Friday, May 28, 2010

Open for Business

Since we have accomplished many pressing jobs for our own homestead, we have decided that it's time to officially open for business in Brewster County, Texas. Here is what we are offering:

    -Solar Electric
    -Solar hot-water
    -Wind power
    -Off-grid Homes
    -On-site vehicle and tractor repair
    -Backup Power Systems
    -Website design & management
    -Computer Repair

We design and build wind power systems, solar hotwater, solar electric, bio-fueled generators, and low power refrigeration. Our systems fit your needs and budget!

Free Estimates - Honest & Reliable - Experienced Techs

Contact us at:

For people considering our services, please understand that we have been practicing these technical trades our entire lives. We live off the grid and most of our friends do also-- we know what works and what does not.  And for those of you living out of our service area, we also offer technical consultation and research & design via email or phone. Please send us an email for our phone number or more details.

In other news, during our trip to Alpine on Thursday we bought some very usable warped lumber in the discount pile a McCoy's which will go toward making our stairs. I started installing our AC outlets, and would have had the new DC fuse panel in, except I was missing a fine thread 3/16" bolt for the positive terminal. I guess someone forgot to drop one in the box.      

Well, that's it; I hope nobody minded the shameless self-promotion.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Big, bad storm


It's been a busy past few days with our projects moving forward nicely.

Yesterday morning we went to Study Butte to get our car inspected, picked up some hardware for our PV rack and headed back to the ranch. We stopped by the Grub Shack for some breakfast and ran into John Wells ( and were able to go see his place. John has some really successful projects going on. One of the most notable ones is the use of storage containers to make a courtyard space with an arched roof he built himself over the top of the four containers. In the open space John will make a garden/greenhouse.

Pv Poll Mount

We also finished our solar power pole-mount rack yesterday. It turned out great, and we're getting much more out of our array during optimal sun conditions. The photo above was taken after the storm, we are still lacking combiner
box and wire buried in conduit. We also upped the wire to 6 gauge, which lowers the voltage drop to the batteries. While I was tightening the last screw on the rack, we noticed a storm on the horizon so we picked up our tools and headed inside.

The storm progressed pretty quickly, and we experienced very high winds, lightning, and rain. The worst part was the large, ice-cube-sized hail which pelted us for almost an hour. The large hail seemed isolated (lucky us) but that seems to happen often out here. We found out after the storm calmed down, we went out with flashlights to assess the damage.

Two of our chickens died during the storm, and while it is impossible for us to know how, we have some suspects (primarily hail or panic). We were also very worried about our solar panels, but the most expensive 130 watt mono-crystalline panel made it through the hail just fine. We do have a panel with a plastic lens which earned a good-sized hole (right after we just patched it up).  The inverter and solar controller both stopped working, but thankfully the controller dried out and went back into service this morning, and the inverter finally decided to work just this hour (thus enabling our internet!).

Photons meet Pn junction

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sometimes we should just stay home...

IMG_3186.JPGWell today was a day of extremes. We spent the majority of the day working on the homestead and made really good progress in many of our projects. I built the frame for the coop roof and test fitted a sheet of salvaged metal roofing.  The roofing sheets are just barely too short, so we'll do some creative cutting with our extra piece to span the length.
IMG_3208.JPGCasey built most of the battery box out of scrap OSB and painted it. Not only does it look good, but it will provide a weatherproof shelter for the batteries, the inverter, the water pump, and the solar controller.
IMG_3222.JPGCasey also started plumbing the kitchen area, so I am very happy we now have running water in our sink and a drain through the floor.  The drain empties into a bucket for now, but soon we will be filtering it and watering our garden with all our gray water.
IMG_3218.JPGOur wind turbine is up an running again, with new blades and a smaller hub. We spent a few hours whittling the blades to a better airfoil, and we can really tell the difference with noise output. It is much quieter, but it isn't putting out as much power as it did when it was still broken! We shortened this set of blades, but next time we will try lengthening them. For now, the PVC blades are a fun project and work well, but eventually we would really like some prefab carbon-fiber blades.

Our last project for the day was installing our last window. It is our only window on the southwest side and lets in a wonderful amount of light. The window also gives us a view of the wind turbine, so we will be able to monitor it from inside. Best of all, however, the window really opens up the kitchen corner and makes the area a lot more open-feeling.
IMG_3211.JPGBut we probably should have patted ourselves on the back after that, because the day was really downhill after that.

After the window installation, we headed out to visit our neighbors Debby and Dennis. We picked up a nice loaner-panel from Ron via Dennis (18V, 7A mono-crystalline) and admired their clever PV array mount -- a re-purposed large satellite dish mount that can tilt and twist. On our way out, I volunteered to navigate to another neighbor's house, which was (in retrospect) a mistake.  Everything was fine until I realized I had two different roads mixed up in my head and we had to turn around.  We took the next familiar road, but it was very hilly and washed out in places from the heavy rain and hail. Let's just say the low-riding Suzuki did not appreciate the backwoods charm of the road....

After feeling really bad for taking the highway car out gallivanting on ranch roads, we made it to our destination.  After visiting the neighbors for a few hours, Casey and I hit the road again (still rutted and washed out, but now in the dark at night) happy to be on our way home.  After a couple miles, I asked Casey what the smell was.  He didn't know. It got worse.  I reached down to see what was on the floor and I felt a super-slippery liquid on my fingers and then Casey realized what the smell was: muriatic acid. 

Apparently Phil had very generously loaned Casey the use of his gallon jug of muriatic acid, which he uses to clean stones (and, well, a lot of other things -- it's very useful stuff, but quite dangerous too).  Casey was supposed to use the acid to clean the inside of copper tubing so that we could make our own battery cable terminals, and he thought the safest place to put it would be on the floor of the front seat with me, so that I could keep it from tipping over.  Unluckily for us, this was well before our departure and Casey forgot to tell me.  I didn't see it when I got into the car because I was saying goodnight to Phil and Gina, and the rutted roads took care of the rest.  the jug tipped over and dribbled on the floor, turning part of the floor mat into a bubbling puddle of black goo. Yay.

Of course immediately after realizing what had happened, we pulled over and removed the bottle of acid and the carpet.  We poured water from our drinking bottles over the spill and my hand to neutralize the acid, but we left it there on the side of the road.  It is not littering, because we will go back and retrieve it tomorrow, but we were too tired and shaken up to deal with it on the side of the road in the middle of the night.

So like I said, the day was great until we left the house!  We should have quit while we were still ahead, I suppose.
IMG_3195.JPGThanks for reading!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Hike

We hiked along the stream bed this afternoon, starting at the foot of our hill and ending at our neighbors' home. Along the way we encountered so many beautiful erosion and rock formations.  Aside from our own silt-stone waterfall, we also walked through a niche called "smugglers hideout" (or something similar) where gigantic black rock spontaneously erupted from the limestone and gravel. One huge black boulder was suspended over a narrow chasm through which water flows.
Julie and Richard own a beautiful piece of historic property with rock wall paintings, centuries-old adobe, magnificent rock formations, and the biggest cottonwood tree I've ever seen (desert or temperate).
Those two really have an amazing homestead, and the blessing of two springs that flow year-round, which allows them to grow an amazing garden oasis.

Now that we're back at home the wind is starting to pick up and thunder
& lightning are moving in.   Though it's still bright and sunny, the
rain can't be too far behind.  Let's hope windy makes lots of
electricity during the storm!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wind Power

Well Tuesday we got our wind turbine back up and working again. Fixed the mount but left the out-of-balance prop up for now, going spend more time building the next set of blades. We did however lose a bolt off our tail:
IMG_0939.JPGStill going strong, and putting out 70 watts at time of photo. Let's see what a treadmill motor will do will a good set of blades.

We are doing a video on solar electric (PV) panel repair tomorrow, I have a few broken panels laying around that would be happy to be put back into service.   

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Do you have stairs in your house?

We finally got our wind turbine up and running Friday night and enjoyed
wind power for about 10 minutes when the PVC adapter broke off the

Turbine Mount
We knew that a plastic part attaching the turbine to
the tower would be the weak link, but the idea of electrically isolating
the generator from the lightning-susceptible tower seemed worth it.
Thankfully nothing else broke during this debacle, now all we need is a
cheep piece of 1.5" x 18" steel pipe to replace the PVC (we will get
that soon, hopefully). Everything else worked great-- the tilt tower,
guy wires, and the generator preformed admirably. 100 watts should be
the max power output. We are also going to drop the prop diameter down
from 60" to 48", to lower the tip speed ratio (TSR) down to about 5. 
Our next wind turbine will be ready soon: a 500 watt bicycle hub motor
drive, converted to a three phase AC generator. It should put out 400
watts, but the hard parts will be mounting the blades to the hub and the
hub motor to the tower.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone! To celebrate the victory of the Mexican army over the French at the battle of Puebla, we stayed home and roasted in the early-onset summer temps.
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Even the chickens were panting, and we had to lure Sprocket out from under the trailer with burnt bacon. It was hot and windless, a bad combination, but we still managed to get work done on the homestead. 
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The kitchen is coming along (though it's hard to want to cook in these temps) and the stove is now installed in the counters, so it is finally a workable height. Last night we ran out of the most valuable substance in the desert: ice. As our neighbor Phil likes to say, "In the desert, the man with the bag of ice is the richest man in the room."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Home on the Range

Temps neared 100 today as we spent the day working on projects around the homestead. The day was spent mostly welding, grinding, and painting. For the anchors on the turbine pole for the guy wires, we cut and welded eye hooks about 2/3rds up the pole. We painted these -- and all the other welds on the post and jin pole -- kelly green (just because). We tried to drive a four-foot stake in the ground for the main guy wire, but made it three feet before hitting bedrock. The rebar is starting to bend, but otherwise the stake seems very strong, so we will probably encase the rest of the rod with rock and concrete.

Yesterday we picked up our baby chicks at the post office, all alive and well, but this morning it became obvious that one of the pullets was not thriving. The chick had separated itself from the flock and wouldn't stand on its own for more than a moment, so it was quarantined all day until it eventually died.  Still have 25 hale and hearty chicks, and we will post photos as they mature.

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