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Passive Solar, Do Yer Stuff In The Off Grid Prefab House Kit. Snow's HERE!

SNOW at the off grid net zero prefab house kit!

Passive solar in winter at work in the prefab.

Despite sniffles and ominous gray weather, we piled into the car and trundled off  to the off grid prefab house kit.  The weather said there was a 40% chance of snow, and the prefab still has no radiant heat or electricity installed. Passive solar, do yer thang.

On the bright side, it occurred to me that my beloved antique wood cook stove is not just made for bubbling soup on the stove top...

Hellooooooooooo glühwein! 

On the drive out, we enjoyed the passing farms, always looking a bit more open now that winter has dropped the leaves, and listened to a range of music, from bluegrass to German hardcore. Oh, those German musicians... they were very earnest in their punk message, except I couldn't understand their English and it sounded like they were singing, "Pajamas! Pajamas! Pajamas!"
Oy, the angst.

When we arrived at the off grid prefab house kit mid-day, it was freezing outside (well, ok, high 30s), inside, 55. Yikes. Still eyeing that chimney penetration especially, and certainly the holes temporarily opened connecting the inverter along the northeast wall. We will have sealing to do once we're done with this phase of construction. Last year, in eleven degree evenings, on the morning after that eleven degrees, we were at about at the same temperature, in much harsher conditions- the loss of heat was *much* more slow.

And wait. Actually, if the high was in the 30s, and mid-day the prefab was 55 without our bodies or strong sun (yet) heating the prefab SIP house, that's not that bad. Hmmmm. What IS bad is that, unlike last year, with the new penetrations, of *course* we can't maintain that heat as well once we heat the house up to a comfortable 68-70 degrees. (Last weekend the cook stove easily heated the house up to 73 in this cold.)

We emptied the composting toilet.
No, honeys, he's not haz mat. It's deer season.

It was clear from the liquid at the bottom of the tray when we opened it up that evaporation is not happening well in this cold. That is also the source of the "smell" we've been sniffing on occasion since the cold set in. (Hence, our raucous social life entertaining in the prefab house kit has really gone down the composting toilet drain!)  The drain pipe, rightly positioned for overflow only, is not low enough to empty this remaining liquid.

I'm confident that once we have the radiant heat working this will be resolved. Envirolet also has a heater you can install to aid evaporation and composting in cold weather, but why add the drain to our off grid systems?  Emptying the toilet was not as efficient a task as the composting toilet website indicates. They don't talk about where to put the humanure, how people store it, and how to get back to "ready to use" again after the toilet is emptied and re-closed.

My advice is: Make sure to have links ready to the "how to empty" and "how to line with starting mix," and, although I normally would eschew this, printed out for reference. (Not that it's hard, but it IS intimidating the first few times you do this and if you do it wrong you are in trouble!)

Think about it: Most places with composting toilets would be going through this potentially treacherous process 1. on the weekend when the help center is closed and 2. without access to internet which will certainly leave many customers furious, and in a bad situation.

If you are lucky to have internet access, there are no easy links for these steps to be found. Oh, sure, I found the website and then the installation guide. But there's no "here's the steps for the emptying and then relining of the toilet" in one easy place. No "maintenence steps" tab / "how to use this" on the product page. After you finally find the "emptying" page, there is no link to how to put in a new liner and how to set that up, i.e. what to do to get it operational again.

Preparation: Line the area around the toilet in newspaper, just in case. Get a metal trashcan (to which you could add holes to turn it more into a composter while safely retaining the waste) or designate (even better) composting bins to use for dumping of humanure. Instead of planning on shoveling in the bathroom, which is messy and inefficient regardless how you do it, carry the entire tray carefully outside while your spouse fends off curious children, dogs, and windblown doors where you THEN dump it into the holding bin (in this case, a trash can where it will rest for one year). 

Verdict? Much less messy than you'd believe, and once we finish tweaking for our own site conditions  / off grid, I suspect it will be a maintenance breeze. Seriously: LOOK AT THIS: (No, really, look!)
(I wonder what would happen if I put this up on Facebook and tagged all our visitors...)

Crumbly soil, no smell. You just pull on the rake bar a bit, it crumbles down into the pan from above, just check the pan to see how full it is, then empty the pan as needed.
Next time I will not use the "paper mat and bag o' soil" setup they ship you.  I will line it gently with one ply toilet paper, topped evenly with sawdust, and maybe add a bit of the removed soil so the microbes that are in the Compost Accelerator which is added regularly (hence then in the compost later) are added back in.

Just as we were successful with THAT, it began to SNOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We celebrated our success by drinking hot glühwein next to a toasty cook stove and watching it SNOW.

Snowing At The Off Grid Net Zero Prefab House Kit
Snow snow snow snow snow! : )

Then, with all of us a bit under the weather, as the snow began to accumulate, we drove home.

Just 1 1/2 hours away, we left white blanketed farms, crystalline air, glühwein and snow balls.
RICHMOND. What did y'all do with the snow?!?
Wait. It IS snowing.
Doubting 6yr old: "No it's not!"
"Yes it is, look out the window!"
"No, that's just glitter."

Now, don't get too excited... it rarely snows in December here...

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At 12/5/10, 8:26 AM , Blogger RVARealtor said...

GREAT story... one of the few blog post I read in entirety this morning. Please keep more stories of your progress coming...

At 12/5/10, 10:15 AM , Blogger Passive Solar Prefab Homes said...

Thanks, Mike. I will be talking more about chimneys, including solar chimneys in the next post! (I think. You never know, here!)

At 12/5/10, 12:25 PM , Anonymous Nancy Heltman said...

Still laughing at the thought of tagging the folks that contributed to the toilet's compost.


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