Tiny Living, My First Bill From Ting.com

I have my first cell phone bill with Ting.com and I thought a followup post was in order.  Overall I’m very pleased with the service.  The voice and text coverage has been no different from my old carrier AT&T.  Data speeds have been slower in most areas, but the same speed in others.  I make it a point to use WiFi where possible.  Here’s my bill:

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 Paying $3 for 90 minutes of voice makes me really happy.  Paying $2.51 for taxes makes me sad.  Overall I’m very happy compared to my AT&T bill which was costing me well over $80 per month!  I like sticking it to the “man” whenever possible :).

The LG Optimus S that I bought off Amazon is a total piece of shit.  I can’t believe that Google would allow their operating system to be used on a phone that sucks this bad.  Maybe its the operating system and not the phone?  Phone calls are fine, it’s just navigating emails and other apps that are frustrating. In any case, I need to find an iPhone someplace that I can activate on Ting.

If you are interested in Ting click this link and they will give you $25 off a phone and I get a referral fee which supports this blog.

Tiny House Cooking with an Alcohol Stove

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Several months ago an article in Tiny House magazine turned me on to alcohol stoves for cooking.  I bought and reviewed the Origo Heat Pal and was sold on the idea of using an alcohol cooktop in my tiny house.

My original goal was to procure an origo 6000 cooktop and oven combo.  Brand new the 6000 is about $1500 which is out of the question. They are very hard to find used market so I had to settle on plan “B”.  Plan “B” is the Origo 4000 double burner cooktop.  The rest of this post I will refer to the Origo 4000 but all the alcohol stoves from Origo work the same way, most of what I will cover applies to the entire line.

Why Alcohol?

The primary reason is that its renewable which means I can make it myself.  I won’t be fracking any shale on my 9 acre lot, so I don’t have the natural resources to make propane or natural gas even if I wanted to.  A secondary reason is safety.  A propane leak can literally blow up your house.  A leaky alcohol stove might damage some paint or leave a stain and thats it.  Alcohol stoves are so safe that they have become very popular items in boats that have a galley.

Gallon alcohol container with funnel

Gallon alcohol container with funnel

Note that there are two types of alcohol stoves in existence.  One uses pressurized alcohol, the other uses a non pressurized alcohol canister.  The pressurized models are disappearing quickly as they are considered very finicky and unsafe due to a couple fires caused by them.  The Origo stove uses a non pressurized fuel canister and is very safe.

What is Denatured Alcohol?

Alcohol that can be consumed by humans or animals in this country must have a tax applied when sold to consumers.  If the alcohol is made into something that can’t be consumed by humans then it may be sold without the tax.  Denatured alcohol contains 90% ethanol like the stuff used by cars.  Then 10% of other stuff is added that makes it poisonous and bitter tasting.  It burns great, makes a great degreaser and cleaner…but you don’t want to drink the stuff.

Fuel Canisters

The fuel canisters on the stove are two UFO shaped discs that contain a fibrous material that soaks up the alcohol.  If you have ever filled a Zippo lighter than you will understand how the fuel canisters on this stove work.  Once filled, the fuel will not drip out even if you tip the canister upside down (the little grey alien inside does get dizzy).

Fuel canister closeup

Fuel canister closeup

I use a small plastic funnel and a gallon sized can of alcohol.  You do need to pour it in slowly allowing for the fiber to soak in the fluid.  When you are done filling you need to wipe away the excess alcohol that is on the rim or else things might get a little exciting when you fire it up.  If that were to happen flare-ups are easily extinguished with water.

Operation

The entire stovetop comes off with a single knob which allows access to the internal fuel canisters.  The top grate comes off by squeezing the top part forward and out to allow for easy cleaning.  Construction is of heavy duty stainless steel…this thing is built like a tank and will last a good long time.

The stove has a very unique mechanism that controls the flame.  It a flat metal plate that slides side to side exposing more or less of the alcohol soaked fiber to the bottom of your pot.  It works pretty well, however adjusting very low heat can be a hit or miss proposition.

Fuel canister interface with control plate

Fuel canister interface with control plate

Pots and Pans

You can use normal pots and pans on an alcohol stove.  I have a small stainless steel sauce pan and a couple non-stick frying pans.  Since I don’t have any sort of oven I needed a makeshift way to bake things.  A dutch oven heated on the cooktop makes a pretty decent oven.  The bottom gets super hot so you need to space the baking dished off the bottom.  I use a titanium camping plate to give me a 3/4 gap.  With the burner on high the dutch oven reached 450 degrees F which is just about right for baking corn bread and hot pockets (future video post).

Pots and pans

Pots and pans

 

In my next post I will cook some things and show you the stove in action.

Full set of Pics

TinyHomeBuilding Bodega Featured on RelaxShacks.com

Deek and his brother from RelaxShacks.com stopped by over the Thanksgiving holiday to shoot a video.  Here it is…nice job guys!

 

Tiny House Battery Box and a Quick Update

This weekend I bought a new camera so I can produce better pictures and videos.  I have also decided to alter the format of my blog slightly.  Going forward, I will produce a written blog and a video each week.

The idea is that some people don’t read and prefer video content.  If you have ever seen a movie based on a book, you know that the book always fills in more details.  This will be the case with the written blog and my videos.  The written blog will provide maximum (and sometimes boring) details and the video will give a nice overview to the written content.

Battery Box

Here’s a quick video I shot showing my battery box that houses the batteries I use to power my tiny house.

Power a Roku 3 from 12V Power in Your Tiny House

Here’s a video I shot that shows you the correct way to connect your Roku or similar device (DSL modem, etc) to the 12 volt power system in your tiny house.

 

 

Tiny House Entertainment System

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When the tiny house building is over, it’s time to relax. At some point you will want to watch TV. Most people will run down to Best Buy and pick out a nice monitor and connect it to a cable box or something. Before you shell out your hard earned cash read the rest of this post because there are some things you should consider.

Your entertainment system will be used for many hours each day. The power this system consumes is critical especially if you live off grid. Much of your TV watching will likely be after dark and you will be using your storage batteries. Unfortunately large TV monitors draw lots of power and those Breaking Bad TV binges could drain your batteries pretty quickly.

Recent innovations in projectors make them well suited for off grid use.  A projector is that box in the conference room at work used to beam presentations onto the wall. Modern projectors use LED’s instead of halogen bulbs (the one at work likely uses a halogen bulb). The LED bulbs have a long life and consume very little power. A 19 inch OLED monitor that I tested for this project used over 36 watts by itself. Larger monitors  use even more power. The LED projector in my system (made by Brookstone) uses less than 15 watts and gives me a 60 inch picture.

UPDATE: One reddit poster points out that this projector produces far less light than what some might consider acceptable.  Only you can decide if its bright enough so please do your homework before selecting a projector.  In any case an LED projector will use much less power than a flat panel monitor even if you decide to go with a brighter model.

You will also discover that brightness goes up as picture size goes down.  You can make the screen appear brighter by reducing its size.  In a tiny space you may find that a lower output projector works just fine.

Video Source

You need a device that connects to your projector and plays videos, DVD’s, etc. You might use a tablet or smartphone and both worked well in my testing. In the first version of my tiny house entertainment system, I decided to try an Apple TV.  Unfortunately, it requires AC power to operate so I had to tear it open and do a fairly technical conversion to make it run on 12VDC.  When converted to operate on 12v it used a measly .2 amps  or 2 watts. This is far less power than just about anything you would connect. I used this setup for many weeks and it worked very well but was lacking a couple features.

The Apple TV gave me access to Netflix and a few other channels. From my iPad I could use airplay to stream Aereo TV and Amazon Videos. Honestly I hate using airplay to stream Aereo because it ties up my iPad and I can’t surf the web and watch TV at the same time. I decided to junk my Apple TV and bought a Roku 3 box instead.

The Roku box is very easy to run on 12 volts since it uses a 12 volt wall transformer instead of an internal power supply like the Apple TV. It supports Aereo, Netflix, Amazon, PBS, and many other online video networks. It’s a bit smaller than the Apple TV and uses about the same amount of power.

Here’s how I have my system connected:

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12V power connectors

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All Connected

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Thats a 60 inch screen!

The Component List

Projector:  Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector, MSRP $300

Speaker: JBL Flip Bluetooth Speaker, MSRP $100

Internet TV Box: Roku 3, MSRP $100

DSL Modem: Free from Verizon.

How Much Power Does it Use?

With the Roku streaming the Xantrex Linklite reads a whopping -1.5 amps at 12.5 volts.  If you multiply 1.5 and 12.5 you arrive at 18.75 watts.  Thats  a DSL modem, Projector, Speaker, and Roku 3 running on less than 19 watts.  I challenge anyone to find a 60 inch internet TV that draws less than that!

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Dual Use

Everything in a tiny house should have a dual use capability and your entertainment should be no exception. The Bluetooth speaker I use connects to both my tablet and smart phone for playing music. The projector can be used with my laptop to act as a second monitor for playing games or working. I also used the projector to present at the relax shacks workshop and it worked perfectly (on its internal battery BTW).

If you are interested in converting your Roku to operate on 12V, I took a video and will post on my youtube channel.
Updated With Video:

Tiny House Solar System Cold Weather Tip

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This past week I learned something about operating the solar system that I use to power my tiny house.  We have had rather cold temperatures and a lot of snow flurries.  With the upgrade to my system, I expected to come home each night and have a fully charged battery bank, but that has not happened.

I discovered that the cold temperatures are not allowing the snow to melt off the panels and it’s affecting the amount of power I can collect.  Last year I did not have this issue…not sure why I’m seeing it now…maybe its just colder this year.  A trip to Walmart produced a foam car brush that I will need to use each morning after a light snow.  I guess this will become part of my morning routine now.

Lesson: keep your panels clean if you want maximum power.

Winter tires for the Chevy Spark

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Winter seems to have arrived to my corner of New England. I have about three inches of crunchy icy snow on the ground. The beginning of this week was a horror show on the roads with slippery wet conditions. My commute to work has been well over an hour each way. Since I no longer have a four wheel drive vehicle I figured it was time to get snow tires for the spark.  My timing seems to be very good as the weatherman is calling for 12 inches of snow this weekend.

You have several options when buying snow tires. The cheapest option is to buy a second set of tires that you have installed each winter. Many tire shops will do the swap for free if you buy tires from them. I expect they make money on balancing and front end alignments as they perform this “service”.

Another option is to buy a new set of tires mounted on steel rims. Steel rims are a nasty looking but fairly cheap way to have a second set of winter tires for your car. Since they only require a jack and tire Iron to install, you can do it in your driveway. You will discover that the wait times at tire shops goes up dramatically before the snow flies. You can save many hours of waiting if you swap them yourself.

About a month ago, I checked a local tire shop for a set of tires to be mounted on my existing rims and was quoted just over $500. Last week I went to that shops web site and was able to order a set of steel wheels and tires for $500! The difference was that the replacement set would be 14 inch tires rather than 15. This results in my speed being off by about 1.5 percent….not a big deal. I was also able to have them mounted, balanced, and studded for about $615 with tax. These tires should last me several winters.

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The model of these tires is the Altimax Arctic made by General tire in size 175-65R14.  General Tire is an American company (owned by a German company now) that still makes some tires here in the US.  Not sure where my tires were born.

 

Performance

I had the misfortune of driving in a snow storm the morning I was to pick up my new tires. My commute goes from a high elevation to lower elevation which means that about half of it has crappy icy roads. As it turned out they were crappy right up to the front door of the tire shop. Naturally, the tire shop did not have my tires ready as promised and I had to drive to work on the stock tires. Overall I would say that the Spark is not that bad with the stock all season tires. It lacks traction to get started on small inclines, but seems to stop and turn fairly well. If you keep the speed down it does go in the snow…not a fun ride but you get there.

After work I waited 45 minutes at the tire shop to pay for my new tires/rims. I’m thankful that I will never have to set foot in that shop for winter tires again! I rode over to Tim’s house and he helped me install them which took all of 30 minutes. There is nothing too special about swapping tires. You loosen the lug nuts, jack up the car, remove wheel, put new wheel back on, and torque to 90 ft/lb in my case. We used a torque wrench, but you can also guesstimate with the tire iron. After 25 miles or so, recheck the lug nuts as the steel wheels can relax a bit which loosens the nuts.

Eager to try out my bad ass new tires, I set out for an icy lot. All I can say is “wow”! Studded snow tires versus stock tires are a night and day difference (I mean huge). Braking, acceleration, turning on ice and snow is substantially better. Highway driving however, is substantially worse. You get quite a lot of road noise and the car feels like it’s on marbles at times. I did some high speed maneuvers and conclude that these seat of the pants “feelings” are nothing to be concerned about. Just takes a little getting used to. My 43.1 MPG fuel economy has also fallen off a cliff which I guess is to be expected.

It’s more important to keep my car out of a ditch than have a quiet fuel-efficient car. The tires were worth every cent and I would recommend that every Spark owner buy a set. They really make the car fun to drive in bad weather. Bottom line, studded snow tires on the spark is a big thumbs up!