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At The Off Grid Prefab SIPs House It Snowed, Sun Shined... We Are Hoping Spring Is Here. With bonus arm wrestling and art critiques thrown in.

Yes, it snowed, again at the off grid prefab house.
Yes, it is the end of March.
Yes, I sent the chickens out and told them not to come back without spring.

Then the temperatures rose, again.
Snow: All gone.

Then it rained all weekend. With sleet.
Sheesh. What weather.

Last week I wrote about my frustration over contractors, there are still many of them, who sway people into stick built with batt insulation, asserting it's cheaper, without comparing the value that would have been ADDED through products such as we use in our own prefab houses, like SIP (structural insulated panels).
[Check out an energy use calculator that compares traditional building vs. SIP. ]

This week I spoke with someone about the lawsuits that are arising over spray foam insulation, and the detailed cases of off gassing...
They also mentioned the problems you can get from spray foam shrinkage, whereas with SIP you see what you are getting vs. a contractor using batt insulation or spray foam.
From Lloyd Alter:
"Curtis doesn't doubt that spray foam manufactures have tested their products thoroughly in the lab. She said the real problem is installing the product in an uncontrolled environment, or in other words, real homes. Curtis estimates that five percent of spray foam jobs have problems. 'You don't want that to be your home.'
Passive House Institute U.S., an organization dedicated to architecture that requires minimal energy use, agrees with Curtis. The organization has deemed spray foam unsuitable in green building.

If something does go wrong, spray foam is extremely difficult to remove because it adheres so well to walls and studs.  'Removing it is just as dangerous as having it installed in your home,' said Curtis, particularly because the dust may contain unreacted toxins and is difficult to control."

That's not to say SIP are perfect- SIPs are not made of cotton denim or sheep's wool or spider webs sprinkled with fairy dust- I am always researching effective, energy efficient, strong, and affordable green building solutions that transfer effectively into an extremely energy efficient yet affordable house kit; and currently, SIP fit that best.

Years after my own SIP house was erected, I am noting daily the energy efficiency, durability, and solid performance the panels provide.

If you would like to see our own energy audit of our own prefab house, click here

With all the rain, we had to keep ourselves entertained, inside...
There was cookie baking...
Plenty of time for programming...
Apparently this cereal box "hat" helps him think.
Art was created...
Um, that's on your bed...
There was arm wrestling... Lots... of arm wrestling.

Time for ticklin' the ivories, singin' the blues...
And time for napping, of course.

With our desire for spring to finally arrive, Sister sends this in from the new show, Turn, she has been working on:
"Clothes lines were used to help signal a new message for spies..."

I LOVE THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In "modern" days,  the simple right to have clotheslines is seen as a subversive action by many neighborhood associations, so it tickles me that in the days when they were what everybody did that even then they still had an opportunity to be renegades.

FINALLY, the sun came out at the off grid prefab, and SPRING SHONE!!!

Reading Club:
We are taking a wonderful Art History For Animators course online via CalArts. 
This week students chose an artwork, wrote about it, then had to grade / assess 3 fellow students' homework. 

Pipsqueak 1 wants to share what she wrote, so here you go:
FIRST, her own artwork and essay, THEN her student evaluations.

"The piece of art that I am interested in is "A Starry Night" by Vincent van Gogh, because it's my favorite work of art.

I love how he did the moon and the hills, they are so peaceful and quiet. 

I love the colors he chose- white, blue, silver, yellows, even green. The colors just fit right in, you wouldn't even need lines for the shapes. The moon, just look at it- it is glowing against the gold. None of the houses are using their wood stoves- I think it's June, it's a warm night, trees are blowing in the breeze.
(I have a cook stove that heats my house, you know, so I know what that's like!)

I find myself on a hill, on a magical starry night, looking down at a village. I look towards the sky and say, "Oh my! The wonderful beautiful stars!!!" Look at the trees! They are wavy, like the ends of brushes, and that is fascinating. It makes me feel peaceful, quiet... I love how he did the sky. And then I wonder, "How in THE UNIVERSE did van Gogh DO THIS?!?" I think he used his fingers sometimes, even nail marks. The skys are swirls, the stars are like little candles.

Oh my, the rolling hills, they just touch the sky!

I can't compare it to my own sky, the old sky I see at night. The swirls, the activity, the trees, the glowing of the light in van Gogh's painting are all different than what I see. At night here on my farm I see a dark blue sky with glitters of stars, sometimes I even see the thrillings of galaxies. But I really don't think there's anything that compares to Vincent van Gogh's "A Starry Night."

City nights can't compare with all that light pollution, ugh! So you couldn't see anything close to this, anymore, these days, in even villages.

But in quiet countrysides at night, Vincent van Gogh's "A Starry Night" is painted all around you.

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890)
The Starry Night Date:Saint Rémy, June 1889Medium:Oil on canvas

  • Jasper Johns. Untitled. 2013. Ink on plastic. 27 1/2 × 36" (69.9 × 91.4 cm)

    "What immediately caught my attention about the art was the dark tunnel, it was endless and just kept on going. The junkieness, the coat of arms with the tree at the top... it kind of looks like an Enderdragon going into the Minecraft world. I think the student did a fabulous job of describing the painting.

    The light on the right side, and then look at the left side, it's kind of like two portals to two different worlds. The activity in the painting is shown by the light, and the dark. I see a bat-like form, kind of like looking behind it, and the wings."
  • Agnes Martin
    Untitled #14, 1984, Acrylic and Graphite on Canvas
    Tacoma Art Museum

    "I think this student did a great job on their experience- it wasn't like looking it up on the web it was actually going to a museum, and having a guide telling you all the interesting things and secrets about her and her artwork. I loved how the student explained everything.

    The first thing that caught my attention was that the painting looked almost like a towel pattern. Actually I almost wanted to roll it up and take it to the beach and lie down on it and look at all the patterns. I really think the student did a great job on this.

    I don't see activity or noise, I see light some corners there is the feel of a faint glow of radiant light. Actually the way I would describe the painting is A Towel With Luster. It does have some luster. This painting looks very delicate. I enjoy looking at this painting it's like meditation, that color..."

    [Copeland's note: I'm cocking my head at this painting, going, "WHERE'S THE PAINTING?!?"]
  • The Arrival of the Stagecoach
    Louis- Léopold Boilly - 1803
    "I think the student finished this assignment very well- there was a lot of detail about the painting and they really expressed it.  It's as if they are reading it from a book- they are describing the characters and everything around them.

    The thing that took me longer to discover were the horses in the background and they were kind of shaded into the painting to blend in, my eye first focused the stagecoach because that was what I was looking for, because that was in the title, then the brightness on the people."
So there you have it: Art critic Pipsqueak 1!

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Prefab House Roots For Spring Through Sleet Heat And Rain

THE WEEK BEGAN WITH SLIPPERY SLEET covering the ground at the off grid prefab house.

It seems every other week it's snow...
then hot... then snow... then hot...

Have we not seen enough of these "Oh it snowed then went into the 70s" blog posts lately?!?

But that didn't stop the Pipsqueaks.
"Can we have a field trip today?"
"Ugh, in this snow & sleet?
Only if you count walking out...
to the field.

We're not going ANYWHERE in this!"
I'm staying cozy in the prefab, cookin' up a storm, until this all dries up!

...then shorts...
...then snow...
...then shorts...

In the prefab industry world, I believe I (again) might have lost a client to a local contractor talking them out of  SIP because they assert, "I can do it cheaper by stick built and batt insulation!"

In my experience, this is the #1 reason people decide not to go with prefab. Their contractors argue stick built / traditional insulation is just as good, and cheaper.

The energy efficiency and strength of the SIP are well documented, vs. traditional stick built / batt insulation, so it always perplexes me that contractors still make this argument (I suspect because they fear the unknown of not having worked with SIP).

That day, Tree Hugger / Lloyd Alter came out with this:
Study of batt insulation installations finds 100% fail:
"A few years back the Green Curmudgeon at Green Building Advisor, Carl Seville, suggested that batt insulation should be banned because the installations were consistently awful. He noted 'We get what we pay for, and when we only pay bottom dollar for fiberglass batts, we get the performance we deserve.'"

This weekend, after the icky sleet, temperatures rose into the 70s at the modern prefab SIP house!
We got busy in the garden, expanding beds...

EVERYONE "helps" in the garden...
...and I mean EVERYONE.

We picked up some unexpected baby chicks... (more due on Monday...!)
Here's how you do baby chicks off grid, without a tiny little heat lamp taking down 10% of our battery bank a day! (As we learned, the hard way! Think about it- they are 250 watts! That's twice what we use for the entire house at maximum running!!!!!)
We turned a portable dog crate into a brooder by positioning it against the cook stove, covered with blankets to keep the chicks warm. There is a small box inside, open, facing the side of the cook stove, that traps even more heat, where they can huddle together in case they get cold.

 But so far they find the cook stove sufficient-
no huddles, running about comfortably with no chill.

Outdoors, here's a pile of soil we decided to level to be our new potato beds!

HERE is our off grid tiller, hard at work!
I'm liking this new tiller, it is very energetic and effective.

We also meandered through Farmville while the kiddos were at Science Camp.
Oh it was nice to be out...

We meandered Main Street and checked in on pottery classes at Mainly Clay, old antiques at Prince Edward Art & Antiques...

...the great art and cool pottery found at J. Fergeson Gallery.

Farmville really is a cute, walkable college town, its history made more vibrant by resident faculty who embrace the arts and international culture.  Longwood Center for the Visual Arts has an annual Youth Art Exhibition, there is a summer garden opera each June, and at Longwood, a Global Village Camp for grades 2-6.

As we ready for spring, I ponder what I want to achieve in year 2014 / next project plans at and around the prefab house:
- Purchasing a few more solar panels for when we have (rarely, only about 1-2x a year) 2 weeks of solid cloud cover
- Getting the off grid well working... now that it's drilled and the pump installed
- Fencing and a run in would be nice...
- Much less beginning to implement our (modified) landscape plan

I have been collecting all kinds of links to off grid air storage well pumps:
In the end, for the next years, and in conferring with an Amish friend, here's what we will do, not ideal as it is a tad cumbersome, but this is the easiest, least expensive way to get our off grid livestock well active for years 1-5:
  • The well is already drilled, the air pump installed, as mentioned in previous posts.
  • The pump is powered by an air compressor we already own.
  • The compressed air is stored in a reused propane tank, to be purchased.
  • When it is sunny, we plug in the air compressor to the battery bank OR  hook up the portable generator to refill the propane-turned-air tank.
  • For OUR needs, a 300-500lb storage tank should be able to pump water for chickens and horses about a week!
This is similar to my philosophy regarding the off grid refrigerator we created from a chest freezer: "We could spend thousands of dollars, or we could spend hundreds of dollars. I'd rather spend my money right now on building a run-in and fencing for horses AND the off grid well, albeit a little more awkward in the first year(s), than  JUST a perfect off grid well I can't even bring my horses to because they're still being boarded as we couldn't afford to do the fencing!"

This morning, we awoke to the happy peep peep peeping of baby chicks nestled against the cook stove, hot coffee ready, pancakes with last summer's berries... Love this cook stove, our heat source that does *multiple* things at once!

Pipsqueak 1 notes, "The chicks are making frequent bids for freedom." I muse, "Again, I'm glad we went with concrete instead of bamboo flooring in the prefab..."
With the beautiful warm days... came rain, and plummeting temperatures... 
Once again, they predict snow this week.

Let's hope the other baby chicks we're expecting arrive before the storm!
In the meantime, I've got the cook stove going, keeping the little chicks already in the dog-crate-turned-off-grid-brooder cozy against the stove, happy and warm.

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