Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The House Project

I will be blogging a list of links to various vendors of prefab houses as well as some interesting house designs in the next few days.

In the meantime, I met with Idaho Power and the contractor for a site-built house today, at the property. The estimate is about $3500 to run power, plus about $500 to dig a four feet deep trench for the power line. (Idaho Power then drops a conduit into the trench for the power line.)

I learn something new every day on this project. The power lines in our area are 12.5 kV. They run a 12.5 kV line to within 150 feet of the house (ideally, 100 feet of the house), and then put a stepdown transformer there. This takes it down to house current.

The Idaho Power guy wasn't too happy (surprise, surprise) at my suggestion that we use a photovoltaic unit to power the well pump. It turns out that the cost of running the line over from the house to the well pump is trivial, but I still like the idea of using photovoltaics for this.

1. I'm not dependent on the grid to get water up to the water tank--and water is about as critical of a utility as you can have. You can live a few days without electricity, for whatever reason, but a few days without a shower or bath gets really disgusting.

2. The downside of photovoltaics is reduced power in winter time. But the greatest need for water is during summer, not winter. I expect that my well will produce at least 10 gallons per minute. (The neighbor's well, about 80 feet away, produces 35 gallons per minute.) If I can pump that water up the hill to my water tank for just three hours a day, at 10 gallons per minute, I will average 180 gallons a day into the tank. That's more than enough in winter.

3. It is a low-cost experiment to find out actual solar electricity production in my location.

The contractor is still sharpening his pencil--the driveway is still looking pretty expensive--like $20,000, but we are going to look real hard at whether we really need to put the large rock layer known as "pit run" on the entire driveway. (The gravel goes on top of the pit run.) Since much of the driveway is across very thinly soiled basalt, we may be able to get by with just a scrape and then dropping gravel.

The county's original septic tank request involved what was apparently an extraordinary amount of leach field, because of the poor soil. The contractor knows of some techniques that he believes can meet the county's sanitary requirements without quite so much leach field.

So far, we are looking at about $40,000 of improvements before we get to the house--perhaps this can be cut down to $30,000 to $35,000.

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