Thursday, May 16, 2019

Total Teardown of our Solar Power System - Switching from Flooded to AGM L-16 Batteries

Our solar power system has been working very well for us for the past five or more years.  It has washed our clothes, cooked our food, boiled some of our water, kept the lights on, charged our devices, powered our internet connection and, occasionally, even thrown off some heat here and there.

Of course, so much of our experiences here on the homestead have been punctuated by "if I was doing it over again..." sort of thoughts.  I finally managed to revisit two of them related to our solar power in the past couple of weeks.

Originally I had intended to put the batteries under the cabin.  This was before I realized that flooded batteries off-gas and need to be properly ventilated.  I wasn't too enthused with having something potentially explosive underfoot, and I also wasn't excited about having to isolate them and ventilate them to make that situation workable.

Instead, I put thick insulation inside of a deck box, drilled large holes through the cabin, and hoped for the best.

This did work just fine for half the year, but once the mercury dropped to twenty below and further, the capacity of those batteries was severely curtailed.  We could have a full charge in them by four (on the very rare days when there was that much sun available), and yet, by morning, they were just able to make it to lunch when the sun was finally back on them.  I suppose it's unfair to expect them to do all their required work on only four hours of sun in that perspective, even if we do shut off the power after we go to bed.

I tried installing warming pads to raise the temperature, and thus capacity of the batteries.  This had a mild positive effect.

Finally, while freezing my fingers and watering the batteries, I rethought about bringing the batteries indoors.  If I switched to sealed AGM batteries, I could solve three issues at once.

I wouldn't have to water them anymore, as the water in batteries isn't normally permitted to escape to the atmosphere during electrolysis.

They wouldn't take up so much space on our back deck.

They would *stay warmer* - and thus have much more capacity available to us through the winter months.

The big question - where to store them indoors?  The crawlspace was inconvenient to access them if required.  The main floor simply didn't have any free space.  The upstairs rooms also were already pretty tight.  So I went even higher.  The attic?

Four L-16 batteries at 52kg is just over 200kg in total.  This is like having three copies of myself in the attic.  Something in that perspective would never concern me.
Fortunately, two weeks ago my friend B! was visiting, so we purchased some 3/4" plywood and sliced it up to fit across the joists in the attic.  I had enough that I even doubled it up to be extra sure.

We also mounted the remaining pieces carefully on the end wall directly under the solar panels.  One other consideration is that the batteries really need to be kept as close as possible to the inverter to prevent too much in the way of line losses.

This is the first board mounted on the wall - ready for my electronics.

This is where the solar panel leads come into the cabin.  This is just a 4 gauge jumper cable I bought on sale - it worked great and was much cheaper than purchasing wire off the shelf!
This had the knock on effect of solving my other big issue with the existing solar power setup - all my electronics were in the master bedroom on the main floor, and the truth is, the Magnasine inverter/charger was a bit noisy.  It has a definite, noticeable hum.  We had learned to mostly tune it out, but it still was there whenever you were trying to listen to the radio or television quietly.

It also just made the room look and feel cluttered having the inverter, charge controller, and a small breaker box all in the same corner of our already cozy bedroom.

Most of the electronics are pulled out.  Look at that rat's nest of wiring!
All my cabin wiring congregated to this spot, so we did have to deal with that restriction - we ended up running conduit from that corner of the bedroom all the way through the loft room above, and into the attic, right between where the batteries would rest, and where the electronics would get mounted.  It looks just fine to me!  Just like the work I did in the kitchen.

In order to make the wiring fit, I still needed to add two more boxes.  I used this chance to mount switches or outlets in these boxes, so I could manually switch off circuits in the cabin without having to go to the attic to throw a breaker.  We also needed an outlet there for the digital electronics that were to remain - the modem, router, nVidia shield, bedroom television...

I ran two sections of conduit - one contained all the power related wires, and the other I pulled control cables (and the ground cable) through - the solar controller has a web server to show its state with, and I didn't want to give that up for anything.  So I pulled an RJ-45 wire for it.  Also, the inverter had its own controller on a standard telephone cable - I pulled that through too.

A view of the new conduit from the upstairs office/guest bedroom.
I hired my contractor to help me carry up the batteries - it was a three man job, but not too bad after that.

Batteries all lined up behind the access door.
Same with the inverter - the Magnasine is surprisingly heavy.

After about and hour and a half, my contractor and his hired man were finished, and I was left to slave most of the day away finishing the wiring.

I connected up the lines to the batteries, including two temperature monitors (one for the solar charger, one for the inverter/charger).  I plugged the network cable into the solar charge controller and...  no dice.  The cable was either too long, or damaged, or something.  I tried it a few different ways, and ended up having to pull ALL the lines out of that conduit, replace the network cable, and refeed them in again - that was NOT fun.  I added lots of dish soap to try to make it a bit smoother to pull them back through, and that definitely did help.

Batteries all interconnected, the two temperature probes are in the lower left of the picture.

Golly that inverter was heavy!  Note the baking sheet fireproof mount :).
Then, the really scary moment of truth - installing the 100amp fuse on the DC cable from the batteries.  As the capacitors in the inverter charge, there is always an off-putting spark.  It's not fun, but perhaps I'm getting use to it.  I believe this was the third time I've gotten to experience it (there's a video of the spark at this link).

Looking pretty good.  I've cleaned up and fastened the wiring since this picture.
Over the next couple of days, I finished up the wiring in the bedroom, and moving out the electronics has also given me a bit more wall space there, which I just filled with a few leftover chrome shelves that fit nicely.  Now I have a spot to hang a few of my "dress" clothes - and I was able to reposition the laser printer, and my tiny "work" shelf where I place computers and laptops as I work on them.  It's nice that I can have all my digital hookups in that one space.

I still need to repanel the wall now to go right to the corner.

Nice work area!  Sorry for the potato quality.
It's been a hard push to get this all dealt with, but watching the batteries charge up and hold such a good charge right through to the next morning has been very gratifying.  It's also so quiet in the bedroom now - the only sound is the fridge compressor in the other room, and that's only while it's running.  It also makes the room darker, without the lights of the inverter and charge controller (the latter of which ALWAYS displayed its state via bright LED lights (how's that for RAS syndrome?)).

Now in winter I'll only have to worry about the amount of sun we receive, and not so much the temperature as I believe the attic stays at a pretty moderate climate.

Bonus May 9 weather condition picture.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Follow-up to Aeration for Iron Mitigation - Problem Solved?

I don't want to get ahead of myself or jinx things, but there has been a definite and very noticeable difference in the water situation since I began aerating the well water on a daily basis.

Previously, water taken directly from the tap and boiled on the woodstove suffered severely from the iron being concentrated - as we poured out the kettle or the insulated bottle, the final second or two of the pour would suddenly be full on brown.  We only used this water for washing dishes, and they were always rinsed again afterwards, so while it was annoying, it wasn't severely distressing.

In any case, since the aerator has been operating, this has no longer been happening.  The water in the bottom of the kettle or insulated bottle has been as clear as the top pour.

I'm really, really excited.  I'll be sure to follow up if things change back again.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Aeration to Mitigate Iron in the Water - An Experiment

So we've never had to use the heat cable in our well as the daily pumping to the holding tank in the kitchen has always managed to keep the well water open.  That's a blessing that I really cannot stress enough.

Unfortunately, the water that we pump is just lousy, lousy, lousy with iron.  We don't even begin to entertain the notion of white clothes.  Our Berkey filters are covered in about four millimeters of sludge every time I try to wash them.  If we don't run the bathroom tap for a day for some reason, the water comes out very gritty, or sometimes like chocolate milk :(.

We don't have enough pressure or space for any fancy filtering systems, so I've had to seek out ideas that are decidedly low technology, low space, and with low power requirements.

I had heard a few indications that injecting air into your water system would somehow precipitate out the iron - maybe it discourages the bacteria that fix it?  I'm not completely sure, but I'm willing to try things.  So with that in mind, Kenny and I hit up the local big box pet store and purchased the largest bubbler we could find.  I've tried smaller bubblers in the past, but they've been too dependent on small solar panels, or had to be manually started every time I wanted them to run.  This is my last attempt at a larger setup.

My parts assembled.  What a neatly made bed!
The pump had four outputs, which was three more than I really thought I needed.  I bought two T connectors and brought that down to two outputs.  I also bought two long air stones and twenty-five feet of air hose.

Setting up the T connectors.
And the finished setup.  Looks good to me!
I assembled most of this, and then waited for the well to finally melt out of the snow.

Once we could see the cover, Kenny dug a lovely trench from the cabin down to the well, and I headed down to check things out.

Exciting!  We can see the well again!

The water level was worryingly close to my outlet inside, which is a situation I've been aware of for some time.  I disconnected the heating cable, and then hooked up the air pump instead.

Making sure that (with the power turned off) the plug is above the waterline.
I lowered the air stone to the bottom of the well and trimmed the hose into two lengths that would allow the stones to be fully submerged to the stone base.  Unfortunately, no bubbles developed at that depth.  Sigh.  I raised the stones up until I felt that there was a good supply of bubbles coming through the water, and fastened the hoses in place.  I realize that the bubbler is in a precarious position, but this is both an experiment, and the best I could realistically do.

Looks a little crazy, but it shouldn't be able to go anywhere.
Had to lift up the stones off the bottom before I got good bubble production.

Indoors I've been trying to press the timer switch in the kitchen that was normally reserved for the heating cable.  It has a maximum time of thirty minutes, which is far less than I think the bubbler really needs to run.  I plan on replacing it with a daily timer as soon as I can purchase one.  It seems to draw so little power, I could probably just leave it on constantly, but in winter I may want to be able to have more granular control, so I think the timer with more features is the way to go.

I guess it may take a week or two or three to flush out the current system and begin to see any results, if any are to be seen.  I'll try to post back.  In the meantime, wish us luck!

Kenny was inspired to begin work on our next video game and this is a key scene - coincidence?  I think not!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Self-Directed Homeschooling

As part of our routine of homeschooling, on so-called "regular day"s, Kenny usually cracks open a lesson book at or above his contemporaries' grade level.  Yesterday he was exempted from any lessons as I had to do computer calls that took up the entire morning.  He comes along with me for most of these, and I feel that interacting with adults and watching me work count for an educational experience.

The day before this though was a regular day, and he worked away at his mathematics lesson on squares and square roots.  I was impressed at how many he tried to do in his head, but I did give him permission to use a calculator for ones that I didn't have memorized or couldn't do easily myself.

This is what he's been working on lately.
We have a Google Home Mini, but for some reason, he prefers to use the calculator for things like this, as he also does for spelling.  Go figure.

Part way through the lesson, he noted that while 12^2 is 144, 21^2 is the correspondingly interesting value of 441.

He mused if other examples existed.  I quickly pointed out that 001^2 is 1, and 10^2 is 100.  I wonder just how impressive my mathematical feat was to him, as he was able to contain his admiration completely.

Grabbing a small notebook he used as a scratch pad, he began working his way through the squares from 1 to 99.  At least, this was his ambition.

I'm lazy efficient, and mused if it wouldn't be easier to write a computer programme to calculate these squares and simply print them out in a format that one could more quickly skim them.  It was in under an hour that he had written a python script that actually did the squares AS WELL AS the comparison.

I'll attach the script at the end, feel free to copy as you will.  Please note that while I'm a coder from old, I have no experience with Python - all of this coding was his from start to finish; I don't know how it works.

In case you're curious, it turns out that there are four of these relationships in a row, then three, followed by two and then a single outlier before the pattern vanishes.

Score one for homeschooling allowing him the ability to go down a side road that would rarely be permitted in a regular environment!

Here's his code:

s1 = 0
s2 = 0
s = 0
stbf = 0
while s < 99:
    s = s1 + (s2 * 10)
    st = s * s
    if len(str(st)) == 1:
        st1 = st
        st2 = 0
        st3 = 0
        st4 = 0
    elif len(str(st)) == 2:
        st1 = str(st)[1]
        st2 = str(st)[0]
        st3 = 0
        st4 = 0
    elif len(str(st)) == 3:
        st1 = str(st)[2]
        st2 = str(st)[1]
        st3 = str(st)[0]
        st4 = 0
    elif len(str(st)) == 4:
        st1 = str(st)[3]
        st2 = str(st)[2]
        st3 = str(st)[1]
        st4 = str(st)[0]
    sb = str(s1) + str(s2)
    stb = int(sb) * int(sb)
    if len(str(stb)) == 1:
        stbf = "000" + str(stb)
    elif len(str(stb)) == 2:
        stbf = "00" + str(stb)
    elif len(str(stb)) == 3:
        stbf = "0" + str(stb)
    elif len(str(stb)) == 4:
        stbf = str(stb)
    stbf1 = str(stbf)[3]
    stbf2 = str(stbf)[2]
    stbf3 = str(stbf)[1]
    stbf4 = str(stbf)[0]
    if len(str(stb)) == 1:
        stbfb = int(stbf1)
    elif len(str(stb)) == 2:
        stbfb = int(stbf1 + stbf2)
    elif len(str(stb)) == 3:
        stbfb = int(stbf1 + stbf2 + stbf3)
    elif len(str(stb)) == 4:
        stbfb = int(stbf1 + stbf2 + stbf3 + stbf4)
    a1 = int(str(st4) + str(st3) + str(st2) + str(st1))
    a = "NO"
    if int(a1) == int(stbfb):
        a = "YES"
    print str(s2) + str(s1) + "|" + str(st4) + str(st3) + str(st2) + str(st1) + "| |" + str(sb) + "|" + str(stbf) + "| |" + str(a)
    s1 += 1
    if s1 == 10:
        s1 = 0
        s2 += 1
while True:
    a = a

Sunday, March 24, 2019

First Electric Water Boiling of the Year!

The other day we finally reached a nice, solid float voltage on the batteries with a few hours of good sunlight left in the day, so I opted to plug in the induction stove and warm a full kettle of water using the power of the sun!

Whistling merrily along here, but hard to see the steam.  Let's try a different angle!

Whelp, this isn't much better, but you sure can see how bright the sun is!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

High Snow

Everyone seems to agree that we've received an above average amount of snow here this winter.  A couple of  days ago it finally warmed up above freezing and things started to melt.  This caused the snow to slide off the front porch of the cabin in dramatic fashion - as well as completely around the wood shed.

Child for scale:

We just have to repeat this picture once the snow is gone to see how the bank stacks up.

He's waist-high to the top of the humanure hacienda!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Wildlife Update: 9 March, 2019 (Fox)

Here's some beautiful shots from my latest card swap.

Didn't even notice it on the thumbnail!

But then saw the footprints developing.

What a warm tail that must be.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Condensation in the Cabin

The extended periods of -30 degree weather played havoc here at the homestead.

The most egregious issue was around the chimney.  Inside my little attic chimney room, the air must have been extremely cold, and when moisture infiltrated from the cabin itself, it froze within the rock wool insulation.  Once temperatures warmed up to a more balmy twenty below, that moisture condensed and ran back down the chimney and onto the woodstove.  I set up an aluminum foil "trough" to direct the water into a stock pot on the stovetop, but it still stained the wood around the chimney, and has given me another attic project for this summer - try to seal it up more vapour tight than it already is.

Looks fine from above.
Not so much from below.

My fancy indoor eave's trough.

Very frosty window!

Ugh, more water issues.

I really need to frame this door properly, look at that frosty buildup!

Gaps like this sure don't help the situation!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Replacing the Voltage Regulator on my Outlander XT

This is probably going to be a pretty short post - it's a very simple job to do.

My new regulator finally arrived after about a month of waiting, but again, it was $35 instead of the $215 that I was to be charged for buying it locally.

Finally arrived!  Note Kenny's artwork.
Remove the old voltage regulator from beside the battery - use a 10mm socket.

Nothing to it, two bolts and a plug and play connector.
Unplug the six contact connector, and plug the new one in.

Bolt the new regulator to the frame and you're good to go.

Unfortunately, I didn't see much different to my battery voltages - either the AGM battery operates at a much lower voltage than I expected, or my problem is elsewhere.  We'll see.  At least my setup that allows the ATV to charge off the garage power is still going strong.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Empanadas Aiki Style

Recently we had two different sets of guests here at the homestead.

First up we had visitors that had been at the homestead in it's earliest days - my friend's two daughters returned to experience a Canadian winter after having spent the past year or two in Paraguay - lucky them!  They arrived just in time to experience an extended period of -30 degree weather!  Needless to say, we played loads of video games, although they did get a chance to try out our sledding hill in the ravine, as well as our nightly walks up and down our laneway.

The day they arrived, we stopped at a large grocery store and I quizzed them on their favourite foods.  F! suggested that empanadas were her current favourite, and amazingly, we found a tray of them shortly afterwards and brought it home to enjoy.

I had never had them before; they seem like a meat pie with "Latin American"? spices.  I liked them very much!

Last week my sister arrived to visit (after many hiccoughs due to poor weather around Toronto) and while the weather was better suited to some outdoor activities, we also continued to explore and enjoy the retropie gaming console that Kenny and I had assembled a few months ago.  She got us hooked on Kirby's Avalanche!  It's sure to be a big hit at our weekly coding/tech club.

She also took an active role in our menu, and introduced us to using crescent roll dough in a tube to create our own edible treats - in her case, she wrapped a chunk of apple and created a dessert pastry.  It was so easy and good that I added the dough in a tube to our next shopping list.

She also convinced me to give faux meat products another chance - I purchased some "mexican ground round" Yves brand loaf, and she made it into a delicious nacho grande type of bake.  I had actually purchased two of these loaves, so the next sunny day after she left, I prepared a slow cooker full of veggie chili using it as the substitute for the ground beef or chicken that I usually made it with.

We ended up having lots of the chili left over, and that's when it occurred to me that maybe I could combine these ideas into my own style of empanada!

First we assembled the ingredients - all three of them.  Dough, cheese and chili.

Dough tube, cheese and chili.

At first I tried to wrap them into triangles, but that just looked deformed.

First a little cheese.
Then some chili.

My shapely dumplings leave something to be desired.
When I switched to folding over the rectangles of dough, that worked much better.  I believe that officially you are to separate the dough into triangles and then roll them up into the crescents, but in this case, I wanted to enclose more fillings, so I left them as rectangles.

The next ones I did rectangles - you can still see the perforations in the dough where it would be further divided into triangles.

A full pan!
I crowded eight of these bad boys onto our frying pan, which I had generously greased with some vegetable oil.

The pan before loading up with my pastries - lots of oil.  More than needed likely.
I popped them into the oven for twenty minutes at "around" four hundred Fahrenheit, and then just opened the oven door so they could stay warm until Mama got home.

Toasty, warm goodness!
Kenny, unsurprisingly, had his plain, but said he really liked them.

Mama ate two with loads of salsa slathered on top.

I spread mine with some Caesar salad dressing and generous dollops of green Tabasco, and it was excellent!

I doubt if these are really very close to an authentic empanada, but whatever they were - they were very tasty, and a great way to use up some leftovers!  I wonder what else I could stuff into them for future meals...  Or more importantly, would F! eat them?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Monday, February 11, 2019

Wildlife Update: 7 February, 2019 (Lynx)

I know you've already seen lynx pictures, but I felt that these were especially good.