Still Thaw Impaired

Five to seven cold days, followed by two or three warmer days, and then repeat. This has been the pattern for the last couple of months, teasing us with the possibility of an early spring, and then slapping us with another dose of winter.
005 (1024x768) Progress on the homestead has been slow. The outhouse/generator shack is coming together, but warmer weather would be welcome. The RV style window has been mounted temporarily to check fit and function (and to keep the cold wind out). The chute between the floor and seat is a scrounged piece of ABS pipe (thank-you Mr. T). With the wood seat placed on top, I sat down to check the positioning of the window. My first impression is good, it seems roomy and comfortable. The window is ideally sited for the contemplation of nature. The screened slider can be operated easily from the seated position, allowing quick, easy adjustments to cooling and air supply. This test was of course a “dry run” because …. Well, I didn’t have a magazine handy.

004 (1024x768) It got me thinking more about another looming issue, and that is venting. I have visited enough outhouses and porta-potties in my day to have formed a firm opinion that the two biggest issues with this type of waste management are winter cold and bad odours. The most common method of venting I have seen is a tube that runs from under the floorboards straight through the roof terminating a couple feet above the roofline. The problem I see with this is that it allows two or three cubic feet of foul air to collect above the vent, just below the lid on the seat. I am hoping to mount a vent in the side of the green pipe just below the lid. This would be piped outside and up at least two feet above the roofline. A 12volt fan might be incorporated if needed.

Having the entire structure insulated R-8 in the walls and R-12 in the floor and ceiling, will make it more comfortable winter and summer. The generous overhangs will also help prevent quick heating, which translates into more bad smells. As for winter heat, I will try a large oil lamp that will be left burning 24/7 during cold weather. If that is not adequate, an electric heater can be operated at least when the generator is running. More elaborate provisions for heating, will hopefully not be required as we expect to have a conventional water closet and septic system in place by the second or third winter. When that happens, this structure will be moved to a new spot near the future workshop. Because the cabin will be part of the permanent East homestead, and the new workshop will be part of the future West homestead, the distance from the cabin to the new workshop may be 500 feet or more.

003 (1024x767)I apologise to all readers for the outhouse theme on the blog lately. The insanely unseasonable weather has brought progress down to a crawl, which makes it seem as though this project is going on forever. Even as Picasso progressed beyond his “blue period”, I will move beyond my “outhouse period”. This first winter of trying to stay productive on the homestead by commuting from town and working in a ramshackle shed, hammered home the value of a good workshop and being on the homestead full time and permanent. In about 40 days we will finally take up that permanent residence. It has been a long time coming and it will take a very large crowbar to pry me out of that place. My plan is to stay on my fifty acres for all eternity. I have left instructions that after my passing, that I should be “composted”. I suspect that I will in death, as I have in life, produce very good fertilizer.

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13 Responses to Still Thaw Impaired

  1. Humpy Creek says:

    “The window is ideally sited for the contemplation of nature.” So important! The outhouse is definitely worth getting right first go, so the discussion here is very welcome.

    • Thanks for the support and understanding. After camping rough on site a few weeks last summer, my appreciation for comfortable “arrangements” has been sharpened up some.

  2. Something you may find will help with this outhouse is a little of nature’s own waste management; composting! If you have sawdust, finely shredded paper, wood chips, chopped straw or even dried shredded leaves… Put some in the hole when you’re done instead of flushing. This will make your odors drop drastically because of all the composting going on in the bottom of that toilet hole! And if you get some good compost going on it may even help heat it up in the winter a few extra degrees. Have a BIG barrel or bucket of mixed carbons (as listed above) mixed with some nice smelling pine needles or something, with a scoop you just fill and shake down the toilet after the bathrooming, and you’ll have the nicest outhouse ever! And it’ll make a nice non-toxic spot to plant a tree some day with all that compost under it!

    • Your comments bring up a problem that we have yet to solve. Using sawdust to cover deposits is a no-brainer as with all the carpentry and firewood cutting going on it is plentiful and easy to store. We will also be experimenting with wood ash to control smell and enhance the composting process. The problem is that we have yet to discover a fragrant plant on this land that can be dried and stored. The trees are mostly Aspens, with a few Spruce sprinkled in. If we can’t find anything that we can gather, we might consider growing something just for this purpose. Any ideas about something that can be grown quickly in a zone 2-3 setting?

      • Sure. Pines and spruce are fine. It all decomposes eventually anyhow. Mint family plants will survive hell freezing over. Probably your best two choices… But have a look at your local plants. What smells nice and is a weed? Maybe a fragrant flower like clover? You probably have something right outside your door and don’t know it!

  3. Some good ideas, we will have to keep our noses alert while working and moving around the property this year. There is a small (5 acre) clearing near the west end of the property, which might be a good spot to get some clover. We will be growing a few herbs and there might be some surplus from that source.

  4. Analog Man says:

    A generator shed is handy, 90 percent of the time the generator is needed it is for charging(assuming your going offgrid) in the coldest months, Dec,Jan. Cold does funny things to engines, fuel,plastics….never good things. In this climate, in my area I believe everyone of us has learned, often the hard way,myself included, to never leave the gen outside, run it outside sure, but bring it in after…keep it inside. We have all gone to the smallest gens, nothing over 2000 watts, with honda eu1000, and eu2000 the most popular( the 1000’s wont run a IOTA55 amp charger though), But the Yamaha equivlant (forgot the model) is even better I think. Most just carry these light units outside to charge, but I have gone to building stands on wheels. the wheels large enough to roll over door thresh holds easy. With the gen at waist hieght its so much easier to see,start,fuel and work on. Allways have a spare as well. My cousin a mile or so from me just had the pull cord go on his Honda eu2000, turns out he couldnt get the cover off the thing to replace it as it took some oddball deep socket thing to remove….it will have to go into the Honda dealer for repair…I had a new in the box Champion 1500/1200 that I lent him….saved the day at minus20…. no sun… and batts going dead quick. Speaking of which I have been recomending that Canadian tire unit to people, not because its a great unit but because its a great value to have as a spare. I have tested one for a year now to see how it has performed (200 hrs on it now)and for the money its a good value to have as a back up to your main unit for the price, the regular price is 350, but often on sale for 299….some stores 249, and around Christmas/boxing day 199. its a buy at 199, 249 for sure, and I have gotten 9.5-10hrs run time on 5 liters. Again I recomend it as a back up to a quallity unit like the Honda,I say back up as who can tie up $1000+ plus to have a spare honda just sitting around, and it runs a 60 amp charger no problem…I dont even understand how such a thing can be built/shipped here for such a price…I bought two at 199.00. anyway, may winter end soon…

  5. Good to hear from you Analog man. Reading your stuff always gives me a lot to think about. I definitely want the generators sheltered to protect them from the elements and to prevent the occasional problem I have had with carbs icing up in severe conditions. I got through this winter by adding a bit of methyl hydrate to the fuel.
    I see where you are going running the minimum sized generator for charging your battery bank, and I will give that some more thought as I do my long range planning. For the homestead from the ground up project that we are engaged in, I opted for the smallest generator that would handle the largest single load I would want to power. Last year I added a second generator of similar capacity. Both are powered by clones of the Honda GX180 engine that provides commonality for repair and maintenance parts. Both have a minimal 240v capacity. There is no doubt that this setup is burning more fuel, but in the short term the greater versatility is good compensation. As soon as construction begins on the cabin, power needs will be split between two locations, approx. 600 feet apart. In a couple years, I expect to start work on the new workshop, and that will be a third location, and then after that the permanent house (a fourth location). All four will be separated by more than 500 feet making power supply a fascinating ongoing problem.
    After I saw your comment here, I re-read your page on off-grid power. I see you have updated it quite a bit. I like the idea of using pages rather than posts for information that is more static in nature, I may borrow that idea for my own scribblings. Have you considered posting a notification when you do a major update on one of your pages? I for one would be interested in knowing when you have updated a page.
    In the short term, my off grid power system will be cobbled together, making all possible use of the gear I have already acquired, starting with some elderly pieces left over from my first off grid experiment in 1999 – 2000. Added to that will be the bits and pieces that I have picked up in recent years wherever and whenever the price seemed right. Down the road, we expect to be able to invest in better solutions. I hope you don’t hesitate to chime in with any thoughts that come to mind, as I am finding that you are a first rate source of common sense, on a range of subjects that are too often subject to hype and silliness.

    • Analog Man says:

      Sorry, I dont know how to do notifications of page changes, most changes I make are just to fix my bad speeling anyway. Sounds like your well covered for a spare gen, I mention it as a lot of people dont think of the importance of it. Even with my multiple gens I got caught bad one year. Decided to use a electric start propane unit..brought it into the basement, hooked it up to the batts, put on a propane tank, waited, nov came and the temp went down to -30, I needed to charge my batts so I go down to fire it up, and it wont start, im draning my batts further trying, cant figure out whats wrong (turns out I banged a fitting on the carb that broke bringing it through the doorway) Have to quit trying as my batts are now to low….my diesel listeroids wont start at minus 30 as I didnt think to put in glow plugs, not that I could use glow plugs anyway my batts are flat…I go get old reliable a 1500 watt permanent magnet generator with a pull start brigs thats in mint condition…The gen was made by Mucullic (sp)
      Guess what? the little gas I had left in it has turned green and moldy due to the hydroscopic ethanol now in our gas and the fuel system is plugged solid….everything can go sideways at -30 and will. Hype and sillyness are just sales tools, I have fallen for most…just not as often now, I remember that 80’s comercial when I read about the latest and greatest, then think “where’s the beef”.

  6. Keith says:

    City Man Says,
    I like to follow the blogs of the homesteaders. I will know where to run to when this world of thermostats, long hot showers and deep pile carpet comes crashing down.

    Is it possible to provide your energy needs in that cold world with solar, wind or hydro or cow dung natural gas? Or is the oil based energy inescapable in that climate?

  7. Hi Keith,
    Not to worry, you will always be welcome here if TSHTF, but let us hope that it never comes to that.
    Yes it is absolutely possible to provide all of our energy needs with solar, wind and the wood growing here on the land. I read a blog a while back by a couple in Ontario who had been completely off grid for about ten years, provided all of their energy and made a point of stressing that this was done without importing even propane. Will we ever go the route of the absolute purist? I doubt it, unless we were forced to by lack of supply or exorbitant prices. The math makes good sense for us to stay off grid, but import propane to run the cookstove, winter clothes dryer, and backup furnace. During the three darkest months we expect to need to supplement our electrical supply by the occasional running of a gas or diesel powered generator. Eliminating our remaining small use of petrochemical based energy would be difficult, expensive and require lifestyle changes that we are at present reluctant to make.
    All the best,

  8. Keith says:

    Hi Mark,
    If I have it right this is your first birthday celebrated on the homestead. Hope it is a good one.

    I try to imagine what life is like for you – probably something like the earliest settlers experienced in the early 1800’s without the Indian threat. It would seem one would spend so much time on surviving that time is limited to spend on improvements. What do I know?

    Life of luxury kid -Keith
    Happy Birthday

  9. Hi Keith,
    Thanks for the birthday greeting, I am going from store to store asking if this being 55 gets me any special perks or discounts, no luck so far. I spent my birthday patching the roof of the old workshop. Heavy rains are predicted and the last heavy rain here flooded the old building up to our ankles. I did have a good birthday though, yesterday we drove down to Regina (900km round trip) and picked up a pair of 150watt solar panels. That slightly more than doubles our solar capacity, but there is a long way to go, as we estimate that the homestead will require a minimum of 3000 watts. I will send a more complete reply through your regular e-mail.
    All the best,

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