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To Hold the Sun

Kai Staats - Buffalo Ranch Solar PV Install

Kai Staats - Buffalo Ranch Solar PV Install Kai Staats - Buffalo Ranch Solar PV Install Kai Staats - Buffalo Ranch Solar PV Install Kai Staats - Buffalo Ranch Solar PV Install

Kai Staats - Buffalo Ranch Solar PV Install

The owner of Buffalo Peak Ranch, Leigh McGill, desired to have a battery backup for the cabin and barn. Lightning strikes and falling trees (since the Hayman fire some ten years ago) frequently cut power for hours, even days at at time. While we could have installed a simpler grid-tied, battery backed or even auto-generator system, it was determined that to generate our own power from the Sun was a preferred solution.

We worked with The Solar Biz, an established, New Mexico based, family-owned distributor of all things solar to design and procure the system, my company Over the Sun, LLC the reseller and installer.

Kai Staats - Buffalo Ranch Solar PV Install

As many projects do unfold, it was more work than anticipated. We set concrete forms to support the PV panel runs, a good 32 or 36 inches below grade to avoid frost-heave. The racks required some modification, but nothing a hack saw and drill could not remedy, and in the end the panels sit side by side, perfectly aligned.

Our four man team was comprised of Trevor (ranch hand), Clint (son of the owner), Chris (renewable energy engineer out of Fort Collins, my co-worker and friend), and me. We worked well together, logging long hours for a few weeks in total.

The deep trench was started with a ditch-witch, but in the end, much of it came down to a pickax and shovel (and Clint’s strong back). The pipe was laid in place and then the heavy, thick cables lubricated and pushed/pulled through, chasing a braided, nylon string which was inserted into each piece pipe, one by one. I forget the exact length, but moving more than one hundred feet of cable is not a simple task. Each bend in the pipe, each joint offered more of a challenge as it neared the end.

Kai Staats - Buffalo Ranch Solar PV Install

I built a utility wall from which the Xantrex inverter and charge controllers hang. The eight 6V batteries (48V array) rest on a sturdy shelf beneath. Ample power to run the electric oven, fridge, microwave, and heaters in the fall and spring. This was my second Xantrex wiring effort (the first being my house in Loveland) and while familiar, it remained a bit tricky. But in the end, having rewired both electrical panels on the house in order to isolate mission-critical circuits for backup power, it works perfectly.

I cannot think of a place in which I’d rather work. At more than 7000 feet elevation, there are elk, coyotes, fox, deer, bear, horses and domestic buffalo. It is a place in which I feel truly calm. It is one of my favorite places in the world.

With 24 220W panels, the system generates a theoretical maximum 5200W. It produces more when in direct, early afternoon sun. But generally, we see between 4-5k with less than 10% total system loss (D/C from the panels to the charge controllers, batteries, inverter). It’s a good, functional solution that will generate more power, over the year, than is consumed meaning eventually, it will pay for itself in addition to its obvious functionality.

Even the hot tub is solar powered. That makes me feel good.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:43-04:00July 31st, 2011|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

An Evening with Scott Simon

“Baby, We Were Made for Each Other”

Last night Sarah and I attended an evening with NPR’s Scott Simon, hosted by KUNC, in Boulder. Scott is on tour to talk about his life at NPR, and to promote his new book, “Baby, We Were Made for Each Other,” about the experience of adopting two children.

For me, meeting Scott was putting a face to a voice as familiar to me as that of my own father, for I have listened to him nearly every Saturday morning for more than a decade, perhaps as many as fifteen years. His thoughtful approach to sharing not just sound bites but complete stories is the very essence of NPR’s philosophy which draws more than thirty million listeners every day.

Scott is a deeply intelligent, engaging, humorous individual who knows how to deliver a story in such a way that the audience laughs and learns at the same time. But by no means was the entire evening filled with humor, for Scott himself was moved to tears as he spoke of the loss of Dan Shore this summer, and the joy of his two adopted daughters. With him, many of us in the audience were moved as well.

Scott spoke of his friendship with Senator Paul Simon whose adopted son’s birth certificate stated he was Native American. Only at age twenty eight, when he was reunited with his birth mother did he learn he was actually Swedish. The mistaken identity was the result of a hilarious misunderstanding at birth, which when told by Scott caused the entire audience to nearly fall from their chairs.

Scott tells of his oldest daughter, now six, throwing a tantrum in a restaurant. Scott, his wife, and daughters excuse themselves from their friends to go home.

His daughter says to Scott’s wife, “Mom, I was hungry.”

His wife responds, frustrated, “Then you should have eaten the food you left on your plate!”

“No, when I was in my mother,” referring to when she was in China and her mother did not have the resources to keep her healthy, even before birth. And then she continued, “Why didn’t you come for me then?”

For as hard as we laughed that evening, we cried as well.

It is a rare individual who can be on the road as often as Scott is, speaking to people two, three or a half dozen times a month and on every occasion deliver his stories in such a way that each audience feels they were the first to receive him on what must surely be the beginning of his tour.

A Passion for Public Radio

I took from this evening two things: an appreciation for those a man who moves people without ego and without fear; and a deepened sense of appreciation for public radio.

In speaking with the station, content, and music directors of KUNC I found myself engaged with individuals who have been involved with KUNC for as many as three decades because they truly believe in what they do.

I was reminded that public radio is not just an alternative to commercial radio, but is an expression of a strong philosophy for how news is to be recorded, edited, and reported–for how the art of communication and story telling must be carried into the 21st century if we are to maintain some semblance of integrity in an otherwise heavily filtered world of sound bites and political slants.

There is not a day that goes by that I do not listen to NPR, in my home office or via satellite radio while driving. And as my friends, co-workers, and climbing partners will verify, there is not a day that goes by that I do not quote some portion of a story I have heard on NPR.

While this is may begin to read as a publicity piece for NPR, I do ask that for those of you who listen to public radio, please contribute to your local affiliate station; and for those of you who do not, you don’t know what you are missing

By |2017-04-10T11:17:43-04:00October 12th, 2010|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

Tap Dancing at Whole Foods on Earth Day

Whole Foods is, according to a hilarious (and all too true) daily calendar “Stuff White People Like“, the ultimate epiphany of olive bar congregation, hand lotion sampling, and coffee, bread, wine and cheese tasting for those who want everyone else to know they are doing the right thing.

To have stumbled into Whole Foods on Earth Day should be, according to the 365 tear-off pieces of paper, a cosmic orgasm of organic ecstasy to save Planet Earth, one echinacea infused, rose hip and lavender bottle of carrot juice at a time.

Quite frankly, I found it a bit overwhelming and would have run away were it not for the incredible variety of free samples of chocolates, breads, cheeses, and pastries. I nearly abandoned my plans for dinner, realizing that just two or three rounds, from end-cap to end-cap would likely suffice for a complete, 3-course meal.

At the table for Zinger brand trail bars, I enjoyed a few samples which reminded me of Bit-O-Honey candy when I was a kid, the rich flavor of honey so much preferred over any variety of processed sugar.

But on the right most paper lined dish was an assortment of red blobs, the diameter of a quarter and roughly half the height at the peak of their shiny, waxy dome. If the woman serving the samples had not explained that they were a new kind of “power shot”, I would have assumed someone failed to recover a highly displaced Christmas tree ornament box, its contents spilled neatly on this end-cap at Whole Foods.

At her request for me to try a sample, I shook my head stating it just didn’t look like something to be consumed, at least not without good reason.

Just then, a sharply dressed and quite fit woman I presume to be in late sixties or early seventies stepped up, grabbed one of the red drops and popped it her mouth. I looked at her, and then back to the woman behind the table and said, “If she starts tap dancing, I’ll eat one too.”

As though we had rehearsed the routine for weeks, she started to tap dance. I nearly fell over. She looked at me and said with a confident grin, “I used to tap dance, you know.”

I clapped my hands and said, “Hah! I knew it!” and then turning to the woman behind the table, “Guess I better try one now.”

And that is how I was witness to tap dancing at Whole Foods on Earth Day.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:44-04:00April 23rd, 2010|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

Without a Box

The Fall Guy
Earlier this year I met “Ed” who had setup an interview for my friend “D” with a particular City of Phoenix official. Barrel chested, chisel cut and strong, especially for his sixty+ age, Ed was like no one I had ever met.

Conversation with Ed from parking meter to the upper floors of the City government building revolved almost entirely around his work in Hollywood as the stunt double for one, very famous actor.

Ed did not fail to remind me nor D how much of a favor he was doing for her by making this introduction. Anyone else, he explained, would wait weeks to gain the attention let alone a meeting of this particular person. Ed pointed to the security cameras, the guards, the locked doors–all of which we passed with relative ease due to the people he knows and the trust they have in him.

I took all of this in stride, intrigued by this strong bodied and strong willed man who was keen to make clear his position with or without solicitation. Even if a bit overwhelming, I enjoyed the hour for Ed was also complimentary, in a fatherly manner, when it came to his emphasis that D would succeed if she focused and continued to move her life in a chosen direction.

At the end of the interview, Ed escorted the two of us back to my car, a little more than two blocks North of the City building.

The Hang Man
In the interest of his time in Hollywood, I invited him to attend the public screening of this year’s first Almost Famous Film Festival event. He glanced at the license plate on my car and incorrectly assumed the event was held in Colorado, quick to state “I won’t go there.”

I asked, “To Colorado? Why?” thinking he had an outstanding speeding ticket or perhaps an ex-wife who would hunt him down if she so much as smelled him within a thousand mile of her home. I could see that, given a strong predilection for stating his opinion.

But instead, Ed replied, “It’s about upholding my ethics.” Ed paused to look at the tips of his fingers and chew a blade of something which had found its way to his mouth. He looked at the sky and then back to me and D. “Too many goddamn liberals in Colorada. I told myself I will never set foot in that State again, not as long as Colorada is overrun with them kinds of people.”

I didn’t know if I should laugh or turn and run, but I was pleased to have cut my hair a few years earlier. I silently hoped he hadn’t noticed the foreign origin of my car.

He took a deep breath, leaned against the back of his white Ford pickup truck, head back and eyes narrowed into a tight focus, elbow propped on the closed tailgate, “You know what I got in the back of this truck?”

Oh shit. In broad daylight I was noticeably nervous that he had something in the back of his truck I didn’t want to see. Neither I nor D responded, which was in retrospect the best possible reaction.

“A rope.” He paused again, for effect I am certain. “A rope for hang’n. You see, in the old days, I would’a used it for hanging just about anyone if they crossed me, if you know what I mean.”

Ed glanced at D who is of African ethnicity, and my amusement was fully replaced with a very uncomfortable feeling. I considered the implications of what he had said with a sense of horror and at the same time belief that his story likely carried a Hollywood flair, perhaps a slight confusion for the movies in which he had acted and his real life.

“But I learned a thing or two and I have changed my ways. I don’t think like that any more. But I’ll still use it, ’cause there are plenty of folk that still need a hang’n. If you do something wrong, and I catch ya, I’m gonna use it, understand?”

This was not exactly the sort of thing I was used to hearing on the streets of Phoenix. Then again, I could not think of a better place in which to receive a live, serious Eastwood monologue outside of Dodge.

“You see, I ain’t afraid to do what’s right, to stand my ground and fight for what I believe in. I ain’t gonna go to Colorado no more ’cause it lost its way. On the principal of who I am, and I gotta stand by my principals, I won’t go there.”

“And just the same, I’ll hang a man for crossing me or anyone I care about and protect. I care about her mother

[pointing to D] and I will protect both of them with my life.”

Neither D nor I knew exactly what to say. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other and back again, looked at the top of my shoes and the backs of my hands as my fingers sought solace in just keeping busy.

I returned to the original subject saying, “Well, fortunately for you, the film festival is held here in Phoenix, if you remain interested. You are more than welcome to attend.”

He stated he just might do that, but maintained an out with “I am a busy man. We’ll see what I can do.”

We shook hands, said goodbye, and then D and I returned to the front seats of my car.

Building a Box
In that exchange, my mind was filled with momentary images of Hollywood westerns which both glorified and demonized hangings. I looked at this man, took a deep breath, and instead of arguing in an attempt to open his narrow view of the world–I placed him in a box.

The box I envisioned was not of my own fabrication, rather, of his design. Ed lived in a carefully constructed, thick walled box in which his world view was perfectly clear. He new his purpose, his rules of engagement, and the boundaries which encompassed those he cared for and protected, even if the means were … harsh.

It was at first difficult for me to not judge him, to keep from recoiling, throwing up my own defenses. But when I allowed myself to see this box within which he lived, it gave me the ability to instead see the practicality, even the value in the principals which he employed.

Ed has ethics. He has morals. He stands by them to the end. That understanding is what I chose to take with me as I departed from the otherwise obscure venture into yesteryear in downtown Phoenix, Arizona 2010.

Without a Box
Since this time, I have used the construction of a visual box in several occasions to help me react less and to respond more. These boxes are not my attempt to define people against my own insecurity nor for my personal safety, for we all live in boxes of various sizes, thicknesses, and opacity. Rather, it is a means of placing myself in their box with hope to see the world as they may see it. It is a simple, visual tool to help me, for if I lighten the burden of brick and mortar, discover a door, window, even a small ventilation shaft, I may improve my understanding and ultimately, our mutual communication.

Sometimes I see thick walls of concrete, stone, or brick. Sometimes I see wood, paper, or glass. But what has been the most challenging is when I meet someone whose box is wide open, the sides laid flat or the top removed. When I meet someone who lives seemingly without a box, I find that I recoil in fear from the realization that my own set of walls remain thick and impenetrable by comparison.

I remain afraid to let go of my own rules, my own reasons why I can or cannot engage. I too feel the safety of my box, and challenge those who appear to have none as readily as those who do, for if I find evidence of their boundaries, their apparent perfection will falter and I in comparison will not be so far from the truth.

To live life without a box is perhaps the greatest challenge of all, for it means moving through this world without self-declared affiliation to the left or right, Democratic or Republican parties, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu faiths. To remove the walls and corners is to simply say “I am …” and leave it at that. No further explanation is required when one chooses to trust that whomever stands before you will gain what they need to know about you by the very nature of your transparency.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:45-04:00April 23rd, 2010|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

A Traditional Halloween

A Simply Evil Evening
For this year’s Halloween, I attended a gathering of ghouls at the tomb of my neighbors Pete and Daniella. The party was perfectly … horrible!

The front porch was itself a haunted house, the Jacob’s Ladder lighting the fog as it sizzled from bottom to top. Inside, The Exorcist played without sound while witches cackled, pirates said their share of “Arrrggh!” and monsters did groan. When the devil had ensnared each and every soul through food too good to pass by, one frightening fiend read an original story about this hallowed eve which included each of those present, the youngest of which, a vampire, ensnared by every word. The night concluded with a most wicked guitar duo which surely roused all in hell to dance, only to lay down again.

Before the days of dying in lines at the mall, digging graves for our debt, people told stories, ate good food, and scared each other just enough to make the walk home a little faster than that which brought them together.

 

By |2009-11-10T00:45:04-04:00November 1st, 2009|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

1912-2009: From Fuel-stove to Grid-tied

This is a summary of more than ten years’ remodeling of my home in historic, Old Town Loveland, Colorado. Other stories about the work on my house include Shot in the Back and Fiddler Through the Roof. Earlier photos are forthcoming …

Do we really have to buy it?
In the fall of 1998 my parents drove up to Colorado from Phoenix, Arizona to co-sign on my house. At that time, I had never carried a credit card nor debt of any sort and therefore had no credit history. I was proud of this fact but the loan officer was just shaking his head, tapping the computer monitor screen as though the lack of data were incorrect, impossible.

My parents arrived just hours before the signing. My mother stepped from the car to the sidewalk where my then girlfriend Janet (owner of the famous Yellow Dog “Potter”) and I greeted them. My mother stopped, looked at the house, at my father, and then to me. My stomach did one of those implosions as though someone invisible punched me. I had hoped for “You did well. Good choice,” or at least, “Well, it’ll take some work, but it will be a jewel in no time.” Rather, with tears in her eyes, her lips quivering as she fought back the words, “Do, do you really have to buy it? Maybe there is another one?

[pause, looking around] Did you look in the rest of the neighborhood?” This, coming from a seasoned home remodeler was really not good. It was that bad, the worst house in the best, Old Town neighborhood.

A Tract Home of the 1900s
Built in 1913 for the sugar mill employees of Loveland, my home, like many of that day, was nothing more than a tract home. It is likely someone said of that neighborhood then what we say now, “Oh! Isn’t is just horrible! They all look exactly the same. They just, well, they just cut them out like cookies but paint them different colors. I hope they plant some trees.”

Nearly one hundred years later, the house has received two additions (once by a previous owner, as is evident in the attic by a second roof-line, and again by me). Now one must literally walk inside the houses of this area to recognize the similarities in the original floor plans.

Within 48 hours of signing, Janet, my parents, and I filled a 40 cubic yard, roll-away dumpster with the things we removed, including a make-shift closet (keep in mind that closets were not an integral part of home design at this time), kitchen cabinets and counters, and cat-piss soaked, Brady Bunch orange carpet and particle board underlayment. Disgusting.

7 Years Not at Home
The seven years that followed saw steady, but relatively slow progress as Colorado is conducive to outdoor activities nearly every weekend of the year. Given a choice, for those weeks I was not traveling for Terra Soft or for adventure, I would nine times out of ten choose rock climbing over scraping, rewiring, painting, or plumbing.

2003-1

Nonetheless, I filled a 40 cubic yard dumpster two more times, and a smaller version at least two times with the rubble of demolition and remodel. It has been a labor of love and hate as nothing can be more rewarding and completely debilitating than completely rebuilding an old house, inside and out.

2003-2

I have not by any means moved to restore this home to an historic condition, rather, I have worked to improve its function while reducing its energy footprint (long before “carbon offsets” was in the vernacular). Each project had at some level an intent to improve the insulation and thermal properties of this otherwise black hole of residential energy consumption.

2005-deck

Now, in the summer of 2009, I do contend that my home is one of the most energy efficient in the neighborhood, especially for its age and humble beginning.

From “Sow’s Ear” …
Allow me to take you through the projects, from beginning to present day. I will start with a description of the house, as it was when I acquired it in the fall of 1998:

• Original single-pane wood frame windows, most of which neither opened nor closed from whatever position they occupied. Enormous air gaps one could feel if seated on the opposite side of the room.

• No insulation in the plaster-lath / pine ship-lap walls, for it had not yet been invented when built in 1913.

• No sub-floor insulation beneath the tongue-grove fir.

• Lowest Energy Star rating possible forced air furnace (I believe the owners installed it “new” just a year or two prior to selling; looks good on paper, a joke in reality).

• 4-6″ rock wool and mouse droppings attic insulation, a seemingly 60/40 split between the two.

• No insulation between the eaves nor over the soffits.

• All original knob-n-tube wiring across the attic with splices into Romex as it came through the walls and into the breaker box. Fooled the inspector (or he just didn’t care) for the report clearly said, “All new wiring”. Fooled me too until I started crawling around in the attic a few years later, horrified at the mess.

• Chaotic, scary disarray of an attempt at plumbing.

• A guilty excuse for a traditional, tank water heater whose pilot light (when it was not put out by the leaking water) alone must have been ample energy to heat a half dozen gallons a day.

• A wood burning stove rested on several hundred pounds of sandstone which were placed on 4 inches of concrete which was poured onto a piece of 3/4″ plywood which was, believe it or not, placed on top of the Brady Bunch orange carpet and cat-piss soaked backing (I kid you not). This assembly was so heavy (and ill designed) that the north side of the house slumped four inches over a twenty foot run!

In the winter, the furnace would run nearly non-stop in an attempt to maintain just 60F degrees. At least eighty-five percent of the time on, the remaining down-time more likely due to sheer fatigue for trying so damn hard than the wall mounted thermometer giving permission to take fifteen.

At the worst of it, having grown completely fed-up with the inefficiency and filth of forced air, I removed the furnace and duct work from beneath the house only to head out on another roadtrip for Terra Soft. When I returned, I had but one heat source in the entire house which was hard pressed to maintain 48F degrees by day and a low of 36 or 38 at night. On the other end of the house, despite an electric space heater, my feet literally froze to the bathroom floor as I brushed my teeth.

A few years prior, perhaps just two or three after the house was purchased, my parents came to help me transform what was the primary entrance through a screened-in porch into a breakfast nook with the entire southern wall rebuilt in glass block.

However, after two weeks effort, the porch was demolished but the new wall was not even started, a sheet of plastic stretched and stapled across the 15′ x 7′ span … for an entire year. I recall enjoying snow flurries in my kitchen, the neighbor’s cat on my couch when I cam home at night, and more than a normal supply of mice, unwanted but not altogether horrible guests for they remind me that mammals are capable of surviving in harsh extremes.

This is not a description of my house alone, rather a typical, turn-of-the-last century home in Northern Colorado or anywhere in the Midwest where wall insulation had not yet been invented; electrical wiring, forced air, and plumbing were remodel projects done on the cheap by inexperienced home owners or friends who claim expertise demonstrated by their ownership of tools.

… to “Silk Purse”
And now for a decade of improvements, a complete make-over:

• 1998-2005: Major remodel projects such as the installation of solid oak, tongue-n-grove floors, re-plumbing the entire house, expansion of the bathroom and simultaneous reduction of the number of doorways into the kitchen, construction of a poured concrete countertop rimmed by 13 layers of 1/16″ hand-laminated oak, installation of custom built oak cabinets and five bulk food bins, construction of an exterior entrance to the basement to replace the trapdoor in the kitchen floor, and all interior walls repainted (at least once, sometimes twice).

south facing glassblock wall

• 2002: Planted 3 aspen trees on the south east corner of the house.

• 2002-03: Replaced south wall of kitchen with glass block.

• 2004: Planted three additional aspen trees and a relatively fast growing, large bush (sorry, forgot the name) to provide shade from the afternoon sun by summer, and allow direct solar gain in winter.

• 2006: Installed tankless water heater (which requires no pilot light) for on-demand, non-stop hot water. Seriously, why has all of Europe, Asia, Central and South America used these for decades and yet North America is just now considering them?

• 2006: Removed rock wool insulation from the attic.

• 2006: Removed 3 layers asphalt shingles and 1 layer wood shakes, then resurfaced entire roof with plywood, Iceshield over the soffits, felt, and 50 year shingles. Fiddler Through the Roof provides a humorous side-story about this project.

• 2006: Installed 4 double-pane, crank-open skylights which drastically cut thermal build-up during otherwise hot summer days. I have noticed a tremendous reduction in heat retention in the lower living quarters following the installation of these windows.

• 2006: Finished kitchen floor with ceramic tile to absorb heat in the winter, remain cool in the summer. (see photo of glass block, above).

• 2006-08: Replaced forced air with heating unique to each room. Installed a natural gas stove for the living and dining rooms and den. Installed 220V electric space heaters (3 total), one each in the kitchen, bathroom, and new-addition workshop. The manufacturer recommended the coil + fan model as 15% more efficient than “hydronix” which is 10-14% more efficient than traditional baseboard “cal-rod” models.

• 2006-09: Rewired entire house, top to bottom with an emphasis on electric circuit load balance, logical room organization, and ease of migration from grid-tied to inverter breaker box should the needs change.

• 2007: Installed (only to remove a year and a half later) traditional fiberglass batting between the rafters in the attic, as detailed in the story Shot in the Back.

• 2007: Sprayed Icynene expansion foam beneath the kitchen, laundry, and bath floors as well as a “rim shot” to seal the small, unfinished basement (which now keeps the pipes from freezing even without heat tape).

• 2007: Replaced all windows with double-pane, low-e glass in vinyl frames. Treat all edges of all windows, inside and out with silicon and where appropriate, new wood trim.

• 2008-09: Replaced all entry doors with exterior grade, solid fir doors.

• 2008: Blew cellulose insulation (made from 100% post-consumer, finely shredded newspaper treated with a fire-retardant chemical) into the walls, a procedure which requires drilling a few hundred holes, one high and one low between each exterior wall stud, and then applying a vacuum hose with nozzle and high pressure air to force the insulation into every nook and cranny. Incredibly effective!

• 2008-09: Replaced both front and back doors with exterior grade, solid fir doors. This fall removing a 3rd door from the west wall, to be replaced with a circular window.

framing matching siding walls and frames insulation

• 2008-09: Added 200 sq-ft addition (workshop) on west side incorporates an application of Icynene expansion foam between the 4″ stud walls and 10″ rafters for an audio, vapor, and radiant/convective barrier that is truly impressive — just 4″ foam provides the equivalent R value of 6-8″ fiberglass plus the added audio, vapor, and radiant barrier which fiberglass does not provide. The two hand-crank skylights coupled with the two double-pane, sliding windows provide for natural circulation in the summer months, a cooling tower effect which is highly effective.

See “What was learned?” below for more information.

removing old rock wool insulation adding expansion foam insulation adding cellulose insulation to attic joists

• 2009: Sprayed 4″ Icynene expansion foam insulation between all rafters in attic for an audio, vapor, and radiant/convective barrier; blew 6″ cellulose insulation between attic floor joists before the application of 3/4″, tongue-n-groove wafer board.

• 2009: Installed a ceiling fan in the living room and dining room (each) to encourage efficiency through air circulation in both summer and winter.

pv panel frame construction pv panel frame construction pv panel frame construction pv panels installation 840W solar photovoltaic array

• 2009: Completed the design, fabrication, installation, and wiring of a rooftop 840 watt solar photovoltaic array, 300Ah battery backup, and grid-tied inverter which was on September 22 approved by the City of Loveland Electric Utility as the first battery-backed, grid-tied solar photovoltaic system in the district.

What was learned?
It is far simpler, faster, and less frustrating to build a new house than remodel an old. But that is a lesson anyone who intentionally acquires an historic home already knows, and for some incurable reason repeats a few times in his or her life.

Overall, it is possible to take a relative piece of s&*! and turn it into something quite nice, even energy efficient if you put enough thought and time and yes, some money into it (but far more time than money).

In quick breakdown, consider the following:

Insulation, insulation, insulation. It is the answer to just about every home heating and cooling issue. Insulation by its very definition is a means of blocking the movement of heat from one place to another. The more energy transfer is kept in check, the less energy your home requires to maintain the inside climate as you desire. Consider blown cellulose into existing walls or Icynene expansion foam for attic eaves and new construction.

Learn from the past. Returning to the methods of the 1800s, look again at room-to-room radiant heating, individually powered or supplied by a central boiler. It just makes good physics sense. A flame more effectively heats a liquid (water) or solid (metal) than it does a gas (air) as a liquid is far more dense, the molecules in closer proximity for energy transfer. Hot water or the hot surface of a stove will transfer radiant (infrared) heat to floors, walls, furniture, even people far more effectively than trying to heat comparatively far less dense air (as with a furnace). This is why it feels so good to walk into a room heated by a wood burning stove vs a central air furnace.

Central air is not a good thing. Central air is a terrible, dirty, disgusting, bad for allergies, bad for the pocket book excuse for developers to use words like “simple” and “intelligent”, making the customer feel good about buying a home which offers the least efficient means of heating a home possible.

Do you need cooling? First consider ceiling fans, improved insulation, doors, window pane and frames, thermal window shades; passive cooling via opposing (top to bottom, East to West) windows; shade trees, an attic fan and/or a swamp cooler. And if you do already have but desire to improve your AC, consider all of the above anyway, as well as a heat pump which pre-cools / heats your central air by circulating a compressed liquid through closed-loop pipes which run 30-40′ into the ground.

Thermal containers do work! While not originally intended as an energy efficiency effort, it is now very evident that the addition of the porch-workshop (described above), which covers the entire west end of my house, does keep the house considerably cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter as it provides a thermal barrier to both extremes.

For more information about walls and rooms providing thermal containers or barriers, you may want to read-up on double envelope houses, an invention of the mid ’70s; or consider the value of wrap-around porches and how these shaded spaces provide for cooler air drawn into interior living spaces in the summer months.

Be open to experimentation. I am now heating each room (or set of rooms) nearly independent of the others, experimenting with a radiant gas stove, recessed 220V electric space heaters (radiant coil + squirrel cage fans), and soon, a south-facing solar black-box “heat dump” for the bedroom. The later, passive heating system can be built of a steel or copper clad box with river rock or water bottles inside to absorb and retain heat by day, then radiate by night. This method of heating is being implemented by the Navajo as a completely 100% renewable, no electricity required means of heating their homes.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:45-04:00October 5th, 2009|At Home in the Rockies|3 Comments

At the Door of a Decade, Part 2

Three weeks ago the Fixstars Solutions’ Colorado operation was closed.

I have been waiting for the right words to move from mind to brain, from fingers to keyboard. I believe I have been waiting for something profound, something worthy of the closure of more than a decade of my life and yet this transition was neither sudden nor unexpected and therefore, perhaps, not worthy of a great deal of commentary.

Much of the value for which Terra Soft was acquired by Fixstars was eroded by decisions made by key vendors, then compounded by market trends and weak economies. Frustrating and certainly not foreseen last fall, I feel for Fixstars’ CEO Miki-san who spearheaded the acquisition of Terra Soft in challenging times as a means of rising above the average. I am certain he will find a new, solid direction.

Director of Engineering Owen remains on-board from his location in Victoria, Canada and is working with the Tokyo-based engineers to advance Yellow Dog Enterprise Linux (YDEL) offerings.

As I am no longer involved with the Yellow Dog, I am both thankful and sad for what was, excited and uncertain for what will be.

By |2009-10-01T09:52:36-04:00September 18th, 2009|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

At the Door of a Decade

The Sale of Terra Soft to Fixstars
An interview by Kristen Tatti, Reporter for the Northern Colorado Business Report, with Kai Staats, founder and former CEO of Terra Soft Solutions.

Just shy of ten years from the formation of Terra Soft Solutions, I am proud to have sold my company to Fixstars of Tokyo, Japan. This experience was truly positive, well timed and well executed, a blessing in challenging times as described in the following interview with NCBR.

> Has acquisition always been a possibility for Terra Soft?
> Have you entertained previous offers?

The potential for acquisition is about being willing to sell, yes, but more importantly about someone wanting to acquire. Some companies are built to be sold, an acquisition the most common exist strategy. While I was open to the possibility of selling Terra Soft, and had entertained two conversations twice in Terra Soft’s history, it was not until working with Fixstars and Miki-san that this became a real opportunity.

> What was Terra Soft’s relationship with Fixstars prior to the acquisition?

Fixstars had for the prior two years used Yellow Dog Linux in their work with IBM, Sony, and their systems which use the Cell Broadband Engine micro-processor.

> Was selling the company a difficult decision to make? Why/why not?

Not at all. A risk, yes. But a difficult decision, no. The timing was right. The acquiring company was a good fit. But most important, I was ready to let go because I recognized that through the acquisition my team and our product line would be accelerated beyond the level otherwise afforded by our then current path.

> How will your role/responsibilities change as the COO of Fixstars?

Very similar to what I was doing as CEO, actually, but with opportunity for more focus on key customer relations and systems integration and knowledge sharing between our North American and Japanese offices.

> Are you releasing financial details of the acquisition?

No.

> I noticed that the Fixstars Solutions subsidiary is headquartered in San
> Jose. Is that office already set up? Will you be working out of the
> Loveland office still?

While working through the due diligence of the acquisition, we were also busy establishing the new company in San Jose. There are no permanent employees in that office location yet, but that team will be built in 2009. My team remains as we were with Terra Soft, in Loveland with home offices in Montreal, Quebec and Victoria, B.C.

> What does this acquisition mean for you and the Terra Soft team
> (ie: new capabilities, focus, markets)?

With the offering of a complete ecosystem, meaning hardware, operating system, and optimized applications, we will be focused on deliver of turn-key, vertical market solutions such as medical imaging, industrial inspection, and financial modeling.

This is the best means by which we can deliver systems built upon the Cell processor, which otherwise presents a challenge to many code developers due to the rather immature, multi-core programming paradigm and associated tools.

> Do you anticipate growth (revenue and employment) at a
> faster/slower/similar pace as a part of Fixstars?

Must faster.

> What will be the biggest change for you, personally?

I am truly excited to work for someone else for the first time in thirteen years as it frees me to focus on my strengths and worry less about my weaknesses.

> What will be the biggest change for the Terra Soft team?

Greater financial stability. Being part of a larger, international organization. With the addition of Japan, we now have four, soon to be five countries represented by our employee and contractor base. This has been a hi-light for me, personally, as I see cross-cultural business interactions as a bridge to greater personal empathy and understanding.

> Looking back at the past 10 years, what was the biggest challenge Terra
> Soft faced?

The chicken-and-egg reality of trying to gain the trust of larger organizations who recognize and appreciate the value of our products, but questioned our ability to support them or their customers. We could not grow our team without larger customers, but could not gain larger customers without growing our team.

With Fixstars, we have moved from a half dozen engineers to over 80. With the largest Power architecture Linux development team in the world, this is resolved.

> What was the biggest success?

There were many. Building a company for which my employees enjoyed working. Every product launch. Travel across the world. Building personal relationships with talented, smart, kind and caring individuals that transcend the confines of business. Navigating the challenging, intricate relationships in Sony and IBM. Helping process the images from the Mars rovers. Working with Lockheed Martin, the Sony SCEI (PS3) and B2B (BCU-100) teams. And beating the odds, again and again and again when so many people said it was impossible.

> Any regrets?

None. There were many mistakes, but there is no value in regretting them. Experience comes in many forms, and positive or negative at the moment, it remains a valued experience.

> What will you miss about being a business owner? What will you be glad to be done with?

Nothing :)

> Would you consider starting another business in the future?

Already have two in motion.

> What challenges do you see in the future for Linux operating systems? What
> challenge has Linux already overcome?

Linux is like no other product on the market. It evolves rapidly, finding entropy in the midst of what may appear to be chaos, a community of like-minded, talented individuals diligently applying their ever-increasing experience to improve the quality of thousands of applications.

In recent years, those larger organizations have adopted open source paradigms, finding value in embracing the open source community as a means of delivering a higher quality product with less internal overhead.

IBM once painted the sides of New York City skyscrapers with Linux advertisements, but now it is Google that is causing radical shifts in open source product development, recently launching “Android”, a Linux operating system for PDAs and Cell phones.

Ten years ago it was exciting to see Linux adopted in any new device, but now it is so commonplace that no one thinks twice. Televisions, cell phones, real time image processing systems on-board military aircraft, land, and sea vehicles; embedded medical image processing systems (ie: CAT) and weather modeling supercomputers all run Linux.

Linux has overcome the challenge of being adopted and made common place. It’s future is truly limited, as the license enables (in the truest sense of this over-used word), only to the imagination of those who work with it and the power of the new hardware which it supports.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:46-04:00November 28th, 2008|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

Highway to Hell

I am pleased to state that after a three months pause in my writing, I chose this afternoon to sit at my favorite home-away-from-home, Fort Collins’ Mugs cafe to work on a screenplay I left dormant for the past few years, re-inspired by recent events in my life.

But when the fruit smoothie and hummus tray were fully consumed, my belly full and brain sugar deplete, I found myself nodding-off. The repeating keys across the screen a clear sign that my body required Walrus ice cream if I were to remain at all functional. I left my laptop at my corner table, and headed north on College.

As I neared Mountain, the sound of classic rock ‘n roll grew in volume until it was clear there was an outdoor concert, common in Old Town Square in the summers. But what caught my attention was the genre, “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC on a Sunday afternoon. With my single scoop of Bing Cherry in a chocolate dipped sugar cone, I walked across College and into the walking district of historic Fort Collins. The quality of the cover was surprisingly good.

High Voltage kids band

But as I neared the stage, I could barely see the three guitarists or lead singer. Only in the final steps was it apparent these hard core rock ‘n roll enthusiasts were between the ages of ten and fourteen (tops).

The lead singer could have been a stand-in for Harry potter in the first two movies, his medium length bangs covering the upper half of his wire-rim glasses. The stage-right guitarist wore a white Oxford style shirt, tie, blue coaching shorts, and low-top Converse classics.

The tallest of the crew by two heads was of course the bass guitarist, a girl maybe fifteen years of age, but likely less. The drummer was clad only in shorts, his skinny, pale upper torso not much larger in diameter than the drum sticks he wielded.

I thought for certain this was a lip-sync show, for the tone of the lead vocalist was dead-on, his prepubescent screeching highs a perfect, even if uncontrolled match for the original recordings. A guy wearing a black Motley Crue tour shirt stood to the front. He held his right hand high, fingers splayed, and lowered his head in respect for this dynamic kid crew.

High Voltage kids band

They finished their set with High Voltage Rock ‘n Roll (the namesake of their band), the guitarist clad in Converse walking into the center of the crowd, his wireless feed perpetuating his high speed, high energy finger play as he fell to his knees and then right hip, spinning in a complete circle.

The crowd demanded more, but the next band was already standing at the ready, eager to have their shot at the lime light. Wow! What a fantastic show of young talent and courage.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:46-04:00September 7th, 2008|At Home in the Rockies|1 Comment