cabin

Interior shots of the Hobbit Hole

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I’ve been holding off taking pictures of the interior of the place because there were a few details I wanted to take care of first; to make the place more of a home with an aesthetic than a shack in the woods nobody loves or cares for anymore.

Big photo dump. I apologize in advance for your bandwidth if on mobile:

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Life on rechargeables

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IMG_0156This is what it looks like some mornings when I arrive at the coffee shop. Plugged in to this single outlet are my laptop, phone, my ‘big light’ power brick, and the battery for my cordless shop vac.

Interestingly enough the shop vac battery charges fully in roughly the same time as it takes to discharge it in operation: 20-25 minutes.

Interior lighting plans for post-solar era

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For as many windows and skylights as this cabin has, the sleeping loft puts the small living space beside the front door under a permanent umbra. It’s not that it makes this part of the cabin uninviting but rather illuminates (pun intended) what could become a serious problem once the shortest days of winter are here. Olympia sits at 47 degrees north in latitude so our weather is only half as crazy as it is in Alaska, the land of the midnight sun. Light becomes as important as warmth in certain seasons.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a thing. The lack of daylight in general and our modern human predisposition to expose ourselves to less daylight than our bodies evolved to expect creates a depressive psychological effect in some people not to mention the various imbalances resulting in a lack of vitamin D, which requires direct exposure of skin to sunlight to metabolize in the body. Some people purchase light boxes for therapy. Others make subtle changes like using full-spectrum light bulbs or basking more frequently in the glow of a warm fire. The wood stove is warming but built tight as a drum, without even so much as a window. I’m going to need a source of light as well if I’m to maintain my cheery disposition all winter, in the season my German sister in law refers to as Die Eishöhle, or the ice cave.

Right now of the five circuits I’m going to need to build three of them are for lighting. The other two will power the 12v pump in the water system and eventually an interior pure-sine power inverter to charge computers, phones, and occasionally my juicer. Luckily in the age of LED I’m able to positively flood the cabin with light without drawing bupkis from the (prospective) battery.

The three lighting circuits will consist of:

  • Four or five paper lanterns stretched across the cooking/dining area, with bright warm white LED bulbs wired in. This circuit will run through a wall switch (I’m leaning toward old-school brass marine switches) and feature a dimmer knob.
  • One bright hanging fixture in the living area, casting a bright light up and down but shading all eyes from bright direct light. This circuit will run through a wall switch (I’m leaning toward old-school brass marine switches) and feature a dimmer knob.
  • One gooseneck switched reading lamp at the head of the bed in the sleeping loft. This circuit will run straight to the distribution panel and not through the switch/dimmer box.

Once I’ve got these in and get a sense of how my battery life holds up to regular use I might add an outdoor light outside the front door and another over the back deck.

The current lineup of the ‘big light’ and an array of oil lamps, candles, kerosene lanterns, and a couple of battery-powered string lights are about all I have for lighting right now. Even in sum they’re not entirely suitable for all but the most intimate types of entertaining, let alone entertaining or anything other than spot-work the ‘big light’ can cover.

Solid Waste, or The Ravenous Slugs of Eld Inlet

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Q: How do you handle your household waste like trash, food scraps, and wash water?

A; This is where the ‘reduce’ part of ‘reduce-reuse-recycle’ comes into play. Sometimes packaging is unavoidable but buying bulk and cooking with fresh ingredients (remember, there is no refrigerator here at the moment) reduces so, so much of the sheer volume of unburnable, unrecyclable waste I generate. Paper packaging gets chucked in the wood stove and periodically burned on a cold morning. Non-recyclable packaging goes into a kitchen bin liner hanging in a mouse-inaccessible spot in a reusable (and washable) shopping bag. At the end of the week when I head into town to work I carry the trash with and add it to the first garbage can I can find. Recyclables go with me to Seattle and get added to the appropriate streams at my Mom’s condo building.

3173522312_0b4f7eef53_zFood waste is where the forest floor shines. The sheer biological activity of this land –the countless thousands of banana slugs, snails, and crows let alone billions of hungry bacteria, yeasts, and molds– almost instantly reduces organic waste to a healthy combination of slug poo and fuzzy green bits on the forest floor. I eat most of what I purchase and the forest eats the rest. It’s uncanny. I asked my landlord Alban what he does and this has been his answer for 20+ years.

I live in the midst of a massive, powerful, vibrant ecosystem. This represents the sum of Alban’s aim for this place as I understand it: the husbanding and preservation of all this resurgent natural power. I get it. Wilco.

Amenities and shortcuts

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The only current built-in amenity at the cabin is a Magic Chef RV stove/oven (with the oven inoperable). Some online investigation has shown me that this specific model of stove/oven often has problems with oven lighting but I haven’t been able to devote the time and resources I need to sussing out the solution. Come winter I’ll wish I had an oven for all manner of warming foods, but come winter I’ll be able to use the wood stove & Aunt Itsy’s skillet (really a dutch oven) in combination to handle a lot of these tasks. Getting the oven operational isn’t near the top of my list. I’ve even considered the wisdom of switching to a cooktop only situation to claw back some shelf space in the kitchen.

I bought a radiant propane shop heater to provide spot heat on the coldest mornings and was the proud recipient of a rechargeable handheld DeWalt shop vacuum for my birthday this year so we’re able to add significant points to the comfort and cleanliness gauges.

The radiant heater has been useful in drying out the floors after my initial bout of hot soap scrubbing, and will be an especially welcome addition for newcomers who might not be used to the chill of a Northwest morning.

The little shop vac allowed me to vacuum surfaces that had never been vacuumed before: floors yes but also walls, joints, concealed surfaces, and all those little nooks & crannies full of two decades-worth of dead spiders and the hair of long-departed tenants. Dust mites, surreptitious mouse turds, sand, and cobwebs all sucked up and neatly containerized. It might be psychosomatic but the house just felt cleaner after a week of daily vacuuming projects.

One major additional benefit of the rechargeable shop vac (and the reason I never let it run all the way down if I can avoid it) is its perfect utility as a collector of ginormous spiders of the sort that wander in from the forest if I leave the place open to the breeze. Having dealt with forest spiders in Virginia during grad school my general rule of thumb is if the spread of its legs is bigger than a quarter it has to go. Too many mornings with spider bites…to many times awakened to feel some bold arachnid scurrying across my face. There’s a chance being sucked out of your web and hurled at high velocity down a tunnel into a hard plastic container will kill the spider but absent this solution there’s a 100% chance the spider dies via a rolled up New York Times magazine or something. The use of vacuum technology as a way to avoid having to get close to them and/or killing them makes me feel a little better…a little less eek-y.

But how do you recharge the battery? you might ask. Every day I come into town to conduct my affairs, usually involving a stop at a favorite coffee shop for an hour or two to get my connected work done (e.g., emails sent, online shopping done, research projects, professional tasks). On arrival while I’m plugging in my laptop I also plug in the cable of whichever recharger(s) I brought with me that day. Sometimes it’s the vacuum. Sometimes it’s the drill. Sometimes it’s the 18650 battery charger that reliably powers so many of my household items (e.g., high-intensity LED flashlights, holiday light strings, a wireless clip fan &c). All but the 18650 batteries charge in less than an hour and two hours of charging those, even if it doesn’t show me the green ‘charged’ lamp before I leave, is going to be sufficient to get me through the night at least.

Timelapse of the well at Mirkwood

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With a guest appearance from my backside.

I love how the color of the light changes throughout the dance.

Cabin water system: the big idea

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The first project combines relative ease of completion and maximum lifestyle improvement. I don’t mind hauling water but a supply of running water will later, on the addition of the photovoltaic system, facilitate the addition of running hot and cold water both to the sink and the outdoor shower.

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A 275 gal. (1140 l.) IBC tote in palletized aluminum frame. 330 gal. (1249 l.) is another standard size.

Running hot water you say? At a remote cabin you say? That’s the plan. The reason I have to wait until I add solar power is the location of my water reservoir –a 275 gal. IBC tote used once to transport non-GMO organic fructose syrup to a cannabis edible manufacturer– in its preferred location will only generate 6.495 PSI. Manufacturer’s specs for most of the instant propane water heaters I’ve seen requires a minimum 20 PSI for safe operation. A 12v inline kicker pump –drawing electricity only when in operation– will solve my PSI problem without wrecking my battery levels.

There is really no levelling or prep required at the tank site. My landlord Alban’s aesthetic sense for the land insists that the tank be conclealed from view so once installed it will receive ‘the Treebeard Treatment’ (to wit, a layer of chicken wire with moss and ferns intertwined into it). I want to keep the water temperature as low as air temperatures will allow so I’ll probably overdo this step and use some opaque gardener’s plastic as an underlayment to the Treebearding, which will have the twin effect of obscuring any high-albedo bits of white plastic or aluminum that might otherwise give lie to my efforts at concealment.

water system flow chartOutflow adapters with valves are commercially available to replace the rudimentary valves included with IBC totes so to save time and guarantee durability I’ll invest in one of these new. These adapters are usually threaded for standard ¾” garden hose so I’ll purchase a lead-free adapter to fit the PEX I intend to use as my main outflow to the house and eventually to the 12v kicker pump once the solar power is in. I am considering purchasing a length of used, discarded fire hose to use as sheathing for the main PEX water line. I worry about rodents more than rot where PEX is concerned.

We’ll run the PEX up to the back of the house under a cover of soil and forest litter (there’s no digging through roots this heavy without power equipment) and split the cold water flow, capping one outflow for an eventual run to the instant propane water heater. The open end will divert cold water via smaller-gauge household PEX through existing wall cuts into the sink fixture (and eventually an outdoor shower fixture out back), leaving enough room for the eventual addition of the hot water tubing but secure from critters in the meantime. This will satisfy my main objective: adding running fresh water to the cabin. A little work aforethought will facilitate the later addition of hot water, and later a nice outdoor shower.

The previous tenants created an outdoor shower setup consisting of 6” PVC with the bottom end capped, then drilled and threaded for an on/off valve and shower head. It’s clunky, cumbersome, and ultimately unsatisfying to all purposes except fundamental cleanliness. The siting of the shower off of the back deck cluttered some of its usable surface and created perfect conditions for rot on the deck members below it. Neglect having been one of this cabin’s ‘problems’ on arrival, much of the work I’ve done since I moved in has been aimed at reversing as much of this neglect as possible. Hanging the future outdoor shower below the edge of the deck will allow me to keep the deck surface clear and mitigate potential causes of rot.f6f3e4b8c802f5eea37e0b409427d018-outside-showers-outdoor-showers

There’s nothing but bare soil around the cabin so the drainage for the outdoor shower will occur through the proverbial box of rocks: a likely collection of round, flat stones from the local beach and stream contained and isolated from the mud by a wood box, probably 2’x2’ in size: smaller than that pictured at right but not by much.

NOTES:

  • If you’re going to Craigslist to look for a used IBC tote (which I heartily recommend) make absolutely certain the container was used for food-grade contents only. These totes are also sometimes used to deliver chemicals, pesticides, and solvents that should permanently disqualify them for water storage purposes. They can’t be cleaned. Choose food-grade containers only.
  • Consider whether any/all of the materials you intend to use are intended for use with potable water. Are your fittings lead-free? Is the piping you intend to use susceptible to mold or rot?
  • Freezing is seldom a problem for us this close to the sea and sea level but depending on where you are you’d likely be well-advised to factor freeze resistance into your strategy to a greater extent than I have here.