Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Back on our feet

Ernie is home, yay! 
Still sleeping a lot as he recovers from the combination of infection, hospital stay (with sleep loss and enforced inactivity), and the current anti-biotic regime he's on.  Follow up in 10 days (April 3), to see if he's finally kicked it out. 
I gather cellulitis can recur, but it's been 8 years since the last round so hopefully he'll lick this one for at least that long again.

He declined to let me get a picture of him in the hospital, so here is a GIF animation of his old self being discovered by an over-15-foot-tall polar bear:

"out-take" from the Kickstarter video work 

We are finalizing details for travel with several workshop hosts, two in Canada and more in the US.  If you want to join us somewhere this year, now's the time to save the date: www.ErnieAndErica.info/upcoming_workshops.
(The boat-related events are mostly wishful thinking, but we save space for them anyway.  If we had an extra $5K right now we'd be helping Ernie's dad put engines in his boat.)

We have a couple more publishers interested in the Builder's Guide, and our Kickstarter video is just about done!  So now we have to decide whether to proceed with the Kickstarter launch now, or give the publishers a longer window to make their minds up first.
 (letting them complete their schedule for the release would allow much more accurate delivery dates, and probably better pricing for our Kickstarter supporters than I can find through self-publishing presses).
(but launching now would take better advantage of the buzz from Paul's work, and our recent supporters, and we'd be able to do some stretch goals BEFORE it goes into final formatting which means we could get some of the results into the book....)

Too late tonight for decisions on it, but progress is happening.  If I want to call the publisher in the UK tomorrow morning, sleep seems like a priority.  It already IS tomorrow morning there.  ....

Meanwhile I'm exploring Twitter as a medium. Any of my friends who want to post rocket mass heater pictures with the hashtag #RocketMassHeater, it could be nice to build up an exquisite little library where we can then offer links to the book once the Kickstarter goes live.

Erica and Ernie Wisner

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Equinox II: Urgency and Importance

So Ernie says I tend to talk more when I'm stressed.  I think it applies to writing, too.
Hence my "quick equinox update" has turned into two posts, both plenty long enough. 

Especially when stressed or feeling a sense of scarcity, it's easy to get tunnel-vision.  The perceived scarcity hijacks the mind, causing us to focus on immediate, urgent concerns, even when they're not the most important.  (I really liked the book "Scarcity" and its insights into these problems.)

Urgent is time-sensitive: paying the bills, getting more wet cat food (even when there's plenty of other things to feed the cats, including mice).

 Important but not urgent might be taking more steps toward a sustainable and satisfying career, deepening relationships with loved ones, managing chronic health conditions, or getting out from under a high-interest debt.  It's easy to put things off if they don't come with a specific deadline, but the cost can be high.
Splitting the wood - 2013-14

One classic example is laying in fire wood.
Lighting the fire today feels urgent. (I have not been running the heater as much since we are down at the hospital for Ernie's care.) 
Today, I grab enough wood to start the fire, and stay warm. I split just enough for today.

Important, but perhaps not urgent, is drying enough firewood this year to provide for next year.  If the wood I split still feels tough and clingy, not yet fully dry, I set it aside.  (My fault for deciding to stack whole rounds instead of splitting earlier in the year; now that they're split, they'll be ready for next year.)
I take a moment to bring in a few wet logs that have been rolling around since last year's harvest, and stack them on the empty side of the shed along with the new-split wood.

I also find, just peeking up above the current stack, a little stash of kindling Ernie left when we stacked the wood last summer.  Normally he splits kindling every couple of weeks through the winter, and we have a little shielded cubby for it near the stove.  But while I was telling the guys to just stack rounds, we can always split it later.... Ernie laid aside a few days' worth of kindling way back in the woodpile, just to make life easier some day in the future.  And that turned out to be a blessing this week.
A Providentially-timed gift from our past selves: Ernie taking care of things, whether or not he's able today.

Firewood is a great example because like so many concerns, the earlier you address it, the more effective your efforts are.  If you harvest green wood in winter, it takes more than twice as much to stay warm.  If you store 4' logs instead of 15" splits, it may take ten times as long to dry.  If you are burning split cordwood, it is easiest to split either fresh and green, or bone-dry and checked - in between it turns all leathery and tough.

Burning wet or green (uncured) wood forces the fire to boil the wood dry before it can burn, and the evaporation uses a huge amount of the heat from the fire. Sometimes the resulting steam puts out the flames causing half your fuel to follow it up the chimney unburned as smoke or creosote. 

Whenever people ask about burning whole, long chunks of logs, it makes me think they are focused on the urgent, just-in-time method of wood harvesting.  Logs don't dry well, so you need a lot more storage if you are going to wait until they are dry to burn them.  Or you need to haul about 4x the weight to compensate for the reduced efficiency and the water weight of the wood. (Roughly 2x to 3x by volume.)

How much storage do you have for logs? In wildfire risk assessment, standing-dead fuels are rated as “1-hour, 10-hr, 100-hr, and 1000-hr” meaning it takes that long for them to adjust to the surrounding moisture level, and become more or less likely to ignite. I would roughly double that time if what you want is a clean, efficient fire with no smoke.

A set of fuels with similar traits. Fuels are categorized as herbaceous or woody and live or dead. Dead fuels are classed as 1-, 10-, 100-, or 1,000-hour timelag fuels, based on the time needed for fuel moisture to come into equilibrium with the environment:

1-hour timelag fuels: Dead fuels comprised of herbaceous plants or woody plants less than about 0.25 inch (6.4 mm) in diameter and the surface layer of litter on the forest floor.

10-hour timelag fuels: Dead fuels comprised of wood from 0.25 to 1 inch (0.6-2.5 cm) in diameter and the litter from just beneath the surface to around 0.75 inch (1.9 cm) below ground.

100-hour timelag fuels: Dead fuels comprised of wood from 1 to 3 inches (2.5-7.6 cm) in diameter and litter from around 0.75 to about 4 inches (1.9-10 cm) below ground.

1,000-hour timelag fuels: Dead fuels comprised of wood from 3 to 8 inches (7.6-20.3) in diameter and the forest floor layer >4 inches (10 cm) below ground ( National Wildfire Coordinating Group, Incident Operations Standards Working Team 1996).”

1000 hours is roughly 40 days, a month or two. 

So when I see a pile of 3 to 8” logs on the ground, being carefully kept moist by a tarp over top of them, I think, “There is some wood that will grow mushrooms before it ever gets dry enough to be worth burning.”

That's an old rant, and one you've probably heard from me before.

The bottom line is, if you can stay focused on handling the important things, a little bit each day, instead of waiting until they are urgent, you will save time and effort in the long run. 
If you put a few of those logs to work as a good woodshed, and fill one side as the other one empties, you will probably only need about half the fuel each year.  That's a big savings.

I think the same principle will apply to doing little tidbits of work from the hospital, the boat, or wherever you happen to be, and hoping it all adds up to being in a better place when we come out again.

Erica and Ernie

Equinox: Sun and Cellulitis

Equinox is here, and things hang in the balance.
This week is a great time to re-orient yourself to the cardinal directions and priorities.
Amazing print done with a pinhole camera in Tijeras,
showing sun angles from summer solstice (high arc)
to winter solstice (bottom arc). From NOAA, 3/22/2015:

For us, most projects are on hold due to Ernie being laid up with a cellulitis infection in his bum leg. Instead of chopping firewood, he gets twice-daily IV antibiotics. We hope for improvement in the next few days, but nothing's certain.

This sort of setback always makes me reflective. Am I staying tuned to what's important, or just reacting to what feels most urgent? (More on that below).

I wanted to put out this update today, somewhat urgently, because I think passive solar is very cool, and it's important, and it's easy to neglect planning for it until it's too late.  This (the week of spring equinox) is is a good week to take some relevant observations.

You can do a lot of fancy math to figure out the optimal sun angles and thermal mass to match your heat loads.  This site has a pretty great library of resources: http://www.builditsolar.com.

However, nothing beats direct observation, and now is one of the key times to observe.

A solid equinox sun-path, and a second one (sun and moon) from close to the solstice, can let you skip a lot of the maths and work directly from your site data.

 You don't want to stare at the sun directly, but watch how the shadows or sunny patch moves along the ground and floor and other objects.  A vertical stick, or an angle wedge like the dial on a sundial, will make a shadow you can trace.  If you already have a building, just watch the sunny patch from a window as it moves across the walls and floor.
I made this papercut to watch its shadow trace the sun's path.

If you are modifying a building, adding a sunroom or whatever, you might rough in a frame and hang up some cardboard to represent the future walls and roof, so you can trace the patch from the future windows.

(The full moon is roughly opposite the sun, so a summer-solstice full moon traces a similar path through the sky as the winter sun. 
You can double-check it six months later if time allows.  Since most people only get a few solstices to observe while planning a building, and some of them might be cloudy, it pays to double up at each opportunity.  The Stonehenge builders sank dozens of log post markers before placing the permanent stones. )

At equinox, March 21/Sept. 21, the sun rises due east and sets due west.  If you are not 100% sure of the N/S axis of your property, this is one way to find it (not counting nearby hills).

Equinox also marks the average day length and sun angles for every place on the planet.  Winter days will be shorter, summer days longer.
Summer sun rises higher in the sky and traces a longer path.  The winter sun takes a shortcut, low across the sky. Shadows are longer in winter, and sunbeams slant almost horizontally.

In the northern hemisphere, the summer sun rises north of true East, circles clockwise across the southern sky, and sets north of true west. The winter sun makes a shorter arc, from southeast to southwest, staying lower in the sky.  
(In the Southern hemisphere, it's almost the same but swap the north and south directions: the sun still moves east to west, but counter-clockwise.  Australian winter days are all north-oriented, summer days have a long SE to SW arc with a northern noon.)
In the equatorial regions, "summer" and "winter" may not mean much. Your temperatures stay closer to optimal year-round; tropical conditions warrant a separate discussion.

So in the temperate climates, where most people need heat:
We can orient windows and sunrooms to admit more light in winter, less in summer, which is exactly what we want in a temperate climate to offset our seasonal extremes. 

Sunroom: vertical windows let in more winter sun, less in summer
Skylight: lets in the most light, but more in summer and less in winter.
If you are setting up a greenhouse or attached sunroom, it really pays to think about your goals.
Good insulation, thermal mass, and passive-solar sun angles can help you create a more moderate environment (protected from overheating and from frost). 
Too much glass (not enough walls) can cause overheating in summer and heat loss in winter, but it does let in more light for plants.
Different plant species have different light requirements and tolerances for extreme temperatures, as do fish, poultry, and other common indoor-outdoor livestock.

The Bucket Test:
This week is a great time to get out in your sunroom with a bucket or chalk and see where the sun actually hits throughout the day. I like using a 5-gallon bucket because it's about the right height for a seating bench.  You want the winter sun to hit that vertical face for best heat collection. So you want to get the sides as well as the top of the bench into the sunny spot.

If you place thermal mass along the shady side of the sun/shade line, it will get some sun in winter, but none in spring or summer.

If you place it a few degrees to the sunny side of that line, it will get sun through about 3 seasons but not too much in summer.

You can also do this test with a camera – set up a tripod or put the camera on a ledge, and take a picture every 2 hours or so from sunrise to sunset. Makes a good record that won't get messed up as you build things.
Our clients in Chehalis are doing this in preparation for adding a rocket bench to an indoor/outdoor patio space.

Speaking of Chehalis, please check our schedule for upcoming workshops. We have two in Canada and three in the USA between now and June.  As a change of pace, we're throwing in some natural building and plasters as well as rocketry at the Ecological Living Summit in Montana.

Please keep your fingers crossed that Ernie's infection will resolve quickly and he'll be released to fully enjoy these workshops.  Since his 2008 injury, we pretty much consider Ernie as a special volunteer, and any work he is able to do as a bonus.

We have delayed the Kickstarter launch for the Rocket Mass Heater Builder's Guide because of this situation and other reasons. Hoping the fallow time will turn out to serve its purpose, and there will be some benefits from it.  For example more and better connections to help us, and I can keep working on more rewards to offer as incentives once we do go live.

So if you'd like to help, and have good resources to spread the word, please remind me that you're interested. questions@ErnieAndErica.info

Erica and Ernie