Archive for the ‘Renewable energy’ Category

A portable rocket stove

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

A year or so ago I salvaged a couple of tin cans from the local dump. From the moment I laid eyes on them they were shouting “portable rocket stove!”. They’ve sat around waiting for me to find the time and inclination to put them together ever since, but a friend moving onto a nearby quinta with no cooking facilities finally spurred me into action. In my head, I’d already worked out exactly how the stove was to be made, so it took very little time to assemble. In fact, it all happened so quickly, I didn’t even get any ‘before’ photos.

Making a portable rocket stove out of junk


A wood-burning masonry cookstove

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Ach! Where does the time go? I’m so hopelessly behind with blog posts and there are now so many pending I scarcely know where to start. I just checked the last post I made about the outdoor kitchen for the wee house and it was a year ago!

Alongside the cob bread/pizza oven I built last spring (and which is now producing fabulous food), I also constructed a wood-burning masonry cookstove. I found an open source Sketchup model online and adapted it for Portuguese fire brick dimensions.

Sketchup model for wood burning cook stove

This is the adapted model. Click on the image to download the Sketchup file and open in Sketchup (3D modelling software which is free to download). Firebricks are colour-coded for different lengths. You’ll need to be reasonably proficient with an angle grinder (at the least) to build this stove.



Saturday, October 12th, 2013

It took a year, but finally the copper pot-still or alambique I rescued from the scrap man last year and built a cob ‘stoven’ for is all fired up and producing aguardente.

Alambique or pot still


Solar water heater

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

It seems a bit odd to be writing about solar water heating while it’s raining, but rain (and teens still sleeping off a night’s clubbing) is a great excuse to catch up the blog and leave the vegetable garden to water itself for once.

When we completed the plumbing and electrics for the cob bathroom back last November, I mentioned we’d allowed for a yet-to-be-built solar water heater to be used instead of the wood-burning water heater or bailarina in Summer. With such a wet and late Spring, it was April before we got the solar heater construction under way, but we’ve been enjoying hot showers from it since.

Simple solar water heater


Mission accomplished … finally the new log store

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

At the end of last June, we set out to replace the log store on the yurt terrace which had started to lean precariously. At the time, it was serving as a temporary home for our composting toilet, so to relocate the toilet, we ended up building the cob bathroom. Now, with the bathroom walls slowly drying and soon ready for their coats of plaster, it was finally time to rebuild that log store.

Compost bin and log store

Two years ago: the original compost bin and log store, newly roofed


On rocket stoves …

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

It seems rocket stoves are as much part of the natural building vernacular as glass bottles in cob walls: de rigeur for any self-respecting stomper-of-mud, stacker-of-straw and fashioner-of-eccentric-curves. Being innately somewhat contrary and suspicious of fads and fashions, even ones I’m participating in, this fact alone would usually send me running in the opposite direction. But reading about rocket stoves, I was attracted by their low tech simplicity, their apparent ease of construction, how they lend themselves to self-build projects, how they can be made from junk and be fueled with the small branches and sticks that are no more than kindling for more conventional wood-burning stoves, and how efficient a burn they can achieve. So they were penciled in firmly for the buildings here – for cooking and heating water – pretty much from the start.

But theory is one thing: practice another. With a big push on the main building planned for this year, it was time to start experimenting – constructing different configurations of firebricks and clay and stuff and firing it all up to see what works and what doesn’t.

Rocket stove core


Cob bathroom – finally the cob!

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

The one thing with a back-to-front build like this, building the walls last, is that it’s a long time before the building starts to feel like a real building. It’s been worth the wait though. A month ago, we finally started to build the cob walls.



Cob bathroom build – the plumbing and electrics

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

It seems crazy that 2 months have gone by since I last posted about the cob bathroom we’re building here. Facebook followers will know where we are with it, but the blog is long overdue an update.

The bailarina's firebox - our 150-litre Portuguese-made wood-fired water heater



Saturday, October 27th, 2012

No vindima in Portugal is complete without the last part of the process of wine production. Once the wine has been separated from the skins and pips and put to ferment in casks or bottles, the remaining must is distilled to produce aguardente.

It was never my intention to get into distilling – I rarely drink spirits – but while discussing matters spiritual with two of the area’s greatest exponents in the village above us, it emerged there was a surplus alambique in the village which the scrap man had his eyes on. With what seemed ridiculous haste, I found myself a short while later the owner of a venerable 80-litre copper alembic or pot still, scratching my head over what I was going to do with it, but somehow certain it was a Good Idea to have rescued it from certain meltdown. If nothing else, I was thinking biofuels …

A copper alembic or alambique


Fridge, part 1

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

SPOILER … This experiment didn’t work! See the Comments section.

With summer temperatures looming, so have thoughts about refrigeration. We don’t have any sort of fridge. For most of the year – autumn, winter and spring – this is much less of a problem than it might at first appear. Most dairy products last well enough at yurt temperature that they’re eaten before they go off. Milk that does turn can be turned into cheese and when we occasionally buy meat it’s eaten right away. But summer? Well that’s a different matter.