Posts Tagged ‘solar power’

One of the mornings at the cabin we tried some simple baking.  The nights were chilly and just after sundown I would stoke up the wood stove.  Unlike our winter stays I did not need to continue to stoke it all night long, the night time temps were in the upper 20’s so by morning a chill had settled back into the cabin.  With the morning stoke I could do some simple cooking, and heat the water for coffee, with out having to fire up the gas stove.  By the time I had finished up my second cup of Joe, French press with chemicals (Chemicals are our house name for “French Vanilla creamer”) the cabin was toasty.  With out a fire the cabin would still get warm due to the  the sun being up and warming the interior via our passive solar design.

Baking muffins

Our baking experiment consisted of chocolate chi muffins baked in the dutchy.  I used the digital infrared Temp gun to ball park the start conditions, we were a little cooler than the “package” recommendations, but the results were still plenty edible.

Cooking the Bacon

Tuesday morning I got started with finishing up the last of the electrical work, I got the 120 V receps installed, the last  12 Volt  LED installed and I swapped out the 1000 watt inverter with the 2500 watt inverter.  The last of the electrical allowed me to finish up the insulation and start the south walls ‘s   T & G.  With the new inverter installed I got to use the chop saw run via Solar Power…a first at Moontree Ranch.

I got to the top of the picture window and dining window before running out of wood.  With the chop saw in action I knocked out the interior trim on the west window.  This was done in cedar, and looks good with the blue stain.

Cedar Trim on West window

The highlight of the day for the girls was the target shooting.  Last fall when my mom and dad came out for a visit, my dad gave me a .22 rifle with a 4x scope.  Tasha had enjoyed the archery in hers school’s PE class and this Rifle work was the next step.  We started out with paper plates at about 100 yards, but the girls were having a little trouble keeping  on the target.  Later we switched to about 50-60 yards , and used some ready made pistol targets.  After I sighted in the scope for that range they were getting pretty good results.  It was a hoot the see them having so much fun. It will take some time to work up to larger calibers and with the pistols but I think they had a great start.

Sierra with the rifle

We also got in a bit of  hike on Wednesday, a loop over to the main road in…a bit along the old Chili Line (old time RR grade) over some rock outcroppings on Gil’s land to the west of us and then back into our land via the SW corner.

Sierra on the high point of the hike.

The trees seen to the right of Sierra in the mid-horizon are on our land as we head up from the SW corner.

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For those that have been following along closely you might recall a gap in my posting and my mentioning of a trip to the cabin for spring break.  I returned late last Friday after a week of mixed work and recreation with the girls down at the ranch.  My main goal was to get more of the tongue and groove interior siding up at the cabin.  When Tori and I were down there for Thanksgiving I got a big chunk of it installed on the west wall, and  a big slug of tile work done.  This trip started with about 400 lineal feet of sanded and oiled boards loaded in the truck, 10 gallons of water, grout for tile, a few sticks of window trim and 50 feet of roof drip edge flashing, throw in two eager children, one big fuzzy white dog, a 12″ compound miter saw,  and a weeks groceries…and there was not much room left.

We left early Saturday morning and made the 6 hour haul in good time with good weather, we unloaded relaxed and popped a cold one…at least I had a cold one the girls had something a little more tame.

More T & G for inside

The quick unload pile

A bit after dark I noticed some slight precipitation, a little mix of some rain and sleet.  I had left the chop saw on the deck and decided to bring it in.  We routinely leave the cooler outside to prevent the ice from melting prematurely.  Sunday morning we woke to about 3″ of snow, which was a complete surprise considering the T-shirt weather we had when we unloaded the truck.

3" of Fresh White at the Ranch.

A small stoking of the wood stove and the inside of the cabin was toasty warm in no time.  After coffee and some snacking I dove right in with the siding for the East wall, since there were no complex scarf joints required I did all of the cutting with the 18 V Dewalt cordless circular saw.  The batteries were swapped out and charged via the solar system and the 1000 watt inverter.  Later in the week I would swap out the 1000 watt with the 2500 watt unit I had brought down over Thanksgiving.  With the idea that it would power the chop saw for a few seconds of cutting every few minutes or so…way more convenient than firing up the generator.  I had tried to run the saw before with the 1000 watt inverter but it fell just a bit short on power.

T &G on the east wall

Next up was more siding on both sides of the “closet” wall. This wall went pretty fast due to the shorter sections, and also not having to slip them in behind the studs of the closet wall as I had to do for the east wall. A bit after lunch and the walls were looking sweet.

Not looking at open studs is indeed an improvement

The wood stock was getting low, and it was apparent that more insulation would be needed to start on the south wall, we also noticed that we forgot mustard and ketchup for the hot dogs…a combined run into Taos was planned for Monday morning.

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I finally got the mini volt meters in the other day.  They are small self-contained units that fit into the 12 volt sockets.  You can spot monitor the system or if you are only using one port you can continuously monitor the system.  The first unit is ready to go and I’m asking $350, I hope the get the more basic unit built later in the week and will list that one at $300 (without the inverter).  These will be great units for small devices like laptops cameras, etc.  One of my readers suggested I pick up a 12 v adapter (12 to 5 volt) that I can power my DSL modem with.  I can split the socket  from my laptop station ( the similar unit that I’m keeping for my use) and run both the computer and the modem.  Last year when we were without power for a while I ran an extension cord from the inverter I have in my truck to run the modem during a winter outage.  (just to check some email etc).  Doing it all from inside with my new solar system will be so much nicer.

I found a unit for sale online that is a bit like mine but, It says it has a larger solar panel, but it only has half the storage capacity and the panel will not fit inside.  I like the fact that all of my components are protected inside when not being used.  This unit has them on the outside where they can get damaged.  My system is designed to sit quietly in the corner, with the panel sitting in a window to maintain readiness.  Then, when you need i, it is fully charged, contained, portable and robust for travel.  If  you are using it as a remote power supply, for camping, road trips etc.  The peace of mind that comes from  having the controls inside is priceless.  The unit I saw lists for twice what I’m selling mine for…go figure?   Over priced unit with 1/2 the storage.

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I put a bigger battery in the laptop station and reconfigured the wiring in the control panel to accept additional panels or batteries…I also now have the charge controller hooked up. I was a little concerned about the high charge voltages without it. I also put together a little video about it. You can watch it on youtube.

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Our Small Cabin which is located in the same general area (20 mile radius) as a handful of the most sustainable “sub-divisions”  on the planet.  I use quotes around the term subdivision because it is about a far from your typical development as you can get.  The most famous, or infamous is “The Greater World Community”  This community consists of a bunch of Earthships, for those that do not know what an Earthship is you can check out this link  Earthship definition.

Basic Earthship

The basic principle of the Earthship is that it is self-sustained and built from a lot of reclaimed materials (tires, cans,  and bottles).  By being passively solar heated they require no power source to heat or cool.  Earth sheltering is one of the main reasons why they work so well.  Earth sheltered homes are not subject to the temperature swings of the air…they are buried mostly into ground, which for any given area will have a constant temperature.

One of the original motivations of early man’s movement into caves was probably the ability of the earth to naturally even out variations in temperature.  At depths of about 20 feet (6m) temperature is naturally “annualised” at a stable year-round temperature.

With the development of modern passive solar building, during the 1970s and 1980s a number of techniques were developed in the US that enabled thermally and moisture-protected soil to be used as an effective seasonal storage medium for space heating, with direct conduction as the heat return method.

Two basic techniques can be employed:

  • In the Passive Annual Heat Storage (PAHS) and similar direct solar gain systems, solar heat is directly captured by the structure’s spaces (through windows and other surfaces) in summer and then passively transferred (by conduction) through its floors, walls (and, sometimes, roof) into adjoining thermally buffered soil. It is then passively returned (by conduction and radiation) as those spaces cool in winter. These techniques were advocated in Daniel Geery’s 1982 book Solar Greenhouses: Underground and John Hait’s 1983 Passive Annual Heat Storage.
  • The Annualized Geothermal Storage (AGS) concept involves the capture of heat by isolated solar gain devices (rather than the building structure). From here it is deposited in the earth (or other storage masses or mediums) adjoining the building using active or passive technology. The depth at which the heat is deposited,  is calculated (according to soil type) to provide a controlled 6-month heat-return time-lag to the building through conduction as the building cools. This alternative was posed by Don Stephens.

These concepts are compared in greater detail at: www.greenershelter.org.

So now we have a few ideas swimming about in our heads…Small simple structures that are economical to live in by their mere size , or larger structures that heat and cool themselves.    I feel that a lot of the small house movement is based on having a smaller footprints in the world, be it a “carbon footprint”, or the real foundation of the structure we call home.  Most Earthship owners love the idea of a completely sustainable lifestyle for heating, water and power (earthships have PV panels).  A lot of Small house lovers can also do this and have the added benefit of being mobile (The Tumbleweed house on a trailer is a nice example).   Both small house builders and Earthship builders often do a lot of the work themselves, and here lies the BIG difference.  Most Earthships use literally TONS and TONS of material, and it is very labor intensive to pound all that dirt into those tires, and hand build all those cement and bottle walls.  Small houses are just small, and for that pretty easy to build.

Tori and I love the idea of a zero utility structure, we like the water management issues of the Earthships, the Growing beds etc.  Its just the idea of pounding  tires for 5 years that does not appeal to us.  So we have the Idea of a Hybrid…Earthship.  This design uses ICF’s (Insulated Concrete Forms) or more traditional concrete walls.  The use of fly ash, and modified cement recipes can remove a lot of the undesirable aspects of regular concrete and its high embodied energy.  We feel that our zero carbon emissions for the life of the home will off set the  carbon emissions of concrete use.  With an Earth Sheltered home you get all the benefits of an Earthship with out having to pound hundreds and hundreds of tires.

The use of southern exposure windows and an open floor plan will eliminate the cave or basement feel, and provide all the passive solar heating.  We will still use the off grid, water harvest / reuse aspects of an Earthship…after all growing fresh tomatoes or Bananas in the living room is good thing.  For those long sunless spells a wood stove will help keep us warm if needed.

For those that want a little more info, Mike Reynolds, the architect creator of the Earthship idea has a new documentary out…its called Garbage Warrior and I recently watched it on the Sundance Chanel.  It covers a lot of the headaches of dealing with governmental agencies and all the hurdles they put in place for free thinking and innovation design….Thanks Mike for paving the road for all of us that follow.

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10 Watt panel and Alum case

I spent the last couple days tinkering with the Solar laptop Station.  Yesterday I got to run the laptop with it for a bit.  Those of you that have been following in some of the Tiny House Forums /Blogs know that I have been working on this idea for the last few weeks.  I had picked up some 10 Watt Solar panels during the summer to set up some testing rigs for the I-pod / Computer speaker “stereo”,  and recently picked up a few more parts to make this work.  My original plan had a custom made wood box to house the solar panel / battery etc…I ditched that Idea, It was bit bulky and heavy.  I found some Aluminum briefcases on e-bay that were the right size for my project.  Not only are they lighter and more user friendly they look pretty tech.  I set it up with the basic idea of a 10 watt panel feeding into a 2.2 A/Hr battery. The battery feeds a standard cigarette socket, since most people have many “car” adapters to run things (Cell phone, laptop, portable DVD, etc.) this prototype could supply power for many things other than a laptop.  To aide in monitoring I wired in a few switches that allow me to isolate the solar panel from the battery and the battery from the Solar Panel.  By reading voltage at the auxiliary banana plug ports.  I can easily see how much power is being generated by the panel and what the current state of charge is of the battery. 

The Solar panel has a small channel on the aluminum frame that  fits perfectly into the edge of the case.  A couple of custom mini bungee cords and the panel is held nicely in the case at a great angle collecting sunshine.  Inside the case there is enough room for an additional or a larger battery.  I have some “pick and pluck” foam coming in soon that I will add to the case to secure a spot for the net-book.  The panel will fit into the lid of the case and is held in place by a nylon strap.  It only takes a few seconds to set the panel and attach the bungees.  I will add a Morningstar  Sunguard Charge Controller as soon as I get it in.  The style of SLA (Sealed Lead Acid) battery I’m using prefers a charge voltage of about 14 volts.  The charge controller will ensure this is the case.  This panel can generate over 20 volts in bright sun and even puts out 18 or better just sitting by the window.  If I continued to use these higher charge voltages the batteries would not perform as well.

I”ll do some more testing on charge and discharge rates over the next week or so to test the capacity of the 2.2 AH battery.   The case that is pictured here is the thinnest I got.  I also have two deeper cases that I will be building up as well.  The bigger cases could easily hold the 10 AH battery I got, or one that’s bigger still.  They will also have room for a small inverter to make a complete portable “power station”.  My goal is to have something that is still very portable, yet powerful enough to supply the needs of regular use.  I have seen some “ready made” systems, but they have tiny panels that must take forever to charge with….and some are quite pricey too.  I’m hoping to build these for $300 to $350 for a few select clients / friends.

Here are some links to some  ready made units that I found online, one with some storage capacity (very small compared to my 2.2 ah) and one that just has a panel and cigarette socket.


Innergy Power

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OK I admit it…I’m a bit of a Science Geek. When we first started to plan the cabin we knew we would be off grid, not a surprise really since the nearest utility power is about a mile away. So with an Off Grid system you have a number of options. To keep costs down the #1 rule is to be efficient. The less energy you use, the less energy you need to make. Pretty simple really, since large solar panels can run hundreds of dollar each and then the batteries you need to store that energy, hundreds more.  The least amount you can get away with will keep the cost down.  Our cabin will have a few basics, lights and a few “toys”.   For lighting we chose LED’s.  By far the best in power usage and longevity. To keep things even simpler I decided to stay with the native 12 V DC that the Solar panels produce for the lights.  The “toys” are run via a 1000 Watt modified sine wave inverter.  For music we are using an Ipod, hooked up to a set of computer speakers that are being run off the 12 Volt system.

I looked at some light systems for RV’s and Marine applications but these were mostly incandescent.   A few CFL options were out there but at a price premium.  Style also came into play,  most of the RV lights were darn right ugly,  the cool marine ones were outrageously expensive, $150 to $300 per fixture!

Here is a special marine light that lists for $275. 


I found some manufacturers that made LED’s in a number of voltages, from 12 to 240. I also found a handful of LED GU10 bulbs but all 120 volt. I finally found a supplier who would make some LED’s in 12 volts at a decent price. These had the standard screw base. The lights we wanted to use had a GU10 socket for the normal 50 watt Halogen bulb. I replaced the internal fixture with a ceramic screw fixture.  The 3″ mini can lights run about $16 at Home Depot, 3 bucks for the screw fixture, and less than 10 for the custom 12 volt LED bulbs.  These lights use about 1 watt compared to the 50 for the halogen, they also have a life span of 60,000 hours. The light output is a bit less than the halogen, but this can be compensated by just a couple more fixtures.  I purchased a dozen of these lights, modified them, and have installed 6 of them so far in the cabin.   I since have gone 1 step further,  I found another manufacture who could make the 12 volt LED’ s in the GU10 base…this opened up the lighting options tremendously. Now with just a simple bulb swap all kind of lights could be converted to ultra-efficient 12 volt LED’s. The perfect option for new construction.

The first pic here shows a basic GU10 track light, that costs about $15, add a special bulb and you now have something that can compete with the special marine lights the I found for $250+. The bulbs pictured below the light are from left to right. A 38 bulb LED with Gu10 base 1.8 watts, a single LED high output Spot GU10 base 1 watt. A 20 bulb LED, std screw base 1 watt.

This second picture shows one of the mini can lights that I modified with the 20 bulb screw LED.

I ordered a mixed case of these new GU10 based 12 volt bulbs, I will use the rest of the 6 lights, I already modified, and plan to use 3 of the same mini cans with the new gu10’s.  I wish I had found the second manufacturer before I spent the extra $40 or so for the ceramic screw adapters.

If you are interested in setting up you own Ultra efficient lighting using my 12 volt Gu10, I got a handful…$14 plus shiping, 38 Bulb or the High output spot.  Just drop me a note

Here is a night time shot of the cabin before we got snowed on at thanksgiving.  It is about a 30 second exposure, the lights inside are:  Kerosene lamps on the left, LED’s on the right.

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Just made a run in to town to get some propane for the shop heater, hit the PO and grab some pork for the potluck tomorrow. Just put over 10 pounds of pork butt in the oven with my own home made rub…in about 8 hours it will be ready to “pull”. We can take it to Tori’s Work potluck tomorrow. Today I will be doing more work in the shop, got the over head cabinet stained yesterday for the guy in Denver, (I’m trading for a granite slab for the cabin). I’ll also do some more oiling on the doors and trim for a client in Rollinsville. Just as I was heading up the last hill to the house a pretty good sized Coyote hopped onto the road in front of me, and then headed up the side of the hill. This was the first time I have seen one this close to the house. He also was the biggest one I have seen yet….he was bigger than Maybelle by a couple inches…maybe 60 pounds. I wish I had the camera in the truck It would have tough to get a shot…but worth the try. Since I didn’t get one , here is one I found online.

Tori and I have been making some progress on getting the house ready for the holidays. The tree is up, about half of the girls presents are wrapped, and the guest room it transitioning back to its role as sleeping quarters, from its normal role as our shipping and receiving dept. The weather has turned for the nicer side of freezing, and it is a pleasure to feel temps 40 to 50 degrees warmer than last week.

I bought some aluminum attache cases this morning on E-bay. These will be the start to the Solar powered “Laptop Stations” I will soon be building. I started a wood case a about a month ago, but decided it was bit heavy and bulky..its not the fist time I have changed my design mid way through a project. I think the Aluminum case will add a bit of “tech” class to the project and make them way more user friendly. My upgraded laptop is due from Fed Ex today, this one will have a slightly bigger screen (10.1 from 8.9) twice the RAM and twice the main drive…I went with a SSD flash drive for more reliability…My old one is for sale …$260 with case…any takers?  its only two weeks old.

I need to finish up the covers for the DVDs we are shipping out to family and friends…so long for now.

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