Another Room Addition

Once again it appears it has been a long time since I updated the website.  Apologies.  Since the last update a LOT has happened.   There are no more propane tanks in the house.  The propane company finally came out and ran propane lines through the house and out to a central tank in the yard.   That is a huge improvement in lifestyle as I’m not having to go fill tanks every few weeks.  It gets delivered and paid automatically, which is great.   Beyond that, septic was also installed last summer.  The composting toilet is great in areas that have sufficient moisture and warmth for composting, but out here there isn’t so much composting going on.   Mostly it just stays around uncomposted.   So yeah, septic is a good thing, allows for the proper biological processes to break down the waste.  Here’s a picture of the huge concrete tank going in to the ground…

The septic tank took a couple of weeks to install with the leech field (which is hugely oversized in this dense clay soil)  and I had to dig through the concrete floor in the bathroom, run a line under the exterior wall for the toilet and drains and then redo the concrete in the bathroom.   The picture was taken before the concrete was even finished, but here it is…

Don’t mind the drip of concrete on the front of the toilet…  or the old drain pipe that is still sticking out from the edge of the shower, that was also removed.   Hooray for the sound of flushing though.  After almost 3 years of not hearing it, it was actually strange to adjust to it again.  So that is another step closer to normalcy out here in the middle of no where.

So in addition to the Septic and Toilet there is also a new room being added on to the building.  This will be the permanent bedroom, what serves as the bedroom now will become an office.  The new bedroom addition also has electric radiant floor heating, meaning that even on the coldest of winter days, I’ll be able to walk around barefoot in the bedroom and it’ll stay at a nice cozy warm temperature.   Electric elements were chosen instead of the glycol-fluid system because there is no infrastructure requirement.  No pumps, tanks, panels, any of that.  Just a wire sticking up out of the floor and running to a thermostat which is connected to the solar power system.  Still renewable folks.  The element used in the bedroom uses about 700 watts when powered on, but once the floor is up to temperature the element only works for about 10 minutes out of every hour.  So really it’s about 120 watts per hour that the floor is actively on.  No too shabby.  Also, the bedroom addition will finally provide much needed closet space.  Here’s a picture of the addition before the cladding was finished.

You can also see the new chicken coop in the background, the green building off to the left.  it is 10 x 16 with transparent polycarbonate roofing.  I left a stripe down the middle of the roof where there is no plywood under the corrugated roofing, this acts like a skylight and has improved egg production significantly.   The bedroom addition is 12 x 16 with a large overhang providing plenty of shade in the summer for the south-facing windows.  Here is a picture taken from inside the bedroom…

So that’s actually a little farther along than you can see in the picture.  The bedroom is 2×6 exterior walls with 2×10 ceiling rafters built on concrete slab reinforced with fiber.   I will endeavor to update the website again when it is finished, and yes there are still some pieces missing in this picture, I know.  I will end with this picture of a herd of elk that ran through the yard earlier in the winter.

Summer 2012

Well it is almost another year since my last post and a lot has happened.   We lost 4 chickens this spring to strange and sudden symptoms.   They would be fine one day, then would seem drunk and disoriented.  Within a few hours of seeming drunk, they would drop dead.   I scoured the internet for answers, couldn’t find any.  I asked the local feed store people if they had heard of such a thing, no luck.  I called the breeder from whom the chickens were ordered and they suggested that I try giving them Diatomaceous earth (food grade) which acts as an organic wormer.  I did that and no more deaths.  How strange.  Live and learn.   That little lesson in life dropped egg production down, as did the broody hen who refused to leave an empty nest.  She isn’t laying eggs anymore, but was sitting on an empty nest trying to hatch air.  No matter what you cannot get her off that nest.  Some fertilized eggs were placed under her (6 of them) and they are due to hatch any day now.   Not wanting to count on the fertility of those eggs though, more chickens were ordered.   Adding to the flock of Buff Orpingtons will be some Light Brahma chickens, some Golden Laced Wyandottes, Salmon Faverolles, Cuckoo Marans,  and some Plymouth Whites.   Total chicken count will be around 40, give or take a few based on the clutch the broody hen is hatching and the potential for the loss of some chicks.  Eggs are selling beautifully to the local community, but so far haven’t made it as far as the farmers market.   Here is an image of some of the chicks from the latest order.

The darker ones are the Golden Laced Wyandottes.  The rest haven’t feathered out enough to be identified in this pic.

Beyond the chickens this year has seen the raising of a 50 foot long High Tunnel which is acting as our greenhouse this year.  It has a total of 600 square feet of space inside and is being used for seed starts, 7 varieties of tomatoes (because it gets too cold at night for tomatoes otherwise) squash (crookneck and butternut)  strawberries, blackberries, elderberries, raspberries, rhubarb, tomatillas, herbs, greens, etc.   So far we have tilled 10 rows that are 50 feet long each and will be adding another 6 shortly for the fall harvest crops.  Our clay soil in those rows was amended with cheap topsoil and compost as well as some petrified hummus and worm tea with probiotics.   In those rows are strawberries, which are flourishing, green and purple asparagus which is also quite happy, purple red and yellow carrots, ruby onions, lettuce and other greens, cabbage, kale and chard.   There is also a bramble patch for just blackberries and raspberries, and the chicken patch where chicken feed is being grown.  In the chicken patch last years chicken bedding and a generous amount of straw were tilled under.  The straw has done more to amend the clay soil than anything else.  Next year ALL of our rows will be tilled to include straw, except for the strawberries and asparagus which are already in the ground an cannot be tilled again.  Here is an image of the greenhouse and rows earlier in the year…

Everything is green now and flourishing, but I don’t have a recent picture of that.  That will have to come in the next post.  The format of this website has been changed somewhat to allow for ease of navigation and to make it less of a headache for me to post to, so hopefully I will post more often.  No promises.   Here is a funny image I love from this january.  Not particularly relevant but I have to share, the chickens get to free range when I don’t have plants growing and their favorite game is “Surround the Cats”…

Here is a picture of our first batch of eggs that were sold commercially…

Also there have been some changes in the bathroom, though it isn’t finished.  The oversized utility sink has been removed and replaced will a wall mounted porcelain sink from 1946 that was acquired at the Taos Restore.   The big black composting toilet has also been removed and replaced with a homemade dry toilet using a 5 gallon bucket.  Its actually cleaner and easier to maintain.  Still uses sawdust for composting and to keep everything smelling happy.  There has been discussion about just putting in a low flow regular toilet, but so far that hasn’t been a priority.  There is a window that is going to be installed in the bathroom which is why the drywall is still patchy on the outside wall of the bathroom, also the propane guy will be here in 2 days to plumb the house in for propane.  No more running of each appliance on a separate tank.  That will free up tons of floor space.   Here’s a picture of the still unfinished bathroom…

Well there is much more to talk about but right now its getting late in the morning and the plants won’t water themselves.  No matter how much I beg…  so keep an eye out for a second post today or tomorrow with further updates from New Eridu.

Much Much Later…

So apparently it’s been almost a year since I posted an update…  My bad.  Funds ran low and I had to start working in order to keep working…  So here we are.  Last time I posted about running the pipes from the well and putting in the new fireplace.  I’m pleased to report that the plumbing works quite well and so does the fireplace.  I installed a kitchen sink so I don’t have to do dishes in the bathroom anymore.  Here’s a picture of that, before the surface was laid on the countertop.

sink

Don’t worry, that container is used for watering remote plants.  It’s not for drinking water.

This year was also the first attempt at a garden outside to provide lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, radishes and strawberries.  The lettuce and spinach do well, the 5 of 6 tomato plants burned under the intense direct sunlight.  The one that lived is now an indoor/outdoor plant.  The carrots were all eaten as seedlings by marauding grasshoppers.  The cucumbers went the same way, save two, which have yet to produce much.  The radishes flourished and I’m on the second planting of them now.  The srawberries were subject to a late frost but the two that survived are finally looking healthy, now that fall has set in.  It wasn’t a large garden, but important lessons were learned and next year will see significant improvement on the yield.  Here’s a picture of the garden as it was growing… the strawbales were being used as a windbreak.

 

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The current objective is the have the excavation done for the “Pit Greenhouse” which will be 10′ x 30′ and 8′ underground.  The roof will be glass and let in the sunlight, the earth around it will keep it above freezing at all times.  In theory this should allow growing year round, even at -30 degrees.  The hope is to have the excavation completed before the end of this month (september).

This brings me to the next big accomplishment of this year, the chickens.  Yes, the chickens.  A straight run of 15 chicks was received on May 25th.  3 did not survive past the first two weeks.  Now there are 13.  Confused?  So was I…  I’m not sure where the extra chicken came from.  Unless perhaps it resurrected, jumped out of the trash and hopped back into the brooder box whilst I slept.  Regardless, of the 13, 12 are hens and there is 1 rooster.  Also an abberation as I expected an almost even distribution between males and females.  So I don’t have to slaughter any for meat yet.  Here are some pictures of the chicks as they got older.

 

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Here they are a little older… and in a slightly larger enclosure…

 

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And here they are almost ready to go outside.  You can see Jack, the rooster, off to the left starting to grow his comb in…

 

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And finally, here’s what they look like now in the temporary chicken coop.  Eventually this will be the brooding coop, but for now its where they live.

 

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That’s Gilgamesh the cat hanging out near the chickens.

The living room is mostly finished, a little more trim work to do but the paint and furniture are in place.  Let me see if I have a picture for you…

 

living room2

I’ll try to get a better picture up here soon, but you get the idea.  You might notice a couple of rogue buffalo roaming outside the windows.  So also this year (recently) I acquired a real full size stove from the Taos Restore.  It is owned by Habitat for Humanity and basically people donate old materials when they remodel or replace things.  Cabinets, doors, windows, appliances, sinks, etc.   I am waiting on my propane guy to convert it from natural gas to propane for me.  It works fine for now, save for the occasional fireball (hence the need for conversion).  Well that is about it for now.  I will endeavor to post again once the excavation for the greenhouse is done.

What’s New at New Eridu

Ok, as usual it is months between posts, but for good reason.  A lot has been going on, so let me catch you up.  First of all, last year saw us burn through 7 cords of wood to heat 250 square feet.  This is insane, so a new woodstove was purchased.  It’s an airtight, with a glass front, and it burns less than half the wood to heat twice the space of last year.  Here’s a picture.

 

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Shortly after this acquisition, fall descended on the valley.  Unfortunately I took pictures early in the fall but neglected to catch it later when everything turned orange and red.  Here’s a picture of early fall though.

 

Fall 2010

So with fall, comes shorter days.  When you live off-grid and rely on solar power, this can be problematic.  The 620 watt per hour array was just not producing enough power for the fridge, the deep freeze, and the internet, laptops and lights anymore.  It was decided more capacity was needed.  Another 540 watts has been added to the array for a total production of 1160 watts per hour.   Even now in the winter sun we are producting between 4 – 5 kwh per day.  I had to add another surface to the power shed in which to mount the new panels, here’s a picture of that.

 

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So now with uber-power another way to expend it had to be found.  The well was just sitting there begging for a reason to exist.  So after much debate about the different types of, well setups that can be used in an off-grid application, it was decided to go with the Grundfos SQE 160 1/2 hp well pump and constant pressure system.  Basically, instead of the huge pressure tank and cistern option that most off grid people use, which requires more equipment, maintenance, and excavation, the constant pressure pump was the best option.  The pump itself supplies the pressure directly to the house, the PSI is adjustable from 40 to 100 PSI.  There is a control box inside that allows you to adjust the PSI setting and turn the pump on and off, as well as providing diagnostics.  There is a small 2 lb pressure tank to allow for soft starting of the pump.  We had to bury the water lines at almost 6 feet in order to keep them from freezing.  Pictures below.

 

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This is the pitless adapter and pipe coming from the well into the trench.

 

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This is where the water lines were brought in through a hole in the floor, finally we can pour the rest of the slab and eliminate the last of the dirt floor!!

 

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This is the pipe that comes up from the trench into the house.  It is wrapped with heat tape to prevent freezing.  A 6 foot length of this heat tape only consumes 12 watts, so is acceptable for our power system.  On top of the heat tape was placed vinyl backed insulation to further protect the pipe from freezing.

 

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This is the 2 lb pressure tank and past that the pressure sensor.  Above the sensor is the control panel.  Yes, that is string holding up the pressure tank until I put the cabinetry in and secure it properly.  Once all of this was installed, we turned on the pump and were gratified at the sound of pressurized air rushing out of the pipes as the water moved through them.  Then, everything stopped.  After a nightmarish time figuring it out we had to pull the pump back up 120 feet of wellpipe because a coupling in the pipe had failed.  The part to repair it will be in soon and the pump will be dropped again.  The hurry, of course, is to get all this done before it snows and threatens to freeze the system….

 

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Then this happened.  *sigh*   But it was the first real snow so it is melting off and I think we’ll get one more shot at this.  More soon (I hope).

Closer to completion…

Ok, so we left off with the well drilling…  well here’s a picture of the finished well head.  The water was hit at 165 feet but it was decided to go down to 195 feet to make sure there was a good head on the well.  It turns out that this was probably unnecessary as the water pushed up to 80 feet due to positive pressure and some geological terms that I am unfamiliar with.  The flow rate on the well is about 30 gpm.  This is supposedly a really good flow rate, “enough for 4 households” as the driller said.  Also, being at 8600 feet this is the top of the water table.  The water up here is as pure as it gets.   Here’s a picture of the well (a pipe sticking out of the ground).

 

WellHead

So that was exciting, and it only cost 5 grand.  What a bargain.  Not.  There is still trenching, plumbing, installing a pump and pressure system.  More money.  Fortunately we have been able to salvage a pump, though untested I have high hopes.   Also the addition is coming along.  The roof was built flat deliberately to accomodate a rooftop patio (in the future).  EPDM roofing which is a rubber membrane much like a pond liner that creates a solid impermeable surface.  Good stuff, best stuff for flat roofs.  The room is 16′ x 16′ with a nice view out of the picture windows.  Nothing is completely done yet though, of course.

 

Living Room

 

House July

Don’t mind the mess, it’s a construction site after all.   Though not reflected in the pictures, the roof of the addition is insulated with R-38 insulation.  Are you kidding?  I didn’t even know that stuff existed until I moved here.  Anyway, it has drastically affected the temperature in the whole building, holding more heat at night and keeping it out during the day.   At first the ceiling was uninsulated, so with a black rubber membrane glued to the roof decking the sun turned the room into a solar oven.  It’s much better with insulation.   Within the next week or two we anticipate finalizing the insulation and drywall on the ceiling so the mudding and taping can begin.  Then the building will be wrapped in tyvek, and a small overhang might be added to the addition.  The roof is watertight, but the walls are not and when it rains heavily there has been some water penetration along the roof-wall attachment.  Something to consider when building a block style room like this.  Originally the plan was to stucco the house and possibly do some faux-adobe styling around the roof deck.  This water issue has given cause for reconsideration.   We’ll see what happens.   Here’s a random awesome picture taken during a monsoon.

 

Monsoonbow

Catching up on the site…

Sorry for the delay folks.  Ok so here’s what we’ve been up to at New Eridu.   One of the first orders of business this spring was to get another solar panel and increase the overall capacity of the system.   Fortunately the price of solar modules has come down significantly of late.   This new Kyocera 210 watt solar module was about $520.  Last fall the same module was almost 800.  Here it is about to be installed…

 

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I had to get an extension kit for the Unirac mounting system in order to accommodate this somewhat larger module.   The grand total now is 620 watts of solar.   To put this in perspective, right now we are averaging about 3.3 Kwh per day from solar production alone.   That’s 3,300 watt hours.   A refrigerator uses about 1080 watt hours a day unless it’s an energy efficient model, then it’s about 750.  Laptops use about 35 watts an hour, flourescent lighting is about 10 watts per bulb, per hour.  You get the idea.   Before this winter hits another panel will be added to help compensate for the decreased amount of light during the winter months.  On top of this solar production the wind turbine has been put to the test this spring.   Daily average wind speeds have been 15 – 30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph.  So the turbine produces an additional 400 watts per hour (max) but the turbine works even at night.   Lately it has been a challenge to figure out where to dump the excess power, not a bad problem to have.   However power demand will be increasing as appliances are added, so it will eventually need to be expanded even further.   Oh, and remember those wind speeds?   On a few days the gusts were much higher than 50 mph.  My “temporary” turbine mounting eventually wiggled itself loose and Viola!…

 

solstice 5

So, after all this excitement, it was decided that another year will probably have to be spent in the “temporary” house until sufficient infrastructure is in place to support the larger abode to be…  So another 16×16 room has been appended to the initial structure.   This is to be the living room/office space.  It opens up space in the original structure for an actual kitchen, as there will be no more of this hiking to the camper to cook dinner nonsense.   So here’s the skeleton of the addition…

 

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It’s done, windows and 1 of 2 doors are in, and insulation and drywall are in progress.   More pictures when it’s ready for them.   What else?  Lets see…  Oh yeah, did I mention the well?  That’s right people, actual on demand flowing water that wasn’t hauled from 30 miles away.  Can you believe it?

 

 

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Yeah, me neither.  That’s why it wasn’t such a large suprise when the drilling rig busted a hose and has now been sitting idle in the yard for almost 2 weeks.   Mocking me.

 

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Drilling is set to resume in the morning, we shall see how that turns out.   I promise to post something more very, very soon.

Oops, almost forgot…

I almost forgot to mention that 4 more Deka L-16 solar batteries have been added to the array for a grand total of 8.  Each battery will store 350 amp hours, so the array is now 2800 amp hours of storage.  On a 24 Volt system like this one, that equates to 67,200 Watt Hours of storage.  Of course with these types of batteries you don’t want to discharge them beyond 50% or it could lessen the life of the battery.  That gives an effective storage amount of 33,600 Watt hours.  This is totally sufficient for the needs of the household in the forseeable future.  The cost of 4 Deka L-16 batteries with the necessary 2 AWG battery interconnect cables was $1,076.  That’s one more thing checked off the list.  Soon another Kyocera 205 watt Solar Panel will be added to the array bringing the listed power generation to 615 Watts, however at this elevation (8600 ft.)  The panels work more efficiently, so it’ll probably be more like 700 Watts.  That will vastly cut down on the amount of time the generator is run, as well as the households overall carbon footprint.   Here’s a picture of the battery array.

 

new batteries

Just a basic update…

Last time we left off the shower was still in progress.  That hasn’t changed though it is ready now to have stucco applied and then it will be done.   I have been working at a neighbors house building a custom bathtub and helping get the house wired for off-grid power and plumbed for water.  The setup we used there is effectively the same as here, a cistern, a water pump, and an on-demand water heater.   I am putting a picture below, but don’t judge as it’s not done yet.  The tub was left textured so that a stone paint could be applied making it look more like a cut granite tub.  It’s fiberglass over 3/4 plywood and frame.   See below…

 

tub in progress

The exterior of the tub will be covered with rough-cut 1×8 as will the lip surrounding the edge of the tub.  The tub is 6′ x 3′ so is quite large, lots of fiberglass.   For those of you who are thinking of working with fiberglass for the first time, my advice is simply this, Don’t.   What a pain, and the glass splinters and noxious fumes.  Yeah, next time pre-fab or concrete or something else.

What else is new?  Well, remember that ugly, hideous, 3 tone beige toilet?  Fixed…

 

Toilet Black

I’m thinking about getting some red LED running lights to put across the front, like KIT from Night Rider.   Vast improvement in appearance, in one’s opinion.   You might also notice the home depot special utility sink next to the toilet.  Yes, I am able to wash dishes properly now.  It gets hot water from the same system as the shower and it works fantastically.

I promise to post pictures of the shower as stucco is applied, should be soon.  The inverter died last night in a shower of sparks.  It seems like the AC transfer relay switch fused somehow and shut me down.   Fortunately the wonderful people at Paradise Power where I bought the inverter from were able to give me a loaner inverter while mine is being sent in for repair.  They are under no obligation to do so, neither to trust me to install the thing, but they did what had to be done to get me back in power and that is the kind of customer service you want from your solar company.  Kudos to them.   More soon folks…

Power System is Online!

I have installed and dry run tested the inverter and battery bank.  I couldn’t connect the solar panels yesterday because it was too windy and I would never be able to get back off of that roof.  The ladder was blowing over all by itself, so probably not the safest time to try.   I have to get up there and tie the solar panels in to the combiner box and wire it all in to the charge controller today, as well as insulating the batteries and fabricating the long overdue door to the shed.   We are expecting snow for the next 3 days so that only leaves me today to get it done.   Here are a couple of pictures of the dry run of the power system.

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I also added some pictures to the gallery of the beautiful sunrises we get out here.  I’ll update soon with more info.

Starting to Lay adobe

I’m prepping the foundation today with concrete and mortar to create a level surface to lay the bricks.  Once that sets up I will start laying brick and post some pictures.  Here’s another picture of the foundation with the railroad ties in it.

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I stapled down the tar paper and will concrete over the edges of it to help create a better seal.   It’s starting to get cold up here at nights so I’m in a hurry to get this done before it becomes too cold for the mortar to set up properly.  I will keep you posted.  It should go fairly quickly from this point.  (famous last words)

Oh, and here’s a not-too-close picture of the wild horses grazing on my land.

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