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4/11/11

Prefab House: A Zero Energy Construction Update, With Battles.

This weekend's prefab modern house kit adventures included making and experimenting with SIP stew, inspecting the plumbing progress, monitoring solar energy consumption, meeting with our contractor... and, oh, aaaaand watching a battle.




Appomattox Clover Hill Historical Village 3


The middle storage area in the prefab house kit that was plain ole kitchen space / some systems in the original floorplan which now *also* houses much of our off grid systems like solar heating tanks, plumbing for radiant heat, circulation to the solar hot water collectors, rainwater purification systems (that most people would never need to budget space for) gets more tight by the minute as I also dream my housewife dreams of shelves, appliances... with an airy open feel.

(Ha... oh, don't look at me like that, YOU'LL SEE...)


Handsome Husband thought about how to move the moving pieces to the outside, so they're accessible- and now they're accessible from the hallway. It's brilliant. It's like a boat. Again, I know we keep saying this but:
We approach this house as a boat: Smart on space.
A boat, a boat, a boat. The utilization of every inch of space. 


It works amazingly well.


It is now Saturday night, I am cozy, warm, happy, and listening to the wonderful sound of a steady, beating rain on my roof top, filling my rain barrel (and soon to have a 1,700 gallon cistern to fill), quenching the fields, and I'm reminiscing when our children were 1 1/2 and 2ish and a drizzly dusk like this would make us hurriedly grab the toddlers, snap them into their car seats, load up the suitcases as dusk quickly ebbed to black darkness in the field-turning-to-mud from the 1960s teardrop Scotty, hauling the dogs, soaking, dirt-filled fur and paws, into the car to head carefully, miserably, navigating rain and dark and deer, back to the bright sterile lights of Richmond.

Myyyyyy times have changed.
Our youngest doesn't even remember ever sleeping in the camper. Much less awakening to nighttime downpours and evacuation. Their reality is this energy efficient prefab house kit, this solace: this dry, warm, wonderful off grid powerhouse of function, without reliance on anything but energy efficiency, passive solar design, solar power, and renewable resources.

Last week a strong storm blew through, toppling trees, hailing, blowing furiously, leaving tornado touch marks throughout the state. The fastening on our rooftop solar panels remains rigid. Yet fortuitous happenstance: A great hickory across the road slowly toppled and fell, onto our side, and we, with our neighbors The S's, cut and stored it- this one tree could last our two families a long while. Hickory is a very valuable wood for burning in cook stoves, yet you would never just "cut down a hickory."

And, because we will have the radiant heat in the slab working, we will not need a cord of wood, but only to supplement, cooking in winter and giving the passive solar design and radiant heat a boost in the most dire months.

Who needs the Electric Company trucks to haul dead wood away? For our families, we just hit the jackpot.


Earlier, as usual, we started off towards Mrs. Esh's for jam and bread.
At our last visit Mrs. Esh was giving away irises, so this week I brought her citronella from my Richmond garden, telling her it has the properties of lemon balm in habit but the attractiveness of ferns for arrangements with, of course, the mosquito repellent. Today she sent me away with narcissus. Hmmm, what to give her next? That's what we plant lovers adore: Plants With Stories. I can look around at nearly any plant or shrub in my garden and it has a story of love and friendship.


It makes me think about imprints of stories like when I go up to New York for ICFF- I will never stay in a hotel. Hotels are for outsiders.

P., at a stoop sale, when we were "supposed"
to be walking from her Chelsea house to ICFF.
I think we made 3 trips back with finds before
we actually made it to ICFF.

Instead, I make my beloveds miserable by inserting myself into their lives, dragging them around, prodding them to go here and there, while they, at the same time, show me the everyday magic that is truly their lives. I love the normal things we do, waking up and making coffee, stumbling out for a stroll to peruse unexpected stoop sales, blearily talking about the previous evening over challah french toast, walking and walking and walking and just stopping when you're hungry for a slice... because that's what I used to do when *I* lived in Manhattan.

They're so glad when I leave town, but in those moments I get to love them more, love them closely, inserting myself stubbornly into their private habits, than I ever could from a pretty glittery impersonal room...

Down here, I leave my same stubborn heavy-handed touch, gifting stories through plants, that, like those memories given to me, I hope these plants will tease a smile when I'm absent.  And so I brought someone who has made me laugh, especially because she laughed at Suburb's Ignorance when I was low over my chickunz-taken-away-by-ignorant-suburbia, I brought Mrs. Esh a gift of citronella from my garden, to hers.

Remember when we used to chart the extreme temperatures outdoors vs. indoors camping in the bare-bones passive solar house kit through rough seasons? That got boring so we've moved on to more fun: Energy consumption now that the solar system is hooked up.

Sooooo... right now we have the south room illuminated, lights on in the 6yr old's bedroom, bathroom, our room... and we check to see our entire household power consumption is.... 54 watts. Hahahaha that's like the average old light bulb wattage, powering our entire house!!!! Now of course once the HRV, etc. systems are hooked up... but... still... we shall see!

We reflect on LEDs: Three years ago we couldn't find them *anywhere* in Virginia. Now we just casually stop by Home Depot or Lowe's on the way out with a new (old reused) vintage lamp and pick them up without thinking twice about it.

Efficiency is easier these days in the little things like light bulbs, DC power appliances...... couple that with
a passive solar insulated house and... wow.

Anyhoo, about that history stuff:

You know that, well, around here in Virginia... there's LOTS of history... and through the next five years, Clover Hill Village is hosting history reenactments leading up to the 150th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox. Learn more at LongRoadHome150.com. I encourage you all to please do come visit. Honestly, the crowd this weekend was not so diverse. That was not the fault of the organizers, participants, or spectators. Please do come, and start that dialog about United States history with your child.

We had a lot of questions from our own children ("Which side are we on?" "Errrrr...well, your history is Confederate, and we're proud to be Southern Culture but you have to balance history with today...") and I try to weigh where you dip them into the excitement, then gently teach them about history ("Well, child, in *that* photograph in the book we brought home on this subject they are NOT playing dead. Would you like to learn more?") so they want to learn more later. I'd like to discuss this with some of my history museum friends... I think that to see more diverse participation it needs to be bigger so all voices are told and heard... but you have to remember the people who volunteer for this are major history geek volunteers but they don't have more manpower except to do the "Ok this battle happened here" and "we can show people what it's like to be a blacksmith" versus the darker, richer, deeply woven tapestry of what could be told. I do know that Clover Hill is a deep part of the entire Appomattox community, providing so many wonderful events for children and well worth supporting. Their volunteers are *AMAZING.* I don't know how they do it- they always have education and humor, no matter how many people ask them the same question.

I am very, very grateful to the many, many people that dedicated their time, skills, expertise, knowledge and above all, great humor, kindness and laughs for the memorable experience we were able to give our children this weekend.

The people that put this on are kind, kind people who want everyone to visit. They're working with what they have, to try to teach, usually for free. I'd like to hear what my friends at the American Civil War Center would say, a museum dedicated to the telling of all voices of the Civil War... The Long Road Home at Clover Hill Village did a super job. We can't wait to come back, thank you all so much for all you do.


Here's some more videos for you history and cannon firing geeks:

Appomattox Clover Hill Historical Village 1


Appomattox Clover Hill Historical Village 2

No Till
have to mention that I'm seeing more and more fields nearby strewn as no till, and when, like this weekend, after you have past weeks of rains and wind, you can literally SEE the difference:

On the left, a no till field, last season's crop stalks, remnants providing compost and cover for this season's upcoming crop. On the right, plowed field whose valuable nutrients and topsoil have washed into the lower pond which is now dirty and, uh,  not so great for their livestock or fish that depend upon it, eh? Much less the seeds are going to have a darned hard time popping through that crust...

Last week eight people died and over 40 people were injured in Germany when high winds kicked up surrounding fields' topsoil and blew it over the Auto Bahn. Did we not learn from the Dust Bowl?



I don't know what to say after that video.
So, on a "finishing the interior" note, our verdict on the SIP stew?
Meh.
I'm about to pack it all in and git me some drywall. Dag.
I just want this house done, done done done done done done.
It will never be done. Because next? We build fences. And plant. And...

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