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3/30/15

At The Off Grid Modern Prefab, Passive Solar In A Whirlwind Week

Ahhhh, spring. At the off grid modern prefab house, the temperatures were in the 70s, AND 20s.


The passive solar design of the modern prefab + insulation of the SIP kept us lazily comfortable, as always. And on foggy days the passive solar window placement kept everything indoors bright.
Handsome Husband Wants To Talk Batteries and Inverters For Our Off Grid Prefab House.

"When we designed the systems for the Casa Ti we were planning to use the house as a weekend
getaway until we were ready to retire, giving us likely 20 years before turning the house into a full time residence. We therefor undersized the electrical system, giving us a small battery bank and the matching small set of solar panels. In fact, the size is usually referred to as "cabin size" or 'appropriate for a development country.'

After having used the system full time for 3+ years we respectfully disagree. We are able to live very comfortably, blaring music (on our wonderfully powerful Bose portable sound system), lighting up every corner of our house (using LED bulbs), pumping water (out of our cistern) and keeping our food reserves chilled (using a Sundanzer freezer and Copeland's fantastic chest freezer turned refrigerator).

Making smart choices allows us to be perfectly comfortable with this solar off grid systems size  - far from the shivering group huddled around a candle and rationing their use of power that one might imagine living so minimally. There are however times when we need more power than the batteries and inverter are intended to produce. Our on-demand water heater comes to mind, allowing the inhabitants to overcome the threat of the cold shower induced by low insolation at times and certainly in the winter. For those applications our inverter is able to call up the help of the
generator. This is possible because our inverter has the capability to surge for short periods beyond the normal output. In our case the rating of the generator is 4000 Watt. For 30 seconds it can surge to 8000 Watts, giving it enough time to start up the generator, let it warm up and transfer load to it.

Our choice of a small solar system in our opinion ended up being an actual advantage: We are able to maintain our needs 99% of the time extremely comfortably with available power, and the inverter can surge when necessary (pretty much only a hot shower viat the tankless water heater and even then, only in winter) by adding the power available from the generator to its own supply."

In two weeks, neighboring Appomattox (and our nation) will commemorate the ending of the Civil War, and we will be in the thick of that history and experience.

Knowing guests arrive, I'm trying to see what I can tidy up in our off grid modern home.

These closet curtains have got to go. They were always supposed to be temporary, but years later they are stained with soot-covered fingers from the woodstove, dirty gardening hands, and dog noses.
Let's see if it happens before the 150th commemoration of the ending of the Civil War...
We shall see.
Can't wait to get rid of curtains
covering closets. Hopefully soon.

It's also something to consider when considering modern built-ins. With our rough lifestyle, stains and dirt will be a prime consideration when choosing what materials to use. I have some ideas...

But meanwhile:
We're getting ready for the garden season.
Early season seeds like kale / brussel sprouts / collards are sowed, now we wait for it to warm truly before the summer garden is sown.

With spring, Egg has gone broody!
(Yes, her name is Egg.)

And PIP 1 FINISHED SIXTH GRADE!!!! 
Pip 2 has maybe two more weeks. Then it's on to summer schedule! Let the (homeschool) summer begin!!!!
Stalking Silence
I heard a turkey scratching in the woods and thought I'd show the kids how to stalk. As it scratched, we steadily crunched over leaves towards it. They need work on freezing, though- when supposed to be "frozen still" they were thundering in the quiet woods, although on a playground it would be considered not making a peep. I am going to enjoy teaching them silence- as I explained, "You be still. It might be twenty minutes until that turkey starts scratching again. But right now he's still and hears everything. Learn to freeze, not rustle, loudly playing with sticks in your boredom. Instead of allowing boredom, listen. Listen to the slow rustle of the wind in the branches, smell the cooler air, suddenly what is nothing is huge and filled with sound. Look around you. Note the scratch areas, the creeks, everything. Suddenly being 'still' is very active."

Well, the Pips are always active, that's for sure.
Pip 2's Apple Delight
Slice apples, thickly. Fry in butter, sprinkle with cinnamon, a sprinkling of sugar. While it's frying make whipped cream. Drizzle over. Yum.

We headed into the city to see friends.
We saw the dear O's... and L's...
Indoor sports.

We cheered on the Monument Avenue 10K...
Go Team Stefan!

And at the W's, a riding playdate in the middle of the city.

And then we were back. Back at the off grid modern prefab house, happy to be home.

Reading Club:
Now home at the off grid modern prefab house after such a whirlwind week, I am off to stalk silence.

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3/23/15

Off Grid Modern Prefab House Eyes Off Grid Then Glances Sideways At Utilities

The modern prefab house project, The Modified R1 Residential in the Northwest, will be in front of planning and zoning next week... keep your prefabulous fingers crossed, y'all, that it goes smoothly! (We expect it will. Our design documents contain everything they need, and we're here to answer any questions zoning may have; the client has done much due diligence and planning and zoning has been helpful to her each step of the way. So stay tuned!)

In the meantime, as always, at the off grid modern prefab house, we are working on our own personal prefab house projects... because... they never end.

As I busied myself one morning, I got this text-

Bet *your* ISP doesn't text *you* like this, making sure you know about what's cool to do in the area...
: ) 

(Ha really, Verizon?)
And you know I LOVE the Lady Casati... (technically it's Marchesa but who's counting)
(A friend quipped, "WHAT IS THIS, LADY CASATI's INTERNET?!?" Yes, yes it is.)

If you want to hear my ISP's REALLY COOL story, read this, on Dennis Hunt's founding of GNS Networks when the Big Guy Telecoms told him they aren't interested in rural. Small entrepreneurs like he change the Big Telecom game.

Like Dennis creating and becoming his own internet service, more and more people embrace off grid homes in expensive or bad-service utility areas- doing it on their own, happily.
This week, I read the latest on the protectionism our local utitlities company, Dominion Power, attempts to gain: Dominion's promises vanish into thin air:
"...By blocking regulation of base rates over the next five years, Dominion can earn more than authorized by state law. And regulators at the SCC are powerless to force the monopoly to issue refunds to customers, as they have in the past. 
The law, meanwhile, still permits Dominion to pass along costs associated with higher fuel costs, seek emergency temporary rate increases and secure riders that charge customers for the costs of facilities. 
Dominion's claim that it would risk letting its shareholders cover the costs of EPA-induced plant closures never passed the smell test; such an arrangement would be financially irresponsible for an entity that, by design, exists to make a profit.
Even as it claimed otherwise, Dominion has demonstrated that its priority through the recent legislative session was never Virginians; it was Dominion's own financial interests. 
The monopoly is now poised for a lucrative five-year stretch, one in which it sought to compound the damage by withholding critical information about just how much money is at stake. 
It was an audacious strategy, and it underscored how badly Virginians need the SCC to protect their interests - and how badly lawmakers and the governor failed by approving SB1349."
From what I've seen of people’s average electric bills this winter, the way things were going, our battery bank would be paid for in 6 months... not 6+ years as we originally estimated. The more for-profit utilities become, the more it makes sense for residences to run their own solar.
An actual friend's actual bill.
With a passive solar modern prefab home with great insulation through SIP (structural insulated panels) it is easy to embrace off grid, net zero, even producing more energy if you want.
So then what happens? Utilities experience competition, don't like it, run crying to regulators
"If holding companies encounter sympathetic regulators — and money has a way of generating sympathy — they can even raise rates on those retail customers in order to pay for the crappy old baseload plants their generation utilities own. Not great for customers, but good for the bottom line. 
In short, utilities are seeking regulatory shelter from competitive wholesale markets. 
— The second trend has them seeking regulatory shelter from increasingly competitive retail markets — freaking out about, and fighting back against, the rise of rooftop solar. This was the subject of an excellent recent Washington Post piece from reporter Joby Warrick."
If only I had time to go further into these subjects, but this is just my quick weekly off grid blog. Use these jotted solar notes as a stepping stone for thought.
Off grid living, even on minimal solar systems, in a modern prefab house is... LOVELY.
St. Patrick's Day arrived.
We might live in population 40, BUT THEY'RE NOT TAKIN' ANY CHANCES.
Yes, even green "hair" thanks to a scarf.

We are loving recess these days albeit gusts of 30mph, horses returning from the hunt, and lotsa spring fever head tossin'.
Often crisp, often warm, we are outdoors.



The only girl he loves.


We mourn the last days of cook stove season...
Here's what I came home to after riding- Handsome Husband and Pip 2 had been busy on a still-crisp spring day:
Cook stove dinner in spring...
It's sooooooo good to be outdoors, playing in the sunshine!


When the spring temperatures rise, social events move outdoors! We are loving playing in the sunshine longer with friends.
Reading Club:
  • Australia urged to shut coal-fired power plants urgently as analysis reveals huge emissions http://gu.com/p/46m39 
  • Study: Americans taking steps to hide online activities from U.S. government | http://ow.ly/KsHPC 
Years later, I just want to say: We love it here, and living off grid in our modern prefab house.
Here, in a rural town, population 40... heck, even the clouds are friendly.

Y'all have a good week.

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