One Year Anniversary!

Halloween marked the one year anniversary of when I started the adventure of moving into my house! I invited friends over for a party the day before but due to a crazy wind and rainstorm I postponed until the following week which provided more accommodating weather for tours and sharing stories and s'mores by a fire :)
Last year, it started raining about two weeks before my move which was not an issue at my build site since I was building on asphalt and transportation was easy on the city streets. The difficult part was getting it into the yard on soft garden ground into it's place. You can read more about all of that here. After four days of moving and settling it on a sound foundation, I moved in!
Within a few weeks, I had a couple of friends in town spend the night so I put up some temporary shelving to get things off of the floor to clear a space for me to sleep while they slept up in my loft. Luckily they are also outdoors people and didn't mind the chaotic accommodations.
Since I had spent all of the money I saved to start the build, I took a little break from projects until January when I installed plumbing and finished out my bathroom. I used the compost toilet I found at the ReStore until I had an overflow issue and then needed to rebuild it. I used some inexpensive cedar fence boards to build a new box but it wasn't all that functional for various reasons so I continued to use the shop bathroom. In the last few weeks I finally rebuilt the toilet to a more functional and aesthetically pleasing design so I am excited to be able to use it now that the rainy season is back.
Speaking of rainy season, I am really grateful for the gutters and rain chain I added to help direct rain away from my house, not to mention how cool the recycled glass bottle chain funnels water to the ground. My polycarbonate awning is also welcomed in providing a more sheltered entry to my house. I needed to add some flashing above it to help prevent water from pooling up behind the siding and entering my house through capillary action via my door frame. I also built a covered bike and tool storage area with another shed roof on the trailer tongue. Moving my tools out of my house freed up a good amount of space since about half of my possessions are tools and outdoor gear!
I added rock holds to ease loft access, new "great room" shelving in the form of fruit crates, and a full size digital piano that I hope to loosen up my rusty fingers on more this winter and beyond.
In May we wired up my house for AC power but it wasn't until June that we ran power out to the yard shed where I could finally plug in and turn on my fridge and water heater. In August, I added a small battery based solar system that powers the electronics and lights in my loft and could power my great room light and outlets in the future if I want or need to be off grid. (I would need to swap out the water heater and fridge for RV/boat style propane appliances and figure out my cooking situation if I could cook outside on my RV range or grill year round.)
I learned how to weld in May and built a kitchen cabinet frame which was finished out with drawers and slides in September by a cabinet maker friend who works in the shop next door. I also built a small cabinet with one shelf for the left side of my sink (next to the bathroom wall) to fill in the gap which had been designed for a double basin sink before I found my awesome farm sink!
Outside, it's been a bountiful year in the garden (my first time as the primary gardener for a large space). I grew native wildflowers, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries,pees, green beans, beets, parsnips, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, chard, cabbage, lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, basil, corn and squash (so much squash...). Giant sunflower volunteers grew to over 10' tall! And of course there was much watering and weeding...the morning glory, thistles, dandelions, wild peas, wild onions, blackberries and quack grass really wanted to take over the yard but not this year...
I have changed jobs a few times from doing home performance audits, sales and project management to a summer outreach and canvassing position promoting the urban forest and now to solar installs! I continue to volunteer for my favorite non-profits: Friends of Trees, Portland Fruit Tree Project and Community Cycling CenterI also found time to play outside more this year, mainly in the form of hiking. Here's to the next year!
As always, you can check out my fickr for more photos!

A Little Bit of Everything #2

Wow, it's been a month since my last blog post! Sorry to keep you all wondering what I have been up to on what I am now calling the "micro house". I like the term "micro" because it goes beyond the term "tiny" since it offers a comparison, indicating something smaller that the average scale. My goal in building a micro house was not primarily to be part of a movement, but to build a simple, decent, affordable home where I could apply my experience in design and building to create a space that is my own. I work in the energy efficiency field as a home performance consultant and meet with homeowners every day. Listening to their concerns, needs and values, I realized that I did not need or want to maintain a larger space. It could be convenient to have a larger house, even just a two bedroom, so I could use that extra space to accommodate guests, as a yoga room or as a home office. But then I wouldn't be faced with the unique design challenge of living in a smaller space where everything (mostly) I own is meaningful and has its own place. Pretty neat. Ok, on to the house projects...
I have been working more at my job lately as well as setting more time aside to volunteer for causes I care about, exploring the outdoors and squeezing in some self care activities including hiking, aerial yoga, soaking and massage. This year, my educational goals are to get more involved with the aerial arts, practice raft guiding (from my training last spring) and learn how to weld (all types). I'm so excited to do all of these things but I've still got one main component of the house to complete: electrical. I have been doing some planning like calculating all of my appliance and plug loads and also mapping out where I want outlets and switches via post-it notes in those locations. We have been building a utility shed which will house the yard sub-panel. That is where I eventually will be plugging my house in for power. My yardie has an electrician friend who is helping us with our plans so more on that to come. 
I also have been talking to a friend who I met through Cycle Oregon this past fall about getting solar for my house. He had rigged up a solar charging trailer for the event so I figured he would be a great contact to help me design a portable system. I met with him today at his home to check out the components of the proposed system which was very exciting! The system will be stand-alone with batteries, not grid-tied, and I will be able to add on as necessary. Currently, I live in the middle of a city so I do not need solar for power but I like the idea of reducing my impact on the grid. I also plan to move to a more rural area in the next five years where I would like to be independent of grid power.
What else? I bought a small dehumidifier to help remove moisture (from breathing, cooking and from having a window cracked open for my extension cord) since I don't have my bathroom exhaust fan installed yet. Moisture hasn't really been an issue when it's just me spending time in the house but becomes more so when others are sharing the space. Guess I did a great job of air sealing and insulating! Anyway, the dehumidifier uses peltier technology, not a compressor, so it's barely audible. It can hold up to 16oz. of water before it needs to be emptied which I thought would be necessary every day or two but I can usually wait several days before it is even half full. I have it up in my loft at the moment which I think will actually be a good place to keep it.
Outside my front door, I added more dirt and set the feet of my steps on bricks so they are now level and not sinking into the ground at an odd angle. I scavenged the yard for random chunks of urbanite to use to make a patio of sorts in front of the steps which will hopefully help me drag less mud inside and also elevate that area so it's not a mud puddle when it rains. The ideal way to complete this process would be to dig out 4-6" of soil and create a level surface. Then lay down weed barrier, sand and/or gravel, the urbanite pavers and finally pebbles in between the chunks. Since I know what needs to go into that process and also taking into account the varying thicknesses of the urbanite, I decided to just set them in the dirt. This method actually took more time than I imagined it would since the pieces would rock if not packed tightly with soil. Eventually, I got them all in place and a few days later, I received a present of ground cover, Isotoma fluviatilis, from my yardie to fill in the spaces between the urbanite. It's a little bare at the moment but it should grow and extend to fill in.
That's all for now folks!

Swapping Switches & Outlets

Disclaimer: I am not an electrician. (Though I have considered it as a potential career.) I have learned wiring from friends and books and the following is my knowledge of how to replace old switches and outlets with new ones. If you need to do electrical work, I highly recommend doing your research or having a professional help you.

Ok, that said, today I swapped out the switches and outlets in the three upstairs bedrooms in the house where I am living. One thing I learned is that it takes a lot of patience to work with wiring, especially when you have to work with a decades old system. Having the right tools helps. I used a voltage tester, drill, screwdriver, needle nose pliers, wire stripper, and utility knife (for cutting off old plaster chunks). I gathered these tools along with the new outlets, switches and plates in a box. Then I switched off the breakers corresponding to the bedroom outlets and switches. Luckily everything is well labeled so I didn't have to do any back and forth testing.

New (left) and old (right) dimmer switches

In the first bedroom, I started with the switch. With the voltage tester, I checked to ensure there was no incoming power. With that confirmed, I unscrewed the cover plate and then the switch plate. I pulled the switch out from the wall box with the attached wires, one hot and one neutral. The ground was connected to the switch box since the existing switch lacked a place to secure it. I unscrewed the black (hot) wire first, then the white (neutral), then I freed the ground wire with the pliers so all wires were ready to be attached to the new switch. 

I learned to connect the ground first so I began with the ground wire which I shaped with the pliers to have a small curved hook at the end. I hooked the end of the wire around the green screw so that the wire curved clockwise. I did it this way so when I tightened the screw, the clockwise direction of the tightening of the screw would match the wrapping of the wire for a more secure attachment. Then I attached the neutral wire to the silver screw and hot wire to the gold screw. (The gold screws were labeled at hot on the back of the switch which was helpful to reaffirm what I thought to be true.) 
Old dimmer switch wiring
New dimmer switch wiring
After all three wires were tightened to the screws, I pushed the switch back into the receptacle, screwed in the screws with the dill (since they are longer screws). Then I used the screwdriver to attach the new metal cover plate. I like to use a screwdriver for this since the screws are usually short and it reduces the chance that I will accidentally scratch the plate with the tip.

Then, I started on the outlets in the room. I used the same process as for the switch except some of the outlets had two hot wires and two neutral wires depending on their original wire run sequencing. The outlets with more wires were a little more complicated, so I made sure to keep track of which wire was attached to where on the old outlet so I would reattach it to the same spot on the new outlet.

I repeated this process in the other two bedrooms. My room has a dimmer switch which was actually no more complicated than the other switches. In four hours, I had rewired 3 switches and 7 outlets! Then I just had to check to see if they all worked. I went back to the basement to switch on the breakers I had switched off and then used the voltage tester along with a lamp, outlet strip, phone charger, etc. to check the outlets. I flipped on all of the light switches and they all turned on, even mine with the dimmer. Success!