Monday, February 16, 2015

Update to the Outlander Gear Shifter Break

As you may know, the shifter arm on my Outlander ATV snapped off a few days ago.

After having a small section of threaded rod welded alongside the round stock of the shifter, it was a relatively simple task to reinstall it on the Outlander.  I took the opportunity presented by having the side panel off to adjust the linkage arm so that the positions of the shifter accurately corresponded to the gear that the transmission was in.

You can just see the tip of the threaded rod reinforcement here.

A better view of the threaded rod laid in front of the existing shifter.

At first it was a very challenging shift, but that quickly calmed down as the newly reinforced shifter wore the plastic slot away at key friction points.

Between the adjusted linkages and the stiffened shifter arm, I have to declare that at least while I cleared up our latest snowfall from the driveway, things were performing better than they ever have.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

How Much Solar Electricity we Have Generated.

Given the chance, I do like to remind people hooked up to the grid just how incredibly cheap their hydro is.  A brief mental calculation about how much power an appliance requires for its operation, multiplied by the current cost of electricity, usually reveals it to only be pennies per use.

Strangely, I have never looked at how much we are generating or consuming and seeing what the actual value of it would be.  It's a simple calculation, and here it is...

Our 690W of solar panels generated 466 kWh over 437 days (my charge controller has a small server built in which tells me these sorts of statistics).  Current peak residential charge for Ontario is thirteen and a half cents per kilowatt per hour.  Thus:

466 kWh * $0.135 = $62.91.

After spending many thousands of dollars on the panels and batteries and controllers and such, that $62 is money in my pocket!

Truth be told, we actually consumed probably twice that amount, the other half being created by the generator.

I at least can take solace in wondering how many people have a have a hydro bill of less than $10 per month.

Our Generating Station

I still believe it makes sense for *us* to be off grid - it would likely have cost us more up front to hook up to the traditional grid than it did to install our renewable energy system.  Now we are no longer subject to arbitrary outages, and worse, price increases.  More importantly, we philosophically wish to promote the use of renewables.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Big Snowfall / My Outlander ATV Gear Shift Finally Breaks

The day before yesterday we began to see weather reports calling for up to 25cm (10 inches) of snowfall overnight.  I suited up and used my roof rake (great product, by the way...) to clean off the yurts, sauna, cabin and dojo tent.

In the morning, it looked like we had clearly gotten a fair amount of snow, but it didn't look that crazy at first.

Doesn't look too bad from here.

I trudged out to the dojo tent and started up the ATV (I think I should name her - she's earned it!) and after a few moments eased into some light ploughing.

Quickly I realized that we had had close to 20cm.  The ATV could barely push her way to the entrance of our driveway, and then got stuck as soon as I hit the combination of an uphill climb and the snow that the road plough had deposited on the surface.  With a little back and forth and raising the blade, I was able to get to the road surface where I attacked the entrance at a more oblique angle.

Returning to the cabin I managed to push away enough snow from the dojo tent to the cabin to ensure that we could still get vehicles right up to the cabin.

Oh to be young again!

After a break for lunch, Donna and Kenny came out to help clear around the vehicles and I spent the afternoon taking short trips back and forth in a herringbone pattern up the driveway betwixt the entrance and the dojo tent.  The banks needed to be pushed back significantly to allow our vehicles to continue getting in and out the remainder of the season.

Stuck in reverse?!

Fortune smiled on me, as once the bare minimum was complete, and I was about to really start clearing the surface, the shifter on the ATV suddenly became extremely sloppy and refused to move out of reverse.

Careful examination revealed that the stress of all my back and forth had finally caused the shifter to fail.  I believe this is a known weakness of the early Outlander models, I can't speak to if Bombardier has addressed this or not.  It's a pretty weak shifter to begin with, and the transmission is also very sticky and often requires extra effort to switch gears.

I was facing away from the dojo tent, and stuck in reverse, so I simply backed into the tent and retrieved my wrenches.

The side panel had already shook loose, so I moved it aside and with my wrench set, removed the pieces of the shifter.

No real surprise that this thing failed.

They'll be off to get welded (and hopefully reinforced at the same time) and we'll hopefully have the ATV back in action soon.
Just happy to be out in the sun.

With the ATV kaput, Donna and I cleared around the Echo and then I did some little chores before heading back inside and calling it a day.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Fixing a Surging or Pulsing Generator in Cold Weather

I wish I knew more about engines, large and small.  I like to believe that I know a bit more than average, but that's probably not saying much.  I suspect that most people treat their cars and other internal combustion devices as "black boxes" in which gas (and occasionally oil) go in, and then they go now.

In any case, homesteading has slowly ramped up my store of tips and tricks and knowledge, even if part of me wishes it wasn't necessary.

In the past I have had a bit of trouble with my old generator beginning to surge or pulse while charging the batteries.  At first I had chalked it up to something not being properly adjusted, and so I turned the only screw I could find - the idle adjust.  This didn't have much of a noticeable effect, period, so I ended up taking it to KC Automotive to see if they could find anything wrong with it, which of course, they couldn't.

This problem seemed to come and go randomly, so I let it slide, and currently that generator has given up, there seems to be a problem with the fuel line, and as I have a second generator, I haven't been really motivated to try to fix it.  I also really don't want to take it back to get it looked at again, as it has been in the shop many times in the past year and I think perhaps it too just needs to be replaced.

The new generator is smaller and has some quirks of its own (surprising how quickly a kW of charging and then a kW of fridge compressor can both add up to 2kW, which plays havoc with a 1.5kW maximum surge rated machine).  But it so far has been rather reliable.

Lately though it too has begun surging.  At first I thought it was perhaps an interplay between the generator charging, and the charge controller, as I noticed it mainly when the sun began to shine on the solar panels.  As such, I would usually shut off the generator anyway because that indicated that I was getting enough power from the sun.

Then it changed, and even when the charge controller was disconnected the generator still insisted on pulsing.  I didn't like this development.  I didn't like this at all!

So, I started with the few things I could do easily.  I removed the air filter to see if perhaps something was amiss there.  I was a bit surprised to find it nearly frozen in place.  Further investigation revealed that there was a small tube from the cylinder head going into the air filter compartment, and it had frost all around it, blocking it out.

I had no idea what this tube was, or its purpose, but I cleaned off the ice, cleaned it out, and replaced everything.  The generator ran about an hour or so and I was tickled before it began surging again.

Asking Google for answers was unsatisfying, but instructive.  It seems this tube is a breather to release pressure on the top of the cylinder head.  It's somewhat important, as an ongoing blockage puts quite a bit of stress on the cylinder and lubrication system.  Annoyingly though, few people reported this issue except in page after page of warnings about aeroplane engines.

The consensus was that there is usually lots of moisture blown out of that tube, and in extreme cold, it condenses and freezes until there is a blockage.

I tried running the generator with the air filter completely removed to see if that would stop trapping the moisture (in winter, it seems that air filters aren't quite as important because there are far fewer particulates in the environment).  This really helped me to confirm this issue because once it began to surge again, I was able to see actual chunks of ice being burped out of the breather tube.

I began to think perhaps I had to wrap a small "hot pocket" type thing around the breather tube, or keep spraying some sort of water displacer into it or adding it to my fuel.  I was headed to town to purchase those items when I decided to stop in at KC Automotive and ask K! for his opinion.

As always, it was a really rewarding errand.  K! had encountered this issue before already and immediately suggested insulating the breather pipe as a solution.  He was thinking of regular pipe insulation, when I realized that I still had some scrap pieces of closed cell insulation laying about in the yurts.

I ran my other errands in town, picked up Donna and Kenny from Willow Springs, and returned home.  Although my trip to town is always draining, it was overcast and I wanted to try to pump up the batteries a bit more.

I used my knife and a drill bit to form a shell for the breather, and realized that it wouldn't be possible to insert the breather into the air filter with the insulation in place.  Luckily I had purchased a wrench set JUST for the generator and left it there, and it fit the bill for removing the whole air filter assembly.  This made it much easier to align the tube and replace the air filter assembly with my new "winterized" breather tube in place.

Air filter assembly completely removed.

Note the latex gloves.  Not nice in sub zero temperatures, but better than gas and oil all over your hands.

I even replaced the actual foam filter inside and put the cover back on, to make this a fully fair test.

Also careful that no little bits of foam were hanging around inside the air filter.

All done!

The foam insulation interfered slightly with the choke arm, but it quickly aquired a gouge where the lever pressed into it, and I was able to start up the engine with a few pulls.

Inside I unplugged the fridge and adjusted the inverter/charger to ensure a good charge without issues, and the generator ran great for about three hours.  I'm not sure if it began to pulse towards the end.  The charger showed a fluctuation of between 7 and 10 amps, but I really didn't hear anything that would normally bother me in the sounds from the genny.  I shut it off anyway though as it was getting late and I didn't want to have to go out to shut it off in my pj's.

One factor that tempers my enthusiasm though is that it was warmer than it's been for a long time - only 9 degrees below zero.  I will have to try it out again when we get back closer to -20 and see what happens then.

In the meantime, I am giving this "generator hack" a pass.  I will try to report back after it has had some more extensive testing.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A New Cider Brewing Experiment

With my first cider brewing post being so popular, I decided to post an update to my super simple recipe for generating hard cider here on the homestead.

Finding good Wellesley Brand Apple Cider here in Thunder Bay has proved to be a challenge, so now I'm content with just buying Allen's Rougemont brand in plastic bottles, removing a half a cup, and adding a few grains of yeast.

Sitting on the warming closet for a week or two is all it takes to go to 5% alcohol by volume (based on my hydrometer).

Note the bulging bottles on the left - make sure you keep the caps loose when you put them back on!

Bottle it in some Grolsch gurdles with a quarter teaspoon of white sugar, and then sit it on the shelf until just before drinking, when you pop it in the fridge, and you're golden!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Continuing to Insulate the Cabin

Things are continuing to tick along here in the middle of winter at the homestead.
We have been treated to a return to the colder weather.  Yesterday we woke up to almost 31 below (grandpa's thermometer read 34).  This morning I am up early, and reading the outdoor thermometer I see it is 27.6 below, and sure to drop before the sun rises.

One silver lining to these temperatures is that they usually go lock step with clear skies.  That's nice for generating solar power.  Of course, it also means that the batteries are very cold, and don't hold much charge.  If it isn't one thing, it's another...
Mind you, yesterday the batteries spent over three hours in absorption, and yet we still pumped water and did laundry. Yes, we officially had at least one day in February where we could get water from the well to the sauna!  Joy of joys - I only had to schlep buckets from the sauna to the cabin, not from the neighbours like last year.
I did have to pour a stock pot of hot water into the well to precipitate this event, but I'm still happy to do that.  Again, this summer, a second well nearer that cabin may be in the cards, budget permitting.

Hang on a second while I pour myself a cup of tea - twenty minutes ago when I first got up, it was 16.8 degrees in here, now it has risen to 17.1 after throwing on a few logs and opening the stove vents.
Sorry for all the temperature heavy statistics right off the bat.  If you were here to see me in my track suit with our "butter blanket" (so named by my sister and a very well received Christmas gift) draped over me like a toga, you'd understand.  Perhaps you'd snuggle under our second blanket on the Chesterfield, grab your own huge, steaming mug of tea and enjoy listening to the soundtrack from "O Brother, Where Are Thou?" by lantern light.

So, getting back to the title of this post - I have been plugging away at continuing the insulation project here indoors.  I have managed to finish the last of the walls that I intend to actually insulate.

Of course, there was some disruption in proper television viewing while the main floor was being addressed.

I did both loft rooms upstairs, and then returned to the main floor to do the pantry.

The pantry we have reorganized somewhat, which is remarkable considering how small it is and how everything fit just so the first time around.
Initially we had the refrigerator against the bedroom wall where the outlet was conveniently located, with the shelves against the bathroom wall side of the room.  Donna began to point out that having the buzz of the inverter on one side and the intermittent hum of the fridge on the other was not conducive to her having a restful sleep.
So, with a short utility cord in hand, we switched the two items around.  This worked remarkably well.  There was slightly more room between the wall and door on the bedroom side, so the shelves aren't quite so tight to the door opening.  There isn't an issue with the fridge being on one side or the other, and the small window is still easily accessible if we want to open or shut it as the season dictates.

It was reassuring to continue to find cold draughts as I worked my way across all these walls.  I would caulk or chink them shut, and then put up solid core foam over top.  This HAD to be improving things dramatically, didn't it?
Of course, this optimism was tempered by the cabin still coming up rather chilly many mornings in spite of us going to bed with quite comfortable nighttime indoor temperatures.

Well, there is still the east wall to complete, which will only receive a vapour barrier and then pine paneling.  Why no insulation you ask?  It was not designed with the inkling of insulation ever being in the cards, and so I made the fireplace clearances exactly enough for just a panel and nothing else.
I like to convince myself that even the air barrier and paneling will make a large difference - and I should point out that this is the south east exposure, so it does receive a fair bit of sunlight on its own.
I'm sure you'll find out after the paneling goes on over there how it ultimately works out.
The finished wall with the shelves and contents replaced.