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Wet Weekend In The Prefab Modern House! Zero Energy Still With No Systems Didn't Stop Us From A Party!

It was a rainy, wet, muddy weekend in the off grid, zero energy prefab modern house.

Although overcast, I was able to get the solar cooker working enough thanks to occasional glimpses of sun to warm dinner for the evening... and for Handsome Husband and Pipsqueak 1 to spend a nice afternoon canoeing and panning for gold at Holliday State Park!

Before the rain arrived, I spent some time walking the field, broadcasting clover seed. 
Slowly, through consistent mowing, grasses begin to emerge from the briers.  The clover will improve the soil, further overshadow the weeds, and create a beneficial cover crop for wildlife.  We intend to be no till, but at some point in the next few years we *will* need to disc - honeychile the previous farmers left the field riddled in furrows, which means traversing the road makes for a bucking-bronco experience. (Which the children love, but the dogs definitely do not- you should see them all seasick by the time we throw open the car and they tumble out!)

Last night, we had...gosh... twenty-ish people here for dinner!
The net zero energy prefab house is still with no systems installed, but that didn't stop us.

It was the last weekend before the farmers markets open for the season, so we used that as an excuse to see our farming friends before they disappear on Saturdays for market.  It was a *lovely* evening with old friends bringing new, gathering together to do my favorite activity: Makin' Something Outta Nuthin'!
Everyone brought a treat.

So a lone dish of pasta suddenly was surrounded with delicious homemade, homegrown food: freshly picked asparagus with homemade cheese, potato salad, dark bread with dill sauce as an appetizer, lemon squares, a gorgeous baked apple cake was topped with Lisa's ice cream... and on, and on... A FEAST!

I assure you that although this prefab is a small footprint home... a big crowd can be crammed in on a rainy evening HAPPILY, and comfortably!

I moved over the card table I have been using as my "pretend kitchen island" to the end of the dining table... it fit perfectly, and voila, the table sat ten spaciously!  I then placed chairs (remember those stackable Piretti Xylon chairs people thought I was crazy for snapping up thirty of them? Honeychile that's because I always envision a party!) around the coffee table, and suddenly there was a new area to eat and lounge.  The pipsqueaks tended to dash about, snatching bits of bread and cake off the tables and their parent's plates...

At the end of a raucous, fantastic evening, with good wine, great food, and lots of laughter, I climbed atop the gravel pile and held the lantern high as our guests carried sleepy children through the dark to their cars and trundled down the drive to home.

As the last car turned, disappearing from the field, I looked back at our prefab modern home.
Inside, the light glowed softly... it just looked so happy, secure, safe, friendly...

Afterwards, I washed dishes on a picnic table dragged underneath the prefab's overhang, halfway in the gentle rain, not minding it a bit.  It was relaxing to busy myself, getting things done, while recalling every nice moment of the evening.

The rain picked up, everyone went to bed, but I sat up awhile, in the far corner chair, using that area as I always intended - a great reading spot, cozy, listening to the rain... it was wonderful.

I thought back to the years when we camped in the teardrop camper with children in diapers - a wet weekend like this we would avoid, not run to.  The driving rain would have us packing up the children in the middle of the night, sloshing mud and misery to drive a long dark drive to safety.

Instead, here I was warm, happy, enjoying an architecture magazine while listening to the tap tap tap of lovely, soothing rain.

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Virginia Museum of Fine Arts : Open, Integrated Into The Community Fabric

Somehow, I was invited to the press tour of the soon-to-be-open-after-years-of-construction Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Honeychiles, you know I'm no writer. But I *jumped* at the chance to see the new architecture, the James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Wing, and the amazing collections of beloved art!!!

Walking in, the open yet connectedness of all the different parts of the museum made me feel relaxed, not overwhelmed.  I am very sensitive to artificial light or any feeling of being hemmed in - I felt led gently by the architecture from one area to another, not confined by it.

Rick Mather may have been stuck in London (um, thanks volcanic ash cloud), but the architecture team was well represented. Here are some of his thoughts and feelings about this project.  They mentioned how even before the architects began to think of the new wing, they diagrammed the existing galleries and wings created in different eras over the last seventy years before considering the new architecture, and how to best integrate it all with each other and into the community, today.

Thanks to Bill Richards of The Virginia Center For Architecture, I unwittingly stalked and caught a very nice architect on the team who explained the challenge of taking English architecture and adjusting it to work in the United States. [Don't forget there are totally different sets of codes, certifications, etc. which colleagues have discussed at length on twitter. (Thank you, English architecture twitter friends!)]

Another aspect of museum architecture to consider here in energy efficiency is how to control the temperature throughout, so that natural light and height can be prevalent, yet visitors can traverse these areas with consistent and comfortable temperatures. They did a great job.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts - An Architect Speaks

I am very excited to have the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts accessible again.
The collections are some of the best in the world.
It was amazing to stroll through the galleries and remember each piece and setting I had admired as a child, seen now, in updated settings. Alex Nyerges, director, explains:

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Press Opening

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts further proves its determination to be accessible for all: 

When they reopen, they will no longer charge admission.
Grateful, I will make sure my donations are even larger when I visit.

You might wonder:
WHAT was it like to wander a museum full of treasures, some of the most amazing collections in the world: some of the best modern art, Faberg√©, Dali, Monet; Egyptian, Asian, and African art; mid-century furniture, art deco and art nouveau bedroom suites, 1800s silverware...  unfettered?
How would YOU feel?!?
How would you feel just walking about, meandering through spaces where there was priceless art still on the floor as they readied the exhibit rooms?

Where construction was ongoing, banging, drilling, painting as you strolled through?!?

Who are we kidding, IT WAS COOL!!!
It was one of the GREATEST MOMENTS I have had in awhile...

Go see it for yourself.
Make it a day, you won't be sorry.

It's a great time to live in or visit Richmond.

Constance Costas, editor of Skirt! Richmond, said it well:

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Press Opening

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Net Zero Prefab... FINE... Carbon Neutral.

I am now convinced that the difficulty in getting a wood stove installer out to the net zero prefab is really The LEED God's way of saying he wants me to be not only to remain net zero but carbon neutral.  Well, ok, technically the wood is carbon neutral, but it still is kind of a "good" on the good / better / best rating scale...

FINE. We'll be better.

No wood stove.
(And check out the amaaaaaaaaazing cookstove we found -->)

This turn of events began when we realized the hardware store sold Handsome Husband a wood stove for a garage, not a residence. At that point I had left messages over the week with numerous chimney companies in the area, none of whom returned my phone calls. I began to realize that, in this rural area, by the time this task was completed it would probably already be spring. And that the house, even with a small wood stove, would be overheated.

But there really is something about having a wood stove...
And darned it, I don't want a fabulous party, I'm not asking for a golden goose, I just want some heat!

FYI: What you need to know about wood stoves in a SIP (structural insulated panel) house: 
  • Because prefab SIPs homes are so air tight, proper ventilation is key
  • Anything touching the SIP needs to be under 160 degrees- so if the pipe gets close to that, the SIP needs to be protected - there are many guidelines on this, I can post them if you like.

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Off Grid Net Zero Systems For A Prefab Green Modern Home

We spoke about off grid net zero systems for our own prefab green modern home last weekend (see the videos here), but Handsome Husband also put together a worksheet of all the off grid net zero systems we consider installing in our own net zero, passive solar prefab green home.

NOTE that YOUR family's load needs, site / climate conditions, etc. will certainly differ from what we have individually tailored for ourselves; I assume if you are on grid this will be much less, but in the end your systems costs all depend upon what systems YOU choose with your contractor to suit your individual needs.

Also note we originally spec'd off grid systems over two years ago, and so, as new technology / other ways of achieving what we want became available, we changed some things to what we have today, that's attainable for us within our own budget.  So if you are reading this post two years in the future, don't take this as "today's latest and greatest" - do yourself a favor and see what's new in the off grid marketplace!
Here is our "ALMOST DECIDED UPON" off grid systems information:

Qty Item Price Extended
2 2 zone, 3 loop ea. Manifold
Mr. PEX 103B-50P - 3 Loop Radiant Heat Manifold Package (1/2" PEX)
 $     174.95  $   349.90
2 El Sid Radiant Heat Zone Circulation Pump
(one for each zone and one for solar collector circulation)

Model Number: EL-SID10B24

0.25 Amp
3 Gal/Min flow at no head
max. unbalanced head: 3.5 feet
 $     240.00  $   480.00
1 mixing valve
3/4" Sweat 5003 Mixing Valve
Taco 5003-C2
 $     100.00  $   100.00
2 High performance air eliminator
Watts 0590715 - 1/8" FV4 Auto Air Vent
 $         5.00  $     10.00
4 Fill and drain valves
3/4" 777SI Bronze Wye Strainer (Threaded)
Watts  0379082
 $       25.00  $   100.00
2 Isolation valve
3/4" Solder Ends Gate Valve
Matco-Norca  514C04
 $         7.00  $     14.00
8 Pressure/Temperature gauge
Boshart TR25-CB1-60/250 - 1/4" NPT, 2.5" Face, Temperature & Pressure Gauge (Tridicator)
1-9/16" long Well, 1/4" npt thread
(for DHW, solar, each radiant loop)
 $       15.00  $   120.00
2 Expansion tank
#60 Extrol Expansion Tank (7.6 Gallon Volume)
Amtrol  103-1
 $       66.00  $   132.00
2 Check Valve
3/4" Solder Ends Swing Check Valve
Matco-Norca  521C04
 $         7.00  $     14.00
2 Radiant Heat Thermostat
VisionPro Thermostat (1 Heat - 1 Cool)
Honeywell  TH8110U1003
 $     100.00  $   200.00
2 Radiant Heat pump relay
Universal Switching Relay w/ Internal Transformer

The R8845U Universal Switching Relay with 24 V transformer provides intermediate switching of line-and low-voltage devices from a line- or low-voltage controller and is typically applied in Hydronic heating systems.
 $       47.00  $     94.00
2 pressure relieve valve
Watts 140 Re-Seating Temp & Pressure Relief Valve
3/4" 140S Relief Valve
Watts  0254702
 $     105.00  $   210.00
1 Mixing valve (DHW)
3/4" Sweat 5003 Mixing Valve
Taco  5003-C2
 $     100.00  $   100.00
 $          -  
 $          -  
 $          -  
heat total  $1,923.90 


Qty Item Price Extended
1 hot water storage tank 80 gal
used for radiant heat supply, this is a standard electrical water heater retro-fitted with an external heat exchanger
GE 80 Gallon Electric Tall Water Heater 6YR 4500 Watt DE
# Amperage : 18.8 A.
# Assembled Depth (In Inches) : 23 In.
# Assembled Height (In Inches) : 59 In.
# Assembled Weight (In LBS) : 177
# Assembled Width (In Inches) : 23 In.
# Voltage : 240 V.
# Watts : 4500 W.
# Weight : 177 Lbs
 $      488.00  $      488.00
1 hot water storage tank 40 gal
used for domestic hot water supply, this is a standard electrical water heater with an external heat exchanger retro-fitted
GE 40 Gallon Electric Medium Water Heater 6YR 4500 Watt DE
# Voltage : 240 V.
# Watts : 4500 W.
Amperage : 18.8 A.

# Assembled Depth (In Inches) : 19.75 In.
# Assembled Height (In Inches) : 46.75 In.
# Assembled Weight (In LBS) : 105
# Assembled Width (In Inches) : 19.75 In.
 $      283.00  $      283.00
2 external heat exchanger
Solar Hero Heat Exchanger
comes ready to be plumbed to electric water heater
 $      300.00  $      600.00
0 Tankless water heater
Bosch AquaStar 1000P tankless propane
used as a backup heat source tied into the solar loop feeding DHW and radiant storage tanks
activates above 0.5 gallons per minute (gpm)

cancelled as it is requested to be installed outside
 $      350.00  $             -  
1 Differential Temperature Controller
SunEarth SETR0301U Solar Water Heating Differential System Control

(includes 2 sensors)

The control output is wired to a pump that circulates the heat transfer fluid between the solar thermal collectors and the storage tank during the course of the day. This microprocessor-based control utilizes two RTD type sensors to monitor collector and tank temperatures with digital accuracy.
 $      160.00  $      160.00
1 Differential Temperature Controller (basic)

gives preference to heating the radiant tank over the DHW tank by switching the DHW circulator on when the temperature in the radiant tank is greater by X degrees than the temperature in the DHW tank.

ART-TEC Solar Powered Differential Temperature Controller DTC-1

includes 2 temperature sensors
handles up to 30 V and 72 Watts/6 Amps (use relay if larger power needs but unnecessary since it is driving the El-SID pump:
24Volt, 0.25 Amp
 $      100.00  $      100.00
1 mixing valve
3/4" Sweat 5003 Mixing Valve
Taco 5003-C2
 $      100.00  $      100.00
1 El Sid Radiant Heat Zone Circulation Pump
(for solar collector circulation)

Model Number: EL-SID10B24

0.25 Amp
3 Gal/Min flow at no head
max. unbalanced head: 3.5 feet
 $      240.00  $      240.00
hot water total  $   1,971.00


Qty Item Price Extended
0 Airiva Heat Recovery Ventilator
part #: AR3468
80% temperature recovery
up to 4000 sf

cancelled: noisy, requires external timer
 $     450  $        -  
1 VHR 1404 Air Exchange Heat Recovery
Ventilator (
190 VA (Watt)
(what is difference of SHR 1504 1.5A?)
 $     700  $     700
0 A-Ceiling Fan 24v
cancelled for now, prepare wiring
 $     135  $        -  
0 A-Swivel Kit  $       20  $        -  
air quality total  $     700
Tips: Put a fresh air inlet close/in the kitchen to make cooking smell extraction more efficient.
To reduce noise don't put a T duct junction closer than 1.5m from HRV unit, and use a soft Y junction.

Use acoustic ducting between rooms if there is 'cross talk' via the ducting, or for short outlet ducting. It is expensive if you get the proper stuff - it HAS to be acoustic ducting, don't accept insulated ducting with acoustic properties).

If you connect the cooker extract, disable the cooker hood fan which locally accelerates grease around the ducts and use the fan signal to demand maximum HRV boost. Use an additional in line filter if there is any doubt about grease. Note as the system is balanced you will not need to run it at such a violent rate as before to get the same effect. I find the default trickle vent enough for cooking with lids on pots in summer.

Build time about 3-4 days for this job.
I choose the Vent Axia HR250, because it is older technology, cheap, robust, easy to speed control, has multiple extract vents, and the company has a good and long reputation. I'm not sure the newer versions with pollen control and summer by pass filters, electronic control systems really justify an extra £1K.

Qty Item Price Extended
0 remote light switch kit - simple

cancelled, review conventional wiring
 $   149.00  $          -  
10 Lighting:

L-CF 11:
12V, 11 watt, approximately 600 lumens
 $     18.00  $   180.00
1 Little Giant Sewage Pump (Black Water)
SKU: 509560

120 V
8.9 Amps (running)
15' head 22 gal/min
 $   250.00  $   250.00
1 Little Giant Sewage Pump (Gray Water)
SKU: 509560

120 V
8.9 Amps (running)
15' head 22 gal/min
 $   250.00  $   250.00
miscellaneous total  $   680.00

Device Volts Amps Watts hours/day Watt Hours Amp Hours
Solar Circulation pump
through solar hot water collector
24 0.25 6 8 48 2
DHW Tank Circulation Pump
through heat exchanger
24 0.25 6 8 48 2
Radiant Tank Circulation Pump
through heat exchanger
24 0.25 6 8 48 2
Radiant Heat Circulation Pump
for Zone 1
24 0.25 6 14 84 3.5
Radiant Heat Circulation Pump
for Zone 1
24 0.25 6 14 84 3.5
Water Supply Pump
24 7 168 1 168 7
Sewage Pump (Black water)
Little Giant
120 8.9 1068 0.25 267 2.225
Sewage Pump (Grey water)
Little Giant
120 8.9 1068 1 1068 8.9
Lightbulb 12 0.9 10.8 6 64.8 5.4
Lightbulb 12 0.9 10.8 6 64.8 5.4
Lightbulb 12 0.9 10.8 6 64.8 5.4
Lightbulb 12 0.9 10.8 6 64.8 5.4
Lightbulb 12 0.9 10.8 6 64.8 5.4
Lightbulb 12 0.9 10.8 6 64.8 5.4
Lightbulb 12 0.9 10.8 6 64.8 5.4
Lightbulb 12 0.9 10.8 6 64.8 5.4
Lightbulb 12 0.9 10.8 6 64.8 5.4
Lightbulb 12 0.9 10.8 6 64.8 5.4
Laptop IDEAPAD Lenovo 120 0.06 7.2 10 72 0.6
Laptop IDEAPAD Lenovo 120 0.06 7.2 5 36 0.3
Heat Recovery Ventilator 120 1.4 168 2 336 2.8
refrigerator Sundanzer R165 24 8 240 0
total power consumption 3147 88.825

battery storage efficiency 0.8

daily hours of sunshine 6

panel output Amps 19 amp hours needed/battery stroage efficiency/hours of sunshine
Mitsubishi MF125 Amps 7.23

# of panels needed 3

...And there you have it - more off grid net zero systems information than you ever want to know for our OWN prefab modern house kit!

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Passive Solar Prefab House Kit Open House Weekend: Off Grid Net Zero Systems, Living With Less And Doing More.

Well, what-a-weekend in the off grid prefab house kit that was!
Friday I raced to the prefab modern house, cleaned up, and met with a reporter.
Then my family and friends arrived, and honeychile, we trashed the prefab house kit.

Saturday we woke up and frantically cleaned up for the Prefab Open House, which was really fun!
Thank you all who drove from so far to come visit us in the off grid prefab house kit, STILL with no systems!
Then the Prefab Open House was over, and we promptly trashed the house, again.

THEN Sunday we woke up and frantically cleaned, again! And a photographer came out. And then we trashed the house! Then I cleaned it again!
I. Am. Pooped.
It. Was. FUN. : )

We are very grateful to The Ault's Family Farm who not only let us take showers, but sent us back to the prefab passive solar house kit with cartons of gorgeous pullet eggs to give our guests!!!

And, why yes, we *did* eat cake! : )

Handsome Husband spoke about the off grid systems we are installing in the net zero passive solar prefab house.

Off Grid Net Zero Systems Talk Part 1 for Prefab House Kit

Off Grid Net Zero Systems Talk Part 2 for Prefab House Kit

As we mentioned, it's not just about a cool modern, energy efficient prefab house.
It's about purposely spec'ing for less systems, for off grid, doing more with less.

It's the fun treasure hunt to Make Somethin' Outta Nothin' - note as you look at pictures of the prefab, that almost *everything* has been recycled and reused - from the passing-down of my grandmothers bed, to the bookcase found in a thrift store used and already reused within our own family in four different ways before finding its fifth use in the prefab house.

A nice woman from Maryland asked me how we got into "green living." (And she is in wildlife management! She should be giving us advice! : ) )

The simple answer is... we grew up with land, feel connected to it, see the cause and effect in how people treat it.  We grew up sailing, so understand the wind and sun and how to use it.  We camp, so appreciate bringing this all together to preserve but also shelter and sustain our family, comfortably.
Plus supa coolio modern design is really fun on a shoestring. I like the hunt!

Seriously, it just makes sense.
Living carefully, purposely, frugally just. makes. sense.
And is tons of fun.

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Off Grid Net Zero Prefab House Kit CAKE!!!!

We're getting ready to head out to the off grid net zero prefab house kit to get ready for Saturday's Prefab Open House, but I just had to share what Amy made for my early birthday present:
A CAKE of our beloved off grid prefab house!!!!
EVERYTHING is edible, even the dirt.

I'm still stunned.

Here's the question:
If the cake PRODUCES more energy through that sugar than the energy Amy EXPENDED does this mean it's a NET ZERO cake?!?
; )

copeland casati
6902 park ave / rva 23226
804/ 515-7886

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

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Lovely weekend. But time to get busy on the prefab house kit!

For Easter break we headed down to the river for some quiet time, and met up with our more northern cousins, in town from Warrenton, Alexandria, and New York. It was delightful, and quiet. Exactly what I needed to kick this cold I have had for four months: I had forgotten what it is like to have amenities like running water and a working stove on the weekends!

The best moments were spending time with my cousins, and watching the next generation forge their own friendships and explore this place I loved to explore when I was their age.

While visiting, we even had an impromptu tour of our cousins' home - I took a video because I thought you might find the architecture and materials interesting. The video ends quickly when he digresses on "How to scare wood peckers" which, I thought you might find NOT so interesting as we are of the type that ENCOURAGES wildlife. : )

Andy Gives A Tour
Thank goodness for cousins.

Now that we're back, the pure logistics of what will need to happen before the Prefab Off Grid Net Zero Open House intimidates me.

Also, here's fair warning for some of you that are more farming based and interested purely in the efficiency of the house kit: I'm about to spend the next few months geeking out on modern design. Don't worry, there's still off grid systems technology posts that will make you happy. : ) But although practical, I'm also a modern design geek, and about to go more into that side.

(Stick with it! It's still me. Just going off on a design tangent. We all have our quirks... : ) And once the prefab green home is finished we turn our thoughts more towards sustainable agriculture... with a LOT of help from our already-farming friends!)
AND, here's a design tangent we can all appreciate:

Cool dishes and lots of glasses for the off grid prefab house kit recycled back to use for the Open House - ALL OF THIS for $36 and it benefits the local Emergency Rescue Squad!

Seriously: WHY would you ever use paper plates and napkins when you can excel in elegance and frugality, celebrating recycling with gorgeous mix-n-match patterns?

That you can reuse, over and over and over and over... for all your friends and family!

I also got a GREAT update via email from Jason Dorris, who has been working on the prefab home's inner wall in the south room, adding the reused, recycled VMI basketball court after our carpenter Bobby Hirsh returned with his family to Haiti (to help there, as a skilled carpenter).

Here's his report:
"I love days when there is visible progress. I will go as high tomorrow as my ladders allow, then finish the plywood infill, and clean up."
I thought you might enjoy seeing the progress of the reused VMI basketball court on the walls as of our modern prefab house today:
(THANK YOU, Jason!)

Seeing these walls, and acquiring the plethora of glass and china this week to be reused in the prefab house kit from the thrift store, makes me REALLY WANT to drag out my mid-century Danish china hutch we found some years ago.  (So, yo: Anyone got a truck who is heading to the Prefab Open House this weekend?)

This hutch will be perfect for storing utensils and china in the kitchen area, and will look super with the reclaimed VMI floorboards.

For those of you following design, you may be noticing a practical pattern here that all can appreciate: We have always been into frugal, practical, gorgeous reuse!

The question you want to ask us is not "what is recycled?" but "what is NOT recycled?" And that is pretty much the prefab's off grid systems, bedsheets, and a lamp shade or two.

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