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Monday, January 16, 2006

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Certified Lumber

Since Wednesday we are proud owners of a big stack of certified lumber from sustainably managed forests. Now, not many people (and definitely not any local lumber yards) have heard about "certified" lumber (yet). But then, many people still shop at Mall-Wart too ;-)

The way I use the term Certified Lumber is to refer to wood harvested from forests that are managed responsibly (management for sustainability being one of the goals). According to my research there are three major "certification bodies" out there: FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), SFI (American Forest & Paper Association (AFPA) Sustainable Forest Initiative) and SmartWood.

FSC is an international, independent organization to "promote responsible management of the world's forests". According to their website, over the past 10 years, 50 million hectares (190,000 square miles - the size of MN, WI & IA combined) in more than 60 countries have been certified.

SFI on the other hand is the industry's voluntary program for responsible forest management that the members of the trade organization must "agree to work towards wood procurement and forest management strategies that meet the SFI program guidelines".

SmartWood was the world's first independent forestry certifier established in 1989.

So, what's FSC-certified responsible forestry management ?

Most of the information above was taken from an excellent paper by the "Natural Resources Council of Maine".

Where can I get it?

It took me about half a day to find a local source for FSC certified lumber: Certified Wood Products out of Minnetonka. Owner Dan Haugen was incredibly friendly and helpful on providing our small project with the lumber. Typically his company only supplies large commercial projects with lumber. Compared with the cost of a local building supplies company, we only paid 6% (about $500) more for knowing that we did the right thing!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

In the Trenches

Yesterday after the raising of Allan & Michelle's timberframe Jennifer and I stopped by our site and hung out for a while. I used the time to constructively play in the largest sand pit ever marking and digging the trenches for the drain lines and other pipes that will have to run beneath the slab.

It's quite amazing how much infrastructure goes into a house. The pictures above show trenches for for the following elements:
shower drain, toilet drain, utility sink drain, main waste line, kitchen drains, floor drain to holding tank and pipes to bring the electrical supply lines (DC and potential future grid AC) in.

Rain is Good (Special - This Weekend Only)

Usually you don't really wish for rain during a construction project*. But we've reached one of those few days during our construction project where rain actually is quite helpful.

*Unless of course you're building a rainwater collection system and have the roof hooked up to the cisterns. Then we'll want lots of rain to get the cisterns full for the winter ;-)

On Friday the crew from Clark Construction filled the floor of the lower level with sand to prepare for the pouring of the concrete slab next week. And the rain that we've gotten this weekend will help to pack the sand down (although it's been raining off and on for about 24 hours now and I'd be fine if it stopped now - it's getting too slippery on the clay around the house).

The picture to the left shows the lower level with the filled-in sand. The two lonely walls in the center are the support for the poured concrete ceiling (the cDeck) to leave an opening for the stairs. The concrete slab to the right is the support for the masonry stove. Left of the support walls you can see a shallow trench which is for the drain of the kitchen sink and dishwasher.

So the rain will do a good job of packing the fill-sand down for the pour of the concrete slab next week.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

It's pouring!

Concrete that is...

Well after our "community stacking" event on Sunday where Deb, Tom & Boom, Sangeetha & Chris, Mark & Alex and Bonita helped, the crew of Clark Construction finished the stacking of the lower level walls on Monday and Tuesday. So on Wednesday they were ready for the first big pour.

I took the day off and came in the morning to help get the penetrations ready that I had marked the previous evening. And at a quarter past twelve the pumper showed up - unfortunately not the nice guy we had for the footings on Thursday but a rather "different" individual (they couldn't get the nice guy again)...

Then, at 12:55 PM, the concrete trucks showed up (Tony had ordered them for 1 PM and from what I understand last week they were late showing up for the pouring of the footing). Tony created some motivation by letting us know that all the concrete trucks are lined up at the bottom of the hill... A few minutes later, while Lyndon Lee, the ICF form distributor from Mabel, Lyndon Clark and Paul Hynes were still laying hands on last minute preparations, Tony was pumping away starting in the 9" wall between the studio and the storage room. All walls were filled about half-way with the first pour.

After that, Lyndon hooked up his Vibrator backpack and together Lyndon and Tony worked the concrete - I think they looked like Ghostbuster chasing away the airbubble demons ;-). The Vibrator that Lyndon is holding helps the concrete to settle all the way done. Actually the scientific way to test whether the concrete is all the way down to the bottom is to take a short piece of 2x4 and bang it, carefully and with the flat side, against the wall. If it sounds hollow, there is no concrete in.

Radio Licht 'n Stein

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Our First (American) Giant Puffball (Riesenbovist)

Jennifer holding the puffball (click to view a larger image)
Last week Jennifer and I picked up some nice big mushroom heads at the Good Food store in Rochester and ate them on Sunday. Jennifer ground up the stems with some bread crumbs and parmesan and olive oil and garlic, then baked the heads in the oven for about 30-40 minutes with some nice cheese on top - yummy.

Eating a mushroom as a whole meal reminded me of my childhood where I used to find quite a few Giant Puffballs on a meadow near where we lived. The biggest one I found weighed about 10-12 pounds and had a circumference of almost 5' (1.43 meters) (that's a diameter of about 18 inches or 45 cm). So I was mentioning to Jennifer that I wish we could find some "Riesenbovist" here.

Next day when we went up to Licht 'n Stein I was mowing our little "yard" and on one of the paths, wouldn't you know it, I found a small to mid-sized puff ball!!!

Maybe I should wish for some money next time?? ;-)

We tried to slice it and sautee it in Olive oil last night, but it just soaked up all the oil and became all mushy - not very tasty. So tonight we'll try to batter it first, then fry it...

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More Blogging

What good is a diary if there are no entries?

Well, as our project has now officially moved in to the construction phase, I will try to take 10 minutes every day to summarize accomplishments, events, successes and challenges.

Enjoy the reading!

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

It's a High Way!

Yesterday, Labor Day, we arrived at Licht 'n Stein and were surprised to find Lyndon Clark and Paul Hynes "laboring" on our driveway!

They had made quite some progress since Friday and especially turned the lower part into quite a wide highway! It now looks much less scary than last week.

(The problem with this part of the driveway is that it is really narrow, the bank to the north is about 8-10 feet high and it drops of sharply to the other side, which would make it especially "interesting" if the road is icy and you're coming down... Also, most of this part of the driveway is almost completely shaded by the bank to the north...)

Over the weekend I had made a quick calculation on how much crushed rock they would need - Tony was saying that they'll put at least 6 inches at the bottom, where it is already pretty rocky and up to 12" in the middle part where it is very sandy and gets pretty muddy after a good rain. So I estimated an average of 9" for about 1,500 feet, 12 feet wide or about 13,500 cu.ft. or 500 cu. yd. On one website I found that there are about 2500 lbs in one cubic yard or rock, so that's about 625 (short) tons of rock...(562,500 kg))

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The Ground is Broken

On Labor Day afternoon we had our little informal groundbreaking ceremony. The building permit was approved by the Fillmore County Zoning Inspector Norman Craig and is currently for signature at the township.

Tony, one of the guys from Clark Construction, currently plans on excavating the site by the end of this week - that would be quite some progress.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

cDeck Forms and Heavy Machinery Arrived

Today our cDeck forms arrived (oops - don't actually have a picture).

The cDeck are basically T-shaped EPS (expanded polystyrene) forms with a thick vertical line that will form (pun intended) the basis of the floor between the basement and the main floor. The forms are about two feet wide and I guess 10 inches high. The vertical "line" of the T is about a foot or so wide. The forms are placed "horizontal bar of the T" down and are shored from below. Then, concrete is poured, forming beams between the foot-wide EPS beams. The concrete then extends another 4" above the forms.

The reasons we went with a cDeck rather than a traditional framed floor are two-fold: primarily we wanted to get a good thermal mass for our passive solar design as well as our masonry stove heating. The 4" concrete floor (and up to 12" where the beams are) will provide a nice thermal mass that will heat up either through the sun or when the masonry stove is on and will provide a nice, even-tempered and slow-changing environment. The mass should also help with keeping the house cool well into the summer. (In the summer months the overhang on the south side will prevent the sun from entering the living room and heating up the mass).
(See our floorplans for more detail (you need to be logged in to our photo gallery for the link to work - ask us for userid and password))

Today also the bulldozer and loader/backhoe arrived for the driveway construction. Our current driveway is somewhat narrow in some places, pretty muddy for the most part, and it has pretty poor water management. So the crew from Clark Construction is going to make it wider, put in about five smaller culverts, dig out a ditch along the north side, grade it and fill it up with 6-12 inches of crushed rock (1-3/4"). That should give us a nice 12-foot driveway.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Windmill is on its way!

Every since I heard from Dennis (our renewable energy contractor from GoSolar in Decorah) that Bergey (our wind mill manufacturer) raised their prices again (and they mostly sell only direct) I've been monitoring the "dirt-cheap" prices on the RealGoods website (they obviously don't update their website too often...). So when we got the green light for our "wind mill pole" building permit last week, I called RealGoods on Friday night an ordered our 84-foot tower and our 1kW XL.1 wind mill. Compared to the current list prices on the Bergey website we saved about $880 - over 25%!

When I ordered the "gear" they quoted me a $270 FedEx shipping fee...although I explicitly mentioned that the website notes that both items will be shipped freigth. So on Monday I called up RealGoods and talked to a nice guy in the technical department...he immediately commented on me getting a good price on the tower set - I saved "$180" and I politely expressed my surprise ;-) But he put me on a conference call with a gal at Bergey and we reserved the gear right away - Dennis had told me earlier in the month that Bergey would discontinue reselling the NRG tower kits and make their own. I had also talked to Steve Wilke from Bergey last week and he mentioned (and confirmed what Dennis had said) that it might be 6-8 weeks until they would be able to ship out the new tower kits - which would take us out to November when it can get quite cold.

Well, today RealGoods confirmed the shipping cost and the total is $390 (which includes a "fee" of $25 for the trucking company to give me one (1) phone call 24 hours ahead of time - they really must have an expensive phone provider.....?). So for $3,850 I got ourselves our supply for all our energy needs (or so we hope). Couldn't have really done it just with Solar Panels....

(quick calculation: six 125W modules for $3,475 plus pole/rack & shipping...750W...6 hours on a sunny day...80%...3.6kW/day -- not even close. We hope to get on average 6-8kWh per day out of the wind mill...but we'll know more in a year).

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Construction Starts!

Well, on Tuesday August 30, 2005 we finally closed our construction loan at 7:30 AM in the morning at F&M community bank in Chatfield. Mary, our friendly loan officer, helped us to "wade" through the pile of paper work and signatures.

The overall process turned out to be a fairly efficient and painfree one. Of course things took twice as long as I had hoped, but that was still pretty fast, thanks mostly to the good work of Mary who kept things on track and prepared.

Now we have until May 30, 2006 to finish our project!

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Propylene Glycol in your Ice Cream

One of the things we learned at the MREA fair is that it makes good sense to go with a Solar Hot Water System for pre-heating our household water as well as to use it for our radiant floor heat. Obviously if we are going to use it in the winter, we need to protect it from freezing, which is why we need to use some antifreeze. The antifreeze most commonly used in these applications (usually environmentally conscious people) is Propylene Glycol. Interesting enough I learned that Propylene Glycol is used in ice cream (to prevent it from freezing rock hard). Here is a good article from Tom's of Maine about their use of Glycol and alternatives.

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So many news...

Well we just went to the MREA fair 2005 and returned with lots of information in our brains.. The next posts will deal with some of the topics we dealt with. If you live within driving distance from Stevens Point, Wisconsin I highly recommend attending the fair. We had a blast!

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Embodied Energy

This is really interesting:
One insulating unit (insulation required to provide R-20 for a square foot at normal density) of cellulose has 600 BTU of embodied energy. EPS (expanded polystyrene - CFC-free insulation material used for our walls and probably also the roof) has 18,000 BTUs in the comparable amount of insulation...

Our house's surface area is roughly 3,750 sq.ft. for the walls (R-22 with ICFs) and 2,750 for the roof (R-40 with SIPs). This means our embodied energy, in just the walls and roof is 165.6 Million BTU or 48,535 kWh, i.e., as much electrical energy as we plan to consume in over 26 years. And then there is the cement...and the floor slab with EPS...

But hey - if we burn 2 cords a year, it's only as much as 8 years of using our masonry stove ;-)

(in comparison, if we'd use cellulose in the roof, it's only 1/2 year of electrical energy (instead of 16 years))

Electricity ..... 3,412 Btu/kilowatthour
Natural Gas ..... 1,031 Btu/cubic foot
LPG (Propane) ..... 91,330 Btu/gallon
Wood ..... 20 million Btu/cord

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Friday, May 20, 2005

Window, window, in the wall...

...which is the most efficient of them all?

Well, it's time to do some window research again...this time I'll try to take notes so that I don't forget everything again...My first stop for windows research has always been Reading through their pages and using their window selector, it seems that we want the following windows:
The U-value indicates how well the window insulates (i.e., keeping the heat in); the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) indicates what percentage of the sun's energy is allowed to get through (and heat our cement slab and other thermal mass); the Visual Transmittance (VT) indicates how much "dayligh" makes it through the window (the lower, the darker).

As I see now, "Insulated Vinyl" has become as energy-efficient as our previously favored Fiberglass. The challenge will be to find a company that makes windows with these characteristics, because it seems that this model windows are just hypothetical windows and don't represent any physically available windows...

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Official Kick-Off

Well, tonight I finally followed through on promises made in the past months...I finalized the plans and the 3D model and sent a note off to Jim from Holabird & Root. We had met with Jim in December 2003 to review our plans (log house with garage in basement back then). And wouldn't you know it? Jim worked with Andy Bunge on two projects last year and this year (Andy's brother's house and the Commonweal Theatre Addition. It's a small world...

So, the countdown can's what's on my list:
It'll be a busy, fun summer!

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Shading through the south-side overhang

Yesterday when I shared the 3D Model slide show with my colleague Jim, he inquired whether the soffit overhang on the south side will provide enough shading in the summer.

Well it had been about 1.5 years since I last researched "sun altitude" and "sun azimuth". In the meantime the geometry of the roof and south wall had changed quite a bit, so it was time to confirm the sizing of the overhang. I found this site from the U.S. Naval observatory to get sun (or moon) altitude and azimuth tables for a given date at a given location.

Seasonal Sun Penetration - click to see full sizeIn the picture on the right you can see the different penetration levels at 12 PM noon on June 21, March & September 21 and December 21. As you can see, the overhang completely shades the midday sun in the summer (most left beam) whereas in the winter, even at high noon, the sun will penetrate as far as the back wall of the living room. (Click on the picture to open a full-size version in a separate window.)

The other study/simulation that I did, is to simulate the actual penetration during the middle of the summer. Two values determine the suns position: the sun altitude (i.e., the angle of the sun up from the horizon; 0° being on the horizon and 90° being directly above) and the sun azimuth (i.e., the angle along the horizon, with 90° being east and 180° being south). So the actual penetration through the south windows is not only a factor of the sun's altitude and the overhang geometry and window height, but also of the sun's azimuth and the windows' widths. The image below shows the penetration at 9:45 AM (yellow) and 14:35 PM (orange). As you can see only a fraction of the possible direct sunlight can enter the room during these times,Seasonal Sun Penetration - click to see full sizesince the sun is pretty much still in the ESE (112.5°) or WSW (202.5°). The suprising thing for me was that the overhang pretty much prevents even that early sun to penetrate the room - the deepest penetration is about 3 feet (at an azimuth of 109° with an even lower percentage of what makes it in). and the penetration rapidly declines to zero by around 11:10 AM and does not penetrate at all until 13:10.

As some of you might recall, on the east side of the dining room, we do have the same large windows as on the south side, but with no overhang (at least only in the gables), so the sun will penetrate the living room from that side for the most part of the morning. This is actually by design, because in the spring time, it tends to stay pretty cold (yesterday the high temperature was 42°F), especially in March or April. At our place the sun rises pretty much in the east, but due to some trees we probably won't see much of it until it is about 10° high, at around 7 AM at 10° south of east. For the summer, when the sun reaches 10° altitude at 5:40 AM in the ENE (67.5°) we definitely will have to employ shades on these windows. Fortunately, and also by design, this is not so much of a problem on the west side, where the windows are much smaller, due to the sitting area. But shades would probably also help here as well.

Sun Penetration Graph - click to see full sizeThe last simulation I ran with the data is to plot the penetration depth for each of the four dates. The graph on the right shows the penetration level at the various times of the day for the four dates during the year. The nice thing that you can see is that the penetration during the winter time can reach the backwall unhinderedly when the sun's azimuth is between ESE and WSW.

In summary, the theory looks good for the sizing of our overhang on the south side. The 80" (6' 8" or 203 cm) windows now allow unhindered penetration into the room during the winter months which should help with the heating on sunny days. The 475 sq. ft., four inch thick cement slab definitely will have enough capacity to store any heat coming through the windows, and with 168 sq. ft. of window space for 1,500 sq. ft. of main and 2nd floor living space (i.e., 11%), we might be a little bit over the recommended percentage for south-facing glazing, but we'd rather shade windows in the summer time then having to freeze. And our large thermal mass (including the masonry stove) should help mitigate overheating. We can also always open the door to the basement - to add another 1,100 sq.ft. of living space...(or the garage to add 485 sq. ft.).

Update on Project Licht 'n Stein

Well, it has been almost 15 months since the last blog entry.

But finally, there's a little bit more life in our project -- last weekend during the Kid's Philosophy slam in Lanesboro I had a chance to chat with our General Contractor and it seems that since he is still very interested in shepherding our project.

So hopefully, given the already advanced year, we might get at least an enclosed structure (i.e., concrete walls, windows, & roof) and masonry stove done before winter, which would make us self-sufficient (i.e., heating, water & electricity) to finish the interior during the winter...

The next steps for me are:
Below are some links to some updated information.

What's New
Slide Show of the 3D model (and floor plans)
Updated (but not completed) description of components
especially: shelter & water

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Dinner on the Bluff

Last night we went to one of the "Dinner on the Bluff" series organized and hosted by the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning center. Last night's event's topic was "local flavors" and we enjoyed a fabulous menu of locally grown and raised flavors masterfully prepared by chef Laura Thompson.
We spent a fabulous time with Katie & Harlin as well as Jim and Fred. For a long time I've wanted to talk to Fred, since he is one that has a nice wind turbine right behind his house (the big white timberframe south of town). I am a little concerned that he mentioned that his 20 kW Jacobs Wind Turbine does not perform as well as he expected, but he explained that it could be a function of where they placed the turbine.
I also finally had a chance to introduce myself to Joe Degen, Executive Director of Eagle Bluff. I had found out that they have installed an anemometer (wind meter) and was interested in getting a hold of the data. It turns out that Eagle Bluff does not have an anemometer installed at their site, but on the Fountain tower and one in Pilot Mound.
Joe also introduced us to his wife, Mary Bell, who has a strong interest in Wind Energy and writes for the Fillmore County Journal. Especially an article about Garwin McNeilus that she wrote a while back, is very encouraging, as it mentions that Garwin has plans to build a 10kW turbine for $10,000.
Once again we find ourselves renewed in our excitement about moving to this community of interesting, smart, open-minded and environmentally concerned people. We hardly can wait to move!

A visit with IPS

This Friday we went up to the cities to finally visit with the renewable energy firm that I had found on the web, Innovative Power Solutions. Their website (especially their "Build your own system" link from the homepage) has been quite helpful in designing our electrical system.

We met for over one-and-a-half hours with Roger, Mario and Lobos. Mario had some very good feedback on various aspects of our design and we feel comfortable moving ahead working with them on our system.

News from my Dad

Last weekend my mom called to let me know that my dad is in the hospital (again). As some of you know, my dad had an "aortic aneurysm fixed with goretex" in the fall of 2000, but as the surgery took much longer than expected (6 hours), it was very hard on his body. He was on the ICU for almost 6 months and for the first 5 months in a coma and the doctors almost giving him up after he developed antibiotic resistancies. But then, around January/February of 2001 he suddenly bounced right back, went to rehab and was just the same. Amazing!

So, needless to say to hear the news that he's back in the hospital brings back some memories. But my mom and dad are vey optimistic. It turns out that he was not feeling well last Saturday and decided that there was no way that he would go to bed that night with such a strange feeling regarding his heart. Also his bloodpressure was just way to high, so around 10 PM they called the hospital and after describing the symptoms, they sent an ambulance. After some tests and a relocation to a heart-specialty clinic, it turns out that he will need a triple bypass.

Righ now the surgery is scheduled for Wednesday, the 18th. We'll keep our fingers crossed!

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Detailed Design Reviews started

Last Wednesday we finally started our 'detailed design review series". The first topic was "log homes" and I shared some of the things that we learned. The invitation to the design reviews goes out to 50 of our colleagues at Mayo and we are grateful for their time and feedback. Their interest in our project is a great motivator for us! Next Wednesday, the 4th of February, we will start talking about the electrical system.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Design Review Coming Up / Floorplans Posted

Tomorrow, on Christmas Eve, from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM we will hold our first formal semi-public design review in the Medical Sciences Building, Mann Hall.
I posted our floorplans - take a peek!

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Good Advice

Bob & Marissa, friends of Todd & Eva, gave us some good advice that we will try to incorporate into our plans. Between the two of them they built 5 or 6 owner-built, sustainable houses employing renewable energies. Right now they have a house near Winona and are employing rainwater collection (2,500 gal cistern) a Masonry Stove and photovoltaic panels (six 120 W Kyocera). And their house, which only has one floor, has a footprint of 24 by 37 feet, very close to our 24 by 36 feet (and I wouldn't mind another foot in the bathrooms...or the stairs...

Here their advice to us: Insulate your foundation footings and basement walls and basement slab on the outside. "2 inch of foamboard can do wonders", Bob said. And: Place the closets on the north wall.

Architect on Board

Last Thursday we visited with a super-nice architect. Jim G. from Holabird & Root out of Rochester was very interested in our mini-project. Based on our needs we agreed that his firm could help us best by providing us with advice when we need it on an hourly basis. Thankfully he confirmed that with pre-fab panels we should have no problem covering the basement with a cement slab (that we need for passive solar heat storage). His first service to us will be a walking of the site on January 2nd to help us place the house, the garage and the driveway. This should be fun!

Sunday, November 30, 2003

A walk in Lichtnstein

This afternoon, on a gorgeous sunny day (52°F!) we made out to the property for a nice brunch & walk. Since the previous owners were so thoughtful to take their picnic table with them, we hauled our picnic table in and had a quick Subway lunch. Then we set out towards the west half of our south border to post some more signs. That piece of the property is probably the one that we will see the least of, since it is not easily accessible. However now with all the leaves gone it is truly gorgeous! There are a lot of hidden bluffs and rocks and trees (birch trees). At the bottom of the steep hill there is a wide ditch that probably hasn't seen water in a long time - if the size of the trees that are groing in the ditch are any indication.

After our walk, as we were leaving the property, we met Tom our westerly neighbor who was gonna check up on the property. Tom's the son-in-law of the farmer who originally owned the land.

Well, that's the news for this weekend.

Plans are worthless, planning is essential

This morning we finally got around to entering all the things we'll need to do into a project plan. It's quite an undertaking, but it looks like a lot of fun, too. We'll probably be looking at another Log Home up in the cities next weekend and also this week I want to get in touch with the people at IPS. According to the plan I need to create a project overview, so that's probably what I'll be working on tonight. And wrapping up some of the loose ends from our visit with Gastineau, too.

A spontaneous trip

Well on Friday afternoon we spontaneously decided to do an 800 mile trip down to Missouri and take a look at Gastineau's show rooms in Missouri. Mapquest told me that it would take 8 hours and 530 miles, but that was on thei Highway going way west through Kansas City. After I stumbled across US 63 near the site where they have their show houses, we decided to go south on Country Roads - because we happen to live right on 63 ;-) Well that was at 1:20 PM and at 2:05 PM we were in the truck, heading south to Columbia, MO -- 370 miles according to Mapquest. I even found a Thai restaurant in downtown Columbia, so off we were. Jennifer took the first turn driving, since I still had to do some work for work and as we got halfway to Oskaloosa at 5:15 PM, I had accomplished what I needed to accomplish and took the 2nd half driving. If you ever have to go straight south from the Twin Cities, take 63, it's a nice drive!

We were actually lucky driving down there this weekend as we met not only the person who is familiar with our "case", Janet Groat, but also had a chance to meet and talk to the President of Gastineau, Lynn Gastineau. All-in-all it was a very informative trip that answered some questions but also created some new ones. At least we are still convinced that we want a log home.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Maps, Drawings & Pictures

For all those of you for whom a picture says more than a thousand words I have started posting a few pictures, maps & drawings about and around Licht 'n Stein. Enjoy the slide show!

Happy Thanksgiving - if all goes well, we'll have a house warming party a year and 2 days from now, the Saturday after Thanksgiving...


Sunday, November 23, 2003

What's new?

Here are a few links to the files that hold some of the information that I started posting:

And of course the humble beginnings of our own discussion forum.

For my German visitors/Für meine deutschsprachigen Besucher: Wenn Ihr Euch in dem Diskussions-Forum registriert (einfach auf "Register" klicken), dann könnt Ihr das Forum (nicht die Beiträge, aber die Menüführung und Bezeichnungen) auf deutsch lesen! Wenn ihr Fragen habt, schickt mir einfach mal 'ne mail.

Welcome to the blog @ Project Licht 'n Stein

Welcome dear reader!

If you are reading this you've successfully made it over to our own, little, separate world - In case you're wondering why I chose .org versus .com -- I hope that once our house is up- and running, we could take the name and our passion to the next level and form a not-for-profit organization to promote sustainable living with renewable energies. Ideas thus far are focusing around organizing house tours, workshops and or classes, or simply "showing by example". We'll see (quote me on that in February 2005...)

Well, as posted below we closed in the land. Last weekend Jennifer and I were in Lanesboro 3 times and as many times on the property. On Friday we applauded to Peggy (Margaret) Hanson's announcement to run for Minnesota House at a DFL fundraiser event in the Sons of Norway hall. It was wonderful to see so many nice people there, like John, Mike , Frank, Barb, Joy & Bob and not to forget Frank and Peggy. There were many others whom we've just gotten to know and whose full names escape me ;-) [please excuse my grammar, but it's getting late ;-]. After the event we took Deb from SV up to "the land" and on the way out posted the sign

On Saturday then we visited Lanesboro with Jennifer's study colleague from OSU and his wife, John & Elizabeth. After a quick visit at the Gallery were Steve, the Glassblower, was having the opening of his exhibition of beautiful art, we embarked on a delicious culinary Tour de France in 7 stages at the French Restaurant in the Victorian House. It was quite delicious though we've in the past found the food of higher quality. But it is still "mondes plus bien" then what any restaurant in Rochester has to offer!

On Sunday then we bought some signs stating "Private Property, No Hunting, No Fishing, No Trapping or Trespassing for any purpose is strictly prohibited" and posted some on the north and west side of the property. We had intended to post some more this weekend (the Bambis got a break last week, but this weekend hunting continues...) but the weather has been really nasty with freezing rain today. And tomorrow they are calling for a foot of snow (30 cm). Yeeha!

Anyway, after posting the signs we planned on going up to the property but much to our suprise (or not) we found the farm equpiment and other debris that the sellers had to remove laying "neatly" piled up 200 ft from our driveway behind a fallen oak on land that, as we found out, belongs to Forstrom's widow. To get relations started off the right foot we introduced ourselves to two of the four/five new neighbors. Really nice people, indeed! We look forward to getting to know them better.

Then we followed our self-invitation to Mike & Stephanie's house to learn more about the right "toys" for keeping driveways clean and grass mowed and wood chopped. This turned out to be a great, extremely pleasant visit. Both Mike and Stephanie are so nice and we enjoyed their hospitality (and delicious tea, apples, and crackers). In the big schema of things they are basically neighbors and both involved actively in the community and politics. What wonderful acquaintance to make (thanks to Peggy for recommending us to talk to Mike).

By the way, Mike's driveway is about 3,000 ft from the road to the house, although that includes a good portion (about 1,000 ft) that is plowed by the county. At first sight the driveway looked in really good shape, but on our walk a few 100 ft down, Mike pointed out to us the little details that in the winter make the plowing and *permanent* snow removal challenging. We are still toying with the idea of getting a snow blower rather than a blade, since we hope that this way we can get the snow far enough away from the road and also do not lose as much gravel. However Mike had a good point that if we have a vehicle without a cabin, it would get pretty nasty up there if the wind is blowing from the wrong direction. He also mentioned that Sveen might actually plow our driveway as long as its no safety risk for them. And since we'll have the driveway redone next year anyway, maybe by them, that might actually work.

Jennifer spent most of today researching prairie restoration and that the type of prairie that is native to our neck of the woods is called "goat prairie". With our Unicorn on the property (if the seller did not accidentally shoot it, mistaking it for a deer) that vaguely resembles a goat with one horn, the name is pretty neat. While we will not have time to start prairie restoration on the whole tillable land, we definitely need to get started between the new driveway and the housesite.

Well, that's that for tonight. For those of you around where we live - drive safely!


Saturday, November 22, 2003

Oops, I haven't posted in over 8 days...but it's been quite busy.

The biggest news: The Project Licht 'n Stein website is up and running. I ordered it last Sunday at and it was a sweet and cheap process ($52 for 12 months *including* the domain name registration). So if you are reading this post on the domain, it is the last on here. Go to the new site to read the new blog (and find a discussion group and more background information as well).

Here is our new address:

We have moved to

Friday, November 14, 2003

It's official! We have closed! We own the land.

Now the previous owners just have to follow through with their agreement to free the property from the five debris items (as heavy and big as the picnic table they've removed some weeks ago...). They first claimed they would not be able to remove the debris, but after negotiating (Jennifer was on the phone for almost 3 hours and eMails were flying back and forth between their and our attorney) that the bank would withhold $1,000, they suddenly were "able" to agree to remove the debris (just as they agreed to by signing the purchase agreement) by Monday...amazing, how suddenly they were able to do it.

I have a picture of the first sign ("Betreten Verboten") that we posted on "our" property (well technically it's the neighbors property, but it's on our egress onto our land).

It hasn't really sunken in yet, though it might sink in next weekend when we can finally enjoy it and call it ours.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

It's been a quite week at Projekt Licht 'n Stein...

Well I am not Garrison Keillor and it has not been a quite week - at least not in our personal lifes (which this blog is not about (thankfully)).

I've made contact with the folks from Innovative Power Systems out of Minneapolis. Seems that they are a bunch of engineers (Materials Engineer, Mechnical Engineer, Solar Thermal Systems Engineer, etc.) that got together 12 years ago (in 1991) to offer services around renewable energy. Besides a great link to a partner-websites to dimension your own system I was intrigued by their description of their services: Our range of services varies depending on your needs and your budget. We can do as much or as little as you want, from being involved in planning discussions and ordering the right equipment for your project to designing the system that best fits your needs to doing the actual labor to install it. I filled out one of their forms earlier this week and got a nice reply back from Roger, their Sales/Marketing director (an ME).

On the land acquisition side of things we have a tentative closing date for the 14th of November. We ran into Dick, our lawyer, during a social event on Tuesday in Lanesboro and he is still waiting for the title abstract. Upon receipt he will issue the title opinion and we should be on our way to closing. Exciting!

After reading the HP?? article on Wind Generators that Kirby gave me more thoroughly, I am now toying with the idea of getting the more heavy, more slowly turning African Windpower generator. It's a little bit more expensive, but his arguments on the reliability of heavier equipment convinced me (that's why we are driving an F-150, hit two deer in the past 3 years and had a no point any threat to our safety). I'd have to do more research. I'll also post my "Wind Evaluation" spreadsheet on the weekend. And I found out that the wind speeds at airports are usually 1-2 miles below what you can expect to find on your site, since airports are usually located in more windprotected spots (I am not sure if this is true for the Rochester airport, though).


Saturday, November 01, 2003

Finally got around to transcribing the Fillmore County Zoning Checklist. You can download it here. Good luck to Colleen and Kara & Dan.

Friday, October 31, 2003

I've added a few links on the right about "our" appliances. Well, we haven't really bought anything, but that's what we want to buy. Most entertaining is the little Video from Agri-County on the Staber Washing Machine. Of course we with recent European experience wonder what all the agitation about the Agitator is all about - all washing machines in Germany are on a horizontal axis anyway...

Here is last week's exterior & floor plan draft (it's a PDF file).

Hi! Have you been confused by the difference between Volt Ampere and Watts? Here is a good starting point. It's those reactances ("induktive Lasten") that make things more complicated.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Howdy! Well, last night we did not work much on our house plans...came home about 8:30 PM after a great dinner with Ellen who is in town for her two classes at Mayo.

However this morning on our way in Jennifer and I decided to go with the RF16 combo unit. This will only incur one-time shipping cost and will "encourage" us to only put in the freezer what we need for the next couple of weeks (we still have a turkey in our current freezer from last year or so...). Jennifer had a good point too: If we want, we can always add another freezer. And what we really use is the fridge, and the RF16 has 1.1 cu.ft. more fridge space than the R10.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Just a quick post, before I forget (or am too tired tonight)... Jennifer and I decided last night to definitely go with a DC powered fridge. We did some research and found out that liquid propane is not only a non-renewable energy source (duh, we knew that ;-) but also that is is basically just a by-product of crude oil or natural gas processing.

However, going with DC and wanting a decent-sized DC fridge really only leaves Sunfrost who seems to have a monopoly on larger DC fridges.

We haven't made up our minds yet whether to go with a fridge only (9.3 cu.ft. Sunfrost R10) and a chest freezer (5.8 cu.ft. from SunDanzer) or a fridge/freezer combination (10.3 & 3.9 cu.ft. Sunfrost RF16). It's about the same prize, but we'd end up with a cubic foot (or 3 inches in height) less fridge space, but 1.9 cu. ft. (or 50%) more freezer space. Jennifer prefers the combination and I prefer the separation - maybe it's because I grew up with a chest freezer back in Germany. Actually I just checked and our current freezer/fridge combo has a 6.58 cu. ft. freezer and a 14.28 cu.ft. fridge section. So maybe 3.9 cu.ft. is really, really small... The freezer would also be in the non-heated utility room below the kitchen, so that should reduce energy use even further.

What got this all started is that I ordered (from the Kill-A-Watt energy use meter. This site was the cheapest ($34.95) and no shipping cost. I ordered it on Monday and it came with the mail on Saturday. He even sent me this USPS tracking code, but that was no good (other than telling me that it was delivered). It didn't have "where is it now" information.

We used the Kill-A-Watt on Saturday to measure our energy usage of our vacuum (900 Watts). And then on Tuesday morning I plugged it in the fridge outlet. It showed (so I thought) 60 Watts usage. I was kind of surprised that when I opened the door the wattage did not change (so is the lightbulb on all the time???), but hey it was early in the morning...

So in the evening (about 12 hours later) it still read 60 Watts. I read the kWh and it showed 0.73 kWh. That's when I noticed that the 60 was the frequency, not the wattage. Then it started running and used about 212 Watts. Then I opened the door and it used 249 Watts. Ah! A 35 Watts lightbulb ;-)

That's when we compared the usage to the DC fridges. So our fridge, in a house that is at 58 degrees during the day and no door opening, uses .75 kWh per half a day. I haven't checked this morning but I'm sure it used more during those 3-4 "heating hours" where the ambient room temperature was higher. And now is October and the night temperatures dropped to the low 30s (that's right around freezing for our metrics readers out there). So I guess it is about 1.75 kWh/day on a year's average (1.5 kWh in the winter, 2 kWh in the summer). That is roughly 650 kWh a year.

Here is the comparison of freezer/fridge:
RF16 (@70°F): 0.49 kWh/day or 180 kWh/year.
R10 plus SunDanzer (@70°F): 0.19 + 0.28 = 0.47 kWh/day or 170 kWh/year.

So it's about a 1/4 of what we currently use.

[off topic: Did anybody ever wonder why fridge is spelled with a 'd' when refrigerator isn't? Go figure...]

So much for a quick post. Hope you enjoyed reading.


Monday, October 27, 2003

Okay, here we go. Day one (at least by the count of this diary). What do you think, will I even make more than 3 entries?

Projekt Licht 'n Stein. Alternative Strategies for Dwellings. Being "green" out of protest and financial necessity. Showing that 'one' can do it....

Today is Monday. The last Monday in October of 2003. If all goes well will be putting the last finishing touches on our Licht 'n Stein cabin in exactly a year. And move in on Halloween 2004. And have a house warming party with lots and lots of people on Thanksgiving weekend.

Got an interesting eMail from LeeAnn today...Our future neighbor to the south wants to log his property and will take our fence down but put it back up on the real survey stakes. Huh? She said that her colleague Tim had put the posts/stakes and yes, that the fence is slightly off. She is wondering if slightly off means inches, feets, yards? He never specified (and she never asked again). Oh and she offered to research waste removal (again!). And Jennifer had to send Dick a note following up on where his communication with the seller's attorney is at.

Initially I was not concerned about the fence being moved and the neighbor logging, because I thought it was the neighbor to the West (the old Fiorstrom farm). So by the time we got home Jennifer was not concerned anymore (at least not concerned enough to feel like calling that guy or LeeAnn). However now I was concerned and worried, and was getting all nervous and anxious. Talk about Yin and Yang and Opposites Attract ;-) Well, I configured her computer so she could access her eMail and send Dick that note and cc: LeeAnn. And I read her note again about that logging thing. Then I called LeeAnn and got the story above. Did not feel like calling the neighbor either. Of course LeeAnn thought it was nice that he called to let us know. Funny only that he already started today....go figure? Who knows maybe it's just another 'revenge' scheme...

So, we're just plowing along. I'll now write some posts about the last days.

Oh, wait, I forgot something. Kirby send his electric use spreadsheet (along with his blood pressure data, too, lol). Unfortunately they do not use 3 kWh per day with an electric cookstove...but rather 30 kWh. Of course now the panic sets in - how can *we* possibly use just 3.5 kWh per day? But the folks at do it, so hey, I need to be working on this usage spreadsheet....

Good night...

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Okay the time stamp is fake. I am writing this blog entry for Sunday on Monday. Playing a little bit catch up on what happened today re: Licht 'n Stein.

Called my parents today. They are somewhat "excited" about our project but I think they are more concerned about it. No electricity and no well water. My father, Dietmar [deetmahr], had a good point though on water collection: No matter how big I make our roof surface (i.e. the steeper I make it) I won't collect more water. Pretty simple, but easy mistake to fall for (at first). He knew because in Germany you get taxed for rainwater drainage (what a concept...) by the area your house occupies. Now he, having a "Walmdach" (meaning a low angle roof with slopes on all four sides), probably thought he wouldn't have to pay as much as the neighbors with their steep roof. Pustekuchen (that's German and intranslatable). So anyway. My beautiful spread sheet calculation did not work. Our roof, yes, has a surface area of 1,730 cu.ft. (720 in the south, 576 in the north and 434 for the "shed"). But the area it covers, and the area that for water collection purposes is only relevant, is the footprint of our house (and the shed). and that is only 1,285 cu.ft. But hey, it's still 75% of what I thought.

Okay, how many gallons of water in an inch of rain? Well, the easy way for a metrics-trained engineer (wink-wink) is to state that 1 cubic meter (m³) contains 1,000 liter. Isn't the metric system nice? So here is the long way. 3.8 liter in one gallon. 1 foot is 0.3048 m (because 1 inch is 2.54 cm). So....
1 cubic meter is 1 meter by 1 meter by 1 meter. And there are 1/0.3048 feet = 3.3 feet in a meter. so 3.3 feet ^ 3 or 35.3 cubic feet in a cubic meter.
Okay so 35.3 cubic meter are 1,000 liter. That divided by 3.785 is 264 gallons in 35.3 cubic feet. Or, if you will, and you will want to, let me tell you, there are 7.48 gallons in a cubic foot.

Okay, just like in all those fancy textbooks these days...first they explain you the manual, do it yourself, do it while you are riding on a bike and have nothing to look at, way. Then they tell you how easy you could have had the answer. And let me tell you, it is way cool! Because google knows. Google has a calculator now - I kid you not. Try it: Type in your Google Toolbar (what? you have not installed a Google toolbar yet? Oh, you are using a public library computer...okay (Dan, Eva, Kara, Todd) you are excused type in: How many gallons in a cubic foot? And low and behold there are 7.48 gallons. Okay so is Google the answer to the un-usability of the English system??? who knows....

So, since there are 12 inches in a foot, I just divide my square footage by 12 and multiply it by the gallons per cubic foot. That yields almost exactly 800 gallons - per inch of rain.

Now this was a dry year, let me tell you. No rain to speak off since July. But, as I saw today, Rochester Airport reported 20 inches of rain so far this year (normal is 40-45 inches for the whole year). With that amount of rain, we'd probably would have gotten...800...*20....16,000 gallons of water (that's 60,566 liters, Papa). So from January through October (and it rained another inch almost today, I would guess), for those ten months we would have had 1,600 gallons of water per day. Guess we're lucky, because my estimate from way back when was 1,500 gallons per month. Right now we are usually using 2,800 gallons with high-flush toilets and a really really inefficient washing machine. So a low-flush toilet, a low-flush shower head and a Staber horizontal, European styel front-loading, washing machine should do the trick to bring us down to that level.

If our water should really not last we always have some other options...Going to the laundromat to do our laundry (Wash-Center in German ;-) "Wascator" actually, a Danish (Huh?) name. Spend many hours there with my mom doing "big" laundry. Biggest memory is - why do people smoke in wash centers? strange...

Anywho...where was I? Oh yes, conversation with my parents. Well, now that I've done the math, I think I am still okay. Don't remember what my father said about their or Jürgen's water usage. Maybe 10,000 liters per month (that is 2641 gallons, so comparable with what we use here). I'd be surprised if they use more.

I still have to complete the water usage spread sheet. Especially for factoring in our water usage for having a child. Oh and tank size. I originally wanted to go with thre 1,500 gallon tanks. But since it was so dray this year maybe we'll increase that. And I also only found 1,700 gallon tanks for almost $1,500. Ouch - that is $6,000 for 6,800 gallons. But I guess that is still cheaper than the $22,000 for the well, given that water is 500-600 feet deep (150m to 180m). And we also are concerned with the quality of the water (due to field runoff of chemicals that just rush through the soil because of the underlying porous (?) lime stone. And our friend Barb's well just ran dry this summer. Boy that would suck if you invest 22,000 get chemicals in your water and in a few years it runs dry because of all the development that is going on.

Rainwater. Somehow it is stuck in my mind that it is very soft. I guess it is common knowledge but I think it was implanted in my brain through laundry detergent commercials, I think. Or, wait, I think I had friends and he, yes, Barbara & Holger, he installed rain water collection system and they used it for their laundry only (separate plumbing) and they said it is really soft.

Okay, I guess it's time to go to bed now. So: in a good year (45 inches) we'd have 32,000 gallons of water or 2,667 gallons per month. In a bad year we'd still have 1,300 gallons per month. Not too bad. And 6,000 gallons would give us roughly 4 months. I'll talk about evaporation and snow-wetness another time. That is another spreadsheet I prepared in August. And I also was able to explain our current water usage and show how with the same (or similar) usage patterns we would come down to 1,500 gallons. But it is time to go to bed now. Hope you're enjoying this stream of consciousness. I do ;-)


P.S.: Meant to give Jürgen & Susi a call for ages. So excited about their moving plans. And I really would like their feedback on all our ideas and thoughts. Oh and also need to write about the upcoming design reviews. and our walk with Kirby & Sarah last Sunday (gorgeous day). If only I had time ;-)

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