Monthly Archives: March 2016

New Compost Toilet & Bathroom (3/24/2016)

Since one of us is on a sabbatical, and the markets were closed on Friday, we headed up to the property Thursday afternoon.  We had a couple things to accomplish this weekend, the main ones being building our new indoor composting toilet, removing the stairs to the loft, and removing the old front door and framing in that wall.

Before Friday morning’s start, we enjoyed our deck again that evening.  What did we find?  Well, we know that some ravens up there like to hang out on our deck, and we found more evidence.
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This would be the spinal column of some small animal, more than likely a squirrel.  I mean who hasn’t gone out on their deck and found a spinal column? ha!

Friday morning Sheralee started off cutting out the pieces she would need to build our new indoor compost toilet.  It was taken from the plans of our original one, but super sized for our indoor bathroom.
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While Sheralee worked on the new ‘Loo’, I wanted to get a couple projects out of the way.  One was to add permanent latches to the solar array and raise the angle a little bit more.
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Something else I started that day, and finished on Sunday, was eliminating that tree that you see to the right of the panels.  I found that in the winter time, the shadow from that tree would cover the panels in the afternoon, losing a couple hours of sunshine charging our batteries.  So, down it goes.

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By the way, that is our new Husqvarna 450 Rancher chainsaw.  Now, I had been screwing with it for the past two weekends, bent the original chain, purchased the wrong Oregon chain, but finally have the right chain and it ROCKED!  I cut more this past weekend with that new chainsaw, than I have in a year and a half with our crappy 18″ Poulan Pro chainsaw.  blah.

The other thing I wanted to get done was add some OSB to our new container doorway wall.

I had added this doorway previously;
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This past weekend I actually made it look like a doorway.
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Just another step closer.

I think we ended the day by completely assembling the new Loo.  It is awesome!!
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Saturday morning we got up to start the day’s projects.  Since the new Loo was in process, I needed to get the stairs to the loft out, remove the old front door, and frame in that wall.

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I couldn’t wait.  I was never fond of that door, and let me tell you it was a pain to install it, so good ridden front door.

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This was before the stairs were removed.  I took out the door first, and then the stairs.  We had build those stairs in place, 2-2/12’s and some stair treads, and boy it isn’t light.  Sheralee and I got it out though and I started the framing and adding the outside sheathing.

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This after I closed in that door wall.  We basically end up with a 4’x8′ bathroom.  Very cool.  I did add some additional framing on the container side wall, headers and footers, to get a better measurement of where we want things to go.  Initially you can see the new Loo along the outside wall, but we changed that up once, and are changing it up again.

Sunday we took care of some tasks, such as compost and more tree removal.  Finally we were able to burn some of the juniper up there as it was pretty windy all weekend.  This coming weekend we have more plans.  I will be working on removing the electrical from the loft and adding that electrical to the new bathroom layout.  Sheralee is going to start the great project of creating our headboard/storage bookcase combo.  It will be pretty cool when all done, giving us space for bedside items and also books/storage on the outward facing side.  Cool.

Solar Update:  Forgot the latest solar news.  We didn’t have to touch the solar config the entire weekend, besides raising the panel array.  So happy.  We were fully charged each day, too full on the batteries, by mid day everyday.  Woohoo!

Closets & Doors (3/18/2016)

We headed up again this past weekend to do a couple major tasks.

1.  Build out the closets, with shelving and coverings
2.  Move the bed downstairs from the loft
3.  Rebuild the bed frame downstairs, without the rails we had previously.
4.  Finish cutting the door connecting our two containers.

Upon arrival Friday afternoon, we both heard some sort of alarm….of course that alarm is a low voltage alarm coming from our new power inverter.  Turns out the voltage was low on the batteries, once again, and upon further investigation I found there was no input voltage from the panels, so no charging of the batteries.  For how long?  No idea.   I found that the 30A circuit breaker I used on the panel negative input, basically to just join the cables coming the panel and going to the charge controller, is crap and kept tripping.
Water & Wood 12V DC 30A Car Audio Circuit Breaker Inline Fuse for 12V System Protection 30AMP

This thing is junk, and I thought maybe I tripped it on my way out last week, but nope, it kept just tripping for no reason.  I ended up joining the cables with a metal plate, and we were charging once again.  By the time we left yesterday we were pretty much fully charged, once again.  The test is this week.  We shall see.

On to the true projects, finally.  Friday, we got up there and battled through no refrigeration, thankfully I had a bag of ice not melted from the previous week, so that us through.  We moved the mattress down from the loft and set it up so we could sleep downstairs, our first time in quite a while.

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Saturday morning we busted a move to working on the closets, getting the plywood backing and siding in place.  Sheralee could then continue on to shelving, while I worked on taking our bed platform apart, re-sizing it for what we wanted downstairs, and then rebuild it.

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In the right hand picture, you can see we chose to enclose the wood stove in galvanized metal. The look is really cool.

Once this was done, I continued the daily ‘grind’ and Sheralee worked on the shelves.  We decided to use 2×12 boards for the shelves which are basically 2ft by 2ft in size.  They are thick and sturdy, help by half of a 2×4 on each side.

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This week we got some great work in with the table saw, finally! ha.  Things are so much easier with that thing.  Sheralee is now a master of the table saw, it is great to see.
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The shelves really came along nicely!  Here is what they looked like before any finish work was done.  These are our closets of the future.  We are using the bottom level of each closet for wood stove materials, either kindling, wood, or paper products.

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I worked on the bed platform, and we were finally able to start piecing it together downstairs.

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The platform now has no rails, as they would  take up an additional 3″ side to side and not really necessary.  I re-used all of the wood from the old platform and it really turned out pretty well…and heavy.  doh.

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It is still high off the floor, which we love because there is so much storage, or doggy, space underneath.  We slept down there on the new bed Saturday night…ahhh so nice.  Although we still had the refrigerator right near our heads, so there was that. ha.

Sunday morning, Sheralee continued sanding and varnishing the shelves and I started in on grinding the doorway out of our containers.

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The left pictures is when I first finished with the opening and cleanup of the rough edges.  On the right is after I sealed in the door way (temporarily) with some 6 mil plastic, ducting tape, and then created a step between the two.  We did move the refrigerator over to the new container, as we joked about it is inching closer to it’s final resting place.

After the fridge move and door sealing, Sheralee finished the closet trim and covering.  I think they are awesome!!  We are both really happy with our future bedroom.

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And the finish look!
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Of course, no walls yet, but we are getting there. hahahaha

That was it for our major work weekend, we really accomplished a lot and basically kicked A$$!  Oh, one other thing…ever hear that saying “you get what you pay for”?  Well, we definitely did with our used generator.  I was on my third coil starter assembly.

Well, Saturday we went to restart the generator and nada..nothing.  Normally the rope or spring goes, but nope not this time.  This time it was the plastic interior of the coil assembly that gave way.  Blah.

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Hard to see in the picture, but the two plastic pieces that catch the crank busted off.  So, time to by another one. uuugghhh  You get what you pay for.

Ok, that is all from our past weekend.  We are headed up Thursday afternoon for a long weekend.  Some more major things happening and very excited.

Grinding, grinding, and more grinding (3/11/2016)

I thought I had better post before heading back up to the ranch tomorrow (now today as I finish this) for the weekend.  I went up last Friday with the intention of working through the weekend, along with Monday and Tuesday.  I pretty much did, with some job ‘related’ getting in my way on Tuesday, more on that later.

Made it up Friday afternoon to settle in and I really wanted to check on the solar, to see how our batteries were doing.  Well, good news.  I think we may have recovered from our disastrous winter.  For the first time that I can remember, or in a long long time, the charge controller indicated the batteries were too full to charge any longer.   Wow!  That is huge for us.  It has been a long time since we have had reliable power.   How nice it is to have the coffee pot go off in the morning, lights whenever we need them, and oh  yeah…the flat screen working to watch a movie or two.  We watched the latest Bond film Saturday night, not bad but not the best.
(my $.10 review included for free folks)

I was sitting by the fire Friday night, clear sky and a little windy.  I checked the weather and this guy, I check some local weather stations on the ranch, had a snow flake for Saturday morning.  I looked to the star lit sky and said…no way!

I heard the wind all night, and at one point sure I heard some heavy rain….ok I could handle that, but this is what I awoke to…
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WTF?  Yup, snow everywhere. uugghh.  Didn’t even get to see it fall.  It didn’t really last long, and whatever mud was created from the snow melt, soon turned to dry dirt in the bright sunny sky.

On Saturday morning I wanted to get some stuff done before Sheralee made the trip up.  I framed in some more of the new container, Crusty, and moved all of the shelving we had over to it new (temporary home).

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The day on Saturday, we decided to grind the first part of our opening between the two containers.  If you haven’t guessed, our plan is to cut a door way in each container and seal them together.  one will house our bedroom and bathroom, the other our kitchen and HUGE living room.  The first part of this is cutting the openings.

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and finally….an opening.  By the way, if you have never done angle grinding/cutting…oh please do.  It has to be one of our favorite past times. ha.
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We started the other container, but quickly ran out of grinding discs.  I had done some reading about people cutting holes in shipping containers using grinders, and what to expect from your discs.  We were way off.  I think the problem was that I went with the thinnest of ‘metal cut-off’ discs.  You could literally watch these things disappear while cutting.  This weekend we are taking the next thickness up, and two of the “Grinding/Metal Cut-Off” kind.  We shall see.

On Sunday I started framing in the closets we will have in Rusty, the bedroom container.  At the South end, we have our little Hobbit wood stove.  Next to that on either side will be our closets.  They are basically 2′ x 2′.  I framed those out so that we could line them and then Sheralee can take care of the shelving this coming weekend.
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Next, I needed to get rid of the extension cords we have been using for power.  Those cords run from the utility shed, which houses the solar/electrical and is right outside the South end you are looking at above.  The previous week, I had installed a conduit in the wall to run more electrical in the months ahead and still seal in the closets.

So, my task on Monday was to get rid of the extension cords, and tie in some existing 110v wring to our electrical.  This really worked out well.  Our container had been fitted with some metal conduit electrical wiring, that doesn’t really work for us in the end, but some of the wiring junctions could be used to distribute 110v power around.

I put in two outlets in the container for now.  This is one that I plugged the refrigerator into.  It really helps clean things up.
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One of my final tasks was to use the 1/2″ plywood we had there to start constructing the inside of one closet.  We are using that plywood for each internal wall, mount 2×12 shelves (8 total I believe) and then corrugated metal on the wall facing the wood stove.  Should be awesome!

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We were going to use a barn door type system.  Each closet would have it’s own door, but share the same rail that would stretch across the entire container.  That idea is now scrapped.  If you have ever researched barn door kits, A) they are expensive and B) finding a rail the length we need was almost impossible.  So, we will come up with another plan to cover the front.

That was about it for that trip, after finding out I was among the unemployed, I decided to clean up and head out.  On my way out I saw the wild pig-like things hanging out by the big watering hole near the road.

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Actually, there were a group of 5 or  of them all hanging out, and didn’t give me a moment of their time.  They are actually Javelina.  We rarely see them, but interesting none the less.

New Solar and Misc. Projects (3/2/2016)

Since I was off the first half of the week last week, I decided to head to the ranch on Wednesday last week.  I could work remotely Thursday and Friday, and then get some stuff done after work and on the weekend.  Upon arriving Wednesday I found that indeed the batteries were not being charged by my little 40 watt panel, and the power for the fridge was off.  My first task of the day was to start the solar rebuild so we could get some ‘real’ charge on the batteries and give me power.

We purchased two new pieces of equipment, among miscellaneous items such as fuses, switches, bus bars, and new cables.  The two major (unplanned) purchases were a new Renogy MPPT 40A Charge Controller and a Renogy 2000 Watt Pure Sine Wave inverter were made to replace our blown charge controllers and the modified sine wave inverter we were using.  After doing research I found that a modified sine wave inverter takes more power to function.  So, my first task was to remove all of the previous components and wiring configurations.

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I then moved the solar panel input to the left wall and added a fuse on the input.  In the future, when I add more panels, I will want that wall to hold a combiner box so that all the individual lines come in to the shed and I combine them there in any configuration I want.

Next I added voltage bus bars at the bottom of the board, so that no longer will I be going to the batteries to add/remove any components.  I have one location now, a common bus bar.  I took the 4 gauge wires from the batteries and attached them to the DC voltage bus bars.

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It looks a little jumbled, but I have some loose grounding going on and some extension cords for now, but overall very happy with the way it turned out.  You can see the bus bars at the bottom, and the different switches for each area of power.

I think on Friday I added the A/C panel back to the mix, so we would have power upstairs to charge things.

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This is pretty much the finished configuration.  The shelf I added I will be extending on my next trip.  I also added a 110V outlet in the upper right hand corner of the shed that you can’t see.  A generator fed A/C sub panel will be added to the right side in the near future so that in case anything happens to the solar, we can power up the generator, plug it in to the box, and get power to some major appliances.

Oh, so back to my story…after completing everything, except the A/C panel, it was too late on Wednesday to get a charge back on the batteries, and I needed some cooling….not just for beer, but for food as well.  I had to head back in to town, yes hooked up the horses to the wagon, to get some ice for the night.  The next day refrigerator was back on and running normal.  Over the next couple of days I had a lot of charging on the batteries and running anything I needed to.  We are back on our way to power freedom, I hope.  I will know more tomorrow.

Another task I needed to finish, as rain was expected on Sunday, was the rainwater input.  Something I found out, that was kinda funny, is my first flush diverter I installed, you can see it here.

Well, I opened it up to clean it out and what did I find?  The oversized ping pong ball it uses to float and close the diverter was squashed completely. ha.  Something definitely happened over the winter.  I ended up taping it to a long piece of PVC and shoving it up there to divert all of the water.  I will have to cut that thing off and cap it so all the water flows in.  Since I added the Banjo inline filter, not sure how much I need that first flush working.  I got the last piece installed, so that we have that inline filter in place, and now just waiting for rainwater.

I am pretty sure my days all ran together, with a mix of work and ranch project work.  Another thing I wanted to work on was adding a PVC conduit for power lines so we could close up the wall behind what will be our bedroom closets.

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This will make it possible to put the back wall in place and still run power lines from the utility shed up into the ceiling where they will be routed to where they need to end up.  I think it turned out pretty well.

Another project I wanted to get one was leveling the new container, Crusty, somewhat to remove about 1.5 inches in slope.  This was fun for sure.  Using a little bottle jack there is somewhat a lack of stability when jacking up that think.  We had done it before on our first container, so no reason it wouldn’t work again.  I found that the jack would tilt left or right and the container would move that way as well.  Not good.  I finally got about an inch of slope out and that is all I wanted to risk.

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The next thing I did was to frame out the door opening to accept a 36″ house door we are moving from our other container.  I think it went really well and will be ready to move the door once we have the opening between the two containers.

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Now, some might notice the support framing above the door…and yes there is really nothing to support since it is a solid metal framed container, but I just couldn’t help myself. ha.  That frame is ready to go whenever we move the door.  The plan is to move that single hung door from the the other container to this wall.  Then we are going to move the patio door from the loft down to the other container, once we move the bed down to the main floor.

Today is Thursday the 10th, and I am heading out tomorrow afternoon for another five day stint.  I am hoping being up there for multiple days will help the progress all that much more.  We shall see.

Oh, thanks to my buddy Dave, we now have a webcam to test up at the property.  I am going to get it connected this weekend so that after I leave it will upload a couple pictures per day to a webpage I have running.  Very exciting!  More on that later.  Thanks Dave!