Saturday, October 24, 2009

October Trip

We spent a long weekend at the tree house a week ago.  The goal was to finish installing the wood burning stove, as we plan on spending Christmas in the tree house.

We arrived late at night, made it up into the tree house, and noticed something was wrong.  Everything was dirtier than we expected, there were a lot of squirrel droppings around, and there was an alarming amount of splintered wood.  Unfortunately we only had a tiny flashlight, and couldn't really  figure out where the splintered wood came from, or how a squirrel could get in.  My main concern was that the trunks of the trees were crushing the tree house.

The next morning in the light of day, we could see that a large limb had landed on the roof, punching a good sized hole through the roof.  Luckily the hole was on an overhung portion of the roof, so no rain had gotten into the tree house.  The force of the impact had popped some of the siding off by a few inches, which explained how the squirrels got in.  A little bit of hammering got everything back together.

We also patched the hole in the roof, cut a new hole in the roof for the chimney, and installed the chimney box.  It took a good full day to get this all done, but it was awfully satisfying firing up the stove for the first time.  The Jotul pumps out the heat, I think we'll stay warm in December.

The large grape vine growing on the tree had come to rest in between one corner of the tree house and the nearby tree trunk.  After the initial fear that the tree house was being crushed, we decided to cut it down.  Originally we liked the look of the vine, but decided it was time for it to go.  Once the vine was down, the tree house returned to its earlier swaying state, which took some getting use to.

Southern Indiana has had a very wet fall.  The area beneath the tree house flooded several times, which completely demolished our original firewood stash.  We cut a lot more firewood, and restacked everything.  Hopefully we'll have more than enough.

The pulley system got a pretty good work out.  We used it to pull up a lot of luggage, and did a few loads of firewood as well.  We're either getting more used to using it, or the rope has lost some of its kinks, we had very few problems with the rope getting jammed in the pulleys.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I've put together a light fixture for the loft. It'll bolt into one of the rafters, and should provide enough light for reading.

I used a piece of aluminum pipe I had laying around that was just the right diameter for the bulb and base. It was a bit of a tight fit, but I eventually figured out how to cram everything in there.

With the light switched on, it draws about 200 milliamps.  The over-sized battery I have should give me close to 200 hours of continuous light!

I'm planning another fixture for the kitchen. I'll put the switch on the wall instead of in the fixture, which should simplify things.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Solar investigation

One of my original plans for the tree house was to use it as an excuse to play around with a solar photovoltaic system. I eventually questioned the usefulness of this, since the tree house doesn't get a lot of direct sun, especially in the summer.

I decided to at least give it a try. I started doing a little research, and over the last several months I've accumulated some of the necessary components.

Initially I'd like to use the system to power some lighting. Looking around on the web a bit, I found some cheap-ish 12 volt LED lights on Amazon.

I had some old lead acid batteries around from another project that where never used. Unfortunately they had sat too long, and I couldn't get them to hold a charge. I picked up a sealed led acid battery locally from Portable Power Systems. It is bigger than what I need for lighting, but will give me some room to grow the system.

For the charge controller, I went with a Genasun 4 amp unit. It is small, inexpensive (relatively speaking), and supports MPPT charging.

I haven't ordered any solar panels yet, the prices seem to be changing rapidly. Since I have a few months before the trip, I'll wait and see if they continue to drop in price.

I built a wooden enclosure to house most of wiring for the system. I intentionally went a little overboard on this, making it more complicated than necessary. I just naturally like switches, meters, and complexity in general. I had fun doing all the wiring, for whatever reason I really enjoy that task.

The control panel supports disconnecting the solar panel(s), battery, and charge controller individually. It also allows you to check the incoming voltage from the solar panels, the battery voltage, and how many amps of load the system is supporting. Fun stuff!

I'm working on some lighting fixtures for the LED bulbs. Other than the solar panels, I still need pick up some wire, and a few connectors.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Spring Trip - 2009

Kristen and I headed back to the farm for a long weekend toward the end of April. The rumor was that the family planned to have Christmas at the farm this winter. After nearly freezing to death last fall, I was determined to get a stove into the tree. Even with the uninsulated walls I hoped a good wood burning stove would keep the place inhabitable during the cold months.

I eventually decided on a small Jotul stove that is rated for heating 800 square feet of living area. The tree house only has a 128 square foot foot-print, so I hoped the extra heating power would make up for the uninsulated walls.

One thing I'd always wanted to add to the tree house was a swinging boom arm with a block and tackle. This would make getting large loads in and out of the tree safer and more convenient. Earlier in the year I ordered some pulleys and machined a couple of block and tackle housings. At first this seemed to be the cheaper route, but in the long run I'm not sure I saved any money.

At the farm my father and I fabricated a boom arm out of pressure treated 4X4. To allow the arm to rotate we used gate hinges we picked up at a local farm supply store. Building the boom arm took a lot longer than I expected, mostly due to my inexperience with working with wood. Luckily Dad lent his expertise to the project.

To attach the gate pegs to the wall we had to make a few additional 4X4 support blocks, and inlay them into the interior wall.

We set the pegs up so that the boom arm would swing to the midway point of the doorway. In theory this would allow us to swing loads directly into the door.

We hooked up the block and tackle, and I did a quick stress test by putting on a climbing harness and pulling myself a foot off the ground. Nothing broke or made alarming noises, so we were ready for the main event.

Although the stove is small, it weighs a lot more than you'd expect. Even with the block and tackle it was difficult to pull up its 200 pounds of cast iron. Everything worked as planned, with the stove easily swinging into the doorway once we reached the right altitude.

Unfortunately I ran out of time to get the stove pipe and chimney installed. That'll have to wait for a trip later this year. Even though I had to give up some floor space for the stove, I'm sure I'll be thankful for it come December.

Wind Storms

Southern Indiana seemed to have its share of wind and ice storms within the last year. The remnants of Hurricane Ike hit the farm, as did a big ice storm in February.

The tree damage overall was extensive. A forester estimated that 50 percent of our pine was blown down, and the hardwoods suffered as well.

Every time I'd hear reports of how bad the damage to the farm was, I'd find myself holding my breath until I heard the tree house was OK. The sycamore stood strong, protected from the worst of the elements due to its location. A few more bullets dodged.

Freezing my butt off

I'm a little behind in the updates. I made it back to the tree house in November of 2008 for a short visit.

I didn't accomplish much in terms of progress, but I did manage to spend every night in the tree house. The temperature dipped into the low teens which made for some chilly evenings.

No mice had made it in, which was a relief. There were a few dead bugs here and there, but for the most part everything was exactly as I had left it in the summer. While cleaning up, water from the washcloth I was using would freeze on the counter. It made the idea of insulating the place and installing a heat source more attractive.

Even though the Sycamore tree that the structure is in is old, it's still growing at a fairly impressive rate. It's starting to grow around the washers on the anchor points a bit. It will be interesting to watch the tree get closer to the eye of the bolt.