It’s Okay to Use the Sun… Honest!

10 Feb

And now for the next exciting episode of;

“Ronin’s 10 simple rules of homebuilding!”

My family has embarked on an expedition to build a new home, using “alternative” means, and construction practices. In fact, we’re using stuff that people around here never even considered using. By using ISBUs (Shipping Containers) and reclaimed Aircraft Hanger Components (steel) we’re building a multi-level home, to house the tribe.

002_domSo what if it’s only 8′ wide? We have incredible views… of Mississippi. Wait… that’s not a selling point. Hmmm, I may have to rethink this…

We’re going to prove that you can build an affordable, efficient, attractive home, out of junk! Either that, or we’re gonna prove that our neighbors know how to build fences high enough to obscure their view of our new abode…

Now, we’re explorers by nature, I suppose, but as you’ve probably guessed… I’m sure that the neighbors wished that we’d launched this expedition in another neighborhood.

In our last episode, we looked at an exciting new roof system, that makes your entire roof a solar collector. Can you believe it? Now, you can generate power to run your iPod, create hot water to soak your feet, and blind the paparazzi (all at the same time!) as they fly over your house (trying to take “intrusive” photos of you and the kids) because of your new-found fame fame as the neighborhood “Green Guru!”

Man… those Fabral guys are just fabulous! They oughta get an award or something…

Okay, okay… in my case, any buzzing over my house will probably be the Police Helicopter, looking for evidence pertaining to “missing neighbors.”

I know, I know… this thread of posts is starting to sound like “The 12 Days of Christmas,” but hey…

If I’d written the whole thing… documenting all the rules, complete with 8×10 glossy pictures with circles and arrows drawn on them… in ONE post… you’d have turned the channel after about paragraph #3.

You’re not kidding anyone, bub! I know you’re reading these posts, because I can hear you breathing! But, nobody comments… and frankly, it’s giving me cause to rethink this whole “blog” thing. These posts don’t write themselves, you know! LOL!

I’m really not trying to be an “Attention Whore!” I just need to know that this is actually helping somebody out there, or it’s just wasted energy.

That said, here’s the next rule to consider, when building your new home;

Design For And then Install Solar Power Systems

Everybody with (a) an IQ above 30 and (b) a pulse…  knows that solar electric systems are the most cost effective, reliable, easy to integrate way of changing your home’s energy use and cost.

Tune to HGTV, Discovery, or the Science Channel, and you’ll quickly learn that alternative energy sources are in huge demand today. Look around you and you’ll see lots of evidence that that the world is running out of oil and the guys that control it have us by the proverbial… um… er… wallets.  A lot of us, in fact the legion grows by the day, are desperate to find ways to use the earth’s other resources in order to power our demanding planet. The human race becomes more power hungry everyday, we must come up with alternatives to oil.

Now, if you’d asked me 10 years ago, I’d have just offered to “Bust out the Nukes and thin the herd…” but now I’m “Super-Daddy,” and it’s a “kinder, gentler planet…” (grumble, rumble, snort…!) So…

I suppose one of the options is solar energy.


Solar energy isn’t “magic,” nor is it mysterious! Grade school kids build solar collectors as science projects, without having to rob their parent’s wallets, or their own piggy banks!

(In fact, we used to build one at our seasonal “deer camps” to heat our hot water, for less than $20. I recently saw a “re-design” that shows you how to build a solar hot water system for less than $10.)

Say it with me: “Solar is Simple.” You simply use a system of solar panels (collectors) connected together to form an “array” to harness the Sun’s rays, and convert them into water or electricity. Then, you use batteries (like the ones in your car) or an “Inverter” to get that new power to the plugs on your wall! As as simple as it is, it defies logic that today it produces less than one tenth of one percent of worldwide energy demands.

We’ve talked about using the Sun, in a “passive” way, to help heat your house, remember? If you don’t, we’ll just sit here and wait, while you go back and read some of my previous gems… um…er… posts, namely “Orienting your house…” and “Maximize your Girth.”

Back already? You’re bored to tears, huh? Well… tough toenails! If you didn’t fall behind, the rest of the class wouldn’t have to sit here staring off into space! LOL!

Where was I? Oh yeah!

Using solar panels in an array to make energy from the Sun falls into the category of  “Active Solar.”

The best part about Active Solar Systems is that this type of energy is basically “free” (after you’ve installed the system) because the sun’s energy is abundant and inexhaustible and available to virtually everyone. And you can do anything you want, with the power you create.

Well, not exactly “anything.” I wanted to form a “cult” that worshiped “Green Guru’s…” but my wife showed me the error of my ways, by reminding me that no matter how much power I created, she knew where I slept…

Anyway… You can use solar power to heat homes (and your business), you can use it to grow food, treat water, or even fuel up your car. Hey, the possibilities are endless! And, once you come up with a use and put it into action there’s no reason to stop using it, talking about it (that really pisses off your neighbors:

“Even though it’s the dead of winter, my utility bill was only $12 bucks last month… how much was yours? Hmmm?…” as you smugly sip gourmet coffee out of your new coffee mug!

ah_ha_mugAnd, creating that power means that you can (gasp!) write about it! See?  I’m doing it NOW! LOL!

(It’s all about “Power” baby!!! LOL! Okay… I’ll stop now… maybe… maybe not.)

And, if you’re sneaky and devious, a smart homeowners can even collect enough solar energy to sell it back to their local power companies. This gives them free power for their own homes plus a little on the side… income! What did you think I was talking about? Jeez! You gotta get your mind outta the gutter, pal…  Okay, you don’t have to be “sneaky and devious,” but it does give me another excuse…

Setting up a home solar heating and cooling system has never been easier, and it usually costs about $8-10 per Watt (your mileage may vary, depending on your location). And in most parts of America, government incentive programs exist, including tax rebates. Now, provided the government doesn’t bankrupt itself with all these dang-blasted bailouts, those programs and incentives should lower your  installed costs into the $3-4 watt arena. So, some quick calculating will reveal that 10-12 cents per kilowatt hour energy rates can easily be achieved.

And, don’t forget to use the Internet to shop for your hardware! No matter what your “Energy Contractor” cousin says, if you are able to buy parts in bulk or wholesale, your system price will drop dramatically. You’re still gonna let out a “gasp!” at the up-front price for your system, but I assure you that it will be the best investment you ever make. The up front costs are the highest part, but you’ll see a return the very frist month. After that, slowly but Shirley (I know, I know… don’t call you “Shirley…) um… er… surely, you’ll see more cash left over in your monthly budget.

There aren’t any “Maintenance Monsters” lurking here. If your system is designed and installed properly, that new energy system’s ongoing expenses are pretty minimal and sometimes amount to “virtually nothing.”

Remember (after you catch your breath) that user rebates and tax credits have made it possible for everybody in America to get on the bandwagon, and help take a load (literally… sorry, bad pun!) off an antiquated system that wasn’t designed to complete the task now required of it!

Here’s the list of things to consider;

  • Read everything you can, and then… work with experts to design a system that supplies 80-100% of your home’s electricity and Hot water needs.
  • Insure that the new system will integrate carefully into the design of your home.


  • Keep telling yourself that these energy systems have become cheaper, simpler, much more attractive and are heavily subsidized, making them a very strong investment. Not only will you save money, they’ll pay for themselves when you sell your house.
  • Use experts to coordinate the design of your system with the HVAC systems to provide synergy and cost savings. Nothing makes less sense than two competing systems, trying to accomplish the same goal. The time and money you spend now, will either haunt you, or bless you, in the future.
  • Orient uninterrupted roof planes if you can, and have them face generally (+/- 20 degrees) south at 4:12 pitch or greater. You need a place to “park” your system, remember?
  • These systems will eat up your roof space. Allow for 500 square feet of panels for each 2,500 square feet of conditioned space on a southerly, unshaded roof. Don’t allow a solar system to be installed in a shady or obstructed space. It just defeats their purpose!


  • If your roof is inaccessible, or too small, then look elsewhere! Panels can be placed in the landscape and concealed with plantings as well. The top of a covered walkway or gazebo works well, too!


And here’s where Ronin sticks his neck out;

Add solar hot water or heating systems if your budget allows, but only AFTER you’ve reached 100% of your homes energy requirements. If you are the “average American,”  the lions share of your utility budget is spent on heating and cooling your home. Hot water ranks farther down the list, unless you have a tribe of teen-aged girls… LOL!

Okay, there you have it… We’re over halfway through the list… See, that wasn’t so bad…

Next time, we’ll tackle making the outdoors and the indoors work together, without fighting like squabbling brats… Man, where did that come from? Sooooooory! LOL!

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance RoninFYI: Paul Stankey didn’t really put his “Container Cabin” on a mountaintop in the tundra… I did it for him. For some strange reason, he’s always complaining about being cold… Wait! It’s because he’s almost living in the Arctic! What a NUT! So, I just thought I’d show him how “elegant” cold can be! LOL!

5 Responses to “It’s Okay to Use the Sun… Honest!”

  1. wildkitty February 10, 2009 at 7:53 pm #

    when I win the lottery, Imma gonna hire you to build my house. I’m too senile to remember all this, and too lazy to do my own research. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you get rich and famous – hire it all done! LOL!

    Now… can I borrow a dollar for a lottery ticket?

    • renaissanceronin February 11, 2009 at 7:13 pm #

      @wildkitty: Huh? By the time you win the lottery, I’ll be 162 years old! No thanks! LOL!

      And, if I loan you the buck, aren’t the proceeds already mine?

  2. LunchBox February 11, 2009 at 4:44 pm #

    Just wanted to know that I found your blog recently looking for container building ideas and am reading back to get caught up on all your rants and ramblings, I mean that in an endearing and encouraging way. I love your tangents and side tracks almost as much as the building info and project updates. Weeding through the information (crap) on the internet has been tough and filled with pipe dreams and misinformation. I think you already have an idea of what can actually work instead of fancy cad drawings of ridiculous houses with containers thrown in for effect. It seems no one is interested in building their own basic needs house that is nice, artsy, functional and reasonable priced. Keep it up and don’t let them (whomever they may be) stop your project or this blog!!

    PS. Where do you actually stand on the ceramic insulation paint? Just curious, I have no plans for it. In Alaska it will not be enough even if it was twice what they promise…

    Also what do you know about the ISBU association? The more I go through their site the more they point to information in the member area that I think an association trying to promote an idea would provide for free. They seem pretty legit and at the same time my money making scam radar is always on high alert on the internet…

    Thanks, LB

    • renaissanceronin February 11, 2009 at 7:12 pm #

      Hey LB,

      Welcome to the fray…

      Any kind of building gets involved, and I’ve found that this “Ronin” has a short attention span. Thus, I throw everything but the kitchen sink into the mix, to try to keep the conversations lively… LOL!

      And I like to deal with “reality” and not “theory.” I’ve seen too many projects that will either never see the light of day, or are just exercises in wasteful design and spending. In order for “alternatives” to be embraceable, they have to be buildable. And they have to be buildable, by ME. LOL!

      (After all, how can I ask you to do as I do, if I can’t do it?)

      I’ve built several homes using containers, over the years, in several places, on several continents. So, I have a good idea what works, and what doesn’t. It’s an “alternative,” and with any alternative, you make compromises and find “sweet spots…”

      In the end, it’s usually the “politics” that sinks your boat…

      So, I try to cut through the nonsense…

      About Ceramic Insulative Coatings… Everybody I know says they don’t work. But, I’ve actually been in homes and buildings where the product was used exclusively (in weather conditions very similar to mine), and they actually seem to hold up. So…

      I’m going to actually test the product, by setting up three identical 40′ containers; applying insulation (batt) in one, CIS in one, and nada in the last… Then, I’ll monitor temps over a 120 hour period. We’ll see what happens…

      I’m not sure about the ISBU association, at all. Although they seem to offer a lot of good information, you have to be a paying member to receive the good stuff. I’ll just use “insiders,” Google, and common sense, I think. I can’t afford to be a “joiner” right now. Besides that, anyone or “any body” that would have me as a member already has significant problems… LOL!

      Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for commenting!



  1. Homemade Solar Water Heaters | Build Your Own Solar Water Heater - February 11, 2009

    […] It’s Okay to Use the Sun… Honest! « The Life and Times of a … […]

Comments are closed.