Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Outline of my personal projects.


I think I mentioned some time back that this was a group project.   There are parts we plan on collaborating on as a group and other parts that are just mine.

The aquaponics and most of the general farm/garden related stuff will be a group effort.  This part is pretty much my own pet project.  The 1.3 acres or so that I bought are on a hill so imagine the dotted line being the peak of the hill, where the tree is (the gigantic pine from earlier pictures) is on the level top of the hill, the rest is on the slope.

The idea is to make as inexpensive and permanent a setup as possible to provide a comfortable and independent lifestyle at a minimum of expense and maintenance.  When this is all done the whole thing including the land should cost less than $7,000 and should last the rest of my life.  I also don't want to have to spend much time maintaining it and want to be able to leave it for long periods without worrying about anything.

Long term I would like to make several of these in different locations.  This one is in Arkansas, which is as close as I get to a "hometown".  While spring and fall in Arkansas are incredible... summer (now) and winter leave quite a bit to be desired.  It would be nice to have a similar setup in places like Colorado, Montana, Maine, Florida, Oregon, British Columbia.  I envision hauling a bunch of solar panels and whatever I have that is valuable around with the seasons.  Hopefully I can build a few of these... maybe I can convince a few other people (hint, hint) that it is a good idea and we can perhaps form a group where we can loan out the spares to each other.

I would like to think that the structure would not present much of a target for vandalism or abuse.  There is nothing really valuable that could be taken, it cannot be set on fire, it is too solid to be damaged much.  All factors that make leaving it for months at a time in the middle of nowhere a little more practical.  Then again my optimism in humanity has not been very justified lately, so who knows.

The basic idea here is to eliminate the need for utilities as much as possible.  In the short term I expect I will just get standard water / electric utilities, but I would like to do away with these eventually by substituting solar for electric and catching rainwater.

Solar means that there can be enough power for lights, fans, a computer, and small appliances, but not enough for standard refrigerators / freezers and air conditioners.  There are some smaller fairly expensive refrigerators for the RV industry that can be used with sufficient solar power, but standard air conditioning is out.  Some years ago I spent a couple of years living out of a truck and learned some ways to make this work, but I think I will save that for another post.

Water can also be conserved greatly by a few simple changes that in my mind fall into the minor inconvenience category... most peoples opinion on this probably differs.  I grew up using a outhouse in Africa, it never seemed to be much of a problem to walk a little ways to go to the bathroom.  In America I used them while hiking the Appalachian Trial.  Most people I talk to dismiss them immediately because of bad experiences with poorly maintained outhouses or "porta-potties".  In reality "composting toilets" can be very clean, comfortable and not smell bad with some minimal maintenance.  This eliminates one major use of water.

The other major water consumer would be showers.  While it is possible to stay clean by taking a sponge-bath using about a half-gallon or less of water, it is not ideal.  What I am going to try as a solution will be a large outdoor hot-tub.  I will go into more detail on this later, but the idea is to combine some of the aquaponics with earth-bag construction with a rocket-stove water heater in order to make a controlled creek with a swimming hole.  In the diagram you can kind of see how this works if you follow the arrows.  There is one electric pump which constantly pumps water from the holding tank at the bottom through the terraces and back into the hot-tub in an continuous loop.  The terraces will act as a giant "sand trap" filter, and this along with the plants should clean the water enough that it can be continuously re-used.  Water will have to be added periodically to account for evaporation, but hopefully the rain will be sufficient for that.

I also plan to do away with "running water" by having a water-barrel that I can periodically take somewhere and fill for drinking water and dishes.  This with a nice metal bowl seems to suffice for most of the world.  I don't foresee the slight inconvenience as sufficient to justify chaining myself to the public utilities.

Well... hopefully that gives a "birds-eye-view" of where I am going with this part of it.  I will go into more detail on the hot-tub design and some of the things I figured out while living in my truck in later posts.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rocket Stove Introduction.

I was fairly skeptical about these things at first. I suppose I still am and as a result I am eager to actually try it. The short version is that it is a large (several tons), cheap, easily constructed wood burning stove that is extremely efficient. It has two fairly unique properties. The first is that the design allows for a horizontal chimney that can be run as far as thirty feet or more. The second is that it burns extremely hot, so hot that it totally burns all the gases that come off the wood to the point that the only thing coming out the chimney is basically warm water vapor.

I want to use this for two reasons, heating the earth-bag dome and heating the hot-tub. This is where the 30-foot horizontal chimney comes in. In a traditional fireplace the majority of the heat goes up the chimney with the smoke. With a rocket stove the design produces a forced-air effect once it heats up and essentially pushes the exhaust through the chimney. In an earth bag dome the chimney can be buried in cob or cement and made into a bench running around the interior perimeter of the dome. The heat conducts through the metal chimney pipe into the thermal mass of the bench and uses the bench and the dome itself as a kind of heat-battery that then slowly releases heat into the dome for long periods. By running the chimney a sufficient distance through the bench most of the heat from the exhaust gas is removed leaving the water vapor coming out end of the chimney only slightly warm.

In the hot tub, it would basically work the same way except that the bench will be underwater and will heat the water as well.

The materials needed are a large (55 gal) metal drum, a small (20 ish) gallon drum, a few firebricks (15 or so), some high temperature stove pipe and a bunch of regular chimney pipe.  The diagram above shows a simple design.  The air and wood go in the small drum (not shown) then into the burn chamber this heats the insulated steel stove pipe causing an updraft in the heat riser at the top of which it hits the 55-gallon drum and starts to cool as it goes down the other side and out the chimney.  The whole thing is plastered in cob or cement to hold it together and absorb the heat.  The top (or the bottom of the upside down 55-gallon drum) can be used as a cooking surface or a boiler or whatever.

There is an excellent book on the whole subject available on amazon with much more precise instructions and other variations.  There are also a large number of websites and videos demonstrating the construction process I will list a few here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_stove
http://www.rocketstove.org
http://biocongress.org/category/rocket-stove/
video - dancing rabbit