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Just Miles From The Off Grid Modern Prefab House The Tornado Hits Hard.

I don't know what to say.

One minute I was nervously joking about how glad I was to live in a SIP house with the the tornado watch alert that had just gone out...

I kept making jokes, keeping the kids calm...
The sky roiled.
I watched the clouds move south to north AND west to east, and then it started merging...

Lightning started cracking and striking, rain began to come down in sheets, sideways, and... is that... OH MY GOSH HERE IS THE HAIL bouncing off the roof...

The kids got in the tub.
You may recall we have been working on some indoor projects, finishing walls with plywood... I grabbed the plywood and covered them.
Minutes passed. They fidgeted.
When your mom tells y'all to get in the bathtub, lie down, and cover yourself with a sheet of plywood, that does NOT mean moon your sister.
The rain, hitting sideways, was so strong, the pressure so great, that it came in through the cracks of the front door frame- gallons of water it seemed- CRAZY that it could force itself through the door frame!!!! (Something we will need to address this weekend.)

The EF-3 tornado missed us but Red House and Evergreen, just 5 and 8 miles away, took a direct hit.
"EF3 Tornado. Wind speeds between 136 to 165 mph (218 to 266 km/h) Severe damage. Roofs completely torn off well-constructed buildings, along with some walls, majority of trees uprooted, trains overturned, vehicles lifted off the ground."

Images of the devastation left behind from yesterday's tornado that hit Appomattox County. In my 20 plus years of...
Posted by Crystal Image on Thursday, February 25, 2016

Appomattox tornado kills 1, injures 7, creates damage for miles

State official: Tornado claims 200 homes in Appomattox, 375 people displaced

A friend's child was home sick from school when the tornado hit.
Appomattox Teen Thanks Painter for Saving His Life
"An Appomattox teen still can't believe he's alive. Right in front of his eyes, Daniel Poole, 15, watched a tornado destroy his entire home.

Poole was sick Wednesday. He never imagined that staying home from school that afternoon would put him in the middle of chaos. The only reason he says he is alive, is because of Chris Wright."

Here is his little sister, after:

As many buildings and homes were flattened, it could have been worse, because there are SO many trailer parks, SO many rickety shacks that people call home here. It could have been even more devastating and horrible with so many weak structures in this area.

Appomattox is strong.
The next morning, they were telling people to stay OUT of the tornado impact areas where people were rushing to help because everywhere were downed power lines and sewage and it was totally unsafe.

So I headed to the animal shelter which was out of power, and helped walk dogs / unload cars pulling up with water and food. After years of volunteering long ago at the Richmond SPCA, it was like coming home.

Here are some pictures I took as we were slowed to a crawl on 460 because of the downed trees and power lines:

It is all terrible- lives lost, homes flattened, communities forever changed. But even in this devastation there is so much beauty 
So grateful to call this area home.

and love here...

Tales and tales of love and support and kindness and giving keep emerging, on... and on... and on. We are SO grateful to live here.

So. Yes. I will address the elephant in the room: I'm glad we live in a SIP house.
From the SIP manufacturer:

"SIP buildings can be engineered to meet or exceed building code requirements in all areas of the country susceptible to severe storms and hurricanes. SIPs can be engineered to meet or exceed just about any building design requirements for severe storm and high wind areas. Structurally, a structural insulated panel is similar to a steel I-beam.

The skins are adhesively bonded to a solid foam core over the entire panel surface. The skins act like the flanges of an I-beam, and the rigid core provides the web of the I-beam configuration. This composite assembly results in increased stiffness, shear strength, and predictable performance. During site assembly, the panel edges are fastened to OSB or lumber splines, further strengthening the overall structure."

BUT. Structural insulated panels or other materials are not enough: the biggest leak in a home's security when tornadoes hit are the garage doors. And if not that, what about the windows and regular doors?

From the Washington Post: The tornado-proof home: is it possible?
"Retrofitting an existing home with a reinforced “safe room” is a relatively low cost option, says Ernst Kiesling, executive director for the National Storm Shelter Association. It would cost about $2,000, he says, to harden and stiffen an existing bathroom or closet. Alternatively, it would cost somewhat more to build either a remote underground or partially underground shelter.
Structural insulating panels, or SIP’s (or foam core panels), are somewhat similar to and sometimes paired with ICF’s. Although around for some time, they are just now gaining more favor by builders and consumers due to their strength, “green” qualities, insect and mold resistance, and other attributes—much like the benefits of ICF’s. “The reason why it works better than two by fours or stick framing is because there are very few seams and gaps in the walls compared to stick framing,” says Michael Lamb, certified energy manager at the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse, a division of the DOE. Lamb goes on to explain that with conventional construction, air blows into wall cavities, but with SIP’s, there are fewer seams and leaks and more uniform wall insulation."

Again, having a "safe room" makes more sense then tornado-proofing an entire house. But still I'm glad to have our "shell" made of SIP if we decide to tornado-protect one room (most likely that bathroom).

8 Ways to Protect Your Home Against Tornadoes and Hurricanes

Although we have a modern prefab house made of SIP, and have strong, efficient windows & doors, those windows are still made of glass, and we can engineer more directly for a tornado such as this. As this was the second big tornado to hit our area in less than three years, we will be taking some extra precautions. As we decide what they are, we will keep you posted.

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Modern Prefab House Resolves An Off Grid Battery Bank Issue And Pulls Out More Projects

Can you believe the off grid modern prefab house began the week with this much snow? Looking back, at the end of the week, where it suddenly soared into the 60s, it seems like months ago.

Can you BELIEVE this was
just last MONDAY?!?

Sometimes, in this farming community, I think I'm the only one who becomes joyful when it snows. But all good things must come to an end...
It went from 20s to 60s, FAST!

So yes: the week at the off grid modern prefab house began with snow, sledding, and lots of soup... 

With the frigid weather, we went from outdoor to indoor projects.
Our living room suddenly had scaffolding stretching through it again. But now we have new ceiling fans installed! Plywood is being put on unfinished wall areas! Things are coming together! But in order for things to "come together" we had to pull everything apart. It's a mess!

We wouldn't have a blast in this frigid
snow unless it was TOASTY in the prefab house!

After four winters living off grid under my belt, here is what I think about normal winter weather (not polar vortexes or anything under 15)- Wow. Once you heat the passive solar prefab... When the days range between the low 50s to mid-20s at night... you're just... it's so easy to... OVERHEAT even with the HRV running and opening windows.

DON'T GET ME WRONG- if we're gone a few days, we return to the UNHEATED prefab being 20-30 degrees higher (I guess? I'm certainly wrong). No, wait. Again, guessing- we go away, it's 20 degrees, we return to probably 60? I will have to do some "away" experiments but when we return it's certainly not balmy but definitely not frigid. ANYHOO the POINT I AM TRYING TO MAKE (why are y'all always interrupting? ; ) ) is that in "normal" winter conditions once we get up and running it's so comfortable it's almost... too comfortable. I let the cookstove burn out at night. We awake -ALWAYS- in the mid-60s.

We Learned Something New About Our Off Grid Battery Bank This Week...
You might recall that a year ago we went from the original battery set up, twelve LR16s, to a new generator and a new industrial battery, the kind that powers fork lifts. Now with our OLD LR16s battery bank, we were supposed to equalize it once a month. So when our NEW battery arrived, we continued to do so and noticed after a month or so... it just didn't seem to be... it wasn't as... it wasn't as strong as we expected it to be.

I worried that the new generator was somehow TAKING US DOWN. But troubleshooting revealed nothing...  and it is an extremely reputable generator for off grid.

I went into a slow burning meltdown with the unanswered questions swirling...

Over the next months we tested here, there, everywhere and slowly worked our way through the distributor's questions and tests to finally going directly to the manufacturer. GREAT NEWS: in the back of my mind I worried that this battery bank would never be 100%, that we'd have to limp along for the next decade at 80%ish, always worrying if it was accurately working... I feared we wouldn't get answers in time before the warranty ran out, and even then, the expense and TROUBLE to haul another battery out here, something you only want to think about doing every 15ish years...!

Phew! Battery bank is working great again!!!

FANTASTIC NEWS: There is not a one year warranty, we have a FIVE YEAR WARRANTY. *PHEW!* And if that wasn't good enough, the manufacturer assured us our issue is easily fixable: We were told to equalize every day for 4-5 days to get it fully charged and working again. 

At that point, we need to equalize not once a month (which is why we after a month or so, were never fully charged) but on every fifth discharge.

Which makes sense: It's a FORKLIFT BATTERY, so picture that the forklifts are used, then recharged via the battery bank, then used... and they, at the end of the work week, then equalize.

Immediately you think: "Wait. Now they have to equalize ONCE A WEEK when before they equalized ONCE A MONTH?" NO. After the fifth discharge. Let's say we consider the battery bank discharged at 24v. So in summer, with consistent sun, it shouldn't discharge for weeks unless there is an overcast period.

HOWEVER, I know that every fall there IS an overcast period, usually lasting 2-3 weeks. During that period, yes I might equalize once a week. But otherwise, NOT.

We equalized daily for the recommended time and our battery bank BOUNCED BACK, BABY! 

They recommend equalize every 2 weeks just to be safe during cold cloudy weeks, and made two great points:
Outdoor vs. Indoor Battery Banks
The batteries are affected by the cold when stored outdoors. Now one cold night is not going to chill it to the core, but weeks of frigid weather will affect them. If you feel your batteries are not pushing through as they should, then equalize them- which also warms the batteries up!
Again, knowing how temperature affects performance, if you are considering going off grid maybe we should be talking about insulating those battery closets well (while also always allowing for proper ventilation!) OR how to best, safely place them indoors.

Note: You still need to do battery maintenance- checking water levels, etc. regularly. 

During normal, "average sun" weeksgenerators should only be needed for equalization in an off grid situation!
(FYI Consider, for more battery bank info:

Old Friends, New Friends
I had the best Girlz Afternoon with a dear Amish friend, and made some new friends!

I am so grateful to our new friends who *very* generously opened their farm to my Amish friend and me, and took valuable time to walk us through their non-GMO natural produce farm, greenhouses, fields and mushroom logs! My Amish friend is getting her own setup up and running and wanted to see what others in the area are doing... A really beautiful day with an old friend by my side, while making new friends.
Instead of heating via the air, they heat these small
water tubes with warm water.
Yurt living.

The Weather Warmed. Back Outdoors Our Projects Went!
Awhile back we cut wild cherry down (poisonous to equines, but excellent hardwood!) and today we moved the logs from the field. The branches we moved to the undergrowth on the field edges, creating wildlife habitat, especially for birds.

The day we were working with crop tree release, harvesting the cherry from our fields, moving it for the safety of our animals and freeing up other trees to grow well, in the mail, we got another letter:
 I have a few reserved words for
Is this supposed to make me feel happy?
When I see this I want to grab my hatchet but not for the tree.

We worked worked worked but made time for play.

SOMEONE's Handsome Husband, after working in the field, hauling logs, then stacking, in a grimy t-shirt after a day of hard work, *beat his chest* and yelled, "AND NOW? I WILL MAKE QUICHE!"

And so he did.
A real man teaches his kids
how to make quiche

Fake Miso Soup
Snowbound, I made fake miso soup with what I had on hand: onions / sliced Swiss chard / assorted broths / tofu / tahini (yes tahini) / anchovy paste and tamari. It could've been disgusting it was delicious!!!

Reading Club:
Ok everyone, it's Monday, BACK TO WORK. ; )

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