Prelude to the First Edition
1. Flight from the City
II. Domestic Production
III. Food, Pure Food, and FreshFood
IV. The Loom and the Sewing-machine
VI. Water, Hot Water, and WasteWater
VII. Education--The Schoolof Living
IX. Security versus Insecurity
X. Independence versus Dependence
WATER, HOT WATER, AND WASTE WATER
THE great adventure, on which we hadembarked when we left the city, did not contemplate any return to primitive waysof life.
We had no intentions of going in formanual labor just for the sweet discipline of hard work. We had no intention, therefore,of being satisfied with drawing water hand over hand from a well--a laborious formof drudgery still prevailing on many of the farms of the country. And certainly wehad no romantic notions about carrying water from a flowing brook-- good enough fora camping trip, but ridiculous as a permanent way of living. We were not after anysuch return to nature. What we wanted were all the comforts of the city in additionto the comforts which country life had to offer. There would be enough hard work,we knew, without making a virtue of doing things the hardest way.
The water supply on "Sevenacres"when we purchased it came from a well about twenty-five feet from the kitchen door,and from a cistern fed by rain water from the eve troughs of the house. Water wasdrawn from the well by two oak buckets on chains which were pulled up over a pulley.A suction pump in the kitchen was supposed to draw water from the cistern. This pumpwas out of order, but after being repaired, in the course of which we all receivedour first lesson in applied hydraulics, we discovered that this was a most uncertainsource of water, since the cistern was too small to carry a supply between most spellsof wet weather. So we installed an automatic electric pumping system--an outfit whichat that time represented an investment of $125, but which can now be purchased foraround $50. With the services of a plumber to connect it up, an expenditure of $150put running water into the house.
What did it cost us for water? Didit cost us more than in the city, where we had the benefits of mass pumping and massdistribution through water mains? On "Sevenacres" I had no occasion towork out this problem, but when we dug our well and installed our pumping systemon the "Dogwoods," I decided to find out, and kept records, so that atthe end of a number of years I would be in position to answer the question with somedegree of accuracy.
Some years after we were living inour new home I had quite an argument with my friend, Ralph W. Hench, who lives inSuffern, upon this point. The Hench family, of course, enjoyed the luxury of citywater. Water cost them, he told me, $20 per year. And he was quite certain that minecost me much more than that. There was no man better equipped than Hench with whomto argue the point, since he was in charge of the accounting for one of the largestcorporations of the country, and the question could only be correctly answered ifapproached from an accounting standpoint.
We made a detailed calculation of whatit had cost us to supply ourselves with water on the "Dogwoods" duringthe seven years we had lived there. The capital investment in our system was as follows:
|Cost of well|| |
|Complete pumping outfit|| |
The labor costs are, if anything, high,since I was my own contractor and only unskilled labor was used. These figures aretoo high according to present-day price levels. Our outfit can probably be duplicatedfor a third less than it cost us. Not only have prices come down owing to the depression,but technological advances in pump manufacture, motors, tanks, fittings, etc., havebrought down costs materially.
We then projected costs upon an annualbasis as follows:
|Interest on capital of $340 at 6 per cent|| |
|Depreciation on pumping system at 5 per cent of $170|| |
|Repairs per year covering seven years|| |
|Electric current|| |
Annual cost of water
The moment we had these figures myfriend exclaimed: "There you are--it is costing you over twice as much as itcosts me in Suffern."
I went to the telephone and calledup a mutual acquaintance who we both agreed was the best judge of realty values inSuffern, and asked him this question: "Suppose there were two lots for salein Suffern, both of them equally desirable in every respect except one. Suppose oneof them was located on the Suffern water system, and suppose the other was locatedwhere no water could be supplied to the owner by the city. What would the differencein the price of the two lots be?"
After considering the matter a moment,he replied, "About $500--perhaps a little more or a little less." ThenI started out to figure what it cost my friend Wench for water in Suffern. And thesewere the figures at which we finally agreed:
|Interest on capital investment of $500 at 6 per cent|| |
|Taxes on added land value--3-1/5 per cent of the $250 assessment|| |
|Water tax|| |
Annual cost of water
This showed a clear saving of $12.81per year in favor of the individual pumping system. "But I am not through yet,"I said. "This figure of $58," I went on, "represents what it costsfor water in Suffern on a single lot. But many homes in Suffern are built upon twoor more lots, thus doubling the initial investment, and correspondingly raising thehidden cost of securing water from the city mains. While if there were eighteen acresof land around a home, as there is around mine, the cost of water would be prohibitivefor any but the wealthiest of families."
Here with regard to water we have anotherof the many illustrations available of the mistaken idea that mass production isof necessity economical. With water, as with other conveniences and with most products,what is saved by mass production tends to be lost in the costs of distribution. Itundoubtedly costs the city of Suffern less to pump water than it costs me in thecountry. My small and relatively inefficient pumping system cannot hope to competein cost per gallon of water raised with the large and relatively efficient pumpingsystem of a city of many thousands of people. But when I pump my water on the "Dogwoods,"all costs in connection with water end. When the city pumps its water, its real costsof supplying water only begin. It is the cost of distributing the water through anexpensive system of water-mains which absorbs the economies of the "mass"pumping, and replaces them with an actual higher cost than that of the individualhomesteader The city's investment and operating costs for its pumping system arenegligible in comparison with its investment and maintenance costs for its watermains.The pumping costs are taken care of by the water tax, but the distribution costsare hidden in higher land values, except right when the mains are laid when theyare made visible in the form of assessments against the lots before which they havebeen laid.
What is true of water is true of manyof the public services which are enjoyed by those living in cities today. Just asmains are laid to distribute water, sewers are laid to assemble waste water. Thetwo functioned for us in the city without our being hardly conscious of the fact.If we were to be equally comfortable in the country, we would have to solve the waste-waterproblem as we had that of running water.
A decent sewage-disposal system isunquestionably one of the essentials of a civilized existence. I can see nothingcharming in the way in which this problem is handled by savages in a so-called stateof nature, and the way in which it is handled in most country homes today, with uncomfortableand sometimes unsanitary outhouses, seems to me but little better. When we beganto study this problem, we found, as we had with so many others, that the benefitsof a modern sewage-disposal system could be enjoyed in the country without the expenseof paying for maintaining the sewers and sewage-disposal plants for the operationof which city dwellers pay such an unconscionable sum. Looked at from its broadeststandpoint, the system generally used today involves a shocking waste of the nation'ssoil resources. It is no exaggeration of the actual situation to say that we arenow taking up organic material from the soil, converting it into foodstuffs, andthen destroying that organic matter irretrievably with fire and chemicals in thesewage disposal plants of our cities.
In studying this problem, we becameaware of the fact that we had, in common with others who enjoyed the benefits ofcity life, paid for sewage disposal even though we had been unaware of the fact.Unless the city man happens to own his own home--and the vast majority do not--hehas no direct knowledge of what taxes are paid for. All he knows is that he paysrent. The fact that part of his rent really pays for running water, for sewage, garbageand ash disposal, is hardly realized by him, just as when he lives in an apartmenthe forgets that another substantial part of his rent really pays for heat, hot water,janitor service and all the conveniences of his apartment. What we discovered wasthat we could have practically every service of this sort essential to our comfort,without having to pay a premium price for them.
A simple and inexpensive septic tank,with a drainage tile system to dispose of the overflow from the tank, is all thatis needed in order not only to dodge the heavy cost of sewage disposal in the city,but for converting the waste into a contribution to soil fertility. What is takenfrom the soil is then returned. After we installed such a system on our place inthe country, the sewage problem vanished for us.
Hot water, and plenty of it, is necessaryto comfort by present standards of living. In the apartment houses in which we usedto live we secured our supply from the hot-water taps in seemingly unlimited quantities.We were determined to solve the problem of producing it for ourselves with practicallyno labor and at a lower cost than we had paid for it in the city--concealed insidethe rent we had paid each month.
It is almost impossible to be cleanwithout a plentiful supply of really hot water. For dish-washing, water which ismerely lukewarm is an irritation rather than a comfort. Yet in spite of the factthat plenty of hot water is essential to comfort, millions of homes in America stilldepend upon such primitive methods as teakettles and side-arm-stove heaters for theirsupply of hot water.
The teakettle, we found, furnishessome really hot water, if the fire under it is always a brisk one. But the quantitywhich can be heated is hardly enough for the needs of the kitchen alone. And of courseit requires dozens of trips back and forth filling the teakettle with water and emptyingthe hot water into the vessel in which it is to be used. The labor and strength involvedin making these trips may seem trifling, but repeated dozens of times daily, it totalsup to a surprising amount of time and a considerable amount of fatigue, for neitherof which there is any real necessity. Modern offices and factories are efficientjust in proportion to the extent to which they eliminate all such wastes of timeand strength. There is no reason why our homes should be run at lower standards ofefficiency. And such efficiency pays in dollars as well as in happiness.
Every bit of time and strength savedfrom unnecessary labor--especially non-creative labor such as that involved in cleaning,carrying water, washing, and similar work--frees an equivalent amount of time andstrength for productive and creative work. Some of Mrs. Borsodi's friends wonderhow she, even with the assistance of servants, gets the time to do the quantitiesof cooking, baking, preserving, sewing, and even weaving which go on in her home.By using labor-saving appliances and machines to eliminate as much non-productivework as possible, time is saved which can be used to produce these things. An investmentin an efficient water-heating system, for instance, which eliminates the non-productivework of carrying water back and forth, pays for itself over and over again by whatit enables the family to save in making things which it would otherwise have to buy.It is for this reason that the teakettle method of producing hot water seems to usas obsolete as the Dutch oven. It doesn't pay. It not only is unequal to the requirementsfor hot water in bathing; it makes a supplementary method of heating absolutely essentialfor laundering. And we have found doing our own laundry at home is one of the easiestways in which to pay for an efficient system of hot-water heating.
We started to get away from the tyrannyof the teakettle with a small coal heater in the cellar. Water was piped from itto a storage tank, and from the tank to the various hot-water faucets. This was aninexpensive installation, and furnished a good supply of hot water without too muchexpense. The fire, however, had to be attended to several times each day, and theashes carried out periodically.
In an effort to get rid of this laborwe installed a kerosene heater. The first one we tried out was wickless. Our kerosenewas evidently not clear enough for this type of heater, and the burners frequentlycrusted, thus interfering with its efficiency as well as creating an unpleasant cleaningjob. True, we had a plentiful supply of hot water; the cost, however, was a littlehigher than coal, and we still had the unpleasant chore of filling the oil-reservoirdaily and cleaning the heater occasionally.
Next we tried a kerosene heater withwicks. This proved an improvement in one respect only--if we changed the wicks frequentlyenough we avoided the unpleasant cleaning job with which we had to struggle before.We still had the daily filling of the oil-tank on our hands--so the job was stillby no means automatic.
Finally we decided to go in for a completelyautomatic installation. A very low rate permitted us to install an electric heateron an off-peak rate. Where the power company has established such a rate, this typeof heater is economical and efficient, and it requires no attention whatever. Theoff-peak rate is still a new idea; in many cases completely automatic hot water canbe most inexpensively secured with gas. In country homes not reached by the mainsof a gas company, portable gas-tanks can be used and while the cost is higher, itis still, in our judgment, not so different from ordinary gas as to warrant someof the methods which we discarded.
Our experiments with the various methodsof heating water, as with other domestic appliances, have thoroughly convinced usthat the investment and cost of maintaining the most efficient means for furnishingthe home with utilities and comforts are quite within the income limitations of mostfamilies in this country. It may not be possible to install all of these comfortsin the very beginning, any more than we were able to, but they are distinctly economicalif the time which they save is used for productive work in reducing and eliminatingbutcher, baker, grocer, and clothier bills.