My "off-grid" playground experiment!

Anything off grid. Energy, waste management, water supply, housing, whatever.
The_Amateur
Posts: 56
Joined: Sat Nov 02, 2013 9:17 pm
Location: NW Atlanta

My "off-grid" playground experiment!

Post by The_Amateur » Wed Apr 16, 2014 5:25 pm

I have converted part of my playground into a small, 6x4x6 tiny "home." Here's how I did it:

Over the past 5 months, I've modified a section of a playground in my backyard to be an insulated, passively (and electronically, if needed) heated/cooled, weather-proof area for under $80 (wood, materials, and plexiglas). It took me about a month to do so since I have a lot of stuff to do with school, but if it was well planned out, I could have had it completed in a weekend if I dedicated 8 hours a day to it. This is expected to be an experiment that will last from now until summer of 2016, when I graduate high school and begin living off the grid on my own.

Originally, before I got all of this, I used a part of my playground right under a roof of a section to keep it basically dry. That lasted for a month. As it got progressively colder, I realized this wouldn't work out well with all the stuff that I would have to deal with concerning a completely exposed solar setup. I looked for ways to get a much better area for all of this, and the idea hit me: use the room right below me. It had wood walls (small 1cm gaps between all the boards), a few windows, a big opening for a window, a nice ceiling (same type of gaps) and obviously a spot for a door.

So I began to move all of this to the bottom floor.
-I had 3 2x4s to support two big pieces of wood that would act as the floor (all screwed in solid- around 36 dollars.), 1-2 inch thick cardboard insulation (free from U-Hual's box reuse program), spray foam insulation to seal in small areas cardboard wouldn't fit in and for corners ($3), a sheet of plexiglas from Lowe's ($20), free 1'x1' plexiglas for the small windows, and wood to cover all the cardboard on the inside+for the door ($21). Every bit of that was done well. I even used recycled wood for the ceiling to obviously keep cold air and rain/snow out.
-To weatherproof the ceiling, I had a ton of trash bags (folded out but not "inflated," if you know what I mean) unfolded and lying down, covered that in cardboard, and covered with wood. It never leaked besides one area that I can not find the opening to (very small and is channeled to the ground below).

Once this was done, I moved all my stuff down- the batteries, inverter, lamp, etc. and it was done. Everything inside there was stuff that was either second-hand, bought to come with me in the future, or was going to be trashed.

The point of this was to show myself what it was probably going to be like if I was going to build my own house to live in off the grid in the future, and everything I have bought for it besides the wood is now being bought to go into my future home, such as the inverter, batteries (I know they will get old), solar panel(s), etc.. I find this project to be a success and I posted this because I believe a lot more people would like to live off grid if they knew that it was so easy, a kid in high school could do the basics of it (from scratch, most people would just convert their house). I know what I did is virtually nothing compared to building an off grid house, but it just goes to show that basic stuff like the playground experiment is possible. If I really needed to for some weird reason, I could live in that playground comfortably for days. I consider that a success. The only thing it lacks is plumbing/ toilets.

I currently have 1-100 watt solar panel and 210 amp hours of battery, but I am planning on buying a second solar panel today and having it here by next week. The total cost of everything I can bring on to my future home is $500 and that should last years.

techman
Site Admin
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Joined: Thu Dec 22, 2011 11:49 am

Re: My "off-grid" playground experiment!

Post by techman » Wed Jun 04, 2014 9:08 am

Wow, quite impressive. I have no idea how I did not see this post before. I am sorry for that. I think I remember either seeing an email from you or a comment about this setup.

This is very interesting. Can you post some photos of your work? It is awesome to hear that you are getting started in solar even now, while still in school. When you graduate, your future will be brighter and you can save so much with no utilities.

Please keep us updated on your projects and please attach some photos. If you do some videos on YT, I will happily mention you on my channel.

Troy

The_Amateur
Posts: 56
Joined: Sat Nov 02, 2013 9:17 pm
Location: NW Atlanta

Re: My "off-grid" playground experiment!

Post by The_Amateur » Sat Jun 28, 2014 8:35 pm

Hi again,

I'm very sorry that I haven't responded to you in 24 days. I have been having issues with logging in and I just got my account's password and information reset. For some reason, the old password I saved for this was not working anymore.

I do recall sending you a message on YouTube about the playground a long time ago. I will post a few photos of my work sometime soon (between the evening of the 29th and July 2). I am going to be putting some paneling on the walls and hopefully get my air conditioner to work completely off sun power tomorrow. If I don't get the A/C working tomorrow, I'll just have to wait until next summer to buy an inverter with a 3,500+ watt peak.

Since my post on April 16, I got that new solar panel and a 600-watt pure sine wave inverter. I have also grounded everything off and made hail/snow/ice covers for the solar panels. I ended up buying a commercially-made air conditioner because the bucket one didn't work well enough. I made an adjustable angle mount out of wood for the panels so I can change its position throughout the seasons along with improving the passive cooling. My only issues now are a small leak in one of the corners I can't fix and the plexiglas has began to warp pretty badly. I may end up needing to replace it in autumn if it doesn't go back to its old shape once it cools off. In a few minutes, I will post some pictures of the place that still look the same as the day I took them.

The_Amateur
Posts: 56
Joined: Sat Nov 02, 2013 9:17 pm
Location: NW Atlanta

Re: My "off-grid" playground experiment!

Post by The_Amateur » Mon Jun 30, 2014 12:31 am

Well ,today I didn't get the paneling due to size restrictions so that probably won't happen until mid-July. Also, my 600 watt inverter decided to die at 2:30 today and I'm awaiting a response from the company to see if I can exchange it because it sounds like there's a part loose in there. If not, I'll just now fork out the ~$350 for a professional inverter that I can bring with me to my future off-grid house. Regardless, nothing good is likely to happen between now and mid-July

techman
Site Admin
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Joined: Thu Dec 22, 2011 11:49 am

Re: My "off-grid" playground experiment!

Post by techman » Mon Jun 30, 2014 3:59 pm

Sorry to hear about the inverter trouble. I hope you get it sorted out. A good pure sine wave inverter is best though.

What is the plexiglas for? Wonder why its warping.

Cant wait to see the photos of your project.

The_Amateur
Posts: 56
Joined: Sat Nov 02, 2013 9:17 pm
Location: NW Atlanta

Re: My "off-grid" playground experiment!

Post by The_Amateur » Mon Jun 30, 2014 5:04 pm

Here's a few pictures of the place that are fairly recent. I don't have any ones from yesterday because it looks like a mess trying to get the inverter disconnected and such.

http://imgur.com/a/XEuPj" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; - Link to the pictures


Picture 1 December 8, 2013 The 2x4 floor framing to support the plywood flooring

Picture 2+3 December 9, 2013 The start of the insulation process with cardboard (I stopped wasting so many screws) + The flooring is now in (the plywood was just barely too long so it sticks up still to this day)

Picture 4 January 19, 2014 at 6:58 PM How well the 350/400 watt electric baseboard heater worked in the playground. It warmed the place up 5 degrees per minute and body heat also warmed up the place .5 degrees per minute. At this point in time there were still some openings in the insulation that I was not aware of. (Clock keeps going to PST)

Picture 5 March 1, 2014 basically what the playground looks like today from the deck of the house. The only difference is that there are two solar panels and they're on a portable mount on the ground (picture 10)

Picture 6-10 May 27, 2014 Most recent/accurate photos of what the place looks like today. The inverter is a 600 watt AIMS pure sine wave inverter from eBay. It worked very well but I believe the product I got had a loose piece in it and stopped working yesterday. Fortunately, the lighting and car radio (picture 7, not yet installed in the picture but goes in that metal frame) I installed is DC-powered. The plexiglas in the second to last picture is warping. It's not that bad in the picture, but you can see some of the tape on the right side. It's gotten worse since.

It stayed 10-20 degrees warmer than the outside in winter and is 0-10 degrees cooler in summer without the AC running (I seldom use it because I can't get it to run off-grid as of now. I have a hard-start kit on the way to see if that will fix its startup surge issues)

techman
Site Admin
Posts: 1326
Joined: Thu Dec 22, 2011 11:49 am

Re: My "off-grid" playground experiment!

Post by techman » Fri Jul 04, 2014 4:53 pm

Wow, quite impressive. You are well on your way to living off the grid. I am very impressed. Thank you for sharing.

Your AC wont work because it has a surge of up to 2 - 3 times its rated wattage when it first kicks in. You need a power inverter that can handle the surge. Yours is a little bit too small for that I fear. That is most likely the problem.

Another possibility is that you might need to increase the size of the cables between the inveter and battery bank. Use the biggest gauge wire you can get your hands on. I double up a piece of jumper cable in parallel for each lead. Its a poor mans fix.

Try that and see what happens.

The_Amateur
Posts: 56
Joined: Sat Nov 02, 2013 9:17 pm
Location: NW Atlanta

Re: My "off-grid" playground experiment!

Post by The_Amateur » Tue Jul 08, 2014 7:17 pm

I believe that that is the problem, too. I purchased myself a hard start kit (extra capacitor) for it to see if that will supply the power for the surge along with the 1,200 watts that the inverter can handle. I'll install it when I return to GA in 6 days.

A day before I left, though, I switched out the 4/6 gauge wire that came with the inverter and connected some 2 or 00 gauge wire that will connect to the new inverter. I also switched out the 6 gauge wire between the two batteries I have in there with the same cable I'm using for the inverter, which is more than enough. That may help out with powering the A/C, as well.

techman
Site Admin
Posts: 1326
Joined: Thu Dec 22, 2011 11:49 am

Re: My "off-grid" playground experiment!

Post by techman » Tue Jul 15, 2014 11:53 pm

Let us know how it goes.

The_Amateur
Posts: 56
Joined: Sat Nov 02, 2013 9:17 pm
Location: NW Atlanta

Re: My "off-grid" playground experiment!

Post by The_Amateur » Tue Jul 22, 2014 11:32 am

Change of plans occurred and I returned yesterday. I placed about 20 mothballs in the area for overkill and it seems to have helped keep the place from becoming an insect-infested place. Only a few spiders are in there along with those very slow-moving insects plus it's very dirty. Because I put 20 mothballs around the place and left the 30 others in the bag in the box, the place probably has no area to breathe. I'm going to run the air conditioner to get some fresh air in there for about an hour and see how it goes. The hard start kit will be installed tomorrow assuming everything else I was going to do when I got home goes according to plan.

The new power inverter arrived while I was gone and I will have that installed today to run a fan to also help get the mothball gasses out.

I plan on installing a new door, a screen door, and maybe glass windows for better insulation this winter. I wouldn't know how to install just a sheet of glass into the wall but I guess I'll make a frame around it to see how it all goes. The paneling must go in ASAP once all this cleaning and venting out the gasses is finished. Hopefully I'll get to Home Depot this weekend.

My deadline for all of this is August 3rd, the day before school starts. I want to have a screen door, a truly off-grid air conditioner,

In the far future, I might even buy an antenna rotor for the solar panels and hook it up where the sun shines most during the winter (no one good place for it in summer; it must be moved around)

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