Thursday, August 16, 2012

I Continue To Build Out The Cottage

Well I broke down prior to the Olympics and installed a Cabinet at the front door. The purpose of the Cabinet was to house my flat screen TV. I did not want to mount it on the wall without having the option of being able to cover it up. So I built a cover which you can see above that cover where the TV is mounted. I have very little shelf space so this has been a good addition in that regard.

 All in all it is serving a good purpose and was a good use of that space without taking away from the look and feel I like about the Cottage. Since I am up in the middle of a field I had to go the DirectTV route which has been great for my soccer addiction, not so great for my book reading habit. Doubt I will ever stumble over to watch things like "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" though.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Major Systems Review

One of the key things that I don't remember ever seeing is a review of systems "after" the tiny house/cottage has been built. What works, what does not? So I thought it would be good to go through my major systems and give some fair and honest feed back on the decision I made and how they are holding up after a year of habitation.

So when it comes to major systems here is what I am talking about: water, hot water, heat, solar, composting toilet. Of the major investments when I built the Cottage was my BioLet Composting toilet, $1600, Dickinson 12,000 BTU boat stove at $1200, next behind that was the  Precision Temp instant on water heater at $1100. I kind of exclude the cost solar system as that is an "extra" and not really a key system but I will discuss it in this post. For your info though the cost of the solar at this point is $3,160, my electrical bill is around $15 to $20 off the grid this past summer.

So on this soon to be hot summer day, I will start with the heater. I like the ambiance the heater gives, it does a reasonable job, is quiet but at 192 sq ft it is not going to "bake me out". Knowing I used a radiant heater during the cold spells last winter, I chose to purchase and install an Envi Heater. It was touted pretty strongly by someone I respect in the Tiny House community Lina on her blog This Is The Little Life. I have yet to put it to the test but I like the design and reviews. I still really dig my Dickinson but realize that I need some different options on the heat side of things.

Water and more importantly, hot water. Let's start with the catchment system and using rain water for showers and dish washing. That has been an awesome decision, even through the summer where we get no rain (at least this year). Since I have access to a well system, filling the tank has not been an issue. When I got the system set up last September, I never once had to use an outside source to add water till after I moved in early July (I drained 100 gallons that I left for my brothers garden). I have had no issues with clogged pumps, dirty water, or illness from the system. I don't drink it but I do wash my dishes with it and so far I am good to go.

So the 205 Gallon tank worked well, I did feel I was wasting a lot of water with my limited capacity, so I think I will upgrade to a 500 gallon tank at some point. I get 151 gallons from every inch of rain. I am using a flo jet 12volt water pump and am having no pressure issues out of the sink or shower. I did originally install a filter that I had to remove as the pump would just not pump through it. I also added a boat accumulator tank that stopped any pump hammering. Here is a shot of the old filter system.

On the hot water side of things I installed a Precision Temp water heater. During the winter I did have some issues with hot water as the tank temp was cold and a system like this really is only able to raise the temperature about 40 degrees. So if the incoming water temp is 40 then best case scenario is "hot" water at 80 degrees. I was able to slow down the water flow that made showering a bit more pleasant but no worries about getting burned. Once we got out of the really cold mode the Precision Temp heater has been excellent, reliable with no challenges so far. I have had to turn it down a couple of times as it became warmer outside. I am really really pleased with the service and functionality of this unit.

On to the Composting toilet. While I was not aware and did not enjoy the idea of having a fan running 24/7 I have moved past that issue. The fan is not loud and it does not consume a lot of energy (I run it off the solar system so it is not an electrical hog) but it is still "on" and I am aware of it. That being said, the functioning and operation of the toilet has been excellent with no problems or concerns. I have emptied it twice without trauma over the year. When I emptied the compost it was half full and really nothing more then dirt. I am sure the Rhododendrons enjoyed it. I am a single guy who has a job so it is really under light use as I am not home during the day. Bottom line to me is this is a great option and I would feel comfortable using this type of technology the rest of my days and we should all get ride of water flush toilets, what a total waste of good water.
Lastly on the solar system you can see my post about adding two new solar panels (August 2nd Post) to get the scope of what my system contains. In evaluation of the entire system I love it. It is doing exactly what I had hoped when I installed it. I use very little power off the grid and could easily go for weeks during sunny weather to run the cottage. I would have to change my lifestyle a bit to do that but so be it. I have 400 amp hours of batteries and the smart inverter, and reliance on core 12 volt systems (boat heater, water pump, instant water heater, some lights) which means I could do away with grid power all together and be a happy camper. Add in the inverter and you have a stereo and vacuum cleaner, TV and air conditioner (not running at the same time).
I was asked if I would change any of the systems I put in and the answer was no, not really. I have been pleased with the performance of all the systems and if I had to do this over again I would install all the same equipment. Maybe I would add a more powerful water pump but the flo-jet I have is their top of the line from a power perspective so it would mean going to something far more industrial (bigger size wise) that would impact where I could put it. So really there is no changes I would make a year down the road from moving in. Hope this helps anyone out there reviewing systems and trying to make a decision on what you are putting in your cottage! If I missed something or you would like me to dig into a topic, let me know.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Adding A Little Power

With the awesome weather in the Pacific NW this summer, I decided to take advantage of it and added two new solar panels to my mix. I purchased them from one of my two sources of solar equipment, GoGreen Solar. While their web site was not clear on the minimum amount of panels you could buy (I wanted only 2, they now have a minimum of 5) They were good to work with and went out of their way to make this work for both of us (I got a very good deal on these panels). The panels are 235 Watt Conergy and since I now have two I am pumping 470 watts of goodness into my batteries. I also added BZ MPPT500 Charge Controller, seen below as the white box.

As you can see from the picture I am coming in off the two panels into a bus bar, go through a 40 amp fuse and into a cut off switch and then into the Charge Controller. Coming out of the Charge Controller I go to a 50amp fuse and then into the batteries. I am running 4 - 12volt, 100 amp hour batteries. I monitor all this with my TriMetric battery monitor (TM-2020). I got it from Backwoods Solar who is also excellent to work with and would recommend them highly.

The Cottage is coming along nicely and I love my new location. The panels seem to fit in well and they are making a big difference on my lack of reliance on the grid power.

While I am located in this field I have had to add a little ambiance to make this place a home. Nothing like a little color to brighten thing up.
For those of you who have been following along, we have had no rain for a while now. I am still with the 205 gallon tank I started with and I was able to go from September 2011 when I moved in, to July 2nd with never needed to pull water from any other source but rain. When I moved out I drained about 100 gallons out of the tank into tanks for my brothers garden. At my new property we have a well so it is not a big deal for me to fill my tank which I just refilled over the weekend. I went about 30 days on the first tank so I am averaging  around 6.8 gallons a day usage (good to know).

I am thinking about getting a bigger tank but at this time, there really is no demand for it. The tank I am looking at is 550 gallons and at my consumption rate I could go 80 days on it without rain, pretty cool.