Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Blotting out the Sun and Blocking the Wind

Things are coming to a head. As we started to stucco today, it felt as if we were painting shade and shelter around ourselves. This morning started out with 35 mph winds. It was also another very sunny day. We decided to start the stucco on the side where the wind was blowing. As we worked, the winds gradually subsided. The sun in our eyes started to vanish as we blotted it out with the first coat of stucco.

We used a different mix for this first scratch coat. It needs to be stout because it is the binder that future layers will grab onto. The mix we used was 2.5 gallons of sand, one gallon of cement, one small can of fly ash ( the ash left over from coal burning power plants ), and 3.5 medium size cans of water. We mixed the stucco on the watery side because the wind and sun can dry it out fast. The first batch that we made wasn’t sticking. We then realized that the sand we were using had too much gravel in it. We decided to use a double layered filter to sift the gravel out of the sand.

Stuccoing is not too difficult, but stuccoing above your head can be a bit tricky, as some of it ends up falling down on you. It is also a bit tiresome, even for 82 year old Don Bryant.

It is very important to scratch the stucco soon after applying it so that the next layer has a rough edge to grab onto.

The tools needed for this part of the project are a hawk ( much like a pallet a painter uses ), a trowel ( 14’’ pool trowel for this size dome ), a few 5 gallon bucket for carrying around water, sand, and the final stucco mix, a wheel barrow, a hoe or two, something to scrath the stucco with, and a mud board for use as an interim for storing the stucco mix before putting it on the hawk.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

giving the energy an outlet

We set up some minimal infrastructure for the electrical outlets and dome light. We also recessed five double outlets into the lath. There will be a plug in from the south side of the dome for the battery bank. The battery bank will store energy from the sun and the wind.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

harvesting water

These past few days have been like a Portland Oregon winter...rainy and cold. We took a day off to go to the Chinati Hot Springs to warm our bones.

We returned to find that about an inch of rain had fallen over the last couple of days ! That is a lot for out here, especially in the winter. It came at a perfect time too, being that we will be mixing our stucco next week. We are using our neighbor’s water catchment system for this project. Being that her roof is 900 square feet, her catchment system gives us several hundred extra gallons of water from this recent rain. The conservative formula to know for water catchment is that an inch of rain provides 60 gallons of water for each 100 square foot of roof. We added another 55 gallon tank to our water storage system here, so we can now store over 100 gallons of water on site. This abundance means that we can take showers, water plants, do dishes, and mix adobe and concrete without guilt.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Great Wall of Texico

A small group of us went to the Paisano hotel in Marfa today to protest the proposed wall between Texas and Mexico. Our government has contracted a private company to build a prison-like wall between Texas and Mexico. They claimed that the meeting today was to garner public feedback, however, the decision has already been made to build the wall and so this meeting was really a huge waste of time for the people who attended, as well as a waste of gas for those who drove many many miles. Throughout the meeting, there were a number of intelligent and specific questions asked , but none of the questions were answered directly and all questions were given the same response : “ We appreciate your feedback, Please submit it in the comment box.”

Being that the Rio Grande is the only consistent watering hole for wildlife for hundreds of miles, where will the wildlife get there water with a big wall blocking that river ? That is just one of many important issues that they couldn't answer. The only hope we have is that we can delay the wall until the next administration in hopes that the next administration will not be in favor of a symbol of segregation.

Monday, January 21, 2008

vamanos veggie

Sometimes the best work parties are the ones that happen unexpectedly. I met Jori and Betsy at the Terlingua Ranch Lodge when I played a show there a couple of nights ago. We got to talking. They told me about their travels across the country on waste veggie oil. They have traveled over 5000 miles by using the grease that restaurants throw out. They spent the last couple of nights camping out at Earth Language and today they helped us finish the foundation of the dome. Their help turned a full work day into half that. We spent the rest of the day hiking and playing an old Yiddish card game called Klabberjass that my grandparents taught me.

To finish the foundation, we filled in the gaps between the bricks with the same materials as the bricks themselves ( 5 parts gravel, 5 parts sand, and two parts cement ).

Here is a link to Jori and Betsy's blog about their travels using grease.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

We are making very good progress on the dome. We have put the bricks in place so that the dome is now level and ready for the rest of the foundation to be poured. The dome is also mostly lathed and we are now framing the windows and the door. There is a lot of detail work involved at this stage, so it is a bit of a lengthy process…more than I thought. I knew it would be more than I thought so it is turning out to be about what I thought I thought I would think it ought. We hope to start with the stucco next week. We will also be adding the electrical conduit and outlets.

We have had some very cold nights here...low 20's at night. Our water is usually frozen in the mornings, but it doesn't take too long to thaw after sunrise. I bought a small propane heater to heat up the small train compartment that we now have on site. In the train compartment, we have set up a small kitchen, shelves, a card table, and a light. It is surprisingly livable and makes a great temporary living space, though we still sleep in our tents at night.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Rocket Fuel

Today, we made a rocket stove…similar to a wood stove, but cheaper and more efficient.

It’s a simple underused concept. We made ours with a 25 gallon barrel, and some stove pipe. The barrel we found at Don’s place. It was on old army barrel used to store emergency supplies. The only parts we purchased, were the stove pipes. We used three of them, each costing $7. We thought about looking for free ones, but they usually contain paint, which would have to be burned off...a nasty process.

Emile had built a couple of rocket stove in Portland, so he knew the basic formula, but he also brushed up on his skills from a book I picked up from the Natural Building Colloquium in Kerrville. Leslie Jackson, one of the co-authors of “Rocket Mass Heaters”, graciously gave me a copy in exchange for a CD.

The stove took us under an hour to make. We borrowed Don’s metal cutting tool. That made it a whole lot easier than using our teeth.

We purchased the stove pipe at the right diameter for the feed tube ( 6 inches ). We used the same size pipe for the exhaust tube, but overlapped it on itself to make that diameter 4 inches. We joined two of these together for the exhaust pipe.

Next, Emile traced the pipe diameters onto the top of the barrel to prepare for the metal incisions…one for the feed pipe and one for the exhaust pipe. We then cut a circular opening into the top of the barrel like a shark tooth pie (the cut can be started by hammering a nail into the center of the circle a few times). We bent the teeth on the opening for the feed tube inward, and bent the teeth on the exhaust tube outward. The teeth help to keep the pipes in place while also help to direct the heat flow. The bottom of the feed tube must be several inches above the bottom of the barrel to allow for air flow, which is important when you want a fire. The smaller diameter tubes snap together and then snap onto the barrel.

That’s it.

Starting a rocket stove is much like starting a campfire. Start with paper, or dry grass…then add kindling…and then the larger pieces of wood…all through the feed tube. Once the exhaust pipe gets hot, a draft is created…. making the stove roar with heat while directing any smoke out of the exhaust pipe.

We spent about 30 minutes gathering wood and kindling. Most of the creasote trees ( more like shrubs around here ) have a bunch of dead branches on them. Using this wood prunes the trees while at the same time provides the perfect size wood pieces for feeding into the feed tube. In just a short time, the stove got so hot, that the metal started glowing red. Cover this with a little cob and you got some great thermal mass to heat up an enclosed space quickly.

The idea behind a rocket stove is to use the least amount of wood necessary to create a very hot fire, while storing the most amount of heat as possible with thermal mass. They are much more efficient than a fireplace and even more efficient than a wood stove.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Getting Water in the Desert

While we don't have water catchment yet, we finally have some significant water storage in the form of a 55 gallon rain barrel. Gotta start somewhere. We picked up this barrel for $15 in town and it cost about another $15 for the spigot and epoxy putty. Emile, who has plumbing experience, easily installed the faucet by cutting a hole out with a knife and then securing the faucet with the putty. When cutting out the hole, he purposefully made the hole a fraction smaller than the faucet valve so that when screwing it in, it would create a tight, leak free fit.

Though minimal, this is a big improvement in our water situation out here as it will give us a place to keep the water we will need for mixing cement and cob. During the mixing process, we will need to make daily runs to nearby water sources. It just so happens that a very generous neighbor ( who lives a mile away ) is letting us use her water catchment for our project as she will be out of the area for a period of time. She needs all the water emptied from her cistern in order to move it to another location, so it is a win win situation. The water in that cistern may be all the water that we need for the mixing, but we also have some backup sources, such as Don's well and the Ranch Lodge, which sells water for 3 cents a gallon.

55 gallons is not alot, especially considering the amount of water needed to mix cement and cob. But for personal puroposes, it can go a long way. A good shower only requires a couple of gallons of water, for example.

Ideally, if the funds are available, the best way to start out here in the desert is by setting up a roof and water catchment before doing anything else. When it rains here, it pours, and it frustrating to watch it all wash away and evaporate so fast. There are no water limits out here as long as one maximizes the potential of catchment and storage.