Pages Navigation Menu

high desert. small house.

Days 370-371: Installing the Heat Pump

Monday, 7/18
I woke up this morning with a tank-top-shaped sunburn on my back and all-around muscle soreness.  I was also famished.  After scarfing down the usual four eggs, I felt like I could eat a half pound of bacon.  Where is this all coming from?!!?  Oh yeah, that’s right – I moved nearly 6,000 pounds of cement blocks this weekend!!!!!  [I did the math when I got to work – it was 2,979 lbs, moved twice – total of 5,958 lbs.]

A local surveyor, Z3 Planners & Surveyors, was recently testing out their new drone and they flew it over our property.  Being awesome people, they printed off a few shots of the aerial view and brought them to us.  Check it out! –


View of Boston Hill Open Space with our house at the base. (Courtesy of Z3)

View of our property

View of our property and trails.  You can’t really make out the fence line so its hard to see the boundaries; but basically our property is centered in this photo.  That thick strand of trees in the top left part of the picture is the area from which the javelinas emerged when they chased down Sydney.  (Courtesy of Z3)


Close-up of the house and nice view of our bar ditch that diverts runoff above the building pad (Courtesy of Z3)

We have a few tasks to wrap up before we can start the inspector tour.  The most pressing one is to install the small heat pump (also called a ‘mini-split’) and then get on the schedule of the difficult-to-get-ahold-of HVAC service man to vacuum the tubes.  Once that is done, Brian will finish applying butyl rubber around the electric boxes, then move to adding duct seal inside the boxes, installing the outlets and covers and finally installing the fixtures [btw Duct Seal is essentially a softer, less sticky but messier type of butyl rubber that has a UL fire resistance rating and is better for stuffing into nooks; it is more like play doh whereas the Fabral seam tape we call butyl rubber is more like silly putty].  As far as we know, we will then be clear to call the inspectors.

Brian started the morning by returning the pallet the blocks were delivered on (and receiving our $16 deposit back) and then comparing our local options for scrubbable and waterproof caulk for behind the sink.  We decided on Lexel.

Brian texted me mid-afternoon to report that the hot water heater was properly wired and functional.  Woohoo!

Water heater installed and functional

Water heater installed and functional

Next up, he transported the 3 boxes of the mini-split to the house on the bike.  He unpacked it, rough-installed the wall unit, shifted the mini-split block structure further away from the house (I had built it too close), set up the outdoor unit and was attaching the first of the two foam-wrapped copper tubes (lineset) when I arrived.

Hoses on one side and indoor unit on the other

Hoses on one side and indoor wall unit on the other

Outdoor unit

Outdoor unit – condenser

2016-07-18 15.33.54

Bracket attached above window on the north wall

2016-07-18 15.55.07

Unit attached.

2016-07-18 16.03.12

Condenser in place

I helped him bend the lineset so that it maintained a downward slope down the side of the house.  We then got the second one into place and taped them both to their corresponding wires coming from the indoor unit.  We’re not going to connect them ourselves but we need them to stay up there in the meantime.

I went home to start dinner and Brian caulked around the sink and made a caulk ramp behind it to direct water back into the basin.  Our apartment sink has just enough of a drop behind the basin that it collects water there and grows mildew.  It’s gross and we want to prevent that.

2016-07-18 18.11.54

Mini-split outdoor base in place with hoses attached to the wall. How does Sydney always manage to photobomb our pictures?

2016-07-18 19.21.14

Lexel bead around the sink. Clear Lexel would have been stealthier but we’d already used white silicone under the sink rim and it would be visible through the Lexel. Next time we’d use clear Lexel for the whole thing.

2016-07-18 19.49.37

Brian saw this awesome rainbow-raven photo on the way home. [Click to enlarge]

Tuesday, 7/19
A few forgotten photos from the weekend –

Beautiful door clearance - perfect!

Beautiful door clearance – perfect!

Awesome stick bug we found at work. He blends in with the peeling paint. What?!

Awesome stick bug we found at work. He blends in with the peeling paint.

Business as usual in the morning – coffee chaos and then trips to stores.  Brian left for the electric supply depot around noon to get the items he needed to wire the mini-split.  We have yet to hear back from the HVAC man so we will probably call again tomorrow morning.

When I arrived at the house, Brian had already installed the conduit with the wires inside as well as the condensate tube.  He needed help to hold the indoor unit in place while he wired it.  Then I went outside to gently pull the condensate tube and conduit while he placed the unit back on the wall.

Next up, Brian attached the conduit to the exterior wall and then together, we applied butyl rubber behind the screws.  I also emptied a load of coffee grounds into the cholla garden and encountered a mob of spiky plants.  I don’t recall noticing them emerging from the ground in the past week but they’re here…and they’re big, spiky and dangerous.  They’re all over our slope and the edge of the building pad.

2016-07-19 17.03.04

In order to run the wires through the conduit, Brian threw the conduit down our hill, inserted the wire and had to shake and wiggle the whole setup vigorously, sometimes gaining about 2 inches per 5 minutes of effort. When he finally got the FIRST wire through, he decided not to deal with the whole process again. He tied a string to the wire, pulled the wire out in order to get the string through the wire, tied the string to all four wires and then pulled them through together.  [You can see the monster plants here on the edge of the building pad.]

2016-07-19 17.10.00

Thank you string for making this doable.

2016-07-19 19.07.16

Wall unit wired to condenser.

2016-07-19 19.14.36

Condenser wired to wall unit and to the breaker panel.

2016-07-19 18.43.38

Nearly finished!  Here all that was left was the wire run to the breaker panel.


  1. Can you provide a super rough guesstimate of the total costs involved in putting up a 24×24 version of an Arched Cabin including plumbing, electricity?

    I’m very interested in putting up one of these shelters but wasn’t sure how much I was looking at having to spend after the shell/foundation/loft was setup. If there is an email to contact you guys that would be great too!

    Thank you!

    • You can see what we spent on the page Final Project Expenses. The page All the Posts has the stages of the project listed out so you can see where we spent the most time. The Arched Cabin website has the grid for pricing out a custom sized cabin.

      • Thank you! It looks like the total cost will run about $70k.

        It seems like if we wanted to get the 24×40 setup the costs wouldn’t necessarily be that much greater. You have provided great info.

        • You’re welcome, happy to help! If you haven’t looked at it already, check out Arched Cabin Experience – Summary. We listed out all the things we liked and didn’t like with the crew and kit install. That might help you choose which tasks to sub out to the Arched Cabin crew vs. local contractors. Good luck!

          • Thank you very much. I will take a look at that.

            Do you know of any “home kits” that are currently on the market at a similar price point?

          • We haven’t done any research on kits since we purchased ours more than a year ago. At the time, we were aiming for something that could go up fast and then be easily customized so that we could control the quality of things and spend more/less where we saw fit. I don’t remember how they compare price-wise, but two other companies we considered were Kanga Room Systems & ASUL.

          • Thanks so much!

  2. I’ve enjoyed reading the blog and watching your progress.
    I’m curious if you ever considered a manufactured home as an option?
    (Cost per sq.ft., time to build, style, etc.)

    Keep up the good work,
    Jeff the Chef

    • Hi Jeff,
      The manufactured homes we considered had either undesirable, restricted floor layouts or didn’t seem to be worth the cost. Also we were living in a ~450 sq ft mobile home for about 4 months leading up to the Arched Cabin purchase and numerous things about that experience convinced us that we’d be better off making our own decisions about the build versus adapting to someone else’s design.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *