Thursday, May 26, 2016

Back to the vardo -- and back to the garden!

We are working on our vardo again - - now that the school year is finished, I am looking forward to summer and going out exploring, and I want our little vardo complete.  We got the truck lights installed the other day, and this week I've been working on the outside, hoping to get the paint job finished and a few more outside details.  But first, juts got this ladder done this morning:
This is where our name for the vardo - "Stardust" - comes from.  It's a line from Joni Mitchell's song 'Woodstock' - and this is the refrain.  I also have Hoagy Carmichael's song "Stardust" in mind, but this is the one I think of first.

Besides this little ladder that will help us get in, I also built a couple of pieces this week for storage, first, a battery box that looks like a barrel:

It has a shelf that you can't see, and the batteries fit inside easily.  I want to get a couple of leather belts to make straps across the ends, and I've still got to get this one painted with some flowers and stencils, but it's good to go. 

The other thing I made was a box on the deck for cooking supplies:  it'll hold a propane camp stove, a couple of bottles of propane, and some skillets and utensils.  Here's how that looks:

That one was made with leftover furniture parts.  It will hold a lot.

After I got that done, I decided to work on the paint job on the outside, and also the back deck.  Got that done this morning (the deck, the sides needs a couple more days).  So it looks pretty spiffy from the back:

(Luna enjoys laying on the deck)

The sides still need work but they're getting there:

The green man on both sides looked a little stark, so I gave them a green glaze and now they fit in much better, but this picture I took before that.  

So today, we begin working on the inside!  I need to get us a nice comfy place to sleep!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Solar power!

We've been just doing a ton of things around the house - no real big projects, mostly small maintenance things.  But we are trying to focus on making life easier on us down the line when I retire, and so one thing we just finished (today!) was refinancing our house so we will have it paid off in 15 years.  Got a fantastic interest rate - we feel good about that.

one other thing we looked at was installing solar panels on the roof.  We looked at the leasing program, which is a no-money-down kind of thing.  Actually, no money out of pocket, which is nice.  But the downside to that is that you sign a 20 year lease with the solar company to pay a fixed rate for power to the solar company instead of the utility company.  The 20 year lease doesn't sound good -- so we decided to do the purchase approach with another company.

First we had to take down most of the catio:

We stacked the panels and set them aside until we redo the tunnel off the catio.  For now, they have the top section that they like the best anyways.

Then the solar company sent out workers to dig a trench.  We have a set of panels on the garage as well as the house, so they needed to run wire connecting the two.

The trench is still uncovered (a week later) becuase Dale wants to run a second line out to the garage while they have it opened.  While they were digging the trench, they hit the water line - oops! - but fixed it right away. 

Then they came out and put the panels on ---


 It took them 2 days to get it all set, and now we just have to wait until SCE (Southern California Edison, our power company) gives us the OK to switch it over. 

This is all the power hookups, the stuff we don't really understand!  The meter on the far left is the two way meter that goes backwards when we are producing more power than we are using, which will pretty much be every day.  At night, the meter will go the other day as we use power from the utility company.

We had an energy audit to see if we could make the panel count match as closely as possible the needs we have.  So the number of panels (22) will produce somewhere between 98-103% of the power we currently use. 

Because we wanted to know these things, I am going to talk about how much this all cost and what kind of benefits/cost that we incurred.  I think it might be helpful to someone who is considering the switch to solar.

We used SunRun, and we found out about them through Costco.  We just got a membership earlier this spring, there was a great groupon deal that gave us a lot of rebates to get the upper level membership.  We refinanced our house through the Costco program and got a fantastic rate and the cost was minimal, and included a $1250 bonus that they paid towards closing costs.  With SunRun, we get a 2% cashback, which comes to $450, a $650 Costco card, and they give a discount on the equipment.  Our 22 panels installed came to $22,250.00.  We will get a 30% tax credit, which means a dollar for dollar refund of any taxes we owe.  That's just over $7,000 - and we won't be able to use all that this year, so it will roll over to next year's taxes.  That gives us a net cost of $14, 450 after all those rebates come into effect.

Our average monthly electric bill is $157 mo.  That's average, some months (like this month), it might be as low as 68.00, and during the middle of summer with the AC going, or the middle of the winter with the space heaters going, it goes up to $230.00 per month.  Our hot tub costs quite a bit.  So - once this solar gets going, we anticipate a simple $10 per month bill from the utility company for the non-energy costs of lines, hookup, etc.  So we will save an average of 147 a month, and over the course of the next 8 years and 3 months we will be paying this off.  In less than 9 years, we will be fully paid off and basically paying ourselves. 

Although we haven't got the meter going yet (it takes 2-5 weeks to get the utility to process the switch), we are extremely happy with the company.  They were great about informing us all along the way, and answered all our questions and concerns really fast.  So far, I would totally recommend them.  I understand not all people have cash on hand to pay for something like this, but they offer a 15 year financing plan that never exceeds what you're actually paying for your current utility bills.  In other words, if we had financed, our montly payment would have been 150 a month, still allowing us to be paying out less per month than we were paying for our electric bill.  Which made it a no-brainer.  I mean, you're already paying out the money each month, why not be buying something while you're doing it?

Anyway, I hope to keep more caught up on my blog this year.  We want to get pictures of our vardo up and we have plans for the summer, of course!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Just more detail work!

So many things going on with work and life -- so we're just working on some of the bits and pieces.  First, I was teaching a lesson in mosaics in one of my classes, so I got the little mosaic over the doorway finished:

Some fun travel things there, a couple of compasses, a route 66 magnet, a little hotwheels truck that I cut in half lengthwise with a grinder --

I also got the name of our little camper painted over the doorway -- we named it "Stardust" and I've got a little bird pulling a banner across:

a little sprinkling of stardust with some gold stenciled stars.  Step back and you can see I started adding some scrollwork across the end.

Below the window, I want to add a box to house the propane tank or to use just for storage for cooking supplies, so I don't have any decorative painting going on in that section.

I also made shutters for the windows on the sides and the bow window, to close up while we're driving in order to keep the windows from getting chipped by flying rocks.  I hope to get them hung this week, but at least they're built and painted:

These four are for the sides, a butterfly and a hummingbird for each window.  The bow window across the back has five more, with butterflies on those windows.  I haven't gotten the backsides of them painted yet, I want to see how they look installed before I do that. I still have some stenciling to do around the window frames as well, so I am just working on this a little at a time.

We also took all our free furniture apart -- breaking it down to the parts we are going to use, and setting aside the leftover wood to use for building other sections inside -- shelves, seats, etc.  What I need to do is get a good floorplan with accurate sizes so I can write up a plan. We are busy thinking through the plumbing and electric before we get working on the interior, so for now I'm just focusing on the outside.  I did come up with an idea for a slide-out set of steps.   With Christmas coming and my busy time at work in full swing, it will probably be after the first of the year  before we get working in any big manner.  So it'll continue to be small decorative projects on the exterior -- which has a TON of area for me to paint on, so that's a good reason for me to just keep plugging away on that!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Detail painting

This past couple of weeks I've been doing some small bits and pieces, but mostly doing detail painting on the vardo trim.  I got the top borders painted

along with the soffit underneath.  First, I made a set of stamps for the leaves:

so I went all around the vardo on my scaffolding, stamping the leaves arcross the black boards, then I added the rest of the flowers.

Finally, I gave it all a quick coat of clear acrylic.  I had done that on the roof, and it makes it so much easier just to brush dirt off.

Then this past week, I decided to do the black part under the ledges as well.  I started by stenciling in gold, then went through the same process with leaf stamps and flowers.

I finished this off with a quick coat of clear acrylic as well.  I'm really happy with the way these came out. Subtle but at least there's something going on down in this area.

We also got the top windows installed, and got catches to hold them closed. 

We moved it off the driveway in front of the garage to the backyard, because this week, we're having Parker coming to visit!  He needs all that area for playing with his trucks, his train and his batman car!

Today, we went to the beach and went on a whale-watching cruise. We didn't see any whales, but we did have fun on the boat ride and also we saw a lot of dolphins!  We all have sunburns now that our day is over, but we had a good time.  Tomorrow it the San Diego Zoo!

Sunday, October 04, 2015

More details on the exterior

We've almost got the shell completely closed in -- just have to add the top windows. I made them this weekend, but I need to get the paint cleaned off and just get them hinged up. 

We decided to make these with plexi in them -- lightweight for the roof.  We've been trying to focus on keeping the top as light as possible.

The other thing we needed to do was get the door mounted, and drill the door for a lockset.  We have it keyed to match our housekey for simplicity.  I got a pretty good deal on the hinges at this local place that believe it or not, has cheaper prices than Harbor Freight.  I think the hinges were $1.89 each, and they look great:
The top hinge on the top half of the door had to be cut down - Dale used a grinder to round it off after he cut it down.  It  just lost the little arrow tip, which was fine.  Drilling the lockset was a job - we got a kit from Lowes that had a guide and drill bits - but when we got to the part where we needed to drill a hole for the latch to go through - the drill bit was clearly off center, so we had to work out a solution.  But we got it all done, it closes great, and now I just need to get the rounded stop mounted on the inside.  We have a temporary piece of wood just screwed on the inside to keep the door from going in.

I missed a few other details in my last post -- I put the glass in the door next to the window (you can see it above), and I tested out some of my stencils on the trim.

I also added more details to the back window -- both along the trim with some stencils, then I also added some clouds to the scene, and made a stencil border.

I'm looking foward to making some shutters for this window and for the two side windows.  This window will be a little tricky, since it has three sides to cover, but I have some ideas.  We just need them for when we are traveling -- to keep rocks and other debris from hitting the windows.  So mostly they'll be open but they will need to be able to latch shut.

I have been spending most of my time painting.  Painting, painting, painting. I got one coat on the inside ceiling, and I'm in the middle of getting the underside to the porch roof and the little back overhang. I have one coat on each, and this week I'd like to get those done and then fix all the drips and splotches.  The ends both need another coat of green and then I can get the decorative painting started.

In the meantime, we've picked up a few interesting free pieces of furniture on Craigslist.  We're trying to use only recycled pieces for the interior, both to keep the cost down, but also because I think we can make things interesting in there that way.  Here are the pieces we're going to start with:

The big china cabinet (on the left) we are planning to use the bottom half front for the part under the bed.  We may use the drawers, but the two side panels are just doors that we will keep as doors to reach the storage area under the bed.  We'll use some of the wood from the hutch top as the top rail and we'll use the backing for walls under the bed.  The amoire in the center - I really liked the doors on the top half.  We're going to be using those for a long thin storage cabinet, using the two doors, one up and one down something like this:

and then the bottom half of that cabinet we will use for our kitchen cabinet base. 
The little end table on the right will also be for lower cabinets.

All of these pieces are too heavy, so we'll be cutting away unnecessary wood and lightening up where possible.   What I've been looking for is pieces with interesting details, like the door panels.  The hutch is humongous, and should fit across the width of the vardo easily enough, with just some minimal filling in which we'll use the scraps from the doors on the china cabinet.

We'll also be using the wood on the sides and back by just cutting it into shape with our table saw.  So we can use it to frame out our benches, etc.  If we run out of lumber, we'll just keep our eyes out for some good donor furniture.  There's always a bunch of free stuff out there.  When we get it all built in, we'll be painting it, which will help unify the various styles somewhat, but we like the idea of eclectic pieces here and there.

This week, we bought some jacks that we will have welded onto the four corners of the frame, so we'll be able to flip those down and level the vardo when we camp. Right now, we've been using car jacks onthe four corners, they're heavy and awkward and we don't want to have to try to carry them along with us.  The ones we bought will fold up and tuck away under the frame.

We also picked up a water tank so when we go somewhere without available water, we'll have the ability to bring some with us.  Water is really heavy, so we didn't get that big of a tank.  Originally, I was thinking of getting a 20 gallon tank, but when I did the calculation on how much that would weigh, it was 166 pounds -- way too much to have sloshing around.  So we bought a 10 gallon tank that hopefully we don't have to use often.  It'll go in the storage area under the bed. 

We're also looking at solar panels and that whole thing, we should be able to get 100 watts of solar easily and cheaply enough, and that should give us plenty of power for our off-grid trips. 

So it's coming along!  I really want to get some of the decorative painting started, as soon as the crazy work reports get done, I'll be able to start on that!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The roof on our vardo

For the past couple of weeks, we've been working off and on, getting the roof on our little vardo.  First, we had filled the spaces between the rafters with rigid styrofoam, glueing it all down.

this is before we added the foam insulation

This is the insulation - it has foil on one side.  The first layer we put in foil side down, the second layer, foil side up.  This should keep it cool in summer, warm in winter.

Then we bent plywood over the roof on each side, attaching to the rafters with glue and nails.

After we got the sheets attached, we cut 2" wide strips of plywood and covered the seams, spreading glue and nailing to cover the seams.

Then came the part where we waterproofed it.  We were using a technique called "poor man's fiberglass" - basically, you glue canvas down tightly to the wood, using Titebond II glue, which creates a water resistant seal.  Then you spread glue over the canvas, then paint over it with several layers of exterior grade paint, making sure the canvas soaks up all the paint and fills the fibers in.  I could tell as I was coating this that each layer will filling the spaces, and evening out the texture.

This is what it looked like after the canvas was glued down.

This is after one coat of house paint.

 More layers of house paint -- a total of 5 layers.
 The last layer was a light cream color, which was the background for my design of diamonds.

So, originally this pattern was going to be an all-over pattern of tan diamonds on a cream background.  But I had some nice dark brown paint so I thought I'd use that - and then it seemed kind of stark.  And I liked the way the straps stuck up, so I wanted to accent those.  So then I decided to add some stencils over the whole thing.  So it ended up with many more layers, but now I'm hapy with it.  

I finished it all up with a coat of clear poly to help protect it, although it's had heavy dew on it each night, and in the morning when I come out, there is water dripping off the roof onto the ground, and everything is totally watertight. 

So this took a lot longer than I expected, but that's how I work, so I'm used to it.  Here's a shot of some of my stencils:

Some of them I bought, and some of them I cut.  Can you tell I like a lot of pattern? 

So now I can work on the windows to the skylight, and get the bands around the roof all painted. I got one coat of paint on them this afternoon, but they need two more.  I feel like I've been painting and painting and painting -- because I have!  But we will have this little vardo all weather tight pretty soon!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Getting a new roof on the house -- and painting doors

The news has been full of predictions for a "godzilla el nino" this year - hopefully meaning that we'll catch up on rain to end this drought we've been in out here in California.  But that's also got a downside for us - we knew we needed a new roof, because we've got a leak right over the patio doors.  Being that it doens't rain but maybe twice a year in the past year, it wasn't a big rush. But if we're looking at a lot of rain.....

So this week the roofers came.  In preparation, we had to empty the garage (the slats on the roof have slight spaces between each slat, and when they take the roof off, it's gonna pour down a lot of dust and crumbs from the roof), and move the vardo. It's been in front of the garage, and that's where they need to dump all the roof they tear off.  So we packed everything up out of the garage, and prepared to roll the vardo into the larger part of the background - only to find that the lemon tree was blocking us.  So we had to cut that down.  It was something we were going to do anyway, but we got that started. 

In preparation for having no work to do on that for a week, I gave the door parts three coats of red paint. I bought a sample of a nice, vibrant red -- too red, actually, but I knew I'd be 'antiquing' it, so going a little bright is fine.  My plan was to learn how to do "one stroke" flowers, and also figure out some stencil patterns, along with adding some birds.  I love birds. 

So here it is!  This is after painting all the details, then giving it a coat of varnish to protect the paint, then giving it a coat of black paint, wiping off as I go so that it just collects in the corners and edges, and tones down the vibrant color.  This is both pieces laid out together on the concrete so I could see how they work together.

The blank space above the windows is going to have a mosaic embedded in it -- I'm thinking it'll be buttons, which I have a ton of.

I cut a few stencils from some blank stencil plastic, and I also purchased a few different stencils. I'm going to be covering this whole thing with a ton of embellishment, so having a lot of choices was important.

Like I said, I like birds. I gave Dale two choices, he chose blue jay and cardinal, and I chose crow and seagull.  The cardinal posed a little problem - the bird is about the same color red that I painted the doors, so I had to add a blue background.  My favorite is the blue jay, it came out nice, and I really love crows, so that one makes me happy, too.  Both of the stencils on this picture are ones I cut.

On the top, I practiced my flower skills. I have another large area that is going to have flowers, so I wanted to practice a bit on this. I watched some videos and looked at some how-tos online, and got painting.  One night, it was so incredibly hot while I was painting (we had a mini-heat wave), and I was trying to keep a fan on me, but it was drying the paint out so fast.  Anyway, I got that all done.  After I antiqued the red, I gave it two coats of clear poly to protect it against weather and wear.

So I still need to drill for a doorknob and get the hinges on -- the hinges will cover some of the flowers and paint, but that's OK -- I wanted it pretty busy so it'll all work out fine!
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