A Visit to Our House
At our open-house on Sunday we had a lively conversation concerning environmental challenges and zoning laws, along with the tour of the house. The tour demonstrated low cost, low impact systems that address challenges such as global warming, carbon sequestration and poverty.
The tour started inside by examining the Russian bell stove, the centerpiece of our octagonal dwelling. The stove has two parts, the heater and the cook-stove, both having heat exchange pipes for hot water and both having multiple chambers where the heat from the exhaust is absorbed into the massive brick structure before being released out the stove pipe. This year found us using the stove every month of the year! Even in August we had some cool and damp days and the cook-stove added just the right needed warmth and dryness to make life comfortable.
The cook stove is fired up and cooking our food
Next up was the non-pressurized water system. We have piping around the perimeter of the roof to collect rain water. The water then travels into two 250 gallon tanks and is used for showers and washing our clothes. The system also includes two 50 gallon tanks that get filled from pumping water from our shallow well. The piping from the well to the house, about 250 ft., lies on top of the ground and completely drains, by gravity, when the pumping is finished. This way the pipe never freezes in the winter and we did not have to dig into the ground to lay the pipe reducing our costs and our environmental impact.
The water line is hidden with wood debris and leaves beside a trail leading to the wishing well
The electrical system, since it was in the vicinity of the water storage tanks, was our next stop. We began by reiterating methods of reducing our electrical needs; using gravity, natural lighting, and being conscious of electrical usage around the home. All these things enabled us to have a small system which provides for our electrical needs. We have about 2 kilowatts of electricity per hour coming in on an average sunny day. Our system has sixteen 120 watt panels and the electricity is stored in six 6 volt batteries hooked up in such a way as to give us a 12 volt system. We are completely off the grid and have a backup gas fired generator for the dark winter months, although we use it infrequently. We have lights, computers, a washing machine, 2 chest freezers, and power tools, all the amenities one would want. I went through and explained the different components and how they work in our electrical system.
Moving outside, I showed how I terraced the land in back of the house with wood debris, which I picked up free from the local sawmill. Laying larger pieces of wood for the foundation I filled in with wood chips, sawdust and smaller pieces of wood to create level ground to be used for garden space in the years to come. By laying the wood directly on the ground and covering it with soil the wood can then decay underground sequestering carbon which in turn has the ability to hold water and minerals. We also looked at the root cellar, built out of extra concrete well tiles, which has been part of an ongoing Grade Eight project and is now ready for us to use this winter. The root cellar is built into the side of a hill, covered with wood debris and chips and will have a living roof.
The group stopped by another class project,( thanks to the local Waldorf School), to look at the solar hot water heater. This was built using the principles of thermosiphon out of recycled materials, hence an excellent physics lesson, and provides us with hot water during the summer months when our stove is not running.
The homemade solar panel provides us with free hot water during the summer months
The gardens were next, some built as hoogles and others part of a forest garden system. We try to grow as much of our food as possible along with providing habitant for pollinators, birds, amphibians and others we share the land with. We use no till methods and plant by mixing varieties and crops throughout the yard and beyond.
Then a short walk up the hill to M’s house which is under construction. She is single handedly building herself a straw bale home and is cordoning off one section to live in this coming winter. Here the group saw a post and beam frame, with all the timbers harvested from the land, shaped by hand and set into place. Next the bales were added into walls then clay was troweled on and now the tightening up is in full swing.
We ended back at the house to share a meal and socialize. Even then discussions tended to turn towards our favorite topics and we attempted to settle all the problems of the world. Please feel free to come to the next gathering. Look for info on Facebook David Maynard or on my website Liefcycling.net. (The pictures were not taken during the open-house, sometimes cameras just get in the way.