Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Canoes are Secured for Winter

Posted by: Rick

Another quick side project is done. I built a rack for the canoes, secured to the east side of the cabin. There, they get the least exposure to wind and snow. Sure beats having them just lay on the ground. And, it eliminates the need to occasionally go find the aluminum canoe in the woods and drag it back home!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Another Winter Prep Project Done!

Posted by: Rick

Today, we completed another winter prep project--the Ranger now has tracks!

Ranger with her Camoplast tracks, ready for snow. Parked next to 4 cords of wood.

A slightly different viewpoint.

So, as you can see, we have lots of wood. That is about 4 cords in the photo and we've got well over two cords in the woodshed. All we really have left for winter prep is a provisioning trip to Sam's Club and the butcher.

It was actually quite an ordeal. The Polaris dealer in Laramie offered to loan me a trailer which will carry the Ranger. So, on Tuesday, we drove into town, got the trailer, drove back home, loaded the Ranger on the trailer (after using the winch to move the T@B into her winter resting place), drove back into town, dropped off the Ranger and the trailer, did some shopping then came home. It took all day long!

Then, today, we reversed those logistics. (We really need a trailer.)

Bringing the Ranger home (we still need a name).

The good news is that now they are mounted and adjusted, I should be able to swap between tires and tracks on my own. Oh, I'll need to buy lots and lots of new tools, of course. But, I can be more self-sufficient.

Here are a couple of photos of the T@B move. Normally, on pavement, Lynne and I can move the T@B with some pushing and pulling. But, on the dirt driveway, it was just too heavy. So, we used the winch on the Ranger to pull the T@B toward her winter parking place, we then used manual labor to turn her and get her lined up. Then, the Expedition backed her into place.

The winch on the Ranger.

Connected to the tongue of the T@B.

The winter parking spot, sheltered from the wind. We'll put the cover back on soon.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

A Sign of Things to Come

Posted by: Rick

We woke this morning to a bit of snow on the ground and a fine powder of snow still falling from the sky. It was predicted, and won't be enough to "bother" us in any way. It is really pretty outside, but a sign of things to come.

This is looking up our driveway.

One nice thing about snow is you can see the tracks of animals. It was clear that a coyote had been behind the cabin walking around sometime since the snow fell, for example.

You can see in the photo above that we've got a large pile of about 4 cords of wood covered by a brown tarp. And, more wood ready to be cut. That was to be today's chore, but may wait for the weekend.

We have continued to make progress on our winter preparations. We now have a second refrigerator running off propane in the storage shed. We will be stocking that shed with supplies for the winter soon. The list is still being refined and we are polling others that live up here year-round how they prepare. I guess toilet paper and pet food are at the top of the list. The wood shed is done--even beyond my previous post--as I've put up some trim so it really looks nice. Just needs paint now. We've ordered the tracks for the Ranger, and they should be here in a couple of weeks. And, we are pondering whether it makes sense to get a snow blade also. Inputs welcomed.

Here are a couple of other photos I took on my phone while letting the dogs out this morning. Lynne may add a photo or two and commentary too, so watch for that.


Okay, Lynne here now! Rick is right, this is just a sign of things yet to come. Last week we had a glorious Indian Summer week of weather. Perfection! Now Mother Nature is messing with us and we've had snow showers that looked like a blinding blizzard but didn't end up sticking much on Monday, high winds and much cooler temps all week long. Good old Mother Nature is sending us a sign that we'd better get busy and wrap everything up that we've started and not as yet finished because if she so desires, she will bring her fury on us. 

Am I ready? Hmmm...not really. Not mentally anyway. I have to admit to being a little apprehensive if I have to be honest. I have this idyllis little scene playing in my head: Rick and I sitting around by the toasty wood stove reading, knitting, maybe watching a movie as the snow falls outside. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing when the weather breaks. Somehow I bet it doesn't really play out like that.

But I do think that we've just about done everything physically that we can to be ready. We need to fill up the new wood shed, get the tracks on the Ranger when they come in and make a provisioning trip to Sam's Club. The rest will have to wait.

The dogs are certainly ready. Destin had a blast in the fresh snow this morning and we had a hard time rounding him up to come inside.

All in all, the beauty up here in the winter will be something to experience. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Wood Shed

Posted by: Rick

I've done some woodworking--small projects, all--but, I've never done what I would call "construction". So, as with many other projects I have to get done up here, I embarked on something I don't really know how to do, relying on advice from friends, Google searches and YouTube videos: a wood shed.

First, I picked a location. Right next to our existing shed that holds the freezer, second refrigerator, and winter food supplies. We keep bird food in there too, along with other things we want access to with a short walk from the cabin door.

Shed location. This is looking south.

It will be (approximately) 7 feet deep, 12 feet wide, and built as a lean-to that is 7 feet high in front and 5 feet high in back. Of course, all good construction projects start with a detailed set of plans, drawn up with the help of a neighbor.

One reason to be thankful for dirt roads, I guess.

The plan is to set six 4x4 pressure-treated posts in the ground around which I can frame the shed. I have a manual post-hole digger, so started digging the holes as the first step in construction. I did okay on the two holes closest to the existing shed. But, the further I moved to the west, the harder the ground got. I finally gave up when I could not get more than a few inches into the ground. It felt like solid rock. So, on to plan B, which was to use pressure-treated 4x4 posts to build skids upon which I would then "mount" the shed. The trouble with that plan is the need to somehow anchor the skids to the ground. The common way to do that is with anchors that you auger into the ground and bolt to the skid frame. If I can't dig a hole, how am I going to auger the anchors into the ground? (It is important to be well anchored so the shed does not blow away in our 100 mph winter and spring winds.)

The answer came from a neighbor who offered to loan me his trenching machine. 

A borrowed trencher and "test" trench.

An astute observer will note that a trencher is for digging trenches, not post holes. But, I could dig a short trench with the deepest part right where I want the post! This trencher could go 24" deep and that is what I was able to do with the first couple of holes. I'd simply dig the trench, set the post, check it for location and level, fill the trench in while blocking the space right next to the post with some 2x4s, and then put some Quickcrete in the remaining hole next to the post! Voilá.

A post hole dug with a trencher.

I could not get as close to the shed as I had originally planned, but this solution was too elegant to care. I just slid the wood shed location over a few inches.

Rick, trenching hole #4.

It was a lot of work to get a trench deep enough where the ground was more rocky. I had to settle with 17" or 18" holes on the far west side. But, I think that will be fine given we set the posts in concrete.

Destin, of course, is a big help. Especially with his love for fresh piles of dirt.

The bed of the Ranger makes a great work platform.

It was a bit of a challenge getting all the posts to the same height. And, really that is not the issue since the ground may not be perfectly level. The real goal is to get the top of the posts level with each other, the front posts about 7' high and the back posts about 5.5' high. Yeah, the wood shed grew some on the back end. I had three 10' posts for the front, and they were sunk into the ground anywhere from 18" to 24". And, there were three 8' posts for the back. I made a lot of measurements for trench depth and post height, and cut the posts accordingly. But, of course, they were not perfect and some needed anywhere from 1" to 4" cut off the top to make them level. However, with Lynne's help, they are pretty much exactly where they need to be to have a square and level wood shed when we are done. (What's an inch or two out of square going to matter, anyway?)

Here are 5 of the 6 posts set. (Note that the shed needs paint. Got to get that done somehow.)

To make these cuts and get the tops of the posts all level, I climbed on a ladder with the chain saw and made horizontal cuts. This is something my mother told me never to do. Chainsaws on ladders are a "no no"! Lynne gave me an earful when she came outside and saw what I was doing. Anyway, it worked and I'm still with all my arms and legs.

If you want to know how this wood shed turns out, you'll just have to click through for "More...".


Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Backup Generator is “Fully Functional”

Posted by: Rick

There were a handful of projects that were critical to our plans for a safe and comfortable winter off-the-grid: an escape plan (the Polaris Ranger), sufficient wood for heating (we are working on it!), guaranteed electrical power (after all, watching TV may be all we can do), storage for food and supplies...

Yesterday, the backup propane generator became fully functional. That's probably enough news for many of you. But, for those who may be curious about more details, here goes.

The generator is a Kohler 14KW residential backup generator. We installed it on a concrete pad behind the small storage shed just outside the cabin. We installed a 500 gallon propane tank that will supply the generator as well as a second (backup?) fridge in the shed.

Kohler 14KW backup generator behind the shed (which I promise to paint soon).

The generator outputs 240VAC, and my inverter inside the cabin takes 120VAC on its AC inputs (typically, one for grid connect and a second for a generator), so there is a 240VAC to 120VAC transformer in the shed. We used existing wiring from a previous 6KW gasoline generator that I stored in the shed to bring the 120VAC to the cabin.

All that work got done a few weeks back, so we've had a backup solution since then, but it required manually starting and stopping the generator (which we have never had to do, so far).

Yesterday, we dug a second trench between the shed and the cabin for a "sense wire" run. This is a wire (two, really) that runs between the inverter inside the cabin and the generator and allows us to control the generator from the inverter, either manually or automatically.

We dug a trench between the shed and the cabin for the sense wire. It is covered back up in this photo.

The inverter is the electronics inside the cabin that converts the direct current (DC) battery power into alternating current (AC) house power. The batteries are 24VDC and we need 120VAC in the cabin. In addition to converting DC to AC, the inverter has the ability to take power in from the grid (does not apply in our case) or from a generator and use that to charge the batteries. And, it provides a number of generator management capabilities.

Here, John is wiring the sense wire into the inverter which is located in a utility closet in the cabin.

The inverter controls the generator with a relay closure. That is what the "sense wire" really is, just a wire that connects that relay to the generator. The generator is smart enough to sense the closure of the relay and knows to start automatically. The generator is set up to turn on and off automatically, and includes a starter battery (as well as a small battery charger, a fuel line heater, etc.)

The inverter also has a number of scenarios you can program to control starting (and stopping) the backup generator. These include:

Any time the cabin draws 33 amps AC for more than 2 minutes, the generator will start up to provide current above and beyond what the batteries are providing. This is mostly to protect the batteries from a quick discharge. I doubt we'll ever see this happen since our normal load is between 2 and 3 amps. But, I suppose if we ever had the water pump running (12A), and the vacuum cleaner (7A), and the microwave (10A), while the toaster was running (7A), it could happen. Of course, they would all need to be running for more than 2 minutes.

If the battery voltage stays at or below 24.0 VDC for a 24 hour period, the generator will start.

If the battery voltage stays at or below 23.6 VDC for 2 hours, the generator will start.

If the battery voltage stays at or below 23.0 VDC for 15 minutes, the generator will start.

(All the above are programmable.)

Finally, if the battery voltage drops below the Low Battery Cutout Voltage (LBCV) of 22.8 VDC for more than 30 seconds, the generator will start. This is the voltage at which the whole system "gives up" and cuts off and we lose electricity. This has never happened to us while living in the cabin, but I know it has happened over winters when the cabin was vacant. Interestingly, we have had no power outages while living "off the grid", yet when living in NJ, we had frequent power outages, some lasting as long as a week (superstorm Sandy impact, for example).

In all cases, once the generator starts it will run until the batteries are fully charged or 4 hours, whichever is less (or, until we turn it off manually). Given that it is capable of supplying about 50A AC in total, with about 30A AC (that's about 125A DC at 28VDC) for charging the batteries, the job should get done in less than 4 hours. (I typically want to provide sufficient current to bring the batteries to a bulk voltage of 28.8VDC, hold them there for 1 hour, then float them at about 26.8VDC for a couple of hours to get a full charge.)

For the engineers in the crowd, yeah 50A does not sound like much from a 14KW generator. But, a propane generator loses about 5% of its energy output for every 1000 feet in altitude. So, at about 8500 feet, the generator output is degraded by around 40%. It could do a bit better than 50A output, but why push it? The inverter won't charge with more than 35A in any case.

One final note to this post. While we had the trencher (loaned by a neighbor and also used to dig post holes for the wood shed, which you can read about in a future post), we ran two strings of conduit between the cabin and the new barn. I plan to pull a 15A run through one of them so that we have one AC circuit available in the barn. The second conduit is for "future proofing". My contractor insisted on it even if we are not planning to use it. As she said "once you have the trench in the ground, you should put lots of stuff in it that you might want in the future". The second conduit could be used for a second circuit, larger wire, or who knows what in the future. Good idea.

Conduit run to the barn (trench is already covered up).


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