Time for the weekly (hrm…) update folks! You know this blog was supposed to be updated weekly, right? Before we moved and before we started work on everything that is becoming our home, that was the plan. But still, from my point of view, we do more or less weekly blog updates. The way I planned it was “Yeah, it’ll take a week to build the footings for the container home and then another week to sort the septic system and I’ll think about the grey water at the same time. The third week we’ll build the utility shed and that really shouldn’t take much more than a week. I’ll connect the water in a couple of days after that, weld frames for the solar panels and fit them on the roof and hook up all the unknown things that goes with them, and finally build the deck in front of the house within the fifth, possibly sixth week, after we have the containers.” That was the plan.
I don’t know, maybe someone who has a bit of experience with these kind of things and a bunch of friends could have done it within that time frame, but it became painfully clear that I couldn’t. But excluding the deck in front of the house everything is in place now, about six months after our arrival to Uruguay. So by simply multiplying my time estimates by five-ish I have a realistic model for my next project! And blogging seems to fit the model too 🙂
So what about The Dark Side of the Moon and bad Uruguayan wine? Well, some of you know that that’s the job I planned for when finally installed here. Just sitting on the porch listening to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and drinking bad Uruguayan red wine. When asked, I couldn’t really explain how that would pay for my living – but you have to give me some cred for a great work plan! Perhaps it might be worth trying crowd funding?
It’s not that I’m a great fan of Pink Floyd but The Dark Side of the Moon makes a great soundtrack for watching the star filled night sky from our chunk of the Uruguayan country side. Add some wine to that and you’re in for a splendid experience. However, from my previous visits to Uruguay I knew that the wine here ranged from bad to really bad. I even tried spending more money than I was happy with on the wine but it was still bad. So in order not to be disappointed I had to adjust my work plan to include bad wine. And I didn’t mind, I can drink bad wine. Hell, I even drink instant coffee and enjoy it! I suppose it’s all about expectations and settings.
But life is full of surprises. Not only did it take much longer to sort out the various building projects, but in addition to all the dreadful stuff I have tortured myself with Uruguay produces some good wine too! I don’t know if the products have changed or I simply looked in the wrong direction but there’s some really nice Tannat and Syrah to be found. And I’m happy to update my work plan to occasionally include good wine!
So what have we been up to since the last update? We’ve already mentioned the veggie garden and septic tank and leach field in a previous post – and you know that took forever! But we also managed to finish the deck behind the house where we’re also building a small shed to house the solar charger, inverter, and batteries as well as my beloved beer fridge.
The deck has the same type of footing as the house itself, that is a few car tyres with rammed earth and topped off with concrete. I couldn’t find any pre-fab thingies to anchor the wooden beams to the footing, so I put two 45 x 5 mm flat bars in the concrete (secured with some rebar in the concrete) in each tyre pillar and screwed the first layer of 2 x 6” beams with two 8 mm bolts to the flat bars. Then I screwed the second layer of beams on top the first one using two pieces of angular bars and four bolts. The wooden planks then went on top of that and tada! the deck was done.
The deck feels rock solid and the construction might be overkill but as this is my first deck ever I really don’t know what I’m doing. The deck has to carry about a ton of batteries, the gas bottles for cooking and water heating (we’re postponing the solar water heater for a while, simply too much to do!), the washing machine, and some seriously heavy walls of light clay (straw soaked in clay) and a clay finish that will add a ton or two, so I tried to err on the safe side… We’ll see how it keeps up.
It was fun building the shed, much more fun that digging trenches and shit for the septic system. I had never done anything like this before so as for the deck, it was learning by doing. The main lesson was “Don’t buy shitty wood, make sure it is straight and not full of fungi”. But I’m pretty happy the way it turned out despite help from an old friend who came to visit us 😉
The idea is to finish the outer walls with straw and clay to insulate the shed a bit and increase the thermal capacity to reduce rapid changes in temperature and keep it cool during the worst heat of the day. Cool is good for both the batteries and the beer fridge… But again, we’ve never done anything like that either so we’ll see how it turns out.
Finishing the shed also meant that we finally could move the solar stuff and hook it up to the house. It felt great to connect all panels and see them deliver almost 3 kW straight away. All by a sudden we could listen to music and have cold beer! Unfortunately, the batteries had suffered quite bit of sulfation due to poor charging (only 750 W) and sitting in the warm storage container for a few months so I have a bit of work to do in order to bring them back to full life. Speaking of electricity, there’s apparently no standard colouring code for electric wiring in Uruguay. I had to connect the hot wire from the inverter to a blue wire, the neutral to a white, and the ground to a red wire. The earth changes in the house to standard yellow/green (except for a short stretch of brown wire!) and the hot wire is red. I’ll read a bit more about electric wiring before we start building the next house and do it all my self. How hard can it be?
Since I survived my first attempts as electrician I thought I’ll have a go as plumber too. We had a water well drilled one of the first weeks we came here and had been running the water pump with the generator. But we had to fill bottles with water and carry them to the house for drinking, cooking, dish washing, and flushing the toilet. That’s a lot of water to carry everyday folks! As soon as we had electricity it made sense to lay down water pipes and connect the pumps to solar power. That meant start digging again…
We took turns digging the water pipe trench that ended up being altogether almost 70 meters – including six meters I had to dig with a tiny garden spade under the house flat on my belly. The soil is very clayey and hard as brick now that it is hot and dry. It took us a couple of days to finish the digging and then I had a quick look at youtube to see how to connect the six meter long sections of water pipe together. It turned out to be easy except that I had to re-thread all the pipes as they where all shit. And I bought the cheapest thread tool I could find so I had to pay with sweat and pain. The pipe work turned out OK (ah well, after I fixed two leaks) and after four months we finally had running water in the house! It’s hard to explain how good that is to people who haven’t lived without running water but trust me, it’s absolutely great! I love running water.
Now we’re doing some deck work again. We’re expanding our living area a bit by adding 30 m2 deck in front of the house and the idea is to put up a bamboo roof for some shade. When the deck is finished I will reserve some office space, put up a hammock and the speakers and bring out the wine glasses. I’m more than ready to start my Dark Side of the Moon and bad red wine job.