Monday, May 5, 2014

Week 17 - More driveway work

Continued work on the driveway prevented much of anything else from happening this week. I realized that I’m having some regrets about the whole driveway operation. But, one thing turning out perfectly is the placement of the window locations.

I should have gone off-grid

The driveway work is a huge operation that has been taking more than twice as long as expected. The exposed electrical, phone and cable conduit are laid down in the trench above. They will be covered up next week. Sewer and water lines have already been put down and buried. The total area that was dug up covered the entire width of the original driveway, a gravel driveway that was perfectly usable as is. At $50k, it’s the single most expensive part of the construction.

What if I didn’t need all those hook-ups to the street? The sewer line could have been replaced by a septic tank. Maybe the water line could have been replaced by a well. Phone and cable are basically obsolete: satellite can accomplish the same thing. The remaining challenge is to provide off-grid electricity, which would have required solar panels and lots of batteries.

Off-grid might have been cheaper

Given the cost of the driveway, off-grid electricity might not be as far-fetched as you might think. Right now, the cost of batteries is not subsidized and is therefore not competitive economically. However, battery costs are falling rapidly and their performance has been improving steadily. Remember when your laptop lasted only two hours on a charge? Now, thin and lightweight laptops will last all day on a single charge. According to one group, off-grid solar photovoltaics plus battery storage will be cheaper than grid electricity in five years in the Northeast.

Assuming a well and a septic tank would have cost $25k, the remaining $25k could have gone toward solar panels and battery backup. A 2kW solar array will only cost about $8k, leaving $17k for batteries. Batteries for three days of storage (11kWh x 3 = 33 kWh) might cost about $7k ($200/kWh x 33 kWh = $7k), leaving an extra $10k in savings! Wow. It is possible that I would have needed to double the solar array size in order to account for peak demand, but still. I had no idea it would be so close.

Beautiful pictures of window openings

A great thing happened when I was showing my neighbor, Nancy, the house for the first time. As she walked up the steps, she exclaimed: “Oh, look at the mountain!” I was beaming inside. Nancy had no idea how much thought and energy went into to crafting the top of the stairway. I can’t believe it actually worked as planned.

The view out the back toward the apple trees is stunning in the afternoon. You can see the damage left by the crew who put in the drainage pipe. I still have to figure out who to flatten it out.

The front door (entrance through the back side of the house) will be a full glass door, allowing you to glimpse out the back from the kitchen and dining area.