Frequently Asked Questions about Ripples

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What is Ripples?

Ripples is a personal project started in 2011 by Ryan & Amanda Bancroft. For every decision we face in life (what careers we choose, food we eat, house we live in, transportation method, etc) we ask ourselves “How can we make a difference with this choice, for both people and planet?” By sharing our story, as well as anything that made it easier for us (like a book or an organization that helped us), we hope to make it easier for others to make a difference in whatever ways work for them, across a variety of good causes – not just the causes we personally care about.

Ripples is not a business, nor is it a 501©3 non-profit organization. We might be an organization someday soon, but the question we always ask is: how can we make the biggest difference? Right now, we are partnering with and supporting the mission of existing non-profits rather than creating a brand new organization.

Ripples is not exclusively an environmentalist project. We do try to live sustainably and make a difference for the environment, but we also try to help many people around the world. We shop locally and buy fair trade products like food and clothing whenever possible, because we seek a world with fair wages. We actively fight racism and white supremacy by living and promoting choices that counteract climate change (which hits People of Color worldwide the hardest) and by using our platform to amplify marginalized voices (example). We think about making ripples in a way that includes, but does not stop at, environmental concerns.

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What is the inspiration for Ripples?

Ripples work is guided and inspired by:

  1. Solutionary Method – pioneered by Grand Aspirations
  2. Capacity Building – this concept originates from the non-profit sector, but we apply it to everyday life
  3. Effective Altruism – finding the most effective ways to improve the world
  4. 7 Principles of the Unitarian Universalist religion
  5. Hygge – according to Oxford Languages, “/ˈh(y)o͞oɡə,ˈho͝oɡə/ – a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)”

Ripples is a personal challenge to oneself: how can I make a difference in my day-to-day life? Everyone’s answer is different. The following questions guide us in our choices throughout life. Not all of them are applicable every time we make a decision or take action. They aren’t in order of importance. We just try to keep these in mind and do our best.

It may be helpful to post this in your home if you’d like to take the Ripples challenge, too!

  • Sustainability: does it help or hurt the environment? Try to help.
  • Hygge: (hoo-ga, Danish) does it foster well-being and create a cozy, restorative space?
  • Prosperity: does it promote financial and non-financial wealth, and alleviate poverty?
  • Justice: is it based on freedom and equality for everyone?
  • Progress: is it using technology that out-competes unsustainable practices?
  • Collaboration: will it bring together innovators and create synergy between people?
  • Entrepreneurship: is it financially self-sustaining without causing harm?
  • Empowerment: are we making knowledge accessible to empower others?
  • Long-Term Change: does it benefit future generations over the long haul?
  • Critical Thinking: are we rationally questioning our ideas based on science?
  • Process: do we have a solid process for success and is it being evaluated (improved)?
  • Sharing: do we encourage the sharing of knowledge and resources?
  • Results: is it achieving concrete results that are measureable?
  • Vision: is it sharing a vision for a better world and suggesting real solutions?
  • Adaptation: are we constantly adapting our process to respond to current needs?
  • Effectiveness: is it maximizing positive ripples using the most effective methods?
  • Impartiality: is it valuing all lives as equally valuable, regardless of identity?
  • Cause Prioritization: which causes can create the biggest ripples?
  • Replaceability: are we doing something that cannot be easily done by someone else?
  • Interdependence: are we aware of the complex connections in the environment?
  • Resources: are diverse funding (grants, donors, income, etc) and non-monetary resources (space, tools, bartering, etc) being utilized?

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Who is involved in Ripples?

Ripples is just a personal project of Ryan & Amanda’s – we’re trying to make a difference with our own life’s choices, and share what we do. We have thousands of readers who also teach us a lot, volunteers who are helping us with projects, master naturalists helping with our conservation work, and non-profits like the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust helping us protect 169 acres in collaboration with the landowner at the Historic Johnson Farm where we are based. Beaver Water District funded the conservation easement for the property. The OMNI Center donated $300 for our solar panels. Beaver Watershed Alliance funded the greywater filtration rain garden and offered guidance in its creation. We lease an acre of farm land from our friend in order to have space for native gardens and our house, and received a loan from another friend for almost half the cost of the tiny house. We assisted the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program in the nomination for the the Johnson Farm buildings and acreage now listed on the National Register of Historic Places (as of 2019) along with the Johnson Barn (which got listed in 1991). We host visitors who are interested in learning about sustainable lifestyles, or photographing or touring the historic farm. It’s never been just us! We have lots of help. But Ripples is primarily about how we’re trying to make a difference with our lifestyle, so it’s very personal and guided by our decisions, limitations, and goals.

Think of it like a project in which someone is trying to see how far they can run, and they have friends and supporters cheering them on while they train.  Maybe they’ll help other runners to train, too. The runner might donate to charity for running a particular distance. A friend might let them run on their property. Someone might hand them a water bottle.  Ultimately, whether they run or not is their choice, but so many people make the running possible! We’re indebted and grateful to our community for supporting us since 2011.

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Where are you located?

We live in an off-grid tiny house on wheels located at the Historic Johnson Farm on Kessler Mountain. In partnership with the landowner and the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, we protect 169 acres for historic and ecological conservation.

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What is the Historic Johnson Farm?

Kessler Mountain offers not only outdoor recreation, but historically significant sites. The Historic Johnson Farm is technically on what was once known as Rieff’s Mountain (in the gap south of Kessler). It was the center of olden-day Rieff’s Chapel Community and has its own active cemetery, wagon road lined by stone fences / rock walls, and one-room schoolhouse foundation stones at the original site. The farm began around the 1830s. The Johnsons arrived in 1908, maintained the 1800’s orchards and planted new orchards of pears, apples, peaches and more. The family continues to own almost 169 acres of the now inactive farm, but at its largest size, the farm encompassed about 400 acres. The Johnson farmhouse was built during the mid-1920s on the same site as the late-1800’s central hall cottage, and is in excellent condition. The Johnson Barn built in 1933 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with the farmhouse and orchards listed on the National Register as the Benjamin Franklin Johnson II Homestead District in 2019 through the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. With hundreds of Johnson letters and photographs from the 1800’s through present-day, the farm and its various families have woven a fascinating story. Questions? E-mail us at: MakeSomeRipples@Gmail.com

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Are you an Eco Village, Natural Science Center, or Community Center?

No, none of the above. Unfortunately our goals and the goals of our partners do not permit a housing project or large public facility on site. However, there are eco villages and centers throughout the region and world which may meet your needs! Browse our eco village resources for more information. The Ozark Natural Science Center is a fantastic place for school field trips and offers overnight programming, check it out! The Kessler Mountain Outdoor Classroom and Nature Center is great for field trips, and learners of all ages too!

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What have you done so far? What do you hope to do in the future?

What we’ve done or are currently doing (updated 2021):

  • we now live off-grid in a tiny house on wheels (see specs on our house in this FAQ)
  • over 8 years of Making Ripples newspaper columns published
  • created a Ripples website 100% solar-powered through AISO
  • over 25 ripple-makers featured in People Making Ripples or the column
  • created a Ripples Facebook page as well as (infrequently) blogging at Ripples Blog
  • bought an All-American Sun Oven and cook on our deck year-round
  • moved to the Historic Johnson Farm, protected through a conservation easement held by the NWA Land Trust
  • 5 nesting sites established for NestWatch
  • Amanda became a certified Arkansas Master Naturalist in 2014 and completed FrogWatch training (with a monitoring site at Pear Pond)
  • taught an online class for youth leaders in non-profits to help them improve their organization’s services
  • began a feral cat socialization and adoption program, protecting the site’s ecology and increasing quality of life for successfully adopted kittens and cats (thank you, rescue families!). Our black cat Solo is a lifelong indoor-only cat.
  • with help from Morningstar Wildlife Rehabilitation, wildlife rescue as needed at our site, and rehabilitated native wildlife releases including aquatic and terrestrial turtles with NW Arkansas Turtle Rehabilitation Center and Turtle Shire
  • work on trail maintenance, litter and illegal dump cleanup, assist with educational signage and combat drug trafficking at Rieff’s Chapel Cemetery
  • made lifestyle changes such as trash reduction, almost vegan diet, reusable to-go thermos, water bottle and utensils, converting wardrobe to fair trade and/or organic, set up a compost bin for kitchen waste, and more (as we’re able – some plans are long-term)
  • We began earning income in ways that help the world: Ryan: Ozark Natural Foods Co-op; Amanda: self-employed writer and artist designing Ripples Greeting Cards on sustainable paper and sleeved in compostable plant-based materials
  • Created a greywater filtration garden or mulch basin with native swamp milkweed and sweetspire shrubs, and an erosion control garden with native shrubs viburnum and New Jersey tea, butterfly milkweed and strawberries.
  • Began cutting down invasive non-native Bradford pear trees to replace each one with a native tree (probably serviceberry)
  • Give presentations at various venues like Packrat Outdoor Center and online video presentations (topics include history for the Fayetteville Public Library’s Getting Into Genealogy, tiny house living, renewable utilities etc) and we’ve also given tours at the farm and our house; teaching a class for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in 2021
  • Publish articles in newspapers and magazines about the historic preservation and/or conservation work going on here, such as “A Walk with Rachel” in Arkansas Life magazine in 2020 and “Going Off the Grid: Tiny House Intended to Make Big Ripples” in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2019, and “The Historic Johnson Farm” Parts I and II in Flashback, a journal of the Washington County Historical Society.

What we hope to do soon:

  • Finish the erosion control retaining wall and add the remaining native plants
  • Start a MonarchWatch garden for surveying butterflies (now that we have the milkweed planted, just need to make it official!)
  • Begin a small square-foot style organic vegetable garden
  • Finally get that owl nest box put up in a tall tree

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Did you build your tiny house?

No, our custom tiny house on wheels was built by Backcountry Tiny Homes based in Washington State. They provided all the off-grid features, including solar from Backcountry Solar, a rainwater harvesting system, and Separett composting toilet.

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What are the specs on your tiny house and which off-grid features does it have?

  • Square Footage: 204 SF (336 SF with balcony & lofts)
  • Trailer Length: 24′
  • Overall Length: 24′-3″
  • Travel Height: 13’6″
  • Width: 8′-6″
  • Solar: (6) 305W panels, 3500W inverter, (8) 8D AGM batteries, 12V fuse panel, charge controller, 25-ft PV line to provided solar array; adjustable ground solar array stands
  • Water: Off-grid rainwater, 12V pump, UV filter, 2-stage filtration (cotton and carbon), dual gutter (1 per each long side), downspout, 550 gallon cistern, greywater garden filters all water from sinks + urine
  • Water Heater: One Bosch 1500W 7-gallon tanked hot water heater
  • Stovetop: 2-burner glass electric stove top, 1200W per burner
  • Propane Heater: 8,000 btu Rinnai direct-vented heater
  • Air Conditioner: Midea Energy Star window unit
  • Refrigerator: Haier, 9.9 cubic foot, 23.5″ wide
  • Composting Toilet: Separett Villa 9210
  • Roxul Insulation (R-23 for floor, R-15 for walls and ceiling)
  • Storage Loft (7′ 5″ wide x 3′ 2″ deep x 3′ 4″ to 4′ 2″ tall)
  • Bedroom Loft with secondary egress hobbit door leading to balcony (8′ 6″ deep x 7′ 5″ wide x 3’4″ to 4′ 2″ tall)
  • Bedroom Loft storage unit/cubbies, with 5 shelves
  • Storage Stairs / Cubbies with cat litter box hole

Have more questions about the specs on our tiny home? We’d be happy to share further details. E-mail us at: MakeSomeRipples@Gmail.com or contact Backcountry Tiny Homes!

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Do you have Internet? What do you use?

We use an unlimited 4G hotspot provided by the Calyx Institute.  Service routes through Sprint / T-Mobile, and will operate on almost any LTE band (depending on the capabilities of the hotspot).  This allows us to remain un-tied to any physical grid, gives us a modem with an extremely small footprint, and allows us to benefit from the extreme stability of LTE connections.  Our stability tests showed almost no dropped packets, so they run extremely well.

Also, Internet is integral to the Ripples experience.  Amanda uses it to maintain her art business, and we invest a significant amount of energy into this Ripples site, our Facebook presence, and various forms of research that help us maintain our homestead.

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What kind of AC do you use and could you describe it?

We use a Midea U-shaped 10,000 BTU unit, a relatively new design rolled out in 2019.  Here’s the Amazon link for it.  We actually purchased it via Indiegogo, the crowdfunding platform.  This project costed about $400, as compared with at least $1,500 for a mini split (plus installation) with similar capabilities.

This unit uses the inverter technology usually found in mini splits to radically reduce the total power consumed, as well as a smart built-in thermostat.  Even more importantly, for a house with a tightly sealed envelope and passive solar design, though it has the ability to ramp consumption up to 10 amps if that’s needed, it can run as low as 1 amp, or about 140 watts, when providing very modest cooling.  Traditional window AC units have an “on” or “off” setting, with no ability to modulate how much power they consume.  In essence, they can run at full blast (or a couple of settings) and, during this time, provide only some degree of climate control, while also gobbling immense amounts of energy.  This greatly limits their ability to provide scalable (based on house size, humidity conditions, external temperature, etc.) indoor climate regulation.

This unit is installed in an existing window, requiring no professional installation.  It has most of the features of a mini split that costs several hundred more, that requires wall penetrations, and a standalone outdoor compressor.  This unit is an excellent fit for off-grid, if the house inverter has the capacity to handle it plus any other simultaneous loads one has planned.

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What kind of heater do you use?

We use a Rinnai 8,000btu Propane heater.  Here’s the HomeDepot link for it, from where we purchased it.  This project costed about $1,600 total – $1200 for the heater, and $400 for installation + parts.

This heater has nearly the highest AFUE rating of any direct-vented propane heater on the market, at about 80% – 82% (depending on the resource you reference).  Many less costly direct vented heaters have sub-70% ratings.  For a savings of perhaps $300 – $400, they will cost more in propane over the course of a few years.  That aside, this more premium model offers the following benefits:

  • Its entire enclosure runs extremely cool, around 80 degrees at most.  Even where the heat escapes runs cool enough to touch (a surface-temperature reading places the back metal panel, behind the grill, at 150 degrees, while the actual surface temp is closer to 120).  This allows for very small clearances on all sides of the unit, making it fit a lot better in a tiny house.  Also, it does not present a burn hazard, unlike our previous heater which had some surface temps in excess of 1,000 degrees, hot enough to almost vaporize flesh.
  • This unit can throttle down to 3000btus and up to 8000btus, at 7 different levels of fan and burn intensity.  Due to its ability to distribute heated air more actively, and to a more fine-tuned degree, than a budget model, a much lower BTU unit can effectively and efficiently heat a space than might be needed with a less sophisticated design.  This has much to do with its elevated AFUE rating.
  • It runs very quietly for a fan-based design, in the 40 decibel range.
  • Due to its electric starter, it does not have to maintain a pilot light, or even have a piezo ignition system.  This further reduces passive propane usage.
  • Because of its many built-in fans (one to distribute heated air and one to cool internal components), Rinnai offers much better warranties on internal components than competing designs.  Everything runs cooler.
  • Some other models I checked required upwards of 9″ wall penetrations.  This only required a 3 1/8″ wall penetration (the smallest by far of those I could find), and can be vented in a wall ranging from about 4 1/2″ thick to upwards of 35″ thick (though non-standard walls do require a different venting kit than the included one).  Almost all competing models do not have this flexibility.  And the much smaller wall penetration is ideal for a tiny house using unusual framing methods, since there isn’t as much unused inner-wall space available.

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What insurance companies are covering you and your tiny house?

We’re receiving homeowner’s insurance through the fantastic TinyHome.Insure / Strategic Insurance with Martin Burlingame. They think of everything and we’re very confident they will provide excellent coverage. We are also required to purchase an umbrella liability policy through State Farm. It’s been very easy working with them!

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How did you get financing?

Originally, we’d saved up enough to buy a house outright. However, the off-grid systems and overall project cost was way higher than we anticipated. We were told all we needed for a loan was excellent credit, and knew we needed to avoid traditional bank mortgages because tiny houses on wheels are not yet accepted by most lenders. Our back-up plan was to apply with LightStream, which specializes (among other things) in unsecured tiny house loans for people with excellent credit (our scores are about as high as they can be). We were still denied due to insufficient recent debt (we paid off $29,000 in student loans within 4 years, but that was 7 years ago and instantly disqualified us) as well as a secondary reason of insufficient income (Amanda is self-employed, a common hurdle to getting a loan). In the end, we couldn’t have pursued this project without the help of a friend who agreed to loan us the remainder of the cost of the house and establish a payment plan and contract with interest. It worked out great for everyone!

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How are you “off-grid”?

There are many ways to technically go “off-grid.”

Our version of going “off-grid” involves avoiding public utilities that harm the environment, like non-renewable electricity and septic systems. This saves us money on water and electric bills, but note that the cost (for us) was steep and offers not many returns on the investment. Our tiny house on wheels is completely off-grid, with all electric solar, rainwater harvesting, and composting toilet. We will continue to buy food from local farmers and cooperatives; we’re NOT back-to-the-landers hoping to farm and provide for all our needs (although we admire such people for their skills). We’ll continue to use the banking system and keep our internet. This website is 100% solar hosted through AISO. For transportation, we carpool together into town to combine errands (which we do on foot) and work shifts. The Razorback Greenway bike trail is coming very close to the property, and in a couple of years we’ll be able to return to our previous habit of bicycle commuting and only occasionally driving to haul supplies or carpool.

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How is your website solar-hosted?

This website is solar-hosted by AISO. They have a 100% solar-powered datacenter, where they host our website files.

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What kind of solar cooker / oven did you buy, and what's it like?

We bought the All American Sun Oven, almost entirely made in the USA. It’s been fantastic to use, and cooks or bakes everything you can cook or bake in an indoor oven or stove (cookies, lasagna, rice curry, bread, soup, chili…) Please see our newspaper column Solar Cooking with the All American Sun Oven for detailed information and a recipe!

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What type of composting toilet do you use?

Separett Villa 9210, which includes a vent fan, mechanical rotation for the waste bucket (no crank), and a separate urine diverter to keep liquids apart from solids. Waste inside the bucket is dehydrated over time with the vent fan, which reduces odor and prevents flies unless your flies are small enough to fit through window screens to get inside the home and toilet (fruit flies and kin). Our toilet hasn’t smelled bad very much, surprisingly. It takes some adjustment to learn how to properly sit on the toilet for #1 and #2, and some urine does get into the solids bucket no matter our best efforts. It’s particularly difficult during menstruation, when a woman needs to rinse off and clean the toilet urinal after each use. It’s recommended to pour a small cup of water down the urine diverter after anyone uses it, so that residue doesn’t build up in the system and odors are eliminated. The toilet is sleek and beautifully designed to appear like a flush toilet, but it uses no water besides the cup for flushing out urine. It’s also called a “dry” or “composting” toilet, but this unit is not actually a self-contained composting toilet. The composting process occurs outside in buckets at the owner’s discretion. Our liquids, along with water from the sinks and shower, are diverted into a greywater filtration garden filled with native plants like swamp milkweed, and mulch.

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What about your cat, Solo? How will you handle cat litter?

We’ll be composting the cat litter separately from the human waste. Solo is an indoor-only cat because he was adopted from the shelter and has no claws, and outdoor cats suffer a lot and contribute to environmental problems. He loves our tiny house balcony off the bed loft, which is a play area for him (among other purposes). Indoor cats which have not eaten wild prey are not carriers of Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that makes composting cat litter less safe. We’ll be continuing to use our plastic reusable cat litter box, minus the plastic bags, with biodegradable septic-safe and compostable World’s Best Cat Litter. Here is our research and future method for composting pet waste.

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How do you do laundry?

We don’t have a washer/dryer inside our cabin, so we go to the Sit & Spin Laundromat in Fayetteville about every two weeks. They have some sustainability practices there. We wear most clothing more than once (until they smell or get dirty). Some items we dry in a dryer at the laundromat; others we line dry outdoors or on a rack which was a gift from our friend Karen!

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