Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

What a beautiful season!
This picture was taken some time in late November after one of those sticky, heavy snows.  It was bright on the first day after the snowfall, but I didn't get the camera out until the nest day, a dull grey day, but pretty nonetheless.
This dull, grey weather has brought out the best and worst of living off-the-grid.  Not enough sun to put heat into the house or power into the battery bank,  so we have kept the fire going most of the day.  The house is so small that it doesn't take much to heat it up with wood, also it is new construction and well-insulated so a little heat heat lasts a long time.  Last night was a good example of leaving for a few hours and coming home to a yet-warm place.  I guess we could have fired up the generator to boost the battery bank to give us some reading lights into the night, but that would defeat the rationale of the Mini House Lifestyle Concept.  But what the hell else can we do with only candle-light, a roaring  fire and no reading lights?!     um...wait a minute...

Oh well, we'll get that all figured out.  Let's talk about the future!
Just this morning we were talking about what has priority for the New Year.  The porch?  The interior trim?  A wind generator?  Landscaping?  Our funds are quite limited now, so these decisions must be made carefully.  We think the trim should go on as soon as possible, as we have found some draughts coming in through some of the windows.  Then, I think, the porch should be finished.  The south side will be a pergola; a simple overhead run of 2x6 boards on their sides to hold up vines and other green things to provide shade from the summer sun, yet allow the winter sun directly in.  The other sides will have a tin-roof.
There is much to look forward to in the new year, besides all the house-y things.  Seed catalogues in the early winter, gardens to plan, Bob& Linda will be clearing out a hunk of the property to get ready to start their house, all kinds of friends to keep up with.  I am missing my sailor friends and really wish we could join them in their southern tours, but winter in Canada can be nice, too.  Especially Christmas.   

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Around the House

Here are some of the neigh-bors!  This pasture is one farm south of here, just past the South Marysburgh Dump.  Don't drink the water!
What I enjoy most about Prince Edward County is the view of the sky.  So much wide open space is good for the soul.  And weather forcasting.  You'll always know what lies a half hour ahead of you.
The firewood has been here for at least two months, so it's nice and dry.
Our wood stove is so small, though, that Jim had to build a buck to hold one log so he could saw it in two.  IE chainsaw!
I thought you'd like to see our whizzer!  Our potty.  The composting toidy!  Works like a charm, just a bit breezy on the bum because of the 4" chimney creating the necessary draught to take odours and humidity outside.
Last but not least, our solar panels.  Mounted on pressure-treated lumber, we saved hundreds of dollars by NOT mounting them on a metal & plastic stand that revolves to track the strongest rays of sunlight.  This gives us enough power to run Jim's woodworking equipment, a vacuum and the house lights.  The Surette batteries can store a fair bit of power, although not lots, so we do have to be careful.. The whole idea of the Mini House is to REDUCE, right? Right! if we can just get The Big Three to invest in solar panels, we'd get this economy on the right track!  BTW, there is a picture of Bill & Leslie, of Manjack Cay, BAhamas, on my other blog, pictured with their solar-powered golf-cart.  Hey, GM, take some hints!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Welcome our wee house-y! You've caught us on quite a food-production spree! Jim had just finished bottling his first batch of beer. I had made a few batches of jam. What a crazy aroma was in the air!
Here's the shower stall.  Very Exciting!  Salvaged from Bob's "must-go" shed, this baby is connected to the outlet pipe for the grey-water field.  More info regarding this in the post below this one.
Here, I would like to discuss Mini Feature #1. 
Water Reduction.
See the black thing hanging up above the shower?  That is a plastic shower-bag.  You fill it at the top, seal it and sit it in the sun for a few hours.  If the sun is at all shining, you will have hot water.  The shower-head isn't visible here, but it hangs below the bag.  It saves about as much water as possible because you only get so much!  10 litres, as a matter of fact.  So you don't let the water run when you are not using it.  One bag is ju-u-ust enough to wash me once and my hair twice.  When there is no sun, a hot kettle will do.  We try to avoid burning any non-renewable fuel source, but there have been days...

...and here is the piece de resistance!  My beautiful, functional, practical galley!  All the woodwork is done by Jim.  White pine with some spruce kickin' around in there.  The counter top is laminated maple.  Missing are the cabinet-doors, will build those when we get more dough! The china-rack will remain door-less.  Don't forget to double-click to enlarge the image so you can see all my stuff!
The Mini Features here are:
* the sink drains into a block-lined, sand-filled grey-water pit.  Since we have a composting toilet, we don't need a septic field.  We have saved so much money, it's crazy that anyone would prefer a septic system!  I guess the winter management of a grey water field would be a bit scary (the outlet pipes could freeze!), but hopefully we won't be around for the deepest freeze.  (Florida beckons)
* the Franklin "Intrepid" wood stove.  Pretty and pretty small!  Once again, small is cheap!  But with such a small area to heat, it's really all we need.  The place heats up in no time at all thanks to the insulation below the concrete slab, in the walls and ceiling.  We did discover that we must cut our hunks of fire-wood in half so they fit, though!  We got this from the local home-improvement place in Picton, used and for quite a good price.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

So far, so good!

...but still no pictures.
And life has been quite good. Snug as two bugs in one rug! Can't get any more snug than that! As a matter of fact, we are so damned snug that we have to crack a window open so the fireplace actually sends the woodsmoke up the chimney!
Yes, we made this important discovery one evening when the house started to fill up with smoke. I opened a window to help clear the smoke out, noticed it cease and desist, closed the window. More smoke piled into the house! Opened the window again, kept it open. Jim wondered how this could be. He figured it out. You see, the composting toilet has a pipe that goes above the roof line to ventilate its contents and evaporate the wee-wee. (hee-hee!) It works by taking air out of the house and moving it up the pipe on a hot-air-rises principle, same as the wood stove. But the toilet won! And literally sucked the wood stove's air right out! Now that's a well insulated, closed-up house!!! And one helluva breezy loo!
It has been fun transferring our knowledge of boat-living to mini-house-living. We are just beginning the process of planning and building the furniture, and hope to come up with some good designs to maximize storage space by building in-place stuff. Eventually, we will have rain-water collecting tanks built into the dining-nook settees and another under the bed. Also into the dining nook will be storage for preserves and all the beer Jim is making. And the wine we made at the local brew-on-premises place. And, by the way, the kitchen has been built, only need the cupboard doors now. Jim made it from some pretty nice vee-groove strips and the leftover maple from the laminated maple counter-top. I am the most spoiled kitchen-wench ever! Everything is handy, and very beautiful!
The comment made by most of our visitors regards the ceiling height. Before some have visited, they exclaim that they could never live in a 450 square foot home, but after they have been inside for a few minutes, they notice the cathedral ceiling in the main living area and the 9'3" ceiling everywhere else. You don't feel crowded with a lid like that!
After all the hard-core construction of the house, we are ready to take a break and work in the garden. (Some break!) We will be screening the small rocks from our soil and build up some raised beds for a vegetable garden. It'll take another year before our kitchen-compost pile is ready for spreading, even another for the toilet-compost for the flower beds and places where we want to plant trees, berry bushes and stuff. So in the meantime, I guess we'll plant what will grow in this heavy, sticky soil. Some of it is poorly drained, so we'll do what we can until the beautiful compost is ready.
So that's the plan! Having all this land available has Jim's imagination going. He is currently reading about bee keeping, maple-syrup-making, candle making and weaving. Wish the library had how-to books more current than 1986. The basic info is all there, but just a little dated.
We have become somewhat involved in our community. Jim has joined the PECurling Club, where he has volunteered to help make the ice. They are painting it today whilst I loaf about in the library, writing to you. I got a small job at the local cafe, I'll be serving tables two days a week. Might join the ShoutSister choir in January. Looking forward to becoming aqainted with my guitar on the nights Jim is out curling. There is a lucious-looking double-bass for sale at the local music store...aak!
Looking forward to showing you some pix when my laptop is back from getting repaired!
FYI, it is 0 dregrees outside, overcast with wind gusting up to 50 km, and a comfy 20 iside. No sun today, just the wood stove going. Oh, look! A tiny bit of snow! And still enough solar power to run the house lights and maybe a couple of cuts on the chop-saw.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

We're In!

My laptop is still fried, so no pikkies for you, so sorry!
But we have moved in! Yay! The board & batten siding is still missing its battens, but is painted a lovely soft yellow, trimmed in a rich blueberry. The wrap-around deck adds a hint of that "pressure-treated" green, which comes from a copper compound added to the mix. The GalvAlume roof is complete, although the tail of Hurricane Ike tried to swipe it when it was half-done. The drywall is taped and primed, ready for paint. The woodstove had it's inaugeral fire-up, works quite well. The passive solar gain is a thing of great beauty!!! All we really hafta do now is move the composting toilet inside. So I bought some lovely paint to get the loo ready, the same cream colour as Chelonidae's interior tongue&groove. Looks great with the spruce beam cieling.
And the flies are a real riot! No, really! Each fly-strip we put up comes back down with a feast for a family of bats, a pond of frogs and a pot of Venus Fly-Trap!
Pictures and an essay on Living Small as soon as I get some paint on the walls!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Folks Came out for a What's See

...and here is what they saw!
Beloware featured the Lovely Linda and Daring & Dashing John, trying to decide whether to dive or just jump the greywater field! That's OK, Mom, we still love you!
But they did get to witness the roof strapping going on, and John got to partake in some very manly shovelling of sand. Sure made my stint at the shovel easier!
We are moving along at a great rate, the house is so small that nothing takes a lot of time. For example, the Tyvec went on in less that 45inutes. Board siding took three short days. Roof framing went up in one day. Windows took maybe two hours. Long live the Mini house!

Mind you, we have been working so hard, dodging rain showers and thunder storms, that we have been doing little else. Except yesterday. We attended one of the most beautiful weddings we've been to. Congratulations April & Ryan, good health and a hundred children!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Yes, we've got the wall framing 75% up and are ready for...for...what? More rain? No! If we get more rain, Paul might never get his back-hoe back! ...wait a minute...
Anyway, isn't this the cutest wee house-y you've ever seen? I certainly think so! And besides, we have spent a pitance on building materials and effort! Long live the Mini House! Long live the Reduce Principle! Smaller really is the way of the future! Save money, fuel, hydro and the environment.
But a word about all this rain. Yucky! Apparently, The County is usually a dust-bowl by this time of year. A complete draought. Zero rainfall. Get the picture? No Rain? Pretty simple. Well, this summer, there has been over six inches. This may not seem like much, but let me put this in perspective for you: the term "inch " refers to the amunt of rainfal needed to cover the whole region with rain. Six inches is so off the map for rainfall that the soil can't drain it away fast enough and our fields are about 10% under water. Thats about three acres. That a $#!load of rain! Refer to the pictures if left in any doubt. And pray for some clear weather so Paul can get his back-hoe out!

We've been framed!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Mini House Rises!

Well! Believe it or not, we have got the first wall framed and standing! No shots, as it was too late in the day, but we can see it from our camp set-up 500 yards away.

The rain almost had us beat, but two fine lads and some exceptional equipment saved the day...and our backs! Paul and his dad, Bill, came out with a back-hoe and a tractor/mini-dump-truck combo came out on Saturday to fill, fill, fill! Gravel, sand and before we knew it, the moat around our wee castle was all gone!

All but one small corner. Here's the story. The equipment was creating these titanic ruts in the road. There has been so much rain his year in The County that neither Paul nor Bill could believe the ground could be this soft, but it is soft indeed! They had two more trips to go when they decided that they could not risk getting their equipment stuck in the mud. So Paul's back-hoe is still sitting in what will be our driveway. It's kinda stuck back there. Can he get it out before even more rain falls? After last night's rain, I'm tellin' ya, there ain't no way! There are soft ruts in our drive way that are over a foot deep. And then another 3/4 inch of rain fell!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Excavating the Mini House

NOW What are They Doing?!

The Blogger is back! And ready to tell all...the thrills (getting Bob and Linda to agree to sharing their land with us) the chills (camping out in this very rainy season!) and spills! (Well, none of us have had any spills yet, but I'll be sure to tell ya if we do!) We are romantically dreaming of bottles of delicious wine from the soil here in Prince Edward County. On Old Milford Road, as a matter of fact.
Any how, what we are really up to has more to do with living with as small an environmental footprint as possible. As some of you know, Jim & I spent the previous year living about our beloved (now sold to new owners) 36' wooden sloop Chelonidae. After we had gone down to the Bahamas and come back, we had put so many miles on our engine that we had to give ourselves a reality check: was this an environmentally responsible way to live?
We had burned about 800 gallons of diesel.
Things had to change!
So we took the best of living aboard and transferred our collective knowlege to an idea for a house. Firstly, we decided that we would like to try sailing south again, but buddy-ing up with another couple to save fuel, engine wear and tear and taking turns driving long distance. Secondly, we learned to live without great requirments for electricity and water. Thirdly, we adapted to our changing environment, for example when it rained, we collected rainwater, when it was a bit chilly, we turned on our cabin heater and heated a small space. When it was hot, we put up the Wind Scoop and caught more breeze to cool the cabin.
This translates to the Mini House design in quite a few ways. Building a small house will require less building material and energy to build. The chappie we hired to excavate actually laughed when he realized that in just three hours, he had dug the hole and made four very short trips to the neighboring quarry to get stone to fill the hole. Then he was done! Such a small foundation! 16 x 28 feet! Bigger than your average 36' boat!
A small house doesn't require a large amount of wood to burn for heat in the chance we are home during the winter. We will limit propane use while baking and cooking using a marine range, as the oven cavity is a fraction of the space of a conventional oven. Besides, I only bake enough for two people, why not go small? We have decided to cut energy demand by continuing to live without a fridge.
I don't know whether we will live without all luxuries, as we'd like an LCD TV to play movies and such, but we are minimalist type people. Growing an organic garden, helping Bob & Linda grow the vineyard, and perhaps working part-time will keep us out of trouble.
It takes so little to accomplish so much! We have also decided to drive our old Honda a little as possible, car-pool when we can, buy grocery items that have minimal packaging, recyle our egg cartons with local egg producers. Reduce, re-use, recycle sort of effort is too small! Especially reduce!