Archive | September, 2010

Front and rear windows for tiny sun house

21 Sep

Today I went to ReStore in Azusa, CA and found windows for the front and rear of my tiny house. $5 a piece!

On the way there I picked up a nice apartment fridge (5′ high, a bit narrower than a normal fridge) off Craigslist’s free section. I won’t be using it as I’ll be using a chest fridge (see other posts), so I will either sell it or donate it to the monks at Pine Valley Buddhist Temple if they are still in need.

As I pulled up to get the fridge, there was a nice front door laying on the curb in front of the next house, which struck me as odd because the house and grounds were well-groomed and in very good shape. I stuck the door in my truck on top of the fridge, to donate to ReStore.

I also got a microwave/convection oven for $15 off Craigslist. It’s a microwave that also has electrical heating elements and is a pretty good size, it will serve as both a regular oven and a microwave, without taking up as much space as both.

Habitat for Humanity ReStore

18 Sep

Dropped off a bunch of stuff at the Ventura County ReStore today. For those of you who don’t know what it is, ReStore is a thrift store for building materials. They accept donations and resell items at a discount. The proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity.

When you buy something from ReStore- say, a window –  it means that window was kept out of the landfill, and it also means no additional natural resources were consumed to make that window, as there would be if you’d bought a new one.

I donated 19 doors, 2 bathroom sinks, some nice kitchen cabinets, a desk and credenza, and some light fixtures. All this stuff was in good shape (some of the doors were new!)  but was going to be thrown out with the trash if I or someone else hadn’t picked it up.

Please spread awareness about the ReStore, because our society sends literally tons of building materials to the landfill. We’re wasting things people need and would love to make use of.

Improved refrigerator for homes with solar and/or wind power, Part 2

17 Sep

I spoke with the Founder and CEO of Sundanzer today. He is an engineer who worked on NASA’s refrigeration programs and currently does a lot of military development work.  Even from what little I had read about him I knew he was a sharp guy, as he built a solar-powered car back in 1973(!).

He was very knowledgable and very pleasant to talk with. We talked about my ideas to integrate SunDanzer’s products (ideas on insulation, placement of the compressor and heat exchanger, my dual-mode thermostat controller concept, etc.) and he gave me plenty of input based on his decades of hands-on experience.

When we were hanging up, he added that SunDanzer is working on a thermostatic controller that, among other things, can provide a cooling strategy like the controller I mentioned I’m going to build. He told me to call him when I’m ready because maybe he can save me the trouble of building my own controller unit. Sweet! Definitely not the kind of CEO one might expect.

Improved refrigerator for homes with solar and/or wind power, Part 1

16 Sep

I have an idea to optimize any refrigerator that gets power from an intermittent source like solar or wind.
I’ll make a simple electronic controller that switches between two modes:

  • When there is input power (such as when the solar panels are working, wind turbine is spinning, etc.), the controller sets the thermostat to a rather cold setting.
  • When there is no input power (sun is not out, or no wind for wind turbine, etc.), the controller sets the thermostat to a setting that is not so cold.

The idea behind this strategy is to make good use of power when it’s available, and to conserve energy when power is not available. By getting the contents of the refrigerator quite cold during the day, it will take them longer to warm up at night… and at night, with that higher thermostat setting, we’ll only turn on the compressor once in a while.

To further help things – and this works in any fridge or freezer – you can keep a couple of bottles of water in the fridge or some big frozen things in the freezer, to function as a ‘thermal flywheel,’ just like putting a “cool pack” or bag of ice into a cooler.

I’m curious to see just how long a controller like this will let the fridge can go before having to turn on the compressor. It would be great if it could run just during the day when there’s solar power available. We’ll find out!

Door thoughts

15 Sep

Continue reading

Efficient refrigerator and freezer for tiny house

14 Sep

I’m going to use a top-opening chest freezer and a chest refrigerator in my tiny house. When you open a top-opening fridge or freezer, the cold air stays inside since cold air is heavier than room temperature air.  When you open a normal front-opening fridge or freezer, the cold air quickly spills out, so the unit must power up and cool itself down much more often than a top-opening unit. I’m going to put countertops on top of them and mount them in my kitchen cabinets.

SunDanzer supposedly make some really nice top-opening chest fridges and chest freezers. They even make some units especially designed to work with solar power. Those units are designed to stay cold overnight (up to a week in some cases!) on their own, when there’s no sunlight to power your PV panels. And they are set up to run directly off solar PV panels, or on 12V or 24V DC power, so you can run them without throwing away 10% of your sun-generated electricity to an inverter.

SunDanzer makes two basic sizes and the amount of size inside (5.8 cubic feet for the small one) totally blows away the miniscule amount of space in an under-counter dorm fridge (about 1.2- 1.9 cubic feet that’s not very usable since there’s not enough height for tall bottles, and the freezer intrudes on the fridge space).

Another reason dorm fridges suck when placed under a counter is that this forces you to bend way down or squat down for access. That’s even harder to do in a small kitchen like in most Tumbleweed houses. This link takes you to a portion of a video showing this:

Most people (myself included, until now) are unaware of small and medium sized chest fridges and think that the only alternative to a stand-up fridge is a dorm fridge.  I hope I can spread the word about chest fridges as a terrific option!

Toilet and plumbing stuff

10 Sep

Today I scored a free, new, never used sump tank and pump for septic systems.

I’d like to go with either a nice composting toilet or a nice incinerating toilet, but I’m not going to spend a big chunk of money without doing all my research first. I’ll need something in the interim so I’ll start with a conventional toilet while I do my research and make a decision on which “green” toilet to get.

But how to get the waste water from the flushed toilet to my septic tank? That’s where this sump tank and pump come in.

With a sump pump sewage system, the waste water leaves the toilet and passes through a grinder pump that breaks up all the waste from the house into smaller pieces (so it doesn’t damage the sump pump, and so the waste can be broken down by the bacteria in the septic tank). The waste water then enters the sump tank, which is buried in the ground.

When the sump tank fills up enough, a sump pump inside the tank turns on, and pumps the waste water through a buried pipe running across the yard to the septic tank.

The tank didn’t come with a grinder pump, but I already own the solution: An InSinkerator! Yep, a garbage disposal unit. I got one a while back off Freecycle thinking it might come in handy for just such a use. In fact I saw a guy use one for this same purpose, to drain his RV wastewater tank: