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Hey! Power THIS!

21 Jan

A friend (who is apparently on the same wavelengths as we are – as we’d already written the post to be scheduled into “RR release”) reminded me today that there  are some really cool power solutions in the works for those seeking renewable answers to age old problems.

While he pointed at something he’d seen on the internet…  

We’re currently working with a  team of energy experts that are designing and more importantly BUILDING a “wind turbine based renewable power solution” that is housed in a single flatbed mounted 20′ High Cube ISBU.

Builders of alternative homes or even small communities of alternative homes are faced with the same “infrastructural problems” as everyone else. We just find ourselves tasked with doing it at the very end of a dirt track, usually… 🙂

Building “power centers” isn’t anything “new”, as we’re the first to admit that there are others (some of them quite brilliant) working on similar power solutions using larger containers.

Uprise Energy 50kW ISBU based Power Solution

Uprise Energy 50kW – 40′ ISBU based Power Solution – this DEFINES “brilliant”.

The difference is that the 20′ Power Stations we’re working on will be completely transportable using a larger range of vehicles, and this will expedite shipping, delivery and placement in emergency or disaster conditions.

Based on a version of the  Sweep Twist Adaptive Rotor (STAR) blade, this turbine is designed to capture gusts and maximize performance. According to SANDIA testing, the STAR blade system is far superior (over 12% – which in turbine tech is a LOT) to other existing solutions in varying conditions – the same conditions that ANY turbine will face when tasked with making power.

These easily deployed units will provide up to 50kW of power, optimized to operate in less than 12mph winds and will be capable of supplying energy requirements for a “dozen” average ISBU households. This includes recharging the electric vehicles in each household.

Implementing more restrictive energy conservation guidelines (we call this  EM – “essentials mode”) , this could be bumped to approximately 18 ISBU households and vehicles, with no modifications.

With an increase of wind velocity to approximately 20mph, you can supply over 36 “average” ISBU households operating in EM  (essentials MODE) with ONE unit.

Power supplied to each household would include the ability to recharge battery banks built into each home’s power solution requirement.

Diesel generators located at each residence will provide for Emergency power back-up.  

Consider the applications;

  • Small communities, clusters or ICCs (Intention Closed Communities),
  • Disaster Relief for both First Responsers and Humanitarian Aid
  • FEMA/Military applications
  • Extended Humanitarian Aid to the Third World to provide infrastructure

Set up and operational in less than a day by 2 persons, you can literally build  new bridges to those requiring renewable power sources with very little in the way of the creation of a “footprint”.

You drive the unit into position. Then, you retract the legs to fit onto pilings you’ve already placed in the ground – Sonotube pilings very similar to the pilings we build (by hand) to support ISBU homes rurally.

Then, you just back the trailer out from under it and lower the entire power unit down into a locking position closer to the ground.

No cranes or technical personnel are required to deploy the turbine “tower” and calibrate the turbine itself. In less than a few hours from arrival… you start making power.

Except for the power “snake” that will distribute the power from house to house… you’re making power in “a manner most passive”.

The Renaissance Ronin

Have you heard about “Project SolarStrong”?

3 Dec

U.S. Army Housing to Get Solar Panel Makeover Courtesy Project SolarStrong

By Vince Font, Contributing Editor

Department of Defense Designates Fort Bliss a “Net Zero Installation”

Salt Lake City, UT — Having the stated objective of achieving 25 percent reliance on renewable energy by the year 2025, the Department of Defense is already off and running in pursuit of that goal. Thanks to the combined efforts of SolarCity and Balfour Beatty Communities, plans are currently in motion to install rooftop solar panels on 4,700 military homes at Fort Bliss, Texas and neighboring White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico. The solar equipment that is set to generate up to 13.2 megawatts of capacity when completed will be leased to the Department of Defense by SolarCity, which will perform installation as well as maintenance.

Operating under the moniker SolarStrong, the project is the largest phase to date of SolarCity’s five-year plan to build more than $1 billion of solar projects for approximately 120,000 residential homes on military bases throughout the country…

[Editor’s note: I’m guessing that they’ll add an “extraction clause” to the contracts so that if Texas secedes from the Union, they can pull the power off the roofs… ] 🙂

Read the rest of this post, HERE.

DIY OFF-GRID here we come!

11 Dec

Greetings, Corten Campers!

First, please read this:

We’d planned to run Steve Spence’s Photovoltaic DIY Primer post today as part of our “going off-grid” series. Steve is an expert, with literally years of experience, helping families go off-grid.

And on the way to that post, I received an email from Steve tonight telling me that his family has suffered a disaster.

The Green Trust.Org Homestead burned to the ground last night.

Steve says:

Our son Steven, Mallory, and our granddaughter Jaymi lost the house in a fire this morning. Steven (22) wasn’t home, Mallory (19) & Jaymi (1) went out the second story kitchen window. Thank God they are safe!

The house is a total loss, nothing was saved (and no insurance), but the only thing that matters is they made it out ok. Belongings can be replaced. Steven is in the National Guard. He has drill this weekend, and lost his uniforms. They need everything (clothes, hygiene, baby products at first) to start over.

You can find out more, here:

PLEASE help if you are able. Steve isn’t “just some guy.” He’s one of US. He’s been there in the trenches trying to help families for decades. And now, his family needs our help.

Need proof?

Here’s the post he wrote for us, to try to help our families understand and then personally accomplish Photovoltaic Power creation, literally one household at a time:

Here’s that “regularly scheduled post”:

We’ve been talking about small off-grid ISBU houses lately and that naturally spawned to a discussion about  what living “off-grid” actually means.

Actually, that post happened because after I suggested that people REALLY start thinking about going “near-zero” or even ((gasp!) off-grid, I got hammered with emails that started out like this:

“You want me to do freakin’ WHAT ?

Ronin, are you out of your mind?”

I’m not gonna tell you what they ENDED like, I’m still having nightmares over it! Some of those positions are anatomically impossible, even for a gymnast! 🙂

So, it’s logical that today we’d calling in an EXPERT (that is, somebody beside ME!) to explain to you HOW you go off-grid, using photovoltaic panels.

For those of you who just crawled out of the primordial ooze…

I’ve talked about this know-it-all before. 🙂

Ask Steve Spence a question about anything under the sun and he’ll give you a dissertation about it. I mean the guy is just too smart to be seen with in public. Seriously!

That’s what I say about him. Here’s what his blog says:

Steve Spence is a 25+ year IT and Electronics veteran, and has been involved in renewable energy and biofuels for 15 years. He has lived off grid for the last 6 years, and gives workshops in Canada, USA, and the Caribbean Islands. He is available for consultation and speaking engagements.

Look, if you ask me… where Steve’s concerned,  all he needs to do is just say:

Um… I’m freakin’ smarter than you, so shut up and listen! 🙂

That said;

Shut up and listen… um…. er.. read. And pay attention because there’s a test at the end…


The DIY Guide to OFF GRID Solar Electricity


How to avoid external power connections and generators

by Steve Spence

Living off-grid brings some unique challenges to your lifestyle. You need to be aware of your total power consumption, and the power consumption of your appliances. You also need to be aware of the amount of time you run each appliance, as a small consumer left on 24 hours a day can consume more than a power hungry devices used briefly.

In this article I’ll show you how to untether from the grid, and avoid a smelly, noisy, fuel consuming generator except in extreme weather conditions. It can be pricey for a good system, but you’ll have minimal ongoing expenses, unlike fuel and maintenance on a generator. The less power you consume, the less power you will need to generate, keeping the system costs down. It’s important to start with conservation.

A photo-voltaic (PV) system consists of panels that convert sunlight into electricity, a charge controller to prevent the batteries from overcharging, a set of batteries to store the electricity for when the sun is not shining, and often, a inverter to turn the low voltage DC (battery voltage) into normal 120 volts AC house current.

Solar Panels (PV)

There are many ways to mount solar panels. Some of these methods may include fixed on your roof, fixed on the ground, fixed on pole mounts, or pole mounted tracking arrays. Mounting your panels on the roof makes sense from a security, stealth and convenience standpoint, and can lower roof temperatures in hot climates, but is inconvenient in snow country. Panel angle should be adjusted seasonally for best collection.

The size of a 200 watt panel is approximately 60″ x 40″ x 1.5″, and weighs about 40 lbs, so keep that in mind when thinking about mounting methods and location.

Charge Controller

The solar panels are wired to a charge controller. This unit makes sure that the batteries get fed the proper amount of electricity, at a rate they can handle, and will help ensure longer life from the batteries. The traditional method is to have a 12v solar panel, a 12v charge controller, and a 12v battery. The newer and more efficient method is a series string of panels running at a higher voltage (100v or less, but at least 20v higher than battery voltage), a special MPPT controller, and the 12v battery pack. The MPPT controller matches the best performance curve of the panels to the batteries, allowing up to a 30% increase in power, without needing more panels.


The typical battery in an off grid system is a flooded lead acid battery. This unit has vented caps, discharges hydrogen during charging, and needs to be vented, as well as rewatered fairly often. Another solution is the AGM battery. This unit does not need venting, and is sealed, eliminating watering. It also won’t leak acid in the case of physical damage. It is more expensive, so there is a trade off. Deep cycle (do not get starting batteries) come in 6v and 12v. Consider two 6v in series to be a 12v, four in series for a 24v system, or eight in series for a 48v system. You can parallel multiple 12v batteries (or 6v pairs) to increase Amp Hour storage (two 100ah batteries in parallel = 200ah). Batteries in series add voltage, batteries in parallel add amp hours.


An inverter changes low voltage dc (Direct Current) into 120v ac (Alternating Current) for regular household appliances. Inverters can range from the cheap $60 750 watt Black and Decker from Walmart, to a $2500 Xantrex or Outback with integrated battery charger and transfer switch for connecting to the grid or a generator. Cheap inverters have to be connected directly to an appliance, while the larger, more expensive units can be connected directly to your existing breaker panel.

Fuses, Breakers, and Disconnects

For safety, and convenience, we install fused disconnects between the solar panels and the charge controller, between the charge controller and the batteries, and between the batteries and the inverter. This allows us to safely isolate the components for maintenance (or panel deployment), or automatic disconnect in case of a short or equipment malfunction.

Battery Monitor

Running a system without a battery monitor is like using a bank account without a check register. You have no idea how much energy you have until it runs out and you are in trouble. The simplest, and least effective is a volt meter. It will tell you the voltage of the battery pack, but that reading is highly affected by charging and discharging, making the reading basically useless. The best method is an amp hour meter on your battery pack, that indicates amp hours deposited, and amp hours withdrawn. These units commonly also include a amp and volt meter function. There are standalone units like the Bogart Trimetric, and integrated units like the Outback Flexnet DC. A standard multimeter ($15 at Radio Shack) is useful for detecting power, polarity, and continuity, but not as a system monitor.

Wire Size

Wire size is a function of amps being carried, and the distance they need to move. If you have 40 amps (480 watts) of PV on your roof, and it’s 8′ to the charge controller and batteries, then you should use 8 AWG wire between the PV panels and the charge controller (and from the charge controller to the batteries). The wires between your battery(s) and inverter should be short and large. A 2000 watt inverter, 6′ from the battery bank, needs 1 AWG battery cables. The smaller the AWG, the larger the cable. If your cables are too small, they will generate heat, and possibly a fire, as well as dropping the voltage to less than useful levels. Use the calculator at the bottom of , and use 3% voltage drop (or lower) as your target.


I know I said we wanted to avoid these things, but sometimes you can’t. If you live in 100 degree weather, you are going to want an air conditioner, and that means a outlandishly large PV system, grid connection, or a generator. Many northern climates have a large number of sunless days. We like the Honda EU series generators. They are small, quiet, and scalable (can run one for small loads, and slave a second for heavy loads). Yamaha makes a similar series. Both can be modified to run on gasoline and/or propane. This is where you’ll want the better inverter/charger/transfer units as mentioned in the inverter section, as there just one cable to connect to the generator, and switching/charging is automatic. A wired or wireless remote is available for remote start and shutdown, and the more expensive inverters can handle this procedure automatically based on battery needs.

Sizing the system – Math Alert!

I’ll try keep this simple.

A 200 watt panel, optimally aligned (solar south, at an angle similar to latitude with seasonal adjustments), might gather 600 watt hours daily in NY (3 full sun hours * 200w), or 1200 watt hours in CA (6 full sun hours * 200w). 1200 watt hours is enough energy to run a 100 watt light bulb for 12 hours. See the pattern? Fortunately, we have better options than a 100 watt light bulb. In our home, we have installed 14 watt CFL’s (Compact Fluorescent Lights). These put out a similiar amount of light as a 80 watt incandescent light bulb.

Here are some basic formulas:

Volts * Amps = Watts

Watts * Hours = Watt Hours

Watt Hours / Volts = Amp Hours

Amp * Hours = Amp Hours

More at

A 200 watt panel that produces 12v (nominal, it actually produces 15-20v) might produce 200 w / 12 a = 16.7 amps. In 3 full sun hours (NY), it might produce 600 watt hours (3h * 16.7a = 50 amp hours. 50 amp hours * 12v = 600 watt hours).

A battery rated at 100ah has about 50ah usable (50% discharge) otherwise it’s life could be severely degraded. Typically batteries are rated at the C/20 rate, so a 100ah battery might deliver 5 amps for 20 hours. Taking into effect the 50% discharge, you are looking at 5 amps for 10 hours. If you pull the amp hours out faster, you have fewer usable ah. If you pull it out slower, you have more usable ah.

More sizing info and a chart showing sun hours for various areas is found at

A calculator for battery and solar sizing can be found at

More on “Loads” and “Run Times”

A 700 watt (cooking watts) microwave might pull 1000 watts. If used for 15 minutes, it consumes 250 watt hours. A 30 watt laptop computer used for 4 hours would consume 120 watt hours. Consider our 14 watt CFL lights. If 6 are left on for 4 hours,

6 * 14w = 84w

84w * 4h = 336 watt hours.

336 watt hours / 12v = 28 ah.

A Kill-A-Watt meter is a useful meter for monitoring the amps, watts, and watt hour consumption of 120vac devices, and can be found for around $20 at Radio Shack, and other places. There are similar devices for measuring 12vdc loads.

Putting it all together

So, you have mounted the panels on the roof or on a yard mount. You’ll want to connect them in parallel (unless using the MPPT controller, (It’s panel and controller specific, so check the data sheets for both), keeping array voltage below 100v is usually best) connecting positive to positive (red), negative to negative (black), and bring the wires inside to the charge controller (remember, series adds voltage, parallel adds amps). Don’t forget your fused disconnect between the panels and the charge controller.

Next connect the charge controller to the batteries. Again, it’s positive to positive (red), negative to negative (black), with a fused disconnect in between.

Next connect the batteries to the inverter. Again, it’s positive to positive, negative to negative, with a fused disconnect in between.

If you are using a 24v or 48v battery pack, wire four or eight 6v batteries in series, respectively. You will need special controllers and inverters for the higher voltages, but your battery cables will be much smaller in large systems. This is the type of installation where a MPPT controller like the Outback FM 60/80 really shines.

What’s it going to cost?

A basic low end system might consist of a 200 watt panel ($550), a 20 amp charge controller ($100), Two Walmart type 27 marine deep cycle 12v batteries ($160), and a Walmart 750 watt inverter ($60). With miscellaneous wire, fuses and connectors, you are looking at just under $1000 for an autonomous, gridless, no power bill, power system. You would be able to power a couple of lights, a radio, and a small rv water pump, ideal for a rain water collection system.

A slightly larger setup might consist of 400 watts of PV ($1100), a 40 amp charge controller ($150), 200 ah of Deep Cycle (two Trojan T-105 6v’s) battery storage ($300), and a 2000 watt inverter/charger ($1700). With miscellaneous wire, fuses and connectors, you are looking at just over $3000. This would allow some use of a LCD/LED TV or Laptop computer, and a microwave.

Appropriate Energy Use

To reduce power consumption, propane appliances like the kitchen stove and refrigerator, water heater, clothes dryer, and furnace are common. However, this is just shifting you to the propane “grid” (although propane can be stored indefinitely). More appropriate energy use might include wood fired heat and cooking, wood/solar heated hot water, using indoor/outdoor clothes lines instead of a mechanical dryer, rainwater harvesting and a cistern instead of a deep well, and composting toilets instead of flush toilets.

We have lived off grid for over 6 years with systems similar to the above. We use worm bins to compost our food scraps, raised beds for gardening and produce much of our food. We heat entirely with wood, cut from our own woods, and use a propane tankless water heater. We would be happy to consult with you on your project, and help you become independent from the grid.

See for additional resources on generator propane conversions, rainwater harvesting, solar water heating, methane digesters, and more.

Readers might also note that there is a terrific new discussion site with tons of free downloads at

Steve Spence



The Green Trust.Org Homestead burned to the ground last night.

You can find out more, here:

PLEASE help if you are able.

Finally, GREEN that you can TRUST.

22 Jul

Okay, so I wrote a book. It’s not like it’s Tolstoy, or Clancy… or even Dr Seuss

But if you want to learn about how ISBUs work, my book;

“Introduction to Container Homes and Buildings”

… is a good start. I’m sure by now that you’ve seen all the posts leading up to it, and you’ve probably even read the reviews. I get lots of comments and  I’ve gotta tell you that I’m surprised at how well-received it’s been.

If you haven’t got YOUR copy yet, there’s a button on the top right hand side of your screen, that looks just like this book. That’s be mine. It’s the one that says: “BUY MY NEW BOOK” over the top of it. Click it, and then throw $9.95 at it, and I’ll personally make sure that you get your copy faster than you can say;


Speaking of photovoltaics;

I spend a lot of time researching, as I get pointed to “this place or that” by my readers.

There are times when I want to just scream as I see “myth and fairy-tale” promoted. Let’s face it. There are a lot of people trying to re-invent themselves out there, as the economy slowly strangles us. Rarely do I ever follow the winding path, to wind up “in a valley filled with treasure.”

Until now.

Steve Spence, over at, is a GOLDMINE of information on topics that we can all relate to. He doesn’t just talk GREEN. He LIVES GREEN, and he helps others to do that as well.

He has a ton of good information stuffed into his “archive” and some of it is in the form of ebooks that you can collect” to form the “Mother of all Reference Libraries.” Some are free, and some you’ll pony up for, but I’m telling you, from what I’ve seen so far, it’s definitely worth the time to go thru his stuff, looking for your personal treasure…

One of the ebooks that caught my attention is one on Solar Power Production, titled:

DIY Solar Install.

In it, he basically takes you by the hand and walks you through a “nuts and bolts” Photovoltaic installation, from start to finish. He teaches you how to do the math, how to point the panels, he does everything but plug in your “caffeine converter”… to the other side of that plug. 🙂

On my blog, I do tend to “Proselytize Photovoltaics“. I may preach them… but Steve is the “Pope of Photovoltaics” in my book.

It’s worth your while to go take a good look at his site, and his ebooks. While you are there, take a few minutes…um… okay it’ll take you hours (as you’ll get so absorbed!) at all the Green Goodness his site contains.

(I just hope he keeps his nose out of ISBU stuff, or I’ll probably have to surrender my throne…) 😉


Why are you still here?

Go on! Git!

Ah, Crimeny, do I have to do everything?


Stay tuned.

Simmer DOWN!

14 Jun

Lately, as the temperature starts to warm up, my email is starting to fill up, with questions about “affordability, sustainability, and that mother of all dragons, energy efficiency”.

Here on RR, we’re all about Affordability (after all, I’m teaching you to build a home using the pennies that your boss calls “your paycheck”), Sustainability (because being nice to Mother Nature just makes good sense) and Energy Efficiency (because being frugal with power makes YOU cents).

Part of living in an ISBU based home is being a PART of the solution. ALL of the solutions…

This includes making the home work for YOU, instead of you always working for the HOME.

In the South, when the temperature starts to climb, local temperatures do, as well. In fact, the natives get downright unpleasant  and restless.

So, lot’s of people are looking for solutions to heat related problems.

Some resort to drinking enough “frosty cold ones” to drown most mortal men, but still… they get overheated. Okay… alcohol doesn’t work.  And the roof isn’t the best place to drink beer. The ground is HARD… So… What next?

Some resort to moving to another locale, but frankly, in this economy, it’s not likely for most as “a solution”.

I mean, I like tropical beaches as much as the next guy, but mine is covered in oil (or soon will be) and I can’t afford to move to “the good ones”.

So, that’s not a solution, either…

So, I need to actually DO SOMETHING to combat the heat.

Now, for lots of readers, the immediate question is:

“How do I make more power?”

But, I propose that the real question should be;

“How do I use LESS power and stay cool?”

While I’m an advocate of using Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs), saving power by switching to them just lets you see the sweat running down your forehead.

It will affect your power bill, but it won’t solve your immediate problem.

You can unplug all the appliances and battery chargers that you aren’t using. Cell phone chargers and iPod chargers still draw power, whether your phone or player is attached to them or not.

Again… power savings, but I’m still H-O-T!

Okay, what’s next?

You can add a solar sunspace, or even a few more Photovoltaic panels to your array, to offset your enrgy usage. But, that’s expensive, and it still doesn’t solve your biggest problem. You’re HOT.

Anyone (and I mean ANYONE) can improve the comfort levels in their house, and use LESS power… by insulating it and sealing up all the leaks.

A weathertight and well insulated house is an energy efficient house.

First, caulk all the window joints in your house, inside and out. Then, install sunshades on the windows, to cut down on heat gain.

And then… break out the big guns. That’s right… Insulation.

And, there are a ton of insulation options;

Fiberglass batts (EWWWW!)

Sawdust (okay, I suppose… but not for me)

Cellulose Fiber (better)

Old Blue Jeans and cotton shreds (um…. okay)

… and my personal favorite (fanfare please!)

SPF! Spray-On Closed Cell Foam!

(And YES! You can too do it yourself. I teach people to do it every day. Okay, maybe not EVERY DAY, but on quite a few days…)

Regardless of the method you choose, super-insulating your house will keep the “cool” in, and the “hot” out…

NOW… think about upgrading that old HVAC system you have, and I bet that you’ll save money, stay cool, and be a lot more pleasant to be around…

Stay tuned…

And since you’re saving money… How about helping us keep this blog running?

A few bucks goes a long way towards helping us write posts, maintain computers, and keeping you informed! We need your help? How about it?

There’s a Paypal button on the top of the page!

I’m spinning backwards!

12 Dec

Greetings, Campers!


As some of us toil “merrily away” building our “Container Homes…”

I’m reminded that all anybody wants to be nowadays… is safe…


and… the world of Shipping Container construction is a perilous place, let me tell you! I mean… they’ll let just about anybody pick up machinery and tools and attack helpless Corten Steel!

As a result of that negligence… I’m pretty busy playing with the plasma cutter, as I cut some holes in perfectly good boxes, that never did anything to anybody. So, while I’m trying to create the circumstances that  will most likely lead to a fast trip to the local Emergency Room…

… we’re going to answer some questions about stuff I’ve posted to the blog. Now… I get questions about everything under the sun. And since I do, it seems to make sense that we start answering them, starting with the sun. And we’ll even address “safety.” Tis the Season, after all…


“Okay Ronin, just how DO you install a photovoltaic panel?

We need at least one of them to power all the Christmas lights we put in our yard! Is it really  hard? I mean, I’m only asking because…

I married a guy just like you.

He’s an idiot…”

Now… I could tell you a story, filled with angst, high winds, near falls, and (probably some) profanity, but instead, I’ll just let an expert show you HOW a photovoltaic system comes together.

(That way, when your “idiot” screws it up, you can’t blame me! But if you do, remember, I’m an “idiot.” You’re just wasting your breath…) 😉

BTW: It’s not nice to talk about your hubby that way! After all, evidently he puts up with YOU!  🙂

Although this is an overview of what is being done in Seattle on a “traditional” home, it’s application is pretty standard, and would be easily duplicated on your ISBU residence.

Here you go…

As you can see, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do this. And the potential for power production is high.

And if you remember to wear a tether, so that you don’t fall off the roof (don’t ask me how  I know…) an “idiot” can do it.

So what are you waiting for?

Now excuse me while I stagger outside and wait for the ambulance. At least the plasma cutter cauterized the wound… Oy.

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance Ronin

It’s true, kids… Dishwashers save money…

6 Dec

This post is for all the KIDS of ISBU craving parents out there!

So, parents… kindly go outside and play for a little while, or just go to your room, okay?

We’ll call you back out in a minute.

Now then, kids… double check to make sure that your parents are somewhere else, and we’ll continue.

All clear? Okay, let’s go.

When I was a kid, we used to beg my parents to buy a dishwasher. I know that washing dishes really sucks, but MY mom couldn’t cook anything without the fire department showing up.


And they weren’t showing up for the “mystery meat loaf” either.

My mom would try to make a pot of tea, and every smoke detector for three city blocks would go off.

Ever try to chisel charred “Heaven only knows” off a skillet? No matter how long you soak those bad boys, you about wear yourself out trying to remove the incinerated remains, without (heaven forbid) scratching that “alleged” non-stick coating on the pan.

burntfrypanAt least now I know where Elvis went…

And, if it was REALLY “non-stick,” how come that crap stuck to it in the first place? I suspect that either those pots and pans were made by people who hate kids… or I smell a “non-performance and false-advertizing” lawsuit, huh? 😉

But, (2,920 sinks full of dishes too late) I found out some stuff that might help you out.

Next time your dad says:

“We don’t need no stinking dishwasher… I gotta house full of ’em!”

Try this one on him:

“Dad, I know you think that dishwashers use water and electricity. And, I know that you’re trying to save up so that you can push us out the door at age 18, to some college that is stupid enough to take us in…

But according to this research at the University of Bonn, washing dishes by hand actually uses MORE water and energy than using a dishwasher.

This study showed that washing dishes in a sink used 27 gallons (this number seems a little bit high, but “go big or go home,” I always say…) of water and 2.5kWh of electricity to make the hot water.

And… cleaning the same dishes in an automatic dishwasher required only 4 gallons of water and between 1kWh and 2kWh of electrical energy to heat the hot water.

dishwasherAnd WHAT’S more energy efficient than doing the dishes and feeding the dog at the same time, huh?

Therefore, using this study as a benchmark, having an energy efficient  dishwasher could save over 20 gallons of water, and at least 1 kWh per day!”

After that speech, just stand there all smug and say something like:

“Hey… If you don’t believe me, you can look it up yourself on the  Internet.”

‘Course, I hope you don’t have a guy like MY dad, because I know how that would have played out…

“Okay, well… I’ll just subtract that chore from your allowance money, to pay for the dishwasher.”

And then he’d adjust our 25 cents a week down to a nickle… that $&%#@!!

Okay, call your parents back into the room, and try it out. Drop me an email an tell me how it worked out, huh?

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance Ronin

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…

A Home without clothes…

22 Nov


It’s time for some ISBU Inspiration!

Greeting, you “Minions of Metal!” I’ve gathered you all together today…

Wait… that’s not it…

Most of you know that I’m plotting and scheming… and even conspiring to build a house out of recycled and repurposed ISBU (Shipping Containers).

A lot of you know that we’re helping several other families do the same thing, in fact, as you’re reading this!

Most of you know that I’ve further complicated that build, by including components recycled from steel aircraft hangars that were torn down…

And, most of you know that it’s been a battle from day one…

So… as my family plots and schemes, quietly and cunningly crafting “our house that locals might loathe…”

I thought I’d show you some of the things that inspire me, as I craft our Corten Castle…

Ain’t it cool?

In the dead of Winter, you’re all ‘snuggly’ warm…

And in the Spring, Summer, and even the Fall (depending on your climate – your mileage may vary) … it’s like living in the outdoors! Talk about an inspiration! This would make me WANT to get up and greet the day!

Now, if that don’t make you wanna break out that treadmill, I don’t know what will…

I mean, you don’t want to scare the neighbors… or DO you? Hmmm?

If you built this out of SIPs, and then installed it on tracks, you could open and close it using an electric motor (powered by photovoltaic panels, naturally). It would be easy… using, say… something like a garage door opener motor, or even an old 4wd truck winch. Just apply a little bit of  “Grey matter” (but not as “track lubricant! OUCH!) and you’d have a push-button house to rival some of that stuff you see on MTV Cribs! 😉

Now where’d I put that “man-thong?” It’s time to play, “Mess with the neighbor’s minds…” Muuuwahahahah!

Hey! If they didn’t want nightmares… then they shouldn’t have looked!  😉

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance Ronin

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

5 Nov

Greetings, Campers!

Okay, so I took a break from that plasma cutter.

A guy has to eat, you know! 🙂

My family needs a house. My family has no cash. My family has a plan… and it involves Shipping Containers, recycled steel, and a lot of hard work. Hey, that’s why they call it “sweat equity”!

Most readers of this blog know that after a hurricane and an insurance company wiped out our dreams of  “a life lived like regular people”, we started rebuilding.

Katrina Bites

And, our faithful readers know that our build is harder than most, because we have “complications.” My wife is seriously ill with cancer, and my son (who is 2 years old) isn’t big enough to swing a hammer yet.

I’m not going to bore you with all those details, because I’ve talked about them before. Suffice to say, we have our hands really full.

As we speak, I’m cutting “containers into boxes.” I’m helping a guy build a small “demented village”, out of damaged container segments. And, that’s work that will make a fella mighty hungry…

So, as I sit here watching the sweat rain down, for the 37th day in a row (or so it seems) …

I’m gathering my thoughts, while I gather up this sandwich, and stuff it into my face.

sandwichNote: Not the REAL sandwich. You think I’m crazy? This one’ll kill you!  😉

So… you read, while I eat, ‘kay? Try to ignore the chomping and slurping… my wife does… barely… 🙂

I was out reading on the ‘net a few days ago, and something I read made me think about a guy I’ve been corresponding with for a while.

A reader recently contacted me (we’ll call him “J”), and told me about a “Corten Cabin” he has… stashed up in the woods. It’s what some of us would call a “Bug – Out Box”.

Now, “J” contacted me, because his box looks just like my old blog header, except for his box is twice as long.

cropped-rr-banner-0509cYou remember… this one.

“J” has a 40′ High Cube Shipping Container sitting on cinder blocks, out in the middle of nowhere, that he uses for weekend fishing trips.

There’s a logging road for access, unmaintained for years… that’s passable when it’s not under mud, or frozen under snow drifts.

The story he told me of them towing that container into the woods was hilarious.

His father-in-law wasn’t laughing, however… It was HIS truck they blew up moving that box.

Know how much it costs to get a tow-truck back into 4wd country, to haul out a dodge pick-up? Go on, guess!

More than the truck is worth. Oy.

It reminded me of a box we moved years ago, that kept trying to drag us back down the hill, before we got to the top of it…

You know how people say that when they’re facing their death, their life flashes before their eyes? Well, on THAT day, it kept happening to us over and over again…

After a while, all we could do was hang on, and scream “Deja VU!” at the top of our lungs…

Sure, we sounded like frightened little girls! We were scared “you-know-what!”  🙂

Wait… this post is supposed to be about “J”.

While he goes up there on weekends in the summer, he’s thinking that “with the economy trying to kill itself”, his family may be forced to head there someday, to ride out whatever “chaos and storm” the “hard times to come” might bring…

Now, we’re all nervous. You can’t watch cable TV without some “expert” saying that it’s time America either “checked up, or packed it in.”

We’ve all heard “it.” You know, the “experts” touting their “fearmongering” crap… “All nations eventually fail. Yada, yada, yada…”

I suspect that this is in part due to Cable TV shows like “The Colony” that advocate forward thinking rolled into a nice tight ball, to form a dysfunctional view of what survival in our times may end up being like, if you’re a complete idiot…


I’ve watched a few of these “disaster simulators”. You know, “here’s a look at what happens, when the “you-know-what” finally hits the fan”.

Everybody has a scenario. Everybody is sensationalizing our plummet to a grim capitalistic  death. Everybody is speculating… Everybody is plotting…

But  you know… we may not all get stranded with a rocket scientist, an electrical engineer, a mechanic, a nurse, a martial arts expert, and a doctor, yada… yada… yada…

We might get stranded by our “onesies.” So, we should understand what we’re doing, in case the cavalry doesn’t show up in time to make any repairs.

Or worse, we’ll inherit that drunk jerk up the street. You know the one…

… he’s always passed out on the lawn, none of his cars run (and he’s got eight of ’em), and he’s always getting his lights turned off. The cops are always at his house… and his wife is always at YOUR house, “borrowing” groceries. Yeah, they’re gonna be a lot of help… Oy.

It’s why I also advocate knowing how to safely use and maintain personal firearms. And tasers… lets not forget tasers…

Like  I was saying…  before I so rudely interrupted myself… “J” thinks that if the world goes to hell in a handbasket, he and his family (he’s married with 4 children aged from 3-9) might have to be up there in his “bass box” the winter time, and he reminds me that it’s REMOTE.

There are no neighbors. There is no store. Walmart ain’t got there yet…

There’s just your wife yelling at you because you forgot the big Sam’s Club carton of toilet paper!  “Ya Dumb Moron!!” 🙂

He’ll have whatever he hauls in with his small SUV, and that’s it. He doesn’t want to rely on propane, or any other type of “store-bought” fuel, simply because it might not be available.

There’s a neat little bass lake about 200 feet from his front porch.


He says you can spit into the pond, and catch a big, fat bass. (So, they won’t lack for protein.) Hence the name “Bass Box.” Paying attention? Huh?

The box isn’t anything to write home about, it’s just a big shipping container. Except for insulation and siding on the outside, it’s a regular box.

The box sits with the front face (40′) facing a few degrees of due south. It wasn’t “a solar plan”, it’s just the way the site worked out.

Actually, the “real” story goes like this:

They argued for three hours about where “the perfect spot” for the box was. Finally, his big brother said:

“@%$^#&#*!!! IT GOES RIGHT DAMN HERE!”

And then he punched “J” right in the eye. Voila! Problem solved. 🙂

He (and his brother – who is no longer available for “cabin help,” by the way…) applied a waterproof membrane on the exterior of the box. They used a rubberized roofing membrane that you spray on. ‘Cept, they used paint rollers, so it’s REALLY thick…

Why?  Well, because they found 2 barrels of it… “just laying around, that nobody wanted”.

I know, I know… Don’t ask, don’t tell…

After they’d added more “water seal” to the box, they firred it out with 2×6’s.  This created cavities, and those cavities received about 4″ of PolyIso foam into the cavities.

When I asked him where he got the PolyIso foam boards, he told me that they’d;

“… found/commandeered/discovered the material from a vacant industrial real estate listing they had. It was just laying there collecting dust”.

“Real Estate Plunder”. Okay, works for me…

Don’t worry “J”… we won’t hold “logistical left-turns” against you. We might, however, hold it against you that you’re a (gasp!) realtor!

Say… do you know a guy named “Clark?” Hmmm? 🙂

He put some siding scraps over the insulation that they found on “a dead building project”…

Hmmmm… I’m not sure if “J” is a recycler, or a felon. Note to self: “If getting stuff from “J”… always get a signed receipt.” 🙂

Anyway, as near as I can figure, he’s got about an r20-r30 wall system (depending on which PolyIso rigid foam product it is, it ranges from about r5 to r8 per inch). So, he can “almost” hold heat in, once he gets it there.

I say “almost” because he ran out of insulation at the top of the box, so the roof is uninsulated.

But, he’d been thinking about some kind of clerestory roof anyway to bring in more summer sun. Right now, “J” has a flat roof with a pair of vents on top, that are identical to the one depicted in my old blog header image.

Steel ShedObviously, we’re going to pay some attention to this.

First, I’ll sue him for patent infringement… 🙂

You know what? I miss that old blog header. I think I’ll do my “Lazarus act” and resurrect it.

Seriously, a cool SHED roof would add headroom, a cool space for a few sleeping lofts, some additional storage, and a good opportunity for vents and windows to help with air movement and heat gain.

Plus we can use that roof pitch to catch water, and get rid of snow.

“J’s” back is gonna hurt for a week or two, by the time we’re done. Boy, I bet “J” wished he’d never heard of me, NOW…

Picture “J” sad. Poor “J.”

That just leaves the floor.

Shipping container floors are treated with serious insecticides and fungicides to keep alien bugs out of foreign ports.

Wood preservatives containing a number of organochlorine insecticides, including aldrin (no, not BUZZ Aldrin!), dieldrin, chlordane and lindane, are just the beginnings of the treatment that floors receive.

Although I know people who’d like to stuff Buzz Aldrin into a container… Oy!

I ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, rip these floors out.

You can’t EVER trust the shipper you got the container from. The labels denoting the presence of that toxin are often worn off, or even just missing. Because the containers are moved so often and with so many variables…  you can’t tell which ones got the toxic sprays just by looking.

Some containers escape without being sprayed or treated, but the only way to know for sure, is to take a sample of the floor out, and get it tested at a lab.

There’s are products that you can put on the floor to encapsulate them. That’ll seal the toxins in there, but they’ll still BE there. And, those products are expensive. We’ll go a different route.

Okay, all that accomplished, you’d have a “shelter”.

Inside, it’s spartan. It’s so bad that his wife won’t even go up there! Once you get through those big steel doors, you’re greeted by a few wooden shelves, a tiny wood stove, hammocks, and a blow-up mattress for a bed.

Did I forget to mention that they have a “shanty with a hole in the butt seat” kind of outhouse.

Oh yeah, they have an outhouse.

I bet he found THAT at a construction site, too… 🙂

He has a composting toilet, but it’s still in the box, in the garage. That’s kinda dumb… Lotta good it’s doing him, there! 🙂

Okay, he needs a bathroom, too.

And, he reminded me about 11 times that the box gets cold. So, we turn up the heat a bit.

He doesn’t want to try any “geothermal nonsense” (his words) because the container is already in place, and he couldn’t move it if he wanted to.

Actually, his exact words were;

“Ronin, don’t be giving me none of your Geothermal nonsense, I don’t like shovels, my friend…” 🙂

He doesn’t want to rely on solar panels, because he’s not a guy with a lot of money to set up a complete “off-grid” situation. The closest he’s come to that is a Harbor Freight photovoltaic set-up with a pair of small panels.

So, he has enough power for a laptop computer, a TV, and maybe a radio.

(I’m going to try and talk him into replacing that crap inverter, and adding a panel or two so that he can establish some kind of “real” electricity, for refrigeration and other necessities.)

With the world going digital, I wonder what TV signal he’d get? I’m thinking he uses a VCR or a DVD player… Remind me to check, okay?

He has a good water supply.

It’s a hand-pumped well that draws water from about 175 feet. If he wants a shower, he pumps water up into a black painted 55 gallon barrel on the roof of his container, and then gravity-feeds it to a showerhead.

This is great for one guy on a weekend, but it’s not gonna work for a “family in residence”. Nuh uh!

We need a solar powered pump, too.

BTW: The gray water from the shower, and doing the dishes goes out into the garden, that for now, only feeds the wild animals that live around his box.

That’s good, but we’ll do better.

They have a small swedish fireplace/stove combination installed, but they only use it for heat at night. It’s sitting on patio tiles as a hearth. So, it’s not exactly ideal. We’re gonna move the stove, and build it “into a better box”.

Again, it’s about managing resources. “J” says that he doesn’t want to use it during the day, if he doesn’t have to. Why? He hates chopping wood. HATES it! 🙂

The stove vents out the side of the box. Sort of… It’s a rather shaky connection.

So, we do some chimney repair, and then we use what I call “idiot solar” to help bump up the heat. But, we’ll use solar in a different way than “normal people” are used to.

Okay, I can see that there is a lot to do, but he needs to do it one weekend at a time.

And, he needs to do it in a way that maintains the security of the structure, so that he doesn’t end up with visitors he doesn’t want, or need, while he’s away…

So, over the next few posts in this series, we’re going to take that empty 40′ High Cube Shipping Container, and we’re going to turn it into a full blown cabin, complete with sleeping lofts, and enough interior to let it be used comfortably, for a long vacation in the woods.

It’s all about his family’s survival, if times get hard. And, it’s all about HIS survival, if his wife gets mad.

After all, out in the woods… nobody can hear you scream… Muuuuwahhahah!

We’re not just going to insulate that container top. We’re going to “weatherize” the box.

Weatherizing isn’t “turning off the heat and freezing in the dark”.

Try that with your wife sleeping next to you. I guarantee you that you’ll wake up, dead!

It’s all about using ‘stored’ energy (and less of it than you might think) combined with small resources to achieve the same level of comfort that you used to get from that McMansion of yours.

How do you accomplish this?

Well, first, you find all the “energy nasties” and you give them the boot. In this case, we’ll start with that leaky stove chimney, and work outward from there. Careful planning and attention to detail will have this family in a sustainable vacation home, in no time.

We’re also going to deal with indoor air quality.

Remember that the air quality is 2-5 times worse in your house, than the air outside it.   This is a small space, that may be inhabited by a family of six (or maybe even more, if that damned brother promises not to punch him in the eye again) , under rather severe conditions, and maybe for extended periods of time.

Beyond air quality, we need to pay close attention to energy use, moisture (and it’s movement… unless you LIKE mold and mildew), combustion zones, and ventilation.

Remember, condensation is a killer.

Areas in walls and roof cavities that stay moist, start to grow funky things that attack your lungs. YUCK!

Ice dams on roofs can contribute to this problem, too. So we’re going to pay close attention to that roof, it’s construction, and it’s pitch.

We’ll talk about fixing that stove vent/chimney, before you huff and puff… and burn your house down…

We’ll talk about designing, building, and attaching a roof to catch the sun and even a couple of kids.

We’ll talk about photovoltaic panels on the cheap, and an “in-wall solar heating” solution.

We’ll talk about building loft spaces into it, to get the kids up and out of your hair.

We’ll talk about a “hidden” Master bedroom.

We’ll talk about the floor of that shipping container, and what to do about it.

We’ll talk about a kitchen (with a refrigerator, and running water, and everything!) and even a real bathroom.

We’ll talk about catching water and setting up a graywater system.

And, we’ll talk about building storage.

We need to add some serious storage  into that shipping box, so that it can house all their crap, so that “J” doesn’t step on everything they own, in the middle of the night, when that damned bear is trying to beat down the door!

And we’re going to accomplish this, a goal at a time, a weekend at a time…


Because you “Show me a man who failed… and I’ll show you a man who didn’t have a good plan”.

We’re not just  going to meet his needs, we’re going to exceed his expectations.

Why? Well, because… I know his wife… and she’ll kill him! (gulp!)

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance Ronin