Welcome to

The Desert Solar Ranch

Sustainable living on a high mesa in

Carson, New Mexico (USA)

© 2002-2017    This Site Created and Maintained by Terry R. Wolff

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This site is presently being built and added to when I find the time.  Please visit us again and don't forget to refresh your browser.  

Also if you have any comments to help with this project, please email me

This is the house in October 2002, on the one year anniversary of breaking ground.  I remember when taking this picture hoping that we would have a great snow season.

And this is the Carving Studio, taken in September 2001

When I started living with solar it was because my life style was mobile, but today it is out of choice and the fact that there is no electrical service near where we live.

To live as sustainable and conscientious as possible. To make as small a foot print on the planet as possible, while at the same time maintaining a somewhat comfortable lifestyle.

We produce our electric from nature and natural resources by taking advantage of solar, and wind technologies.

In 2004 we started using solar for our radiant heating and our domestic hot water. We have a LP furnace which now serves as a back-up. From April until sometime in to October, all our heating needs are provided solely by the Sun.

We harvest rain water, recycle our gray water, and compost our kitchen scraps and other waste.  We produce much of our own food as possible. This is a balance of the space we have allocated and the availability of water.

Where we are today
Since starting this project in 1999 we have accomplished most of our goals. We still need to produce more natural energy so that we can scale down our use of our stand-by generator.

Purpose of this site
To share with the world or at least those who may be interested, what it is like to live without having to rely on a utility company for your energy needs.

Our Yard

The Solar Ranch and this website are both projects in the works. Although I was quite familiar with living with solar for a number of years, in 1999 my wife Linda and I had a vision of owning our own place that would be totally independent of outside electric.  Now as we look at what has been going on, I know that we have made the correct decision.

The Solar Ranch is our showcase for our solar energy business.  You can learn more about our solar business and about solar products at Solar-Catalog.com.  Also if you would like to get more involved with solar, please become a fan of my Facebook Solar Page, where you can interact with others who are interested in solar.  

If you would like more information about solar or wind and how they work, please check out my Solar Blog.

Our Original Solar Home

Up to this time I had been living in my motor home which is a Monterey County school bus that I converted to a land yacht in the early 1980's when I was working at a boat yard in Marina del Rey, California. During the early 1980’s the bus and I traveled up and down the western seaboard attending boat shows from Vancouver, Canada to San Diego, California.

By the mid 80’s we (the bus and I) traveled to the East Coast. I stayed there until 1992 when I sailed west to Taos, New Mexico.

Linda joined me sometime in 1996 while I was living in Valdez, New Mexico,

In 1999 it was time to take our relationship to a new level. We got married and moved to our high desert land in Carson, New Mexico on the west mesa of the Rio Grande.

In The Beginning

It all started one summer day when Linda and I were heading home from a day at the hot springs in Ojo Caliente.  

As we were passing through Carson, we decided to turn down a rough dirt road by a mud hut that was the Post Office. In fact, it was the only building in downtown Carson at the time (we now have a small general store, Poco Loco).  That's when we first saw the property which was to become our homestead.

To be honest, we were actually looking for a small plot with a stream, like where we were living in Valdez. We drove about three miles in or so, met the “Old Man” and asked him about his well kept gardens. On the way back out we noticed a for sale sign and the rest is history.

Carson, New Mexico

This is what the Post Office looked like when we purchased our land. By the time we moved, this building had been replaced with a government issued building.

Today downtown Carson has really expanded: we now have our very own store/deli/pizzeria known as Poco Loco General Store and community center so to speak and of course a Post Office. The school was abandoned during the early 1930's.

It is rumored that Billy the Kid is responsible for putting Carson on Google Earth. Back in the late 1800's he stopped at the Post Office and mistakenly took it as being an outhouse. Well, you can imagine what a stink that made around these here parts.

We Made Our Purchase

We first purchased a five acre parcel and a few years later added an additional ten acres.  The land is mostly sage with some scattered pinion pines and junipers. Our original piece is pretty much in the open, sitting some 600 feet in from the road.

The "ranch" borders the Kit Carson National Forest which gives us well over 5,000 acres of undeveloped land to enjoy and take Lady (our dog) on long walks without having to deal with other dog walkers.

Most of our land looks the same as that of the Forest Service. Our second purchase was previously owned by Larry Trujillo who passed in a car accident. We have left the property much as Larry had and refer to it as the “LARRY TRUJILLO NATURE PRESERVE”. Although I never met the man, I am sure he would be happy knowing that his memory continues on.

Complete With Landscaping

The picture to the left and above is typical of what our property looks like. Mostly sage with some pinion pines, and cactus such as prickly pear, barrow cactus, choia, and yucca plants

Most of the property remains undeveloped, except where we cleared for our buildings and driveway.  We built a gated wall around the house. Which we refer to this enclosed area as our "yard". The circumference of our yard is approximately 600 feet or about a half an acre.

In our yard we have our home, two small ponds, a small orchard of 12 fruit trees, a small area with a lawn for our dog, a vegetable garden, herb garden, and raised rock gardens flower gardens. In the middle of our yard sits our house.  There is a hoop house and a chicken coop with a tool shed to the east of our house.

600 Feet of Mud

During the spring of 2000 we had Kenny Drake plow us a 600 foot driveway and clear three areas of the property where we were eventually park Le Bus, build my woodcarving studio, and build our home.

By mid-summer of 1999 I had built a storage shed where we later built the house and moved the Le Bus to its current location. We continued living in the bus until early 2002.

In September of 1999 I started building the studio. Working on commissions as the project progressed. The studio was completed during the Summer of 2000.

A Wood Carving Studio is Born

The studio was started in September 1999. It is post and frame with straw bales used for the walls.  This means that the actual straw bales are not weight bearing.  The actual appearance is similar to that of adobe construction.  The studio worked out well and stays cool in the Summer and cozy in the Winter thanks to the wood stove.

The roof slops to the south making the studio taller on the north side. This design provides good snow melt in the winter and allows the warmer air of Summer to be vented out.  Because of the tall ceilings, I was able to put storage over the office (which has the bared windows) and a second deck over the store room to the north.  I did not run this second floor the full length of the northern side.  Instead, I built two huge storage landings.  One above my painting area and one above my knife making area.

The first thing I did after I had framed the studio was to complete the office and store room and make them water proof.  After that, I completed the remaining exterior walls.  In late October I put part of the under floor down so I could start carving.  The roof went up about a week later and the woodstove followed shortly after.

The construction of the studio stayed just slightly ahead of my carving commissions. By January 2001 everything was done except for the exterior stucco which was completed in June.

More Light and Space than
Le Bus

The hallway which runs along the south side of the house between the kitchen to the east and our bedroom on the west provides us with plenty of light.  The bathroom and a second bedroom are accessed off the north side of the hallway.  The living room and dining room are located to the north of the kitchen, giving the house an "L" shape.  

Notice that the north wall (on the right), the west wall, and the portion of the south wall (on the left under the plants) are constructed entirely of adobe mud bricks with mud mortar. These walls along with the tile floor actually gather heat during the day and disperse it at night (this is called passive solar).

Our Heating System

The mechanical room and laundry are located to the north as well and are accessed off the living room.  This design allows the sun to warm the south facing hallway during the winter which helps to keep the house warm during the evenings.  The straw bale walls have an R value of 45.  I also put extra insulation above the ceiling so that the house stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

By placing the mechanical room on the north side provides heat to this portion of the house.  

The washing machine and a sink use to share the mechanical room but when I installed the supplemental solar water heating system I added a separate room for the laundry.  This extra space also provided us with room for our 12 cubic foot freezer and additional shelving for storage.

With the solar water heating we are now able to produce enough hot water during most of the year for all our domestic hot water consumption (for cleaning dishes, clothing, baths, and showers). During the winter months the solar also supplements our radiant floor heating.  

Notice the white tanks to the right. The one looking directly into the camera is our companion and guard wolf.  The two to her right are for solar water storage (240 gal) so that we have hot water during the nights. The final tank directly to the back and in the center of this photo is what is called a sidearm tank which provides our domestic hot water.

On the left side of the photo are the system controllers, our propane furnace, and most of the systems fifty valves.  

The solar heating system has three pumps, one to move the water from the collectors on the roof, a second to move hot water from a drain back tank (far right hand corner), the third pump is used to circulate hot water for either the sidearm tank or for the radiant floor heating.

All in all, there is a fourth pump which is used as a pre-heat circulator for the domestic hot water.  This means that there is hot water at the sink when you turn on the faucet.  

More Space

The house is 1,575 square feet, the fact that we have tall ceilings (over 12 foot) makes it feel larger then it is.  To keep the inside bright since we have mudded walls, we incorporated eight skylights into our design. Three of which can be open to allow more air movement when needed. These three are located in the main bed room, bathroom and kitchen. The skylights in the second bedroom, living room and dining room are all stationary

Both bedrooms and the living room also have ceiling fans to help circulate the air.  

A door at the west end of the house (in the bedroom) and one at the east end of the house (in the dining room) also allow for good circulation during the spring and summer months when we have good breezes.  

We close the bedroom door in the afternoon when the sun comes around to that side of the house.  This helps keep the cooler air of the morning inside.

Power from the Sun & Wind

Our electric is entirely produced on our property.  We use the energy from both the sun and wind to provide us with about 90 percent of our electric needs. Occasionally we have assistance from our Kohler propane back-up generator.  

It is our intension to eventually produce enough electric from sun and wind so as not to have to use the generator except for emergencies should that happen.

The solar panels and wind turbines produce DC electric which is stored in solar storage batteries.  This DC electric is then made into AC electric which is used in the house and studio.

About Our Power Production

Our main electric system consists of 2.8 kilowatts (kW) of solar at 48 volts direct current (VDC) with 800 watts (W) provided by wind turbines.

Our solar storage batteries provide us with the ability to still have electric when there is no solar gain or wind available. We are presently using 16 L16 batteries.

We run a redundant system. Three OutBack VFX3648 sine wave inverter/chargers to produce us with a maximum of 10.8 kilowatts at 120 volts alternating current (VAC) which is the same as produced by a utility company. The inverters are used to take the battery DC voltage and convert it into useable 120 VAC.

A Kohler 20 kilowatt, propane generator provides us with back up power.

More About the System

The reason for having two inverters is so should one be out of service, there will be a back up thus no down-time.  One of these inverters is the master which handles all the loads while the second one is the slave which comes on as needed.  Prior to having the two inverters, I had to use the generator in order to start my joiner in the woodcarving studio.  Another advantage of having a second inverter is when we have to use the generator the time required to charge the batteries is cut in half.  Also when there is an above average draw on the system, the second inverter cuts in to take some of the work load from the master inverter, thus allowing the inverters to run cooler.

Being that we live at over 7,200 feet above sea level a generator's output is reduced considerably plus most generators are putting out 240VAC which means that at the very best, each 120VAC leg is only producing 50% of the generator's capacity.  In order to get the most out of our generator, I had it rewired so all the output goes to one leg or 120VAC. In the thirty plus years that I have been woodcarving, I have never needed 240VAC and most likely never will.  However, should sometime down the road I have a need for 240VAC, I can always add an OutBack transformer to produce the second 120VAC leg which would give me 240VAC.

Next Came the Home

While still working on the studio, Linda and I started to design our house. During the Summer of 2001 I drew up the official blue prints based on our designs and had them approved by a structural engineer from Santa Fe.  I started purchasing building materials and by the beginning of September 2001 I broke ground.

The house is also built with straw bales, only this time we also used adobe bricks on the interior walls and saltillo tile on the floor for solar mass and framed the south wall of the house.  

The style of the house is based on the traditional Spanish Adobe Pueblo styled homes which are so common throughout northern New Mexico. Complete with a traditional a portal running along the front of the house.

The south wall which is shown in the photo to the right is pretty much a standard 2 x 6 frame construction with lots of windows.  I added extra foam insulation to the outside of the wall and used adobe brick and mud on the inside of the wall.

Although we were able to move into the house in just little over a year later (February 2002), it is still not quite done.  This is mainly due to the fact that I have been the one doing most of the work, it is like a sculpture to me.  

At the present time I have completed all the cabinets & most of the shelves.  There are still some interior doors (8), furniture, some tiling, mudding and wood trim left to do.  My goal is to be completed by Fall of 2010.

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