Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Between Holidays

Just a few days after Christmas, to my complete surprise, we actually got a bit more work done!

This past weekend we finished our deck. Last we left off, we were about 6-7 boards short. By the end of that day (we had processed 22 boards), we were feeling like, "Oh screw it, let's just buy the rest we need."  I'm glad we put a pin in that instead of acting on it immediately.

With some time, and a great Christmas with friends and family, we were back to singing a more chipper tune. On Saturday morning, Dan woke abounding with ambition. We were out the door by 745am, headed back to the pile of old deck wood behind Dan's Dad's store. Usually it's me pushing us out the door! I'm enjoying this new trend. :)

After one session of working to re-claim the boards, we had a better idea of what boards were rotted and awful and which ones just look that way on the surface. I've said it before, I'll say it again- planers amaze me. We sent some pretty beat up looking stuff through that thing and out comes a lovely board that says, "And I was going to be thrown away... beauty is on the inside, don't they know?? Tsk tsk".  

Within 15 minutes we had collected enough old boards for the rest of the job and cut them down to a rough size for transport. Back at my Dads, we pulled out our tools and made quick work of the task at hand. This time around we worked like a well oiled machine- knowing exactly which steps were next and what each of us should do to move it along. I love sessions like this one. Dan and I set up our little Bose speaker, play tunes, and then sing terribly and joke around with one another as we work in perfect rhythm. 

The remaining wood we needed for the deck was ready to go in less than two hours! We headed back to the house and slapped those babies on. It felt good to get a deck- it feels even better to have a completed one! After that, we gave ourselves the rest of the day off and headed out to visit some more with family before they left town. 
And we even have two extra boards! We plan to use those for the new steps we will make.

We are registered!!
Other than that- not much other progress to report. I do have some very exciting, not-so-related news though! It's official this morning! Dan and I will be attending a strawbale workshop in July! We are seriously considering this building method for our permanent home on the ground some day.

 Since we never took a honey moon, we decided we would allow ourselves a series of GUILT FREE small adventures throughout 2015. When so much of your world is about how to save, save,'s hard to justify spending on fun versus necessity...but in a way, I argue that fun IS necessary. It's just a matter of finding the right balance as we continue our journey toward a debt free life.

Dan and I would like to thank every last one of you that has taken the time to read about our adventures, send us little notes of encouragement and support, and made us feel we are a part of a community. We hope that 2015 will be a great year for each and every one of you! 


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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Running On Solar Power: Minimal Life Adjustments

A perfect balance- we were using exactly
as much as we were producing.
It's been a few weeks now, living off grid, and we have learned a lot about our system's production abilities and our usage.

Last week, we went the longest yet without any sun. Five days of overcast skies still didn't stop us from lighting our home or powering up devices. We designed our system to work on a 1.5 day battery bank, meaning we could expect to continue general power use for 1.5 days without any sun, thanks to our battery bank.

We were a bit wary of that number in the beginning, but like most things we quickly found a way around it. If it's cloudy- use less power! I'm sure most everyone reading this has lived through a major storm which caused power outages. If you live in New England then you have probably had the pleasure of living through more than one snow/ice storm. When I lived in Southern Maine- two winters in a row we had ice storms and lost power for 5+ days. I ended up temporarily relocating to a family's house each time. Bottom line- I lived.

Arriving home..looking through my clean windshield
at 8 more "windshields" that need to be scraped. Fun.

With those memories floating by, I quickly adjusted my attitude. Dan and I now have a much keener eye to the skies. We follow weather reports closely, make note of our battery bank percentage on a daily basis, and keep a close eye on use of the items that pull the most power.

A sight for sore eyes! After 6 days of
no sun, this was a relief!
Here's what we have learned....
-On a beautiful day in November- we can gain about 15-20% of our bank back.
-On a semi cloudy or "light cloud" day- we can still gain about 5-8% of our bank back.
-On a dark cloud day - we get no juice.
-Solar panels will gather zero power when covered in snow and ice.
-Our house- sitting alone for the day uses about 2% of the power bank. (Only the fridge and an alarm clock remain plugged in all day.)
-In the evenings when we get home- we use roughly 6-8% of our power bank. That includes running both interior lights for 3-4 hours, the outdoor light for 1 hour, 1 laptop for 3-4 hours, and miscellaneous mobile device charging.
-We can go upwards of 7 days without any sun. We went about 6 days with no sun and our bank dropped to it's lowest so far- about 31%.

Overall, the switch to solar hasn't made much of an impact on our daily lives. We don't feel restricted by any means. We like to keep conservative to begin with. Once the bank was getting into the 50 percent range, we scaled back our use. We ran devices off battery power, shut off lights and turned to candles- which actually makes for a very cozy atmosphere!

We even had our first trouble shooting instance. We noticed that the amperage was not reading anything other than zero, and then also noticed that our battery level hadn't moved either. We checked all of our connections outside- everything looked fine. So we turned to the monitor itself. After moving it around a little, I noticed the numbers go all wonky. It was definitely the wiring in the battery monitor itself. Dan fixed it in less than a minute. Man, am I glad it was an easy issue to fix.
With all the heater troubleshooting, I was not ready to have solar go on the fritz too!

Other than that, we haven't had a lot of movement around here. Well not in the building sense. We have been running around getting gifts, finishing errands, decorating, wrapping, and so on. This will probably be my last post until after Christmas. 
We want to thank you all so much for taking the time to read our adventures, share your thoughts and encouragement, and make us feel we are part of a community. We hope you all have a lovely Christmas (or equally wonderful December holiday) full of family and friends, love, laughter, and happiness.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

More Square Footage...Sort Of

The wood with a pinkish hue is reclaimed.
Last weekend we started putting together our deck!

I had almost started to accept that we would be headed into another winter without some kind of deck. To exit a house directly onto steps can be quite precarious at times, and leaves no landing space to knock off boots or set down bags when opening the door. Needless to say, I was bummed when the snow started to cover up our lumber pile and harden up the ground. 

I doubted nice weather would land on a weekend for some time. I'm glad to be wrong! And I'm glad to have a husband that has somehow cultivated a stubbornly motivated streak. We had other plans for the weekend, which included a good time with some family and friends, but that was all thrown off by our heater going on the fritz.

Saturday evening, the heater started acting funky and then just wouldn't do anything beyond hold a pilot flame. The first half of Sunday was then handed over to learning about thermocouples and other possible reasons for failure. We were both kind of annoyed at the sudden change of plans and new challenge. We just finally got the thing installed a few weeks ago! 

After a few hours of fiddling and research and a trip to the big box store for a piece that didn't fit, we figured it out. Our thermocouple had slipped down slightly from its original position in the stove and was no longer being hit by the pilot flame. Without the pilot flame to heat up the end of the thermocouple- the mechanism that opens gas to the additional burners in the stove does not function. 

We put the original back in place and made certain it gets hit by the pilot flame. We were peeved about missing the outing, but glad to have the heater working again and learning a little more about our stove. Good thing it was a fairly warm couple of days too!

After the heater was all set, Dan figured we might as well work on the deck. It wasn't too cold out and the snow was beginning to melt. We had started to get framing done on Saturday and then hoped to get a good amount done when the weather was nice again. 

Saturday, we were able to put together the framing and begin digging out the areas for the post blocks. It was definitely a weekend of crabby patty moments. We started to get frustrated when we couldn't agree on how to approach setting up the blocks for the deck. It is quite tricky when you have a sloping piece of ground and no larger tools to help you stay even and square to the house. We would get one block level and in place only to find that other blocks needed to be moved to account for what we just changed. 

Finally, we found an approach that seemed to work best. We laid the actual framing over the tops of the blocks to know where each should go. We decided we would cut the four legs to equal length and then dig down to make sure the deck remained level. We chose to start with the two legs at the front of the deck and then base the rest off of those. Once we had half of the deck framing in place, I held the second half of framing on the lip that connects the two halves, while Dan went around with the level telling me to lift and lower as needed. Once I was holding the deck at a level position, he measured how long the last two legs would need to be. 

With the way the ground slants, we would have had to dig down a couple feet to put the blocks in and then add legs. This was smarter, easier, and quicker. As we started to put the boards across the top of the framing, my excitement rose. It had been a challenging weekend, but the fruit of our labors was coming around. Seeing a nice level, CLEAN, surface begin to grow in front of our door gave us the energy needed to push on and work well into the dark. We didn't have quite enough wood to do the whole deck. We ended up using some pieces of wood to create additional support. We mixed new and re-claimed wood in a pattern as we went. Dan and I like the idea of that wood so much that we are thinking of going back to the pile and seeing if anything else could be salvaged--we also like not having to pay for that wood! 

Monday morning, when I walked out the door for work, I couldn't help but give a little whoop of joy. It may be a small thing, but I rejoiced in the fact that I wasn't immediately stumbling down steps while still trying to close the door behind me. Half the time, I would end up closing my bag or coat in the door, or even dropping something as I bumble out into the world. Somehow, our place feels bigger too. Maybe it's the fact that I have a space to leave some muddy boots for a few minutes or set out a bin of recyclables before we take it to the main barrel. I can even put my groceries down and open the door with ease! And I cannot wait for the first time we sit out on our deck and share a drink or a meal as we look out over the beautiful farm. :)

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