Sunday, September 30, 2012

Adding to my Solar Power System

Sorry for not having written sooner, but we took our first vacation/trip back south to visit family, and were gone about two solid weeks.

In preparation for our trip, we emptied our fridge and then shut down all loads on the power system. I was really curious to see what would happen in this scenario.

On the first part of the trip we spent time on Manitoulin Island to celebrate my father's birthday - We were able to put together the entire family, including my brother and his girlfriend, and my sister.


Kenny made a new friend in a German girl he met at the beach. She didn't speak much/any English, and Kenny doesn't speak much/any German, but she stuck to him like glue and by association, we got to know her parents very well too. They were really great and fun people to spend time with, and we sure hope that they had a good time in Canada.

We followed my family back to Kitchener-Waterloo, via the Chi-Cheemaun ferry, which I hadn't taken in many years. It is a pricey journey, but saves some driving time, and is a real experience to take.

In Kitchener-Waterloo, we had very full days trying to touch base with our friends, family, church and dojo. Amazingly, we were able to fit most everyone in - including Kenny's girl-friends on more than one occasion. It was a really fortunate coincidence that the Sunday we were at church, they were installing our newest pastor, as well as our youth worker, who I remember babysitting many years ago!


We took in the dinosaur exhibit at The Museum in Kitchener, and then headed down to check out the International Ploughing Match in Roseville.


Donna and I also were able to have our first date night in a long time, thanks to Kenny and my awesome sister deciding to hang out together overnight. Donna and I headed down to the Princess Twin to see a really entertaining movie - Robot and Frank. I would recommend it highly as a fun, thoughtful movie.

It was a little melancholic though, seeing our friends and family and the places we use to frequent. We realized that by a long stretch, it's the people we miss most. (A close second was hot showers and automatic washing machines.)

The trip back was equally interesting - we visited Garwood, the home of my brother's cabin. Then we aimed to get to our preferred motel, but alas! No room at the inn! We ended up at the Webbly - under new ownership for all of three days. I can't supply a review, other than to say it was inexpensive, and that the new owner seems enthusiastic to do his renovations.

Next it was on to Nipigon to spend the night with my Aunt and Uncle-in-law. They served up a delicious, fancy and filling meal that sent me straight to bed with a full belly and a smile. It's always a pleasure to spend time with them. My aunt is a fabulous cook and always knows how to entertain guests with equal parts of feast and conversation. My uncle regaled us, and especially Kenny, with stories and observations about his growing up in Greece and moving to Canada to teach.

Finally we returned home. Mummu was super-kind and supplied us with lasagna (a current favourite food of Kenny) and news of what we had missed.

Now that you are all caught up on the vacation, back to the happenings here at the homestead --

Basically, we returned to a full battery, that was nearly instantly depleted just by turning on the inverter, even with no load! Fortunately Mummu and Grandpa had picked up my third solar panel while we were gone, and so the next chance I got, I hooked it up. This time went the smoothest of any. It was very prescient of me to have designed my system for three panels from the beginning - I had a spot for it on my mount, and it was easy to bolt it in place and then hook it up using standard automotive electrical hardware. Immediately I could see a 30% increase in my amperage, which, while still pitiful, is helpful.

Tomorrow I intend to modify the mount so that I can rotate it further east to take better advantage of the morning sun. I also will seriously look at thinning some of the trees that are blocking the late afternoon and early evening sun.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Relocating the Sawmill

Grandpa has been encouraging me to move the sawmill to its final position, so for the past week or so that has been our family project.


Originally I had to skid the logs up somewhat close to the mill, then make a second pass with the tractor to lift them up onto our skidway. It was very hair-raising and inefficient. The ground sloped perpendicular to our mill and skidway, as did the main throughway that the tractor followed. It wasn't long after using the setup that I pondered moving the sawmill into a position that took better account of the natural lay of the land.


With not much effort, it was easy to see that swinging the mill ninety degrees would greatly improve the overall workings of my system, so with that in mind Kenny and I marked out the general outline of where the tracks should lie. Donna came over to help us out, and together we dug the entire area down to rock. Normally we would have simply dug out for piers, but I am interested in capturing and using my sawdust, so I thought it would be easier and cleaner to scoop it up from off of the rock rather than the "soil" in the area.


We worked very diligently as a unit until we had everything cleared out. It really looked great.


Next I built up a small wooden form from what was left of my lumber drying rack/slab holder and leveled it out on some of the rocks we had dug up during our excavation. It took a surprising three and a half bags of concrete to fill. The Odjob mixer was repurposed from laundry (where it wasn't so successful) to its original use as a concrete mixer. This was much harder work than I expected! I rolled it back and forth on the uneven ground and then hefted it up to dump out into the forms. 33Kg is surprisingly heavy in this form and situation.


At last I had it all poured out and I proceeded to use another scrap of lumber to level things off as best I could.


Today I took off the forms, and it looks okay! The next four piers will be individual columns though, only the centre support will be a slab.


Grandpa insists that I have to remove the mast from the mill before I can begin moving it, so I suppose I'll try to remove just that. I sure hope I don't have to disassemble the whole track!


I'll report back as soon as I get further along this project.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

More Running Water in our Yurts

I'm sorry I haven't written in a week or two. Of the many blessings that I count in my life, wonderful family and friends counts at the top. 

The past week we were visited by my friend, his wife and their two daughters. It was so gratifying to see Kenny and the girls all getting along so well and playing together. Equally great was getting to unwind and spend time with my friend - I only wish he could have stayed longer, much longer.


With my winter wood mostly laid up there was room to breathe as far as that went, so we were able to relax and show our friends what Thunder Bay and our part of it had to offer.


One small job I didn't postpone until after their visit was to move the power bar that was so close to the water faucet. I have raised it a few feet higher than the faucet, so it is well above the danger zone. I hope this allows some of you to sleep better at night.


Today Grandpa and I had planned on going fishing on our lake. Alas, it was very overcast and the forecast called for rain so we postponed that experiment for another day. Instead we decided to tackle the sticky issue of what to do when the weather turns freezing and we still are pumping water. There just isn't room to bury my water lines below the frost line here, so I have to find some way to deal with it when I'm not actively pumping water. It seems to me that most people add some sort of heater to their line to keep it from freezing, but that would require more of my precious electricity than I am prepared to provide.


Instead I am attempting to pump "on demand" into our water cooler and perhaps a few buckets in the yurts and then allow the water to drain back to the well. This is a little challenging because the well and yurts are separated by about 225'. Added to this is the fact that the yurts are only about 15-20' higher than the well. This gives me about a 10:1 slope at best. Keep in mind too that there is very little margin of tolerance. I simply cannot have any appreciable amount of standing water in the line, or else I risk it freezing and cracking the pipe.


We creatively have built a framework from the well up quite close to the yurts now and I anticipate completing it in a week or so. Grandpa was very helpful as this was definitely a two man job, and his ability to choose and manipulate trees was truly inspiring.


Close to my solar power box, we also opted to raise the line up quite high to provide room for the tractor and roll-bar to pass beneath. We have to ensure access to the back acres of our property this winter to allow me to skid out the logs I need to construct all of our buildings next summer.


This exercise has also given us more food for thought about the location of some of our buildings. There is much to discuss but right now I am leaning towards keeping the buildings needing the most water closest to the well and the lay of the line.


I will try to post a few more pictures when the entire project is completed.