The Truth About Firearms Ownership in MA

This video was created by NHPatriot on Northeast Shooters and shows the hoops law abiding citizens must jump thru to own a firearm.

The laws mentioned in the video may seem absurd…they are reality here in MA.  You may be against gun ownership in general and I respect your right to feel that way.  Out here in the boonies of western MA you might rethink your position after a pack of coyotes shows up outside your tiny home.

This is how things are in a state with some of the strictest gun laws in the country:

Ting Lowers Data Prices!

What? A phone company that drops its prices thats crazy talk!

Well its the truth they have dropped their data pricing by $3 per tier.  Here’s what the new pricing looks like:

ting-new-rates

 

 

What does this have to do with tiny houses?  Well I know that tiny house dwellers are always looking for ways to pinch a penny.  Personally my phone bill went from over $90 per month to $29.  A $60 savings is 3 sheets of plywood, or about 25 2×4’s….in a couple months you can save enough to build one wall of your house with brand new materials.  You can read my review of the Ting service here.  If you want to sign up click on this banner and get $25 off a phone or a $25 credit and I get a small referral fee that supports this blog.

ting

Sign Up For Ting

Tiny House Electrical System Mods

This week I posted a video showing the completed modifications to my electrical system.

 

Solar Array

My old solar array consisted of 3 mismatched panels of 50, 70, and 100 watts. The 50 watt panel was particularly mismatched as its peak voltage spec was 1/4 volt less than the other two. During peak sunlight conditions its likely that this panels voltage was too low to provide an real power to my system.

The new array is a pair of identical 100 watt panels. I found a nice inexpensive disconnect rated at 50 amps that is used for AC units. Its not DC rated, but it won’t be switched on/off much and the loads are very small compared to its rating. The DC rated units are 10X the price. Inside this disconnect there is plenty of room for a fuse holder and fuse which protects against overloads.

Charge Controller

I replaced my Xantrex C40 with a MorningStar SunSaver MPPT charge controller. The SunSaver is only rated to 15 amps (200 watts) but you can add additional units for more capacity if needed. The charge controller and temperature sensor was about $250 from the AltE Store here in MA. Larger MPPT units are lower cost per charging watt but you have to spend at least $550 to get one. Being a cheap skate I opted for the 15 amp unit.

Mounting the charge controller is easy. It fits in a standard depth load center enclosure. You just need to allow 6 inches above and below for cooling. The terminals are a bit small since this controller is only rated at 15 amps. My 8AWG wire did not fit at all and I had to cut strands to get it to work (don’t tell anyone please).

Pump Controller

The pump controller that came with my submersible pump has some “issues” that bothered me. First when the system voltage gets to 14V or so it would “trip” saying there was an overload. The pump controller was only capable of supplying 4 amps. My pump is drawing 3.6 – 4.2 amps which is a bit more than the specs. I don’t know if there is an issue with my pump, water line, or whatever. I can’t have my pump controller tripping out during a load of laundry.

The other issue with the pump controller is that is electrically noisy. This electrical noise was causing my system monitor to improperly read the amp draw of the motor. I decided to replace the controller with a simple relay and an amp meter to monitor the pumps condition.

With the relay in place my noise issue is gone and my pump has been drawing 3.8 amps. I’ll keep monitoring things to see if I have an issue with the pump.

Performance

It’s hard to gauge performance after only a week or so. I am definitely harvesting more power especially on partly cloudy days. Typically I would get 20 amp hours on a bright sunny day with my old setup. On partly cloudy days I would get about 10 or so.

The first day of operation with the new MPPT controller was a partly cloudy day and I harvested 22 amp hours! Needless to say I was pretty happy with that result.

Tiny House Electrical System Overview

This weekend I began work on an upgrade to the electrical system in my tiny house.  I am going to remove the bulky pump controller which has been a little tempermental.  I am also replacing the Xantrex C40 charge controller with an MPPT unit made by Morning Star Solar.

One reason I wanted to post this is that there is not a lot of information on the internet on how to legally run a house on low voltage DC.  My tiny house runs on 12 volts DC and meets the requirements of the National Electrical Code.  There is no good reason to skimp on code when it comes to electrical.  Meeting code does not add any significant cost and gives you a simple upgrade path in the future should you decide to connect to the grid.

Oil Change for the Chevy Spark

Jiffy Lube

My journey into tiny living continues this weekend with an oil change for my Chevy Spark.  Typically, I use a oil change service like Jiffy Lube for oil changes.  Back in the day, you could get out of the oil change place for about $25 these days its more like $65.  Since I’m trying to reduce expenses so I can pursue the tiny lifestyle, I thought I should begin doing my own oil.

My “Lift”

The Spark has only 7 inches of clearance under it.  This is not enough for me to get under there and do work.  I needed a safe way to lift up the front end.  I settled upon a set of DIY ramps made out of scrap 2×8’s from my house build.

My power tools are in a heap at the back of the barn and I didn’t want to dig them out.  The chainsaw was handy so I cut my scrap 2×8’s into 5 short lengths for each side (I even beveled the edges).  The bottom board is about 40 inches long.  Each board that is stacked is about 8 inches shorter.  My ramp is stacked 5 boards high for a total of 7.5 inches of lift.

At the end of each ramp I tacked a short board to prevent driving off the end.  It’s a good thing I did this as I would have accidentally driven off the thing.  I also attached rope to each ramp which lets me drag the ramps around…they are pretty heavy.

IMG_0150

Completed ramp

Oil Change

Oil changes on the Spark are pretty easy.  The oil plug is very accessable and came off easily.  I was able to get the filter off without tools.  It was probably not tightened well enough by Jiffy Lube during the last oil change. It came off a bit too easily for my taste.

Once the oil drained, I reinstalled the plug.  I screwed on the filter which I pre-filled with oil.  I made sure the filter was tightened just a bit more than hand tight.  I then added 4 quarts of 5W30 oil and started the car.  After verifying there were no leaks and the oil levels, I backed it off the ramps.  Entire process took about 20 minutes.

 

IMG_0148

Draining the oil

IMG_0149

IMG_0147

Good thing I put that board on the end!

My town dump recycles waste oil and I will deposit mine there this coming weekend.

How much does this save?

The oil filters for the Spark are only available from GM at this point.  I paid $6.02 for mine ordered online.  The oil I used was Quaker State  that I found at Wal-Mart for $14.50 for a 5 quart jug.  The Spark only uses 4 quarts so the cost of oil was $11.60.  Combined the total cost of my oil change was $17.62 which is about 1/2 – 1/3 of what I would have paid at an oil change place.

 

 

Honda Eu2000, The Perfect Tiny House Generator

This post I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about the Honda EU2000i generator and generartors in general.  I have spent the past 2+ years building a house and living off grid.  For me the generator is an essential tool for everyday living.  Lets start with a video of my generator in action…but don’t stop reading there is a ton of additional information in this post!

The EU series of generator is very popular with RV’ers, sailboat guys, tailgaters, campers, cabin lovers, and other recreational users.  Its developed an excellent reputation over the years and is considered the gold standard for portable generators.  Yamaha is the other gold standard and is also an excellent generator.  If you have a Yamaha dealer near you for service then it probably better to buy one there.  In my area there are a number of respected Honda power equipment dealers so I bought a Honda.

Key Features

The Honda EU2000 is the size of a medium beer cooler and weighs about 50 pounds with just under a gallon of fuel.  You can draw 1600 watts from it continuously and 2000 watts for up to 30 minutes.  Its quiet enough to hold a conversation standing next to it at low loads.  Don’t underestimate the value of portability.  I am constantly moving the generator all over my 9 acre spread to help me do various tasks.

What can it power?

I managed to build my Bodega with every power tool I own without issue.  I did have to buy a pancake compressor for my air tools as my full size compressor barely runs off a heavy duty 25 amp household circuit…forget about running it from a generator.  Now that my house is complete, I use it to power my washing machine weekly.  In the summer it also powers a 5000BTU air conditioning unit without issue.

What about 12V?

The EU2000 has a 12 volt DC output that can be accessed using a special cable available for cheap from Honda.  The label says for battery charging only which is very misleading IMO.  The output is actually a bit more than 12 volts which allows it to charge a 12V lead acid batteries.  Its actually what I would consider an unregulated 12V power source.  Items like 12V lights, radios, etc will run just fine.  BE SURE to check the specs on the 12V device and make sure it can handle an unregulated 12V power source.

12V adaper cable with alligator clips

12V adaper cable with alligator clips

You will discover that the 12 volt output makes a truly awful battery charger if you try and use it for that purpose.  It will give a dead battery enough life to get your car started but it won’t fully charge it up to any reasonable level. If you want to charge the battery bank in your tiny house, get a real battery charger the EU2000 WILL NOT do the job.

Fuel Consumption

Based on real world usage you can expect a gallon of fuel to last for 3 hours when running at 1600 watts output.  If you are running at 400 watts, a gallon of fuel should give you just over 9 hours of run time.   These are real world figures based on numbers collected by generator geeks with EU2000 experience and may differ (lower) than the official specs.

A word of caution about fuel.  The 10% ethanol laced concoction that passes for gasoline these days is prone to going bad in less than a year.  Bad fuel makes it hard to start your generator and make it run rough. I recommend using a fuel additive like PRI-G or Stabil if your generator is started less than once a month.  If you burn thru fuel on a regular basis like me its ok to skip the fuel additive.  When in doubt use the additive….its cheap insurance.

I also recommend that you store the generator with the fuel cap in the “off” position (if equipped).  The volatile components in the fuel evaporate first so your fuel will last longer with the fuel cap in the “off” position.

Alternative fuels?

The EU2000i can be operated on propane with a suitable conversion kit.  Obviously, installing a kit of this type will void your warranty.  The advantage of propane is that you may already be using propane for grilling and cooking so its convenient.  The main benefit of propane is fuel storage life.  Propane never goes bad so you won’t need to worry about fuel additives.  A standard 20 pound gas grill tank will operate your EU2000 for about 13 hours at 1600 watts.  In cold weather you may have a tough time running at full power as propane “flows” more slowly.  Some have reported that this problem goes away if you use a larger propane tank (30 or 40 pound).  Propane also burns much cleaner than gasoline and might prolong engine life.

Common tri fuel conversion...shop around many companies make conversions

Common tri fuel conversion…shop around many companies make conversions

Inverter vs Traditional Generators

The EU2000 is an inverter style generator.  In practical terms, that means it will run quieter and use less fuel than a traditional generator.  A traditional generator is a gas engine connected to a generator head.  The generator head when spun at a specified rate will produce 60 cycle AC power.  Most big box generators are rated at 5000 watts and power two 120V AC circuits that can be linked together to produce 220VAC.

Generator head disconnected from engine

Generator head disconnected from engine

Engine and generator head connected in finished unit

Engine and generator head connected in finished unit

An inverter generator spins a device similar to the alternator in your car.  The output of that “alternator” is connected to an inverter similar to one you might use to produce 120V from your car cigarette plug.  The “smarts” in the inverter determine how much load is being used and tells the engine to spin faster or slower.  You save fuel when powering small loads because the generator runs slow and quiet.

Pure Sine Wave vs Modified Sine Wave

Pretty fancy terms but its important to know what they mean when shopping for generators and inverters.  Simply put “true sine wave” is the kind of power that comes off the power grid.  A “modified sine wave” produces power that is similar to true sine wave but there are key differences that can cause some equipment to not function properly.  For example, the power adapter from my Macbook Air will not run from a modified sine wave inverter.

Pure sine wave output...this is what grid power looks like

Pure sine wave output…this is what grid power looks like

Modified Sine Wave Output

Modified Sine Wave Output

Inverters that are “true sine wave” output cost more to build and as a result are often listed as a key feature.  Many generators that do not provide true sine wave output try to hide this fact.  A great example is the Generac iX2000 which produces a modified sine wave and even the Q&A section on Northern tool attempts to hide this fact:

Is that yes or no?

Is that yes or no?

They don’t outright lie but come pretty close IMO.

Its so…expensive why buy this one?

The Honda inverter generators are a proven system in all kinds of applications and at pretty much any temperature.  They have been around for many years and they just work.  If you are off grid in your tiny house and need power you don’t want to be screwing around with a poorly operating generator.  During my build, I had exactly two weekend days each week to work on the house.  If the generator failed on a Sat morning I would have lost a weekends work.  If the repairs needed more than a week to complete, I would have had to decide on buying a second generator or losing another weekends work.  It was just not worth the $300-400 savings to take that risk.

Chinese “POS” Generators

Honda and Yamaha are the gold standard that many companies attempt to copy.  Some,  produce truly awful generators with modified sine wave output that are loud enough to wake the dead.  Others, build generators so cheap that they fall apart right out of the package (or are unsafe).  If you decide to get anything other than a Honda or Yamaha, read the reviews carefully and hope for the best…you are rolling the dice IMO.  Based on my research, there is nothing out there with a very long track record to judge quality. By the time it breaks you may discover that parts and service are nowhere to be found.

1000 vs 2000 vs 3000?

The EU series comes in 1000, 2000, and 3000 watt models.  The 1000 watt model is very compact, light, and quiet.  At $800 its not a great value unless you need something really compact….possibly on a small sailboat?  It won’t power large power tools like chop saws and table saws.  You might get lucky and power a tiny chop saw or undersized table saw, but you are likely to trip the red light often.  I highly doubt that the 1000 watt unit will reliably run even a small AC unit.  Really the only thing going for it is the small size and weight.

Honda EU Lineup

Honda EU Lineup

For an additional $200-300 you can buy the 2000 watt model which will power pretty much anything.  The 2000 watt model is the most popular and will maintain the best resale value of the models if you ever need quick cash.

The 3000 watt model is an awful deal.  The base model is $2000 which is nearly double the price of the 2000 watt model.  Why not just buy a pair of 2000 watt models and a parallel operation kit and have redundant 2000 watt power AND 4000 watts of total power with the parallel kit?   To be fair, the 3000 watt model does come with an remote electric start option for an extra $300….that would be pretty darn cool!

What about 220V devices?

If you require 220V for a well pump or furnace, then you need a step up transformer or need to get another type of generator.  A step up transformer takes the 120V AC and converts it to 220V AC.  This conversion will be a bit inefficient and you won’t be able to make use of the rated load of the generator.  I suggest you have a qualified electrician verify the installation and operation of your equipment when powered from a step up transformer via generator.  Some large motor loads may not like to start up on a small generator like the EU2000.  Honestly, if you have large 220V loads, a larger generator may be a better choice.

Heavy duty 2000 watt step up/down transformer.

Heavy duty 2000 watt step up/down transformer.

Maintenance

The EU2000 gets its oil changed after the first 20 hours and then again at 50 hour intervals.  I use a quality 10W-30 motor oil based on recommendation from the manual.  You should also check, clean, replace the air filter every 50 hours as well.  Honestly, I’ve never replaced mine….this article has prompted me to go out and buy a fresh one :)

Oil changes are a total pain in the ass on this generator (a real weak spot IMO) since the oil spills and runs all over the place.  Save your sanity and buy an aftermarket oil filler tube.  They are readily available on eBay and Amazon for short money.  The other nice to have tool for filling is an oil pump that attaches to your oil bottle.  You can get them for just a few bucks on Amazon or at a local auto parts store.

Oil bottle pump attaches to quart sized motor oil bottles

Oil bottle pump attaches to quart sized motor oil bottles

Oil filler tube makes less of a mess!

Oil filler tube makes less of a mess!

Link to Stuff in This Article:

HONDA EU2000i Inverter Generator, 1600W

Impco Tri-Fuel Conversion Kit Honda Eu2000i

Honda DC Charging Cable 10′ For EU Models

Mess Free Oil Honda EU2000i

No Mess Oil Bottle Pump

120 to 220V Step Up Transformer

Honda EU2000i Parallel Operation Kit

PRI-G Fuel Stabilizer

 

Note: The links posted above are affiliate links which means I get a small commission should you buy something.  This costs you nothing and the revenue helps me produce this blog.

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:

tingbill

 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

rks

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!