Summary: Solar, wind, passive solar, …

I’m totally overwhelmed.

First I thought I’d stay off the grid because I’m definitely NOT going to pay Unisource to ruin my view with these ugly power lines.  Mohave county must be one of the last places in the civilized world to NOT put new power lines underground.

I’ve also asked Unisource for info about net metering since 2000, when I bought my place near Meadview, Arizona, between Lake Mead and Grand Canyon West in the Joshua tree desert.  Every time I was promised info by fax, email or snail mail.  I never got anything.  I even read the inserts with the power bill, hoping for any sign off alternative energy.  Nada.

Over the weekend I spent endless hours searching for PV systems, tax credits, subsidies, sample systems and passive solar.  I found a link with references to Unisource PV system subsidies and then found some pages from 2004 at their site.

Yesterday I talked with Steve Crouch at Unisource and he’s a real nice guy.  While they’re currently out of funds, there’s a good chance I could get a subsidized net metering system.

I also want a separate DC system for lighting in the hallways at night (LEDs that look like candles, if possible) and several cigarette lighter plug-ins to run the notebook and some other appliances, car stereo, etc. when the grid is off.

Preferably, I’d have the main system with a battery bank for A/C backup, but it seems like Unisource doesn’t allow for batteries at this time.  The power here TOTALLY sucks.  My office backup battery died last week when I decided to turn off the main power during a big storm since the outlet in the office was blocked by a bunch of file boxes.  Today the power went totally out several times and all summer we have problems.  The lights dim, the fridge slow down, the radio shuts off.  It sure would be nice to be able to improve the quality of the grid power.

I’ve had a solar panel on my camper since 99.  It’s a Quartzsite install and I’ve been very happy with it until last year.  I learned the hard way that cheap camper chargers fry the batteries when you’re always plugged in.  I still sleep in my camper (it’s like going camping every night) and I love the view from the loft bed and being to able to open the big vent above the bed to watch meteors.  But in summer I close the vent when it gets warm in the morning and I turn on the A/C.

So I had the camper plugged into the A/C all the time and fried battery after battery.  I got a new charger now, but have yet to find the time to install it.

My wind gen has never really been used and I *hope* it still works.  If so, I might want to use it for the DC system since Unisource doesn’t want wind power.

As I’ve read up on off grid systems, I realized that I’d have to give up my big side-by-side fridge with the cold water and ice.  That would really suck.

I also just figured out that I can *probably* pay Unisource to bring the power in underground and that would definitely make the grid a lot more attractive.

I downloaded Home Plan Pro and started on my plot plan and I tried Google’s Sketchup and will post on those separately.

I found PV system design classes online for a few hundred bucks.  Am tempted to spend the $$$.  I have someone for the installation, but nobody with CURRENT experience.  There’s one solar guy in Kingman and he’s rarely at his shop.  I couldn’t even find his shop, he moved and calling only got me his answering machine.

And when it comes to building, I don’t even know where to begin.

I ordered the septic system, but it’ll take about 6 weeks for the county to issue the permit.

Hopefully the building area will be graded this week.  The first project is a temporary building for “stuff.” Then the garage and it may take me a few years to get to the house, depending on my financial situation.  Once I can move out of here, I can sell this place and pay off the credit cards and build the house.

Looked into construction loans too, but I don’t want to hire a general contractor and have to rush everything.  Since I have several neighbors with lots of building experience, I rather work with them.  I’ve talked to several people who built garages and houses and to my amazement none had a real plan.  The county only requires a plot plan and doesn’t inspect anything until 1/1/07.  So they say …  And that explains some of the funky construction around here.

The garage is going to be pretty big, need to store all my stuff, 2 water tanks (water haul) and of course I need a bathroom/utility room and office.  My current office is only about 6 x 10 and I’m going insane with all the file boxes.  I need a LOT more space.

The house will have a courtyard and right now I’m leaning towards SW / Mexican style.  I’ll probably use blocks for the house.  And I’m going to have a basement.  Fun, fun, getting through the caliche.

I’ve tried to keep track of the sites I’ve looked at and quickly realized that there’s no better way to organize than with blog categories.  Search works great too and hopefully some of the info will be helpful to others.  Of course I’m also hoping for feedback and some tips.

So I’ll start with posting what I got so far.

Pueble SacBe and Playa Systems

Pueble SacBe Ecology

This site interested me especially since I want to relocate somewhere South of the border.  An interesting community, but I don’t think my kind of climate.  Please let me know if you have any info on similar communities in the highlands anywhere from Mexico to South America.

For power, they link to Playa Systems with a description and pricing for a range of off grid systems.

Rastra blocks – Mikey blocks – Omni blocks – Ytong ….

I just received my Amazon order with 2 solar books and started to go through John Schaeffer’s Real Goods Solar Living Source Book: The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Technologies and Sustainable Living (Real Goods Solar Living Sourcebook)

I barely got started, will update with my thoughts on the book once I made it through.

Since I’m almost certain that I want to use some kind of blocks for the house, it got my attention when John wrote that he just built his house with Rastra blocks.  Obviously, he highly recommends them:

“… Recent structural testing found a Rastra wall to be seven times better under earthquake-type stresses than a wood-framed shear wall, according to marketing director Richard Wilcox …”

And:  “… Another huge advantage to Rastra is that it lends itself beautifully to being shaped and sculpted in to just about any design. …”

I didn’t see anything about thermal properties, R-rating, etc.

A neighbor is building his house with Omni blocks, concrete blocks with styrofoam inserts.

A very negative page marketing of Rastra blocks, but little substance:  Rastra Bad Vibrations

Building tomorrow’s home

I like the looks of the house outside, but the inside is too much of a “Sunset” yuppie home.  I like the curves and rounded edges and I’ve been looking into plaster.

“IT’S CALLED RASTRA:  a precast forming system using long modules made of recycled polystyrene and cement that contain cavities for rebar and concrete. Despite their massive appearance, the 10-inch-thick, 15-inch-tall, 10-foot-long blocks weigh only about 150 pounds …”

ONLY 150 lbs?  Damn, I struggle with a 50 lb dog food bag.

“… and can be glued together horizontally or vertically. The polystyrene and air gaps in the block add insulative properties and, when sealed, give a 10-inch-thick wall an R-value of 36, more than twice that of traditionally framed walls. …”

Quite a bit of info and even prefab walls.  I don’t know whether that truck would make it to my lot.  They did just bring in a mobile in the next block.

A report on the Pima County Alternative Building Materials Exhibit

Overview of various materials.  I have yet to find any PRICES and since I got the court yard, I have LOTS of walls and would really like to get an idea what it’s going to cost me.

“Rastra’s square-footage price—$3 to $4.50—is based on wall surface, not floor space. Rastra has historically cost more than stick-frame, though rising lumber prices are shrinking the difference. Milholland says installed Rastra costs about 10 percent more than wood, though you’ll save on maintenance down the road.”

I’m too tired to start calculating right now, but sooner or later, I’ll have to.

Rastra Block

Description: These are like real long concrete building blocks, except they’re made out of recycled styrofoam coffee cups…a good insulator…they’re stacked up, bonded together with spray foam, then poured full of rebar and concrete to form a very strong wall … similar to “ice-block”. The wall is stuccoed and plastered.

Characteristics: They provide a superior wall insulation…the mass (concrete) is isolated by the foam and not usable…but the thin-mass plaster interior is good massing.

Recommendations: That much steel and concrete is hard to rationalize as sustainable, but the foam is recycled. They’re very owner-buildable. It’s not a natural system, but it’s more recycle-based than new iceblock systems.


That the mass is not usable is strange.

And here are Mikey blocks

And HTM:

And Ytong, a popular material in Germany:  YTONG and HEBEL brands

Ok, my head is spinning now.