Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Propane: A Journey

A little history. We closed on the house on the Thursday, November 19th 2009.  My parents came up the next day and we took down about 30 trees between friday and saturday night to make way for the excavator coming monday.  The house had obviously no electric, no heat and no plumbing.  My parents actually spent the night on a mattress in front of the wood stove insert before we ever slept in our own house. Sunday we worked from sunrise to well into the night to block up and move all the wood out of the way. It was an exhausting and cold weekend, but we got it done. Monday the excavtor arrived and we poured the footings on Wednesday  The next day was thanksgiving. We got a significant amount of snow and it was there to stay. We got those footings in the ground just in time. We didn't move into the house until December 15th, when the plumbing was repaired. We lived off a portable gas generator until early january when the propane generator was put in.  (Also about the time the mattress moved from the living room into a bedroom ) We then lived off that until the end or january when the battery bank was installed.  We were using the generator to recharge the batteries about every three days. It took until close to the end of February for the PV panels to get up and running.

There that was exhausting just typing the saga. It has officially been three years since we closed on the house. We have been monitoring our propane use closely. Currently we use propane for the generator,  range, dryer, boiler for hot water and heat to supplement the Solar Hot Water System.

 Year One- Winter- 974.5
                   Summer- 178.4
                   Total: 1152.9

As you can tell we were quite concerned that we made a huge mistake and that this off the grid thing in a house that was not specifically designed for it was not going to work.  Keep in mind that we were living on just the generator for almost two months of winter.  That winter was a sparse one for us. We spent a lot of time wrapped in sleeping bags, staring at each other by the soft glow of an oil lamp.

Year Two- March- 356.8
                  Dec. 272.7
                 Total: 629.5

That fall we installed a large wood stove in basement, and used that to heat instead of the radiant floors. It significantly reduced our reliance on propane, and actually keeps our house much warmer than we than when we were using the radiant and the wood stove insert to supplement. We only turn on the boiler when we do not get enough hot water from the solar panels. In addition we made some lifestyle changes, and in general learned how to use the system a little more efficiently, as well as embracing the luke warm shower. However we actually were able to start living a little more of a normal life (not so much oil lamp time, other than the shower issue).

For Some Reason I have no Pictures of the new Wood Stove, I do however have a large number of pictures of the stove pipe
Year Three- Filled in April- 219.3
                  Filled Dec 6th- 240.0
     total: 459.3
*Update I added the lasted fill up amount.

Basically the majority of winter we only used 219.3 gallons of propane. Even though it was a light winter, I am calling that a success. We made some tweaks to our septic system ( found out some pumps were not working correctly) and moved the control box inside eliminating a small heater, and switched the priority of our boiler from heating to hot water, allowing it to run more efficiently for our purposes.  We really were living quite lavishly as far as off grid-ing standards are concerned. (ie we watched some night time TV, baked more things in the oven )

I know there are a lot of off the grid folks who use much much less, but most are living in houses that were planned to be off the grid.  Our house was designed to be connected to the grid. I have a dream system that would virtually eliminate the need for propane that I will share later, but it just wasn't practical to retrofit this house.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


When we bought the house the basement floors were incomplete, severely water damaged from the frozen pipes bursting, and were buckled from improper installation. We would have had to replace the entire floor. Instead we ripped it out. Ground (grinded? neither sound right) off the glue and polished the float finished concrete smooth as a dolphin with a concrete grinder. I failed to get a picture of this step, but it involved a lot of sore knees and dust.

We then acid stained the polished concrete and finished with a wet look stain.  I purchased my stain from Direct Colors and used three different colors, Cola, Coffee Brown, and Mayan Buff. I used a plastic garden sprayer and sprayed the floor to suit my designer's eye, (very serious art was happening, don't try this at home) starting with the lightest color.

The variation hides the flaws in the concrete and the industrial quality and random marbly effect adds a touch of modernity to our rustic style house. It is also more energy efficient, as the radiant does not have to heat a layer of sub floor and floor before heating the space.

I reused some of the better pieces of flooring as the ceiling and floor in the straw bale coop.  It is quite luxurious.

Truthfully they hated the floor. It was too slippery. I had to rough it up with sandpaper. Those bitches clucky hens are demanding clients.

I was not paid or perked for this post. Direct colors has never heard of me nor has any knowledge of this post. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ski and Ride

Since it is snowing outside I thought it would be an appropriate day to talk about snow sports related furniture.  Casey's Grandma gave us this chair as a house warming gift. She had it made from old skis used Casey's grandparents, mother and uncle. The skis his grandparents used are actually engraved with their names.  It is a pretty comfy chair and you kinda feel like a king when sitting in it.

Inspired by the chair we have been talking about making a bench out of an old snowboard that has been retired from the quiver. I finally got around to it last week.

I used our picnic table benches as inspiration and actually just traced the angles and sizes I needed onto the 2x4s. The snowboard really is a beautiful piece of engineering and I love the way the bench accentuates the curves. My favorite part is that you cannot see the 2x6 running between the two legs under the board. It would have taken away the floating on pow feeling. I might paint the legs later on, but for now I like the way they match the trim.

Taking pictures down here has really made me realize I really cannot stand the wall color.  It must go. It was supposed to be a more rusty burnt pumpkin color. Currently all I see is processed cheese. That is what I get for using cheap paint. I always advise clients not to skimp, but I always do it myself and end up regretting it and spending twice as much to repaint the color or add more coats. Between the wall color and the dogs being especially curious today, these photos were a distaster. I took about 50 and almost every one has a piece of at least one dog in it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Easy Barn Doors

I tend to stay way from tutorials. I feel like everything you would ever need to know is already floating around out there on the Internet, narrated by someone with more knowledge and a better camera than myself. That said, googling around to get some style ideas for a sliding barn door I planned to build, I felt like all the tutorials I came upon were making it much harder than it needed to be.  Hence, here is a very easy barn door tutorial that takes at the most two days, including drying time, and minimal tools or skill.

Step One: I simply glued 1x6 tongue and groove pine, cut size to cover my opening.  I ripped the tongue or groove off the end pieces with a table saw for a smooth side, but if you don't have access to one you could just as easily leave it.  For added holding power you could also nail through the tongue and groove joints with finish nails. I didn't have finish nails short enough and this is an interior door so I wasn't too concerned.

Second Step: Nailed and glued a 1x6 pine board across the top and bottom, lining it up with the end and sides of my t & g.  Nailed and glued 1x4 pine side rails and a cross brace.  I let it dry over night.

Decorative sliding door hardware was ringing in at around $300 for this 5'-0"x 7'-0" door. That just wasn't in the stars. We found this seriously meaty sliding door hardware meant for real barn doors at our local farm store for $50.00.  We debated building a box to hide it on the exterior, but decided to just mount the door on the inside and hide the hardware in our unfinished utility room. 

Total Budget Breakdown: 
Tongue and Groove:  $65.00
Pine Trim Boards- $20.00
Sliding Rail: $25.00
Sliding Wheels: $25.00 for two

I also built a simpler surface hinged version, out of leftover wood for the odd shaped opening to our under stair closet. I left off the side rails and the door is still very sturdy. I made sure to nail the ends and cross brace into each piece of t & g. The two doors face each other in a little sitting/ circulation area in our newly finished basement.

I swear a dog photo-bombs at least one picture for every post. This is PETN. He is a Blue Tick Coon Hound / Black Lab Mix. He is named after an explosive with the personality to match.