Our House Guts (A.K.A. “Utilities”)

You and our house both have guts. Our house guts are just more complicated, but otherwise, same thing.

There are 4 systems to talk about – Electricity, water, waste, & heat.

1. Electricity. I’m going to start with this one. Cause its cool. Basically our entire south wall transforms into a solar capturing device. View it in all its glory in these 8 pictures.

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Pictures are cool but a few of you reading this want to know the specs. Well here they are you data nerds!

-batteries: 8x Rolls Surrette 6 Volt batteries (48 volts and 468 amp hours)
-rated at 605 amp hours at C100 or 468 amp hours at C20
-inverter: 24 volt, 4000 Watt inverter, capable of producing 120 or 240 volts
-10x Canadian Solar 305 watt panels. CS6X-305P.

And here is educational lightning bolt diagram showing the journey of POWER.

flow-of-electrivity3correct

Solar energy is converted by the solar modules on the wall and roof into DC –> goes through a charge controller to charge our batteries–> then when we want power in the house, the inverter converts the energy in the batteries (DC) to AC–> then it goes to it’s usage points. Such as this beautiful super slim Lotus light we sourced from LED Lights Canada. 

The #1 comment we get is: “God, how much power do you need?! 10x panels? 8 batteries??” Edmonton, Alberta gets a heck of a lot of sunshine, but the fact of the matter is, if you get a week of cloud cover, do you want to live by candlelight? Our solar guru, Trevor Locke from NU Energy calculated our local solar data in conjunction with our daily usage, and we had just enough roof and wall to live the a solar powered life. (Including skipping using a dinosaur (propane) powered fridge.) Huge thanks also to Thomas Barr of NU Energy and Shaun Sommer who made it all come together.

2. Water. Taken for granted almost as much as power. Not us! Nope! We have 1803L of fresh water storage INSIDE our house! 🙂 1350L under one of our kitchen counters, and 453 under our living room couch. Lets take you through the water path!

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Simple enough right? Well it gets complicated under the kitchen sink. Inside that cabinet we choose which water we want to use (tank 1, tank 2, or city water), then the water is pressurized, filtered, and splits up to go to its use points. One of the split cold water lines goes into a tank where it is heated up with a solar powered heat exchanger. Then that hot water goes to the combi-boiler where it will be heated up further if needed. Lastly, the hot water goes to sink, shower and washing machine. WHEW! (there is diagram coming up mapping this).

Huge thanks to George and Luke! Two very giving, knowledgeable plumbers who made all the impossible plumbing possible.

3. Which brings us to heat! Solar heated water is pretty cool… but wait till you hear how we heat our house! Basically we have 2 sources of heating. The first is a tiny little wood stove. Its literal model name is… THE GRIZZLY! This bad boy puts out 8-18K BTUs. Lucky for us though, we don’t need to rely on the wood heat. As soon as the temperature drops in the house, the thermostat tells the combi-boiler to kick on and it heats up a radiant loop that runs through baseboards and A TOWEL RACK! Yes sir, you heard that all caps correctly. We are an off grid tiny house with warm towels. Please enjoy this slow slideshow:

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Pretty cool heating and water systems eh? We did a systems drawing to help us see, plan, and install everything correctly. See the picture below. Essentially you are looking at 3 separate lines – 1 glycol line for transferring solar energy to water (ST=Solar Thermal), 1 glycol line for distributing propane heat (Green), and then all the water lines (Blue and Red).

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4. Which brings us to waste! So this one is a touchy topic. One, because there are next to nil places in Alberta that have rules and policies in place for greywater. And, two, because there is a phobia of feces in our culture.

So let’s talk greywater first. Essentially, in most homes in the world there are two water pipes inside your house. White pipes carry potable water in, and black pipes, which carry water – and everything in it – away. Some places in the world are changing the game though and incorporating a grey pipe. These grey pipes are connected to sinks, washers, showers… essentially anything “safe” that they can take the still usable water so it can be treated and used again and/or dispersed to vegetation safety.

There are many fine print details to know around greywater. You need to treat it if it’s going to sit for any amount of time or else you start growing all sorts of things. Also, suddenly you need to take accountability for what you put down every drain… as you should anyways. Basically, now it’s your backyard, not your local waterway that takes it. So no more harsh chemicals! Your water often goes to your garden, yard and trees. And nobody wants Mr. Clean on their carrots.

So we have a greywater “system”. We built insulated trap door boxes that enclose our P-traps. (NOTE: Ptraps are those squiggly pieces of pipe under your sink. They hold a small amount of water stopping smelly air, bugs and rodents from coming back up your pipes).

After the water goes through our P-traps, it goes out to pivot pipes so we can disperse our greywater around our house and to garden beds.  Should we ever need to, we can install holding tanks for treating the water. I also installed emergency heat tape wrapped around the P traps and pivot pipes, so if they ever freeze we can thaw them.

But what about our poop right? Don’t worry, neither Mr. Clean or poop touch our carrots. We have a Natures Head Composting toilet. This way we have eliminated having any “black pipes” or sewage systems that we have to pump out. Now, before you get ideas in your head, these composting toilets have no smell, are easy to manage, and have nothing to do with outhouses! Trust me, or don’t, but there is no conversation more important than talking about what we do with our poop. The most adult and responsible thing we can do is fess up that there is nothing “sustainable” about migrating nutrients from the land, through our bowels and then into chemical treatment facilities and into the oceans.

Whew, things just got serious! I may or may not be super passionate about human accountability and changing human behavior. 🙂 Here is your greywater and toilet slideshow:

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Well! That’s all you get for now for an overview! Honestly, there are many details I left out (some cool, some boring) and oh so many stories (some funny, some not). We will also have the “pretty” finished pictures of these systems in a post coming soon to an internet near you.

We will be super busy for the next month finishing the special projects and doing finishing in preparation for the show being showcased in the March 2017 Edmonton Home and Garden show! Maybe we shall see you there! If not, stay posted, as we have quite a few posts coming up, particularly on some of our super cool special projects.  🙂

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