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EV – come home!

10 Jan

Here at RR…

Many of us strive for “lives lived sustainably” while deep in the bowels of our garages, we harbor lusty thoughts about Harley’s, Hot Rods and other acts of “motorized mayhem”.

If you’ve read my books on sustainability and alternative housing, you know that I’m on record as saying that “if you have a Tesla Roadster in your garage… I’m probably not the guy you want to talk to about building your sustainable home…”

I mean, a Tesla Roadster never saved anybody any money and it’s not exactly spewing carbon credits out of it’s “mock exhausts”. It’s anything but “sustainable” right?

TeslaRoadster-frontWell, after Tesla announced that they were migrating their new battery technology as upgrades to the Roadster (an EV – electric vehicle – that they no longer even produce) the Tesla Roadster became capable of trips from Los Angeles to San Francisco, nonstop. That’s 400 miles, folks.

Now… I have to eat my words. Elan Musk has officially bitten me on my big Corten butt…

After five years of poking fun at Tesla, I’m eating a little EV crow. I’ve found that if you put enough ketchup on it, you can gag down almost anything…

(I said “almost”… some things remain unpalatable… like McMansions and McDonalds Jalapeno Cheeseburgers… for instance!) LOL!

It’s a sad day, folks…

It’s time I started getting my young son ready for a world where vehicles carry him to and from at high speed – without that throaty exhaust that gave us goosebumps and made us giggle with delight…

Behold, the Broon F8 EV (electric vehicle)!

Broon F8 Electric Car for kidsThe Broon F8 is a “child -sized” masterpiece of sports car engineering and features all the things that you’d expect from a modern day sports car.

The Broon F8 sports slick design, a top-of-the-line power-train complete with an optional dual-motor all-wheel drive, Bluetooth compatibility and a touchscreen tablet control panel. According to CES rumblings, I hear that there are plans to allow you to get it with SIRIUS Satellite Radio. I bet that you can plug your flash drive or iPod into it, too!

I’m also told that the Broon F8 has a governor that limits speed to just under 10mph.

(I’m guessing that a little bit of tinkering will change that to a more suitable speed, as you chase your kid down from behind on your bicycle, or heaven forbid, your Nike’s…) 🙂

Now, I have a little bit of experience with an earlier evolution of child-sized EVs. Back in the day, when my daughter was little, We cannibalized a pair of those kid’s (mostly plastic) electric trucks you can buy at Walmart and turned a “Barbie Hauler” (custom painted bright pink metallic, mind you) into a 4wd electric hot rod capable of chasing me around the block as I went on morning runs. The local thrift store has gotten a pair of them and we scooped them up, thinking that we’d play “Mad Mr Tesla”… many years before Elan’s time…

It took us about two days to figure it out.

Living next door to an Air Force base had it’s advantages, Our rural neighborhood was filled with AF geeks who, when they weren’t manning underground bunkers defending our freedom… were some diabolical SOBs intent on watching little kids teach their dear ole’ Jarhead dads a lesson or six about playing with voltage.

The AF had spent millions of dollars teaching those geeks to “twist” tech into stuff that would make MacGiver look like a simpleton…

Jarheads are always taught to realize the potential of their assets and then “go where no fool has brazenly gone  before…” so we just figured out what kind of beer those geeks drank and the rest was history, as they say…

In fact, we convinced our kid’s moms that we were doing ti to honor automotive history.

I mean, the US Automotive industry was started by electric cars. I’m not even kidding. Until Henry Ford perfected the assembly line, EVs were “the norm” and not “infernal combustion engines” powered by gas or kerosene… The first US auto race ever conducted was won by an EV.

Yes, it was. Look it up.

But I digress…

Rewrapped electric motors to provide a little extra “uumph!”, bumped batteries to feed the beast, a new wiring harness, some paint, leather and custom vinyl decals proclaiming the pink terror to be the fastest “Armed Barbie Truck” on the planet…

Yes, we’d “hood mounted” a paintball gun to it so she could fend off a pair of obnoxious farm dogs down the road (plus a roll cage in case she actually tried to flip the beast) and she was all set to terrorize the neighborhood.

We even let those geeks put their own special squadron insignia on the truck, just to give them a little bit of “street cred”…

By the time we were finished, the lil’ battery powered terror had cost us about $300 in recycled junk and scrap parts (and a case or five of “girly” imported beer consumed by those geeks as we tinkered with my daughter’s new ride). No, we didn’t share our Guinness with them. It would have been wasted on them. They didn’t drink “real” beer at “Aluminum University”.  I know it’s  true. I’ve been there…

Seeing as how the truck (storebought from the local Walmart) would have cost us about $300 new, we were pretty proud of ourselves – as idiot fathers often are.

My little one would rise at 0500 and don her firesuit (yep, we had her a padded driving suit custom made to match the truck complete with “Barbie” name tag as a concession to her angry mother, who knew where we slept and threatened to kill us in our sleep if her little baby got so much as a stone bruise) before she’d climb in, put on her helmet and safety belts and then throw dirt roostertails into my face for several blocks of mostly dirt roads as we ventured out into the countryside in the name of early morning PT sessions the neighbors quickly began referring to as “the silent death”…

We simply called it “chasing health”. 🙂

It was so efficient and so quick that I found I was often the one chasing HER down, all the while eating her dust as she giggled  with glee. I quickly figured out that the damned thing would do 20mph, flat out. I quickly abandoned trying to run her down on foot and switched to my mountain bike.

Luckily, it was so inefficient that it’d run out of power within a few miles and I’d limp into the garage behind her, spitting out mouthfuls of dust as she giggled wickedly at having avoided getting lapped by dear ole’ dad…

When she finally outgrew it, we sold it to a rich neighbor down the road (who should have known better) for a considerable profit.

I’d later heard that he had a heart attack while out jogging behind his grandkid a few years later… but luckily, I’d already moved out of the area, redeployed to “meaner pastures”.

I never liked the guy anyway He was a mean-spirited “smart-assed know-it-all AF corporate cowboy/desk jockey” who annoyed us on a regular basis – usually about the loud noises coming out of our garages as we started our Harleys to ride to work at 0630 each morning…

What? So I’m speaking ill of the dead. Big deal! It’s not like he’s gonna come back from Hell to try and whoop me in my front yard… and I never said I was “nice”… 😉

Fast forward a little more than a decade…

Enter the “new millennia” of pint-sized electric motors…

I give you the Broon F8.

Broon F8 Electric Car interiorOf course, as stated before though, it’s not a real car — it’s a toy for kids. And you better save your pennies as it’s for rich kids. It is quite expensive for a toy — with the laundry list of options putting the estimated price tag between $900 and $1,200 or more. It’s been pointed out that you could actually find a decent used, gas-powered car for that kind of cash.

Okay, so it’s not a $300 “father killer”, but it’s still pretty cool. In my part of Montana we’d have to at least throw some “camo paint” on it and add a brushguard in case the kiddo hits a deer in the driveway…

Now all I need to do is figure out how many more photovoltaic panels I have to add to my array to keep the damned thing running! 🙂

RR Avatar


Ethiopia is “off-grid”, right?

22 Apr

Here at “Sustainability Central”, we “push purpose and technology” to document tools for sustainable families globally.

Our readers know that we spend a lot of time talking about sustainable, affordable, energy efficient homes that can be built BY FAMILIES,  FOR FAMILIES.

But it doesn’t stop there. Once you’re home is sustainable, you have the ability to embrace sustainable practices that will make you that much more self-responsible and self-reliant.

It’s about using your surroundings and environment to a positive benefit, by embracing technology and sustainability. If the Maker gives you sunshine to make electricity with…  with, why NOT use it to power your home or outbuildings?

But, it’s not just about making power. It’s about living life, 24/7. And that means… you gotta eat. Right?

We’ve talked about solar ovens before. I mean, if you have sunlight and flour… why not make bread, or even (gasp!) PIZZA?

In Ethiopia, they want to bake bread using sunshine, too.

I mean, who doesn’t?

But they’re stepping it up to the next level. You won’t need the sun, 24/7 in order to cook your meals if Asfafaw Tesfay has his way.

From The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)  – April 11th, 2014

Ethiopians may in the future be able to bake their own bread, the «injeras», with help from the sun.

Large parts of Ethiopia are today without access to electric power or firewood. The results of deforestation are severe. But what if people got the opportunity to make dinner without using coal, wood, oil or gas? This can become a reality if students at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway succeed in commercializing an oven powered by the sun itself.

The oven has been developed at NTNU keeping the needs of people in Ethiopia in mind. Asfafaw Tesfay came from Ethiopia to Norway in 2008 to develop a system based on solar power for his home country. He is now very near his goal, which is constructing a solar powered oven which can bake at a temperature of 220⁰C (428⁰F) for 24 hours.

It is the first of its kind. The oven can reach a temperature of 250⁰C (482⁰F), which makes it well adapted to the country’s food traditions and resources.


– This oven has several advantages compared to other solar powered ovens on the market. The biggest difference is that it can reach a high temperature and store that high temperature over time, which makes it perfect for baking “injeras”, which most people in Ethiopia eat three times a day, explains student Even Sønnik Haug Larsen.

Basic food

He is now trying to commercialize the product together with his fellow students Mari Hæreid, Sebastian Vendrig and Dag Håkon Haneberg from NTNU School of Entrepreneurship.

For years scientists across the globe have tried to develop solar powered ovens with different qualities aimed at developing countries. The problem has been that these solutions have not been optimized with the needs of the users, for instance in Ethiopia, in mind. The ovens have not reached high enough temperatures to make injeras, and can’t store the heat so that it is possible to make food also in the evenings or at night.

– On these ovens you have only been able to boil rice or vegetables and such. But that is not what most Ethiopians eat. They eat injeras, a sort of flatbread which needs to be baked. For that you need a temperature of 200-250⁰C (392-482⁰F), Haug Larsen says.

He adds that he finds it rewarding in itself to make it possible for people in developing countries to make food in an efficient, safe and environmentally safe way any time of day.

– It is exciting to use our technology in practice and show that the product is useful to many people, Haug Larsen, who is also a teacher, says.

How it works

The solar powered oven is environmentally friendly. When exposed to sunlight the heat is transferred to a container with salt chemicals. There are two working prototypes, one at NTNU and the other in Ethiopia. The need for such an oven is huge, the students claim.


85 percent of the people in the country don’t have access to electric power. Due to the fact that they have used fire wood instead, there is only three percent forested areas left in the country, down from 35 percent in 2000.

– People hardly have any fire wood or electric power, but they don’t have a lack of sun, Haug Larsen says.

In Ethiopia

Together with fellow student Sebastian Vendrig he traveled to Ethiopia around mid-January to get in touch with customers and potential partners. At the same time they wanted to see if it was possible to produce the oven locally in Mekele, the home city of Asfafaw, the man behind the idea.

– As users and potential customers are in Ethiopia it is important for us to travel there to meet them and at the same time experience the culture and society. We also want to establish a viable business there and will at the same time look at possible production workshops, said Haug Larsen before they left.

The students have already been in touch with the Norwegian embassy in Addis Abeba, The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and several organizations willing to help the students.

The project received means from Norfund, Spark NTNU and Trønder Energi. The students are also cooperating with NTNU Technology Transfer (TTO).

Want to expand

The connection between Asfafaw and Ethiopia is the main reason why they are trying to establish the product here first. The students see a potential in organizations working in the country, and in schools, universities, hospitals, bakeries, restaurants and hotels.

– Later it might be possible to make the oven accessible also for private people, but as it is now they have limited funds and will not know how to use it, says Haug Larsen.

Together with the rest of the student group he hopes to start a business and work with the oven also after his studies.

– It would be fantastic if our product could improve the conditions in several developing countries and if we can be part of creating jobs locally, Haug Larsen says.

Pretty cool, huh?


When it gets cold, you gotta get moving!

6 Feb

I’m having a discussion on our other site about wood heat.

Many of our building  families live off-grid and heat their homes using woodstoves or wood gasifiers.  That means that they use a pretty good amount of firewood during the winter to insure that they have warmth, hot water and the occasional hot meal (ala dutch oven sitting on top of that woodstove).

Here in Montana, we start cutting  firewood in the late Summer and early Fall, to get prepared for Winter.  Most of us aren’t lucky enough  to own “Hydraulic Ram-type” splitters. Ever priced one of those beasts?  they cost a couple of thousand dollars for a good one. Yikes!

We do it the old-fashioned way – with chainsaws, axes, gloves and cursing.

Here’s a tip for those looking to “heat like their grandfathers did”. Our elders were smart. They used their wits and the land to insure that their families were protected. I’ve read several old books about wood-splitting, that called for tying  your wood up into loose circles and they chopping it by simply working your way around the log segments. But, I’d never seen it… until now.

got woodOkay, so I’m not digging the “climb up on the pile and keep cutting” thing. That doesn’t look safe to me. And, you can see that he got winded. But, in less than a half hour, he cut half a cord of wood. Do that once a day for about a month (or even better, get your kid to do it) and you could easily prepare your woodpile for the Winter.

Makes pretty good  sense, once you work out how tightly to tie the wood before you begin cutting. I have a bunch of paracord that should be perfect for the job!

I’m going to start doing it this way. I’ll get wood heat, hot water, a warm meal and some physical exertion to maintain my shape.

Shut up! Round IS a shape… LOL!

Let’s be careful out there…

It’s Getting HOT in here! :)

1 Mar

As I prepare for a “last-minute trip down the mountain” to (gasp!) Colorado to do battle with a bevy of Beasts (both Corten and Equine) lounging in the middle of field…

I’m going through the mailbag, looking for a victim… 🙂

Ah… here’s one!


Dear Ronin,

We’re planning on building an ISBU home in the mountains. It’s more “cabin” than mountain fortress (like the one you’re building for your own family) and we’re struggling with “fireplaces and wood heat”.

Where do you put the wood? How do you do it so that the wood doesn’t just look like an organic junkpile?

Incidentally, that consulting call we did with you was incredible. You walked us past the posers and got us on track and saving money, from day one! Thanks again!

We’re doing the “offset ISBUs” that you rave about, using (4) 20′ High Cubes set 24 feet apart and set 8 feet apart to form “steel arctic entries”.

(BTW – Thanks again for walking us through that! It’s EXACTLY what we wanted!)

Gable roof, loft at each end… It’s gonna be Corten Coolness for sure!

We dig the whole “burning wood” vibe. But we’re looking for some “Ronin Influences” to make it less “rustic and boring” and more “wonderful and inviting”…

Any suggestions?


Wooded and left wanting…


Dear Woodies,

First, thanks for all the praise. Note to other readers;

If you want to get your questions answered on the blog, apparently the key is to butter us up! It’s hard t o look past an email asking for help, when they coat it in honey! LOL!

One of the things that I LOVE about ISBUs is that they can provide a wonderful place to easily tuck a big fireplace or woodstove.

One of the things I HATE about the current crop of “alt home designers and architects” is that they continue to do things “the same old way” and one project looks like another. It get’s boring and I suspect it’s what has our “woodland pals here” so nervous.

When you’re dealing with small spaces, incorporating that “WOW” factor is really important.

I want my families to move their eyes from one WOW to another, so that it sounds like they’re chanting; “WOW… Oh WOW!… Wow!”

In fact, we want their guests to experience that same feeling! Nothing says; “See, we ain’t nuts!” like getting hit right in the face with a major dose of Corten Coolness!

When we build  ISBU homes with fireplaces, one of the things that we strive to do is to incorporate some cool wood storage into the mix, to make that fireplace easy to use, even in the harshest environment. Nobody wants to get up and get dressed in several layers of clothing, to go out into the elements to collect enough wood to keep that fire going…

Lately, we’ve been looking at several solutions that are not only attractive, they’re efficient.

Try these on for size;

Wood Storage Ideas - 18in deep hearth seatNote the 18 inch high “bench seat”… in front of the fireplace. It’s a perfect place to warm your butt after a long day cross-country skiing. That is… if you can pry the CAT off that stone bench. 🙂

Wood Storage Ideas - Hidden Wood!

Got Wood? I love this one because you don’t SEE the wood. What you get is a nice place to hang artwork with your wood hidden behind it. Do this on both  sides for a long spell of “I ain’t going outside! It’s COLD!” weather!  We’re currently working on a project where we’re planning to do this with a double sided fireplace that will have a pass-thru on one side. COOL!

Wood Storage Ideas - Log Pile - you will need a ladder!

Looking to make a statement? Pile your logs into this “alcove” and it’s ART until it’s time to stoke the fire. Note that wood is harder than drywall, so you need to clad the interior of ANY wood storage area with something that will resist break-out and scratching.

I love this new crop of long slender fireplaces set at “viewing” height, but I question their real “measurable” efficiency.

Personally, I think I’d do this one with wood on BOTH sides, or possibly some incorporated storage shelving, instead of that inset window.

Or, I’d build WING WALL extensions that allowed you to tuck wood into the SIDES of the fireplace enclosure, and run windows on BOTH sides.  THAT would be styling…

And, if you’re going to “aim for the sky” with your wood storage, you’re gonna need some kind of cool ladder or stool to “reach way up there for the good pieces”!

Wood Storage Ideas - Wrap Around Wing Wall

Here’s another example of those “hide the wood” extensions I talked about.

This allows you an ample wood supply, especially when using High Cube Containers as you get some increased ceiling height as a by-product.  You’ll still need a stool to reach the wood at the top, until you start working your way down through the stack.

Incidentally, all these images came from a neat architectural collection site called  “HOUZZ.COM“. I like them so much as a resource (thanks to Timmie for turning me on to this cool site – you ROCK, grrrrrl!) that I’m gonna give them a free plug.

On their website, they say;

“HOUZZ is an online platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish – online or from a mobile device. From decorating a room to building a custom home, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world. With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community powered by social tools, Houzz is the easiest way for people to get the design inspiration, project advice, product information and professional reviews they need to help turn ideas into reality.”

Hope this helped and gave you some cool ideas for fireplaces and wood.

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You can have my Coke when you can pry it from my cold dead hands…

1 Jun

Admittedly, we live in a country where “Freedom of Choice” is usually defined by the local fast food menu, but this is taking it a bit far;

Like many “anchored hip deep in artistic/architectural endeavors”… I spend many hours fueling my creativity – by the direct infusion of carbonated, caffeinated beverages… Coke.

(FYI: MY “Coke” comes from a bottling factory in Idaho, not from a heavily armed production facility in Colombia…) 😉

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlined a plan Wednesday to resolve the biggest crisis facing NYC to date…

Anthony Fisher (the ReasonTV guy) took to the streets to ask New Yorkers what they thought about Bloomberg and the ban.

So, Mayor Bloomberg’s going to ban the sale of sugary soft drinks larger than 16 ounces at restaurants, movie theaters, street carts and other venues.

WHAT? Are you serious?

Sounds like just one more battle in “the war on fat people”, if you ask me…

(And NO, I’m not “fat”…. I’m “husky”… You callin’ my Mom a liar? Huh?) 😉

Last time I checked… Bloomberg can’t balance a budget and the city  is $14 Billion dollars short in the “pension fund department”. 

And this knucklehead is spending all his time trying to trim down New Yorkers beltlines, when he can’t seem to tighten his own? Is really what you want your “tribal elders” concerning themselves with, as the City falls down around itself?

Brandish your beverages, Brooklyn!

Man UP, Manhattan!

Band together, Bronx!

Shake your fists, Staten Island!

(And no, I didn’t forget about Queens. I just couldn’t think of anything cool that started with “Q” to preface it with. My thesaurus is off-line!) 🙂

This shall not stand!

After all, if he gets away with this madness in NY, it could spread to the rest of America!

Next he’ll he outlawing 2 liter bottles of soda due to the increased risk of a hernia caused by carrying them from the car to the house…

Shades of “Big Brother”, I tell you…

Do you have any idea what it would be like to suffer through 2am CAD sessions without the caffeinated “nectar of life” coursing thru my veins?

Oh the anguish! Oh, the inhumanity! Oy Freakin Vay!

I’m going into the woods and I ain’t comin’ out!

8 Dec

Does a big bear poop in the woods?

Well, not in my yard he don’t… if he knows what’s good for him!

Because I know the secret…

It just takes a little while longer to marinate bear meat. And use some bourbon in the brine, me bucko!  😉

Lately we’ve been talking about “lions and tigers and bears”… oh my!

You know that I’m talking about the economy and building and families, right?

As things get harder and jobs start looking like glimmers off in the distance, more and more families are considering moving to the country, to escape the madness of the city. It  also brings with it the opportunity to embrace new things. like gardens, poultry production and a chore list that will make that “Honey-Do” list you’re used to look like a quick trip to the supermarket.

In the last month, I’ve gotten over a hundred requests for more information about actually going off-grid.

So, for the next couple of posts, we’re going to explore the actual mechanics of going as “near ZERO” as possible. Not everyone is going to up and move to the woods, but a lot of us are looking for ways of slaying the beasts that show up on the porch at the end of each month. You know the ones I’m talking about… the power bill, the water bill,  the cable bill… you get the drift, right?

Credit to: The Daily

A pal of mine over at Tiny Houses (who is a really geeky, pallet-headed guy named Michael Janzenwho also advocates that people adopt a more self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle because it would make the whole of our civilization stronger) has already written a great post about going off-grid.

Going off grid is about saving energy, right?

So, I’m gonna save some energy right now… by just running HIS post. 🙂

Sure, I’ll make some “smart-alekey” comments along the way, but the heart and soul of this post is Michael’s.

(You’re probably better off this way. My wife says my heart is a black lump of calcified angst and that I sold my soul to the devil long ago…”)

Before you ask;

YES, I asked Michael’s permission.

Responding by using your middle finger means YES, right? 😉

That said, All Hail Michael!

Whom I suspect was channeling ME when he wrote it…) 😉

(Comments below in italics are MINE.)

How to Move Yourself Off-The-Grid
Story by Michael Janzen

It’s easy to take flush toilets, grid-power, and fresh water on tap for granted. I can’t blame any of us for thinking that all these modern conveniences are normal… it’s the only normal we’ve known. Due to this most folks have a hard time imagining an off-the-grid life because it’s not clear what’s needed to make the leap.

(Maybe for you, you milk puppet! Can you say Marines? Field Conditions? Jumpin outta perfectly good airplanes? Motel 6?) 😉

So here’s a crash course in practical and sustainable solutions for moving yourself off-the-grid.

Pee and Poop

(Ah geez, Michael… ya just jump right into the outhouse… Oy Vey! No “Plant a pretty garden!”Or “Buy a solar panel or two…” It’s just “pee and poop” right from  the “get go”! Your momma shoulda raised you better!) 😉

Flush toilets are really insane when you stop to think about what they do. They begin by taking several gallons of perfectly good drinking water and mix it with a little pee and poop to produce sewage. Sewage is a mess and really hard to turn back into safe drinking water; but it is easy to transport to treatment plants through enormous networks of pipes, an infrastructure that need regular maintenance. To clean it up, chemicals are used to treat the water which in-turn keeps everyone in the chemical business very happy. Isn’t there a better way!?

Compost it! – Poop loves to decompose and if given a little time and the right conditions it breaks down into rich compost, yes even human poop. Remember we’re just critters just like the our furry friends and our poop will actually decompose into a safe compost, under the right conditions.

Humanure Handbook – A fellow by the name of Joseph Jenkins has actually written an book on the topic called the Humanure Handbook.  He’s also designed a toilet nicknamed, The Lovable Loo, which is essentially a 5 gallon plastic bucket in a plywood box. You might also hear these toilets referred to as sawdust toilets because sawdust is literally used to cover the deposits between visits.

The other component you need with this system is a dedicated compost pile out in the backyard with enough space to cook your poop for two years. The stink stays buried in the compost pile under a layer of straw. When you need to add a bucket load you simply pull back the straw, add the fresh material, and cover it back up. So there is some stinky work involved but the the chore is a simple one. This may also be the most sustainable, low-tech, and safe way to turn our waste into something useable.

Commercial Composting Toilets
– If the virtually free sawdust toilet seems far too gross, consider spending around $1,000 for a commercially produced composting toilet. These units work swiftly to decompose the material making them more palatable by most folks. If you move your tiny house around a lot this kind of system would be much more practical than a Lovable Loo too, because it’s self-contained and required no backyard compost pile.

(Have ya seen this one? Well, have ya, punk? It’s a pooper made of… um.. er.. never mind… It’s called a “LooWatt” and it actually make energy by um… forget it. You really don’t want to know. But if you’re interested, click the link after you read this post. AFTER! Got it? Capish?) 😉


Another somewhat tricky waste material to dispose-of is the runoff from sinks, showers, and laundry. This is referred to as greywater which will still have traces of human waste in it, so it can’t just be left to run down the street. In a normal house this water is mixed with sewage to make more sewage. Seems kind of silly doesn’t it?

The solution is to reuse and/or treat the water right there on-site instead of funneling it down a sewer line to a treatment plant miles away. There are many different high-tech and low-tech ways of dealing with greywater but if you choose to build a tiny house be sure to consider handling the plumbing for your sewage separately from your greywater. The people at Earthship Biotecture have an incredible greywater system that is built right into homes and could serve as a model for any home’s future greywater system.

Fresh Water

Instead of drilling a well or tapping into municipal water sources, consider collecting rainwater and storing it in tanks for year-round use. Rainwater harvesting is becoming more and more popular because it’s so simple and low-cost. It can also be perfectly healthy to drink with a little filtration. I wrote-up a detailed post on some ideas for rainwater harvesting which you might find useful.


The power grid is an incredibly complex network that requires constant maintenance and monitoring. The entire system is actually incredibly inefficient. For example, line loss, literally the resistance in the wires, sucks electricity from the system before it reaches its destination in your home. To compensate the utility company has to produce more just to defeat the inefficiencies of the system.

Imagine a world where people made their own clean electricity at their point of use. For such a system to remain low-cost we’d need to learn to use less power and move way from using the energy hogging appliances that grew-up dependent on fossil fuel sourced grid power. We’d also need to invest in our own off-grid systems up-front. The good news is that alternative power options are coming down in cost.

Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Panel – Most folks these days are familiar with this technology, panels that produce electricity when exposed to direct sunlight. For a tiny house and a frugal occupant a few solar panels, batteries, and some simple electronic control equipment may be all that’s needed for an off-grid electric system.

(Stay tuned to this series because Steve Spence, one of the leading experts in Photovoltaic Energy Systems is going to teach you how to build a Low Cost, High Yield  off-grid system!)

Wind Turbine – If you tend to stay put and live in an area with ample wind, a small wind turbine can be a great addition to an off-grid system because it increases the diversity of you power sources. Many off-grid systems also include a backup generator that is used to charge up the batteries when the sun is not shining. By adding other renewable sources of electricity, like wind and hydro, you can reduce your dependency on fossil fuel burning generators.

(My wife say we need one of these really badly. She claims that the hot air I expel would power an Air Force Base. I have absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. Hmmmph!) 😉

Micro-Hydro – If your land has water running crossing it, and you have water rights to it, you may be able to tap a small portion of it and spin a small turbine. This can be one of the most reliable and steady ways to produce electricity because as long as the water flows you have water.

All that is needed is a drop in elevation between the inlet and the turbine, some pipe, and a way to get a small portion of the water out of the stream and delivered to the tiny turbine. The inlet can simply be a submerged bucket with a pipe connected that brings the debris-free water downhill to the turbine.

Heating & Cooking Fuels

In most modern homes natural gas, propane, and heating oil are the common fuels burned. But we’re really beginning to see the true cost of using these limited natural resources. If we moved from being dependent on fossil fuels to using renewable energy sources we’d significantly reduce the risk of rising energy costs and continued environmental impacts.

– Burning wood is actually a carbon neutral way of heating a home. When a tree grows it absorbs carbon. When we burn it it releases that same carbon. If we use a highly efficient wood stove in a small living space we can actually get through the winters with little environmental impact and effort. The problem with burning wood for heating a large home is that it would take acres of trees to make it sustainable. Heating a small home requires less energy input which in turn reduces the cost, impact, and effort needed to stay warm in winter.

(And if you ask nicely, Michael will come over to your canyon and chop all your firewood for you. Right, Michael?) 😉

– Some inventive folks have actually built systems that produce methane gas from their waste, both human and vegetable. It’s rare to come across this kind of a setup, and they are reportedly a bit tricky to operate, but they can provide a renewable natural gas for cooking and heating.

(They’re easy to identify two canyons away, when the wind is blowing in the right direction. Mayhaps that’s why they’re “scarce”. If I had one, I’d have to make myself scarce, so my wife didn’t kill me…) 😉

Alcohol – I’ve not seen this done a great deal but the idea of having a small still for distilling alcohol for burning in an alcohol stove may be a viable alternative on a small scale. I plan to use an alcohol stove in my extreme tiny house experiment, Nine Tiny Feet.

(Just close your eyes and you can picture it; We’ll “see it at 11pm” and read all about it in the papers as the revenuers huff and puff and kick Michael’s little house down – trying to find his still… They won’t have to execute a search warrant on the house, they’ll just pick it up and shake the bejeezus out of it… “Honest, yer honor, we was just standing in the yard eating donuts and the still came flyin out a window…) 😉

Wrapping Up

In this modern world it’s hard to imagine life without fossil fuels, flush toilets, and fresh tap water. Actually I think it’s perfectly logical to say that without these things our lives would be very different.

Tiny houses (or ISBU houses) are much easier to maintain in good or tough times. Every time we take-on one more square foot, we increase the effort required to maintain our living space. Living more simply and sustainably lowers risk and can increase our opportunities to prosper.

Changing the way we think about the basics is the first step in changing the way we live. Imagining downsizing to a smaller home and owning fewer possessions is a giant step. But it’s a giant leap for most to learn to live without the reliance of modern conveniences. Most of us are still on the way there too, living with a foot in both worlds, testing the water and exploring. I hope this little introduction to alternative utilities helped move you forward.

(Although I’ve had some fun taking shots at Michael, he’s right. IF you really want to go off-grid, you can. The only thing stopping you from achieving that success is the level of your ambition. So, print this out and give it to your wife. I’m sure she’ll find a way to motivate you. Mine does… I just wish it wasn’t always by using her boot!) 😉

There you have it; Off Grid 101. And we have Michael Janzen to blame… er… thank for it! 🙂

(And now I have his lawyers to dodge as well, for copyright infringement…)

Stay tuned for our next exciting chapter as Steve Spence dazzles you with Photovoltaic magic!

You’ve been w-w-warned.

Putting a “PV” on the roof doesn’t involve auto insurance…

2 Dec

… or a wrecker!

A few days ago, I was on the city bus, headed for Walmart (where else?) and I was talking to this Air Force guy who was complaining because his power bill was so high.

And, like an idiot, I said; “Well… you could just put a PV on your roof to knock down your power bill.”

And he looked at me real funny, and said (I kid you not!);

“Um… putting my ‘personal vehicle’ thru the roof isn’t going to save me any money on my electric bill.”

I’d forgotten that the Air Force has an acronym for everything…

Okay, so after I about had a hernia trying to keep from laughing, I explained to him that a PV wasn’t a “personal vehicle,” it was a Photovoltaic Panel.


After that, we spent the next 20 minutes or so, plotting and scheming, trying to figure out how to lower his utility bills so that he could save enough money to go home, next Easter. He’s stationed here at Keesler AFB, attending some school or another…

And while we were talking about it, it somehow got the attention of everyone else on the bus, and it turned into one big “alternative energy argument.” I thought for a while there that the bus driver was going to pull over, and order us all off.

It never occurred to me that photovoltaic electricity generation is so wildly misunderstood.

And it made me think…. and as we ALL know… that’s never good. 🙂

As many of you know, my family is trying to build an ISBU (Shipping Container) home in South Mississippi. That’s hardly newsworthy. A hurricane ate the old house, and after months that turned into years battling the insurance company (that claims it’s “too poor to pay the claim”), we’ve been forced to figure out another way to find shelter.

So, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re going to build a house out of industrial shipping containers (ISBU’s) and old aircraft hangar components. I’ve been writing about this for months now, so you’re probably pretty familiar with the “who, what, and why” part of this program.

If not, well… we’ll wait right here, while you lose yourself in the archives, finding out how we came to this decision, and how we thought that we’d solved our problem.

We’ll wait right here…

We’re still waiting… right here.

Still waiting…

Waiting… waiting… er… um… right here.

You know what? I’m sick and tired of waiting. If I wait any longer, I’m gonna forget what I was writing about today, and it will be lost forever. You’ll just have to catch up, later. Got it?

Senility is a terrible disease… LOL!

One of the things we’re striving for is the elimination of every bill possible, so that the actual overhead of the house is reduced. Now, I could start a big ole’ pyramid scam (like that Madoff guy who just got caught bilking $50 Billion dollars out of widows and orphans), but…

… my wife would kill me.

I could find a rich girlfriend… but again…

… my wife would kill me.

I could sell my son Joshua, to the highest bidder on Ebay… but frankly folks, you haven’t got enough money…

… and my wife would kill me.

So, it looks like I’ll have to do it the old fashioned way. I’ll just build a barbed wire fence and install claymores and gun turrets… and shoot any bill collectors that dare step foot on the property.

And then, the State of Mississippi will kill me…

Man, this is getting pretty frustrating…

I suppose, in order to avoid a path that leads to certain death, I’ll just put up solar panels and a PV or two…  At least that way, I’ll have hot water to scald myself with and…

… only the sun will kill me…

… and skin cancer isn’t something that will kill me in a “New York Minute,” so I’ll have a chance to see my son grow up…

… and watch him probably kill me… LOL!

Oy freakin’ Vey! Is it any wonder I’m paranoid? 🙂

I’ve written before about photovoltaic systems. And after I did, I realized that it’s a topic that is harder to explain… than explaining how to build a nuclear reactor out of old grapefruit husks.

“Photo voltaic cells convert solar light photons into electricity. Photovoltaic solar cells fulfill two functions: photogeneration of charge carriers (electrons and holes) in a light-absorbing material, and separation of the charge carriers to a conductive contact that will transmit the electricity.

Solar cells are commonly used in remote locations where cost-effective access to local power grids are not possible… Blah-blah-blah…”

Confused yet? Me too.

Pass the Tylenol, huh? 🙂

So, like anybody (who is patently lazy and basically illiterate) who really wants you to understand my pain… um… er… dilemma, I’ve gone to that universal resting place of all knowledge everywhere…  (I bet you’re gonna say “Google,” right? Nope.) YouTube.

Here, people who actually seem to know what they are talking about, explain photovoltaics in a clear, simple, easy to understand manner, that allows even a simpleton like me to figure out how to duplicate their efforts, and get power from the sun, for just a few bucks.

So, without further adieu, I give you; “Photovoltaics One.”

I personally call this one; “I’m a big ole’ geek, but I’m a GREEN geek, dag-nab-it!”

Happy viewing!

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance Ronin

Okay, you all know what’s going on with my family, so I’m not going  to beat you up with that…

If this blog has helped you, educated you, amused you, or even just made you shake your head and wonder why I’m not locked up in some room clad with rubber tiles…

Please know that this site has required a great deal of money, time and effort to develop & maintain. If it’s been useful to you at all, and you can afford to…  you can help my family and support this site by making a small donation by hitting that Paypal button up there on the right. Paypal is the BEST “secure” way to donate to any cause… like ours. This will help keep us alive while we try to remedy our own situation, and empower me to carry on writing, maintaining, providing countless hours of hard work, and including any updates or topics that you might suggest.

And… No anatomical impossibilities, huh? I’m not as young as I used to be…


You’re killing America!

25 Nov

Obama keeps talking about “fixing what ails America,” by building alternative power projects.

To seemingly prove it…

On April 11, 2009 DOE announced a whopping $38.5 Billion dollars in loan guarantees to “encourages the development of new energy technologies and is an important step in paving the way for clean energy projects.” All a start-up company has to do is fill out reams of paperwork and submit it along with their justification of why they need the money and their $75,000 non-refundable application fee.


Let me repeat that last part: “… and their $75,000 non-refundable application fee.”

These projects include solar, wind, hydro, ethanol, and even algae fueled remedies. And, there are a lot of them out there. Some of them even make sense, but…

At the NSF (National Science Foundation) bio-energy research projects are being declined and disqualified right and left,  by Government-backed reviewers who throw crap on the progress, by using “verbal vinegar”  like this:

“To base the proposal on the theory that there will be a variety of low-value feed stocks available is, in the opinion of this reviewer and many other industry observers, a faulty premise. Biomass is cheap right now because no one wants it.

However, as demand increases, it will become more expensive. Further the laws of supply and demand mean that replacing a significant amount of gasoline with biofuels would drastically lower the demand for gas. This would, in turn, cause the price of gas to plunge, making biofuels less competitive.”

Bull! I could use that very same argument to reject the use of margarine, or ammunition, or even car tires. The same argument could be made to reject solar and wind energy research — or any alternative energy, for that matter — by trying to make the case that an overwhelming  public adoption of solar power or wind energy products would cause the price of coal to plunge… well… because that might make solar and wind energy less competitive!

Would too! I know it’s true, because I’ve even heard politicians say it!

And we all know that politicians NEVER lie. 😉

“Margarine is baaaad! We Must Stop This!”… before it makes COWS obsolete.

And heaven knows, the increase in American Horse Breeding may adversely impact the price of cars! It must be stopped! I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna start shooting horses, before civilization as we know it comes to an end…


Oh wait, the American Government already does that. It’s cheaper to manage “wild horse assets roaming the plains” in America, if you kill them first…

You think I’m kidding? I’m not. Say goodbye to the Majestic Wild Mustang, kids… They only place you’re gonna see them regularly is on Disney Cartoons. BLM actually kills wild horses, rather than provide for them. Don’t even get me started…

So why do reviewers say things like I just quoted?

Because they are paid to DISQUALIFY projects. First, that $75,000 dollar application fee is non-refundable, remember? Second, that way, those jug-headed politicians in Washington DC can claim that they’ve put help in the pipe, even if NOBODY can possibly qualify for it.

Oh, I almost forgot; It takes 15 months to find out that you’ve been cheated out of your $75 grand…

… if the half-wits in the “processing department” at the DOE can get the process streamlined down to 15 months, as “promised”.


Here’s what independent reviewers with credentials in their field, said about that bio-energy project request;

Reviewer #A: “This is a well thought out proposal supported by a well qualified team.”

Reviewer#B: “This is a well written proposal with good technical foundation to carry out the project. Project team collectively has good qualification and sound experience to advance the scientific work in a professional manner.”

Reviewer #C: “The proposed plan is sound and improved results are likely with further research.”


Stop buying margarine! Stop riding horses!  Stop building windmills! Stop shooting your firearms! Stop buying car tires! You’re killing America! You whiny un-patriotic, self-serving, greedy, capitalistic bastards! 🙂

Stay Tuned.

The Renaissance RoninOkay, you all know what’s going on with my family, so I’m not going  to beat you up with that…

If this blog has helped you, educated you, amused you, or even just made you shake your head and wonder why I’m not locked up in some room clad with rubber tiles…

Please know that this site has required a great deal of money, time and effort to develop & maintain. If it’s been useful to you at all, and you can afford to…  you can help my family and support this site by making a small donation by hitting that Paypal button up there on the right. Paypal is the BEST “secure” way to donate to any cause… like ours. This will help keep us alive while we try to remedy our own situation, and empower me to carry on writing, maintaining, providing countless hours of hard work, and including any updates or topics that you might suggest.

And… No anatomical impossibilities, huh? I’m not as young as I used to be…

We’re here to help you… by killing your chances of success!

4 Nov

Ready… aim… fire!

Are DOE loan standard requirements actually shooting down good projects?

We’re a country in search of affordable, sustainable, and “environmentally friendly” fuel. Right?

Well, good luck getting it!

You see… once again, Big Government is there to jump in and lend a hand.

How? Well… apparently by making it nearly impossible to get it.

I’ve told you about “government analysts” that are basically “hired guns,” whose job it is… to shoot down viable energy projects. Seriously.

“We have money and you can’t get it… Na-na-na-na-na-nahhhhhh!”

But wait! There’s more…

In Washington, the US Department of Energy is requiring that renewable energy projects meet a debt rating standard higher than 63 percent of all US corporate first-time debt issuers since 2007, in order to qualify for DOE loan guarantees. The loan guarantees were originally designed “to encourage early commercial use in the United States of new or significantly improved technologies in energy projects.”

A ‘BB or higher’ rating requirement chokes bioenergy development, say bankers, attorneys, and project developers.

Okay… here’s the meat of the issue;

Congressional legislation for DOE loan guarantees typically require “a reasonable prospect of repayment of the principal and interest on the obligation by the borrower.”

The Department of Energy is generally left with the responsibility of interpreting “reasonable”.

In this case, the DOE, as advised by investment banks, has developed minimum threshold for loan guarantees of a “BB” or higher rating (prior to the guarantee).

According to Standard & Poor’s, 333 of all US corporate first-time debt issues since 2007 – out of a total of 528, failed to meet that standard.

In many cases, these issuers would not have been attempting to bring transformative technologies to market in support of  national policy – based on what EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said was designed to produce “green jobs, innovation and technology, and action on global climate change.”

Once again, it’s apparent that money has been placed into a non-existent pipe by Congress, so that they can make claims that they’re actually doing their jobs.

Is it any wonder that all the jobs are going to Malaysia?

According to David Jacob, Executive Managing Director and Head of Structures Finance Ratings for Standard & Poor, ratings for renewable energy projects range from BBB- to CCC, with a preponderance of ratings weighted towards CCC, or two ratings below the threshold set by the DOE. Jacob was speaking at a recent meeting on energy finance in New Jersey.

My personal thanks to the fine folks at  BioFuels Digest for bringing this to my attention, and for ruining my day…

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance Ronin

I’m dreamin’ of screamin…

16 Oct

I know… you were expecting another boring “My Container is better than your container” speech, huh?

As you know, my family is building a shipping container house, if it KILLS us.

And, it just might. But, stop drooling into your monitor, waiting for the scraps, huh? The boy gets everything. Everything.

Now, as we toil and grind, and cut, and hack, and curse like sailors…

I decided to put myself in your shoes, for just a moment. I mean, you’re sitting there, having “Corten Container dreams“… thinking about a big hammock stretched between two steel boxes, the water in the pool lapping quietly by your side, as you sleep the peaceful sleep of the blissfully happy.

Ah… I can see it all now….

(fade to dream…)

Boy… now you went and did it…

You finally built your ‘off-grid’ solar, photovoltaic, energy efficient, insulated like crazy, “Corten Chateau” in the country. It’s so cool and so ‘top-secret” that not even your nosy battle-axe of a Mother-In-Law knows where it is!  🙂

You’ve got your own satellite Internet hook-up (Thank you “DISH-I.P.“!!), and you’re out by the lap pool (that you built out of a shipping container shell) on your wireless laptop, hammock lulling you to sleep… as you ponder the actual writing of your memoirs!

But then… your wife comes out and tells you that the kid is out of diapers!

What do you do? What do you do?

Do you race into the garage and jump in the Bio-fuel powered HUMMER, to go on a “Pampers Expedition”?

hummer1No! Those nasty villagers keep keying my truck! Bastards!

Do you hop on the Harley and race thru the countryside, looking for “Harley Huggies“?


Nope! Not enough cargo space… Diaper boxes are HUGE!

How would you like to jump into THIS baby, to go get baby some “buttcovers“?


And it gets 170 miles to the gallon. So, you can be gone a LOOOOOOOONG time before you have to refuel…

Now, we’re cooking with gas!

Okay, so it’s NOT gas. It’s diesel. In fact, it’s not just diesel, it’s a hybrid, and it’s electric, too!


(I know, I know… What else would a ‘hybrid’ be?) 🙂

(dream over! WAKE UP!)

Those geniuses at Volkswagen have done it again! They’ve set the world on fire, at least at the Frankfurt Motor Show!

At a lunchtime press conference on the first day of the Frankfurt Motor Show, they kicked everybody’s butt with a carbon fiber, half width, 1-liter hybrid electric diesel tandem two-seater car named the L1. Now, they’re slating this car to go into production, in 2013. When it does, it will almost certainly be the most fuel efficient car available with a combined diesel fuel consumption figure of .364 Gal / 62.14 miles (1.38 l/100km), thanks to its “miserly motor” combo, almost feather-like weight – 838 pounds (380 kg) in total – and an aerodynamic drag co-efficient of just 0.195!

They didn’t do this ‘overnight.’ They’ve been hard at work on it for over seven years. Back when it dawned, the idea that you could build a production version of the radical two-seater, which achieved fuel consumption of one liter fuel per 100 kilometers, was so remote as to be considered “insane.” Even “those in the know” called it “unthinkable“.

The L1 is the second generation of the Volkswagon 1-liter car, and it’s really, really close to production readiness.


(Since it’s the second Generation, why didn’t they call it the “L2”? or the “L1.1”? Hmmm…)

And its dimensions are pretty amazing – the length of the L1 at 12.5 feet (3,813 millimeters) is still similar to that of a Volkswagen Fox, and its height of 3.75 feet (1,143 millimeters) nearly matches that of a Lamborghini Murciélago, while the car’s aerodynamically optimized width of almost 4 feet (1,200 millimeters to be exact) has no comparisons in the world of today’s production cars.

I figure that you could get about (5) of these in a standard 2-car garage. That, my friends, is a whole fleet of fun!

And Volkswagen is just like my kid:


“Dad, Why?”

“Daddy!   Why? Why? Why?”

As they developed the L1 prototypes, they questioned EVERYTHING under the sun. They asked questions about automobiles that had never been asked before!

How do I know all of this? Well, I read it in print, so it must be true! Right? I mean, if it wasn’t true, they couldn’t print it, right? 🙂

Seriously, those engineers at VW started with the body construction, and asked themselves that age old question:

“Yeah, yeah, energy, schmenergy… But will it attract girls?”

Wait, that’s not it… 🙂

They asked themselves how a car would have to look to attract Halle Berry. Wait… that’s not right either…

Okay, seriously, they asked themselves how a car would have to be built to consume as little energy as possible.

The logical answer: it’d have to be extremely aerodynamic and lightweight.

Well, duhhhhh!

But, that’s not easy. After all, some idiot is gonna be gawking at you, while you’re toolin down the road in this baby, and that somebody else is gonna smash into you. Why, it’s as sure as this big butt in my jeans…

So, the words for the day were: “maximum safety.” But how do you do that with a 4 foot wide car? You “use the Force, Luke.”

Yep, the same “force” the ‘air monkeys’ use… You use High-Tech carbon fiber. CFRP, to be exact!

And the V’Dub guys wanted you to have a good time flying this down the highway. What better way than to build it, to resemble a fighter aircraft?

Well, just call me Maverick, and strap my butt in! I feel the need for some speed!

The seat layout had to be: One seat behind the other.

And none of them sissy “scissor doors” either. It’s been done to death! You get into it just like the flyboys do… You step down into it, when the canopy gets “raised.”

Beyond the looks, this baby is all “high-tech.” Each component has been redesigned, a special chassis with aluminum components was developed, and above all… the crucial CFRP technology from Formula-1 racing and airplane construction was transferred to automotive manufacturing.

This has been combined with a unique form of hybrid drive to create a near-production vehicle. I bet it even uses Dy-lithium crystals! 🙂

Sign me up! I want one.

And you better wake up, too!! There’s gonna be a long list, when these babies hit US shores…

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance Ronin