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10/27/14

Passive Solar Off Grid House Considers Our Sense Of Belonging.


Ahhhhh, fall. Even with mild weather, the scent of wood smoke scents the air. It saddens me, because it reminds me how so many, many rural homes are so poorly insulated, so poorly built... the people who need energy efficient green building the most don't have access to it.

In our off grid prefab, built with structural insulated panels, a passive solar design... with temperatures falling into the 40s and rising into the 60s... we wouldn't even think of turning on heat. That's not meant to be a smug statement on the superiority of our green building. It is a frustration, seeing so, so many people with windows taped up with cardboard and blankets, you can literally see the crevices and exposed tar paper where the wind whistles through... If they were new homes they would be condemned... I'm guessing they're not condemned because 'round here they know these people would have nowhere to go, and at least their shelter has a *little* shelter than
nothing. It makes me so sad.

We drove about this week, enjoying a glorious weekend, but as we passed through Appomattox, through Lynchburg, Bedford... each time I caught a whiff of smoke in these mild temperatures, even with the beauty of the leaves turning, even with the gorgeous day, I reflected, I wished those families comfort from winter's approach.

In our own family, we have news.
When I first met Handsome Husband, I knew he was from another country, yes- I mean, have you heard his **accent?!?**

(Seriously, y'allI, being Virginian, have no accent you may have noticed... in the video below, last year, my friend M. and I sing a popular ballad that showcases how we have NO ACCENT AT ALL.)

Oh. Gracious. I guess we really were full o' holiday cheer that day, so uhm... nevermind.
I swear I was not lookin' at those Hee Haw lyrics! (Ok you caught me...)

Ok back to culture:
When we married, I knew Handsome Husband had given up everything to be with me.
Why would I expect him to give up his country?

Y'all, we always considered ourselves World Citizens, living in (on his side) Hamburg, Denver, Charlottesville, and I in Richmond, New York, Paris (and when I worked in NYC, I traveled all over, working in international affairs...)...

Years passed.
And now we are Of Pamplin Cit-tay, Population 199.
Really, the big change came when we moved to the off grid prefab.
As I was explaining to my Amish friend yesterday,

"When we moved here he said he realized that this was his land, these are his people, this is his community... and that he wanted to recognize that, to truly be 'of here.'"

On Thursday Handsome Husband took his citizenship test and scored 100%.

It is a lot more emotional than if you have never thought of it, always being a citizen, than you might think. It's as special as a wedding. We have done a lot of talking and reflecting and joyous tears.

So, in 24hrs Handsome Husband went from Richmond to DC to Richmond to Norfolk (to take the test) to Deltaville (to check on the Ramshackle and neighbors) to Pamplin.

But when he got home... we were waiting!!!
It's funny- he arrived and the dogs RUSHED HIM whining and yelping and wagging and hugging him and we looked at each other and said, 
"Y'know, we could never even have these dogs in Germany!"
Tiny, trying again to fit into another modern chair...
We like our life, here. 
We also believe animals react to their environment, their owner, and how they are treated. Our dogs herd chickens and childrenz and are bossed by a 15 year old ornery cat. We appreciate the freedom we have to choose what animals are in our family while carefully weighing the responsibility of good pet ownership. These "dangerous breed dogs" deemed by Germany of ours keep our children warm at night, and when they wake they have a snuggle party, daily. Baby chicks crawl upon and under our canines.

So this week's thoughts are on place, and belonging.
Where is your sense of place?

My Amish friend and I continued talking. (When we get together, we talk... People keep pulling up to buy things, I step aside and say to them, "You go ahead, I can wait..." and then when they leave L. & I keep tallllllllking. It's our Friday Thing we do... : )  )

Anyhoo, L. and her husband had traveled to Indiana this week for a nephew's wedding.
"Amish families had moved to X, Virginia, near West Virginia, but the english didn't like us buying their land. They thought we would 'change' things. So those families picked up and moved to Indiana."

(In case you don't know, Amish call non-Amish 'english.')
"Well," I huffed, "rural areas NEED Amish *and* tech people like I. WE'RE the ones saving and preserving their farms, we're the ones who are interested and invested in keeping those areas 'as is' and not developed. Who are they kidding? They have no children who want to stay, our families do! So yes things are going to 'change,' but if we invest there, we help it stay 'the same.' Sheesh. All their jobs are gone, whereas the Amish jobs are on each farm, self sustaining, and we technology people telecommute, earning 'city' dollars that are then spent in the rural community!"

Tech and Amish families create jobs.
Another Virginia county recognizes,
"Amish families from across the country have settled in Giles County, opening more than a dozen businesses and contributing to the overall economy."
These jobs might be on our own farms; I telecommute and L. has her Amish stand on her farm. But we bring money IN, without driving land prices higher.

Food.
For.
Thought.
Y'all.

Back to Handsome Husband With Ze Accent: For those of you thinking you can just go marry someone from Europe and they become a citizen, here's a nugget of wisdom fer ya:
Just because they're now a citizen of the grand ole USA, doesn't mean they're going to suddenly have good taste in music. 
Sadly, that is a trait that remains cemented: his love of bad (really bad) techno.

I shut down that techno house Euro whatever and put on Dolly Parton.
Into the car we piled, and we drove.

We appreciate the light of a clear blue morning.
This week we drove past Bedford, and hiked Peaks of Otter.
 
We had city friends visit. I made 'em muck the stalls. And stuff.
And in this beautiful weather, we rode. We miss greatly our friend and trainer C. who is recovering after an operation. But in the meantime, I have a new trainer... ; )
(As much as I love my ten year old playing in the round pen... I can't wait to see C.!!!!!!)

I hope you all have a great week.
 

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10/20/14

Off Grid Prefab House Reflects On Frugal Good Design And Not.

At the off grid prefab house the fall foliage is revealing glorious colors!

Frost approaches soon, so we worked on more Fall Readiness, including cleaning the stove pipe / chimney. It was a mess. And good to know all that creosote gunk is now removed and we have a clean safe stove pipe for the winter.
Because we no longer use a composting toilet, we also sealed up the pipe penetration that used to vent air for the composting toilet. Any penetration you can remove from your insulated tight envelope of a home feels good!
Up on the roof...

Today I am going to talk about what I *don't* like about living off grid. (Now don't forget we are on *minimal* systems, listed at the bottom of that link.)

I believe that being off grid should be *affordable* and I have actually loved tempering our lifestyle to meet the minimal off grid system challenges.
BUT.
My biggest quibble is our solar hot water.
In winter, we take warm showers.
Warm doesn't cut it in February.
To be fair, it's my fault- because I am such a water-wise miser I don't allow the water to really heat up, because that just...wastes water. And yes I collect all graywater, to reuse in the new flushing toilet. BUT I still don't like the idea of just opening the spigot to let the water run JUST so it gets hot.

I wish there were a better way... (And yes we also have a tankless water heater...)

I am also looking forward to when our radiant heat is connected so we rely less on fire wood. 
As much as I love my cook stove, as much as it efficiently wonderfully heats our house, I want a better way of maintaining a comfortable temperature in the off grid modern prefab house.

To have a "base" of minimum radiant heat means we will use fire wood only to "boost" the temperatures at mealtime. And as the modern prefab is so energy efficient, we retain heat (or in the summer, coolness) well so that we don't have to constantly tend the indoor temperatures.

Having said that, IF YOU ARE GOING OFF GRID, NOW, be happy because you will be getting so much more bang for your buck in solar systems / solar hot water technology than what we paid, years ago. I looked around on what we spent on our solar hot water system years ago and people going off grid now are getting such better technology for the dollar.

As always, I approach design with functionality and frugality for our own off grid prefab lifestyle.
So here are some things I noted this week that I thought out of step in the design / shelter world:

Lights that aren't efficient. I thought it odd that in two consecutive issues of a certain shelter mag that the same Tom Dixon jumbled mismatched not harmonious nor ethereal lights nor a proper grouping in not one but two consecutive issues of this 'zine.

Is clunky ineffective lighting a thing, or is it product placement? (I count this as my one allowed snark of the year. but it's because I'm trying to point out that good design = efficient.  Even grouped as is that lighting for a dining table would be unflattering, much less just one.) Yes I understand these shapes have been around, inspired by Morocco; I'm just saying in this configuration in my mind it doesn't work.

Friends chimed in:
Wolfscream Song:
"I think your choice of the word 'ineffective' is spot on. I used to do a lecture on landscape lighting and compare airplane runway lights (in your face) to proper walkway lighting. The way I learned it, quality lighting is when you see what is illuminated, but not the light. Seeing the bulb makes us bugs drawn to bug lights. Personally, I prefer a sleeker aesthetic, as well."

Christopher Maxwell:
"Energy wasted on badly designed light fixtures will DEFINITELY crank up your electric bill! I do think we need to address the types of shades and methods of directionalizing light as part of working toward net zero."
EXCELLENT point, Sir M.

Then I ran across this- a modern house project on a faraway Canadian lake for two DC urbanites (so yes, consider the preposterous travel just to get there from DC...):
"'We wanted to do modern, but we also wanted to do cheap.'
That meant a firm budget of $500,000...'"
Not including land... for a smallish footprint home...

To lighten my now positively scowling mood, I tossed the Design Mag into the corner and instead pulled out the local paper.
Which is always full of gems. Today, it brought me this:
Preppers. The new buzzword for rural certain people trying to take advantage of fearful ignorant urbanites. NOW I AM GETTING IT FROM ALL SIDES- HIGH *and* LO, 'chiles! 

I am positively fuming!
I considered my own take on the scenario... and started laughing.
Preppers, meet serial killer.
Except that they are charging you an exorbitant amount (for this area) per acre with no water or sewer or road. Handsome Husband and I theorized that FIRST they'd gyp the poor Preppers then they'd eat 'em. (Do some fancy clunky inefficient unflattering to yer visage lights come with that land?)

Humor restored, it could not have been a more pretty weekend...
There was The Blessing Of The Hounds (otherwise known as, "Oops, Kim got peed on, again...")
My beloved Barn Buddy Missuz B!!!!!!
Miz D gave Pip 2 her vest so she
was very excited to show Miz D
how much she loves it...


Another year, another robe...
Kim adores the hounds and says
she'd be disappointed if they didn't say hello.

When we returned we had a great afternoon with our own pretty girl, Zena.
Smart, strong, pretty girls.
(Pretty means on the *inside* then out, demeanor reflected.)
My cowboy, and his girl.

And then... a few months ago, a writer interviewed me on chicken keeping, and asked if I had any photos as well... I sent in some family snapshots from the week (because we always have chickens in our photos anyway) and forgot about it.

She emailed me yesterday with this:
Check out the Pips in Virginia Gardener! How cute!!!

Years into this, reflecting on our family's experience of building the modern prefab and living off grid, I want you to know: 
WE LOVE, LOVE, *LOVE* LIVING OFF GRID. 
He's a very cultured dog.
She's clearly neglected...

Reading Club:
  • Japan’s farmers face an existential crisis: Reform or die out
    “If the people who come into this area are really serious about farming, then that’s fine,” he said, leaning on a hoe on the edge of his field. “But if farming companies are coming here just to make a profit, they won’t be interested in trying to make our area better.”

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