Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Winter in Bleecker NY

As I write this from my boat in Georgia, it's 62 degrees outside.

Here is the forecast for Albany, NY.

And here's the forecast for Brunswick, Georgia.

My friends up by Bleecker are all telling me it got well below zero last night, and right now at 4:37 PM it's only 4 degrees according to Gloversville NY's newspaper.

Here is tonight's forecast.

What are we getting ourselves into?  :)

Friday, January 18, 2013

How To Books

Ever since I discovered the public library in Waterford, New York where I grew up, I've been a fan of books.  Although I enjoy novels, I'm particularly fond of "How To" books.  When I was a kid, I read books about everything from bicycling to fly fishing.  The librarian, Mrs. Lavender, was a very nice lady and always had a big smile for me.   I loved that small library, and Mrs. Lavender.

I intend to do most of the building of our little place in Bleecker.  No, I've never built a house before, but not knowing how to do something has never stopped me in the past.  I didn't know how to build computers when I opened my own business 20 years ago, but I went on to become one of the largest computer dealers in the Albany area.   Maybe sometimes not knowing how to do something is good since you haven't learned any bad habits yet, and you're extra careful.  Besides, Bleecker's building inspector will make sure that I don't do anything too stupid.

These are some of the books we've ordered to learn what we need to know.

Back to Basics was a Christmas present from my daughter and son-in-law.  It's a great book, subtitled A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills.  It covers things like working land, generating energy, raising livestock, harvesting crops, and crafts.

MiniFARMING- Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre is for Pam.  She'd like to have a large garden, enough for ourselves and perhaps some to sell at the local farmers' market.  I told her that I'll do the building if she does the growing.

The Complete Guide to Food Preservation is also for her, with "step by step instructions on how to freeze, dry, can, and preserve food".

The Homesteading Handbook is a belt and suspenders book.  It covers topics in the others, but also includes keeping chickens and herbal medicine.

Finally, there's Habitat for Humanity's How To Build A House.  I looked at the Dummy's book, but I think this one has better illustrations.  Besides, I once belonged to Habitat for Humanity and I think it's a great organization.   It says it's "the perfect book for anyone who wants to build a simple, energy-efficient home without spending a lot of money."   That would be me!

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to start reading.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Answer is Grid-Tie

I spoke to Curt Snyder from Crest Solar in Keesville this morning.  My head was starting to swim, evaluating off-grid, grid-tie, or just grid.  I needed to bounce ideas off of someone with hands on experience.

My discussions with National Grid weren't good, as I wrote earlier.  They won't run service until construction starts, they said, and then it could take as long as five months to get it.  That irked me, to say the least, and I got it in my head to go off-grid just to spite them.

Curt at Crest Solar was a huge help here.  Without going into all the details, at this latitude, going off-grid doesn't make financial sense unless you're running power lines for a mile or more.  A 7 KW solar array, installed and connected to the grid (no batteries), is about $26,000.  There is a $10,500 rebate from NYSERDA that comes off the top, making it $15,500, but it has to be grid-tie.  There's no rebates if it's off-grid.

So to be tied to the grid, I have to run a power line 500 feet from the pole in my driveway to the house.  While National Grid wants $15,000 to do that, I figured I could do it myself for a fraction of that.  I called Nick at to get an idea of what I need for 150 amp service.  First, he said I'd need to talk to a licensed electrician to get a recommendation, but then said I'd most likely need TC-ER 1/3 underground tray cable which would cost about $6,000.   Yikes!  But still better than $15,000.

Of course, since we're not going to have an electric stove, hot water heater, or clothes dryer, we don't need 150 amp service. If we go as low as 60 amp service, the power line would cost a lot less.

National Grid has to buy the power my array would generate at full retail prices.  Curt said that the PV system should generate enough excess power during spring, summer, and fall to earn enough credits to pay for the usage through the winter.  Our only electric bill would be the delivery charge, which, by the way, seems to be all over the map.

So at this point, if we're connecting to the grid, we can wait until the house is finished and see how high our electric bills are before deciding to go solar.  We'll have a better idea of the payback period.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Where Are We Now?

This blog is fairly new and doesn't have too many followers yet.   Many pop over here from our Drift Away blog (link on the left) but some are new followers or visitors.

You've probably figured out that Pam and I will be building on our land in Bleecker, NY this spring.  So where do we live now?  Well, first of all, we live on a boat, a 46' trawler.  We've been wandering down the east coat for the past year and a half, stopping for extended periods in places we like.   Right now, we're in Brunswick, Georgia which is just north of the Florida border.

It's really beautiful here, as is Bleecker.  You couldn't find two more different places.  Bleecker is in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains.  We're in Georgia's "low country", so called because the entire coast is flat and only a few feet above sea level.

I posted some pics of our land in Bleecker.  Here are a few of Brunswick.

The birds are different here than in Bleecker.

The sunsets are absolutely gorgeous, a beautiful red every night, probably because the sun can get so low in the sky here.

We've decided to sell Drift Away and focus on building the house.  If any of you know anyone looking for a great deal on a trawler, let me know.   More info here.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Pics of the Land

Pam's folks stopped here in Brunswick.  Pam's mom had taken photos of the logging.  The loggers have been at it for a few weeks and have more yet to do.

Entering the driveway.

Looking from about where the house will go back up the driveway.

The house will go to the left of that pickup. 

right on that little hill.

View to the east.  They're still logging down there, but we marked many trees to be left.

View to the south.

That's the mobile home that will be scrapped.

We're pretty happy with how things look.  I really expected to see deep ruts and a big mess.  So far, so good.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

And The Aggravation Starts

National Grid supplies natural gas and electricity to upstate New York.  I visited their website the other day to arrange to possibly have power run into the land.  I need to compare prices of off-grid, grid-tie, and grid only.   Their website blew up on me twice with a SQL error (SQL is a database).  I reported it on a fill-in-the-blanks form, and today received a boilerplate email to call them, so I did.

After roaming through a few phone menus, I was finally connected with Randy.  He took all the information such as address, distance from the nearest pole, if I'd had an account with them before, etc.  

"OK", he said, "you're all set".

"Um... OK.  Now what?".

"Just let us know when you start building."

"And then what?"

"And then we'll put in the order for electrical service."

"But that can take two months!"

"Actually, about four or five months."

"What?  That doesn't make any sense.  Why don't you put in the order now, and then it will be ready when I build?"

"Because we don't do that anymore.  Many people building a new home have us run power in and then don't build, and we get stuck eating the labor and materials."

"How about if I pay you up front?"

"We don't do that."

"You won't run power lines, even if I pay you to do it?"

"No.  We don't do that.  Company policy."

So, I told Randy what I thought about National Grid's company policy and business practices.  Tomorrow I plan on calling New York State's Public Service Commission.  National Grid has a monopoly on providing utilities to upstate New York, but that doesn't mean that they can get away with providing obscenely inferior service.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


It's funny how, when you get planning a big event in your life, you start to connect the dots.  While on Jekyll Island in Georgia today, Pamela said "This is the kind of fence I want.  Can you make it?"

"Sure," I said.  "You split the rails and I'll build it."

We also saw this guy along the bike path.

He's an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.  Thankfully lethargic due to the chilly 65 degree temperature.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Grid-tie Internet?

This post isn't really building-a-shack-in-the-woods related, other than that many wannabes want to know how to connect to the internet from the middle of nowhere. 

OK, I'm freaked out. My blue ray player updated it's firmware yesterday. It told me a newer version was available and asked if I wanted it. I said OK, very amused, because my blue ray player doesn't have a network adapter, and I wanted to see what it would do. This model Samsung needs a USB adapter.  I had tried other USB network adapters that I have and they didn't work.  I needed a special one from Samsung. 

As I watched, wondering what it would do...  All of a sudden, it started downloading.  


I grabbed a flashlight and looked on the back of the unit.  Pam (I'm assuming, because it wasn't me) had plugged a USB charger for some electronic device we have into the USB port of the DVD player, and that's what connected it to the internet. A USB plug connected directly to the grid.  Nothing else.

I asked Pam about it when she got home from work, and she said that she did that when the boat was in Savannah.  That's been several months, so I guess that any current coming from the charger isn't hurting the DVD player.

I had never heard of connecting to the internet through the grid, but thinking about it, why not?  Apparently, not only can it be done... it IS being done.  Not even a log on asked.  And the performance was pretty good, as I watched three Netflix movies yesterday, something I don't do on our hot spot because of the 10 GB limit, and not on the marina wi-fi because it's so slow.

So there you have it.  Internet through the grid.  Maybe our Bleecker off-grid house should be connected after all.

Oh, and one of the movies I watched was Robinson Crusoe, the 1997 version starring Pierce Brosnan.  All I can say is that I hope our Bleecker Shack Project (now referred to as the BSP) is something more, siince it gets well below zero in Bleecker.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Talking To An Architect

I spent all day yesterday working on our little house's design.  This is what I came up with.

I downloaded furniture and appliances from SketchUp's warehouse.  I like the space.  The open kitchen/living area makes the room look bigger than it is.  It is also much like our boat, with the galley right in the main living area.

I decided to find a local Fulton County architect, someone  I could work with and who could help oversee the project.  I google searched and came up with a short list (Fulton County is pretty rural) and right at the top was a fella named John that I sold a computer to years ago.  I called and identified myself.  He remembered me, of course, and said that the computer I sold him ten years ago is still working fine.

Hmmm....  if I made crappy computers that broke regularly instead of the best quality that I possibly could, I'd probably still be in business.

I emailed John my SketchUp house.  He's going to look at it, look at the land, and send me a proposal.

I also may have found someone to cut up and take away an old mobile home with a caved in roof from the property.  TJ is going to look at it and get back to me.

It feels good to be getting things organized and underway.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Google's SketchUp

We ran into a problem with the house plan we picked.  It was for a log home and we want to stick build.  No problem said the log home place, they can change it for just a few hundred bucks.  Seven hundred to be precise.  As it turns out, they'd have to design the house from scratch and not simply click a few buttons, so the estimate now is $3,000.  

If we have to pay that kind of money, we might as well hire someone local in Fulton County to design it for us.  To help speed the process along, I thought I'd learn how to use Google's SketchUp, a CAD program of sorts.

Well, I downloaded it, and I've been sitting here all day going through the tutorials.   This is going to be pretty involved, I think.  It took me most of  the afternoon to create a trestle table following the tutorial that showed me each step.   

I then decided to create a Greek column, just a few cylinders stacked on top of each other.   Easy, right?  Wrong.  Somehow I've got it looking like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

You can see the table I made, which came out OK.  I have no idea who that lady is or why she's standing there.

Above is a house I was practicing designing.  I think next I'm going to do a floor plan and then use it to raise the walls and stick a roof on it.