Friday, July 30, 2010

Been a'while

It sure has...and here I find myself, a year out (and a bit) since my last blog. Looks like its time to get back on board and start sharing my thoughts with the masses, 'cause I know y'all are just dying to hear 'em.

Since last go-round, we completed our project up in Moscow, ID and are pleased to announce that we are still the 100% owners of 22 acres in the foothills of Moscow Mountain that boast off-the-grid homes. Pretty rad.

Unfortunately, the economy hit us like it hit everyone else and work pulled us back south. So we're enduring 100 degree summers instead of -11 degree winters, and doing it all-over again, kind of.

Take what we did it Moscow, mash it up a bit, and here we find ourselves, taking what we learned and what we now hold near and dear to hearts, and making it more "traditional." And by that, I mean less intimidating.

Off-the-Grid livin' ain't for everyone, that's for sure, but it works and it feels good. Being back in a place that allows me to run the shower for hours on end or use a microwave or hell, crank the ac down to 30 degrees and pretend I'm back on the hill, isn't the same as it was before we began our off-the-grid adventures almost 2-years ago. Living off-the-grid has permanently affected us so now, in reflection, I want to share what I learned and how I'm making the transition back to 'normal' living. Although, normal is relative...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rain, rain

Woke up this morning to a brief rain shower and ran outside to flip me' bins.

Currently, we do not have a gutter across the front roof line so I try to keep plants along the edge. This helps keep them watered not only during rainstorms but they also collect the dew off the roof in the morning. I also flip that large metal bin; it's also along the edge of the roof line and collects water easily. There's a hose nozzle in the bottom corner so I can easily get the water; often I don't bother and stand the plants in the container so the roots can absorb the amount of water they need. This is a simple way to avoid over-watering. I have several containers similar (in look and function) to this vicariously placed around the house and garden.
We're still experimenting with ways to help keep dirt and leaves out of the gutter so at the beginning of a storm, or before if we're lucky, one of us will run outside and clear the gutters. Any suggestions on how best to block out he leaves and dirt but still collect maximum water?

I'm planning on measuring out some screen and fitting that along the gutter but I will also have to clear that - though it'll be easier. Any more ideas out there I could steal?

A couple more ways we save water - the well and the solar shower, which we use during the summer.

The shower is all salvaged wood. When we first purchased the property, this was our only shower but the road wasn't there so it was also blocked by some thick foliage and trees.
The well is the black tube.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

When the creek runs dry....

It’s amazing how many amenities I took for granted when living in a conventional home, and the lack of water during our beginning months on the hill made me appreciate exactly how crucial it is for my everyday activities –bathing, teeth brushing, washing your face, dishes, laundry and washing your hands on-demand. On top of that, we’d committed ourselves to 3200 sq ft of garden area that would act as a chef’s garden. How were we going to water that?

First we monitored what was already in place; A 500 gallon tank holds water for the pond cabin, feeding a gravity based plumbing system. Translation – the tank sits uphill from the cabin; instead of putting in pumps, the water just naturally flows downhill into the holding tank and then into the actual plumbing. Doesn’t make for greatest water pressure, but is a very simple system that works.

For this loft cabin with a composting toilet, the 500 gallon tank isn’t quite enough during our driest months (August, September, October) so we knew that we’d need bigger tanks for the second cabin where we would be living primarily.

And bigger we got…

Two 1750 gallon water tanks that we needed to be bury an estimated 5 feet below ground to avoid freezing.

We put these tanks directly behind the road cabin, again utilizing gravity to increase the amount of water pressure and reduce the demand on a water pump. You’ll notice in the images we are using a backhoe to put this specific tank in place – very helpful when lifting 700+pounds but we dug out the holes by hand and placed the first tank by hand with the help of a few close friends – THANK YOU! (I missed the photo-ops for those as I was at work but I hear it was pretty tricky.)

Once we had the tanks in their rightful places, we began burying. We connected the tanks with an easy siphoning system so as one tanks water level decreases, it automatically siphons water from the other. This keeps the primary tank full and allows the secondary tank to collect the rain water off of our roof.

We’ve set-up a gutter on one side of our roof that gathers all of our rain water, immediately feeding it into the secondary tank where it is stored.

While experimenting with our tanks, we also tapped a spring located directly behind the house that now fills a well; we dug a 10 foot deep hole, filling the bottom 3 feet with gravel of varying sizes. The well level varies depending on the season and the weather but this allows us to fill the secondary tank easily, again siphoning the water from the well into the tank.

Now with these two tanks in place, we alleviated some of our concerns and were able to bathe freely! Showers are glorious! But we still hadn’t combated the garden.

While the creek is running, we simply tap the creek and water the garden out of a holding pond that collects to overflow from our tanks and our micro-hydro system but with the creek dry…we’ve begun to realize how quickly plants dry out. A rain storm came through a couple of days ago and renewed our hope in the garden but again, we are reduced to hand watering the healthier of the plants. Not ideal but while we keeping exploring ideas, it seems to be our best option.

Any suggestions out there? We’ve thought about just randomly placing rainwater tanks around the yard and using those as we can, I’ve actually vicariously placed a few large containers throughout the garden when rain is in the forecast, just in case, but still not sure what our best option is…

Check back to find out the difference between indoor shower vs. outdoor shower (another way we save water) and a composting toilet vs. a dual flush, energy star toilet. What’s easier? What’s the most effective? What’s the smelliest?



Monday, July 13, 2009

Keep 'er Cool

I left on business for about a month in mid-June; at the time we were still wearing sweaters in the evening, and I, with my extreme and new-found distaste for the cold, was still rocking wool socks while hiking! We’d managed to avoid lighting a fire since about mid-April since the house heats up so much during the day but I was worried that I would get back to early on-set of winter given how short our spring and complete lack of summer had been.

However, upon my return I was pleasantly surprised to find out that summer had finally arrived! And all the complications that go along with maintaining an off-the-grid house were in full-swing. Big concern: cooling the place.

Let me start by mentioning that I am originally from a region of the world where AC is a must-have! There is absolutely no possible way one will survive an August day in the deep south without it unless they are prepared to smother themselves alive between the heat and humidity, often pushing the heat index to well above 100 degrees. To suddenly live in a world where central AC is a commodity is one thing, but to be thrust into a world where AC isn’t an option, has been quite an adjustment. It’s strange to reminisce how use to the humming of an AC unit or a ceiling fan I’d become…

Our house appears on a south-facing slope so during the winter, we enjoy the luxury of the mid-afternoon sun heating up what the wood fire hasn’t already taken care of but in the summer, it gets a bit toasty. The first floor is buried into the side of the hill so we incur mild ranges in temperatures on the first floor, where the kitchen, living room, laundry room and bathroom are situated. The second floor, however, bears the brunt of the sun and can heat up pretty quickly! On both floors we’ve taken a passive approach primarily, having the windows situated on opposing sides of the floor plan, creating a nice cross draft. Often times, this is plenty of cross-ventilation for downstairs but on really warm days, we will use an old wall-mount fan that rotates through the open floor plan, creating a gentle breeze. It's not exactly energy star rated but in the world of "green" I think reusing counts just as much.

On the second floor, a warm afternoon outside can turn into a smoldering hotbox inside. Sometimes the cool breezes just aren’t enough so we are in the process of purchasing and installing some sun shades, which are currently on-sale at JCPenny. In theory, these shades will reduce the sun’s glare and UV rays reflected onto the house by an estimated 66%. (Again, we are in the process of trying these so no word on if they are effective or not.) The shades are transparent so you can still enjoy the scenery but hopefully, from a cooler window. The specific shades I am looking at are item # K736-6177, which I would use on the interior of my windows but there are also exterior, heavy duty options available. All the exterior shades that I have seen tend to be opaque and resemble a vinyl material but I have also seen bamboo and various knitted versions. The exterior shades tend to block UV rays by an estimated 20% increase to the interior shades, varying depending on the material used.

We’ve also considered trying an attic fan; the primary issues we have with the attic fan is it requires a certain depth to your roof (including the ceiling, installation and roof) which we do not have. They are tube like devices and I hear, pretty easy to install. A solar panel sits on your roof above the fan, powering it directly. Another concern that we have with the solar fan is placing panels directly onto our roof with snow being such a significant problem during the winter months – we’re unable to get up on our roof and clear the snow. A website to check out to find out a bit more information about solar attic fans is: I have done minimal exploration on this site and can only provide you with very basic details of how a solar fan should work if you’re interested.

I have found that using curtains year-round really reduces the indoor temperature range, making a HUGE difference during winter. We keep drapes on all our windows during the winter and in the summer months I switch to lighter weight curtains; when we’re not home or not in a specific room, we pull the drapes/curtains to help insulate. We’ve picked up second-hand drapes/curtains along the way and I hope to, or recruit some of my more sewing savvy friends, to make some that match for the house in preparation for winter.

That’s all for now!

Check back to found out how we’re combating another summer dilemma - drought!


Monday, January 26, 2009

MONEY SAVER - Using stuff in your kitchen to clean with

Okay, so I like my house to smell like fresh air and newly cleaned linens as much as the next person but the reality is that between two (soon to be three) large dogs and two outdoor enthusiasts, keeping things stink-free is a bit more difficult then I'd imagined. Well no, I knew it would be hard so I guess I'm finally and openly admitting that man, it's hard to keep up with all the dirt we drag in! And with no signs of slowing down, I needed to start exploring cheaper and more environmentally friendly cleaning supplies. A big one that I've discovered is vinegar! Yes, vinegar, the stuff that helps make cucumbers into pickles also helps degrease your oven and remove static from your laundry. Not only is it cheap but it does just about anything! Though I've yet to use it as a wood cleaner, I have used it on my bathroom tiles (avoid the grout guys, it's a sad day when you have to re-grout your bathroom), my kitchen counter, in my washing machine to a) clean the washing machine b) act as a natural fabric softener.

So you're probably thinking, "your house doesn't smell like dogs anymore, it smiles like a salad." But no, it's not true. Once the vinegar has dried, it leaves no scent and if you do want a scent, you can add a few of those concentrated scent drops available at your local co-op or health food store.

Another kitchen item that's really useful is Apple Cider Vinegar. When I was still down at LSU my old roomies and I discovered some of the perks of ACV including that it is a metabolism booster (one tablespoon a day is supposed to increase your metabolism) and helps soften your dogs coat as well as prevent the pesky flea.

Oh and while we are on the subject of fleas...try Borax or Moth Balls. I used moth balls when I vacuum to not only help with the neutralizing odors but also to kill all those determine flea eggs. I just put a couple of moth balls in my vacuum and remove them when I'm done. And Borax is another one of those miracle household items that you can kill fleas with, scrub your counters and your floors with, and drop it in your laundry to boost the colors and reduce static.

All of these items can be found at your neighborhood grocery.

Peace out,


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ascending 6 inches sheet of ice

How do you do it? Okay, at first I was literally clawing my way up the hill and just hoping that I could hurl my body into a pile of snow if things got a little too slick. Then, after some investigating, I invested in these:

They're called ice cleats, and to be honest, I feel like I could walk up the side of an ice burg in these things.

However, winter roads don't just present the issue of ice. Sometime we've got snow too so that's when I turn to these lil' guys:

The Cadillac of snow shoes if you will; these MSR Lightning Ascent 25 snowshoes have turned out to be a TRUE life saver! I purchased them after explaining that not only would I be experiencing my first Idaho winter, but my first real winter in general.

So far so good! I'll keep y'all posted about how well these winter tools continue to work!

Peace out,


Before and After Pictures - the first of many

Good morning!
As you know we've been working diligently at getting the house "winterized" and then all of a sudden, winter was upon us. So now we've just been working, literally, through snow, ice, sleet, fog and whatever other intense weather an Idaho winter has to offer. The locals weren't kidding when they all smiled at me teasing, "you haven't experience a winter here yet have you?"

(ABOVE) The photo to the left was snapped when we first purchased the property so the beginning of August. The photo to the right was shot several weeks into October.

(ABOVE) Again, the photo on the left was snapped in the first couple of weeks of August and the photo to the right was snapped the second week of December, after the first snow. At this time, we only had about 8 inches. Since then, we have had as much as 5 feet! But with the crazy weather, a lot of that has melted off and now we're hiking up a 6 inch sheet of ice to get home from work everyday.
PEACE Out for now,