Welcome to Cranky Puppy Farm!

This blog belongs to two Gen X-er's smackdab in downtown Kansas City where we've been renovating and decorating two old Victorians built in the 1890's. Our life is filled with 3 demanding Pomeranians (1 of them cranky, of course), honking cars, noisy neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life but we dream of the day when we can move to our 40-acre farm and hear nothing but the wind and the cows next door. Until then, we're chronicling our triumphs and mishaps here as we try to garden and preserve on 2 city lots, raise chickens, and learn all those things we should have learned from our grandparents. Welcome to our world - we hope you'll stay awhile!

Solar: The Build Begins

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The posts are in!
It's Wednesday and I'm just now recovering to the point that I can type this out without my shoulders aching.  J. and I may have overdone it a little this Memorial Day weekend.  But, hey, I wasn't going to let a 3-day weekend go by without working on the solar project.  We started the actual build!
Our poor little Dingo gave up the ghost at the thought of all that hole-digging and heavy lifting and wouldn't start, so it's in the shop.  Isn't that always the case?  You need your machinery and it breaks down right when you need it.
So off we went to Beagles Rentals to rent a beefier skidsteer for a day.  It turned out to be a good idea, because we got done much faster than if we had tried to use the Dingo and it was heavy enough that we were also able to use it to square up the chicken coop a little bit and move that 600-lb tree that we need to plant.
First on Saturday's agenda was to try to get the lot a little more level where the panels are going.  The array is going to be 51' 4" long by 13' wide and the lot slopes from east to west, which is along the long length of the array.  In fact, it slopes about 3 feet over that distance.  There was no way we were going to get it totally level, but we used the skidsteer to take the high side down about a foot and move the dirt to the other side.  A foot over 53' isn't as bad.
The array takes 8 posts of Schedule 40 pipe that's 3" pipe (it's actually 3.5" outside) and 0.216 thickness.  Shipping on the 9 pipes that we needed would have been ridiculously expensive, so we sourced it locally from a company called Rieves-Wiedeman located just a stones throw from our house.  Total cost: $1,544.05 with free delivery.
Folks, this stuff is heavy!  It comes in 21 foot lengths that weigh about 140 pounds.  Fortunately, we were cutting each pipe in half or in thirds for this stage of the build.  Here's a diagram of where the posts are placed:

Everything is correct on here except for the 10' posts.  They're actually 10' 4".   To get the 25 degree tilt on the array, the north run of poles needed to be 3 1/2 feet taller than the south run.  Everything needed to go into a hole 42" deep.   Why 42"?  It has nothing to do with the frost line, which is around 32" here.  The footings are that deep because of the wind load on the array once the panels are in place.  Think of it was a giant windsail catching the wind once it's all put together.  Yikes!
Another question I've gotten is about how we determined the placement of the poles.  First, we knew from talking to the city permit folks that we had to be further back from the street than the house AND we needed to be at least 5 feet off the back property line with our neighbors.  When we bought the solar kit, it included a racking system from IronRidge.  IronRidge has a handy-dandy online calculator that will tell you all the correct spans for your location, wind speed, snow load, etc.  You just input how many panels, your location and the configuration for your panels and it spits out the details like so:

Click to biggify!

Figuring it all out is the easy part.  It's the digging, squaring, measuring, pipe cutting and setting 10' heavy posts that will kill you.  Of course, it didn't help that it was in the upper 80's and humid as all get out.  If it weren't for our neighbor, Dave, I think J. and I would have died right there in the backyard on Saturday night after only getting in 2 poles and the other 6 holes dug.  If you've ever worked until you didn't have an ounce of energy left in you to even walk in the house, you know what I mean. 
Dave, if you're reading this:  thanks for helping us!
On Sunday, we took another 7 hours to finish up the other poles.  If we hadn't been dead tired from the previous day, we probably would have gotten done in half the time.

You can really see the height difference in the posts in this picture.
Now we wait until the weekend to give the concrete time to setup before we put on the two west-to-east cross rails.  Each one is about 2 1/2 pipes threaded together, so they're going to weigh about 350 pounds when all is said and done. We're going to have to do it in stages and have some help.  Anybody know any big, burly strong men that will work for beer and pizza?

This post has been shared as part of this week's HomeAcre Hop.  Go check it out!

Removing Roadblocks

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The last of the physical roadblocks was moved out of the way today!
When we build the chicken coop several years ago, we were at least smart enough to build it on two 4x4 skids so that it would be easier to move it.  It's sitting squarely where the solar array needs to go, so it needed to move a good 25 to 30 feet sideways and around an existing shed.
Our original plan for moving it was to lift it and use several PVC pipes underneath the skids to roll it across the yard.  The coop weighs about 1500 pounds but, believe it or not, this does work!  Just check YouTube for "move shed" and you'll see several people demonstrating how easy it is.  The problem, however, is that the ground underneath the coop isn't level, so we had to use concrete piers and a series of short stubs of 4x4 to level it and then we piled dirt all around to keep critters from getting underneath.  For our pipe-rolling to work, we would have had to do quite a bit of digging AND get the coop down off those piers.
Not only are we under a deadline with the whole solar thing, but I haven't mentioned another project that we're working on here:  renovating the laundry room.  Our time is at a premium right now, so I suggested we call and see if someone could move it for us. 
Who knew that tow companies provide this service?  Just backup the rollback, slide it underneath and get it up level, drive to where you want it and drop it.  The driver put it perfectly where we wanted with no damage to the coop and it didn't take all that long.

The coop in its final resting spot.
 Best $125 I ever spent, if you ask me.  I know our backs are happy about not having to do all that digging.  We still need to level the coop and move the 10x10 chainlink pen over there, but that's easily do-able by hand.

By the way, the feathered residents of this coop were totally confused about where their house went and were pretty distressed about not being able to find their roost.  We had to carry them into the coop tonight.  Poor babies!

Speedbumps and Roadblocks

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I wanted to post this yesterday evening but just didn't get it done, so I'm a day late and a dollar short.  Isn't that always the case?

For the past two weeks, J. and I have been trying to work through two of three huge hurdles standing in our way of getting started on actually building the solar array.  The first one is the fact that we need to move the chicken coop but our Ford Industrial 4400 tractor is sitting where the coop needs to go and, even after repeated attempts, it won't start

This thing weighs like 3 million pounds and has questionable brakes at best, so getting it started was a must.  J. found a mobile tractor repair guy 3 weeks ago and setup a time for him to come out.  Wouldn't you know it...it rained cats and dogs that day.  So we picked another time...and it was raining again at his house (although not here).  He called to say he was on his way and, 4 hours later, he hadn't showed.  Never called and won't return phone calls.  What is it with service people that many of them treat their customers this way?  I'm putting "good mobile tractor repair" guys on the list of "hard to find" right under concrete guys and plumbers.  At least the tractor repair guy called us back initially.

Anyway, mobile tractor repair guys are hard to find and even harder to schedule but we finally found another one and he got us all fixed up yesterday.  "No spark" was the diagnosis - whatever that means. And $250 later ($50 for the "housecall", $70 per hour for 2 hours of work and $60 in parts) and we had the old tractor moved.

The second of our troubles was finding a local supplier for the pipe that will support the solar array.  I'm going to talk more about that tomorrow, but we did finally find a source and they delivered it for us yesterday afternoon. Woohoo!

Now all we have to do is move that chicken coop out of the way and we're ready to start digging footings.  Yep, that's the last of the 3 roadblocks in our way.

Have a good one,

The World's Gone Batty

Friday, May 09, 2014

Yep, that's a cute little furry bat hanging from the crown moulding in our bedroom-turned-into-walkin-closet, of all places.  He wasn't there when we went to bed, so he must have flown down sometime between then and 2:45 a.m., when I first noticed him.  Having just woken up from a crazy dream, I was half asleep anyway and had to rub my eyes a couple of times just to make sure I wasn't seeing things.

We've been putting more insulation in our attic so my guess is that he flew down from there. We have a hole somewhere that allowed him to get in, so I guess finding that hole is now on the to-do list for this weekend. 

We just had an amusing time trying to get him out of here.  Gloves and a coffee can and we finally got him out.  Poor little guy! 


No More Mortgage Payments!

Saturday, May 03, 2014

What a change in 15 years, huh?

It's official!  In order to get past this kerfluffle with the electrical permit, we officially bit the bullet and paid off the mortgage on Friday.  Once I have the lien release from the bank, I can go down to the Recorder's office and record a deed that has both properties on it. 

According to the head City minion in City Planning, that should be sufficient enough for them to un-suspend our permit.  We just have to wait patiently for a couple weeks to get that paperwork.  No amount of pleading, whining, etc. would convince the bank to speed up the process.  Trust me...I tried!

But no one said we couldn't dig footings and put the array together in the meantime.  I only need that permit for the actual electrical connections.  *evil laugh*  I love it when a plan comes together!

Driving home from the movies Friday night, we drove past the Royals stadium and they were setting off fireworks at the end of the game.  I told J. that the fireworks were for us in celebration of no more mortgage payments to the evil bank.  We both laughed at the thought of it and pretty soon we were home to a house that all ours. 

Woohoo!  We've been waiting for this day for a long time...

Not So Fast, Says the City

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Our joyous celebration lasted a mere days.  We just got word today that our solar permit has been put on hold after being approved by City Planning.  They gave us two reasons:

  1. The solar array can't be closer to the street than our house.  It actually isn't, but I didn't indicate the distance from the house to the street on the site design that we submitted.  That's an easy fix.  The other one, not so much.
  2. Since we were planning on putting the panels in the vacant lot that we own behind us, it violates "primary use" for zoning on that lot.  I was afraid that was going to come up, but our electrician told us that he was able to get initial permit approval by convincing them that it was enough that the two properties were owned the same person.  But some other minion in City Planning decided that wasn't OK and suspended the permit until we combine the lots. And they have no idea how that's done!

Bah....  Since I have started this new job, I have zero time to make phone calls so poor J. has been calling everyone in city and county government to figure out how to combine the parcels. The City office that City Planning sent us to says the county Records office does it, and the county Recorder of Deeds says the city has to do it.

There are really two options here and I'll make this quick, since I don't want to bore you to tears with the minutiae of government idiocy.  We can do a seg\merge with the city to combine the properties.  It requires an official survey report (about $500) and several weeks to go through the process. 

The other option is a deed combination.  That's a problem, because we still have a small mortgage balance on our house that wasn't going to be paid off until later this year.  You can't combine properties with a mortgage on it, because the bank is in primary position until the loan is paid off.  So we would have to pay off the mortgage and wait several weeks for the lien release.  Then go combine the two properties by re-deeding it back to ourselves with both properties on the same deed.

All I can say say is.......Bok foi?

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