from the Rustling Roots Winter Newsletter 2020
(Note: Rustling Roots is a project of the Cambia community in Louisa, Virginia.)
Rustling Roots is Getting Off-Grid!
We recently got a fabulous deal on used solar panels (30 cents/watt shipped!) so we acquired enough to power our community for at least 80% of the days. (Time will tell if these are reasonable estimates). We’re in the design process for determining if we’ll have a central array in the field or if we’ll have separate panels for each of the buildings.
The current price of gently used solar panels makes all functions including space heating and water heating cheaper than any other means (besides south facing windows) but given that electric storage is still polluting, costly, and complicated we are starting to experiment with thermal storage. One example of thermal storage is warming a barrel of water with electricity while the barrel is covered with a blanket and releasing the warmth to the space by taking off the blanket when the warmth is needed. So far, we have been experimenting with powering a heating element to warm the hot tub and other hot water applications, but it’s yet to be streamlined.
We will also be limiting our need for batteries by using more direct solar and using the power when the sun is out.
We will have to confront the question of what to do with surplus power in the summer. Any ideas?
Well, I guess one idea is powering our…
It has already been a year since we first bought this car and we now finally have it upgraded to lithium batteries. We’ve been through a long, treacherous road with this short-range vehicle, but have finally worked out the kinks and got it working again (after a lightning strike blew out its motor controller in July)! It’s now our most frequently used vehicle, but it doesn’t get us up on the freeway and to the next city. It does get us to town though, and to all the local communities.
Our intention is to be able to teach about how to convert cars to electric and how to charge them with solar. We are also intending to show how community living is what really enables reduction in gas usage, as electric vehicles start to make a lot more sense when more people share them and can have access to another long range vehicle when necessary.
So what have we done with this car?
Fixed the parking break, speedometer, headlights, replaced incandescent with led lights all around, made a trunk both in the front (where the fuel tank was) and the back (where the engine was). Made a new passenger seat that folds all the way down! And of course installed the (used) li- ion batteries, new charger, motor controller, rewired everything, and now the car travels 5 times farther, charges 3 times faster, and the batteries are supposed to last 4 times longer. (We got the charger programmed to take it easy on the batteries).
So how does this make sense if it takes so much work? So this car gets about 140 mpg-e, and while that doesn’t make much difference with the ridiculously low gas prices, there are many other benefits to driving electric. Every part on this car is very easy to replace and is made to last a long time. For example, a gas car that has motor problems might cost $3000 to $5000 to replace, and several days of work. In this car, it is 4 bolts, 2 wires, less than an hour of work, and a replacement motor would cost around $700.
So this project is by no means a maximization of any single factor. Rather, it is an optimization of a few factors together, as it would not make sense otherwise. For example, working as a carpenter makes more financial sense, donating to environmental organization makes more environmental sense, and building model ships is much more fun, but at Rustling Roots we are demonstrating how there is a wonderful way of combining all of these factors together into one meaning rich lifestyle.
Passive Solar Sunroom!
Our south porch is covered with fabulous grape vines in the summer. This year we removed them off the arbor and will have them ready to throw back on it in the spring. Underneath, we built a clear roof that we are going to keep for the summer to keep the rain out, but all around we put windows salvaged from a construction site, and we have created the main house heater and hang out space of Cambia. We also built a sunny shower room to the side of the space. It is a great success, but a slight hassle to have to take it down and rebuild it twice a year. On sunny days we generally don’t have to use the woodstove during the day and the house stays warm. The sunroom is a great demonstration of passive temperature control that can be achieved very cheaply with just some effort and design.
The many ways to visit Rustling Roots
Aside from our regular tours and the in-depth experience our work-exchangers receive, we now have other platforms for folks to come and see Rustling Roots, give themselves a self-guided tour of the museum, and visit the community first-hand. One of those is through Hipcamp, a new online platform similar to Airbnb, in which folks can book camping experiences. We’ve had great success with it so far. During the fall we had at least half our weekends booked with campers. It’s a great way of connecting with people that otherwise might never learn about us.
So now we are offering the wigwam we built for a previous workshop as a sleeping accommodation! We also built a bedframe out of lashed branches and fire pit inside. The wigwam is built from cedar saplings, large sections of peeled poplar bark, and hickory and pawpaw lashings. In the spring we’re hoping to complete it with a hand-woven reed mat for the door. For now, a blanket keeps it cozy warm inside.
Come spring, we’ll be getting ready to host homeschool groups, volunteer college students from UVA, alternative technology interns, hipcampers, as well as our monthly workshops in primitive skills and off-grid technologies.
For all the folks coming through we have created a more prominent display for the eco-kits we offer to Rustling Roots participants, made possible a grant from the Charlottesville Area Eco-Living Fund. Participants can buy these kits at half- price and receive a discount to future Rustling Roots workshops for implementing them.
(exact dates, and more workshops, to be announced soon)
May: Moccasin Making
with Jeff Gottlieb
July: How to Build your own Solar Electric Car
with Gil Cambia and Jason Taylor
October: Weaving Rattan Pack Baskets
with Jeff Gottlieb
November: Growing and Saving your own Heirloom Seeds
with Irena of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange