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Land Hunting, Part Twelve: A Solar Survey

by Tara

For the last few weeks, Tyler has been in contact with Solar Pro, a solar hot water heating company in town. Last night, he called to see if they had time for a last minute appointment, and our contact, Karen, agreed to meet us at 10:00 AM! We've been wanting to learn more about solar installations for months—even if things don't pan out with the property on Maple HIll Road, seeing how a survey is conducted will be a great learning experience.

This morning, the dark clouds that loomed yesterday have gone, leaving in their wake bright blue skies. After a short drive from the hotel, we ascend a great hill, arriving once more at the white gate which guards a maple-canopied track to our possible future home. Waiting for Karen, we breathe deep the smell of autumn in the woodland, watching as the occasional leaf tumbles gracefully towards the ground.

This place will be even more stunning in a few weeks, when the fall colors take hold!

"Our" White Gate(?) (iPhone)

Karen arrives a few minutes later, and we all tromp through the woods together, chatting about our plans for the land. As we navigate the obstacle course of trees which have fallen across the roughed-in drive, she recounts with pity the conversation she had with Tyler last week, after we'd backed out of our contract.

I have never heard anyone so sad in my whole life, it was like talking to Eyeore!
And it's no wonder... this place is spectacular!

As we hike in further, my uncertainty dissolves, soundly replaced by a sensation of overwhelming rightness. Grabbing Tyler's arm with a squeeze, we continue hand in hand. When the three of us arrive at the clearing where we would likely place our cottage, Karen unpacks her solar-pathfinder, taking a minute to show us how the ingenious device works.

Solar Pathfinder

When viewing the Pathfinder, you are looking for two things at the same time. First a reflective, panoramic view of the site will be seen on the dome. Simultaneously, the sun-path diagram will be seen through the dome. Where the reflected objects on the dome intersect the sun-paths shown through the dome, the site will be shaded at the time indicated on the diagram.

After everything is dialed in, we all have a look at the reflections. We're pleased to learn that we will have no problem getting enough sun for solar power from our clearing. In fact, depending on where we put the panels, we wouldn't have to fell a single tree! The positive news fills me with confidence about our secluded woodland.

Tyler, Karen, and the Solar Pathfinder

With that, our solar survey is complete. Rather than leave so soon, we ask if Karen wants to see the rest of the site. She agrees before we can finish the suggestion, so we set off together, hiking towards the southern edge of the property. As we walk, we talk about sustainable building practices, peppering Karen with litany of questions about solar power, pellet stoves, rain catchment, hot water heating, wood splitting, and more.

Meanwhile, she has questions of her own (Have you thought about what you'll do for laundry? Have you considered what you'll do for power in November and December, when solar isn't a viable option?). She seems pleased when we have answers at the ready, saying with a sigh, "Most people don't think about what they're doing, and they don't want to take responsibility for their basic needs. If we're going to survive as a species, we need to!" We couldn't agree more.

After passing through wild raspberry bushes, and a veritable forest of overgrown undergrowth, we reach the dock of our scummy pond. We all agree it needs a little aeration, and Karen feels sure the pump required to do it could be powered by a smallish solar panel.

Our Pond?

Ending our mini-tour, we hike back towards the car, discussing the topic of septic systems. After we've given Karen the back-story on our situation, she tells us about a similar experience she had with two acres of remote Vermont woods, and how everyone seemed to think it would be impossible to get permitting. She eventually found someone who was able to make it happen.

Part of our trouble is that the engineer we've been working with claims that putting in a system sized for anything smaller than a three-bedroom home would be terrible for resale. Until hearing Karen's story, we hadn't given much thought to the fact that our entire project is going to be terrible for resale.

The market for tiny, non-traditional, eco-friendly cob cottages is undoubtedly narrow, so we ought to build what makes sense for us. In this case, that would be the smallest legally allowable system. Surely we can find somewhere on this ten acres of land to put it. Confidence now bolstered, our minds are fixed. We'll throw caution to the wind and go for it; this place feels like home.

Back at our white gate, we part ways with Karen, feeling grateful to have crossed paths with her. Friendly, welcoming, and very knowledgeable—she will undoubtedly be a huge asset for us in the coming years. Perhaps best of all, it feels like we truly "get" each other. We've met one of our kind, hopefully the first of many in the area!



Careful with your readings, ours showed more sun than we actually have.
Posted by et on October 24th, 2011 at 10:56 PM
Oooooh, the suspense is killing me. I'm making up a story that you haven't posted for awhile because you're so busy with closing paperwork for Maple Hill and permit-related tasks. Catching up on the first part of your cycle tour is keeping me occupied in the meantime.

Hope everything is going well!
Posted by Jennifer on October 25th, 2011 at 2:11 AM
Look at you guys go! I love those moments, when you have an epiphany which results in everything else slotting into place! You must've felt elated, right? I hope you've got some autumnal photos to show us! x
Posted by Katherine Herriman on October 25th, 2011 at 4:53 AM
I so hope maple hill is yours. I love the journey, but the suspense is getting to me - patience is not my middle name. I love the name maple hill. I travelled extensively in my 20s, I am now married, kids and in the 'burbs, you guys have captured my imagination. All the very best to you both and your endeavourers.
Posted by jodie on October 25th, 2011 at 7:10 AM
You're going for it, fantastic!!!
Posted by Magalie on October 26th, 2011 at 1:04 PM
Despite a few concerns re: septic systems, I gotta say I'm getting a "meant to be" vibe about Maple Hill :)

Bottom line - You aren't going to find 'perfect'. There will always be something to work round. The most important thing is a feeling of 'coming home'. I think there's a reason the two of you keep coming back to this property :)
Posted by Caro (BB) on October 28th, 2011 at 9:23 PM
et - Duly noted.

Jennifer - Thanks! Your made-up story isn't too far off, although most of our busyness and lack of posting isn't due to anything that exciting, unfortunately. Mostly, we're just busy with work and family stuff. Glad you're enjoying our earlier adventures in the meantime!

Katherine - We're definitely feeling elated, and also nervous and overwhelmed, and also impatient to move there already. Unfortunately, the trees hadn't started turning yet when we were there, so no autumnal photos for you this time. Next year, though, there will be fall leaves galore.

Jodie - Thank you! I love the name, too. We looked at a property that was on "Old Trucker Lane" or something to that effect, and I have to say, even if the land was promising (which it wasn't) I might have had to rule it out because of the name alone. I'm not sure that's a good thing (a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?) but hey, I like nice names.

Magalie - Thank you! We won't be so far from Quebec-- do you know where you're going to settle down when your trip is over?

Caro - Thank you, as always, for your vote of confidence! It means a lot to me, knowing you're on the other side of the world sending us good vibes.
Posted by Tara on October 31st, 2011 at 10:00 AM
I just found your site from Cold Antler Farm. You inspire me!

I do have a few questions...what are you going to do for laundry and for power during the winter months?

I've really enjoyed your posts!
Posted by Christine on August 14th, 2013 at 3:56 PM
Thanks for the kind words Christine--it's great to know you're enjoying our writing!

To answer your questions:

1. We're lucky enough to have neighbors who let us do laundry at their place. We'd go to a nearby laundromat if we had to, though. Eventually we'll have a regular washing machine.

2. For power, we have a pair of 12v marine batteries wired in parallel. Our electricity needs are pretty small: led lighting, laptops, and a propane furnace fan are our primary draws. At the moment we run a Honda EU2000i generator for 2-3 hours a day to keep them charged. Long term we'll have a solar/wind setup with a larger battery bank.

Happy reading!
Posted by Tyler on August 19th, 2013 at 3:41 PM