My Domestead

I bought a 33 year old, 100% off the grid, double geodesic dome near the town of Ward back in 2001. It sits at about 9000 feet, miles from the nearest power or phone line.

There are 3 power systems running throughout. A 120VAC, running off the invertor, 24VDC for lighing, and 12VDC, for 12V appliances. There are both photovoltaic panels and wind generators. There are two water systems, one for fresh water, and one for greywater. The water comes off a cistern, that is filled by a 120VAC pump.

In addition to the domes, there is a garage with an apartment built into it. I'm converting this to my shop and office with it's own power system. Currently it has no power, or real plumbing. There is a funky bathroom with a shower and a non-functional composting toilet, which I'll need to repair as well. A definete project house.

Originally there was no phone service at all, and to use a cell phone, you had to walk to the top of the hill behind the house. I wound up installing a dedicated wireless phone system, which is fully documented in detail in this article. This is the longer version of the article I wrote for Home Power magazine, that was published in issue #88.

For some pictures taken when I bought this place, go here. I have some new pictures of the completed renovation I'll add soon. I also have a collection of CAD software I'm using for this renovation project that all runs on Linux. Go here for some free CAD tools.

Solar Panels

    There are currently 2 #10160 panels on the domes. The specs on these panels are:
    Nominal Power 90 Watts
    Operating Voltage 17.10 VDC
    Operating Current 5.26 ADC

    ARCO Solar International
    There are currently 8 16-2000 panels on the domes. These are ancient panels, and date from one of the earlier Bulk Buys of Arco panels in the early 80s. In the late 80s, Arco was bought out by Siemens. The specs on these panels are:
    Nominal Power 35 Watts
    15.5 Vmax
    2.26 Imax
    20.5 Voc
    2.55 Isc

Wind Generators

    World Power Technologies
    There is a still working Whisper 400 wind generator. This generator puts out 340 watts in a good wind, which I get pretty frequently..
    There is also a 5KWatt wind generator. Unfortunately, when I bought this place, the blades were broken off, and I hear somebody locked the brakes, and it fried in a wind storm. (we get winds up to 130MPH in the winter). I stumbled across this site dedicated to these generators

Other Electronics

    Heart Interface
    The original inverter was a Heart HF-24-2500X, which is a 24V input, 2500 Watt output, using a modified sine wave to get 60Hz. This one blew out this winter when the regulator on the generator went out, and it fried the inverter. Major bummer.
    Trace Engineering 4024
    The current inverter is Trace 4024, which is a 24V input, 4000 Watt output, and produces a true AC sine wave. This is the inverter I replaced the dead one with. For more details on the rewiring project, go to this page.
    Trace Engineering DC 250
    When I replaced the inverter, I decided to redesign the current 20 year old system, and bring it up to code, as well as modify things to support the power management system I'll be adding. I used a Trace DC 250 power panel with 2 additional breakers, and a lightening arrestor.
    RV Products SolarBoost 50
    Since the old system had the panels wired directly to the batteries, I added a good MMPT charger to wring more power out my my tiny collection of panels. During the time I've had it, it's worked well, kicking about 30% more juice into my batteries.
    Vanner Inc.
    The currently Battery Equalizer is a Vannner Voltmaster, Model 60-20A. This is the 24V, 12A input version. This balances out the batteries so you can pull 12VDC off a 234VDC system.
    There are 12, Trojan L-16 batteries. These are 6VDC, 350AH batteries.
    Trace Engineering
    There is a Model C-30, Quad Function Charge Controller used as only a low-power alarm.
    Photon, Inc
    A Gencharger is used to charge the batteries from the generator. This takes 120AC, and puts out 40A at 24VDC.
    Honda Generators
    An EM-5000SX is used to charge the batteries, or to power the invertor directly when pumping water. This generator was modified to burn propane, rather than gas, because there is a 1000 gallon propane tank. This generator has an electric start, and kicks out about 100Watt at 12VDC (8.3A) as well as 120VAC at 30amps.
    Energy Efficient Lighting
    I have a collection of different compact fluorescent lights that run on either 120VAC or 234VDC.
    Telemobile Ptel
    I also have a 4 Watt Telemobile PTEl wireless phone system. Mine is the UHF version, cause my testing shows it works better in less than ideal "line of sight" terrain, like we have here in the Rockies. I document this project in this article.

Water & Plumbing

    A X-Trol-Flow, model J03 is used for pressurizing a pressure tank, so the house has decent water pressure. This is a 115VAC, with a 1/2 to 1 1/2 HP single phase motor.
    There is an unkown 240VAC deep well pump. Currently it is required to run the generator to pump water. There are some very good new deep well pumps that run on 24/48VDC and/or 115VAC, which I plan to check out for an eventually replacement to save power.
    An AquaStar EIM is used to heat water. This is a propane fueled, instantaneous hot water heater. A few years ago Bosch bought AquaStar, and continues to make hot water heaters.
    Toto "Drake" Toilet
    I've now got a Toto "Drake", low water flush toilet. The previous toilet was a SunMar composting toilet, which as far as I could tell, had never worked well.
    Cozy Heater
    I have two Cozy propane heaters, one for each dome. I use this for backup heat, but they're great heaters. I have a VCR502 in the big dome, and a VCR352 in the little dome.
    Vermont Casting
    I found a used Vermont Casting's Vigalant, which was a perfect addition to the little dome when I finished renovating it.

Renovation Update:

I plan to keep a dairy of sorts here as I do major renovation work, as a guide to other folks.

I've got an expanded version of this with finally together. It's got more of the details of the project, along with pictures.

March 26, 2000

This week I ripped the very funky bathroom out of the garage, which only took a few hours, with my kids help. It was a mess. The composting toilet only drained to a bucket, and the water cistern was a cattle trough, mounted up in the ceiling. I've decided to put a wood stove in that corner as I remodel the garage into a shop & office. I'm definetly going to put the new bathroom in the end of the existing walled off garage bay, since that is closest to the septic tank. I've the 2 and 3D CAD work mostly done, I'll add a link once it's presentable.

April 7, 2000

Today I finished putting a stainless steel liner down the chimney, and hooking up a used wood stove I bought to replace the stupidly installed one that was there already. The main problem was I needed a stove that vented from the back, rather than the top, so I could have less bends (bends restrict air flow), than the old system, which barly worked. The old one had a stove pipe that went up to a whole in the chimney about 10 feet up, which was a cresote breeder, cause of the weird drafts. (temperature changes and drafts are the two most important concepts in installing a stove pipe) Instead, I ran my pipe up through the flue, by cutting the old firebox out with a torch. The test fire worked great! The draw was so good, all the flames burned aiming towards the rear vent.

For materials, I went crazy and put in a 25 year warrenty, single wall, stainless steel pipe. As there is almost 36 inches of masonary around the old broken liner, a double wall pipe wasn't nessesary. 28 inches of masonary equals one inch of insulation, which is standard. The main reason for the insulation is to retian heat, to keep cresote from forming.

It took 23 feet of pipe to reach the stove. I also put a T and a cap on the bottom to make cleaning, and long term maintainance easier. On top I put a rotating, wind vane style spark arrestor, and weather cap. As the old liner fell apart from the wind/freeze/snow/melt cycle, I sealed this one up tight. It'll also keep the domestead from wasting heat.

I'm slowly learning to hate owner built housing... I ripped the steps up in the bathroom on the pedestal the composting toilet is on, and after months of wondering, grokked the reality of the plumbing. Not only are all the drain pipe the wrong size, the slope is way off! Both major bummers. So I'll have to replace the main drain pipe so I can hook up a low-water flush toilet. The ground is thawed enough to dig in, so can excavate outside finally.

June 18, 2000

I'm amazed at how many rocks I have to move! Digging out a stone floor may not have been the best decision. I'd guess 30-40 tons later, I have the rocks in the ex-greenhouse dome dug down 2 feet everwhere, and deeper in the places there is plumbing.

I also managed to get the old Carousel composting toilet tank out. That was an interesting project. I first had to remove the floor above it, as the Carousel tank is typically mounted in a basement or in my case, part way in the crawl space. Once the floor was off, I removed the top, which exposed the 4 chambers, which I then dug out with a posthole digger. 99% of it had composed into peat, and had no odor at all. There was a tiny bit that hadn't decomposesed in 5 years, which to me, is more evidence that they just don't work good at this altitude.

July 18, 2000

Rocks everywhere... I'm so sick of moving rocks. I did break down and get some excavating help from SugarLoaf Services (303-258-3725). Having a tractor in your house in as interesting event, one I'm not sure I'd want to repeat. Scott (the driver) was awesome though. He did an incredible job in a very tight space, and saved me months of digging by hand.

I've mostly been ripping things apart all month. Everytime I get into something, it turns out to be a huge project. Nothing was done to code, so it looks like I'll have top redo all the plumbing and electrical wiring. Among other things, there is zero power upstairs in the loft, which I'll need to fix.

August 18, 2000

Finished the sub-floor! At times we were stuck digging trenches in the rocks to put in the floor joists. What a project. I went with 14 inch I beams, because of the 14 foot span I had to cross. We then ran one 32 foot pressure treated beam all the way across the dome. This enabled us to box off a section, and then fill in the ends with more I beams. Once this was done, we covered it with a single large piece of plastic, (for radon mitigation) and then a layer of 3/4 inch plywood. It feels so good to be able to walk on a flat surface. I was getting tired of walking through the uneven, craters left by excavating.

I finally wound up ripping out all the plumbing and rewiring what was there. While at it, I left an extra drain pipe, so I can add a half bathroom to the main dome if I ever want to. It was better to put it in before I sealed up the floor. What prompted all of this was the discovery that the kitchen drain pipes actually went uphill, which wasn't very effective. Now all the plumbing is done to code, with PVC drain pipe. When I got the new Toto "Drake" toilet working, I could only marvel at finally having indoor plumbing again.

Sept 18, 2000

I'm exhausted, but almost there. All that is remaining is some tongue and groove (3 1/2 x 3/8 inch pine) to be put on the walls, and a 3 1/2 hardwood #1 Oak floor. As I've gotten the walls put up, I ran wires for both a 24VDC lines (for lighting), and 120VAC off the inverter for outlets. To make things visually easier, I ran the 120VAC through the bottom of the studs, and the 24VDC through the tops.

Because I built curved walls, to match what was there, I used 2x4s for the studs, and then covered them with a 3/8 inch plywood skin. This skin was to not only make things stronger (I wanted extra support for the loft), but to make it easier to nail the 3/4 x 3 1/2 inch tongue and groove pine strips. The pine matches some of the existing walls, and being light, helps keeps things less dark looking.

It's been nice to have all the plumbing all working, as well as the new outlets and lights. Other than the comfort of knowing everything is working and up to code, it has taken alot of the stress out of living in a construction zone.

Oct 18, 2000

Got started on the hardwood floor, but it's going slow, since all the angles are wacky. I got the walls redone in the bathroom toilet area, so it looks all nice again. I also installed a 35,000 BTU Cozy Propane heater in the little dome, cause it was getting too cold to work, and I worried about all the new plumbing freezing.

The big project this month has been getting the wireless phone system to work. Among other things, the landline end is also running off the grid, so it required a little extra engineering. The biggest hassle was with Qwest. After a phone call, the line would then short out, and I had to convince Qwest it was a problem on their end, which it ultimately turned out to be their problem. It just took 2 weeks of arguing, and many time-consuming tests of my equipment. It must be nice to be a monopoly...

Nov 18

It's amazing how easy it is to underestimate the magnitude of some projects. Putting down a hardwood floor seemed like such a good idea, but it sure took a while because of all the curved walls, and wacky geometry of a geodesic dome. Pretty much right away, my friend David that was helping with this project, and I decided to not use molding to cover mistakes, which forced us to make most cuts a jigsaw cut, with 3-6 little trims, all "cut to fit". It turned out we could only do about 5 square feet or so a day. We worked out the probable walking patterns through the hallway and the rooms, and then laid the main floor in 4 sections, with black walnut trim between each section. It actually looks really nice, but it sure was slow...

Dec 18

A smelly few weeks. Sanding turned out to be as messy as I thought it would. I used a 120VAC orbital floor sander. For one whole day, it was sunny and windy, so I ran it for about 4 hours on excess juice! Eventually I had to fire up the generator, cause the sander sucks power, about 800Amps an hour, which was pulling the batteries down.

Then after sanding, I put down a coat of water based Verathane "fruitwood" stain. This wasn't quite as good as I wanted it, so we put down another coat of stain to really bring the grain out, while making it just a little darker.

After the stain dried all weekend, we then put 4 coats of water-based Verathane Floor varnish. I wanted to seal the floor good against water damage, because in the snowy climate, everyone is always tracking snow inside. This took a few days to put all the coats on. Like the stain, the water-based varnish didn't emite toxic fumes, and it was dry to walk on within 2 hours.

I'm obviously behind on updating my web pages. As of now, two years later, most of the renovation is done. After the floor was down, I pretty much had to go back to work... There's details on both the wood stove addition, and the rewiring the power shed projects.
I've got an expanded version of this with finally together. It's got more of the details of the project, along with pictures.

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