Friday, 21 October 2011

Ten fingers, nine fingernails

                         The following scene may be disturbing to some.
                         Viewer discretion is advised.


Many have been asking about my rock-wall-building, blackened fingernails and how they are healing. Well, there's no better way to describe this than in a photo.

 A good friend once told me, "Fingernails are jewels, not tools."  These nails...definitely not jewels!

Sorry...hope I didn't gross anybody out too badly. It actually feels better like this though. There was always the fear that I would catch the nail on something and rip it right off...oh wait...that actually did happen! But like I said, much better now. Click here for a reminder of how these fingers got this way.

So, how long do you think this will take to completely grow out? My guess...6 months.

Counting the days to ten fingernails,

p.s. Be sure to click on the Fun Solar Gadgets tab above...particularly those of you with a new iPhone 4.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Can't see the sun for the forest

Removing the pine needle carpet from Priscilla's rooftop
This past weekend at Turtle Falls we experienced the trees with almost no leaves for the very first time. There's a totally different feel to the place when the trees are bare. While there, I took the opportunity to sweep said leaves and pine needles from Priscilla's roof. We were there primarily to look at how much sun shines on the proposed house location at this time of the year. The sun sits very low in the sky right now and there are so many trees on the lot. This is a blessing and a curse all at the same time. It's a blessing because of all the reasons we know trees to be important to the environment and, of course, the character of the lot that we fell in love with has much to do with all these tall, mature trees. It's a curse, obviously, because of the tremendous amount of shade these beautiful trees provide. Not a good scenario when looking to power a house with solar panels, but definitely beneficial for passive cooling of the house in the summer. Blessing, curse, see my dilemma here. And Ras is already stressing over the fate of certain trees.

To be perfectly honest, our heads are spinning from the little bit of research we have done so far. The first steps have us delving into the fields of passive solar design and the basics behind powering a house with solar energy. At first glance, the Keep It Simple theory, to which I fully subscribe, gets lost amongst all the compulsory calculations and the long list of essential energy-producing equipment. I can only hope that further investigation into this renewable energy lifestyle will calm the "Holy smokes! This seems complicated" fears!

Passive solar design definitely has its two camps: those who think it's the be-all and end-all and that there will not be much need for any further heating or cooling if done properly, and those who think it's a crock. This little divide in the passive solar debate has me somewhat concerned.

South-facing windows...too cold, too hot, or just right? Which is it?
Orient the house in the right direction, add thermal mass, insulate, insulate, insulate and use the correct number of south-facing windows and roof overhang. Add some properly placed deciduous shade trees on the sunny side and some strategically placed wind blocks on the north side and you're good to go. Although grossly simplified, this is the proponents side of passive solar design.

The other side of it goes something like this: windows are a big hole in the wall and no amount of insulation will make up for all those holes in the wall, regardless of any windows' high-tech qualities. As well, a wall of windows on the south side in the summer will overheat the house, increasing the need for air conditioning. Simply stated, the opponents think the house will be too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer and the blame falls squarely on the glass.

We are looking to squeeze as much free energy from the sun as we possibly can. By reducing the need for active heating and cooling, we will be able to reduce the total amount of electricity we will have to produce. This, in turn, will allow us to build a smaller (read less expensive) solar energy system for our off-grid home. Minimize, then energize...what a great concept!

I am looking for real-life examples, rather than book theory, of your experiences with passive solar design. Have you encountered times of "too cold" and/or "too hot" or something more consistent? Maybe you know a good passive solar design professional, preferably in Ontario, that you can refer us to? Please click the "comments" link in the grey box below this post to leave your stories, ideas, advice, suggestions, links, or referrals. Any and all help will be greatly appreciated.

Seeking assistance...from you and the sun,

Sunday, 9 October 2011

We will be building in the spring of 2012

For those of you familiar with RVing, you already know there's the always necessary chore of emptying holding tanks. This is my least favorite part of the whole "trailer park girl" experience. The first time we had Priscilla's holding tanks pumped out was a particularly bad experience. The absolute inexperience of the guy who showed up that first day has scarred us both for life. All this fellow knew how to do was pump out porta-potties. He had only been on the job for two weeks when he showed up at our place. His boss was supposed to give him the rundown that morning on what to do to pump out an RV, but that never happened. The list of things he didn't know how to do ranged from not even knowing where Priscilla's clean-out valves were to not knowing how to operate his truck. Ras couldn't take it anymore and pretty much ripped his gloves off his hands and finished the job herself. Total exasperation! His incompetence did buy us one free pump-out the next time though.
Imagine a few interior decor additions and voila...
designer Outhouse! How cute is this?
                                                              photo credit

It seems like the holding tank for the toilet holds about three gallons. Now, I know that isn't true but the time between visits by our now much more experienced pump-out guy seemed very short...and very expensive! There must be a better way. An outhouse is an option but we would have to go back to the conservation authority for another permit, hire the LoEG to dig us a pit and build us a house over said pit. Rest assured, I would not be attempting to dig a hole this big with my pry bar and pickle jar. I would need a much bigger pickle jar to be sure!

We have decided to go the composting toilet route. No permit required, no need to dig a pit and no visits from the pump out guy necessary.

While wandering through the Cottage Life Show a couple of years ago we found a fantastic unit that requires no electricity and can be enclosed in a cute little house that we can build ourselves. Then once the cottage is finally built we can move the outhouse a little closer to the dock, although not too close...we wouldn't want to get the conservation authority's knickers in a knot. Hmm...maybe we can make it a dual purpose building, with two doors, one opening into a storage space for some tools or water toys.

Needless to say, we can hardly wait to start building our little designer outhouse in the spring. Not to wish time away, but we are already missing Turtle Falls. It's certainly not helping that the weather has been absolutely gorgeous this week. It would be way more fun sitting on the dock, looking at the lake and the surrounding fall colors, than sitting in our little backyard in the city looking at the hole in our hedge that looks out onto the soon-to-be-built monster home next door.

I shamelessly ask for your comments if you feel so inclined. I have been having so much fun with this blog and hope you have been enjoying it too.  Please click on the tiny little "0 comments"  link in the grey box at the bottom of each post, right beside "Posted by Mimi at..." My goal is to see something like "49 comments" or some similarly great number rather than just zero. We have loved your comments you have sent to us via email. Even better would be to leave your comments right on this blog so that they stay connected to the blog forever, rather than getting lost in our email inbox.

I hope to continue posting throughout the winter with some of the things we will learn about passive solar design and living off grid from our research and the courses we intend to take over the winter.

Thanks for...and please continue...reading!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Closing the gate on the 2011 season at Turtle Falls

What country property worth its salt is without a gate at the entrance? A gate, for our situation, is most helpful at keeping out the curious waterfront property seekers. The "SOLD" sign certainly doesn't deter these people. It amazes me to no end how people will drive up just at the moment you've stripped off all your clothes to enjoy an outdoor shower with Mother Nature. The other 23 hours and 55 minutes of the day when fully curious property seekers. Stinkin' damn Murphy!

The lack of tool selection at Turtle Falls makes for some very odd choices when it's time to tackle certain tasks. Take digging post holes for the gate, for instance. I decided to attempt to dig the two holes for the gate posts. If I hit rock, which is very likely on this land, then we would make a call to the LoEG and have the holes dug by machine. I had to try, at least.

Digging post holes with a pry bar and extracting the dirt with a pickle jar...definitely not the speediest way to dig a hole.

The shovel worked well for the first foot of the needed 3ft depth, but then it loses its usefulness because of the narrowness of the hole. Then I changed to a borrowed post hole digger and that didn't work because the dirt would completely fall out of the thing before I could lift it out of the hole. what? I have an old, borrowed, and extremely heavy pry bar that did the trick of breaking up the dense clay very nicely. But then the only thing I could find to get the dirt out of the hole was a pickle jar....didn't need to borrow the pickle jar. You read that right, I dug two 3ft deep holes with a pry bar and a pickle jar. Worked like a charm!

 Ras mixes concrete for the post holes near the water supply. The gate installed and the 3 tools that got the job done.

Setting the posts in concrete and installing the gate itself were easy by comparison. Here's hoping our efforts will make for outdoors showers with a whole lot more privacy from now on, although we will have to wait til next season to find out. This is, sadly, our last project for the season. Priscilla has been given the winterizing treatment and the new gate will stand guard now until the ice is off the lake in the spring. The winter months will be spent learning about passive solar design, solar panels and energy efficient appliances. I can only hope time flies as fast over the winter as it did this summer.

By the way, the Turtle Falls moniker found favour with 77% of voters in last months naming poll. Thanks to all the readers for helping us choose the name. Click here to read about how the name Turtle Falls came about.