Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

Monday, June 29, 2015

Excavations

Posted by: Rick

Oscar did the requested excavations at the cabin site last week.

This shows the 24' x 24' site for our new barn/storage shed/workshop/garage (truly, a multi-purpose building). The building is 20' wide and 14' deep, and will sit about 6' back in this space. This was excavated slightly above the driveway grade. David, who took these photos for us, is standing on the driveway. This is looking Southeast. I'll need to drag the downed trees away and clean up the boundary some, but that is a chore for another day.

If you turn 180° to look across the driveway to the Northwest, you can see where Oscar put all the dirt he took out of the barn site.

It was used to create some additional space for parking and turn-arounds. 

The ground here is mostly decomposed granite. That is a perfect base because it is like rough gravel. It packs into a very hard surface that does not get very muddy when wet.

Turning just a bit more to the North, here is a shot down the driveway to the cabin.

There is a spot, just to the right of this picture where we had some ground removed to create a larger flat spot next to an existing shed. We'll store fire wood there. I'll build a cover in that area and we will be able to store about 4 cords of wood close to the cabin door and in a sheltered spot. If you walk toward the cabin, you see the final excavation.

This spot already existed as a parking spot, but the width has been doubled. That small split rail fence is there to keep anyone from driving on top of the septic tank. And, the parking slot was just about as wide as the fence. This is where we plan to put our travel trailer--not only for parking/storing it, but also to serve as a guest bedroom when you come to visit. We'll back into this space, keeping the left side of the trailer to the cabin-side of this space (right side in the photo). That way, the door will open toward the meadow.

All this is just another step in the process of preparing the cabin for year-around living. Grass should start to fill in soon to further, and it will look great in a few months.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Off the Grid

Posted by: Rick

There is no public utility providing electricity to Sand Creek Park. And, according to the local rural electric utility, there never will be. So, we are truly "off the grid" and must produce our own power.

We won't live without the modern conveniences of running water, electric lights, Internet access, radio and occasional TV. So, it is necessary to rely on alternate and more renewable forms of energy. We can generate electricity three different ways:

1. Run a gasoline (or propane) powered generator. This is fine for emergencies or when supplemental power is needed beyond what we can provide otherwise. But, impractical and expensive for everyday use.

2. Use PV panels. "PV" stands for photovoltaic, and these panels turn sunlight into electrical power. A PV system provides DC or direct current power at lower voltages and must be turned into AC (alternating current) at 120 volts to conform to standard power for the above list of electrically powered items. This is done with something called an "inverter". (The word "converter" is used for the opposite--it turns AC power into DC power.) Our inverter is capable of delivering 2000 watts of power continuously, so we can never use more than that at any given time.

3. Wind. Wind can be used to power a generator which also creates DC electricity. This can also be converted to AC through the inverter and used to power the cabin.

Of course, we need electricity even when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing, so we have a bank of batteries to store extra power generated by the PV panels or wind turbine for later use.

So, our system and any typical off the grid electric system works something like this:

(Click More... for the rest of the article.)

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

June 2015 Cabin Visit Projects

Posted by: Rick

This visit to the cabin had several purposes:

  1. Confirm this is really the place we want to retire to as soon as possible. 
  2. Vacation. Have some "down time" and relax. Take it easy.
  3. Projects to prepare for our move and full-time life at the cabin.

Check off number 1. There is no doubt.

We had to balance between #2 and #3. Even on vacation there is always a long list of chores and projects to do. The cabin requires maintenance, for example. Batteries need distilled water. Windows need washing. Etc. 

I thought we'd get more #3 projects done, but we got some big 'uns covered.

I wanted to get our mailbox installed at the Wooden Shoe Ranch. But, I could not find a mailbox mounting pole anywhere in Laramie. So, a neighbor has volunteered to install it while he does maintenance on a couple of existing mailboxes. The mailbox itself is ready, with our address labeled on the side and front. I've written a letter to the Laramie Postmaster asking for mail to be delivered to the box. We'll see.

Mailbox is ready for mail!

One small project was to repair the plumbing vents that have been broken by the snow. These have broken and been fixed before (making this fix more challenging). This time, I added some strapping to hold them vertical even with a large snow load pulling them over. I think this will work fine.

Maybe this strap will keep the snow from breaking the vent pipe.

Sam Burnham our "off the grid" power resource came by. She and her new apprentice John went over all the projects we have planned for her. We are going to add about 1500 watts of PV to our existing (800 watt) system. Lynne proposed a location for the solar panels (which is brilliant) and we confirmed it was an excellent location. So, those will be installed sometime this summer. 

We are also replacing our 13-year-old batteries. And, growing from 8 batteries to 12. Having twelve batteries will give us additional power during times when there is little sun or wind. But, they need the additional charging the new PV will give us. The new batteries will likely be installed at the same time as the new PV panels.

We will need to re-commission our wind turbine, too. We discussed it, located the tie-down points for the guy wires. Etc. But, that project will wait until we are here. No need to run a piece of mechanical equipment to generate electricity no one will use while the cabin is vacant.

We also discussed the installation of a propane powered generator. That was also a project for this summer, but due to the complications associated with selecting and installing a generator, that project is now "on hold" until we are here for a while.

The other big project we had on the list to help us prepare for full-time living is a new shed/garage to use for storage and a small "shop" for me. We selected a pre-built unit that is perfect for out needs at Rocky Mountain Barn in Ft. Collins. But, we won't actually order it and have it delivered until we are settled here. But, we did select a location and met with Oscar who is a full-timer up here and also an excavator. 

This is what our "barn" / shed / garage / workshop will look like. Except, I think we'll do a greenish stain instead of this reddish one. Also, there will be two doors on the front--the one you see which goes into the shop area and another where the window is for the ATV.

Oscar will do three excavations for us soon. Two are small, one is big. The big one is to excavate a 24' x 24' space for the shed (which is 20' wide by 14' deep). The two smaller projects are to level a spot for the travel trailer (a good place to put guests!), and to move some dirt to create a place for a wood shed.

I made measurements for the installation of a drain for a washer/dryer combo unit. Also, a commercial plumber with a cabin not too far from us dropped by and confirmed my plans. I think I can do the plumbing work in the future without too much problem.

So, while it feels like we did not do everything I planned to get us better prepared for living here, a few of the biggies will be done. We will be in great shape for solar power. And, we'll be ready to order and install our shed/garage and host visitors!

Friday, June 05, 2015

Laundry

Posted by: Rick

One of the challenges we have at the cabin is doing laundry. We don't have an automatic washer here, although we plan to add one in the future. And, that will be a project I'll post about at the time. It will require some plumbing and electrical work, but I think we have a nice spot for something like this

Meantime, we use a hand washer. It can hold up to 4 pounds of laundry, uses very little water and soap, and takes just a few minutes to do a load. Simply add the water and soap, then your laundry, and take it for a spin. Wash times vary from 1 minute to 4 minutes depending on the size of the load! After washing, it is easy to drain the soapy water, add some cold water for a rinse, and tumble again.

We find that the clothes need 2-3 rinses. And, while they do get cleaner, they are not perfectly clean. Still this is fine for a pair of jeans, kitchen towels, underwear, etc.

A few minutes on the clothes line outside and things are dry in no time at all.

Once each "vacation" visit we go to a great laundry in Laramie and get everything done thoroughly there. This year we'll go one or two days before we plan to leave for the long trek back to New Jersey. That way, all the sheets, towels and clothes we leave here will be fresh and clean for our next visit.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Winterizing and Heater Woes

Posted by: Rick

This post really has two related topics. I'll start with winterization.

It gets cold at the cabin. It is not unusual to see a day or two where the temperatures are -30°F, and that is without the wind chill. So, if we don't keep the cabin heated in the winter, it is wise to winterize it so we don't suffer from broken water pipes. (We actually do try to keep it heated in winter, but not always with success. But, that is the second part of this story.)

Winterizing is not really that difficult. Here are the steps:

  1. Turn off the water pump at the electrical panel
  2. Open all the faucets and run water until there is no more pressure, flush the toilet until the tank does not fill any more
  3. In the crawlspace, open a faucet that drains the pressure tank
  4. Also, open the two faucets that drain the hot and cold water lines that feed the sinks, tub and toilet
  5. Pour RV antifreeze into the drains and toilet
  6. Turn the hot water heater to the "Pilot" setting

It seems there should be some risk of the peanut butter and jelly (and other liquid-ish food items) freezing, but that has never happened.

I don't drain the hot water heater. I used to. But, nowadays I just leave the pilot running with the thermostat turned down. I think the small amount of heat from the pilot light keeps the tank warm enough to prevent freezing. I hope so. It has so far.

One could argue that we don't really need to winterize since we have a propane forced-air heater that we set to 45°F when we are gone. That is meant to provide enough heat to keep the cabin from freezing, which is not only good for the plumbing, but for everything else from the logs to the furniture. However, I still winterize just in case the heater doesn't work.

The heater could "not work" for a variety of reasons, most notable is the loss of electricity. Since the house is powered by the sun, if we lose the sun for several days or if snow accumulates on the solar panels preventing them from working for a few days, it is possible to drain the batteries to the point where the inverter shuts down and stops providing AC power. In that case, the heater won't work, of course.

But, we've been suffering from a greater heater woe for a couple of years. The pre-ignition blower will come on to evacuate any accumulated gasses and equalize pressure in the system, then a pressure switch activates and allows the burner to ignite and the main blower to come on. The problem is that the pressure switch never activates, so the heater never comes on. And, in the meantime, the pre-ignition blower just blows and blows and blows until it drains the batteries.

Last year, Grant from Laramie Heating came up and cleaned everything and got it working. And, he left me with a replacement pressure switch in case it acted up again -- which it did. So, I replaced the pressure switch and everything was working when we left last September. A neighbor has checked on the cabin once a week since then, and this week discovered the pre-ignition blower blowing. And, blowing. And, blowing. It could have been going as much as eight days! So, he turned off the heater.

I am sure glad the cabin is winterized!

I'll call Grant and see what he thinks. It may be time for some new heater guts or even a new heater because we can't have it not working next winter! I'll keep you posted via comments or additions to this post.

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