Internet! Lights!

As those of you following me on Facebook or Twitter would know, the big news this week is that Serenity Valley has Internet! In the previous post, I said I was going to get an iPhone, but I changed my mind. I went into town just after midnight on the night of the 2nd (early the 3rd) to pre-order a Verizon iPhone, but failed to do so because I have a pre-paid account which isn’t eligible. By the time I was able to switch my account to post-paid later on the 3rd, the first batch of iPhones had already sold out, and I would’ve had to wait until the 9th to get in on the 2nd batch. That, I decided was too close to my planned Day Zero for Project 31, so it was time to switch to plan B. Additionally, I decided that I didn’t really need an iPhone. I have a first generation iPhone that was given to me for free as an award when I was working at Yahoo!, but shelling out $200 for a new one? And get locked in to a 2 year contract where I have to pay $75/month? I eventually decided that was too rich for me right now.

So, I decided to get a Verizon MiFi. With a 1 year contract, it’s $70 + tax (came out to a tad over $90 with various fees), and $35/month for 3GB ($10/GB after that). If I also have a pre-paid phone, that will only cost me about $15/month, so for $50/month, I can have internet & phone service. Plus, I can keep using my old iPhone as a mobile internet device by using the MiFi’s wireless connection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the MiFi, it is a thin, credit-card sized device that does one simple thing: it connects to the internet via Verizon’s wireless network, and turns into a WiFi base station (you can see it in the photo above, where it hangs near a window). To put it in simpler terms, I push a button on the MiFi, and then I hop on my laptop, connect to the MiFi’s wireless network, and presto, I’m online! And, I have to say, it works beautifully. The connection is fast enough to deserve the label “broadband,” though it probably doesn’t hurt that nobody else in my area is using that network (so, ironically, connection speeds may be lower in the city).

The speed is really a mixed blessing. Because it’s so fast, I can use the internet as I would on any broadband connection. Except, I have a 3GB cap (or, rather, would have to pay if I exceed the cap). On the one hand, this is somewhat frustrating. The connection is fast enough that I could watch TV shows on Hulu. But I have to restrain myself if I don’t want to exceed my limit. On the other hand, I think this works well for me. I have a finite amount of resources on my property, including a finite amount of electricity. It only makes sense that I have a “finite” amount of internet as well. When I’m in the city, I’m horrible at regulating my internet consumption behavior, so I’m actually glad that my electricity and bandwidth limits will force me to restrict my internet usage, at least when I’m on Serenity Valley.

Also, Hut 2.1 has electricity! By which I mean, I got a 100ft extension cable to draw AC power from my “power station” (solar panel + battery array + inverter, located in a clearing) all the way to the cabin. In the picture above, I’m using a 13W CFL bulb, but I’ll be switching to the LED bulbs soon. I also recently got battery-powered LED spotlights, but I’ll write about those in a separate post.

In other news, I’m getting better with the stove. In the last post, I wrote about how I was having a hard time keeping a small fire going. This problem has now effectively been solved, by doing two things. The first was to fill in a big hole in the stove with aluminium foil, so that the only place where air can get in is the actual air intake. So, now, I can actually control the air flow, which helps control the fire. The second thing I did was to put some rocks in the combustion chamber. What was happening before was that, as soon as a “log” (in my case, a peice of mountain mahogany 2-3 inches in diameter and 6-8 inches long) finished burning, the remaining hot coals would scatter over a large area, and the dispersed heat would be insufficient to burn the next log. By filling about a third of the combustion chamber with rocks, I am forcing the glowing embers into a smaller area, and the concentrated heat is sufficiently hot to get the next log going.

With these two changes, I can now keep smaller fires burning longer, and keep the hut at a comfortable 65F (18C) degrees. The one remaining issue is that, while it may be nice and warm up in the loft (which is great), it’s a good deal colder downstairs. This may be less of an issue once the floor is insulated, but I’m also planning on running some ducts and fans to circulate the air and even out the temperatures. (Question: should I blow hot air down, or cold air up?)

With Project 31 approaching, and with this strange spell of sunny weather bound to end with it (I mean, it just has to), I’ve been thinking about how much firewood I should store up. After all, if the weather gets wet, I may not be able to harvest more fuel for a while. But how much wood is enough? Well, that depends on how much I burn. So, to get an estimate of my burn-rate, after I got a couple of backpack loads (second load was less than full, so call it 1.75), I split the wood into smaller piles of 5 pieces each, with each pile weighing probably 4-5 pounds. I ended up with 13 such piles, which lasted me 4.5 evenings (though, a few of the evenings were pretty warm), burning 2.5-3 piles per night. So if 2 backpack loads give me 5 evenings’ worth, for 31 days, I should have 2x(31/5) or about 12 backpacks’ worth.

Having done all that work, though, I can’t remember exactly how many backpacks’ worth of wood I have right now… But I’m out of space under the hut, so, well, I hope what I have is enough. The nice thing about this mountain mahogany I’ve been harvesting is that its bark is usually stripped, leaving the hard wood, which doesn’t seem to soak up much moisture. So even if it snows (or rains), I should be able to find reasonably dry fuel, especially from trees that are dead but still upright (and therefore won’t accumulate much snow).

26 thoughts on “Internet! Lights!

  1. As I wrote earlier you do not have enough insulation in the roof or walls.

    You really need to think of insulation as a one off purchase, that will save you a lot of wood collecting cutting and storing.

    It will also enable you to control the temperature of your cabin, smoothing out the highs and lows.

    As hot air always rises and then the heat escapes through the roof, there is nothing to be gained by blowing cold air down, or up.

    At the moment the best of the available insulation’s is polystyrene/Styrofoam etc.
    These closed cell insulation’s are 98% air two percent plastic. They are wind and waterproof.

    The more polystyrene you add to the roof and walls the slower the heat will escape (you cannot stop heat from escaping you can merely slow its escape) however, slowing its escape will mean that the cabin is warmer at lower levels, even down to the floor.

    The ideal amount of insulation in your situation is 14 inches thick, with the ceiling and walls insulated to this level, your cabin will stay warm and comfortable at the lowest temperatures, most days and evenings you will not require any additional heat.

    From the size of the cabin 14 inches on the ceiling will be fine, probably 14 inches above heat height will work, below head height filling the spaces in the walls will improve the comfort while not reducing your living space.

    Four inches of polystyrene under the floor will help, keep in mind that the solid wood joists are directly connected to the warm air inside and the cold air outside… such they provide an express route out for your heat, a mixture of radiation, convection and conduction. About 1/8 th of your floor is solid wood, this is a very large amount of wood. Adding insulation between the joists will stop the convection losses but, as you can see those joists will continue to loose heat by radiation and conduction, as long as they are exposed. They really need to be fully enclosed with insulation.

    Also, block in the perimeter of the cabin, the wind blowing underneath is helping to strip your heat.

    • He used 2×4 construction how’s he going to get close to 14″ of insulation? I think R-13 batts I would think would be an easy solution, plus the insulation that was taped on the outside. Not sure how much R value that is.

  2. Perry, A big consideration for Ryo is the critters that want to move in with him. Any insulation in the joist bays will need to be critter-proofed. Skirting the bottom makes ideal habitat for small mammals that will soon colonize the hut. His insulation solution (above the subfloor) is probably his best option for this design.

    Insulating the lid looks like it will be a challenging with the shallow rafter depth. Ryo’s a creative guy which is why I look forward to seeing this project evolve and how it performs.

  3. I agree with perry and mo…insulation plan is something that should be worked on up front.

    I have r-30 installed in our ceiling and floor…I -joists…the bottom of the floor joists are filled with ply on the flanges of the I joist…keeps critter out.

    I regard to the wood stove …rock are going to cause ash clean up problems…I lined the bottom of our small wood stove with fire brick…maintaining a small ash bed insulates the smaller coals and keeps the heat concentrated..In my home we burn 5-6 cord each year…and next year will be my 20 th year here…needless to say…I’ve built and maintained a few fires

  4. Insulating the floor will make for a great change in how comfy the hut is, so that should be a priority, as is sealing any holes and gaps that may be left. I personally think the it doesn’t matter in such a small space which way the air is blown, as much as creating a cycle. You want hot air to raise from the stove, heat the top, and then blow down on the far end of your loft. I guess I would put a fan there, relatively high and blowing down and see how it goes.

    The fans that Terry mentioned are nice, but you can get a good efficient 12V fan at any walmart camping section for just as cheap (or better) and just as power efficient. Avoid PC style fans and most house hold fans if you can, as I think they are much less power efficient. Relatively bright LED cable lamps are also very common now, and can be easily modified for 12V DC operation of you want. They usually come with a 3.5V wall wart.

    You may want to still look into wiring your cabin for 12V, and getting a very high quality DC power supply. Most of the stuff you want is still going to be DC based and having a single high efficiency converter will give you more power to use in the house, as well as keep wire drop low.

    Have fun!

  5. For a small 120v fan for free, try pulling a compressor fan off a dead refrigerator (easily found at the dump). I did this a few years ago for a project and found that 3 out of the 4 we took worked just fine.

  6. Things are looking good! As far as circulating your warm air…could you rig up a small ceiling fan powered by an exterior wind turbine? Ceiling fans have a switch for winter/summer use, one setting pulls air up and the other blows air down.

  7. Consider going non-electric for moving air in such a small space as your house. Lehman’s, known for their wide range of non-electric tools and applicances for the Amish community and those living off the grid, has a wood stove fan in their Hearth Accessories section of their web site.

    “Redistribute warm air using wood stove’s heat
    Reduce hot and cold spots in your room with little trouble and no extra energy. These fans are powered by the heat of your stove. Ingeniously designed, they convert thermal energy into electrical energy.

    -Blades start turning when stovetop reaches about 250oF
    -Optimal performance between 400-600oF
    -Unobtrusive and virtually silent, they will amaze and intrigue guests – a great conversation starter!
    -No maintenance or installation required
    -Aluminum body, 1-year warranty
    -Made in Canada
    Note: Fan will start turning when stovetop reaches about 250o F. Do not use on surfaces that exceed 700o F. If surface exceeds 700o F, remove fan from stove or move to edge of stove where it is cooler.

    For optimal performance stove surface should be between 400-600o.”

  8. Do you have a carbon monoxide detector? That is pretty important when running a wood stove. Incomplete combustion creates carbon monoxide which can kill you without your being aware of it. Sleeping in a loft will help, but I think you would be better to be on the safe side. My great grandparents slept with the windows cracked open so they could have fresh air at night. That can be pretty chilly in a mid-west winter, but it’s better than being dead.

    Also you need to get something on the floor around your stove that is fireproof -a piece of metal, more bricks, something. Accidents happen, green wood crackles, spurts out sparks, small coals, you get distracted and touch something hot and jerk away sending coals flying, whatever. Having a fireproof barrier will keep an accident from becoming a disaster.

  9. FYI for verizon wireless, the unlimited data plans are really unlimited, not even 5gb cap, so a basic android phone with wifi sharing is a possible alternative at some point. I was pulling almost 2gb / day when traveling and never got any trouble about it.

    • Unfortunately I don’t think they offer them anymore. My wife and I got our mifi some 3 months ago, only the tiered plan which Ryo already mentioned was available.

      Around the same time, my father retired and decided to go completely mobile (he and my ma are traveling the country), so they when from no cell to a Moto Droid X, also on Verizon. The are unfortunately paying nearly $150 a month on that phone because Verizon makes them get 3 data plans. $70 or so for the phone minutes, an addition $20 or $30 for the phone data, and an additional $50 for the shared wifi data plan. It’s really a hard thing to swallow which is why I really think Ryo’s plan makes so much more sense.

      They might have a different structor for the iphone, Verizon is known of different rate structors for different devices. It’s pretty bad. It’s a shame they really do have the best network.

  10. very informative, thank you for all your info. I am just finding your site and it is really cool to see what you are doing, thanks again

  11. Congrats on what you’ve accomplished so far. If I may make a suggestiion, move your batteries closer to the house or at least enough battery to run your lights, laptop and mifi. The longer the DC has to travel the more power you’ll use to get it down the line. Are you using an AC converter?

  12. If you put a 12v battery in your cabin, make sure it’s in an battery box, preferably an insulated one. It should be a deep cycle battery. You can run some small gauge wiring from your solar cells to a charge controller inside your cabin to keep your battery charged. 16 ga. wire will carry 10 amps all day long which is more than enough to keep the battery charged. Check out HomePower Magazine for more info on off grid living.

  13. Great blog you got her Ryo, you get tons of comments which is awesome, what do you do during the day on during your project 31? You building for a few hours then hanging out? Any schedule or deadline to finish the cabin by or are you waiting for materials?

  14. When moving heat the rule is to always have the exaust near the fireplace. You never want to create a vacuum near the stove. It is probably not going to be a problem in a place as small as yours.

    The other commenters are right that better insulation would help a lot. I don’t like closed cell foan though, a breatheble material like rock or glass wool with a vapour barrier on the hot side is much better for your building materials.

  15. Glad the mifi is working for you, it is in fact horrible in the city (at least in Seattle), disconnects so often I am having to switch back to regular internet right now since I work online.

    Anyways! Good luck on project 31!

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