Review: Ting cell phone service

ting 

An important step to living the tiny house lifestyle is reducing expenses.  In this post I will review cell phone service offered by Ting.com which is a newish cell phone provider (MVNO) that operates on the Sprint network.

Now that I have my tiny house built, I need to take the next step which is to eliminate my remaining debts and trim my monthly expenses where possible. My cell phone bill with AT&T runs me about $90 per month. Their coverage is very good and their data network in my area is excellent.

Like most things in the world of tiny living you first need to ruthlessly evaluate your needs and then find the solution that meets those needs in the most efficient manner.

My needs for a cell phone is to make a couple calls, get emails, and maybe some text messages here and there. I get very few phone calls, maybe 50 minutes per month. My text messages are generally very low as well. For data, I generally use less than 1GB per month.

Another motivation for switching is to stick it to the phone companies who have been sticking it to us.  Many people (like my mom) are happy to get a free phone and keep it for years.  Embedded in each months cell phone bill is a subsidy for the phone you use.  If you don’t get a new phone, or get a cheap one, you are giving the phone company free money each month!  The subsidy you do get has you paying a premium for the phone you use if you factor the total of 24 months of payments.  I want the cheapest service possible….subsidize someone else please!

As part of my research on this topic I stumbled upon the service offered by Ting. They offer a tiered plan that lets you pay for the services you use.

Screen shot 2013-11-27 at 11.35.03 AM

It seemed like a pretty cool concept to me.  I like a barebones offering where I pay for exactly the services I want to use.  If I want a fancy new phone *I* pay for it.  If I want to stream a seasons worth of Breaking Bad, *I* pay for the data.

The Bad

Let me first list the things that I don’t like about Ting’s service. The phone selection is tricky.  I wanted to test it with a cheap phone to see if its worth switching.  To use Ting, you must find a phone that workd on Sprints network. BUT, it can’t be from Virgin or most of the other Sprint MVNO’s. Ting does offer a selecting of new and used phones that will work with their service.  They also publish a whitelist of phones you can bring.

The best way to get a cheap phone is to use eBay or Amazon. These days eBay has become a “…wretched hive of scum and villainy. [You] must be cautious…”. Buyers are opening cases in order to get discounts from sellers. Some buyers  lie and say they never got your package. Cell phone sellers lie saying a phone is not stolen and can be activated when it cannot.

My first phone purchase from eBay was a stolen phone that could not be activated. I’m still working out a refund, but I’m probably out 26 bucks. I ended up using Amazon to purchase a brand new LG Optimus S for $66 shipped in 2 days via their prime service. Amazon has an excellent return policy and generally polices stolen goods very well. I would have been happier spending $26 rather than $66…it is what it is as BB would say.

Ting Activation

The activation process was painless and only took 5 minutes or so. I wish there was an option to pick my own phone number, but otherwise things were fine. Monthly charges go on my credit card which lets me earn home depot gift cards.  

You can use their website to see your usage with a little bit of a lag. I also downloaded the Ting Android app so I can track my usage from the phone.  Overall their website is very nicely done. 

They have an excellent self service portal which can be used to port numbers and limit services to your phone.

Coverage

I am blown away with how good Sprints coverage is in central MA. I expected lots of dead spots but found none (so far). The data speeds are fairly slow with .5 down and .5 up being the norm.

This is generally much slower than AT&T but about the same as Verizon. I lived with Verizon for 6 weeks and had few issues with the slow speed, so I can deal with it.

The last 10 miles to my house is where cell phone service dies. surprisingly, I was able to make voice calls almost all the way to my house. It dies at my house due to the topography, but if I walk a mile down the road I am getting 3 bars which is actually a bit better than my AT&T phone.

If this trend holds I would say there will be no issues with coverage.

Bottom Line

I give Ting 9 out of 10 stars at this point. It’s a great service that is sure to give the other carriers trouble. I am estimating a phone bill of between $36 and $54 each month. If I can be smart on my data usage, it will be $36….thats a whopping 60% reduction in my phone bill.

Please Support This Blog

I generally don’t make any attempt to monetize this blog. If you are going to sign up with Ting anyway, please use this referral link. It gets you $25 off a phone from them and it gives me a $25 credit.

https://z8icf12aes4.ting.com/

Tiny House Heating Performance

Performance-Counter1

As you read this blog you will see that an awful lot of thought, money and time was spent on insulation. I wanted the tiny house heating to be done with a wood stove running just a few hours each day. There is nothing worse than waking up at 3AM to add wood to the stove, or worse get the stove going from scratch.

Primary Heating System

My primary source of heat is a Jotul 602 wood burning stove and chimney made from class A chimney pipe. The Jotul 602 is a proven design that has been around forever. There are about three or four different version of it in circulation.

jotulF602CB

Current Model

jotul-602-b

602B

Jotul-602

Original Model 602

The most recent version is the 602CB “clean burn” which meets current EPA standards. I have the 602C version which is an older model because I’m too cheap to spend $1400 on a new stove.

I found my stove on Craigslist for $200. For that price point you can’t expect a perfect stove. Mine had a cracked back plate and some rust. The rust is easily taken care of with a wire brush and stove polish. The back plate needed to be replaced. Having burned this stove for a month now, I think I could have gotten away with the cracked back plate had I just applied some stove cement.  The stove is very controllable and a couple small cracks would not have caused me any problems due to the additional combustion air.

In any event, I replaced the back plate which I ordered from the web site Woodmans Parts Plus. It was about $150 shipped. Installation was a bitch since some of the fasteners broke off due to age and heat stress. I ended up drilling and taping a number of 5mm holes in the top plate to get everything back together.

Firewood

When I cleared the land for the Bodega build there were a number of small trees that needed to be removed. Most of them were in the 2-8 inch size range as this lot was cleared by a previous owner many years ago. Many wood burners will discard small trees and branches and focus on larger logs that can be split.

This practice strikes me as wasteful so I have decided to use all wood down to about an inch in diameter. To cut this small wood I use a chop saw rather than a chainsaw. I leave the small wood in the longest lengths possible and feed it thru the table on the chop saw. A small tree that is 20ft long can be cut up in just a few minutes using this method. For larger logs I use an electric log splitter and cut them into splits that are about 4 inches in size. The combination of small splits and small rounds works nicely in the Jotul 602.

branchwood

 

This person has the right idea…

 

To get my fire going I use construction scraps or pallet cut into small chunks. The chop saw with a carbide blade cuts this wood nicely. An occasional nail is handled by the carbide blade without any damage…I do attempt to avoid nails when possible. Since I need this wood to be dry it gets stored in 30 gallon HDPE drums that have rain tight covers.

constructionscrap

 

Another source of firewood similar to the product used in pellet stoves are called Bio Bricks. Other companies produce them in various sizes with different names too. I bought a pallet of them last season for burning in the XS house. They come shrink wrapped in small packages that are easily transported into the house. The stack nicely and are clean so I have a pile of them on my front porch. On weekends, I will toss in a brick here and there to maintain the fire during the day. Bio Bricks can burn very hot so be careful. If you have a stove with a leaky door, you can over fire quickly.

biobricks palletofbiobricks

 

Running the stove

Each night I go out to the wood pile and gather a five gallon pail full of wood. I pick out 2-3 small splits, some small rounds, and a few pieces of pallet wood. This will be all the wood I use for the nights burn.

The stove first gets filled with old newspapers. Then I take a small hatchet and split the pallet wood into small pieces. The small pieces are placed on top of the newspaper. The newspaper gets lit and the door is closed with the vent open fully. After a few minutes the pallet wood catched fire. After it gets going, I drop on a couple large pieces of pallet wood and a small round or two.

In about 10 minutes the stove will begin to heat up. Once the stove warms up a bit, I drop on more small rounds and a small split that will warm the stove up to operating temperature. If its cold, I leave the vent wide open to get things going quickly then I close the front vent to about 40%.

When the stove is up to temperature, I usually add another small split and close the vent to maybe 5%. If you close it too much the fire will smother and go out barely consuming the wood. After the first load of wood is about 75% consumed I load up what ever is left in the bucket of wood. That final burn will last until about 1AM and the stove will be fairly cool by 3AM.

House Temperatures

We recently had some very cold weather and I was able to get a good sense how well my insulation performs. Using my typical burn described above, the house temps went from about 50 degrees and topped out between 75 and 80. The loft ends up being hotter than the first floor, so I often will crack the window up there. By 7AM the next morning the house is still above 60 degrees which is good enough for me.

This result was obtained with a 16 degree outside air temperature with very strong winds. With outside temps of 15-35 degrees, I make no attempt to load the stove up for an overnight burn. I end up with a strong burn going from about 6PM to 11PM and winding down by 1AM. In the dead of winter on especially cold nights I expect that I will load the stove up at 10-11PM for an overnight burn. I see no reason why I can’t maintain 68-72 degrees by morning even in the coldest outside temperatures.

November Update (I’m Done)

imdone

 

I have been slow at updating this blog since I have been busy getting settled into the new house. I will post a bunch of updates to get you caught up.

Occupancy Permit

In order to start moving in, you need something called an occupancy permit. It just means that all the required inspections have passed. In my town they give you a piece of paper that gets signed off as you build. Once all the lines are signed off it magically turns itself into your occupancy permit.

In the last week of my build I had a total of 5 inspections that needed to be done:

  • Fuel storage inspection for my propane tank
  • Smoke detector
  • Driveway inspection
  • Plumbing inspection
  • Final building inspection

The first three inspections are all handled by the same person in my town as he runs both the highway and fire departments. The plumbing inspector is a regional guy that handles several towns. The building inspector is a local guy and I have dealt with him throughout the build.  The smoke and fuel permits cost me yet another $50 for the permit fee. There were no issues found and I was able to begin moving in on the 28th of September.

My goal was to begin moving by Oct 1 so I’ve met that. I did have a couple issues to take care of on my move in day. My well pump controller, batteries, and PV panels were still connected to the XS house. If I wanted real power or water they all needed to be moved. I left this to the last minute on purpose.

Batteries

Prior to moving day I had been running the Bodega from a spare marine battery that was in pretty bad shape. After removing the batteries from my XS house, I realized that they were probably not it the greatest shape either.

They are a bit difficult to get at in the XS house battery compartment, and the fill caps are obscured by my garden hose size battery cables. I discovered that the water levels had fallen to the point where both batteries required nearly half a gallon of distilled water. After filling, I left each battery on a charger to top them off independently (as in not connected in a bank). Having used them for six weeks, I can say that their time on this planet has come to an end.  At one time they were 100 amp hours each, now i’d guess that they are about 20 each. I’m muddling along with them for the time being since I need to spend my money elsewhere.

Well Controller

sunpump

 

My well pump is powered by an 8 gauge 3 conductor black jacketed cable. My installation in the XS house consisted of burying it in the driveway and on the surface thru the woods to the house. For a temporary installation, this worked out fine. Now I want a permanent installation and needed to trench from the driveway to the house. Where the cable is close to the house and a bit shallow, I laid down some 1.25 inch PVC conduit. In the trench I made a point to remove all rocks and put sand around the cable to help prevent damage over time.

The control box was removed from the electrical cabinet of the XS house and mounted in my auxiliary panel along with the charge controller and other stuff. There are seven connections needed to make the controller go (+12V in, DC -, Pump Out +, Pump Out -, Ground, Pressure Switch A, Pressure Switch B). The large wires and small box make this a bit of a challenge, but a little patience and some cursing it all fits in there.  Here’s how it gets wired if you are interested:

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PV Panels

I needed to connect my existing rack of PV panels to the Bodega but I don’t have the cash to put in the cabling that I want to use. In fact, I need a couple more panels to complete my system. My challenge is that I’m in a wooded area and my panels are located about 175 feet from the house on the sunny edge of a small wetlands.

Many people will tell you that long low voltage runs can’t be done and you’re better off inverting to AC and other nonsense. Its just ohms law, you need to calculate the voltage drop and run the proper size cable for the charge current you will be working with. Direct bury aluminum cables are readily available and while not free…they are not that expensive either. I will be using some scrap wire over the winter and then scrounge up some some super sized aluminum cabling in the spring.

The XS house used pair of 12V low voltage lighting cables for power which worked but were rather inefficient. My goal was to beef up the run to the panels using spare wire I had from the well pump installation. I also was able to recycle a 50ft length of 8 awg cable from the XS house. The well pump cable was a three conductor cable, so I connected the black and green wire together to reduce the resistance of one leg…every little bit helps. I had several splices to be made along the length of cable which I liberally covered in spray on electrical tape and then with regular electrical tape. These splices only need to survive the winter so I’m not too worried. The voltage on the cable is only 14 volts so there is little risk of electrocution. If the joints did become waterlogged, the copper joints would corrode…but would take a long time.

At peak sunlight I am getting well over 6 amps from my 140 watt PV array which is much better than the old run of cable. I did the math and at 13.8 volts I was getting about 6.5 amps that’s 90 watts of power from a 140 watt fixed array. Depending on conditions, It seems like I’m harvesting about 14-16 amp hours per day. With a better run of cable and the addition of a panel or two I should be able to harvest close to 30 amp hours per day. My window of sun is somewhat limited so I will need a setup that is a bit heavy on PV panels.