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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Designing & Building Natural Homes

This Summer Join SEI for a unique workshop experience at Camp Epworth in High Falls, New York: Designing & Building Natural Homes. This course covers the opportunities and evolving variations within the field of natural building. Architects, builders, home-owners and students will gain an excellent introduction to the art and science of natural building materials, techniques, and design considerations, while also getting their HANDS-ON, with straw bale, adobe, pressed block, cob, natural plasters and more. Designing & Building Natural Homes is for home owners in the pre-design stage; architects, builders, designers and contractors; and for anyone interested in this vast field of study.

This engagement starts on Monday August 7th finishing on Friday August 11th. Sign up before June 12th and pay the early-bird price of $575.

Don’t miss out on this wonderful opportunity to learn Natural Building techniques in beautiful Upstate New York!! Help us to make this workshop a success and pass on this information to friends, family, colleagues and others…

For more information about this class and all others visit SEI on the web at or call us at 970.963.8855 for workshop details or to register.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Wind Turbine Finished

Today we finished the wind turbine. Well mostly finished. Still have some painting and greasing before it goes up the tower. We spun the rotor and were producing voltage with our hand wound 3 phase coils, and grade 50 magnets. It starts up at 5mph, and is charging at 7mph (150 rpm) and up. Maximum output should be around 1000 to 1200 watts at 25 to 30 mph winds. The rpm of the alternator should be around 600 or so. It's a permanent magnet ac alternator with a stationary coil, so no slip rings or brushes necessary. Totally water proof design. Photo's of the build can be found in our photo album.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

PV System Schematic

Many people have asked us how the components in a PV system are connected. The good folks at New England Solar have provided a diagram of a basic system, very similar to the one we started with. What isn't shown is the connection from the inverter to the AC Panel through the generator transfer switch. Popular Mechanics had a good article on installing a generator and transfer switch. Many inverters take a generator input and provide transfer switch functionality, plus battery charging. Both New England Solar and Back Woods Solar offer catalogs with good diagrams of how these hookups go together.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Off-Grid Power Systems

We have folks coming in tonight for the building of the wind turbine tomorrow, and we have been testing the new batteries all week. Washer, Propane Dryer, Well Pump, Fridge, all have been running fine on the L16H batteries and the AC Delco 2500w Inverter. They actually run better from the inverter than they did from generator. We are all set for the wind class, and it looks like the weather will co-operate.

Monday, May 22, 2006

5 days to the Wind Class

Don't forget the Wind Class this weekend. There are a couple of spots left, and the weather promises to be nice.

The new batteries are operating wonderfully, as are the new PV panels. Even though we have had mostly rain and clouds, we have been getting between 4 and 7 amps flowing into the batteries. The new batteries hold up well under the surge loads from the 1/2hp jet pump and the fridge. For the first time we have running water without the generator running or using the attic rain barrells. The next test is washing a load of clothes, with both the Front Loader Washer and the well pump being driven from battery / inverter.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Battery box built, batteries installed and charging

This morning we finally ripped out the old Trojan T-105's and plastic battery box. We assembled the new battery box, installed the new L16H batteries, and finished all the wiring. We connected the solar array and are pumping 4 amps into the batteries even though it's cloudy and rainy. Reconnected the 2500w inverter, and the 50 amp generator powered charger, plus the dc load panel. All is functional. More photo's can be found in our photo album.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Visiting the VeggieBus

Last night Joshua Stoltz came up from Auburn NY to see Melvin's VeggieBus (GM 6.2L/Thomas). This weekend, Joshua is picking up a 8.2L Detroit (similar to our Detroit 2-71 VeggieGen) powered 40' school bus from Greg Archambault. He is converting his bus to a full-time live-in RV, and we are helping him with the veggie conversion. He will be discussing the bus and the conversion on our school bus conversion group, and pictures will be posted here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Electric-Lite Household

One method of reducing the electric load of an off-grid home is to replace electricity as a primary energy source. We have done this with our major appliances. The cook stove/oven, water heater, dryer, and the new refrigerator are all propane, and our source of heat is wood. Propane, while a useful off-grid fuel source, is expensive, a fossil fuel, and not quite in keeping with our goals (it’s a different kind of grid). Hence the upcoming bio-methane project to replace our propane and wood consumption. Based on the research of our friend Al “The Methane Man” Rutan, we will be constructing an insulated, all year - all climate, continuous feed reactor. Fed with food scraps from the local hospital cafeteria and manure slurry from a local farm, it’s a better kind of “grid”. Methane articles by Al Rutan can be found in the back issues of ESSN Magazine, Homepower Magazine, and the defunct "Alternative Sources of Energy magazine".

Monday, May 15, 2006

Last of the PV panels connected

Tonight we connected the rest of the PV arrays. We have a total of 270 watts online, and no sun in sight for the next 4 days at least.

We are replacing our electric fridge with a new propane fridge, thanks to one of our supporters. It's a Servel unit from Back Woods Solar.

Jeff Genser called, said he made it home to the NYC Metro area (8+ hours) on veggie with no issues. A very happy camper.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Jeff's Veggie Benz

This weekend Jeff Genser brought his '80 Mercedes Benz for a conversion to veggie oil. We started Saturday Morning, and by 4pm he was driving on liquid gold. More photo's can be found in our photo album.

There are three tricks to converting a mercedes:

  • Change plumbing from: Tank -> Lifter Pump -> Filter -> Injector pump to Tank -> Filter -> Tank Selector Valve -> Lift pump -> Injector pump
  • Remove hollow bolt from top of filter, tap the inside, and insert a bolt (with head cut off, and slotted for screwdriver) with thread lock.
  • Cooling line hookups: Tee the hot at top right rear of engine, and the cold at lower left front of engine.
Last night we took 3 generations (the fourth is away to college still) of Spence family women out to Mother's Day dinner.

This AM I hooked up 90 of the 180 watts of new PV to the battery bank. Weather report says a whole week of rain .....

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sun Power has arrived

The rest of the PV panels have arrived. A total of 180 watts of PV in 15 watt modules, temporarily sitting in our yard, facing south, waiting for lumber to permanently mount and wire. I hope to get them wired in tonight, and mounted by the weekend. Still have not had the chance to put the battery box together. That was supposed to be last nights job, but the PV panels sidetracked me. All the lumber is cut to size, I've got the screws, so no excuse for not getting it done. Tonight looks good.

Other users of these panels:


Jon's system (grid tied with microsine inverters)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Setting up the PV Panels

The first of four sets of PV has arrived. We unboxed them and dry assembled to see how it all goes together. The documentation on assembling the rack is pretty poor, as the diagrams do not exactly match the pieces shipped, and there is no documentation on aligning the panels onto the frame (pins in adjustable slots). It makes a difference which way the panels are oriented, wires up or wires down, as the slots are not centered, and no guidence is given.

Last night we measured and cut all the pieces for the battery box. In-place assembly should start this evening. More photo's can be found in our photo album.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Building the Battery Box

Tomorrow night we get to work on the battery box. The parts have been ordered, two sheets of 5/8" plywood, two eight foot lengths of 1" x 4" for the corners, and hinges for the lid. Each L16H battery is 12" wide, 7" deep, and 17" high, and we are building for a capacity of 12 (We have six currently). One and a half inch stainless steel screws will keep everything together.

The energy fair was a big success. We had many questions about the veggie diesels we brought ('99 Ford Pickup, Chevy School Bus, Skidloader and walk behind sickle bar mower), the off-grid energy components we had on display, and the forum we hosted on off grid living. We were able to see Rob Roy and his cord wood demonstration, Econar was there with their Ground Source Heat Pumps, Dave Austin from Great Brook Solar, and many other friends and acquaintances.

As it rained pretty regularly, the outdoor PV demo didn't go as planned ....

Friday, May 05, 2006

How to save gas:

Some common tips on saving money at the pump all start with one thing, using less gas. Car pooling, driving slow and steady, these things will help your wallet, and the environment. MSN recently had a good article on numerous ways to save fuel:

  • Plan your trips and driving routes to avoid traffic congestion. Backed-up traffic and redundant trips cause you to be on the roads for a longer time, burning more gasoline.
  • Accelerate evenly and drive smoothly so you keep abreast of traffic but aren't putting on the brakes frequently. "Any time you hit your brakes, you're throwing energy away" in a traditional gas-powered vehicle, Kaufman said.
  • Use cruise control when traffic conditions allow because it "will smooth out the transitions" and help maintain an even speed.
  • Don't carry more than you need on your vehicle. For example, rooftop cargo carriers, no matter how aerodynamically shaped, will detract from fuel mileage by creating drag, he said.
  • Get rid of things inside the vehicle you don't need for your trip, such as sports equipment stored in the trunk. Kaufman estimates there's a "2 percent penalty" in fuel economy for every extra 100 pounds of cargo and people in a vehicle.
  • Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained. This includes keeping the air filter clean, getting regular oil changes and, most especially, routinely checking to ensure tires are properly inflated. Underinflated tires can tax fuel economy by as much as 10 percent, he said.
Read the whole article for many good tips.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

All Six Batteries have Arrived

All six Trojan L16H's have arrived, and the new battery box is being constructed. The batteries came with a one page sheet full of helpful hints on maintaining and testing a battery bank, and the New England Solar Electric book, "Battery Book for your PV Home" is on its way to us (free with purchase of batteries, $8 if not). The PV Panels have not yet arrived, but should by May 20th or so. This weekend is the Sustainable Energy Fair, so stop by and see us, and stay for the excellent talks on the various aspects of Sustainable Energy and Living. Next weekend is the '80 Mercedes Wagon veggie conversion, and the Wind class is coming up Memorial Day weekend.

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