide or wider.

      • Add the reflective tape to the exterior of your backpack. Use fabric glue to attach it if you don’t sew.
      • Attach the reflective tape to the back of the bag and the front straps.
      • Be generous with the tape. It may make you visible to drivers or emergency workers.
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        Pack a compact raincoat or poncho. Choose a coat or poncho made of brightly-colored material, such as yellow, so you’ll stand out more. This can protect you from the elements on a long walk, provide shelter, and, when covered in the reflective tape, make you stand out to drivers and other people. You should add reflective tape to your raincoat since wearing it may cover the tape on your backpack.

        • Pack the folded poncho in your backpack. If it doesn’t fold into itself (as many do), you can compress it into a small bag to keep it out of your way.
        • You can also wrap thick rubber hair bands to compress it. Those will also come in handy to keep long hair out of the way during the emergency. (Hair in the eyes can obstruct vision in addition to being frustrating.)
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          Pack a space blanket. You can buy Mylar sheets (so-called space blankets) at hardware or camping supply stores. They are large, lightweight, waterproof and exceptionally thin. They come tightly packed, about the size of an ace bandage, and should be left in their original packaging until you need to use them because they’re pretty tricky to refold once you reopen them. Because Mylar reflects heat, it can be used to retain body heat in extreme cold or to reflect away heat in extremely hot conditions.

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          Pack a whistle. A whistle will make more noise with less effort than yelling if you become trapped. The higher pitch will also carry better than your voice.

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          Pack a pair of athletic shoes. In case of an emergency, you may have to run or walk long distances in unpredictable conditions. You don’t want to do that in heels or stiff leather work shoes. Your safety may depend on moving quickly and traveling efficiently on foot. Athletic shoes are an absolute must in every person’s grab-and-go work kit. Don’t use a new pair, as these can cause blisters; pack a pair that is broken in but not worn out, if possible. Even a worn pair is better than wingtips or heels.

          • Many athletic shoes have reflective trims but you can add more. You should still have some tape left over from the poncho and backpack.
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            Pack socks. Pack cotton crew athletic socks that are appropriate for your athletic shoes in terms of thickness. Avoid low cut socks, as they don’t protect your heels when walking long distances. Stuff the socks into the shoes so as to conserve space and keep your footgear together.

            • Women who wear skirts and dresses may benefit from packing knee high athletic socks to provide additional coverage for the legs.
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              Pack a small first aid kit. For the kit, use a quart or gallon size zipping storage bag. Label your bag. You can even add a piece of the reflective tape to make it easier to find if you drop it or are looking for it in a dark pack. Include the following items:

              • Adhesive bandages: A few of each size will do. Pack mostly the 1″ since they work well for blisters. Bandages that are foam instead of fabric offer more protection for blisters and can still be used for other first aid.
              • Antibiotic first aid ointment.
              • Benadryl or other antihistamine: emergencies are not a good time to have an allergic reaction.
              • Epi-pen if you have been given one by your doctor for severe allergies. They’re usually willing to write prescriptions for several so you can keep several available.
              • Prescription medication to last a day or two in a well-labeled container. If your medication changes, you need to update your kit. Be very specific when labeling describe the pill bottle, the dose, and what it treats. Don’t forget an asthma inhaler if you are an asthmatic. You may be walking and air quality could be questionable.
              • Pain killers, such as aspirin. Look in the travel/trial size section of stores for small bottles.
              • An ace bandage, which is great for rolled ankles or can be used to immobilize a limb.
              • Latex or vinyl gloves (if you are allergic to latex) are a must. You could be around injured people or need to treat someone with your first aid kit.
              • Anti-bacterial hand gel for cleaning up.
              • Wash cloth or hand towel: can be used for clean up, wiping a sweaty brow or signaling.
              • Find a travel/trial size of saline solution (or contact lens wetting solution) and include it in your kit. Flushing eyes may be necessary for contact lens wearers or for anyone in dusty or polluted air. It can also be used to irrigate a wound.
              • Assorted gauze or other first aid items. You can use additional quart or gallon size plastic storage bags to keep items dry and organized.
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                Pack a small flashlight. Find at least a small or medium flashlight or head light and make sure it has fresh batteries. Maglite type flashlights are extremely durable but heavier aluminum flashlights. The larger ones can be used as a defensive weapon should you need it. Decide if you can tolerate the weight and have room. You can go full size (D cell) if you have room and can stand the weight. You won’t get a warning on a massive power outage or evacuation.

                • Look for a small to medium light that takes AA or C batteries. It depends on how much space you have, your needs and how much weight you can tolerate. Lightweight plastic flashlights are great. You don’t need to spend a lot but make sure it works.
                • There are many newer, pocket-sized LED flashlights on the market that are less expensive (check discount), more durable (no bulbs to burn out or break), and produce more light per set of batteries.
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                  Pack a map of your city. It should include streets and public transportation (subway stop) information. You may be forced to detour, disembark a train early, or take an alternate route — finding yourself in unfamiliar territory. Always keep a map to find the best way to your destination. Getting lost can add insult to injury. Traffic patterns are often changed and you may find yourself walking through unknown areas. Keep a map with you of the city and note different routes to take out.

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                  Pack a list of emergency contact numbers. Cell phone service may be down or your phone charge may not last. Consider keeping the numbers of friends or family near work, in between work and home, and someone who could pick you up and offer shelter. Keep the numbers stashed in your kit. Phone traffic may be heavy and connections hard to come by, so don’t rely on calling information first. Your memory of numbers may also be strained in a stressful situation, so keep things written down.

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                  Pack a face mask. You can get one from your local hardware or paint store and add it to your kit. They only cost a few dollars. If you need one, you really need one. Smoke and debris can be choking during a fire or earthquake. A particle mask can be very helpful.

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                  Pack a portable charging unit for your phone. There are solar and wind-up chargers available. Others often use a few small batteries and convert the power to give your phone a small charge. Check travel sites, mobile phone supply stores, or airport kiosks.

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                  Pack some cash — but not too much. Stash cash for public phones, food vending, or any thing else that could come up. Don’t keep too much, just a few dollars and quarters. You can often hide it under the sturdy cardboard bottom. You can use this for transportation or to buy food or drink. Don’t forget to include several quarters should you need to use a public phone and be able to find one.

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                  Pack a small pack of tissues and moist wipes. It may provide dual use in case the restroom facilities lack proper supplies. Think of the different thingsyou may encounter on the way home. Every city and its facilities are different.

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                  Add a all purpose pocket tool or Swiss Army knife. Multipurpose tools are available at most sporting goods or camping stores. The one shown here has pliers, which can be very handy. There are too many ways to use one of these to begin to list them all.

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                  Pack a small radio. Many local radio stations switch to emergency programming during an emergency. Look for a small, battery operated FM transistor radio for your bag. These can be found in discount stores or electronic stores for minimal investment. All local radio stations will begin emergency broadcasting if there is an emergency in your area. Make sure it has fresh batteries and is turned off before adding it to your bag.

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                  Tape an extra house key into the bottom of the bag underneath the cardboard bottom. If you leave a house key, don’t add anything to identify it as such. Even better, hang a combination lockbox from your home door (if allowed;) with a spare key in it. These are $30 at a hardware store and also come in handy anytime you or a family member accidentally lock yourself out or if you need to call a neighbor to enter your home when you are away, and you won’t need to risk losing a spare stored elsewhere.

                  • An additional advantage is that if you don’t carry a spare key in your emergency kit, you can put your address on a luggage/ID tag attached to it. A spare car key could also be helpful depending on your situation (or in a magnetic wheel-well box – these really work!).
                2. Method 2 of 3: Maintaining the Bag

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                    Resist the urge to tap into your bag for water, snacks, or band-aids. Keep the kit intact and only open it to check medication expiration dates, check or replace batteries or replace dated food.

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                    Pack your bag and store it in a locker, under your desk, in a filing cabinetnearby, or somewhere else it can be grabbed in a hurry. If in doubt, grab it. Everything you need will fit easily in a back pack. If you live in colder climates you can add additional supplies or change your pack for the seasons.

                    • Take it for fire drills and other alarms. Keep it handy when news has reached you of an emergency in your city.
                    • You may not realize you are in a evacuation situation until you’ve been separated from your kit.
                    • In large cities, earthquake or tornado prone areas, and large office buildings, it is wise to be a little paranoid.
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                    Renew your kit regularly. Set a reminder on your phone or computer to check your bag every few months. You might want to check twice a year (perhaps when you replace your smoke detector batteries or set clocks forward or back for daylight savings time), use family birthdays as reminders, or set the reminders on your desktop calendar. At least check once a year on a reminder date.

                    • Check the perishables (batteries, food, and first aid items) for expiration, leaking, or borrowing. Verify that maps and phone numbers are all up-to-date. Check for brittle gloves, missing items, operation electronics, and anything else that could go wrong that you wouldn’t want to face in an emergency.
                    • Send an email to your home computer with a list of items you’ll need to restock it, or print your list. You may not remember once you leave the office.
                  4. Method 3 of 3: Creating a Plan

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                      Evaluate where you work and how far you live from work. Don’t think of it in regular transportation terms. Ask yourself what you would do if you had to get home without the use of a car or public transportation during an emergency. What would you have to wear to get home from work on foot, and how long would it take?

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                      Make a family emergency plan. Discuss with your family what you may do in an emergency if they can’t reach you by cell phone. Discuss your options and what scenarios would be practical. Knowing what your actions may be will enable them to assist even if you can’t communicate during the emergency.

                      • If your family hears of an emergency, they may be able to pick up your kids, meet you at a meeting place, or be ready to spring into action when they get your call, text, or third-party message. Have a family action plan.
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                      Create a buddy system with a coworker. Coordinate with your co-workers and exchange ideas for creating individual jump-and-run bags ideal for your situation, urban area, and workplace.

                      • If you work with someone who also lives near you, discuss in advance and plan on using the buddy system to get home together.
                      • Have them pack a bag so you each have supplies.
                      • Talk to management about turning kit-making into an office social or emergency planning exercise. Get permission for everyone to bring their items, pack them as a team, and make a store trip for forgotten supplies.
                    4. Tips

                      • Laptops, expensive jewelry and furs could make you a target for robbery. Consider leaving what you can at work and traveling with less ostentatious looking items.
                      • Lip balm and sunscreen are also extremely handy to have.
                      • If you work in flood prone areas or areas known for drainage issues, you should keep a pair of appropriate waterproof footwear.
                      • If you are packing multiple battery powered devices, try to choose ones that use the same type of battery. You can then pack an extra set that works for both and will be able to trade off in the devices.
                      • Try adding a piece of duct tape or medical tape to the on/off switches of flashlights and batteries. You don’t want to accidentally rustle the bag under your desk and turn the item on. You’ll have dead batteries when you need them.
                      • If you live in a hot weather climate where exposure and heat could be harmful you should think of packing a lightweight shirt, shorts, a hat and additional water.
                      • Keep batteries in store packaging as placing batteries in devices allows them to slowly discharge. Have scissors or your multi-purpose or Swiss army knife to cut open the package or store batteries in a marked plastic bag.
                      • Consider adding a pair of safety glasses to your kit. These can be especially helpful to prevent foreign matter, dust, blood or other irritants from your eyes. These can be purchased at some drug stores, safety supply, construction supply or medical supply stores. You can also find them online. They are inexpensive and many can be placed over everyday glasses.
                      • If you have a slightly larger back pack, you may have room to stash your handbag or a wallet inside. Don’t concern yourself with briefcases and laptops, just get what you need to survive on the streets for hours. For the NYC blackouts many were attempting to travel with books, files, briefcases and non-essentials. They were throwing these away or asking strangers and business to hold the items with some success.
                      • Reverse the batteries or use another method to prevent the flashlight and radio from coming on when not in use. You don’t want to rustle the bag and unknowingly turn on the item and drain the battery.
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