Saturday, April 25, 2009

Brown Coat Continued

I have been back out here in Terlingua for all of March and April, mostly playing music around the area. Now that the season is coming to an end, I am finding some time to get back to the building. This last Thursday, we had a great team to work on and almost finish up the brown coat inside the dome. Don, Mundo, and myself developed a nice rhythm and got the hardest part done (the center of the dome, where the stucco can fall down on you as you apply it). Since we aren't using any power tools, all the stucco from beginning to end of this project is being mixed by hand, rather than a power mixer. We are also using our own aggregate in our stucco mixture, found locally for free, rather than a pre-mix such as quikrete. In order to prepare for a full workday such as today, all of the supplies must be gathered beforehand. The sand is gathered a couple of miles from my land, where it settles on the road from nearby natural deposits. The road becomes difficult to drive on when the wind piles the loose sand in heaps on the road. By gathering the sand, it also clears the road so that it is a bit easier to drive on. Since I don't have access to a conventional pickup truck, I use my volvo, Ruby, pretty much like a truck by putting  the seats down and then covering the back of the wagon with a heavy duty tarp. There is almost as much room in there as a pickup truck. The sand then has to be filtered very finely. I screen it with both lath and mosquito netting.  We also have to make sure that there is enough water on hand. Stucco gets very thirsty for the stuff. 

Don and Mundo are both expert stuccoers, with very different techniques. I learned a lot from watching them as I mixed stucco. I felt pretty comfortable with stuccoing the scratch coat since it doesn't have to be perfect and gets covered up. But for the brown coat, the part that get seen, I wanted more experienced hands to do the task. 

A long day makes for a good night's sleep, however, I learned later that my slumber was only a few feet away from a rattle snake, the first one I have seen on my land. 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Bizarre Dream in Far West Texas

I had a very lucid and bizarre dream that about 25 extraordinary beings , mostly musicians, from far away places such as Austin, New York, and even as far as Denmark, showed up here in Far West Texas and enlisted me in their adventure. 
Find the rest of the story here. 

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wired Up to the Sun

I don't have access to the grid out here, but I do have access to the Sun, which is a more secure source of electricity in the long run. 

My friend George helped me wire up the outlets in the dome over the last couple of days. I have never wired up a house before, so I wanted someone with experience to be in charge of this part. 

When Emile visited last year, we installed the
 outlet boxes (the easy part). 

We decided to run both Romex wire (standard housing wire for AC outlets) and DC wiring through the same conduit that wraps around the outside of the dome. That way, I have a choice whether or not to plug in AC powered appliances or equipment directly or less energy intensive 12 volt DC versions. Once the outside of the dome is stuccoed, the conduit won't be accessible anymore, so we felt it important to have the option for both AC and DC, as they both have positives and negatives. 

We spent much of today driving to find the pieces that we need. We went by George and his wife Anita's property to get a couple of connectors that we were missing. They are also getting started here as well, and have built a temporary structure and outdoor shower (pictured here with their dusty puppy, Lulu). 

I learned a lot about wiring by watching George. And I got to install a couple of outlets, as well as the DC powered light in the center of the dome. It seems pretty easy once you've done it a few times.  The dome's power will be on two circuits.  My current inverter doesn't quite have enough power to move the current evenly through the thick Romex wire, and so until I get a stronger inverter, I will use DC power. 

Up till now, I have been running power right from the battery bank, plugging everything directly into an inverter. George pointed out that my connections were messy on my battery bank and stressed that those should all be tight so that it won't short out the circuit or fry the battery or something. He showed me some easy ways to fix those connections. 

I've spent about $500 so far for solar panels, an inverter, conduit, connectors, etc and that seems to be enough for running the basics right now (computer, internet modem and wifi, lights, radio, and rechargeables. I am sure I will have to upgrade soon. 

Other than those expenses for infrastructure, my electric bill each month continues to be $0!