Living off the grid brings a dangerous reality.
Whether I finally end up converting a school bus into a camper / RV, or building a shipping container home in the deep countryside, the chances are that I will need to generate my own electricity. Luckily, these days this isn’t as difficult as you might think. However, modern living uses a hell of a lot of electricity, especially in America. We may be looking at an electricity usage of 30 kWh, (kilowatt-hours), every day. However, with a little bit of arithmetic, (math), you can calculate your own likely electricity consumption, and your generating systems should be installed with that usage in mind.
There are three main ways to generate your very own off-the-grid power:
- A generator powered by an internal combustion engine. Generators come in a huge variety of sizes, capacities, and prices, but a 6 kW (kilowatt), generator might set you back £1,500, ($1,800). Other than capacity, the choice boils down to petrol, (gasoline), or diesel power. Generally speaking diesel is better, (but may be noisier). With a little work you can also run generators on gas, (propane, methane, natural gas), wood alcohol, (methanol), and paraffin, (kerosene). With some work, diesel generators will run on cooking oil.
- Solar Power. Stick some solar panels on the roof, or in the yard, and you have electricity while the sun is shining. Typically, solar power systems for a camper / RV, (and perhaps a shipping container home), produce 12 volt electricity, which is then used to charge a big battery, from which power is taken when anything electrical is switched on. To step up 12 volt direct current to 110, or 230 volt alternating current you need an inverter. These come in a huge variety of capacities and prices. You can buy them at Home Depot. Larger scale solar power systems, such as may be required by a decent sized shipping container home, usually need specialist installation. You will probably need to find an appropriate contractor.
- Wind Power. Wind power for a school bus camper / RV /motorhome would be very small scale and probably part of a 12 volt system. A wind turbine for a container home would be bigger, but in the scheme of things, still very small scale. A free standing wind turbine on a mast may need various regulatory permissions before you erect the thing. Most likely you will also be digging holes and trenches, so I hope you can use a mini-digger, (tiny backhoe).
Typically, the ‘belt and braces’ type of guy, (that’s me), would install both wind and solar power systems for his Camper / RV / Motorhome, or shipping container tiny home, perhaps with a diesel generator as back-up for both.
If you haven’t realised from the above, then off-the-grid electricity comes in two flavours;
- 12 volt DC, (direct current). This is the same as you get from an ordinary car battery. 12 volt DC systems can be installed by anyone competent in DIY.
- 120 volt (USA), 230 volt (Europe), and 240 volt (UK), alternating current. This is what you get from the sockets in your home, and is often known as mains electricity. Working with AC systems is normally not a DIY job, and at some point you will most likely need to employ a fully qualified electrical contractor.
So, you are generating your own electricity. That’s only half the story. Your camper / RV / motor home, and / or your container home will have to be wired to make use of all that lovely power. Basic wiring is well within the scope of a person very competent in DIY, and 12 volt DC lighting is dead easy. Mains electricity 110 volt and 230 volt AC is more complicated and you would do well to have your circuitry checked over by a properly qualified contractor before you use it.
Of course, these days you can actually buy a fully kitted out container home, complete with connections for all services, so all the wiring would be done for you. That sort of misses the point, doesn’t it? Amazon will sell you everything else you need to generate your own electricity.
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You don’t need more space, you need less stuff.
Back when I owned a trailer park, shipping containers often made instant buildings which could serve a myriad of purposes for me, from simple storage units, through a workshop, to a pretty nice office.
(not my office, a home made from shipping containers)
What I have never yet attempted is to use a shipping container to make a tiny home, or more likely, use several shipping containers linked together to make a decent-sized home. The place to start is to learn something about shipping containers, and then buy the right units.
Shipping containers are usually strong steel boxes with doors at one end, but they actually come in lots of versions. The standard width is 8′ (eight feet), the standard height is 8’6″ (eight foot six inches), and the two standard lengths are 20′ (twenty foot), and 40′ (forty foot). There are a whole raft of non-standard lengths starting at 5′, but a 10′ container is the more common of the non-standard lengths. The internal floor areas work out at 150 sq ft for a 20′ container and 305 sq ft for a 40′ container.
Given that most people regard 1000 sq ft as a decent size for a home, (plus a garage), then we are talking of at least a couple of containers to make anything that approximates a ‘normal-sized’ house. Container architecture is a discipline all of its own.
You obviously need a plot, the appropriate permissions from whatever building authority is responsible for all the regulatory stuff, and you may / or may not need to lay a concrete slab on which to stand the container(s) you’re going to turn into a home. (Whether or not you need to lay a concrete pad depends on the ground, and how long you expect the container home to stand there.)
It’s no good just buying a plot, plonking a used shipping container there and expecting to live in it. Shipping containers are steel boxes, and that means they are damn hot inside in summer, and bloody freezing inside in winter. To make a home you will have to line out the inside, and perhaps even clad the outside. Even if you just buy one 40′ container and are going to be happy living in 305 sq ft, you will still need to do a hell of a lot of work to make your steel box habitable.
One of the first things you need to learn is how to cut steel plate. Your box needs more than a big door at one end, you need windows, (at least), and maybe another door, and perhaps holes so you can link one container to another to make a bigger home. Luckily, shipping containers are mostly made of steel that’s only between 1.5mm and 2mm thick, so it’s easy to cut. Realistically there are 3 ways to cut steel on site, (using an ordinary hacksaw will take you aeons and you’ll hurt your wrist and hands).
- Oxy-acetylene cutting torch. These things are dangerous, and unless you’ve done this kind of cutting before, you would be best getting instruction before attempting to use an oxygen / acetylene torch. However, a cutting torch is fast and it’s easy to cut complex shapes. If you want circular cut-outs for round windows / portholes in your tiny container home, then oxy-acetylene could be for you.
- Electric jigsaw. The sides of steel shipping containers are pretty easy to cut, so an ordinary electric jigsaw will chop out your doors and windows. And, you can cut curves in steel with an electric jigsaw. This is possibly the best choice for the averagely skilled person.
- Stihl cut-off saw. STIHL is a trademark, but what we are talking about here is a big power saw of some description. Cutting lots of big holes in your containers, on site, you may well want something like a petrol powered Stihl saw, (and make certain you have the right disk for steel).
The benefits of using steel shipping containers to make a tiny home, (or something bigger), is that it’s pretty fast and inexpensive to get a weatherproof structure on site, they’re strong and durable, and you can put them down just about anywhere. A shipping container is probably the start of the ultimate off-the-grid home.
I can and have lived off-the-grid in a log cabin I built myself, (from a kit), but I would strongly caution anyone thinking of doing this concerning water. You will need a constant supply of potable water, either from the mains or from your own well / borehole. The average American uses between 80 to 100 gallons of water every day of the year. It’s possible to finesse around all the other services; sewage, electricity, gas, heating, telephone and internet, but shipping water in a small bowser on a regular basis is an absolute non-starter.
Once you have a weatherproof structure with the doors and windows installed, and you’ve made a start on connecting your services, then you can start on the really fun stuff, which is fitting out the interior to suit your tastes. The only limit to your imagination is the dimensions of whatever containers you have bought.
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Environmentalists are killing the planet, destroying the economy, and stealing your children’s future.
A bunch of rabid environmentalists have forced the British Government to announce that all petrol and diesel cars will be banned from the year 2040. Nobody ever accused rabid environmentalists of being intelligent, or having any common sense. Banning diesel and petrol cars, (or will it be all cars that have exhaust emissions?), has staggering implications that the officials, politicians, and environmentalists haven’t properly thought through.
In Sweden, Volvo has announced that from 2019 all of its new models will be either completely battery powered or hybrid vehicles. There’s a couple of interesting points here. Firstly this move will put a whopping premium on the price of all new Volvo’s. And secondly, hybrid cars still have to have a petrol or diesel engine that will produce nasty polluting exhaust fumes.
Diesel exhausts are killing us all, allegedly.
Across Europe several major cities, (Paris, Madrid, Athens), say that diesel cars will be banned from entering their environs from 2025. The Hell-Hole that is Mexico City has followed suit ~ ha! The mayor of London, Mad Sadiq Khan, wants to ban Petrol and Diesel cars from London by 2050.
These headline grabbing moves will achieve absolutely nothing except to cost consumers and taxpayers trillions of Pounds / Euros / Dollars. Banning diesel and petrol cars in the UK will impose vast costs on drivers for little environmental benefit.
There is no conceivable way that the British electricity generating and distribution systems will ever be able to provide enough power for all those battery powered cars, (and vans and busses, and trucks?). Just where will all the extra power come from? The back of an envelope estimate is that all these electric vehicles will add an extra 30 gigawatts to UK peak demand, and that means we would need 50% more generating capacity. That’s equivalent to another half-dozen huge nuclear power plants like Hinkley Point, or another 20,000 wind turbines, (which only work some of the time). I have no idea how many acres of solar collectors it would take to generate that amount of power, but they don’t work at night, which is when most people will be charging their electric vehicles.
The British Government says it will install a fast charging point every 20 miles on major roads ~ imagine how many holes in the road and road works delays that will mean.
The British Government are also considering slashing the maximum speed on our motorways to 60 mph, and what is that supposed to achieve except more fines from speeding tickets?
This all seems a bit rich considering that the whole man-made global warming agenda has been exposed as nothing more than a massive fraud. The best estimate is that if all the trillions of dollars Obama proposed to spend on his Clean Power Plan to tackle non-existent man-made global warming was actually spent, then global temperatures would perhaps be reduced by 0.057 degrees Fahrenheit ~ one five-hundredth of a degree.
Climate change is a normal, natural, and perpetual process which occurs, and has always occurred, with sublime indifference to man’s puny input. ~ James Delingpole.
There are a few inconvenient truths that politicians and environmentalists would rather the public didn’t wake up to;
- Man-made global warming / catastrophic anthropogenic climate change doesn’t actually exist in any meaningful form ~it’s nothing but a fraud, a massive scam designed to give politicians back control over an increasingly independent populace.
- There is no such thing as completely clean power. Green Energy produces nastier and longer term environmental pollution than does burning fossil fuels. Nuclear Energy is a case in point, look at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Wind turbines have a massively negative impact on the environment, are bad for wildlife, and a blot on the landscape. All batteries are inherently polluting, expensive, and dangerous.
- Switching to electric-powered private transport will require at least a 50% increase in electricity generating capacity in any country that tries it.
- A vast investment in an infrastructure of new charging points to support all these new electric vehicles will be needed.
- Electric vehicles cost a hell of a lot more than an exactly equivalent bike / car / van / truck / bus powered by an internal combustion engine.
- Electric vehicles are less capable, and have a shorter life-span, (about 5 years), before major maintenance is required, (new batteries), than do ‘conventional’ cars, trucks, and busses.
- There aren’t enough qualified mechanics to maintain the huge increase in the number of electric vehicles the politicians propose.
- Disposing of all of the ‘dead’ batteries will require a huge investment in a recycling technology that, as yet, doesn’t actually exist.
- The value of used vehicles powered by petrol and diesel engines will plummet, destroying the economies of the developed world. There is a vast investment in lending to finance vehicle purchases.
- Internal combustion engines don’t have to run on either petrol or diesel fuel. Is a ban on ethanol / methanol / vegetable oil / propane / butane fuelled vehicles also proposed?
- Are politicians also proposing to ban aircraft / railway engines / ships / electricity generators powered by fossil fuels ~ otherwise what’s the point?
- If Politicians think the backlash against Hillary Clinton was an isolated aberration, they’ve got a big surprise in store after all this banning cars crap.
In my life I’ve seen some insane ideas put forward by politicians at the behest of special interest groups, but a total ban on the internal combustion engine running on fossil fuels has got to be maddest thing I’ve ever heard. But then, politicians, special interest groups, and bureaucrats have never been known for putting much thought into anything.
Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it. ~ Henry Ford
At least I have the personal benefit of being able to totally and completely ignore all this banning petrol and diesel fuelled cars crap. Not only that, because I live in a democracy I can cast my vote in ways designed to discomfort the current crop of lightweight, insane, political pygmies. (And that’s an insult to pygmies and the mentally ill.)
Meanwhile, the Lotus 7 is 60 years old this year. Now that’s a great car.
read about the Seven
Breaking News Shock Horror!!!!!
It seems the Rich and Powerful use tax havens to avoid paying their fair share.
Well, there’s a bloody surprise. Who could have guessed it? You could knock me down with a feather.
We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes. ~ Leona Helmsley (from 1989)
I worked in Banking and Financial Engineering all of my ‘official’ career, and I’ve known this ever since I could tell which side of a cheque was the front. Any Banker worth his salt knows that the rich and powerful don’t actually pay taxes. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer knew this, so did the US Secretary of the Treasury, and the Minister of Finance in France, and everyone else with more intelligence than a demented gerbil. Even dimwit David Cameron’s father knew all about international tax avoidance.
These people have to pretend surprise now that the whole Panama Papers thing has hit the news. (For some of these people the brown stuff has really hit the fan ~ because their roles in all of this will now be in the limelight.)
There are a few basic techniques, (conjuring tricks), towards not paying taxes;
- Your companies are ‘officially’ based in and report through a low-taxation regime; Dublin Docks, the Irish-Dutch Sandwich, Lichtenstein, one of the obscure Caribbean nations, & etc, & etc….
- You ‘officially’ reside in a low taxation regime, Switzerland is nice, Monaco even more so.
- You don’t actually make any money. Trust me, it’s ridiculously easy to not make any money.
- You don’t own anything except your companies. Everything you buy is on the company, everything you use is on the company, the company owns all of your homes, your private jet, your yacht, your cars…
- Your companies ‘officially’ make losses.
- You don’t employ anyone. Your lawyers, accountants, butlers, drivers, maids, pilots, yacht captain, mistresses, hookers, are all employed by the companies you control. Your company even pays the bill when you eat at a fancy restaurant.
- All direct taxes, sales tax, value added tax, are reclaimed through the companies you control.
- Get ‘slightly criminal’ and invest in bearer shares and bearer bonds.
- Choose your banks very carefully, HSBC has a global reach and is really good at this stuff, (as well as money laundering if you require that service).
It would be boring to go on and on, but you get the basic idea.
Various top people in various governments are making a big show of trying to put a stop to all these scams. Don’t hold your breath. The efforts to make global finance more transparent are more up-front show than Las Vegas.
You know what? It’s actually worse than that. If you are rich enough, and powerful enough, various governments will fall over themselves to give you a shed-load of money. Put up a few ugly wind turbines, invest in a lot of solar power, plant some trees, buy the British steel industry… The list of things for which your government will make the rich even richer is long, wide, and detailed. Read some of it and weep.
There is a slightly brighter spot on the horizon. Rich and powerful men just can’t stop getting married to gorgeous, scheming, avaricious women. When the marriage breaks up, then their ex will take them for all she can get ~ and the divorce lawyers will be rubbing their hands with glee. Serves the evil bastards right.
There is one brutal truth you need to remember; The Rich get Richer, and you get ground into the shit. Meanwhile the old-age pensioner has to choose between heating her home and buying enough to eat.
Piers are great, so very seaside, so very 1950’s, so very English Music Hall, there even are songs about piers…. Santa Monica Pier is fabulous.
Right at the western end of Interstate 10, Santa Monica Pier is easy to get to. Santa Monica pier is also the Western end of the old Route 66, and that’s got to be my next US Road Trip, all two and a half thousand miles of it from Santa Monica to Chicago, (or maybe the in the other direction).
When I got there, I had that feeling of déjà vu which so many place in the USA give me. Not surprising; Santa Monica Pier has featured in countless films and TV shows; from Elmer Gantry and The Opposite Of Sex, to the iconic TV show The Rockford Files. Film buffs can have a great day out there; take your reference book with you.
At the end of the pier, the ferris wheel is solar-powered; when does Santa Monica ever get cloudy days?
There is also a great restaurant at the south side of the landward end; Lunch at The Lobster is not so expensive, around $100 for the both of you; The Girl Riding Shotgun loved the mussels. The views from the pier are worth seeing.
Great day ~ next time out I think I’ll take my teddy bear along…
pictures copyright jack collier