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Wednesday, December 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 35.0° F  Overcast
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Rev up the coffee grinder... with a bicycle?
Creating a human-powered house

When former Madison resident Tamara Dean moved to rural Vernon County, she wanted to start putting into practice some of the ecological ideas she'd previously only thought about. In the process, The Human Powered Home: Choosing Muscles Over Motors (New Society Press), was born.

She began out of necessity, cobbling together a bicycle-generated cement mixer while trying to plaster a straw bale shed. But through word of mouth, she discovered others who were generating electricity, grinding corn or nuts, washing clothes, and more, through human powered devices (HPDs).

It's an idea that occurs to a lot of people while they're on bikes or the treadmill at the gym, says Dean Can't this energy being generated be put to some better use? Yes, it can!

In America, human powered instruments are probably "not a practical answer to our woes," says Dean, but generating your own power does provide "a much greater connection to the process" for instance, if you're making anything from salsa to soap, you're better able to gauge the when the product is "ready" when you're providing the power. Another benefit discovering just how much work it is to generate enough power to turn on a light, run a hair dryer or power a laptop. Some human-power devotees have really gotten into shape, losing weight and upping their power output as well. And maybe best of all, you're dependent on no one but yourself.

Laptops and iPods are two household devices that it's quite practical to charge by hand (or foot), says Dean. The Human Powered Home includes plans for making a number of HPDs, including a blender and a clothes washer, and ways to power your TV or laptop.

Meet the author

Tamara Dean will be giving a presentation on human power in the home at Willy Street Co-op Monday, Oct. 27 at 6 p.m. For more information, see

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