Sunday, April 30, 2017

More Battery Confusion

I'm still struggling with this battery issue. I did some more research, and the few sources I could find that discussed deep cycle battery usage, indicated that I should get about 70 - 80 amp hours from my current battery.

In a previous post, I stated that I only used 12 amp hours. I was wrong.

I did some more math - which is much more advanced than any writer wants it to be.
Hopefully, I got this right by using the formula for AC single phase watts to amps calculation formula (it's o.k. if your eyes just glazed over. Mine did, too, the first time I saw this formula).

Shop light doubling as a porch light would go something like this:
65 Watt Bulb / (0.8 x 110 V) = .73 amps
To get amp hours, I would simply multiply .73 by the number of hours the light was on.
Since it was just a few hours, I'd say a light did not drain my battery. The light set up's biggest offense was that is looked a little white trashy.

My next offender was the little fan that I put in a window for about 10 hours. I think it pulls about .8 amps. So that would get me up to 8 amp hours, and since I used a weed eater for a an hour or two, the weed eater must eat power like crazy.  Clearly, I need to investigate power tool power usage more.

This sucks.

Basically, I think I need one battery for the fan, and one battery for lights and other small electronics.
I also should probably buy a 100 watt solar panel to recharge the fan battery each day. That's another $150 to spend. Otherwise, my 8 amp battery charger, on the generator, will take about 2.5 days to fully charge an 80 amp hour battery. That's a lot of propane!

I read somewhere that deep cycle batteries slowly discharge even when they're not in use. I'm hoping my trickle charger slows that enough to keep any battery charged while we're away. (Also, thanks to Hank Finn for educating me on batteries a bit more. His recommendation is to charge it slowly because batteries like that better.)

Anyway. The moral to this blog post is this - off grid power is expensive.
Moral #2. Never underestimate the mathematical ability of a doomsday prepper. I love to make fun of these people, but dang. They must have pretty great math skills to live off the grid! I apologize to all you conspiracy theorists.

Math rules.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Surprising Discovery About Beanee Weenees

I've gotten a little tired of cooking over a campfire while in the country. It's easy to build a fire and cook over it, but what I'm done with is the smell of smoke on my clothes and in my hair. The initial solution to my proclamation of smoke-free meal preparation was to rely on take out.

Beanee Weenees

We can choose from Carmine, Round Top or Giddings for restaurant variety. We can take gaping chunks of money out of the bank to do it. It's stupid. There are other solutions, including Beanee Weenees.  I know they sound gross, and honestly, they never come to mind for me. The name alone suggests a diminished little joke of a meal. But when you're not really into one more drive to "town," you grab a can and a drink and have lunch.

I thought Tammy was feeding me a load of crap when she claimed they were high in fiber and protein. I figured they were fake food with a bad flavor, but I ate them anyway.

The nice thing about the country is the lack of distraction. No computers. No television. I entertained myself by reading the Beanee Weenee label. Aside from the obligatory corn syrup, these weren't as bad as I thought.
260 calories, 9 grams of fiber, and 13 grams of protein. One can - $1.

Food Insecurity

I'm always deeply upset by the food insecurity in this country. The balance of pay is so whacked that people don't get enough to eat in some communities. I certainly don't propose we fill up the food banks with canned beans and wieners, but emergency assistance doesn't mean offering up that last can of 4 year old hearts of palm in the back of a suburban family's food pantry. 

A little can of Beanee Weenees would do the job. No cooking required. Just pop the top and feed someone.

I'm trying to lose weight. I sit in an office all week, and I often end up at a restaurant for dinner. My family and I enjoy whatever we want on the menu. My waistline shows it. During my vacation, I decided to up my fiber and reduce the calories drastically. I'm reducing calories at will; not because I can't afford food.

This just looks stupid to me when I think about hunger in Austin, Texas.

Before the day is over, I'm going to the store, and I'm going to buy a case of Beanee Weenees. I am going to drop them off at the nearest organization with a food pantry.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Problem Solving a Deep Cycle Battery

In my last post I discussed the expensive prospect of solar power, We bought a generator to power our one big power suck. Beyond that, we need just a little bit of electricity to run a light and a fan. Often, the breeze at the cabin is so nice that a fan is sufficient to keep it cool for sleeping. Sometimes, we need to run an electric power tool or charge a computer.

One 12V deep cycle battery should do it. I bought a battery, a solar trickle charger, and a DC/AC power converter. Assuming the battery was sold to me with a full charge, the trickle charger would keep it topped off as I used it to run one light for a few hours, a fan all night, and a weed eater for about an hour.

Mysterious Issue with the Battery

Day one with my battery set up worked great. I was able to weed eat the entire cabin fence line. I powered a shop light that doubled as a porch light, and I ran a small fan all night. The set up was simple.

The power converter has two 110 outlets and one USB outlet. I use one plug at at a time. If something goes awry, the converter will sound an alarm. By about 10 a.m., the morning after running the fan all night, the alarm sounded.

If I did my math right, this battery should give me 80 amp hours if it's fully charged. I got about 12 amp hours. Either I really miscalculated my power usage, or this battery was not fully charged when I bought it.  Because the converter instructions state that the alarm sounds when the there's an overcharge, a drained battery didn't really make sense. I turned everything off and put the solar trickle charger on the battery. It looks like this:

At optimal performance this 6 watt solar panel will drip electricity into the battery without overcharging it. If I wanted to totally charge my battery with this little panel, it would probably take months. Like - the entire summer - while we melted away in the night.  My hope was the solar panel simply doing it's job of topping off the battery because my alarm was due to something else.

Please Be Something Else...

We had to go back to Austin, so I couldn't really top off the battery all day, and then give it a whirl for another night. I packed everything away until this past weekend. I optimistically pulled out the battery and converter and tried to power the fan. The alarm went off. We slept with minimal air movement. Fortunately, it got pretty chilly overnight, and we were fine.

The next morning, I tried to power the shop light. If the battery was fine, the light would run. Hell no. The alarm went off. Clearly. This battery came mostly drained.

Most people would pack up the battery and take it back to the store. I was 90 miles away from the store. So I decided to give it a charge with the generator. Tammy ran to Giddings and picked up a battery tester; which of course, displayed "Lo" on the LED screen.

If my optimistic math was correct, the generator would charge the battery in about 2 - 3 hours.

That didn't happen. "Lo" never changed to "60%"; although it would quickly flash an exciting "90%" right when I plugged in the tester. I don't trust that. In fact, upon closer inspection, my handy battery charging feature on my generator isn't much more than a trickle charger on steroids. 

Right under that arrow is the number "8." As in 8 amps. As in not particularly powerful charger. As in a whopping 96 watts of charge. I have no idea how much power is in my battery, but I charged for about 4 - 5 hours. I guess I'll make a trip to an auto parts store and see if they can give it a true test and charge for me the next time we're at the cabin. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Solving the Air Conditioning Problem

I'm not totally pleased with myself, but I have managed to produce a little electricity for the cabin.  I have some problems to solve, but for the most part, we will not swelter in the spring and summer heat, and if we want to, we can run a light or two.

Solar is Pricey

I really poured over the information regarding "off the grid" solar power. In a word, "expensive." This is Texas, and there is no way in hell we can make it through a summer night without A/C. However, it would take about 10 - 15 deep cycle marine batteries to run one 10,000 BTU window unit. I would likely need about 4 - 6 100 watt solar panels to keep them charged.  Probably more.

To figure the watts of a 10,000 BTU window unit, I use this formula:
BTU / EFR (energy efficiency rating) = watts
My window unit is:
10,000 / 11.5 = 870 watts
Truthfully, I'm going to call that 1,000 running watts with something like 1700 starting watts.
I want to run an A/C for about 10 hours because Tammy and Elizabeth like to sleep in (and I will if I'm depleted enough by the city lifestyle).

My watt hours = 10,000

Deep cycle battery - about 1500 watts 
Since I don't want to completely deplete my batteries every night, I can only use 80% of the juice.

Cheap deep cycle battery - $80.

Add a mess of solar panels to charge the batteries at about $140 a piece.

This got ridiculously expensive very fast.
Although we're holding out on running electricity to the cabin, the solar price tag did not stop me from hobbling together a short term solution.

4,000 Watt Generator

I did not buy the best generator on the market, but I did get a great deal on a 4,000 watt generator from Home Depot. One of my workmates ran a deal on the homepage of, and I jumped at the price. It works, but it is persnickety. It has to have just the right oil level and just the perfect fuel to oxygen mix, and after cranking my arm off, it will start, and it will run the A/C!

This particular model will run on gasoline or propane. I plan to use only propane because it's cleaner, and I'm hoping that will reduce the battle to start the thing over the long run. Also, it's important to note that a generator will be marketed at it's peak wattage; not it's running watts. In reality, this is a 3500 watt generator. On a 20 gallon tank of propane, it should run the A/C for 10 hours.

Once again - expensive, but not as expensive as a full on solar set up. We're at the cabin a few times a month. $40 in propane is still cheaper than a hotel room. Besides fuel costs, and cranky cranking, this thing is heavy. Moving it around is a workout. I bought some casters, and hopefully, I can make them work so we can roll it, and only lift to put it in the truck or cabin. So don't go lookin' to steal my generator. It's "portable."

It's also loud, so next project will be to build a little enclosure that helps buffer the noise it makes. We also need to protect it from rain when we're using it.

Let's see how long it takes me to freak out and call the electric co-op to run the lines...

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Preview of Our American Dream

It's been a few months since I've written. My excuse is predictable.
"We've been so busy with work and blah, blah, blah."

It's true. It's the way of the world if you're trying to live by the rules of American success as defined by a good corporate job, a nice home in the suburbs and secure retirement. I'm not convinced this is the path to contemporary eternal happiness, but Tammy and I had a nice discussion about it over dinner last night. We are blessed. We are successful by the American definition of "success." Even so, it doesn't keep us from dreaming and scheming about living in the country.

We have done a few improvements to the property. We fenced around the cabin to keep the dog in and the cows out. That was a huge relief. We feel like we can relax a little because we don't have to put a leash on Tanner and walk him at 6AM. We can open the door and let him out for awhile.

However, I'm a morning person, so I'm perfectly happy to open the door, let him out, and sit on the steps to watch the sunrise. That's my definition of success.

The peace and space and sounds of frogs and birds are what I miss about living in the country. The friendliness of the locals (and I promise - you can easily distinguish between locals and urban tourists not by clothing or cars, but by friendliness) always fills me up.  I miss the people. I'm surprised how much I miss them, but I find joy in someone driving past the cabin and honking 5 times to say, "hello." I feel comfort in meeting an oncoming pickup, as I drive somewhere, and getting the one finger wave off the top of the oncoming driver's steering wheel.

Tammy and I drove out to our place on Thursday night, and we went over to the Stone Cellar for pizza and Karaoke. I don't do karaoke, but Tammy's great at it. We took Tanner, and he got to be the star dog. I was apprehensive about taking him, but it turns out that Thursday night is mostly locals, so the vibe was relaxed and low key. The energy was right. I ran into old friends from my days of living in Fayette County. It was one of those nights that felt like home.

I really hope we can call our country paradise home very soon.
THAT is our American Dream.