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Friday, March 30, 2012

Home the Land Built: Week 2

The experiment is ON.    While this whole thing---this rainwater harvest, off-grid electric, solar hot water, masonry heated, composting toilet...alternative home---has been one big, bad experiment, the results really didn’t count until now; now that we’re living in it.    So far I can honestly say that everything is going as expected, that is, absolutely nothing, not one single alternative system, is working as hoped.  The masonry heater experienced the perfect storm of challenges. 
*****Geek WARNING!!!!  If, unlike me, you have no inner geek whatsoever, stop reading NOW.  If you choose to continue reading, don’t say you weren’t warned.  End warning*****.     The perfect storms collided like this.  I hadn’t fired the masonry heater since we moved in; with so many sunny 70 degree days, who needs it?  So the masonry was cold, cold, cold and it takes at least two days, lighting a series of small “break-in” fires to get it heated up again.  We were out of town Saturday until late Sunday, so I couldn’t fire the heater until Sunday night.  The concrete floor is still relatively cold since the in-floor heat is just now working, maybe.   The forecast high for today, Monday, was 45F.   The upshot is this:  by Friday, when the 45F temperature forecast came in, I knew I was screwed.  “It’ll be like camping,” I told Linda.  In the end, even though today’s outside temperature has yet to climb above 40F,  it hasn’t been too bad.  I’ve managed to keep the living room at 66F, thanks mostly to serious insulation, including our R5.5 Serious windows.  I lit the first small “break-in” fire last night soon as we arrived:  a puny, smoldering wisp of a thing resembling a campfire of wet wood.  Even today’s third and final fire required an inelegant, open-the-door-quick, smoke-in-the-house lighting rescue.  But it’s going.   And frankly, Linda hasn’t complained once about feeling a chill.  Then again, she spent much of the day cleaning the old tiny cabin, where 70F always feels drafty and our house never, ever feels drafty.  Fact of the matter is, I had a blast!  I’d missed the masonry heater and enjoyed crafting my log cabin style fire with the kindling-on-top (called the top down or upside-down fire method if you want to YouTube it).  I hope Linda doesn’t get too frightened when she learns how much fun I had; she’ll accuse me of creating failures just to work my way out of them.  Hmmm.  So, maybe I was wrong.  Maybe everything is working like I hoped it would; that is, maybe nothing is working like I hoped it would.

 Today I lived the ‘Home the Land Built’ life.  Almost.   Every half hour, from 9:30AM to 7:00PM, I searched for the cause of the dripping tankless hot water heater, recording potential X’s on a spreadsheet, graphing the results, from which, in the end, I learned nothing.   

I know, I know, what could be more fun than a line plot in Excel?  Yet still something was missing.  As for the 25 minutes or so between data acquisition sessions, I spent those atop the Poet’s Tower, or at least Amelan, my novel’s protagonist, did in an effort to finish his final scene.  I keep telling him we’ve got to finish by Easter, but he keeps saying, “but wait, there’s more!”  Drat those characters!  Whose story is this anyway?   His I’ve learned, and the story, especially this new ending, get better and better as I get out the way.
I know, I know, what could be more fun than being told what to do by a fictional character?    Yet still something was missing.
Supper!  Ah the harmony, they synergy, the symphony of food here on the Land.  Steaming on back of the stove:  wild greens picked in five minutes within 100 feet of the house.   Stinging nettles.  Curly dock.  Dandelion.   Sautéing in front:  root vegetables from the Dietz’s, dear neighbors and organic growers.    Stirred together with plenty of Hope Creamery butter, snowed on with parmesan cheese.   Supper doesn’t get much better, especially with a cup of honey drenched nettles tea steaming alongside. 
I know, I know, what could be more fun than feasting on plants pincushioned with stingers?  Yet still something was missing.
And that something is you. 

What is the source of abundance?  I’m not sure, but Home the Land Built was designed and constructed to engage this question, this question of primal importance.    Today the Home sprouted one little bud of an answer:  diversity.  Thanks to diversity, I bathed in the luxuriously warm waters of abundance.   Literally.   Today, for the first time, Home the Land Built heated herself with all three heat sources:  masonry heater (wood), in-floor (active solar hot water), windows (passive solar).  While the masonry heater and passive solar have been doing their job since December, the in-floor, dependent on the active solar hot water system, cranked up today.  Such an exciting moment.  Taking a break from writing my novel, I wandered down the cellar.  For a windowless, subterranean hole, the cellar is an exciting place when the sun is shining.  In fact, when I’m down there, I can tell you exactly how much sun is up there.  By reading gauges, yes, but also now by listening.   In this case, a gauge told me to start listening.   The hot water storage tank, fed 175.2F heat by the solar panels, now read 144F. 
I’d programmed the in-floor pump to start when the hot water storage tank exceeds 140F, using the excess hot water---more than we could ever use for bathing and dishes---to heat the concrete floor and thus our house.  I waited, listened, waited some more.  Nothing.  I ran up the steps.  Adjusted the in-floor thermostat.  Ran down the stairs and then…and then…click!  Whir!  The sound of a pump!  The in-floor heat pump!  Pulsing water into our floor.  And the solar panels, still sucking up heat from the sun, out-produced it.  When the hot water storage tank climbed above 150F there was only one thing I could do.  Take a shower.  A 10 minute plus long,  luxuriously warm shower.  Ahhh!!!  And when, finally, I was done with that, and shaving, and doing dishes, the tank still read 153F.  And the in-floor pump still filled the floor with hot water warmth. 
And the windows still bathed the floor with direct sunlight warmth. 
And the masonry heater still radiated wood warmth, from a fire I’d built seven hours earlier.  The living room thermostat read 73F.  I opened windows.  Inhaled the fresh air of the Land.  Now that’s abundance.  Did I get that right, Home the Land Built?

The blogger, overdosing on newness and dangerously low on familiarity, harvested the abundance of his old Minneapolis haunts:  soul-engaging Pink Flower lunch with Heather and Kim dearest of former Medtronic co-workers, gooey Salty Caramel ice cream cone from Sebastian Joe’s, teeth-ripping duck jerky from Clancey’s Meats, on demand organic peanut butter from Linden Hills Coop, a butter-slathered fist-sized sample of mushroom-swiss cheese bread from Great Harvest.  Finally, buzzing from Anusara Yoga with Monica and his kula at Judson Church, and knowing that if he stayed one minute longer he’d stay for a year,he pointed the Prius southeast and said “home”.    

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