Off-Grid Water and the New Pumphouse

As we get ready to build our new home, we are trying to get the infrastructure in place before all the REAL construction starts.  The septic tank is in place, as is our well.  We have an orchard that is already producing fruit, a temporary garden site, a place to live on site while we build the house, and a gravel driveway with lots of gravel.

One of the last things we need to do is build a house to enclose our well head, the water storage tank, a booster pump and a pressure tank.  A lot of people don’t enclose these components, and that’s okay, but we want everything to last as long as possible and we also want a safe, clean water supply. Unfortunately, some of our neighbors are a bit shady, so we don’t want any of our equipment to go missing.  We also won’t have to worry as much about someone or something fouling up our well.

Ray built this water tower a few years ago, and it works very well giving us enough pressure to run a hose, flush a toilet or take a shower. Unfortunately, California Code Book says we can’t use it for our new home. 🙁

Being off-grid, we have had some challenges figuring out a system that is both energy efficient and will also pass California’s over-bearing and unnecessarily strict building codes.  You see, we really wanted to just use gravity fed water drawn from the wonderful water tower that Ray built some years ago. Unfortunately, we are required to install fire suppression water sprinklers in our home, which requires that a certain water pressure be maintained for a certain amount of time, and the water tower cannot supply this requirement.

Not only do we have to pay for this unwanted fire suppression water sprinklers (about $5,000 is the cheapest quote we have received thus far), but we also have to pay for the booster pump, pressure tank and all the necessary extra solar panels, batteries and wiring to support them.  Harrumph!

Why don’t we want the sprinklers?  Because, so far, we have heard of more insurance claims from damage caused by frozen sprinkler pipes (we live in the Sierra Nevada Mountains) bursting in the winter than we have heard of homes saved by the fire sprinklers.  Besides, we are also are required to have a fairly expensive smoke detector system that is integrated within the system.  Also California Code. Also a lot of money.

A lot. 🙁

We decided to build the pump house just like we built our tool shed (which we turned into our bunk house), with a concrete slab upon which two levels of concrete brick will be mortared, then the rest with framework of 2 x 6’s, and finally a metal roof.  Of course, the first thing we had to do was figure out where the building would be built!  We knew we wanted to include the original concrete slab that surrounded the well head.  It took a while to figure the best orientation: where a window would go and which way the ridge of the roof would run.  We also needed to decide how big the building would be.  We didn’t want it to be too big, but at least big enough to be able to move around inside to work on components and turn on/off switches and/or faucets.

Building an Off-Grid Pump House

Figuring out where to put the pump house, and how many concrete blocks will be needed.

We started out framing with 2 x 6’s for the concrete slab, because we wanted about 2 inches of gravel with about a 4 inch thick slab for the floor.  Ray figured out a system of Off-Grid Pressurized Water Systempipes and faucets and such, which were all imbedded into the concrete slab.  Since the slab was going to be fairly large, we decided to pour half of it one day, wait a day for the first pour to set up, then finish the slab with another pour.  So glad we did this because we hand mixed in a wheelbarrow a total of 52 bags of cement!  My back is aching!  As you can see in the picture to the left, we set rebar into the concrete along the edges, that will tie into the concrete block and make the block wall more sturdy.  Pressurized Water Off-Grid

The PVC pipes for two faucets and the household water supply pipe, along with electrical conduit for two wires was buried in the gravel under the concrete.  With everything either being in walls or underground within the building, we are hoping none of them freeze. One of the wires goes from the solar panels to the pump, and the other wire is actually a sensor wire. The sensor wire will be placed inside the water storage tank and trips the solar pump off when the tank is full.  Our pump is a really cool brushless pump, with a direct current motor that we bought from Advanced Power Inc. (previously called Robison Pumps) and runs on solar, batteries or generator.  Perfect for off-grid applications.

Cool, huh?

Once the entire concrete slab was poured, we next needed to set the concrete block.  We used 6 inch wide block (it also comes in 8 inch wide) because we plan to use 2 x 6 lumber for the framing, which would make the whole building look more uniform.  At least that’s the plan!

Setting concrete blocks is not easy work, but Ray had a bit of experience from being a hod boy for his step-father when he was young, and we have completed several projects over the years with concrete block and also clay brick.  Working with the concrete blocks and mortar, I must say, is nasty stuff – especially if you don’t have good gloves!  I ended up losing the skin on some of my fingers when it was all said and done, from the lye in the mortar mix!  Seriously…  I could rob a bank because I don’t have fingerprints right now!   Hahahaha…

Fortunately, we were able to get the two rows done in just a few day’s work.Water Systems Off-The Grid

Once the block walls were up, we had to fill the voids with concrete.  Not only does this make the walls more stable, but the concrete holds in the J-bolts, which will eventually Pressurized Off-Grid Waterhold down the sill plate, which holds down the framework.  In the picture above, you can see a loose J-bolt, and another one imbedded into the concrete.  You have to leave enough of the J-bolt above the concrete so that the sill plate will fit over, and the bolt will have enough room to tighten down.  You can see in the picture to the left how we filled each void in the concrete block with cement.  It’s not pretty, but it works, and the sill plate covers everything anyway, so you will never see this view again!

The best part?  All of the cement/mortar work on the pump house is done!  Wahoo.  Now I can grow my fingerprints back again.  😉

Finally, Ray set the sill plate.  He had to drill holes for all the pipes and bolts that intruded through the board.  The boards were put on right after we had finished filling the concrete voids of the wall, so that the pipes would be held in the correct position as the concrete cured.  With the sill plates attached, we are now ready to start framing the walls.

We were so excited when John at Precision Pump and his two apprentices placed the rest of our equipment!  These guys are professionals and had the entire system up and running in no time!  We got a Gould Booster Pump and an Amtrol Pressure tank – both American made, which is important to us.  You can see the schematic of our system in the picture below.  As always, you can click on a picture for a better view.How to get pressurized water off-grid

The water is pumped from the well by a solar pump, and flows into the water storage tank.  You can see the blue ball valve in the line between the well head and the water storage tank.  That stops the flow of the water into the storage tank so that the water can flow through the faucet in the picture that says “unpressurized water from well pump to faucet”.  Of couse, there is a little bit of pressure, just not a whole lot.  The upright PVC pipe at the upper left corner is where the electricity comes in from the solar panels and powers the solar pump.

The other faucet is fed by the pressurized tank.  Now look at the square of rock in the lower right corner of the concrete slab, where two PVC pipes disappear.  The skinny pipe is the one that leads to the pressurized water faucet.  The larger pipe will lead down the hill to our home.  We don’t want to trench and set the line for that until most of the heavy construction is done, for obvious reasons.

Building off-grid water system with pressure

The upper red circle shows where the electricity for the booster pump comes in from under the concrete. The electricity will come from the household solar system. Follow the red line to the pressure switch – the gray box – inside the second red circle. This controls the booster pump turning on and off, based on the pressure within the pressure tank. Following the red line around brings you to the booster pump, the blue thingy.

What happens is the booster pump will be fed by electricity from the solar system that will be placed on the roof of our house.  It pumps water from the water storage tank into the pressure tank, the big off-white thing next to it.  The pressure tank is what gives us enough pressure for household use and brings up to code for our future fire suppression sprinklers.  The booster pump runs on 110 and is 1-1/2 horse, which was important to us since we are off-grid, and keeps the pressure tank between 30 to 50 pounds of pressure.

household off-grid pressurized system

This picture shows where the electrical comes out (or goes into) from under the concrete in the pump house. The line on the left is from the solar panels that power the actual well pump. The one on the right is coming from our future household solar system, that will be on our roof. Once the heavy work is done on the house, we will trench and place the conduit with the wires, along with the 2″ PVC pipe for the water for the house.

In the meantime, as we are living in our travel trailer and small bunk house, we hooked up this system to the trailer and – WOW.  The pressure is absolutely wonderful!  I can actually rinse all the shampoo out of my thick hair now!  Whoopeeeee!

Now…   on to framing!

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Planning for Canning

One of the wonderful surprises I have had over the last few years pressure canning meat, fish and poultry, has been the convenience of using these foods when preparing breakfast, lunch or dinner.  At first I was nervous using a pressure canner, as we have all heard the stories about how they blew apart from too much pressure during grandma’s days.  I was also frightened that I would kill my family with the deadly botulism malady.

I am glad to report that I just don’t worry about those problems anymore.  I am very careful to follow each recipe from a reputable source exactly as written, I have become more familiar with my pressure canner, and follow every food precaution known with regard to cleanliness, temperature and cross contamination.

Because of this, I have been canning a lot of salmon, chicken and beef.  I bought a kindle book about canning beef called (of course) “I Can Can Beef”, written by Jennifer Shambrook, Ph.D. Her instructions are simple and direct and follow the Ball Canning Book almost exactly.  But the book goes much further into the subject, in that she lists quite a few recipes just for the canned meat.  I was so impressed with this book that I bought her other books, “I Can Can Chicken”, “I Can Can Beans” and “I Can Can Ground Beef”.

Pressure canned beefWhen I found Zaycon, the company from which I buy all my bacon, chicken and ground beef, I found that canning the meat was a very easy and convenient way to prepare what I had purchased.  Once the jars had been processed and the seals confirmed, I had shelf stable protein that did not need refrigeration or freezing!  Living off grid, this is a very important feature, as refrigerator and/or freezer space is oftentimes limited. If you haven’t heard about Zaycon, click on the Zaycon button on my sidebar!  If you order from them, I will receive a small “finder’s fee”, which will not increase your cost in any way.  It’s their way of saying “thank you” to me for spreading the word about their wonderful company.

You can see in the picture below some of the items I canned this past year on my working pantry shelf, which used to be the bottom bunk bed in our travel trailer.  I store the bulk of my canned goods in our cargo container, and go “shopping” there when I need to replenish the working pantry in my trailer.  As we build our new home and live part-time in the trailer, this is where I do most of our cooking.My Canning Pantry

Yes, I know.  As much as I talk about a self-sufficient lifestyle, I do have some store bought items on the shelf, also.  Guilty  😉

However, if anyone can find me a copy-cat recipe for Rice-A-Roni pilaf that actually tastes like the original… Please Share!  We love this as a side dish, but even better love adding the prepared mix to our chicken soup!  I also like making my own pasta, but unfortunately I don’t have enough space in my tiny RV kitchen to make batches of pasta, nor do I have the time while we are busy building our new home.

What I have found is that one pound of browned ground beef fills one pint jar, hence one 10 pound portion of ground beef will fill ten pint jars of processed ground beef, so one order of Zaycon ground beef (each order is 40 pounds) will fill 40 pint jars.  Since we use, on average, two pint jars of ground beef a week, one order will last us about 20 weeks. So, it would follow that if I want to can enough ground beef for a whole year, I would need about 2-1/2 to 3 full orders of ground beef from Zaycon.  Hmmm….  that probably won’t work for me right now.  First – I don’t have enough room in my small RV refrigerator to keep the second and third order of ground beef cold while I process the first batch. Second – My All American pressure canner holds only 19 pint jars at a time, so it would take two full batches in my canner to process almost the ground beef.  Since it takes at least 5 or 6 hours to heat, process and cool down my canner for each batch, it would take two days to get three batches of canning done. Whew! That would be a lot of work! However, I could process 38 pounds in one day – two full batches or one order of Zaycon ground beef – and that would almost get us through about half a year.

The same goes for the chicken.  Zaycon sells their chicken breast in 40 pound lots.  I usually can the chicken breast in chunks either by itself in pint jars, or with onions, celery, carrots and broth for a home-made chicken soup, in quart jars.  The chicken breast can be used in lots of Canned Chickendifferent recipes including stir fry, chicken enchiladas, Pad Thai, etc.  To the chicken soup I add noodles or the aforementioned Rice-A-Roni.  Seriously, if you know of a good copy-cat Rice-A-Roni pilaff recipe – Please let me know and I will be ever so grateful!  Ten pounds of chicken breast, cut into 1 x 1 inch chunks – raw pack – will make about 12 pint jars. When making soup, I don’t pack as much chicken into the quart jars so that there will be enough broth to cook the pasta or rice or other fresh vegetables when I am serving it, so ten pounds of chicken will usually make about 16 quart jars of soup for me.  We go through an average of 1 pint of chunk chicken and 1 quart of the chicken soup per week, so one 40 pound order of chicken breast works out to about 30 pints of chunk chicken and 20 quarts of soup per order.

As spring is quickly approaching I am starting to plan my vegetable garden, with an eye toward canning and/or freezing the produce to last at least one year.  That is my goal right now – one year.  I have read that one should actually have enough for two years, just in case of crop failure, or other disaster, but right now that would be just too overwhelming for me.  This has been quite a challenge for me, and I am still learning what works for me and what doesn’t. The problem is that I have to improve my gardening skills before I can be sure I will have enough food for a year.  😉

Last year I planted Kentucky Wonder beans and they did an amazing job.  Not only did we eat fresh green beans twice a week for a few months – July, August and September – I was also able to preserve 24 pint jars of green beans.  But it wasn’t enough.  I am already down to my last several jars of green beans and we still have at least three months before I can expect to get more from my garden.  So, I will have to plant more beans this year.

Bald faced hornets in my beans

I have trellised the bean plants to make it easier to reach the beans. So much easier (and safer) than a ladder.  Though these beans produced very well, I want more!

How many more?  Well, I figure if I want to have 3 dozen jars of beans, which would give us one jar per week during the non-producing months, I would have to plant half again as many beans as I did last year.  But if I wanted to have 4 dozen jars, I would need twice as many plants.  Therefore, I am going to plant twice as many plants because we really love

green beans pressure canned

I like to raw pack my green beans when I pressure can – it is so much easier and the final product isn’t much different that hot pack!

green beans.  We eat them plain as a side dish, cold in salads, thrown into stews and buried in casseroles.  In our family, the more the better!  Last year I planted cucumbers among the green beans, as well as the Chinese Red Noodle Beans.  While I love pickles, and the noodle beans were a fun experiment, I am going to use the entire side of the raised bed for green beans this year.

My black beans also did fairly well.  Out of the 9 plants that I had, I got about a quart of dried black beans.  The black beans shared the raised bed with the green beans, cucumbers and noodle beans, but were planted on the opposite side, which seemed to work well.  The black beans were a bush bean and didn’t interfere with the vining green beans.  The book “I Can Can Beef”, explains how you can fill up you canner with simple jars of either plain or chili beans.  Say, for example, you are canning 10 pints of ground beef.  My pressure canner holds 17 pints, so I have room for another 7 pints.  Why not fill those 7 pints with beans, which only takes minutes to do.  You will spend the same amount of energy processing the canner but have seven jars of delicious beans to add to your pantry!  I processed my black beans and got 9 pints of beans.  We need more than that, so I will also double the amount of black bean plants this year. Maybe triple!

These are the black turtle beans I grew last year. These are very tasty, can well, and as a bush bean doesn’t take too much real estate in the garden, but is well worth the effort.

My other garden vegetables I plan to grow and can include potatoes, carrots, beets and chili peppers.  You can see on the picture of my working pantry that I have four small jars of chopped peppers.  These worked out great when making chicken enchiladas, chili beans, meatloaf, etc., but sadly, those didn’t last long at all!

canned chili peppers

My fire roasted diced and canned chili peppers

The small size of the jars was perfect for adding to recipes, however, so I will continue canning peppers in that size, it’s just that I didn’t have enough. We had six Anaheim Chile plants last year.  Along with eating them fresh (mmmmmm… BBQ pepper poppers!) I want to have at least two dozen of these small jars for next year, so I will need to plant at least 12 Anaheim Chili plants this next year.  We also had two Ancho Poblano peppers that didn’t produce very well.  I wanted the Ancho Poblano because they would be great for Chili Relleno, but alas the plants just didn’t do as well as I had hoped.  So this year I will grow only Anaheim Chiles as my hot pepper.

My carrots?  They didn’t do well.  I ended up with little three inch long bunches of carrot flavored fuzzy roots.  I’m not sure what I did wrong, but I need to improve my carrot growing skills because I want to be able to can carrots also.  Not sure what happened to my potatoes this year, but they also suffered.  Alas, there is always another year!  🙂

These are the cherry tomatoes that I grew last summer. They were oh so good!

And the tomatoes?  I need more tomatoes.  The canning type to make sauces, pastes and chopped tomatoes.  Last year I grew both cherry tomatoes and paste tomatoes.  We ate the cherry tomatoes fresh and I canned the paste tomatoes.  I had two paste tomato plants and that wasn’t near enough to supply my pantry shelf.  This year I am going to grow two cherry tomatoes for fresh eating and probably a dozen paste tomato plants.  I will have to keep some space in my freezer for the tomatoes, because I like to throw them in a bag I have in the freezer and then process the tomatoes into sauce in one large batch, rather than several smaller batches. You can see that process HERE.  I haven’t tried making my own ketchup yet, but if I have enough tomatoes this year, making ketchup will be one of my new experiments.

It will be interesting to see how these changes in my garden will effect my canning this year.  Until we are able to move into our new home, canning will have to continue being done on my outdoor propane burner.  This presents a challenge, sometimes, because I have to plan my canning days around windy days, which can effect the flame of the outdoor burner, and therefore the canning process.

So, here’s to a new season of gardening, harvesting, canning and learning.  I hope my pantry will be still overflowing at this time next year.

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I’m Growing My Own Tea!

I adore tea.  Black, White, Green or even Oolong.  Offer me a cup of tea and I will be your friend forever!

I enjoy drinking herbal teas also, but nothing can beat a cold glass of lemon balm leaves steeped in white tea on a hot summer day.  Ahhhhh  🙂

I thought I was doomed to continuously spending lots of money on my tea habit until I found out that I can actually grow my own tea plants.  Happy Dance!

Until a few months ago, I thought all tea plants were tropical!  Nope!  Shows how much I don’t know. In fact, a lot of tea plant varieties can withstand freezing temperatures down to 0 degrees and grow well in zones 7 – 9.  Seriously!

One Green World, Korean TeaThen I saw these Camilla Sinensus v. Sinensus (that’s the official name of a tea plant that comes from eastern and northern Asia. Camilla Sinensus Assamica comes from India and regions surrounding it) plants for sale on a website called One Green World, and I just couldn’t resist.  The Sochi variety and the Korean Mountain variety of tea can both withstand the coldest temperatures that we get here on our homestead, so that means I can grow tea!         Oh Joy!

So, I bought two tea plants, one Sochi and one Korean Mountain, and they arrived a few weeks ago.

How to grow camellia sinensus

This is how the tea plants arrived. They were so well packed that I don’t think any leaves were harmed! Thank you, One Green World, for sending me such beautiful plants!

Can you believe the size of these plants?  From root tip to leaf tip, about three feet tall!  I certainly wasn’t expecting them to look so good!  Now, I am not a spokesperson for this plant nursery, nor have I been compensated in any way for saying this.  I just think that when a business makes a happy customer, they should be commended.  Kudos!

Growing green tea

Here is how the tea plants came from the nursery.

The plants came in plastic pots, where they had to stay for a few days while I went into town to get some newer, larger ones.  I took them out of the box and set them upright, but kept the plastic sleeve over the pot so the roots wouldn’t dry out.

Because I want to plant these into the ground near our new home, for now they will have to live in pots until most of the building is done.  The plants like to get some sun and enjoy partial shade, but harsh summer afternoon sunshine is not their “cup of tea”.

Yes, I just said that.  😉

How I am growing camellia sinensus

Look at the root system of these plants – very well established. I just teased the roots a bit before planting in the new pots.

I can’t wait to harvest some tea and try it, but I am going to wait until the plants are better established in the pots.  They both have some new growth already, but it is still early and I would assume they have some shock to go through from shipping, so I am going to let the roots “steep” (holy cow, 🙂 I am on a roll) in their new soil for a while first. After a few weeks, once the spring temperatures are more stable, I will give them some of my homebrewed kelp fertilizer.

I did some research on how to grow the tea plants, and apparently these plants like a fairly acidic soil that well drained and can be kept moist, which is what we have. They also like to have part shade if your afternoons are hot, which is just the kind of conditions that my new elderberry plants wanted – so I may end up putting them next to the elderberry bushes.  Mmmmmmmm… elderberry green tea sweetened with stevia…

Speaking of my elderberry plants – they are already beginning to leaf out!

How to grow camellia sinensus v sinesus

The elderberries are starting to get leaves. This is a branch of one of the larger plants. All four plants did well through the winter, so I hope to harvest more elderberries this year and dry some just for my tea!

Once the tea plants are established, I will harvest some of the growth tips and try my hand at preparing the tea leaves into either white or green tea, depending on how the leaves are processed. Maybe even oolong or black tea. I hope to post that process soon, but I don’t want to shock the poor plants right now any more than the shipping may have.

How to grow Tea

These plants have plenty of room to spread their roots, and I hope to be able to plant them in the ground next fall, when (hopefully) there won’t be as much construction traffic going on.

However, I have read that it is necessary to harvest the new tea leaves as soon as they appear, before they get too big and not useful. Harvesting also helps to prune the plant and keep it at a reasonable height, as some can grow more than 15 feet tall, and I certainly do not want to climb a ladder for my tea!  After doing more research, I found that harvesting the tea leaves four times a year would not be unreasonable, starting with what the Chinese call the “first flush” n the spring, and ending sometime in August, so that I don’t disturb the fall flowers too much.  I think my honey bees will just adore the tea leaves!

In the meantime, I am dreaming of all the types of tea add-ins – rose hips, madrone berries, dried elderberries, lavender flowers, dehydrated orange peel, dried mint and or lemon balm leaves…  the possibilities are endless!  Of course, to sweeten the tea, I have my faithful stevia plant or my yummy honey from our bees!  I think I am going to collect a bunch of beautiful jars with the bail top lids so I can store the tea and all these flavorings.  Won’t that look pretty on an open shelf in my kitchen?

This is going to be so much fun!

This post may be found here: Thank Goodness It’s MondayClever Chicks Blog Hop; Grand Social; Mix It Up Monday; Create, Link, Inspire;  Amaze Me Monday,  Homemaking MondaysShow & Share Tuesday; The Gathering Spot; Brag About ItTuesdays with a Twist; The Scoop; Two Cup Tuesday;  Inspire Me Tuesdays; Tuesdays at Our Home;  Party In Your PJ’s;  Show Me YoursMake, Bake and Create;  Wicked Awesome Wednesday;  Wined Down Wednesday;  Wake Up Wednesday; Fluster’s Creative Muster;  Homestead Blog Hop; Wow Us Wednesday;  Wonderful Wednesday; The Homesteader’s Hop; Waste Less WednesdayOur Simple Homestead; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thursday;  Think Tank Thursday;  Homemaking Party; Treasure Hunt Thursday;  No Rules Weekend Party;  Friendship Friday;  Family Fun Friday; Friday’s Five Features; Show Off Friday; Awesome Life Friday;  Home Matters; Traffic Jam WeekendSaturday Sparks;  Dare to Share; Scraptastic Saturday; Share It One More Time; Happiness is Homemade; Anything Goes Pink Saturday; Simple SaturdaysThat DIY Party;  DIY Sunday Showcase; Snickerdoodle Sunday;   Best of the Blogosphere; Small Victories Sunday

 

Update on our Building Plans

Yes.  I know.  I haven’t posted anything for a while.

We have been busy, busy, busy.

Yeah – snow.   Yippee… not!                          But seriously, the winter that we stay up here the whole time in our tiny cottage, we have had record rain and lots of snow!

 

We have also had lots of rain and snow, computer problems (darn hackers), along with limited data availability to blog because we are using up all our data researching stuff for our new home!

We are preparing to submit our plans for the second time to the plan checker for our county soon. We are building with a product called Faswall, which is an alternative building product, so the county is being a bit nit-picky with their code requirements.  The only thing holding us up right now are the corrections for electrical plans.  We gave them to the guy we thought was going to be our contractor about a month ago who said he would do the corrections for us, but he has yet to get back to us on them. Perhaps this is a sign that we shouldn’t hire him.  The electrical plans were mostly done the first time we submitted.  So, to keep the ball rolling, we are contacting another guy to see how much he will charge to complete the electrical plans for us. Harrumph!The newest house plans

In the meantime, we have been doing a lot of planning and shopping and dreaming.  First, we saw this building in Sonora, California, that we just fell in love with!  Since we will have quite a bit of retaining wall, built with concrete block, we really liked how it looked with the gray brick.  Stunning!  So, we went searching for gray brick to use as wainscotting on the outside of the house, accents for the top of the retaining walls and bricking up some columns.  We will also use the brick for the facing of the masonry heater inside.

Believe it or not, even though gray is becoming one of the more traditional colors for brick, we had a hard time finding some. We finally found this brick at a brick yard in South Sacramento.  It doesn’t have the variegation of light and dark gray that I like in the picture above, but it does have some variety and it is fairly rustic looking, so I think this is what we will end up with!

Gray Brick

I think it’s beautiful, what do you think?

Then, while in Sacramento, we went to IKEA to shop around looked at their kitchen cabinets.  My sister remodeled her home a few years ago, and used IKEA cabinets in her kitchen and has been very happy with them.  In fact, I helped put her cabinets together! Since we are building our home on a strict budget, the cabinets are fairly easy for the do-it-yourselfer to install, and they wear well, we are ALMOST certain we will use these.  In fact, here is a computerized picture I drew up on their website tool of what our kitchen could look like with the IKEA cabinets.

I love the way this kitchen looks. Gray cabinets, classic subway tile backsplash, medium brown wood floors.  The range, refrigerator, vent hood and dishwasher will all be stainless steel.

The only problem is that we haven’t decided what color to use.  The style of this cabinet comes in gray or off-white.  I know that gray cabinets are becoming all the rage, which is one reason I am reticent to use them, but we only have one window in the kitchen, and that window faces north and is covered with 12 feet of patio cover, which would make the kitchen fairly dark.  Yes, we are installing one of those solar tube thingys (don’t know which one, yet) over the kitchen island, but with dark wood floors and gray cabinets, we are afraid that the kitchen would be just too dark!

Old kitchen

I loved my old kitchen in the valley. This is a picture of the breakfast nook right next to the kitchen, which shows the white cabinets and wood floor. I am thinking that white cabinets might actually be the way to go,.

Now, the truth is that I love white kitchen cabinets.  I had white cabinets in the house we had before we move up here to our homestead and absolutely loved them!  We had medium dark brown laminate floors and I was obsessed with that combination. The problem?  I want a farmhouse sink.  The one IKEA sells.  The farmhouse sink is white white but the cabinets are just slightly off-white.  Yes, IKEA sells cabinets that are white white and would look good with the sink, it’s just that the style of the white-white cabinets are not mine.  They are just too modern for me.  I am more of a traditional gal.  Wood stained cabinets?  Well…  I don’t think they would look good with wood floors.  Too much wood for me.

What would you do?  I could sure use some advice on this one!

Another decision we have been researching (and researching) is the solar system that will power our off-grid house.  We attended a large “home show” in Sacramento, CA and a smaller one in Chico, CA and talked with quite a few solar companies.  Let me tell you, about 95% of the solar companies out there are for grid tied options only…  they don’t do off-grid.  In fact, some of the smaller companies who said they would do off grid didn’t know as much about off-grid solar as we do! When we started asking them questions about their systems and they talked to us about micro-inverters, we learned to politely walk away.  You don’t use microinverters in an off-grid application.  One guy even tried to tell us he would use the new Tesla Powerwall.  Well…  Um…  No.  We talked with Tesla representative last fall (after being on their list for almost a year!) and the Powerwall is NOT to be used for an off-grid application.  We politely walked away from that guy also. We have been dabbling with solar power on the homestead for several years now. We are running a 5 cubic foot freezer, our satellite TV receiver, flat screen TV, lights, a small refrigerator, and laptop and cellphone charges on a less than 1 kilowatt system with some generator back-up. (SEE HERE and HERE) We did find four companies that we feel would do a good job with our solar system, so to get a fair bid, we are asking each to give us a 4 kWh system to include everything needed for a complete off-grid situation, along with installation on a two story standing seam metal roof.  So far we have received only one bid.  We have also seen some pretty nice solar electric “kits” at online stores.  Renology is an online alternative energy store that has quite a few off-grid options.  Here is one we like:   renogy-4500-watt-48-volt-monocrystalline-solar-cabin-kit.  Another company Wholesalesolar has kit that is a bit more expensive, but may be more complete as it includes mounting racks: the-lodge-4.68-kw-18-panel-astronergy-off-grid-solar-system.  Of course, we would have to hire an electrician to hook it up for us, and that would add to the cost, so before we were to commit to something like that we would also need to get a quote for installation.  Plus, we would still have the cost of the batteries to back-up the whole system.

Decisions, decisions, decisions!

Right now we are also in the process of building a shed over our water well so that it can enclose the well head, a 500 gallon holding tank, a pressure pump and a booster pump.

You can see where the actual well head is with the concrete surrounding it. We plan to incorporate the concrete in a larger slab about 8 x 10, that will house all the pieces and parts of our water system that will supply both our house and our fire sprinkler system.

We had a local contractor (he is a fire sprinkler installer) give us a quote on a system he would install for us, including the water requirements (pump, booster pump, holding tank, pressure pump) and the requirements for the sprinkler system.  He said he would use all USA manufactured parts (something we desire if at all possible) and explained what we would need for the whole system to be up to code.  This is a bit tricky because of the required fire sprinkler system in our house which has certain pressure requirements, along with the water for the house.  Well, believe it or not, he lied to us about what we would need! He gave us the cadillac system with integrated this and that, and told us that it was code. When we called the county to verify, we realized that the chump was trying to over-sell us!  Arrrrruuuuugggggghhhhh! That was about two months ago. We found a company from a neighboring town who will do the job for a lot less. Then we had a local pump and well guy come up that said he could install just the water system (not the fire sprinkler system) and would send the quote on-line in a week or so, but never did. That was over a month ago. We don’t want that quote anymore.  ;(

What is with these guys?  Apparently we are on mountain time!

We found another guy who actually showed up when he was supposed to, gave us a quote we liked, lowered the quote because we are doing some of the work ourselves, and has returned every single one of our phone calls.  I will be proud to recommend him for any locals and I will show you his work when he is done.

So, let me know what you would do about the kitchen cabinets.  I had a friend suggest “kitchens to go” or something like that, so I will be doing more research into that during these next few weeks. Also, I have found a few possibilities at both Home Depot and Lowes.  Even though we haven’t even broken ground yet, I am researching these things now so we have a better idea of the costs involved.  Hopefully we will also be hearing from a few of the other solar companies we have contacted and will get some reasonable bids. There is one company I hope comes in with a great bid because the owner, Loren, has some other very innovative ideas regarding water heating along with the solar electric.

Okay – so now you are pretty much up to date with our lives at this point!  Please leave a comment if you have any ideas, questions, comments…  just click on the comment bubble next to the title of this post, but keep it family friendly, please!

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