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10/19/18

Passive Solar Prefab Homes Consider Emergency Prep Zoning Snobbery And A 911 Address

This Current Passive Solar Modern Prefab Cabin Dogtrot Mod Project Becomes... Wolftrot.
Standard passive solar prefab house, our Dogtrot Mod from GreenCabinKits.com.
How the Dogtrot Mod changed, in THIS prefab house project, to become Wolftrot.


Today's prefab house and off grid living blog focuses on... emergencies.
Remember the old days of our off grid prefab house while under construction?
Our clients too have a tale.

Let's start with the current Dogtrot Mod prefab house turned into Wolftrot in the Pacific Northwest. 

There are two things in this project that might be relevant and learning experiences to readers:
The clients purchased an empty lot.
"Oh look, here comes the prefab!"
We well remember what it was like to just
have a lot, and no address...


More on this and why it's relevant, later.
Chicken, Meet Egg.
The clients need to submit to the review board, but in order to do so, they need documents / construction drawings. The level of detail of what is needed in permitting varies throughout the United States, and in this project area, all new construction is approved after a board review.

About our SIP package and when you go into permitting: Clients receive shop drawings with structural insulated panels labeled clearly, with component engineering and a stamped calculation packet for their contractor. If they would like to / can submit this for permitting, the panel numbers and labeling (so the contractor can easily see what goes where) can be eliminated so that review boards can just consider "the big picture."

**However, do note that for many localities this simple shop drawing is not acceptable- in most cases you need to have a local draftsperson / engineer / contractor create individualized-to-your-site specific plans- site plan, foundation plan, construction drawings...**

Fabrication does not begin until the project is approved so that any changes can be made to shop drawings before going into production.

Let's talk about the future Wolftrot prefab house's lot! 
Ah, the olden days where the prefab
was weather-tight, comfy, we camped within
still with no 911 address.
At this point we had owned the land
for YEARS so why no address?


Like many (including my own family), the clients purchased a beautiful lot, and moved on to the lot in an RV before the prefab house was constructed.
Why is this important?
Because they can not get an address without a house being on the lot.

Why is this important?
Because, y'all, what if you cut your head off and have to call 911?
"Hello, 911? I just cut my head off, can you come here and help me put it back on?"
"Yessir, what is your address?"
"Oh. Ummmmmmm... Huh. I have no idea. Somewhere... with a bunch of trees."

It's not just about 911. (As if that isn't enough!)
The clients have moved from another state, thus needing to re-issue all KINDS of documents, including drivers' licenses.
What does DMV need to issue you a license?
YOUR ADDRESS.

Our own passive solar prefab house
not quite finished, but weathertight
and habitable
...without an address.
Did I mention we had no address?


We went through this as well, but I thought instead of listening to me you might enjoy hearing about the experience in the client's voice. So read this in an English accent, okay? It gives much to think upon regarding obtaining an address for emergency and practical purposes.

HERE IS OUR CLIENT'S TALE: 
"We were able to get the City approvals we needed to move forward using my rough drawing.  That got us a document from them that enabled us to present a package to the county engineering staff using the contractors GPS lot layout so they can approve our septic and anticipated water well locations satisfying a state requirement for documented concurrence by the City and County planning staffs.

Once the county has signed off our contractor will be able to do the final grading (we already have that permit in hand), calculate soil export or import requirements and excavate for and install the septic tank which will need to be completed before any building structure foundations may be started.

...

Even before we built our own prefab house,
we camped many years on our land
where a 911 address would have been niceconsidering all the family activity there!
What if there was an accident?!?


As soon as we can we want to peg the site to locate the structure position clearly.  This will enable us to get a temporary electrical power distribution panel installed on a post close to the planned final position on the RV barn north exterior wall.  This is important to us as we've been told we can't get a street address issued by the City before we have power at the site.  We have the street name of course but no number established yet.  I'm optimistic that we can pull that information out of the City once we hand them our construction plans and apply for the building permit.

Shouldn't everyone have an address?
Our land wasn't going anywhere....
why couldn't we have an address?
We certainly played with many sharp shooty objects
surrounded by things that bite!
Why make it difficult for 911?

This is a source of some aggravation for us as without a permanent address we're effectively homeless as far as some organizations are concerned.  Getting vehicles, driver's licenses and many other matters resolved is a problem without a permanent address. The people at the DMV have been helpful, telling us just to wait and to pretend we're just tourists, but now we have vehicles tags expiring and we fear the state police will not be so understanding.

I did try the "what if we are building an 'off the grid' home" argument a couple of weeks ago and discovered the real bottleneck to getting a street number assigned.  It's not the utility company.  That's just used to deflect responsibility away from the city staff.  The underlying reason the city won't issue a street number for undeveloped land is it is their way to stop people squatting, living in trailer homes or caravans indefinitely.  It's actually just snobbery.  The affluent want to keep out what they consider to be 'undesirables'.

The city staff have to support the position of the council which is made up of a few long standing land owners from the area.  The politically easy way to do that is to require property developers to show real intent to build quality homes that the city believes will enhance local property values.  They blame the utility but the decision to assign a street number happens once property owners have shown credible intent to develop the land.

One way is for the property owners to have had their lot and building design approved and construction permits issued.  Typically once that has happened the developers will apply for utility connections to be made and the city then grants the property it's new street number.  It's not the utility.  It's the city.  They are just using the utility to deflect the ire of any new developer.
...
Back in the olden days:
unfinished SIP of the prefab house...
off grid
and no address.

I suspect we'll get our address soon and not have to wait for the 'utility' company to get around to installing anything.  But the inconvenience is real.  The most conspicuous one is the vehicle registration and drivers license problem but as you've probably experienced, any time you have to change your address it creates the opportunity for other people to drag their feet and cause issues.  It affects healthcare, insurance, banking, investments, etc. ad nauseum.  We'll get over it.

...

Not much has changed,
still happy and off grid in the
passive solar prefab house
WITH AN ADDRESS.

The contractor is scheduled to install the septic tank and drain field next which is all permitted and approved already.  I anticipate us installing the power utility conduit at the same time the drain field is installed as we will be sharing some excavation for both, suitably separated and to code of course.

Then we can get the utility to schedule their connection to our planned temporary power distribution panel we'll be able to get a 'real' street address.  Yaaaaay!  Then we can finally get driving licenses, vehicle registrations done, some of which are expired now, and update all our other services and accounts with our new address, which will be a huge relief.  It will be nice to make the transition from 'Californicators' to "Oregonasms' finally.

And thus ends this week's update on the passive solar prefab house Dogtrot Mod, turned into Wolftrot.
Lookin' like a city kid!


Back To Our Own Modern Prefab House:
The Off Grid Family Was ON Grid When ANOTHER Hurricane, Hurricane Matthew, Passed, With Flooding, Tornadoes... and POWER OUT!
"Drat. We're not home, we're in the city..." I reflected, deeply missing my strong, cozy, energy efficient OFF GRID prefab house as the wind wailed and transformers blew...
Oh well.  I pulled out camping lights, grabbed a book, and cozied in for the night.

At some point I looked outside, and was surprised to see our city house was the only one lit up.
Maybe a tiny flicker of a candle here and there, but otherwise the street was DARK.
"OH MY GRACIOUS. Did no one of anyone get batteries even with Hurricane Flo last month?"
It didn't look so.

After years living off grid, I just could never live like this- these regular power disruptions. (And people think *I'M* primitive, off grid. Hey. We off gridders are cozy, warm, and with always-running appliances!)

My biggest shock was not just seeing the entire area DARK but how people shrugged it off, passively- "Well, that's just how it is..."
Um, actually, I can tell you it does NOT have to be "just how it is..." if you're off grid...

Here are my tips for getting through 24/48+ hours plus without power (and yes there are TONS of lists on the internet that are even better!) without buying expensive generators and such. Because sometimes an off grid country girl with a stocked-pantry-that-can-last-for-months might offer some inexpensive practical tips.

Bad weather doesn't have to knock you out.

I'd also like to point out that since this is now a "thing," this being without power every other year for extended amounts of time, what I mention below you should just aim for as a "basic kit."

If you are an adult, consider giving these items to a teen / college student each birthday or holiday so they don't have to figure it out all at once as an expense the first time they're away and weather hits.

Seriously, that's what I do with my nephews. The second they were a few years out from getting their first apartment, the gifts of pots and pans, camping gear, working sleeping bags etc. were gifted each year. They don't know it but they are PREPPED. (Maybe I should remind them and go over this all, too.)

PURCHASES FOR PREP:
Each expenditure is about the equivalent of a dinner out. So over months, just cut back a dinner out and get these instead:
  • Uhhhh that's pretty but
    that's not gonna cut it.

    Light. No, not just candles, although you should always have candles stored. Flashlights don't really cut it, y'all. Get nice big glowing lamps you can read books by... it might seem expensive at the time but any time you can pick up plug-in LED lights on clearance, well it might be $10 here and $15 there (still a good deal!) but they are PRICELESS for evenings without light. I keep some discretely always charged regularly throughout the house. Well worth the investment. If you ever go to thrift stores always pick up big camping lights, and make sure you stock them with fresh batteries. But the best ones are the ones that are LED and plug-ins. We got some LED "wands" at Lidl recently for $9- you can stand them up in the base and even hook them to something tall to cast a room full of light.

    Note that each lamp only gives you about an evening's worth of light (don't forget to charge them once a month! Don't leave them plugged in! I do so on the days I also do monthly maintenance chores like giving the dogs their flea & heart treatment.). So keep that in mind when choosing how many to pick up, how fast to use them and of course also have candles to accommodate two week's worth of light.
    Light? No problem.
  • If you don't have a gas stove, invest $15 in a one-burner camp stove at least, and keep 3-4 little propane tanks near. Used judiciously that will get you through two weeks, easy.
  • Ahhhh but we all need coffee, no? Well now you've spent about $50 just on random prep stuff so here's a cheap fix for coffee instead of buying that $35 camping percolator: a $2 reusable coffee filter. Plus now you don't need to buy wasteful filters! Yep, boil water, stick the reusable coffee filter on top of a wide mug or whatnot, insert coffee, cue Def Leppard and instead of sugar now sing, "POUR SOME BOILIN' WATER ON MEEEEEE."

    Ok fine I clearly had my coffee typing this!
    HEY I saved you money now you have to listen to my bad jokes.
  • Groceries: Save $ by not letting things spoil: The second you hear a storm is coming, fill your car with gas and start carefully choosing recipes that eat down your freezer / fridge. Get creative, then only buy things that last ok outside of the freezer / fridge like fresh vegetables. Keep shelf almond or coconut milk on hand, the kind in boxes you can store in the pantry. Cook all meat in fridge as storm nears.
  • If weather is approaching, fill your bathtub with water to flush toilets. Don't panic much less waste money on plastic jugs of water, just fill pots and pans with lids with water for drinking water. Don't tell me you don't have pots or pans much less roasting pans. GET THEE TO A COOK BOOK AND KITCHEN and stop eating out all the time! (Note: Also discover the joyful easy art of brewing sun tea. Add a little sugar and POOF NOW YOU ARE A PROPER SOUTHERNER. Those containers also work great when hoarding water for emergencies. AND bonus: serving party beverages!)
  • The water with a penny freezer trick = peace of mind when the lights come on. Haven't heard of it? Put a penny on a tray of ice cubes (or in my case, a water-filled espresso cup in the freezer).

    When the power comes back on it helps you judge how much things dethawed by where your penny is found- on top? Safe. At the bottom? Ew, toss that.
  • Keep pantry items on hand and don't open the fridge or freezer for anything in the first 24 hours, then sure eat through that fridge first, quick, then the freezer.

    I understand if you're in the city you might not have months and months and months (and years) like we country people do. But if anything, keep rice, pasta, and canned goods on hand, enough for at least a month. Use up regularly and replace. Don't forget to have non-electric kitchen tools like a can opener!

    Because if you had all that food and an electric can opener, well, that would just be funny!
  • Often after bad weather the sky is clear and sunny. Consider making an inexpensive solar cooker to have on hand.
  • Security. Peace of mind when it's dark and you're single and alone and even though you KNOW THINGS ARE FINE it is still scary out and you find yourself without proper, traditional means of defense? Number one deterrent is dogs. Reinforce your peace of mind with long metal flashlights, garden tools, baseball bats handily brought in before weather hits = free already-here helps-your-peace of mind so you can sleep through the anxious blackness of a city without light. I know I don't have to tell you this but if someone IS attacking, attack back with intent to kill. Long metal flashlights are my FAVE if you have no real weapon handy or if you're in an area that prohibits weapons ("Dude! It's just a flashlight!" and bat your eyes.). Always have one on hand. Bonus: you get a cute handy light with that killing machine!
  • Finally: Make sure you know MAINTENANCE. Got a generator? Battery bank? Batteries? Candles, matches, little propane tanks to replenish? Make inspecting and maintaining your emergency items part of your routine.
Now that we've discussed bashing people's brains out, let's move on to design! MAKE GOOD CHOICES. Always choose design that FUNCTIONS. 
You have to buy a bedspread regardless, right? Or a new coat. Or... etc.

When you buy bedding, buy duvets that actually work and aren't just pretty. Many brands let you choose down comforters by warmth levels, always get the warmest. Same thing for jackets! Buy *working* (read: for cold weather not just for fun) sleeping bags when on sale. Now you can go camping! 
Let's talk more expensive / investments.
Buying a house? Upgrading appliances? CONSIDER:
Start with an energy efficient home that WORKS
and from there everything is easier.
You need less systems, you spend less...
  • Buy (or rent) homes with gas stoves (yay you can cook without power!). 
  • Our last on-grid house even had an automatic generator, one of the few in this city ages ago. Now, they are more common. That was a real estate bonus! And yet the assessment didn't count it that way. Wow.
  • Hot water: Our city house has a hot water heater using natural gas. It has a pilot light and a mechanical thermostat on the unit tells it to turn on and off based on the water temperature in the tank. The heater does not need any electricity to function.
  • Our city heating system is a natural gas, hot water, radiator system. It's a great system, completely silent and no air flow. The circulation from the boiler uses gravity, no circulation pump. There is no igniter, we have a pilot light there as well. Therefore, our ability to operate the heating system in the event of a power outage depends on being able to keep the thermostat running. The thermostat runs on 24vac, supplied via a transformer, from household current. We want to install a battery with an inverter and plug the transformer into the inverter to operate the thermostat. The battery charge will be maintained with a trickle charger.
  • The same process applies to the internet access and the router, they should be plugged in to a battery inverter with a trickle charger.
  • Solar, duh. Generators, duh.
  • So what do you do if you're renting / don't want a wood stove in your living room? BUILD A BATTERY BANK (at your OWN RISK).
Here's some fix-its for our own on-grid city house: (Do at yer own risk!)
Hot water: We have a hot water heater using natural gas. It has a pilot light and a mechanical thermostat on the unit tells it to turn on and off based on the water temperature in the tank. The heater does not need any electricity to function. 
Our heating system is a natural gas, hot water, radiator system. It's a great system, completely silent and no air flow. The circulation from the boiler uses gravity, no circulation pump. There is no igniter, we have a pilot light there as well. Therefore, our ability to operate the heating system in the event of a power outage depends on being able to keep the thermostat running. The thermostat runs on 24vac, supplied via a transformer, from household current.  
We will install a battery with an inverter and plug the transformer into the inverter to operate the thermostat. The battery charge will be maintained with a trickle charger.
The same process applies to the internet access and the router, they should be plugged in to a battery inverter with a trickle charger.
(Consider using your car battery in a pinch since yer not going anywhere, anyhoo, vs. maintaining a battery just for this purpose.)   
Ready to go TOTALLY AT YER OWN RISK GOIN' TO THE DARK SIDE?
Well dang that conversation went
hi-voltage, fast!

Welp, you could always build yer own Tesla battery.
I know some of y'all are getting ALL EXCITED reading this. Here is my argument on why this might not be the solution for you:
When was the last time you changed your underwear?
When was the last time you dusted a window sill, much less the crown molding
Do your houseplants die? Do you even have houseplants?

If you can't dust or keep house plants alive then you are not the one to build and tend safely a battery bank. 

Living off grid all these years, we check, water, charge, and maintain our battery bank and generator as religiously as we do the bread we are carefully making and baking. As part of our daily housekeeping, we check our battery bank levels (often several times a day) just as we routinely sweep up mounds of dog hair.

Imagine if it were actually cold!

The next morning, still without electricity, I padded downstairs in my t-shirt and boxers and felt a chill. This was SHOCKING because outside it was only in the 50s!!! "WOW I MISS MY ENERGY EFFICIENT SIP HOUSE!!!!"

It is so weird to be in "normal houses" during power outtages after living off grid in an energy efficient prefab home for so long. In my energy efficient prefab house I don't even think about "turning on heat" (otherwise known as firing up the cookstove for dinner) until it's in the mid-30s outside. In the city "normal" house just in mild normal fall temperatures, it was chilly indoors.

Many of our farm friends are still flooded, with trees down, and without power.

In the city, it was the weekend of the Folk Festival, for which our teens volunteered.
He thinks he looks hard.



Look close: HE IS GIVING SOMEONE THE CUTEST SMILE!

We sat on a blanket and enjoyed the many acts. All were amazing. Here are a few videos of bands we caught (taken by other people but on YouTube for all), I hope you enjoy.
Lulo Reinhardt & Daniel Stelter

Leroy Thomas & the Zydeco Road Runners

Vishten - Acadian/Cajun Medley

With the Richmond Folk Festival, even when you go two days you'll still never catch it all. I wish I had seen more!

Siiiiiiiiigh... NEXT YEAR.

Meanwhile, it's great to be back off grid at the modern prefab house.
Y'all be good.
Last night: low of 30s, awoke to 68+, with no heat.





 


 


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