Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Adding a Solar Array

In 2019, a proper solar array was added. The solar array was installed on a south-facing ground mounted pedestal. Pedestal was 4 feet high to allow for local snow conditions. A hinged wooded frame with metal rails was installed to hold the 12-315W solar panels. Panels were wired into 4 strings of 3 panels connected to a 4-string combiner box. A 100 foot run of PV wire was run to the cabin and connected to a Midnite Classic 150 Solar Charge Controller.  A backup battery bank consisting of (8) 190AH sealed AGM batteries were installed for a 48VDC system. This is a backup up battery bank to the existing 1600AH 48V battery that is currently installed and will be replaced or reconditioned in the spring of 2020.

Solar pedestal starts with 12 4x4x8 pressure treated posts

2x6 boards and strand board added for floor and roof

Hinged wood frame with metal supports for panels

12 Solar panels (315W) added to frame

plywood sides and doors added to enclose pedestal

Solar panel array working as designed.
Will adjust angle in spring.

The solar array project was a complete success. The pedestal provides a strong base for the solar array and will keep the panels up out of the snow. The pedestal provides much needed storage for lumber and other construction materials. The angle of the array can be adjusted as needed. I am planning on using wall jacks to lift up the wall of solar panels to the desired angle in the spring.

With the solar panels now in place, I am able to leave the power on in the cabin all of the time, which allows me to keep a refrigerator and security system running at the cabin.   The next and final piece to the power system will be to add an automatic generator start (AGS)  which will start the generator automatically to charge the batteries should the voltage drop in the batteries to a preset level. This will help offset periods in which the solar panels will be covered by snow.

Adding a Bunkhouse

In 2019, we were still working on finishing after cabin after 4 years, we decided we needed to make some changes in our building/finishing plans. We have been working part time to complete the cabin, while still trying to utilize the cabin as we build. This has been a real challenge.  The cabin has most of the infrastructure in place, water system, plumbing, electrical and off grid power system. We are able to utilize the cabin as we are building but it is far from complete. We still have to complete some electrical, plumbing, propone, drywall, tongue and grove and interior finishing. We are to the point that the cabin is functional, but not yet 'comfortable', especially in the winter months.  So we decided, that we should not be trying to live in the cabin at the same time as we are trying to finish building the cabin.

We decided to add another structure near the cabin that we call the "Bunkhouse'. This will ultimately serve as some additional guest quarters, and more importantly will serve as some finished space for us to stay in as we complete the main cabin build. The bunkhouse is a 12x24 structure with 2 lofts. It has a wood stove, Futon folding bed, bunk beds, shower, toilet and sink and is fully insulated and finished so that we may stay there in both summer and winter comfortably as we complete finishing out the main cabin. We went with one of those 'prebuilt' style structures, but had it built on-site rather than trying to bring in a fully built structure given our remote location and the narrow dirt roads leading to our property.

The structure is set on 20 concrete piers. It has a an electrical sub-panel and plumbing system that is tied to the main cabin and septic system. It will have its own rain collection system, water purification system and on-demand hot water system.

Setting the bunkhouse floor joists on concrete piers

Bunkhouse is about 75 feet from main cabin

Builder's completed on-site construction in a single day

Bunkhouse exterior stained and stairs added

Bunkhouse interior fully insulated and finished

We still have some things to complete in the bunkhouse, but it is already a noticeably more comfortable stay than in the main cabin, especially in the winter. For example, as the main cabin is not yet completely sealed in, it can still get down to 40° even with a wood stove running in very cold weather. The bunkhouse on the other hand, is a much smaller space to heat and is very easy to keep between 60°-70° with a very small wood stove even in the coldest weather.   This will make it easier for us to work on the cabin in the winter months and provide a more comfortable stay during these colder periods.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Winter Access - the ongoing challenge

We knew going in that winter access to our property was going to be an ongoing challenge. Through the years, we have tried different approaches with varying degrees of success.  One of the main issues is not living up on the property full time to keep the roads open in the winter.  The first couple of years, before the cabin build was started, we stayed in the 32' travel trailer and 'dry' camped on weekends through the winter. We were able to keep the road open by using a plow on the front of the truck as long as we kept up with the snow as it fell. Once the snow accumulated between plowing we tried a large snow blower and our tractor with chains and a blade.  As long as we were only maintaining the lower road with access to the trailer, we managed pretty well even in the worst weather.  Once we started on the cabin build, we needed access from an  upper road, and we very soon found out we could not keep both roads open not being up on the property full time.  Since we would only go up on the weekends, we would literally spend the entire weekend just trying to clear the roads for access.  This was very hard on the equipment, the snow plow on the truck, the snow blower, and the tractor.

RV Cover and Truck with Snow Blade

After a season or two after the cabin build was started, we decided that since we were not going to be up there full time in the winter to try and maintain the roads, we decided to not even try to keep the roads open and plowed.  One year we only had access by snowshoes, that wasn't very much fun. The next year, we tried leaving a snowmobile parked down the mountain in a trailer, where we could park the truck and drive the rest of the way in with the snow mobile. That didn't work very well either as the trailer got snowed in and we would have to spend an hour or so digging out the trailer just to get to the snowmobile. Once we got the snowmobile, even it got stuck. I once got the runner stuck on a tree under the snow and had to walk back to the cabin in 3 feet of snow to get a come-a-long to pull me out.  I am a bit hesitant about snowmobiles. Someone once said that you should never drive any farther on a snowmobile than you are willing to walk back when it breaks down. I can attest to that.

Utility Trailer with Snowmobile inside !

Snowmobiles are great - until they ain't!

So it has been a real dilemma trying to figure out the best way to have reliable access in the winter where we can bring in multiple people, food and supplies, in any kind of weather and in any amount of snow. This year, I think I finally found the perfect solution. I purchased a Polaris RZR with snow tracks.  This is a 2-seater, side-by-side UTV with the wheels replaced in the winter with snow tracks. I put the regular wheels on in the summer to run around and work the property and then in winter the tracks go on. These tracks are amazing and it doesn't matter how much snow there is, it just rides on top. I don't even need a road and can go cross-country on the snow if I want to.  I also added a V-Plow on the front so I can plow if I want to , or just use the V-plow to push snow aside if there is lots of powder.  This is the ideal setup for reliable winter access in any kind of weather and in any amount of snow.  The Polaris also has a built-in heater so it is a comfortable ride even on the coldest days.

The ultimate Winter Access
Polaris RZR 800 with Tracks and V-Plow

Winter Access Problems - NO MORE !

The only remaining problem is where to park the UTV in the winter. I tried parking down at the bottom of the mountain as some of the other locals have done for years. Well, I guess the landowner who owns the spot where I parked didn't want anyone to park there any more so he went ahead and buried my UTV under the snow as a subtle hint that I am not to park there.  Luckily, after digging enough to get into the UTV and getting it started, it crawled right out of the snow pile like it was no problem.  I had to find another spot to park the UTV, so I left it at the entrance to our top property entrance. Even though this was a fairly remote area, someone still tried to break into it while it was parked there.

This year, I am going to try to park the UTV on my lower property under the RV cover.  I will be able to park my truck at the road entrance and will have to snowshoe in about 1/2 mile to get to the UTV, but at least it will be in a secure place. I can then ride the UTV back to where the truck will be parked, load up any people, equipment or supplies.

Lastly, since the UTV is only a 2-seater, I purchased a sled that I can take additional people, equipment or supplies as needed. Hopefully this will be the best solution for my winter access going forward.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!!!

Here's a YouTube video of a trip up to the cabin in February 2020...