The Best Innovations Are Free

Innovation, someone once wrote, is in the eye of the beholder. Oh wait, that was me last week. How innovative!

See what I mean?

Someone else – I’m serious this time – once told me that perspective prejudices perception. In other words, the angle at which we look at something heavily influences the way in which we internalize it. This person was Eliot Coleman, a famous American market gardener and author.

I met Coleman about ten years ago, and found him very much of the eco-thrifty persuasion. We got on famously.

It will come as no surprise that the eco-thrifty perspective on innovation is very different from the infinite-growth-without-consequences perspective. The latter, what Australian author Clive Hamilton calls “Growth Fetish,” appears to be the dominant perspective of Wanganui District Council, made evident by the stacks of cash it throws at chasing this outdated paradigm.

Innovative councils across the country and around the world see beyond a reductionist vision of growth, and have reaped huge rewards. Name any vibrant, dynamic city on the planet with high quality of life for residents and you’ll find innovative planning, programmes, and services provided by local government. Last week I briefly described the Eco Design Advisor service offered by seven councils in New Zealand.

The service helps local residents make their homes warmer, dryer and healthier while saving on their power bills and supporting local businesses and trades persons. It is a win-win-win proposition that is about doing more with less, while simultaneously protecting the community from future price rises in energy and health care.

Doing more with less is a philosophy that we have engaged for the last three and a half years while converting a draughty villa into a cosy, healthy, low-energy home. This process involved lots of innovation…depending on your point of view.

One successful way we do more with less is by using window blankets in our home. These consist of bits of scrap wood and old wool blankets, but can perform as well as double-glazing. I’ve written about window blankets before, and there is a free DIY workshop coming up tomorrow (see side bar). If you plan to attend the workshop, please measure the width of one window in your home (inside the window frame), bring a piece of wood of corresponding length, and a wool blanket or polar fleece fabric. Wood dimensions should be in the range of 12 mm by 70 mm or 45 mm by 45 mm.

Another innovation that has helped us do more with less involves turning an open top curtain rail into a closed top curtain rail. The reason for doing this is that in most cases an open top curtain rail allows warm air to drop behind the curtain and cool off once it finds itself against a cold window. This air cools and sinks, pulling more warm air from the ceiling and the cycle continues all night long.

Put simply, you could have the best, most expensive, custom-made curtains in the world but if they are not installed properly they are not effective at holding in heat. I would estimate that 70% to 80% of all the curtains I see in NZ homes are not hung to maximize warmth retention. What an unnecessary waste!

The photos I’ve included show the before and after, but the process is quite simple. 1) take down the curtain rail and brackets;

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 6.59.56 PM

2) pre-drill holes in the rail and bin the brackets; 3) reuse the screws from the brackets to screw the rail directly to the window frame or wall;

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 7.00.05 PM

4) turn the curtain hooks around and re-hang the curtain;

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 7.00.13 PM


Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 7.00.21 PM


5) be warmer and enjoy lower power bills; 6) praise eco-thrifty design thinking.

If you have questions, come along to one of the events listed in the sidebar.

Peace, Estwing


Project HEAT (Home Energy Awareness Training)

Free Events

13th – Window Blanket DIY Workshop. 2:00 – 4:00, Duncan Pavilion. For materials info, see above.

16th – Drop-In Healthy Advice. 4:30-5:30, Central Library.

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