Monday, May 30, 2016

(May 30) Kitchen Backsplash

Went to Home Depot over the holiday for some window trim. Ended up picking up a new air compressor on a pretty good sale. We got a Porter Cable portable unit for $99. Our other unit was 15+ years old and maxed out at about 85 lbs of pressure the last couple of times we used it. The new one hits 150 which will be way more than we need even to drive pins into the steel studs. The fact that you can pick it up and easily carry it helps a lot also. If we get half of the life we got out of the other unit, I'll be good with it. Multiple air jacks were a nice feature also. I think this will be a really popular model with the Tiny House community because of it's light weight and small frame.

While there, we browsed the tile section, still contemplating what to do about the kitchen backsplash. Kim had really been leaning towards subway tile and we found a pattern we could both agree on. Must admit, I was a little nervous since we had not laid tile before. Of course, we had never built a house before either and that didn't stop us.

Not a huge investment for the tile so even if we messed it up, we could take it out and start over or try something else. We found some sheets of pre-positioned tiles and started gathering materials. Like usual, the supporting cast (tools, supplies, etc) were more expensive than the tiles themselves. We ended up with backer board, tile adhesive, grout, a trowel, spacers, a tile cutter and a sponge. We didn't think about a 2nd trowel for the grout so I put it on with my hand. It was no big deal.

Tile Cutter

Cutting the backer board to fit the sections around the windows was the 1st step. Hardi board is really durable just a pain to cut.

Hardi Backer installed on the wall

After we got the backer board up, we started laying tile. We had picked a tile that came in 1' sheets. This made it easy to set groups of tiles at one time.

Subway tile sheets

Since it was in an offset pattern, we had to cut odd pieces to fill the 1/2 gaps at the end of the rows. This took some practice but we soon got the procedure down and didn't waste too many in the process. I had forgotten that you're supposed to start tiling along your lowest point first. That way when you come around to the higher spots, you can stay on a straight line. While I was gone to the store, Kim got us off to a great start and we made the corner around the wall without a hitch. It came out great event though the counter tops on the two walls were a bit different. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than know what you're doing! lol

First section of tile up and glued to the backer board.

We had to take the bottom section off of the window frame to make room for the tiles underneath. Another case of "things would be a lot easier if we actually had a plan when we started building!" lol The adhesive sets up pretty quickly so you don't want to get ahead of yourself. After you set the tiles in place, they have a tendency to slide down a bit. Spacers helped keep everything where it belonged long enough for the adhesive to set.

Continuing pattern under window

After we got the square tiles set, we put on cap tiles across the top. We had a sheet of the 1/4" backer left over from a previous project. With this thickness, the top cap tiles leave a little reveal against the other tiles. I liked this look so we went with it. If we had used the 1/2" backer, the top cap would have laid flush. HD didn't carry an inside corner piece so we butted the two corner tops and filled in the gap with grout. We cut a shave off of the window trim piece we removed earlier and replaced it. We then caulked around all of the edges.  I think it came out pretty nice for our 1st time. :)  

Final kitchen tile work

After we finished with the tile, we turned our attention to the wall behind the stove. We decided that we would put a metal backer here. We looked for some affordable stainless steel but it eluded us so we chose a sheet of aluminum from Lowe's. We had to cut out sections for the electric outlets and the counter offset. Our cut-off saw with a thin blade made quick work of it. To keep from having to make a long cut along the wardrobe side, we loosened the wardrobe from the wall and slid the sheet metal behind it. (We had attached it to the wall just to make sure it never came crashing down on anyone.) Then just tightened the wardrobe back to the wall. Some construction adhesive on the wall beforehand and screwing the outlet plate back in place secured the sheet metal for good. Not quite as flashy as stainless steel but for $19 I'm not complaining.

Sheet metal in place behind the stove. It won't be any harder to keep clean than tile, hopefully!

The next project of the weekend was to replace the trim on the front window. This was the original window that we had built a craftsman trim around last year. We had pre-painted it gray to match the baseboards but after putting up the remaining window trim in the house without paint, we decided we liked it better in the natural wood. So, here we are, tearing out our pretty window to replace it with something even better. Hard to believe we're remodeling before we even move in! LOL

Original window casing. 

The original window probably took us 5-6 hours to plan and install. We had the process down to about an hour on the replacement after having done all of the rest of the house.

New West window casing with natural pine. 

We also got the north and south baseboards laid. Next week, we'll replace the west baseboards as well as the corner trim that was painted. We'll also work on finishing the composting toilet. That should complete the interior work on the 1st edition of the Little House in the Woods.

Showing the grandson how to use a nail gun. He'll be ready to start on his own Tiny in a few years! :)

Monday, May 23, 2016

(May 22) Painted House

I don't think I've seen Kim so excited as she was when we painted the house this weekend. "It's all one color!" she exclaimed! I must admit, it was a big milestone. We still have a little work to do on the roof, getting the last of the soffit up and getting the gutter up and plumbed into the cistern but for the most part, the outside is now finished! Woo Hoo! I can't wait to see how the front door comes out next week. Kim picked out a deep maroon color for it to give the house a splash of color.

I'd forgotten how much "fun" it is to haul a ladder around the house, twice! In our original plan, the house was supposed to be 4' taller at this North side. Glad things worked out like they did!

It looks gray but its actually a light green. Just depends on how the light is hitting it at the time. 

Yes, I need to take down the Christmas lights! LOL

Also happy to report that our solar panels are finally in full production. It's really exciting seeing billing meter roll back through the week. Hoping we can get enough production through the summer to offset our air conditioner. Even if not, having a $20-$30 electric bill through the summer will pretty amazing. We'll evaluate how much juice we use this year and see if it will be worth adding any additional panels to bring us to Net-Zero. Good to see a plan come to fruition. :)

Our 1st 4 Kilowatt hours produced. I tried to catch it at 1, but I had gone to town to get some supplies and it was at 4 when I returned that afternoon.  lol  Here's to 30 years of production! 

Hoping we get some work done next week. The forecast actually shows a good chance of rain for the next 12 days straight. :(  Can't wait.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

(May 15) Windows Framed

Again, big thanks out to Rob and Cory for coming out and helping this weekend. While Cory and I work working on the Composting Toilet bench, Kim and Rob set out to the task of framing windows. They came out great looking. It also reinforced the thought we had recently that we would leave them their natural wood color. We'll give them a coat of poly to help protect from water and dirt. I love the wood grain and textures.

South living room window. 

We'll coat this one especially good in polyurethane as I'm sure it will take it's share of wine glass spills! :) 

East kitchen window.

South kitchen window with the island pulled out. This has been one of my favorite features of the kitchen!

South view with the island tucked away.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

(May 16) Composting Toilet Cabinet

I was so grateful and appreciative that our friends, Cory & Rob, came out this weekend to spend time and help on the Tiny build. Cory was tasked putting his very extensive Sketchup talents to work designing a bench for our composting toilet. I love seeing someone do in 5 minutes what it would take me hours to do! :) Here's the build as it progressed.

Cory, working on the frame

Basic Frame done

Cut the tops out of Maple plywood and started installing hinges. We also installed the porcelain tiles on the front face. 

Main toilet cavity open 

Both doors open. 

Hidden in the shadow, there is an electrical line hanging out of the sheet metal for an exhaust fan. The smaller compartment to the right will be for a materials (peat moss or sawdust) container. If we can't find something to fit the opening, we'll build a box out of plywood. I want to be able to pull the container out and refill it outside as there is a lot of dust kicked up when I do. 

Toilet lid in place

We couldn't find enough stainless steel hinges on our trip to town so we will have to work on the side door next time. Next, we will work on placement of the bucket and the urine diverter as well as plumbing to run out to a leech line that will be buried and run down hill from the back of the house.

Monday, May 9, 2016

(May 2016) Solar Array Details

I've gotten a lot of questions on our solar array. Here are some details including costs as of early 2016.

There are (6) 260 watt German made panels from Hanwa. They are each tied to a microinverter made by Enphase, model M250. They are Grid-Tie inverters which means that they require you to be hooked up to grid power in order for them to work. If the grid goes down, so do the panels. This ensures that no one working on the power lines down the road gets hurt by the power we're generating and feeding back into the system. Enphase has a trunk cable that will tie all of AC power together into one line. This is not a backup for times when the power goes out. This is a sytem to offset our electric use. Instead of feeding a battery bank, these panels feed our house and the excess power goes into the grid for credits against future use. The cost (and maintenance effort needed) of batteries led us to use grid power. We have a generator for backup power should we need.

Our Power Company (Farmers Electric Co-Op) has several requirements for grid-tie systems. 1) Must use UL1741 compliant inverters (change DC power from panels to AC so it can feed into your house). This ensures that if the grid goes down, the array turns off. 2) You must have a cut-off box with a lockable external switch installed to shut down the array when needed. 3) You need to install a meter base next to the array. They will provide the meter so that we can monitor how much power is being generated monthly.

Past that, it's just common sense. I put in a double pole breaker into our breaker box for the incoming 240v power. You must use a double pole breaker, not 2 singles, so that if there is a problem, it will shut down both 120v legs of the incoming power. this also ensures that your 2 120v legs are in phase and will combine to 240v. You should mount this breaker at the far end of the bus bar (opposite of the power company's incoming lines) in your breaker panel to help evenly distribute incoming power. The inverters put out AC power at a higher voltage than the power company lines. This allows the voltage to push back into the power lines and into your house. This power is taken 1st as your appliances need it. If your household demand is higher than your array is producing, then it pulls the remainder from the grid from the power company. If you are making more than you are consuming, this power (since it's a higher voltage) pushes back into the grid and feeds your neighbors houses.

Since the system requires a bi-directional billing meter, your meter runs backwards as long as you're pushing excess power onto the grid. Thus, the electric company is buying the power that you're generating. Currently, we get full retail value for this excess we make but only against our usage in the current month. They reset the credits on each monthly billing cycle. We never get a refund check for excess power generated but we are getting full retail price for it. I am pushing for them to allow a longer period of credit accumulation, possible 6 months or a year. This would even out the seasons for the consumer. They have been pretty responsive so far to other requests. They earlier dropped the requirement for additional insurance coverage since they also required that the inverters automatically shut down in case of power outages. This meant that there should be no additional risk from the home based solar array.

System Costs:

Hanwa Q-Cell 260Watt Panels (6) at $213 ea. (no freight as I picked them up locally)
Enphase M250 Inverters (6) at $158 ea (changes DC power from panel to AC power for house)
Enphase Trunk Cable (6) connections at $20 ea (this is what combines the inverters)
Enphase Trunk Cable Terminator (1) @ $15 (caps off the trunk cable at the end)
Usage Meter Base (1) at $37 (power company provides the actual meter for free)
Midnite Solar Cut-Off Switch (1) @ $185 (provides disconnect of array)
20 Amp breaker Cutoff Switch (1) @ $25
20 Amp Double Pole Breaker for Main Breaker Box (1) $8
Mounting Rack (1) @ $250 (put together myself from Home Depot materials)
Conduit and wiring from panels to breaker box $80
Grounding Rod & #4 bare copper $40
Misc conduit connectors $12
Trencher rental 1 day @ $120 (to bury the wire from the panels to the breaker box 100' away)

In all, I have about $3,000 into the system. Our electric company is giving us a $1,000 rebate for installing solar since it eases their demand. Nice to have a power company that's not profit-driven! They also gave us a $3,000 credit when we installed our grid power lines and transformer. That would have just about covered the cost of installing overhead lines but I hate them and would have had to cut down some of our gorgeous 60' Oak trees to accomodate. That wasn't going to happen! So, we installed underground service 750' from the road to our meter base. Kim and I ran cabling (additional 100') to the house where we installed another breaker box to feed all of the household circuits. Here, I ran 100 amp service and put in 12 breakers and 250' of 12 gauge wire for our 240 sf house. :) Every outlet, light switch and appliance is on its own breaker. :)

The solar array generates about 1,500 watts. That's 1.5 KWHrs for every hour that the sun's shining on the array. It gets about 5 hours of direct sunlight now. The Enphase inverters are MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) which allows for varying output from each panel. If one is in the shade, only that one slows down production.

Right now, we're only at the house part time. That means that it will be generating power for credits on 4-5 days that we're not there. We have propane for our stove and water heater so hopefully our power needs will not exceed what the panels can produce for now. As we're ready to relocate here permanently, we can add additional panels to offset the additional demand. Since all of the wiring and infrastructure are in place, it should be pretty cost effective to expand. Buy a pane, an inverter and trunk cable. No telling what solar panels will cost in the next 3-4 years as they have dropped by half in the past 4 years. Currently we expect a payback in about 5 years of service. The awesome part is being able to put together your own power generating station and know that you control your electric costs for the next 30 years. This should set our electric bill at $15/mo for the rest of our lives. :)

Here are some pics of the system as we put it together.

Built stand out of fencing materials and steel from HD

Panels from front view

Added meter base for usage meter from power company. Enphase inverters (gray box on under each solar panel)

Enphase 250 watt microinverter. One for each panel.

Double Pole breaker in breaker box. (yes, I have a breaker to add to the open slot! :)

Billing meter on left. Main Breaker box on top right. Cut-Off switch wired in below. Everything labeled for safety! 

Specs on the Solar panels

(May 12) Finally got our bi-directional meter and new Net-meter installed from the electric company. Happy to report that our solar array is in full production. :) Very exciting to see your electric meter count backwards.

Our 1st 4 Kilowatt hours produced! Cool knowing that we'll be in production for the next 30 years. :) 

Panels with production meter in place.

(May 2) And the rains came down!

Had hoped to get a lot accomplished this weekend. Didn't work out that way. Friday, I checked the forecast. Showed it was supposed to start raining about 7pm. I got busy that morning and picked up wire and conduit to make the electrical run between the solar panels and the meter/breaker box. By noon, I had the wire laid out and had installed the new meter base as well as wired it into the inverters. I was feeling pretty productive. I decided that I didn't need but a good hour to get the trench dug to lay it all. I went to town and rented a trencher. I got about 20' of the 100' done and I hit a soft spot and the trencher buried up in the mud. No forward, no reverse. About 3 minutes later, literally the bottom of the barrel dropped out. It started pouring rain - 6 hours early. I couldn't get the truck down the drive to help pull it out. It was going to have to wait, at the tune of $160/day. I got to the cabin to change clothes and wait. After 4 hours of non-stop, I decided to take the trailer back to the rental store since I had no way to make it up the driveway to secure it for the night. By now, much of the property was 4" deep in water flooding from across the road. I got back (changed clothes again!) and started supper. Kim arrived about 30 min later. Wide-eyed and wondering what the hell happened. It rained hard for several more hours while we enjoyed a movie. In all about 5" of rain in 8 hours.

Trencher stuck in the mud!

The good news is that it did stop raining and the water all subsided. I bought an electric winch, took the battery out of the truck and got the trencher out of the mud. :) We also decided that we might as well finish trenching since we had paid for the time. About an hour later, we were done. We hand-dug the areas too soft to risk getting stuck again. I took the trencher back and they felt bad that we had gotten it stuck (not their problem!) and gave me a discount on the rental. I have spent a lot of Money at Hooten's Hardware over the past 4 years since we bought this property and there's a reason I keep going back. They really have great customer service. :) I appreciate you guys!!

Electric Winch mounted to a sturdy Oak :) 

Afterwards, we got all of the conduit glued up and I finished wiring the new meter base and added breaker in the main. All-in-all it went pretty smoothly. I'll be really pumped when we get the new bi-directional meter installed and all of this finally starts paying us back. Weird thinking about a lifetime (mine at least) of free, clean energy. :)

Partially trenched. We finished the rest and laid the conduit that afternoon.

Cut-Off Box installed and wired.