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Big Hairy Deal

It’s been a while since my last post. Since then I have run into some laptop issues where my charging cord will no longer charge the battery in my laptop. It runs fine off the battery, but I can’t charge it. Fortunately, Kat and I have the same laptop so she can be charging a battery while I’m using one. As a result of this, I have greatly reduced my computing time, in general, which also means fewer blog posts.

We’ve been here and there this summer, doing some house sitting in the city a number of weeks. We’ve also been helping some friends with a construction project. On top of all that we’re working on getting our own projects completed and now that September is here, it’s important to get these things done while it’s still warm. The biggest task is finishing our firewood processing. Fortunately, we shouldn’t have much more to do on that front.

Kat had some nice looking flowers come up in her flower garden over the summer months and I managed to snap a few pictures so I thought I would include those here. We’ll start with the irises.

Next are the fox gloves.

Finally, we have the day lilies.

We do still have a few day lilies, but they’re on their way out now.

Some other things we have on the go are: working on putting up some eaves trough so we can catch rainwater much easier (that’s about half done) and, of course, building that kitchen pantry we’ve wanted for the last three years.

In other news, side-by-side kittens on the bed.

Now we get to the really exciting part. I bet you’re wondering why I chose the title I did as it doesn’t seem to have any relevance to the text. Well, here is where that is explained. Just scroll down.


















Now, if you don’t know me, that picture won’t seem very interesting. If you do know me you’re probably exclaiming right now, “HOLY #$@$@!!! DAVE CUT HIS HAIR!!!” Yes, after twenty-nine (that’s 29) years I felt it was time for a change. I had one friend ask me, “How many years did you get rid of?” You can think of it as letting go of the past.

It’s time to move on to bigger and better things, not to mention that my shower time is waaayyy shorter now. 😀


Solar battery maintenance

It’s the middle of the summer and what better time to talk about off-grid solar power. The days are long and the sun is bright. Lots of power to harvest for sure. However, you are never running anything directly off the solar panels. All of that incoming power is stored in your batteries. The power you use always comes from the batteries. If it is bright and sunny, you can use a lot of power before your batteries will start to drop.

Typical batteries used for off-grid systems are of the flooded lead-acid variety and these do require maintenance. How often they need it is dependent on usage; we use our system everyday. If you have a summer cottage and are only there for few weeks during the year, you can do maintenance less often.

The main form of maintenance involves adding distilled water to the batteries’ cells. We’ll talk about that in a minute. The first maintenance I want to talk about, which is less common, is keeping things clean.

As you can see from this first picture, the terminals where the cables are connected have large amounts of blue corrosion. This needs to be cleaned as corrosion increases the resistance in the circuit and this is bad when you are trying to maintain a certain level of voltage to your system. In this case, I hadn’t cleaned the terminals since we had initially installed it, which is almost three years.

There are anti-corrosion compounds you can get, and I did get some for this job, but I should have obtained some shortly after doing the initial install. That ended up being on of those things that got pushed way down on the to-do list apparently.

In any event, armed with my battery terminal cleaning spray, steel wool, a rag and a screw driver, I scraped and scrubbed, polished and rubbed until the copper was once again visible on the terminal cables.

I should mention that is highly recommended that you shut off all main breakers in your system before attempting this. Additionally, you need to be very aware of what you are doing. Closing the circuit across the terminals on the same battery probably won’t do you much harm (it’s only 6 volts), but it will kill your battery really fast. If you still have all of your batteries connected together and managed to short-circuit them (in my case, that’s 8 batteries at 6 volts each, adding up to 48 volts) that not only will probably cause a fire, but it is enough to give you a really serious health risking jolt. Be careful.

Take your time, don’t be rushed and pay attention to what you are doing. Simple enough. After you’re all done, it should look something like this.

Now we’re going to talk about the regular maintenance, the one I do once a month: topping up the cells with distilled water. For this job, we’re going to need a few things to make our job easier.

First, of course, is the distilled water.

This is a 4L (slightly more than 1 US gallon) jug. This time of year, in the middle of summer, I can go through almost a full jug with one refill. During the winter, that same jug will last 3 fillings. The batteries are much more active during the summer and they don’t like the cold.

Incidentally, I should mention the sound the batteries make. This isn’t something one thinks about a whole lot when thinking about batteries and solar power. If your batteries are doing well (and it’s not below freezing) you will hear lots of pops and fizzles, kinda like a cross between a low simmer on the stove and the sounds a healthy horse’s gut makes. If you don’t know what that sounds like, I’m sure youtube can help you.

Moving on in our tool list we have an empty, well cleaned yogurt container.

Next up is one of these fancy thinga-ma-jigs. It’s actually a hydrometer and it measures the density, or specific gravity, of liquids. In this case, this one is intended for testing flooded lead-acid batteries. You can also get hydrometers that test how much alcohol is in your wine and beer, for all those wanting to start their own home brewing.

Last, but not least, a working noggin lamp. Some people just call them head lamps. To each their own.

The head lamp is essential because you’re going to have both of your hands busy and you’re going to need some light to look into the cells of the batteries.

The process is really quite straight-forward. I fill the yogurt container with distilled water. I use the hydrometer to suck up a bulb’s worth of water and gently squirt it into each of the cells until they are full. Nothing too complicated, but I’ll give you some justifications for using this method.

First of all, having the distilled water in the yogurt container and not in the jug just makes it easier to fill the hydrometer. Leaving the water in the jug and trying to suck the water out of it directly just becomes more of a pain the more empty the jug becomes.

You could use a funnel and just pour the water into each cell, but then you’re going to have to stop a lot, pulling the funnel out each time to see if it’s full. You don’t want to overfill it. Using the hydrometer allows you to have great control over how fast you are filling the cell and, with the use of the noggin lamp, shows you how much is in the cell at any given moment.

Here is a close-up picture of one of the battery cells open.

From that picture, you can’t really tell how full it is. The bubbles help a bit, but I tell you now, it’s not much easier when you’re actually doing it. So, how do you know when it’s full? Good question.

If you look at the opening of the cell, it has around 2cm (3/4″) of plastic forming a cylinder down to the liquid, with a vertical cut in it. You can see that in the picture above.

The way I have been filling my batteries, I do it until the water just kisses the bottom of the plastic. This way I can easily see when I’m done and I don’t need to sit there trying to judge if it’s actually 3mm (1/8″) from the top, which is next to impossible.

I did take pictures of a full cell, but they all turned out blurry, unfortunately. I included one anyway, as you can still see how the water is just touching the bottom of the cell’s opening.

You also may be wondering about that hydrometer. It’s main purpose isn’t to fill the cells; it’s for testing the health of your batteries. If you suck up regular water with the hydrometer, the little arrow indicator will be at the bottom.

Ironically, pointing at the “water” setting. If, on the other hand, you suck up the liquid from the battery’s cell, it might look something like this:

My charge controller said the batteries were at about 96% when I took this reading so that matches. I will mention that this type of hydrometer isn’t the most trustworthy as all it is, is a float inside the plastic housing; not super accurate for sure. However, what you really want to check is consistency across cells in the same battery and across the batteries as well. If you test all of the cells and you find one that is way off compared to the others, then something is up with that battery. It’s usually best to test your batteries when the charge controller says they are at 100% so you know they should all be full. Also, don’t do your cell testing after you just added more water to them, as the readings will be off. Do your testing first, then start adding more water.

That’s the end of our lesson for today, boys and girls. You can now all be happy battery maintenance experts.

Martin Earthship Final Course Of Tires

I thought it had been quite a while since we had a nice meaty earthship post, so this one should make up for that. On Saturday morning (Jun 22nd) we headed over to the Martin earthship to help out with their final course of tires. We have been there a few times before, helping out with tires and pack-out, but we missed all of last year and they have made really good progress since we last visited.

In fact, they’re almost finished their last course of tires, so they organized a “Last Tire” volunteer day.

This was the site that greeted us when we arrived. You can see the tire walls are quite high now.

Here is a closer look. You can count nine courses of tires there, which is the total number that they need. Alas, not all of the tires for the last course had been completed, so that’s where we came in.

This is a small cold storage room they added to their design. They painted the tires so people could sign their names on them, those of us who have come by to help out.

The short wall in the front is also complete. That’s the wall the south facing glass is going to sit on.

Going around the back, you can see where they have started their thermal wrap. That will eventually be brought up to the height of the wall and incorporated into the berm.

They have also acquired four large cisterns which will also need to be put in place at the back. These will also be buried by the berm and will hold all of the water that will be caught off the roof.

Standing up above, this shot looks into what will be the interior of the earthship. There is Kat in her pink Earthship Academy t-shirt looking on.

This was a divider wall and was where we were working. Kat decided to get up on the wall and just start pounding tires.

Here you can see her in action.

At some point early on, I was caught stuffing cardboard into tires that were to be filled.

Unfortunately we were only able to stay there for the morning as we had other obligations in the afternoon. And despite all of the incessant chatting (cause, ya know, you can’t get a bunch of earthshippers together without there being lots to talk about) we did get about 3.5 tires filled and pounded. We also got to meet some people who were interested in building an earthship and another couple who already have and have been living in it for about eight years now. It’s always great to go out to these volunteer days just to meet and talk with like minded people.

After the last course of tires, there comes some concrete work for the bond beam and then they will start framing it for the glass. Congratulations to Jay and Erin for finishing the tires and moving on to the next stage. Perhaps if they have another volunteer day this summer we might head down again.

Spring 2019

It has been quite a while since I last posted, I do realize. Over two months this time. Two months ago we were still buried in snow. That has changed now, thank goodness. Let me tell you about it.

Back at the end of March we got ourselves a new toy to improve our lives.

This is a Berkey water filter. Previously, we were buying large bottles of spring water from the store for drinking purposes. Now, with this new doodad, we can just pour rain water in it and fill our glasses from the spout, so no more buying water. Just don’t be in a big hurry for a drink if you just filled it. The filtering process can take quite a long time. We’re talking hours here, not minutes.

Moving forward, April 10th turned out to be a really nice day so we took some pictures.

Yup, still lots of snow.

The sun was out in full strength though, which our solar panels loved. We still had quite the pile of snow up against the plastic shield at that point.

Here are some random sunshine-in-a-snowy-forest pictures.

After a bit of digging, I found the drain pipe for our pond. Here you can sort of see it with a tiny bit of snow across it’s rim.

More snow and forest. Pond too, but you can’t really see that for the snow.

Remember that picture from back in the previous post with the bench buried under the snow? Well, on the 16th of April it looked like this.

We were out snowshoeing that day. It doesn’t look like there is much snow there by the bench, but just behind me there was plenty.

Apparently there was a crazy Kat lady behind me as well. The next one is a picture of where the Earthship will be.

So yeah, April is always a big transition month for us. Easter was in late April this year and we rented a car and drove out to PEI to surprise my Mom and Step-Father for their birthdays. That trip went quite well, but it rained a lot going there and on the way back. Fortunately, we got back before they closed large portions of the highway due to flooding.

Unfortunately, this meant that when we got back home we had another trench through our driveway.

Seeing as we already had the trench dug, we decided to put in a second emergency drain going through there for when the water gets too high. This project was another one of those use-what-you-have-on-hand kind of things. I happened to have some 4″ (10cm) PVC pipe lying around gathering dust so I glued them together to make a long pipe.

I added the tape because one of my pipe joiners was a bit cracked. I’m not super concerned about it leaking, as it’s just going to go in the ground.

Anyway, I put the pipe in the trench and started to bury it. I also had some pieces of 2×10 lying around that I put over the pipe after I had filled in around it to try and give it a bit more resilience. It’s not perfect by any means, but hopefully it will prevent the pipe from being crushed if a heavy vehicle drives over it.

Here you can see it all filled in with dirt.

After I finished that part, Kat came out and gathered some of the gravel that had been washed down the ditch and used it to cover the dirt. It has been driven over quite a bit since then and we haven’t had any issues. Hopefully it will do the trick.

Obviously with all of that rain while we were away, most of the snow that was left had melted so it was time to take the shield down from the the front of the trailer.

We just roll it up and keep it in place with some bungee cords. This makes it easy to reinstall in the fall.

This is what it looked like down our driveway near the end of April.

As mentioned previously, our truck died and we were looking for a new one. Well, after roughly seven weeks of searching, we finally ended up with this.

Yup, it’s a big red truck. In case you’re wondering it’s a 2008 Dodge Ram and it had about 328,000km on it. We were on a limited budget so it’s difficult to find a perfect vehicle. We thought this one was pretty decent for what we paid, which is why we have it. It drives and feels quite a bit different than the old GMC, but I’m sure we’ll get used to it.

We’re well into May now and we’ve had the usual frantic bird activity at our feeder this spring. The humming birds have been back for a while too. You know when they show up because they hover right in front of our big window wondering where the hummingbird feeder is.

Speaking of said hummingbird feeder, some of the larger birds get a bit confused.

That’s a rose breasted grosbeak trying to figure out how to get the feeder to dispense some goodness. Unless he can drink through that red patch on his chest, I don’t think it’s gonna work out.

Now that we have a truck again, spring time firewood processing has started. We have borrowed a chainsaw from a friend due to the fact that the recoil spring on mine broke while we were doing our initial harvest. It is smaller and only has a 16″ (40cm) bar on it so we got Kat suited up and we cut up all of the stuff that we dragged out of the forest.

As of today, the full brunt of black flies and mosquitoes has yet to arrive. That will likely change this week as we are expecting some warmer weather. We have been having fairly cool evenings which helps to keep the bugs away, but it only lasts so long.

Well, now you know what is going on, for the most part. I don’t have any news to share yet on the job front, but some opportunities have been coming my way so something is bound to happen soon.

I will leave you with this lovely picture of the daffodils we have in our garden.