Overwhelmed

Trying to keep up.

I feel so overwhelmed right now. We got our shed about a week ago and I expected to have it up in one day (see picture below for current status). There it sits. We’ve been working on it but there isn’t enough time in one day and dark hitting earlier hasn’t helped.

Our little matter with the neighbor over the cul de sac kind of derailed us for a day and a half. We left a succinct, firm letter for him and his wife on one of the fence posts he erected stating we had checked and confirmed that the land survey was correct and recorded and asked him to respect our private property signs going forward. He’d previously gone onto our property, past well marked posts, and spray painted the ground while he was planning his cul de sac. We weren’t too happy about that.

I wonder what he’s thinking right now? My husband and I have wondered whether he made a gargantuan mistake in his surveying or thought he’d just see if he could get by with us offering no resistance to his grand plans. That’s purely speculation but one thing isn’t; he never mentioned a word about moving his road onto our property in advance. That baffles us.

He was up here with his chainsaw today cutting down trees again but we couldn’t tell if he was cutting them down along the easement or further out on his property. It was a bit disconcerting to keep hearing the “thumps” as they came down. I might walk down the easement road a bit tonight and check.

We didn’t get the covenants from the recorder’s office the other day and are still not sure where we stand legally in the decision process about making changes to a shared easement. Common sense says that we should be consulted and have to agree to any such changes. Still waiting on the attorney. There was a conflict of interest and we were referred out to another attorney.¬† Tomorrow morning we go and comb over those covenants.

The neighbor said he was planning on adding a lane to the easement road and a lot of gravel to a steep portion to level it out. This is OK with us but we’re not OK with not being consulted.

We had wood delivered the other day and you’d think we never get visitors by the way we spent an hour showing the guys around the property and exchanged antique ax heads for cash off the delivery. Very nice guys. One of them also does handy work so we may have our guy to help with some work around here. The shed might be his first project if he’s game. We can do it ourselves but the time….

I insulated the battery bank tonight as the inverter wouldn’t turn on the past couple of nights in the cold. Some research told us that with the battery temperature sensors now in play, the charging voltage is probably way up and the inverter is most likely protecting itself from over powering. We’ll see if the insulation helps. I got a plastic container and we hefted the batteries and about two million wires and cables into it. It’s now lined on all sides with foam board insulation.

The fire wood is mostly stacked thanks to my husband and son. We’ve been trying to involve our son more in responsibilities around here for the benefits those things offer a young person; a sense of responsibility, confidence, ownership, a sense of independence, family time. ūüôā

Work in progress photos:

It was time to refill the huge water tank we bought about a month ago but alas, the freeze sneaked up on us and the hoses froze with water in them. It took us about an hour yesterday to drag them all downhill from the spring and get them into the tub of hot water. After soaking them, my husband had to use the pump to force all the ice out of them. It was exhausting and we’re emptying them after use from now on.

I moved the ever growing pile of tools, fasteners, parts, and the propane fridge we got a month ago but still haven’t installed out of the trailer. We want to put all the extra stuff in the shed but it still needs to be built! Uhggg.

We need to clean up from all of  our projects too. It never ends around here.

I also have a million administrative type tasks to do. I’ve been grouchy from the sheer volume of things to do. I’m a list person and I decided to get this stuff out of my head where it’s a giant whirlpool of thoughts and feelings onto paper where I could organize them. I drew a big mind map on some card stock and filled it with every item to be done, along with every sub category attached to it until I’d gotten it all out.

The page looks like a mess unto itself but everything’s there in bubbles that I can look at and know I at least don’t have to keep trying to remember what needs to be done. It’s still a lot but I feel like I have a semi handle on it now.

At least the main mission of the week is handled. The most terrifying to our sense of peace; the issue of the cul de sac. We are so relieved and there will be fallout surrounding the dispute but it sure wasn’t our fault. We simply had to respond to this threat to our land and our peace of mind in an assertive way.

Tomorrow is Monday. Another week starts but for the most part, my husband and I look forward greatly to our future here and have a concrete list of goals to grow in every way.

Writing my blog helps me to just get it out when I feel overwhelmed (between appointments with my counselor). It’s nice to talk at people

It also helps me avoid the bubble list.

 

 

On The Brink

Our near death experience on the road last night.

We had our first snow yesterday. We were sitting in our truck ready to go to town and there they were; the first few flakes of the year.

Here it comes. Snowmaggedon. And slippery-as-hell roads.

The county and city road clearing crews are, for the most part, prepared but some things you just can’t fix…or can you?

We were headed back from town about 5:30pm last evening when we started up the main road that goes to our intersection. It’s a big loop and the side we were traversing was washed out completely about a year and a half ago so we’d always had to go the long way around to get to our turn near the washed out side.

It seemed like forever before the county finally got to work this summer and cleaned up the mess left by the washout, graded it and started the first portion of the paving. We were so happy! I can’t tell you how many times we turned the wrong way to go the long way to town before we remembered “our side” was now open. The new route saved us about five miles one way into town.

The road is a fairly steep winding grade up the hillside with a VERY steep slope dropping off hundreds of feet to the bottom at a creek. A few months ago, someone stole a vehicle and rolled it over the edge where I can’t imagine what it looked like plummeting down the grade before it slammed into the bottom, leaving it smashed in the front, it’s doors wide open. They brought in one of those really big tow trucks and I imagine it must have taken a lot of power and cable to get that truck up and out of there.

Back to yesterday.

We began to ascend the road slowly and I cringed when I saw the shear delineation of wet road turn to obviously icy pavement and sure enough, as soon as we hit the icy part, we began to slide around.

I covered my eyes and my heart began to pound. My husband continued to maneuver the truck slowly up the grade but we lost traction one more time and started to slide toward the edge. I completely freaked out and just prayed we would stop before we went over.

It seemed like forever after we regained traction and SLOWLY crept up the remaining length of the road to the top.

I’ll never use that road again until spring or until they put guard rails up.

Wait, I forgot to mention…NO GUARD RAILS on this thing!

As we topped the hill, my husband pulled over to put the truck into four wheel drive and we noticed another vehicle across the street pulled over with a woman doing something outside. I’m not sure what she said but my husband told her what had happened and he said she had much the same experience going up just in front of us.

When we got home, I called the city not understanding it was a county matter. I wanted to warn someone right away of the treacherous condition of the road. Someone was bound to go over the edge sooner or later. I had my husband call 911 too as I was only able to leave a message.

I posted about our experience on Facebook and asked the question “does anyone else think this road should have a guard rail?”. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so. The general sentiment of the conversation on Facebook was that the people wanted one but the engineer who designed the new road had left extra space as a shoulder on the drop off side to negate the necessity of having a guard rail.

Stupid!!!! Once you lose traction, your vehicle is going as far as it needs to to reach that edge and go on over; that buffer is only going to serve to give you a second or two more to contemplate your imminent death before over you go. Especially going downhill due to good ‘ol gravity. We were going UP the hill when we almost piled over that edge.

My son rides the school bus that way and I’m calling the school to warn them and urge them to change the route. In the meantime, we’re going to have to pick him up from school every day now and give him a ride home. That section of road is a death trap.

I wrote the county an email also. My husband and I will NOT be using that road until something is done. I don’t want to die any time soon. I just hope the county takes this situation seriously and either closes the road or puts in a guard rail before it’s too late.

If we want to plunge down a slope at breakneck speed, we want to be on a sled on our property.

 

HUGE Industry-Wide Problems With Solar

This and some other issues need to be addressed.

It’s taken a couple of months since we bought our first solar power system kit to realize where the problems lie and that one of them isn’t being addressed well enough yet. I can’t speak for systems that are professionally set up as I don’t have any knowledge about them. I’m talking about the ones you order and set up yourself.

The first problem is absolutely critical to the life and functioning of the battery array. The battery array stores all of that sunshine for your use.  Deep cycle batteries that are used in a battery bank must never be discharged below 50% or 12.1 volts as it can damage them and shorten their lifespan and storage capabilities. It can ruin them necessitating a replacement of the whole bank.

You need a way to monitor the voltage level of the batteries and way to shut off the power draw when they hit that 50% depleted level.

Important here is that solar power systems can run an AC or alternating current system (120 volts) and/or the DC or direct current system.  The DC is more of an auxiliary system.

If you live in an RV you have a DC system built in that runs the smaller appliances such as the lights and the water pump either off of the 12 volt house batteries or through a direct connection to a solar setup. The DC system is what you would use while out camping but RVs incorporate both a DC and an AC system for use if an outside source of power is available at a campground, for example. The AC is a 120 volt system that supplies power to larger appliances such as an air conditioner, a ceiling fan, washer and dryer etc.

Our main goal and most folks, I imagine, when buying a solar power system, is to run the BIG stuff with an option of also plugging in those smaller appliances.

When we bought our first set of solar panels, we saw that the control charger that came with the kit (the brains of a solar power system) could be programmed to disconnect the power draw from the batteries at whatever depletion level you set. By doing that, it would theoretically prevent the batteries from being discharged below the 50% (12.1 volt) level (recommended) thus preventing over discharge and the resulting damage to the batteries.

It took us this long and a conversation with the solar company we bought from to find out that the controller they sent only monitors and controls the DC or auxiliary system. The one we never used.

There was no way to program it to monitor and shut off the power draw being funneled through the primary AC system.  This particular charge controller was effectively useless to us in protecting our main power storage asset; our battery bank. I have no idea why it would have been designed this way. It makes absolutely NO sense!

The only way to prevent battery damage as we use the system, is to visually look at the voltage level display on the power inverter itself (the component that converts the 12 volt power from the battery bank to usable 120v energy) and turn it off/or unplug the extension cord to our trailer when the batteries get low on voltage. Stupid.

I had to search the internet for a special low-voltage disconnect relay that I bought from another company and I installed it. It worked for awhile then something happened and it started to shut down the inverter altogether and to this day, we can’t figure out why.

We had to remove the relay so the inverter would work again but now we are back to square one. We now have no way to watch the battery voltage levels but we kind of don’t care right now. I could press forward in getting the answers but for now, we’re back to using just two gas powered generators.

Inverters that are programmable to actually work properly with a solar setup are 700.00 and up. The rest (the ones that come with DIY solar panel kits) are preprogrammed to disconnect from the battery bank at 10.5 volts; after your batteries are already dead and/or damaged.

My understanding of why they are set to disconnect power at such a low voltage is to prevent the inverter from tripping off with a load spike when first plugged in. I can’t believe someone hasn’t come up with a work-around for this.

By the time we got a clue as to what was going on, we were worried about our batteries as we were having HUGE problems getting any kind of significant power out of each cycle (day of sunshine). Our batteries had been over depleted so many times by now they were almost surely damaged. We had them tested and although we believe their performance has somewhat been compromised, they are supposedly good.

Here’s another issue I noticed about the planning stage of going solar. This is specifically for those living in an RV.¬† Logically, you have to figure out how much power you’re using in order to estimate the size of the system you plan to purchase. I consulted website after website on how to do this. You make a list of appliances and the amps and/or watts each one uses, total it up, and size your setup accordingly.

We did this and still had a huge problem with a power drain that we couldn’t account for. We would plug in the solar at night, for example, and we would be lucky to make it through the entire night before the solar would shut down.

We came to suspect that our RV had some sort of parasitic drain so we flipped the breaker switches one by one while the solar was plugged in. We watched the voltage readout and noted the drain as we went from one to the other.

Finally we found the culprit: Our RV house battery recharging system. If you live in an RV, when you plug into an outside power source, your house battery charging system automatically kicks in and starts to charge your RV batteries. This turned out to be a HUGE extra energy user that not one website had mentioned. We were charging one set of batteries off of another set of batteries.

To make it worse, we discovered our house batteries were bad. We’ll replace them and either disconnect them from our RV charging system and charge and monitor them independently, install a separate charge controller for them, or just flip the breaker switch in our RV that controls the battery recharging system when we plug our solar into our RV.

The last issue was completely our own fault. Our batteries are getting cold with the onset of lowering temperatures. The charge control units came with temperature sensors that attach to the batteries and they send more power to them when recharging at low temperatures as needed. If it’s too warm, the sensors tell the charge control unit to send less power to recharge. It makes the charging system more efficient.

I attached the temperature sensors to the batteries yesterday and the bank is now charging faster and more completely.

I also found out that a Maximum Power Point Tracking or MPPT type of charge controller is more efficient than the ones we have (Pulse Width Modulation-PWM)¬† so I’m considering switching those out too.

The moral of this story is that a lot of factors contribute to how well or IF a solar power system works.¬† Added together, they can have a profound effect on performance.¬†Solar power is a fantastic concept but until the industry makes these kits more failsafe, they’ll continue to be riddled with problems and users are going to keep going through batteries like disposable razors.

Believe it or not, we are still completely sold on solar energy. Our plan at this point is to double our panels and battery bank, switch to MPPT controllers, and invest in a programmable power inverter to preserve our battery array. This is going to take a little more cash so we’re waiting for the sun to come back out in the spring.

Until then, here’s a poem I wrote:¬†Rant Poem On DIY Solar

 

Progress

I needed a taste of the carrot.

I’m up early again but at least not 4:00am. The solar went out again but that’s because we ran the fridge for several hours yesterday. That’s¬†a first in the great solar power experiment.

The best thing so far about today is that it’s noticeably warmer in here this morning. Progress!

Here’s what we accomplished over the last couple of days:

  • Pulled and repaired our fresh water tank.
  • Tried an on-demand hot water system-jury’s out.
  • Skirted the small trailer with foam board.
  • Insulated small trailer’s water pipes on bottom of rig.
  • Insulated various areas in the small trailer with the regular fiberglass insulation.
  • Put foam board insulation on the outer bottom of the slide-out.
  • Put bubble wrap on the window of the pull-out.
  • Put leftover insulation on the floor of the basement to the fifth wheel.
  • Picked up door insulating kits for both trailers. Will install today.
  • Came up with an idea to secure the solar panels and picked up half the parts; forgot half the parts.
  • Had a family skirmish about everyone taking this seriously.
  • Finally found hot pads for the household.

This could be a full time job. I feel like I eat, breath, smell, taste; do nothing but think about what’s next on the getting-ready-for-winter checklist. The daily trip to the Do-It Center for weather stripping, Great Stuff foam insulation, that tin foil looking stuff with bubbles, bubble wrap, screws, bolts, wire, gas fittings, water hose and fittings, duct tape, tools for the job, a candy bar. The candy is to get me through the damned job.

But it’s all paying off.

I walk the line mentally in wondering if I’m too obsessed with this stuff but I consistently come to the conclusion that I’m not over estimating what we need to do before winter hits. We had frost on the¬†inside¬†of the small trailer we were crammed in last winter. The cat’s water dish froze every day; inside. We didn’t have running water for months. My son and I went to live in an emergency shelter in town for 3 months.

I believe my thinking and actions are quite reasonable.

We make the daily, sometimes more than once a day pilgrimage to the Do-It Center here in Colville and the folks there are getting to know our story pretty well. There’s one particular young man who’m I’ve talked to more in depth because he seems genuinely¬† interested in what we’re doing. I told him I started a blog after he mentioned we inspired him with our determination. I told him to just not do what we do.

Shout out to the guy at The Do-It Center (just in case he actually reads this)! Like I’m some special person who’s opinion counts. ūüôā

BTW, we looked for someone to do most of this work because it’s so overwhelming but didn’t get any takers. The guy who ranted at me over the water pump does RVs by trade but I didn’t want his help after¬†that¬†little incident.

I really want to make coffee right now but that would involve putting on a coat and walking to the top of the property to get the siphon going from the spring to our RV. How bad do you want that cup of coffee Linda? I ran out of water while testing the hot water on demand system last night. I didn’t get to rinse the conditioner from my hair. Actually, it’s really soft and silky this morning. I kind of like that.

I’ve been reading some of the blogs from those that have followed me (I’m now following them in return) and am gaining more knowledge about how this blogging thing works. BTW “blog” and “blogging” keep coming up as misspelled on my computer. Funny.

They say to join groups among your niche on Facebook. I might be burning some bridges here but the ones I requested to join had these super strict rules about not posting links. You have to answer the moderator questions and I just sort of put answers like “sure”, and “can I post links to my blog? If not, let’s pass”. I got a sort of snobbish vibe. I can pass on those if it’s going to be so touchy-feely strict.

I think the need for coffee is stronger than my desire to not set foot outside my front door. Gotta go put my snowsuit on. Exaggerating.