Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Solar Hot Water

I had a long conversation with a technician from a company called Houseneeds based in Waitsfield, VT. Using our solar hot water system as a back-up heating system tied into the slab is entirely possible. If we were going to try to do the same thing as a primary heat source, that wouldn't be the way to go about it. But if we only want to use it while we're not there to light the woodstove, it would be a low cost way to get an additional boost from solar instead of falling back on propane to do the job. The whole system, not including installation, would run about $8000. The state renewable energy rebate and addtional federal tax credit might bring that to around $6000.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ready for Winter

Here are some pictures taken with the cell phone just before I left for Block Island. I'm not planning on making this a life-on-the-island blog, but there may be some planning going on between now and May and I'll post that.

The first thing on the agenda when we return will be to pour the floor, and I've been thinking about incorporating the back-up heating system into the floor with the solar hot water system as a heat source. So, for example, if the house is empty in the middle of January, we can convert the solar hot water system to heat the slab instead of water. I've been going back and forth on the merits of heating the slab and had all but decided that it was overkill. My argument goes something like this: The house is designed to be passive solar and the primary source of heat to supplement solar gain is a wood stove. On a stormy day in January we fire up the wood stove. Heating the slab with propane was out of the question, and heating the slab with a solar system didn't make sense because the space would already be heated passively on any day that the sun would be capable of heating the slab. Why spend the money on a system that would over heat the house? The only problem with relying on a wood stove is that it only works when you're there to put wood in it. I had thought that back-up heat would come from one of the standard propane heaters vented to an outside wall. We would need two, one for the main part of the house and a very small one for the utility room. We were looking at spending about $1800 on the heater for the main part of the house. But if we run tubing through the slab and use the solar hot water system to heat the slab when we're not around to use the wood stove, we'd spend about the same amount of money and in the end the back-up system would be less reliant on propane. That's the real issue. I want the house to use as little propane as possible.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Move

I got on the Block Island ferry this afternoon and surprised the family by showing up a day early. The house is Sedgwick is ready for winter. A 15 cubic foot chest freezer is humming away in the utility room waiting to be filled with pork. Everything that needs to be is out of the weather. I'm looking forward to May to get going again.

For those who don't know, our phone number, the same one we've had for seven years, has been transferred to a cell phone, and our address on the island is: PO Box 744, Block Island, RI 02807

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wrapping Up

I'm sitting in Molly and Eric's kitchen having another beer. The computer I usually write on is on Block Island. I've stayed behind to move all our stuff into our shell of a house. I'm in that awkward in between stage. The rental house is devoid of furniture, empty of everything except a few pots and pans and all the stuff I'm taking to the island. I slept in the utility room with our cat, Ox, last night, (Ox will be spending the winter with Molly, Eric and Cyrus.) and I'll sleep there until I head south. I have to over-winter what's left of my oysters tomorrow. After that there's not much else but to clean the rental. I should out of here by Wednesday or Thursday. I'll try to take some pictures using our new phone and post them when I get to the island.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Crisis Hits Home

One day after I said that the current liquidity crisis would not impact me, I got a phone call from Block Island. My friend Richard does not generally pick up the phone just to say hello. Before I called him back, I wondered to Michelle whether some of his work had fallen through. My hunch was correct. Feeling very bad about it, Richard said that one year of work had shrunk to three months. (Michelle, Chloe and Hazel were scheduled to leave for the island in just a few days.) His clients were having trouble coming up with the money to pay for work already completed; continuation of these projects simply, abruptly stopped. What could be done under the circumstances? Not much. In situations like this I am likely to change course just as abruptly. A canoe pulling a u-turn and heading home when it looks like it's about to storm. Michelle's reaction, on the other hand, is like turning around an aircraft carrier. Though she hadn't left Maine, she was already on Block Island. Turning around was an option of last resort. In other words, get some names, make some phone calls, and see about other work. I gave her my silver lining argument: Way back in May we thought a winter on the island would be a good way to replenish our coffers after spending all our house building funds. We don't want to borrow money to build this house. (Not that we could at this point, anyway.) But, since we're so far behind in the process, we haven't spent nearly as much as we thought we would. With $50,000 still in the bank I could work on the house all winter, and we'd be in a better position come next summer. Of course, the problem with my scenario is that we'd run out of money by the end of winter or shortly after. Working on Block Island would give us a quick infusion of the money we need to finish. So, the aircraft carrier is still headed on a course for Old Harbor. I made some phone calls, and it looks like I can work for someone else. We're not going to worry about it. In the end we're fine. Our rule of living (and building) within our means has put us in an enviable position. In the end our wealth will be wrapped up in a beautiful house we built ourselves. Debt free.

I started insulating the utility room yesterday. When I return from yet another Keyo wedding down south, I'll put up drywall, install a door and move all our stuff into it. This will be a good test of my insulating plan. I bought a couple sheets of 3/4 inch foil faced rigid insulation and ran them through the table saw to create strips 1.5 inches wide. After insulating with the fiberglass and putting up a vapor barrier, I tacked these strips to the studs. This will create a thermal break to the outside. To make that thermal break even more efficient, I'm going to put full sheets of the same insulation on the outside creating a wall with an R-value approaching 30.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Roof on Posts

The posts finally came. Freshly milled spruce 6x6. The 4x4's I'd originally ordered were sent back. Visually, I thought the 4x4's too insubstantial. The 6x6's, on the other hand, seem a little on the bulky side. Maybe I should have given them more space between posts. As it is, the spacing is irregular because we had to work around the buried electrical lines. Well, I wanted the posts to convey strength and they certainly do that.

It's just before 6am and it's dark and raining outside. It's supposed to clear up around noon. I figure that I have 2-3 more days on the shed roof to completion, and the rest of the week looks dry and sunny.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Shed roof, closing up house

Beginning of shed roof addition.

Posts for screened porch

Garden, nicely tilled by Rudy