Alaska Wilderness Building

Discussion in 'Blogs' started by BTPost, Jan 2, 2011.

  1. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    Well, only one holiday left before the "climb back to summer sunshine" gets really underway. I have been reading and posting now for a bit over a month now, and so far, it has been an enjoyable association, with a number of Really Good Folks. One of the Christmas presents we received from a close neighbor, was three quart jars of Smoked Salmon. Momma took charge of those right away, otherwise I would have munched them GONE, the first night. I want to touch on the subject of "Building the Redoubt, in basic Wilderness". I posted some of this in a thread, out on the forums somewhere, but feel that I need to do a more comprehensive job of it and have it all in one place. If you have read this far, it must be apparent to you that Momma and I are pretty well setup, for where and how we live. It wasn't always this way and it didn't happen overnight. I am not what one would call a "Builder", but I can pound a nail where a true builder tells me to. I am a Technologist, and that means I am smart enough to know when to get an expert to teach, and help me when I do not have the expertise to do things. I have watched a lot of folks come up here seeking to build, both summertime places, and redoubts. There are two "Schools of Thought" on their usual approach. First school says, "If you pour enough MONEY into it and hire the right folks, you should end up with something, that works for you." This is the "More MONEY, than Brains" School. The second school says, "Even if I don't have the skill-set to do it ALL, myself, I can do the Planning, Purchasing, and Budgeting, and then help the right folks, build what I need. This is the 'Prudent Planners", School. I would HOPE, that anyone reading these words, would be in the second School, but you just never know, about folks. The Second School of folks will have come up and looked over the situation when they first buy their "Chunk of Alaska", and hopefully check in with some of the locals to find out the ins and outs of the area. Then head back home to start the design and planning stages of the operation. Prudent Planners, will have a chainsaw, generator, 4wheeler with trailer, hand toolset, mechanics toolset, carpenters toolset, tent, wood stove, fuel Jugs, a 12 X 12 unconstructed building, and enough food for ONE Month minimum, for themselves and their workforce, however big that is. All the forgoing will fit in a 20' CONEX, that can be loaded at their place down in the FlatLands, and then shipped to Alaska, and delivered to the end of the Road system. Then they can travel via normal transport and meet the CONEX, when it is delivered. JOB One, is building a trail from the CONEX to the Building site and clearing a place for the tent. Just a NOTE here, remember any bush and trees you clear will be used for firewood, to cook on, keep you warm at night, and that is why a chainsaw is the FIRST TOOL on the list. Job Two, is setting up camp in the tent, with the wood stove and living supplies. Job Three, will be to clear the site for the 12 X 12 building, and then moving ALL the materials out of the CONEX and to the Building Site. Job Four, is then construct the 12 X 12 building, getting it dried-in, insulated, wood stove installed, and then moving the living quarters into it, from the tent, and the tent now becomes the Toolshed. Usually the preceding can be accomplished, in about a month, or two at the most. Typically that is Half the Building Season, depending how far north your site is. Now you have a comfortable, out of the weather, place to live and work out of, while you move on to building "The Big House". If you have that structure PrePlanned, it would be time to clear the building site for it, and get the foundation materials either at the site, or on the way. Most of Alaska is NOT what one would consider an easy place to build. Foundations are typically built on ground that isn't conducive to easy construction. Most folks build, off the ground, foundations, some with "wood Post & Beam", some with "Sonotube" concrete piers, and then beams, but rarely will one find a poured Concrete slab, foundation, out in the wilderness. Mostly because there aren't Batch Plants, local to wilderness and hauling the makings in, is usually more trouble than it is worth. It is usual for the foundation to be the last thing built, in the first Building Season. Most folks then head back south and start planning for the next Building Season. Purchasing building materials down south, and then paying to ship north in a CONEX is much cheaper than buying local, as the local guy will be taking his profit, on the same materials you would be shipping, and he pays the same prices you would normally pay for materials, and shipping, on a job this size, if you do your own planning. In the way of Tools, mentioned above, the CHAINSAW is MANDATORY. I have had very GOOD luck with STIHL chainsaws. They ARE the saw of choice with alaskan Loggers. I bought an 031, decades ago, and it still serves me well, and STIHL has Parts Dealers just about in every town and village. Momma has her 018, for brush clearing, limbing, and firewood chunking. By the time you are finished with the first Building Season, your firewood stack will be considerable, and nicely seasoned for the next years Building Season.

    The next most important tool in the list is the Generator. There are Good ones, BAD ones, and just plain JUNK ones. Opinions will vary on how any specific genset fits into each of the three classes, but there are a few good "Rules of thumb", or "common sense" that can be applied to choosing the right Genset for the job at hand. As with all my opinions, what I write here comes from decades of experience operating and doing MINOR repair of Gensets, out here in the alaskan bush. I say MINOR, as I am a Technologist, and am NOT A WRENCH. I have the tools of a wrench, but they were a gift from my Brother, "The Engineer" that he left up here so that when he comes up every February, to visit, he has a decent set, to work with, as he fixes all the things that don't work quite right, since his last visit. The Toolbox sits in the enclosed Front Porch, and if anything is missing since his last visit, I hear about it for the next few YEARS. Ok now lets talk about quality. In the genset world there are five basic levels of quality. There is Prime Power, Standby/Backup Power, Contractor Grade, Consumer Grade, and just plain CRAP Grade. The gensets you find in the Big Box Stores, are Crap Grade at worst, and Consumer Grade at BEST. These, you want to stay away from, as far as possible, and they are for the most part, a WASTE of your hard earned cash, PERIOD. They are designed to operate for SHORT periods of time, at less than Rated Power, and the MTBF, (Mean Time Between Failure) is usually less than 1000 hours. By "failure" I mean the thing is scrap, Magic Smoke has Leaked out) and not worth fixing even if you could get the parts. Next comes the Contractor Grade Gensets. These are the ones you see on JOB-sites, where their isn't power yet. They look similar to the Consumer Grade and Crap Grade units, but they have Quality Built engines like Onan, Honda, Kohler, B&S, Techumsa, Yanmar, and Kubota. They will have heavier Copper windings, and typically have REAL AVR (Auto Voltage Regulation) Circuitry. MTBF for these will run in the 5-10K Hours range and the OEMs will have dealers, AND parts available. These will be the minimum, that you want to use in the building Phase of you project. These may or may not have LubeOil Filters. Next comes the Standby/Backup Grade Gensets. These are typically NOT air cooled, but they may be. They are NOT 3600 RPM Screamers, but put out their Rated Power at 1800 RPM, and will have LubeOil Filters in their design. You find these on dealers showroom floors, in RV's, on Boats, and in a lot of basements, hidden away from sight. A good source of used gensets, in this grade, is in RV Junkyards, and Marine Repair Yards. These units are designed and spec'd to provide Rated Power for DAYS, and into MONTHS with proper Operational Maintenance. (LubeOil changes and New Filters on the OEM Schedule) They cost more than Contractor Grade, but you are getting a solid, dependable, genset with more than likely 15K -20K operational hours, and MTBF, between rebuilds, and these will have dealers, and parts, everywhere. Finally we come to Prime Power Gensets. These are the Big Daddies in the Genset world. They will be Liquid Cooled, and are designed to produce their Rated Power 24/7/365 basically FOREVER, with OEM spec'd Periodic Major & Minor Maintenance. They will turn at 1800 Rpm, MAXIMUM, and 1200 Rpm is not unusual. I have seen some BIG BOYS that ran at 900 RPM. You will recognize these OEM names like CAT, Cummins, Northern Lights, Onan, Lister, Petter, Kohler, Detroit Diesel, and the like. They come in all sizes, and Rated Power levels, and are expensive. They are rebuildable and MTBR will be on the order of 15-20K for Top-ends and 30-40K for In-frames. Standby, and Prime Power Gensets are what most folks have, that generate their own power, as these are Investments in their Power Infrastructure, as important to their operation as Solar, Wind,and MicroHydro.
    Now lets talk about Fuel. Gasoline is the exclusive fuel of choice, for the Crap and Consumer Grade Gensets. Contractor Grade will have Gasoline, LP, and Diesel fueled engines, with some being Bifuel, and even Trifuel, by running on Gas/LP/NG. Gasoline fueled gensets are the most common, as that fuel is the most common, and the easiest to buy, and transport. The biggest problem with Gasoline is that our Govt. in it's Infinite Wisdom, (snork) has mandated that it gets mixed with alcohol, which makes it burn like CRAP, get OLD, and Gummy, in as little as MONTHS, even with STABIL added. You can get around this CRAP Gas by only purchasing Aviation Fuel, at your local General Aviation Airport, but it will be more expensive. The FAA SPECIFICALLY REFUSES to allow ANY alcohol in AvGas, PERIOD. Propane is a really good fuel of choice, for remote site gensets as it Stores FOREVER. It has 20% less BTU's per volume, than Gasoline, but that is not really a problem, unless you are running your genset right on the Ragged Edge, power wise. Natural Gas is also a very good fuel of choice, but not really practical, unless you got a NG Wellhead on your land. In a SHTF Senerio, neither of these two gaseous fuels are very good, as their supply will be VERY Limited. Now we come to my favorite, DIESEL. Yea, good old diesel fuel. Lots of BTU's in there, and stores dang near FOREVER, in sealed Drums. I have burned drums of diesel that were sealed up during WWII, with no problems at all. I like diesels because they have NO IGNITION System. Nothing to go wrong. No Points to look at. No spark Plugs. No sparkPlug wires to fail. No Nothing, but straight mechanical systems. If you get a smaller one, they can be HAND Cranked, to start. About the ONLY thing you need to make sure you watch, is how CLEAN is your fuel. No water, No dirt, no anything, that contaminates your fuel. This can be dealt with in your Fuel System Filtering, and by having a few years worth of filters on your Prep shelf. Diesel engines can burn ANY grade of fuel from Lighter Fluid, Transmission Fluid, kerosene, diesel#1, diesel#2, cooking grease, WVO, LubeOil, and ANYTHING in between, as long as it will flow thru the fuel lines, and is CLEAN. Lots of SHTF choices for fuel.

    So now you have just come back North for your second Building Season, and you open up your 12 X 12 cabin, and the place is TRASHED. Something has snuck in and strewn around all your food stores, shredded anything that looked like leather, or cloth, and basically turned the place upside down. Folks you have just meet your local Martin neighbor, well not exactly him/her but his/her leavings after a New Years Party at your place with all his/her Friends. These little weasels can chew their way thru 1/2 CDX in an hour, and squeeze thru a 1/2 hole in ANY structure. So, it is Day One, and you spent it cleaning up the mess and getting things back to a livable semblance of order. It will take another day to get all the rolling stock and equipment serviced and running, (chainsaw, genset, 4 wheeler) after the winter. Your CONEX, with the shell of the "Big House" will be delivered in another Day or two, to the end of the Road System, so you need to get the foundation cleaned up and ready for the Joists and sub-Flooring. Hopefully there is NO DELAY in the CONEX arrival, and your ready to start unloading the materials as soon as the Tractor heads back down the road. Time to unload, and sort the materials out, so that the first used, is easiest to get to, and the roofing, and exterior sheeting is farthest way. The wood stove in the cabin is burning just "Super", on last years seasoned woodpile, and you have replace all the provisions that Mr. Martin messed up over the winter. In your winter planning you have designed you Domestic Water system, so that once it is installed, it can withstand the winter temps, and still function, and be drained easily, should you have to leave for any length of time. More on that later. Getting the shell up and dried in, is a month or twos PROJECT, and HOPEFULLY some locals will have pointed out, to you, the year before, that if you're near Salt Water, ALL your nails need to be GALVANIZED, and NOT those Green coated sinkers. They may be good for the FlatLands, but you really do NOT want the heads of your nails coming off, after 5 years, due to Salt Water corrosion. ..... Whew, now you got a dried-in Structure, and it is time to insulate and install that mighty wood stove that has kept you warm and snug over in the cabin. Of course before the insulation can go in, you need to get the wiring for your electric installed. The plumbing for the Domestic Water system, goes in the interior Walls, NOT in exterior Walls, if you want the water to flow year-round at -20F or COLDER.

    So, let us talk about domestic water and Wilderness Water System design. If you purchased land with a year-round stream crossing it, or bordering to your property line, FANTASTIC! One third of you system is done. If not, where is your water going to come from? Many folks collect water off the building roof, and store that in tanks for domestic water. This WORKS, IF your location gets enough rain. If not then your going to have to haul water from the nearest creek or stream. You do have a 4 wheeler and trailer, RIGHT? So this would be just another chore, to do while living your dream. Once the supply of water is figured out, next you need to design your delivery system so that it is protected from the winter Temps at you location. I really like the design, of putting a 350USG cistern, inside the Insulated Big House Attic, and with an external check valved, and insulated Filler Pipe, Overflow Pipe, and Drain Pipe plumbed to a convenient location, on the external Wall, where you can bring the water source next to it. This allows for having External Storage, and being able to refill the cistern, with the least amount of hassle, using an external pump, and just keep pumping until water comes out the Overflow Line. You then make ALL you internal water piping from the cistern to the Hot water system and cold water outlets, vertical, with Drain Valves at the bottom of these vertical runs, so that you only need to OPEN Hot, Cold, and Cistern Drain valves, to winterize your whole system, via Gravity. See Planning is VERY important, here, as if you don't get it right BEFORE you finish the interior, it is a TOTAL PAIN to go back and redo it RIGHT. Hot Water is the Little Woman's LIFEBLOOD, and running Hot Water will make you a HERO in her eyes, FOREVER. So again, Planning is EVERYTHING, and the design isn't that much more expensive to do RIGHT, when building, when compared to trying to retrofit it in later. Since MOST will be using wood as the primary heat source, it seems to make sense to, at least design, some of your Hot Water Energy input to come from that source. There are two schools of thought on this. One School says, to put a 1/2" Copper Pipe Coil, of say 6" dia., and maybe 4 turns, in the firebox of the wood stove, or thermally connected to the firebox of the stove. The second School says to build that same Copper Pipe Coil inside the first section of Flue Piping, just above the stove surface, and before the Flue Damper Plate. This allows you to pull a considerable amount of BTUs from the wood stove, for Hot Water, and doesn't really cost you much in the way of cabin heat, as those BTUs, are ALL inside the insulated portion of the cabin, and still heat the air inside, but using the water as a conduit for moving the heat away from the stove, and adding more surface area to couple those BTUs to the room air. I like to use this type water heating source to feed a Domestic Water Tank that is relative close proximity to the heat source, in a thermalsyphan configuration. This requires NO PUMPS or other equipment, just plumbing. Then if you find that additional water heating is required, you can plumb in a Tankless Propane Water Heater, that only would come on, if the water from the thermalsyphan heater is below the Tankless Heaters Lower Temp Setpoint, otherwise it is just a wide spot in the Hot Water Pipe. So far the whole internal water system requires no PUMPS, or external energy except for HEATING the water. It is ALL Gravity flow. Yea, I like NO Moving Parts. Ok you say, but Momma wants a nice HOT shower, and the Gravity doesn't provide enough Pressure for her sensibilities. Now comes some small energy inputs to maintain a 40 PSI system. From the cistern output, you plumb in a pre-filter, (say 30 Microns) a domestic water pump, powered by your Building Power System Buss, (We will discuss that system later) a check valve, a 20USG Air Bladder Pressure Tank, a 5-10 Micron Filter, an Activated Charcoal Filter, a UV Sterilizer Tank, and a 40 PSI Pressure Switch that runs the Pump Motor, that then feeds the Domestic Water System, both HOT and Cold. Wool-la, Hot and Cold Running Water @ 40 PSI, just like down home in the city, amazing, and this can ALL be added down the road, as finances permit. The water doesn't freeze in the cistern because it is in the insulated heated portion of the building and you are feeding the wood stove to make it warm inside, and everything just WORKS. Nice Huh.... At this point I need to explain about the filters used in the Pressure Water System. The Pre-Filter is used, because I like the Dankoff Vane type Boost Pumps in 12 Vdc, (Rebuildable and usually 10-15 years MTBF, and draws only about 10 amps while running and only runs when the air bladder Pressure tank is empty, and then only until it is refilled) and these type pumps can NOT have any larger particulates in the input, because of the tolerances of the Vanes. The 5-10 Micron Main Filter, will take out any bacteria, and most of the common viruses, that can contaminate airborne collected (Rain) Water. (think bird poop) The Activated Charcoal Filter will remove all the organic solvents and other organic chemicals that might be in the collected or pumped water. Finally, the UV Sterilizer Tank, is a 6" dia. X 12" long Stainless Tank with a O-ring gasketed Quartz Glass tube thru the axial center, and inside that tube is a 12" Ultraviolet Gas Light (Germicidal Lamp) that runs off a simple 12 Vdc solid-state ballast, which is tied into the same power as the Pump and only turns on when the Pump runs. (Draws 1-2 Amps) This irradiates ALL the water going into the Domestic Water System, and should ANY bacteria or viruses make it thru the filters, the UV KILLS them DEAD. It only takes a very quick exposure, as the water is pumped thru to the system, to do the job. I first came across this type system 25 years ago, and bought one that was an integrated product, but now the Filter Housings are common and the UV outfit is commonly available. The idea of this system is you can run Swamp water into it and get good clean Potable Water out of it. The filters run about $5US each with the charcoal ones at $15US each, and the UV Light is $25US, and usual MTBF is around 2 years. I change my filters, twice a year, spring and fall, but in a pinch could easily stretch that out to a year, with no hassles. Again, having a five year supply on the SHTF Storage Shelf is not really that expensive. Now lets talk about how you get your raw water, ready to pump up into the cistern, for use. As I stated above, if your land has a year-round stream, this then becomes easy. If you have enough drop across your land you can use gravity to fill the cistern, and let the Overflow Line, just feed back into the creek, or stream, and have a continual fresh water feed for your system. You must take care to put your Input Line and Overflow Line down below the 25 year Frost depth for your location, so they do NOT Freeze in the winter, but other than that your are done. If you have to pump your water from a local source into a mobile tank, and then bring it home, then you will need a Pump to fill the cistern, and fill the mobile tank. I have a nice little Gasoline fueled Honda Pump that I use for this job. Had it for 10 years and it will last many more years with good annual maintenance. (annual LubeOil change, and new spark plug) I fitted mine with some nice 1 1/2" CamLoc connections (Northern Tool is a source) on both the suction and discharge sides of the pump, and made up specific 15' 1 1/2" stream Suction Hose, and 30' Discharge Hose to fit my PumpOut area, where my water comes from. I use a 350USG Tank, with a 1 1/2" CamLoc fitting, that fits in the back of my pickup, as my Mobile Tank.In my case I use a 1/2Hp 120Vac Jabsco trash Pump with CamLocs to pump from the Mobile tanks into my Outside Storage Tanks, and use the same pump to fill the cistern. In the case of the described "Big House", if you have external Storage Tanks, you could just gravity flow the water into them from the truck bed, or use the Honda Pump. That takes care of the Mobile tank method, but what about the roof collection Setup? Here a good design can save you LOTS of time, and trouble. First thing to consider is the gutter design for the eves. If you install your gutters, like they do down in the flatLands, you will have to reinstall them EVERY YEAR, after the snow slides off the roof and takes the gutters with it. So, the idea is to mount the typical gutters, under the eves, just so the outside edge of the gutter, is only about a 1/4" farther out, and six inches, or more, below the edge of the steel roofing. When the snow slides, it goes right out over the gutters and leaves them in place, but the water drops almost straight down of the edge of the roof, right into the gutter. You MUST design in a a slight pitch in the gutter system so that ALL water moves down the gutter, and does NOT stand in there, to FREEZE. Down-spouts need to be designed to feed all the water, by gravity, into your Insulated External Storage Tanks with no place for ANY Standing water to freeze. Just above the end of your gutter system you need a "Filter Screen" so designed that any particles, evergreen needles, and other large type contaminates, get washed off and do NOT go into your Insulated Storage Tank. One of my close neighbors designed a good one and next spring I am going to go measure it up and put it in my CADD system, and then publish it, because it is the BEST one I have come across in 35 years. Well, that about covers the Domestic Water System for the Alaska Dream House.

    Next thing to install is the Building Electrical System, and this assumes that you are actually going to HAVE an electrical system. Many alaskan Bush Cabins do NOT have any electrical systems at all, so for the sake of discussion, we will assume that you are a MODERN thinking person and therefore you need to plan for, and design just what electrical systems that you want to incorporate into the Structure, BEFORE, you get ready to insulate and close in the walls and ceilings. Another NOTE here, many alaska cabins use Propane lights instead of electrical lighting, but very few constructed in the last decade, will have this type of lighting. However if you do plan on Propane as a Energy Source, it would be wise to have at least one propane Lighting fixture in the Main Room. We will cover that contingency later. The FIRST real decision that must be made is, are you going to have AC Power, and, or, DC Power Busses in side the structure? Both are viable, and common, and many buildings have BOTH. If you look around your FlatLand house, and see how many "WallWarts" you have plugged in to power all kinds of nifty little electronic Do-Dads, and you planning to be OFF-Grid, then having a DC Buss in the building will keep all these down to a minimum by eliminating most of them, and still having those useful Do-Dads, functioning. Many of the smaller cabins have only a DC Buss, as they are not designed for a more modern lifestyle, and energy is a lot harder to come by, so an AC Buss makes little sense. I like the dual Buss Systems, because it allows the AC buss to function on an intermittent basis, while still allowing for the expansion of the AC Buss, as more alternative energy input is made available to the building. It is a LOT cheaper to install the Copper, NOW, than trying to retrofit it in later. So, if you go with the Dual Buss system then you will want to look at, and PLAN for what will be AC, and what can be delegated to the DC Buss, that is 24/7/365, as long as the place is occupied. If you pressurized your water system, then this is where you power the Pump and UV Sterilizer from. If your wood heat source has a DC Fan as part of it, that goes here as well. A backup DC Lamp (LEDs are nice and cheap on AMPS, or CPF DC lamps work as well) in each room. Your Comm System, which we can get into later, and maybe one DC Outlet in each room. This can ALL be wired with standard 12/2 Romex wire that you will be installing for the AC Buss, and you terminate all these back to a DC Breaker Panel at your Electrical Energy Entrance. I happen to like SquareD Panels, as they can be had in various sizes, and can be used for both AC and DC, with the appropriate Breakers. I choose to power my DC Buss with a pair of L16's in Series, to make 12Vdc @ 400 Amp/Hours. I charge them from the Generated AC Buss from the Powerhouse, so that they get charged anytime the Genset is running. We will look at Powerhouse design later, but it never gets to early to be thinking about that, as your Genset, right now is your Primary Electrical Energy Source. Ok now we need to look at the AC Buss. Again PLANNING is critical from the get-go. What are the Loads that you are planning to run in the building? Are there any 240 Vac loads? If not that makes things a lot simpler in the design, and way simpler out in the 12 X 12 that your still living in, when it becomes the Toolshed, and Powerhouse. Very few buildings in the alaskan bush require 240Vac loads, and if there is one it will usually be a Clothes Dryer, and usually that can be feed directly from the Powerhouse, and therefore 240 Vac isn't required in the AC Buss in the living structure. Now if you are a single Man, then one or two AC outlets, in each room, are going to be enough, but if you have a woman in the house, you just can NEVER have enough Outlets, This is just a FACT, and you had better plan on that right from the start. Once the copper and the plumbing is in the walls, and any Propane plumbing is in for a Cook Stove, Refer, Freezer, and or Clothes Dryer, then the Insulation can be installed, and the wood stove moved from the 12 X 12 to the Big House, and installed. Now your ready to move into the unfinished Big House, and 12 X 12 now becomes the Toolshed/Powerhouse, and the Tent gets put away, in the SHTF Storage. This all can take from one, to three, Building Seasons, depending on the building crew size, and the amount of preplanning that got done, before, and how well each part went together.

    Now, that you have moved into "The Big House", even though it is not finished inside, lets look at converting the 12 X 12 into the Toolshed/Powerhouse. Here, there are a LOT of options. What kind of Energy Inputs do you have for you location. Solar, Wind. MicroHydro, and Petroleum Based Gensets, are the most common. If you have a year-round flowing water, on the place, and the vertical drop across your land provides sufficient available power, then MicroHydro is by far the most cost effective energy source. Wind may be a good energy source, IF it is fairly constant at your location, and is moderate 99% of the time. (moderate means, less than Maximum, of your windmills designed Maximum Wind Speed, 99% of the time) Solar works fair to good, depending on your location and amount of open area, or roof space that you have with southern facing mounting areas. Solar is going to be the most expensive in Capital Costs, upfront, HOWEVER with the appropriate planning and design, it can be built in increments, as can the associated Battery Banks and Inverter systems. We use a combination of all the above in my neighborhood, EXCEPT wind. It just isn't cost effective here, as we have MANY dead calm days, and a few 120 Knot storm days a year, which will destroy ANY wind machine. Folks have tried, and NONE have survived more than one year, here. Everyone has a petroleum powered Genset, to backup their alternative energy sources, and these should be living in the Toolshed/Powerhouse. We talked about Gensets, above in the Building Phase, but as we enter the Living Phase, we need to take a little bit different look at that , now that we are entering, a Longterm Infrastructure, design rather that just a "building" energy requirement. Many of my close neighbors run their whole outfits with 3 Kw Gensets. The more "Citified" of them will be in the 5-8 Kw range, and I run 20Kw Gensets as I have a lot of Infrastructure to support that my neighbors do not have, like the Local Telco System, a Trading Post with all its Freezers and Fuel Distribution systems, and the ISP and SAT based IP Systems. Usually a single Living space and single Family Home outfit can get along on 3-5 Kw Gensets with ease. If you went cheap, on the original Genset, (Contractor Grade) it will be getting close to its MTBF in operational Hours by now, So you may need to invest in a different Genset for the Living Phase. Fuel is one decision, that you may want to look at if a different genset is in your future, at this point. If Gasoline was your Build Phases fuel, and you have Propane installed in the house, then that may be a consideration, It may be advisable to take a look at diesel for your Living Phase genset fuel. Diesel has LOTS of BTU's per volume. Is easily stored, and readily available, especially in Alaska. If I haven't mention this FACT, before, I will bring it up NOW. ALASKA runs on DIESEL. It is the PRIMARY Energy source for the State, PERIOD. The two refineries we have in this state, ONLY make Diesel. We import ALL the Gasoline from refineries in Washington State. As we talked about in the Generator Section, above, in the Backup/Standby Genset class, there are many to choose from. Liquid Cooled, Air Cooled, Gasoline fueled, Propane fueled, BiFueled, (Gas and Propane), and Diesel fueled. Air Cooled is easy in the Frozen North, as you never have to worry about antifreeze and overheating, UNLESS, the little "Critters" beak into your Powerhouse, and decide to build their nests inside the Cooling shrouds of your genset, while you are not looking. The cons of Air Cooled are that they dump a lot of those fuel BTUs trying to heat the "Whole Out-of-Doors" and there isn't an efficient way to recover those BTUs. The "Rule of Thumb" for this is 1/3 of the fuel BTUs go out the Crankshaft/Genend, via the copper wires, to the electrical load. 1/3 of the BTUs go out the Cooling System, heating the AIR, and 1/3 of the BTUs go up the Exhaust Stack, in hot Exhaust Gasses. You paid for all those BTUs when you purchased the fuel, so wouldn't it be wise to try and recover as MANY as you can, for your uses, rather than just throwing them away? Well of course it would, and is, and it is called "Cogeneration". This is much easier to implement on Liquid cooled Gensets. Some are setup and designed for energy extraction right from the Factory. If CoGeneration is something that your thinking about, you want to start looking for a good used Marine type genset, that has dual Cooling Loops, with a Heat Exchanger, and a Water Jacketed Marine Exhaust Manifold. These usually can be found in Marine Shipyards all along the coasts of the USA. Do not let the NEW Prices, give you sticker shock, good used gensets are out there and they can be had, usually for less than 50% of new prices with many hours of engine life left on them. I purchased all three of my Onan DJA (Air Cooled) and MDJA (Liquid Cooled) 3Kw gensets for less that $300US, each. It cost more to ship them up here, than I paid for them, down on the FlatLands.

    My winter Project this winter is designing, and building up, a Diesel fueled, 12Kw two Cyl, Liquid cooled genset, with full coGeneration, around a chinese Hardy Diesel engine with a Stamford/Newage Brushless / AVR, Genend. <>

    Many of the Toolshed/Powerhouses up here, are removed from the Big House, for Noise Abatement. Momma just doesn't like listening to the "Genny" thumping along all the time. Remember that is one of the selling points, that you used to get her to move up here, in the First Place... Peace & Quiet... Right? Well, It was a good thought anyway, and the judicious use of Good "Medical Grade" Silencers, will go a long way to quiet things down. While we are on Exhaust Systems, let us look at recovering some of those BTUs that are going up the Stack. There are two ways to do this. First is with a Water Jacketed Marine Exhaust Manifold. These will normally come on Marine rigged genset of 10Kw or more, but usually they are not found on smaller gensets Marine or Stationary, so the second way is to build a Water Jacketed Heat Exchanger into you Exhaust System. There isn't a lot of off the shelf products like this out in the marketplace, as the niche is just way to small, at this time. I have been thinking about this for a few years now, and have been slowly coming to a design for such an item, that I will try out on my 2010/11 Winter Project Genset, when it gets that far along, IF I can find a Welder Fabricator who would be interested in building some prototypes. If one looks at the numbers, and figures, for the REAL World BTU Recoveries, it is possible to get 60-70% of the Cooling BTUs and 40-50% of the Exhaust BTUs from a well designed Cogen System. So, Let us take the Low End Numbers. 60% * 1/3 or 33% = 19% of the Fuel BTUs, for the Cooling System. Then 40% * 1/3 or 33% = 13% of the Exhaust BTUs. Now you get 90% of the Crankshaft BTU's, 90% * 1/3 or 33% = 30%, so let us add these all up. 19% + 13% + 30% = 62% or roughly 60% of the Fuel BTUs that you bought with Hard Earned Cash, can be recovered, and that basically means that you can DOUBLE, the useable Energy, you get out of your fuel, by investing in a CoGen System. In the last decade, great strides have been made in ways to use these extra BTU's in an Off-Grid senerio. The Biggest return on investment, can be realized by using them to heat the Big House. The Big House, as constructed above, makes NO provision for this, but with a little more Planning, and a few minor Design changes, it can be incorporated into the original construction, or retrofitted later, IF you have access to the Underside of the Main Floor of the structure. What you do is, as the sub-flooring is installed, over the Joists, you install a series of 1/2" PEX Tubing Loops, and then after they are installed, you then install your Main Floor Insulation, and skirting. These sub-flooring Pex Loops are then plumbed to common Manifolds, on both input and output ends, and then these are connected to the Genset Heat Exchanger thru a set of underground insulated Double Wall pipes, and an Expansion Tank. So basically the flooring of the structure becomes the Radiator for the Liquid Cooled Genset. You can tie in the Exhaust Recovery system to this same Loop, or use it to PreHeat your Domestic Water, with a secondary Loop to your ThermalSyphan Tank, that runs off the wood stove. This secondary Loop would need to be a Pumped Loop, with either a mechanically driven Pump off the engine, (Jabsco Impeller Pump) or a 12 Vdc Pump running off the Starting Battery/Engine Alternator System, or a 120 Vac Pump running off the 120Vac generated Buss.

    Well, we have talked about the Water system, and the Generator, in detail and how they all get integrated into a Energy Use System, and now we need to look at the alternative energy sources that can supplement the Wood and Petroleum based Energy sources, and the Electrical System Design, that brings all these sources together to provide the power for the AC & DC Electrical Power Busses in the Big House. If you have any 240 Vac loads then it will be best to generate your AC power at 240 Vac, and power those loads only when the Genset is running. This means that your main Domestic Water Pressure, does NOT come from a 240 Vac Well Pump, but is either Gravity, or a small Pump on the 12 Vdc Buss. In the design of the Big House, above, that is taken care of, as you have your cistern up inside the insulated Attic and you only need a Well Pump, when that Tank gets Low on Water. With just a bit of planning you can keep that tank topped off any time you need to run the genset, for some other purposes, or you can run it off the Inverter System we are going to design into the system, as long as you have the required energy in the Battery system. If you have no other 240 Vac loads then you likely will then generate your power at 120 Vac, and or, some voltage of DC, that your Main Inverter Battery system runs at. I like to keep my AC Power Busses separate and distinct, so for MY System in which I need a 240 Vac Buss, I have a 240 Vac Power Panel that takes inputs from both 20Kw Gensets as well as a 240 Vac Input, from the Big Cannery Powerhouse (2,5 MegaWatts) that runs during the summer months. All my 240 Vac Loads run from this Panel, and it is only powered if there is a Genset Running. One of the loads in this panel is a 10 Kw 240/120 Vac transformer, that makes the 120 Vac for the whole Outfit, and it feeds the 120 Vac Generated Panel. This panel is like the 240 Vac Panel, only powered when there is a Genset running, and feeds those 120Vac Loads that only need to run when the Gensets are running. (Like Main Shop Power, and Lighting, Wellhouse Power, Lights, and Heat, in my operation) One of the Loads in the 120 Vac Generated Panel is the Input to my Trace 4024 Inverter/charger, which has a 1200 AmpHour Battery Bank, made up of three Strings of 4 ea. L16 Batteries. This is the Main Inverter system for the outfit. In the above design, I would spec in an Outback 3648 Inverter/Charger, to start with and a minimum of 800 AmpHours of Battery capacity. YMMV.. Anyway the Inverter/Charger then feeds the 120 Vac Inverted Panel, and this is where Big House Power AC Buss panel is fed from. This then completes the AC Power System for the whole Outfit.

    Now it is time to look at Alternative Energy Inputs, to the DC Battery Bank, that is part of the Inverter/Charger System. MicroHydro is the MOST cost effective of the alternative energy sources, but it requires that you have the right land on which to install it. There are two basic types of MicroHydro. First is the High Head, Low Volume type, which is characterized by A Big Vertical Drop, from the source Pipeline Input location, to the MicroHydro Turbine location. The second type is Low Head, High Volume, type. These are characterized by Large Flows, and Small Vertical Drops, where you are dealing with a larger Stream that only drops from a few feet to maybe a few tens of feet across your land. This is Water Wheel, and In-Stream Screw Propeller, type designs. There are literally thousands of designs for collection and pipeline feeding systems, and Low Head, High Volume types of designs, and a few really good MicroHydro Turbine/Alternator systems to choose from, and I do not intend to go into those here, but if your planning a MicroHydro type system, then "Goggle is your Friend". I want to try and stay with the transport of the output of the MicroHydro power from the output of the alternator to the PowerHouse. In many cases this can be the biggest engineering issue for the Off-Grid'er, because rarely is the production site right next to the Powerhouse, unless your just plane lucky with the land you purchased. Here again, there are two basic Transport Systems for the power. AC and DC. In a DC System you just hook the output of the alternator directly to the copper, at the source and and to the Charge Controller in the Powerhouse. This works for short runs, at low power levels, (Less than 100 Ft @ less than 500 Watts) but is very inefficient. In an AC Transport System, You remove the rectifying diodes from alternator, and take the Raw 3 Phase Power to a set of 3 ea. 1 Kw 24/240 or 24/480 Vac Transformers, and then feed that down a set of 3 ea. 3 Phase Delta wired Power Lines to the Powerhouse. The Power Lines can be as simple as #12 Stranded wire that can come from ANY commercial Wire source as most all of the commercial wire will have 600 Vac Insulation. By boosting the Power Line Voltages up to 240 Vac, or even 480 Vac, you cut your I2R losses, significantly, in the long Power Line wire lengths. I have put in systems that cover up to one mile, using trees as Power Poles, and just Nails for insulators at each tree. You can increase the current carrying capacity, from what the NEC says, by 20%, just because the wires are strung thru the Air, and have Air Cooling. At the Powerhouse, you just run the 3 Power Lines back thru a duplicate set of 3 ea. transformers to get the voltage back down to somewhere between 24-72 Vdc, after it is rectified, and feed it into your MTTP Charge Controller. Here again, I like the OutBack MX-xx Series of Charge Controllers, and they work well for this type of System. The only thing you have to play with, in the design, is to look at the frequency of the RAW AC from the alternator, and the make sure that your system doesn't exceed the Maximum Input Voltage of the Charge Controller. There is another simpler but less efficent way to make AC for the Transmission of your Hydro Energy. This where you have a smaller Modified Sinewave Inverter at the Turbine Site, that takes the Raw DC from the Alternator, and makes 120 Vac from it, which the feeds a single Transformer to boost the Line Voltage up to your 240, or 480 Vac Line Voltage. Then you only need two transmission wires and a single transformer on the Powerhouse end, to bring the Line Voltage back down, and rectify it, for your DC Buss on the MTTP Charge Controller Input.

    Next in the alternative energy lineup, in energy return on investment, is Solar. Here in Alaska, solar does actually work, and it works rather WELL, during the LONG summer days, HOWEVER, it is marginal, for winter time Energy Input, because of the shorter Solar days, and the low angle above the horizon. Deciding on investing in solar requires a lot of planning before the outlay of the Hard earned Cash. Planning for what panels fit your situation, like what voltage panels are you going to buy, and planning for system expansion, as the funds become available. Panel selection is usually driven by two things. Battery Buss Voltage, and Cost per expansion increment. If you have a 24 Vdc Battery Buss, then if you buy 24 Vdc panels you only need to buy them one at a time. If you have a 12 Vdc Buss, then you would be buying 12 Vdc Panels, and only need to do it one at a time. The Charge Controller can make this whole ISSUE, irrelevant, if you get a modern MTTP unit like the OutBack MX Series. These do the required Panel to Battery Buss Voltage conversions for you, so you only have to decide what the Panel Buss voltage will be, and what the Battery Buss Voltage will be, and then you purchase expanding increment panels as required for that Panel Buss Voltage choice. With appropriate Design criteria, you could start out with a 12Vdc Battery Buss and Panel Buss, and then as your System and Load needs grow, move on up to 24 Vdc or even 48 Vdc Battery Buss Voltages, and reconfigure your Panel Buss voltage by reconfiguring your original 12 Vdc Panels into as 24 Vdc, or 48 Vdc Array, to match the New Panel Buss voltage. The only "Gotcha" in this is the Inverter/Charger would need to be replaced in any change in Battery Buss Voltage, HOWEVER, In a long term solution, it would not be a bad idea to have a backup Inverter/Charger at 12 Vdc that was your original Unit, that you out-grew, and could allow you to still function, but on a lower power basis, if the Big Inverter/Charger went OffLine, OR TU, for technical reasons. To return to the smaller system you would just need to reconfigure the Battery Bank for the different Battery Buss Voltage, and reset the Charge Controller parameters for the different Battery Buss Voltage. You would NOT need to change the Panel Buss voltage as the MX Series Charge Controller would still keep those the same, and do the conversion automatically.

    The same basic setup for solar will work for Wind, as well. In your planning you will decide what the Wind Machines Output Voltage will be, and then program that into the MX Series Charge Controller as the Input Buss Voltage. The Battery Buss Voltage will de dealt with the same as the Solar system. The real "gotcha" in Wind is, that it doesn't blow constantly, most places, or most of the time, and you will NEED to design your wind system, to account for the Maximum 50 YEAR Storm Winds, for your location. This data can be had by talking to the NOAA Mr. Wx for your area, and he is just a phone call away, right now... after SHTF, maybe not....

    Ok now I want to talk about another alternative energy source that, I suspect many, if not most, of you have never heard of, and I only bring it up, because I have one, sitting in my Storage CONEX, just waiting for a time and place to install and use it. This is what is called a TEG. (Thermal Electric Generator) We use these to power remote Mountain-top Radio Sites, all over Alaska, and I scored mine when the USCG, in their infinite wisdom, decided to replace ALL the TEGs in their systems with diesel Gensets, a few years back. (10 years or so) My unit had just been installed 6 months before, due to an avalanche taking out the prior installed system, that had been on-site for the previous 15 years. A "Good Friend" was the contractor, on the job and part of the contract was to remove, and dispose of, the TEGs, Batteries, and Charge Controllers. So I got one 240 watt TEG, a 700 AmpHour 24 Vdc Absolyte II AGM type Battery Bank, and Charge Controller, for a days work, on-site, and a wonderful chopper ride up and back, as the Radio site in question was about 40 miles from my place, at 3500 ft Elevation. A TEG is really just a propane burner and regulator, with an autostart function, that is connected to a BIG Assed Propane Tank. (like 1000USG) The TEG uses the Heat from the burner to heat one side of a Peltier Junction Pile to about 600F, and the outside Air is used to cool the other side of the Pile which is inside a chimney. The Peltier Effect is used to generate the electricity across the pile, by converting the Temperature differences between the Hot and Cold sides of the pile into the electrical power. These are not very efficient in energy conversion, but their BEAUTY is they have NO MOVING PARTS, and as long as they have fuel, they MAKE POWER. Mine uses 1 USG of Propane/day and makes about 5 KwHours of power for that one USG of propane. There is also a CoGeneration side benefit, in that the air coming out the top of the cold side chimney is about 80F, and is not part of the burner exhaust, so it could be ducted into the insulated Living Space of a cabin and used to supplement the cabin heat. There is one other significant "gotcha" for TEGs. They are EXPENSIVE. OEM List on mine was $5kUS, back when I got it, and I suspect that it is significantly MORE, in todays ObamaBucks. (FRNs) On a side NOTE, here, a TEG doesn't know or CARE, what the heat source is, so if one ran out of propane, one could, REDESIGN the Hot side to accept heat from a Wood Fire or ANY other heat source that was in the 600F neighborhood. The same Peltier Principal, is what is used on the" EcoFans" that many of you have seen, or use, on the top of your wood stoves, that blows the Hot Air around, and run off the heat of the stove top. In Norway, during WWII, the Resistance used this same type of gadget, to power clandestine radios, at remote cabin sites, by installing them in the Wood Stove Flue Pipes. A complete clandestine Radio and Power system could be airdropped in a 1 cubic foot package.

    Crap, I had a really good Comms Section going but when I went to add it in it disappeared...
    So, I decided to make the Communication Section, its own Blog.... If that is what you're looking for, check out the "Alaska Wilderness Communications" Blog.....
  2. hank2222

    hank2222 Monkey+++

    thanks for the info there bud
  3. Gunny Highway

    Gunny Highway Hard Work and Sacrifice blessed by God's Grace

    Great Stuff Bruce - a real " Soup to Nuts " manual on the rigors of establishing a foothold up in Alaska
    Dunerunner likes this.
  4. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    A very nice read, and fits with a few of my own ideas as well. Thanks for the info.
    Dunerunner likes this.
  5. hank2222

    hank2222 Monkey+++

    I keep reading this post over and over to see if I have missed something and I keep finding something new in the post
    Dunerunner and pearlselby like this.
  6. What do you think of good thick canvas wall tent as a form of semi-permanent living in AK (specifically, South-central where it's not too cold)?

    I know a lot of people supposedly do it while they are building the more permanent house or cabin and they may live in the wall tent for a year while building the bigger house, but is it feasible to live in for three or four years if a person is in the process of slowly saving money for the bigger house? Or for that matter, is it crazy to even live in it for just one year as people do.
    Dunerunner likes this.
  7. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    Depends on how much Rain, and how cold, you expect you site to be.... AND how much firewood you have in the woodpile...
    Dunerunner, pearlselby and chelloveck like this.
  8. Akheloce

    Akheloce Monkey++

    It better be able to withstand some gnarly winds too... Upwards of 100 mph.
    Dunerunner likes this.
  9. I never gave any thought to the wind issue. I was more worried about the snow load issue (in terms of what would happen if I had to leave the tent for a few months during the winter... how man feet of snow would accumulate on roof, I can't even imagine. Pretty sure it could collapse even the best wood frame).

    I was going to build a very robust log under-frame to it instead of the usual crappy metal poles that people often use with the wall tents. The wood frame would take the wind load for sure, but I don't know what the shear strength is of canvas under high winds.

    I'd speculate that if the wall tent was situated in the woods that that would act as a good enough wind break (with the added benefit of keeping the tent from prying eyes, to a degree).

    As far as firewood, it's a 20 acre lot (about 14'ish acres of that is solid wooded), so..... however many years that lasts for. Add in some insulation on the roof and walls and a Yukon cylinder stove, I guess that should be enough heat.
    Dunerunner likes this.
  10. Akheloce

    Akheloce Monkey++

    For that amount of work, I'd just build a permanent shed.

    I built an 8x12 building in a weekend to stay in while I was building the main cabin. Now, it's my generator and storage shed.
  11. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    Canvas tents do NOT last a winter, period... Smart folks store the canvas, for the winter, as well as the ridge pole, and then shovel the accumulated Snow, off the deck, when they return in the spring... Then rebuild the abode for the summer construction season... Of course, if you had followed the BTPost Program, this wouldn't be nessesary as you would have a Insulated PowerHouse/Toolshed, to use and store all your goods, over the winter, in.... ..... YMMV....
    chelloveck likes this.
  12. By any chance, do any of you Alaska dwellers know the name for a certain kind of cargo boat that travels up the rivers and has a front or side gate (sort of like a ferry) that swings down so people can transport their ATV's / Argo/ Mudd Oxe/ Snowmachines and such out into the bush and roll it right off the boat? I'm trying to look into procuring such a transport from a local to haul some stuff out, to see what they would charge, but can't remember offhand what you call those kinds of boats in local lingo.
  13. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    Depends on which river your interested in..... in the Kuskakuim it was Kuskakuim Transportation.... Back when I was doing work in the Interior. I would get a hold of the Village Council of the nearest Village that you fly into the area from and ask them who does River TransPorts on that local River. They will know, as ALL their fuel comes in that way. Each river will have it's own Group running those Businesses.... Or, Ask the Bush Pilot, who services your Site... He also will know... Things are a lot different, these days than when I was working the Bush, but the rivers are still the only way to move heavy Stuff........ ......
    chelloveck likes this.
  14. john316

    john316 Monkey+++

    a very good read
  15. Witch Doctor 01

    Witch Doctor 01 Mojo Maker

    I thought the most important tool was a insect net and bug juice for the skeeters and black flies... those things can carry you away...

    (great stuff)
  16. arleigh

    arleigh Goophy monkey

    Love your posts ,
    Done much of the same things , makes me proud.
  17. Sobospider

    Sobospider Monkey

    Hi @BTPost

    I have just reread this post for what seems like the dozenth time, thank you so much for the detailed perspective!

    We are now embarking on the serious planning and gearing up phase for this comming spring, I am looking forward to starting the process of building up our little lot. We have the lot paid off and secured the necessary funding for "phase 1", arraigned for extended leave from our employers, convinced Grandma to keep the kids for 6 weeks, and started amassing tools and camping supplies.

    I was hoping you might have some advice, or be able to direct me to any existing forums dealing with the "trail building" portion of the process. We have been out to several remote locations where roads are being professionally put in with heavy equipment and I have a basic understanding of the process, but honestly we would be just as happy (maybe more happy!) with a simple trail access. I estimate the distance we need to cover to be approximately 1,500 ft with 2 short muskeg crossings and a sharp grade to climb at the end. Any advice would be appreciated!
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