Thursday, November 23, 2017

Extending the Life of Alkaline Batteries

A good number of households have a huge energy suck. It eats double helpings of food, turns on every light in the house in the middle of the day, has a Wii, parks its ass in front of the television with the remote nearby, and has no problem saying,

"Hey Christy! I need new batteries for (fill in the blank)."

Batteries are in endless supply in this energy eater's mind. Electricity is a mysterious wonder that never fails. Money is limitless and as reliable as the sunrise.

It's Thanksgiving Day. Tomorrow all of us with this thing will start buying it more stuff to use for eating more energy. I'm telling you! The battery companies worship this being like a god.

Today, I decided to win one little victory over the teenager. When I was handed 4 "dead" AA batteries yesterday, it occurred to me that these should be as rechargeable as my deep cycle batteries at the cabin. I did some googling and came across two useful ways to squeeze the life out of the Energizer company.

There are a number of YouTube videos that recommend Universal Alkaline Battery Chargers. Lickity split! I bought one. I'm going to wrap it and put it under the tree for me. A good charger should work for AAA, AA, and 9V batteries. I'm highly doubtful I'll get the batteries back to full charge, but if I can recharge them for even 3 extra uses, I'll be pretty happy.

I also saw a video demonstration of someone using old batteries to power LED lights. He powered little night lights, lamps and flashlights. LED bulbs use less power, and they require less voltage to light up. Many modern devices will stop working once the battery had discharged below 1.5 volts. Usually around 1.3 volts, death of the fun will happen. LED lights don't need that much power to work. I had no idea.

As a society, we're spoiled and wasteful. We don't think twice about energy and how we get it. Many people with a reliable and good income constantly complain about "not having enough money." I admit it. I do it sometimes, too. This renewable and sustainable project of mine is not only teaching me new and interesting science, it's making me much more aware and appreciative of my resources. Everyday, I am mindful and consciously thinking about energy, where it comes from and how to respect it.

Now that I've discovered the lasing truth about alkaline batteries, I would like to give thanks for the cheapo guys out there that have figured out how to extend the life of these little energy staples.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Finding Joy in Work and Play - Building a Shower Stall with Pallets

Strange title. I know. Tammy and I had the weekend to ourselves, and I told her early in the week that I really wanted to take a walk through our woods. It syncs my body, relaxes me, and frankly, feels like home. She readily agreed for the same reasons. She also suggested we get a couple of huge pallets I picked up at my office (after they installed new bathroom stalls) out of the garage and use them to create privacy walls around the outdoor shower.

We would work a little and play a little. It also gave me a chance to use the power I've been producing from the solar set up. Before I get started on the shower build, here's a cute picture of one of our neighbors. She's very kissy and friendly. She definitely loves Tammy.

Until we have a chance to ask her owner what her real name is, we're calling her Sugar because she's white and gives lots of sugar. Her breath smells like a hay bale, but the kisses are sweet.

Building Shower Walls with Pallets

Since part of this country experiment is about sustainability, we've been collecting pallets whenever we can find them. I found two 5X8 pallets in the parking lot at work. The building remodeled the bathrooms, and the stalls came on huge pallets. I got a couple of guys to help me load them up, and they've been sitting in the garage for a few months. We had an idea we'd use them to frame walls, but hadn't decided which walls they would become.

Saturday was cool and beautiful, so we decided to split the country trip into half work and half play. We loaded up the pallets and a jigsaw (my circular saw rusted in the constantly flooding condo garage; which make me mad), stopped  by Home Depot for some 4x4s and cinder blocks, and headed to the cabin.

The pallets were a little longer than we needed, so we decided to cut off one section. We'd set the 4x4 posts in the cinder blocks, fill them with pond clay, and then attach the pallets to the posts. This way the walls are portable/movable. None of this outdoor stuff feels permanent. At some point, we'll put in a small bathroom with plumbing, but we need to get the rainwater catchment system set up first. Then we can add a small septic system and retire the famous composing toilet.

Sizing the pallets gave me the chance to use a little solar electricity. It worked great. In fact, I highly recommend this portable system to anyone who has to do any off grid construction. 

It was crazy windy because a cool front was blowing in, and that's good. We would not have stabilized the walls if the wind hadn't knocked over the first one we built. The original plan was to slip the pallets over the 4x4s so that the walls could be taken apart as easily as they were constructed. That didn't work. There's nothing square about a pallet.  We had to remove the back slats and nail the pallets to the posts.

Then the wind knocked one over. We ended up using the removed back slats as stabilizers. The whole set up stood on it's own as we took our walk through the woods. As far as we know, it's still standing. We'll add metal siding the next trip out. I also ran out of nails because I didn't think I would need extra nails since the original plan was to slip the pallets over the posts. It's nailed together in all the right places, but I need to add a second nail at every attachment.

We'll also finish up a footpath into the stall next go round. We'll need to terrace the slope a bit to make walking around with wet feet less treacherous. The next big project will be installing a gutter that drains into a collection barrel next to the stall. I'll add a solar powered pump, and we'll have a nice, easy shower set up. My aunt suggested a propane, on demand water heater, and indeed! They make them for just this kind of setting. Off grid is getting pretty comfortable!

Rewarding Ourselves with a Walk in the Woods

With an hour of sunlight to spare, we took a walk. First, Tammy had a visit with Sugar, then we headed into the woods to look around.

I showed Tammy the other neighbor's deer stand, built partly our property, to shoot deer that bed down right there. That will get the sledge hammer next visit. Following the sledge hammer, I'll let that individual know he and his sons get a visit from the game warden if I catch that shit in action. We encountered one of the deer that live back there. We did some rock hunting in one of the wet weather creeks. We crawled through the under brush to the very back, remote corner of our place. The original stone used to mark the Northeast corner of the property, 100 years ago, is still there. 

We'll definitely leave several acres "raw" for wildlife and privacy, but slowly, we'll build a really beautiful country home. 

Note:  Sustainable living is a "serious" hobby for me. If my blog posts about "off grid" living pique your interest, start with a book or two. Have fun experimenting wherever you live. You might be surprised at how self reliant you really are! I started with a book and a whole lot of internet searches.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Let's Get Back on Track - Creating a Rural Getaway

Let's get back to talk about the sun.

I get off the subject quite often. I originally created this blog to share our country getaway experience. I often feel that I don't have much to share. Actually, there are plenty of things to write about when we make an effort to actually GO to the country. I've been making a few trips lately. I love this time of year. While there, I successfully created a small solar power system!

This looks pretty trashy, but I'm not one to go all out and spend a bunch of money on something until I know it's actually going to work. 

1. This set up includes one 100W 12V monocrystaline solar panel. Monocrystaline panels are more efficient than polycrystaline. However, they are bit more expensive, and maybe not necessary for a weekend set up. 

2. Two 75AH deep cycle batteries. They're inside the cooler to keep the temperature constant, and to protect them. They are lead acid batteries, and they do require maintenance. Some schools of thought say they last longer. The upside to maintaining them is price. They cost less than gel batteries.

3. 30 Amp charge controller. It's inside the cooler, too. I attached it to the side. It's connected to the solar panel, and the batteries. The batteries are wired in parallel (I'll get into that in a later post). The charge controller regulates the flow of power from the solar panel. Once the batteries are charged, it goes into a "float" mode and acts to trickle charge the batteries and keep them topped off. 

4. 1,100 watt power inverter. I connect this to the batteries when I'm ready for power. It converts direct current power to alternating current. Your household electric is alternating current. So DC to AC power. The inverter has two places to plug in an extension cord. I run that from the cabin to the cooler, and viola! Power!

5. A cheap cooler makes a great place to store batteries. You don't have to feel bad about drilling holes in it to run your cables. Mine has wheels because I might want to move this system around, and the batteries weight about 48 pounds a piece. So, you could call my little system "portable."

Realistic Power Expectations

Let me say up front that this system is not a final solution to having the comforts of all things electric. It runs a box fan all night. I would probably run a small heater, but I think I'll stick to propane heaters for now. It runs lights, keeps a computer powered, and charges phones.

It will not run the window unit. It will not reliably run a small refrigerator. To do these things, I need more batteries. Extra panels would charge more batteries faster. Right now, I don't need all that. I just like the idea of having some quick power and a few comforts.

Turnkey cost of this system is around $500. The panel and charge controller cost around $175. The inverter was close to $100. Batteries run around $95 a piece (on the cheap side). The cooler was $40. Heavy gauge extension cords are $50. I also have my backup generator. A night of air conditioning costs around $20 in propane. The generator will run the window unit. However, Tammy is right when she says this is all still cheaper than a hotel.

And I'm learning something new. Heck. I'm even thinking of going to a prepper convention to see what other neat things I can try. Rainwater collection is definitely in my future.

Also, I have a sanitary, smell free composting toilet set up, too. I use old ash from campfires or brush burns, and I mix it with hay and wood shavings. Works pretty well along with a little outdoor washing station. I'm telling you. A 2-gallon sprayer will give an efficient and effective shower while saving lots of water. And I have water left over for hand washing and washing dishes.

Our plan is to get out to the land this weekend and try out some of my handy work.