Vela Creations is an in-depth resource for off grid living. The site documents our research and experiences, hoping that they might help others interested in pursuing this lifestyle. This blog is designed to document our day to day experiences as we build our new, sustainable homestead. If you are interested in seeing more photos and videos, we have a flickr account at the following url:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Little by little...

It seems like each week there's a new obstacle to slow us down. This week was super strong winds, which meant we couldn't advance on the roof, as we have to put polystyrene down first, then black plastic, and finally reinforced concrete. Instead we worked on other projects inside the shell.

Abe wired the house (photos). We have AC and DC plugs, while all the lights are wired with DC (more efficient for an off grid power system, as no inverter is needed).

I finished the bottle wall (photos) and did another fabric formed post, this time criss-crossing rope on the outside of the plastic form to embed a pattern in the concrete (photos). We also did some finishing details on the walls.

After that we started on the south wall flower beds (photos). In the dining room and living room, the whole of the south wall is window. At the base of that window, we are building flower beds for year-round growing. They will be fed by the grey water from the bathroom and kitchen. We dug out the dining room bed, lined it with black plastic and made the rebar/remesh/lathing frame. We then concreted the base, using a waterproofing additive.


We just bought a 1965 Model 1010 30 HP John Deere tractor!!!! Abe had planned to build us a tractor later down the line, but this one was for sale in the village for $800 and we just couldn't pass it up! We'll have to replace the brakes, but other than that it is in great condition. Abe did a little work on it yesterday and then he drove it up to our property. Just look at how happy he is....

We'll add more photos here as we get attachments and do things with it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Our village

Although it's dry season and the river is low, I thought I'd post a few photos (here) of our village. The peach trees have blossoms and the willows and other tress are leafing out. Not the prettiest time of year, but nonetheless beautiful!


In December, Abe did some welding for a friend. In exchange, when they butchered their pig, they gave us a 25lb ham and an 8lb bacon. We put them in a brine soak, made up of 5 gallons boiled water, 8 lbs salt and 2 lbs sugar.

The bacon is now cured, so we removed it today. We wrapped it in cheese cloth and buried it in a bag of wood ash that we had saved from our fires this winter. This will dry it out.

We will have to do the ham next month. Cured in this way, a ham can last for years and years. In England, a family would often cure a ham when a baby girl was born and then eat it at her wedding!

At each stage of this process we will post photos here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ceiling done!

Despite copious amounts of sniffles and coughs from us and our crew, we managed to get a lot accomplished this week.

Abe and Eliseo got the ceiling finished - putting up the final boards and all the tin (for photos click here). All of a sudden, the place has taken shape, looking and feeling like a house. We now have a bunch of shade and protection from any wind or rain that might (or might not) come. It has to be said that it didn't turn out as well as we expected. The tin was too floppy and did not keep the shape that well. On the other hand, it's not going to matter. Once it's textured and painted, you won't be able to notice, and it's the roof itself (which we have now begun to prep for) that is of structural importance. We just won't use this system again... the quest for the perfect roof continues.

Meanwhile Estela and I did stucco, making the walls meet the arched ceiling and doing some finishing details.

We also got started on the hole for the cistern. Now that our catchment area will be increasing, we need to increase our storage capacity as well, so we will be building a 7000 gallon ferro-cement cistern.

The next step is the concrete roof. We went and bought some materials, have started screening sand and have begun wiring the house. In another week we should be ready to pour the roof and gutters.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

11 months old

Leo just turned 11 months old... he's going to be 1 year before we know it!

He is cruising and crawling around at an incredible speed, almost too fast to keep track of!! He's still unwilling to take solo steps, though he will happily let go of any support if he's too engrossed in playing to realize he let go! He will also "dance" whenever music comes on.

He claps his hands, waves, shakes your hand, and is starting to play hand games. He loves Legos, and can spend a long time taking them apart. He can and has put them back together, but he much prefers throwing them on the floor once he's taken them apart, or giving them to you to put back together.

He now talks fluently... in what language we have no idea. He'll babble away and then smile happily as he waits for your response.

He did just have a cold, his second sickness, but only really suffered for one night.

He is a super happy baby, and continues to be a delight to his doting parents.

We will post all photos and videos of him this month in the flickr set called "12th Month".

Slow week

All in all, we have had a fairly slow week, because...
1) the weather has been bad, with wind, clouds, and a little rain (unfortunately our tanks are currently disconnected from our gutters due to building!!).
2) we have been sick with a cold. First Leo had it, though not too badly. Then me, with one day of fever, and 3 days of being congested and weak. Abe has been tired for the past couple of days with swollen lymphs, but it had looked like he would fight it off. Now, it looks like he's getting it.

Having said that, we did get some accomplished. We put the brown coats of stucco on the connecting ceiling, got some more framing done, added a couple of levels on the bottle wall, and have finished the first rows of bricks for the ceiling on the entrance way.

The brick ceiling is interesting. Using plaster of Paris, which dries very fast, we add bricks in an arch. This system has been used for huge roofs and is supposed to be very strong, with builders able to walk on top of it without any additional reinforcement. We will add cement on top of it for added strength (just in case!) and then insulate it and add the roof. We will post more photos of it here as we progress.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


We have been working on the roof again this week. Actually, to be more precise, we are working on the ceiling. We are doing it first, then adding layers of insulation, and then we will pour the concrete roof and gutters.

The ceiling consists of a wooden ridge pole and arched, wooden rafters, onto which we will attach smooth tin. Abe and a friend have been cutting and bending the boards - soaking them in water and then bending them over the finished room's roof and adding weights. It is now really starting to take shape. For photos, click here.

Meanwhile, another friend and I have been stuccoing the domed ceiling that connects the rooms we're working on to the one we've finished. We had at one point planned to do both the roof and the ceiling this way, but doing overhead stucco (from underneath) in a pain, quite literally. For photos, click here.

We have been through several ideas for how to do the roof, and we still do not feel that we have found the answer. So many people focus on walls when considering building techniques. They are not an issue - walls are easy and fast, no matter how you do them. The money and difficulty lie in the roof. Concrete is super strong and durable, but has no thermal mass or insulation. Tin is super fast, but has no insulation and is not durable. There are many different ways of doing it, but we have yet to find the perfect blend of cost, speed, efficiency, durability and energy.

We will continue to work on it and try out new ideas. The entance way ceiling is going to be brick, so stay tuned for photos on that next week-end.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Two Man Shovel

For those of you who have spent the better part of a day shoveling, you will know how utterly exhausting it can be. Well, here is a way to get those big digging projects done without a single back ache or blister: the two-man shovel.

It is super easy to make (you'll need a shovel and a piece of rope about the length of your leg) and effortless to use.

For a more detailed description of how to make and use it click here, and for photos and a video click here.

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