Weekend Edition: Is your Home a Box or a Dynamo?

I have to admit.  I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking about my home in the traditional way.

What’s the traditional way of thinking about a home?   To see it as a box.

A very big box that holds a family’s things.  A box that can be decorated both inside and out.  A box that needs constant repair to maintain its box-hood.

If you really think about it.  A static, decorated box isn’t really a home.  It’s a mausoleum.  It adorns you and your family in your repose.

The new way of thinking about a home is as a dynamo:

A dynamic, living system that produces food, energy, water, and much more.  A system that helps you to actively respond to changes in the global economy and environment, particularly as they careen out of control.  A productive asset you actively participate in managing.  An asset that grows more valuable the worse the things get.

Here’s a question to think about.

We all know how to value a box home.  It has a market value based on how big it is, how well it is decorated, and where it is located.

How do you value a home that is a dynamo?

The old ways of measuring value will remain, but with a twist.

  • Location matter.  However, its value won’t based on its proximity to a city or based on the quality of the school system (as it is today), but more on the resilience and cohesiveness of the community it is located in.  If you do work in the global economy: telecommute.
  • Aesthetics is still important.  Who wants to live in a dump?
  • Size.  Size won’t be valued by counting bathrooms and the amount of living area.  In fact, a very large home (unless it is fully utilized via a big family group) will be seen as a liability, since it is expensive to care for.  Size, instead, will be more of a measure of productive capacity — catchment, arable land, food forest, etc.

As we become more sophisticated in valuing dynamos, I suspect we will add some of the following measures:

  • How much it provides you with independence (meets your basic needs).
  • The amount of money it saves you (not quite the same thing as independence).
  • The income it makes for you.
  • The quality of its production.
  • The degree of integration of the home into a community production system.
  • How secure the productive capacity is.

If you have another way to value a dynamo, please share it.

Your one step ahead of the box analyst,



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  • Lindsey

    “Dynamo” is a very mechanistic term. I prefer something more organic such as microniche or ecosystem although these terms are being overused to meaningless greenwashing jargon.

    This becomes even more so when you begin to blur the boundaries of ‘home’ such as in the graduated zonation of permaculture etc. Home production of food and livestock also begins to create cycling natural systems.

    Even internal enviroments can be enlivened by activities such as microfarming in the kitchen with the likes of kombucha, kefir (water or milk), yoghurt and cheese-making, sour dough mothers, vinegar and ginger beer plants etc etc. Many of these culture will develop individual identities in synergy with the biological systems of the people who live around them. That is, over time, the culture in one kitchen will evolve to be quite different to similar cultures from other kitchens.

    Passive architectural designs make use of natural flows of air, temperature gradients, moisture balance etc. (Solar chimneys, underground cisterns, radiant heat stores) So the building responds to the surrounding environment. A good example is the use of earthen building and plasters. The moisture balance within the these building elements change in response to atmospheric humidity etc to create a degree of homeostatic balance within the structure.

    As the humans in the equation, we become the custodians and stewards of such systems. We develop greater awareness and sensitivity to the impact of our intimate lifestyle choices upon the living home around us. We become part of the ecosystem rather than would be controllers and dominatrix.

    • johnrobb

      Lindsey, Definitely like your approach to thinking about it. I wasn’t enthralled by ecosystem either due to the same reasons. Also, dynamo felt like an antonym to box in this context. JR

    • Carl Farnsworth

      Lindsey – Nicely written.

  • http://marinos.mike@gmail.com Mike Marinos

    “Box or Dynamo” is one awesome tagline (come whack on the side of the head)!

    • johnrobb

      Thanks Mike. JR

  • Ben

    For building a cohesive community, living systems need to build in chance encounters. To add to the list, I would say the extent of gathering layout is important to the living quality. I am picturing a nice relaxing seating circle up front for neighborhood discussions. As well as a zen retreat area mixed in with the permaculture food forest in the backyard for more personal and intimate vibing.

    • johnrobb

      Ben, Chance encounters+ It’s like designing allotment gardens for a condo complex with a single water spigot. Convenience would dictate many spigots, but chance encounters/community/info and skills xfer/etc dictates one. JR

  • http://palaopensource.wordpress.com/ ryan

    NaturalNews exclusive: Michigan government unleashes armed raids on small pig farmers, forces farmer to shoot all his own pigs

    Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/035585_Michigan_farms_raids.html#ixzz1sGUloiUM

    organizing legal support for these sorts of situations will be crucial.

    our house is currently being forced to hide our chickens from the landlord – not so dynamo…

    • johnrobb

      Ryan, More bad news. JR

      • http://palaopensource.wordpress.com/ ryan

        yeah, i know. its scary weird. hard, bizarre, savage times. there are a lot of people pulling together right now. no one knows how to approach this and its too much for the individual mind to handle on its own. thanks for your work.

  • http://bay7m@earthlink.net quail333

    Check out Lloyd’s blog and his new book ‘TINY HOMES’, if you ignore his dyed in the wool liberalism he is a lot of fun and his work is very pertinent to this discussion. Tell me what you think.


    • johnrobb

      Thanks. Will check it out. I don’t have the ability to go small though. I’m living with 7 people! JR

      • http://bay7m@earthlink.net quail333

        John, I think the smart thing is to take what works from freedom seekers of the past, LLoyd has a lot of baggage political wise but it would be foolish to neglect the lessons of the ‘ Whole Earth Catalogue’ era. Lloyd represents the smartest thinking coming out of the alt. sixties. The thing is to learn the lessons and make them your own and apply them now, I do. Also check out COOL TOOLS blog: http://www.kk.org/cooltools/

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