Adob

Photo: Frank Foehr

/n the late 1970's the written resources for what we wanted to achieve at our site were less numerous and informative than now available. Combing bookstores, we located three, "The Owner Built Home" (Ken Kern), "Living the Good Life" (Helen & Scott Nearing) and "Wind and Wind Spinners" (Michael Hackleman). Added to those volumes was a collection of The Mother Earth News and we were off on a learning curve which at times rode like a wild mouse.

Kern's book helped us to decide on building with adobe, "Use native materials whenever possible Rock, earth, concrete, timber, and all such materials have excellent structural and heat-regulating qualities when properly used." Nearing's book gave us insight into lifestyle choices and the means to live them. From

Photo: Frank Foehr

Hackleman's book we began a site study of wind energy.

It was the early 1980's and tax credits for solar energy use were sweeping the market. Our wind study showed our site to be marginal at best, so we turned our attention to the then emerging photovoltaic panels. Katcha, being more mechanically oriented, still favored wind machines. Bill, with his knowledge and comfort of electronics, saw photovoltaics as the way to go. In 1981 we purchased our first 35 Watt panel and later used it to power the adobe garage we built.

Lean System

Bill hooked up that single panel to a 10 Amp controller and a 360 Amp-hour mining cart battery. That simple system provided electricity for lighting, a radio, a CB radio, and a 13 inch black and white ac/DC TV in our "construction hut"/garage. The standing rule was "count to 3" - for when the 4th item was turned on, OFF went the entire system! Bill and I adapted quickly, but whenever we had visitors, someone would be in the bathroom (2.1 Amp light), while we talked around the table (7 Amp lights) and when the next person opened the refrigerator (propane, 1.3 Amp light) for a cold drink, we all ended up in the dark. Most visitors associated switch turning and darkness to equate "This solar electric doesn't work!" But Bill and I knew it wasn't the system's fault and lived comfortably within its limits.

In 1984 we bought two 40 Watt panels and added a 200 watt Tripplite square wave inverter to the growing system. With ac available a VCR and computer joined our appliance list. The inverter gulped Amps the instant it was on so we learned to do the "Trippe Trot" and turn it on just before we used it and off as soon as we were done. Our training continued to be "efficient" to say the least - in winter if the batteries were low, we ran a generator (1500 watt Honda) which also added 15 Amps DC to the batteries while we used our ac items.

Our Home

By 1985 we were heavily into planning for our house. We had discovered PV Network News then written by Joel Davidson. Bill obtained and read Practical Photovoltaics by Richard J. Komp and we decided to go DC with the house's main circuitry but with a couple of separate circuits for inverter uses (computer, VCR, and ignitors for gas appliances) and one circuit for generator items (washing machine, iron, and vacuum). Inverters continued to be very expensive and not really efficient or quiet! Katcha had obtained a 12 VDC washing machine out of a recreational vehicle catalog so could eliminate a whole day in town (ugh, laundromats!) and do some of the household chores in between loads. That machine used 5 Amps but it only washed and rinsed, so wringing and drying remained manual labor.

We completed our building plans for a house that would be passively heated in winter and cooled in summer. Our home would be patterned after the early California ranch adobes - exposed brick inside and out. Indoor rooms were to be adjacent to outdoor areas so that they could flow together and enhance the use of both. 16 inch thick adobe walls would create a heat sink for thermal mass and an effective means by which to temper indoor vs. outdoor temperatures. With a bank of PV panels on the roof we knew our energy needs would be met. Building started in the spring of 1986 and took the entire first year to lay the exterior adobe walls. Bill calculated we moved about 400 tons in that process!

Photo: Frank Foehr

Above: Natural light and an open floorplan keep the adobe interior bright.

Photo: Frank Foehr

Above: Natural light and an open floorplan keep the adobe interior bright.

We also installed conduit and electrical boxes as we laid the bricks so that we could put in the wiring later.

In 1987 we switched over to carpentry doing floors, interior frame walls, and an open beam ceiling/roof. Our work was slow but precise - a mistake in cutting a 22 foot 6 by 8 inch beam is too costly to hurry! We hadn't started the plumbing and electrical installation yet since the windows and doors were needed to completely weather-proof the "shell" before we started the interior finishing. About November 1987, we received our first Home Power magazine (#1) and we were never before so glad to be on a mailing list. We now felt enriched with a great resource for items that we had only dreamed about a year or two before.

Energy Fairs

June 1988 we went to RETSIE in Santa Clara, California, mainly to meet the Home Powercrew as well as to see if there was anything new which we wanted to know about and incorporate into our evolving home. It was such a joy to meet Karen, Richard, and Bob-O. Home Powerwas the most practical and sane booth in the entire show and we strongly seconded their suggestion to have a more earth/human oriented meeting outdoors the next time such an event took place. It was August of 1990 before the first Solar

Photo: Katcha Sanderson

Although it would be some time before all the little details and finish work gave us our completed house, we were overjoyed to live the independent lifestyle we got from RE power.

The System

Having side tracked with a bit of a history, we want to give some insight into how and why we choose to have what most others would classify as an extremely small and efficient RE system for our 2,226 sq. ft. house.

Photo: Katcha Sanderson

Above: In the solar tradition, the North wall has few windows.

Energy Expo and Rally (SEER) could be organized in Willits, California. For us it was the crowning event of our RE experiences to date. We met and interacted with so many of the people who were out there DOING just about every aspect of RE imaginable. Meeting Steve Baer and his wife Holly was marvelous. Holly inspired Katcha to "go ahead and use 'weeds'" to establish a native landscaping for our house. There were just too many other notables to list and we gathered more information and personal energizing than could have been foreseen.

Our present household system consists six 60 Watt panels, 560 Ampere-hour NiCd storage, a 30 Ampere EnerMaxer regulator, a Trace 612 inverter, and an Alternative Energy Engineering load center with three analog meters showing charging current, battery voltage, and load current. Hardly state-of-art by today's standards, but it works fine for us. System disconnects are standard breaker boxes with manual lever arms to shut down the connections. Circuit loads are mainly 12 VDC with 15 Amperes per circuit maximum. We put in two sub-panels wired from the main panel with a "bus" of

We attended the next (all too) few SEERs, and were sad to see them dwindle to a halt by 1994. But then again, the greatest percentage of RE dealers and producers were as "lean and mean" budgeted as we were. The facts of business are understood by us, since by then we too had developed an RE related business. One of the amp gulpers which we had set aside for generator use had been vacuuming. Rediscovering the 3 and 4 amp Kirby vacuums of yesteryear allowed us to not only switch its use to our Trace 612, it also created a business of supplying other RE households with an efficient and quality appliance. A big bonus was that this business let us work at home while we continued to complete our house. AND, it fit within our energy system!

Back on the home front, our grunt and sweat equity produced an occupiable home by June of 1990.

Below: Even rooms on the North side of the house receive natural lighting from clerestory windows which run the length of the house.

Photo: Frank Foehr

Below: Even rooms on the North side of the house receive natural lighting from clerestory windows which run the length of the house.

Photo: Frank Foehr

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Charging Amps

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Load Amps

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Battery Voltage

Renewable Energy Eco Friendly

Renewable Energy Eco Friendly

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable.

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