Desert Rain

After weeks of 110-115 degree temperatures, it’s a delightful 75 degrees and raining here in the Arizona desert. Need I say more?

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Old School Meets High Tech – BioLite CampStove Charges As It Cooks

When it comes to cooking, a wood fire is about as old school as it gets. BioLite has brought the basic wood fire into the 21st century with their CampStove.

Why would I be interested in wood as a cooking fuel? My little motorhome has a fully equipped kitchen including a four-burner gas stove, but sometimes it’s just nice to cook outside. It also doesn’t hurt to be prepared for anything.

Why Wood?

While BioLite’s target customer probably camps somewhat more primitively than I do, why would they even be interested? Compact gas and liquid fueled stoves are abundant, convenient, and reliable. I’d like to think that, for at least some, there is a simple romantic or nostalgic attraction to a wood fire, but there are other good reasons, too. How about not having to carry fuel and empty fuel containers? How about wood being a naturally renewable resource? Oh, and how about if, on top of all that, it could recharge your phone or other devices while it cooks your food?

High Tech

Oh yeah. This is about as high-tech as cooking on wood gets. It uses forced ventilation for efficient burning, reduced emissions, and a really hot flame. And while there are other fan-driven wood camping stoves on the market, they all require batteries to run the fan, and that means batteries to remember and replace. The BioLite uses thermoelectric technology – the heat from the fire is converted to electricity to power the fan. Not only that, but it generates more electricity than it needs for its fan, and makes the surplus available via a USB jack so you can charge your phone, LED light, or other gadgets. Pretty neat, huh?

I first read about this sometime last year and just had to get my hands on one. At the time they were still in development, but they were taking email addresses of interested parties. I signed up and eventually forgot all about it until one day, out of the blue, I get an email telling me they’re accepting reservations for preorders. Eventually I was invited to place an actual order, which finally shipped last week and arrived this week!

Nicely Packaged

I was impressed from the moment the UPS driver handed me the box. Much smaller than I was expecting. The box, that is. It was exactly the size it needed to be, but not a millimeter larger in any dimension. And no polystyrene peanuts nor plastic bags, either. BioLite gets extra points in my book for smart eco-friendly packaging. In the box was the stove (in a drawstring nylon stuff sack), a short USB cable (for initial charge-up of the internal battery), a handful of sawdust-and-wax fire starters in a waxed paper bag, and a sheet of instructions.

Nicely Built

The stove is very well built. Excellent fit and finish. The “power module” (orange unit containing the fan and electronics) stores inside the fuel chamber. For use it attaches to the side of the fuel chamber and is securely held by extending the legs, one of which engages with a protrusion on the bottom of the power module.

Get Ready

I connected the power module, using the supplied USB jumper, to an AC powered charger to “condition” the battery prior to initial use. This is only necessary the first time, or if the stove is stored for more than six months.

The BioLite burns wood or other biomass, so I went about collecting some. It didn’t take long to collect a handful of twigs, plus some bark and pine cones fallen from nearby trees. I collected a variety from smaller than pencil thickness up to about as thick as my thumb. I broke them into about 5-inch lengths.

First Firing

I attached the power module to the side of the stove and deployed the legs.  I loosely filled the fuel chamber with a few pieces of bark and the smallest of the twigs. I twisted a bit of newspaper up into a “stick” of sorts and stuffed it in. I lit the paper with a long barbecue style butane lighter, sticking it down to the bottom to get the bottom of the paper and some of the bark burning as well.

Once it looked like it was burning well enough, I started the fan (doing it too soon would just blow out the flame), and after another minute or two, it was going quite nicely, so I added a couple pine cones and some of the thicker twigs. I switched the fan to high and put on a pot of water.

Charge!

While waiting for the water to boil, I watched for the LED bar above the USB jack to turn green, indicating that it was ready to use as a charger. I connected my combination cellphone and UHF/VHF radio and sure enough, the phone’s display indicated it was taking a charge. I was using fire to charge my HT/phone — how cool is that?

Tea Time

I probably should have started a timer, but it wasn’t three minutes before the water started to bubble a bit, and in less than  five it had achieved a vigorous boil. During that time I had to lift the pot once and feed the fire. I made myself a nice cup of tea and took some photos.

Conclusion

In all, I’m very pleased. I can honestly say the BioLite CampStove has exceeded my expectations. It’s a great little stove; burns hot and clean on a handful of twigs. It’s so efficient that it only left a couple of tablespoons of ash. I can also see it being really nice as a compact portable (tabletop, even?) campfire. I don’t know how often I’ll have a need for the USB charging feature, but it never hurts to have a backup plan. It might work nicely to directly power a small LED light — maybe to see what I’m cooking at night?

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Oh, and  what’s more, BioLite is using sales of the CampStove to help fund the design and construction of a larger version for use in developing nations. For more info or to get your own CampStove, check out BioLiteStove.com.

Manufacturer’s Specifications:

  • Packed Size  Height 8.25 inches  Width 5 inches
  • Weight  33 oz (935 grams)
  • Fuel  Renewable biomass (twigs, pinecones, wood pellets, etc.)
  • Fire Power Output  Peak: 3.4 kW (LO), 5.5 kW (HI)
  • USB Power Output  Max continuous: 2W @5V, Peak: 4W @5V
  • Compatible Devices  Powers most USB-chargeable devices including smartphones.
  • Charging Time  20 minutes of charging provides 60 minutes of talk time. Charging times vary by device and by strength of fire.
  • Boil Time  4.5 minutes to boil 1 liter of water. Varies based on strength of fire.
  • Fuel Consumption  1.6oz (46g) of wood to boil 1 L of water

Exploring RV Living – Is It Expensive?

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

RVing is considered, by some, to be an expensive recreational hobby for those who have an adequate supply of disposable income. I suppose it could be, if you intend to buy a brand-new half-million dollar custom motorcoach which you’ll park in a $100 per night RV resort.  Even more costly if you do so while keeping and maintaining your conventional home as a primary residence.

In reality, full-time RV living, just like conventional housing, can fit almost any budget. When you’re full-timing, your RV is your home, so all the money you used to spend for rent or mortgage payments on a house or apartment is now available to spend on the RV. One way some home owners transition to full-timing, if they have sufficient equity in their homes, is to sell the house and use the proceeds of the sale to buy an RV, or at least make a sizable down payment if they choose to finance a larger or newer coach.

There’s really two different costs to consider: the initial cost of acquiring the RV and preparing it for full-time living, and then there’s the ongoing expenses.

Home On Wheels

Let your budget be your guide, along with your expectations and abilities. A shiny new class-A motorhome will easily set you back a couple hundred thousand or more. Go for something a few years old, but still nice, and you can do it for much less. If you don’t mind gambling on an older rig, and you’re a good shopper, you can probably find something decent for $10-20K.  If you’re on a tight budget, and a little handy, you can probably find something under ten thousand. If you’re like me — dirt poor, but very handy and resourceful, and don’t much care what the neighbors think —  you might get away for under five grand.

That range of prices would be for a motorhome. If you already own a decent pickup truck, you might look at trailers instead, for 1/4 – 1/2 the price of a similarly sized and equipped motorhome of the same age and condition. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and other options too. You might want to take a look at this post for more info on the different types of RVs.

Cost Of Living

Once you have your rig and it’s all set up to live in, you’ll only have your ongoing expenses to worry about. Once again, you have a lot of control over what you spend. There’s plenty of opportunity to spend money if you want, yet living can be really cheap, too.

You can stay in an RV park with full hook-ups and amenities similar to an apartment complex, and you can expect to pay about the same as you would to rent an apartment, and maybe a little less. You could instead choose to be adventurous, and camp on public land, parking lots, and other free places. You’ll save rent, but will have to move more often and will have the inconvenience and possible expense of finding a place to  refill your fresh water supply and dump your waste. Still, if you’re looking to save money, that’s the way to go. I discussed all the different options for different places to stay in this post.

Vehicle Expenses

You’ll have expenses related to your motorhome or your trailer and tow vehicle. There’s insurance, registration, maintenance and repair, and fuel. Various choices you make will affect these costs. For example, an older rig will cost less to register and insure, but might need more frequent or more costly repairs. A smaller rig will use less fuel than a larger one. You can also save fuel by travelling less frequently and/or shorter distances. Routine maintenance includes such things as fluids, filters, and tires.

Tired Tires

Tires are an expense you’ll have to plan on no matter how much or little you drive. While you’re not likely to wear out a set of tires on an RV, they will “age out.” As tires age, they become more prone to failure, no matter how much tread depth they have or how nice they might look. This is something that isn’t thought about much on a passenger car – it is usually driven enough that the tires wear out before they age out. RVs tend to be driven much less, so they can get too old for safety even while they look brand new.

Safety First

I learned that the hard way when I tried to take a trip on 12-year-old tires, and in Arizona in July, no less. So learn how to read the date codes on all your tires, and replace them when they get to be seven years old or so, no matter how good they look. And NEVER drive on a tire that’s over ten years old!

Same As It Ever Was

Of course you’ll also have the same sorts of living expenses that you always have, no matter how and where you live, so keep those in mind as you budget. Things like food, medical expenses, phone and internet.

The Bottom Line

While the sky’s the limit with luxury RVs and resorts, it’s also a great way to live a frugal minimalist lifestyle. If you own your RV outright, you could live on $500 a month without hardship.. You could live quite comfortably on $1000, with money to spare for the occasional splurge (or to stash away for a rainy day).

Living small and mobile is living cheap.  Living cheap opens the door to all kinds of creative ways to make an income, and frees up more time to do what you enjoy most. It can enable someone on a limited budget to live a decent life.  In the next installment of Exploring RV Living we’ll look at all sorts of ways you can earn an income while living in your RV.

Are you a full-timer, or have you been? I’d love to read your thoughts on how affordable RV living is. If you’re considering the lifestyle, but have questions, ask away. Comments are open!

Follow Me On Twitter

I’ve added a new way for you to keep up with what’s happening around here at Homeless On Wheels.  If you look over there to the right, on the sidebar, you’ll see a Twitter button, right  below email and RSS. Or you can just click here: Follow Me On Twitter.

Notification and Communication

Following me on Twitter will let you be notified of any new posts. It will be great if you want to keep up with posts here, but email notifications or RSS feed aren’t your cup of tea. Even if you already subscribe to email or RSS, my Twitter feed will supplement with extras you won’t see here on the blog – occasional tidbits or links that aren’t worth a whole blog post, but are still worth sharing. It will also be one more way you can contact me, in addition to email and blog comments.

Social Media Butterfly – NOT

I know I’ve probably said before that I’m not a big fan of social media, especially Facebook and similar sites. That still stands — don’t expect me to see me on Facebook any time soon, if ever. Twitter, on the other hand, seems to fit in perfectly with a blog, mostly as an additional announcement and communication channel. It will also allow me to put to use my otherwise neglected personal Twitter account, which I have repurposed for use here with the blog.

Comments Are Open

How do you use social media? Do you find that Twitter is a good companion for blogging? Is it a useful notification tool, or not worth the trouble? Tell me your thoughts as either a blogger or a reader.

Minimalist Living And Subscriptions

Even some minimalist authors seem to be following the mainstream trend to make everything we buy a recurring (and, in this case, expensive) subscription.

Change The Code

I kind of thought that minimalist living was about living a simple and perhaps more frugal lifestyle.

I thought that is was about getting rid of excess stuff and getting rid of clutter.

I thought it was about enjoying the moment realizing what is important in one’s life.

And because of these things I also kind of think that anyone else who has a super popular minimalist living blog or minimalist lifestyle website should be showing people how to do these things pretty much for free.

Now that being said, I have no problem with people writing an ebook and selling it and making a few dollars or promoting other products that have value.

But for one of the most popular and almost famous minimalist bloggers to be selling monthly subscription course to help people learn how to not procrastinate…hmmm, I don’t know.

PLUS it is 24.95 per month for…

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Venus Transit 2012 Photos

These probably aren’t the best photos you’ll see of this afternoon’s transit, but they are good enough to remind me that I witnessed this once-in-a-lifetime event with my own eyes (through binoculars and a welding helmet), and was able to take pictures of it with my own camera (though lacking the proper filters necessary for solar photography). The small dark spot is Venus as it moves across the sky between the Earth and Sun. Enjoy!

The Crescent Sun – Annular Solar Eclipse Photos

Back in December I shared some photos of a recent lunar eclipse. This evening I got to witness an annular eclipse of the sun. While I was situated too far south to observe the “ring of fire,” I did enjoy a nice “crescent sun.” Please enjoy these photos I captured of the event (click thumbnail to enlarge):