Tag Archives: sunshine

Getting back outside

It’s the start of May now and things have warmed up considerably since my last post. April was all over the place in terms of the weather. The last you heard from us we had just had a big snow storm. I took those pictures on a Friday morning as we were clearing the fallen trees from our driveway.

The next day we woke up to full sunshine and it was quite warm. Everything started to melt. This is what it looked like in the morning.

By 16:00 that day, there wasn’t a tree left that had any snow on it. Sunday was nice a sunny too and by the end of that day, the driveway was clear of snow, though still mushy. The following day, on Monday, we hit 24C (75F) and it was really humid. We had a huge thunderstorm in the afternoon too, with some really loud thunder and close lightning strikes. So in the space of five days, we went from heavy snow fall to serious thunderstorm.

With all of that snow and rain, things have not been dry around here. In fact, all sources of water in the area have exceeded their banks and there is a lot of flooding. Fortunately, most of it is flooding the forest. There are a few cases of people who are near the York river who are having difficulties.

This reminds us of spring 2014 when we first came to look at the property. The other pond we have at the top of the hill was over flowing. Don’t remember the picture? Well, here is what it looked like back then.

As a way of comparison, here is what it looked like on April 26th.

That’s really close to the 2014 level. I should add that we just had a huge rain storm that lasted two days straight. We haven’t been back up to the top of the hill, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the upper pond has now exceeded the 2014 level. I say this because, despite having a drain pipe under the driveway for the pond we have beside it, we had enough rain to wash out part of our driveway.

The drain pipe couldn’t keep up fast enough and the water just rushed over the driveway. I’m sure there will be another load of gravel in our near future.

Going back a bit to April 18th, it had dropped below freezing the previous night and the pond beside the driveway had a thin layer of ice on it. It looked pretty spectacular so, of course, we had to take some pictures.

Needless to say, we have had some really nice weather, and some really wet weather in April. We have been trying to get out as much as we can to work on important projects outside before the bugs arrive. The project with the highest priority right now is firewood processing for next winter.

Last week we had a good run of clear weather so we were able to get out many days in a row. Unfortunately, a bunch of our time was spent clearing fallen saplings from the roadway up to the top of the hill. We did get some trees cut for firewood though.

We started off with that small pile. Anything big I buck up on site and the smaller branches we just haul back and use the saw buck I made last year to make it easier to cut. It sure saves the back using the saw buck.

Another day, and more wood. I split some of it by hand. The cherry is pretty easy, but I leave most of the elm as it is painful to split by hand. All of it is dead already, which makes splitting it much easier than if we were trying to split live wood by hand.

We cleared out the middle section of our wood storage at the back of the trailer and this is where we are piling the newly harvested wood.

It’s not a lot yet, but it’s better than nothing. We’re hoping that things will dry up this week so we can get back out and do some more.

When we aren’t processing firewood or working on other projects, Kat and I like to take walks down our road. Kat uses this opportunity to pick up all of the dang garbage that people throw out their vehicle windows. We live on a very quiet road, but that doesn’t seem to stop people from polluting it. We’ve gathered several large garbage bags worth of things people have tossed away, most of it is beer cans.

There are some nice things to see while we’re out walking too. Like some pussy willows we found growing beside the road.

You have to take advantage of pussy willows pretty quickly as they turn into fuzzy tree buds soon after they appear. Yes the buds are all out on the trees now and some are even starting to sprout a few tiny leaves.

Soon everything will be exploding with colours. The leaves will be out in full force and the flowers will be in bloom. Heck, even Kat is looking really awesome in her spring colours.

She doesn’t tweet as nicely as some of the birds we have hanging around our place, but she sure is nice to look at.

It’s always good to end with a smile 😀

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The Beauty Of Winter

Well, here we are in January 2017. A new year has come and there is much to do. Unfortunately, we don’t generally get a whole lot done on our building projects during this time. The weather greatly reduces your willingness to work outside.

That being said, the weather has been rather interesting this year so far. It’s only January 5th, and we’ve seen quite the gamut of weather activities. I have pictures for your viewing pleasure too.

Let’s start off with January 2nd, which was a rather spectacular day. It was bright and sunny, not too cold. Kat and I decided we should take advantage of this and go for a walk through our forest. We strapped on our trusty snow shoes and ventured forth.

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The picture above I have shown numerous times in different seasons and weather. This is the road that will eventually become our real driveway up to the top of the hill where we plan to build the Earthship.

We headed up the hill and we were quickly reminded what it is like to break fresh trail in powder with snow shoes… up hill. We made our way to the top, stopping every so often to enjoy the view of the sun on the snow and examine several sets of animal tracks that we came across.

We reached the top of the hill, where we have a little meadow with a pond and I suddenly realized that my phone was no longer in my pocket. After a moment’s panic, I retraced my steps and found it sticking out of the snow.

With phone recovered, I snapped this next picture of the pond with some rabbit tracks crossing it.

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The fields of snow in the meadow in the sunshine were quite lovely.

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Here is a lone spruce tree looking very Christmas-y.

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On our way back down, I took this picture of the sunshine in the forest.

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All in all, a very good time. The sky was pure blue that day, which is rare this time of year.

It did not last either. That evening, the clouds rolled in, the temperature actually rose and we received a dumping of ice rain that night, so when we woke up the next day, everything was coated. I don’t know if you have ever experienced ice rain, but it does things like this.

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The ever green trees get it even worse.

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This is what it does to your vehicle.

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And your bird feeder.

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It does make everything glisten like crystalline glass.

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It would look even more awesome if the sun had been out, but alas, that was not the case.

Oh, we’re not done either. It rained more that day as well, then the temperature dropped that evening and it snowed. So, imagine what wet iced tree branches do when they get snowed on. Actually, you don’t need to imagine, I can show you.

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Those are the same branches shown above, but with snow added on top of the ice. Here also is a picture of that same spruce tree from above, but now also covered in ice and snow.

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Needless to say, it was mighty beautiful. I walked all around taking several pictures, trying to take it all in.

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Beautiful though it may look, it is really hard on the trees.

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There were a lot of trees that were bent over or broken, or large branches having fallen off. I’m sure there will be a lot of trees killed by this. It is both beautiful and deadly to behold.

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The big white birch behind the trailer looks mighty awesome, I must say.

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Same road as before, but frosted white now.

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So that was yesterday, but the fun doesn’t stop there. It snowed some more last night. But as luck would have it, for a while this morning the sun was out and I ran outside with my phone to capture some yet even more amazing shots.

Sunshine through the trees.

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Sunshine on the snow drifts.

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It all lights up so wonderfully in the sun.

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I really like this last one. Lower branches not in the sun with ones that are above them.

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The weather here has not stopped. The temperature just keeps going up and down like a sine wave. Here is a shot of our weather forecast for tonight and the following days.

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It’s almost like a Katy Perry song.

Autumn 2016 Colour Extravaganza!

Yes, it is that time of year: Autumn. This is a great time of year. It’s still warm enough you don’t need heavy coats and boots. On sunny days you can go outside in just a t-shirt and you won’t get eaten by bugs.

Oh yeah, and the colours. This is the time of year when the trees turn all sorts of lovely shades of red orange and yellow and various mixes there between. I’ve been taking some pictures so I can share this experience with you. Be fore warned, there are a lot of pictures.

First, let’s start with a little progression.

See this tree in the middle? Keep your eyes on it. This picture was taken Sep 20th, 2016.

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Next is on Sep 30th, 2016.

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This one on Oct 2nd, 2016.

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Finally, this one is from today, Oct 4th, 2016.

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Here is a wider shot so you can put it into perspective. The tree in question is above and to the right of the solar panels.

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The next set of pictures are random wanderings around the property. I’m not going to comment on them all, so just enjoy.

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The next bunch are some close-ups I took.

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Found this little guy growing on a stump and I couldn’t not take a picture of it.

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These last few pictures are either from our road, or fairly close by.

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As you can see, not all of the trees have changed yet. If you wait until all of the trees have changed colour, you will miss out on some of the early colours. Very rare indeed is the year when the vast majority of trees all change at the same time. You need to take advantage of the scenery while it is here.

We’re lovin’ the sun

A few posts back, I showed you this picture…

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… as a hint of things to come.

Well, things have come.

While Kat has been working hard on tearing out the interior of the trailer, I have been working on getting the solar array up and going. We bought the system back in the Autumn of 2014 and we are just now getting to hooking it up.

With the help of our good friend Andres, who happens to be an electrician, we went over all of the components one day in mid August, and then we went out and bought a whole bunch of little fiddly bits that he needed to get the job done correctly.

One of those fiddly bits was a grounding plate.

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This is a big plate of solid metal that you bury in the ground and run a large gage wire (#6) from it to your electrical box. This provides proper grounding to all of your electrical system. This is especially important if you get hit with lightning. ZAP!!

Here is the picture of the hole I dug for it and the trench for the wire. The plate needs to be at least 60cm (24″) underground.

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In addition to the electrical stuff, I also had to buy some stuff to make a rack for the solar panels. I chose to use these things.

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I’m sure they have an official name, but I don’t know what it is. They’re L shaped pieces of heavy gage metal with holes all along them. The holes make it convenient to connect them together.

I cut some pieces and bolted them together. Then I painted them with rust-proof paint so they will last longer in the weather. Then I started to haul them up and attach them to the roof over the trailer.

Here is the very start.

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I chose a spot on the roof along a screw-line so I knew there was something to connect to. I also reinforced the wood strapping underneath the roof, with a much larger piece of wood, and then drilled holes through it so I could bolt the metal rack supports I had built through it.

It seemed to work just fine, though I had a heck of a time climbing up and down the ladder, going back and forth from under the roof to on top of it. Oh, and I had to remove a hornet’s nest the size of a volleyball to be able to do the work under the roof. Nothing a little late night spraying couldn’t fix.

Here is the shot of the two bottom supports in place with a cross piece at the bottom.

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Lo and behold, here we have the first panel mounted on the rails.

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I ran more of the same metal rails down the back of the roof, which is what I connected the main supports to. I can unbolt them and change the angle if so desired. However, after getting all three panels up there, it felt a bit wobbly, so I added some extra supports. It’s nice and sturdy now, but the number of bolts I need to loosen to change the angle that the panels are set at has increased drastically.

Oh well, I’d rather have it stable and a bit more work to change than have it fall over in a big wind or heavy snow storm. Here is a picture of the final result with all three of 250W PV panels installed.

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Here is another look from a different angle.

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With the rack completed, we now needed to build a platform for the batteries to sit on. These aren’t regular car batteries. They are massive, deep-cycle, marine style batteries and we have eight of them. Each one weighs in around 55kg (120lbs). Needless to say, they aren’t the easiest things to move around.

For the platform, I took three cinder blocks and spent some time leveling them as perfectly as I could. The batteries have liquid in them so you want them to be as level as they can be.

Once I had that part completed, I took a nice new wooden pallet we got free from one of the building centers in town, and I cut a section off it to the size that I needed for the batteries. A piece of 3/4″ (1.9cm) plywood was screwed down on top of the pallet and then I put extra pieces around the edge. The final result looked kinda like this, but less blurry.

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With that all done, we could cart over the batteries. Here is the picture of all of the batteries in place on the wrack, with their connections to each other.

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The solar panels are mounted and the batteries are connected. Its time to start putting all of the connections together, so we need to crack open that big control box you saw in the first picture.

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Electrical work, like a lot of things, seems very complicated at a casual glance. In addition to the complicatedness, you have the issue where if you mess up you can electrocute yourself or burn your house down. These are not good things.

Luckily, I had Andres there to do all of the connecting. Each individual part is fairly straight forward, but once you start putting a lot of simple things together, it gets a lot to keep track of.

We eventually got everything connected. That was late yesterday, and the sun had already gone behind the trees, so we weren’t going to get much solar power that day. Today, however, it was a beautiful sunny day and around 10am I snapped this picture of the display on the charge controller.

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In case you don’t read “electric”, that basically says we have 79.5 V(olts) coming in from the solar panels and the batteries are currently sitting at 51.8V. I’ll talk a bit more technically about it at the bottom, so read on if you want the technical stuff.

The system we bought is pretty fancy; far more than what we need for just the trailer. We bought it for the house, though we will be adding a few more solar panels to it when we get to building the Earthship. It will be overkill for the trailer, but that means we shouldn’t have to worry about having power, once the batteries are fully charged.

Our inverter came with a nice little monitoring device. It came with 15m of cable too, so we disconnected it from the control center and ran the wire into the trailer so we can keep an eye on things without having to go outside. Here is a picture of what it was doing this evening.

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At the time that picture was taken, it was about 18:00 and I had turned on the generator. You see, with the batteries having been unused for two years, we want to make sure they are fully charged before we start using them. This is why we are still running the generator in the evening, to help top of the batteries.

Charging batteries is an interesting topic all on its own. We have 8 batteries, each one being 6V. A good analogy for a battery is a car tire filled with air. A tire stores a certain quantity of air at a certain pressure. Volts can be thought of as electrical pressure. Electrical quantities are measured in amperes, or just A(mps) for short.

Let’s say your tire is getting low and you want to put more air in it. If your tire is at 25psi (172kPa) and you want to get it up to 30psi (207kPa) you must be pushing air into the tire at a pressure greater than 30psi. If you don’t, you will never fill your tire. This works the same for batteries, except I can connect batteries together to make larger batteries. You can’t really do that with tires :P.

In our case, our eight batteries are connected in series to create one big 48V battery (8 * 6V = 48V). So if we want to be able to charge those batteries properly, we need to be pushing more than 48V into them. On top of that, you don’t ever want your batteries to drop down to only 48V, that would be too low. For this system, getting them up around 57 is where they will be fully charged, roughly speaking.

Luckily, each of our solar panels puts out 30V at max capacity. The panels are also wired in series so, they can push over 90V into the system. There is a magic box called a Charge Controller that takes that incoming voltage from the panels and regulates it to properly charge the batteries. Ours is pretty fancy and it does a lot more than just that, but I can’t say I know even half of it yet. Having the solar system now so we can learn about it and get used to it will make things easier when we get to using it in the Earthship.

You may be wondering where Watts come into all of this, as electrical devices usually have a maximum Watts rating on them. Well, Watts are just Volts * Amps, or pressure * volume if you’re following the analogy. Watts is a measure of energy. Electrical companies charge you by the kWh, which is kiloWatt-hour. A kiloWatt is just 1000 Watts. An hour, obviously, is a measure of time. This gives a unit of power, which is energy used for a duration of time. If I have a light bulb on that uses 60W and I leave it on for 1 hour, that’s 0.060kWh of power used.

The math can get heavy as you go further, but you can start to get an idea of what it would take to determine:

  • How much energy your batteries can store
  • How much energy your solar panels can put back into your batteries, on a good day of sunshine
  • How much energy you can expect to use per day, based on the electrical appliances you use

Once you start working that out, you can figure out just how large a system you will need to run the stuff that you want. However, solar equipment isn’t cheep and your best course of action is to reduce your usage. If you can do that, and buy only the solar gear that you need, it will easily pay for itself within a short amount of time. As the costs of being connected to the electrical grid continue to rise, being disconnected from it makes a lot of sense.

Oh, just so you know, we put 3.3kWh worth of power into our batteries today from the sun. We look forward to days like this.

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