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!

Tiny House Solar Panel Upgrade

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I’m not a big fan of black Friday or any of the consumerist nonsense that happens this time of year. The other thing I’m not a fan of this time of year if that the short days don’t give me a very big harvest of solar electricity.  That means I need to upgrade the solar panels for my tiny house.

This time of year the sun sits lower on the horizon and spends less time shining on my solar array. I have the additional handicap of trees around my solar site and a very limited window of sun.

My favorite solar e-tailer Solar Blvd sent me an email with black Friday specials on some spiffy new solar panels. The had an deal on 100 watt 12 volt panels for $95 each. I did not have to wait like a lemming in front of China Mart to get in on this deal. I just had to roll over in bed on the morning of black Friday and fire up the iPad to place an order.

I ordered a panel for myself and for Tim for about $126 shipped to my work in Concord. The following Wednesday a very nice looking package arrived on our loading dock. The packing job was outstanding and panels were undamaged.

Saturday

A fresh coating of snow arrived to my corner of Massachusetts overnight saturday. I woke to mostly blue skies and cold weather. Ajax and I collected some tools in a homer bucket and hiked out to the solar array.

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When I built the array it had 2 bays for PV panels. In bay one, I installed a 70 watt panel. In the second bay there was a 50 watt panel which did not use all the space in the bay. I removed the 50 watt panel and dropped the new 100 watt panel in its place.

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To mount the 50 watt panel, I created a small bracket out of strapping. On the lower end I installed a galvanized gate hinge. On the upper end I attached a support pole used to set the panels angle.

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Wiring for PV panels is very simple. You simply connect all the positive leads together to form a single wire. Then you connect all the negative leads together into a single lead. This wiring arrangement is called parallel wiring. I took the added step of installing a small automotive fuse in the positive lead of each panel for safety….don’t forget this step!

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I pulled all the fuses to wire in the new panel. Once wiring is complete, you can use the meter to verify that the polarity (+/- leads) is correct. A neat trick you can also do is connect a an amp meter across the fuse holder to see how much current it supplies to the system. Once I was satisfied that everything was cool, I plugged In the fuses and went back to the house to see how much power I was harvesting.

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The peak reading I got was 11 amps at 13.8 volts according to the readout on my Xantrex linklite (my pic above was taken with some clouds). You can calculate total watts by multiplying theses two numbers together. My system seems to be harvesting 151.8 watts. Considering the poor quality of the wiring to my array, I think this is a good number for now. The best the system would do before this upgrade was 82.8 watts.

In my next post I upgrade my battery bank…stay tuned!

We’re now on a new server!

Happy Thursday night.  I spent the evening moving this blog to a brand new server that give me more blogging options.  Wordpress.com was great as a brain dead way to begin blogging  and I had no cells to spare while building my house.  My goal is to have a better platform to help spread the word about the benefits of living the tiny lifestyle.

This new server lets me have more control over the sites content and hopefully the search engines like Google and Bing will rank the site a bit better.  I went with BlueHost which was recommended by WordPress. The process of moving over content was very simple.  I just exported my posts and pages in an XML file.  I then upload that XML file to the new blog and everything is transferred over.  The only thing that took some time and was confusing was the domain transfer process…even that went pretty well.

 

Tiny House Wood Flooring

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I will start off by saying that installing wood flooring in a tiny house is hard! Its not hard from a technical perspective. Although some sections demand perfection in your cuts if you want nice tight joints. By definition, tiny houses are….well tiny and some sections are just hard to maneuver in.

For the most part everything is covered by trim and if you can measure and cut to 1/8 inch then you’re good. Wood flooring is hard on the body. Even with nice kneepads, the knees are sore.  Bending over to align and nail pieces is hard on the back. Whacking the nailer over 1700 times beats up the rest of you!

There was a day that guys did floors without air tools…that must have been rough. In any event my wood flooring is in and it looks pretty respectable.

Tools

I rented a floor nailer and hammer from Home Depot. A good floor nailer is $600 and not worth owning.  I already have a finish nailer so did not need to rent one. You will also need a saw to cut the pieces. If you have only edge cuts then any POS saw will do.  If you have fine cuts (around the wood stove) like I did then a nice saw is probably required.

Flooring

I started laying the floor by the front door. I wanted to lay the floor out so that I had a full section in front of the stove rather than some notched pieces. I laid it out 3 times and still ended up 1/4 inch off!

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The nailer squishes the boards together much tighter than you can by hand. Over the course of 22 rows, the boards squished together close to 5/16″.  I started 1/16″ closer to compensate for this effect, but still ended 1/4 inch off. I imagine a pro flooring dude would have known how to lay this out properly, I only had Ajax and he thought it would work.

The 1/4″ notch does not look bad as I was able to make it very tight. The rest of the floor went as expected, it was just very time consuming and tiring.  By days end Saturday the downstairs was compete less three thresholds sections.

Sunday morning I finished the three thresholds. Each was a bit different and required quite a lot of fitting and screwing around to get all the pieces in there. By afternoon Tim came along to help me do the loft.  I was able to lay the floor while he trimmed the pieces.

After about three hours it was complete. I managed to smash off the edge of my window sill with the flooring hammer as the pieces got close to the wall.  A bit of glue and some clamps and its looking good again.

After the flooring was in a massive cleanup began and the floor carefully swept to remove any dirt that was tracked in. The cardboard cartons that the flooring comes in makes excellent floor covering while you are working.

Doggie Door

Ajax is an independent dog and likes the ability to come and go as he pleases. The yard will be surrounded by 5ft wire fencing to keep out the local wildlife and keep Ajax from harassing them. He just needs a way to get out of the house.

I bought a PetSafe Extreme Weather door from the local Petco. It comes with 3 flaps to keep the cold air out of the house. The two outer flaps are rubber and seal with a magnetic catch on the bottom. The inner flap is insulation to keep the heat in.

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This door was a real pain in the ass to install and required about 5 hands to hold all the plastic parts together. Once installed its pretty sturdy. Ajax required a bit more coaxing to go thru it since its quite a bit thicker than the one he’s used to.

Inspections

Monday morning came the parade of inspectors…all two of them. Four inspections were required: Fuel storage (propane), smoke detector, driveway, and final plumbing. The first three are handled by the DPW Manager and the fire chief.  Since they are the same person in my town it made things easy.

He inspected the driveway apron to make sure there was adequate protection to the side of the road so it would not crack. The fuel storage inspection made sure the tank was in the correct location and the tubing was installed properly. The smoke detector inspection looked at the location and function of the combination smoke/CO detector. Everything passed, and I wrote him (yet another) check for $50.

 

The plumbing inspector looked at the final plumbing work and measured the hot water temperature in the sink and shower. He wanted to see 125 degrees F at the sink, and 113 degrees F in the shower.  Satisfied, he signed my paper and left.

Whats next?

I need to install baseboard trim and a few other doo-dads. The building inspector will be by this week to do a final inspection. Next weekend I will move the pump controller, batteries, and PV wiring to the new house.

Final Plumbing

An awful day to be doing anything let alone plumbing my house.  Humidity, rain, and thunder were the order of the day.  The plumbers arrived on time and got right to work.  Overall, I think they did a very nice job on the final.  I didn’t care for them on the rough in but they were great on the final.

I picked up a bunch of traps and sink lines for them to use from Lowes.  They brought their own stuff which was as good or better than my stuff, so I told them to use their stuff.  Lowes accepted them back no questions asked.  I think the difference between big box parts and pro parts is getting bigger.

The plumbers were like 800 pound gorillas leaving dings, footprints, and smudges everywhere.   When you do your final, take precautions to protect any finished areas because they will get marked up since space is limited in a tiny house.  They tried their best to be careful but its tough sometimes.

By lunch time we had everything installed with a lot of condensation but no leaks!  As of this writing, I have cold water in my Bodega with hot water on the way next week when the gas company installs my tank.

Once the tank is installed, the plumbing inspector will come by with incense and rose petals to bless the work and sign off.

Wed night I met with the board of health (two guys in an old town office).  They looked at pics of the grass over my septic tank and signed my occupancy permit.   This weekend will be final touchup and the place will be ready for wood floors.

 

Tiny House Wood Stove Final Installation

This post I will go over the final installation for the wood stove that will heat my tiny house.  The wood stove I bought has a crack in the back plate which is common for this model (Jotul 602) and I needed to make a repair on it.

Stove Pipes

The stove pipe installation was pretty easy.  I had 6ft of class A chimney pipe and then another 3ft of double wall stove pipe with adapters and a damper.

The class A pipe comes in silver which looks like crap so I painted it with stove bright paint in flat black.  To prepare the pipes, peel off the stickers and clean with denatured alcohol.  Then apply light coats of paint until the surface looks smooth and even.  This paint has *really* bad fumes so working outside is a must.  I was lucky and dodged just enough rain drops on Saturday to get my pipes painted.

Once painted, the pipes get attached to one another and “hung” off the chimney stub that I installed with the roof.  Be sure and use 4 screws per joint….no reason to skimp. The class A pipe has special locking rings, make sure they are tight.

Wood Stove Repairs

The used stove I bought had a cracked back plate and needed to be torn apart for repair.  I ordered a replacement back plate from Woodmans Parts Plus for about $130 which brings the total cost of the stove to $330 which I don’t think is too bad.

Since this was used stove I knew it would be messy.  I vacuumed all the ashes out and got to work.  There are 4 bolts inside the stove that hold the top on.  A 10mm socket and penetrating oil got one of them off easily.  The other 3 broke off without much effort at all.  I suspect they had degraded quite a bit and were weak.

After breaking the seal on the stove top with a rubber mallet (its cemented on) I had 3 bolt stumps to remove.  After 15 minutes of work, two of the bolts sheared off flush and the other came out with a little persuasion.  I’m going to slot the heads of the stuck bolts and try an impact gun with heat.  If that does not work, i’ll just drill and tap it there’s plenty of metal there.

Replacing the back panel required me to scrape out all the stove cement with an old chisel.  The replacement part fits perfectly in place.  Once I get my stuck bolts out, the final assembly should be a snap.

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Whats Next?

Stove final assembly.  Pipe trim on the pipes as they exit the house.  Longer downrod for the ceiling fan.  Prepping for the final visit by the plumber.

Update From Hell

Not a ton of new things to show this week.  Tim and I spent Saturday in a dusty hell that some day will be my house.  I spent much of Sunday cleaning up dust and patching areas where there were defects in the mud.

Sanding
There were 3 tools that I can recommend for sanding drywall.  First is a wooden pole that has a swivel head with sand paper.  Second, is a handheld sanding block about the same size as the pole swivel unit.  Last, a sanding sponge which looks like a sponge you might use to clean pots and pans but has sand glued on the outside.

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The sand paper I use is a grid/mesh that allows for the dust to flow thru and not clog.  I use a corse grit on the pole and then a fine grit on the handheld sanding block.  My sanding sponges were a fine grit that I used to clean up minor defects and get into corners.

Dealing with Dust
Theres not much you can do about the dust it just gets everywhere!  Wear a dust mask and deal with it I guess.  I opened all the windows and doors.  In one window I installed a fan to suck the dust outside.  The fan did help quite a bit, if I hade more fans I would have used them.

Patching
I’m no professional drywaller.  Some of my joints were really good and some sucked donkey balls and required a lot of sanding.  When the sanding is done you end up with a few spots that need to be patched.  Many screws needed a second application and there were areas where debris in the drywall compound created lines.

At some point everything is a blur and you can’t remember what you patched and what you didn’t.  A trick I use it to add some food coloring to your drywall compound.  I used yellow so as not to show very much thru the paint.  When looking to sand your patches, just look for the yellow spots and sand away.

Priming
In order to do a proper paint job, you want to prime your walls with a primer made for drywall.  Your wall has two distinct surfaces, one is paper and the other is smooth drywall compound.  The primer attaches to both and make them into a uniform neutral surface to apply the final coat of paint.

Sheetrock in mobile Tiny Homes
Several have asked it its ok to use sheetrock in a trailer based tiny home.  I would say yes with some exceptions and expectations.  If you only plan to move your home a few times, and are ok with the possibility of minor cracking during transport then its ok to use.  If you plan to move every week then don’t even think about it!

Some tips:

  1. use construction adhesive on the studs behind the sheetrock
  2. Use only paper faced metal corner bead in outside corners
  3. keep some jars of paint around so you can fix any cracks as they occur.

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You can see the yellow spots where I patched defects here

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The exterior corner with no visible defects…

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Another view

Whats Next?I will be priming the drywall and one coat of paint.  I also need to install my ceiling fan while I still have the staging set up.  I bought a nifty 12V DC ceiling fan that only uses 6 watts…pics to come.