Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Independence Day

Hello 120-Square-Feet Followers.  Matt and I are heading up to the mountains for a week's vacation to work on the house.  We have some friends coming down from Michigan and up from Georgia again, like we did last year.  A good time will be had by all. 

I'll post a recap when we get back next week, but in the meantime feel free to follow me on twitter.   I'll post real-time updates on the progress while we're there. 

Thanks for coming along on this crazy adventure. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tiny Houses on NPR Weekend Edition

I love to see the tiny house movement get the national attention it deserves.  Here is a link to the story from Weekend Edition

Monday, June 21, 2010

Long Weekend in Asheville: Preparation

Matt and I just got back from spending a long weekend up at Mt. Matt.  We took Friday off, and headed up to the land after work on Thursday. 

The main focus of this past weekend was to prepare for guests.  We're having a few friends up over 4th of July again this year, so we needed to make sure that areas were cleared for camping. 

On Friday, we got up early and drove over to a Home Depot across town that rents brush mowers.  When we got there, the rental center guy was completely unconvinced that the brush hog would fit in the Element.  We were sure it would.  Matt even said to me "I have never lost the 'What Will Fit In The Element' argument with anyone".  And sure enough, the brush hog fit neatly into the back of the element. 

When we got back to Mt. Matt, we got to work.  Matt's job was brush hogging the meadow by the barn, the camping areas, the area by the shower and up the trail.

My job was to go up to the tiny house and paint the outside of the window panes the same gray as the metal roof.  We split up and went to work. 

We were in the zone.  Matt pushed himself, maybe a little to hard, and brush hogged all the way up the trail to the ridge.  And I put on some music and painted the windows.  I admit to not being the best painter in the world, so I knew after the first couple windows that I would need to do a second coat.  That was fine, because it was only Friday after all.

Finally, toward the end of the day, Matt pushed the brush mower toward the Tumbleweed clearing. I could tell he was exhausted.  His original plan was to take the brush hog all the way down into the lower clearing, but the path down is very steep and I was pretty sure he wasn't going to want to push the mower back up.  He agreed, and instead just took the mower down behind the Tumbleweed clearing down the trail we cut last year toward the spring and called it a day.

Once the work for the day was done, we cleaned ourselves up and loaded up the brush hog to return to the Home Depot rental center.  After dropping it off, we went into Asheville for dinner to celebrate.  We went to the new Pack Tavern downtown.  We sat at the bar and had a couple of tasty burgers and beers.  Then we walked right next to tavern to the park and sat for a while before heading back to Mt. Matt. 

Saturday involved more of the same for me - a second coat on the windows.  They looked a lot better once I was done with that.  Matt spent the day with the chainsaw cutting down some of the last trees that had fallen during the Snowmageddon back in December.  There was one right next to the barn where people typically camp, but now it is nice and cleared out for 4th of July weekend. 

Before starting work on Saturday, we went to Zuma Coffee for breakfast, which was delightful, and then to Ingles to buy stuff to make for dinner so we didn't have to go out again.  After I finished painting the windows and Matt was finishing up the tree clearing, I set up the grill and made some Feta and Spinach stuffed chicken sausages that we ate with Greek feta pasta salad.  Yum.  After dinner, we got back to work and constructed the final shower wall.  Our shower platform use to be secluded behind trees and with only a flimsy bi fold screen, guests were able to take a hot shower nestled in nature.  After the trees were leveled in December, we needed to do something else, so we built a couple of walls.  There was one more wall to go, and Matt and I put that together in about a half an hour before dark on Saturday.  Now, we just have to cover it with canvas material and viola, a shower! 

Sunday, I ran up to the tumbleweed house to put the newly painted windows back in.  Then we cleaned up the barn, packed up the car and drove back to Atlanta. 

We took a week off for the 4th of July - we will be up there from June 30th to July 7th.  I can't wait. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Let there be light!

I am the worst blogger in the world. Laura started this blog months ago with the idea that we’d both post about our experiences, but I’ve neglected to do so until now. Oh well, onward and upward!

At the end of May, I gave a workshop on alternative building. I may post more about that a bit later (let’s be honest, it took me 6 months to make my first post, so I wouldn’t bet on it), but for now I wanted to answer one of the more common questions I received.

Several people asked how we generate and store and use electrical power on our land. The short answer is “the sun”, whenever possible. For a slightly more useful explanation, I’ll break it up into a few different categories: power during the build, power for general use, and possible future expansion.

Building a house (especially one as small as ours) without power from the utility company is really not that hard. The key is to think about what you actually need and plan accordingly. In our case, I figured we’d only need a handful of power tools. Most of the smaller ones – drills, skill saw, reciprocating saw, etc. – were battery powered, so that meant I only needed to figure out a way to power the chargers. The miter saw, cement mixer, and compressor were the only things that needed to be plugged in while in use. I could have just bought a small generator and had the whole problem solved, but I set a goal to build a house using as little external power as reasonably possible (where I get to define “reasonably”, of course!), so I invested in a small solar setup at the beginning of the process.

Two other main goals were to keep the costs down and not overcomplicate things unnecessarily, so I looked to small commercially available solutions to get started. I could write all day about the options that are out there and all of the pros and cons, but I was a first time builder, so simplicity became the deciding factor. What I bought was a 60 watt solar array and a 60 amp hour battery pack with a built in inverter. With those, I have been able to charge all of my cordless tools, and run the smaller of my 2 miter saws. I could have run the larger miter saw, cement mixer, and compressor for limited amounts of time, but I did wind up buying a small generator for those to make sure we fit as much building as possible into our limited weekends. The generator I bought was the Honda EU2000. There are much cheaper options out there, but the Honda is incredibly versatile, reliable, and most importantly quiet. We are a couple of newcomers to our land, and the last thing in the world I want to do is disturb our neighbors just because we got the urge to build a house in the woods. The overall cost savings inherent in building such a small structure allowed us to spend a little more than we otherwise would to help keep our mountain quiet and beautiful.

The solar array, battery pack, and generator provided more than enough power for the build, but what about general power usage? I am very happy to say that the solar array has been our sole source of power for nearly two years of weekend build trips. Again, the key here is to determine what you really need and eliminate waste wherever possible. Our goal was not to replicate the conveniences we have in our home in Atlanta. On the other hand, we were not trying to be absolutely rustic in every aspect of life. We wanted to find a balance that worked for us, so we made a list of the things we’d like to have and how much power they used. In the end, our list turned out to be pretty small: a few CFL lights, the ability to charge our laptops and phones, and access to the Internet (for those of you who are wondering, we access the internet via an Verizon MiFi access point). Of those things, the only items that use a considerable amount of power are the laptops. We reduced that power draw by switching to an iPod touch for most Internet use. So far, the same small solar set up we purchased for the build has met all these needs admirably. I’ve even used it to power my electronic drums and a bass amplifier during our 4th of July party. Hurray sun!

When the cabin is finished I anticipate that we may need to add to our array and battery capacity. I won’t go into detail about this right now, but I believe I’ll still be able to keep it reasonable. All we’ll really be adding are a few more lights and fan or two. The cabin was wired to simply plug into the output of a generator or inverter, as an RV would in an RV park, so we have plenty of flexibility. I’ll try to post more about that as things progress.