Archive | Stimulus Bill RSS feed for this section

The Many Faces of a Shipping Container – “Recording Studio in a Box”

13 Mar

Greetings Campers!

When last we met, I told you all about “living in a box, underground.”

This time, I’m gonna tell you the story of a life “recording underground” (well, nearly… It IS Australia, after all… It’s “under ground…” from here!), in a box we call an ISBU, to MAKE a living!!

(I know, I know… stop groaning!) 🙂

As my family slowly builds our new home out of Shipping Containers and other recycled materials, some guys are making a living, by turning the same boxes into businesses.

Pay attention folks! Thanks to the President, there’s about eleventy-gazillion dollars in Stimulus money out there floating around waiting for people to grab it.  And, this falls into about three categories I can think of off the top of my head; New (small) business, “Green” application, recycling materials… and I bet there’s more!  I wanna be one of those guys!

“Ronin like money. Money goooood!”

You should wanna be one of those guys, too!

So, in the spirit of “Stimulus,” or at least “stimulation,”  I’m gonna introduce you to one of those guys, right now!

Built and operated by an Aussie named Mark “Sparky” Paltridge, the “Spark1 Studios” is more than just a place to record music. Sparky has a history, folks… he has over 15 years performing and recording in the industry, and it seems that Sparky has an unparalleled passion for song arrangement, music production and attention to detail.


This incredible facility was constructed by converting two ex shipping containers to a state-of-the-art, cutting edge modern recording studio. Spark1 Studios is designed for ideal acoustics, comfort and portability.

Now, I’m not sure that they actually pick the studio up and move it, but…


Now, when I first learned about Sparky, I had to do a double-take, because the guy who turned me on to him misspelled his name, and I thought he was one of the founding members of “The Partridge Family.” But, after checking with Shirley Jones, I finally figured out who he really was!

(Good thing, too. I’m not sure that being a member of David Cassidy’s clan would have been too good a reference! Especially musically! )😉

Sparky says that: “Recording music on the Sunshine Coast grants you an International standard in recording in an idyllic environment”

At least, that’s what his marketing says! And I tend to believe it!

Based in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland of Queensland, Australia since 2004, Spark1 Studios has already become the coast’s premier recording studio for discerning musicians. If you take a hard look at his company, you’ll see that he’s been involved in several albums to date, with more on the way. Not bad for a guy hunkered down in “a little insignificant box that isn’t worth looking at twice.”

At least, that’s how the natives refer to “shipping containers.” How many guys have to demonstrate their value, before these idiots just shut the hell up? Hmmm? I mean, really…


From huge, ‘in your face’ modern radio production, to capturing the ‘stripped back’, intimate acoustic performance, those “tiny little boxes” allow Spark1 Studios to cover most recording needs. Okay, so you’re not gonna record the Philharmonic there, but… you CAN record warm and lush sounds in a comfortable, creative and inspirational space at what looks like an extremely affordable price.


With three separate recording rooms to choose from, one can track drums either with a tight, well controlled sound, or go for huge drums sounds in Studio C, utilizing mics placed in the stairwell and adjacent bathroom, as well as all the close mics around the kit.

This is no “slipshod operation, either!  Spark1 Studios has invested in the finest gear of the analog and digital realms, featuring the foremost mics, preamps, compressors, EQs & AD/DA converters available. This includes recording equipment such as Neumann, Senheisser, AKG, , DBX, Purple Audio, JLM AUDIO and RME, as well as utilizing ‘classic’ older valve gear and equipment. In other words, they have all the right stuff…


Want proof?

SPARK1 Studios – Recording Studios, AUS
Studio Equipment

Mackie Control Universal PRO control surface and extender
JLM Audio VOC 2 compressor (LA-2A style)
Purple Audio MC-77 compressor (1176 compressor)
Chameleon Labs stereo compressor (modded by JLM)
DBX 160 X compressors (x2)
DBX 902 De essers (x2)
JLM Audio 99V 500 series mic pres (x2)
JLM Audio TG 500 series mic pre (x1)
JLM Audio TMP 8 mic pres (x8)
Quad Eight dual mic pre
Harrison 3232 dual mic pre
2 x JLM Audio PEQ 500 series (Pultec style EQ with extra freqs)
Broadcast Audio passive summing mixer (16:2)
Lexicon PCM 80 Digital Reverb
Lexicon PCM 41 Digital Delay
Roland 201 Space Echo
Alesis Microverb II
Mackie HR824 Monitors
Auratone Monitors
Fender Blues Junior valve guitar amp
RME converters ADI-8 x 3 (24 I/O)

Neumann CMV-563 with M7 capsule valve vocal mic
Neumann KM 184 stereo pair
Sennheiser 421’s x 2 (tom mics)
Audix D6 kick mic
AKG C414 mic
SM PRO MC 04 ribbon mic x 2
Shure 57’s x 2
Electrovoice RE20 dynamic mic
1 x Royer 121 ribbon mic
Fat Bottom Ends

So what have we learned? Hmmm?

ISBU’s are versatile, and worthy of most uses if you just use your gray matter, and think things through. Be it a cabin in the woods, a business by the roadside, or a hotel in the ‘burbs, these boxes can go great distances, both at sea, and on your bottom line.

Kudos Sparky!!! Today, you’re my hero… But don’t let it go to your head…

Yesterday, it was my kid… He made a poop, finally! Let me tell you, he was one cranky little monster for a while… 🙂

Next time, we’ll get back to the matter at hand…

Homebuilding with Containers:101… um… 201… um… uh-oh… I forgot where we left off! 🙂

Stay tuned!The Renaissance Ronin

I’ve been talking to Sparks lately, and here’s a bit of information that you’ll find way more palatable than “Vegemite!” (You know Aussies have to be either REALLY tough, or completely crazy, to eat that horrible stuff. Blah!)  Sparks tells me that; “I’m actually thinking of selling the first studio, (The control room/vocal booth one), and buying another high cube and redoing the same control room with sliding doors this time. I’m hoping to get around $35,000 AUS for it.” That’s “BOX ONLY,” plus “A/C, perhaps.”

(And that’s $23,059.90 USD for us Yanks!)

If you’re interested, you can contact him at:

One more time… with feeling!

5 Mar

Okay… I don’t know if it’s just the new year arriving… but RenaissanceRonin has just had both the best week AND the best month since I started writing the blog!

Perhaps I got help from President Obama and his Stimulus Bill, mass hysteria, or even a sudden burst of “Green Envy!…” Whatever it was, I’m glad to see it.

It’s odd, too. I’d been thinking I might STOP writing the blog altogether. In the beginning, I started the blog to share information as we built our new home. After all, it’s not every day that you see somebody stack Shipping Containers up in the yard, and then move into them!

prefab1Ain’ t this a beaut’? I hope ours turns out as nice!

I’d hoped to stimulate some conversations about affordable and innovative home design and “thinking out of the box” to find new ways to accomplish things a lot of us take for granted.

And try as I might, I can’t seem to get that started. It takes a long time to write some of these posts, and that time taken out of my day, adds up. Blogs are about more than just “numbers of readers…”  In the 8 months and change since we’ve started, we’ve seen about 20,000 of you pass through. But I’ll point out that blogs, especially “niche blogs” that speak to a small (very specialized) audience, are all about “growth.” And the best way to measure that, is by seeing how your readers use what you’ve written. The best indicator of that, is the reactions in the comment sections of your posts.

Although I’ve written over 110 posts now… each one compelling, enthralling, interesting, and informative (I know… stop rolling your eyes!) 🙂 , the comments section for most of these posts are as empty as a graveyard after dark…

And that is really, really discouraging. It’s a tough thing to talk about in my house, when we’re doing the bills at the end of the month, and I have to justify that $55 to pay for “blogging bandwidth…” Sometimes… that $55 just isn’t there to spend… And the cable company won’t take “Muppet Money…” Damn!


It sounds trivial to you, I’m sure… but if you’ve really read my posts, you know where we are coming from and where we’re trying to get to… Things are tight, and something’s gonna have to give, soon…

My point remains the same;

America is buying so much merchandise from other countries (like China and Japan) and selling so little product back to them that shipping containers are actually becoming an environmental hazard. Apparently it is cheaper to manufacture new ones on the opposite side of the ocean than transport the empty ones back to where they originated from.


In port cities and areas around inland freight transit terminals hundreds of thousands of empty containers are piling up. The stacks, dozens of containers high, loom over the landscape . There are even residential neighborhoods in some of their shadows where the sun sets an hour earlier than in the surrounding areas.


But people (labeled “environmental entrepreneurs” by some) are finding new uses for those boxes sitting in our shipping yards… and we’re talking about modular housing.


Really, folks… some of the designs aren’t bad at all, as long as you don’t know “it’s a gigantic Corten Steel box” to begin with. THAT realization seems to be the primary problem… the stigma attached to “a new life from an old box” that was originally designed to be used to haul freight all over G_d’s creation…


The irony here shouldn’t be lost on anyone. As a country whose economy is falling faster than a bad facelift, America’s manufacturing base is moving off-shore and the only thing most working Americans have to show for it, besides a bunch of Chinese crap from Wal-Mart and a debt load that is skyrocketing faster than the Space Shuttle, is stacks and stacks of empty cargo containers littering their landscape, and blocking out the sun.

I know of places where the Container Mountains literally block out the sun and turn previously healthy lawns into muddy brown pits of despair. We’re talking enough containers to house most of the South’s Homeless, with containers left over, for a few Yankees! 🙂

The average American family is spending themselves into poverty but the good news is that they’ll have a place to live when they run out of credit and their houses are repossessed.

I just hope that we get our own house built, before that happens to us…

So, I suppose we owe China a big “THANK YOU!” for leaving their empty boxes here!

And whatever we decide to do… “to blog or not to blog…” (it’s going to come down to what we can afford to continue doing) I just want to thank you guys and gals for stopping in to see what we’re trying to accomplish here in “Shipping Container Hell…” um…er… coastal Mississippi!

And, here’s where Ronin takes a slow step or two… I’m too poor to be proud, right about now, and I hate asking, but… If the blog is important to you, I encourage you consider helping us with some of the costs involved. If that sounds like something you’d like to do, just  hit that PAYPAL button up top, on the right…

We’d be grateful for your support!

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance Ronin

Using Popcorn As Fuel!

3 Mar

Greetings… fellow campers!

As my family builds it’s new abode, one steeped in “Corten Controversy” and “imminent catastrophe,” (if you listen to the “idiot” neighbors) we’ve been thinking about how we’re gonna power this steel-clad beast, and stay off the grid.

It’s not bad enough that we’re using Shipping Containers as structure, to build our house. Or, for that matter, that we’re using “recycled materials and garbage” to finish the house out…

We’ve even (gasp!) dared to try and establish some independence and just provide for ourselves, without the intervention of those evil British bastards that want to keep taxing our tea! 😉

Whaaa? Where did that come from? Never mind that last part… I’m just having a relapse…

We’re using Photovoltaics to make power, but we’re NOT going to use a connection to the grid. Where we live, the power company is just too difficult to deal with.


Between “bonds” to protect THEM against damages and the outrageous charges they attach to “our attachment,” we’re just gonna use batteries, and rely on ourselves. “Net Metering” is great, but not if you have to take medication to get through all the politics and paperwork…

We’re not in “Wind Country” so a wind turbine is out of the question. And, we’re not on a river, stream, or even a good flowing bay, so “tidal power” ain’t gonna happen either.

Now, my wife suggests that; “We should just use HOT AIR.” She seems to think we have it in an almost unlimited supply, to hear her go on, and on, and on… about it.

(But I still can’t figure out where she’s got it hidden. I’ve looked everywhere, and I can’t find it!) 😉

So, we’ve opted for a generator (can you say; “Army Surplus?” I knew you could…)  that we’ll use to top off an ocean of deep-cycle batteries when we can’t get enough power from the sun…

And, we want that “generated power source” to be as “green” as the rest of the house. So we’re looking at fuels to “power the power…”

Now, I’m a firm believer in “Bio-Fuel.” I’ve got some experience making it, and I never had any difficulties. It’s stable, reliable, and I love the smell of “french fries” in the morning!

I’ve even thought about ethanol. After all, if I can make my own… um… er… libations (Shhhhhhh! Don’t tell ATF!) I can make fuel, right? And that brings us to (Da-da-da-daaaaaa!) the topic of the day;



Talk about the bad idea of the century! Greed has no boundaries, and it appears… no common sense, either! What a bunch of losers…

So… It was only a matter of time…

Corn based ethanol has become the “OMG” of the decade. I’m frankly surprised that it wasn’t thought thru clearly enough, before millions of dollars were invested in a road that would ultimately (and obviously) lead to a dead end.

The idea of using a “food” as a fuel source, especially one as important globally as CORN, was one glaring “Whaaaa?”

corntoonThe prospect of spending more “fuel” to make it, that you actually achieve, was another…

This week, corn-based ethanol died, again…

Production suspensions and/or layoffs were reported by Pacific Ethanol in California, Coshocton Ethanol in Ohio, Northeast Biofuels in New York, and Nova Biosource Fuels in Illinois.

Pacific Ethanol said it would shut down production at 60 Mgy corn ethanol facilities in Burley, Idaho and Stockton, California, citing “economic conditions.”

And this is just the latest in a migration that is starting to resemble the Hebrews fleeing Egypt! Anybody who is dependent on a “Corn-fired” Ethanol plant is headed for the unemployment lines, I’m afraid! It’s the workers I feel sorry for…

The beancounters and CEOs are all doing the “monkey dance” trying to figure out how to get their grubby little hands on some “Stimulus Cash!” I wonder if they’re flying their corporate jets to Washington, and Limo’ing to Congress, with their outstretched paws waiting for “a taxpayer bailout?” I hope not.

Translation: They’re scared and they’re losing their um… er… shirts…

I could have saved them all a lot of trouble, but did they ask me? Nope! Knuckleheads! Everybody knows that the best way to get “power” out of corn, is to consume  it with chili! Add some cold beer and a football game, and you’ve got “Mississippi Mecca!” 😉

So… Stick a fork in her… she’s a goner!

I suppose that the thing we can thank corn-based ethanol for is the progress in “thinking” it created, on the road to algae-based fuels…


Good thing, too… I’d be pissed off, if they turned all my popcorn into power…

Me and “old Orville” would have to start kickin’ some butt! 😉


Stay tuned!

The Renaissance Ronin

“The Stimulus” has stimulated my brain…

1 Mar

You know… it’s funny…

All things really do come back around!

When I was a kid, my parents (“Gawd fearin’, man-killin’, shoot–em-up and eat the entrails”)  US Marines, had us convinced that the world was going to come to an end in our lifetimes.

So, while most kids grew up on Bambi movies and trips to the Ice Cream Shop (does anybody remember “Foster’s Freeze?”) we grew up on “Bambi Burgers” and instead of settling down in front of the TV every Sunday night to watch Walt Disney…


We found ourselves forced to watch John Wayne, Audey Murphy, and “Tora, Tora, Tora” kinda stuff… and as we got older, we saw post-apocalyptic action thrillers… because “someday we’d be forced to speak Russian or Chinese and work as slaves, if we weren’t careful!”

You’re old enough to remember stuff like “Mad Max,” and  “Red Dawn…,” right?


Well, we watched stuff kinda like that. After all, the point of post-apocalyptic movies was that people did survive, even if they had to endure horrible things in the process. Oy!


Other parents took their kids on camping trips to the beach where they played in the surf, they BBQ’d, and the boys spent the entire weekend, looking at girls.  Not in MY family. We went to places like Joshua Tree (out in the middle of the CA desert) where we got dropped off miles before the spot my parents would camp, equipped with a knife (a Kabar), a canteen full of water, some beef jerky, a couple of Hershey Bars, a length of rope and some fishing line, and a thermal blanket. We roasted sinewy rabbits (that we snared) over a small campfire (small enough to remain “unseen” in case “the Chinese were actually watching”),  suspended by green twigs.


And, if we didn’t make it to the campsite (“HQ”) by the time my parents were ready to “bug out…” we were in serious trouble! You think I’m kidding, but I’m not!

BTW: My older brother and I used to smuggle small .22 caliber pistols into our “gear” when Dad wasn’t looking. Rabbits are smarter than you’d think!


Ever since the bailouts, I’ve started listening to the people around me, whining and complaining about the decaying  state of politics… and America, in general.

And it’s increased in decibel level, since President Obama started going on TV to describe the Stimulus Bill, and all the debt that America is taking on.

The natives are getting restless, folks! Although I grew up thinking that my parents were insane (they WERE Marines, after all!), now, it’s all starting to make sense… and that’s not good.

(Now, before you start in on me… I love Marines.  L-O-V-E them. “God Bless ‘Em, every single one of them.” Nothing makes me prouder than hearing about “our boys” (be they “man” or “woman” – I’m talking  “serious” terms of endearment here) out there doing what has to be done. Regardless of where you stand on the “current state of war,” you have to admire and respect people who are willing to fight and die for things they believe in. America needs Heroes. The US Marines grows them. Semper Fi!  ‘Nuff said.)

Years ago, we built a home for some friends who decided to “dig in and drop out.” They wanted to build an “earth sheltered house” that you couldn’t see, unless you were standing right on top of it.

And you wouldn’t be, because “the Daddy” was an extremely bad dude. I grew up in one of “those families.” You know the ones… We had a “war shrine” in the living room. We had an American Flag hanging in the front yard. We have ancestors buried at Arlington National Cemetery. We had “weapons of mass destruction” hanging on all the walls. (Okay, in our case it was “huge calibered, high powered, bust a cap and kill everyone in the room” kinda stuff…) My father was an honest to Gawd “Korea and Vietnam Legend.”  (His friends called him “Colonel Killzone…”) We were constantly surrounded by “really bad dudes” fresh from the fight.  I’m not talking about street punks with AK’s. I’m talking about guys that, when pushed, could change history wherever they found their feet… Guys who KNEW death by it’s “first name” and weren’t afraid of anything… much.

We heard all the stories told late at night, spoken softly over bottles of Scotch, with softly playing  radio designed to drown it out, so that we couldn’t hear it. Tales told by “men made of iron – with tear filled eyes,” guys who were honoring the “cherished memory of the fallen…” And, most of them would have traded places with those heroes in a heartbeat. Sometimes it hurts more to survive…

(If you don’t understand this, you’ve just never been there, and you should thank your lucky stars for that. Some of us aren’t so lucky.)

As a result, we had really, really, high “fear” thresholds.

And this guy… well… he scared the hell out of us!


Okay, that’s not his “real” picture. But in my defense, he said if we ever dared take his photograph, he’d hunt us down like dogs… and kill us… two times! And we believed him!

I’d been “summering” up in Northern California, in a remote cabin on a river. It was good times. The DEA and ATF were on the loose, trying to run off all the guys growing “pot.” We had a “Hari Krisna” temple right down the road.

And surprisingly, they were about the nicest people you’d ever want to meet (the Krishna’s… not the DEA)! If you ever needed help doing anything at all, the Hari Krisna’s  were always right there, ready to pitch in. And, everybody knows that Krishna girls don’t wear bras… or evidently underwear. So, we ALWAYS needed their help, for something… 🙂

There were naked hippies in the river, just about 24/7. (And confidentially, some of those hippie girls were HOT…hot…hot!)  The beer was always ice cold (we kept it in the river), the fish were jumping (we drank the beer while we were fishing… duh!),  and an early morning bowhunt always put game on the table.

And then… HE showed up.

That guy. The one I was telling you about. And once he got there, he decided that he wasn’t leaving. We’ll call him “Uncle G.”

At first, we were “apprehensive.” I mean, we knew “Uncle G” wouldn’t kill us… because we were “kindred.”  Hell, we’d had nightmares about him since we were kids! “Uncle G” had “war wounds.” WE had “war wounds.” We were “isolationists who just kept to ourselves.” “Uncle G” was just antisocial. I mean, the kind of antisocial that they criminally prosecute you for. The banjos playin’ in the background, “Deliverance” kinda antisocial… 🙂

(Just kiddin’ “Uncle G!” Now put the gun down… I’ll just back out of the room slowly, okay? I mean, nobody needs to get hurt, right?)

He was “Married with children.” And I’m not talking “Al Bundy.” More like “Ted Bundy.” And his daughters were… um…er… breathtaking… all 4 of them.

As in, if you looked at them twice… he’d take your breath away, permanently.

So, we bribed him with fish, freshly killed deer, some jerky when we had it to spare, produce from our garden, and several good bottles of 10 year old single-malt Scotch.

(Because, campers… Giving a “mountain dwelling serial killer” bottles of good Scotch will keep him from killing you. I know it sounds crazy, but evidently it’s true!) 😉

Anyway, they were living in two old school buses that they’d converted into RV’s. So after about 3 months of this, Momma wasn’t having fun anymore. Nuh-uh! So, “Daddy” decided that he’d better find new digs, or he’d be “flying solo.”

Imagine our shock when he showed up on our porch, wanting to “talk.”

Now, we immediately started stammering about how we’d never even looked at his daughters!… and that we’d never do it again!… and that if he’d spare us… (“please, please, oh gawd… please!”)… we’d gouge our own eyes out with dull wooden spoons, so he wouldn’t have to do it… We pleaded with him not to kill us! We said he could just “hurt us a little bit and we’d never tell!”  We cried like schoolgirls who got their best shoes all muddy!

(Hey, don’t laugh! It was the only plan we could come up with! This guy made Rambo look like one of the “Village People!”) 🙂

And he just started laughing…

It was one of those “Muuuuwahhhhhaahhhaaahhhaaaa!” laughs so bone-chilling that even thinking about it to this very day, sends more chills running up my spine than… um… er… never mind… why should I tell you?

It turns out that he just wanted our help.

He’d seen what we’d done with a couple of shipping containers that we’d hauled up from the coast. And he wanted to do something similar, to make a home for his family, before his wife “helped him wake up in the morning, dead as a stone.”

A year before, we’d gone down to Crescent City, and acquired a couple of shipping containers. Now folks claimed that we’d absconded with them, but we don’t see how that could have possibly been true, because it’s not like you can actually steal a big steel box that sticks out like a sore thumb, and haul it off into the wilderness, without someone seeing you do it… unless it’s really dark.

Seriously, we’d hauled them up onto flatbed trailers (using a tractor and a few winches) and then we drug them behind pickup trucks, up and down several miles of pretty difficult logging roads, to reach their final destination. Once we arrived and covered up our tracks… we set those containers  up on concrete blocks, slapped roofs on them, built porches around them, and then… well… never mind. It’s not important and I don’t remember exactly how “the statute of limitations” actually works! 😉

But the “fast and dirty” of it is that they became “1 room cabins, with a view.”

Unfortunately, the “view” was of the local bears pillaging around at the “dump,” but it WAS a “view…” just not a very good one… And if the bears got too close, you could just run inside and slam the double steel doors closed! Bears can’t get thru Corten Steel… can they? Gulp!

Anyway… They  (the “Corten Cabins,” not the bears!)  had small “Swedish Stoves” inside them (for heat and cooking), the bed folded out of the wall, we built “skylights” (that leaked like a waterfall for a while), and even a “real” window or two.  We insulated them with fiberglass batts, and then we put paneling over it. The bathroom was a hike outdoors to the “bunkerfied” port-a-potty, until we could build a suitable “outhouse.”

“Uncle G” decided that he wanted to do likewise, but he wanted to further fortify them by pushing dirt up around them. Voila! Our first “Underground Corten Castle” was born!

And that… is the guts of this post… I bet you thought I’d never get to the point, huh?

With all this talk about “survival, succession, and suffering…” It made me remember that home we built him.  And it looked something like this;

simple_bunker_comp1It was about 2500 square feet, a three bdrm, 2 bath home (although one of them was in the “basement”), with all the amenties that you’d expect in a house, but it was “underground.” Okay, the basement was mostly underground. The rest of the home was covered in dirt, after we covered it in rigid insulation and concrete.

It took us the better part of three summers to build it. “Uncle G” lived with his family in the central section while it was being built. There were no “Planning and Zoning Nazis,” and even if there had been, he’d have just killed and eaten them.  😉

If you could get close enough to it to actually “see” it, you looked down into a submerged courtyard, that we used to call “the crypt.” Why? Because if you were stupid enough to try and climb down into it, he’d bury you! That’s why.

We built retaining walls off the main structure (we had literally TONS of river rock at our disposal, and Hari Krisna’s who would “work for food…”) and they (the walls, not the pony-tailed crazies) ran out about 25 feet, to another pair of containers, that were converted into a 16’x16′ 2 story greenhouse on one side, a 16’x16′  “office” on the other, and an 8′ path down the middle that served as a “steel bailey.”

It was basically just a fortified entry door gauntlet. Trust me… you didn’t want to sell Amway to anybody at this house (or even a vacuum cleaner) unless you wanted to disappear, forever.

It was one of those places where the signs that were posted said:

“If you can read this… You’re already DEAD.”

And “Uncle G” wasn’t kidding.

You know, I kinda miss old “Uncle G”. I’m gonna give him a call…

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance RoninLook… I’m recycling, reclaiming, and even BEGGING for material (sometimes “on my knees”) because my family’s SURVIVAL is at stake.
I’m asking you to get involved.
If I’ve helped you, informed you, educated you, or just entertained you… consider donating a few bucks to the blog, to help us survive and rebuild OUR home. Our family needs a home. Our situation is dire. And yes, I’m begging… I’m not going to waste bandwidth plastering pictures up of my wife in her sickbed… or my little 2 year old son. I’ve written about the circumstances here, already.
If you guys and gals show any interest in this, I’ll see If I can remember the floorplan… It was real simple, easy to build, and they (“Uncle G”, his wife, and a few grand-babies) still live there, to this day. I’m amazed. I figured that he’d be rotting away in some Federal Maximum Security Penitentiary by now!

People smile and tell me I’m the crazy one…

19 Feb

Remember that tune?…

Wait, that’s not how it goes…

My family is building a house. I know… so what? But it’s a “special house.”

Why? Because it’s being built with Shipping Containers. And because of that, people think that we’re “special.”

You know, the “they should wear football helmets and travel around, strapped firmly into a short white bus” kinda special.

Hey, every neighborhood has to have a big ugly house that is surrounded by old cars, big dogs, loud noise, and cops at all hours of the day and night, right? You know.. that house that even the Postman is afraid of!

Well, we’re gonna live in that house! 😉

Lately, I’ve been talking about the “nuts and bolts’ of house construction. Now, these rules, that I’ve affectionately called;

Ronin’s 10 sorta simple rules of homebuilding…”

are  to be valued, cherished, and held in high esteem exactly like those tablets that Moses brought down from the Mount…


You’d better… because I’ve trapped your IP address, and I’ll send locusts, and plague, and even gruesome, gnarly bad stuff to you… if you don’t! 😉

Anyway, people have been emailing me lately. Now usually, I don’t mind “thinly veiled death threats” and “we know where you live” taunts, but when they come in droves, well… it’s time to fall back and cover the basics. 🙂

That way, should there be any “gun play” I’ll have covered my butt… or so the lawyer tells me! 😉

So, once again, for the “slow readers…” let’s start again, shall we? Hmmm?

Seriously, using a “metal framed box” built out of Corten Steel (that incidentally… doesn’t rust and was designed to traverse the oceans indefinitely, carrying tons of cargo securely, all the while facing the most severe weather on the planet) to build a house out of, doesn’t seem so crazy to me.

In fact, it’s fast, efficient, affordable, and even a viable alternative to the bleak housing situation we face in the United States.

How do I know this? Well… I’ve done it before… several times, in fact! And I’m not talking about “yesterday…” I’m talking about going back as far as three decades ago.

In fact, I think I deserve some of that “stimulus money!” I’m going to change the way America prosecutes… um…er… thinks! I am too! After all, I’m leadin’ you to the “Promised Land!”

moses-parts-the-red-sea-2Hmmm… maybe I’m taking myself a little bit too seriously? Ya think? 🙂

And as I watch this “Little House” movement, I can’t help but feel that I was a part of it, without even knowing it… years ago, before the press latched onto it and made it “fashionable.”

Take (2) 40′ Shipping Containers, and couple them together side by side. Sit this “sub-assembly” on some concrete blocks (foundation), and you have the shell of a pretty durable 640 square foot shelter. Or, you can put it up in the air on pilings, and use the space underneath it for a garage and a “Man Cave!”

Wait… Shipping containers were designed to be “stacked…” Hmmm… So, we’ll take a few more (2) “container sub-assemblies” (we’ll use (2) of them, for the sake of arguments), and stack them on top of that first assembly, and what do you have? Hmmm?

I’ll tell you what you have. You have a solid steel multi-level house, just waiting to happen.  In less than a few hours, you’ve put up a shelter that encompasses 1,920 square feet (with 9′ ceilings!), just waiting for cabinets, plumbing, electrical, and “habitation…” Not bad for one days work, huh?

And, I’m not gonna lose square footage to the staircase, because I’m going to attach a container to this massive pile of “mankind waiting to happen” (standing straight up in the air, on end) to form a 40′ tall “staircase tower.” So, we used (7) containers, and we are already “weathered in,” and we can start modifying them whenever we want, no matter what Mother Nature brings… using basic hand tools you’ll find in most shops.

I wanted to just put in a pole like they have at Fire Stations, but my wife nixed the idea. For some strange reason, she thinks it’d come with strippers dancing around it… 🙂

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that those boxes come with flooring already installed, so I’ll save some money, and I can work without worrying about tripping. That is, after I encapsulate it. Container floors are treated with chemicals that are very toxic. On second though, I think I’ll rip them out, and pour in some nice safe concrete… I am kinda fond of living, after all…

Convinced yet that this is the “idea of the century?”

Okay, it’s not quite that easy. But it’s not that hard, either.

First things first…

Where do you get the containers, and what do they cost?

I’ve talked about how abundant these babies are, and all you really need is to be located near a shipping port or a big rail yard. Why? Because it’s not the cost of the box that kills you, it’s the cost of the “shipping.” These boxes have to be put on trailers and then trucked to your site. With fuel prices going through the roof, THAT “delivery fee” is the big limitation to using Shipping Containers to build your abode.

I was on the phone today (Feb 17th, 2009) talking to some guys I know that run a big “Shipping Container Graveyard.” It’s located about 100 miles from me, here in coastal Mississippi.

I asked them about 40′ HQ containers, because I want the extra height, to either add ceiling headroom or increase square footage (by laying them on their sides).   Now, they’re gonna give me a “deal,” so buying (1) is gonna cost me about $1,200.00, plus shipping. But, if I buy (10) or more, the price drops dramatically. In fact, it drops below $1000 each. If I bargain like I’m Chinese (because they are great bargainers! I have a “Hong Kong” story I’ll tell ya sometime… :-)) I can probably get the price down to about $850.00 – $900.00 each. Okay, maybe not. But a grand a pop might be doable.

But, it gets better. If I get “creative,” and allow the boxes to be used to actually haul freight to a location near me (after all, that’s what they are designed for), my shipping costs drop dramatically.

It’s going to take longer to get them to me, sure. That’s because “logistics” get thrown into the mix. But, it does give me time to work on them, as they roll in, so that I can get the “sub assemblies” ready to stack. And, I might even need less area in my yard to store them, if I can work fast!!

And, from the street, the house looks just like a big steel box. I can make it look like anything I want. It’s a blank slate (not to be confused with the “blank stares” my neighbors get, when they see the renderings).

I don’t know why? I think a big pile of “semi-rusting hulks covered in graffiti” surrounded by acres of crabgrass looks just “swell!” 😉

I can use the same doors and windows as everybody else on the block. So, it looks like Lowe’s or Home Depot is gonna get some of my hard earned cash. And, once those doors and windows are installed, all I need to do is insulate the beast, and slap on some siding.

Guess what? Now you can’t even tell that it was a bunch of ugly shipping containers! In fact, what you have is a big, strong house, that from the outside, looks just like anybody elses!

And, you did it in less than a week. Last week, it was just an eyesore of a deserted vacant lot filled with garbage, old cars, and the local kids “fort.” Today, it’s a house, waiting for it’s insides to get installed, so that you can move in… And because it’s made out of solid steel, it’s easy to secure it and all your stuff, while you do it.

And, we’re talking about an investment of less than $15,000 so far…

Now, call your contractor, and ask him if he can build you a 2,000 square foot house shell, weathered in, ready to be trimmed out, for that price…

Wanna learn more?

See you next time…

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance RoninCost of vacant lot, crane, and permits extra. Your mileage may vary. Wear eye protection at all times. Don’t run with scissors. Drink your milk.  Don’t talk to strangers. All sales final. No refunds!

Eavesdrop on our “Container Conversations!”

13 Feb

Hi Campers… welcome back!

Recently, I was considering the steps my family is taking (we’re beginning to actually gain speed and even [gasp!] make some progress) as we build our “Shipping Container House” out of Chinese steel, flotsam, and even some jetsam…

And… I started thinking that I’m “in it so deep, I can’t see the forest for the trees…”

After all, the world we live in is getting pretty difficult to navigate! I figure that using ISBU’s to build a house is just a commonsense response to the housing crisis, the economic failure, and the mortgage dilemma! After all, somebody has to come up with a solution, and if we wait for Washington… well… I’m not gonna hold my breath! So, I’m gonna do it, all by my “onesies!” To do any less would be “Un-American!” Granted, it’s presented a lot of confusing twists and turns, as I try to keep up with the gyrations of the politicians in charge.

Now, this “confused” condition isn’t uncommon to me. I have, in my possession, a very good reason for being both befuddled and confused. And, that reason comes in a highly ambulatory 30+ pound package, seemingly hell-bent to propel me towards an early grave, so that both he and his mother can bask in the twilight of my death benefits… while my corpse slowly turns into compost in the backyard…

So, I did what any “normal” person would do…

NO! I didn’t double up on my medication! Nuh-uh! The last time I did that, I woke up under a fountain in Ft Myers, wearing a dress, a green wig, and enough lipstick to look like a whole convention of circus clowns! And confidentially, Ft. Myers cops have NO sense of humor, let me tell you!! LOL!

I reached out to a trusted comrade, for advice. Now, I know… Using my character as a measurement virtually insures that anyone I associate with is a real “character,” but…

I also knew that he wouldn’t charge me $100 bucks an hour to sit there and nod, like that *$^%#@!! of a therapist… And he isn’t afraid to just laugh in my face and point out all my shortcomings… I suspect that he’s related to my wife… LOL!

But I digress…

As the house plans get closer to being “finalized,” I’ve been playing with the idea of having one container stick straight out of the house, to “cover” the drive-up entry. Think of it as a Porte Cochere (which is just a fancy name for a carport that you can run into when you get home late after playing poker all night with your pals)…

So, I contacted my pal, that “Titan of Tennessee,” that “Purveyor of Prose,” that “I told you so, you moron…” of a… (well… I’ll expand on that another time…) “Mister Manly,” (whom I affectionately refer to as “MM,” or “that hillbilly @sshole…”) and tried to bounce a few questions off of him.

Now, besides being in criminal possession of common sense, “MM” has the lofty distinction of being the author of several earth-shattering blogs, places where those of us lost in the forest can seek the “Siren’s Song of Wisdom,” and find our way through to the other side.

At least, that’s what he tells me… I suspect those “sirens” are sounding for a far more sinister reason… LOL!

Anyway, “MM” has been offering up volumes of advise, in places like “Mister Manly,” “Brit and Grit,” “The News Pays Its Dues,” and other places, since long before I can remember.

Of course, I can’t remember that far back because senility is a terrible disease, and… oh… never mind!

So, being absolutely desperate, and having already had several doors slammed in my face… I put down my medication with a trembling hand… and I asked him this question:

(I’ll put MM’s commentary in RED, so that you can tell which one of us is rational, and which one of us is a communist sympathizer… um… er… that’s not it… Relax… MM is no ‘Commie…” He’s just a Redneck… hence… RED text. LOL!)

MM,” let’s get right to it, shall we? You’ve laughed… um… er… watched as I navigate the perilous rapids of politicians, poltroons, and “prehistorics…” as I try to build a house for my wife and kid.

And, you have a vague idea of the scope of my project. I say vague, because from that “Scotch induced haze” you live in, even Mt Everest would appear like an ghostly apparition, huh? LOL!

I know, better “good scotch” than the swill I’m forced to drink here in Mississippi, eh? Now, I know you’re a man of refined tastes (that scotch you drink is Single Malt, after all…) so, I wonder if you’d offer me some of your sage wisdom?

Okay… How much land do you have for this project anyway? If you’ve got extra, you could put some containers of different sizes in the back, and play them like a giant drum set with a small wrecking ball. I’m assuming that your neighbors already don’t like you 🙂

Maaaan…”MM…” I knew asking your opinion was gonna bite me on the ass… LOL!

A surprising number of people say that after asking my opinion. Go figure. Of course, an even more surprising number can be heard muttering, “I should have listened to the bastard,” later 🙂

Okay… I guess I’ll have to wait for that “clear and envisioned moment,” when, accompanied by the gnashing of teeth, the tearing of hair, and the suffering of soul… I lament that I didn’t heed your advice, oh “Sage of Sages…” LOL!

According to those who are supposed to know, I’m going to be entitled to a parcel that is about 4.8 acres, located just this side of the sphincter of Mississippi, Biloxi. Actually, it’s a tract that is in unincorporated Harrison County, about 5 minutes from town. It borders the bay, which means that I’ll have water access, but only when it’s flooding! LOL!

And… Uh-huh… Nix on the drum playing container set, bub… Joshua would just get attached to the idea, and I’d never sleep again. He’s already discovered NASCAR and CMT (Country Music), and whenever either of those are on, he beats the crap out of anything that will resonate. It’s hilarious. I think he’s found a career track already…

But fear not! I promise to fully scar the landscape! I’m going to build an “outbuilding” in the back (using 4 containers), a place where I can go to be alone and experience those “mantasms” that people reading your blogs supposedly achieve. After all, nothing is worse than an interrupted “mantasm…”

I’ll remind you that my new (smaller) house plan calls for the use of 10 containers. Remember that I had to “downsize” because the politicians in charge have decided that building a large “stately” house would threaten the paltry lil shacks that they call their “Mississippi Mansions.”

I’m still using a masonry or concrete first level, depending on whether or not the concrete guy comes through… I already have a commitment from the State of Mississippi… um… er… that one’s for insanity… never mind.

Where were we? Oh yeah…

Obviously MM, even to the “untrained” eye… my house is a humble multi-level stack of containers, that sits on top of a concrete 1st level. But from the “front” of the house, it’s less than inspiring…

What do you think about cantilevering a container off the front of the house (on the “third” floor), to serve both as a Porte Cochere (see previous definition), and provide some additional area on the third floor, for more common space and a guest bed?

Looks to me like you have things covered pretty well. I like the idea of having the container stuck to the side of the house, very artsy. I would, however, suggest that you put a trap door in the floor to use as a murder hole against unwanted visitors. Oh, and you should stick an extra and empty container off the back to practice racket ball in.

I do have plans to put some glass block (a 4×4 patch) in the floor of the “container extension” over the driveway, so I can see “who ‘dat who says who ‘dat…” The little “connector area” attached to the house allows me a sniper position to neutralize any threats from hostile Jehovah’s Witnesses, belligerent Girl Scouts hawking cookies, or (gasp!) Amway salesmen…

Hey… did you know that you can probably build an indoor racketball court from (4) 40′ HQ containers? And, I even have lots of decking to recycle and use for the hardwood flooring! I used to play racketball, back in the days when we cut the handles off tennis rackets, and we used handballs as “implements of destruction.” But, you won’t see me on a court for a while, I’d just put my eye out… LOL!

You could also take one, cut the roof off, and have a nice swimming pool. Or, if you added a cut out on the side, covered by lexan, you’d have one hell of an impressive aquarium.

Funny you should mention a pool… because I am going to take one container and turn it into a lap pool, by cutting the top off of it, and applying a spray-on pool liner to the inside of it. I’ll end up with a lap-pool that’s 9.5 feet wide, 8′ deep, and 40 feet long…if my neighbors garden hose will stretch far enough to fill it, that is… LOL!

And ever vigilant in my quest to be “green…” using solar panels to heat the water, I can take a dip in my “Corten Pond” whenever I want to, to get away from the wife and the little miscreant…After all, the water was free…

I don’t know about a “viewport” in the pool, though. I don’t think anybody wants to see a bloated old Jew attempting to tread water…

And FYI: All my lexan is scheduled for the bulletproof windows, as a part of my “protection from angry mobs of rednecks and keeping fat Jews alive in the South…” security program. LOL!

I’ll deck around it, and connect that deck to one of the decks behind the back of the house, so I don’t have to blaze a trail thru the bushes, to get to it…

I have about 2000 square feet of “open” grating I scrounged from a local hotel, after the hurricane. It was a part of their “elevated” landscape walkway. Open grating is cool, because it’ll allow drainage, it’s still easy on the bare feet, and sunlight will pass through it to let the grass grow underneath it.

When I was getting stuff from the “crap pile” at a local hotel (I have a contractor friend that got me access) it was sitting there in stacks by the other crap. I asked the guy if I could have it, and he said he supposed I could take a few pieces if I wanted. So, naturally, being a good and faithful Jew (I love stereotypes, don’t you?), every time I returned to get “crap material,” I’d check, and then… I’d take a few more pieces. In the end… I’d taken all of it, every last panel. Turns out they were supposed to save it, but by the time they figured it out, I had it all “off-property.”

I thought about offering to sell it back to them, but I was scared of the felony… LOL!

It’ll look really um…. er… cool, even though it has the hotel logo embossed into it, and from underneath it (remember it will be 8′ off the ground) you’ll be able to look up through it, and see…. never mind. My wife will figure it out, if I say it…

As to the grating, save one section, wield rings on either side and a bunch of weight around the edges. Mount this with two 30′ poles over a platform of railroad ties. Add a hoist and a quick release, and you have the ultimate dicer! Film the bastard dropping on various melons and such, and you could not only have lots of fun, but cut in on Gallagher’s market. Unlimited potential!

I do like the idea of “Mondo-Dice-A-Matic!” But, I’d use a local Planning and Zoning Inspector, to be determined each week. At the current “Pay per View” rates, I’d cash in! I bet the hotel I got the grates from would try to muscle in on the action, though… After all, it was their grates I “obtained by completely innocent means.”

Hey, I could offer my services to the State of Mississippi, too! Now, you could have a choice between hanging, electrocution, lethal injection, or “instant fertilizer!” If I plant carefully, I bet my rose bushes would be spectacular!

Now, about the house.. can we talk about the house? Please? I mean… Really… sheesh!

I figure that if we turned a 40′ HQ Container on it’s side (9’6″), the extension off the front of the house would give us enough space to play with, or even create an in-home bowling alley!

Plus, the ceiling will be plenty tall (as it will probably be arched) and built in a contemporary design. So, we’ll have the ability to “open” the top of the container, to expose “the ceiling” and increase headroom. By using a container door on each side of the “extension” we can enlarge the “connector” to about 15′ (plus or minus a foot).

The “added” container can be as long (or as short) as I want, but I’m thinking to use the whole thing, so as to cut down physical labor (and the chance that I might hurt myself using “complicated” power tools) to cut it to length… .

Once it’s welded into the existing structure and supported by columns, it’s pretty much a no-brainer. (If I don’t set myself on fire, or accidentally weld myself to the framework…)


Originally, as you can plainly see (even though you’re probably intoxicated LOL!) there were three bedroom and bathrooms all squeezed together on the “family” floor… but it was getting expensive, what with all the redundant fixtures and plumbing. Hey, I just wanted to make sure that we didn’t outgrow the house…

However… my wife said the only way we were gonna reproduce again was if I learned how to “clone” myself, so we didn’t even need all those bedrooms…

Well, okay, she didn’t exactly say “Clone yourself…” more like “Go *&^%!! yourself!…” LOL!


So as you’ve probably already figured out…

After we’d thought about it, we really saw no reason for so many bedrooms and bathrooms.

Every once in a while, “reality” has to rear it’s ugly head, even at “Ronin’s house…” When will we ever entertain “guests,” anyway? Hmmm? Who knows better than you that people avoid us like the “black plague?“ I don’t know why… I bathe every Saturday, and the boy gets semi-regular diaper changes…

And, BTW; I’m thinking about putting in a “murphy bed,” anyway. If we just provide a “fold-down, uncomfortable, bumps in places, lumps in others…” bed, it will make people think twice about ideas of visiting for prolonged periods of time. LOL!

On a serious note; When Char recovers, the downstairs bedroom could always become a “guest room,” if we need it (G_d forbid!). After all, where will my young, vivacious, rather buxom Swedish nurse “Inga” sleep, when I’m old and senile?

I need a nurse, I tell you! Whenever Char gives me a spongebath, she tries to hold my head under the water…I hate that! And the soapy water hurts my eyes!

I know that all these goals seem “lofty…” But, we can do this! By my count ( and I took off my shoes and socks, to make sure) we’ll have extra containers left over. So, by adding a container (extruded into the front yard) we can add intrigue, a little whimsy, and expose the “horrid roots” of “that industrial park of a @%#$!” house, all in one fell swoop.

I’ll even leave the bottom of the container exposed as well, so people can look up in the driveway and see it.

Adding this “protrusion” lets us build a “washing workstation” in the house, a little space for a TV area, a pocket gym (so I can start trying to get back in a shape besides “round…”) and it can double as a play area for Joshua while We/I do every chore ever recorded since the Magna Carta!

I’m thinking about a holding pond in the front of the house to channel runoff into, so I figure… why not make it “ornamental” and float the end of the container from it? That way, you could look down and see the mosquitos swarming in formation, before they attack the peddlers!

It’s just some concrete, a little steel, a little _art,” and a few tubes.

I kinda like it… What say you?

Is it just getting too weird?

If memory serves, they ship containers by rail, so you might want to give some thought to making a couple into self contained luxury passenger units. Really, given what other unusual modes of travel rich people will pay for, why not being shipped across country in a small, but lavish, cabin with complete privacy for a few days. Heck, you could also rent them out for sea voyages. Don’t people from China pay over $20,000 to get in one even though it’s not a private room?! You could make a killing, and since you’re a friend I only want 5% of the profits.

I like the idea of “Luxury Container Railcars,” but I’m sure that the Fed’s would just get in the way. Hey… I suspect that they are afraid that you would turn them into brothels, poker palaces, and similar “dens of iniquity…” I’ll have to give this some more thought! LOL!

And your wife couldn’t cut you off, because she wouldn’t know where you were getting it! LOL!

I’ve heard that they use ISBUs now to build passenger barges in France.. But, you know how the French are. Those barges probably sink like stones! It’s not like the French would care, they would have already emptied your pockets of every Euro or Dollar you ever possessed, before you got onboard the damned thing…

You should also give some thought to adding wheels and a motor to one. That should draw some attention going down the road!

I could always build that “motor home” I ran in the blog a while back. It was basically a cab and motor attached to a container… It was pretty scary, and it’d take about a 24 point turn to turn it around in traffic… LOL!

You might also consider rigging single containers out as “man caves,” so regular Joe’s could turn their homes into compounds by dropping one in the back yard for a reasonable price.

“Mister Manly Man Caves” does have a rather pleasant ring to it. And, since they are movable, if your wife gets too cranky, you could move it to a more remote location, and claim it as a “vacation home.” Then, recycle it into a “ISBU Bevy O Boobs and Butt…” and cash in! Ka-ching!

Still, with the open invitation to opine that you gave me, you must know that I won’t stop! So, have you thought of using a container or two as a basement? You seem to know how to make the things water proof, so even in Mississippi it should work. Plus, once you prove it works, there might be a container basement market to go under normal homes?

MM… MM… MM… Basements are a “no-no” in Coastal Mississippi! This area is basically just reclaimed swampland. The water table is so high that if you scuff your boot in disgust, you have to start immediately pumping out the water, to avoid drowning.

And even if you could build a basement, there aren’t enough cranes available to lift all the single-wides up, so as you could put the containers underneath! You’d have to look for “rich people living in their double-wides!” Gawd forbid you should look for a “normal home!” Around here it’d be easier to find “The Holy Grail…” LOL!

I knew I’d be sorry for asking your opinion. Thanks for not disappointing me! LOL!

PS Don’t forget to keep an eye on the giant stimulus bill making it’s way through Congress in case you can snatch some of the “green” incentives. Better you than assholes in California.

Next time… we’ll return to our “regularly scheduled program,” and we’ll try to make some sense…

Stay Tuned!

The Renaissance RoninRelax… It’s Friday the 13th! Did you think I was gonna write “War and Peace?” Nope.

Addendum: Man… evidentally, Baptists have no sense of humor, either… after they read the “comments” on this post. I’ve gotten three email “tongue lashings,” a few family ancestry “assaults,” and even an “invitation to a good old-fashioned ass-whuppin’.”  So, for the record… I was just teasing someone I know to be a good, solid, stand-up Baptist grandma (even if she is short, and kinda belligerent!)… I have nothing against Baptists! In fact I like them… Sheesh!

(If they are properly marinated and BBQ’d at a slow, even temperature!) LOL!

It’s Okay to Use the Sun… Honest!

10 Feb

And now for the next exciting episode of;

“Ronin’s 10 simple rules of homebuilding!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design For And then Install Solar Power Systems

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

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

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

I suppose one of the options is solar energy.


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

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

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

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

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

Where was I? Oh yeah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the list of things to consider;

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


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


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


And here’s where Ronin sticks his neck out;

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

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

Is living GREEN really possible? Start with Solar!

2 Feb

The stomach churning  news about our rapidly failing economy seems to get more painful every time I turn on CNN or FOX News….

As I watch cable, “people paid to know the answers” make predictions on how and when things will turn around.  Analysts seeking their 15 minutes of fame play the blame game as to how we got into this mess in the first place. It doesn’t matter how we arrived here, folks…

The fact is: “We’re here.” No matter which side you’re on, be it Republican, Democrat, or Independent…

America has experienced a mind-boggling crisis of leadership on almost every front. You don’t have to be a “paid commentator” to see that leadership so poor  can’t be  easily explained away, without using terms like “utter incompetency” or “criminal negligence.”

Still, in spite of the horror of all the negative headlines… for most of us, life goes on pretty much as usual.. if the distinct possibility of losing your credit, your job, and your home is “usual…”

We all know that when it gets bad, we need a good leader to get us through the desert and into the “promised land,” even if we have to drag us  there, kicking and screaming!


And good leadership is is never more important than in times of economic disaster… but it is really put to the test in times such as these. America needs to heal, and we need to do it, one step at a time.

What does Ronin think about all of this? I know that you’re just dying to find out, hmmm? Well? Are ya? Okay, since you twisted my arm… I think that “Green Living ” is a good place to start the healing.

The incoming Obama administration talks a lot about supporting alternative energy and green technologies. With great fanfare, President Obama has released a plan that includes the following goals:

* Help create 5 million new jobs by investing $150 billion over the next 10 years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future.

Solar can do this.

* Put 1 million plug-in hybrid cars — cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon — on the road by 2015, cars to be built in America.

Solar can do this.

* Ensure 10% of the electricity in the United States comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25% by 2025

Solar can do this.

* Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 80% by 2050.

Solar can do this.

Ahem… President Obama, if you’re listening: “SOLAR can do this!”

The planet is hardly “standing still.” With global energy consumption expected to double between 2005 and 2030, new legislation and regulations, and growing consumer demand and awareness are driving growth in energy-efficient end products, particularly in the appliances, lighting, home entertainment systems, computing and communications, and automotive markets.

This is a boon for those of us looking to streamline our existence, by co-existing. And saving energy puts cash back in our pockets.

Demand for hybrid and electric vehicles, for example, is increasing as a result of the pressure to cut carbon emissions and concerns regarding the stability of supply and the cost of oil.

tesla-electric-carDon’t hate me cuz’ I’m beautiful! LOL!

If you don’t like that one, how about this one? Hmmm? I give you “The Ultimate Aero EV!”


Shelby SuperCars recently announced plans to produce an all-electric version of one of their current cars, the Ultimate Aero, also known as the world’s fastest production car. The new model will be powered by their revolutionary All-Electric Scalable Powertrain (AESP) will provide 100% torque at 0 RPM and better performance compared to traditional internal combustion engines. With a 1,000 horsepower twin motor and 800 ft-lb of torque the car will be able to achieve 60mph in 2.5 seconds and have a top speed of 208mph. According to the company, using a patented new technology (“Charge on the Run”) the battery will charge in 10 minutes and have a 150-200 mile range.

Now, I just hope that these technologies will prove themselves and then quickly “trickle down” to us “little people.” That would mean more affordable electric cars for the rest of us. And, you know I live for an affordable electric car that goes 200+ miles per hour. But where do the groceries and the baby stroller go?

(Fear not, for “Screamin’ Green 200+ mph,” I’ll strap my wife to the hood, like a deer!) LOL!

FYI: The car in this video has a 387 cubic inch, all aluminum, twin turbo intercooled V8 gas engine. Can’t wait to see how they figure out how they also plan to draw enough juice from a 220v plug to power up the batteries, in 10 minutes! It sounds like a cool goal!

Now, if my blog makes me a cool “Eleventy Million Bucks!” I’ll be able to afford one. Okay, maybe just the gearshift knob…


Oops! I know… I know… Never wave a sexy car at Ronin… I’ll forget about everything else! Oy Vey!

Now where was I? Oh yeah…

These same concerns are also fueling demands to make conventional gasoline, diesel-powered, and “alternative fuel” automobiles even more efficient. As we move forward, scientists, engineers and even software geeks (remember that “job-creation” part?) will play a key role in the development of  more efficient vehicles and other products that we depend on in our daily lives.

Can President Obama really have an impact on America?

After all, the Republicans saber-rattle at the “Stimulus Bill,” the Democrats are trying to figure out how much of their “pie” they will lose to Obama’s new “watchdog actions on Congress,” and Independents are still “tearing their hair and gnashing their teeth…”

According to my “Magic 8-Ball,” the Obama presidency can bring about new tax incentives and “green initiatives” for power conservation in a huge range  of  products, from consumer goods such as TVs and white goods to enterprise-storage equipment. BTW: Magic 8-ball says; “Outlook Good.”

The Obama presidency will need to make and show an economic change quickly in order to make good on his “lofty” campaign promises. The President will need to call in his troops to help him achieve his goals. He has expressed strong support of “Clean and Green” technologies and if he acts effectively, he CAN achieve those goals.

It isn’t going to be easy, but an increased emphasis on scientific development, renewable energy, high-tech and infrastructure renewal ( the Internet II project, for example) should actually accelerate America’s growth.

Just how much progress can we make? Well…  we’ll just have to wait and see.

Everyone hopes that  President Obama will make wise decisions that will have both long- and short-term benefits for the economy. I think he has the ability to inspire the country. He’s already proven that. What America needs is a healthy economy that produces a need for its products.

If Obama can help America embrace “Living Green,” we can all start to heal and see almost immediate results.

It’s a given that it isn’t just “us” suffering this horrid economic downturn.  The world’s economic balance will be affected in ways we can’t clearly imagine or predict, despite what all the “contradicting analysts” on Cable TV say.  America must be hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. What we do know is that although we don’t know what the future holds, we must be well-positioned to face and overcome the challenges that America may be faced with.

Everything we use should be designed to go full-circle. You can never throw anything away that could be reused or recycled, and we must teach our children to do the same.

I was recently reminded of a National Geographic article reprint entitled “What On Earth Are We Doing?” National Geographic really needs to reprint this, and get it into classrooms! You don’t have to hug a tree to realize that the environment is that important.

So where do we start?

Obama wants 10% of energy resources in the United States to come from renewable sources, by 2012. That’s actually doable.

Solar can do this.

The “Energy naysayers” say that solar and wind are just idealistic nonsense. They claim that both of these potential areas of energy growth aren’t reliable or efficient. To them, I say this…


Solar panels and wind turbines create electrical energy, by using semi-conductors to play a vital role. And, I admit that solar panels have a significant problem, But, it’s a problem that existing technology (analog semi-conductors) can remedy!

Just like the battery in your car, a bad cell in an array of solar panels can seriously compromise the amount of power generated by the array. And, if just one panel in an array of solar panels is impaired by shade, be it a tree, a chimney, or another building, the electrical output for the entire array is compromised.

Here’s how to fix it: Adding semi-conductor based modules that monitor and regulate energy to the panels (and how it’s used) can lessen this problem dramatically, and improve the panel’s efficiency.

Now, some of these “miracle modules” are already available. The problem is that demand isn’t large enough yet to make them affordable to you and me. Let’s hope that Obama uses his clout to push these new “Smart Power” technological break-thrus into the mainstream, so that we can help him use them to achieve his goals, and ours.

And so ends another broadcast day… this ends our daily broadcast…


Next time, we’ll talk about more “Ronin’s Rules of Homebuilding,” I promise!

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance Ronin