Since the modifications I’m making to the house now are quite specific to our living arrangements, I’ve stopped updating the 3D model I made to design the house. I’ve also gained in confidence and experience such that I don’t need to do everything virtually before I grab a hammer.
Before launching into this adventure, I spent a good deal of time online reviewing designs, techniques and best practices. In case this is useful to someone else I’m publishing the core design here. This design was critiqued over multiple iterations by many carpenters, builders, furniture makers & all around smart handymen.
A few points:
- it is very modular
- a few features are specific to us
- the gambrel design is balanced (every angle 22.5 and equal lengths)
It took me much longer than anticipated to get the chimney in place. There is a lot to know about it and I can’t afford half measures for this one needs to be perfect. It took a lot of research and an ton of measuring and thinking to do. Also a couple of tough days spent on the roof, again. This is probably the most emotional project of this whole ordeal. Cutting a hole through the roof that cost us so much in worry, sweat and money was hard. Messing up design or tolerance could bring an abrupt end to a dream coming to fruition. On the other hand it means getting wood heat on the coldest days. It’s hard to think straight with this much at stake.
Everything went well with the chimney and the stove took quite a bit of work too, most of it was done a while back when we acquired it.
Weights a ton
We bought the stove second hand & disassembled so there was quite a bit to figure out.
To line the sides of the burning chamber with fire bricks, we had to chip them to shape with a hammer and chisel. I then coated every hole, crack or worn surface with refractory cement.
First time I got to use the expression “chipping at it” literally.
One clean looking burning chamber
We fired the stove last night; first time since we own it, first fire in our house just as the days are starting to get colder. The first of many ritualistic fires to come.
Thanks to the solar install, we’re able to power a modem. I bought a 35Ah battery and the modem draws 1A. Of course we’re powering a few other things but this is by far the biggest consumer right now. 3Mb isn’t bad at all where we are. The Fairpoint guy who showed up was awesome and didn’t mind hooking into a rudimentary shed with a 12V battery and wires all over :).
That’s it, we moved into our little 16’x16′ 2 story gambrel. It’s far from finished inside but it’s dry and cozy. For now it’s a little bit like camping which is quite ok in the Summer.
We love the outside shower
It’s a very interesting process to start from scratch and one that we wanted to go through. The smallest improvements we make have a drastic impact on our lives and are cause for celebration. The shower above started as just a solar heating water bag, we added a platform, then something to hold the bag, then a couple of walls. It will soon have a water tank perched above. We are currently going through everything in our lives and carefully deliberating what we really need. And it turns out, we don’t need a whole lot.
We’ve been without plumbing or electricity for the past 3 weeks and it barely registers as an encumbrance. Sure we have extra chores related to this (emptying buckets, charging batteries, doing dishes) but the simplicity gains largely offset them so it’s pretty much a wash. I’ve been messing around with a couple of solar panels and it opened my eyes to the world of 12V DC power which boating or RVing are familiar with. I’m starting to see that 110V AC is for a specific type of use (centralized power generation, distance distribution, high use) and that it doesn’t fit well the new world of high efficiency devices with batteries. It makes no sense to burn coal and loose 84% of its energy through conversions (coal->motion->electricity->transmission->charger) so you can charge a low powered DC device.
Picture bellow, charging a tablet, a cell phone, a USB shower pump/head, cellular internet access, and lighting with 1 solar panel.
Everything we need has its own battery, this is why running straight from a solar panel with no charge controller is fine. The battery bank and charge control is delegated to the devices. Truth be told, I will probably have a battery in the final solar design for the convenience of being able to charge things at all times of the day, especially in the winter. I’m still figuring things out, but one big discovery is that power inversion to 110V AC and the loss that comes with it is far from necessary. It does mean no big appliances like a dishwasher or clothes dryer. For refrigeration there exist pretty neat 12v DC fridges but it’s not the type with 2 doors and an ice dispenser.
We still have major projects to complete before the Winter, because when the cold and the short daylight hit, everything we’ve learned is off the table.
- we need a good roof
- more insulation downstairs
- a chimney and hooking the cookstove to it
- septic installation
I recently spent a good chunk of time on the roof finishing the rakes, making a few last cuts and flashing it to get it ready for the roofers… Yes, we’re buying our way out of this one. Hours spent doing high altitude acrobatics and a few good storms will do that. We need a real roof fast and I’m sick of being up there. This means we’re also getting a standing seam metal roof with no punctures into the underlying sheathing. I’ve learned how much harder gambrels are over conventional roof designs.
However it’s hard to resist that New England barn charm
Now we are hypocrites in some regards; there are things that our household doesn’t support right now. We get potable water from outside. We do laundry outside. Lastly, we use gas to power equipment (generator, chainsaw, ATV). We’ll be addressing the first 2 soon but our reliance on gas is unlikely to go away unless we start rearing horses. Which, I really don’t see happening anytime soon.
5 years after giving up motorcycles, I get to ride again in the good name of Utility
Overall this is an awesome experiment to go through. There’s a lot of self discovery, learning, eye opening, liberating & fun going on. I can’t believe we’ve been in there 3 weeks already.