House Build Off the Bike

Put Solar on it

For a second we didn’t think we would put solar panels on our new home’s roof. We had forgotten about doing the same thing on our home in Phoenix over 10 years ago. We had forgotten about living off grid in our trailer for 6 years and we had forgotten about putting solar on our cabin just a few months ago.

It was a lot of forgetting, and it was because we were overwhelmed with everything else that goes into building a house. Now that we have gotten 80% or more into the design stage, we have been able to think about more than just walls and a roof.

Before I had forgotten about solar for the house I did have Arizona Wind and Solar build a proposal for a grid tie and off grid systems. The off grid is over $25k with lots of batteries. The issue is that we would not be able to run a dryer or hot tub, and eventually charge an electric vehicle (I want a Cybertruck).

Grid tie just makes more sense at this point. We are still budget conscious and probably will be the rest of out lives. Even though we will pay a lot to have a transformer brought back 800 feet by the power company it will give us the ability to setup shop. With grid tie solar we will put up enough panels to cover our usage but the grid will handle the Amps.

The grid tie solution from AZ wind and solar is just under $10k for the equipment. The question is do I want to put the rock system on the roof and run the wires to the disconnect? If I do all of that I will save myself about $9k based on the proposals I have gotten from solar installers. That seems worth it. I just need to learn more about solar racks.

One of the major players in solar racks in the USA is IronRidge. They have been doing it for a while and their systems are very strong. In southwest Colorado we have wind and snow load that can either rip a system off the roof or crush it.

IronRidge has a very well done design system on their website. You give it location and it looks up the data for the area: solar exposure, wind, snow load, etc. Then you tell it about your roof and the solar panel array you plan on setting up. From there it gives you some product options and spacing parameters. Then it builds the system and even gives you documentation if you need to pass an inspection.

There is another roof mounting option for metal roofs that I am considering by S-5. With their system you have attachment points to the roof and then the solar panels mount directly to the roof attachment. There is no racking involved. This system is much more simple to install and cheaper because there is a lot less material involved. My concern with S-5 is overall strength of the system.

I may end up using the S-5 roof mounts to connect to our metal roof but then use IronRidge’s racking system to mount the panels. This will give us a really strong setup that is well bonded to the roof itself. Apparently there is more than 1 way to mount solar panels to a roof.

Solar electricity is really high tech stuff, but installing it and using it is boring. I say this to help people become more comfortable with the idea of installing it themselves. From talking with various solar installation companies they are roofing contractors with either an electrician running the company or they hire one to handle all of that. It is complicated but seems easier than painting to be honest.

My recommendation is to handle the mechanical installation yourself. Then hire an electrician to do the final connection and help get inspected. You will save a load of money and probably do a better job of installing everything.

Off the Bike

Leveling Up

I have written about using software like Alfred to improve productivity before. One of the critical aspects of using Alfred successfully is using the keyboard as your primary tool for interacting with your computer. So one thing I am generally trying to improve is my typing.

Yesterday Youtube recommended this video:

Its a super nerdy video but I already learned one new trick:

Option + Delete/Backspace

Usually when I have a typo I hit the Delete/Backspace key repeatedly until the word is gone. By using Option + Delete I can delete the prior word. Hit it again and delete the prior word, ad infinum. Anytime I need to hit delete more than once I should use this shortcut.

Learning a new keyboard shortcut takes time and forcing yourself to use the shortcut. In this case if I forget and hit Delete more than once I will retype the mistake and then use the Option+Delete shortcut. Eventually it will be muscle memory.

Anyway the video had a ton of other great suggestions for learning to type faster: and are 2 great sites to practice your typing skills.

House Build Off the Bike

Green Home Building

Earlier today we had a call with our designer and it was very productive. We are both happy with how it is progressing and the designer is providing good feedback to help us along. One goal with the design is to have a complete set of instructions for building our home. There will be a complete list of materials needed and images of how they will be poured or connected.

This means that if we want the house to be built environmentally friendly we need to start speaking up now. So we have been pouring over the books tonight and my assignment has been the Green Home Building book.

Green Home Building is one of the books we have been reading for getting our home building education. It’s some 400 odd pages about various techniques and technologies for making a home that is more environmentally friendly.

This is a well written book that for the most part cuts to the chase. I do wish they had more graphs and charts showing how different building techniques measure up. While environmentalism is important we do not have an endless budget, so it would be nice to see relative gains based on expenditure.

In chapters 11 and 15 the rubber really hits the road with their actual recommendations. Chapter 11 covers the Net Zero Energy home and 15 is the Zero Cost Premium. Net Zero is the focus on having a home where all energy used is offset by photovoltaic (PV) solar power. This does not mean the home is powered directly by the solar, but rather that the power used from the grid is returned by the solar system. Zero Cost is the focus of getting as environmental as possible while still spending the same as a typical US built home.

In a few areas the book has introduced us to something new (ERV), and in others is has cemented things we have learned elsewhere (stained concrete first floor). Overall if you are new to green building concepts I think this book is worth your time. If you are already familiar with passive house building techniques then you can skip this book.

One of the more interesting things that they promote is spray foam insulation. We did this on the cabin and felt a little guilty because of the chemicals involved. But the Green book promotes their use since they are far superior at insulating and will be with the house for its lifetime.

It turns out that a lot of what we did in the cabin is going to be good for the house. 2×6 framing, sprayfoam insulation, and extended roof for seasonal shading. For the house we will upgrade the windows and look at the U-value and SHGC to get better efficiency.

One new thing we are learning about is Advanced Framing. Rather than using traditional framing of 16 inch spacing AF uses 24 inch spacing. It also makes other recommendations that result in less material used which improves insulation by reducing thermal bridging. Here is something that helps the environment, reduces costs, and improves the structure. The issues with this technique are that most house plans are based on 16 inch stud spacing, and its original intent was to reduce materials used, not improved insulation. Based on this we are going to follow our designer and builder recommendations.

In regards to designing the house the Green book has a few suggestions that we like. They suggest putting the kitchen on the north side of the house. Since the kitchen is a heat source placing it on the north side, in the northern hemisphere, will help balance heat generated by the hot summer sun on the south side. In the winter it will add heat to the cooler north side of the house.

The bedrooms are going on the south side as they are mainly used at night. This means they will heat up during the day and retain that heat when we go to bed at night. Since we work from home we plan on spending 99% of our time in the central/northern living grand room area. The master will be on the second floor with a large landing area that looks out over the first floor great room. The house will be oriented to take advantage of the view to the east:

The La Plata mountain range.

We are going to have a 2 bay garage that we can put the truck and Honda Element in. The roof of the garage is where we will probably put the solar panels as well. Since we have dirty dogs we are also going to put a shower in the garage for quick cleanups before entering the house.

Overall the project is moving along and we are starting to collect bids from various contractors for everything that needs to get done. The plan is to break ground no later than October 1st!

Interesting video about passive building techniques. This Youtube channel has a lot of building sponsors so take all the recommendations with a grain of salt.

Daily Ride Off the Bike

Adventures in Woodworking: Leopold Bench

Since we bought this property I have wanted a bench in this location. It is about 100 feet from where the trailer is parked, and where our house will eventually be. There is a nice grouping of trees that create great all day shade, and there is the view to the east.

One of my goals with my woodworking projects is to use the various scrap wood that we have. This can make it challenging when considering what to build as it limits what I can build. Yesterday I was browsing through some outdoor bench designs and found the Leopold bench.

My first exposure to Aldo Leopold was in high school when I was in the Environmental Ethics class. We read A Sand County Almanac and it was impressed on me how we need to look at nature and our place in it. So when I saw a bench design based on something he had come up with I was drawn to it.

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.”

Aldo Leopold

It is also a very simple design and I knew I had the wood pieces to make it happen. While I didn’t have 2×8’s to build with I did have a lot of treated wood that will withstand the elements. So after work yesterday I spent about an hour picking through boards and then cutting and screwing them together.

The final result is definitely odd looking but it is surprisingly stable and comfortable. Kate and I spent about an hour sitting under the stars and moon last night talking about the house design.

I will build a more traditional Leopold bench with proper boards eventually. In the meantime this is the one we have and it gets the job done.

Morning ride

I got 1.5 laps around the land in this morning before a light rain stopped me. Normally I would have been caught out in the rain with miles to ride home, but today I was able to quickly head into shelter.

We had a call with our designer to get things on track and I hope to have a design to share soon!

Off the Bike

Failure to Launch

Since the 100 days of blogging challenge ended I have not been posting here daily. I have been writing daily and have 22 Drafts started but not published.

Why am I not publishing them?

Some of them are longer posts that involve me finishing tasks, like painting the bathroom of our cabin. Others are more work/business related and I am worried about saying something dumb or incorrect.

Its strange cause during the challenge I was just focused on publishing and less on quality. Now I am trying to get the quality to be better but at the expense of publishing anything. The internal battle is strong.

Off the Bike

Linux Laptop

The ‘r’ key on my MacBook Pro is beginning to die. It isn’t quite to the point where the laptop is unusable but it is getting there. I have been considering getting a Linux laptop for a couple of years. My thinking is that 99% of my work is done in a Browser anymore so do I need all the bells and whistles of a Mac? I also don’t play games on my computer and I have stopped doing video editing.

Is it time to get a linux machine? I have been looking around and the System 76 people seem cool. The problem is that I know of no one who has one. I also like the sound of the security focused Purism folks (though I am less excited about their name).

I am also a little concerned about using one with an iPhone. I use AirDrop a lot to send photos to my laptop since the Photos sync is slow. Is there something comparable? I see Snapdrop but will it be around in 5 years? Is it secure?

Do you have a linux laptop? What did you have before? PC or Mac? Have you tried a System 76 machine or their Linux distro PopOS? How about Purism? I would love to not buy a Dell or Lenovo as I may as well stick with Apple if I am going with a conglomerate.

Daily Ride

Colorado Wildfires

Colorado is having a hot dry summer and the wildfires are big.

Another fire called the Grizzly Creek fire has closed I-70 though Glenwood Canyon. This is a massive disruption of a very busy interstate. The detour route is 284 miles on mostly 2 lane highway mountainous roads. Oh mylanta!

Workout details

Went for an easy 1.5 hour ride though Mancos and out into the farm roads around town. It has been hot and dry during the day lately so an early morning ride in cooler air was very nice.

Daily Ride

A most important button

Move to Trash
Sometimes, it is better to say nothing at all.

Part of writing is editing. Sometimes what you are writing is not working. Maybe the subject its too sensitive or awkward. Personally I start writing a number of posts that either end up in my Drafts folder forever, or I just sent them to the trash.

The Move to trash button in WordPress is a metaphor for crumbling up a page and tossing it in the trash bin. While the computer lets us do endless and perfect edits sometimes a peice is just not ready to be written or published. In those cases I just hit this and start a new post.

Workout detail

We rode into town to split a breakfast burrito at the local bakery. We also split a side of hash browns and it was glorious. There is some smoke in the air from at least one of the four major files raging in Colorado at the moment. 100% of the state is in drought conditions and it doesn’t look like things are going to let up anytime soon.

Daily Ride Off the Bike

Getting Organized

Building a house involves a lot of steps. There is financing a construction loan, getting the design we want, and finding the various contractors we need to build the thing. If we are going to be our own General Contractor then we need to get organized and stay organized.

Since we both work in technology it makes sense that we use software to manage this project. We have been talking about what to use for about a week when it dawned on us that we should use Jira. Kate uses Jira on a daily basis at her work and, while I don’t currently use it at mine, it is used and I should learn it.

The cool thing is that Jira has a free version which allows for up to 10 users. Considering none of the contractors we are considering even have a website we are pretty sure Kate and I will be the only users. So last night we started up personal accounts and got to work.

I should say that Kate got to work as she actually knows how to use Jira. If you are not familiar with Jira it is project management software used by a lot of software developers. While we aren’t developing software, and won’t be using the Agile features, we will have a number of tasks that we need to keep track of. Jira is probably overkill for what we need but its free and as I mentioned we both already have various levels of exposure to it at each of our work places.

Currently the Design project is the main focus but as we progress we are going to have a builder handling the foundation, walls, and roof. There is going to be an excavator handling the basement dig and the trenching for the Primary and Secondary electrical wiring. There will be a plumber, electrician, insulation, roofer, dry wall, painter, finishing, and landscaping to name a few. Each of those are going to have their own bids, schedules, materials, change orders, etc.

During the entire project we are going to be in contact with the bank issuing funds for each stage. We will need to keep track of expenses and make sure everything matches up. Basically we are going to be running a small business for 6 to 8 months, on top of our regular jobs. The good news is that we work from home and will be living on the job site. Its going to be work and staying organized with Jira is going to help a lot.

Workout Detail

We went for a nice ride this morning before it got hot. We did a nice easy 23 mile loop to town and around on some dirt farm roads. We stopped at our local coffee shop just over halfway for some iced coffee and peach tarts. It was a lovely day and we talked about the house project almost non stop.

Off the Bike

Take it easy

For the last week I have been taking it a little easier than normal. I have not ridden my bike at all. I have skipped a lot of days of the August Burpee challenge. This is because I had a sore throat and generally that leads to getting sick. With a pandemic going on I am not interested in getting sick and having to visit a hospital.

So I listened to my pal Al and have taken it easy. At least with physical activity. We are still pushing ahead with the home building project. We have been reading various books on construction, finding a designer, talking with our excavator, reaching out to builders, and getting the construction wrapped up on our cabin.

The good news is that I am feeling much better and we are planning to go for a bike ride tomorrow. My throat feels pretty much back to 100% but I don’t want to rush anything. Somtimes you just gotta take it easy.