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5/29/12

Passive Solar Prefab Home Adjusts For Seasons, Off Grid Appliances, And An Ugly Garden

What a week in the passive solar prefab home.
At least now the sun is shining and the solar panels for the passive solar prefab are fine!


But I wasn't laughing, just days ago...

It was the last week of my children's school.
"May we please watch some Avatar? We have no homework and the battery bank is at 77%..."
My children are using solar power in arguing for a movie, lol!

And then, lickety-split, school was over.
Disarray

We are still in boxes, with no closets or shelves. On Week 2 of another cloudy, rainy week...

And our beef share was on the way, with no off grid solar freezer yet arrived.


It should have been disastrous.
Except that, when, after much panic, the freezer arrived (mere hours before the meat) and I was the only adult within miles to accept it and anguished, "How the heck am I supposed to get this freezer in all by myself?!?" I began to panic, panic, panic when the TRANSPORTATION guy, NOT a delivery person, NOT his job, who also has a family with young children while he travels, looked at what was going on and my brave smile and probably pictured his own family... He got off that big rig truck, loaded the freezer onto my trailer, drove my car down the drive, unloaded it, and pushed it into place.

Transportation Guy, I know I said this over and over, but I'll say it again: "THANK YOU and deepest regards and warmth to your family and, just: THANK YOU."

"We're SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAVED! The solar freezer is here ahead of the beef!!!!!!! And I didn't need to ask any neighbors for a FAVOR!!!!!!"

Giddy, elated, almost smug at how easily that had miraculously transpired, I went to plug in our SunDanzer Freezer and... it was DC, duh. I don't even know where the DC outlets are. (Our off grid prefab home is wired for AC *and* DC.) And we're still not done hooking everything up. Our electrician is nowhere to be found, I've been trying to get him out here to finish solar water installation for weeks. If he hasn't hurried to install our hot water, he certainly is not going to drop what he's doing and come out here for beef...

Deflated, with months of meat barreling down upon me, I panicked, gave in, and called some friends.

"WHAT? Well SURE you can borrow a cooler, but why don't we make some room in one of our farm freezers and, wait: you *know* I'm also a licensed electrician, don't you? ...I'll be right over."
Saved!

It could have been a horrible day.
It could have been a devastating day.
Instead I feel so grateful, filled with so much kindness and love... this day, with everything that should have gone wrong... went right.

I would like to dedicate this song to our dear, dear friends here and the kind people who crossed our path during a really difficult week and made it better: 


Off Grid Freezer For The Prefab House
Immediately, I was impressed with the extremely low energy usage of the Sundanzer Freezer. I loved the experiment and cost effective chest-freezer-turned-into-an-off-grid-fridge we implemented for our off grid refrigerator.  But there's no comparison on energy efficiency; and when you have two weeks of cloud cover in a solar home, you really realize that what you saved in cost, costs you in energy consumption.

The meat arrived, and we also are putting the freezer to other uses:
Homemade lime popsicles. 
Margaritas.

Cooling food and ceiling fans are another method of "air conditioning" when you live in an off grid home... we think it works really well.
'Round here, it's never too early for popsicles
and a game of bocci...

Passive Solar, Energy Efficiency In The Heat
As they did for centuries before HVAC, I employ the old but effective tactic of ooooooopening the windows to embrace the cool air at night, then at dawn I close them up tight.  The structural insulated panels and energy efficient windows hold in that cool air, even as the outdoor temperatures quickly rise with the sun.  Ceiling fans and the clerestory windows also move hot air out in the afternoon, until late afternoon, when I open it all, again, and the sweet breeze resumes.

Solar Panels, Seasonally Adjusted
After two weeks of cloud cover, I was puzzled, no, concerned when the sun shone yet the battery bank charge did not spring back as usual.  Then, "Duh!": Our panels still sit upright for the low winter sun! Time to adjust the pitch of the solar to embrace the high sun! Effectiveness, restored.

Winter Angle:
Summer Angle:
Actually lowered, a tad more...

Ugly Gardening
I mentioned I am building "steps" in the worst Virginia clay soil around the prefab home.  It does two things: provides a trench for plants, and is also a way of slowing runoff. Besides, you've got to start amending that bad soil at some point, might as well seed seed seed and plant plant plant.

The plants are taking to it, better than expected!
I also strew newspaper right before a rain last week, intending to anchor it down neatly, then cover with manure. The manure didn't happen, the rain turned into a breezy storm, and now that area looks positively hideous.

BUT: When, intending to clean up my failed attempt this morning, the first unsightly sheet I removed revealed: not only that there was *much* moisture underneath, but: a nice fat toad seeking refuge in the clay soil desert!
Look closely & you can see the outline of more
moist soil where the paper was... and... a toad!

Until I can hide its function with manure or compost? The ugly newspaper stays.


ReUse
The Pipsqueaks got busy with that Off Grid Freezer box and built their own modern coop:
*Totally* done on their own, no help!
I think it looks rather mod and coolio!
"So do we!"
[Who needs toys. Just getcher childrenz chickens. And discarded boxes.]
Note there is always a horse
in any self portrait she draws...


Reading Club:
In 80 Years, We Lost 93% Of Variety In Our Food Seeds
The End Of Fish, In One Chart


I See The Benefits Of Biodiversity And No Pesticides In My Own Back Yard
I awake several times a night.  It's not insomnia; no, I am just An Observer.
Lately I have been treated to my own private ballet: In the dark, you can faintly see the field, and the treeline, beyond. Then more dramatic than any crashing cymbal symphony, more thrilling than any baseball game fireworks, yet elegant in its silence: SOMETHING dances. Over the fields they blink, even higher than the tree line! I don't think they're fireflies, no- they are the size of birds! They flit and glow and flare SO beautifully, dancing over the field and trees, white glowing apparitions that torch then fade, torch then fade... cool.

The deer are bedding down in the oats, which also will provide a buffer to my growing food garden- they can munch on the various things I've seeded in the field without impacting my vegetables.  And I am looking forward to exploring the grains I see ripening- oats, rye, even some amaranth popping up as seedlings...

In the meantime, we're staying cool in the heat thanks to the energy efficient prefab home.

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5/20/12

Off Grid Solar Prefab Home Beats A Week Of Cloud Cover... And A Birthday

It's sunny times again in the passive solar prefab home!
But a week ago...
I noticed the clouds rolling in as Handsome Husband cut up some plywood for shelves with the circular saw.
"Do you think we should scale back on power consumption?"

Passive solar prefab home. Off grid,
with solar hot water not yet installed.
[Sigh]

Our solar off grid systems for our passive solar prefab home are minimal- we had purchased them when we were still on the Long Range Plan, expecting to replace them with the latest solar technology when we eventually moved to the prefab, not the Live In The Prefab Now Plan.

Usually by afternoon our battery bank is back to 100%...This time, at dusk it read 85%... and dropping... and the clouds were rolling in...

It rained for days.

Monday we awoke to 74%, not the usual 86-92%. Tuesday? 62%. Wednesday, 50%.
Wednesday we had a break in cloud cover! We're saaaaved! I watched the readings, mesmerized. As the cloudy days continued into Friday... my confidence rose. Oh, the *battery bank* didn't recover to 100% until a week later; but... if that was Worst-ish Case Scenario... we're ok. Virginia does not endure cloud cover for this long, usually.
But what a way to start Off Grid Living In The Passive Solar Prefab Home, Week 1!


Sunny-ish again, Friday I did laundry with my 1940s Maytag Wringer Washer...
Oh, the glaah-mah....
Laundry hung on the line, then it was time for my weekly France/ Chile / NY design call.


An Off Grid Birthday
Pipsqueak #2 had a birthday! So, even in this disarray, we had a few of her friends visit.

Birthday Girl Parsley Pesto
I picked up a bunch of parsley from our Amish neighbor Mrs. E and made Parsley Pesto.

Roughly purée (I used one of my fave non-electric tools, the Salad Master, to do this) lots of flat leaf parsley, almonds (I used almonds toasted with tamari instead of walnuts as 1.they're delicious and 2. less people are allergic to almonds than walnuts). Mince some garlic & toss it in. Squeeze in lots of lemon juice, and even a tad of the zest. Mix with good olive oil and lots of shredded parmesean. Salt, pepper, and dashes of tamari to taste.

A Solar Cake's Rise And Fall
I mixed up lemon, 1 part sugar to 2/3 flour, baking powder, butter, milk, eggs (one of them a twin! So it was extra egg-y!). The lemon cake batter rose beautifully in the solar cooker.

But I had perched the solar cooker on the uneven board on the picnic table- the wind would sway the cooker, its legs now uneven: Ka-kunk, ka-kunk... And suddenly, that beautiful cake batter FELL. It's now the moistest, lemony-est, shortest birthday cake ever...

What.
Like I'm going to bake a cake all over again?
Heck no, honeys! I'll just put on extra icing.

And hey! Mrs. E has delicious ripe strawberries for sale! I call that a pie. Or cake. Whatever.

A Special Thanks In A Disheveled Time 
How many 19 year olds do YOU know that, when an itty bitty child neighbor invites them to their impromptu birthday party, not only shows up but shows up with a Purple Pony????

Oh, yes, that would be M....  (THANK YOU, M...!!!!)


Who then later rode back through on her beautiful horse Bueno, and stopped awhile, again for petting...
M, to Handsome Husband:  
"I remember when I was her age, and someone brought a pony over to my birthday party, and I could not stop thinking about ponies and horses ever since."
#GivingBackToTheNextGeneration

I'm looking forward to seeing how my own children take what they learn growing up with older teens like M., and how they turn it around later for someone smaller...

Our life may still be in boxes, but at the passive solar prefab home, life is filled with love.


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5/13/12

Prefab Home, Home At Last! And so we moved to the off grid passive solar prefab home... with still a few things to finish.

Hey outdated zoning people!
OUR prefab homes embrace urban chickunz.
We get sustainability, as well as energy efficiency,
is critical in beautiful modern architecture.

And so we moved to the off grid passive solar prefab home... with still a few things to finish.

No, I did not take a picture of our car (not a minivan, a vintage Mercedes station wagon) loaded with six chickens in the passenger seat, three huge dogs throughout, two children somehow strapped in on the sides and one yowling (and yowling) crated feral cat in the middle as we drove slowly, teetering away from the mid-century modern... but I'm certain that those suburbanites who saw it, won't forget it.


And then we headed home.


Of course, we moved way too early, but had no choice. The mid-century modern buyers paid our asking price for the mid-century modern, never even on the market, so in these times, what do you say but "Oh, on that date? Suuuuure." 
So it's time to finish this prefab home project ASAP!
We are thrilled to be here. 
But there is still much work to be done.

As we still have not finished the walls (that is the last piece to finish), I realize that... all these boxes? Everywhere? I can't unpack: Closets and shelves have not yet been built

Aaaaand I had no internet.
*I*. Had no internet.
But thanks to Dennis Hunt of GNS Broadband, rural residents 'round here now have access that the Big Telecom Boys don't care to provideRead the story, here; it's a great tale of entrepreneurship, technology, science, and pure grit.
From The Daily Mail: "Dennis Hunt points to the solar panels he installed two weeks ago that help provide power to a tower site. The shed contains car batteries that store power for use on cloudy days and a lawn chair, where he can relax when he's not tinkering with his wireless broadband Internet network." Picture by George Hohmann

You know what? Over the years camping on the weekends in the prefab home, we've tried several Big Boy Telecom solutions, trying to jerry rig an acceptable internet connection... and this Crazy One Man Solution via Mr. Hunt has been, in the short while we've used it, the one that has worked the best. Heck, we even streamed Netflix. Hmmmmmmm.

Here's my internet, country style:
A beacon in the wheat field.
Energy efficient prefab home + fast internet? Bliss.

Mean, lean, a modern passive solar machine.

It is days like this I appreciate the prefab home so much-- during the day, the outdoor temperatures vacillate from the high 60s - mid-70s, dropping to the crisp 40s at night.  By lunchtime the windows are open, catching the beautiful spring breeze; at dusk, I close up, and we sleep so warm and cozy that it's always a shock when we step outside and feel such crisp cold air that we hurriedly run back inside to grab warm sweaters...

We're retiring to bed in the 70s, and awake in the 70s, not losing the 1 degree per hour that the prefab does in dire weather conditions; instead, it now only loses about 4 degrees at night.
Not. Bad.

So that we can move at will between the off grid prefab home and DC, after the children finish the  school year I will home school for the next 12-24 months. But don't worry, prefab house enthusiasts! I was already expending those 3-4 hours inefficiently around my work schedule; now I'll just apply the same hours efficiently, while maintaining and enjoying my work.
If THIS is the Pet Rock report my son turns in to a school
with over 700 students and 27 nations,
then don't worry about homeschooling and socialization, ha:
I've got nowhere to go but up!


Some moments from our first week at the prefab house:
Day 1: Handsome Husband took a car ride with a 5' rat snake... don't ask.
Neither Handsome Husband -nor- the snake
were pleased to be acquainted with the other.
We discovered that the moldy hay we hurriedly bought from our Amish neighbor Mrs. E. when we excavated around the prefab home last fall had grown into a beautiful stand of... wheat.  Gorgeous wheat.
We'll address that beautiful wheat later. 
But it does remind us to discuss that no matter how energy efficient and modern coolio your prefab home is, it's not really sustainable if you're not improving the soil and surroundings... 

The soil immediately around the prefab home has a lot of red clay.  The home site itself was built on much bedrock, great for the prefab house's foundation, but not so great for immediate gardening, much less a food plot.
Now eeking out existence, each year
this soil will improve.

But food plot we have.
Along the "rim" where the field curves around the home, I created little graded mini-terraces and seeded vegetables there. This way the run off stalls, soaks, and also allows any better nutrients to move down into the shallow trenches to reach the plants in lesser soil, slowly improving the soil.  I reuse dish water onto the garden, so most water goes through two uses before returned to the soil. Important when you have a finite amount to go around for everyone- one 1800 gallon rainwater cistern.  And you don't know when the next time it will rain.

I planted chicken-friendly bushes- roses, quince, etc. to protect the hens (eventually) as they scratch and improve the soil further.
It will be easier to show the "trenches" later
as it all grows up...

The hens are already getting fat on crickets and grass hoppers... no pesticides needed.
AND we used the vintage Maytag washer for the first time!
Handsome Husband: "Not the most energy efficient (.20), but you're only going to do laundry on sunny mornings anyway, so it is what it is.  It did not drop the percentage of solar power stored."  He's still pleased with its effectiveness and function.
Each moment we look around us, despite the disarray, despite the Still So Much To Do...
Despite the Things To Overcome...
We're happy.
Swinging high at the off grid prefab home!

We no longer ask each other, "Where is my mind?" living amongst people who Just Don't Get It.
We're home.


And, I just heard, more sustainable people we know are leaving the Costco-ized areas, and joining us here. Glad they're joinin' us...
In the meanwhile, y'all keep on pickin'... and a-grinnin'.

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