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:

TinyGet: the Tiny House Search Engine

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The other day I was looking at a great tiny house build blog that someone put up. It occurred to me that there are literally hundreds of these build blogs all over the internet. Individually, none of them are a comprehensive tiny house resource, but they each contain valuable nuggets of information. Collectively they provide the solution to just about any tiny house dilemma you might face.

Being a web developer I knew that there was a better way to group these sites into really powerful resource for the tiny house community. With my recent server upgrade I have the ability to do real web development so I put together the Tiny house search engine called TinyGet.com.

TinyGet.com is based on a Google custom search engine.  I maintain a list of quality tiny house blogs and other web sites and Google does the rest. Its still a work in progress, I would appreciate any feedback or suggestions for sites you would like me to add.  I put up a site submission form here.

Tiny House Zero Power Lighting With Glow Powder

Living off grid I am always on the lookout for ideas that will help me save power without adding any complexity to my power system.  In this post I will share my idea for a tiny house zero power lighting system, zero power except ambient light that is!

Glow Powder

We have all seen glow in the dark products that work, but are not very bright and don’t glow for very long.  These were typically made with Zinc Sulphide and copper.  There is a new generation of glow powder made from Strontium Aluminate and Europium.  This new product glows brightly, can be “charged” millions of times and last for 5-7 years indoors.

Once charged by a source of light the green glow powder will continue to glow for 12 hours or more.  The powder is non toxic and is not radioactive even though it has Strontium in it and many people associate that element with nuclear power.

My Need

In the woods where I live there is not much light at night when the moon is not out.  I don’t like to leave anything on since it wastes power.  As you might imagine navigating a ladder in the middle of the night is a bit tricky in total darkness.

I gave some thought to using small LED lights as night lights and that would have worked just fine.  When I learned about the new generation of glow powder, my geek sense started tingling and I thought it would make a cool night light that used zero electricity!

Lets Build One

For this project you will need a supply of glow powder, some non water based spray adhesive, and a glass jar with lid.

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The glow powder is available all over the internet, just google search glow powder. I bought a small baggie on eBay for about 40 bucks. You don’t need nearly the amount I bought…I wanted to play with the stuff. The spray adhesive I used was made by Locktite and cost about 8 bucks. The glass jar can be anything you want. Old juice bottle, mason jar, etc. I would recommend one with a fairly large mouth.

Start by making sure the jar is clean and dry. Spray a heavy dose of adhesive into the jar, making sure to coat everything.

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Your jar will probably look something like this. Too heavy of a coat will result in runs as you see in my pic:

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Now dump in the glow powder. Don’t worry about how much, more is better. Install the lid and shake the jar well coating the inside with powder.

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Dump out and excess powder onto a paper plate or something. The. Apply another liberal coating of spray adhesive and put in more powder. Repeat this process several times until the inside is well coated with powder. Let the jar sit uncovered to allow the adhesive to fully cure.

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Before arriving at the jar solution, I played with coating plexiglass sheets. I planed to frame them and hang them like pictures. The large one is about 24 by 30 inches and puts out quite a lot of light. The downside is that the glow powder flakes off a bit (glowing dust kinda gets all over the place). When hung on a wall and sealed inside a frame, it will probably be ok.

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Once the adhesive is cured install the lid on the jar and place it in front of a light source. Sunlight and black light work best, but other light will also work but take longer to produce a full charge. Here is my passive light in action:

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Freshly Charged

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Hmmmm….

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After a some time has passed…

As you can see it does dim quite a bit.  I have found that once your eyes have adjusted to the dark there is plenty of light to navigate with.

Another project I want to play with at some point is to take a double wall clear water bottle and inject this stuff in between the walls.  This would turn make your water bottle serve a dual purpose.  I imagine others will come up with other clever ideas too….send them to me and I’ll do a future blog post.

Jotul 602 wood stove repair

As I mentioned in my last post the wood stove needed more surgery to repair the cracked back plate.  During the disassembly I broke off 3 of the bolts holding on the top plate.  In order to assemble the stove I needed to get out the stuck bolts.

To assist me, I bought some specialized tools at the hardware store.  The first is called a screw extractor.  You start by drilling a specific sized hole thru the broken off bolt.  The extractor is inserted into this hole and bites into the metal and the screw comes out.

In reality, the extractor is inserted into the hole and the screw won’t budge.  If you twist too much you strip out the hole.  If you get a real good bite there is a risk of breaking off the tip of the extractor.  If this happens, you are royally and totally screwed (ha!).  The extractor is hardened and can’t be drilled out.

Plan A

the first thing I tried to get the screw out was to cut a slot in the head using my rotary tool with cutoff wheel.  With the impact driver and a straight driver bit, I attempted to drive it out.  The metal in the driver bit and eventually the screw chipped off….back to the drawing board.

Plan B

I tried to use the screw extractor and a torch.  I center punched the broken off stub and drilled a hole thru the bolt.  Next I inserted the screw extractor attached to a tap wrench.  While applying torque to unscrew the broken bolt I applied heat to the part.  To make a long story short, the screw extractor was a waste of four bucks….back to the drawing board.

Plan C

As a last resort I bought a 5mm drill bit and 6mm tap.  Using progressively larger bits I enlarged the hole from plan C to 5mm in diameter.  Then I ran the 6mm tap thru the holes to form fresh/cleaned out threads.  Unfortunately, the tap I had was not a bottoming style which means I could not tap the entire length of the hole.  This forced me to shorten the screw a bit so it would not bottom out.

Assembly

With fresh holes drilled and taped I began re-assembly.  I started by cleaning all the old stove cement from the grooves with an old wood chisel.  Fresh stove cement was applied from a caulk style tube.  The back plate was installed and pressed into position…oozing out just a bit of stove cement.  Then the top was set in place and the 4 screws installed.

I also took the time to seal up any and all cracks with extra stove cement to prevent air leaks.  Two obvious ones are the pipe adapter and back cover plate.  I will also cement on the round cooktop plate before burning season.  To maintain good control of your stove, you want all the combustion air entering thru the round front damper.  Any cracks, holes, gaps anyplace will allow air in and give you less control over your fire.

The last thing I did was to replace the door gasket with a fresh piece of gasket material and stove cement.  When the door is closed on a dollar bill, it should be very difficult to pull out on a properly gasketed door.

Stove Polish

Using a foam paintbrush, I applied Rutland stove polish to the entire stove.  Don’t worry too much about dirt or rust because this stuff covers it all up.  Once dry you can buff off the excess with a clean rag.  The first burn will be smoky and stinky as the polish burns off.  I will be doing the first couple burns outside to break in the new parts and not have the stink inside my house.

Converting AC LED Lights to DC

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They are doing some pretty cool stuff with recessed LED lights these days.  Unfortunately, this style of LED light requires 120V AC not 12V DC.  Some of the smaller track lighting does run from 12V DC directly.

Internally these lights do run from DC, there is just a converter circuit inside that makes the 120V AC into a DC voltage.  Some lights have this circuit built internal to the light and it’s not easy to get at.  Others have this circuit in a box that is very easy to get at.

A couple of weeks ago, I found some LED lights on clearance at Home Depot for about 10 bucks each.  I opened the package and saw that the AC to DC converter was in a small plastic box bolted to the back of the light.  I immediately, bought up 7 lights for use in my Bodega.

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Constant Current LED Driver
LED’s operate on just enough voltage to make them draw their rated amperage.  For some LED’s this will be 8.5 volts, others might be only 6.  You need a special circuit to drive them called a constant current LED driver.

In my case the LED’s I bought require .6 amps.  I needed a constant current driver that would accept 12V DC and drive an LED at .6 amps.  I found the LDD-700H at Jameco for $6.95 in single unit quantities (data sheet here).  It will supply .7 amps to the LED which is a bit more than the driver I removed, but still within the tolerance for the LED’s.  There are other versions of the LDD that can supply less current if that’s what your LED requires.

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THe LDD-700 has 9 small pins on it for electrical connections.  Don’t let the small pins scare you, it’s really easy to connect to.  The outside two pins on each corner are connected together so you actually end up with a pretty big target to apply solder.  One corner has 3 pins.  This third pin is for a dimming function that you will not use.  The spec sheet says to leave this pin open.  I suggest you cut this pin off flush with the case and put some electrical tape over it.

Making Connections
My lights come with an adapter that screws into the light socket with an orange plug.  The light has an orange plug and a white box.  I cut the wired from the box and removed it.  The remaining wires get soldered to the LDD.

The LED wires (white and grey) are connected to the Vout terminals [white to (-) and black to  (+)].  Colors may vary so do your research.

The input wires go to the orange plug.  I decided to install a 2 amp blade style automotive fuse on one line “just in case”.  One side of the fuse is soldered to the pins and the side to the orange plug wire.

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When all the wires are connected I applied some electrical tape to keep things secure.  Over the electrical tape I used some large heat shrink tubing.

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Its Alive!
I screwed the adapter into my recessed light fixture and attached the orange plug making sure the on/off switch was “off”.  I connected my amp meter across the switch to measure the current draw of the light.

My first measurement read 1.6 amps, the light did not go on, and the LDD got really hot.  It turns out that I’m a dumbass and swapped the plus and minus wires.  In the realms outside of house wiring, a black wire is generally the minus side of a DC circuit, in-house wiring its positive.  subconsciously I connected it without thinking because my brain is wired that way.  If someone with 20+ years of experience can screw up, you can too…..always double check your work (and buy a spare LDD just in case) :).

After replacing the LDD, the fixture lit up and drew .659 amps.  Multiplying my battery voltage of 12.22 volts with .659 amps we get 8.05 watts of power being consumed by each fixture.  The light output is excellent and just right for the size of my kitchen.

Now that I have lights, I can work late into the night without having to operate the generator.  Very happy with the results of this project.