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Off Grid Passive Solar Prefab Home : Fresh Air Exchange, Illness, And Rag Fashion. Chock Full O' Recipes, Y'all!

We are always so toasty in our extremely energy efficient off grid prefab house we have to remind ourselves that it really IS cold outside... On an average winter evening, I fall asleep, the cook stove burns quickly out... and we are without heat, with outdoor temperatures in the 20s, all night.
In the morning, I awake- it was in the 20s all night...
...yet we are still totally comfortable, in the high 60s indoors. Once I get the stove started I  halfheartedly feed it one... log... at... a time... because, well, it drops into the 20s but we're always so... overheated in this "average" winter weather that rises into the 40s in daytime.

In these winter temperatures it is easy to be warm, even with minimal off grid systems!

At the off grid prefab house, last week was not all wine and roses.

Ho Ho Ho!
One child had pneumonia, the other, bronchitis!

With childrenz afflicted by The Vapors, it was time to pull out some low tech toys to keep them busy without resorting to become one with the internet-movie-gaming-ether. The two biggest hits were Legos they hadn't even touched in about three years, and a big lump of clay.
(Yes. A lump of clay. Get it for about $10 at a craft store and watch them go to town.)
Clay and paint and pjs.

Thanks to washable markers, we even had a mysterious dinner guest, Mister Moustache!
He just showed up at the table...
Mister Moustache was full of quips.
Paaaaaaaging Salvador...

Thankfully, the medicine kicked in, and their spirits rose quickly.
And with dawn, a new day! Everyone get better!

We made LOTS of soups and stews this week.
Make You Better Soup
Ohhhhh ho. I am going to get you BETTAH.
Sautee loads of minced fresh ginger, lots of garlic, tons of onion in olive oil. Add in two shiitake mushrooms (or more), then water to cover it all (even better: broth if you have it on hand). I had roasted a chicken with root vegetables in days prior and picked it. Now I took that remaining chicken and sliced and diced it up, threw it into the pot. Cut a generous amount of cabbage in tiny bites and add it in. Let it all simmer together. Once soft remove the mushrooms and slice up tiny, return to pot, add glugs of apple cider vinegar to taste and plenty of salt and pepper. (I would add sriracha for myself as well.) Serve with Papi's homemade bread.

And it rained. Oh boy, did it rain.
I gathered the day's wood in just as the first fat raindrops fell. 
#Winning #It'sTheLittleThings
With the Pips sick and the roar of the downpour, it just didn't seem like a "Regular School Day" so we kept our pajamas on and did chemistry- we made toothpaste and cheese- while reviewing subjects we've already studied with the fun Crash Course videos (beware though that because it is geared towards high school / college to make reviewing history fun, they do use the words cr*p and *ss sometimes but we overlook it because well, the Pips love these videos... the key is watching them AFTER you study the subject...)...

Homemade toothpaste
And then there was more chemistry:

Irony: This video on a day when we're making cheese.
So Grandma, there ya go, watch that video, you've been outed.

As the week ended, Pip 1 came down with pleurisy
And finally, I too fell ill.

Our dear friend and retired-contractor Mr. B was concerned that our extremely air-tight energy efficient prefab might not have enough fresh air exchange.

"Good news, Mister B! Because we have a SIP house, we knew we had to have an ERV or HRV for that exact issue!" 

Here are some articles on how to determine how much fresh air exchange an energy efficient home needs:

  • Formula for air exchange
  • The heat recovery ventilator (HRV) and its close cousin, the energy recovery ventilator (ERV), can often make a home more efficient. Find out here what these boxes do and if your house needs one.
    "There are various recommendations for sizing mechanical ventilation systems. An older one called for 0.35 air changes per hour (ACH). Alternate recommendations are based upon a recommended airflow per room. Recommendations vary by manufacturer, but the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), which sets standards for good residential indoor air quality, recommends continuous ventilation of 0.01 cfm per square foot of living space, plus 7.5 cfm per person. So a 1,500-square-foot home with four residents would require 45 cfm."
    "HRV or ERV?
    The decision of whether to use an HRV or ERV can be confusing. Traditional wisdom suggests ERVs in climates where there is a significant mechanical cooling needed and dehumidification is required, such as in the Midwest, in the eastern United States, and the Southeast. During summer, it’s desirable to retain the coolness and the aridity of the inside air. Moisture and heat from incoming outside air is transferred to the exhaust airstream, and the ERV becomes a cool recovery ventilator.

    Well-sealed houses in heating-dominated climates can experience high indoor humidity levels. Therefore, HRVs are recommended, since additional moisture isn’t usually desired. "
  • From

    "SIP buildings are extremely airtight and require mechanical ventilation. Ventilation systems bring fresh air into the building in controlled amounts and exhaust moisture laden and stale air to the outside. By limiting air exchange to controlled ventilation systems, SIP homes allow for all incoming air to be filtered for allergens and dehumidified, creating better indoor air quality. Proper ventilation is important in all homes to preserve indoor air quality.

    How do SIPs improve indoor air quality?
    The airtightness of the SIP building envelope prevents air from gaining access to the interior of the home except in controlled amounts. A controlled indoor environment is both healthy and comfortable. Humidity can be controlled more easily in a SIP home, resulting in a home that is more comfortable for occupants and less prone to mold growth and dust mites."
While the Passiv Haus standard requires 0.6 air changes per hour (ACH) conventional wisdom is satisfied with 0.35 ACH. The volume of a Casa Ti is about 12000 cubic feet. 35% of that is 4200 CF.
Our HRV averages 156 CFM i.e. it can replace 156 cubic feet of air per minute. SO: We need to run the HRV for 27 minutes every hour to exchange the recommended amount of air (4200/156).

And... By the way: Pip 1 & 2 Programming And Why It's Important, Especially If You Want To Live Rurally.
After the doctor visits, the kids were STARVING. We ended up in a restaurant talkin' to a great kid from Honduras. He was teaching the kids spanish- and the word for french fries- "papas fritas!" I responded, "Oh, like pommes frites in french!" to which he responded in french, and then in which we happily conversed.

It got me thinking. "You know, if I could give you one piece of advice, since you are good with languages..." "Yes?" "You should study programming. If you don't have the money, you don't have to go to college for it... you can get certified... it is a field where experience offers growth."

We get a lot of flack in the country for raising kids who program.  
I'd like to point out that in rural areas, jobs are in short supply.  
In short: Learn skills where you can live ANYWHERE and earn an income.  To live in the country, most people have to drive 1+ hours to work. Our theory is: Don't be tied to where the job is, let something you love flourish where you want. Programming is a good career skill to have if you want to live where YOU want, not where a company is located.

As I explained to our nice waiter, " can often take a programming job with you to Honduras for a few months if you wanted to see your family!"
The average USA wage index in 2013 was $44,888.16.
The median income of Java Developers is $84,564.
"Not bad for a 12 year old kid!" aspiring "Java King-I-Will-Found-The-Next-Google" Pip 1 crowed... (Um, patience, grasshopper.)

Soooooooo.  If you want to live in a rural area and not drive 1+ hours to work, your choices are limited. You can hopefully get one of the few jobs that pay in your community, you could program or telecommute in a similar career, or... you could be Amish. : )

Things I learned from an Amish friend today:
When they ride, their saddles have horns.
"Soooooooo that means YER A COWGIRL!"
(She giggled.)
I am still sitting with my friend, once or twice a week. When I come, I bring food. And because I'm not Amish my food is different, and then we discuss it. SOOOOOO many of my friends are so different... I appreciate that, and that we all listen to each other. So today, B. had her first lasagna! And I learned to drive a buggy! And we smiled over Pip 1's "dress" made out of recycled rags:

For Pip 1, who loved the lasagna so, here's how it's done:
Momma's Lasagna
Boil lasagna noodles (stirring so they don't stick, every now & then!) until not-quite al dente. Flexible enough to work with, but not "done" because that happens when you bake it all at the end and you don't want them too soft/overdone then, no? Take 'em out and let 'em cool. I spoon 'em out with a pasta server, leaving the water boiling, because you never know when you want more lasagna noodles as you assemble the final product, y'know? And then there's that hot water still going so you don't have to start again. (Ahhhhhhhhhhh haaaaaa.)

In another pan, at least 2" deep, sautee lots o' minced garlic, onions, then add in ground beef, sautee until beef is browned, and then at least 2 cans of canned pasta sauce (my usual tomato / basil / garlic / onions I do every summer). Add salt and pepper and fresh basil if you have it in the freezer (I always freeze a bunch).

Well first, duh: Oil the pan. Or rub some butter on it.
On top of the pasta, spread ricotta, salt & pepper, fresh parsley, really good parmesan... any other cheeses you fancy.
Add the meat sauce.
Another cheese layer as above.
Then layers as you run out, topping with a pasta and cheese / whatever meat sauce is left & juice / any fresh parsley as garnish. (That leftover juice actually helps cook the noodles deliciously, fyi...)
Bake, covered. Turn halfway through, especially on a cookstove!

We Made Calzones...
Just make dough, and you can fill 'em with anything- this time, a ricotta/ parmesean/ sauteed onion/ ham/ salt & pepper/ chicken mixture + layer of my canned sauce, topped with parmesean.

And p.s. Pips: That Moroccan Tangine of Lamb we made that you loved after we watched the documentary on Morocco? I it got from here, except since I didn't have preserved lemons, I used some of the jam syrup we had leftover from canning + lemon juice, and also used a red cabbage which made it very pretty.

It's now a family favorite.

With Illness Slowly Ebbing, The Pips Kept Busy.

Pip 2: "Momma, can I learn to cut hair?"
"Sure! Pip 1, get ovah here!"
(He's clearly thrilled.)
Thrilled, thrilled thrilled.
After: "Wow, you really did a good job!"
[And it was free!]

Pip 1 spent time delving into Python and Arduino, since he was too sick to take his Java class.

Pip 2 not only discovered my Secret Stash Of Rags, and sewed together a dress...
...but also a heart pillow and scarf for her sick brother...

...and a gown out of bedsheets.
It's official, we have a meme: #RagFashion

And finally: Thinking about going off grid?
Johns Hopkins engineers created a computer model to predict the increasing vulnerability of power grids in major coastal cities during hurricanes. Is your city on the list? Find out -->

While y'all chew on that, I'm chewing on hickory nuts.
In fall, we race the squirrels for them, gather them up, then enjoy, a few at a time, over winter. A lotta work, but isn't it fun to smash stuff with a hammer? A mess, sure. Delicious.
... and full o' B6.

Hope y'all have a good week. We still might be lying low awhile in our pjs, at the cozy off grid prefab home.
...won't you guide my sleigh, tonight?
"Y'all have two whole weeks off!" Pips: "Can we still do a little school, every day?" Sure. But you're officially off. But that's all I ever wanted to instill in my kids: The love of learning.

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