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Putting gutter on the Greenhouse

This has got to be a crazy people idea:  Cover a whole bunch of plants with a plastic roof, that keeps the rain out, and then, pump water in to them.  Or in my case, carry water.  When you think about that, it just doesn´t make sense.

Last year I emptied a well into my greenhouse, by hand (off-grid), and it could have happily absorbed two more wells worth.

This can´t go on, I thought (dreading another summer of schlepping water).

So, I figured out how to put eavestrough on a greenhouse, to catch the water, to put it back into the greenhouse.  Slightly less crazy.  Easier than taking the skin off every time it rains, which honestly would be my first choice, if it were practical. Until they invent one-way 5 mil plastic.

I doubt I´m the first to think this up , but I didn´t google it because I preferred to figure it out for myself (go ahead and google it now).  I didn´t want to know how other people´ve done it.   Much as that might have made it easier or faster. This is how I did.

First unsecure the bottom of the long side of plastic and undo the wiggle wire up the side.

In my case I redid all the wiggle wire on the side/gables in order to take a layer of plastic off.  In my style of off-grid, I´ve got no business having an inflated greenhouse.  Although I made it work, it just never made sense.  Most of the time it wasn´t inflated.  Now I´m saving the second layer of plastic for when my greenhouse needs its next skin. 

Essentially I installed a lip part way up the wall, creating a drip edge to catch the water from.

I ripped 2x4s (all rough cut for me) with a bevel and screwed them on to the top of a 1×6.  2″ screws, from the 1×6 side into the beveled strip. I did this in advance- measuring the overall length, so that I could lift each piece into place.

I cut through the exposed wiggle wire track on the side- only had to remove one screw, and cut out a four inch gap.

It´s four inches because the top track comes down over the 2×2

That bottom piece of track gets screwed into the rib again

When I measured each end, I made a four-inch overall drop.  35″ inches from the base on one end, 39″ at the other end.

So I lifted my prepared 1×6 piece into place, propped it up to attach the end, and then secured it, and its mates, to the ribs of the greenhouse with plumbing strap, eyeballing for  a nice straight line.

Plumbing strap is a bit hokey; I´ll get some of the proper brackets next time one of us in the area is ordering greenhouse parts.

My three pieces of 1×6 (36´overall greenhouse) were set up to overlap, so that on install, I could attach them.  Then I didn´t have to think about where the ribs landed.

How it looks from the inside.

That´s the bulk of the work- the wood.

Back to the outside, I put 1×4 strapping under the drip ledge and screwed that down.  I chose 1×4 to have 4″ of surface to mount the gutter on, and to have some room to play with the slope. Hence 1×6 behind the plastic.

This tightened up the skin quite nicely.  The wiggle wire goes back in now too.

Then the base securing goes back in:

The addition for gutter uses up about 2″ more of the plastic, but if you have less than 2″ of plastic at the base, you´ve got bigger problems (unless you trimmed it, oh well).

When I built this, I dug a shallow ditch and buried a strip of hardware cloth against the base.  Some squirrels and chipmunks have dug around my barrier, but it´s holding up very well.  I haven´t seen that since I built it.

Install the gutter, and voila!

I used vinyl gutter with brackets that you can lift off of their little mounting hook.  I´ll definitely be removing the gutter before any snow comes!

The greenhouse has never looked so good, now the plastic is more taut.

I´ve got two downspouts (with two elbows each side), to direct water into a stock tank, with has a threaded plug, which with a pipe-hose adapter I can put a garden hose on, and then put the water back into the greenhouse.  The guineas are inspecting.

Doesn´t that look good?  I thought so too.

I felt good and smug for about two hours until the rain came.  I´d been racing the forecast, determined to catch all the mm that were on the way.

I got up in the night to go check on everything.

The water was running the wrong way!  That is, what little water it was catching.  Slope could be fixed (I do need the 4″ of the 1×4  to play with), but there was a bigger problem- the water coming down the plastic wall was turning the corner of the lip, following back (as water does) and soaking into the 1×4, not falling in the gutter.  I should have seen that coming.  I should have seen that coming.

I stayed awake for at least an hour until I could figure out how to fix it.  Not simple, but it should work.

The only way was to take off that ripped 2×2 and change the angle on it.

This time the base didn´t have to come off, just the gutter, and the 1×4, and the wiggle wire on the ends.

Significant wrinkle- on the inside, I was using 2″ screws for the plumbing strap, through the 1×6 into the 2×2, for strength.  But now the 2×2 had to come off.  All 13 ribs!

Clamps came in handy, I backed out the screws, and I marked the wood against each rib.  I took the opportunity to adjust it all for more slope while I was reinstalling.

Also because I didn´t undo the bottom (the better to keep curious chickens out), once I got all the 2x2s detached, I had to pass them out the end.  And back in.

I put them all through the table saw again and put a bevel on the second side, creating an acute angle for the drip edge.

Slid them back under the plastic and reinstalled.

Now the business edge is sharp and angled down.

Waited for rain, now with less confidence.  Still didn´t work.

These pictures don´t quite show it.  There is a full inch of overhang on that lip, and then the gutter mounting holds the gutter out 1/4″, so there is 3/4″ of lip hanging over the gutter.  Not enough.

The water comes down, turns the corner and travels for about 1/2″, now neatly dripping on the back edge of the eavestrough, or  right behind it. Don´t underestimate the power of surface tension.

One more tackle.  I thought about cutting ditches in the wood to recess the gutter mounting into, to suck the gutter right against the wood, but opted instead to screw on a strip of aluminum flat flashing, to kick the water farther out into the middle of the gutter.

Success!

Totally works.

Adding the flashing was the easiest part of all; took, like a blink.  I got a roll of 6″ flat stock, cut it in half lengthwise (to 3″ wide), and I meant to put a bend in it and screw it into the 1×4, but instead I left it flat, and in one length, and tucked it between the plastic lip and the top of the 1×4, and put in just a few screws, pointed up, into the twice-ripped 2×2 component.

My conclusion is that this is pretty ideal, and despite having made it up along the way, I wouldn´t do it over differently (except putting two angles on the 2×2 on the first pass- definitely do that).  It´s usually much more straightforward to cut the wood right in the first place.

With the wood alone, it would be next to impossible to get enough lip protruding to shed water well – wood is heavy and that would get too bulky to hang off the greenhouse ribs.  The flashing is essential, and the 2×2 is perfect for adding it to.

Cost of about $400CA for gutter, wood, and flashing.

I approve.

 

 

 

 

This Tiny House Life

We live in a tiny house.

House is a generous term. It’s much more of a cabin. This tiny house life closely resembles what most would call camping. Tiny is quite accurate, though.

12 x 16´, 192 square feet (“Tiny house” is generally 200 sq ft or less). It sort of has two stories- there’s an up”stairs” more spacious than the average tiny house loft, that holds a bed and clothes and things, but one can’t walk around with the sloping ceiling.

It is also off-grid. This means we have a couple solar panels on the front with a battery bank, and a wood stove that heats the place.  We cook with propane.

I’m really happy that our passive solar worked out as well as it did. A lot of math can be done to achieve the right angles of eave overhang so that the summer sun does not shine in the windows and the winter sun does. I did no math. I looked at the sun at noon, and pointed the house at it. I guessed at the overhang. Nailed it. At summer solstice the eave shadows the front windowsill. At winter solstice the sun hits the back wall.

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Space matters I – design

Considering space, and the premium it is at in a tiny house, I chose to give a LOT of that space to insulation. Many square feet of interior space went to a double deep quilt of insulating. R28 in the walls. I think I’ll be happy forever about that allocation of space. It keeps it warm, so warm. With just the sun, even on cold days, the big south windows collect enough rays that it gets comfortably warm. On sunny days, if someone also stirs up the fire in the morning, then windows must be opened.

The woodstove takes up a big chunk of space. To keep code tolerances from stove to flammables takes space, but it’s not negotiable. We have a small woodstove, and a fire very quickly heats the whole place. Often too effectively, and windows get opened again.

Heating the tiny house, we laugh all the way to the woodshed. One cord! One. Cord! A year. That is a massive savings in energy- in our case mostly time, doing firewood.

Mud room top left, hearth bottom right- big chunks of space
Mud room top left, hearth bottom right- big chunks of space (“kitchen” top right- wall to wall counter)

One of the best allocations of space we have is a mud room. I was dubious about it at first, but it serves so many functions now! It’s a division between the outdoor stuff (coats and boots), and the indoor life of slippers and tea. That’s where the dog sleeps (His choice. He can’t take off his fur coat). It’s a cooler room to put cooler things in, and it’s an airlock. In a house the size of a room, open the door on a -10C night and all the heat whooshes right out the door. I highly recommend the mudroom, even in a tiny house.  The odd shape of it, with the angled inside door, turned out to be genius.  It works extremely well on both sides of the walls.

Space matters II- Living with less of it

Space matters. Anyone buying or building a house is saying “ok, this is how much space we’re willing to build, maintain, and heat, and we’re going to take on the challenges that come with it”. If that’s a big house, then the challenges might be paying for it, decorating it, contracting out the Xmas lights and landscaping. If it’s a little house, then the challenges are:

1 The first major difference, and also motivation, for the whole tiny house “thing” is that it forces you to face your stuff. Stuff is a major feature of modern life. It means a lot. The stuff you have can enable or inhibit what you are able to do; announce, reinforce, or create identity; and absolutely determine your lifestyle.

To live in a tiny house, implicitly, you are choosing to pay more attention than usual to the stuff you have, and probably, do without a lot of it. If your house is big enough, there is enough room for stuff to come and go, sit and be forgotten, saved – there is slush room. Stuff can be ignored. There is space for that in a big house.

Tiny house? Not one bit. Not one. There is no space, for anything to be ignored. This is a pretty big challenge. It can be an existential one, if stuff defines your identity or enables you. Downsizing into a tiny house means a lot of things. Like: I can live with less. I trust that I can access what I need when I need it (from somewhere other than the garage or attic). I can be different, my identity can be based on other than what I own.

We have largely evaded these difficult questions by having other buildings on the property (a couple of also-small outbuildings). There is NO WAY that anyone can farm, even a little bit, without a great deal of stuff. Chiefly tools. We have a lot of tools. And feed, and seed, and fencing, and hoses, and buckets and barrows. This all just lives elsewhere, not attached to our house, not heated.

I still have quite a bit of stuff, especially things that I need in order to make, build, or create things. H.W. has a lot of bicycles. But we don’t get to forget about the space our stuff takes up anymore. Everything gets critically eyeballed, sifted. Analyses are made.

2 The second major difference that I notice, is that in a tiny house, you practically live outside. One is intimate with the outdoors. A tiny house is too small to “contain” a whole life. I am always aware of the weather, the season, the time of day, the temperature, because I’m always out in it. I’ve wondered how often the average exterior door gets opened and closed on a house. I figure it’s far greater in our house. From first thing in the morning to moments before sleep, we are out and in that door. The wood’s outside, the water’s outside, the tools are outside – everything other than the basics is somewhere else, so we are constantly scampering out.

I like it. There is no way to get disconnected from time, season and place.

3 Small things are desirable. Everything is little. Space is at a premium. It’s the opposite of the wild west  (unlimited promise of the frontier)- infinite expansion is not an option. Therefore, things that are compact, that cleverly use space efficiently, that have multiple uses, are valued and appreciated (smallness and efficiency are not always qualities that anyone cares about).

Then again, some things are valued out of proportion to the space they take up. We have two (!) manual typewriters in prime space.

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Different fonts, of course.

4 Privacy. Considering we lived together for over a year in the tiny camper, the tiny house is luxuriously capacious. Still, it’s essentially one room. Smells, sounds, temperatures are all shared. Often this sucks to negotiate, but on the other hand, there’s no distance. We do things together, even unintentionally.  We are always in earshot.

5 Oh yeah, money. Much, much, much, absurdly, cheaper. Even with a ridiculous amount of insulation and eleven windows, our tiny house cost less than $5000. It could have been even cheaper, but I didn’t ferret out the rock bottom price on every single thing. Commonly, a pre-built tiny house can run a lot more, but they can also be really fancy, with Scandinavian everything and sneakily hidden washing machines. Like everything, there’s a spectrum. We are nearer the primitive end of this one.  No plumbing. No laundry.

Similar to the off-grid life, tiny house life costs the currency of energy and time. Much less money to build, or to pay for, or pay the mortgage on, but there are non-monetary costs.  More time paying attention to stuff, moving it around…

One big thing about a tiny house is that it does not absorb “mess”, at all.  If you have a long marble countertop and at one end you have a pile of bills spread out that you were sorting, there is still the impression of “clean”, because it’s mostly clean, except for that pile, which is obviously temporary – a work station.  In a tiny house, one pile of bills, or a project spread out, or a batch of canning – any workstation takes up the whole counter, maybe the whole room, and no matter how temporary it might be, it gives the impression of MESS! All surfaces are covered therefore everything is a mess! A cataclysmic mess can happen as easy as bringing in the groceries etcetera from a town trip.  On the flip side, it can tidy up in about ten minutes.  A thorough, comprehensive total house cleaning, vacuuming included, is a two hour job.

As everyone knows, the world is filling up. Some people still do have “unlimited space”, some do with exceedingly little. Tiny house means a mindset that’s the opposite of sprawl. If there isn’t enough room for anything and everything, then you have to bring the energy and time of attention to choosing what to bring in and keep; you have to be conscious.

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For those considering tiny or just tiny-curious, I highly recommend the wonderful, thoughtful, funny, why-to and how-to book on going small, The Big Tiny, by the incomparable Dee Williams.

This Off-Grid Life

This off-grid life

Off-grid is just the way we live, so I tend not to think about it at all, let alone how it’s different.

When I am struck by how living off-grid is different, however, is when I’m at someone’s else’s house, and I turn on the tap, and hot water comes out.  That startles me.  It’s that easy to just wash a dish?!  I’ve already forgotten.

Definitely, there are many ways to live off-grid that preserve many or most conveniences.   You can still have hot running water and plugs in the walls, but it has to be accomplished differently.  That’s not our way.  We prefer it to be really hard (joking).

We are on the very primitive end of the off-grid spectrum, partly because we are just getting started out here.

It’s a work-in-progress for us, trying to find a balance between livable convenience and dependence (on fuel/complex systems).

There’s a reason why ready electricity has become so pervasive it’s practically assumed to be a human right:

Electricity is damn convenient. 

Nearly everything runs on it.  Rarely does anyone think of having a home without electricity presumed to be part of it, just there, in the walls.  You’re really in trouble if you get so hard up they turn the power off- wow.

Other life supporting systems of the house depend on it – running water, heat, sump pumps.   And almost all the lifestyle supporting systems require power – fridge, stove, lights, freezer, telephone, tv, computer, tools.  Farm and industry absolutely depends on electricity, to water and milk livestock, run machines.

I had to sit here and think about that list just now – What are all the things assumed essential in modern life? – because we live without plugs in the walls and that presumption of electricity.   I forgot “lights” at first.

That means a compromise for every single thing.  It has to be done without or had from a  different source.

Different power sources:  

Mostly, batteries – stored potential electricity – are our number one alternative source.  Lights, phones, computers, the internet, all run off batteries.  These get charged off our solar panels, or the generator, or when they are plugged in other places in the world.  Rechargeable batteries are in constant rotation (Eneloops rock).

Tools other than cordless, like a table saw, need the amperage only the generator can supply.  Turning on the generator is a minor event.  It starts with one of us announcing the forthcoming use of the generator:  “I need to vacuum/charge my computer/make some cuts”.  Then all the things, and their associated wires, must be gathered up and plugged in in the charging area, to take advantage of the time that the generator is on.  Plans are made:  “Well if you’re going to have it on anyway, then I should vacuum, and transfer some files to my (AC dependent) external hard drive. ”  It’s not a bad thing, to have to turn on the genny once in awhile.  Every few days, it runs for an hour or two, maybe less.  We can go a long time without it during periods of sun.

So far so good.  We watch movies on our rechargeable laptops, don’t stint on the internet, use only cell phones and battery lowered lights.

Water and Electricity

Everything to do with water is where we get into the afore-mentioned primitive nature of our situation.  Water is heavy.  It takes a lot of energy to move it from place to place.  Exactly how much energy is quickly forgotten when it’s being done by cheap and readily available electricity, and quickly remembered once you start moving it around by hand.

First, pump it up out of the ground, an essential job usually done by friendly neighbourhood electrons.  Because lifting water through the air with a pump is an onerous job, rainfall is very abundant here, and the well usually goes dry briefly at the end of summer, I’ve become a nut about catching rainwater.  There are more elegant ways to do it, but I’m at stage 1- buckets and barrels.   This is not a good look. Buckets everywhere.  And it’s work- cleaning the buckets so the water stays clean, storing and readying them, filtering the water.  But less work, to catch water off a steel roof than carry it across a field.  In the winter, this turns to clean snow and ice collection, and melting.

We people use a lot of water.  Drinking, preparing food, washing the things, washing ourselves.  The chickens consume a lot of water.  Pigs, even more.  Cows drink huge quantities, transforming so much of it to milk.  When you are intimately involved with all the water that you use, because you catch, hold, transport, pump, heat, or melt every drop, you use one hell of a lot less than when it just flows past you from tap to drain while your mind wanders.

The other aspect of electricity and water is the hot water heater, which is generally forgotten in the basement until the bottom rusts out and it empties on the floor and you become glad you are renting, or wish you were.  Hot water an option with a flick of the wrist.  On-demand propane is an awesome alternative to that hot water heating behemoth, and the usual choice for the off-grid life.  We have an ideal one that we use for showers, but it is not yet integrated into daily life.  By that I mean, hanging it on a tree by the well, and one person showers while the other pumps, is not “well-integrated”.

I am definitely looking forward to moving up to stage 2 or 3 vis a vis water and hot water – more sophisticated water collection and supply – gravity feed, or solar, low volt pumps, and truly on-demand hot water.  It won’t be hard to get more sophisticated than buckets, but this bit of convenience requires an investment of work we have not yet had time for.

Doing without: 

At the moment we are doing without only the fridge and freezer.  While this means we have no problems with a superfluity of old half full condiment bottles cluttering a fridge, the lack of refrigeration in the summer is sort of tedious and I am very much looking forward to a root cellar. And a neighbour has given us a nook of space in his freezer.  That’s where the pesto is.

What are the costs of living like this?

Energy is a requirement for us furless people.  We need structures, warmth, to cook our food, and we’ve decided we like to communicate.   All of which require energy these days.  Our dependency on energy is immutable, but living off-grid, the dependency is shifted some from electricity to other.  Chiefly wood.  Our heat is 100% wood.  Next, propane, to cook, and to create electricity with the generator.

Our not-the-hydro-bill costs are fuel – a small amount of gasoline for the chainsaw to cut the firewood, infrastructure costs- the genny, the panels, charge controllers, batteries in the bank (these are all made elsewhere with energy from other sources), and propane.

Our propane costs, for cooking, water heating, and powering the generator, have averaged less than $35 a month.  I think that’s ok.

If we had to, we could live without these things too- go back to the axe and Swede saw, walk to someone’s house if we want to talk to them, but that would make life very, very different.  We would really no longer be living in the world the way it is now.  It would be hard to get a job, let alone show up to it, and communication with anyone outside of a 5 mile radius would be impossible, not least because you’d be too busy at home making candles.  That’s an extremity I’m really not interested in.  For a modest price, we can still mostly participate in the wide, evolving world.  Using less energy, from different sources, we still have the opportunity to get outraged at the Oscars and watch cat videos.

It’s amazing to think that not so long ago – all of that energy, for shelter, water, food, and communication, was ALL accomplished by the metabolism of food to physical energy.  Everything was made with hands – carried and chopped and hewn and grown and harvested, and communication was face to face.  First the harnessing of steam, then electricity and fossil fuels, and everything has changed, including the world, to the degree that the planet looks different from space.

Now, we think of the cost of physical movement and work as “time”.

Time is one of the costs of our off-grid life.  To do the dishes, I have to boil water first.  Every morning, I heat up water for the hens and move wood around.  I spend time messing around with things, daily, that many people never do.   That time is freed for them.  The electricity is in the wall and water in the tap.

There’s a lot of complexity behind the scenes required to deliver water to a tap- a different application of time, in my opinion.  Time to build and maintain the delivery system throughout house, property and municipality, time to build and maintain the grid that creates and  sends the energy from dam to meter, time spent working to pay the bill for both those things…

Comparing it, would some of us be better off to just carry the water?

The advantages are short and sweet.

No power bill.

The power never goes out.

No in the wall wiring, therefore zero risk of bad wiring, old wiring, or short circuits causing fires.

Quiet.  There is no ever present electric hum of appliances.

No poles, no wires looping through the scenery.

One less drop of energy consumed from coal or hydroelectric infrastructure.

Some might say there is no electromagnetic radiation from the constant movement of electrons through wires.

No power bill.  Ever.