Of Mice and Men

I really hate that guy. I hate him with everything I got. You know, the asswipe that designed how modern vehicle interiors are put together. I’m sure it’s a guy. No women would make this shit so complicated on purpose. Way too many bolts and screws of all different sizes, metric and imperial. And Torx. Torx? And plastic tabs that insert once to never be removed again without breaking. You fucking asshole.

It’s funny how a person’s goals change. Today I just simply wanted to find out how mice were getting into my truck (yay, rural living), find the nest and clean things up. After building a big pile of plastic pieces of dash and console, some of it now damaged, I have a new goal.

I want to find the guy who designs truck interiors. Then I want to saw open his ball sack open with a rusty old butter knife and fill his pouch with vinegar. Once he has become accustomed to that level of pain I want to force him to eat his own marinated nuts along with the god damned mouse nest. That is if I can ever find the fucking thing.

Really?

I hate going to the city but sometimes there is just no choice. Sure I can get almost anything online these days, but not everything. Sometimes I just gotta go. On this last trip there was a story on the local radio station that reminded me of how stupid people really are. An award was presented to a dog for being a hero. Apparently it stood there looking at and barking at someone who was in distress. I seriously don’t think that or any dog does anything heroic. It was a fluke. Dogs gonna do what dogs do. That’s all. Don’t believe me? Try a little experiment at home yourself. With a dog nearby, cut your hand off with a circular saw. Then see what transpires. Will the dog go get help? Will it sacrifice itself in some way to help you? I’ll bet you a cup of coffee it grabs your severed hand and wanders off, away from your screaming, to eat in peace.

I’ll take that with a little cream and sugar please.

Freezer to Fridge Update

I was asked by a reader if the numbers I put on my last post were correct. I made the error of relying on my memory instead of referring to notes taken at the time or taking current measurements. If I’m not certain of the claims I make, then I aint got no bidness making ‘em. Things have changed a lot since I recorded any previous numbers. The fridge is now in an earthbag home instead of the old stick house. I’m also generating my new numbers using a new temperature controller and the temperature is set to 2C instead of 4C. I have set my temp differential to 3.5C meaning the fridge wont turn on until the temp reaches 5.5C before it cools things to 2C again.

My freedger (not bad eh?) is a Danby Premium 7 cubic foot I picked up at a big box store. It had a minor dent in the lid and was on sale for $225. I offered the manager $150 and he offered to help me get it in the truck. So here’s the numbers as measured over the last 24 hour period:

Total power used – 0.21 kWh

Total run time – 1 hour, 56 minutes

Running watts – 150 on startup and then settling down to about 105

Running amps – 0.98 to 1

(Note: My meter did show max amps at 4.75 and max watts at 552 but I watched the thing when it kicked in a few times and never saw it hit those levels.)

Now I am running the numbers for my chest freezer. I’m pretty sure I will be disappointed. I got the unit from a friend who just wanted to get rid of it. Because I’m generating my own power, it may just turn out that I can’t afford free. (Too bad he didn’t have a Sundanzer he couldn’t stand the sight of.) We’ll see how the freezer situation shakes out.

Convert Freezer to Fridge

The first thing any off-gridder will tell you when asked what’s involved in going off grid is “Reduce your power needs!!”. (Unless they think you are inherently lazy or a pussy, then the best advice they could offer would be “Don’t bother”.) Part of our power strategy was to convert a small chest freezer to a refrigerator. It it’s a great way to reduce our power consumption. Our old fridge consumed about 0.8 kWh per day. Not bad when compared to most fridges out there. The new setup consumes about 0.15 kWh day. Pretty substantial power savings for our small(ish) off-grid home setup. The way we accomplished the conversion was pretty simple, buy a temperature controller. Nothing has to be modified on the freezer itself. Stick a temperature probe inside the freezer, plug it into the controller, then plug the controller into the wall. Set the desired temperature and you are done.

The first controller I bought was designed and built by another off-gridder from scratch. Pretty cool, the guy even makes his own printed circuit boards in his units. But my early production unit just didn’t last, and started screwing up. It would click a bunch of times and then set the ‘desired’ temperature to 0 degrees. That means frozen food in the ‘fridge’. Not good. Worse than the frozen eggs and milk and the long unscheduled drive to town is ‘that look’ that I mentioned in a previous post.

So I picked up a couple STC 1000 controllers for about $35 each. One for the fridge and one for the freezer. These require a bit of wiring, but nothing too difficult. A good video on the web shows how to wire it properly in great detail. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30TvX1Zz1-Y#t=488) Note that these units can trigger both cooling and heating devices with one controller. I’m only interested in cooling for my purposes, so my wiring ended up simplified a bit. If they work out well, I’ll definitely get another when it’s time to get into chickens and an incubator.

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Yep, that’s calfskin on the floor. It feels awesome on bare feet. So soft, warm and smooth. It’s like walking on babies.

Coffee – Just gotta have it

We’ve been off-grid for about a month now. Although we expected some lifestyle changes would be in order it’s entirely a different thing to live through than theorize about. Coffee is a must around here. I’ll chew the beans and pour scalding water in my mouth if I have to. But that’s kind of a last resort. On one of the first days of our off-grid adventure I tried to use our drip coffee maker. Amazing how much power that thing pulls. It tripped the low voltage disconnect on the inverter. No coffee and suddenly no lights either. So the faithful old coffee pot is now retired. To the rescue, a small stovetop espresso maker.

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This thing is awesome. It only makes one cup at a time but the coffee is excellent. When the woodstove is up to temperature, a cup of coffee takes less than two minutes to prepare. We bought two of them for $12 each. About the cost of a cheap electric coffee machine that takes as much power as we would use for all our computer setups in a full day. You can’t swing a dead cat in here without hitting several computers. (Or a dead baby seal, or a dead bunny, you get the idea…)

I think I need more wood

Until we started heating with wood, I had no idea what a cord was. Until recently I thought ‘cords’ were funny looking pants with lines on them I wore as a teenager, unaware of their role in guaranteeing my prolonged virginity.

In firewood terms a cord is neatly stacked pile of split wood that measures 4′ x 4′ x 8′. I’m not sure how much wood it will take to heat our earthbag home through the 6 months of winter, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have enough. Lots of people tell me they use anywhere from 3 to 6 cords a year to heat their homes. Ours is different than most homes, so I won’t know for sure how much I need until we gain experience. I do know I will be scrounging wood anywhere I can. I have a bunch of old fence posts from pastures and about 50 pallets on hand. A couple weeks ago while on a trip to the mountains, I bought half a chord of dry, split pine. Forestry permits are available in this province for individual homeowners for only $5. That’s a really good deal since you can remove 5 cubic metres of wood. The only problem is that the closest forestry area where I can get a permit is about a four hour drive from here. Winter driving conditions in that area can get pretty treacherous. But since I am the one mostly responsible for the heat around here, I’ll do whatever it takes to keep things warm. Otherwise I may as well just being wearing corduroys.

Turns out heat is kinda important

It’s a pretty awful thing to see. That look on your partner’s face that screams “ Fuck this shit, this can’t be my life.” It’s time to swing into high gear. Before that look turns to “This is your fault”. When it’s 35 below outside and there is ice on the bedroom walls, who could blame them? Our adventure in natural building and sustainable living has hit a major hurdle.

A big part of our plan was the Rocket Mass Heater. It really seemed like a good idea at the time. And I really wanted it to work. I wanted so bad to love it. Never got there. I built a few mockups and rebuilt the final one twice. I read everything I could find on the subject, ran all kinds of experiments and even traveled to Oregon to meet the folks who are the most experienced experts in the world on the subject, including the original inventor.

Things worked great if conditions were right, but wind is certainly an issue and we get plenty of that here. In order to get a decent draw I had to have a tall chimney out side. That means a heavy column of cold air is pushing down into the system. Since a RMH isn’t sealed, cold air blows through the system and into the house making it very difficult to get a fire started. I tried warming the pipe with bricks from the cook stove, candles, and even a torch. Putting a duct fan inline at the top of the chimney helped for a couple days, but once the system got hot, it burned out. Getting it going in very cold windy weather always had the risk of having smoke blow back into the house. Not good, remember that ‘look’ I mentioned? Besides, even when the damn thing was burning great, with that cool rocket sound, I’d have to feed it every 3-1/2 minutes. My wife and I talked about all kinds of modifications but in the end we’d never be able to make it work in our situation and environment. You can put wheels on a horse and shove an engine up it’s ass and you still won’t be able to take it out on the highway.

So goodbye rocket crap heater and hello Blazeking Princess wood stove. As I’m typing this, I’m sitting warm and half-naked (settle down…) and I have hope that we may just survive winter.

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