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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Report Card: Year 1


Warm Season
Apr 1 to Oct 31
Cold Season
Nov 1 to Mar 31
Off-grid Solar
Backup Generator
Hot Water
Backup Tankless
Masonry heater
Passive Solar
In-floor Solar
Rainwater Cistern
Sawdust Toilet
A  / B+


I just did a report card inDecember.  Why another already?  In December we hadn’t really done winter.  Now we have.  And here in Minnesota, we never ever forget winter.  If we do, we die, recipient of a Darwin award. 


Also, we’re thrilled with the growing interest in Home the Land Built:  an article in the Star Tribune, visits by others on the journey, upcoming presentations at Midwest Mountaineering and REI, the conversation Linda is having right now with Jen, a freelance French TV journalist. Not only do we feel compelled to spread the good news about what is possible, but like the Shirtless Dancer at the concert, it feels good to know we’re not just lone nuts.  And these fellow dancers deserve to know what it feels like prancing around with our shirts off.  So here it is.


I believe that a report card is the beginning, not the end, of a conversation.   Since I released the last Report Card in December, this conversation concerns what we’ve learned about Cold Season performance.   To obtain the grades, Linda and I engaged in a (sometimes challenging) reflection.   Except for Humanure, our perceptions differed by no more than a third of a grade, e.g. A- / B+.    Being the tough teacher that I am, I’ve reported the lower of our two grades, so A- / B+ is reported as B+, excepting Humanure.  Alright, let’s get it over with:  on with the lowest grades.


But the lowest grade is only a B-?  I guess the first overall comment should be “this is amazing performance”.   Still, don’t we deserve a talking-to with ourselves?


Hot Water = B-.   OK.  I’ve beat the poor backup Bosch tankless to death.  No change here.  Fortunately, we barely use the backup now that the solar hot water has kicked into spring gear.


Water = B.  We were very impressed (and relieved) to finally discover we had 1800 gallons remaining in the cistern after 4 months without harvesting a single rain drop.  Yet the water situation is not as welcoming for guests as we’d like.  I must confess that my nephew once drank out of the forbidden tap rather than the Big Berkey filtered crock.  Why wouldn’t he, or anyone, drink from the tap?  A bigger challenge is communicating the scarcity of our winter water supply to guests so that they know not to over-consume.  We Minnesotans---with little awareness that water is actually not infinite---pretty much just let it gush.  Linda suggested we get a meter so guests can “see” how much water remains and better understand their impact.  It all comes back to the Right to Look.


Humanure = A / B+.    This is the only system Linda and I disagree on.  She just wouldn’t accept how right I am.  Two issues.  Linda expected less odor from the toilet and is concerned about how it handles large groups.  And she’s right.  No doubt there can be, and probably should be, some odor.   Part of the challenge is guests don’t always cover well.  Covering well requires one skill:  you must actually look at what you’ve produced.  Hmmm.  And large groups do require changing the bucket more often, approximately 1 bucket an hour for every 100 people.  Our difference in opinion comes down to how much these things bother us.  What better learning institute than a committed relationship?


Mindful that B grades reflect smiley face performance, now we can move on and pretty much brag about the two Cool Season A systems.


Electricity = A-.  What a rally in performance.  ALL due to a glitch in the software that tells us how much juice remains in the battery.   Since toggling one algorithmically-critical parameter, we haven’t been close to the “plug-in-the-generator-now” level of 50% capacity.  In fact, we haven’t sunk below 80%.  But since the change took place during the “sunny” half of winter, we won’t know until next December if the system deserves an A.    Still, we never dreamed off-grid electric could perform so well here in Minnesota.  It begs the question why all new homes don’t at least consider it?


Heating = A.   Actually I gave it an A+.   We both agreed that the house always felt toasty, often a t-shirt 72F, while cruising up to a swimwear 80F on the coldest of sunny days.   I awarded an A+ for the added wow factor.  Every night we LOVE sitting before the fire---sipping our favorite beverage---like camping in our own house.  It’s hard to argue with cozy, clean-burning, and virtually free heat.


Done with the individual systems, I feel compelled to confess how much Home the Land Built has influenced our grading.  For example, I asked Linda what grade she’d have given our old Minneapolis toilet.  At first she said C+.  One of them leaked a lot and they both plugged occasionally.   Yuck!  Then she said, “that’s the grade I would have given when I lived there but only because I couldn’t see the rest of the system.”  Since discovering that our flushed Humanure eventually made its way---even depositing pharmaceuticals---into the Mississippi, she would now give our old Minneapolis Humanure system an F.    The point is, in Minneapolis, we didn’t even know there was a system.  All we saw was a toilet.  All we heard was a flush.   Knowing what we know now, or what we think we know, every Minneapolis system would probably get an F.


Home the Land Built’s Right to Look principle enables a more true grade.   Like it or not, we see it all.  And how can anyone possibly produce a report card on anything unless they know---with their own eyes, ears, and even nose---whether they like it, ALL of it, or not?  So, I guess I’d like the final comment on the report card to read, “I’m proud of you.  You hide very little.  Whatever grade you've earned, at least you can be truly graded.” 

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