Peter VanDerWal

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since May 28, 2017
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bee bike fish greening the desert solar woodworking
Working on setting up a sustainable household.  Currently have a solar array that produces more than we use, an expanding garden, small (3000 gallon) rainwater collection system, L2L system, kitchen rinse sink grey water system. working on shower grey water, expanding rainwater collection and building an aquaponics greenhouse.
Southern Arizona
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Recent posts by Peter VanDerWal

Sorry, I should have pointed out that I was referring to the MAXIMUM range.

You don't want to fully discharge a golf cart battery frequently because that will significantly shorten their lifespan.  To get maximum life you only want to discharge 20-50% of batteries capacity before charging it again.  12 miles would be approximately a 30% discharge.

I'm assuming Dan isn't planning on making 20 trips a day, every day, from one end of his property to the other.  If he is, then a gas cart, or two electric carts, would be a better option.

Even if he makes 10 trips a day, every day, that is probably less than 50% discharge.
4 hours ago
The Pioneer mini-split heat pumps are pretty impressive, and really cheap.  I have the 22 SEER 12,000 btu model that is currently heating my whole house.  The weather has been too cloudy for the past few days for my solar space heater to run, looks like that will change today.
The overnight temps dropped down below freezing last night, hitting a low of 27F / -2.8C.  For most of the night the heat pump was only drawing 250-300 watts,  about 2 hrs ago that jumped up to 400 watts (still below freezing outside).

I'm tickled as all get out by how efficient this unit is, especially considering it cost less than $800.
4 hours ago
For just driving around your property, I'd recommend an electric cart.  They typically have 35-50 miles range, so it's unlikely you will ever run out of juice.  With electric you never have to go out and buy gasoline. 
Mount a couple solar panels on top and it charges for free and provides shade.  A golf cart (or similar low speed vehicle) is the only type where mounting solar panels on the vehicle makes sense.

They used to make an electric garden tractor that had all kinds of electric implements, rototillers, chain saws, etc.
With an electric golf cart, you could add an inverter and run electric tools, chain saws, weed eaters, etc.  Granted you can buy gasoline powered tools, but now you are back to having to go to the gas station periodically to buy gas.

Granted you'll have to buy new batteries every 6-8 years, but in the long run batteries are cheaper than annual oil changes, filter changes, tune ups, gasoline, etc. trips to buy gas, trips to buy oil, etc. trips to get rid of used oil, etc., etc., etc.
5 hours ago
Have you looked into the Coconino county sustainable building program?  Supposedly that encourages alternative building practices designed to "benefit from reducing the use of energy, water, and resources, as well as increasing healthier indoor and outdoor environments."

I don't really know anything about it, I just came across a reference to it once.

Best of luck to you.
Hot tubs are lovely, but unless you are going to toss the water after each use, they involve some nasty chemicals and a fair amount of work balancing said chemicals.
However, a single use system sounds intriguing.  I've been considering this myself.  Use the water once, allow it to cool and then pump it back through a slow sand filter into my rainwater tanks.

Hydronic systems can work quite well with a heat pump (providing both heating and cooling). 

Another possibility I'm considering is a hybrid system that uses BOTH solar thermal and PV.  Have a few plate collectors that feed a small (300 gallon?) tank, then use the tank to feed the input side of the heat pump.  This way even on cold/cloudy days you could still get enough heat to be more efficient than an air source heat pump.
Bonus, the same setup could work with nigh sky radiant cooling during the summer to provide a cold sink to feed the heat pump.
1 day ago

Galen Young wrote:
btw, Photovoltaic panels do not work well on a cloudy day. Solar Thermal panels work great on cloudy days.

That's not been my experience.  My solar thermal collector doesn't produce any useful heat when it's cloudy/overcast.

There is also the delta-T issue, even on sunny days, if it's really cold out then flat plate collectors don't produce enough heat to be useful. 
PV on the other hand works BETTTER when it's cold out.

Final consideration, what are you going to do with the huge amounts of heat produced by 15 flat plate collectors during the summer?  With a PV array you could run an air conditioner if needed.

Note: it is possible to use heat to create cold. Absorption coolers come to mind.  However, last I checked nobody make one small enough to use for cooling a house and they are rather complicated to build.
1 day ago
Th main problem with solar thermal is that it doesn't work worth a damn when it's cloudy, or at night, etc.

You could try to overcome this with some kind of thermal storage system, perhaps even a phase-change type of storage.  But this get's expensive fast.

I can't really say if the price is good or not. 
If they are in prime condition then they might be worth $130 ea, but I'd be suspicious of leaks, etc.  That is one of the main reasons they remove these systems.
If you're handy you could build panels for less than that, although they would be slightly less efficient than the black chrome panels.
1 day ago
Another incentive for going through the county. 

Arizona currently offers a tax rebate(up to $1000) for rainwater collection and/or grey water systems.  I assume you are planning on including one or both systems?  The rebate will more than pay for the permit fees. 
However, if you file for the rebate without pulling a permit, I pretty much guarantee the state revenue folks will notice and start asking questions.

Jim Grieco wrote:Thanks for the suggestions. We are off grid and not involving the county so no code/permits but I still want to build correctly.

Off-grid or not, I don't think you can legally avoid the county, at least not completely.

I don't know what the rules are where you live.  I live south of you in Cochise County.  Here, if you have at least 4 acres, you can file for an exemption to county inspections, but you are still required to get a building permit and submit your design for review, and of course you have to follow the relevant building codes (electrical, plumbing, structure, etc.)  You just don't have to have the inspectors come out and check your work at every stage.

I'd seriously recommend checking with your county's zoning and planning to find out what the requirements are.  If you're required to have a permit and build without one, you can end up in a legal battle with the county and possibly have to tear down the structure.  It's really not worth it to try going guerrilla.

Besides, when they review your plans they will tell you whether or not your posts need concrete, how deep they need to be, etc.  I don't know what it costs where you are, but here a permit is only around $100, well worth the money for the professional building advice if nothing else.
I often wonder why people compare Arduinos to 'Pis, that is a lot like comparing a desktop computer to a super computer...literally.  Most Arduinos are roughly equivalent to a 1980's desktop computer, while many of the PI clones are more powerful than a 1980's Cray-2 supercomputer.

I like the Arduino mini-pros, I use those a lot for controlling different devices.  Depending on what you're using it for, it's possible to power one of those of a coin cell battery for several months.

As for Pis, the ODoids are definitely cutting edge, probably the most powerful Pis available, but they are also relatively large and fairly expensive.  Right now I'm partial to the NanoPi line from  I'm using a NanoPi Neo2 for my email/web/dns/etc. server

What I really like about the Neo is the heatsink they use, especially when you have it mounted in the aluminum enclosure shown above.  The heatsink presses on the enclosure, basically making the entire enclouser a heatsink.  Because of this the CPU temperature runs less than 5C above ambient temperature.  Power consumption is extremely low, even with the OLED display running it draws around 2/3 of a watt.  I'm guessing without the display somewhere around 1/3-1/2 watt.
The other thing I really like is the price.  The above setup, Neo2 with aluminum case and OLED display, was only $35 + shipping. With the NanoPi Neo (slightly less powerful than the Neo2) it's less than $30.
2 days ago