Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Internet access

Although the idea of a summer house is to get away from it all, frankly, I don't see myself spending a couple of consecutive weeks without the internet.

I don't have a blackberry; I'm not email obsessive. But I've grown so used to having contact, I started looking into a way to have decent connectivity when island-bound.

Värmdö Kommun has a typically thorough web page (in Swedish of course) which gives lots of details on broadband connectivity in the archipelago. Bottom line is Aspö isn't wired yet, although many of the bigger islands are.

There's a wireless provider, 3, (or 'tre' in Swedish), and after talking with them in detail, they promise 2mb coverage right on Aspö itself. The current cost is about $30 a month on a 2 year contract.

That's a little steep for a few weeks' use a year, but I've emailed Dave and we think perhaps he could also use the connection when he and Ann are on the island. That would increase its usefulness a lot! Plus it would be fun to update the blog from the building site (and eventually home site) itself. Stay tuned, as they say...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Separett Strikes Back

The Separett is gaining its defenders. Two blog posts, (one from Marg, and one strangely anonymous), both say the Separett is more civilized than I made it out to be.

It is true that the poop handling is done infrequently (only when the bucket is emptied), the cost to purchase is much less, and they are quite popular in Sweden. Plus, the Cinderella requires electricity to run (which is expensive on the island), and there's no backup in case of power failures.

Hmmm. Decisions, decisions.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Toilets, Episode IV: A New Hope

If composting and remote propane combustion isn't your bag, then an incinerating toilet is another option. This is the Cinderella toilet from an earlier post, and with Cinderella here is Johan, the helpful gentleman I spoke to a few weeks ago.

This really is the way to go; you simply place a paper cone (like a big coffee filter) into the bowl, sit down, do your business, and press flush. The cone slides down into a big combustion chamber, which is over 600°F (I think it's F, maybe it's C??).

Anyways, temperatures that hot will turn the waste to ash quickly, with little smell, and no handling of any poop. Plus there's no need for any tanks or plumbing, only a vent tube and an electric outlet is needed. It's all self-contained.

Here's the money shot, me on Cinderella's throne. The photo was Johan's idea.

Plusses: No waste handling, no tanks, no muss, no fuss. Can handle lots of waste in a short time if you have visitors for, say, a long weekend. No need for maintenance when not being used. Easy to install and use. No direct exposure to poop.

Minuses: Cost is 28,000 kronor, which is a lot no matter what the exchange rate does. You have to remember to use a paper filter every single time, it gets nasty without one. Also, 600°F (or 600°C) is pretty damned hot. And it has a lot of electronics; if there's a power outage or a electrical problem, then you're [insert joke here]!

But still, you can tell which way I'm leaning with this decision.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Toilets, Episode 3

This is the Separett toilet. Ann and Dave have one of these in their house. The idea is that solid and liquid wastes are separated and handled differently.

Liquid waste (also called 'tinkle') is taken away through a French drain into the earth, away from the house. You have to sit down to make the separating part work. No problem for the ladies, and perhaps just a little re-education for the guys.

Solid waste is collected below, essentially into a bucket. Now it's a nice bucket, lined with a biodegradable plastic bag, and it turns a little bit every time someone sits on it so the solid waste (also called "poop") is spread evenly, but it's still a bucket. A bucket filled with poop.

I have poop bags to pick up after Ollie on a walk but I don't necessarily want to do it after myself. Plus the new rules mean the bucket has to be sealed (they provide multiple buckets) for 6 months before composting. So I have to store sealed buckets of poop somewhere. Call me squeamish but I'm not sure about that. Also it has a fan system to ventilate the contents of the bucket. Because it doesn't mix with liquid waste ("tinkle") it is supposed to have less odor, and we didn't really notice any smell at all from Ann and Dave's, but it still seems a bit low-tech for me...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Swedish News

Margaret told me about a great English-language website, The Local. It is an entertaining read and I notice CNN has started to link to it, too.

Radio Sweden has a good daily podcast that you can listen to from their website, or subscribe to through iTunes.

Toilets, Episode 2

This is the CTS-2000. It is a vacuum toilet. Waste is vacuumed away with a little water, much like a flush toilet at home, and sent through a tube for processing. One advantage is that the tube can be 100 feet long, so the processing can be done far away from you, which is an advantage.

In this case, the waste-handling process is incineration. The blue box in this picture is a propane-powered combustion unit.

It's an interesting device, but it's overkill for a little summer house. The cost is high; 55,000 kronor! And then there's the matter of a big 'ol propane-powered poop processor just outside your home.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Toilets, Episode 1

A toilet is a petty simple device. It simply collects waste and sends it along for processing, in a hygienic and efficient way. We all take toilets for granted (those of us in the first world, at least).

But when you're in a situation where you have to provide for your own waste, then you don't take waste handling for granted at all.

On Aspö, most homes have some sort of composting toilet system. Liquid waste is drained away from the home into the earth, and solid waste is kept and composted. A bit of mulch, a few microbes, a bit of stirring, careful ventilation, and solid waste becomes harmless over time. However, new rules regarding composting are about to come into force. This composting regime will take more steps and more time before solid waste can be disposed of.

Spending extra time and work on handling solid waste isn't my cup of tea. So I decided to concentrate on the non-composting toilets at the expo.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Planning permission

Stefan just told me he's sent in the latest drawings to the authorities at Värmdö. I have been told it can take up to six months to get an OK (and this assumes they don't want to make their own measurements or alter the house design). If I assume the 'six month clock' started in late August when Janne sent the application in, then we should have the go-ahead by late February, which is plenty of time for an early June construction.

If the 'clock' starts from now, then it's mid-April, which is a little tight but still OK.

The reason I am anxious for the permission is that everything flows from that- we can't drill the well, or order the electricity, or put up the foundations, or get the final production drawings from Stefan. So there's a lot of waiting for the next couple of months, and then hopefully things will move quickly in the Spring.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An oxymoron

is a phrase that contradicts itself. "Military Intelligence" is an example, as is "Jumbo Shrimp". You can find lots more here.

Another oxymoron is "minor chainsaw accident". I had one of those when on Aspö recently.

Rutger let me use his saw after some instruction, and I was wearing my glasses and ear protection like a good boy. I had cut a branch, and it unexpectedly fell towards me. I pulled away, turning to the left, and I felt the saw make contact with my left thigh.

I looked down and saw a nice jagged gash in my jeans, but felt only a small sensation in my leg. For a hot second there, I figured I had really cut myself and braced myself for the pain to kick in and the blood to casacade out.

Fortunately, neither happened. I dropped my trou and saw that I had luckily only scratched myself a tiny bit. Mind you, there was enough blood for Rutger to become queasy and run to Claes for a first aid kit.

However, I was only a half-inch or a half-second away from doing something really nasty to myself. Besides freaking out Rutger slightly, I'm sure I disappointed Janne, who is very professional and serious in his work. Here I go, nearly slicing my leg off first chance I get!!!

Needless to say, Rutger did the rest of the chainsaw work for the day, and I am sure Janne will restrict me to hand tools for the time being. Perhaps for the best.

And note to self: buy a decent first-aid kit and bring it along on my next trip.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


The Hus Expo had two main halls, essentially one for interior goods, and one for exterior and building services. We'll get to the indoor exhibits (that is, toilets) in another post or three.

Among the exterior displays, I found a surprisingly interesting topic: doors.

To the left are a few photos I took at the expo. All of the doors I saw were from companies in Norrland, which is essentially the whole northern half of the country. Some of the largest forests in Europe still cover Norrland, so it's not surprising this region has a long-standing timber and carpentry tradition.

There were a few companies which really stood out with interesting door designs. Allmoge had a big product line, Diplomat seemed most traditional, Snickarper had lots of big-name designers, and Polardörren was the coolest (and with a good English website too).

We may stick with the standard door, because light already comes into the house from the big windows on the door side. On the other hand, it might be fun to have a colorful door with a funky window!!

A quickie

This site is a good summary of the history and culture of the Swedish summer house. I'll add it to the permanent links, too.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Our man Stefan

My first stop at the hus expo was to see the display set up by our home-builders, X-House. Stefan was there and we had a nice chat. Business is good with his company. Stefan told me the number of houses on order this year was more than double last year's. They are thinking about an English-language website, and I offered my lingustic skills should they be needed.

I also met the company's owner, a grandfatherly type, who was nonplussed by his enthusiastic American visitor.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lots of action this Sunday!

Got an email from Stefan this afternoon. He sent along the newest drawings based upon the latest map info and my measurements with Rutger last weekend.

The main difference is that we've moved the little house to be alongside the big house so they're both looking downhill towards the water. Our idea is the houses are related to each other as their doors are in the same direction, i.e. someone standing at the front door of one house can look left (or right) to the front door of the other.

A good island map

The Värmdö kommun has a great website; they even have an English page or two. But the most fun (for me, anyways) is through their map function.

I found a great image of Aspö, which shows the placement of all of the houses on the island. I made a small modification to add a circle where our house will go.

Janne called

this morning. He and Tony had gone out to the land and found the missing measuring point that Rutger and I couldn't. We had tromped around for what seemed like all morning, and I bet it took the two of them two minutes!

Anyways, the upshot of this is that the measurements of the land have changed slightly. Claes gave us a copy of his most recent document on the surrounding land, and it was slightly different than the original document Tony had.

Here's a copy of Claes' map. You can click on it for a bigger version. The key change is that the far point of the triangle is cut off slightly. It doesn't change the placement of the houses, so we're just waiting for an updated drawing from Stefan to send in.

Meet the Neighbors

There are two houses in the meadow behind us. The closest one is this little red stuga, occupied by Claes and Eva-Lis.

They're both artists. Claes makes museum- quality models of ships, mostly old Viking ships, but more recent types, too.

He was preparing for a visit the next day from the Stockholm Rotary club, and he had set out a number of his models in their studio at the rear of their house, which he was kind enough to show me.

Eva-Lis is a painter, I saw a number of her watercolours; here's an example of her work. Margaret tells me that Eva-Lis has a painting school in the summer, underneath a tent in the meadow. Ann was apparently a student last year. That sounds like fun!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Salubrious Effluvia

As planned, Rutger and I went out to Aspö for a day's worth of honest toil on the land.

Besides the chainsaw work, our main goal was to measure the perimeter as accurately as we could. Here's a shot of Rutger with his trusty tape measure.

We made good progress, and I've sent Stefan an updated sketch for us to include in the planning application. I'll post that as soon as it's completed.

At Janne's suggestion, we also set out as precisely as we could where the houses should sit on the property. The four corners of each house were set with yellow spray paint, pictured here.

They're not very good yellow dots; I don't think I have much of a career as a graffiti artist!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Rutger's Chainsaw Massacre

I have had a number of requests (really just one from my mother) for footage of Rutger and his work with his chainsaw. So here you go, mom, a little video of the man in action!

Perhaps other readers will enjoy the spectacle as well...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Toilet technologies

As we begin our journey through the wonderland of environmentally-friendly toilets, let's start by cataloging the main technologies available.

Vacuum toilets use little or no water. You may have used them on aircraft or on ships. Perhaps a bit overkill for an island summer home, but is most like the toilet you have at home.

Composting toilets take waste and collect it for decomposition. There many ways to collect, and many ways to decompose. Some methods are more attractive than others, to put it mildly.

Incinerating toilets burn waste in a very high-temperature process. Good news: all that icky stuff is quickly and permanently gone. Bad news: giant, expensive, power-hungry combustion chamber right between your legs.

More detailed posts on each type- complete with photos!- to follow.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Back from Sweden

Returned last night from an eventful whirlwind visit. Rutger and I did quite a lot of work on the land, what with tree-felling and plot-measuring, and we met our new neighbors (by borrowing first-aid supplies from them!) We also got to see Janne which is always a treat.

The next day, I visited the home expo and saw lots of fascinating things, especially many different types of toilets. I also met Stefan and Johan (whom you might recall from previous posts).

Stay tuned over upcoming days with lots of posts, especially about toilets. Lots of info about toilets.

Monday, October 1, 2007

VISA Cards

More mail arrived today- Stefan's tickets for the Hus Expo, and more interestingly, our Swedish VISA card for our new bank account.

It struck me that I now have bank accounts (and Visa Cards) in four different countries. What a jet-setter, eh?

There will be many more interesting posts after my weekend island visit with Rutger on Saturday and the Hus Expo on Sunday, so stay tuned.