The Straw House Blog

What a July….

I’m stuck sitting here just trying to come up with words to describe the roller coaster ride that was July 2004. Really stuck. What a month.

The month starts off well enough, work’s starting to pick up after a slow start to the summer, and then my laptop dies. The screen turns grey and that’s the end of it. Fortunately I bought AppleCare (Apple’s extended warranty) and so I place the call.

“The screen is dead.”

“OK sir, please reboot.”

“OK, it’s rebooted.”

“Good, now what do you see?”

“Nothing, the screen is dead.”

Repeat with subtle variations for half an hour.

“Well sir, it sounds like your screen is dead.”


There are a thousand stories like this on the web, now I’m one of them. So off it goes to Apple Canada with a note that this is my main machine, please rush, can’t work without it, etc. I call all my clients and explain that I’m down for a week or so, hang in there, I’ll be back up soon, Apple said I should have it back in a week.

I take the opportunity to drag in Pete, Tina and Stephen and we stucco the front of the house. The time is not wasted the house looks great!

While we stucco Gator suddenly gets very sick, he can’t keep anything down, he’s shivering convulsively. Off to the vet he goes. Gator has swallowed a stone. It is lodged in the juncture where his large and small intestines meet. They cut Gator open and remove the stone. With all the diagnostic x-rays and such it’s a $1200 procedure.

While all this is going we learn that Joanne’s grandmother, her last surviving grandparent, has been admitted to hospital with pneumonia, she is 94 and she is not expected to live through the night. She does, she’s a fighter to the end but passes away early the next morning. We take the dogs to my parents and head off to Burlington for the funeral.

We return and I still don’t have a computer, “Maybe early next week.” They said that last week to so I decide that I’m going to need to buy a new computer. My clients have been very patient but it’s been three weeks of no work and that’s three weeks of no billing. I buy a new computer that I really can’t afford. Of course I get my laptop back three days later.

During the no-computer hiatus I get an email from the editor of MocoLoco saying that they’d like to show our house on their site, could I please send pictures? I really like MocoLoco, I read it everyday, I’m thrilled and send off pictures.

A couple of days after the MocoLoco posting I’m reading WorldChanging another site I like and a group of people that I really respect, and I start yelling, “Joanne! Worldchanging! Linked! Worldchanging!” I could play it cool, but I’m just way too excited, first MocoLoco and then Worldchanging, I am chuffed.

By late July the site has long since passed the most vistors that we’ve ever received in a month and I’m reading the stats every night wondering how high it will go. The house is starting to get mentioned on a whole variety of sites. On July 28th we get picked as a Hot Site of the Day by USA Today’s online edition. All told almost 19,000 people visit the site in July, and we serve over 64,000 pages. That means that a fair number of people that visit the site stick around and read more than just the home page.

While all this is going on Gil learns to sit up, crawl and then stand up on his own (while hanging on to something). Suddenly we have to pay very very close attention to him, because man, he can move FAST when he wants too. The dogs seem slightly alarmed that the noisy little attention hog is suddenly mobile. The safety plugs go into the outlets, the floor lamps get moved away, and the glass end-tables and coffee-table in the living room are packed for temporary storage.

Then, on the 30th of July, Gator starts throwing up again. He starts shivering and quivering. I take him into the vet, he’s x-rayed and there doesn’t seem to be anything inside him, we figure he’s just really sick, they advise me to give him some Pepto-Bismol and bring him in the next day if he throws up again. He pukes several times during the night. Back to the vet. This time they do a barium series: they feed him barium and then x-ray him to see how it moves through his system. There’s a blockage, same place as the last one. It’s the 31st of July, the date of the annual Hunter family picnic, I’ve spent most of my day at the vet clinic, talking to the vet on the phone or waiting for her to call, I walk onto my parents back-deck three hours late and announce, “They’re cutting him open again.”


We’re in World Changing!!

World Changing a blog devoted to “Models, Tools, and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future”, has picked up the story from MocoLoco and has mentioned us on their blog, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

But, it’s important to note that while these sites refer to it as my house, I most certainly did not build it on my own. A whole lot of people helped and I want to thank them all again here, especially: Mike Cooper, Simon & J.P. at Generation Solar, Pete and Tina at Camel’s Back Construction, Paul Dowsett at Scott Morris Architects, and my father, Ron Hunter, who was on site everyday, and without whom this house just would not be here. Thank you Dad.


We’re on Mocoloco!

The house has been featured on Mocoloco! A website devoted to modern contemporary design and architecture Mocoloco is one of my daily reads. Given the fantastic stuff that appears on the site I am totally stoked to be included!


No More Comments

I’m sick of dealing with comment spam so I’ve turned comments off.

My email link is at the bottom of each page if you want to get in touch.


State of the World

Bruce Sterling’s annual ‘State of the World’ address/dialogue is up on the Well right now. As always, it makes for great reading.

Since we’re talking about Bruce Sterling I highly recommend that anybody interested in Green Building/Sustainable Living check out the Veridian Design Movement.

And no, I haven’t yet posted that list, and I wouldn’t count on seeing it soon. I do have a working dining room light though, that I will post pictures of real soon, and some other lighting news.


Media #3

Yesterday was fairly hectic around here. We had an electrical inspection to hopefully close out that permit but there’s apparently still some debate around our battery box. So we wait again.

In the morning I received word from Simon Boone (Generation Solar) that CHEX TV (our local CBC affiliate) had seen the Peterborough Examiner article and wanted to do an on camera interview with me for the six o’clock news. The CHEX guy showed up while the inspector was still inspecting so he did some shooting around the house. Then he did a segment outside the house looking up at the panels and a short interview with both Simon and myself inside. Unfortunately he cut Simon’s piece such that it appears Simon is almost recommending against solar power (based on cost). Off-grid and grid-intertie aren’t all beer and roses but I doubt that you’ll find many people on the east coast expressing great support for the status quo. From what others have told me I looked and sounded fine, it’s hard to judge personally since it’s always just sorta freaky seeing yourself on TV.

One of the things that bothers me a bit about this media attention (and yes, I knew it was coming after last Thursday) is the natural bias of the media to see us as radicals. Not in that we choose to live differently but in that since we choose to live this way we must also be out blocking whaling ships in Zodiacs on the weekends, churning our own butter, and such. Each reporter, upon learning that Joanne is pregnant, asked if we will be doing a home birth (we aren’t). I tried very hard especially with the CP interviewer to reinforce the idea that we are just normal people, living our lives in a normal home, except of course that we generate our own power. I have found with some people that as the environmentally friendly buzz words about our home (passive solar) start to pile up (straw bale) I can sense that (off grid) we are being further and further marginalized in their minds. This perception definately appears in most of the media surrounding houses like ours. In a way I end up trying to seem less green that I really am in the hopes that people might start see renewables as a reasonable option.

What I would rather see is some indication from the media, from the government that there are lessons to be learned from the events of last Thursday, and that some of them might be learned by looking, really looking at houses like mine and the thousands of other people around North America who produce their own power. Or they could just patch the grid, everyone can crank their air conditioning and hope that the problem solves itself. Guess which I think is going to happen.


Canadian Press Article

It looks like finding a online link for the Canadian Press article is going to be problematic so for now (or until CP sends me a cease and desist) here’s the article text: has picked up the article, thanks to Art for the heads-up.


Some Links

Wired article on distributed power generation (micropower):

The Energy Web

A look at the Ohio power company that seems to have been the start of the trouble:

Lights Out on Deregulation

Interested in Off-grid or Grid Inter-tie? Home Power magazine is a good place to start:

Home Power Magazine


Media #2

Here’s the article on the Peterborough Examiner Website. No pictures in the online version, but I’ll be grabbing a couple of the paper issues today. I’m pleased that they put in Jo’s quote about there being no incentives for people to try renewables as well as J.P.‘s line about the artificially low cost of hydro in this province. How can we convince people to conserve when power is nearly as cheap as water? The bill for fixing the hydro rate at 4.3¢/kwh is now in the hundreds of millions and will likely exceed a billion dollars by the end of the summer. I can’t help but think that money would be far better spent on education and grants for renewables. Get some solar panels up on some roofs and some good metering so that people are more aware of what they are using.

All of the attention in the media is around which part of the grid failed, where it broke, and how decrepit the whole transmission network has become. But there has been very little comment on how overloaded the system is, how all of the power the air conditioners, incandescent lights, and billboards are constantly drawing. Small amounts of conservation can add up to huge savings. If you are one the grid look around your house, your place of business, your community and ask yourself, “Did the failure start in Ohio, or did it start right here?”

I’d like to believe that articles like today’s will make a change but really I think we’re just a form of oddity, “Step right up, gaze in wonder at the people who live off grid.” Just another stop on the blackout media tour. I’d like to think that this blackout could be the start of a change but really I suspect that they’ll cobble the grid back together and life will return to normal. And now I’ve just learned that CHEX TV is on thier way out to do a story on us. It is going to be an interesting day.


Media #1

Several pieces of good news today: the bank came back with our appraisal, which directly effects our mortgage, and it was VERY favourable, and the insurance company is going to cover the generator, so we should be getting a new one soon!

Today we were visited by a reporter and photographer from the Peterborough Examiner. They were interested in people who lived off the grid. A topic that we expect will be of great interest for the next little while. The article is supposed to appear in tomorrow’s paper, I will post a link to the online version if there is one.

Hah! And everybody thought that when the media came to take a picture of me I’d be getting out of the back of a cruiser with somebody else’s coat over my head.