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Archive for May, 2006

Designing & Building Natural Homes

This Summer Join SEI for a unique workshop experience at Camp Epworth in High Falls, New York: Designing & Building Natural Homes. This course covers the opportunities and evolving variations within the field of natural building. Architects, builders, home-owners and students will gain an excellent introduction to the art and science of natural building materials, techniques, and design considerations, while also getting their HANDS-ON, with straw bale, adobe, pressed block, cob, natural plasters and more. Designing & Building Natural Homes is for home owners in the pre-design stage; architects, builders, designers and contractors; and for anyone interested in this vast field of study.

This engagement starts on Monday August 7th finishing on Friday August 11th. Sign up before June 12th and pay the early-bird price of $575.

Don’t miss out on this wonderful opportunity to learn Natural Building techniques in beautiful Upstate New York!! Help us to make this workshop a success and pass on this information to friends, family, colleagues and others…

For more information about this class and all others visit SEI on the web at or call us at 970.963.8855 for workshop details or to register.


Wind Turbine Finished

Today we finished the wind turbine. Well mostly finished. Still have some painting and greasing before it goes up the tower. We spun the rotor and were producing voltage with our hand wound 3 phase coils, and grade 50 magnets. It starts up at 5mph, and is charging at 7mph (150 rpm) and up. Maximum output should be around 1000 to 1200 watts at 25 to 30 mph winds. The rpm of the alternator should be around 600 or so. It’s a permanent magnet ac alternator with a stationary coil, so no slip rings or brushes necessary. Totally water proof design. Photo’s of the build can be found in our photo album.


PV System Schematic

Many people have asked us how the components in a PV system are connected. The good folks at New England Solar have provided a diagram of a basic system, very similar to the one we started with. What isn’t shown is the connection from the inverter to the AC Panel through the generator transfer switch. Popular Mechanics had a good article on installing a generator and transfer switch. Many inverters take a generator input and provide transfer switch functionality, plus battery charging. Both New England Solar and Back Woods Solar offer catalogs with good diagrams of how these hookups go together.


Off-Grid Power Systems

We have folks coming in tonight for the building of the wind turbine tomorrow, and we have been testing the new batteries all week. Washer, Propane Dryer, Well Pump, Fridge, all have been running fine on the L16H batteries and the AC Delco 2500w Inverter. They actually run better from the inverter than they did from generator. We are all set for the wind class, and it looks like the weather will co-operate.


5 days to the Wind Class

Don’t forget the Wind Class this weekend. There are a couple of spots left, and the weather promises to be nice.

The new batteries are operating wonderfully, as are the new PV panels. Even though we have had mostly rain and clouds, we have been getting between 4 and 7 amps flowing into the batteries. The new batteries hold up well under the surge loads from the 1/2hp jet pump and the fridge. For the first time we have running water without the generator running or using the attic rain barrells. The next test is washing a load of clothes, with both the Front Loader Washer and the well pump being driven from battery / inverter.


Battery box built, batteries installed and charging

This morning we finally ripped out the old Trojan T-105’s and plastic battery box. We assembled the new battery box, installed the new L16H batteries, and finished all the wiring. We connected the solar array and are pumping 4 amps into the batteries even though it’s cloudy and rainy. Reconnected the 2500w inverter, and the 50 amp generator powered charger, plus the dc load panel. All is functional. More photo’s can be found in our photo album.


Visiting the VeggieBus

Last night Joshua Stoltz came up from Auburn NY to see Melvin’s VeggieBus (GM 6.2L/Thomas). This weekend, Joshua is picking up a 8.2L Detroit (similar to our Detroit 2-71 VeggieGen) powered 40′ school bus from Greg Archambault. He is converting his bus to a full-time live-in RV, and we are helping him with the veggie conversion. He will be discussing the bus and the conversion on our school bus conversion group, and pictures will be posted here.


The Electric-Lite Household

One method of reducing the electric load of an off-grid home is to replace electricity as a primary energy source. We have done this with our major appliances. The cook stove/oven, water heater, dryer, and the new refrigerator are all propane, and our source of heat is wood. Propane, while a useful off-grid fuel source, is expensive, a fossil fuel, and not quite in keeping with our goals (it’s a different kind of grid). Hence the upcoming bio-methane project to replace our propane and wood consumption. Based on the research of our friend Al “The Methane Man” Rutan, we will be constructing an insulated, all year – all climate, continuous feed reactor. Fed with food scraps from the local hospital cafeteria and manure slurry from a local farm, it’s a better kind of “grid”. Methane articles by Al Rutan can be found in the back issues of ESSN Magazine, Homepower Magazine, and the defunct “Alternative Sources of Energy magazine”.


Last of the PV panels connected

Tonight we connected the rest of the PV arrays. We have a total of 270 watts online, and no sun in sight for the next 4 days at least.

We are replacing our electric fridge with a new propane fridge, thanks to one of our supporters. It’s a Servel unit from Back Woods Solar.

Jeff Genser called, said he made it home to the NYC Metro area (8+ hours) on veggie with no issues. A very happy camper.


Jeff’s Veggie Benz

This weekend Jeff Genser brought his ’80 Mercedes Benz for a conversion to veggie oil. We started Saturday Morning, and by 4pm he was driving on liquid gold. More photo’s can be found in our photo album.

There are three tricks to converting a mercedes:

  • Change plumbing from: Tank -> Lifter Pump -> Filter -> Injector pump to Tank -> Filter -> Tank Selector Valve -> Lift pump -> Injector pump
  • Remove hollow bolt from top of filter, tap the inside, and insert a bolt (with head cut off, and slotted for screwdriver) with thread lock.
  • Cooling line hookups: Tee the hot at top right rear of engine, and the cold at lower left front of engine.

Last night we took 3 generations (the fourth is away to college still) of Spence family women out to Mother’s Day dinner.

This AM I hooked up 90 of the 180 watts of new PV to the battery bank. Weather report says a whole week of rain …..