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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Alternative Home Builder: Week 31

Water!  Clear water streaming from the tap.  Such a simple pleasure.  I wonder what the plumber’s thought of my unabashed delight as I watched them turn on faucet after faucet.  Kitchen sink.  Bathroom sink.  Shower.  Tub.  Of course my mind, overly visual at times, saw the entire flowing stream, from the stainless-steel filter-head floating one foot below the top of the 5400 gallon concrete cistern, through the pump at the bottom of the cistern, out the cistern, under the floor, both our bedroom and dining room, then finally into the cellar and up the water pipe to the sink. 
I recalled the day, last November, when Excavator Steve and I stood in the cellar and threaded that blue plastic water pipe beneath the floor and into the cistern.   Unable to stop my imagination, it visualized an even bigger stream:  the flow of electricity from the solar panels down into the batteries, converted by the invertor into usable AC, then sent on down the line to the bottom of the cistern to the pump, the beating heart of our new water system.    I never knew I could feel such wonder, and terror, over electricity.  Would it work?  It sure did.  Even the plumbers seemed amazed at how the off-grid electric not only provided the big pump-starting surge each time a faucet handle was turned on, but they also noticed how the invertor kept claiming the batteries 100% full.  The hazy sun easily satisfied the hungry pump.    Busy as the plumbers were, fitting pipe after pipe, they couldn’t help but stop and ask me about the water.  Would it be safe to drink?  They weren’t asking about the water now splashing into the kitchen sink, courtesy of City of Plainview, but the soon to be harvested rainwater.  After my long explanation about first flush diverters and Big Berkey filters, I could only shrug,  “I think so.”  It will be another step, a huge step mind you, in this grand experiment we call House the Land Built.  Stay tuned!
We got water alright! 
Not only is H2O coursing through our in-floor heating tubes, but everywhere it seems. 
The ponds (overflowing), the ditches (running), our driveway (oozing, a happy soup for Mad Max monster trucks but my 4WD CRV nearly drowns).  Like the ponds, ditches and driveway, the in-floor water lacks one thing: heat.  49F reads the gage probing the inside of our “hot water” storage tank.   
While our pond isn’t apt to feel warm for a month or three, the hot water tank’s temperature probe may actually read hot (120F) in a day or three.  Tomorrow, if all goes all, we’ll supply the tank with solar generated heat.  I hope Solar Curt can make it happen.  I hope Solar Curt can make it down our driveway!
 Oh first wooly bear, are your bands an omen of winter to come?  Or do they remind of the gentle winter already ending?  Or are you just living the now, crawling behind the shed, being a caterpillar.  That’s me.  Or at least that was me yesterday.  There’s nothing like being completely consumed by activity to force my overly imaginative mind out the past and future, and into the now.   And yesterday was one big now.
Sunfrost fridge.  Super-dee-dooper energy efficient. 

Solar Hot Water.   Still muckin’.

Viking range.  The entire purpose of our new home is to provide adequate shelter for this six-burner gas stove.

Frigidaire washer.  I hope it uses as little water and electricity as that big label promises.

Rest Assured Mattress.  Since Dave, Murphy bed builder extraordinaire and the delivery guy were first, would you like to be 2nd on the Murphy bed?
Oh wooly bear, I hope you slept well.

When is a shed no longer a shed?  When it stores---top to bottom, back to front, left to right---the contents of your old house.    In the jungle heat of summer 2010, when Tom the Builder completed our tractor shed, it began as all others do:  empty, gloriously empty.  Not for long.
On another hot morning, June 11, 2011, just as the first open-housers entered the front door of 4140 Harriet,  my nephew Daniel slammed down the door of our 17’ U-haul, and we hit the road.  Two guys and a truck.  And half our house.  After a quick two hour heart to heart followed by two long hours of unloading---like doing Stairmaster with free weights at 110F---the hayloft was full.  Save a narrow box-free aisle down the middle, the hayloft was no longer a hayloft.     
And on an even hotter morning, Aug 1, 2011, what remained of 4140 joined it.   And what remained nearly killed us.  Furniture.  Freezer.  Tools.  The 20’ truck nearly spilled onto us when Daniel flung open the door.  Two hours later, 4140 had consumed the shed’s “lean-to”.  The shed was no longer a shed.     
Until yesterday.
As the sparkling new finishing touches enter House the Land Built (fridge, stove,  washer, mattress…), I carry in the old, the familiar.  I carry in 4140.  Faded blue wing chair.  Well-wrapped wine glasses.  Maple bookshelf, which had dutifully served  as our “shed kitchen”, providing us with only a 10 minute drive to retrieve that Corningware piece which our tiny cabin just couldn’t store.   While these dusty boxes are helping turn House the Land Built into Home the Land Built, I have a confession.  I’m at least as excited to see the walls of the shed again.  Kick the gravel floor.   Replace Corningware with grease gun.  And perhaps best of all, open the end doors of the hayloft and feel the cool air, cold actually, moving freely.  Unimpeded.
Not totally unimpeded.  Much remains.  Boxes of books, lot of books.  Framed art, even a couple treasures.   DVDs.  CDs.  Cassettes.  Turntable and associated vinyl (Moody Blues,  A Question of Balance--can’t wait!). 
When is shed again a shed?  Soon I hope.  Very soon.
“You can do solar hot water.  It’s just plumbing.”   I’ll never forget those home-spun words of DIY encouragement, spoken by an early trailblazer as he generously toured Linda and I through his alternative home.  Yup, there’s the solar panels on his roof.  Yup, there’s the pipes leading up and down from his house.  Just plumbing.  Even then, I remember thinking, “OK then, I’m not doing that.”  I can’t plumb. 
And now, as I’ve painfully discovered this week, neither can Solar Curt.  At least not at the level I’ve come to appreciate watching Plumber Kirk and his oh so skilled crew.  Through no lack of effort on Curt’s part, House the Land Build still lacks solar hot water.  To the project, it means we’ll use LP gas to heat our kitchen and bath water for now and no heat in our concrete floor, still struggling to rise above 50F.  Such a shame.  Yesterday morning, at a chilly 18F, the sun beamed strong enough to turn our bare yard into cleat-clogging mud.  I could only imagine what it could have done to water.    And imagine is what I’ll do now, until Solar Curt returns from his weeklong vacation.  Diligent and smart, he’ll get it done.  Eventually.  And one day, as you’re lying there on our solar warmed floor, if you say something like “It’s just plumbing”, you’ll know what I mean by my reply.  “Exactly!”


  1. What an exciting day seeing the water flow. Congrats on your part in making that happen.

  2. Changing the way in which you go about remodelling your kitchen countertops is one of the best ways in which you can save money without sacrificing the finished look of the room.