Thursday, August 31, 2006

we begin cutting timbers and other things

this coming weekend we'll begin sawing and chiseling the timbers we milled earlier in the summer into frame components for the kitchen, marking the beginning of our volunteer-powered construction season, a bit late to start, but starting nonetheless! the fall is a great time to work and hopefully we'll have a good two months to get the foundation and frame up for the kitchen.

for the next two months we will be working regularly, especially weekends. if you sign up for our work list at the fcd website you'll get notices of opportunities to help. the more help we get the faster we'll have a kitchen.

the septic system, well and 95% of the earthwork are complete, tremendous accomplishments!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


the road

septic line buried

site prep

septic mound

we've had a good amount of rain in the past week, enough to make working a challenge for our excavator. the road has turned to deep muck as you can see in the picture. hurricane ernesto will likely bring more rain by the end of the week. luckily, heavy trucking for the septic system is complete, leaving just the loaming, mulching and seeding of the septic system to be completed today.

our excavator will wrap up work for the time being tomorrow with the regrading of the circle, creation of garden terraces, installation of a new culvert in the bend of the road just before the meadow and ditching and resurfacing of the road just before the parking lot. we agreed to wait on the kitchen site work because it has become too muddy to work. he's installing a swale to divert water from the site into the larger swale through the meadow in the hopes that it will dry out the kitchen site enough to work it in a couple weeks when he comes back.

meanwhile, we are in search of a plumber and electrician to do stub in work under the foundation. we've received no response to our request for a plumber in our local gay paper, out in the mountains. so, i think the next step will be the phone book. it's a particularly hard time of year to find contractors because everyone is very busy trying to wrap up projects before winter.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

septic system installed

septic line through the woods

our new septic system is installed and inspected. so we can poop. well almost...we need a toilet and some water to flush it with. that's coming. our well installer will be placing a pump in the well next week with temporary piping for construction purposes. this will allow us to do concrete work once our building permit comes through. we'll also be able to do our water tests, the kits for which i've received from the state.

next week our excavator will finish up the other work we have scheduled, including grading for garden terraces and the gathering circle as well as drainage work around future building sites. he'll also repair the road which has suffered under the construction traffic.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

construction drawings

i've finally got a set of basic working drawings prepared for submission to the plans review folks at the state. if i'd known it was going to take as long as it did to get these completed i would have started months ago! it's been a lot of fun doing them, although it stressed me out at times. i have much deeper respect for people who put construction documents together.

you can take a peek at the drawings by either viewing the following in your browser (though i don't know how well that will work) or downloading them and viewing them in acrobat (or preview on the mac). they are sized for plotting on 24x36 paper.

Friday, August 11, 2006

pump surge

a technical lesson: motors draw lots of power when they start. why do we care? our well pump is a 3 horsepower motor that draws about 3200 watts when totally loaded. but, when it starts, it can draw 3 to 6 times that amount, sometimes more, so we're talking 9,600 to 19,200 watts! this means that our generator would have to supply this spike in power momentarily to get the pump rolling. this is wasteful because 99% of the time a generator capable of producing the peak would be woefully underutilized and inefficient, not to mention expensive.

but...i've discovered these things called soft-starters. they are devices that modulate voltage and current so that the motor starts smoothly and slowly, gradually increasing the speed of the motor until it's running full bore. this diminishes the peak load substantially and should allow us to start the pump with a generator. that's the theory anyway.

there are lots of makes of soft starters, with different configurations, complexity and pricing. one which is pretty nifty removes the need to have a pressure tank at all by keeping the pressure in the line constant. the pump, more or less, runs all the time, very slowly, using very little energy. but we can't use that one with solar, apparently. i'm working with the well driller and the manufacturer of the pump to figure out which soft starter would work best for us. ultimately, it needs to work with not only the generator but also our solar power.

woodshop and materials

about a month ago a cabinetmaker friend had to suddenly move to baltimore. he wasn't going to have the space to maintain his woodshop and he sold it to me for a fraction of its value. i'm looking at all this equipment as the "destiny woodshop" and hope that over the winter we can build much of the finish furniture that will go into the kitchen and bathhouse. we have at our disposal: a 10" cabinet saw (high quality table saw) with sheet feed and router mount, band saw, thickness sander, joiner, compound miter saw, router, dust collection system, stands and tables (on wheels) for all of the above.

he also donated a great deal of construction materials to destiny. i'm storing all this stuff in white river junction since it seems our finish carpentry will happen next year. i'm excited that we'll have a woodshop in which to make some of the finer things for the camp.

here's the current list of what we've got "in stock":

(2) 12' x 6' skylight frames
(10) 28" x 48" storm sash
400 LF bamboo flooring
(1) 48" x 25" butcher block
(3) 44" x 7-3/4" x 1" maple
(1) 2" x 10" x 60" oak clear
(1) 2-1/4" x 10" x 67" maple/cherry?
(1) 1 x 5 x 40" maple
(1) 1 x 5 x 45" maple
(1) 1 x 6 x 50" maple
(1) 1 x 5 x 49" hardwood (very dark)
(1) 1 x 9 x 59" maple
(1) 1 x 5 x 47" maple
(1) 1 x 6 x 47" maple
(1) 82 x 42-1/2 x 2 door
25 SF red oak zickgraf flooring
(1) 2 x 4 x 50" oak
(1) 19 x 32 butcher block
(2) 3/4 x 18 x 25 glued panels maple
(3) 1/2 x 5 x 36 maple
(1) 4-1/2 x 10 x 84 beam from NYC
(1) 2-1/2 x 8 x 62 beam from NYC
(1) 3 x 9 x 84 beam from NYC
(1) 48 x 48 x 1/2 plywood
(1) 16 x 8 x 3/8 plywood
(1) 32 x 79 x 3/8 plywood
(1) 5/4 x 12 x 87 stair tread pine
(1) 1 x 10 x 60 crenelated t&g panel
(1) 2 x 8 x 8 KD spruce
(1) 3/4 x 7-1/2 x 72 walnut?
(1) 3/4 x 7-1/2 x 85 walnut?
(1) 3" x 120 molding
(2) 1 x 4 x 8 clear pine
(4) 1 x 6 x 8 clear pine
(5) 1 x 3 x 5 clear pine
(1) 1 x 8 x 8 clear pine
(1) 5/4 x 3 x 8 clear pine
(1) 2 x 4 x 6 KD spruce
(30) 1 x 6 x 8' wainscotting
(5) 4 x 8 luan
(1) 4 x 8 x 3/4 walnut ply
(1) 4 x 8 x 3/4 birch MDF
(1) 4 x 8 x 3/4 birch ply
(172) 2" x 4" white tile
7 LF 20" wide copper flashing
(3) caulk guns
(1) bag gasketed roof fasteners
(13) 8 x 1/2 J-bolts
(1) bundle concrete ties
(1) roll tie wire
(7) 2 x 8 joist hangers
(3) 2 x 10 joist hangers
(5) 4 x joist hangers
(1) large box nail gun finish nails
(32) tubes construction adhesives (various kinds)

i'm not looking to get into the salvage business, but i do have more space to store things over the winter should we need to.

tanks are in, trees are down

still muddy, delivery truck needs a pull

presby piping delivered

bathhouse septic with soil lines

kitchen septic

meadow from the circle

meadow from the road

i stopped in at the land this afternoon. the first thing i noticed was how much larger the meadow felt without the trees in middle. they've been taken down and stacked next to the pile of boulders. take a look for yourself by clicking on the two meadow pictures. two septic tanks for the bathhouse and kitchen are in the ground. the bathhouse is a 1000 gallon, the kitchen a 2000 gallon. the presby system has been delivered to the septic field. thaddeus ran off to get more gravel to fix the construction road to the septic field because it's become so slippery that trucks can't make it up the hill. he had to tow the presby delivery truck out with his dozer.

i can't tell you how satisfying it is to see action!

i'm finishing up the construction drawings this weekend. it has taken much more time than i ever anticipated to complete them.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

well decision

after a long bout of alternative well and power research we've decided to keep it simple. our water options were: 1) a pump feeding a pressure tank; 2) a pump feeding a storage tank uphill 90 vertical feet; 3) two pumps, one feeding a storage tank in the kitchen and a second in the storage tank to feed a pressure tank.

we've opted for number one primarily for financial reasons, but also because it's the simplest system and can be easily operated. the other two options, if they were feasible at all, would have cost us substantially more, required more maintenance and operator know-how. with the budget for this project in the tens of thousands we can't tolerate any budget inflation.

for the time being, until we install a solar electric system, the pump will be powered by a generator. yes, it burns fossil fuel but we're taking the long view. the generator is a stop-gap measure we can afford that bootstraps the camp water/power system. as the camp evolves we'll install solar panels, maybe just one or two at a time, batteries, inverters and all the gadgets required to make your own "juice" and eventually we'll ween the camp from fossil fuels almost entirely. if anyone out there is feeling flush and wants to drop a cool $20k on us to speed up the process, we're happy to indulge you! it's tax deductible! donate here!

actually, waiting isn't imprudent according to the experts i spoke with at solarfest. they told me solar technology is going to make significant leaps in efficiency in the next couple years, on the order of two to three times, with the expectation that the cost per watt for solar could begin to compete with utility-generated power. some of the new technology is being prepared for production now and is expected to be available in a couple years. this kind of development is perhaps the silver lining of an energy crunch. it's now worth it to spend money to find alternatives to fossil fuel.

breaking ground!


today, we broke ground! the report is that the ground is still very wet, water table just 12" below the surface. our excavator is going to lay stone down the construction road to the septic field so that the 30 to 40 truckloads of sand can be brought in.

he's also going to begin working in the meadow, moving the swale a bit west, cutting a new swale above the future building site, and installing septic and water lines. we saved six trees last fall when we cleared the site in hopes that they could be worked into our designs. but, beecause of the earthwork required due to the slope and wetness of the site we're having to cut them down. we plan to use their trunks for the porch posts, so while they'll not be growing any more, they will take part in our project just a few feet from where they grew. they're pictured here and will come down tomorrow.

this week i am completing the drawing set that will go to the building department for review. once the drawings are submitted a plans reviewer at the state will look them over and if all is well issue a permit. we'll hopefully have permit in hand by september so that we can begin construction.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

progress report

the ground in vermont is finally drying out with the recent heat wave. a couple days ago the ground at destiny steamed as water rose up and into the atmosphere. our excavator is planning to start work on the septic system this coming monday and will also be working on landscaping garden terraces and reworking the circle so that it drains. he'll begin some site grading around the kitchen area, installing a swale above the construction site to help dry it out for the installation of a foundation once we get our building permits.

we are still working on getting our water system finalized. it has been a challenge because our water requirements as a campground are difficult to meet without spending a lot of money. we're trying to avoid that. the simplest system, a 230-volt pump in the well feeding a pressure tank, requires a pump that draws about 5500 watts of power on startup. while this is easy for the grid to handle, it's a chore for a small alternative system and a waste because the system has to be sized to accomodate the start up of the motor, which after it has started draws just 1/3 of its startup wattage. so, your system has to be two to three times the size it needs to be because of your well pump. there are controllers that slow start motors, which would help, but a better solution is to avoid using AC power at all and use the kind of power that solar panels produce directly: DC, or direct current.

i attended a workshop on solar water pumping at solarfest a couple weeks ago and learned a lot about low-power DC pumps that are being installed in remote locations worldwide. unfortunately, these pumps do not produce the flow that the AC pumps produce, partly because they use less power. but, depending on the static level of our well (the level of water in the well casing) we may be able to utlize one or two of the DC pumps in combination with a storage tank in the kitchen building to provide our water supply. even though the pumps are low power, they still use enough juice that installing solar panels to power them would be expensive. the word at solarfest was that new technologies will increase the efficiency of solar panels over the next few years. my current thought is to set up destiny with low-powered DC pumps that run off batteries charged periodically by a generator and perhaps a single solar panel. as we move on and have funds to grow, we can install solar panels to augment and eventually eliminate the generator.

we also explored the idea of pumping water uphill to a large storage tank that would gravity feed the camp. for you budding engineers out there, 2.31 feet of rise produces 1 pound per square inch (psi) of water pressure. our camp must have at least 40 psi in its lines so you do the math and the tank has to be 92.4 feet above the highest fixture. my rough estimate is that this means the tank would be about 500 feet on the ground uphill from the bathhouse. since there has to be a feed line and a return line, that's over 1000 feet of water line that has to be installed. the beauty of this system is that once the water is uphill in the tank, there's no pumping required. whether there is a site that could host a 2000 gallon tank uphill is unknown. clearly, this system would only work in warm weather and the water lines risk being damaged by falling trees and animals if they are not buried.

so, that's where we are with water and power. i sure have learned a lot about solar and water in the process. this coming saturday, at 10am or thereabouts, we'll be having a circle to discuss all this at destiny.