Part 4 - Electricity by Blow Power
Winters can be problematic for generating electricity with solar power. After two cloudy days, we can’t use our electrical system without draining our storage batteries below the critical 12.0 volts. What to do next? Answer - blow power.
Back to John and Ed for another consultation. Both of them say it's a waste of money. Why? The one place on the lake to get out of the wind is Hole in the Wall. But we've been here for winter storms with lots of wind (What Happens During Storms, Wind Damage in Hole in the Wall and Weathering the Wind). So why not give it a try. One day we were walking through Canadian Tire with John and there was a sleek Air X model on display. John was sold, so we got our wish.
First we had to decide where to place the unit. The cliff would catch the most wind, but the distance from the float for wiring was too extensive. The outer corner of the upper deck was selected as the most advantageous position. It would catch the winds from the east (storms) through the west (clearing). Only north winds would be blocked by the sheer cliff in that direction. The wind generator did not come with a mast. John created one from a hand-milled 4X4 twelve feet high toped by a galvanized pipe going up an additional eight feet. All of the components, including the heavy electrical cable, were salvaged from John’s shed or the local recycling yard. That’s the great thing about John, he can make something out of nothing in true British Columbian style.
The wind generator is connected into our cabin electrical system. We can charge our storage batteries using both solar and wind power. Now, when it is dark or cloudy, we hope for wind. It takes speeds of 10 MPH (16 KPH) for our turbine to generate enough power to start charging. But now you’ll hear us cry, “We’re making electricity” on a cold stormy night rather than our old song, “I wish the wind would stop!” At least until it reaches 45 MPH (72 KPH). That is the speed when the blades stall to protect the unit from internal damage, and we hold on tight and hope our cables to shore don’t break.
Read more about “Blow Power” and float cabin living in Up the Winter Trail available at www.PowellRiverBooks.com.
You’ve heard a lot about our alternative power generation. Do you have a system that you want to tell us about? We are always looking for new options. -- Margy
Monday, April 30, 2007
Part 4 - Electricity by Blow Power
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Part 3 - Electricity - Using Solar Power
The first summer we depended on propane for cooking and battery powered camp lights for illumination (we didn’t yet trust our propane lights). We had to take our computers to town for recharging. Having some electricity at the cabin would be nice, so we consulted with our good friend John and his dad Ed, the electrical genius of the family. Since we are off-the-grid, their recommendation was solar power.
By fall we had a solar panel with two batteries for storage. An inverter changed the DC current of the batteries to household AC. John built an outdoor cabinet for the batteries and inverter, and linked it to an inside meter and cutoff switch. Lights and outlets were placed in the bedrooms, dining area, kitchen and over the sofa.
Now we had to learn how to manage our electrical system. In the winter the sun rides low and due to our position in Hole in the Wall, we get as little as four hours of direct sunlight. Winter also has many cloudy days when no power is generated. We quickly learned it is important not to drain the batteries below 12.0 volts. Otherwise, it is impossible to get them to recharge properly.
To stretch our electrical budget, we use low wattage compact fluorescent light bulbs. We limit usage and augment lighting with our propane chandelier (now we love it). Rechargeable battery powered reading lights also help. We use rechargeable devices rather than disposable batteries whenever possible to help the environment.
Our computers are real electricity hogs. We only charge them and other electronic devices during sunny periods. We also purchased emergency power packs to charge during peak sun hours. They are used for extra computer power on cloudy days or during the evening.
One panel and two batteries didn’t provide much electricity our first winter. We added two more storage batteries. Then, we added a second solar power system on Wayne’s writer’s retreat boat called the Gemini. A toggle switch allows us to divert the electrical power from the boat to the cabin when needed. With careful usage, we have sufficient electricity for limited lights, our satellite radio and careful recharging. The solar system is a great improvement and addition to our propane powered system. Now, if we could just keep that pesky snow off the panels! Good thing we don’t get much of it. -- Margy
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Part 1 - Combustion
You’ve already heard quite a bit about the power we use for heating. It’s old fashioned wood combustion in our Kozi wood-burning stove. Want to read more? See Wood for Winter Heating, Kozi Warm Off-the-Grid, and Woodstove Chimney Sweep.
Part 2 - Propane
Power in a remote, off-the-grid cabin takes many forms. When we purchased our float cabin, it came with propane. This was our first time to use propane. Of course, in the city, we were used to natural gas for heating and appliances, but propane in its own bottle was new and a little scary. In the beginning, we only used it for the burners on the stove. Now that we are more comfortable with propane, we use the propane powered refrigerator and lights.
Propane is also called LPG (liquefied petroleum gas). Many people use it in small canisters for camp stoves and barbeques. Rural houses are often designed to use propane from large outdoor tanks, much like city homes use natural gas. Propane is transported and stored in tanks as a very cold liquid. The liquid propane is turned into a gas inside the tank. The gas is then transported through thin pipes to appliances in the home.
Care needs to be taken when using propane as a power source. The vapors are heavier than air, so they can build up in low spots and be ignited by a flame or spark. If care is taken to check all pipes and fittings, and to locate storage tanks outdoors, there is little danger. Also, to make it easier to detect a propane leak, a chemical has been added to give it a distinctive smell.
We have two 60 pound propane tanks that are housed in a lean-to on the side of the cabin. One tank usually lasts us about six weeks in winter when we are using it for lights, cooking and the refrigerator. In the summer, when we don’t need the lights, it lasts about eight weeks. Having a spare tank makes it easy to swap them when we run out (unless it is pouring rain). An empty tank is fairly light, but a full one is pretty heavy to haul down the dock and into the Campion. A dolly (hand truck) makes the haul a little easier.
One thing we had a hard time understanding was, “How can a gas flame create cooling in a refrigerator?” The Lehman’s website says:
"The basic principle is to create cooling through evaporation. An ammonia mixture sealed inside the cooling unit is heated by a gas burner, which causes it to circulate before it evaporates and creates a cooling effect. The continuous heating, evaporating, and condensing is a never-ending cycle that keeps your food and beverages cold." Now we can have ice and make ice cream at our cabin for those warm summer days. Can’t wait!! -- Margy
Friday, April 27, 2007
As I’ve mentioned, we love watching the transition of seasons at our float cabin (Weather Watch). Since weather is an integral part of our daily life, it was natural for us to want to know more.
The first thing we purchased was an inexpensive portable radio that includes weather channel frequencies. We got ours at The Source, but they have them in many stores. From our cabin, we can hear the Pacific Weather Centre of Environment Canada broadcast from Texada Island. The weather we have fifteen miles inland varies somewhat, but it gives us a good idea about frontal passage and expected winds. When we hear the reports for Grief Point (in Powell River) and Sentry Shoal (a buoy south of Savary Island), we pretty much know what is coming.
Next came a digital thermometer. Our friend David gave us our first wireless weather station by Acu-Rite. You can purchase them at Walmart or other places that sell thermometers. In addition to temperature, it had a digital barometer and humidity gauge (hygrometer). A handheld anemometer gave us wind information, but you had stand out in the gale to get a reading. (Oops, there goes Wayne off the deck. Just kidding!).
Now we have upgraded to an Oregon Scientific Complete Wireless Weather Station. The outside probes have solar powered rechargeable batteries. They include a rain gauge, thermometer, hygrometer and anemometer to measure the wind speed and direction. There are also gauges for barometric pressure, indoor temperature and humidity. The backlight is easy to turn on with a touch of the screen, thus saving batteries when electrical power is off. The LED screen is bright and easy to read. The memory feature is nice. When we return to the cabin from a trip to town (or back from the US), we can see what we missed.
Whether you start small like we did, or graduate to a professional station, watching the weather is fun. -- "Weatherman" Margy
Thursday, April 26, 2007
You’ve already read about some of the storms on Powell Lake. In “Weather Watch” you read about graupel. Of course, “Snowy Days” let you feel what winter is like on the float. “The Power of Nature,” “Fierce Winter Storms” gave some insight into the worst wind and storm season in memory. If you are “Caught in the Fog” on the lake, it can make you feel really isolated.
We love to be at our float cabin in all seasons, so we are there for all types of weather. We are relatively safe in Hole in the Wall. The bay, promontory and nearby Goat Island protect us from the worst of the wind. On the open lake, especially in the area dubbed the “North Sea” just beyond First Narrows, storm winds out of the southeast can whip the water into three foot plus waves. After storms pass, clearing northwest winds can blast down first narrows creating white caps and dangerous waves. I’ve even seen hefty workboats duck into Hole in the Wall for a brief respite. Traveling up and down the lake in our Campion runabout would be more dangerous than staying put.
The worst damage we've experienced is a dislodged chimney, two broken anchor cables (Up the Lake Chapter 4), and a rust weakened BBQ that flew the coop leaving its legs sticking up like a dead bug. That’s not bad for a year that destroyed several cabins and left others severely damaged.
The weight of snow on the roof and float could be a problem, but fortunately Powell Lake’s weather is moderated by the nearby ocean. Snow typically sticks for only a few days. The biggest problem we have is uncovering the solar panels so they can continue to gather the limited winter sun.
Rain is the most common type of storm. If you live in a floating cabin, a little more water isn’t a problem. Thin cracks between the boards on the deck let the water run right through. The cabin rides easily up and down on its anchor cables as the lake rises and falls from the wet to dry season. So, let it storm and let it rain. We’re prepared. -- Margy
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Before we discovered float cabins on Powell Lake, we knew about the fancy floating homes in marinas such as Sausalito, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. You may have seen a float home in the movie Sleepless in Seattle. Tom Hanks and his son lived in one. Floating homes typically use steel and concrete float structures (yes, they float) rather than lashed cedar logs like the ones on Powell Lake. Float cabins were originally used for housing and buildings in remote logging camps. Coastal British Columbia is known for its fjords with steep cliffs plunging right to the sea. Building land structures would have been difficult, if not impossible. Also, floating camps allowed the operations to move easily from one logging area to the next.
In Powell Lake, float cabins were originally built by paper mill workers from the Powell River Company. Powell Riverites were heading “up the lake” to fish, hunt and just get away. Powell Lake is fjord-like ("Ancient Sea Water in Powell Lake"). The huge cedar logs for the float structures were plentiful. Wood to build the cabins and shakes for the roofs were right at hand. Floating cabins were a natural.
Float cabins on Powell Lake are much the same today. They are typically no frills cabins used by locals as weekend getaways. A few are available for rent. The cabins are attached to the shore by steel cables (preferred) or heavy rope. Cement anchors often serve as extra stabilization. As the lake rises and falls during the seasons, the cables or ropes may need to be adjusted. While a boat can tow a cabin fairly easily, they usually remain in the same place throughout their life. On occasion, you will see a cabin moving up or down the lake for repairs. Since the cabins are almost exclusively boat access only, it can be easier to do major upgrades at the marina or along the lake shore near town.
In "Weathering the Wind," you read about how our friend John created an ingenious system to dampen the strain on the cables during wind and waves. After major storms it is important to check to make sure your cabin is still attached properly.
If you want to travel around the lake and take your house with you, a houseboat is what you need. But if you love your location and want a permanent home, a float cabin would be for you. It sure is for me. -- Margy
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Last night Wayne and I had dinner with his University of Buffalo roommate and his wife Pat. While we were catching up on about forty years of life, the discussion turned to our Canadian home in a cabin on Powell Lake. Many of their questions paralled those we receive from others about float cabin living.
- Does the cabin move around the lake?
- What happens during storms?
- Do you have power?
- Do you have a telephone?
- Do you have a television?
- Do you get the Internet?
- How can you live in such a small space
- What do you DO with all your time?
As for our visit, it was great fun. It was good to meet someone from Wayne's "wild and crazy" past. Hopefully Al and Pat can visit us someday at our float cabin on Powell Lake and get their questions answered first hand. Now that would be wild and crazy, eh? -- Margy
Friday, April 20, 2007
Do you like to watch airplanes land? Do you want to make Southern California a destination, but want to avoid busy airspace? Want a great hamburger with a view? Come to Cable Airport. Cable, in Upland, California, is the largest privately owned public-access airport in the United States. Airplane aficionados Dewey and Maude Cable began its construction in 1945. At the time, the area was rocky, rural, scrub land. It is still rocky, but no longer rural.
Runway 6/24 is lighted and 3864 feet in length. It parallels the nearby the San Gabriel Mountains, with headwind landings about 90% of the time. Arrival from the north through Cajon Pass and along the San Gabriels keeps you out of Ontario International Airport’s Class C airspace. It’s still a good idea to talk to ATC because it gets really busy along this route. Cable Airport is uncontrolled and averages 252 takeoffs and landings daily, 80% from the over 450 aircraft home based here. There are two IFR approaches: VOR RWY 06 and GPS RWY 06. Coastal fog can reach this far inland and smoggy afternoons often make navigation challenging.
The Cables were well known for their hospitality. CableAir continues the tradition. Rent a plane, take lessons (ground or flight), purchase pilot supplies or get information about the area. They are always ready to help. We are a little prejudiced. Our good friend David works there. Need some radio work? Try Pacific Coast Radio. They just installed our Garmin 430 GPS.
If you plan to stay, try the Doubletree Hotel in Claremont on Historic Route 66 (Foothill Blvd). A Yellow Cab costs less than $15. The Old Schoolhouse is next door with restaurants and shops. Got a hankerin’ for lots (and I mean lots) of good Italian food? Buca di Beppo Restaurant is out front.
Maniac-Mikes restaurant is on-field. It’s open 6-3 daily with indoor and outdoor seating. Forget the $200 hamburger. Get Mike’s Big Burger and fries for only $6.20. Or try the Buffalo Inn. Go out the airport entrance, turn right on Central and then right again on Foothill Blvd. It is less than a mile on the south side of the road. Our favorite is the steak sandwich, but the buffalo burger is good, too. Staying overnight or not flying? Get one of their many bottled or on-tap beers to go with the homemade potato chips and salsa. On weekends, there’s entertainment.
Come to Cable Airport for some fun in the California sun. -- Margy
Thursday, April 19, 2007
I’ve also baked Apple Crisp using my Dutch Oven. I put a wire rack in the bottom and place the baking pan inside. This way the crisp doesn’t burn while the Dutch Oven is directly on the stove’s hot surface. Hot rocks on the lid help with top browning.
The ingredients and preparation for this Apple Crisp are simple for cabin or camp cooking.
4 Granny Smith or tart apples
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
Core, peel and slice the apples. Mix apples, flour, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl. Place mixture in a greased 8” round cake pan that is at least 1” deep. I use a metal pan to better conduct the heat.
¼ cup softened margarine
½ cup flour
½ cup quick cooking oats
½ cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Mix topping ingredients in a bowl until crumbly. I find fingers work best. Sprinkle over the apples. The pan will be very full, but the apples will cook down. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees in a conventional oven or until the topping is browned and the apples are bubbling. In my Dutch Oven it takes about one hour. Watch, it may bubble over. It is great with ice cream (if available) or whipping cream (a cabin standby). -- Margy
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Spring is a good time to cruise the Georgia Strait and Desolation Sound if you keep an eye on the weather. You can usually find several days in a row with warm sun and limited wind. One of my favorite destinations is Theodosia Inlet. When we went there last spring, we were the only boat.
To get to Theodosia you need to enter from Desolation Sound via Okeover Inlet. You're likely to see swirls and eddies of tidal currents on your way. Then its left up Lancelot Inlet until you reach the narrow winding entry into Theo.
It's best to enter is slack high tide because of submerged rocks and shallow water, but you'll see logging boats roaring in and out at all times. So, keep an eye on the horizon as well as the bottom.
The best anchorage is behind the island near the entrance to the inlet. From here you can see all the action at the logging dock and the gorgeous view of the snow capped peaks beyond Powell Lake. The inlet is a shallow lagoon with sloping shores where you can beach a dinghy. Hike the logging roads to see some of the interior. Try a little fishing.
The Theodosia River at the head is known for Steelhead from January through May, Cutthroat Trout from January through July, and Coho Salmon from September through October. This is also a good time to watch Bald Eagles fishing for a few salmon of their own. Ever catch a shark? The muddy bottom of the inlet is the home of many Dogfish. This abundant form of shark can live to 100 years of age and give birth to live young. In "Barbless Hooks" from Up the Main Wayne tells about an exciting (but harmless) shark encounter.
Want to try it by kayak? I recommend Powell River Sea Kayak. They are located in nearby Okeover Inlet and can provide you with tours, rental equipment and lessons. If you are in the market for one, they have new and used models. We got our "yellow banana" from them at the end of the season several years ago for a really good price. -- Margy
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Wayne and I like to camp by airplane. We travel frequently to Canada and have found Texada/Gillies Bay Airport (CYGB) to be an excellent place to stop for overnight or longer. After you clear immigration and customs (we like Boundary Bay or Nanaimo), Texada Island is only a short distance away, about 50 miles north of Vancouver. The island is about 32 miles long and 6 miles wide. The airport is 3000’ of asphalt along a flat ridge in the northern portion of the island.
The airport manager, Ron, will greet you with his little white dog (watch out, he bites) and calico cat. He is a wealth of information about the area. Day parking is free, but there is a fee for overnight. The camping area is grassy with picnic tables and a fire ring. Public transportation is limited. There are several bikes you can take to Gillies Bay. Check with Ron, but beware, the hills are steep. There are trails to the village and beach, so walking/hiking is an option. If you call ahead, some of the restaurants and lodging facilities will provide pick-up services. Two you might try are Tree Frog Bistro in Gillies Bay and the Texada Island Inn in Van Anda.
We went to Texada this spring for a day trip and hiked the trail to the beach. You can either take the dirt road north of the runway or a trail just past the windsock. We used both to make the trip into a loop. Both are easy to walk. If you take the road, bear to the right at each junction and follow it downhill to the beach. There are several ways to reach the water. We like the one at the end of the road. Bring a picnic. It’s likely you will have the whole beach to yourself. To take the trail back, retrace your steps and then take the first dirt road to the right and exit at the windsock. Years ago, this was a fir and hemlock forest, but it has since been logged. One caution, say on the trails. The forest floor is covered with bright green stinging nettles. On our spring walk we saw deer, robins, lots of Horsetail Fern and flowers just starting to bloom.
There are no aircraft services at Texada Airport, but you can get fuel and maintenance, if needed, at nearby Powell River. Fuel (100LL) is self-serve by Oceanview Helicopter and maintenance is available at Suncoast Aviation (604-485-7429). They take good care of our Piper Arrow 997 when we are staying at our cabin n Powell Lake. I hope you get to enjoy Texada Airport and the beauty the island has to offer. -- Margy
Saturday, April 14, 2007
During rainy months there's more time to spend in our cabin snuggling up to our wood burning stove. At these times, I enjoy crafting. One of the first projects I tried was painting a galvanized pail to hold newspaper. I used our cabin as the picture on this one. I then made one for our friend John using his cabin as the picture. My most recent pail depicts the view from our front room sofa. You can see the fire blazing and Goat Island through the front door. This is the view Wayne sees while working on his computer to write his Coastal BC Stories.
Ten steps to beautiful handpainted buckets:
- I start with a galvanized pail. The ones I buy at Canadian Tire have a large label, so I remove it with soap and hot water, and a little "Goo Gone" if necessary.
- I sand the area I plan to paint. This gives the metal surface better gripping power for the paint to come. Clean the surface of any dust.
- Cover the parts of the pail that you do not want to paint with newspaper and tape.
- For my undercoat, I use two coats of Krylon spray-on primer paint. This prepares the metal surface to receive and hold the decorative paint. Remove the paper and tape when dry.
- I draw the picture to scale on a sheet of paper. I include much of the detail, but I keep the original photo handy as a reference throughout the painting process.
- I transfer the picture to the bucket lightly with pencil. Sometimes I cut sections from picture and trace them onto bucket. If you make a mistake, you can erase if you are careful. You could also use carbon paper.
- I use Liquitex acrylic artist paints that come in tubes. They are available almost everywhere and have good coverage.
- I start with a base coat of acrylic paint over the entire area to be painted. I dry brush some acrylic paint over the galvanized metal to reduce the harsh edge created by the primer.
- I paint the picture a section at a time, allowing for drying in between. The biggest danger is smearing wet paint onto a previously painted section. But with acrylic paint, you can remove most mistakes with a little water and a paper towel.
- After I finish the painted picture, I spray over it with Krylon polyurethane. This protects the painted acrylic picture from chipping during display or use.
Painting is fun. A galvanized pail is inexpensive and a few basic colors of acrylic can be mixed into a rainbow's worth to meet all of your painting needs. Give it a try if you are looking for something to do on a rainy day. -- Margy
Friday, April 13, 2007
The Pacific Weather Centre of Environment Canada called for northwest winds of gale force after frontal passage later in the day, so we decided to make our boat trip to Goat Lake a day trip. John and his dog Bro came up to the cabin to join us. Since we weren't going to spend the night, we all climbed aboard the Bayliner to travel together in style. To get to Goat Lake, you take the eastern arm of Powell Lake and then navigate up Goat River. With the lake levels so high, the river was wide and slow moving. Depths were good, but we still had to be watchful for submerged stumps and snags. This portion of the trip followed one leg of the famous Powell River Forest Canoe Route, a trip with 8 lakes, 5 portages and a total distance of 90 km (56 miles) starting at Lois Lake and ending at the Shinglemill Marina.
John spotted Mountain Goats on the extensive granite cliffs with his "eagle" eyes. Wayne and I needed binoculars to get much of a view. Their white puffy coats and leaping maneuvers made them stand out against the mottled grey stone.
We stopped at the head of Goat Lake for lunch. John and Wayne took quick trips in our dinghy up the Eldred River until shallow water and rapids turned them back. There's good fishing here in season.
On our return voyage down Goat Lake we spotted a River Otter sunning himself on a stump. He slipped quickly into the water. In Powell Lake a stately Trumpeter Swan paddled in the opposite direction. On a smaller scale, we saw mosquitoes for the first time this season and even a Water Strider skimming on the lake surface.
By the way, the wind never came as far inland as our cabin. But that's OK. We still had a wonderful trip to get a taste of spring. Would you like to read more about the lakes, trails and life in Coastal British Columbia? Go to www.PowellRiverBooks.com for more information. -- Margy
Monday, April 09, 2007
If you've been following my blog, you know Wayne and I are fairly new to wilderness living. We purchased our float cabin on Powell Lake in 2001. As visitors to Canada, we can live here six months each year.
We like all seasons, so we always choose several winter months. Our KOZI woodstove makes this possible. It gives us all of the heat we need for warmth, plus a little extra for stovetop cooking.
I noticed the stove had started smoking when the door was open. A few days later, smoke was escaping from the seams in the chimney pipe. Something was wrong with our trusty stove.
Wayne went up a ladder to check the pipe. He rapped on it causing creosote to fall towards the stove. When that didn't solve the problem, he went on the porch roof to do the same outside. He got the same result, falling creosote. He also dislodged quite a bit of creosote from under the cap.
By this time there was no air (or smoke) getting through the pipe. Each time I closed the door after starting a fire, it was snuffed out. At this point we would have normally have called our friend and mentor John for help. Instead, Wayne went back up the ladder and disconnected the pipe so it could be lifted out of the hole where it attaches to the stove.
The pipe entrance and stove's smoke shelf were completely clogged with ash and dislodged creosote. We scooped it out and reattached the pipe. A few days later, Wayne went back on the roof and did the same procedure outside.
This spring we learned a valuable lesson. The creosote may turn to ash, but that ash needs to be removed to keep the pipe open for adequate air flow, not to mention to reduce the danger of chimney fires. We were lucky our problem happened on a fairly warm spring day. Usually there's a fire going 24/7 from fall through early spring. Our stove and chimney are now on our annual spring cleaning list.
Would you like to learning more about starting out with wilderness living? Up the Lake in the Coastal BC Stories series has tales about our float cabin living experiences. It is available in print and Kindle formats from Amazon, and many other online booksellers. -- Margy