Sunday, November 29, 2009

Woodstove Smoke Blow Back Solution

November is very windy here in Coastal BC. Storms tune up in the Gulf of Alaska and march down the coast with very little respite in between. One blustery evening, Wayne and I were talking about improvements to our float cabin that have increased our quality of life. Little surprise, the top two relate to storms. One was the shock absorber system John invented for our anchor cables. The other was our woodstove chimney cap.

Last December, I shared a solution to our wood stove smoke blow back and downdraft problems. Our friend John found a wind protection chimney cap at RONA. As long as the wind was less than 15 kph (9 mph), our wood stove worked fine. But if a stiff breeze came up, especially a southeast wind, smoke was forced back down the chimney and into the cabin. It sometimes got so bad we had to stop using the stove (hard to do if there was wood burning) and start up our Big Buddy propane heater.

The solution was a GW Metal (Item #90142) 6" Revolving Weather Cap. GW Metal is a Canadian company and the Rona shelf name is Cap B Vent High Wind. The cost is $51.99 CAD plus taxes. Check your local home hardware store for a similar version.

Last week we had strong 24 kt (47 kph/29 mph) winds during a passing weather system. The result was much different than our previous chimney cap. After about six hours of strong, gusty winds, there was only one small blow back of smoke through the wood stove door. Here's a video of our new chimney cap in action.

The only problem we've encountered is some smoke escaping from the stove while lighting a fire during light breezes. Sometimes we use a long pole to manually move the cap to point into the wind. If it's a very light breeze, burning a twisted piece of newspaper under the smoke shelf before lighting the kindling is enough to start a draw up the chimney pipe. That usually does the trick.

So, if you are looking for a solution to a smokey woodstove, try a new Revolving Weather Cap. -- Margy

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mr. and Ms. Wizard

The next step in installing our new wood stove thermoelectric generator by was setting up the water cooling system. Wayne has a background in physics (from college) and I was a school district technology director, but neither of us had the practical skills needed to easily complete the simple electrical "puzzle." Thanks to help and advice from John, and his father Ed, we had the confidence to give it a try. All the trial and error experiments made us feel a bit like Mr. (and Ms.) Wizard from our elementary school days.

First, we stopped at Canadian Tire to purchase some wire, connectors, a soldering gun (we haven't found a use for that yet) and a crimping tool. Wayne (lovingly nicknamed Wire Guy) did most of the thinking and wire work and I served as a sounding board and testing assistant. Because we live on a floating cabin, Ron from TEG suggested we draw our water directly from the cold lake that serves as the "foundation" for our home rather than using his standard recirculating cooling system. The colder the water, the more efficient the power generation.

We want to use all the generator's power to recharge our cabin's battery bank. So, we repurposed the 12-volt battery from my float garden watering system (don't need to water in winter) to run the water pump and plan to keep it charged with our 15-watt Eliminator solar panels. Since we have two, Wayne wired them in parallel for more charging power on the one battery. We don't know for if there'll be enough sunlight this time of year. We're still searching for a low amperage submersible pump that can raise water seven feet from the lake surface to the generator. Once that's solved, we'll be ready for actual operation. -- Margy

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Canadian Tire Eliminator Solar Solution

If you live in Canada, you know Canadian Tire. Even small towns like Powell River have their own store. It's where you go for everything from gardening supplies to small appliances, oh, and of course, tires.

Lately, we've been using two Canadian Tire Eliminator products for extra power at our off the grid cabin, two 15 watt solar panels and a PowerBox 800 battery pack.

One nice thing about this 12 volt, 15 watt solar panel is its quick-connect plug that mates directly with the PowerBox. But it also has DC clips to use to charge other types of batteries. The regular price is $99 CAD, but watch for occasional sales. We mounted our panel on the same pole as our wind generator. At the bottom of the pole is a wooden case to house the battery pack during charging. This protects it from the elements (we do get our share of rain).

The PowerBox 800 is the most powerful of the four models. It has AC outlets and 28 amp-hours of stored energy when fully charged. There's also a built-in radio, light and alarm clock. If you want to use it as a booster pack for starting or charging a vehicle, it comes with its own cables. In addition to the direct connection for an Eliminator solar panel, it comes with an AC charger.

UPDATE: We've now owned two PowerBox 800s with problems. The first lasted two years before the inverter died. Last night, it's replacement had a malfunction in the charging system. Because they are sealed units, they can't be repaired. We couldn't find the receipt, but took it back to Canadian Tire anyway. Because we used our Canadian Tire credit card, they were able to search their computer records. They found it and the full amount was credited to our card without question. That's GREAT customer service! We still like our Eliminator solar panels, but have switched to a Nautilus Booster Pack. It doesn't include an internal inverter, but we feel that is one less thing to go wrong. We can easily plug our DC to AC car adapter inverter into the built-in DC outlet to run cabin devices. Plus, it gives us five more (33) amp-hours of stored energy. Regular price is $169 CAD but we got ours on sale for only $99, a 40% savings. I'll keep you posted about it's performance. -- Margy

Friday, November 20, 2009

First Snow

We've had lots of wind and rain here in Coastal BC this week ("Sunshine Coast" RAIN and WIND Warning). Because Powell River is at sea level and the weather is moderated by our coastal location, we hardly ever get snow. But not too far inland and up in elevation there's snow already.

I finally got up to the cabin after my bout with a bad cold (flu?). When I woke up the first morning, I was greeted with a beautiful sunrise highlighting the first snowfall on Goat Island.

What a beautiful sight it was before it clouded over and the rains began again in earnest. -- Margy

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wings Over Westview

On Sunday, I posted a video (Wicked Winter Weather) about the dedicated service provided by the ferry crew on the Island Princess. Getting to and from Powell River can be a challenge in November because it's a time for lots of rain and wind. Because Powell River is isolated from the rest of mainland Coastal BC by huge fjords, we are dependent on ferry and airline service for transportation.

Pacific Coastal Airlines is a regional airline (that began in Powell River by the way) that provides daily flights to and from Vancouver BC in all kinds of weather. Just like the ferries, they sometimes have to cancel during severe storms, but they continue providing a vital link to the outside world whenever it is safe.

The planes used by Pacific Coastal are smaller turbo props well suited to the short strips and weather conditions of our area. They are large enough to accommodate the demand, but small enough to give you the feel of private flying.

Are you coming to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics? Head on over to the South Terminal and catch a flight to Powell River. We have lots of winter activities to entice you. Click here and see. -- Margy

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Sunshine Coast" RAIN and WIND Warning!

Environment Canada's Official Weather Warnings

10:38 AM PST Sunday 15 November 2009

Rainfall warning for Sunshine Coast continued
Rainfall amounts of 80 to 200 mm by Monday.

Eighty millimetres is 3.1 inches and 200 is an astounding 7.9 inches. That's an incredible amount of rain even on the Sunshine Coast (Raincoast). OK, I know that's an oxymoron, but we do get lots of both. But this much all at once is even too much for us to absorb, literally. Some areas will be in danger of flooding for sure.

Wind warning for
Sunshine Coast continued
Southeast wind 50 to 70 km/h.

If rain isn't bad enough, it came with some pretty brutal winds from the southeast, our typical storm track. I hope our cabin is surviving. It's too dangerous on the lake to go home right now. It's dangerous out on the chuck (ocean) as well, but that doesn't stop of the crew of the Island Princess ferry between Powell River and Texada Island.

Take a look. -- Margy

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Light My Fire

This time of year we couldn't enjoy living in our float cabin without our Kozi woodstove. We get a blazing fire going inside and it gets us toasty warm really quick. For more information about woodstoves see:

So, come snuggle up while I "Light My Fire." -- Margy

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rock Me Gently

It's November, the windy time of year. The fjord nature of Powell Lake makes a natural funnel to increase its speed and change its direction. We are fairly protected in Hole in the Wall, but we do get our share. The cliff to the north usually protects us from clearing northwest winds, but not the incoming storms from the southeast. Those winds squeeze through First Narrows, hit the high rock wall, then split off eastward to hit our cabin.

Float cabins are anchored to shore with either heavy ropes or steel cables. In our case, it's steel cables. When the wind hits the cabin, it acts like a sail and we are blown backwards to the full extent of the cables to a jerky stop. Then comes the rebound, back into the face of the wind and it starts all over. This puts lots of stress on the cables and their connections.

During my first solo trip to the cabin in November 2001 (Up the Lake Chapter 4), I lost two connections. After that, our friend John installed double cables. Those lasted for five years, until another nasty winter storm. After that, John devised a whole new new system.

What he came up with is a shock dampening system using old car tires. Instead of connecting the 7/8 inch steel cables from the rock wall directly to the float, he placed a car tire in the middle. The new system has made a huge difference. Instead of roughly jerking the cabin as before, the tires rise out of the water and gently pull the cabin back in place, rocking us gently in the "breeze." Here is a video clip of the shock dampening system in action.

The new system is a huge success thanks to John and his ingenuity. -- Margy

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Cold Water Rescue

Quite often, Wayne and I hear the Canadian Forces helicopters working in the lower part of Powell Lake. They usually stay south of our cabin in Hole in the Wall, so we can only hear them. But on a recent trip to John's cabin we saw them in action.

CFB (Canadian Forces Base) Comox is just across the Strait of Georgia from Powell River.
Comox is the location of the Canadian Forces School of Search and Rescue, where all para-rescue specialists in the Canadian Forces, known as Search And Rescue Technicians or "SAR Techs" undergo training. This time of year they must be practicing cold water rescue techniques.

The large CH-149 Cormorant Helicopters can carry a crew of 5 and up to 45 standing, 30 seated or 16 stretchers with medics. They have a range of 863 miles or 1389 kilometres. That makes them a good rescue platform here along the cold, western coastline.

During practice, the helicopter hovers over the cold waters of Powell Lake. Then a rescue trainee rides a long cable down to the water then after a while, he is reeled back in.

It's important to understand the techniques of cold water rescue and the dangers of hypothermia when you live in our climate. Recently I saw a program called Cold Water Boot Camp on TV in Bellingham. It was also highlighted in the the November 2009 issue of Pacific Yachting magazine. The two most important things I learned about cold water survival were: 1) WEAR A LIFEJACKET and 2) the 1-10-1 Principle. The lifejacket part is a no brainer, but sometimes ignored. The 1-10-1 Principle is:
1 minute of Cold Shock to control breathing and avoid panic
10 minutes until Cold Incapacitation to make a self rescue
1 hour until Hypothermia with unconsciousness and possible death
Here is a link to a clip of the video on YouTube. I highly recommend that you view it for your own safety. -- Margy

Thursday, November 05, 2009

John On a Cold Wet Roof

Last April I shared pictures of our neighbour Jess putting a roof on his new cabin. I called it "Jess On a Hot Tin Roof." This fall, John has been working hard to get the roof on his new cabin. While a few days were sunny and "warm," none of them were hot. In fact, some were downright rainy, windy and cold. Still, John kept at it to get his hard work covered and protected before the onslaught of winter.

So far you've seen John raise his ridge pole and add the rafters. Now it's time for the metal roof to go up. Because the panels were heavy, Wayne and I towed our raft down to the marina to pick up the load. Fortunately, Rona's truck delivered everything right to the raft.

First came a sheet of tar paper followed by the metal panel. Strip by strip up it went, drilled and screwed into place by John. Now the rest of the work will be somewhat protected from the harsh elements. -- Margy

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Rafters, Battens and Collar Ties

OK, I'm getting into dangerous territory here. I'm definitely not a construction expert. I'm not even a construction wannabe. But I did watch John as he put his new cabin roof up stage by stage. His last cabin had a barn style roof. This time, he chose a gable design. First, all the lumber had to be moved up the lake. Our bowrider Campion came in handy for that task.

After the center beam was in place, John started adding the rafters. To make their placement easier, prior to raising the side walls, he installed the metal brackets that would hold each rafter in place. Raising the rafters was definitely not a one man job. John's brother Rick and his dad Ed were there to lend helping hands all along the way.

John took care of the high work. He went up the extension ladder to accept the upper end of the rafter already cut to the correct angle thanks to Ed's design work. His assistant made sure the bottom of the rafter was snug in the bracket.

Before the lower ends of the rafters could be nailed into place, John had to make sure all of the measurements lined up and the walls were straight. To make some final adjustments, it took several ropes and lots of muscle to get it right.

Next came the battens, the cross supports on the outside of the rafters. Nailing the battens onto the rafters was like building a ladder. As each batten was added, John climbed the roof to nail the next one in place.

The weight of the roof presses down, trying to spread the rafters and walls, constantly trying to push them outwards. To take some of the stress out, collar ties are added. These sturdy cross members help stop this destructive process.

This post is not meant to be a DIY how-to about roof construction. It's a tribute to an amazing man with a very supportive family. I'm always in awe of their accomplishments. -- Margy