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).


Saturday, November 01, 2003

Finally got around to transcribing the Fillmore County Zoning Checklist. You can download it here. Good luck to Colleen and Kara & Dan.

Friday, October 31, 2003

I've added a few links on the right about "our" appliances. Well, we haven't really bought anything, but that's what we want to buy. Most entertaining is the little Video from Agri-County on the Staber Washing Machine. Of course we with recent European experience wonder what all the agitation about the Agitator is all about - all washing machines in Germany are on a horizontal axis anyway...
Here is last week's exterior & floor plan draft (it's a PDF file).
Hi! Have you been confused by the difference between Volt Ampere and Watts? Here is a good starting point. It's those reactances ("induktive Lasten") that make things more complicated.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Howdy! Well, last night we did not work much on our house plans...came home about 8:30 PM after a great dinner with Ellen who is in town for her two classes at Mayo.

However this morning on our way in Jennifer and I decided to go with the RF16 combo unit. This will only incur one-time shipping cost and will "encourage" us to only put in the freezer what we need for the next couple of weeks (we still have a turkey in our current freezer from last year or so...). Jennifer had a good point too: If we want, we can always add another freezer. And what we really use is the fridge, and the RF16 has 1.1 cu.ft. more fridge space than the R10.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Just a quick post, before I forget (or am too tired tonight)... Jennifer and I decided last night to definitely go with a DC powered fridge. We did some research and found out that liquid propane is not only a non-renewable energy source (duh, we knew that ;-) but also that is is basically just a by-product of crude oil or natural gas processing.

However, going with DC and wanting a decent-sized DC fridge really only leaves Sunfrost who seems to have a monopoly on larger DC fridges.

We haven't made up our minds yet whether to go with a fridge only (9.3 cu.ft. Sunfrost R10) and a chest freezer (5.8 cu.ft. from SunDanzer) or a fridge/freezer combination (10.3 & 3.9 cu.ft. Sunfrost RF16). It's about the same prize, but we'd end up with a cubic foot (or 3 inches in height) less fridge space, but 1.9 cu. ft. (or 50%) more freezer space. Jennifer prefers the combination and I prefer the separation - maybe it's because I grew up with a chest freezer back in Germany. Actually I just checked and our current freezer/fridge combo has a 6.58 cu. ft. freezer and a 14.28 cu.ft. fridge section. So maybe 3.9 cu.ft. is really, really small... The freezer would also be in the non-heated utility room below the kitchen, so that should reduce energy use even further.

What got this all started is that I ordered (from themeterguy.com) the Kill-A-Watt energy use meter. This site was the cheapest ($34.95) and no shipping cost. I ordered it on Monday and it came with the mail on Saturday. He even sent me this USPS tracking code, but that was no good (other than telling me that it was delivered). It didn't have "where is it now" information.

We used the Kill-A-Watt on Saturday to measure our energy usage of our vacuum (900 Watts). And then on Tuesday morning I plugged it in the fridge outlet. It showed (so I thought) 60 Watts usage. I was kind of surprised that when I opened the door the wattage did not change (so is the lightbulb on all the time???), but hey it was early in the morning...

So in the evening (about 12 hours later) it still read 60 Watts. I read the kWh and it showed 0.73 kWh. That's when I noticed that the 60 was the frequency, not the wattage. Then it started running and used about 212 Watts. Then I opened the door and it used 249 Watts. Ah! A 35 Watts lightbulb ;-)

That's when we compared the usage to the DC fridges. So our fridge, in a house that is at 58 degrees during the day and no door opening, uses .75 kWh per half a day. I haven't checked this morning but I'm sure it used more during those 3-4 "heating hours" where the ambient room temperature was higher. And now is October and the night temperatures dropped to the low 30s (that's right around freezing for our metrics readers out there). So I guess it is about 1.75 kWh/day on a year's average (1.5 kWh in the winter, 2 kWh in the summer). That is roughly 650 kWh a year.

Here is the comparison of freezer/fridge:
RF16 (@70°F): 0.49 kWh/day or 180 kWh/year.
R10 plus SunDanzer (@70°F): 0.19 + 0.28 = 0.47 kWh/day or 170 kWh/year.

So it's about a 1/4 of what we currently use.

[off topic: Did anybody ever wonder why fridge is spelled with a 'd' when refrigerator isn't? Go figure...]

So much for a quick post. Hope you enjoyed reading.


Monday, October 27, 2003

Okay, here we go. Day one (at least by the count of this diary). What do you think, will I even make more than 3 entries?

Projekt Licht 'n Stein. Alternative Strategies for Dwellings. Being "green" out of protest and financial necessity. Showing that 'one' can do it....

Today is Monday. The last Monday in October of 2003. If all goes well will be putting the last finishing touches on our Licht 'n Stein cabin in exactly a year. And move in on Halloween 2004. And have a house warming party with lots and lots of people on Thanksgiving weekend.

Got an interesting eMail from LeeAnn today...Our future neighbor to the south wants to log his property and will take our fence down but put it back up on the real survey stakes. Huh? She said that her colleague Tim had put the posts/stakes and yes, that the fence is slightly off. She is wondering if slightly off means inches, feets, yards? He never specified (and she never asked again). Oh and she offered to research waste removal (again!). And Jennifer had to send Dick a note following up on where his communication with the seller's attorney is at.

Initially I was not concerned about the fence being moved and the neighbor logging, because I thought it was the neighbor to the West (the old Fiorstrom farm). So by the time we got home Jennifer was not concerned anymore (at least not concerned enough to feel like calling that guy or LeeAnn). However now I was concerned and worried, and was getting all nervous and anxious. Talk about Yin and Yang and Opposites Attract ;-) Well, I configured her computer so she could access her eMail and send Dick that note and cc: LeeAnn. And I read her note again about that logging thing. Then I called LeeAnn and got the story above. Did not feel like calling the neighbor either. Of course LeeAnn thought it was nice that he called to let us know. Funny only that he already started today....go figure? Who knows maybe it's just another 'revenge' scheme...

So, we're just plowing along. I'll now write some posts about the last days.

Oh, wait, I forgot something. Kirby send his electric use spreadsheet (along with his blood pressure data, too, lol). Unfortunately they do not use 3 kWh per day with an electric cookstove...but rather 30 kWh. Of course now the panic sets in - how can *we* possibly use just 3.5 kWh per day? But the folks at backwoodssolar.com do it, so hey, I need to be working on this usage spreadsheet....

Good night...

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Okay the time stamp is fake. I am writing this blog entry for Sunday on Monday. Playing a little bit catch up on what happened today re: Licht 'n Stein.

Called my parents today. They are somewhat "excited" about our project but I think they are more concerned about it. No electricity and no well water. My father, Dietmar [deetmahr], had a good point though on water collection: No matter how big I make our roof surface (i.e. the steeper I make it) I won't collect more water. Pretty simple, but easy mistake to fall for (at first). He knew because in Germany you get taxed for rainwater drainage (what a concept...) by the area your house occupies. Now he, having a "Walmdach" (meaning a low angle roof with slopes on all four sides), probably thought he wouldn't have to pay as much as the neighbors with their steep roof. Pustekuchen (that's German and intranslatable). So anyway. My beautiful spread sheet calculation did not work. Our roof, yes, has a surface area of 1,730 cu.ft. (720 in the south, 576 in the north and 434 for the "shed"). But the area it covers, and the area that for water collection purposes is only relevant, is the footprint of our house (and the shed). and that is only 1,285 cu.ft. But hey, it's still 75% of what I thought.

Okay, how many gallons of water in an inch of rain? Well, the easy way for a metrics-trained engineer (wink-wink) is to state that 1 cubic meter (m³) contains 1,000 liter. Isn't the metric system nice? So here is the long way. 3.8 liter in one gallon. 1 foot is 0.3048 m (because 1 inch is 2.54 cm). So....
1 cubic meter is 1 meter by 1 meter by 1 meter. And there are 1/0.3048 feet = 3.3 feet in a meter. so 3.3 feet ^ 3 or 35.3 cubic feet in a cubic meter.
Okay so 35.3 cubic meter are 1,000 liter. That divided by 3.785 is 264 gallons in 35.3 cubic feet. Or, if you will, and you will want to, let me tell you, there are 7.48 gallons in a cubic foot.

Okay, just like in all those fancy textbooks these days...first they explain you the manual, do it yourself, do it while you are riding on a bike and have nothing to look at, way. Then they tell you how easy you could have had the answer. And let me tell you, it is way cool! Because google knows. Google has a calculator now - I kid you not. Try it: Type in your Google Toolbar (what? you have not installed a Google toolbar yet? Oh, you are using a public library computer...okay (Dan, Eva, Kara, Todd) you are excused :-O....so type in: How many gallons in a cubic foot? And low and behold there are 7.48 gallons. Okay so is Google the answer to the un-usability of the English system??? who knows....

So, since there are 12 inches in a foot, I just divide my square footage by 12 and multiply it by the gallons per cubic foot. That yields almost exactly 800 gallons - per inch of rain.

Now this was a dry year, let me tell you. No rain to speak off since July. But, as I saw today, Rochester Airport reported 20 inches of rain so far this year (normal is 40-45 inches for the whole year). With that amount of rain, we'd probably would have gotten...800...*20....16,000 gallons of water (that's 60,566 liters, Papa). So from January through October (and it rained another inch almost today, I would guess), for those ten months we would have had 1,600 gallons of water per day. Guess we're lucky, because my estimate from way back when was 1,500 gallons per month. Right now we are usually using 2,800 gallons with high-flush toilets and a really really inefficient washing machine. So a low-flush toilet, a low-flush shower head and a Staber horizontal, European styel front-loading, washing machine should do the trick to bring us down to that level.

If our water should really not last we always have some other options...Going to the laundromat to do our laundry (Wash-Center in German ;-) "Wascator" actually, a Danish (Huh?) name. Spend many hours there with my mom doing "big" laundry. Biggest memory is - why do people smoke in wash centers? strange...

Anywho...where was I? Oh yes, conversation with my parents. Well, now that I've done the math, I think I am still okay. Don't remember what my father said about their or Jürgen's water usage. Maybe 10,000 liters per month (that is 2641 gallons, so comparable with what we use here). I'd be surprised if they use more.

I still have to complete the water usage spread sheet. Especially for factoring in our water usage for having a child. Oh and tank size. I originally wanted to go with thre 1,500 gallon tanks. But since it was so dray this year maybe we'll increase that. And I also only found 1,700 gallon tanks for almost $1,500. Ouch - that is $6,000 for 6,800 gallons. But I guess that is still cheaper than the $22,000 for the well, given that water is 500-600 feet deep (150m to 180m). And we also are concerned with the quality of the water (due to field runoff of chemicals that just rush through the soil because of the underlying porous (?) lime stone. And our friend Barb's well just ran dry this summer. Boy that would suck if you invest 22,000 get chemicals in your water and in a few years it runs dry because of all the development that is going on.

Rainwater. Somehow it is stuck in my mind that it is very soft. I guess it is common knowledge but I think it was implanted in my brain through laundry detergent commercials, I think. Or, wait, I think I had friends and he, yes, Barbara & Holger, he installed rain water collection system and they used it for their laundry only (separate plumbing) and they said it is really soft.

Okay, I guess it's time to go to bed now. So: in a good year (45 inches) we'd have 32,000 gallons of water or 2,667 gallons per month. In a bad year we'd still have 1,300 gallons per month. Not too bad. And 6,000 gallons would give us roughly 4 months. I'll talk about evaporation and snow-wetness another time. That is another spreadsheet I prepared in August. And I also was able to explain our current water usage and show how with the same (or similar) usage patterns we would come down to 1,500 gallons. But it is time to go to bed now. Hope you're enjoying this stream of consciousness. I do ;-)


P.S.: Meant to give Jürgen & Susi a call for ages. So excited about their moving plans. And I really would like their feedback on all our ideas and thoughts. Oh and also need to write about the upcoming design reviews. and our walk with Kirby & Sarah last Sunday (gorgeous day). If only I had time ;-)