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Handsome Husband Thinks This Is A Post About His Off Grid Systems, But Really It's All About Crock Pots And Eggs On The Sidewalk

What. To. Do. On. A. Weekend. When. It's. 100 Degree. Heat. At. Least... EVERYWHERE in Virginia.
It's not that we have nothing to say, it's just too hot to type!
It's so hot, I served Scrambled Eggs Cooked On The Sidewalk for dinner!
[Well, ok, it didn't cook as fast as I wanted and we did finish the eggs inside but still it was a fun experiment! What else are ya gonna do for fun in this heat?]

The great news on my end this week is that I have been having rousing, compelling conversations with the health department regarding our black water / gray water / irrigation / rain water / anything water systems integration.
You think I am kidding. I am not.
Each person I have encountered at the Virginia Department of Health has been a wealth of knowledge and experience and supportive of what we are doing.

These t'ain't yer usual Guvament Bureaucrats. ; )
[Disclosure: I have regard for bureaucracy. I went to grad school for political science and love James Q. Wilson's Bureaucracy. And am still mad my thesis on derivatives was turned down because it was "more 'MBA-ish' than politics"... DUR, doesn't monetary policy affect politics? Oh well. Oh, the foresight, if only I had submitted it now during this derivative / mortgage storm! Ahead of mah time, honeychiles, ahead o' my time. But then I would have ended up achieving my original aspiration, Minister of Economy For A Remote Country Where I Would Eventually End Up As Supreme Ruler  instead of a pirate for the affordable prefabulous house kit cause. So, it's all good, honeychiles, it's all good.]

While Handsome Husband is out in the 106˚ heat meeting with Jason Dorris at the zero energy off grid house kit, we are keeping cool back in Richmond, in the A/C, making yogurt in the crockpot, chasing chickens, and doing chores.

I always wondered about those official yogurt makers. My family made our own yogurt growing up, but, like many of my dad's schemes (the vegetarian years, the wheat germ-and-bran-in-everything years, the soy craze, the crazier idea that my mom could cook), it was a phase. Too many little jars, too many pieces... I have been envying the big, beautiful Lehman's yogurt incubator ("exactly what I'd want!") but... it's fifty bucks. And that'z a lotta yogurt to make before you recoup the cost.

This crock pot recipe looks practical and a perfect science experiment to enjoy with the children working into another Kid Scout badge: COOKING.
(They're scrambling eggs and making sandwiches so far. Need to work on more recipes.)

 Reading general articles, the key to yogurt is heating the milk to about 180, bringing it down to 110, adding the culture and letting it sit.  I especially like the idea of making yogurt again because it's one more source of plastic packaging we will be eliminating from our lives.  And I love any excuse to pull out my crock pot, which, along with our solar cooker, is one more way to avoid heating up a kitchen while consuming less energy!

My biggest challenge with yogurt? Following the directions.
I could never do science since I don't follow recipes.
Or instructions. And yogurt, like baking / bread making... involves a bit more science than "frickin' cook it."

 And the site I mentioned for crock pot yogurt?
Well, in a skype chat with my sistuh Leah ...
 (DOCTOR  Miz Naturopath Leah Sherman to YOU
 (Picture of Leah, here! Isn't she cute? >>)
 Dr. Miz Leah not only already knew about the crock pot site but informed me that the recipes on Crock Pot 360 are gluten free! I know a lot of people struggle with gluten issues so you can file that under "FYI, honeychiles" in case you know someone struggling with gluten intolerance.

Handsome Husband has returned from the sweltering 106˚ heat and reports: (See, this really IS a systems post!)
"We had some decisions to make regarding earth tube vs. a heater core spliced into the air inlet, method of bringing external air supply retrofit to the wood cook stove, envelope penetration minimization for solar PC and evacuated tubes so I made peace with the prospect of driving out to the house kit in the extreme heat we are experiencing on the East coast at the moment to meet with Jason Dorris, our project manager. 
Jason and I met at the shed and were joking about how miserable it would be to work in the house but we were surprised by a mild 88 degrees inside the house kit which had been exposed to 108 degrees outside temperature the previous day and was closed up all week - preventing the night time cool down cycle. Once we opened the windows we had a gentle breeze and were remarkably comfortable. According to the memory function in the thermometer the maximum had been 90 degrees - remarkable under these conditions."

Well, seeing that when it registered crazy high temps outdoors (I had one friend use her infra red gun to check temperatures and her deck registered a crazy 114! Why she has an infra red gun? I have no idea.) every day for over a week and that the high temperature inside the house kit, all closed up and no opening at night to let in the cool air in / closing up during the day only reached 90 at the most... well... that tells me that summers will be hot, but not HOT, and gosh, actually quite comfortable as there is usually a breeze.  (Our home site is on top of a hill in the highest point of Charlotte County.)

This excites me almost as much as our winter tests. And don't forget that for our own prefab house kit we got the "standard" SIP panels, not thicker structural insulated panels (which you can get if you like).
To me, that is, literally.............................................................. COOL!

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Solar Heat Systems For The Off Grid Modern Home

Before you get to see the solar system plan for our off grid zero energy modern prefab house kit, I have something even more useful for you:
A Zucchini Soup Recipe!

I made up this soup last night when Daniel Mahdavian, founder of Refuel Consultants, called yesterday afternoon to say not only was he in town to judge some wine competition, but he was coming over right now with the ex-head of Dave Matthew's winery, who now has his own wine, Bradford Reed Wines.

We had just returned back from not one, not two, but THREE DAYS OF A FAMILY REUNION.
Three days on the bay romping with relatives... We returned sunburnt, salty and sweaty and with loads of dirty laundry and sand spilling throughout the house... no groceries... no anything...

Holy lamole!
We have guests on the way?!? And it's dinnertime?!? And the house is wrecked?!?

I frantically started cleaning...

I hid the boxed wine and PBR, started slicing and dicing up the zucchini, and made this soup to feed the crowd.  I bet it's going to be delicious for lunch today, chilled!

Copeland's Zucchini Lavender Soup Recipe
Because, honeychiles, it is zucchini season.
  • Coat a deep pan with olive oil and sauté well a bunch of sliced zucchini and onions (about 3:1 zucchini to onion)
  • Stir in chicken broth and hope you didn't make the broth with a bunch of ginger this time (this time I lucked out, it was flavorful regular chicken broth with no funky seasonings)
  • Add glugs o' lemon juice. Glugs I say! Don't be shy!
  • Puree the soup and finish by stirring in lotsa buttermilk and several dashes of minced, fresh lavender!
Ok, now that I've saved your life with a soup solution to the seasonal garden dilemma of Attack Of The Summer Zucchinis, here is how we plan on connecting our solar heating systems in our zero energy passive solar prefab green home.
It may be zucchini season today, but winter will arrive soon enough in the off grid house kit.
Specs for the Virginia house kit solar heat system General Description: 

  • Separate tanks for DHW and heat. 
  • Each tank has an external heat exchanger connected to the single solar loop to the solar heat collector. There is an identical circulation pump at each heat exchanger and on the solar loop.
  • Each tank has a differential temperature controller that activates if the tank's temperature is significantly lower than the temperature in the solar collector, sending power to the tank's circulation pump as well as to the solar circulation pump.
  • The liquid volume in the 6 PEX radiant loops in the slab is about 60 gallons. Water from the heat storage is circulated under control of a thermostat. During sunny periods the slab is heated during the day. Upon saturation the tank continues to be heated until it is saturated as well. The thermostat is set to increase the desired temperature in the early morning, pre-heating the slab and thus cooling down the tank so that it can absorb new heat. The tankless heater is triggered if the temperature of the water passing through from the heat storage tank is below the set threshold (very low, essentially for frost prevention).
Now back to zucchini soup. 
What would I pair this with to really refresh myself and cool down?
Well, I certainly wasn't going to pour these Wine Dudes my week-old-opened boxed wine I was surreptitiously sippin' on...

Luckily I had a Cayuga White from Spring Creek Wine Cellar chillin' in the back of the fridge.  

Spring Creek Wine Cellar is right down the road from our land / prefab house kit: Leaving the prefab, after you pass our good friends and sustainable farmers of pastured pork, lamb and poultry, the Aults Family Farm, on the way back to Pamplin City, you will see the turn to Baker Mountain road which leads to this gorgeous winery.

...If you come to one of our annual Zero Energy Off Grid Prefab Open Houses, make sure you stop by and visit all these nice folks!

You just might discover a favorite food or wine from your new favorite world-renowned city, Pamplin City, population 199.

We sure do love it here...

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Solar Systems, Cook Stoves And Berries Galore At The Passive Solar House Kit!

It was another gorgeous weekend on the land, in the zero energy off grid prefab house kit

Where to even begin.
All I know is, after years with no shelter, not able to camp on the land in the dead chill of winter or suffocating summer heat, after this seasonal weekend in the prefab, even without systems installed, we were comfortable and able to enjoy this beautiful area of rural Virginia.... thanks to the prefab's passive solar design and energy efficient SIPs.  If this is what summer feels like in the prefab, then BRING IT ON.

We arrived in the evening, heading out after work.
(Reason #23346243 why I love this time of year...)

The sun sets, a comforting breeze arises... and then, rain.  You understand we're in drought. We expected angry, empty thunder; but this brief, sweet rain was unexpected and welcomed by the fields.

Rain drizzled through the night, into the morning, and we slept, comfy and cuddled up with children.
For the first time in forever, we awoke and... did nothing; the steady pat pat pat patting of the rain hemming us willingly in.

I remembered when rain for us, here,  meant we carried crying babies into the car at dawn or midnight to try to get the car through the field before it stuck, with no friends to call because we didn't know anyone yet... Now... we have friends.
And shelter in our prefab house kit. : )

After mid-morning, the rain dissapated and we decided to head out.
First, we visited the Esh's Amish Store and loaded up with the usual breads, jams, cookies (I was in a *very* good mood..., yes, cookies even...).
And then I spied... a beautiful barn, perfect for a little girl...
"Wow. I wish we knew a little girl to give THIS to as a gift!"
Our own little girl already has a beloved barn given to her by the L's, as a hand-me-down that their wonderful 10 year old gifted our daughter. Wait a second, we know not one, but TWO little nieces that might enjoy this!

I snatched it up.
Later, we decided to take the back roads to Appomattox. Halfway there, we swerved towards the CSA that benefits the local elementary school, Sausser Farms, in a completely sideways, not-really-on-the-way-to-Appomattox fashion.

I looked at Handsome Husband.
"You always complain I'm too practical.
I always complain that for you to get from point A to point B you have to do the alphabet.
Today, your wife is taking you to points B, C, D, E, F..."

And we wound our way on.

This time, Sausser Farms did not have cookies for sale.
[Backseat chorus loudly complains: "Awwwwwwwwwww!"]
But that was ok, because they. had. kittehz.
[Insert reverie and adoration of squealing children here: "Awwwwwwwww!!!!"]

  • We spent the day flying about unchartered territory, exploring areas we never knew existed...this area of Virginia is so beautiful...
  • We went to a third generation farm to pick up veggies and got an unexpected farm tour
  • And got to know the family behind Sausser Farms, whom we support by participating in the CSA, which also benefits the local elementary school.
We headed into Appomattox and whiled away time with the nice people at the Tru Value hardware store who actually cared about what the diameter of our plug for our 1950s washer basin was (that came with our Maytag wringer washer). In fact, after finding the proper hose and plugs for the wash basin, when I asked whether they carried stove polish for the cook stove, it turns out the gentleman who helped me find plugs and hose for the galvanized double washing bin has a cook stove of his own!

He was tickled that we, who toil in technology, are reusing and restoring the wringer washer and cook stove for use in our off grid prefab home.

Returning to the prefab house kit, we stopped on a bridge to ask the families fishing there about where / how to access water for fishing...

And then, we had a last minute dinner with friends who have their own CSA and farm, Frog Bottom Farm.

Sunday Handsome Husband began attacking the cook stove's light rust it acquired on its surface after about 70 years plus some time sitting in a barn... it  shined up beautifully, even before we applied stove polish.

Handsome Husband stopped by our contractor's nearby farm, and discovered we had...
It's like Christmas in July at the prefab!!!!!!
The new firebox arrived, so, after shining up the stove, we then took the cookstove apart so we can install the firebox.

We *also* received the solar systems for our zero energy off grid prefab house kit!!!!
After inspecting the solar system and parts, we reused the pallet it came on as a bridge for the creek!  This way, when it snows, we can sled alllllllllll the way down the hill, and OVER (thank you, pallet) and not into the creek!

There were just so many moments, even though the weekend was filled with errands and chores, that I will savor through the week...
And the homemade blackberry jam we made will make that savoring all the sweeter!

Because I'm in such a great mood after such a wonderful weekend, I'm going to share our Very Secret Closely Guarded Family Recipe for blackberry jam:

Higher Ground Casati Family Jam
Washed berries, leaves and stems removed.
Add to a pot and mash with a fork.
Boil 10-15 minutes so it reduces, while mashing with a fork, stirring... Add a bunch o' sugar!
Boil until that dissolves.
Pour into sanitized, heated-so-it-doesn't-break-when-you-add-the-jam canning jars.

Guard this with yer LIFE!
And don't forget to eat the evidence!!!!!

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Considering Good, Better, Best: SIPs Insulation Efficiency Compared To Global Warming Potential Of Energy Efficient Green Building Solutions

Over the 4th of July weekend, I came across a Passive House discussion on the Environmental Impacts of Foam Insulation...

The original article, Avoiding the Global Warming Impact of Insulation, was published in Green Building Advisor (which has really great information, fyi), and further discussed on Tree Hugger by Lloyd Alter ( where the information and comments (especially that of Frank O’Brien-Bernini, Chief Sustainability Officer, of Owens Corning) provided more food for thought. I encourage you to read *all* the comments in these articles.

I have wondered for awhile about all of this...

Alex Wilson of Green Building Advisor states,
"...two of our common insulation materials are made with hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) blowing agents that are very potent greenhouse gases. "

First, know that our SIPs (structural insulated panels) contain no HFCs.
Using SIP we maintain the integrity of the architect's passive solar vision, while providing an energy efficient prefab house kit shell at an affordable cost. By choosing a venue that is closest to each of our prefab house kit clients within the manufacturer network, I try to reduce our global warming potential through travel distance.

Also know that our product, passive solar prefab house kits, doesn't mean we can't switch to better materials when they become available in the marketplace.  The majority of my job involves research, and honeychiles, I never rest on laurels but reconsider our process daily.  The SIP manufacturers are vendors, and if a better product or method becomes affordably available, I will consider that for future prefab house kits.

In the meantime, I am brushing up on my bandit skillz by reading "Kidnapped" by Robert Lewis Stevenson. I am convinced Johnny Depp needs to play the character Alan... Hollywood, make it happen.

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