Tuesday, July 3, 2012

We are now in 2G territory

Just as cell phone coverage has steadily improved over time from the initial service, which was followed by 2G (2nd Generation) and then 3G and 4G, so have our Off Grid accoutrements. Various items that were our front line necessities during our first trip have been relegated to the kitchen cupboard as second string backups during our first week back. The 'rule of thumb' for self-reliant living is to have three ways of providing the various necessities - the every day means, the fall-back method and finally the last resort should all else fail.  Take for example cooking, we do not yet have our propane range, which will probably be our everyday means of cooking, but we currently use a single butane burner that will become a back-up when we do upgrade. We actually will have more than three cooking options in the future including our solar oven, gas/charcoal grill (dual compartments), Kelly Kettle for hot water and the little bio-lite stove with the USB port I blogged about a few posts ago.

Here are some of the items that are now at rest, waiting until they are called back into service:
1. The solar powered lantern
3. Butane lantern
2. Kerosene lanterns (these will make 'ambiance' appearances as well)

You will notice all of these items are for providing light. We have made great strides this week in expanding our solar system (I love calling it that) and wiring the house into the 12V batteries that solar system charges.

Our Solar System
First, we are now up to 6 solar panels. At the end of our last trip we had two panels located inside our kitchen window, we now have two 3-panel arrays on our south facing deck. We mounted the first on the wall of the house, but then realized there is actually longer sun exposure if we position them directly on the deck. Unfortunately we will now need to eventually move the first array as it casts shadows on the lower one at certain times during the day.

The six panels feed into a solar connector hub which is then connected to a charge controller. The charge controller is basically a babysitter for the solar to battery connection and the battery to load (appliances) connection. If the batteries reach full capacity the charge controller stops the feed coming in from the solar panels. If the batteries become too drained, the charge controller stops the appliances from being able to draw any more power until the batteries are replenished. The batteries should not fall below 80% capacity or they will be damaged.

The charge controller has also been a great source of entertainment this week. There is a display that rotates through three readings - the current charge on the batteries, the amount of charge going into the batteries from the solar panels and the load being drawn from the batteries. This may not sound exciting, but it is to us. Our bank of batteries started with their charge at 12.6, so before anything was connected to them the rotation for the read out was 12.6 - 0 - 0. We then connected the batteries into the house system so that one outlet in the utility room was 12V rather than the typical 120 found in houses. We plugged an extension cord into this outlet and took it out to the kitchen where we had a floor lamp with 12V LED bulbs (see previous post). Turn on the light and then run back to the utility room to see the display (12.6 - 0 - 0.4), doesn't that sound like great entertainment? Well, maybe you gotta be here.

But wait, the excitement builds! The next morning we hook the solar panels into the system, run into the utility room and the readings are now 12.4 - 0- 0. Wait, shouldn't the second number be larger than 0 you ask? Good question, but we connected them in the morning before the sun made it over the trees so they were still in shadow. We wait impatiently for the sun/shadow line of demarcation to slowly inch it's way along the deck. Finally, a corner of one of the panels is in the sun, we run into the utility room and Bam! we now have 12.4 - 0.2 - 0. As the sun climbs, it shines on more and more of the panels, when both arrays are in total sunlight the charge going into the batteries now reads 4.0 and the current battery charge is also rising. Yesterday the current charge got all the way up to 13.1!  See, I told you it was fun!

Now we know the entire electrical system is working - making the power, storing the power and using the power. Time to add in more lights. To date, we have added two lights in the bathroom, one on either side of the vanity, a wall lamp in our bedroom that is turned on and off at the wall switch (whoa!) and another wall lamp in the living room. Next we hope to be able to use the existing ceiling light in the kitchen and wire it into the 12V system. We needed to get a taller ladder so we could access the attic to run the wiring as the original wiring had been ripped out. Alan has gotten sick and tired of coming across short runs of original romex wiring that go nowhere, the vandals having cut it out (for the copper?).
Two Bathroom Lights
Independent On/Off Option

Bedroom Lights
(We did not make the hole)

Living Room Light
(and no holes in the wall here)

Yesterday's "Get It Done Before 10" Projects
I think I mentioned we always try to tackle our most labor intensive project of the day first thing in the morning before the temperature gets above 90. After that, we pace our activity based on the heat and humidity but we have both been pleasantly surprised at how we are tolerating the heat wave.

We had individual projects yesterday morning. Alan cut up and moved the trees he had cut down while I did laundry for the first time. He had installed my utility sink, including the wringer attachment, and we had loaded up our water bottles the night before so I was ready to go.

Here is an outline for the process
(maybe I should make it a PowerPoint presentation :-).
1. Grate  a bit of the Fels-Naptha soap into my washing machine (5 gallon bucket)
2. Place the wash bucket in utility sink & the catch basin on the floor below the wringer
3. Add 2-3 gallons of water and agitate with my plunger style hand washer to dissolve soap
4. Add several pieces of laundry to the bucket and agitate with the plunger for several minutes (You can actually see the clothes slowly roll over each other just like in a top load washer)
5. Remove clothes from the water one at a time, hand wring then run through manual wringer
   a. Ensure drain plate is flipped to direct water to the catch basin so I can add it back to the wash bucket
   b. Run each item through the wringer twice, switching the end you feed into the wringer
   c. The wringer tension may need adjusted for heavier or lighter clothing items
          (turn knob on top to adjust tension if the clothing does not feed into the wringer)
   d. Place 'wrung' items in the utility sink (next to the wash bucket)
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until all clothes have been washed, adding water to the bucket as needed
     (add catch basin water first to preserve fresh water)
7. Remove wash bucket and clothes from utility sink, clothes are placed in a laundry basket
8 Add several inches of clean water to the utility sink for the rinse cycle.
9. Add several pieces of the washed clothes into the utility sink at a times and swish around.
10. Remove clothes from the water one at a time, hand wring then run through manual wringer
   a. Ensure drain plate is flipped to direct water back into the utility sink not the catch basin
   b. Run each item through the wringer twice, switching the end you feed into the wringer
   c. Take care to keep the end of the clothes from falling into the rinse water again
   d. Use one hand told hold the drain plate as the weight of the clothes will flip its direction
   e. Allow each item to drop to the catch basin after its last time through the wringer
11. Shake out each item of clothing as you hang them to dry to eliminate wringer wrinkles
12. Empty wash bucket as the water is too dirty for any re-purposing, but I used the rinse water for washing the office floor one more time - that was the room that I created mud in on the last trip when I started cleaning it.

You may not believe it, but laundry day was actually fun and a big feeling of accomplishment! However, I can't imagine doing it for a large family.  Kids, when you come to visit, bring enough clothes to last the trip or you will be getting lessons on laundry day.


  1. You guys are having way too much fun and I am missing it all! I am impressed at the progress you have made, and that you haven't retreated from the heat. Miss you tons!

  2. Miss you too! I can't wait until you can come see the place. Although Josh's room is filled with cardboard boxes right now that I need to break down and cut up for kindling this winter. It's amazing how comfortable we are here already despite the things we don't have yet - stove, living room furniture, kitchen table, etc. We are taking our time now buying stuff - living with what we have and deciding how much we really need some things on he wish list. Now that we have 'the necessities' we want to take our time to make sure we get what only what we really want and need.

    It is soooo dry down here right now. I just saw someone's sweet corn in their garden that was totally brown and dry as if it were November.