After a long break, MANY updates to post

I’ve been very busy building and trying to earn a living and I also made the fatal mistake of installing Movable Type for blogging software.  MT is so horrible, I paid about $150 for software and support and finally abandoned it.  The MT arrogance and extraordinary unfair business practices left me in no mood to blog here.

My main blog runs on the commercial Expression Engine software and that’s a huge headache too.  Originally, back in 2004, they targeted END USERS, but the software is now geared towards developers.  They forgot to mention this to their customers.

Fortunately, I had to update my business site and finally worked myself up to installing the FREE WordPress blogging software.  It ROCKS!

I can’t understand how it can be free and so easy to install and use.  Unlimited themes!  Support as good as anywhere else and FREE.  Next time I have a few dollars to spare, I’ll send a donation.

I also tried the WordPress hosted blogs first, but I prefer to have my sites on MY server and have full control over anything.  Not to mention that it’s cheaper.

Installing the blog and getting it set up was the easy part.  Since I had two different blogs here and I don’t like to spend frustrating hours figuring out how to export/import posts, I decided to simply copy/paste the postings and change the publish date to the original post date.

I’m almost done with posting the old entries here and I found it very interesting to see what I’ve looked at 2 years ago and how much my plans and goals changed.  I’d still like many of those cool items I looked at, like shutters and big wooden gates, but I know that I won’t be ordering.  DYI is my new concept.

My nephew visited for 2 months in 2007 and 2008 to help build and now I’m on my own.  I turned 50 a couple months ago and I just hope I’ll live long enough to finish this place and to maybe even enjoy living here.

I learned to so much in the last 2 years, really wish I didn’t have to start all over in my next life.

I moved, am finally off the grid

It’s been one heck of a busy summer.  My 23-year old nephew Tobi was visiting for a couple months, don’t know what I would have done without him.  Of course we also had to have a little fun, so we went to visit friends in Santa Fe and I finally got to see Taos.

We also checked out the Taos Pueblo and the friendly guys at the Pueblo patiently explained how to build with adobe and there were many hornos (ovens) in all stages of being built.  We got inspired to try adobe building.

The first project was my horno.  Until Tobi left, I was limited to helping him, but I finally added another row of bricks and yesterday a 2nd row, put a coat of mud on the inside and made some more bricks.  In this pic you can see that we were pounded with rain a couple weeks ago.


It’s about time I finish the horno, before we get more rain, as soon as the new bricks dried.

As it starts cooling off, I decided to add a lean-to addition on the south wall and a window to my laundry room (currently my office) for winter heating.  I’m still in the planning stage, but better get started soon before winter is here.  I’ll get some black (or as dark as possible) stucco elastomeric paint and will definitely use adobe bricks, in combination with lumber and lots of glass.  Already have a vent hole at the bottom of the laundry room, originally intended for the dryer and I’ll add a little window way high.  Then it’s just a matter of regulating the air flow.  And maybe I can grow tomatoes year round.

I’ve practiced my plastering skills in the garage (temp kitchen area) and then plastered the laundry room with the American Clay products and it is ultra cool.  A lot of work, but sure worth it.  I’ve already scratched the walls many times, installing shelves and the desk I made (fits perfectly into 2 corners) and you hardly see the scratches.  Of course it would be easy to entirely remove the scratches, on a slow day.  And it doesn’t just look good, it feels good.

Just a few weeks ago I moved and Tobi got the windgen (my old 403) set up just before he left.  That’s definitely a 2 people job.  It works GREAT, powers my office just fine on a windy day.

I also have a new Air X waiting to be installed, but first need more batteries and that in itself is depressing.  Since June they went up over 30%, price of lead is going through the roof.  That’s going to be my 24 v main system and I’ll be posting about my power setup a lot more too.

As I’m catching up on paid work (got bills to pay!) and get settled in (still have MANY boxes to unpack, after assembling more cabinets), I’ll post some of the thousands of pictures I took this summer and details about the ton of STUFF I bought to be able to live and work off the grid.

My latest project: organizing my research and sharing my building and off-grid experiences

In spring 2006 I realized that stress from suing the credit bureaus and sitting at the computer literally 12 – 14 hours EVERY day was making me sick.  I got strep throat around Xmas 05, didn’t know what it was and in March finally figured it out when I got rheumatic fever and felt like I was going to die.  Fortunately, I had I still had those antibiotics I got in Mexico in 1999 and they still worked just fine.

I hadn’t even had a cold in many years and as I got a few settlements for a total of about $25k, I bought a lot in 6/06, further down the road, away from people and with a real nice view.  I started with the garage, several neighbors built the garage. It all cost a lot more than expected and soon my credit cards were maxed out.

The 1,400 sq ft garage has about a third of the space allocated for two 2500 g water tanks and the batteries (am off the grid), basically my utility room.  When I realized that I couldn’t get a mortgage until I had a house and lived in it and that I wouldn’t be able to finance building the house, I had a major plan change.

I always had a bathroom in my garage plans and a “clean” room to refinish furniture, etc.  So I got a permit to convert 400 sq ft of the garage to living area and then build a 600 sq ft addition and this is eventually going to be the guest house.  I also got the permit to build the main house and the reason for this madness is to have a totally enclosed courtyard, covered with mosquito screen for a garden, outdoor kitchen, outdoor shower, hot tub, etc.

And no, I’m not counting on winning the lottery (never buy tickets), but I was hoping to walk away with about $50k from the sale of my old place, finish the addition, then get a mortgage to refi the credit card debt and just do a lot of work myself over the next few years.

So when I wasn’t writing court filings or doing client work, I’ve been working at my old place.  Cleaning up the yard, replanting with yuccas, painting just about everything and making sure everything works.  I just listed it a few weeks ago and the market was dead.  Unfortunately, I also have the neighbor from hell (white trash) and I’ve seen quite a few people drive by slowly, look at the neighbor’s place, drive off ….  So I just reduced the price and my agent told me the other day that the market is picking up.  Wish me luck.

I already sleep at the new place in my truck camper and drive every morning to my office in the old place.  Fortunately, it’s less than 2 miles, but I’m tired of commuting.

The addition pad is almost ready, but I still have to finish the footings and some plumbing and the propane, which was left leaking by the last guy who worked for me and who was supposed to pour the slab, but never had time when I had the cash.  3 times I’ve had $10k, and every time he waited until I spent the $$$ on the $2k in monthly credit card payments, stucco, whatever …

A couple weeks ago I showed my project to another concrete guy for an estimate and he ended up with heart problems in the hospital the next day.  Is it THAT bad?


Large picture

I sure learned a lot this last year, it’s too cool to see how a house is built and being able to do almost everything myself now.  I can do all my plumbing and the electrical to the panel.  But I have no clue how to wire the generator, transfer switch, …

I’m thrilled to have a couple 6v batteries in the garage charged by my lone solar panel that I took off the camper when it was still at the old place.  So now I have 150 ft of extension cords running from the inverter in the garage to the camper to charge the batteries there.  About as inefficient as it gets, but if works for now.

A few days ago I finally got to fire up my new 1000 watt gen, it nicely charges both sets of batteries.  It’s a LOT quieter than my 8000 watt generator and should use a lot less fuel.

Next week my 23 year old nephew will arrive for a 2 months stay and one of our first projects will be to install my wind gen, it’s almost always windy here.  Unfortunately, I dropped it and broke the blades the first and last time I tried to use it, back in 2000 in the camper in Alaska.  So I’m not even going to TRY to do that by myself again.

Once my old place sold, I’ll get myself a big enough battery bank so that I don’t have to worry about running the generator, I hate the noise.

Since last summer I’ve read a few books and did a lot of research on the web about alternative building and I even subscribed to a few newsgroups.  There’s so much good info available, but I’m too old to put up with disruptive trolls.  And it’s just so hard to find AGAIN what interests me.  I started a blog last year, but didn’t even have time to update it anymore.  And, to really organize, I need a forum.

In January bought the forum software and I FINALLY got it installed.  Don’t have time to make it look pretty right now, but I think it’s functional.  I’ll be posting about gadgets like my new 12v swap cooler, what works, what doesn’t, my Home Depot experiences, my problems and hopefully eventually solutions, as well as links to sites that interest me.

Ultimately, I’d like to move to Central or South America, to a country that’s not aligned with the US.  The trouble with that is that it’ll make me a target and building a bomb shelter isn’t really on my list of things to do.  I still struggle with the fact that you just can’t win.  Too many people are forced to work two or more crappy jobs to pay the bills and the mortgage and I’d like nothing more than to find alternatives.

I’m very tired of having to make a living helping people survive in this capitalistic corrupt system, trying to teach them how to increase their credit scores, how to move from being exploited to being the exploiter.  For every 0% balance transfer there’s at least one person who pays 30% interest or more.  That’s just how it is.

I’d rather do something more useful and since I can’t change the system, maybe I can encourage others to get out, to live without credit, without a “job”, without paying taxes …  Of course I still have to figure out how exactly that can be accomplished.

I myself am as much in the system as anyone.  But it doesn’t have to be that way forever.  I’m definitely looking for alternatives.  I’ll be 50 next year and it’s time for a change.

I’m not the only one interested in quitting the rat race —this forum has been closed for years, but it’s still read a lot.

Financing “unusual” custom homes

I’ve been EXTREMELY busy, building sure takes a lot of time.  I was searching for vigas for the ADDITION, as I my credit cards are almost maxed out and I have to move in and have a kitchen, etc.  I’m converting 1/4 of the 1,500 sqft garage to living area and I’m going to add about 600 sqft so that I can build the “main” house later and keep this as a guesthouse.

The water is on, my solar panel (from the camper) is charging 2 golf cart batteries and on Thursday I got the propane tank—the water heater is up and running.  Now I’m trying to decide how to build the addition and in my search for vigas construction I ran across this very interesting page:

Financing Alternative Homes

That sure is a cool looking house!  Once I moved in and got a mortgage I’ll start on the main house.  And I’ll finally get my battery bank and MAYBE Nanosolar is going to sell their new solar film by then.  I’d love to try that.

Update 9/13/08:

Financing is obviously VERY difficult to obtain for any house due to the credit crisis.  I don’t have a mortgage or the money for major improvements.  But that’s not all bad, I had time to see how things work out in my house and made LOTS of changes.

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.