Of a Month Gone By
Well, today marks the one-month point since our arrival here on our land. Part of me exclaims “A month! It flew by!” While at the same time, another part of me feels ever hour of every day that has passed.
In this one month, we have accomplished a great many things.
Flooring. We put a piece of linoleum down before we could even move in. We borrowed a flatbed trailer from our neighbor whom we had known for about 12 hours. I am continually floored by how generous and trusting the people out here are.
After fetching the flooring, trimming and gluing it down by the door, we were able to finally start moving our stuff out of the trailer and into our home. There is still far too much stuff in that trailer to make it easy to get in and out of, but we’re making steady progress.
Insulation. Before I could start building my “power wall,” I had to install some of the insulation in the wall cavities. I put it up and added some vapor barrier (which the cats have shredded several times!!) After we got the power system up and running, I got insulation in all but seven of the wall cavities.
Power. I had been planning this solar power system for the last six months. I finally got the opportunity to dig all the components out of the trailer and start assembling them into a working system. We have eight batteries, an inverter, four solar panels, a generator and lots of other electrical goodies to link them all together.
One thing that I have done that is not terribly common out here is that I installed an automatic transfer switch. This way, when I turn on my generator, the entire house automatically switches over from using power from the batteries to using power from the generator. At the same time, I’ve got a battery charger connected to the generator so that the batteries are being topped off at the same time.
Storage. One of the things I made sure to bring with us from Ohio was a set of shelves that I got from one of my previous employers. It’s really beefy and can handle quite a load on the shelves. It was a bit of a challenge getting them assembled, since they don’t have a lot of structural stability until they are almost completely put together and then they suddenly turn into a rigid structure. We use them mostly for food storage, and as we get more storage options in here, we will be able to start making a more sensible use of the space, as well.
Water. Water is a very precious commodity out here. Perhaps that’s why I’m a little bit peeved at how many people are currently dumping gallons of potable water on people’s heads in the 2014 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Because of a tip from our new neighbors, we were able to get a used 2500-gallon water tank for $800! We borrowed the trailer again and hauled it home.
After a few more trips to Lowe’s in town, I got the water and drain lines plumbed into a laundry sink that I put a kitchen faucet on, and set up our 12VDC water pump. We don’t have hot water yet, unless the sun is shining on the pipes on the side of the building. Then we have about 10 seconds of hot water before it flows cold again. If we need more than that, we just boil some on the stove.
Community. Linda and I have been continually amazed at how friendly, helpful and generous the people who live near us are. In the month that we’ve been here, we’ve met quite a few people: Bree & Tee, Jim & Dee, Jeff & Sandy, Matt & Andrea (and their son Tavis), Brian & Dana (and their kids BJ, Erik and Megan), Marty, Justin & Sarah (and their son Isaac), Dave (the local deputy Sheriff), and a few others.
These people have been helping us left and right, giving us advice as well as a hand with physical tasks that I can’t handle on my own or with Linda’s help. We’ve started going to First Baptist Church in Dell City, and have met another large group of very loving, helpful people. I’ve been pitching in, as well. I’ve helped my local friends with many projects from solar hookups to helping with some septic and plumbing issues. I’m very thankful for those whom I’ve met. I had planned to do everything myself when we got here, but it’s becoming clear that it’s a much better prospect to ask help (and give it in return) from my neighbors.
INTERNET!! (Well, sorta). Our neighbors’ wifi is just barely within range of us. I set up a wireless extender (with their permission, of course) so that we can get on the Internet via their connection. It’s slow and because of the crazy way I had to set it up, sometimes is unstable or just plain quits, but it gets us on the net so that we can stay in contact with our friends and family.
Entertainment. Because I am taking time off to allow the tendons in my right elbow to heal, I felt it was important to get our media center and home theater set up. This way, I can pass the time by watching a TV show or a movie in addition to reading books on my e-reader. It helps me pass the time.
However, since the home theater equipment is very power-hungry, I’ve connected it to the generator-only power source. This means that if we want to watch TV, we have to run the generator. Since we don’t do it that often, it’s a reasonable requirement. I don’t want to run the genny all the time since fuel is so expensive, but a couple hours every few days while I’m healing isn’t too bad…and my batteries get a good charge, too.
Vehicle Maintenance. Just a couple days ago, the radiator on the Jeep sprung a leak so severe that I usually use the word “exploded” to describe the failure. Thankfully, we were only a few miles from home when we discovered it, and I was able to get home without overheating the engine.
Since our finances are severely limited, we won’t be able to purchase a replacement radiator until September 2, and I will ask one of my neighbors to come help me install it since my arm is still “off limits.” One of our neighbors, Jeff, came over yesterday and we removed the radiator from the Jeep to verify that it was, in fact, a failed radiator. Once we got it out, it was clear that it had been “about to blow” for some time, and that we were extremely lucky that it did not fail while we were stressing the engine towing 9,000lb when our towing capacity was only 5000.
There still are a number of things that need to happen to make our home “complete.”
Closing off the attic. The cats are making a mess of the lofts. They go up there and do “cat things” in the middle of the night. So, we’ve decided to close off the lofts and turn it into attic space. I will need a few 2x6x12s, some plywood sheeting and a set of pull-down attic stairs. Once installed, we will be able to access the lofts. Right now, my ladder isn’t tall enough for me to safely climb up there, so we’ve been tossing things up there one-by-one when we decide that we won’t need them for a long time.
Completing the insulation. Once the ceiling is closed off, I can start putting insulation in the ceiling cavities as well. This will allow us to heat and cool a much smaller space, which should save us a lot of energy, particularly in winter when the heat would tend to rise up into the loft areas where we can’t use it.
Solar and Propane water heat. We really don’t like having to boil water to bathe or do dishes. It’s just annoying. So I plan to install an on-demand tankless propane water heater. Since we have lots of sun out here, I will put a solar water heater before the propane heater so that the water is pre-heated and in many cases, we won’t need to use the propane heater at all, except at night. In fact, the solar water heat is so effective, that you have to install a tempering valve to keep the water temperature at the tap from scalding you.
Better bathing. Right now, we take our baths on the front porch with a bucket of soapy water on the right and a bucket of clean water on the left. It’s amazing that we can take a complete bath in just under 1 gallon of water each! However, people are liable to drop in for a visit unannounced since phone coverage is abysmal out here. We have not yet been caught in our birthday suits, but that’s inevitable. Also, with winter coming, I don’t think Linda will want to bathe in subfreezing temperatures. Come to think of it, I don’t either.
Refrigeration Upgrades. Right now, we are making do with a 1.7-cubic foot refrigerator that just barely keeps the few things we need cold that way. We had toyed with the idea of an RV refrigerator so that it could be run on propane, but they are prohibitively expensive to buy new, and with modern Energy Star appliances, we can get a standard electric refrigerator that consumes about 100W and would be almost as large as the one we left behind in Ohio. The small refrigerator we use now uses 40W, so we would get far more than 2.5 times the capacity for 2.5 times the power cost. This means that we will need to be even more careful with our power consumption, as well.
Proper Internet. We are extremely grateful to our neighbors for allowing us to use their Internet. However, even if it weren’t a crazy mess of wires and NAT, I would not feel right in using their internet as our long-term solution. So, we plan to get connected with one of the satellite providers out here, preferably Exede. This means that we will have much faster access than we do now, but since it will be metered, we will need to be careful of what we do — we won’t be watching hours of YouTube videos or subscribing to Hulu, that’s for sure.
Cellular Repeater. Being able to reach people by phone is important. Our cell phones get juuuuuust enough signal here at our cabin to tease us. They will download a couple emails here and there, and we will get the occasional Facebook notification. Sometimes, we can even make a short phone call. However, that’s not really enough. I’d like to get a cellular repeater and mount it to a pole on the top of the cabin so that we can get full-strength signal here at the house. This is important so that we can make calls to keep in touch, handle personal business, or even make a call for help if it’s needed.
Power Upgrades. We’re already seeing that our power system needs to grow. If we keep to the best practices and do our best to keep our batteries healthy for as long as possible, we need to add a few more solar panels, a few more batteries and upgrade our inverter to a pure-sine design so that we aren’t stressing the electronics in our devices. These are expensive upgrades and will likely require that I take a short-term job at some point to finance them.
There are many things that still need to be done. However, I think that I’ve gotten a whole lot done in the one month that we’ve been here, and the basics that I’ve got set up already will give us the time and flexibility we need to plan out the right sequence for our future projects so that we can minimize wasted money, materials, effort and time.