Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ceiling Fans and Water Storage

Another exchange between an Open House visitor and myself - great questions about my DC ceiling fans and my water tanks in the house...

Hello Christian.  

First, I want to thank you for the open house you held in early October.  That was most kind of you to open your house up to strangers.  My wife and I arrived on Saturday and were treated to a very interesting and informative tour you provided.  We both learned a lot and am so impressed on the sensible and logical steps you took in energy conservation and house construction--a fine job, well done!

I have been curious about a couple items.  If I remember correctly, the ceiling fans in your living room run on low voltage DC power, but I believe the rest of your power is converted to 120 VAC.  Why did you select the low voltage fans instead of 120 volt AC?

The water storage arrangement really caught my attention and makes a lot of sense.  Why did you put the tanks in the basement of the house instead of burying them in the ground below the frost level?

I didn't find the answers to the above questions on your website, however if the answer is listed please direct me there and save your time in answering.

Thanks again Christian.  That was so enjoyable to learn about your project and receive such a wonderful tour of your house.


Thank you very much for your kind words! I'm happy to answer your insightful questions for you.

Low Voltage Fans

Motors running on direct current, or DC, are inherently more energy efficient then AC motors. In the case of my fans they use only about between 18-19 W due to the aerodynamic blade design and the fact that they are DC-powered. The standard run-of-the-mill Hunter Douglas fans that I looked at seem to have a power consumption of about 150 or 180 W -- which is why I went with the DC powered fans to be able to "afford" cooling in the summer at a reasonable cost (e.g., letting the fans run from, say, 10 AM to Midnight would be 0.25 kWh vs. 2.5 kWh on an average daily budget of 3.5 - 5.0 kWh)

Looking at Energy-star certified fans again now, it seems that efficiency has greatly improved - on medium a energy-star certified Hunter fan uses approximately 6 Watts @ 5,000 cfm (cubic feet per minute) or 75 cfm per Watt. My fan produces 3,400 cfm at 18.7 W or 180 cfm per Watt. Running the fan 14 hours like the example above would use about 0.92 kWh.

Water Storage

There were three primary reasons for putting the tanks into the house: 

  1. I didn't really need that much more basement space. 
  2. Putting them into the house gave me easy access to the plumbing - if anything would ever go wrong or need replacement I can easily replace parts (versus the connections being buried)
  3. Three 2,500 tanks were only about $3,500 whereas a poured-in-place tank based on my research would have cost more like $7,500 to $10,000.

If I had to do it again, though, I would go with a ground-buried tank to avoid the mold issue.

Thank you again for your good questions and I hope that you will find my answers satisfactory. 


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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Living Room Temperatures in the Winter

A "neighbor" of mine shared his experience and send me this question:

"Winter is the time for talking about what is to be done next summer. What temp do you keep that house at during the winter ? I burn five to seven cords of wood, mostly elms that died the last summer, each winter. Stays 60F to 65F in the house."

Here's my reply:

My ultimate goal is to achieve 74+ °F all winter long while I'm in the house...and even just with passive solar and my masonry stove I frequently got the house back up to 72°. On cloudy, cold days the temperature might drop to 62 or 63 by 6 PM but by 8 PM it's back up in the upper 60s or lower 70s--with only one fire (using about 12-15 "smallish" logs). On weekends it's usually quite feasible to have the whole house warm (i.e., in the 70s) the whole weekend with four or five fires between Friday evening and Sunday evening. Overall I'm estimating that I used about four to five face cords or about two full cords per winter.

This winter, things will hopefully be even better. With help from friends I just installed my solar hot water collectors up on the roof (still need to do some leakage testing) and with that I'm ready to continue installation of my solar hot water and masonry stove heated radiant in-floor heating system. Which means that I will bring about 860 sq. ft. of 4" concrete up to a comfortable temperature (i.e., 72-75 surface temperature for a 65-67° "head-level" temperature). So I will have almost 300 cu ft. of concrete heated up - a lot of thermal mass that will be difficult to cool down once it's heated up.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fridges and Refrigerators

Having heard about "A++" appliances (a program comparable to the Energy Star), out of curiosity I looked for energy-efficient fridges that are being sold in Germany.

One model that I found just after a few minutes of searching is a bottom-freezer fridge with about 12 cu ft of usable capacity (did you know that a fridge sold in the US as an "18 cu ft" fridge only has about 13 to 14 cu ft of usable space (source: Consumer Reports)?). Whereas a typical energy-efficient top freezer uses at least 370 kWh per year (that's what my fridge uses), this fridge uses only 211 kWh a year.

(For all those "off-gridders" out there - the Sunfrost RF19 (which has a little less usable capacity than 12 cu ft) uses about 300 kWh a year - at a cost of $2,700+...)


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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Licht 'n Stein Featured on the National Solar Tour Homepage

The editors decided to feature Project Licht 'n Stein on the front page of the National Solar Tour 2008. Exciting!

(Although I feel bad because the picture does not show any renewable energy systems (okay, it shows rainwater collection and a passive solar design). Maybe I can send a new picture in this weekend showing my newly installed solar hot water panels)

See the pictures below:

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Licht 'n Stein Improvements, Fall 2008

Coming to Licht 'n Stein this fall...some long-awaited improvements: my solar hot water system and my photovoltaic system.

I've finally saved up enough energy (or converted some frustration into constructive energy) to start organizing the completion of two of my biggest still-awaiting-completion projects: My 3rd heating system (besides the Passive Solar Design and the Masonry Stove that kept me nicely warm for the past two winters) and the installation of a photovoltaic (converting sunshine into electricity)  array to complete my "off-the-grid" system.

Last Friday, September 19, Todd and DreamAcres' 2008 summer intern Andrew were instrumental in helping me to lift and install my two 40 sq. ft. solar hot water panels that had been standing in my backyard for the past 2 years. To be honest, I've been having nightmares the past two years trying to think about lifting those up...but Todd, with his great "barn raising conductor"  experience made it look and feel quite easy (except for the 30 seconds were both Andrew and I were up on the 30°/3:12 roof, trying to pull the 4 x 10 foot, 140 pound panels up onto the roof while the soles of our shoes (and we) were slowly sliding downward....but at last groaning (at least on my part) and muscle strength (on Andrew's part from a summer of farming organically) finally prevailed and the panels (one at a time) were up on the roof.

The installation on a standing seam steel roof was remarkably easy thanks to someone giving me the great tip (when I bought the panels) to buy some special clamps (S5!) that clamp on to the standing seam without pinching it (and of course eliminating the need to drill holes into my nice roof).

Although now that I think about it, the installation of the panels was the easy part...here's what's left to do:
  • Connect the 1/2" corrugated stainless steel pipes (flexible gas piping) to a 1" copper stub
    (actually from a picture of one of the houses on the national solar tour that is coming up, I got the idea of hiding/insulating my pipes in some PVC piping that I obviously would need to paint and then clamp to the roof)
    (Jonathan Allan pointed out that I would need a special torch for 1" piping)
    (Since I haven't done much pipe sweating I'm not sure how I will actually do it...Kirby offered to help, but with his shoulder I'd hate for him to have to climb up on that roof)
  • Order and install a 20W photovoltaic panel (more S5 clamps, I guess)
  • Figure out the whole plumbing design...with expansion tanks and all...then hook it all together
  • Finish my heating manifold
  • "Build" my heat storage tank and the heat exchangers
  • ...and much more

For my photovoltaic system my steps are
  • order the parts
  • dig out the whole, install the 6" pipe and order a concrete truck to fill it back in
  • install the Rack and the PV panels
  • install the charge controller and hook everything up
It'll be a busy fall!


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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Residential Wind Generators

Hello dear Reader!

Here's another blog entry from the category of "questions answered in an eMail"

>What do you know about residential windmills?

Here’s what I know about residential windmills:
  • …that in Minnesota any energy produced by the generator that you don’t need can be fed back into the electrical grid, basically turning your meter backwards, i.e., you will earn the residential rate per kilowatt hour (kWh) of energy
  • …that the current electrical rates of about 10 cents per kWh are going up at a rate of 10% each year, basically doubling in price every 7-8 years.

  • …that a small generator (1kW Bergey, like mine) costs about $6-$8,000 to install, but will only produce about 2-5 kWh a day (i.e., the equivalent of 20-50 cents/day or $75-185 a year at the current electrical rates).
  • …that a larger generator (10kw Bergey) costs about $45,000 to install, and will produce about 20-65 kWh a day (i.e., the equivalent of $60 to $200 a month or $750 - $2,400 a year at the current rates)
  • ...that based on where I think I know you live, you have a wind potential of about 3-4 kWh/day with the small one and 35-50 kWh with the bigger one.

  • …that Garwin McNeilus in Dodge Center has had plans to design, construct, and sell 10k, 20k and 40k residential generators for $10k, $20k, and $40k, respectively, but has not gotten anywhere.

  • …that your best bet to do something for the environment is to spend some money on S.M.A.R.T. conservation (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and technology-driven). To make my house work, I first reduced my electrical usage from 30 kWh a day to 30 kWh per week – a reduction by almost 85%.
    If you’d like to learn more, check out my fledgling consulting company at http://consulting.lichtnstein.org

  • …that if your goal is self-sustainability, they work best in a hybrid system using photovoltaic (PV) cells and a wind generator.

  • …that they are beautiful to look at:

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Frequently Asked Questions

Here is an interesting set of in-depth questions that I answered for a couple from Missouri that had heard about my house from one of their relatives:

>Is there a basement and what is it used for? Is it just to store the plastic water storage tanks?
Yes, the house has a full basement with 1,000 sq. ft. dedicated to living space and the rest to more utilitarian uses. The basement has three heated (radiant in-floor heat) rooms: a bedroom, a (future) home theater, and a (future) "studio" (a room with six walls of concrete). There is also a large storage space hallway. Other rooms are a "garden tools" room, a toilet/shower and utility sink, the utility room for the batteries, the on-demand water heater, the air-to-air exchanger, the hot water storage and the radiant in-floor heating manifold. The last room is the cistern room with the three 2,500 gal cisterns. The garden tools room has a walkout to the west, as does the utility room (with a double-wide door to allow for a skid steer or forklift to be driven in for replacement of the 2,000 pound battery (Twelve 166 pound cells).

>You said in your PowerPoint on the web that you used radiant floor heat. Is that connected to the masonry stove in any way?
Yes, once I have everything hooked up the radiant-floor heat will receive its heat from two sources: solar hot water panels on the roof (I already have the panels but haven't installed them) and two 1" heat exchanger pipes in the upper third of the masonry stove. That means I'll be able to take the heat of a fire the night before to heat up my bathroom the next morning using the radiant in-floor heat installed in the bathrooms. I can also take this heat to heat my basement, e.g., the home theater room.

>Can I assume that your floor is made of plywood, etc. and not concrete?
Actually to make the Passive Solar Design work, I needed a substantial amount of thermal mass on the main floor. So I have a poured-in-place concrete floor that has a total thickness of 16" with insulation. The concrete is 4" thick (with the radiant in-floor heating pipes embedded at the bottom of the 4" though in retrospect I should have spent some time trying to figure out how to lift them up a couple of inches so that they would float in the middle, since I fear that the latency (the time it takes from turning on the heat to actually reaching the desired temperature) will be quite high, but I haven't hooked everything up yet, so this concern is at this point just theoretical. The sub-floor for the half 2nd story is double-layered plywood - double-layered, so it accomodates the thin layer of gipkrete that I poured in the bathrooms for the radiant infloor heating, and I didn't want to have any uneven surfaces.

>Does the wind turbine require much maintenance?
No, the wind turbine does not require much maintenance and if I remember correctly an inspection is only required every five years. It's a tilt up tower, so it's not too complicated to do.

>How did you determine where to place the turbine?
The rule of thumb is that you don't want to have any trees or other obstructions higher than 30 feet below the wind turbine within 500 feet of the tower. The downside is that the further you place the turbine from the battery, the thicker (and more expensive) the electrical cable neeeds to be. I used a quite thick 1/0 aluminum cable for about $650 to run the 450 feet from the battery to the top of the tower. Basically I positioned the wind generator as far away and as highly elevated as possible. I went with an 84-foot tower since the 104-foot tower would have required me to get a conditional use permit for $400 and a hearing, but in general the higher you can go, the more favorable the wind conditions (and fewer turbulences). >Do you have a solar collector somewhere, because we could not see one on the roof, tho we couldn't see the roof on the north side of the house. I currently have no solar collectors installed (neither solar hot water nor photovoltaic electric) but everything is set up for it - I have the pipes already on the roof for the solar hot water and I have a cable in the ground for the photovoltaic panels.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

3D Home Software

Many people have asked me what software I used to design my home.

After some agonizing months with the home design package I bought, I settled on this two-step process:
  1. Design the floor plan using Microsoft Visio Professional's floor plan template. It's easy to make changes and the floor plan is what changes most frequently - and it's relatively easy to make changes. Besides, Visio supports "layers" so you can add electrical stuff and radiant in-floor heating layout and plumbing, etc.
  2. Once you're comfortable with the floorplan, fire up your 3D home software - I used "Punch Home Design" but based on my research all ~$100 packages have the same capabilities (and quirks). The most agonizing thing for me (which maybe has been resolved, who knows) was doing any kind of redesign, even as simple as moving a wall...it worked fine for a while, but quickly the model became "unstable".

Don't get me wrong - spending all these hours on sweating over how to put the design into the 3D modeling software was definitely worth it. I learned a lot from it and would go the same route again. I'd just brace myself for at least 3 iterations, i.e., starting from scratch in the 3D home design software for at least 3 times. You'll get faster, too.

If you have thoughts on or experience with 3D Home Design Software, use the comments feature below.


Monday, January 16, 2006

Not sure when I'll continue this blog -- feel free to check out our scrapbookPosted by Picasa

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Certified Lumber

Since Wednesday we are proud owners of a big stack of certified lumber from sustainably managed forests. Now, not many people (and definitely not any local lumber yards) have heard about "certified" lumber (yet). But then, many people still shop at Mall-Wart too ;-)

The way I use the term Certified Lumber is to refer to wood harvested from forests that are managed responsibly (management for sustainability being one of the goals). According to my research there are three major "certification bodies" out there: FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), SFI (American Forest & Paper Association (AFPA) Sustainable Forest Initiative) and SmartWood.

FSC is an international, independent organization to "promote responsible management of the world's forests". According to their website, over the past 10 years, 50 million hectares (190,000 square miles - the size of MN, WI & IA combined) in more than 60 countries have been certified.

SFI on the other hand is the industry's voluntary program for responsible forest management that the members of the trade organization must "agree to work towards wood procurement and forest management strategies that meet the SFI program guidelines".

SmartWood was the world's first independent forestry certifier established in 1989.

So, what's FSC-certified responsible forestry management ?
  • biological diversity:
    maintain, enhance, or restore the long-term integrity of natural habitats, ecological processes, soil, water, and stand development
  • age class distribution:
    maintain or restore portions of the forest to the range and distribution of age classes of trees that result from processes that would normally occur on the site
  • endangered species:
    protect rare, threatened, and endangered species and their habitats; conservation zones and protection areas shall be established
  • habitat diversity:
    protect, maintain, and/or enhance diversity of habitats for native species
  • reserve areas:
    representative samples of existing ecosystems within the landscape shall be protected in their natural state and recorded on maps
  • harvest rate:
    rate of harvest of forest products shall not exceed that which can be permanently sustained
  • clear cutting:
    some clearcutting allowed, but "silvicultural practices provide disturbances and generate stand conditions that result in a successional phase that would occur naturally on the site; and: forest conversion to plantations or non-forest land uses shall not occur.
  • chemical use
    promote the development and adoption of environmentally friendly nonchemical
    methods of pest management and strive to avoid the use of chemical pesticides; World
    Health Organization Type 1A and 1B and chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides that are persistent, toxic or whose derivatives remain biologically active and accumulate in the food
    chain beyond their intended use…shall be prohibited. If chemicals are used, proper equipment and training shall be provided to minimize health and environmental risks.
  • genetically modified species:

Most of the information above was taken from an excellent paper by the "Natural Resources Council of Maine".

Where can I get it?

It took me about half a day to find a local source for FSC certified lumber: Certified Wood Products out of Minnetonka. Owner Dan Haugen was incredibly friendly and helpful on providing our small project with the lumber. Typically his company only supplies large commercial projects with lumber. Compared with the cost of a local building supplies company, we only paid 6% (about $500) more for knowing that we did the right thing!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

In the Trenches

Yesterday after the raising of Allan & Michelle's timberframe Jennifer and I stopped by our site and hung out for a while. I used the time to constructively play in the largest sand pit ever marking and digging the trenches for the drain lines and other pipes that will have to run beneath the slab.

It's quite amazing how much infrastructure goes into a house. The pictures above show trenches for for the following elements:
shower drain, toilet drain, utility sink drain, main waste line, kitchen drains, floor drain to holding tank and pipes to bring the electrical supply lines (DC and potential future grid AC) in.

Rain is Good (Special - This Weekend Only)

Usually you don't really wish for rain during a construction project*. But we've reached one of those few days during our construction project where rain actually is quite helpful.

*Unless of course you're building a rainwater collection system and have the roof hooked up to the cisterns. Then we'll want lots of rain to get the cisterns full for the winter ;-)

On Friday the crew from Clark Construction filled the floor of the lower level with sand to prepare for the pouring of the concrete slab next week. And the rain that we've gotten this weekend will help to pack the sand down (although it's been raining off and on for about 24 hours now and I'd be fine if it stopped now - it's getting too slippery on the clay around the house).

The picture to the left shows the lower level with the filled-in sand. The two lonely walls in the center are the support for the poured concrete ceiling (the cDeck) to leave an opening for the stairs. The concrete slab to the right is the support for the masonry stove. Left of the support walls you can see a shallow trench which is for the drain of the kitchen sink and dishwasher.

So the rain will do a good job of packing the fill-sand down for the pour of the concrete slab next week.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

It's pouring!

Concrete that is...

Well after our "community stacking" event on Sunday where Deb, Tom & Boom, Sangeetha & Chris, Mark & Alex and Bonita helped, the crew of Clark Construction finished the stacking of the lower level walls on Monday and Tuesday. So on Wednesday they were ready for the first big pour.

I took the day off and came in the morning to help get the penetrations ready that I had marked the previous evening. And at a quarter past twelve the pumper showed up - unfortunately not the nice guy we had for the footings on Thursday but a rather "different" individual (they couldn't get the nice guy again)...

Then, at 12:55 PM, the concrete trucks showed up (Tony had ordered them for 1 PM and from what I understand last week they were late showing up for the pouring of the footing). Tony created some motivation by letting us know that all the concrete trucks are lined up at the bottom of the hill... A few minutes later, while Lyndon Lee, the ICF form distributor from Mabel, Lyndon Clark and Paul Hynes were still laying hands on last minute preparations, Tony was pumping away starting in the 9" wall between the studio and the storage room. All walls were filled about half-way with the first pour.

After that, Lyndon hooked up his Vibrator backpack and together Lyndon and Tony worked the concrete - I think they looked like Ghostbuster chasing away the airbubble demons ;-). The Vibrator that Lyndon is holding helps the concrete to settle all the way done. Actually the scientific way to test whether the concrete is all the way down to the bottom is to take a short piece of 2x4 and bang it, carefully and with the flat side, against the wall. If it sounds hollow, there is no concrete in.

Radio Licht 'n Stein

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Our First (American) Giant Puffball (Riesenbovist)

Jennifer holding the puffball (click to view a larger image)
Last week Jennifer and I picked up some nice big mushroom heads at the Good Food store in Rochester and ate them on Sunday. Jennifer ground up the stems with some bread crumbs and parmesan and olive oil and garlic, then baked the heads in the oven for about 30-40 minutes with some nice cheese on top - yummy.

Eating a mushroom as a whole meal reminded me of my childhood where I used to find quite a few Giant Puffballs on a meadow near where we lived. The biggest one I found weighed about 10-12 pounds and had a circumference of almost 5' (1.43 meters) (that's a diameter of about 18 inches or 45 cm). So I was mentioning to Jennifer that I wish we could find some "Riesenbovist" here.

Next day when we went up to Licht 'n Stein I was mowing our little "yard" and on one of the paths, wouldn't you know it, I found a small to mid-sized puff ball!!!

Maybe I should wish for some money next time?? ;-)

We tried to slice it and sautee it in Olive oil last night, but it just soaked up all the oil and became all mushy - not very tasty. So tonight we'll try to batter it first, then fry it...

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More Blogging

What good is a diary if there are no entries?

Well, as our project has now officially moved in to the construction phase, I will try to take 10 minutes every day to summarize accomplishments, events, successes and challenges.

Enjoy the reading!

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

It's a High Way!

Yesterday, Labor Day, we arrived at Licht 'n Stein and were surprised to find Lyndon Clark and Paul Hynes "laboring" on our driveway!

They had made quite some progress since Friday and especially turned the lower part into quite a wide highway! It now looks much less scary than last week.

(The problem with this part of the driveway is that it is really narrow, the bank to the north is about 8-10 feet high and it drops of sharply to the other side, which would make it especially "interesting" if the road is icy and you're coming down... Also, most of this part of the driveway is almost completely shaded by the bank to the north...)

Over the weekend I had made a quick calculation on how much crushed rock they would need - Tony was saying that they'll put at least 6 inches at the bottom, where it is already pretty rocky and up to 12" in the middle part where it is very sandy and gets pretty muddy after a good rain. So I estimated an average of 9" for about 1,500 feet, 12 feet wide or about 13,500 cu.ft. or 500 cu. yd. On one website I found that there are about 2500 lbs in one cubic yard or rock, so that's about 625 (short) tons of rock...(562,500 kg))

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The Ground is Broken

On Labor Day afternoon we had our little informal groundbreaking ceremony. The building permit was approved by the Fillmore County Zoning Inspector Norman Craig and is currently for signature at the township.

Tony, one of the guys from Clark Construction, currently plans on excavating the site by the end of this week - that would be quite some progress.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

cDeck Forms and Heavy Machinery Arrived

Today our cDeck forms arrived (oops - don't actually have a picture).

The cDeck are basically T-shaped EPS (expanded polystyrene) forms with a thick vertical line that will form (pun intended) the basis of the floor between the basement and the main floor. The forms are about two feet wide and I guess 10 inches high. The vertical "line" of the T is about a foot or so wide. The forms are placed "horizontal bar of the T" down and are shored from below. Then, concrete is poured, forming beams between the foot-wide EPS beams. The concrete then extends another 4" above the forms.

The reasons we went with a cDeck rather than a traditional framed floor are two-fold: primarily we wanted to get a good thermal mass for our passive solar design as well as our masonry stove heating. The 4" concrete floor (and up to 12" where the beams are) will provide a nice thermal mass that will heat up either through the sun or when the masonry stove is on and will provide a nice, even-tempered and slow-changing environment. The mass should also help with keeping the house cool well into the summer. (In the summer months the overhang on the south side will prevent the sun from entering the living room and heating up the mass).
(See our floorplans for more detail (you need to be logged in to our photo gallery for the link to work - ask us for userid and password))

Today also the bulldozer and loader/backhoe arrived for the driveway construction. Our current driveway is somewhat narrow in some places, pretty muddy for the most part, and it has pretty poor water management. So the crew from Clark Construction is going to make it wider, put in about five smaller culverts, dig out a ditch along the north side, grade it and fill it up with 6-12 inches of crushed rock (1-3/4"). That should give us a nice 12-foot driveway.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Windmill is on its way!

Every since I heard from Dennis (our renewable energy contractor from GoSolar in Decorah) that Bergey (our wind mill manufacturer) raised their prices again (and they mostly sell only direct) I've been monitoring the "dirt-cheap" prices on the RealGoods website (they obviously don't update their website too often...). So when we got the green light for our "wind mill pole" building permit last week, I called RealGoods on Friday night an ordered our 84-foot tower and our 1kW XL.1 wind mill. Compared to the current list prices on the Bergey website we saved about $880 - over 25%!

When I ordered the "gear" they quoted me a $270 FedEx shipping fee...although I explicitly mentioned that the website notes that both items will be shipped freigth. So on Monday I called up RealGoods and talked to a nice guy in the technical department...he immediately commented on me getting a good price on the tower set - I saved "$180" and I politely expressed my surprise ;-) But he put me on a conference call with a gal at Bergey and we reserved the gear right away - Dennis had told me earlier in the month that Bergey would discontinue reselling the NRG tower kits and make their own. I had also talked to Steve Wilke from Bergey last week and he mentioned (and confirmed what Dennis had said) that it might be 6-8 weeks until they would be able to ship out the new tower kits - which would take us out to November when it can get quite cold.

Well, today RealGoods confirmed the shipping cost and the total is $390 (which includes a "fee" of $25 for the trucking company to give me one (1) phone call 24 hours ahead of time - they really must have an expensive phone provider.....?). So for $3,850 I got ourselves our supply for all our energy needs (or so we hope). Couldn't have really done it just with Solar Panels....

(quick calculation: six 125W modules for $3,475 plus pole/rack & shipping...750W...6 hours on a sunny day...80%...3.6kW/day -- not even close. We hope to get on average 6-8kWh per day out of the wind mill...but we'll know more in a year).

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Construction Starts!

Well, on Tuesday August 30, 2005 we finally closed our construction loan at 7:30 AM in the morning at F&M community bank in Chatfield. Mary, our friendly loan officer, helped us to "wade" through the pile of paper work and signatures.

The overall process turned out to be a fairly efficient and painfree one. Of course things took twice as long as I had hoped, but that was still pretty fast, thanks mostly to the good work of Mary who kept things on track and prepared.

Now we have until May 30, 2006 to finish our project!

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Propylene Glycol in your Ice Cream

One of the things we learned at the MREA fair is that it makes good sense to go with a Solar Hot Water System for pre-heating our household water as well as to use it for our radiant floor heat. Obviously if we are going to use it in the winter, we need to protect it from freezing, which is why we need to use some antifreeze. The antifreeze most commonly used in these applications (usually environmentally conscious people) is Propylene Glycol. Interesting enough I learned that Propylene Glycol is used in ice cream (to prevent it from freezing rock hard). Here is a good article from Tom's of Maine about their use of Glycol and alternatives.

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So many news...

Well we just went to the MREA fair 2005 and returned with lots of information in our brains.. The next posts will deal with some of the topics we dealt with. If you live within driving distance from Stevens Point, Wisconsin I highly recommend attending the fair. We had a blast!

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Embodied Energy

This is really interesting:
One insulating unit (insulation required to provide R-20 for a square foot at normal density) of cellulose has 600 BTU of embodied energy. EPS (expanded polystyrene - CFC-free insulation material used for our walls and probably also the roof) has 18,000 BTUs in the comparable amount of insulation...

Our house's surface area is roughly 3,750 sq.ft. for the walls (R-22 with ICFs) and 2,750 for the roof (R-40 with SIPs). This means our embodied energy, in just the walls and roof is 165.6 Million BTU or 48,535 kWh, i.e., as much electrical energy as we plan to consume in over 26 years. And then there is the cement...and the floor slab with EPS...

But hey - if we burn 2 cords a year, it's only as much as 8 years of using our masonry stove ;-)

(in comparison, if we'd use cellulose in the roof, it's only 1/2 year of electrical energy (instead of 16 years))

Electricity ..... 3,412 Btu/kilowatthour
Natural Gas ..... 1,031 Btu/cubic foot
LPG (Propane) ..... 91,330 Btu/gallon
Wood ..... 20 million Btu/cord

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Friday, May 20, 2005

Window, window, in the wall...

...which is the most efficient of them all?

Well, it's time to do some window research again...this time I'll try to take notes so that I don't forget everything again...My first stop for windows research has always been energyefficientwindows.org. Reading through their pages and using their window selector, it seems that we want the following windows:
  • on the south side - window 30:
    double-glazed, high-solar-gain, low-e, argon gas, insulated vinyl
    (U value of 0.29, SHGC of 0.56 and VT of 0.58).
  • on the east/west sides - window 33:
    triple-glazed, moderate-solar-gain, low-e, argon gas, insulated vinyl
    (U value of 0.18, SHGC of 0.40 and VT of 0.50)
The U-value indicates how well the window insulates (i.e., keeping the heat in); the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) indicates what percentage of the sun's energy is allowed to get through (and heat our cement slab and other thermal mass); the Visual Transmittance (VT) indicates how much "dayligh" makes it through the window (the lower, the darker).

As I see now, "Insulated Vinyl" has become as energy-efficient as our previously favored Fiberglass. The challenge will be to find a company that makes windows with these characteristics, because it seems that this model windows are just hypothetical windows and don't represent any physically available windows...

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Official Kick-Off

Well, tonight I finally followed through on promises made in the past months...I finalized the plans and the 3D model and sent a note off to Jim from Holabird & Root. We had met with Jim in December 2003 to review our plans (log house with garage in basement back then). And wouldn't you know it? Jim worked with Andy Bunge on two projects last year and this year (Andy's brother's house and the Commonweal Theatre Addition. It's a small world...

So, the countdown can begin...here's what's on my list:
  • Get plans reviewed by architect
  • Get blue prints
  • Secure ICF forms contractor
  • “Organize” driveway gravel build-up
  • Develop budget with Andy
  • Apply for Mortgage
  • Contact Masonry Stove builder in Wisconsin
  • Create preliminary plumbing plan
  • Create preliminary electrical plan
It'll be a busy, fun summer!

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Shading through the south-side overhang

Yesterday when I shared the 3D Model slide show with my colleague Jim, he inquired whether the soffit overhang on the south side will provide enough shading in the summer.

Well it had been about 1.5 years since I last researched "sun altitude" and "sun azimuth". In the meantime the geometry of the roof and south wall had changed quite a bit, so it was time to confirm the sizing of the overhang. I found this site from the U.S. Naval observatory to get sun (or moon) altitude and azimuth tables for a given date at a given location.

Seasonal Sun Penetration - click to see full sizeIn the picture on the right you can see the different penetration levels at 12 PM noon on June 21, March & September 21 and December 21. As you can see, the overhang completely shades the midday sun in the summer (most left beam) whereas in the winter, even at high noon, the sun will penetrate as far as the back wall of the living room. (Click on the picture to open a full-size version in a separate window.)

The other study/simulation that I did, is to simulate the actual penetration during the middle of the summer. Two values determine the suns position: the sun altitude (i.e., the angle of the sun up from the horizon; 0° being on the horizon and 90° being directly above) and the sun azimuth (i.e., the angle along the horizon, with 90° being east and 180° being south). So the actual penetration through the south windows is not only a factor of the sun's altitude and the overhang geometry and window height, but also of the sun's azimuth and the windows' widths. The image below shows the penetration at 9:45 AM (yellow) and 14:35 PM (orange). As you can see only a fraction of the possible direct sunlight can enter the room during these times,Seasonal Sun Penetration - click to see full sizesince the sun is pretty much still in the ESE (112.5°) or WSW (202.5°). The suprising thing for me was that the overhang pretty much prevents even that early sun to penetrate the room - the deepest penetration is about 3 feet (at an azimuth of 109° with an even lower percentage of what makes it in). and the penetration rapidly declines to zero by around 11:10 AM and does not penetrate at all until 13:10.

As some of you might recall, on the east side of the dining room, we do have the same large windows as on the south side, but with no overhang (at least only in the gables), so the sun will penetrate the living room from that side for the most part of the morning. This is actually by design, because in the spring time, it tends to stay pretty cold (yesterday the high temperature was 42°F), especially in March or April. At our place the sun rises pretty much in the east, but due to some trees we probably won't see much of it until it is about 10° high, at around 7 AM at 10° south of east. For the summer, when the sun reaches 10° altitude at 5:40 AM in the ENE (67.5°) we definitely will have to employ shades on these windows. Fortunately, and also by design, this is not so much of a problem on the west side, where the windows are much smaller, due to the sitting area. But shades would probably also help here as well.

Sun Penetration Graph - click to see full sizeThe last simulation I ran with the data is to plot the penetration depth for each of the four dates. The graph on the right shows the penetration level at the various times of the day for the four dates during the year. The nice thing that you can see is that the penetration during the winter time can reach the backwall unhinderedly when the sun's azimuth is between ESE and WSW.

In summary, the theory looks good for the sizing of our overhang on the south side. The 80" (6' 8" or 203 cm) windows now allow unhindered penetration into the room during the winter months which should help with the heating on sunny days. The 475 sq. ft., four inch thick cement slab definitely will have enough capacity to store any heat coming through the windows, and with 168 sq. ft. of window space for 1,500 sq. ft. of main and 2nd floor living space (i.e., 11%), we might be a little bit over the recommended percentage for south-facing glazing, but we'd rather shade windows in the summer time then having to freeze. And our large thermal mass (including the masonry stove) should help mitigate overheating. We can also always open the door to the basement - to add another 1,100 sq.ft. of living space...(or the garage to add 485 sq. ft.).

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Update on Project Licht 'n Stein

Well, it has been almost 15 months since the last blog entry.

But finally, there's a little bit more life in our project -- last weekend during the Kid's Philosophy slam in Lanesboro I had a chance to chat with our General Contractor and it seems that since he is still very interested in shepherding our project.

So hopefully, given the already advanced year, we might get at least an enclosed structure (i.e., concrete walls, windows, & roof) and masonry stove done before winter, which would make us self-sufficient (i.e., heating, water & electricity) to finish the interior during the winter...

The next steps for me are:
  • share the revised floor plans & 3D Model (see link below) with the architect and get some load calculations done and probably some blueprints drafted
  • get estimates for some driveway buildup
  • contact concrete contractors (such as Wellik out of Stewartville) to check their availability.
Below are some links to some updated information.

What's New
Slide Show of the 3D model (and floor plans)
Updated (but not completed) description of components
especially: shelter & water

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Dinner on the Bluff

Last night we went to one of the "Dinner on the Bluff" series organized and hosted by the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning center. Last night's event's topic was "local flavors" and we enjoyed a fabulous menu of locally grown and raised flavors masterfully prepared by chef Laura Thompson.
We spent a fabulous time with Katie & Harlin as well as Jim and Fred. For a long time I've wanted to talk to Fred, since he is one that has a nice wind turbine right behind his house (the big white timberframe south of town). I am a little concerned that he mentioned that his 20 kW Jacobs Wind Turbine does not perform as well as he expected, but he explained that it could be a function of where they placed the turbine.
I also finally had a chance to introduce myself to Joe Degen, Executive Director of Eagle Bluff. I had found out that they have installed an anemometer (wind meter) and was interested in getting a hold of the data. It turns out that Eagle Bluff does not have an anemometer installed at their site, but on the Fountain tower and one in Pilot Mound.
Joe also introduced us to his wife, Mary Bell, who has a strong interest in Wind Energy and writes for the Fillmore County Journal. Especially an article about Garwin McNeilus that she wrote a while back, is very encouraging, as it mentions that Garwin has plans to build a 10kW turbine for $10,000.
Once again we find ourselves renewed in our excitement about moving to this community of interesting, smart, open-minded and environmentally concerned people. We hardly can wait to move!

A visit with IPS

This Friday we went up to the cities to finally visit with the renewable energy firm that I had found on the web, Innovative Power Solutions. Their website (especially their "Build your own system" link from the homepage) has been quite helpful in designing our electrical system.

We met for over one-and-a-half hours with Roger, Mario and Lobos. Mario had some very good feedback on various aspects of our design and we feel comfortable moving ahead working with them on our system.

News from my Dad

Last weekend my mom called to let me know that my dad is in the hospital (again). As some of you know, my dad had an "aortic aneurysm fixed with goretex" in the fall of 2000, but as the surgery took much longer than expected (6 hours), it was very hard on his body. He was on the ICU for almost 6 months and for the first 5 months in a coma and the doctors almost giving him up after he developed antibiotic resistancies. But then, around January/February of 2001 he suddenly bounced right back, went to rehab and was just the same. Amazing!

So, needless to say to hear the news that he's back in the hospital brings back some memories. But my mom and dad are vey optimistic. It turns out that he was not feeling well last Saturday and decided that there was no way that he would go to bed that night with such a strange feeling regarding his heart. Also his bloodpressure was just way to high, so around 10 PM they called the hospital and after describing the symptoms, they sent an ambulance. After some tests and a relocation to a heart-specialty clinic, it turns out that he will need a triple bypass.

Righ now the surgery is scheduled for Wednesday, the 18th. We'll keep our fingers crossed!

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Detailed Design Reviews started

Last Wednesday we finally started our 'detailed design review series". The first topic was "log homes" and I shared some of the things that we learned. The invitation to the design reviews goes out to 50 of our colleagues at Mayo and we are grateful for their time and feedback. Their interest in our project is a great motivator for us! Next Wednesday, the 4th of February, we will start talking about the electrical system.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Design Review Coming Up / Floorplans Posted

Tomorrow, on Christmas Eve, from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM we will hold our first formal semi-public design review in the Medical Sciences Building, Mann Hall.
I posted our floorplans - take a peek!

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Good Advice

Bob & Marissa, friends of Todd & Eva, gave us some good advice that we will try to incorporate into our plans. Between the two of them they built 5 or 6 owner-built, sustainable houses employing renewable energies. Right now they have a house near Winona and are employing rainwater collection (2,500 gal cistern) a Masonry Stove and photovoltaic panels (six 120 W Kyocera). And their house, which only has one floor, has a footprint of 24 by 37 feet, very close to our 24 by 36 feet (and I wouldn't mind another foot in the bathrooms...or the stairs...

Here their advice to us: Insulate your foundation footings and basement walls and basement slab on the outside. "2 inch of foamboard can do wonders", Bob said. And: Place the closets on the north wall.

Architect on Board

Last Thursday we visited with a super-nice architect. Jim G. from Holabird & Root out of Rochester was very interested in our mini-project. Based on our needs we agreed that his firm could help us best by providing us with advice when we need it on an hourly basis. Thankfully he confirmed that with pre-fab panels we should have no problem covering the basement with a cement slab (that we need for passive solar heat storage). His first service to us will be a walking of the site on January 2nd to help us place the house, the garage and the driveway. This should be fun!

Sunday, November 30, 2003

A walk in Lichtnstein

This afternoon, on a gorgeous sunny day (52°F!) we made out to the property for a nice brunch & walk. Since the previous owners were so thoughtful to take their picnic table with them, we hauled our picnic table in and had a quick Subway lunch. Then we set out towards the west half of our south border to post some more signs. That piece of the property is probably the one that we will see the least of, since it is not easily accessible. However now with all the leaves gone it is truly gorgeous! There are a lot of hidden bluffs and rocks and trees (birch trees). At the bottom of the steep hill there is a wide ditch that probably hasn't seen water in a long time - if the size of the trees that are groing in the ditch are any indication.

After our walk, as we were leaving the property, we met Tom our westerly neighbor who was gonna check up on the property. Tom's the son-in-law of the farmer who originally owned the land.

Well, that's the news for this weekend.

A spontaneous trip

Well on Friday afternoon we spontaneously decided to do an 800 mile trip down to Missouri and take a look at Gastineau's show rooms in Missouri. Mapquest told me that it would take 8 hours and 530 miles, but that was on thei Highway going way west through Kansas City. After I stumbled across US 63 near the site where they have their show houses, we decided to go south on Country Roads - because we happen to live right on 63 ;-) Well that was at 1:20 PM and at 2:05 PM we were in the truck, heading south to Columbia, MO -- 370 miles according to Mapquest. I even found a Thai restaurant in downtown Columbia, so off we were. Jennifer took the first turn driving, since I still had to do some work for work and as we got halfway to Oskaloosa at 5:15 PM, I had accomplished what I needed to accomplish and took the 2nd half driving. If you ever have to go straight south from the Twin Cities, take 63, it's a nice drive!

We were actually lucky driving down there this weekend as we met not only the person who is familiar with our "case", Janet Groat, but also had a chance to meet and talk to the President of Gastineau, Lynn Gastineau. All-in-all it was a very informative trip that answered some questions but also created some new ones. At least we are still convinced that we want a log home.

Plans are worthless, planning is essential

This morning we finally got around to entering all the things we'll need to do into a project plan. It's quite an undertaking, but it looks like a lot of fun, too. We'll probably be looking at another Log Home up in the cities next weekend and also this week I want to get in touch with the people at IPS. According to the plan I need to create a project overview, so that's probably what I'll be working on tonight. And wrapping up some of the loose ends from our visit with Gastineau, too.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Maps, Drawings & Pictures

For all those of you for whom a picture says more than a thousand words I have started posting a few pictures, maps & drawings about and around Licht 'n Stein. Enjoy the slide show!

Happy Thanksgiving - if all goes well, we'll have a house warming party a year and 2 days from now, the Saturday after Thanksgiving...


Saturday, November 22, 2003

What's new?

Here are a few links to the files that hold some of the information that I started posting:

And of course the humble beginnings of our own discussion forum.

For my German visitors/Für meine deutschsprachigen Besucher: Wenn Ihr Euch in dem Diskussions-Forum registriert (einfach auf "Register" klicken), dann könnt Ihr das Forum (nicht die Beiträge, aber die Menüführung und Bezeichnungen) auf deutsch lesen! Wenn ihr Fragen habt, schickt mir einfach mal 'ne mail.

Welcome to the blog @ Project Licht 'n Stein

Welcome dear reader!

If you are reading this you've successfully made it over to our own, little, separate world - lichtnstein.org. In case you're wondering why I chose .org versus .com -- I hope that once our house is up- and running, we could take the name and our passion to the next level and form a not-for-profit organization to promote sustainable living with renewable energies. Ideas thus far are focusing around organizing house tours, workshops and or classes, or simply "showing by example". We'll see (quote me on that in February 2005...)

Well, as posted below we closed in the land. Last weekend Jennifer and I were in Lanesboro 3 times and as many times on the property. On Friday we applauded to Peggy (Margaret) Hanson's announcement to run for Minnesota House at a DFL fundraiser event in the Sons of Norway hall. It was wonderful to see so many nice people there, like John, Mike , Frank, Barb, Joy & Bob and not to forget Frank and Peggy. There were many others whom we've just gotten to know and whose full names escape me ;-) [please excuse my grammar, but it's getting late ;-]. After the event we took Deb from SV up to "the land" and on the way out posted the sign

On Saturday then we visited Lanesboro with Jennifer's study colleague from OSU and his wife, John & Elizabeth. After a quick visit at the Gallery were Steve, the Glassblower, was having the opening of his exhibition of beautiful art, we embarked on a delicious culinary Tour de France in 7 stages at the French Restaurant in the Victorian House. It was quite delicious though we've in the past found the food of higher quality. But it is still "mondes plus bien" then what any restaurant in Rochester has to offer!

On Sunday then we bought some signs stating "Private Property, No Hunting, No Fishing, No Trapping or Trespassing for any purpose is strictly prohibited" and posted some on the north and west side of the property. We had intended to post some more this weekend (the Bambis got a break last week, but this weekend hunting continues...) but the weather has been really nasty with freezing rain today. And tomorrow they are calling for a foot of snow (30 cm). Yeeha!

Anyway, after posting the signs we planned on going up to the property but much to our suprise (or not) we found the farm equpiment and other debris that the sellers had to remove laying "neatly" piled up 200 ft from our driveway behind a fallen oak on land that, as we found out, belongs to Forstrom's widow. To get relations started off the right foot we introduced ourselves to two of the four/five new neighbors. Really nice people, indeed! We look forward to getting to know them better.

Then we followed our self-invitation to Mike & Stephanie's house to learn more about the right "toys" for keeping driveways clean and grass mowed and wood chopped. This turned out to be a great, extremely pleasant visit. Both Mike and Stephanie are so nice and we enjoyed their hospitality (and delicious tea, apples, and crackers). In the big schema of things they are basically neighbors and both involved actively in the community and politics. What wonderful acquaintance to make (thanks to Peggy for recommending us to talk to Mike).

By the way, Mike's driveway is about 3,000 ft from the road to the house, although that includes a good portion (about 1,000 ft) that is plowed by the county. At first sight the driveway looked in really good shape, but on our walk a few 100 ft down, Mike pointed out to us the little details that in the winter make the plowing and *permanent* snow removal challenging. We are still toying with the idea of getting a snow blower rather than a blade, since we hope that this way we can get the snow far enough away from the road and also do not lose as much gravel. However Mike had a good point that if we have a vehicle without a cabin, it would get pretty nasty up there if the wind is blowing from the wrong direction. He also mentioned that Sveen might actually plow our driveway as long as its no safety risk for them. And since we'll have the driveway redone next year anyway, maybe by them, that might actually work.

Jennifer spent most of today researching prairie restoration and that the type of prairie that is native to our neck of the woods is called "goat prairie". With our Unicorn on the property (if the seller did not accidentally shoot it, mistaking it for a deer) that vaguely resembles a goat with one horn, the name is pretty neat. While we will not have time to start prairie restoration on the whole tillable land, we definitely need to get started between the new driveway and the housesite.

Well, that's that for tonight. For those of you around where we live - drive safely!

Oops, I haven't posted in over 8 days...but it's been quite busy.

The biggest news: The Project Licht 'n Stein website is up and running. I ordered it last Sunday at dr2.net and it was a sweet and cheap process ($52 for 12 months *including* the domain name registration). So if you are reading this post on the milaster.de domain, it is the last on here. Go to the new site to read the new blog (and find a discussion group and more background information as well).

Here is our new address:

We have moved to

Friday, November 14, 2003

It's official! We have closed! We own the land.

Now the previous owners just have to follow through with their agreement to free the property from the five debris items (as heavy and big as the picnic table they've removed some weeks ago...). They first claimed they would not be able to remove the debris, but after negotiating (Jennifer was on the phone for almost 3 hours and eMails were flying back and forth between their and our attorney) that the bank would withhold $1,000, they suddenly were "able" to agree to remove the debris (just as they agreed to by signing the purchase agreement) by Monday...amazing, how suddenly they were able to do it.

I have a picture of the first sign ("Betreten Verboten") that we posted on "our" property (well technically it's the neighbors property, but it's on our egress onto our land).

It hasn't really sunken in yet, though it might sink in next weekend when we can finally enjoy it and call it ours.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

It's been a quite week at Projekt Licht 'n Stein...

Well I am not Garrison Keillor and it has not been a quite week - at least not in our personal lifes (which this blog is not about (thankfully)).

I've made contact with the folks from Innovative Power Systems out of Minneapolis. Seems that they are a bunch of engineers (Materials Engineer, Mechnical Engineer, Solar Thermal Systems Engineer, etc.) that got together 12 years ago (in 1991) to offer services around renewable energy. Besides a great link to a partner-websites to dimension your own system I was intrigued by their description of their services: Our range of services varies depending on your needs and your budget. We can do as much or as little as you want, from being involved in planning discussions and ordering the right equipment for your project to designing the system that best fits your needs to doing the actual labor to install it. I filled out one of their forms earlier this week and got a nice reply back from Roger, their Sales/Marketing director (an ME).

On the land acquisition side of things we have a tentative closing date for the 14th of November. We ran into Dick, our lawyer, during a social event on Tuesday in Lanesboro and he is still waiting for the title abstract. Upon receipt he will issue the title opinion and we should be on our way to closing. Exciting!

After reading the HP?? article on Wind Generators that Kirby gave me more thoroughly, I am now toying with the idea of getting the more heavy, more slowly turning African Windpower generator. It's a little bit more expensive, but his arguments on the reliability of heavier equipment convinced me (that's why we are driving an F-150, hit two deer in the past 3 years and had a no point any threat to our safety). I'd have to do more research. I'll also post my "Wind Evaluation" spreadsheet on the weekend. And I found out that the wind speeds at airports are usually 1-2 miles below what you can expect to find on your site, since airports are usually located in more windprotected spots (I am not sure if this is true for the Rochester airport, though).