Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Solar Electrical Power and PR Tax Credits

I recently found out that the Puerto Rico government enacted a law (Ley 248). This has the potential of providing 75% in tax credits for the installation of solar Photovoltaics. This sounds great!
But I don't really have faith in the government here since a co-worker got screwed out of $25,000 when she bought her new home last month. She was approved for the $25,000 government handout and went through the process of buying her home. The process took about a couple of weeks too long because the government ran out of money just before she was to close on the house. So I did some research and tried to learn all I could but the new law is in Spanish and it is important to exactly know all the details. Then I found out that two of my co-workers were taking the classes to be certified for solar installations. I started talking to them and started to get serious. I reviewed all their handouts from the class and did a lot of research on the web. I now have a handle on all of the technical stuff (its easy but it does get involved with details)
The government process however is as you would expect here and you only have 60 days to do the install after they set aside money for you. It's not the same process as it was for buying a home. Before you buy your equipment you give them an estimate and your design and they give you a certificate that sets the money aside for you.

We plan on going off the grid. You need to click on the schematic to see the details of the design. We don't use air conditioners. We use about 6KWH/day now. I'll have to switch the SCUBA compressor over to a 8HP gas engine. The system will be off grid but can be connected to the grid at a later date if we chose.
I have put a lot of work into this but haven't spent any money yet. It could still fall apart and not happen but things are moving along so it should happen.

I was told last week that the money set aside at the 75% rate was gone and now they are using the 50% money. We will still do it with 50% if we have to but a few other people told me today that they still have 75% money. We wont know until we submit the designs and paper work. The other hard part is finding a good price on the equipment locally. I can buy it off the Internet but I don't like buying big fragile expensive items on-line!

Friday, March 20, 2009

House Painting Progress

Here's the back of the house before. Our bedroom is behind those windows and the wall to the right is where we get bat crap or bird crap splatter in the middle of the night when it gets creepy. I pressure washed the house before painting but the splatters left little brown marks so I had to prime that wall before painting.

Here's the front with my jungle green porch area (which is the same green inside) and the Tropical Mango on the rest. I have done two coats of trim, the green is done on the upper house and three walls of Mango are done. I haven't touched the rejas yet - the Jungle Green area will have green rejas and the mango areas and balcony will have mango rejas.

Here's another view coming up the long driveway. Oh, another thing on the "to do" list is to spray a copper fungicide on all the chinas (13). I pruned them when we first got here, and if I do a copper fungicide they will be all revitalized and ready to provide us with too many oranges!

Here's the view from the carport. The stuff that looks light green isn't painted and will be the dark green. The inside will be mango. I still have to pressure wash down here and do some scraping/patching and prime it since there are a couple "powdery" areas. We also will be adding things to the area for the batteries and switches required for going off the grid with solar. I'll keep paint for touch-ups.

The back is primed and ready for mango next week. No more splatter.

Here's a side view with the gingers in the foreground.

Here's the real work that is left. This wall needs to be pressure washed, primed and painted (mango). Before I can do that though we have to move the plastic shed, the conduit along the bottom leading to the cement shed/compressor/dive area. I want to paint behind it since when we convert to solar the dive compressor will be converted to an LPG powered engine and the conduit will disappear. I probably should prune the bottom of the crotons to make painting easier. And then there is the marquesina. Hmmm...when do the rains start? Why didn't I start all this sooner? It has been endless sun here for months but I know it will end and I want it all done mas rapido, not poco y poco! Yes I am impatient, but right now my hands are so sore I cannot lift a brush...

Water Reserve and New Family Member

Sitting on the hill just above the house is our back up water. It is about 4 x 6 x 5 and holds water routed from the city line. We have a way to drain it for gardening and a way to run it through a filter if we need it during a hurricane or long water outage. It hasn't, until now, been cleaned however. So it was on my "to do" list which is very large. Well we got a windy day with some dark looking clouds and I figured it was time. Wind is bad for painting (crap blows around and sticks to wet paint) and clouds could (?) mean rain (didn't happen). First I drained it, then opened it up and climbed inside with a scrub brush and dish soap. I cleaned it out really well, hosed it down, cleaned the outside, and filled it a little to rinse it out.

Nice and clean. Here I am peering down into it as it is refilling. The dark part is the bottom and the water line. My windblown hair and head are reflections in the couple inches of water. When it filled up I added a cup of clorox and this weekend we will reseal the lid on so no critters get in. I had to pull out a cricket and 3 cockroaches which was less than I expected to find but still yucky. Now it will be ready for use when needed.
Another thing on the "to do" list was to spay Mini, our latest cat friend. We really don't want more cats. I am feeling like a crazy cat lady right now but what can I do? If it is going to hang out and the other cats like it I need to keep visitors away so no fighting/mating breaks out! She is hanging around and is kind of like Princess - one of the smarter ones. Guess she is here to stay!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mucho Viento - Banana Carnage in the Yard

The last two weeks have had really big wind gusts and sustained wind all day and into the night. We even had the power go out for 23 hours (a first). Lots of carnage in the yard. We had probably 8 or 9 bananas, some with full/almost ready racines of bananas, blow over. When they blow over they take a wad of soil with them. This is not good, since they are on the edge of the gully where a huge amount of water thunders in the wet season.
So this is my chance to clean up the area and move bananas out to a better area. I need to stabilize the slope with permanent plantings.
Even the bed of plants under the mango looked like huge winds blew them flat. That's another project - clean up, division and cuttings.
Here's Dakota our Washington cat inspecting the new plantings. I chose two Roeblelini palms because they stay fairly short (9 feet) but are bushy and full. I planted dwarf cupey and "firecracker plant" underneath because they are good for holding the soil and stay short. The firecracker plant kind of sucks in hanging baskets, but in the ground it is a really cool plant. This will make a new permanent area that won't blow over. I'll relocate baby bananas to the grove down below and as other bananas along the driveway fall or are harvested I'll continue with the Roeblelini palms and it will look really cool! Too many projects going on - I still have to pick up all the twigs and branches that have been blowing around.

Doesn't look like much right now but in a year or two it will be a different story. I still have some finishing to do on this, but tomorrow is another day and thankfully I get to wake up to sunshine and go do it!

Big Project - Painting the House

You know how it start in one place and then everything else looks bad! I sealed the roof and it is a bright pure white that makes everything else faded. The house is in need of some paint and I'd like some real color if I'm gonna do it. I decided I'd start with my favorite room - the screened/rejased in porch room. It started out as a pretty faded yellowish and I wanted it to be a real "jungle" room since it looks out at the jungle. It is the inside-out room. Here's the front and you can see the trim up top is half done.

My original thought is to paint the rejas in the same green, but I am now having second thoughts. I tried to paint some of the rejas in the jungle room, and it is going to take two coats. It is hard and I don't want to do all of it twice. So my latest thought is - green rejas for the jungle room in front only, and this balcony railing and rejas over the windows are going to be orange like the other walls of the house so that it hopefully takes only one coat! There has got to be a way to spray it or something instead of hand painting it. I have no idea how I will get my brush through the shutters from the inside to get the inside of the rejas. Anyone have rejas experience? I don't want it white, but spray paint sounds really easy.

I painted the top trim (one coat) today and will do the other coat tomorrow. I'll move the ladder down and do the trim under the balcony railing next week? Rejas rejas rejas. We love the rejas because we can leave the house open all the time. It will also protect things in hurricanes. I could spray it white I suppose but it would get dirty fast. Might be a good contrast since this wall will be a bright orange.

Here's the jungle room (front of house) with part of the door rejas painted green. Hamilton Jr. says the house had the front room open with just a railing at one point. That sounds kind of nice, but having it all screened in is lovely. We have a great view and that is the room I live in (Jeff lives in the TV room). When the house is done I will paint the red things (fountain and on top of the wall) orange like the other walls. I'll repaint the cement around the house a medium grey. Good thing it isn't raining. The yard just needs some watering, and can be kind of ignored for a while so I actually have time to do all this!

Tale of the Twisted Tooth

After 2 years without a teeth cleaning it was time. Like everything else in Puerto Rico it is always a challenge to make initial appointments. This time it was very easy though - the wonderful office gal (Myra) at the Endocrinologist's office (where I was done with an appointment) called for me and made an appointment for the next day at 11. What we always wonder 11 a "real" appointment or a "show up at eleven and get seen before bedtime" appointment. Well, 11 turned out to be 11:15 and I was in and had teeth cleaned and had a suspected cavity in a back tooth. Dr. Oliver thought it might need a root canal, and he referred me upstairs to an Endodoncia who does that sort of thing. A root canal? Never had one and didn't want one. He didn't like how the x-ray looked and every dentist I've ever had has pointed out that tooth and that problem.

The appointment at the Edndodoncia was a real time as well. She didn't like how the x-ray looked so took a couple more that still didn't help. She did a couple more tests and decided the only way to tell if something was going on was to open it up, remove the old filling, and have a look. She did that and determined it was a weird, concave twisted tooth that made an odd shadow on the x-ray but didn't have any problems. While I was still numbed up she called downstairs to Dr. Oliver who took me right away to put in the permanent filling. How's that for service? Everything was resolved by competent people for a $30 copay (20 bucks at the specialist and $10.20 for the filling and cleaning) without any waiting. In Seattle it would have been 2 weeks to see the Endodoncia and a week with a temporary filling. Am I just lucky? I'm really happy with doctors and dentists here - far more satisfied than in the states and I've never had health problems before. Here the problems get solved!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dam Cave 1 - Represa

Somewhere in the Camuy area (Hatillo, Arecibo) we arrived, parked, and walked through fields of cows and stickers to arrive at the entrance to the "Dam" Cave. It was a large opening.

Pretty quickly the roof lowered and we had to go into crouch mode - it was a great work out for the legs as we had to squat more and more and more.

It kept getting lower and lower and lower and then would open a little more until finally we could stand up.

We had to climb up and into a little hole to get to the next part. I opted for feet first since you couldn't turn around and I couldn't see what this would come out into - turned out to be a 6 foot drop.

When things opened up we saw a lot of really spectacular formations. Nature's architecture is pretty wonderful. There were occasional places where stalactite spears and dropped curtain formations had fallen and stuck into the floor - a helmet won't help you in that case!

Here's Julio coming out the hole. Note that he is wearing gloves - something that is a good idea (I need to get some) when you are in Karst country.

Dam Cave 2

Yes - caves are dark...sorry about the photo. This shows 3 of us wandering through one of the large open parts of the cave. We are walking in an underground river, so it is slippery, muddy (with bat stuff) and part wet/part dry in this section.

Everywhere you see the effects of water...look at the ridges on these stalagmites. What you can't really see is the water drops on the tips...they are growing growing growing.

This is in the waterfall area of the cave and Jeff is looking at all the mineral formations.

Ivan is standing/floating in the river near the waterfall. A few of us found hand holds and struggled against the swift water to climb up and over the waterfall. To come back the guys jumped/slid off of the top and I (Katrina) wormed through a tiny tunnel along side the falls. It was tight!

This is a tight tunnel Bro is coming through. Taking off the life vest helped make it easier. Life vests in this cave are a must - parts of the cave are pretty deep and there is no way to walk around the water.

Here's some water sliding off a curtain formation (I think that's what they are called).

Dam Cave 3 - "Tight Fit"

This is the "tight fit" hole.

Julio had me go first so I could experience the cave as the discoverer instead of the follower. I was happy to oblige and went for it! I had to climb up to this little hole and then seeing that it got smaller decided to try it feet first. I'm glad I did since you couldn't really turn around or anything and there was a drop of 6 feet or so on the other side.

Here's Ivan coming out the tight hole on the other side. His head looks a little uncomfortable.

Bro is coming through and Julio is behind.

Julio came through head first and is contemplating what to do next!

Dam Cave 4

Our journey through the cave took us to what I call the tunnel of teeth - because of the stalactites that looked to me like alligator teeth! This area of the cave had the roof get closer and closer to the water to a point where we had to float on our tummies and pull along with our hands so our helmets would clear the ceiling. I imaged an alligator mouth slightly ajar and we were going down the throat! If it were to start raining, this part (a long ways) would be filled with water completely. It was creepy in a good way!

There were neat formations and water dripping off of them. The previous two days had rained so the water was up.

I think these are called curtain formations but I'm not sure. Some parts of the cave (like this one and the waterfall area) were steamy, and other parts had a cool breeze.

More neat formations.

Just think of how long it has taken these to form.

After a few hours of exploring, and going about half way into the cave we came back out into the beautiful Puerto Rico sunshine. The trip was only halfway due to the expectation of rain - this is not a cave to be inside of when the water rises. We have only been in 3 caves but they all have been a little different. We are looking forward to our next caving adventure.