I’m on the Radio!

I was advertising the Metro Denver Green Homes Tour. Our house is on the tour again this year. We had our house on the tour in 2017 when we were about halfway finished installing LEED requirements and attempting to earn points for the Platinum level certificate. This year we are again on the tour having earned enough points for Platinum certification and to achieve Net Zero status.

After our house was on the tour I became involved with the planning committee. I have been working to coordinate volunteers and provide the materials and information they need to be docents for the homes on the tour. They assist the homeowners to direct guests to the energy efficient features of the homes.

I was available for the interview spot on KLVZ radio 810 AM today. I spoke with Adam from Bestway Insulation who hosts the “Fixit” show, letting homeowners know about improving their homes. Adam’s mom, Debbie, alternates hosting the show on many Saturdays and is the owner of the Bestway Insulation company.

I downloaded the station app and recorded the show when it repeated today. Then it was not straightforward how to export the recording to a music file. I finally found the share button on the file and saved it as a wav file because I read it preserves the best qualuty audio. I imported the file into iTunes and had iTunes create the mpg for export to other players.

Now I just have to be ready for the volunteer orientation on Thursday and the tour next Saturday.

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Chaffee County Green Homes Tour

The woman who heads up the Metro Denver Green Homes Tour also works with organizations in Chaffee County to organize a green homes tour near Salida and Buena Vista. She recruits members of the Denver team to spend a beautiful weekend in the mountains helping with the tour and this is the second year Dave and I have taken the opportunity.

Beautiful view
Beautiful view

We have a lot of storage space in the RV and John Avenson puts together a fascinating display of various energy saving ideas for homeowners. We carried the supplies in the RV storage areas and inside. We were pretty full of stuff!

This display was set up at the Farmer’s Market in Salida this year and the individuals who attended the house tour stopped by to pick up the information about the tour addresses. This year we also had an online registration to sign up and get the addresses through tickets. It was a bit more difficult to get the information out using the program than we thought. But it helped to try it at the smaller tour before our big tour October 1st.

Booth at the farmer's market
Booth at the farmer’s market

There were five homes to tour this year. The brochure gave a little information about each home.

Handout front page
Handout front page
Handout back page
Handout back page

This was one of the homes that was featured this year.

A home on the tour
A home on the tour

About 85 people registered for the free tour. It was a beautiful day with several other events happening at the same time in the area. The team felt the tour was a success.

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Colorado Average Home Gas Use vs. Ours

We are getting ready for the Metro Denver Green Homes Tour on October 1st. Our home was on the tour in 2017. Since then we have finished the LEED certification as a Platinum Green and Net Zero home. So we are excited to be on the tour again this year.

One of the sustainability issues that has become more prominent in recent years is the greenhouse gas produced by household use of natural gas and propane. Although these fuels are more efficient than electricity for heat they contribute more to the atmospheric pollution than central electric that is produced with renewable energy. So many green homes are phasing out the use of gas.

My neighbor and fellow Green Home Tour committee member, John Avenson, had the gas turned off at his home several years ago when he reinsulated his home with layers of polyiso. He no longer needed gas and uses mini split heat pumps when his solar does not produce enough during inclement weather.

Of course I was not aware of this issue when I planned for heating our home and hot water. We also found a used gas range top for cooking although the oven is electric convection. We use a combination instant hot water heater and boiler and radiant system to supplement the solar heat in our house. But how much gas do we use compared to the average Colorado home?

I was able to find averages by month on the Colorado State University Extension website. Their figures were just for heating but my figures are for all our household uses including hot water and cooking. The data was published in 2019 so it is probably at least 4 years old but unless lots of homes have become more energy efficient they are probably close to today’s average use.

I keep a record of our monthly energy use downloaded from the xcel website. I get annoyed that they keep changing the data structure so I have to fill in my spreadsheets by hand from more than one source on the site. I suppose they think they are making it easier. Well, not for me!

I graphed the data in Excel and I was only mildly surprised to see that for the year we average about 26% of the average Colorado household use. Our house at 2213 square ft may be on the smaller side of average but 74% less use is pretty significant. Red is the Colorado average, blue is our use for 2021.

Gas Comparison to Average 2021
Gas Comparison to Average 2021

This is one of the signs I will print and laminate for our solar tour. I have solar roof first year data that I want to post too.

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Inverter Repair

On our last trip when we were almost home we tried to turn on the inverter and it was dead. We were dropping it off at the shop for repairs to the body from when we scraped the side on concrete posts at a dump. I just removed it along with lots of other supplies and equipment. I discovered that the fuse on the power cable was blown. When I picked it up the short cord that attached it to the inverter fell apart. No wonder the inverter stopped working.

Blown fuse
Blown fuse

I had a replacement fuse but I was concerned about the quality of my wire builds. I used a vice to crimp them but I read the best crimps are made with a hydraulic wire press. Since I love tools and I will need to check other crimps I decided to buy one. It is an amazing tool. I wish I had known about it when I made the original wires.

Hydraulic wire crimper
Hydraulic wire crimper
Hydraulic wire crimper dies
Hydraulic wire crimper dies

Each set of dies fits a different guage wire. The dies have to be matched to the correct size. I found that the dies also will compact the wires to fit a lug back on after it falls off. The press has a knob that opens the hydraulic piston and the handle is pumped until the lug is firmly clamped. The knob turned the other way releases the piston. The wire was properly crimped and shrink-wrapped.

I reassembled the inverter and installed it and it worked! Then I checked the monitoring equipment that all had to be updated. Thats the problem with electronics they always need attention.

I realized the wifi reporting Cerbo was disconnected. Power to the device was reading 9 volts instead of 12. I didn’t remember where the wire was connected but I followed it to the battery compartment and discovered a broken neutral. That was easily fixed but I used the wrong type of wire (solid not stranded) so I’ll have to replace it eventually.
In the endless procession of RV repairs and maintenance this one was relatively easy.

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Trombe Wall in September

The Trombe wall is too effective in the hot sunny days of September. The sun is lower in the sky so the overhang is not wide enough to shade the front.

Blinds stapled to overhang
Blinds stapled to overhang
Partial shade from overhang
Partial shade from overhang

Even opening the windows at night and using fans to bring in more cool air only cools this heat sink of a house a few degrees. I’m going to have to find a solution for this problem.

John Avenson a fellow Solar CitiSun in Colorado has installed automated rolling shutters similar to those in Germany. I bet that was an expensive solution but it works! I just needed a temporary solution since there are only a few hot days left. My son was discarding sets of plastic blinds so I used them.

First I took all the narrow blinds and cut off the mechanisms. I used these short vanes to cover the 2’ overhang just to see if they would work for this. I tried using the nail gun to attach them but the nails went right through so I switched to the staple gun. They seem to be a good cover even though 2 ft is not enough in September.

I hung the largest brown set of blinds from the log trim on the largest area, they are not quite long or wide enough but cover a good portion of the wall.

Blinds on the Trombe wall
Blinds on the Trombe wall

Then I ordered black patio door window curtains. But when they arrived I thought I would use them outside. Hanging them from the overhang created shade on the front door and Trombe wall. So I hung another blind from the overhang too. I had a broken shade from our old RV that also provided the needed shade. These shades will not work in high winds though!

Shade curtains and blinds
Shade curtains and blinds

Next year I may try roll up blinds that can be installed in front of the wall panels. All this is temporary and will be removed when it gets cool.

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A Sunday in Wuppertal

Dave noticed a site in Germany on Atlas Obscura, a website devoted to unusual places and experiences. Wurppertal features a hanging suspension train that was not too far away from Wurselen by trains. Clare researched the route and we decided to take a lovely Sunday to visit this interesting sight.

We started on a regional train near Wurselen and changed trains in Cologne. We passed the love lock bridge fence over the Rhine River. Another famous and interesting site. I heard it has to be stripped of the heavy locks periodically.

Rusty Cologne Love Locks
Rusty Cologne Love Locks

We hopped on another regional train at Cologne and arrived within a short walk of the first suspension station. On the way we could observe the train set up and action. The train is quite old. It was an invention at the turn of the 20th century looking for a place to be built. The cities near Wuppertal decided to volunteer. The area was one of the first industrialized area in Germany. The first part of the train was completed in 1902. The train and track recently underwent refurbishment.

Hanging train track
Hanging train track
Train going by
Train going by

We soon arrived at the station and awaited the next train.

Arriving at station
Arriving at station
In the station
In the station

The train arrives on the other side of the station and empties the passengers then makes a loop to the pick up side. Once it arrived we got a close up look at the rail and wheel system.

Train wheels on track
Train wheels on track

The track went down the city streets and even through a building, then for quite a long time over the small Wupper River, a tributary of the Rhine. We passed a Bayer plant where aspirin was invented.

Track through building
Track through building
Track over the river
Track over the river

We left the train at the historic city center and strolled through town to a lovely outdoor ice cream parlor with large red shady umbrellas over the tables.

Ice cream treats
Ice cream treats

After our treats we walked to the main train station and returned to Wurselen. It was a perfect Sunday outing. The sign shows the stops we made on the hanging train.

Our journey Wuppertal to Ohligsmuhle
Our journey Wuppertal to Ohligsmuhle
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New Home in Germany

We were home from Indiana for a week and then off to Wurselen, Germany to visit our daughter and family. They purchased a new home last fall but had a long wait until the sale was completed. It is not unusual in Germany to sell while building a new house and have the buyers wait until completion. The home they found was within walking distance of their old apartment. They wanted to stay in town where the kids were enrolled in the Gymnasium (5th-13th grade). They wanted to be able to walk to transportation and shops. Row houses are very popular in Germany. Most main streets are lined with them. Both the row houses and the long yards remind me of the homes on the South side of Chicago where I was born, the grandchild of German immigrants.

Typical German row homes
Typical German row homes
Long yard
Long yard

Many of these house are quite old but their house is newer, built in 1996. It has a certification as an energy saving home with solar panels on the roof, and high quality German windows. It even has an underground cistern in the backyard in case of water shortages.

End row house
End row house
Balconies and solar panels
Balconies and solar panels

German homes are quite different from those in the USA. There are a lot of brick exteriors and stone and tile interiors with very little hardwood or carpet. There are several floors and the entry floor is often not the main living area. Another desirable German home feature is automated metal outside shutters for the windows. They completely darken the room when desired.

German metal shutters
German metal shutters
Exterior shutters
Exterior shutters

The front entry is on the side of the house beside the driveway. It has a deep earth-bermed garage that could fit two cars front to back. There is an old school house next door and the area will be developed as a park although the fate of the school is not determined.

Front door at side of house
Front door at side of house
Old school next door park behind it
Old school next door with park behind it

Across from the school and parking lot there is an independent grocery store that is so convenient that the family often walks over to pick up supplies for dinner.

Grocery across from the old school
Grocery across from the old school

In this house the entry floor is a one bedroom mother in law apartment with a full bath, living room, kitchen and central dining room. Inside this entry are steps leading to the basement and the main floor.

Front entry door
Front entry door
Basement with three floors above
Steps from entry to main floor

The basement has several useful rooms. One has a small workbench, another is a utility room where my daughter has her office, another is an office for her husband. There is a nice size room for the musical instruments that insulates the sound from the house next door. Another large room is the laundry room.

Music room
Music room
Laundry room with door to outside steps to ground level
Laundry room with door to outside steps to ground level

The basement also has a complete bathroom with a shower, sink, toilet and infrared sauna that does not appear to be working.

Basement bath with sauna
Basement bath with sauna

Both kitchens are complete. Germans often take all their kitchen cabinets and appliances with them when they move. They also usually take the light fixtures. Although the older couple also left several pieces of furniture and a few light fixtures for the family, some pieces were also purchased from them.

Apartment kitchen
Apartment kitchen in entry
Updated kitchen
Updated first floor kitchen

The main floor consists of a living room, dining room with a powder room, and a large eat in kitchen. There are large windows in each room so the shared wall is not noticed. In the corner is a specially built “Russian” fireplace. These are constructed with a labyrinth of chimney and heat sink surround that will fire up with a roaring blaze then bank for a long time behind the corner glass door.

Natural light from large window/door to balcony
Natural light from large window/door to balcony
Russian fireplace holds heat
Russian fireplace holds heat

On the third floor there are three bedrooms and a large bathroom. The floating vanity does not provide much storage so they found a modern cabinet that fits perfectly next to the shower. All the bathrooms have the same tile and tile trim. Another unusual feature is that all the bedroom doors have windows. This helps bring natural light into the interior hallway.

New cabinet perfect fit
New cabinet perfect fit
Interior doors with windows
Interior doors with windows

The largest garden house has cabinets and built in seating inside for entertainment. There is a covered patio outside. There are three other sheds in the yard and several large woodsheds. The owners had prepared for multiple winters before they decided to move so most of the firewood sheds are full. The large brick chimney in the background is attached to an abandoned factory that is due to be torn down and replaced with new homes.

Garden house for entertaining
Garden house for entertaining
Three stocked firewood sheds
Three stocked firewood sheds

During this visit the family was all working and attending school. So we spent our time enjoying the yard and the neighborhood and accomplishing a few little helpful projects. I installed magnetic screens on a couple of windows and fixed a stained glass light that needed one socket reconnected. I tested another light to be sure it was operating before they tried to hang it. I also laced some vinyl strips into the fence at the rear of the property. They wanted every other row of the wire fence covered for privacy from the park area. The fencing is sturdy wire on a concrete base with bolted uprights. It is a common type of fence there. I completed the whole area of fencing with three rows of vinyl. The building behind the birdbath is one of the garden houses.

Fixed light fixture
Fixed light fixture
Vinyl strips in fence
Vinyl strips in fence

We are happy for the family having such a nice place for the kids to finish their schooling and enjoy family times together. Getting such a large house with plenty of guest space was very thoughtful of them. We love visiting and seeing the changes in our growing grandchildren.

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The ”Region”

I was born in Chicago but grew up in Northern Indiana near the steel mills and oil refineries. The area was known as the Calumet region (near the Little Calumet River) and shortened to the ”Region” in the rest of the state. We were considered tough and worldly wise but our town of Highland was far from that. A couple of my cousins and my brother still live in the general area. So it was a good place to stop for a visit.
We happened to be there during an all class high school reunion and my cousin and I attended. Most of the classmates there had stayed in the area. My class of 1970 missed its 50 year reunion twice due to Covid but not many made it to this one. I was disappointed but the evening was in the high 90’s and 80% humidity and several locals understandably stayed home.

We had a break from camper living and stayed in the air conditioned house. Only had one morning to enjoy the patio when it was a little cooler.

Enjoying my cousin’s hospitality
Enjoying my cousin’s hospitality

We had a wonderful time visiting my cousin and her husband and getting together with my brother and sister-in-law for cookouts and dinners out.

My cousin took me to the Veteren’s Memorial in Munster to see the brick my sister placed for my dad. She and my other cousin also ordered them.

Memorial brick at the Munster Veterans Park
Memorial brick at the Munster Veterans Park

We had the rest of week three planned for another reunion. I went to high school for two years with a very small group of girls. Our school was so small it closed after our sophomore year. But we had strong ties to those memories and two of us traveled to camp near a few of the others at Cedar Lake. We tried to entice more of our classmates to join us but though that didn’t happen we had five of us. We thoroughly enjoyed a nice dinner at a Cedar Lake restaurant and a cookout at a lovely Crown Point farmstead built by one of the families.

Cedar Lake sunset at The Lighthouse Restaurant
Cedar Lake sunset at The Lighthouse Restaurant

Fortunately the hot and humid weather finally broke and we could sit outside comfortably. For some of us it had been 54 years since we had been together and it felt like yesterday. What an amazing thing time and life changing memories are.

Five out of twelve classmates
Five out of twelve classmates

We were gone quite a while and we missed our grandkids so we hurried home. We were on the road 11 hours the first day and 7 the next. I love travel in the RV.

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Indiana Hot

We had a lovely time visiting Indiana for three weeks and timed it perfectly for some very hot and humid weather. We drove the RV and stayed with friends and visited others first in Spencer. We were able to camp at a friends’ pond and picnic shelter site. Prettier and more comfortable than any campground.

Best campsite ever
Best campsite ever

We took several days to drive out camping twice in Kansas not far off the highway.

A Kansas campsite
A Kansas campsite
On our way in Kansas
On our way in Kansas

We met friends near Kansas City and stayed in my second cousin’s driveway near St Louis one night enjoying their company.
In Spencer we partied with friends and grown kids and grandkids! The families all doing well and so much fun to see the kids and kids of kids. And the greenhouse and truck farm business of some of these kids is thriving.

Harriman’s Greenhouse
Harriman’s Greenhouse

Our Spencer campsite came with this gorgeous sunset after a taco birthday party at the shelter. We also got to see a few fireflies.

Sunset in Spencer
Sunset in Spencer

We stopped by to see the changes made by the new owners of our homestead. They removed the brick wall and cookstove to install a much bigger EPA approved stove to heat the house.

Changes at our old homestead
Changes at our old homestead

We also visited a dear friend of many years and relaxed at her country estate in Bloomington. Then visited our friends in southern Monroe County who have purchased a home closer to their grandkids and will be selling their 40 years of building their beautiful homestead. They also took us to see the new house with all its renovations and we spent a last night with them at the old place

Our friends homestead about to be sold too
Our friends homestead about to be sold too

We spent a week in Owen County then were on our way up north to visit relatives.

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Difficult Offset Toilet Drain Repair

When we decided to insulate the knee wall on the east side of the remodel the toilet drain ended up too close to the wall. Unfortunately the type of offset fitting I bought was a ”bowl” type instead of an angled drain.

Bowl type offset with plastic flange
Bowl type offset with plastic flange
Slant type offset with stainless steel flange
Slant type offset with stainless steel flange

The problems with this offset were the plastic flange that first cracked and eventually broke off and the huge oval opening that I tried to cover with a new flange.

Bowl type elongated opening.
Bowl type elongated opening.
Another plastic flange
Another plastic flange

I had several plastic flanges for some reason and a bigger brass flange that I screwed to the original plastic flange during a previous repair. That one was too large and I couldn’t drill holes in the porcelain tile with my masonry bit. Even after adding mortar at the floor level the gap was still too large to screw down the flange. I did not know how to seal the flange to the pipe below either. The next step had to be removing the old flange fitting.

Fill in with mud bed mortar
Fill in with mud bed mortar
Old bowl type released more easily than expected
Old bowl type released more easily than expected

I cut the edge of the flange off completely with the multtool. Then I only had to cut out two sections and the fitting popped out. I cut the sections with both the multitool and the reciprocating saw with fine toothed blades. Then I used a hammer and chisel to split them off the inside pipe.

Once the fitting came out I vacuumed out the debris and prepared for the new fitting. I scrubbed the inside of the pipe with a gray abrasive 3m pad and sanded with wet/dry sand paper. When I placed the new fitting, the gap was still too large to screw into for the new stainless steel ring so I mixed up more mortar.

Not enough to provide underpinning for flange
Not enough surface to provide underpinning for flange
Mixing more mortar
Mixing more mortar

I found that a jar from a medicine I take fit perfectly in the drain hole. I filled in the gap but ran out of mortar before the top level and had to mix more.
It’s tricky to mix just enough mortar. I could have had another scoop to level the top but there is enough here to hold screws.

Not quite full
Not quite full
Gap filled
Gap filled

The trick was to keep the jar loose enough that it will pull out when the mortar is semi-dry. I did this by rotating the jar a little. Eventually I just pulled it out though I had to whack it with a hammer to loosen it from the damp mortar. It was a good decision to remove it because there was not enough space for the slant of the fixture and I had to carve away the front of the filled mortar. It took several fittings to get a close fit and then I leveled the flange and screwed it down. Notice the gold rag sealing out sewer smells while I worked.

Using shims to level
Using shims to level
Nicely leveled
Nicely leveled

I decided not to use a wax seal. They require an accurate placement of the toilet. When the toilet is moved around to contact the bolts the wax squishes unevenly. I ordered a Sani seal foam rubber seal instead. This is the gasket I used on all the toilets but after they are crushed into place over time they also cannot be reused. The last time I fixed this toilet I could not find one so had to use wax. They make such a mess and it was skewed and probably leaking when I removed it.

Sani seal toilet gasket
Sani seal toilet gasket

I had to use shims under the flange because when I glued the fitting it stopped before the flange hit the floor. I must not have carved out enough mortar. It was after 5 when the ring was shimmed and ready for the toilet. The flange was still within a half inch of the floor so I thought the toilet would still sit on the floor.

Even without water in it the toilet is heavy. I half dragged it over to the flange and lifted it on the bolts which were in the right place. I had used a set off washers and nuts to keep them secure while I mounted the toilet.

Unfortunately there was no obvious rag plugging the pipe at this point. I may have pushed it further down the pipe when I vacuumed. The toilet sat higher than I wanted but the floor is really out of level so I leveled the toilet with more shims.

Leveling front to back
Leveling front to back
Level side to side
Level side to side

I reconnected the water and flushed and thought, ”Oh no! Did I leave the rag in the pipe?” I looked around and the rag was not in the bathroom.

I notice it’s not a good idea to keep working after 5 when I’m physically and mentally tired. That’s when I cut my thumb on the table saw. It was after 5 with one more task before I wanted to quit. The thumb is healed except for the loss of feeling at the tip. It has a hard area under the scar that should go away in a few months.

Flange ready for toilet
Flange ready for toilet

I removed the toilet and tried to reach for the rag. Then I unfolded a wire hanger to reach further with no luck. I next tried attaching a fishing pole with a triple hook to hopefully snag the rag. No luck. Then I tried the snake and then the snake with the fishing pole. Still no luck. Should I call the sewer guys back?

Instead I ordered a 50 ft. endoscope. The ones that use wifi to display on the phone are not too expensive. I chose overnight shipping. So the next day I looked down the pipe. I had to tie the camera to the snake to push it far enough into the pipe. It still got hung up at the Y that joins the main pipe. I stopped working on the pipe to take the RV in for an oil change and the air conditioner repair but I realized that I used the same pipe when I took a shower. And Dave had been using main pipe without problems when he used the back bathroom. So if the rag was in there maybe it made its way to the septic tank!

After another day of getting ready for an RV trip I finally got back to the toilet install. I took out the tapcon screws and re-shimmed the flange to get it more even instead of level. Then I dragged the toilet back and lifted it over the bolts with the good as new rubber seal in place and definitely no other rag in the pipe.

After careful shimming to level again front to back and side to side the bolts were tightened. Now there is a reset toilet that is not rocking and leaking sewer gas into the house. And it appears to flush just fine. I still have to caulk it but I ran out of time. The caulk will wait until we get back from our trip.

Toilet reset
Toilet reset
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Mending Chair Seats

Kids can be inadvertently destructive. My grandson jumped hard on the Old Hickory antique couch and one section of the underlying webbing broke. Some of the other webbing was already damaged. I emailed the Old Hickory factory to ask how to repair the couch and they promptly sent me the instructions to mend the webbing. The material is rawhide that needs to be soaked in water to become pliable and dries to a stiff support system to hold the cushions. When wet it is wrapped around the frame in this order.

Old Hickory rawhide weave
Old Hickory rawhide weave

In addition to the broken section there were other sections missing just a cross piece or two. I wove small sections to make these repairs.

Rawhide leather soaked in water
Rawhide leather soaked in water
Partial repair
Partial repair

After the couch was repaired I had lots of leftover rawhide that I’m assuming I can soak again to reuse.

Repaired couch
Repaired couch

The kitchen chairs were also in various stages of disrepair. The kids like to pick at loose weaving and a couple of the chairs could no longer hold an adult. I tore off the worst seats before I thought to take a photo. The third seat was not as badly damaged but I replaced it anyway. After tearing off the seat which was stuffed with old Denver Posts, I cut 11/32 in plywood for new seat cushions. I tacked it on the wood rails with the trim nail gun.

Seat damaged
Seat damaged
Reed replaced with plywood
Reed replaced with plywood

A few years ago I bought a roll of outdoor material from a Craigslist ad. I used it to sew a new curtain in the old RV. It is light brown, my go-to color for decorating, and it has a nice heavy weight for upholstery.

Upholstery material
Upholstery material
Laying on the material
Laying on the material

On top of the plywood I used foam from a bed topper. I found that this high density foam was the same density as chair cushion foam so the bed topper was less expensive and I have most of it left over. On top of the chair foam there is a thick layer of poly batting. I purchased the batting at JoAnne’s. I used spray adhesive to attach the foam to the plywood and the batting to the foam. This is recommended in the instructional videos posted by Sailrite, the manufacturer of my walking foot heavy duty sewing machine. The material is stretched across the bottom and one staple is placed in the middle of each side. Then the corners were cut out to fold over and reach around the corner posts in the chair. After the corners are stretched and in place, the rest of the material is stretched tightly and stapled.

Stretching and stapling the batting and material
Stretching and stapling the batting and material
Material stapled and trimmed
Material stapled and trimmed

Somewhere I read that weed block material is a good substitute for the black material used to finish the underside of upholstery. I had some left from another project. The hard part was ironing out the wrinkles. The material is plastic and needs a cool iron and it holds the moisture from the steam. Most of the wrinkles came out anyway.

Stapled lining
Stapled lining
Finished chair
Finished chair

There are six Old Hickory chairs in the dining room. Four are this style and two have a different back. One of these had been newly re-woven when I bought them. I could not bring myself to tear off the good seat even though one piece had been picked away. My grandchildren cannot help themselves if there is a loose end. So I only recovered three chairs. The two with different backs have intact seats although old weaving.

Finished chairs
Finished chairs

I ordered Scotchguard for outdoor furniture and applied it to the seats. The material darkened a little bit but spills should bead up and not stain the new covers. I’m tempted to reupholster the backs too. Or maybe I’ll weave new backs someday.

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Tesla Solar Roof Data September-June

The solar roof was installed at the end of last August so its first month of production was September, 2021. The solar performed well in September but after the equinox production dropped dramatically.

First solar roof month solar offset
First solar roof month solar offset

Energy sent to the grid dropped to zero and that low performance lasted until the spring equinox.

Energy Use Oct-Mar 21-22
Energy Use Oct-Mar 21-22

Part of the low performance in January and February was due to snow cover on the roof. Our north facing roof slopes to the ground so the snow that slides off has no place to go. The Tesla team realized the abnormally low performance was due to snow and ice covering the roof collectors.

The roof performance for the first half of the year will probably mirror the performance for the second half which puts us at zero energy. Most of this year our most expensive electrical use has been broken. Our spa is an energy hog. So if I do get it operational this summer it will be interesting to see how much of the excess it uses.

Tesla record of grid use Jan-Jun 2022
Tesla record of grid use Jan-Jun 2022
Tesla monthly energy use sources
Tesla monthly energy use sources

Although the former 3.9 kw of solar panels helped offset our energy use, only the new solar roof has gained more energy than we have been using.

Tesla solar offset 2021
Tesla solar offset 2021
Tesla Solar Impact 2022 to July 1
Tesla Solar Impact 2022 to July 1

I called Tesla and asked if the roof was now producing as expected and they said it is. On a good full sun day in summer I should expect about 74 kW of production. Notice peak production at 9.7 kw is about 60% of the installed 16 kW.

Tesla energy use July 1, 2022
Tesla energy use July 1, 2022

The downloaded data from the Tesla app shows the quantity of solar production in Megawatts and the amount of Megawatts returned to the grid.

Tesla Solar Monthly Jan-Jun 2020
Tesla Solar Monthly Jan-Jun 2020

Another way to look at the data is the percentage of produced energy used from and returned to the grid. Only 12% of power these six months of use including snow covered months came from the grid. The difference in power coming from the grid (2.32 MWh) and going to the grid is the total net zero energy use. Here the difference is 1.06 MWh.

Total Grid MWh Use 01-06 2022
Total Grid MWh Use 01-06 2022

I hope we stay ahead of usage every year. Sometimes I use appliances that are heavy energy users, especially heaters in the RV if it has not been winterized and we get a cold snap. And as mentioned the 11 kW spa water heater is a huge draw. I want to eventually set up thermal water heat for the spa.

Posted in -Chronological Recent Posts, Monitoring, Roofing, Solar | Comments Off on Tesla Solar Roof Data September-June

Net Zero Home Energy Rating (HERS)

What is a HERS score? An organization of mortgage lenders was formed in the 80’s to study the value of home energy efficiency. Their efforts became RESNET in 1995. They were hoping to add value to homes that would save the owner utility bills. In 2002 the first HERS index was introduced. It developed standards based on a complicated formula to quantify energy efficiency and estimate value in terms of walls and foundations, insulation, air leakage, heating and cooling, installed appliances and lighting. These standards were used to qualify homes for Energy mortgages, a reduced interest rate based on the home’s energy efficiency. The equation used in this process is figured by software after the home information has been entered.

HERS Index equation RESNET
HERS Index equation RESNET

Homes are rated against the 2006 energy building code standards. A house built to that standard would rate 100. Most existing homes were built 30% less efficient than that for a score of 130. Energy Star, a federal program to help homes become more energy efficient developed standards that typically resulted in a score of 70 or 30% more efficient. More particulars about how a HERS index is determined and applied to an Energy Mortgage.

HERS Formula Information
HERS Formula Information

The LEED qualifications require a meeting at the beginning of the project to determine the scope and points that are being pursued. I had hoped for a HERS rating of about 40 which was the low end of LEED for Homes typical scores. My evaluator told me that was unlikely without adding energy production. At the time I did not want to consider solar panels. Most of our roof faces north so it seemed an unlikely plan. The prediction based on early modeling was a score in the 60’s. That would have been good for a LEED home. If we had only met Energy Star requirements our home would have scored about 77.

Dibble HERS LEED Estimate
Dibble HERS LEED Estimate

Some homes are so energy efficient they generate more clean energy than they draw from the grid. A negative rating represents the additional clean energy the home is putting back into the grid, based on the scale of 100 for what a standard new home uses. Each negative point (-1, -2, -3, etc.) represents 1% of what a normal new home would use being returned to the grid. A score of -43 indicates that our home has the capacity to return 43% of that energy back to the grid. Some of that is by not needing it at all.

LEED HERS Rating
LEED HERS Rating

I was surprised that the Net Zero rating was -43. That is quite a bit lower than zero and the lowest score example I could find online was -58 in 2017. The house is in Florida in Port Charlotte designed and built by Anthony Fiore Construction.

Net Zero Ready HERS -58
Net Zero Ready HERS -58

It was rated Net Zero Ready by Energy Star which is a different rating from HERS that calculates the home before energy production is included. There are several different rating and certification programs to prove buildings are energy efficient. LEED is one of the most famous and a large part of the point system depends on the HERS score. Passive House does not use HERS but its own modeling equations. It is a more stringent standard for the home’s thermal envelope but does not include as many healthy living indicators as LEED does. Some other standards are in this graphic.

Dibble HERS Comparison
Dibble HERS Comparison

One of the reasons I was surprised is that an important test for energy efficiency is the amount of air leakage into the house from various small holes and cracks in the building envelope. We worked very hard to seal everything from the studs out. But we still had a large leakage issue from areas of the house that I had not been able to check under blower door pressure. So the Air Changes per Hour at 50 pascals of air pressure (ACH50) were higher than desired for a LEED Platinum home.

I looked for data that would explain the low HERS score with higher air leakage. I found a 2019 report from Ekotrope one of the major vendors for HERS software. They studied the characteristics of HERS rated homes using their software. Our ACH/50 was a little under 5. ACH/50 is the CFM/50 divided by the home’s volume.

HERS score by ACH50
HERS index by ACH50

The lowest HERS scores had ACH50 ratings below 5. But some homes around the 5 rating were below net zero. Adherence to the other factors such as building core, appliances, and lighting helped make up for the higher ACH50 score. I also wondered how much the solar roof added to our final score.

HERS score by Solar KW
HERS index by Solar KW

Although it is clear solar was helpful, a score of -40 even with over 15KW of solar is an outlier. That means that the solar helped but the other factors were just as important.

Posted in -Chronological Recent Posts, Air Intrusion/Thermal Envelope, Energy Efficiency, LEED Project | Comments Off on Net Zero Home Energy Rating (HERS)

RV AC

The last time we camped the air conditioner would not start. It moaned a bit but didn’t kick in. A complication to the air conditioner breakdown is that I bought repair insurance for the first year of ownership because I did not inspect the RV at all when I bought it. I didn’t even test drive it. I just looked in the cabinets and overhead area and checked for obvious water leaks or delamination and said I’ll buy it. An extra $700 plus $500 deductible seemed like a good idea.

The major cost the first year was a rear brake job but it was maintenance and not covered by the policy. I was not annoyed because that made sense to me. The caveat of the policy is that work on it has to be done by pros. And maintenance records must be kept. That meant that all of my electrical upgrades and solar were no longer covered. I did the work, I could fix it if something broke.

The problem with professional repair of the air conditioner was that every shop in our area was booked solid all summer. Also there are a couple of things I could try for way less than the $500 deductible. I was advised on rv.net to replace the “start” capacitor. Some Coleman Mach air conditioners have three capacitors, run, fan, and start. But when I opened ours, I found only a run and fan capacitor.

Only two capacitors
Only two capacitors

I replaced both and the fan ran on low and the compressor ran the AC at that fan speed. But the high speed fan didn’t run and neither did the compressor on high fan. I tried to figure out that issue thinking that in Indiana we may need high level air conditioning.

I removed the thermostat and tested the wiring from the equipment. When I applied power to the high fan speed wire it sparked instead of turning on like the others. It seemed that connection had a fault. I could not tell whether the fault was in the wire or at the control board. But after all this experimentation I re-installed the thermostat and the compressor no longer ran on either low or high.

At first I could not find the correct model of Coleman air conditioner on the Airxcel website. I was not using the search function well. My model is a Mach 15 but there are multiple types of the Mach 15 model. Once I found the correct information I had to determine what applied to this model.

Coleman Mach 15 Model Information
Coleman Mach 15 Model Information

I tried ordering a fan selector switch listed in the parts information, although I didn’t know what it looked like or where it was located. I had read a tip about restoring fan levels with this part.

Coleman AC parts diagram
Coleman AC parts diagram

I figured if I actually had the part I could find where it was located in the AC. Of course the fan selector switch is for an older model so there was no location for it. Instead the fan is connected directly to the control board.

No selector switch direct wired
No selector switch, it’s direct wired

I thought that the digital thermostat may have been compromised so I removed it and wired in the old analog thermostat but the result was the same. Now I am waiting for a new run capacitor.

I also found out that the air compressor is one speed only. Just the fan has two speeds. So running the air conditioner on just low fan speed probably works about as well as high. Also the impeller on our unit has a crack in one of the blades but it does turn freely and the fan motor seems to be OK.

Fan impeller chipped
Fan impeller chipped

I have a diagnostic appointment on July 19th. I started calling in May! This date is before we leave for our next trip but if they can’t get to the job, hopefully another new run capacitor will fix the issue for our trip. I won’t wire the high fan because the surge from the sparking wire may have broken the new run capacitor. If repair facilities are not available for months the repair insurance is probably not worth the cost. I’ve been reasonably successful repairing the equipment myself.

Update: The Camping Workd techs found that the thermostat was incorrectly wired and that had froed the electronics for high cool which was wited to the neutral they said. I was waiting for the replacement thermostat that was supposed to arrive before our trip but didn’t. I called and they ran over to another site to pick one up and installed it. We had air conditioning on our trip but unfortunately it was the wrong midel thermostat so I called and I’m trying to get it replaced again.

Posted in -Chronological Recent Posts, Maintenance and Repair, RV Camping | Comments Off on RV AC

LEED Platinum!

I got confirmation today from our evaluator at Energy Logic who emailed that the USGBC has agreed with their evaluation and will award our house the Platinum LEED level! This is an exciting end to our quest for LEED certification. We began this journey ten years ago with our goal being the highest level of LEED.

We had no idea what the path would be or how long it would take.

Our House Leed Platium Certificate
Our Target

We almost lost heart a few times as the rules for a gut remodel seemed to be beyond our reach. But we kept going, agreeing to any stipulations that would allow us to qualify. The two back bedrooms, were not demoed to the studs. But we were able to increase the insulation by having it blown in tightly to eliminate any gaps.

Qualifying as a gut remodel was the biggest obstacle along with eliminating air intrusion. For the rest we always chose the most energy efficient and technically advanced products we found. We were dedicated to reuse and recycling building materials. I studied building science and learned as much as I could about the energy and water conservation and healthy environment principles that LEED required and recommended.

We decided to add a Tesla solar roof as an upgrade to our garage roof solar panels. That 16.2 Kw of power is what put us over the top as a net zero house and earned the maximum number of points in energy and atmosphere. I’m keeping track and analyzing data from our systems so that the house will have records of performance.

Throughout this blog I’ve shared our efforts, our ups and downs, advances and delays. There are currently 670 posts and several pages of documentation. I enjoy telling the tale so the blog will continue. We don’t intend to stop improving the energy efficiency of the house and the development of homestead projects. We also have interior finishing to complete and of course ongoing maintenance and repair. I have been branching out to other projects and family times which I labeled distractions. But now they will become more central to this blog. This is the time to celebrate how far we have come in fulfilling this dream.

Until we get the actual certificate this revision of our original target certificate will have to do.

Met our target Platinum certification
Met our target Platinum certification


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Front Trombe Wall Trim

I put up the rest of the logs for the front window trim. I noticed some of the pvc lattice trim tends to bow in the heat so I just shot several more nails into it to hold it down. Then I used the 3M tape to close the gap at the top between the edges of the trim that hold the glass frame with a strip of more plastic lattice.

The logs for the large trombe wall expanse were already cut so I only had to drill the screw holes and screw them in. I didn’t have any nine foot long logs so two logs overlap at 45 degree angles in the middle.

Ready for log trim
Ready for log trim

I used the same method for closing the gap on the Alpen window as I did on the east facing south wall. White 1/4” PVC quarter round cut to fill the gap between the window and the exposed edge of the siding. The rainscreen siding assembly was so thick at the window frames that the siding edge was revealed. Someday I’ll paint it so it’s not so obvious.

I had to cut a couple of remaining half logs to length for over the Alpen window and the single pane side of the wall. I had enough half logs though. I still have a few round logs if I need them.

Holding the logs up while drilling and screwing was a muscle challenge. But my sore thumb was not needed.

Log trim installed
Log trim installed

The front trim installation is now finished though perhaps all the white pvc could be painted. And I have not decided how to enclose the sides of the solar panel. But finally this is a completed Trombe wall.

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Closet Shelves

The family room closet has been used as a catch all with no organization or room for storage. I have an urgent need for more storage in that room so I checked off one of my summer to do list items and built shelves.

Family room mess
Family room mess

The closet is 30 inches deep so I wanted to put in wide shelves. The top shelves needed to be narrow enough to put items above the door frame. I had saved the sides and back of a large pine cabinet that I bought for its curved top for over the stove.

Panel frame
Panel frame
Large cabinet panels
Large cabinet panels

The cabinet doors and sides had large panels in thick frames. The panels were the perfect size for the shelves. Although thin they are real pine boards so very strong.

Panel for shelf. Routed side installed down
Panel for shelf. Routed side installed down

I located the studs with an iphone stud finder app. I have lots of leftover trim pieces from the window sill install. These pieces were perfect for nailing in shelf supports.

18” upper shelves
18” upper shelves

The lower shelves are wider. I used 21” panels and just took off a little from each side.

Finished shelves
Finished shelves

I completed the shelves but it was the end of the work day. I wanted to put one more shelf in the second family room closet. This one was an odd shape. I was tired by then and the shelf I chose had a lip on it. I had to turn it over to cut through the lip and unfortunately also cut into my thumb. Ouch!

Table saw injury
Table saw injury

There is a first time for everything. Thought I was more careful than this. The cut will slow down progress on other projects for awhile!

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Spa Trouble

Every couple of years there is a major expensive problem with the exercise spa. And another chance for me to make mistakes. I was happy to finally get the new spa cover and we unpacked it and installed it. Dave cut apart the old broken cover and discarded it piece by piece in the trash. Then I started to fill the spa with water. It seemed to be taking a long time to fill and I found that it was leaking at the pump connection. Once I fixed that it started to fill again but still taking a long time.

Filling the spa
Filling the spa

Then overnight it leaked below the jet that had been leaking last year. I tried a new type of pipe goop and wrapped it with silicone tape. I took the jet out and sealed it again with silicone. I thought the seam in the pipe might be leaking. But it probably isn’t.

Tried a silicone sealer
Tried a silicone sealer

In the meantime the spa had filled at least temporarily and I tried to start the pump system. It started only briefly and then blew the circuit breaker. I went and checked the equipment and it all seemed hooked up OK but I tried it again and it instantly shut off. Then I could hear water running out somewhere. I took apart the whole front side and removed the wet insulation. There I saw the water was streaming from the spa pack itself.

Hole in spa heater container
Hole in spa heater container

I tried to close the gate valves as I took the spa pack out but the water poured out anyway. The rear of the heater container had burned right through. I can’t understand how that happened with just a few second of power. My guess is that the 50 amp fuse got turned on by accident while the spa was empty and the heater burned through. I should have disconnected the control. Next time.

I had the old spa heater from the last time the heater burned out the control board. I didn’t know if the old heater worked but I figured the new heater did since it seemed to burn the container. So I put the newer heater into the old container and put the spa pack back together. Then I installed it and of course had to fill the spa with water to test it.

New heater in old container
New heater in old container

The spa pack did nothing. It did not come on for even a few seconds. It was getting 240 volts to the contactor but nothing on the other side. I had replaced the contractor once before on the old pack when the issue actually was the board. But I ordered a new contractor anyway and of course the new one made no difference. I could have ordered a heater like last time and then found out that the board was bad and return that to buy a whole new spa pack. So even though the pack is just two years old, I just ordered a new spa pack.

Unfortunately despite sending the old specifications to the company and them giving me the quote, I had to fill out the order page and I made a mistake. I didn’t change the electrical connection type from L1, L2, Ground to L1, L2 Neutral, Ground. So when it came I asked why it was missing the neutral and they pointed out that is what I had ordered. Darn!

I did have it right in the written order but wrong in the actual order. So I had to pack up the new pack and send it back for repair before I even used it. At my expense and pay for the repair and return shipping. That is another $150 extra for the system for shipping both ways and the repair.

In the meantime I thought the remaining water needed to be circulated through a filter to keep it from turning green. I had shocked it with chlorine but that is never enough. So I hooked up the filter pump from the old pool. Not the sand filter but a cartridge filter that came with the pool but was too small to actually filter it. Of course it took me some time to put together the adapters and connectors required for this feat. I used the side pipes that send water through the purifier. They came with two 3/4″ outlets and the purifier only uses one. I will use these pipes to attach the thermal solar water system that I hope to set up one day.

Temporary pump set up
Temporary pump set up

The day after I refilled the spa even with my pipe repair the water leaked out to below the jet. So I took the jet apart again and tried a pool putty on the jet body where it meets the fiberglass both inside and on the outside. Then I tried to screw the jet back in and it would not go back in. I used a pipe wrench and the jet went in crooked and I could not straighten it. So I just took it back out and have contacted a company that sells spa parts and hope they can match the jet I need to replace.

Epoxy putty around the seam
Epoxy putty around the seam

Of course it is not a common type of spa jet. So far the closest I have seen is a Balboa, HydroAir assembly. I may have to change the entire piping system to install a new jet. I sent photos of the jet as they offer the service of trying to match older equipment. So I am waiting to hear from them.

Jet body with roughed up edge
Jet body with roughed up edge
Balboa/Hydrojet jet assembly
Balboa/HydroAir jet assembly

The next day the temporary pump stopped working. It had rained overnight and that triggered the GFCI in the outlet but apparently it broke the GFCI on the pump cord. I was able to order a new plug GFCI from Lowes and change the plugs. That repair worked so the pump started running again.

I am also running the fans in the spa cover. The water that is left in the spa has increased in temperature from 55 degrees to 71. But the days have been very hot too. It’s been over 90 for three days and almost 90 today. There is not enough water in the spa to have the cover thermostat in the water so it seems to run as long as there is heat from the sunshine on the cover. One problem with the spa cover though, the rubber button that is pressed to adjust the amount of heat going to the spa fell off and I can’t seem to get it reconnected. That is a disappointment. I should call the company tomorrow and ask about it.

In the meantime I just have to wait for parts and the repaired spa pack and hope the spa stays clean.

Posted in -Chronological Recent Posts, Electrical, Maintenance and Repair, Solar, Spa | Comments Off on Spa Trouble

New Spa Cover

Five years ago at the 2017 ASES Conference in Boulder, I heard a presentation about a new type of spa cover. The company, Modern Spa Covers, manufactures the covers in my own town of Arvada. I was determined to buy one when the time came. I followed the web page at the time and contacted the supposed distributor in the area but I never heard back from them.

Modern Spa Cover in Brown
Modern Spa Cover in Brown

Last fall our spa cover had completely worn out. The vinyl was cracking, the styrofoam was waterlogged, and the top was bent from kids sitting on it. So I contacted the company directly and they were taking online orders. The covers are custom built and they are not covered in vinyl or filled with regular styrofoam. Instead they have a steel and polycarbonate frame insulated with polyisocyanurate insulation. They have small fans inside that transfer the heat from the sun hitting the dark material into the water of the spa. The cover is an outdoor canvas like sunbrella. It is just an additional heat source and not meant to heat the entire spa. The small fans can be run by solar panels but my order had the 110v transformer instead. I can always add a small panel sometime in the future.

Solar Spa Cover
Solar Spa Cover

Not only is the construction unusual, the cover is more highly insulated than normal. I also included the higher weight bearing option since I never know when kids are going to climb up there to sit!

Spa Cover R Value
Spa Cover R Value
Spa Cover Construction
Spa Cover Construction

The company sent a diagram of the proposed cover and I made a few changes. I only have one open side on the spa. One side is against the decking wall, one has the ladder and the opposite side has the access to the equipment so I had to have the fold orient the length of the spa instead of the width. I also requested that the plug for the fans be close to the electric cord I use but that was probably unnecessary since the cord it came with is so long.

Modern Spa Covers DrawingA
Modern Spa Covers Drawing A
Modern Spa Covers DrawingB
Modern Spa Covers Drawing B

While I was creating the order for this spa cover we had the vendor show for the Metro Denver Green Homes Tour. We invited Modern Spas to exhibit and there was some interest in this new design. Later this year I hope our home will be on the tour and the company representative will be here to explain the design of our cover.

My Spa Cover in Brown
My Spa Cover in Brown
Open spa cover
Open spa cover
Posted in -Chronological Recent Posts, Solar, Spa | Comments Off on New Spa Cover

Camping with Grandkids

The kids are going to Korea for most of the summer to visit their aunt and other friends. We are hoping they become more fluent in Korean because they will be immersed. But before they leave we took them for a summer campout at the Sterling Reservoir about three hours north of us.

RV At the Beach
RV At the Beach

We chose the campground that was closer to the lake but further from the beach so we parked near the beach a couple of times. It is nice having the facilities with us wherever we go. We had fun inside and outside during the trip. It rained and was windy part of the time but there is lots to do anyway.

Travel entertainment
Travel entertainment
Reading books
Reading books

We spent some time at the lakeside just below our campground but there was not much sand. Made a fishing pole with some line found on the path and a rock for bait. It was fun and we caught about as many fish as we do with better equipment.

Pretend fishing
Pretend fishing

And of course our six year old practiced his rock skipping skills.

Skipping stones
Skipping stones

While little brother worked to collect dirt and twigs in a bucket.

Lakeside bucket and shovel
Lakeside bucket and shovel

The beach offered all the usual lakeside fun and an opportunity to play with other kids. A nice layer of sand and lake water that was a bit cold but not too muddy.

Sand Dams
Sand Dams

Even though the water was chilly the kids spent some time in the floats.

Dinosaur floating
Dinosaur floating
Floating Shark and rider
Floating shark and rider

We left on Monday and returned on Thursday so about three days of camping fun. That was probably enough for grandparents and kids of these ages but it was a wonderful time together. We are going to miss them this summer!

Posted in -Chronological Recent Posts, Grandkids, RV Camping | Comments Off on Camping with Grandkids