A blast from the past

After finally stopping for a moment to look back at our history in this wacky Eco-Sense adventure, we’d thought it would be fun to share the odd old post… here is one from just over 10 years ago.   No pretty pictures back then… we didn’t know how to do that (that stuff is complicated you know!).   Don’t despair this time around we have added pictures.

As I read through this update from many years ago, I smile and then I tear up… Angela Evans, mentioned in this update, a friend, has since passed away – but her favourite sweet peas grace the front of our home, our khaki campbell duck flock are collectively named the sweet peas, and we have Angie duck.    We miss you Angela

November 2007 Update

Filed under: Eco-Sense Updates eco-sense.ca @ 7:58 pm

We left you last month with a cliff hanger. Although the car died we still have the van. Our remaining vehicle has 450,000 kms on it, and is meant strictly as the work thing to tow the trailer up the driveway. It looks like a work thing; it is bruised, battered and filthy just like Gord, and they are both starting to complain. The difference is that Gord is reliable but the van is not. Ann is complaining too because it’s too filthy to transport groceries in.

The vehicle vs. values saga

What do you do when hard work and luck places you where you want to be, but society and cultural pressures tell you to ignore your values and get back in the box?

As many of you are aware we have shared custody of the kids with alternating weeks. What were to happen if we refused to buy a vehicle because of conflict with our values? What if we argued that there were no good alternatives available yet to transport kids? What if we had no bus service? For two years we have tried to change the kids’ school as was agreed to when we moved here. Currently, we have a two and a half hour daily drive to and from school twice per day which accounts for most of our driving. What if we biked to the closest bus route and sent the kids off to school for an hour long bus ride each way? Lots of questions…No answers!

The only answer is… Too bad… you have to uphold your responsibility to transport the kids to school. The courts are not even close to being able to make a decision based on the triple bottom line. Interestingly we have spent the last two years attempting to discuss climate issues, equal family involvement, kids’ school friends, reduction of greenhouse gases, environmental education, kids’ schedules, and commuting costs. We are saddened and left wondering what is worth fighting for. Do we allow our culture to determine that we go out and purchase a greenhouse gas spewing dinosaur? Can we wait for the government to allow electric vehicles? Could we even afford one?

Interestingly the Federal government has told one of the Canadian based electric vehicle makers, that despite them meeting the federal guidelines, they still can’t sell in Canada, as the federal government has plans to review their guidelines. Something is a little stinky here!

The Electrical Code

Our lucky day…we just got a new electrical inspector assigned to our building. He is only into the job two weeks and he gets our house. Our thoughts were “poor bugger”. Our electrician gently peppered him with questions, and he went for his notebook. The inspector spent half of his two hours getting a tour of the systems, an introduction to sustainability, and learning how deficient the electrical code really is when it comes to energy conservation.

The inspector has had to learn a lot really quick. We learned that the electrical code is kind of like the Bible…open to interpretation.

We had expected that our living (circle) room would have to have AC outlets built into the back of the cob all the way around the seating areas. When we asked what he would like to see he said “well it looks like this really is a cozy spot to read. Why would you want to put plug outlets into built in furniture?” That was supposed to be our line! Common sense prevailed.

Things were stalled here while we waited for the feedback from the electrical inspector on all the items that make our home different from the norm. What will he say about the DC outlets, the 24 volt LED lights (that are not CSA approved), the 24 VDC pumps that are not CSA approved, screw in AC Edison base light fixtures to be used for DC bulbs?

Two weeks later. All is ok… just don’t put in regular AC switches for the DC lighting. There is a good reason for this, as AC voltage cycles at 60HZ, meaning there is little to no arc when a switch is flipped, unlike DC. We need to use a switch with a stronger spring to ensure that the connection of the circuit is broken, rather than an arc causing it to fuse and stay connected.


We had Ted Hill, the editor from the Goldstream Gazette, here the beginning of the month. It was interesting to watch this fellow show up to do a story that he felt slightly responsible to do, but not too sure about what the story should be. Over a two hour period, we saw Ted’s eyes open wider, and the laughs and amazement increase, with the final point of interest being that our insurance will be based on buildings that exist in the UK that are several hundred years old (older than Canada)!

Pattie Whitehouse, who used to write all our stories for the Goldstream Gazette, was let go when Black Press took over. It’s amazing how hard it is to get news coverage in our own community. We are still waiting for the story in the Gazette to come out.

Toilet Training

It wouldn’t be complete for a month to go by with out talking about the toilet, so here it goes. We put out a call for a good used toilet to temporarily install in our bathroom to comply with code. After receiving offers for six such old toilets it became clear that in order to comply with the building code we had to install a LOW flush toilet. Now don’t get us wrong…this is a great law…but for us, who plan on using a NO flush toilet it just doesn’t make any Eco-Sense.

So instead of this being a problem, we are going to have some fun with this…we can either cry over stuff like this or laugh. So here is the tentative plan for next February.

Neville, a friend here in the Highlands, has a company in Victoria called Heritage Office Furnishing, which will donate a new low flush toilet to the Highlands Heritage Park Society (Pike House). Bob McMinn from this society (and the first mayor of the Highlands) will loan this toilet to us to install and fulfill code requirements.

We are then holding the first ever ‘Celebrity Flush’ event targeted at celebrities, politicians, and anyone who supports what we are doing. The goal is to support sustainability and show opposition to the crazy rules that stand in the way of sustainable development. Participants pay $50 to pee into this new low flush toilet. No, this is not a pissing contest!

Proceeds will be donated to the Highlands Stewardship Foundation to continue their good work with monitoring ground water and educating us in its use. The slightly used low flush toilet will then be installed in its final resting place on the Pike house grounds complete with a story board of how it came to be.

Sustainability is FUN! Thanks to Pattie, Neville, and Bob for their insight, humour, and help. Looking forward to even more community input (pun intended).

And the Heating … AGAIN!

Yet one more time we look at heating. From purely solar, to generator back-up, then wood gasification, then to electrical, on to air-to-water heat pumps, then toying with bio-diesel, then back to more solar, and finally wood gasification. Who said ignorance was bliss!

Here is our brief summary of our rational, and believe me it is brief to summarize nine months of research into a few sentences.

Purely solar would mean 240 evacuated tubes for December and January demand, while only 60 tubes seven months of the year. This translates into an extra $18,000. Yikes!

Generator: A diesel genset has efficiency losses from transferring fuel into both power and excess heat. We did not want to rely heavily on a fuel (biodiesel or diesel) nor be inefficient. Ann can’t stand exhaust fumes either.

Air to water heat pump: We found an amazing heat pump made in Germany by Dimplex with a CoP (coefficient of performance) of 3.9; this means for every 1 Kw of energy fed into the system 3.9 Kw of heat are extracted. We almost went this route but would need to add more PV panels as its rated capacity was for 1.9 Kw.

Biodiesel direct hot water system from ITR. ITR did the testing, and their smaller Hurricane II was a good fit, but their larger Oasis was CSA certified. We again second guessed ourselves as to relying on fuel availability. Ann still didn’t want to breathe any exhaust.

Grid fed electric element. NOT!

Wood gasification. We finally purchased the wood gasification boiler. We had a choice of Greenwood, HS Tarm, Eko, and Wood Gun. Each gasification burner has different requirements depending on your setup. We decided on Alternate Heating Systems’ Wood Gun.

Wood Gun

The Wood Gun has been made for 27 years, same design, simple, repairable, doesn’t require a large water tank to operate efficiently. It basically heats wood allowing the gases to be released and be burned in a secondary chamber reaching between 1800-2000 degrees F. The boiler is immersed in 60 gallons of water, where in which it transfers heat through a coil to our 120 gallon hot water tank. These units are pretty much smokeless scoring big points with Ann.

We “learn” then we “do”

We are often asked how we learned what we are doing. What is it that makes us different? Not much! We just learn, and then we do. We’re not scared of failure which frees us up to be creative. We are also not as attached to a particular outcome and will work with and accept how things evolve. Life is not about the best decision or perfection.

Accomplishments for the month!

Ben and Ann have completed most of the exterior brown coat plastering. Tough work with cold hands.

Gord and Ben also finished putting in the hydronic heating tubes upstairs and the earthen floor on top.

Angela Evans (who did some tours here this past summer) came by to spend the day drawing some beautiful creatures on our exterior cob walls. We hope to incorporate these into some relief work on our home.

BC Hydro, after a tour of course, hooked up and connected the grid intertie. We are number 16 in the province.

Our plumber and electrician (Byron and Mike) have worked hard to give us temporary heat running though the floors. There is lots of moisture to push out to dry everything and start to warm up the place.

We cleaned up a bit, (Ann let her hair out of the ever present ponytail), and swept the house in preparation for the Knowledge Network. They will be back one more time in January to do the final shoot. Almost an entire day for a few minutes of footage.

Creativity Strikes

We have experimented with packing crates, plywood, old 24’s and some of our own wood. This rearrangement of old and new wood from forests past and present has created a kitchen and a composting toilet. Not in the same room of course. The kitchen has counters that are made of many types of wood including; gorgeous black walnut (old packing pallet); a lowered bread making counter of old growth Doug Fir ripped from 24’s from an old school with some spalded Arbutus from last years early snow storm; some old trestle from Bear (Bare) Mountain for the raised bar above the sink, and some of our own Fir from the land arranged in an alternating pattern of grain. All was finished with a combination of Tung oil and Osmo hardwax oil. A gorgeous and unique work of art! We love to tell people that our kitchen is made out of old packing pallets… they nod their heads and smile… with no clue to the beauty created.

We had hoped to be into the house for Christmas, but have accepted yet another winter in the trailers. This has been tough on all of us but we joke and hope for the weather to be less stormy than last year.

Ann and Gord

One response to “A blast from the past

  1. Pingback: Reality Check: Life on a Permaculture Homestead | Eco-Sense

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