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Anyone from Coachella Valley trying to green the desert?  RSS feed

 
Rose Gardener
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coachella_Valley

Coachella Valley is in southern California, low desert with Palm Springs as one of the more famous towns. There are over 100 golf courses using water from our aquifer. However, in the un-irrigated area, it's just desert with some sagebrush. Anyone from that area? with annual precipitation around 4 inches (120mm). If someone owns say 20 acres, is it possible to turn part of that land into a desert tree (forrest) without regular irrigation?

In some area, it looks like this; however, in other area, even the sagebrush failed to exist, like closer to Salton sea.




 
John Elliott
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Ohhh, pictures from home.

That's not a sagebrush desert, it's too hot. It's more properly described as a creosote scrub desert that supports a few seasonal flowering plants in the rainy season. Even desert plants like ironwood, palo verde, and mesquite are most often found in seasonal watercourses that can hold onto the meager rainfall just a few days longer. There have been studies on how to green the desert by building catchments that will allow some of the pioneer species to take hold. That requires a good eye for the local topography, and even then, you may have to go out and water the first year after planting to help things get established.

Part of the reason that I don't live there any more is that it is damn difficult to coax out a little bit of green, let alone enough to be able to survive on. I suppose you could put in gardens of Opuntia cactus, but even they don't thrive in 4" of natural precipitation. They need more like 10-15" to put out a nice crop of harvestable pads and tunas. In Baja California, there are out-of-the-way homesteads that have stands of well-kept nopal, but they get out and water it once every couple of weeks to keep it looking nice.

Jojoba is another crop that can do well in the heat of the low desert. There were some plantations put in along Amboy Road in 29 Palms, with drip irrigation and all, but it's too cold in the winter there, and the occasional hard freeze does a number on them. As with the other plants native to that low desert, in a year with 3" of precip, the plants will just barely hang on, and with 8-10" they will be flush with green.

Do you want to grow things you can eat, or do you want to green up the area for the wildlife?
 
Jd Gonzalez
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forest garden greening the desert hunting trees
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Not all is lost. Neal is doing some awesome work in Saudi Arabia.

http://www.permaculturevoices.com/100-degrees-and-3-inches-of-rain-greening-saudi-arabia-with-neal-spackman-pvp078/
 
Cristo Balete
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Do you mean starting from scratch, building a house, which would have to be to code, and withstanding upwards of 115 degrees F in the summer, sandy soil, very strong winds at times, sand getting into everything? With no well? Sounds like a nightmare, to tell you the truth. No neighbors? Would you feel safe where you couldn't get help if you needed it? Do they even deliver mail on the road the property is on? If not, you are required to get a PO box, that you have to drive to regularly. The PO gets upset if you let things build up in the PO box.

Isn't there some kind of festival they have out there with thousands of people going crazy for a week? Drugs, fringe dwellers, crowds, noise, lights, music.

When a place hasn't been developed, even by small farms, it means it's too difficult to do it.

And where's Area 51, the military base related to this?

 
Cristo Balete
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Here are some statistics on Coachella Valley, very low median income. Higher unemployment than the rest of the state. It says there were 42 natural disasters there, compared to the 12 national average. Etc., etc.

See the earthquake activity chart? There are big earthquakes there, a lot of them, and it is one of the major zones they have set up with recording equipment to try to detect when an earthquake will hapen.

Rattlenskaes? Scorpions?

http://www.city-data.com/city/Coachella-Valley-California.html
 
John Elliott
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Cristo Balete wrote:
See the earthquake activity chart? There are big earthquakes there, a lot of them, and it is one of the major zones they have set up with recording equipment to try to detect when an earthquake will hapen.


Yes, the San Andreas Fault runs right through the center of the Coachella Valley, so when the rest of the country falls into the Atlantic Ocean, there will be lots of new beachfront property. But don't worry, Desert Hot Springs, although you will be under water, it won't be a long swim to terra firma.
 
Cristo Balete
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John, *L* A whole new place for the cruise ships to disembark from.
 
Cristo Balete
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Rose, do you particularly like the desert? Is that why you like this valley?
 
Rose Gardener
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Cristo Balete wrote:Rose, do you particularly like the desert? Is that why you like this valley?


Cristo, yes and no. I like Coachella valley for friends that I have there, nice warm winter, golf, lots of good restaurant/shopping, and good health care. I don't like the frequent earthquakes, heat in the summer and lack of natural water.
 
Andrew Parker
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Rose,

If you have water, even a little supplemental water, as long as it is steady and predictable, you could get by. It would be extremely difficult to outright impossible to green the Coachella valley using only natural precipitation. The best you might do would be to locate in or near an arroyo and hope that you can capture enough water from the infrequent flooding, without destroying your farm, to get you through the dry spells, which can last from months to years. Runoff agriculture is complicated by deep, loose sand in many locations, but it could still be viable in less permeable soils.

It pains me to see the tremendous amount of water devoted to turf in and around Palm Springs. They could reduce their water usage by up to 90 percent, and still have vast expanses of green, but what is the use of having money if you can't flaunt it by turning on the sprinklers on a hot afternoon in August?

Before committing to purchase anything, plan to spend a week or two in July or August out in the undeveloped areas and try to do something physically demanding for at least 4 hours a day and something productive for at least 8 hours a day (they can overlap) and see how well you like it. [Hint: Start each day early in the morning as soon as it is light enough to see, move under shade when it gets too sunny, then escape to a cooled interior space when it gets too hot.] Keep in mind that you get those conditions for six to nine months each year.

All that being said, there are a lot of folks who live in the Coachella valley and throughout the lower Mojave desert, outside of irrigated areas, and quite enjoy it, but if you want an oasis, you will need supplemental water, at least to get started and during prolonged dry spells.
 
Cristo Balete
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I would definitely stay away from the border of Mexico. There are dangerous things going on there, and they aren't getting any better.

The east side of the valley would be very dry. The last of the rain that comes across LA will have dropped on the Santa Rosa Mountains. Land near the Salton Sea might have salt water infiltrating the ground water, and not be usable for crops or drinking water. Is that why you were talking about desalinization? Crops will tap into ground water, and if it is salty, it doesn't matter how much you desalinize the water you give them.

What's the real estate like in the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains west of Coachella?

 
John Elliott
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Cristo Balete wrote:
What's the real estate like in the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains west of Coachella?



Many years ago, I attended a tax auction that Riverside County held and there were a lot of defaulted parcels available up off of Highway 74. There have been speculative booms and busts all over the Coachella valley, and when times are good, people snap up "building lots" no matter how stupidly they were subdivided; when times are bad, they show up on the county tax auction. South and east of Coachella, there are the infamous waterfront lots on the Salton Sea. If the sea level keeps dropping, maybe some of the subdivided lots that were inundated in 1908 when the sea formed will re-appear.

There is a sharp line on the west side of the valley that coincides with how far uphill the Coachella Valley Water District can pump water. You get above that line and you're on your own; better have a cistern with a good size catchment if you want to homestead in that area.

I've never seen a correlation between the price of real estate there with the possibility of it being developed. Usually, it's "but look at the view!!", and unimportant things like water and electricity and paved roads are an after-thought.
 
John Elliott
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Andrew Parker wrote:
Before committing to purchase anything, plan to spend a week or two in July or August out in the undeveloped areas and try to do something physically demanding for at least 4 hours a day and something productive for at least 8 hours a day (they can overlap) and see how well you like it. [Hint: Start each day early in the morning as soon as it is light enough to see, move under shade when it gets too sunny, then escape to a cooled interior space when it gets too hot.] Keep in mind that you get those conditions for six to nine months each year.

All that being said, there are a lot of folks who live in the Coachella valley and throughout the lower Mojave desert, outside of irrigated areas, and quite enjoy it, but if you want an oasis, you will need supplemental water, at least to get started and during prolonged dry spells.


It also helps to be a native of the area (or hail from the middle of the Sahara) to acclimate to the low desert summers. Even then, if you go away and return, it takes a week or so to adjust to 110+ days. But after you do, days that only get up to 105 seem downright cool and pleasant.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the population of the Southwest desert is unsustainable. The Las Vegas valley can support maybe 100,000 people (I'm being generous), not the 2 million+ that now live there. The Coachella Valley was a nice place 50 years ago when the population was around 50,000; with half a million in season, the only way they can stay is with unsustainable imports. If you traipse around the Mojave and Colorado River desert country, there are a few tiny places that can be sustained, but if the props of Modern Industrial Civilization are pulled out, there will be a torrent of refugees leaving the area.
 
Cristo Balete
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Rose, you could do a food forest on a house with a big lot, or even a half acre lot, and that's a lot of work, but it would already have a track record for utilities and water and easy access, and you wouldn't have to struggle with that part.

John, you probably know about the history of the Salton Sea. I saw a documentary on it, and it's a real sad story, development gone wrong.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salton_Sea
 
Rose Gardener
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I am not set on Coachella Valley, in fact I am on a road trip checking out the Pacific North West. Our discussion on Coachella Valley was just part of brainstorming, nothing more. These are some of the things that I have been thinking:

I would like to stay close to Palm Spring/Palm Desert, not considering Coachella, Thermal, Mecca, 29plams etc., These are some of the potential lots (click expand map, then satellite). They are all acreage close enough to shopping, golf and healthcare:
https://www.redfin.com/CA/Thousand-Palms/0-Roberts-Rd-92276/home/79100080
https://www.redfin.com/CA/Thousand-Palms/0-Desert-Moon-92276/home/17517663
https://www.redfin.com/CA/Thousand-Palms/0-Cook-St-92276/home/61352256
https://www.redfin.com/CA/Thousand-Palms/0-2-5-AC-SHADOW-MOUNTAIN-Ln-92276/home/53509462

I have priced a 50'x80' metal building with R60 roof, and R40 walls. (OK , I don't need it that big), it will cost $40k with 2 garage doors and some windos, plus another $20k or so for erection.
Concrete slab would be about $5-6/ft2 so another $25k.
In case of septic (some of those lots may have sewer), another 10k?
Solar, by buying wholesale and just contract out installation about $30k or so. (http://www.wholesalesolar.com/system/solaredge-50-astronergy-panel-gridtie-system.html)
At this point, for around $225k , I have a roo big, insulated, sewer connected, solar powered building. What it need would be internal framing, drywall, kitchen, bath, wiring, plumbing windows, doors and AC. say another $100k? So total $350k.

When I was searching for aquaponic online, I came upon this guy and his video, couldn't get all his video but seems like he was quite popular in his part of the world:

https://youtu.be/SJMDw998c5k
https://youtu.be/kmrpwXeHN0o





He has his kitchen, dining and sitting next to his growing area. In the desert, it would be too hot to use greenhouse, but what about multiple of solatubes? If possible, I can have my vegetable garden indoor. The desert being super dry, some moisture in the room probably won't hurt. If the city allows well drilling, one can use a solar powered dump and just take enough water for some desert trees, and perhaps some fruit trees.



Just a few thoughts. Quite sure some of these won't work.








 
John Elliott
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There is a reason why there are available lots in the 1000 Palms area -- it's the worst part of the valley to try and homestead. It's the hottest part of the valley in the summer, and one of the windiest in the spring. The wind is only slightly reduced from being in the Banning Pass, but take a look around, see all the sand dunes? They accumulated over the years from all of the wind picking up the sand and then setting it back down. Now that the area is more built up, it's a little harder to see, but go out on a windy day, and you will still see sand dunes trying to shift and cover up stuff. That's why the railroad found it necessary to install lines of tamarisk trees as windbreaks that keep the sand from covering over the rails.

There is a reason that the first communities in the area hugged the canyons at the base of the mountain on the west side of the valley -- protection from the wind and also the availability of water. For a long time, Palm Springs was independent of Colorado River water because there was enough coming off of Mt. San Jacinto that it supplied the early growth of the town. Thousand Palms has no water, it's all imported. The springs in the mountains on the east side of the valley have much less flow that on the west side, and the agriculture that is out there (citrus and dates mostly) relies on Colorado River water to irrigate. And that reliance may be in jeopardy given the current state of Lake Mead. Some serious rationing goes into effect when the lake level drops to 1075', and last I looked it was down below 1080'. Unless there are record high snows in the upper watershed of the Colorado this winter, 2016 is going to be a year of pain for water users in the lower Colorado basin.
 
Rose Gardener
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John Elliott wrote:There is a reason why there are available lots in the 1000 Palms area -- it's the worst part of the valley to try and homestead. It's the hottest part of the valley in the summer, and one of the windiest in the spring. The wind is only slightly reduced from being in the Banning Pass, but take a look around, see all the sand dunes? They accumulated over the years from all of the wind picking up the sand and then setting it back down. Now that the area is more built up, it's a little harder to see, but go out on a windy day, and you will still see sand dunes trying to shift and cover up stuff. That's why the railroad found it necessary to install lines of tamarisk trees as windbreaks that keep the sand from covering over the rails.

There is a reason that the first communities in the area hugged the canyons at the base of the mountain on the west side of the valley -- protection from the wind and also the availability of water. For a long time, Palm Springs was independent of Colorado River water because there was enough coming off of Mt. San Jacinto that it supplied the early growth of the town. Thousand Palms has no water, it's all imported. The springs in the mountains on the east side of the valley have much less flow that on the west side, and the agriculture that is out there (citrus and dates mostly) relies on Colorado River water to irrigate. And that reliance may be in jeopardy given the current state of Lake Mead. Some serious rationing goes into effect when the lake level drops to 1075', and last I looked it was down below 1080'. Unless there are record high snows in the upper watershed of the Colorado this winter, 2016 is going to be a year of pain for water users in the lower Colorado basin.


Nice local knowledge John, and thanks. So 1000Palms is in the same boat as Desert Hot Springs? both are on the east or 'wrong' side of Hwy 10 and underdeveloped in comparison to Palm Springs and Palm Desert. On the other hand, the part of Indio adjacent to 1000Palms, also on the east side has received lots of new developments, hundreds new homes built.
 
Cristo Balete
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Rose, I've got some experience building rural houses from scratch, and the county or city won't permit what you've described. The process is a long one, the parcel has to be legal to build on, and in some locations it has to be big enough to be legal. 40 acres on the coast is minimum parcel size in some areas. There have to be soil samples taken by soils engineers, and their report is $7,000+, that says what kind of foundation you need, which would probably require piers down to bedrock, as an example. The site plan has to be drawn to code by professionals, then the permitting process starts. They won't allow a house to be built that isn't connected to the grid. Which means there needs to be electric company poles running along the road to and at the property. It has to have a garage, enough water for fire fighting in rural areas, 7500 gallons in tanks, a cased well that could be deep with a pump and electricity going 24/7.

I doubt they would permit a metal building since nothing about it as a dwelling to live in is to code. It probably wouldn't be allowed in a high earthquake activity zone. Septics tanks are $40,000-ish it depends on how many bedrooms are in the house, whether you use them or not. It's a very long list of very expensive things that will require you to do what they say, often at more expense.

If you have $350,000 to spend, you could get a very nice piece of property with a nice house that has a track record, water, septic with a track record, you'll know what you're getting. You can take it off the grid as you please.

But if you really want to start from scratch, if that is part of your dream, it will take a few years, and you'll have to live somewhere else while it's happening, and drive back and forth.

You might consider looking into a manufactured home. They are built like houses, to code, and have everything inside you need. Some of the places will even help pay your expenses to go there and look at them. You are not far from the Arizona one if you are near Coachella. You'll still need the soils report, the foundation, the septic, the power, the driveway, the water, but the dwelling is a given, fewer surprises.

http://www.finalcloseout.com/





 
Cristo Balete
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Oh, and moisture in the room does cause problems. Mold can grown on wood inside the walls, around windows. Even plants transpire moisture into the air. Gnats are always present where there's any moisture, like soil the plants are in. Any potential for mold on furniture fabric, bedding, pillows, curtains, it becomes a real health hazard. We had a regular wooden house that had a guest room with a blow-up plastic air mattress that got black mold on it between it and the top mattress. Appliances can start rusting, even jewelry can start rusting or corroding, copper wiring if there's too much moisture.

Healthy soil or organic growing, with compost, etc., has its own fungi and bacteria in it that will show up in other places inside the dwelling.

I've seen it happen a lot in the old-style travel trailers with the dark wooden fake paneling, the interior just collects moisture, and fabrics, etc, absorb it. The cooktop started to rust in one of them.

You won't see the mold at first, but you could start having symptoms, sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing.

You need the interior of a house to be on the normal side of humidity for safety sake.

Remember the Biosphere?

Biosphere 2 was only used twice for its original intended purposes as a closed-system experiment: once from 1991 to 1993, and the second time from March to September 1994. Both attempts, though heavily publicized, ran into problems including low amounts of food and oxygen, die-offs of many animal and plant species,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biosphere_2
 
Rose Gardener
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Interesting Biosphere 2 read. It worked during Columbia years as a "flow-through". I suspect the aquaponic on the guy's video was also a flow through setup, no way his greenhouse was sealed. That would of course cause problem in the hot summer days of the desert.
 
Rose Gardener
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John Elliott wrote:There is a reason why there are available lots in the 1000 Palms area -- it's the worst part of the valley to try and homestead. It's the hottest part of the valley in the summer, and one of the windiest in the spring. The wind is only slightly reduced from being in the Banning Pass, but take a look around, see all the sand dunes? They accumulated over the years from all of the wind picking up the sand and then setting it back down. Now that the area is more built up, it's a little harder to see, but go out on a windy day, and you will still see sand dunes trying to shift and cover up stuff. That's why the railroad found it necessary to install lines of tamarisk trees as windbreaks that keep the sand from covering over the rails.

There is a reason that the first communities in the area hugged the canyons at the base of the mountain on the west side of the valley -- protection from the wind and also the availability of water. For a long time, Palm Springs was independent of Colorado River water because there was enough coming off of Mt. San Jacinto that it supplied the early growth of the town. Thousand Palms has no water, it's all imported. The springs in the mountains on the east side of the valley have much less flow that on the west side, and the agriculture that is out there (citrus and dates mostly) relies on Colorado River water to irrigate. And that reliance may be in jeopardy given the current state of Lake Mead. Some serious rationing goes into effect when the lake level drops to 1075', and last I looked it was down below 1080'. Unless there are record high snows in the upper watershed of the Colorado this winter, 2016 is going to be a year of pain for water users in the lower Colorado basin.


1000Palm's lack of development, could it be due to Sonny Bono's wild life reserve?

http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Coachella_Valley/what_we_do/partnerships.html
 
John Elliott
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1000Palm's lack of development, could it be due to Sonny Bono's wild life reserve?


Well, that's what you do when you can't find enough suckers to buy your shifting sand dunes, you hang a sign on it and call it a "wildlife refuge". By the time Sonny died (1996), the good land had all been taken and they were pushing out into the less desirable areas of the Valley. But there are some areas that no one in his right mind is going to want to live in, which is pretty much what's on your map.

Another one of those areas was the Palm Springs Panorama, an area to the north and east of the Palm Springs airport. They subdivided it in the 1960s, but the lots were poor sellers. Nobody wanted to live out there since the blowing sand would form dunes in the streets which cars could get stuck in. The only use the roads got was when the Driver's Ed teachers would take their students out there to practice parallel parking and other maneuvers. Nowadays that area is solidly developed with every house having a block wall that helps to block blowing sand, and landscaping that reduces the amount of exposed sand available to be carried off in the wind. I suppose one day Thousands Palms may be similarly wall-to-wall development, but that would be a case of unsustainable built on unsustainable, anchored to the unsustainable.

It pains me to say it, for when I was growing up there it was still ecologically sustainable, but the Coachella Valley is a lost cause as a place to practice permaculture.
 
Andrew Parker
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Rose,

If you are set on getting something near your friends, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that, you will probably not be able to live an idyllic permaculture lifestyle, but you could adapt a lot of permaculture concepts into your farmstead.

I have seen what passes for housing in the less upscale (way less), marginally improved, rural areas of Indio (not a lot of that left), so I am not sure that your steel building would not be acceptable. You won't know for sure until you ask. You can always put up a small house next to the steel building, to satisfy restrictions. I had a design, many years ago, to use a steel building as a dwelling. I like large interior spaces.

To get an idea of costs, you might want to talk to some of the established neighbors in the areas you are looking at for some advice.

Upscale communities will often have highly restrictive covenants, so figure finished costs at least four to five times the lot price. The wilder, more libertarian communities are far more flexible, requiring a lot less investment up front, but you may not get as high a return on your investment when you sell.

Don't worry too much about humidity indoors, especially in the desert. 60' x 80' is a big space. You can always carve out a smaller space to live in that is isolated from the aquariums and grow beds.

A properly designed and constructed steel building should be just fine for a seismically active area, often preferred.

Solar tubes are a good idea, but they can be pricey. I have some in my home and they are great at flooding a room with light. I have not tried to grow anything under them.

If you use a lot of berms and sunken greenhouses, shadehouses and gardens, you could reduce evaporative losses from wind and create cooler (less hot) microclimates.

Subsurface watering is also key to reducing water losses.

Have you looked at solar cooling, using thermal collectors and absorption chillers?
 
james Apodaca
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Andrew Parker wrote:Rose,
Before committing to purchase anything, plan to spend a week or two in July or August out in the undeveloped areas and try to do something physically demanding for at least 4 hours a day and something productive for at least 8 hours a day (they can overlap) and see how well you like it. [Hint: Start each day early in the morning as soon as it is light enough to see, move under shade when it gets too sunny, then escape to a cooled interior space when it gets too hot.] Keep in mind that you get those conditions for six to nine months each year.


Be careful with this advice, while Andrew is right about getting a feel for the environment and testing your workability.. even acclimated you can dehydrate quickly and be incapacitated without someone to watch your back. In the military they use strict Work/Rest/Water consumption cycles to ensure soldiers don't get unnecessary heat injuries while training (in combat, it's nothing more than a "Hey, it's Heat Cat 5.. drink water, if you can find it get some shade, scan your sector"). Here is a link for your consideration to mitigate heat related injury. It's taken very seriously in training.

Granted the average person doesn't have a Wet Bulb to check.. there are tutorials out there for creating them. I just apply it to the ambient temperature as a guideline when working with others outside to ensure they take rest appropreately.

http://www.martin.amedd.army.mil/meddepts/pm/heat%20injury%20prevention/WorkRestTable.pdf
 
Cristo Balete
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Well, that's what you do when you can't find enough suckers to buy your shifting sand dunes, you hang a sign on it and call it a "wildlife refuge".


John, ha, ha, good one!
 
Cristo Balete
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Rose, if you were 25 years old and had a group of 25 year old friends who wanted to do this with you, I would say knock yourself out. It will be the lesson of a lifetime, and you probably wouldn't have enough money to set you back when it all goes not the way you expected and is 3 times the expense. You'd have another 30 years to recoop it, you may even have gotten it out of your system and go on to other things.

But since you are talking about retirement, this is money you've hung in there to get, you earned it the hard way over many years, it's your biggest investment, and the last one you'll have enough energy to do lots of physical things to. The most important goal is to be free to putter and play and experiment with going off the grid, not so that you "must make it work, there's no other choice." If you find yourself saying this phrase, bail, quickly. Trying to pound a square peg into a round hole doesn't work. You may find you don't like it, and then what? You will be 7 years from now, exhausted without the funds you have now and a very small chance of selling a nonstandard building and setup.

I'm sure there are some folks here who have made a livable structure from an empty "container" whether it's a wooden shed or a metal shed, or a storage container who have plenty to comment on it. We see these pretty pictures online and we think it's possible. Rarely do we see the setup 10 years from then, rarely do we hear a 5-year update with reality thrown in. Everyone seems to want to put online the most cheerful version of their lives, of their projects, and they leave out the parts that may make others think twice.

A house has to breathe to stay healthy and cool. Metal doesn't breathe. If you want to fill in a blank structure with structural framing, walls, doors and windows, plumbing, electrical, sewer, insulation, wallboard, roofing and flooring you become the general contractor, meaning you need to find all those different professionals to do those things. You have to know when to pay them (never up front), pay in small increments, because they are overlapping other jobs, they will be on their own schedule, and it will take a lot of effort to keep them coming back on your schedule. You are a one-time thing, you won't be giving them work in the future, so you don't have as high a priority as a general contractor they work with.

A general contractor has connections and experience and sticks with the guys he can trust, and knows how to call in favors and get people to show up repeatedly and finish the job in a professional manner. If the inspector comes out and says it's not right, or something has to be changed, how do you get them back out there if you've paid them? It is a slippery world that someone without experience will have a rotten time trying to live in, especially if you are in a rural place and they have to spend time just driving to and from your place. I've seen it over and over again.

 
Andrew Parker
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Cristo,

Your comments would apply to pretty much every proposal here at Permies, at any location. I agree that one ought to be extremely careful about how one's nest egg is spent, however, a risk will eventually have to be taken. In my opinion, Rose has approached this in a very logical manner and will, no doubt, do more in-depth research and calculations as she progresses toward a decision. She is, as she admitted, only in the brainstorming stage right now.

I really do not see where Rose is proposing anything unconventional for the lots she has listed, save for those south of I-10, which she listed for comparison. A steel building, as she proposes, would be a desirable asset to a large lot in those neighborhoods. It can be used as storage, a garage, a shop, a barn, a gym, or anything else that requires shelter from the elements. A steel building may not be appropriate in the eyes of some, but I think that, in this case, it is a very reasonable option. Check the satellite photos and see what has been done in the other lots in the area. Most are horse farms, landscape nurseries, wrecking yards, etc.

Steel doesn't breathe but vents do. You don't need breathable walls to have a breathing building.


Rose,

I don't think that you would be spending as much as $100k for the living area, unless you are getting big and fancy (little upgrades add up fast - been there, done that). 30' x 50' should give a nice sized living space with the possibility of finishing another level above it, later.

You may also be able to get by with only putting a slab under your living space.

$30k for a solar setup seems a bit steep. If you start with a smaller pv system, you can always expand later.

I gave up on an evacuated tube system (initially for hot water and heating with plans for adding in a chiller after the technology matured) because I simply could not justify the expense (my motto is, "It takes Green to be Green."). Maybe later. I am always checking the prices.

Real estate investments are always a risk. Do your homework. Don't build better than what your neighborhood is, and stay well within your budget. If you are adventurous and you have a comfortable budget, then I would say, go for it -- as long as you are fully aware of what you are getting yourself into and understand the risks. If you are more comfortable in a nice subdivision then go for that and try to be as sustainable as you can with the options you have control over, without degrading resale value. In either case, barring a general market collapse, you should come out ahead when the time comes to sell, but you will likely do better in a conventional scenario. If you don't care about resale values, your options are much broader.

The water issue is a conundrum. My feeling is that if you make every effort to conserve water use, you will get by, and perhaps show your neighbors a good example. The Upper Colorado Basin has had a very wet Spring, so maybe the crisis is averted for another year.

Of course, if you become enamored of the PNW, this conversation is moot.
 
Rose Gardener
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Cristo:

Lots of stripmalls and churches used the same type of steel frame building as steel frame warehouses, just different outer skin. In fact, I got the idea from a church in Yucaipa, they just built a new chapel based on steel framed building then added nicer siding etc., Look real good it saved them big time while giving them the open high ceiling. The very same manufacturer and erector that built the chapel gave me the construction cost, so it should be in the ball park. Quite sure the building breaths, probably with vent etc.,

A steel frame barn looking house could look decent, in fact, "IF" I would to do it in the desert, I probably will finish the front with stucco and design or decor it to look Santa Fe, or leave it steel:



Andrew:

I rather over estimate than under, feel safer that way. I don't think that it will cost $100k to do internal frame etc for 1800ft2, but one never knows. Solar wise I calculated based AC for summer, and that's a big building with high ceiling. But I found some DC powered split AC with claimed SEER 35. If those are for real, then I can spec less solar. I am planning on doing concrete slab plus concrete polishing then area rug to keep floor cost at acceptable level. I believe that if done right, the internal with high ceiling and opening pipes ducts will have me the New York loft look that I like and should cost too much, ie no ceiling sheetrock or painting.





 
Cristo Balete
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Hi, Rose. Yeah, that's a great looking church. Churches are commercial buildings, not houses, and they have very different requirements to be met, because they are not occupied 24/7. A steel-framed structure is different from turning a steel-sided building into a house. We may be talking about different things, not sure.

But, if that's what seems more interesting to you, and you want to fill one in from scratch, then you know what you want. I'm not trying to be discouraging, I'm just saying look out for these things, be aware of how the process is actually going to go, what to look for, what to expect. It gets really hardcore once you start signing contracts.

The other trick with unconventional buildings is that banks and mainstream lending institutions don't lend on them. That also applies to kit houses like log cabin prefabs, etc. So that means if there is an unconventional lender willing to lend on them, and there are even fewer these days, they have high rates, high fees and a minimum of 20% down. Even if you aren't going to do a loan to put it there, a buyer will be have a tough time finding a loan for it and be discouraged from buying it. If you want to take out an extra 10,000 or 20,000 to expand your solar, you'll have to really hunt, and probably not get a bargain.

Your house insurance company will bill you at nonconventional rates depending on what they think it will cost to replace it or repair it. Insurance companies will give you quotes on such a building beforehand. In fact, they might even say what they are looking at in judging the building, which might give you clues about what concerns them, and what you want to take into consideration. They've studied these things for years and they've got all kinds of statistics on them from a objective point of view.

And stucco in an active earthquake zone will need constant maintenance. I grew up in a stucco house in a not very active part of California, and my father just tore his hair out maintaining it.

 
Rose Gardener
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Thanks Cristo for your advise, i am taking note the subjects that you mentioned. You guys have been great help in my brain storming process.
 
Rose Gardener
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Andew,

I am not aiming for idyllic permaculture lifestyle but would like to incorporate some perma idea into my project. As it is, the 0.9 acre lot in Indio, very close to La Quinta seems to work better. Although the lots are priced at $165k, instead of the 5 acres at $100k in 1000Palms, but it is close to everything with multi million homes within 1 mile or so. That being said, I am still in PNW looking.

Some of your ideas intrigues me and thanks for opening my eyes:

Shade house:
If the project is to be in the desert, I wonder if a shade house would have enough lights to grow leafy greens? I read that tomatoes can be grown in shade house, aren't they sun lovers? with this idea, I don't need solatubes, just have shade cloth over large skylights and windows around the aquaponic section of the house.

Berms and sunken greenhouses:
Both good ideas, coachella valley is super hot in the summer, however, Nov-May is pretty decent warm weather and time for those 4" of annual rain. Perhaps one can adjust the outdoor growing to that period and avoid the summer?

solar cooling, using thermal collectors and absorption chillers
I haven't study them yet, got anything to share as I am ignorant at this point.

thanks again Andrew.



 
John Elliott
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Rose Gardener wrote:
Shade house:
If the project is to be in the desert, I wonder if a shade house would have enough lights to grow leafy greens? I read that tomatoes can be grown in shade house, aren't they sun lovers? with this idea, I don't need solatubes, just have shade cloth over large skylights and windows around the aquaponic section of the house.

Perhaps one can adjust the outdoor growing to that period and avoid the summer?


Avenue 50 and Jackson St? That's a LOT more civilized than 1000 Palms, you actually have something you can work with there. Especially if you develop it in the style of the old date/citrus gardens of long ago, which nowadays are almost all torn out. Those were permaculture before the word was even coined; the dates shaded the citrus, and in various clearings you could have flower or vegetable beds. Tomatoes are kind of a two-season crop in the Coachella Valley, since the flowers won't set fruit if the daytime high is over 104F, you can have a spring crop, and a fall-going-into-winter crop, but they quit producing in the summer months. If they are well protected, you can even overwinter tomatoes. Leafy greens also do well; remember that the Imperial Valley supplies a good portion of the winter leafy greens to the nation.

Most people do give up during the summer, and September was always planting time, because once the summer heat broke, you could get almost anything to grow in the fall as long as you watered it.
 
Rose Gardener
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Hey John - got any pics of "old date palm citrus style" garden and houses? Sounded interesting. I talked with the planning dept of Indio, they are agreeable to styles like these with contemporary look and partial steel siding:

 
John Elliott
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I think the date garden style peaked in the '50s, because by the late '70s they were making way for large golf course/resort complexes. If you go to Shields or Oasis, which I think are still in business, they may have pictures from long ago. As I recall, the walls at Shields were covered with black and white photos of times gone by.

They are examples of commercial date gardens, but "down the valley" there were many private homes set up in date gardens, and the owners would sell their date/citrus production to local packers like Shields and Oasis. Usually, they were low, sprawling one-story ranch homes, often cinder-block construction. It may seem odd that cinder-block holds up so well in earthquake country, but as long as there is a good amount of rebar in it, it endures. Another plus is the large thermal mass; even though the sun beats down in the summer, it takes a long time for all that thermal mass to heat up, so the interiors of the houses remain comfortable.

This page has an interesting slideshow at the bottom with some photos taken at a working date garden.
 
Rose Gardener
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Thanks John, another way to mask the steel building, instead of modern as pic on my previous posting, would be to have a Santa Fe style look. When I visit Santa Fe NM a few years ago, I was told by locals that they seldom do the real adobe anymore. All new Santa Fe style homes have conventional framing with fancier stucco and detail to make them look Santa Fe. For the Coachella Valley, we don't need much roof slope, so to achieve the Santa Fe look is doable.

 
John Elliott
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Rose Gardener wrote: For the Coachella Valley, we don't need much roof slope, so to achieve the Santa Fe look is doable.


Quite doable, I bought a fixer-upper in Las Vegas and redid it into a Santa Fe style adobe: fake vigas, fake parapets, Saltillo tiles indoors and on the outdoor patios, the whole 9 yards. It came out quite nice. If you build a Santa Fe style anyplace but New Mexico, it really looks unique and stands out.

Another example of the old desert house styles is the house at the Moorten Botanical Garden. That might give you some ideas.
 
Rose Gardener
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@John

How did you do the fake round timber sticking out on the side walls? In real adobe, I assume those were real structural lumbers. On fake Santa Fe, those were all decorative, but how does one make them attach to walls and not fall and stuff? Do they have a name?
 
John Elliott
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I embedded a lag bolt into the parapet wall so that it stuck out and then I was able to spin a piece of peeled log that had a centered pilot hole onto the lag bolt. Spin it until it cinches up tight to the wall, and it's not going anywhere.

They are called vigas, viga being the Spanish word for "joist".
 
Andrew Parker
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Rose,

Sorry for the delay in responding. Here are some thermal solar absorption chillers:

http://www.solarpanelsplus.com/products/absorption-chillers/

http://www.sunheatsolar.com/productssolarhvac.html

http://www.sunchiller.com/index.html (commercial, ask about residential)

http://sunwatersolar.com/services/solar-cooling (same as above)


This is the one I have been waiting for for years, but they never seem to be able to stop development (always a problem with an inventor driven business): http://www.solarfrost.com/en/en.html

There are likely dozens more options out there, but you will have to do some more sleuthing.

-------------------

As for the house, aesthetically, stucco, especially when used with a traditional style, doesn't blend well with steel sheet. I would suggest separating them into different structures, rather then trying to blend them.

To get an idea of what can be done for a contemporary look with metal siding, with ceramic or wood accents, check out commercial architecture. I have seen some really impressive things done in that sector that could be applied to residential.

For the traditional stucco look in larger structures, look for examples in Depression era institutional architecture, especially gymnasiums, stations and warehouses, etc.

Look around at some of the homes in the Palm Springs area built in the twenties and thirties.

-------------------

For your trees and shrubs, look into wick irrigation. That appears to be the latest thing in water saving irrigation. Look at wicked containers, wicking beds and sub-surface drip irrigation for your smaller fruits, vegetables and turf. If you are within 40 feet or so of the water table, there are many trees and shrubs that can send tap roots down that far. Wicks can help get those tap roots established much faster.

Just brainstorming here. I wonder if a plot with sub-surface irrigation could be utilized like traditional Hopi/Navajo/Pueblo dry farm plots, that use the first few inches of dry desert soil as a mulch? Use traditional corn, bean and squash varieties. You would only need to maintain minimal sub-surface soil moisture, thus conserving quite a bit of water. You might be able to increase plant densities when using supplemental water.
 
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