Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day at Maple Leaf Gardens

We had a nice quiet day for Christmas this year.

We went to the Christmas Eve service (and there was none this morning) so we had no where to go. Which was very nice considering the wet windy weather. Miserable, if you have to be out in it. But we did not.

I was knitting and blogging. Peggy was trying out her first crocheted plarn bag. Warren was manning the remotes. Troy was out doing his thing in the shop. (He's getting dangerously close to finishing the taping of the drywall, and has been priming/painting in spots where he's already moving stuff in.)

When we had enough of doing next to nothing, Peggy got us going on our popcorn project. I had mentioned that I wanted to shell some of the copious popcorn we had so I could bring some to my sister tomorrow. Troy had mentioned he just needed to grab the sheller out of the garage. (Doing it by hand is possible but not very handy or comfortable. Last time I did some I wore leather gloves and still got a couple blisters.) And we had a lot of corn to do: two Rubbermaid tubs full.

It turned into a three-person job. They rotated duties, but in this pic, Troy (center) is feeding the cobs into the sheller and turning the crank to do the actual shelling. Warren dealing with the emptied cobs and finishing the shelling on cobs the sheller didn't complete. (It was made for fieldcorn and didn't really like the smaller cobs.)
Peggy is holding a cob against the sheller to try to improve the shelling of the smaller cobs.

(I took a video of the sheller in action and if I get somewhere I can use a fast-speed connection sometime soon, I'll upload it. Make sure to check out all the popcorn flying out the top too--we had a lot of sweeping up to do!)

Troy had built a wooden box to mount the sheller onto (this was way back when we lived in the last house). It's since been repurposed as a kindling box, but we emptied it out, cleaned it out, and got it set up again for the sheller.
By the time we had emptied the two tubs of corncobs, we had 31.5" x 10.5" x 6" of corn in the box. That's almost 2000 cubic inches of corn which is just about a US bushel if my online converter worked right.

If you want to see it in a more familiarly sized tub (I'm assuming), here it is after we poured it back into the [14 gal] Rubbermaid tub:
So all of you who have been invited often to our house, I will give a word of caution: you may be put to work! For surely, how many of you put your Christmas guests to work? We are shameless.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Proof of Concept

This is a photograph of a momentous occasion. It may look somewhat anticlimactic. So, what is this momentous thing we are looking at?

You are looking at the "furnace" that heats my 30' x 70' x 12' shop. 2,100 square feet. 25,000 cubic feet. This should strike you as improbable, if not impossible. Think about how big your furnace is. Look at mine again.

This is a cheapo two speed electric heater like you could buy at Wal-Mart for around twenty bucks. On low, it uses 1,000 watts. On high is uses 1,500 watts. This is about the same as the average hand held hair dryer. In the recent very cold weather (like down into the single digits Farenheit), this little heater, set on low, kept my shop between 45 and 50F. 1,000 watts of heating power have kept my shop very comfortable.

This is the same as saying, I could have ten 100 watt lightbulbs plugged in, and my shop would stay comfortably heated. This is about an order of magnitude less than any other shop that I have seen.

Just by comparison, one kilowatt (one thousand watts) = 3,412 BTU/hr. A typical home furnace could range between 80,000 BTU and 120,000 BTU's as their maximum rate of heat output per hour. Of course, most furnaces don't run 100% of the time. So, if your furnace runs 1/3 of the time, and it's at the small end of the scale, that would compare like so:

80,ooo/3 = 26,667 BTU's per hour. or

(26,667 BTU/hr) x (1,000 watts/3,412BTU/hr) = 7.816 kilowatts

Thus, your average house with a small furnace will use energy at a rate of almost 8 times what my shop does.

In money terms, I pay seven cents per kilowatt hour. So, that looks like:

1kw x .07 x 24hrs x 30 days = $50.40 to heat my shop for a whole month, in the middle of winter, using electricity. If I could find a natural gas or propane heater small enough, it would be less than that by a substantial margin.

I have planned and saved and worked and worked, and worked some more to achieve this. On paper, I knew it should work. In reality, one has doubts of course. There are still a few loose ends to tie up in the shop that will improve thermal performance even more, but I am already ecstatically happy at the proof achieved so far. And very relieved.

Of course, we will have phase two when we get the house done up to similar specifications. Now, the house presents a few obstacles that may prevent us from attaining quite the same level of energy efficiency and independence. Most notably, all those windows. Hey, maybe we'll have to plug TWO heaters in to keep the house toasty. And of course, we want the house to be well above 50, more like 70'ish.

Yet, I feel fully confident that the wood stove and/or the oil stove will keep the house toasty on a tiny fraction of the energy we currently use. There are other people who have built similar superinsulated houses that heat the house for an entire canadian (Ontario) winter with the firewood that fits in the back of a pickup truck.

I cannot recommend this method highly enough for anyone considering building or remodeling. It is not that complicated. It is not that expensive. It has a relatively short payback period for most situations. It does not wear out or require expensive maintenance like heat pumps. It requires no maintenance or upkeep whatsoever. It requires no special attention or skills from the homeowner to "operate". It, effectively, has no moving parts. Compared to the stock market, this looks like an absolutely sure deal. Plus, it saves "after tax" dollars, which, depending on your tax bracket, makes the savings look 15-35% better than the raw number. The government hasn't quite found a way to tax you on money you don't earn and don't spend, yet.

If I am correct in predicting that all energy costs will become very volatile over the next decade or so, and I am further correct in predicting that the general trend will be for higher fuel cost trends (higher highs and higher lows), this technology will only get more financially attractive, not less. I would also expect that as consumers become keenly aware of their monthly energy costs, it will become an excellent real estate investment that will more than pay itself back if you sell such a house.

This has a second corollary that, if I am correct about the energy forecast, the economy may take 10-15 years to "recover" from it's present state. So, anything you can do to control your unavoidable costs, like heating and cooling, will only help you stretch your budget when you are faced with relatively static or falling income, but ever increasing expenses.

The cost of insulation and framing for a new, stick built house, hovers around 15%, give or take quite a bit depending on where you live in the country, and how hungry your contractor is at the moment. So, on a $125,000 house, we would pay $18,750 for framing and insulating a conventional house, and almost exactly double that for a superinsulated house, or $37,500. But really, we're interesting in the economics of the additional $18,750. If financed on a fixed 5.5% 15 year mortgage, that would raise your monthly mortgage payment by $180.55.

If you live anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line, your savings in heating costs alone, along with a much smaller furnace, should pay for its own way the first year. If you live south of the Mason-Dixon line, savings may not be quite as impressive, but your cooling AND heating costs, will very nearly pay for its own way the first year. If you like the house cool in the summer, you will probably break even.

You have basically traded an energy expense for a mortgaged framing/insulation expense. Further, this mortgage has a finite life of 15 years in this example. After 15 years, the expense goes away entirely, while the energy savings goes on for the life of the structure, saving enormous piles of money, energy and environmental damage while adding to equity value of the house. A green lifestyle that pays you back in money. What's not to like?

Finest regards,

troy and christina

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas Has Arrived at Maple Leaf Gardens

The “nesting” has continued and Troy put a lot of work into rearranging the entry way. The coats are behaving on a bar; the offending coat rack has been consumed by fire.

I came in afterward and cleaned and cleaned (but don’t picture it too clean—there’s still no eating off the floor or anything), and got so carried away I fished out some Christmas decorations and dressed up the room.

Feels good. It’s been so long, unwrapping the ornaments was like finding old friends. Or more like meeting old friends you thought were dead. Speaking of which, a few of the nicer gold balls did die in what we will just call the incident of 2009 and say no more of it. (Except that I hope it is the incident, as in the only one this year!)

That was yesterday during the afternoon. In the evening we reached a major milestone and moved the biodiesel processing into the shop. Troy prepared things by making sure all the drums were empty and clearing the biodiesel area in the shop.

The weather prepared things by lightly raining and sleeting on and off the whole time. But rain does mean milder temperatures and we survived our exposure.

We started by lifting the first drum and its wheeled stand and carrying it all the way from the garage to the shop. The next one we tried to push on the wheels—snow, water and ice on the ground notwithstanding. That worked reasonably well and that’s the method we stuck with.

Troy started his first batch of biodiesel in the shop today and is very excited by it. (Ok, not dancing excited, but “Yes, it’s nice to be able to produce biodiesel in the winter” excited.)

This has also led us to decide to burn the oil stove in the kitchen as much as we want. (It’s for heat, not cooking.) Troy can continue to make more, unlike last year when what we could store was all we could use over the winter. Running that stove makes a tremendous difference in the comfort of the house so this decision is making us very happy.

Today, we used the space newly available in the garage to stack up the metal siding. Troy has given up on getting all of it up “before” winter (now that it’s already arrived) so it needed to come out of the weather. We will still try to finish at least the south side when we have a nice enough day. The Tyvec on that side is the most weathered and could use some covering up.

That’s what’s happening around here.

Have a good week!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Red, the Heat Loving Rabbit

I've written before about our rabbit, Red, who didn't get the memo that rabbits don't like heat.

Previously she had confined herself to the corner behind the stove.

Today she started sitting in my spot.
I can't really blame her for wanting to sit there (because it's a really nice spot) but I'm a little worried by the look in her eye. Even asleep (she sleeps with her eyes open), I can see that she's not planning on giving it back, or even looking to share.

Good thing I'm still bigger than she is.


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

My Glasses Fling

This morning I decided that for once I would bring in wood now rather than later. It wasn't snowing when I got up and was actually light out, so why wait until after work when it's dark and who knows how much snow/sleet might be falling?

Anyway, I got into my grubbies (as we affectionately call them), grabbed the wheelbarrow and headed to the wood stack. While I was untying the tarp and flipping it back so I could get at the wood, a rogue gust of wind flicked the tarp which caught my glasses and sent them flying. Like, poof they were just gone.

I immediately started to look. On the wood pile. Behind the woodpile. On the tarp. Under the pallets. You get the idea: everywhere. Then I go around to where I can get over the fence and start looking in the cornfield. I mean those things were gone fast so I thought they might have really flown.

But I didn't find them. Then I start looking in crazy places: maybe they're hanging in the fence. Or maybe they're up in the tree. I think these things have to be easy to see even without my glasses on; I mean there's a fresh layer of snow everywhere. Coloured things usually stand out against a white background.

AT THE SAME TIME (as they say in knitting patterns), I was kicking myself, and pretty hard. I had thought about wearing my "work" glasses, but decided to wear the new ones. You know, the ones with the progressive lenses (no-line bifocals). Any other pair and I might not have worried about them too much--I mean I have six to eight sitting on my dresser at any given time that I could wear. But these are my new ones, the only progressive ones. The ones that would be costly to replace (even for me, an eye-care professional). Kicking, kicking, kicking.

After more than 10 minutes, I gave up. Loaded up the wheelbarrow with wood and headed to the house where I unloaded it and then put on my work glasses (kick, kick) so I could see.

Back out to the wood pile for another load and another kick look. I couldn't give up on it.

So I look in all the same places, and a few more nooks and crannies. With every step in my big snow boots, I am expecting to hear a big CRUNCH. And although that would be bad, the up-side would be that I would have found them. (Plus, I have the skills to fix them but need to actually have them in hand to do so!)

Another 10 minutes, and with great relief, I finally found them in the cornfield--on my third pass. The were standing in the snow, the temples very politely holding the lenses up off of the ground. No damage.


Lesson of the day: use the right tool for the job (including the right glasses).

PS: Tonight when we got home (around 6:30), the shop where we park was a balmy 48 degrees (F). The living room was a very chilly 47 degrees (F). It's amazing how your expectations influence how warm or cool a temperature feels!

Monday, December 07, 2009


I have to say if I were pregnant, the baby would be coming any day now. That is to say, I've been nesting like crazy. Troy got this all started. (Hmm...I guess that would be true of the pregnancy scenario too, but I digress...)

So how did it start? Troy wanted to insulate the kitchen. He wanted to start with the windows--the worst heat sinks in the house. So he cut foam insulation to make oh-so-attractive window inserts.

So je ne sais trash is, I believe, the phrase you're all waiting for me to say. (Troy instructed me to add that many great ideas are mocked and derided early in their development before being adopted by a few and then assumed by all. Think, for example, personal computers.)

So anyway, the kitchen will be warmer; the house will be ever less enticing to thieves (I assume). What this has to do with nesting is that in order to do this Troy had to clear away all the junk that has been sitting around in that corner of the kitchen. He managed to find new homes for most of it, and as far as I'm concerned it just disappeared.

So I am looking at a blank wall in the kitchen and thinking, "Wow, I could really put that to work." First step was to move the shelf serving as a pantry in the entry way to that corner of the kitchen. Reorganize, dust clean (let's be honest) and move everything on the shelf and throw in the canning stuff that had been piled up in the other "dumpy" corner of the kitchen. (I mean, have you ever heard of storing food in the kitchen? Very novel ideas I have these days.)

Step two was to turn the table 90 degrees so that it runs along the [now insulated] window wall instead of coming into the room. And sweep the floor. That alone made the kitchen feel like we could square dance in the middle of it.

It was quite amazing.

It was also a little disconcerting because the floor slopes madly away from the center of the room. (The porch they built that part of the kitchen on is sinking.) It wasn't really noticeable when there was just a pile of junk there, but now the black shelf could be dubbed the Tower of Pisa, it tilts so wildly. Troy and I both felt a bit like we were walking on a ship, but we've gotten our sea-legs since then and hardly notice it now.

Next step is to tackle the entry way. Moved the shoe shelf to where the food shelf was. Put up a rod to hang coats on. Remove old crappy space-hog of a coat rack that we inherited with the house. That will make such an improvement. I can't believe we put up with it this long, but it was there, and it had coats on it, and inertia is a hard thing to overcome!

And now that we're parking in the shop and coming in through the back door, we'll be putting some coat hooks back there too. We're just considering it all a sort of dress rehearsal as we wait to finish the house. Right now we can punch holes anywhere in the wall without real consequences and try out any arrangement we like. (Or should I say any arrangement we have the energy to implement.)

If I really get going on this, we might even have some Christmas decorations out this year. Can you imagine?

PS: Fun random tidbit: The other day Troy was working in the shop and one of the mousetraps he has out was in his way. So he put it on the hood of the pickup to keep it out of the way. Next time he walked into his guessed...he had caught a mouse! On the hood. Would not have thought that was the place to trap them!

PPS: Fun extra: In case the opening paragraph made you wonder what I might look like pregnant, here's a pic from Halloween a few years ago:

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Inside Parking, and How I Made My Honey Happy

Great news: We are currently parking inside the shop. The three vehicles are parked in a row. (Actually, I think the tractor is back there somewhere too.) We just have to think about who's leaving first in the morning and make sure they're first in line! With the recent cold weather, including a little ice and snow, I am very happy to not be scraping the windows.

Ever been on a ferry? Remember that first time? when you are directed into your line by a nice parking attendant and he waves you forward, and then more and then more. And you're thinking, "There's no way...I'm going to hit that car in front of me." But he just keeps waving you forward until you're inches from the car in front of you. (Because of course they have to pack them in to make as much money as possible and move as many cars as possible.) Remember that?

Well, that's kind of how this feels:
except I don't have a parking attendant waving me forward and telling me when to stop.

But so far so good...knock on wood.

And how did I make my honey happy? Today I managed to put in a second shift on the shop and we got the weather stripping put up around the big overhead door. Troy's been waiting to put that back up for a long time.

This afternoon between 3 and 6 we got the siding trim cut and put around the opening. And then this evening we went back out and got the weather stripping up. This is something better done on a "moderate" day so that the stripping is put up when it is neither too cold nor too hot. It can expand and contract with the temperature quite a bit.

We couldn't change the weather, so Troy put the stripping in the warm living room all day and then we brought it out one piece at a time to mount it. You do what you can. And I have to say, even though the weather wasn't "moderate," it wasn't half bad being out there. If it's not windy and not raining, the temperature can get pretty cold before it really bothers you.

The long hours of darkness, however, have really cut into my ability to take pictures of anything we do. It's frustrating that every time I think to take a picture, it's already dark out!

Meanwhile I'll leave you with the latest pic I have of our progress on the siding:

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Moving Mud

It's been a wet month, but Troy has managed to make progress on back filling dirt around the shop. The south and east sides are pretty much done.

A couple days ago, Troy got the bulk of the work on the north side done. It's tight back there and it was a lot of shovel and wheelbarrow work. We're going to have to get back there soon (I presume soon) for siding, though, so it had to be done.

He has dirt in place on the west side, but it still needs the hand work.
Apparently I can get to that any time I'm bored at home, or if I felt I needed a workout. So far, I've kept myself busy with other things. Strange.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Siding Commences

That's starting to look like a building, isn't it?!

Yes, we have started putting up siding. I should backdate this post because we actually started a good week and a half ago. Got most of what you see up on the wall, and then the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend--working between hosting family and working--we put up the one [very tricky] piece around the window.

It's been going well and we are learning how to do yet another job together. They say you should be learning all your life, right? If you're ever looking for new ways to learn, just try doing a job with someone else. One thing you'll definitely learn is that there are at least a hundred ways of doing almost anything.
If the rain holds off, we'll try to put in another couple hours tonight. (Well, I say, "If the rain holds off..." Troy might be counting on working in the rain. He's much tougher than I am in that way.)

I must remember, however, much colder weather is coming...

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