Wheaton Labs Tour

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Paul Wheaton and Wheaton Labs his property is divided into two parts – “Base Camp” where the current home and shop is located and “Wheaton Labs” which is a larger section of property where the Ant Village (we’ll cover that soon, I promise) and a lot of the other experimental structures are located. He calls it the Lab to make sure everyone remembers that the goal here is to experiment and prove concepts, not necessarily to churn out a finished product.

After the Pizza Party there was a bit of a mix-up on Friday night about where I would be bunking and Jocelyn graciously extended an offer to me to sleep the first evening on the couch in the Fisher Price House (they call it that because it’s a double-wide trailer made mostly of plastic) which I happily accepted. I helped her and Chef Ron with the dishes from the party and ended up turning in fairly late. Due to the time zone change and the length of my trip I had no trouble getting to sleep almost instantly.

I found out the next morning that Paul and Jocelyn tend to get up around 5:30 am. Paul was very kind and was being quiet in an attempt to let me sleep in. It  turns out that Paul’s version of attempting to “be quiet” is quite adorable for a 6′ 4″ large man although it’s not actually very quiet. I appreciated the effort but the early wake-up was fine because I was excited to be up and start the day. The tour and the chance to see and play with all the Rocket Mass Heaters I had been reading about was why I drove to Montana in the first place.

Chef Ron, one of the tour participants, had come in the day before from Washington and helped Jocelyn prep everything for the pizza party. Chef Ron really outdid himself making a breakfast casserole with the leftovers and making homemade biscuits to boot. He told me he had never been in Jocelyn’s kitchen prior to the day before but he had found everything he needed almost immediately. I figured that was a) because Jocelyn rocks as a cook and a person and b) he’s a chef, and people who cook tend put things they use the most nearest where they use them. After breakfast the group of tour participants gathered together and carpooled in various vehicles up to the Lab area.

The first thing we saw when we arrived at the first Lab location was the Cooper Cabin.

WOFATI
Cooper Cabin

Cooper Cabin is a WOFATI which stands for Woodland Oehler Freaky-Cheap Annual Thermalized Inertia structure. The Oehler stands for Mike Oehler who was a designer of underground earth houses who recently passed away. Mike was the author of the $50 Dollars and up Underground House Book and apparently quite a character based on the stories Paul was telling all weekend.

The WOFATI is designed to store heat in the summer and release it in the winter, maintaining a year round temperature without heating or cooling the structure. The Cooper Cabin is not completely finished but very close and Paul is hoping to have someone or a couple of someones live in the structure for year to document the conditions and prove that it works. If you are interested in helping out with that project let me know or contact Paul at Permies.com and let him know you want to be involved in the Thermal Inertia test.

The next project we looked at was the skiddable Wood Shed.

Wood Shed

The wood shed was built as a place to store boards they have milled with their portable saw mill. Recently sawed green lumber needs to dry for a considerable period of time before being used in structures to prevent shrinkage. There is a style of building using green logs, called Round Wood Timber Framing, that actually takes advantage of the shrinking to tighten the joints of a build but that’s a topic for another post. The Wood Shed was built by a novice builder as their first natural timber build and it’s not perfect but it does the job.

We then got a look at Paul’s Solar Leviathan.

Solar Leviathan

The Solar Leviathan is a portable solar charging station that has multiple solar panels mounted on a frame built onto a trailer that Paul’s brother welded together. The wheels look out of whack because the type of suspension they built has both wheels in a kind of floating frame, attached to a axle to allow for being driven over rough terrain. The solar inverter and batteries are contained inside the trailer making it a completely self-contained mobile power station. Very, very, cool, especially if you are off-grid and want to run an electric chainsaw, charge up your cellphone and have lights in a wofati cabin at night.

The next structure we looked at was the Canning Kitchen.

Canning Kitchen

The canning kitchen is a skiddable structure (skiddable means it’s designed to be hooked up with chains to a vehicle of some type and dragged to a new location) built to make canning in the summer more bearable by performing all the heated operations outside. All the blue food grade barrels you see in the picture are for water storage and the kitchen sink on the lower right side of the picture has a manual foot pump that allows for running water.

The structure is designed with an open bay (lower right side) that you can insert a module unit into depending on what you need. When used as a canning kitchen they can put a Rocket Mass Stove for heating water into the bay or they can put the Rocket Mass Oven into the bay and use the shelves for food prep. The structure is about 65-80 percent finished but is certainly usable.

Paul Wheaton and Permies.com

For quite some time now (at least two years) I have been participating/lurking at the largest Permaculture site online, Permies.com. If you are not familiar with the site Permies is run by a gentleman by the name of Paul Wheaton who in his own words is “bonkers about permaculture”. No less a permaculture dignitary than Geoff Lawton named Paul “The Duke of Permaculture”. Permies is a fascinating place to hang out. There are forums for almost every subject related to permaculture and regenerative growing that you can imagine, forums for raising animals, creating berms, hugelkultur beds and everything else you can think of.

Paul also has a YouTube channel and over 400 podcasts on a mountain of different subjects. Paul has just completed successfully getting funded for his 7th Kickstarter project. The current project is going to be a 2 hour DVD explaining what a Rocket Oven is and how to build one. For people not familiar with Rocket Mass Heater / Rocket Oven technology it is a super-efficient way to heat a space, in case of the Rocket Mass Heater, or cook with, in the case of the Rocket Oven. The Rocket Oven burns a small amount of wood and functions like a normal oven, only more efficiently. I am a supporter of this particular Kickstarter and am looking forward to building one of these ovens and trying it out. Those of you who know me, and those of you joining us on our journey through a Tiny Sustainable Life, know I love projects and I am really looking forward to this one.

I’m currently in the middle of building an ornamental pond in our back yard (more on that in future posts). What are you building/making? How about projects you started but never finished? What happened with that?