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Our family's passive solar zero energy off grid house kit construction blog.
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Off Grid Passive Solar Systems Update, and Preserving Local Food And Culture.

We had a SUPER time celebrating at Richmond's Local Food Celebration with the Center For Rural Culture, The Sierra Club, Partnership For Smarter GrowthCapital Region Land Conservancy and Richmond Green Drinks at Thomas Jefferson's boyhood home, Tuckahoe Plantation.

I encourage you to check out all of the aforementioned organizations... they do great things for local environmental, cultural, and land preservation as well as promoting smart growth.

Bluetick Holliday graciously provided bluegrass for the event, check 'em out, below!

Bluetick Holliday : Hire 'em! 804-400-2333

Oh, but you thought this was gonna be a prefab passive solar off grid systems post, didn'tja?

FINE. I'll toss ya a bone.
(Get it? My child throwing a dog a bone in the pic while at the Local Foods Celebration?
See, get it? Okkkkkk-never-mind... )

We placed our order for some of our off grid solar systems for the prefab house kit last week.
(Wow, that was SO FAST!!!! ; ) #JokeToAnyoneWhomHasFollowedThisProject - the house kit went up in a week, the systems, er, not so quickly... )

Here's what we ordered:

Solar systems: Note: this is a gentle, minimal solar system to get us through the coming years as we expect off grid technology to advance for the prefab, as well as that we embrace changing our energy expectations of usage to be less, challenging ourselves to do more, thinking strategically about power usage vs. having mass systems.

Handsome Husband would like to mention that the service and information he experienced at Backwoods Solar was stellar.
I steer people towards companies that can satisfy *anywhere* on the GMK web site, convenience with a large reach is important. But I also always encourage house kit purchasers to explore their local system vendors / solutions as well. In the end, Backwoods Solar's attention to detail and hanging in for the long-haul really created the relationship with Handsome Husband while I stepped back, letting him be the consumer-making-decisions on our own prefab green house kit... So if you're in that region you might consider them for a quote. Handsome Husband really likes them.

Fantech HRV: Read more here.

More on the Envirolet Composting Toilet Information / Regulations: 
  • We bought an Envirolet waterless, self-contained unit.
  • When I kept pressing about septic fields, and why I thought they would be inefficient when used for a prefab house where black and gray water are separated, much less a composting toilet, this is what I learned: 
  • The drain pipe for the non electric composting toilet is actually “just a run off pipe” and this is what people do with it:
  • See what your own state says:
    State of Virginia, Office of Environmental Health Services, Main Street Station, Suite 117, PO Box 2448, Richmond, VA 23218-2448; Ph. (804) 225-4030;;

    REGULATION(S): 12 VAC 5-610-980. COMPOSTING TOILETS: Article 6. 12 VAC 5-610-970. 3. Composting toilets are devices which incorporate an incline plane, baffles, or other suitable devices onto which human excreta is deposited for the purpose of allowing aerobic decomposition of the excreta. The decomposing material is allowed to accumulate to form a humus type material. These units serve as both toilet and disposal devices. Composting toilets are located interior to a dwelling. All materials removed from a composting privy shall be buried. Compost material shall not be placed in vegetable gardens or on the ground surface. All composting toilets must be certified by the National Sanitation Foundation as meeting the current Standard 41.

    GRAYWATER: No existing regulations.
    CONSTRUCTED WETLANDS: 12VAC5-640-370. Constructed wetlands are considered experimental and will be considered on a case by case basis by the department. All constructed wetland systems shall be designed to meet or exceed 10 mg/l BOD5 and 10 mg/l suspended solids. Experimental systems are exactly that: experimental. Only the results of testing will determine if they will become an approved method of treating wastewater. Some systems can solve site and soil problems that a conventional septic system cannot handle; however, no system can overcome all of the problems on some difficult sites.
    The Division is looking to find safe, sanitary and economical solutions for every site but some problems still lack a viable solution. In short, not every site "percs" and many, if not all, alternative technologies are more expensive than a conventional gravel system. The Department urges prospective buyers to get an approval letter or construction permit before buying property you wish to build on.154
You may have noticed we have not been able to go to the land, which is very strange for us...Between volunteering for Pirate 2.0 Sailing Campand working out of town, it has been impossible. However, we have some special guests residing at the prefab house in our place; I look forward to sharing their thoughts on their experience in the off grid passive solar prefab house kit with you soon.

At the least, they report back happily that the blackberries growing thick on our dirt piles are ripening quickly and quite delicious.
Next up? New Yawk Invades. : ) So we take 'em sailing! #Pirates

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On Sustainable Business, And Cook Stoves

Since discovering my beloved 1940s Mealmaster for our off grid prefab house kit and tracking down the manufacturer, Knox Stove Works, I have had some great conversations with their representative, Joe Anderson, who caught me up with what the company is doing today.  They still make Mealmasters, but there's a catch:

"Well, because these cook stoves last forever and don't break, we had to expand into other areas, such as making cattle gates and other agricultural metalworks.  A new Mealmaster is made up of lots of pieces, so it's labor intensive to create, therefore are an investment.  But they last forever, so people just keep finding our old cook stoves and reusing them."

It reminds me of that gum commercial, where the gum just keeps working, and working... and the company has to kidnap back its gum so people will buy another piece!

I loved hearing the Mealmaster story, because it reflects my own philosophy regarding a sustainable, environmentally friendly business: you must have multiple revenue streams because if your product is great, it lasts, and can be reused; so one doesn't just do *one* thing, but several things well: that is what makes a business lighter on the earth and sustainable.

Really, even if you're a green builder, should the sum of your career be solely... building?
Oh, I know I'll be slapped for that comment, but I believe we need to consider it. And forced by the recession, I am seeing architecture firms expand their skill sets into graphic design, web development, as well as providing solutions for those in need of environmentally-friendly shelter.

And the people who solely focus on building, building, building? Firms competing to be bigger and bigger, with ever-increasing volume? They don't interest me. Are they creating buildings solely for salaries rather then focusing on providing solutions while rewarded by their income from several areas in which they do well, and enjoy?

Tektonics, our partner in our Green Cabin Kits prefabs, is another great example: They are industrial designers, bike craftsmen, carpenters, fabricators, and architects...

But back to cook stoves: I asked Mr. Anderson how I might bring my own Mealmaster up to today's standards; although the exterior and oven area are in great condition (I know it doesn't look like it now, but I discovered those spots are *easy* to wipe away, the inside is in great condition; I just haven't been back to the passive solar prefab house kit yet to clean it!), the fire brick is cracked and that area could use replacing.

"We now have a drop in fire box replacement."
Fantastic! Er, how much will that cost?
Sublime. I'll take it!

So soon we will drop in the new version of the combustion area, while solidifying research on air exchange and other issues mentioned previously to consider when installing such an appliance in a tight, energy efficient, structural insulated panel prefab house.

More off grid systems detail  for the passive solar prefab house kit soon.  The solar systems order is placed, and technical off grid prefab systems information follows!

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Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Muse Awards... and... URBAN CHICKENS!

Because of our passive solar prefab house kits that bring affordable energy efficiency to consumers, Green Modern Kits was nominated for a Muse Award, which recognizes creative businesses in Virginia...
...and... We won a Muse Award!!!

This is what I had written earlier about our philosophy:
We believe your home should not just be gorgeous but should function, and reduce your systems demands. 
I think energy efficiency can be encouraged not with more regulation and certification, but with fashionable education, honeychiles. If people stop viewing cul-de-sacs along four lane highways as a pretty way to live, if people view smart growth and walkability as fashionable vs. bloated subdivisions eating up countryside... then maybe fashion can have a great impact on raising the gorgeous smart growth consciousness of many, quickly.
Sustainability does not just incorporate architectural efficiency; a home's design must be something with which people are in love, so that they commit to it, and pass on that structure to future generations.

Often people fall in love with our prefab house kits before they understand their intent to function; they love first and learn later.
But sustainability does not just encompass LEED certification.
Sustainability should question why ChemLawn drenched lawns are legal and allowed next to neighboring natural, food producing yards.  
Sustainability should question why multiple barking Mastiffs are ok per zoning vs. a few laying hens that can provide a family with nourishment, connection to their food, and reduce waste and strain on our community's municipal services.

And for my muse and inspiration?
I would like to thank all the households that were not nominated for a prestigious award but who choose to reduce their footprint and encourage their individual households to be sustainable, often despite local zoning, and make their small footprint, frugal, food producing homes look gorgeous so their neighbors then see it as desirable and work to do the same. 
It's a sustainable lifestyle choice, honeychiles.
All over, thanks to, yes, trendy fashionable press in national magazines and newspapers, families are taking these steps to become more independent, to reduce their waste, and raise their children eating hormone and chemical free local food. These are the families I'd like to recognize as MY muse, and hope that zoning everywhere begins to see and recognize them as benefiting our city, fashionably.
HOWEVER, it was a rough day, completely my fault.
What YOU don't know is that today, an article came out where I was *advocating* for urban chickens except the article basically read: "COPELAND CASATI HAS ILLEGAL CHICKENS!"

I have tried to discuss the matter several times with our local government, bringing sheets of information, links to how much this is supported and encouraged to reduce a community's waste throughout the nation. They wouldn't even put it on the docket to discuss, despite the group that showed up.

In this article, I really do believe the writer thought they were talking to an advocate PLUS coop revealer. So I will not correct that. I mean, really, I *did* say to stop living in the shadows and to make sustainability, not just LEED accreditation, a spotlight. So, I swallow with trepidation and face it. I did it, I'll own it. But in the meantime, if you live in Richmond and think this is crazy that families can't have a few hens then... the best thing you can do is call, email, and voice your opinion in support of sustainability and urban chickens to your local government.

SO, here we were being feted by Virginia at the Virginia Museum and all I can think about is, "While we're here, what if they come for our chickens?!? What will grandma say if animal control shows up while she's babysitting?!?"
Good grief.
I really do hope they start reading what their *colleagues* are doing in other cities (much less Belgium is asking people to have chickens to reduce waste!)  instead of hurting our family. But... I own this.
I never would have skirted the law except they refused to even put it on the docket to discuss after multiple attempts to bring it up. My children's health is too important to wait for them to "get it" when the rest of the nation, their colleagues, are educating themselves and condoning urban chickens.

So yes, I made a choice: To connect my children to one more chemical free, hormone free food source at an affordable price while teaching them responsibility, caring for and handling animals, and project management.

Really, zoning, is that such a bad thing?!?

When you start getting award winning Virginia firms surreptitiously keeping hens and school board members happily volunteering to be their chicken sitters, maybe you should frickin' take a closer look at what your PEERS nationally are doing.

Why am I so passionate about this?
Here's a good case study of why I fight for urban chickens: 

I really can't believe families in need can't care for a few hens. I really can't believe our government was *begging* for us to raise hens in recent memory, yet now it is eschewed.
That's why I question today's convention: I'm kinda siding with Uncle Sam, who is imploring me to be sustainable. So why doesn't city council get it? Zoning? Hello? Hellllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllooooooooooooooooo....
Honeychiles I'm just following federally mandated precedent:

P.s.  My neighbor's out-of-town guests just told us how enthralled with our chickens they were while visiting this week; said my next-door neighbors had told them how much fun it was to live next door to them, and how their own city, Dallas, has great coop / garden tours... Yes, DALLAS...

At the end of the day, this might just make me a Chicken Anarchist. That would be highly inconvenient as I enjoy bathing. ; )

And P.p.s.: Zoning: The chickens are now gone. But in city yards everywhere, in a residential neighborhood near you... they're baaaaaaack.

VMFA Muse Awards from Copeland Casati on Vimeo.

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Pirates And Prefabs! Summer Sailing While Pondering A Cook Stove For The Passive Solar House Kit.

We are down at the bay, turning the next generation into pirates.


While teaching them about wind, waves, and sea, my mind still rests on that old cook stove we bought for $250 on a nearby farm last week.
Did you know that cook stove, a Mealmaster 44N, is still in production today?!?
A new cook stove retails for about $1,700.
Not including shipping...

A replacement firebox for our rediscovered cook stove will be ordered this week for $150, which also upgrades it to work for "today's standards." More on that after it arrives, with more information on the retrofit into an energy efficient, prefab SIPs house with a tight envelope.

But first, we have to get this generation sailing!
While we're here, friends are out at the off grid zero energy passive solar prefab house kit, staying on the land for the next few weeks, so I'm hoping to beg some pictures of the cook stove and prefab house kit  from them to keep you company while we launch Pirates 2.0.

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Fireplaces, Woodstoves: Heating. And Old Nostalgia With Purpose In A Modern, Zero Energy, Prefab House Kit.

GOT MY COOKSTOVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It even came with a **FREE** mouse nest inside!!!!!!

We headed over to an old Appomattox farm to pick up what I have been desiring for years, a 1940s cook stove. We shall see if this will work within an energy efficient, zero energy prefab modern house kit.
But first: I'm going to talk for a moment about another man other than Handsome Husband who is HOT. Scandal! Mattias, honeychile, I adore you but you look so Hot, Hot, Hot.
This week, summer arrived early: Virginia is at about 90% humidity and 90-something degrees while our German friend visits, yet he refused to ditch his warm clothes for t-shirts and shorts. I'm watching him swelter, in khaki pants, wingtips, and long sleeves... cheeks flushed, sweat beaded... Chile, don't you know this is why we in the South drink our tea and beer ICE COLD? Days like this, honey, days like this. Poor thing, Friday, there wasn't even a breeze. (Which usually provides respite.) I keep offering him Handsome Husband's shorts and t-shirts...

Nights provide only brief relief, ending the crackling, heavy, heat-filled days with thunderstorms.

As hot as poor Mattias is, we are all having a great time together. Tomorrow we'll take him to some of our favorite museums and historic sites... and to try some local food...

Any-hoo, as it's scorching in Virginia, why don't we add some fuel to the... fire?

Let's talk fire places, wood stoves, and heat:

By now you know that when you build an energy efficient SIPs (structural insulated panels) home, therefore with a tight envelope, your systems must be efficient - you do more with less, and air exchange (Energy Recovery or Heat Recovery) is key.

Let's talk about nostalgic "systems" : Some of you want a fireplace. Fireplaces were ineffectual from the beginning.
** Read this article to see why they should even be against code. **

Believe me, I get it: Don't you remember my mod 1960s fireplace adventure?  As much as I wanted that mod super coolio  fireplace, thinking I could seal it somehow, it wouldn't have worked.  In a SIPs home, sealed combustion is critical - otherwise you will draw in cold air, smoke, and gasses into your tight prefab house kit's environment.

But we must also balance efficiency with local culture: Many of our enthusiasts live in rural areas.  Pellet stoves are effective. But when you consider the fact that pellets are trucked in from such long distances when a rural house kit is surrounded by already fallen timber, a renewable resource... having an efficient wood stove in such a setting weighs in heavily towards this practical, local application.

I love to cook. And I love to be cozy.
I grew up with a wood stove.
[Y'know, the efficient one that still sits unused in my parent's basement? My brother *might* need that one day...(rolls eyes)]

I've always LOVED, adored, admired, and wanted a cook stove.
It's not modern. It's not the latest Energy Star blah blah blah technology. I certainly won't get rebates. ; ) But when I saw this 1940s Mealtime cook stove on Craigslist... I snapped it up, I did
Despite the fact it would go into a zero energy modern prefab built with SIPs.
Here is how we are going to attempt to deal with this adored, ineffective (and needs to be more efficient) antique in the context of a modern, zero energy, SIPs house kit.

Firstly, whenever you create an opening in a SIPs house, you need to make sure to plug up that potential energy loss, honeychile!

Think of your building envelope as a nice, warm, cozy, down comforter in which you've just happily wrapped yourself on a winter's night.  Just as I remind you to insulate under and around your foundation, to add insulation wherever you see none, why would you punch holes through your blanket if you didn't intend to sew and plug it back up just as effectively? Otherwise you have just completely turned a great, last-lifetimes, thick-and-comforting-with-its-warmth comforter and turned it into a thin, threadbare throw. Brrrrrr.

When I research systems decisions, fyi, I usually start my query with "passive house" + issue I'm researching.
Passive House (Passiv Haus) is a stringent certification of which I could certainly see our passive solar house kits achieving for those that are interested to do so (yes, we can do thicker panels), but personally think Passive House goes overboard for our local climate in certain areas, often sacrificing aesthetic design. I believe you should be in love with your home. I believe your home should foster community, even if it means flinging open windows and doors and letting efficiency wane during a raucous, late summer evening with friends.

It's the little touches I'm adding to our own home that make it so special, coupled with efficiency - I swoon over cook stoves, I caress the patina and scuffs on my recycled basketball court. It's a sensual thing, a building made and filled with... stories. All these little touches are, to me, what, even if it's not quite as efficient or convenient, like my perfect-for-off-grid-on-a-budget Maytag wringer washer, still make the sum of my off grid home... Epic. Yet not expensive. And appropriate for an off grid, zero energy home.

And therefore, these anomalies are the right solutions for our own local and individual off grid house for our family.

For myself and our family's own house kit decisions, I dance between our own extreme German efficiency and... gorgeous but functional design. Nostalgia that embraces usefulness in my individual environ, not trying to appeal to some big industry trade show surrounded by narrow-eyed competitors.

It seems to me that, although valuable, following 100% certified rigid universal rules doesn't always accommodate and apply to the organic originality each family and micro-local climate and cultural aesthetic brings to their own prefab SIPs home... just to consider.

Here are some links to wood stove / kitchen venting information (and more) we found useful: (I enjoy the discussion and information as a thread progresses on a post, it gives you information to consider for yourself)
What you need to know is that just as protecting and maintaining your exterior seal and house kit envelope is key, so is ensuring the wood stove / cook stove is tight as well, to prevent pollutants from soiling your indoor air.

[And while we're on the subject of ventilation, it's not just the inside you need to protect, consider the outside: (for a future post): Rain Screens!]
These are all things we'll be discussing with our installer and contractor.
I happened to run across Guy Dubois, owner of Commonwealth Building Sciences, a Richmond building performance specialist and asked him about the cook stove.

"Well, ERV's and HRV's don't provide make-up air, which you'll need for a wood stove. You need a pipe for intake, and a pipe for exhaust to have a proper flue draft. There are SO many variables and schools of thought on this... you also need to be concerned about depressurization, and to choose a system that can create make-up air when you need it.

There is an issue with the combustion air safety zone.  I will come back with more on that in July. There is no one clear cut answer, it involves knowing how much air that stove draws...

I've been running into this issue as home owners tighten up their home but have open combustion appliances installed which could depressurize the house enough to back draft into the living space."

And that previous mod 1960s fireplace with which I am still enamored that we determined we couldn't use in the prefab?
It might not work within a prefab passive solar modern SIPs home, but it will certainly have great uses outdoors, helping to prevent me from worrying about a warming autumn fire from igniting the field, even though it just rained. (Yes, I rightly worry about that, if you were in my shoes going through years of drought, wouldn't you, even though the field is freshly wet? I'm just trained to worry about stuff like that...)  Reused and repurposed, I look forward to holding my hands close, huddling against it as we toast marshmallows and tell spooky stories under the stars.

P.s. Good news! I started cleaning the cook stove (pictures soon) and the white part is cleaning up *really* nicely! Next is the cook top, which has no cracks, and I'll be researching best practice repair for firebox cement cracks (company is still in business, fortunately). The enamel is in *excellent* condition. This actually *might* work in a SIPs house!

P.p.s. In case you are wondering: it's a Mealmaster K-44N by Knox Stove Works. (Technical docs: - it *does* comply with NFPA 211 specifications.)

If I were buying new I'd buy a Baker's Choice or Baker's Oven. But then again, we're still researching compatibility with such a tight envelope.

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Considering Virginia Off Shore Drilling

We were supposed to go to the land... but, due to Handsome Husband's last minute work deadline, couldn't.
Instead, I, with the children, hitched a ride to the bay, where I have spent a lifetime... and am now sharing with the next generation... and hope for their children to know.

So it is no surprise I could not stop thinking about the BP Oil Spill as I sailed and splashed through these waters...
And that, this, all of this you see in my photos of Virginia's watershed... could be desecrated similarly, easily.

We need to not only focus on containing what BP has done to our nation's environment, and hold them accountable to restore it (but how can you, completely?!?), but to prevent this from ever happening again.  This is also a challenge for us all to consider ways to reduce waste, to reduce dependency on oil, and to increase energy independence through alternate means.

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