Tiny Shiny Home Blog 2022-12-06T05:25:35-05:00 /feed Tiny Shiny Home hello@tinyshinyhome.com https://tinyshinyhome.com/airstream-metal-truss-carport-permanent-trailer-site Airstream Metal Truss Carport - Permanent Trailer Site 2022-10-06T08:46:00-05:00 2022-11-15T10:05:33-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Introducing a brand new project here on the Tiny Shiny Homestead! It's time to create a permanent resting place for our renovated vintage Airstream so we can start building our family home in its place.

When we moved onto this raw land over 2 years ago, all we had was our renovated vintage Airstream that we had been traveling in for the last 5 years. We parked it right in the middle of the parcel and got to work building.

First was a fence to keep the cows out, then water storage and a solar powered water pump.

Then it was our earthbag solar shed office, off-grid solar system, and earthbag chicken garden.

We are so ready to start our house, but there’s a small problem. The Airstream is in the way!

That’s right, it’s officially time to build a permanent resting place for our Tiny Shiny Home. She’s carted us 100,000+ miles all over the US and Canada, and been a true home for our family of 6 for the last 5 years.

Step 1 - Planning & Design

So it can’t just be any old pole barn. We need to build something that protects this important piece of our family history for years to come.

Here were our requirements:

  1. Open frame design - we want to provide shade and protection over the trailer, but still allow for beautiful views out it’s many windows
  2. Needs to double as an outdoor living space - Since we still don’t have a house, any covered area we create during this process would be a big win
  3. Withstand 100+mph winds - yes we live in the high desert with hurricane force updrafts during monsoon season as well as sustained 50+mph winds during the spring. Whatever we use needs to be rated for these conditions
  4. Metal for strength and durability - we decided on steel framing and metal roofing instead of building something out of wood or earthbags
  5. Catch Rainwater - Rainwater catchment, storage, and pressurization will be vital to providing water for the trailer
  6. Sustainable - As we’re doing our best to build everything out here as low impact as possible, the sourcing and sustainability of the materials is also important to us.
  7. DIY - Finally, we want something we can put together ourselves! As you know, this homestead journey of ours has been filled with learning and becoming more self-sufficient. Ideally we could find a company that could work along side us to design for our requirements, but then let us put it together as part of the owner builder opt-out.

Yeah, kind of a tall order, we know. But like any good off-grid homesteader we did our research. 

Watched video after video, scoured blog after blog. Even visited a few places locally. And finally settled on a company called Miracle Truss after seeing one of their buildings in person and being able to help put some of it together.

They certainly ticked all the boxes we mentioned above with a few bonus ones:

  • Their buildings are American Made from Recycled Steel
  • Come with a 50 year Warranty
  • Clear span usability all the way to the peak
  • Used in hurricane zones and massive snow load areas like Alaska
  • Use metal trusses built like bridges for incredible strength
  • But also use minimal standard lumber for flexibility and cost savings
  • Easy to put together ourselves by renting a few pieces of equipment
  • Fully engineering drawings provided for permitting, cement pad pours, and anchor bolt plan to help with out-to-out dimensions and truss locations

Let’s just say we were impressed.

So we reached out to Miracle Truss and told them what we wanted to do. They helped us work through designing the perfect Airstream cover that wasn’t too tall, but still had headroom to access the roof as well as a good sized livable outside area.

The process was very easy and straightforward, and we appreciated the knowledge and expertise they brought, asking the right questions, and making sure we were designing this thing right.

We’ll dig into the full costs of this project near the end, but if you’ve been following us for a while, you know that while we love to save money and do things as cheaply as possible, we also only want to do them once. A building like this can cost more upfront, but we felt like it’s a smart investment for the future of our homestead. As you’ll see, there are a lot of things we can do with a structure like this.

Disclaimer: Now, we wanted to make sure you know that while Miracle Truss isn’t technically sponsoring this project, we are working together. We’ll be creating marketing videos for Miracle Truss to help us offset some of the material costs of this build. We do also have an affiliate relationship so if you end up getting your own Miracle Truss building and tell them we sent you, we’ll receive a small commission.

But otherwise, all costs associate with the project - the metal trusses, the roof, the cement pad, equipment rental, rainwater catchment system, electrical, and lumber - all came out of our pocket.

We’re going to take you through the entire process step-by-step and you can decide if this kind of building makes sense for you. 

Ready? Let’s get started.

Design Process

Like we mentioned, the design process was pretty straightforward. Besides our basic list of requirements, from a design standpoint we only had a few things we wanted.

The first was a gabled or double pitch roof. The goal was as much shade as possible for as much of the day as possible. While we love the look of single pitched roofs, we’ve been in the Airstream through enough seasons here to know that early morning shade is very important for keeping the inside naturally cool as long as possible, and that the setting afternoon sun is the hottest part of the day. With the long side of the Airstream facing East and West, we could use a gabled roof to shade it during those important times.

The second was that we wanted access to the Airstream roof for maintenance. Now the cool thing about Miracle Truss’s clearspan design is that the trusses allow for clearance all the way up to the pitch. Which meant we didn’t have to build something super tall which was also one of our design requirements. We love our views out here and don’t want to create things that obscure it.

Truss and Airstream Dimensions

So most of our conversations centered around finding the right height for the side trusses and pitch for the roof. In our case we ended up going with a 12’ vertical truss which worked out to almost 11’ of clearance on the inside of the frame. Our Airstream is only 10.5’ tall and it won’t be parked all the way to the edge so this should work out perfectly.

By building at a 3:12 pitch, the full structure only ends up being about 14’ tall at the peak.

We also went through a few iterations of the square footage of the building, trying to decide how much outdoor space we wanted covered in addition to the trailer.

Cement Pad Dimensions Showing Living Space

Here we settled on a 19’x36’ cement pad which should give us extra space to the front and back of the Airstream as well as about 8’ of covered living area out to the front of it. This is close to the size of the deck we currently have, and we love that extra space. Of course now it will be covered and open up a lot more possibilities.

Anyhow, like we mentioned, Miracle Truss was super helpful especially in working with us to understand the right height of the building. Once we settled on a size and price, they put together full technical drawings which also went through an approval process.

Cement Pad Planning & Equipment Rental

These buildings are really cool because you can put them together yourself! But that doesn’t mean it’s simple. There are a lot of moving pieces, and things to think about if you’re going down this road. Let’s cover the high level basics here, and we’ll get into the details in later videos.

First is your foundation. One of the benefits of a metal truss design is that you can just pour footers for the trusses to bolt into, or you can lay an entire concrete pad. In our case, since we wanted to park the Airstream under the cover, a full pad made the most sense.

Foundation Options - Footers, Cement Pad, Piers

And while we’ve poured a few small cement pads, engineering one this large and strong enough to attach an open air building was out of our comfort zone. So in addition to working through the design of the cover with Miracle Truss, we also had to work with a local cement company to have this pad poured right. That included leveling the area, bringing in A/B mix and compacting it so things wouldn’t sink over time, digging the footers and reinforcing where the trusses would go, installing rebar, setting bolts, and more.

Equipment Rentals Needed - Telehandler and Scissor Lift

In addition, you will need some decent sized equipment to put this structure up. So we also needed to coordinate renting both a telehandler to set the trusses in place and a scissor lift to install purlins, roofing, and more.

Compared to most of our projects so far where we’ve built nearly everything ourselves from the earth on our land, this is a whole different ballgame. And we are learning A LOT.

Permitting

One major thing we forgot during this process was permitting! For the solar shed, we kept it under 200 square feet so in our county, permits weren’t necessary. And the chicken garden is mostly just a wall so it doesn’t really count. But even though we are in Cochise County and part of the owner-builder opt-out, any structure over 200 square feet that costs more than $1,000 still needs a permit.

The process was pretty straightforward - we called first to get some direction, then filled out the application online. This was considered an accessory structure, and we were able to opt-out of inspections for this building as well. We needed to provide a sitemap showing where it would be, making sure were at least 20’ from our property lines. We included Miracle Truss’s engineered drawings, but for an opt-out permit they aren’t even necessary.

All in all it cost us about $150, was approved within a few days, and only required an initial inspection to make sure we were properly setback from our fence lines. We should be able to email or text photos of the completed structure within 6 months for final approvals.

Next Steps

So with our materials on order, our place "cemented" on the schedule for a newly poured pad, and permit in hand we were ready to get going. But again, nothing is as easy as it sounds, especially in 2022. Between cement rations here in Arizona, gas prices slowing down shipments, and unavailability of the equipment we need to do the job, things quickly got complicated. But all this is a story for future videos.

Speaking of, what's coming up in this series?

Project Overview

  1. Planning & Design
  2. Cement Pad Pour, Footings
  3. Receive Materials, Shou Sugi Ban Wood, Erect Vertical Columns
  4. Put Main Trusses into Place, Rent Scissorlift, add Cabling, Purlins
  5. Metal Roof & Trim
  6. Gutters & Downspouts
  7. Utility Holes, Trenching & Planning
  8. Gray Water Septic
  9. Bury & Plumb Rainwater Catchment Tank
  10. Solar Pump House Planning & Foundation
  11. Solar Pump House Build & Electrical Run
  12. AC Power Plugs
  13. Plumbing Pump House
  14. Leak Testing + Airstream Wash Party
  15. Moving the Airstream, finishing touches
  16. And maybe a few more fun mini projects

We cannot wait to get our Tiny Shiny Home protected and covered from the elements.

Keep scrolling below to watch videos of each phase of the project as we complete it!

2. Cement Pad Pour & Footings

The next phase in building our Airstream Metal Truss Carport was to get a concrete pad poured with anchor bolts for the prefabricated trusses. Instead of doing this ourselves, we brought in the pros at Willcox Rock & Sand, and we're so glad we did.

3. Receive Materials, Shou Sugi Ban Wood, Erect Vertical Columns

With the concrete pad poured, it's time to officially start raising our Miracle Truss Airstream cover. But first we need to take delivery of the materials, order lumber, Shou Sugi Ban it for longevity, and begin the process by setting the vertical columns in place. Wish us luck!

4. Set Top Trusses, Level, Plumb & Square Building, Tighten, and Install Purlins

With the vertical columns raised it's time to set the top pieces of our Airstream cover. But with equipment rental shortages we have to get a little bit creative. Then we take time to square, level, and plumb everything before tightening the bolts and installing the purlins.

5. Install Metal Roofing & Trim

Metal roofing is never our favorite, but we enjoyed having a scissor lift and working with the smaller panels for this gabled roof. Just because the main structure is complete doesn't mean the project is over! There's still gutters, rain tank storage, electrical, and so much more to do. Keep watching!

6. Gutters & Downspouts for Rainwater Catchment

With the main structure built, it's time to turn our attention to utilities. First up is gutters and downspouts for our wet delivery rainwater storage and collection. This involved installing gutters at the proper pitch, building 4" downspouts and fabricating custom brackets while digging a trench to allow the water to flow underground to our storage tank.

7. Utility Holes, Trenches, & Planning

The Airport project continues! With the metal truss building finished, and our gutters and downspouts installed we turn our attention to utilities. Planning water, power and septic all in a small space was massively complicated, so let's see what we came up with.

8. Gray Water Septic

The next step in our metal truss Airstream cover is to design and build our very first gray water septic system or dry well. This will drain all our unused gray water out of sight and smell from the trailer for years to come.

9. Bury & Plumb Rainwater Catchment Tank

After filling in our septic hole, there was one last big hole to fill. The rainwater catchment tank. We'll be burying it 3' below ground, plumbing it, and running the gutter downspouts into the top to catch water.

10. Solar Pump House Planning & Foundation

Join us as we start planning and building version 3 of our solar water pump house! This iteration will include a concrete pad, 6" walls, AC and DC power, and an overflow drain. In part one we build the frame, pour the pad, and set the main structure in place.

11. Solar Pump House Finishing & Running Electrical

The solar pump house build continues, but first we go back in time to show you the process of running 120V AC power up to the Airport. Then we pick back up where we left off with the pump house and add walls, hinged roof, trim, insulation, and the solar panel. We're getting close!

12. Running AC Outlets

I don't know what was going on today, but everyone was in a mood 😂. Mischievousness abounds as we run all our power lines from our freshly installed AC power.

13. Plumbing Pump House + Building Mini VRM 12V Power System

Time to get nerdy, friends! Today we plumb the water system AND build the mini VRM 12V power system for the Airstream Carport Pump House. Hold on to your pocket protectors!

14. Leak Testing + Airstream Wash Party

And the two systems shall become one! The water pump is finally connected to the 12V system, everything is wired and cleaned up, and that concludes our utility work until the trailer is in place. Speaking of, it's time to get it shined up and ready for its big move. Let the Airstream wash party commence!

15. Moving Day

The day is finally here, friends! It's time to move our Tiny Shiny Home from its original location for the last 2.5 years to its brand new permanent home under the Metal Truss Carport. Let's do this!

16. Designing Outdoor Patio Living Space

The day after we moved the Airstream to the metal truss cover, Ashley and Jonathan go to town to gather materials to design the outdoor living space. Let's see what they come up with.

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/permaculture-berms-swales Permaculture Berms & Swales 2022-07-06T09:09:00-05:00 2022-08-22T09:03:58-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

It's time for a new, very important project here on the Tiny Shiny Homestead! Berms and Swales will help us protect our property from flooding, wind, and fire while providing a way to catch, store, and divert water.

Because we live in the desert of SE Arizona where water tables are dropping and wells are a poor investment, we're turning to permaculture inspired designs to catch rainwater not only off of roofs, but with the ground on our property as well.

Berms and Swales are ancient techniques making a big comeback, showing us the way forward to create a sustainable, beautiful oasis in the desert that perfectly blends with the natural topography of the land.

These work by creating depressed trenches or swales on contour with your land that catch flowing water, as well as mounds or berms on the opposite side that can be planted with trees and grasses.

By planting native trees along our berms we can create fire and wind breaks, privacy screens, food forests, and even mulch and firewood over time. Their roots fortify the berms, and allow us to catch, store, and most importantly divert water during heavy monsoons to safe areas on the property.

This means we're creating more organic matter which leads to the soil storing more water which leads to sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gases. Plus the concentration of trees leads to increased diversity of animals and habitats which creates a symbiotic relationship with the land.

So yeah, berms and swales can be pretty awesome, and we’re excited to start this process.

Permaculture Plans - Our Big Dreams of Greening the Desert

If you’ve watched our Permaculture Plans video, you know we’ve already been working with Rudy Poe planning our entire property, and he’s used topo maps and sheet flow calculations to help us plan where our berms should go.

This article and the following videos will be focusing on the berm and swale installations on our property, so let's get started!

Step 1 - Planning & Marking the Main Berm & Swale

Today we’re focusing on the main berm and swale that cuts right though the middle of our 6 acre parcel and will help us determine our final house placement.

Rudy’s going to help us mark this important berm and swale, make sure we’re on contour, and fine tune our plans as we start implementing on the actual property.

Step 2 - Excavating the Main Berm & Swale

After marking where our berm and swale should go, it was time to bring in the heavy machinery! Let's take you through each step of the dig, and show you the process.

Step 3 - It's NOT WORKING Right? Half of the Swale Isn't Catching Water

The next step in our berm and swale project is to bring Rudy back to help us figure out why the North half of the swale isn't catching any water. We check contour and do some detective work further up past our fence.

Step 4 - CHIPPING OUR OWN MULCH in the Desert? 

Before we can seed our berms and slopes, we need mulch to lay down to help prevent wind and water erosion as well as retaining moisture. But we live in the desert! Mulch is very hard to come by so we invested in a small wood chipper to make our own.

Champion Chipper Shredder

Step 5 - WE BOUGHT SOME TREES!

What an exiting day, friends! We head to Parkland Tree Farm and buy the remaining 65 trees for our berm and swale. Can you believe it? We're so close!

Step 6 - TREE PLANTING PARTY- Community Helps Plant Berm & Swale

Such a huge day for our homestead! Our local community volunteered to help us smooth the berm and swale, lay the grass seed cover crop, and plant our trees, and work on various other digging projects. We could not have done this without them!

Step 7 - WHAT'S LEFT? Cleanup Work on the Berm & Swale Project

The berm and swale wasn't finished yet! After our big planting party we still had more trees to plant, secure, and mulch around. We also fortified our culvert area with rocks from our wash.

Step 8 - DRIP IRRIGATION? Yes, please! Berm & Swale Project

The last major final step in our berm and swale project was to run and connect drip irrigation to all our trees. This was important to save us not only time, but water as well since we're limited to how much we can haul in.

Step 9 - THEY MADE IT HAPPEN! Tree Sponsor & Donor Thanks for the Berm & Swale

Our berm and swale project would not have been possible without the support of our Tiny Shiny Tree Collective! These amazing folks sponsored trees and donated to help us realize our dream of greening the desert. Today we show you the process of sending them tiny instant photos and donating the trees we couldn't plant to those in our community.

Fujifilm Instax Mini 90

Full Project Build

Don't have time to watch all 9 videos? Here's a 1.5hr recap of the whole thing from start to finish with additional thoughts seeing the swale in action after a month of monsoon rains.

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/shelter-logic-rebuild ShelterLogic Tent Permanent Rebuild for High Winds & UV in the Desert - Barn Doors, Earthbags, Metal Panels, & Solar 2022-06-08T00:00:00-05:00 2022-11-27T17:35:29-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Welcome, friends! We've spent the last several weeks re-building our ShelterLogic Garage-in-a-Box tents to withstand the high UV and 100+mph wind events of the high desert here on our off-grid desert homestead. We did this by building barn door facings, hyperadobe earthbag walls, adding metal roofing panels, and giving them their own mini solar powered systems for good measure.

Ariel view of driveway on off-grid property

But first a little backstory. Our family is building an off-grid desert homestead from the ground up here in Cochise County, AZ. When we moved onto our raw land, we were coming off 5 years of full-time travel, and only had what we could fit in our truck and renovated Airstream.

But building property from scratch means your minimalism quickly goes out the window. Literally the day after we parked our trailer, we setup and installed a ShelterLogic Garage-in-a-Box to house our tools, water tank, and what we knew would be a whole lot more stuff in the near future.

ShelterLogic

At the time, this was the fastest and cheapest way to get a 12x20 covered structure up, and it was exactly what we needed. But over time the cracks in this product began to show. Literally.

While the metal frame that makes up the skeleton of the Garage-in-a-Box is super heavy duty, the vinyl zippered fronts and overhead canopy do not hold up well in a high desert climate.

If the zippers themselves weren’t breaking and making it impossible to get into or seal up the front and back, the main overhead cover itself was in a constant state of rips, tears, and leakage.

Shelter Logic Rips

You can only gorilla tape it so many times guys. Trust us, we tried.

We even got a second one to act as a feed shed for our animals, and within less than a year it’s cover began to deteriorate as well.

During this time we were storing animal feed, the gear for our massive off-grid solar system, our tools, and so much more in these structures. And we always felt like we were a monsoon or windy day away from disaster.

We finally reached our breaking point, and had to decide if we were going to trash them and start over, or find a way to re-build them to withstand the rain, UV, wind, and weather events that are common in our desert environment.

The base model 12x20x8 Garage-in-a-Box only cost us $500 at the time, and a quick look around the internet told us that a pre-built shed or shipping container was going to run anywhere from $6k-$12k for something similarly sized.

So we put our heads together, and came up with a plan to rebuild the shelters ourselves!

Like we mentioned, the frames of these structures are actually really solid. So our plan was to use the existing skeleton, and replace all the vinyl.

Two important things before we jump in:

  1. A huge thanks to Ecoflow for sponsoring this video! We’ll share more about their portable power station which we used in this project later.
  2. Just in case you missed it, we’re re-building two ShelterLogic Garage-in-a-Boxes - our feed shed and garage. Both are very similar, but have a few key differences.

Alright, let’s get started.

Article Overview

  1. Shou Sugi Ban Wood Preservation
  2. Barn Door Wooden Plank Front Wall Build
  3. Hyperadobe Earthbag Back Wall Build
  4. Metal Roof Installation
  5. Solar Panel Mounting
  6. Feed Shed 12V Power System
  7. Garage Ecoflow Solar Generator Power System
  8. Final Soil Cement Plaster Application
  9. Recap + Feature Highlights
  10. Cost Breakdown
  11. Wrap-up
Shou Sugi Banning Wood for Goat Lodge

Shou Sugi Ban Wood Preservation

The first step was to re-build the front panel with barn doors and wooden planks.

If you were wondering about the longevity of using wood here in the desert, you're on the right track. Using untreated lumber on any surface that the sun will hit causes that wood to warp, twist, crack, and quickly degrade.

Thankfully we learned about an ancient Japanese technique called Shou Sugi Ban that we’ve used successfully on a number of other projects. It preserves and strengthens the wood for much longer periods of time. Here’s how it works:

  1. Using a propane torch, char all sides of the board
  2. Take a stiff bristle brush and scrape off the char, pushing it into the pores of the wood
  3. Brush on boiled linseed oil and let cure overnight

This process takes some time, and is super messy - but once finished you’ve got really well preserved wood that should hold up to the high UV and low humidity in the desert.

With the Shou Sugi Banning complete, it was time to start piecing together our new front.

Barn Door Wooden Plank Front

Barn Door Wooden Plank Front Wall Build

A major selling point of the ShelterLogic tents was a nice wide opening for easy access to everything inside. So at least one of our walls needed a large, secure door to get stuff in and out. While these barn doors aren't as big as the original opening, we think they're a good trade-off for the increased stability and durability they provide compared to rolled up vinyl.

Building Barn Door Frame Header

Step 1 - Build a door frame

Use 2 4x6 posts and a 2x6 header to create a frame for your door to hang in. Notch the top of the 4x6 posts so the header fits perfectly. Decide on the width of your door and the height of the header, and temporarily screw the 3 pieces together. Measure side to side and corner to corner to get everything square, and add another brace in the middle.

Step 2 - Cement the Door Frame in place

Lift your frame up, and finalize exactly where you want it to go. Use a stringline and level to set its depth in relation to the front of the tent. Make sure it’s centered, and then mark where the 4x6 posts should go.

Use an auger to create 2’-3’ holes for the posts to sit in. Their depth will be determined by how high you want the header to sit. Put the frame in the holes, add some gravel in the bottom for drainage, make adjustments for level and plumb. Once you’re ready throw some Quickcrete and water in the holes to lock the frame in place.

Step 3 - Bolt Door Frame to Metal Frame

Now comes the important part. We need this central frame to lock into the Garage-in-a-box frame. We do this by finding the spot where the header meets the metal frame, and drilling all the way through the pipe into the wood.

Then we secure with bolts, washers, and nuts. Before tightening everything up, scribe a line on the header where it goes past the edge of the curved frame. Then take a jigsaw and trim it to match. Now you can tighten the bolts, and we recommend 4” lag screws that go through the header into the posts for good measure.

Now you have a cemented, bolted, and (hopefully) square door frame that you’ll use to attach everything else to.

Screw Hooks

Step 4 - Install Steel Screw Hooks

Measure a few feet from the top and bottom of the frame, drill and screw in 4 Steel Screw Hooks. It’s ok if they go all the way through the 4x6 posts. If you can put these in at a slight upward angle it will help the Steel High Straps look more level for the next step.

Step 5 - Attach 2x6 to High Straps

Set the Steel High Straps on the Screw Hooks, and cut a 2x6 board that stops right before the hook. Get the 2x6 level, and then drill and bolt the High Strap to the 2x6. Do this for both the top and bottom.

Installing Vertical Planks

Step 6 - Install Vertical Planks

With the 2x6’s in place, begin to install your 1x6 vertical planks. Cut them to the vertical height you need, and screw from the back into the 2x6’s. Start from the middle, and work your way to each end, leaving a little extra space between the middle boards.

As you get to the end where the bolts are, you’ll need to cut or drill out holes for them to poke through.

Step 7 - Cut Down the Middle

With all planks installed, you can now cut your 2x6 boards down the middle, and you’ve got swinging doors! Note, you may need to cut at least 1/2” out of the 2x6 for no pinching.

Installing Facing Planks

Step 8 - Install Facing Planks

Now that the door is finished, we need to close up the space above and to the side of the door frame. You’ll need two kinds of fasteners for this. Wood screws and self-drilling sheet metal screws.

What you’re trying to do is match the depth of the metal pole to a 2x4 you’re going to install on the side of the 4x6 post. Take a small piece of 1x6, set it against the metal frame, and mark where the 2x4 should go. If your Screw Hook went through the post, you’ll likely need to break this up into a few pieces. That’s ok, as the ShelterLogic frames tend to spread out a bit, and you’ll likely need to make adjustments the further you go down.

Put in your first 2x4, set a 1x6 in place, and scribe the curve on the back. Cut it off, bring it back, and you’re ready to install your first piece! Use the wood screws on the door frame side to screw into the 2x4, and a metal sheet screw to go straight into the metal pole. Since 1x6’s are so thin, we definitely recommend pre-drilling all the holes.

Once you get going on this, it’s really straightforward - mark the curve, cut, and install. The top boards will be a little different, but it’s basically the same idea.

Step 9 - Adding Door Supports

Remember those crazy winds we talked about. Well, they could totally push our brand new doors inward and start messing things up. So we like to add another 1x6 on the inside attached to the 4x6 posts far enough down to keep them from ever swinging inward.

We’ve also put a vertical door support on the left hand door for the right hand door to butt up against. Optional, but it will help stop water that might want to come through that large gap between doors.

Finally we created some angled 2x4 supports on each door that go from the top 2x6 to the bottom 2x6 for additional strength.

Installing Cane Bolts

Step 10 - Add Door Hardware

Now we’re getting somewhere! Install whatever hardware you like. We used handles, swivel eye hasp latches, and cane bolt rods. For our feed shed, we made sure to instal the swivel latch and handles on the inside as well, since we often take goats in for milking and need to keep other animals out.

Finally we used some poles we had laying around and pounded them into the ground for the cane bolts to lock into for both closed and open door positions. With the wind we get here, both were important.

Feed Shed Low Solar Back

Earthbag Back Wall Build

The decision to fill in the back walls with Hyperadobe Earthbag came from a desire to keep costs down more than anything. Plywood or metal are not cheap right now, but hyperadobe rolls are only .15/linear ft. Using the soil on our property and leaving out the portland cement meant we spent a grand total of about $40 for the back walls of both structures. Not bad!

Even better, by laying the bag in the middle of the pole, the material would wrap around it as tamped into place, locking each layer in all the way up. This combined with the arched shape proved to confirm our theories - the completed back walls were super solid and structurally sound.

Earthbag Wall Halfway

For these bags we just used our soil and some water, filled the bags, and tamped in place. Because of the tight spacing we could only use our bucket delivery system, and had to tamp with large pieces of wood as the metal tamps just kept running into the frame.

We also broke the wall build into multiple days to make sure we didn’t go too many layers high without letting them dry.

Window Vent

Halfway through the build, we decided to add a vent fan and window to the back wall. This was easy to do - it just required building the frames and cleating them in place, using the weight of the bags to lock them in.

Bottle Bricks

The top portion was too difficult to fill with bags so we used some left over bottle bricks from the Chicken Garden project, mixed up some cobb, and filled the space.

For the feed shed, we decided to mix things up - we installed two lower pipe vents on the back wall while building the walls, and planned on putting the vent fan at the front.

Earthbag Wall Plaster First Coat

Once the walls were built, we needed to start covering the bags. This was a two step process. The first scratch coat of plaster was a 9 parts sifted soil 1 part portland cement ratio that we made up in our cement mixer with water, then chinked between the bags before applying a 2” layer all over, filling in the gaps and trying to get the wall relatively uniform. We’ll come back to the final plaster coat in a bit.

Garage Overhead

Metal Roof Installation

With the front barn doors installed and the earthbag back walls built, we were finally ready to get rid of that stupid vinyl cover, and replace with something more permanent. We considered a few materials, but settled on custom metal roofing panels from our friends over at Thunder Mountain Metal.

The first step was to measure, measure, and measure again. While the panels are about 3’ wide once overlapped, they can be custom made to just about any length. To protect the wood and earthen plaster, as well as provide some shade we decided to go with 23’ long panels. And by our calculations we needed at least 8 panels to span the 21+’ distance from side to side when wrapped over the curve.

While we wanted this roof to be fairly waterproof, we didn’t feel like using butyl tape between each overlap was necessary. A few drops coming in wasn’t going to hurt anything.

Fasten Metal Panels

Instead of the usual metal to wood screws, Thunder Mountain sent metal to metal self tapping screws. They even have a protected gasket to seal up the holes.

Before we could start, we had to remove the old vinyl covers and remove and re-install the 4’ augers to make sure they wouldn’t interfere with the metal panels.

The hardest part of the panel install was really just lining up our holes, and hitting the frame dead on. Because just a fraction of an inch to the left or right, the bit would slip off the rounded pole and break. We definitely messed up a few times, but found that pre-drilling helped.

Metal Panels in Place

The ShelterLogic pole ribs were 4’ apart, and we felt ok just screwing into those at each ridge on the panel. Where panels overlapped, we also put in an additional metal screw through both into the rib, and a shorter stitch screw on each overlapping ridge.

Usually you pick a direction for your overlaps, and lay all the panels accordingly, but because of the curve we had to reverse the overlap once we got past the half-way point. So we started at the bottom on one side, put the panels up until one when over the curve, then slide the next one underneath, and continued to put panels under so that water would flow correctly.

Feed Shed Facing Out 2

The final panel underlapped at least 2 or 3 ribs, but it worked out perfectly, with the metal sheet touching the ground on both sides. Screwing these panels in to the already secured front door frame and earthbag wall really locked in the whole structure, and gave it a super clean, professional feel inside and out.

Solar Panel 1

Solar Panel Install

Like we mentioned earlier, each Garage-in-a-Box would be getting it’s own mini solar power system. We’ll get to the nerdy details of that soon, but the first step was to mount the solar panels themselves.

If you’ve seen our massive off-grid DIY solar power system video, then you know we’re big fans of SanTan Solar. They buy used residential and commercial panels, test them, and sell them for massively reduced costs.

Our 7200W panel array used their budget 240w panels, and we liked them so much we decided to buy some more for these buildings. And maybe for a few other projects coming up :). This helps simplify things here on the homestead - by having the same panels everywhere it’s much easier to keep track of their technical details and switch out panels if one were to break.

Here’s the thing - these panels are BIG. They’re 65”x35” and weigh almost 40lbs. And in case you hadn’t noticed, these ShelterLogic tents do not have flat roofs!

So how did we mount a massive solar panel to a rounded metal roof?

Thankfully we had dealt with a similar problem when installing solar panels on our renovated vintage Airstream. We found these Rocker Mount Feet from AM Solar, and they worked so well on that project that we used them again.

This was our process:

Solar Rocker Mount

Step 1

Temporarily attach the mount adapter to the frame of the solar panel and then connect the L-Shaped Foot with the Knob. But don’t tighten it too much!

Step 2

Set your panel in place and adjust the feet to the curve of the roof. In our case we had to move the mounts inward a bit to make sure all the feet were touching the metal panels.

Rocker Mount Knob

Step 3

Mark where the mount adapters should go, then drill and bolt them in place. Re-attach the L Foot Mounts (still loose), and set the panel back in place.

Rocker Mount Install

Step 4

For most installs you can just clean the metal surface and use the attached VHB tape to permanently stick it down. But in our case, the metal roofing panels had some small ridges that would have kept the feet from sitting flat on the entire surface. So we screwed the panels down as well.

The southwest side of the panel was the side that would get the most wind, so we made sure to screw those feet directly into the ShelterLogic Frame. Then for the back feet we screwed into some scrap pieces of wood for stability.

Step 5

An important part of the VHB tape actually working long term is to caulk around it and protect from UV rays. So we used some outdoor silicone to seal the feet and any additional holes we may have made during the roof installation.

Step 6

Finally, we made up our solar wires, connected them to the panel, and ran them through the wall, making sure to use zip ties and mounts to keep the wires held down tight.

With both 240W solar panels securely installed, it was time to tackle the power systems for each building. And both couldn’t be more different.

Mini 12V Solar Power System

12V Feed Shed Power System

Our power goals for the feed shed were pretty simple. There needed to be a vent fan to keep air flow circulating, and lights so we could see when milking goats early or late in the day.

We decided to stay with a fully 12V system for the feed shed, buying USB lights and switches, and a DC based vent fan that we installed on the front of the building.

We also wanted to use this as an opportunity to test out connecting an additional power system to our Victron VRM Portal. Which was tricky, because this building wasn’t close enough to a steady wifi signal to get it to connect to the internet.

After a bunch of research, we settled on the GlobalLink 520 - a cell based VRM device that you connect to your charge controller and shunt, and it syncs the data with your account.

Now I’ll be honest, this power system is overkill for what we needed it to do - it was kind of more like a proof of concept for what we’ll be trying over in the Chicken Garden. There will also be a more detailed breakdown of this setup in a separate video and article, but here’s the basics:

240W Solar Panel (37V 8A)

This used 240W panel from SanTan Solar just had a positive and negative wire that we need to connect to the charge controller.

100AH Deep Cycle Lead Acid 12V Battery

Because the shed has temperature extremes of hot and cold, a Lead Acid battery would work just fine for our install. I grabbed a cheap Deep Cycle Marine battery from Walmart.

Storage Container Setup

We were going to build a power box for this, but found a plastic storage tote from the hardware store to put everything in. It was about 12"x26"x18", the battery fit perfectly, and we just cut a few pieces of scrap wood to mount everything to.

2 Pole 10A Circuit Breaker

We drilled a hole for the solar wires to come into the box, and added a 2 pole 10A circuit breaker in case of a power or lightning event.

Victron Smart Solar MPPT 75V/15A

From there we go through the solar charge controller. The SmartSolar MPPT 75V 15A is sized specifically for the solar panel. Positive and negative wires go to PV in, battery wires are detailed next. We also connected a VE.Direct cable to the GlobalLink 520.

25A Mini ANL Fuse

Coming out of the charge controller, the positive wire runs through a 25A Mini ANL fuse and cover for additional protection, and to the positive post of the battery.

Victron SmartShunt

The negative wire runs to the system minus side of the Victron Smart Shunt. The battery minus side of the shunt connects to the negative post of the battery. And the VBatt+ wire goes directly to the positive battery post. A VE.Direct cable connects to the GlobalLink520 as well.

DC Circuit Breaker and Fuse Block

From the positive battery post, we added a 25A DC Circuit breaker and fuse block to connect each item to so they could have separate fuses. The block has a few extra spaces should we decide to power more things in the future.

GlobalLink 520

The GlobalLink 520 needed power, so it is hardwired to the positive and negative post of the battery. And of course, the VE.Direct cables from the charge controller and shunt both connected here as well.

Loads

Finally, we ran the positive lines of each load to it’s own connection on the fuse block, and the negative lines to the system minus side of the shunt.

DC Fan Inside

Vent Fan

This AC Infinity AIRTITAN T8 was the perfect size to fit over our barn doors, used DC motors so all I had to do was chop off the AC power brick and wire directly to the 12V system, and it has a temperature and humidity sensor with programmable alarms and settings to tell the fan to come one exactly when we want it to.

Feed Shed Lights Off

USB Lights and Switch

We found these super simple string lights that run very low power, have shatter proof bulbs, and connect using a USB connection. Technically USB is 5V so we needed a 12V USB outlet, and the model we found even had a switch for the whole thing. This worked out perfectly as an easy to access light switch for whoever was using the shed.

Again, this system is built to grow with us, and there’s plenty of headroom to add more things to power as we need them.

Ecoflow Left 2

Garage Ecoflow Solar Generator Power System

We approached the power in the garage very differently. The fan we chose was higher power and AC based - plus it’s a garage! 120V power is kind of a no-brainer.

We wanted to charge our power tool batteries, have some lights, and run pretty much any other tool we might need. But this quickly got more complicated since it would involve an inverter.

And this is where I get to talk about our sponsor, Ecoflow. They sent us a DELTA Max 1600 Portable Power Station to review. An all-in-one unit that does DC power, AC power, and can be charged via solar panels was a perfect fit for our use case. Here’s a few other cool features of the DELTA Max:

  1. EcoFlow power stations charge at 1,600W when plugged into AC Power - and you can combine up to 800W of additional solar input to charge it even faster.
  2. Even though the DELTA Max 1600 acts as a 2000W generator, it can actually run 2,800W appliances thanks to X-Boost. It can even surge up to 5,000W. Let’s see your gas generator do that! With 6x 20 amp outlets, you can power all the things.
  3. The Ecoflow app lets you monitor charge levels, usage data and adjust deep level settings via your smartphone.
  4. Our unit shipped with about 1.6kwh of lithium battery storage, and you can expand with optional battery banks up to 6kwh. The plug and play nature makes it easy to assemble a small lithium battery bank and inverter based system quickly.
  5. The unit is totally portable - it only weighs about 50lbs or the same as a small gas generator.
  6. You can even use the DELTA as emergency backup power. With its high surge capacity you can still run many appliances in your house worry free.

Now let’s look at specifically how we set it up in our garage.

Solar Panel

Just like the feed shed, we used the same 240W solar panel mounted to the roof with wires run though the wall to connect to the Ecoflow unit. Now obviously the solar charges a lot slower than a direct AC connection, but the goal was that the solar panel would provide enough wattage to run the vent and intermittent power tools and keep the batteries charged up most of the time. So far, so good on that front.

Next we used Ecoflow’s special solar adapter which has an XT60 on one end, and two MC4 connectors on the other. I appreciate that they stuck with a standard solar connector that I was easily able to wire and connect myself.

120V AC Power Connections

Power Strip

On the AC side, we got a laughably long power strip at Harbor Freight, mounted to our work desk, and plugged in. This gave us easy access to power everything else without having to reach around the back to find the outlets each time.

AC Fan 2

We connected our AC Infinity AIRLIFT T10, an higher powered AC version of the vent fan we installed in the feed shed, ran its cables and sensor, and mounted the separate display so we could program it to come on when we wanted.

Battery Charger

Then we plugged in our Dewalt battery charger so we would have a single place to charge batteries (hallelujah!).

Garage Lights Night

Finally, we hung the same USB lights from the Feed Shed, but plugged them directly in to the DC panel on the front of the Ecoflow. If we want to turn them on or off, we just us the DC button.

The only thing I really needed to do out of the box to make this worked was to open the Ecoflow app and set the AC power not to shut itself off automatically overnight. Otherwise it’s been chugging along, running the vent fan, and powering tools like a champ!

Since the DELTA Max is still portable, we’ll be doing a more in-depth review later this year, using it for all sorts of projects. But for now we’re really loving having high wattage AC power in our garage that’s powered by the sun.

Earthbag Wall Finished

Final Soil Cement Plaster Application

Oh my goodness, it’s the final step! We headed back to those earthbag walls with their scratch plaster coat, and started applying the final coat. For this layer we went with an 8 parts native soil, 1 part portland cement ratio. 

Instead of applying by hand, we used a trowel to really compress and smooth the final layer, then came back across with a wet sponge moving in circular motions to bring a bit of the sand back up to the surface and add a subtle texture.

We made sure to mist these walls down a few times the next day, and went back with the sponge again to patch any hairline cracks that showed up.

These turned out to be a great final plastering test for our upcoming  larger chicken garden project, and we really like how it turned out.

Recap + Feature Highlights

Whew, what a rid this has been, friends! Our flimsy ShelterLogic Garage-in-a-Boxes got a complete high desert makeover. Let’s recap!

  • Front facing barn doors and Shou Sugi Ban wooden planks provided a beautiful finished look
  • The doors can be locked, held closed with fasteners from both sides, or held open with ground poles
  • Vent fans helped circulate air so it doesn’t get trapped and heat up to dangerous temperatures
  • Earthbag walls saved on material costs
  • Windows and bottles provide beautiful light and views in the morning
  • The metal roofing panels are securely mounted to the frame, keep the water out, and make it feel like a truly finished building
  • Lights are super handy for working on projects at night or early morning animal feedings
  • The feed shed 12V system is running well and connected to our VRM so we can see stats anytime
  • The garage Ecoflow DELTA Max Power Station gives us true AC power for tools and projects while being charged back up by solar
  • The whole thing is super solid now, we never have to worry about it leaking or blowing away

Cost Breakdown

We’re quickly learning that no matter how much work we do on a project, everyone just wants to know how much it cost! That’s fair. This whole re-build was definitely a cost benefit analysis, and we were constantly questioning whether we wanted to invest a chunk of money into these things or start over.

But like we mentioned, by the time you start researching other options like pre-built sheds or shipping containers, we felt like we could do it cheaper this way.

Let’s find out.

Feed Shed Materials

Item

Cost

ShelterLogic Garage-in-a-Box 12x20x8

$499.00

4”x6”x8’ x2

$50.00

2"x6"x8' x3

$40.00

2"x4"x8' x4

$32.00

1"x6"x8' x20

$235.00

4" Steel Screw Hook x4

$20.00

8" Steel Hinge Strap x4

$32.00

Bots & Nuts x12

$5.00

12" Cane Bolt x2

$20.00

Swivel Eye Hasp Latch

$9.00

Handles x 2

$15.00

16" Hyperadobe Bag Roll (partial)

$20.00
4" PVC Pipe + Caps$10.00

23' Burnished Slate 29 Gauge Metal Roofing Panels x8

$929.00

1" Metal to Metal Screws

$60.00

3/4" Stitch Screws

$12.00

36"x24" Vinyl Window

$75.00

Total

$2,063.00

Feed Shed Power Gear

Item

Cost

240W Cracked Back Solar Panel

$45.00

AM Solar Rocker Mount Feet

$80.00

20' Solar PV Wire x2

$40.00

15'/ea 10AWG Red Wire + Black Wire

$30.00

15'/ea 18AWG Red Wire + Black Wire

$27.00

VE.Direct Cable x 2

$34.00

100AH Deep Cycle Lead Acid Battery

$120.00

2 Pole 10A Circuit Breaker

$16.00

Victron SmartSolar 75v / 15A

$119.00

Victron Smart Shunt

$130.00
Victron GobalLink 520$230.00

Mini ANL Fuse Holder

$13.00

25A Mini ANL Fuse

$5.00

25A DC Circuit Breaker

$46.00

Fuse Block

$25.00

AC Infinity AIRTITAN T8

$119.00

USB Lights

$24.00

12V Socket + Switch

$18.00

Total

$1,121.00

Feed Shed Total Cost

Item

Cost

Materials

$2,063.00

Power Gear

$1,121.00

Total

$3,184.00

Garage Materials

Item

Cost

ShelterLogic Garage-in-a-Box 12x20x8

$499.00

4”x6”x8’ x2

$50.00

2"x6"x8' x3

$40.00

2"x4"x8' x4

$32.00

1"x6"x8' x20

$235.00

4" Steel Screw Hook x4

$20.00

8" Steel Hinge Strap x4

$32.00

Bots & Nuts x12

$5.00

12" Cane Bolt x2

$20.00

Swivel Eye Hasp Latch

$9.00

Handles x 2

$15.00

16" Hyperadobe Bag Roll (partial)

$20.00
Rectangular Soffit Vent x2$10.00

23' Burnished Slate 29 Gauge Metal Roofing Panels x8

$929.00

1" Metal to Metal Screws

$60.00

3/4" Stitch Screws

$12.00

36"x24" Vinyl Window

$75.00

Total

$2,063.00

Garage Power Gear

Item

Cost

240W Cracked Back Solar Panel

$45.00

AM Solar Rocker Mount Feet

$80.00

20' Solar PV Wire x2

$40.00

Ecoflow DELTA Max 1600

$1,700.00

Ecoflow Solar Charge Cable Solar Connector

$25.00

AC Infinity AIRLIFT T10

$159.00

Power Strip

$20.00

USB Lights

$24.00

Total

$2,093.00

Garage Total Cost

Item

Cost

Materials

$2,063.00

Power Gear

$2,093.00

Total

$4,156.00

So as you can see the base materials of these buildings came in way cheaper than anything else out on the market. Of course, a whole lot more elbow grease was involved. But that's not anything we're scared of. And with an extra investment we were able two add two different kinds of solar power systems as well. Sweet!

Both Sheds Overhead Front

Wrap-Up

Whew! Can you believe you made it this far? Can you believe we made it this far? What a project this turned out to be! Maybe one day we’ll have wads of cash laying around that we can throw at pre-built sheds and shipping containers, but for now we’re happy to roll our sleeves up, use our brains, and come up with better solutions.

If you’ve enjoyed this project, you may want to check out a few of our other full builds here on the homestead:

  1. Hyperadobe Solar Shed Office
  2. DIY Off-Grid Solar System
  3. Earthbag Chicken Garden 
  4. Solar Powered Water Pump

We’re just getting started out here, and there’s lots more to come. We hope to see you again soon!

Feed Shed Back Angle Garage Window Dark Feed Shed Back Wall Inside Garage Open Angle Handles Black Feed Shed Front Straight On Cat Feed Shed Through Trees Feed Shed Low Angle 12 V Power System Bucket Garage Overhead Angle Feed Shed Facing Out 2 Feed Shed Front Low Animals ]]>
https://tinyshinyhome.com/earthbag-chicken-garden-part-2 Hyperadobe Earthbag Chicken Garden Build - Part 2 2022-04-01T00:00:00-05:00 2022-09-23T09:06:11-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
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Welcome to Part 2 of our Hyperadobe Earthbag Chicken Garden project! After 100 consecutive days of work, we had to split out these recaps as the Part 1 article got too long.

Here's a quick overview of the project:

This unique structure includes a 42' circular diameter outer wall, a 21' circular inner wall, and an intersecting 10'x8' rectangle. 

It will be about 5' high to keep predators out, but not too high so we still have plenty of sunshine coming into the garden.

The coop will have a pitched roof that collects rain water and pumps it back through for irrigating the garden.

And we have lots of plans for openings, bottle brick windows, and so much more. The very first video is a great place to start:

Missing the first 100 days? You can see them all right here in Part 1 of the Hyperadobe Earthbag Chicken Garden. Otherwise, Days 101 and beyond are below.

Day 101 - Adding Earthbag PLANTER Beds!

Well hello there, friends! We're back at it, and focusing on a fun small project. Adding earthbag planter beds to the front of the chicken garden! This is purely for decoration and beauty, and we can't wait to fill it with cactus and wildflowers.

Day 102 - Finally, a Place to RELAX! Earthbag Benches in our Chicken Garden

Continuing our fun small projects in the chicken garden we add some small benches in the garden area purely for rest, relaxation, and let's be honest - just a place to freaking sit down. Whoo!!

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: One Bed use code TINYSHINYHOME

Day 103 - Can We Finish This Dang Top Layer?

With a fresh new roll of hyperadobe earthbags, we finally continue that last top layer of the outer circle on the chicken garden. Will we get it finished?

Day 104 - Plaster PARTY! Friends Help Cover Earthbags

Our local natural building group volunteered to stop by and help us on the chicken garden today! So we took advantage of the extra hands and started plastering our earthbags as well as laying some extra bags on the North wall.

Book Club: Green Eggs & Ham

Green Eggs & Ham on Netflix

Day 105 - It's Gotta Be THIS BIG - Raising the Back Wall to Roof Height

With our final layer of the outer wall complete, we start building up the back side to the proper roof height. Almost finished with earthbags on this one!

Day 106 - Is This the FINAL Earthbag for the Chicken Garden?

Can you believe it? The final course for the back garden wall is going up today! We also get our lumber delivery for the roof, answer some frequently asked questions AND do a walk and talk. Whew!

Day 107 - PRESERVING our Wooden Beams & Rafters

After measuring our existing walls and realizing we don't have to lay anymore earthbags (whaaaa?!?!?), we turn our attention to Shou Sugi Banning the lumber for our upcoming roof build.

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: REDMOND Re-Lyte Electrolyte Drink Mix

Day 108 - It's Kind of a Big Deal! - Roof Beams Going up on the Chicken Garden

Can you believe it's time to start building the roof? With the Shou Sugi Ban process behind us, the lumber is ready for assembly! Today we start with the 4x6 15' main beams.

Day 109 - Did the 1:12 Roof Pitch Math Work?

Most of today was spent adjusting our newly built roof beams to make sure they were square, parallel, level, plumb, and set to the right height to match our 1:12 pitch before locking them into place. While Ashley and I worked on this, and attempted to not ruin our marriage, the kids and a volunteer kept plastering the walls on the inside of the chicken run.

Book Club Thursday: Nowhere for Very Long

Day 110 - We've Got RAFTERS on the Hyperadobe Earthbag Chicken Coop!

Rafter production begins! Now that the beams are in place and the 1:12 pitch is good to go, we finally start cutting and installing our rafters. Whooooo!!

Day 111 - Rafters finished & SECURED!

Today we complete all our rafters and install hurricane ties to secure them permanently to the beams in preparation for purlins and metal roofing.

Day 112 - Roof Build COMPLETE! Purlin & Facia Board Install

It's a big day! We install our purlins and facia boards on the hyperadobe earthbag chicken garden roof which means we are done with this phase until our metal paneling gets delivered. Exciting!

Day 113 - Prepping for the NEXT PHASE of the Chicken Garden

It's a big day, friends! We ratchet down our hurricane straps to make the roof lumber and earthbags a single monolithic structure. Then it's finally time to clean up this joint and get ready for the next phase of the project!

Day 114 - We Need to Plaster These FIRST

Just when we thought the roof was done, turns out there's a few small bits to finish up. We burn and seal the cut ends of boards, turn a few hurricane ties so they're not visible, and start plastering hurricane straps to protect them from the sun. Oh, and we milk our goats for the first time after starting the weaning process for their kids.

Book Club Thursday: Greek Heroes

Day 115 - Does the Chicken Coop Need Venting?

Today we spend some time adding hardware cloth in strategic locations on the chicken coop roof for venting, and continue to work on the exterior earthen cement plaster.

Day 116 - She Found a Way to Make it Happen!

Today Ashley figures out how to frame those screened window openings without buying extra wood, we plaster a good chunk of the chicken run, and try to keep Ashley positive.

Day 117 - How Do We FINISH the Nesting Box Area?

It's too windy to plaster, so today we tackle the @Best Nest Box shelf area and talk about grubs!

Grub Terra
https://grubterra.com 10% Off Discount Code: Grub10

Day 118 - Metal Roofing as a FAMILY?

Things are coming full circle, guys! Not only have we built this roof ourselves, but now we're putting on the metal panels, too. How did we even get here? Who are we? A family who roofs, apparently!

Day 119 - Metal Roofing COMPLETE on the Earthbag Chicken Garden

It's been a long road, but we finally put the final trim pieces on the metal roof of the chicken garden. Can you believe it!?

Book Club: The Hidden Oracle

Day 120 - Does Ada Start a WATER FIGHT or Do We Plaster the Coop?

With the roof completed, it's time to turn our attention back to plastering. If we can get the sprayer out of Ada's hands :) So we take advantage of the shade to start with the inside of the chicken coop. Let's get this thing done!

Day 121 - Do We Have a Productive Day? Fingers Crossed!

Today we take some time to finish venting the sides and back of the chicken coop near the newly installed roof, and then continue plastering the inside of the coop.

Day 122 - Boiling our Chickens? Is it TOO HOT in the Coop?

Hey there, friends! Super productive plastering day today. The weather was perfect - slightly cloudy and breezy. We got so much done! Also we start testing our Ecoflow solar generator.

Ecoflow

Day 123 - She's the FASTER PLASTER MASTER!

We're talking about our soil/cement mix ratio, becoming plaster masters, and planning for a new family member in the future!

Day 124 - The Plaster is Even FASTER with Friends!

Today a few friends stop by to help us plaster, we answer your burning questions, and Nine Nine the Wonderdog does a magic trick.

Day 125 - Hey Look, We Plastered our Butt(resses)!

Another day, another chunk of plaster finished! We hope you all have an amazing weekend, and we'll see you soon!

Day 126 - How Do We Plaster the Headers? Trowel to the Rescue!

Guess what, more plastering today! We tackle covering the headers (lintels) by using hardware cloth and a trowel to get in those hard to reach areas.

Day 127 - He's the BBQ Sauce to Her Fry

Ashley and the kids make huge plastering project on the inside of the outer wall today, Nine Nine chases the wind, and we talk about SanTan Solar.

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: SanTan Solar

Day 128 - Plaster Happens!

Today Ashley and the kids finish plastering the spot we didn't finish on Day 127, we fix our broken sifter, and more.

Day 129 - She's Plastering Without Him! But the Kids Help 😁

Somebody's in town all day running errands, so it's up to Ashley and the kids to do some plastering. Don't worry, Nine Nine the Wonderdog will keep us entertained while Jonathan's gone. Wait, he's the main entertainment anyway, right?

Book Club Thursday: Twilight

Day 130 - PLASTER PARTY! Our First Workday on the Tiny Shiny Homestead

OMG, it's our very first Tiny Shiny Workday! 15 folks drove and flew into Cochise County to hang out and learn plastering on our little homestead. We had so much fun, and can't wait to do it again.

Get on the list for the next workday.

Day 131 - She Plastered HOW MUCH in One Day? 

Whoah, we totally hit our groove today and plastered a massive portion of the outer wall of the chicken garden. Big thanks to our neighbor Sam for helping sift and kicking us into high gear.

Get Some Stickers!

Day 132 - We Love the Smell of Dirt in the Morning!

Finally, an early morning plastering session! Today we get started early to finish the inside West wall of the chicken run.

Survival Garden Seeds
- Use Code TINYSHINYHOME for 10% off

Day 133 - It's so Complicated! Plastering Flower Beds & Buttresses

We're nearing the end of the scratch plaster coating we can do in the afternoon, so we today we focus on the very complicated buttress and flowerbed section at the front.

Day 134 -  Did We Add Too Many Bottle Bricks?

We're back at it with another early morning plastering session, and asking ourselves why in the world we put so many bottle bricks in this building! Plastering around the detailed bottle mountains is taking forever, but we finally get the last side covered.

Book Club Thursday: Spy School

Gorilla Cart Garden Cart

Day 135 - Plaster, Plaster Plaster - Is it the Weekend Yet?

Early morning plastering sessions make us a little bit loopy 🤪. But we still made good progress today, Ashley got to help our neighbors with their cob house, and Jax shares the only two countries that use purple for their flag.

Day 136 - Are We Slowing Down?

Some days you just gotta slow down a little bit. Or at least say you're going to, and then crank out a bunch of plaster :) Either way, we'll call this day a win!

Day 137 - We have to do this first!

We take advantage of a windless morning, shou sugi ban our screened opening trim, and then spend the afternoon installing it. We think it looks way better!

Get TSH Stickers!

Day 138 - It's HUMP DAY! Check Out our New Arched Tops!

A surprise for Jonathan foiled without Ashley even knowing it. We had grand plans to plaster around our frames, but the day had other plans for us... Happy hump day!

Day 139 - TO DO LIST for the Chicken Garden - Let's Talk About What's Left

Today we're getting a lot done early, but we come back to talk about all the things we have left to do. Spoiler alert : It's a LOT!

Day 140 - Can We REUSE Our Sifted Rock Pieces?

Today we continue to work on covering the lintels and headers as well as adding a thin plaster layer on the top of the outer circle and layering with rocks left over from sifting to prepare for the arch we'll build on the wall.

Day 141 - Hyperadobe Red Bags COVERED!

It's a big day, friends! Our hyperadobe red earthbags are officially no more. The scratch plaster coat is COMPLETE! Whooo!!

Day 142 - It's Time to MOUND IT UP!

Time to cover those rocks on the exposed tops of the earthbag walls! We take what we learned from our test mounds back Day 138 and start building up them up.

Day 143 - Message in a Bottle: Leaving a Family Note for the Future

Mounding more of the outside wall, running out of cement, and hiding a keepsake for the future.

Day 144 - Monsoon Season is Coming! - Our First Summer Rain

What started as a nice cloudy day turned out to be a preview of Monsoon season! We got a little sidetracked by a pop up storm, but enjoyed the beautiful sunset and rainbow.

Day 145 - My lovely plaster humps!

Ashley finishes the back wall humps on our hyperadobe earthbag chicken garden. One step closer.

Day 146 - Humping Up the Chicken Garden? Plus a Quick Goat Shelter

Today we start "humping up" the inner wall of the chicken run, but get sidetracked building a goat shelter after separating them for weaning. We also laugh a whole lot at our dumb jokes :)

Day 147 - There's still MORE HUMPING To Do!

Today we install the jamb extenders on the inside of the outer west wall and finish humping up the inner circle east side wall. Shew...anyone else out there tired of all this humping?

Day 148 - Shhhh...It's a QUIET Family Work Day - ASMR Earthen Plastering

Today's a little different. We very quietly finish some touch up spots under the roof and build tiny bird baths on each front buttress.

Day 149 - Earthen Plaster MIX TEST

Today we start our final plaster test. One mix 8 parts our finely sifted soil, 1 part portland cement. One mix 6 parts our finely sifted soil, 1 part portland cement, 1 part hydrated lime. We'll apply this and come back tomorrow to see how they did. Also, daily videos may get a little less daily depending on the upcoming monsoon weather.

Day 150 - The RAINS are Coming!

Yep, our days are already getting unpredictable! Not satisfied with our two plaster tests yesterday we add a 3rd option: 8 parts native soil, 1 part cement, 1 part hydrated lime. But after only a few batches, rain comes in early and shuts us down. This summer things are going to get tricky!

Day 151 - WHAT'S NEXT? New Projects + Waterproofing Plaster

Today we're in a weird in-between stage. We can't put more final plaster on until we've water tested the mixes. And we can't test until we've applied the waterproofing agent and let it dry. So we spend time adding the coat and then talk about our next two big projects coming up.

Day 152 - PRESSURE TEST! Which Earthen Plaster Holds up Best?

The waterproof sealer is finally dry! Let's blast it with some pressurized water and see which one holds up better. After seeing the results, we start the final plaster coat!

Day 153 - RAINWATER TANK Surface Preparation

Today is all over the place! We install more eyebrow frames over the screened openings, prepare a level gravel surface for our rainwater catchment tank being delivered soon, and cut and burn even more wood for the eyebrow frames.

Day 154 - FINALLY! Screened Opening Scratch Plaster Complete

Though we pretty much wrapped up the plaster scratch coat a while back, we had a few lingering areas that needed to be finished before fully focusing our attention on the final plaster coat. This involved installing the last of the additional 2x2 eyebrows over the screened openings and filling the space around them.

Day 155 - RAINWATER Tanks Delivered! First Rain Catchment Installed

Huge day on the homestead, friends! Our first rainwater catchment tanks are delivered, and we somehow manage to install our first gutters and connect it before the next monsoon. Fingers crossed it'll rain soon!

Day 156 - FINAL PLASTER FAIL - Will We Ever Find the Right Mix?

Oh friends, we are having all the troubles with this final plaster mix. Today our addition of horse manure and straw do not work at all :(

Day 157 - IS THIS THE RIGHT MIX? Maybe Possibly Hopefully Final Plaster

Today we carry on with more experimentation for our final plaster coat. We're getting so close - did we figure it out?

Little Donkey Andy
Use code tinyshinyhome0726 at checkout for additional 5% off

Day 158 - LESS SIFTING? Trying Variations of our Final Plaster Mix

With guarded optimism, we add some more of our last final plaster mix, but try sifting it less to see if we can save time.

Day 159 - TAKE IT SLOW - Observing & Extending Plaster Dry Time

We're closing in on the final plaster mix, and still running a few tests. But we're realizing we need to observe and slow dry for much longer periods of time.

Day 160 - RUNNING WATER LINES - Preparing the Chicken Garden for Pressurized Water

While we observe our latest final plaster coat, we take a detour to start a new mini project for the Chicken Garden. Our plan has always been to use the water in the rainwater catchment tank to irrigate the plants in the garden and water the chickens. We planted the seed for this back at the beginning of the wall building by running pipes underneath. Today we dig those back out, run our PEX lines, and create water spigots.

Day 161 - We're Here to PUMP YOU UP! Solar Pump House Foundation

The red hyperadobe bags are back! It's time to start planning and building our solar pump house. This time, though, we're doing it with earthbags. Today we lay the first two layers and pour a simple concrete pad inside.

Hisea Boots

Use Code tiny15 for 15% off!

Day 162 - HYPERADOBE WALLS on the Solar Pump House

Don't mind us! Just laying a few more courses on our hyperadobe earthbag solar water pump house and trying to beat the heat. Oh, and handmade tortellini. Because handmade tortellini!

Lehman's

Day 163 - THERE WON'T BE A DOOR? Accessing Pump House Components

Another day, another hyperadobe course layer. Or two. Plus conduit piping for various inlets and outlets - and some amazing new sifters made by a viewer :)

Day 164 - Laying the LAST BAGS on the Pump House!

Today we finish laying the last of the bags on the pump house while Nine and Tuc keep us entertained.

Day 165 - MAKING THE ROOF UP AS WE GO? Solar Pump House Saga Continues

After lots of planning and several sleepless nights, we start building the roof for our pump house. It's a little weird, but I think we can make it work. Also, the next cooking segment in our Lehman's pasta series - spaghetti and meatballs!

Lehman's

Day 166 - A LITTLE BIT HIGHER - Installing Next Level of Pump House Roof

Time for phase 2 of the pump house - the fixed overlapping roof. Still making things up as we go, so not a lot of explanation today. But we get it done :)

Kantha Bae

Day 167 - Pump House BOOZE EDITION?

Ok, more like bottle edition :) Yes we decide the quickest way to make less cob to fill in the space around our roof is to fill with some of the many bottles we have laying around. Worked like a charm!

Day 168 - NEW SIFTER TEST! Pump House Base Coat

After filling in the space around the roof on the pump house, it's time to start chinking and putting the base plaster coat on.

Day 169 - How Did This Get So COMPLICATED? Metal Roofing on the Pump House

We finally have our metal roofing panels so we go about devising a way to overlap the removable panels and scribe the back panels. How did this get so complicated?

Day 170 - Will Rain Let us FINISH? Clean Up Work on the Pump House

Desperately trying to finish up the pump house over here. Handles, insulation, sealing, and more. But the rain keeps ruining our plans!

Day 171 - MINI SOLAR SYSTEM! - Building Power for the Pump House

Today we build our custom Victron Energy based mini 12V solar system and install our SanTan Solar solar panel on for the chicken garden pump house. Until we run out of parts, of course :)

Day 172 - That took WAY TOO LONG. Running Lights in the Chicken Garden

Today we finish running wires from our solar panel to the battery box and hook up our lights for the chicken coop.

Day 173 - SOLAR WATER PUMP Installation 

Finally - with the power in place we set our minds to plumbing the flexible tubing, PVC, and hose barbs to all the water lines.

Day 174 - THE LAST ONE ALWAYS LEAKS 🙈 Pressure Tests, Pump House Clean Up

Today we power up our water pump only to find the last fitting has a leak! And of couse it's too late in the day to get a new fitting. The next morning we work on it some more, get it figured out, and then do some additional cleanup work like edging on the roof, foam inserts, electrical wire covers, and more. Let's call this pump house COMPLETE!

--

Want to know what's next? We're creating videos of this project Monday - Friday so make sure you're subscribed on YouTube so you don't miss a thing!

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/off-grid-solar-cost-breakdown Off-Grid Solar Power System Cost Breakdown - How Much Did we Pay? 2022-02-23T00:00:00-05:00 2022-09-30T11:11:57-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

How much did it cost us to build our own 7200W 28kWH 5000W 120V Off Grid Solar + Lithium Battery power system? Less than you think.

Since re-locating to our off-grid desert homestead property a couple of years ago, we've been busy with all sorts of important infrastructure level projects. 

First was our high tensile electric fence. Then our solar powered water pump. And then our very first structure - a hyperadobe earthbag solar shed office.

This would house all our power and electrical gear for our solar power system, and double as an office and guest room.

As you can imagine, we got asked a lot how we put the system together and how much it cost.

The first question can be answered by this exhaustive installation and wiring guide article. And the second is right here!

Man Standing in front of huge solar panel array

Sizing our Off-Grid Solar Power System

Before we talk cost, let's talk sizing because as you know the amount of solar and battery storage you build will have a big impact on your bottom line. This is the size we chose based on our needs. Feel free to use it as a reference when designing your own system.

7,200 WATTS OF SOLAR POWER

By connecting 240w panels in series of 5, we could create high voltage arrays that charged well even in cloudy conditions. This also helped keep our wire size down as we had a fairly long run from the ground mount to the charge controllers (over 100’). Read more about this here.

28KWH LITHIUM BATTERY BANK

A key part of us savings tons of money were buying 280AH cells shipped directly from China. We knew the BMS would only have 16 cell inputs so we opted for 32 total batteries, grouping them in packs of 2. Read more about this here.

5,000 WATT 120V POWER INVERTER

We settled on a 5,000 Watt Quattro Inverter Charger from Victron. It runs 120V AC power, and surges to 10,000 watts which should be more than enough for us. The decision to go with Victron also tied into our charge controllers, BMS, the ability to monitor the system remotely, and manage all power systems on the property from one app. Read more about this here.

Overview

  1. Solar Panel Array & Ground Mount
  2. Building Lithium Battery Bank
  3. REC BMS
  4. Victron Color Control GX & 5000W Quattro Inverter
  5. Victron MPPT SmartSolar Charge Controllers
  6. Conduit, Wire, & Service Entrances
  7. Tools & Connectors
  8. Total
Solar panels and ground mount at sunset.

Solar Panel Array & Ground Mount

When considering your solar panels, don't forget that building a safe and secure ground mount to house them on will be expensive! Consider doing the opposite of us, and buying more expensive, higher wattage panels so your ground mount doesn't have to be so large.

A couple of notes:

  1. Some elements below are better sourced directly from your hardware store or industrial metal supply store, so no links. 
  2. Also, watch out for delivery charges. We paid nearly $600 extra in delivery fees for the Schedule 40 Pipe and IronRidge components. If you have a flatbed trailer and can haul yourself it may be worth the trip.

We cover the full ground mount installation and solar panel wiring here if you're looking for more details.

Item

Cost

7200 W Solar Array - 240w Cracked Back x 30$712.50
10 AWG PV Solar wire x 300'$150.00
MC4 Connectors x 24
$40.00
4 String PV Combiner Box with Lightning Arrester x2$132.00
Black 6 AWG Stranded THHN x 500'$327.36
8' Grounding Rods + Lugs x 3$45.00
21' Steel Grade A 3" Sch 40 Pipe x 8$1,763.83
80lb Quickcrete x 236$844.14
8x8x16 Cinder Blocks x 112$178.08
IronRidge 17' Rail XR1000 x 12$720.00
IronRidge UFO Module Clamp x 72$140.40
IronRidge UFO Stopper Sleeve x 24$6.72
IronRidge Grounding Lug x1$3.93
IronRidge 3" Top Cap x 8$290.64
IronRidge 3" Rail Connectors x 24$241.20

IronRidge Endcaps x 40 + Wireclips x 40

$39.50

6AWG Bare Copper x 50'

$31.00

Total

$5,666.30


28kWH Lithium Battery Bank Complete

Battery Bank

Building our own lithium battery bank via inexpensive cells shipped directly from China was an important part of us being able to get so much storage for so cheap.

As you can imagine, there are potential caveats to this, so make sure to read our in-depth breakdown of the purchasing process.

UPDATE: Now you can get the same cheap lithium cells delivered much faster from U.S. based warehouses

And don't forget that you'll need to build your own battery box to house and compress the cells as well.

Item

Cost

3.2V 280AH REPT LiFePO4 cells x 32

(freight included)

$3,827.11
1/8" x 1.5" Copper Bus Bar x 16'$170.00
4x8 3/4" Sheet Plywood$40.00
Square Tube, Angle Iron, & Flat Bar Stock$260.00
Allthread Rods, Nuts, Bolts, Washers, & Lock Washers$120.00
Black 2/0 Welding Cable x 20'$111.17
Red 2/0 Welding Cable x 20'$115.02
2/0 AWG 3/8" Stud Lugs x 5$11.81
Class T Fuse Housing$43.59
Blue Sea 300A Class T Fuse$50.40
Blue Sea Systems 300 Amp m-Series Battery Switch$30.43

Total

$4,779.53


Off-Grid Homestead Solar Wiring Guide

In the middle of pricing your own system, and just want to see how everything connects together? As part of our installation article, we created a very detailed replica of our wiring setup.

I know I'm a visual person, and sometimes I just need to see it all laid out no matter how many words there are to explain it.

If you'd like to download a vector PDF that you can zoom in on, grab a copy here:

REC BMS Installation

REC BMS

I can’t overstate enough how important a BMS or Battery Management System is for lithium batteries. A good BMS should:

  1. Protect from Overvoltage & Undervoltage 
  2. Protect from Temperature Extremes. 
  3. Charge & Float Properly
  4. Balance the Cells

We chose REC BMS because it does all this and more, even natively talking to our Victron Color Control GX.

The BMS comes with multiple components, so make sure to check out the wiring guide and install process in the article.

Item

Cost

REC Q Series BMS 16S$559.75
Current Sensing Shunt (200A)$69.95

Temperature Sensors

$37.90
Precharge resistor delay (48V)$85.45

REC WiFi Module

$198.55
REC LCD Touch Display

$208.95

Cable for Victron VE.Can$28.45

Tyco EV200ADANA (48V) Contactor

$189.05

Current Sensor Harness

$18.95

18 AWG Insulated Wire x 100'

$18.70

Total

$1,415.70


Tiny Shiny Home Solar Shed Power Corner - Solar Charge Controllers, Inverter, BMS, Lithium Battery Bank

Victron Color Control GX & 5000W Quattro Inverter

The other big decision for our install was what the hub or power center would run on. We chose Victron because of their great reputation for off-grid solutions, the ability to connect all the components to it, and the VRM Remote Management portal that lets us access our install from anywhere in the world.

Read through the Color Control GX and Quattro Inverter sections of our installation guide to see how they connect and adjust settings as needed.

Item

Cost

Victron Energy Color Control GX

$516.80
Victron Quattro 5000W 48V Pure Sine Wave Inverter Charger$2,542.35
Victron VE.Direct cable x2$37.40
Victron VE.Bus or Ethernet Cable$24.00

Victron CCGX Wi-Fi Module Simple (Nano USB)

$22.00

Blue Sea C-Series Double Pole Toggle Circuit Breaker 200A

$116.03

Victron Energy Interface MK3-USB

$69.00

Total

$3,327.58

Victron SmartSolar MPPT Solar Charge Controllers

Victron SmartSolar MPPT Solar Charge Controllers

As part of our Victron system, we added multiple SmartSolar charge controllers because our panel array was so large. This will also allow us to add to the system if needed without replacing these units.

For details on wiring and settings adjustments, read this section of the install article.

Item

Cost

Victron SmartSolar MPPT 250|85 Tr x 2

$1,669.40
Back 2 AWG Welding Cable 20'$48.97

Red 2 AWG Welding Cable 20'

$47.99

2 AWG 3/8" Stud Lugs x 10

$13.88

12 AWG THHN Stranded x 50'

$26.25

40A 250V Circuit Breaker x2

$24.00

Blue Sea C-Series Single Pole Toggle Circuit Breaker 100A x2

$70.00

Total

$1,900.49


Solar and Electrical Trench View from Overhead

Conduit, Wire, & Service Entrances

In addition to the solar panels, batteries, inverter, and charge controllers we had a lot of additional expenses related to long trenched conduit runs, service entrances, and more.

Like some other items in this cost breakdown, most either need to be sourced from your local hardware store - or can be found much cheaper than using the Amazon links below. Just keep that in mind.

Item

Cost

6/2 Direct Bury Wire x 175'$400.00
8x8 PVC Junction Box$34.00

30 Amp Power Outlet Box x2

$70.00

NEMA 30A 125V RV Electrical Socket

$ 31.00
Unistrut$18.00
1.5" Unistrut pipe clamps x 6$23.00

PVC Conduit 1.5" x 160'

$296.00

PVC Conduit 1.25" x 100'

$230.00

PVC Conduit 1.5" 90 deg elbow x 11

$44.00

PVC Service Entrance Head

$10.00

PVC Male Terminal 1.25" x 4

$5.00

Rigid Steel locking nuts 1.25" x 4

$5.00

PVC LB 1.5" x 3

$25.00

PVC Conduit 1.5" Coupler x 6

$7.00

Total

$1,198.00


Custom Cables

Tools & Connectors

We couldn't cover the install without mentioning the tools and connecters we needed to finish the job.

Most of these are pretty basic, but if you've never built your own cable before by crimping and heat shrinking a lug on, you may not have everything laying around.

Item

Cost

Wagner Heat Gun

$21.10

Crimp Connector Assortment Pack

$18.95

130 PC. Dual Wall Adhesive Marine Heat Shrink Kit - 3:1 Shrink Ratio - Black and Red

$9.97

3/4 inch (Diameter) 3:1 Waterproof Heat Shrink Tubing Kit, Large Marine Dual Wall Adhesive Shrinkable Wire Wrap Tube

$12.49

Wago Assortment Splicers

$12.82

10 Tons Hydraulic Wire Battery Cable Lug Terminal Crimper

$54.99

Crimping Tool for Insulated Connectors

$23.99

Wire Stripper

$8.99
Century 120V Flux Cored Wire Feed Welder$226.00
Welding Mask$35.00
Welding Gloves$23.00

Fish Tape

$179.00

Total

$626.30


Solar Panel Array and Solar Shed

Totaling it Up - How Much Did it Cost?

I know, I know - you're all like "Just tell me the total already!"

Fair enough :) Here's the breakdown:

Item

Cost

Solar Panel Array & Ground Mount$5,666.30
Lithium Battery Bank$4,779.53
REC BMS$1,415.70
Victron Color Control GX & 5000W Quattro Inverter$3,327.58
MPPT Solar Charge Controllers$1,900.49
Conduit, Wire & Service Entrances$1,198.00
Tools & Connectors$626.30

Total

$18,913.90

Whew! Yeah that was a lot to get through. So all in all, we spent about $19,000 on our 7200W 28kWH 5000W off-grid solar power system. By sourcing our own components and building our own battery bank we were able to save 10's of thousands of dollars for this massive system that will power our homestead.

We hope this breakdown and installation recap help you build your own off-grid solar system!

]]>
https://tinyshinyhome.com/diy-off-grid-solar-system DIY Off-Grid Solar Power System for Homestead - Installation & Wiring Guide 2022-01-29T00:00:00-05:00 2022-09-30T11:10:20-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

If you’re looking for a safe, reliable way to build your own massive DIY off-grid solar system at a fraction of the cost, you’ve come to the right place.

Hi there, we’re Jonathan & Ashley from Tiny Shiny Home. Our family of 6 spent many years traveling full-time in our renovated vintage Airstream before finding some off-grid property in Cochise County, Arizona to settle on.

Our dream here is to build a sustainable off-grid homestead from the ground up using solar power, water catchment, and natural building techniques to create an oasis in the desert.

If you’re looking for a safe, reliable way to build your own massive DIY off-grid solar system at a fraction of the cost, you’ve come to the right place.

We’ll be doing a full cost breakdown in a separate article and video, but today we’re focusing on the planning, building, and installation process we went through to build a fully independent off-grid power system.

Before we go further, let’s give you a high level overview of our off-grid solar power system.

  • 7,200 Watts of Solar Panels (5S6P)
  • 28kWH of Lithium or LiFePO4 Batteries (2P16S @ 48 Volts)
  • 5,000 Watt Inverter (Single Phase @ 120V, Surge to 10,000W)
  • This should power our Airstream, Solar Shed, and eventually our House

Disclaimer: I’m not an electrician, nor do I play one on YouTube. All information here is solely for entertainment purposes, and all electrical work should be performed by qualified individuals according to local electrical codes. Cool? Cool.

DIY Off Grid Solar Wiring Diagram

Off-Grid Homestead Solar Wiring Guide

Ever wondered what all the major connections look like on a custom solar system like ours? As part of this deep dive, we created a very detailed replica of our wiring setup.

I know I'm a visual person, and sometimes I just need to see it all laid out no matter how many words there are to explain it.

This is as big as I can make it here on the site - if you'd like to download a vector PDF that you can zoom in on, grab a copy here:

Article Overview

  1. Housing the System: Earthbag Solar Shed
  2. Off-Grid Power Goals
  3. Sizing an Off-Grid Solar Power System
  4. Finding the Right Solar Panels
  5. Solar Ground Mount
  6. Wiring the Solar Panels
  7. Finding the Best Lithium Battery Deal
  8. LiFePO4 Shipping Update
  9. Assembling the LiFePO4 Battery Pack
  10. Major Fuses, Disconnects, and Breakers
  11. REC BMS Install
  12. Victron Color Control GX & VRM Portal
  13. Victron Quattro 48V 5,000W Inverter
  14. Victron SmartSolar MPPT Solar Charge Controllers
  15. Final Tweaks & Adjustments
  16. Real World Impressions & Power Usage
  17. What Would We Do Differently?
  18. Cost Breakdown
  19. Wrapping Up
Solar Shed Exterior at Sunset

Housing the System: Recap of our Earthbag Solar Shed Project

We have to mention that our solar and electrical install were part of a larger project - our hyperadobe earthbag solar shed office. Besides needing somewhere to store our batteries and power gear, we needed an office, a guest room, and really just some extra breathing room. The Airstream was getting a little cramped.

Plus, it was a chance to explore a bunch of natural building techniques that we’ll use as we design and build other earthbag buildings here on our property. Setting up an independent power system was an important piece of infrastructure,  a huge step for our homestead.

We’re excited to share our power setup with you because we believe we’ve found an incredibly cost effective way to build a massive 100% off-the-grid system that is safe, stable, and reliable.

Ariel view of driveway on off-grid property

Off-Grid Power Goals

Let’s start by talking quickly about our situation. While our property was completely off-grid, connecting to the the power company wasn’t out of the question. We can see our closest power pole about half a mile up the road, so theoretically it could’ve be possible to run those lines to us.

Like we mentioned, running off grid power wasn’t really part of our dreams or goals - but turns out it’s really expensive to run a power line half a mile. Like $35,000! And then we’d get the pleasure of paying the power company every month for our usage.

So not only did our resolve to stay off-grid send us down the road of building our own system - it turned out we could build the whole thing cheaper than it would’ve cost to run the power to our property anyway.

We knew this off-grid solar system needed to be large enough to power our Airstream, Solar Shed, and eventually our house. And we also knew that a 48V lithium battery bank was the way to go. Inverting from 48V to 120V is so much more efficient than 12V or 24V, but still low voltage enough to work with safely.

This setup needed to power some large appliances - air conditioners, power tools, transfer pumps, and kitchen gadgets like a blender and instant pot. 

But we also wanted to be smart about our usage, especially in the cold months. For heating and cooking we would supplement as much as we could with propane, gas, or wood. And by building with earthbags we took advantage of thermal mass transfer and passive solar heating.

This meant we could setup our power system at 120V power instead of 220V. Our stove would be gas or wood, and a we really don’t need a clothes dryer out here with our endless sun and low humidity. Should we get in a situation where we need 220V power, we can always switch out the inverter or add more batteries.

Solar Panel Ground Mount and Solar Shed

Sizing an Off-Grid Solar Power System

Let’s talk big picture setup before we get super nerdy. Based on our goals out here, and the fact that we’d been living low power in our Airstream for years, we already had a pretty good idea of how much power we’d need. But we reached out to Juan from Beginning From This Morning to help us work through the transition from a 12V system to a 48V system. After a few conversations we decided on a few specs:

7,200 Watts of Solar Power

By connecting 240w panels in series of 5, we could create high voltage arrays that charged well even in cloudy conditions. This also helped keep our wire size down as we had a fairly long run from the ground mount to the charge controllers (over 100’). We ended up with 30 panels total for this project.

28kWH Lithium Battery Bank

Battery bank size is always tricky - trying to find the right balance between having enough storage and not spending too much money. Fortunately we found some great deals on 280AH cells shipped directly from China, and were able to create a large bank for an incredible price. We knew the BMS would only have 16 cell inputs so we opted for 32 total batteries, grouping them in packs of 2. We’ll get into this more later.

5,000 Watt 120V Power Inverter

Finally, the inverter. Again, lots of options here for massive wattage, but we settled on a 5,000 Watt Quattro Inverter Charger from Victron. It surges to 10,000 watts which should be more than enough for us. And if we ever need more power we can daisy chain these units together. The decision to go with Victron also tied into our charge controllers, BMS, the ability to monitor the system remotely, and manage all power systems on the property from one app. Also more on this later.

Solar Panel Array and Solar Shed

Finding the Right Solar Panels

As you can imagine, there are a plethora of options out there for residential and commercial solar panels. When renovating our Airstream, the size and weight of the panels on the roof were a huge consideration. But here on our 11+ acres of property we could install as many panels as we wanted. The sky was the limit! Well, really our budget was the limit.

And we wanted to get the most bang for our buck. So we did a ton of research and ran across SanTan Solar. They're a (semi) local solar panel dealer that specializes in both new and refurbished used panels of all kinds.

Here's a secret - solar panels get replaced often - usually way before they need to be. So SanTan buys them, tests them extensively, and resells them to folks like you and me at a fraction of the cost of new ones.

They still have plenty of life left in them, and the cost savings can be so significant that even if they need to be replaced a few years earlier you're still getting a great deal.

During their yearly Sidewalk Sale, we snagged all 30 of our 240W solar panels for only $25 each. That's a crazy deal. 7200W of solar for less than $800. Whoah!

As you'll see below, we still had to build a massive ground mount to attach these to, but we were off to a good start saving some cash.

Solar panels and ground mount at sunset.

Solar Ground Mount

Now before we could install any of our gear, we needed the solar panels mounted and ready to use. That in itself was a massive project. Since we didn’t have a roof to mount on - and because the solar shed itself was setup for passive solar, and the roof was tilted North - we had to create a solar ground mount array ourselves.

Thanks to some simple online tools we calculated our panels needed to be tilted about 30 degrees and pointed about 10 degrees East of South.

Fun fact - here in the high desert of South East Arizona we have weather events that can create up to 100mph updrafts. And our soil is high in sand content. So engineering what’s effectively a huge windsail of solar panels wasn’t as simple as throwing them on some wooden posts.

IronRidge Design Assistant Tool

Thankfully there are a few companies out there that will help you do this. We used IronRidge’s Design Assistant Tool, to design a heavy duty ground mount, and were impressed with its level of detail. They help you work through:

  • Foundation type
  • Titling angle
  • Snow loads
  • Wind events
  • Soil type
  • Panel configuration
  • And more...

They even let you use custom panel dimensions which is perfect because we bought used residential panels from SanTan Solar.

Then they output technical drawings with easy to read dimensions and all sorts of other complicated data like shear and uplift strength, the total amount of pipe and cement you’ll need, and more.

Now of course, IronRidge is selling you something - they make quite a few of the important pieces you’ll need to build your mounting system - the reason they do this is to give you an estimate for what you’ll need to buy from them.

But without this tool we would have spent days trying to calculate all this stuff, and would have had no idea where to start. Let’s start with the basics.

IronRidge Components

Note: none of the IronRidge components here are affiliate purchase links because the cost per piece on Amazon is insane. Build your setup with the Design Assistant Tool, and it will give you a full parts list, and then help connect you with a local distributor to get the best pricing.

Solar Ground Mount Progress - Main rails held up by cinderblocks.

Assembling the Ground Mount Frame

The frame of your solar ground mount will be 2” or 3” Schedule 40 Steel Pipe. We went for the 3” due to the size of our mount. You can either concrete your piers into the ground or use massive ground screws depending on your environmental conditions. In our case, the soil was too sandy so concrete it was. IronRidge doesn’t sell the pipe so we had to source from a local metal yard. This was during COVID so prices were higher than usual.

We also ordered a few pallets of concrete, cinder blocks, and jacks to help us build the frame. More on that in a minute.

Augering Pier Holes for Solar Ground Mount Array

Using the diagrams generated by IronRidge, we planned and marked the 8 pier holes needed for the mount. Then our friend came out with his tractor to auger the 12” wide 7’ deep holes they required for installation. 

But it turned out that with the extension, his tractor arm couldn’t go high enough to start drilling. So we adjusted the settings for 24” holes instead which got us to about 5.5’. The downside was that this created the need for a lot more cement. It also meant we had to rent a different auger.

But we didn’t want to skimp on the strength of the structure so we called Lowe’s and had a few more pallets of cement delivered, and waited till the next weekend to use the 48” auger.

Then we had to cut the steel pipe. It came in 20’ lengths which meant our 32’ long array had to be built in multiple pieces. Also, we had to cut the piers to certain lengths depending on whether they went in the front or back. There was lots of measuring and re-measuring to make sure we did this right. We only had one shot at cutting. For the long pieces we had to make sure that they were cut to hit right on top of a pier for stability.

IronRidge Ground Mount Provided Dimensions and Drawings

Again, the IronRidge Design Assistant Tool, was super useful in helping us know exactly how long to cut each piece.

Once the holes were dug, it was time to use stacks of cinder blocks and jacks to get the horizontal rails in place both parallel with each other and leveled horizontally. As you can imagine, lining all this up took a while, and we had to re-adjust many times.

Iron Ridge Top Cap

But we finally got it! This meant our main horizontal supports were exactly where they needed to be. So it was just a matter of attaching the vertical piers via IronRidge’s Top Caps, letting them hang in the holes, and filling with cement.

I say just - we’re talking over 200 bags of Quickcrete here. It took DAYS to mix by hand and fill in. I never wanted to see a bag of concrete again.

Ground Monunt Front

Installing Solar Panels

With the frame in place, it was time to install the other IronRidge pieces. Their rails are the centerpiece of the system - we went with the XR1000 which is rated for heavy loads and high winds. Since our panels were 6 across and 5 down, we needed 12 rails (one on each side of each array). Here’s a visual.

Ground Mount Rear - IronRidge Rails Visible

These rails are held on by Rail Connectors - an L shaped piece of steel with U Brackets to attach to your pipe. You have to do some measuring to set them in the right place, but once you get going it’s pretty easy.

And pretty forgiving, too. The more we worked with this system we realized that much of our stressing about everything being perfectly lined up wasn’t necessary. The whole thing is designed with a lot of wiggle room.

IronRidge UFO or Universal Fit Objects in Place

Once your first two rails are in you can start installing solar panels! Panels are mounted to the rails using UFO’s or Universal Fit Objects. They have a small foot that slides down the track on top of the rails and then clamps down on top of the panels.

IronRidge UFO End Stopper Cap

On the first and last panel of the vertical array you have to attach Stopper Sleeves to the UFO’s. This provides a solid, flat surface for the panels to sit against.

Set your first panel on the UFO’s then slide two more in the track so they touch the top of the panel. Slide the next panel down on those UFO’s and repeat.

You also need to tighten down the UFO’s to the correct torque. Too much and you could break the panel. Not enough and it might fly away in a wind storm.

Speaking or torque, there are several parts of this process that require exacting torquing specs. I recommend getting both foot pound and inch pound torque wrench’s as well as a deep socket set.

Solar Panel Wiring held in place with clips.

Wiring the Solar Panels

With the ground mount built, and the panels attached, we turned our attention to wiring. Like we mentioned, our plan was to group 5 panels at a time in series to run at high voltage. This meant the panels would produce more power earlier and later in the day or in cloudy conditions, and that the amps being transferred to the batteries would be lower, allowing us to use smaller wire for the conduit runs. Remember our mount was over 100’ from the solar shed, so cost was an important consideration.

Solar Panel Array Configuration

Here's how the math worked out. Each 240W solar panel array connected 5 in series produced 1200 Watts, 186 Volts, & 8 Amps. Then connecting all 6 arrays in parallel created a 7200W, 186V, 50A solar panel system.

Solar Panel Wire Length Calculation Sketch

Grouping the panels 5 in series meant we had 6 total arrays (or 5S6P). It also meant that we had to create a bunch of solar wires to complete the series back to the combiner boxes. That meant buying our own MC4 connectors and hundreds of feet of PV solar wiring. And again, lots of measuring. One end of the series was always closer than the other, and each array got farther from the combiner boxes. So for our size panels we needed 300’ of 10 AWG PV Wire and 24 MC4 Connectors.

Solar Combiner Box Inside - Breakers & Lightning Arrestor

Finding the right combiner box(es) was important. They needed to be the right size in terms of voltage and amperage for each array, and because of our wide open skies a lightning arrestor was necessary to protect the gear inside the solar shed from a lightning event. We ended up with these Eco-Worthy combiner boxes. They’re heavy duty, rain proof, and already have MC4 connectors installed to make connections easy.

Even though they sell a 6 string, we decided to buy two 4 string boxes just in case we ever wanted to expand and add more panels later. So one combiner box has 4 strings and the other has 2.

Solar Combiner Box Mounted to 3" Pipe

Honestly, figuring out a way to mount the combiner boxes to the 3” pipe was more complicated than hooking the wires up. But with some pipe clamps, plywood, and Unistrut we figured it out.

Once the panels were connected, we started our trenching conduit runs.

I won’t go into a ton of detail here as your trenching requirements are likely very different than ours. But there are a few important things to keep in mind.

The first is that the length of the run out of the combiner boxes, and the amount of amps running through these wires is important. For us, we decided to go with 6 AWG wire for the 100+ft run because each combiner box had a potential of 32A. It’s cost effective, but also still oversized in case we want to add higher capacity panels later (more on this below).

Note: the link above it to Amazon, but you can likely source this much cheaper at your local hardware or electrical store.

Solar and Electrical Trench View from Overhead

The second is that you’ll want conduit large enough to easily pull your wires through, keeping in mind any twists and turns along the way. We went with 1.5” electrical conduit for our four 6 AWG wires. And we had 6 90 degree bell turns. Fish tape helped a ton with this process. We bundled them together and pulled them all at the same time.

Our local codes call for electrical conduit it to be buried at least 2’ so we dug a trench by hand, glued everything together, and pulled the wires through into the solar shed. One day we’ll get a tractor or ditch witch, because that was way too much work!

IronRidge Ground Lug

The final piece for the solar mount was grounding. The IronRidge system is designed so that all the metal frames of your panels are connected together, meaning you just have to run a copper line to a copper ground rod off one of the rails. They supply the lug connection for you. In our case, we decided to add a second ground rod to connect to the lightning arresters in the combiner boxes as well. Then we ran another copper wire between the two.

Solar Panel Array Wiring

This should allow the lightning arresters to trip if lightning were to ever hit the mount or anywhere near it. Out here indirect lightning strikes are totally a thing, so just trying to be extra careful. When it trips, it cuts all power from the combiner box so no surges can make it into the shed and destroy the charge controllers, inverter, batteries, etc…

28kWH Lithium Battery Bank Complete

Finding the Best Lithium Battery Deal

There are so many ways now to build a large battery bank for off-grid living. But the one constant is that you should definitely be looking at Lithium Ion or LiFePO4 batteries.

Lead acid or AGM batteries are bigger, heavier, wear out quicker, can only use half the capacity, charge slowly, and are affected by large loads.

But Lithium batteries are smaller, lighter, last much longer, use most of their stated capacity, don’t have much voltage sag, and charge quickly.

For reference, the batteries we purchased have a lifespan of 2,000 to 3,000 cycles. Currently we’re using about 10 cycles per month because we have so much solar, and the State of Charge rarely drops below 80% overnight. That means these batteries could easy last anywhere from 15-20+ years if we take care of them. Whoah!

The one downside is that Lithiums are more expensive and need a brain or BMS to manage the cells. But if you are building an off-grid system to use full time, the investment in lithium pays off easily.

These have been the main options on the market so far: 

  • Tesla sells the Powerwall which includes a battery pack, inverter, and charger all-in-one. 
  • Used electric car batteries are very popular as well, Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf being the most widely used. 
  • Rack Mounted 48V Systems like the LifePower4 EG4
  • And of course everyone’s getting into the lithium cell game with companies like Battle Born that have a BMS built into each battery.

There are some issues with these, though:

  • Powerwalls are crazy expensive per kWh ($500/kWh)
  • Battle Born’s are also ridiculously expensive ($720/kWh), and the built-in BMS doesn’t interface well if you have more than one.
  • Rack mounted systems are a little cheaper ($300/kWh).
  • Electric car batteries prices are all over the map ($170-$300/kWh), but they’re difficult to source, and then they often come in a hard to open housing with lots of voltage and setup quirks.

What if you could buy small, efficient, easy to connect cells that allow you to build your own bank exactly how you want at a fraction of the price?

Enter Alibaba. Here’s the thing. Other than Tesla, all those lithium cells I mentioned above come from China anyway. In fact, just about every other lithium battery you buy - whether it comes in your phone, laptop or a flashlight - come from China. They know how to make lithium batteries.

Alibaba Lithium Battery Results

And recently there’s been a surge in competition for these cells. Do a search on their site and you’ll get thousands of results for 3.2V 280Ah lithium Grade A cells.

We paid about $130/kWh in the middle of COVID for our batteries, so there’s a chance they’ll be even cheaper in the future. With these insane prices we got estimates from a few suppliers and bought 28kWh or 32 battery cells directly from China for only $3,700.

The Tesla or Battle born options would have cost 5-7x more for the same amount of storage. The trick is you have to assemble yourself. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Beware the Purchasing Process on Alibaba

Before I get too ecstatic about these cells, we have to talk about the buying experience on Alibaba. In a word: “sketch city.” Things started out ok. The conversations I had with each supplier were super helpful. They all were asking important questions like, “What are you going to do with all these batteries?”, and “How are you connecting, what voltage, what size bank are you looking for?” to make sure my math was correct.

I picked a supplier, and accepted the offer. The trouble started when I went to pay. My Apple Card was immediately declined. Then apparently because I had a credit card declined I was not ever allowed to pay with credit cards again. Western Union was an option. I mean, c’mon - how much more sketchy can we get? I was about to give up, but decided to try Paypal and it actually went through! Sweet!

But wait! The saga isn’t over yet. Literally the day after I paid I got a message from the supplier saying the cells I ordered weren’t available anymore along with a bunch of spec sheets in Chinese for a similar cell that they would send instead “at no extra charge.” We went back and forth over this for several days - the new cells were REPT instead of EVE. This may not mean a lot, but if you do any research on these cells, there’s a lot more real world experience with the EVE cells, and they come highly recommended. I was hesitant to accept this change because there wasn’t much data about REPT yet.

I told them I’d prefer what I paid for, but they said it would be another 6 months before they got them in. With COVID and all sorts of shortages going on I decided to take the risk and settle for REPT. Why? Because they get shipped via freight overseas and it takes months to receive them. And we needed them ASAP.

I kind of feel like this whole process was more of a cultural thing. In the US when you buy something you expect to get exactly what you ordered. But the Chinese supplier really wanted to sort of wheel and deal, and change things up afterwards - this was really foreign to me and made me uncomfortable.

After agreeing to the new cells, it was a matter of waiting. And man, did we wait. The FedEx tracking numbers they gave me never showed any updates. I messaged them several times for some kind of tracking info, and they sent over shipping manifests completely in Chinese.

I was starting to get worried I got ripped off. Finally they said the ship was at port, but because of the pandemic was just sitting out there, and it hadn’t been unloaded. Then a few weeks later it was in customs with no timeframe for release.

And then, 2 1/2 months later the FedEx guy showed up with 8 big heavy boxes of batteries! And that FedEx tracking number still never showed any updates.

Now here’s one thing you should know. The way Alibaba works is that they function as a middle man. So we paid them, and they hold the funds in Escrow until we receive and sign off. Then they release the funds to the supplier. So theoretically we were somewhat protected the entire time, it just felt sketchy.

Also, several other YouTubers have had mixed success actually receiving Grade A cells that aren’t prone to swelling and capacity loss (they likely received Grade B or C cells).

We recommend:

  1. Going through Alibaba instead of Aliexpress
  2. Sticking to well known cell names like EVE or REPT
  3. Getting quotes from multiple suppliers, and avoiding any prices that seem too good to be true. Even with our amazing cost savings here, an even lower price can be a red flag.
  4. If you're curious, we bought our cells from Dongguan Lightning New Energy Technology Co
  5. This is the exact listing: 3.2V LiFePO4 REPT 280Ah

That being said, our batteries were all packaged very securely, with no swelling, in perfect condition, and almost perfectly top balanced with each other right out of the gate. So if you do your diligence and don’t mind dealing with a bit of sketchiness, you can assemble yourself a large lithium battery bank at a fraction of the cost of other options.

LiFePO4 Shipping Update

Since writing this article, I got an email from the same supplier I bought my batteries from, and they had a very interesting piece of information. Apparently they’ve seen the long wait pain point and have setup a warehouse here in the US with a stockpile of EVE, REPT, and CATL grade A lithium batteries that are ready to ship without all the overseas customs and wait times.

In fact, they told me it would only take 3-7 days to receive the cells here in the U.S. That’s a huge deal! And after looking at the current battery prices for the cells I bought vs these stateside stockpiled cells there’s barely any difference in cost - just a few bucks per piece.

And these prices are “DDP” or Delivery Duty Paid which means the price they give you includes import duties, customs and any clearance taxes. Even better, their sales rep Hayley told me that if you mention Tiny Shiny Home they’ll give you an extra discount. 

Use these non-affiliate links to buy them directly:

Now let’s get into how we built our battery bank.

Tiny Shiny Home Solar Shed Power Corner - Solar Charge Controllers, Inverter, BMS, Lithium Battery Bank

Assembling the Lithium Battery Bank

While using these types of cells made the process of building our battery easier, that’s not to say it was a simple process. There’s so much to keep in mind.

Series vs. Parallel

The first is how do you connect them? Batteries wired in series means their voltages are added together. But batteries wired in parallel will have their amp-hours added together.

We knew we wanted a 48V system, and we also knew that the REC BMS we were going to use had 16 cell inputs.

So in our case, it was just a matter of doing the math. We could have bought 16 of the 3.2 V battery cells, connected them all in series, and created a 48V system (3.2v x 16 = 51.2V). But that would have only been about 14kWh of storage (280AH x 50V = 14kWh). Don’t get me wrong, that’s a lot of storage, but we wanted a larger bank for our needs.

14kwh Battery Bank Series Configuration

The simplest way to add more size to the bank was just to double it. So we bought 32 cells, grouped them in packs of 2 via a parallel connection, and then joined each pack in series. So the first bit of math stayed the same (3.2v x 16 = 51.2V), but the storage capacity doubled (280AH x 2 = 560AH), (560AH x 50V = 28kWh).

28kwh Battery Bank Parallel - Series Configuration

As for the actual connections, the batteries shipped with threaded posts, bus bars and nuts. Some folks don't like threaded posts because you can strip them out easily if not put in correctly - we didn't have any issues, though. Also, the bus bars they came with were thin, and honestly there just weren’t enough of them. So we decided to buy 16' of 1/8” x 1.5” copper bar stock, and cut it, drill it, and make our own.

Before we could connect, though, we had to build a battery box. The first step was to decide how they would be organized. The best way would be all 32 end to end, flipping each pack of 2 for the series connection, but we didn’t have room in our tiny solar shed for that. So we planned on two rows of 16, stacked on top of each other.

Compressing Lithium Battery Pack with Plywood and Allthread Rods

Lithium batteries need to be compressed so they don’t swell over time, so we got some heavy duty plywood, cut to slightly larger the size of a battery, stacked them end to end, and used allthread rod and nuts and washers to create a compression frame for each row of 16.

Welding Custom Metal Battery Frame Box

Then we welded a metal frame that would hold the weight of each row. Each cell weight about 11.5lbs, so each row was 184lbs. Huge thanks here to Juan and Michelle from Beginning From This Morning for helping us not only plan the battery setup, but the frame itself. A ton of thought went into making it.

REC-BMS Temperature Sensors on Lithium Battery Bank

With our packs created, we slid them into the frame, and began to connect the bus bars. They were carefully measured, cut, and drilled so they slid down over the threaded posts so that 2 cells were connected in parallel and then each pack of 2 was connected in series. I know that sounds confusing, but this is what it looks like:

28kwh Battery Bank Parallel - Series Connected with Bus Bars

Then all we needed to do was connect the negative of the top row to the positive of the bottom row to continue the series connection. We used 2/0 welding cable for this and crimped our own lugs on.

Before we tightened the nuts down to hold everything in place, we needed to add the cell connections for the BMS. We’ll cover the BMS in more detail below, but for now just know that in order for the BMS to keep the cells balanced, it needs a wire connected to each cell’s positive terminal. This used small 18 AWG wire with ring terminals crimped on to the positive terminal for each group of 2 cells.

Finally, we needed to run heavy duty 2/0 welding cable off the first positive terminal and last negative terminal to the system posts. We’ll get into more detail for that below as well.

Protecting the System: Major Fuses, Disconnects, and Breakers

Before we get into wiring the BMS, let’s talk about the main sources of protection in the system. The first is a T-Class Fuse. The idea behind the T-Class Fuse is that during an unwanted power surge event, it will blow break the main connection to protect your equipment. You’ll create a 2/0 AWG wire and crimp on lug that runs from the positive post of the battery to one side of the fuse block. This should be as physically close as possible to the batteries.

T-Class Fuse and Battery Disconnect Switch

On the other side of the fuse, you’ll create another 2/0 wire that goes through a large switch or disconnect. This will allow you to turn off battery power to the other electronics, and shut the system down to do maintenance.

After that you’ll continue using 2/0 AWG welding cable cut to size with crimp lugs to connect to one side of the contactor, which is tied to the BMS. The other side will flow through a 200A Double Pole toggle or breaker and then is wired directly to the Inverter. The 200A breaker also protects the system in the event that the Inverter has a power surge.

Contactor Pole Toggles

The BMS uses the contactor to turn your system off if it detects under/over voltage or high/low temps - the system side is only activated if the BMS says everything is ok. Otherwise it breaks the connection.

The last major connection in this loop is a large 2/0 welding cable that goes from the negative input on the Inverter to the negative side of your Current Sensing Shunt (see below).

One important safety note: As you install any breaker or switch, always make sure it’s in the “off” position, and leave it that way until you start to boot up the system.

REC BMS Installation

REC BMS Install

I can’t overstate enough how important a BMS or Battery Management System is for a large battery bank like this. You HAVE to protect these cells from over charging, under voltage, and temperature extremes. And if you want them to last for years and be a good return on your investment, the BMS needs to be able to balance the cells and keep them all close to the same voltage.

Like I mentioned, Lithium batteries are amazing, but need a BMS for these reasons:

  • Over Voltage: overcharging the batteries can be very dangerous and cause swelling or fires. The BMS constantly checks for high voltage and shuts off the system if needed
  • Under Voltage: batteries that have discharged too low can also be permanently damaged if tried to use during that state. The BMS checks for low voltage and will shut off the system until it reaches a safe threshold.
  • High Temperatures: the stability of lithium battery cells depends on keeping them within their operating temperatures. If you’re charging them while they’re too hot, this could lead to a fire.
  • Low Temperatures: lithium batteries will be damaged if you try to charge them and their internal temperature is below 32 degrees. So the BMS checks for cell temperature and shuts down the charging aspect if needed.
  • Charge, Float, and Hysteresis: a good BMS will let you set these parameters so that over voltage and temperature issues never happen in the first place. The BMS should talk to your charge controller and help it fill and float the system safely.
  • Balancing Cells: There are a number of reasons your cells voltages may not sync up at the same time - and keeping all your cells near the same voltages will drastically increase their life. A good BMS should be able to equalize or balance all the cells’ voltages by diverting some current from higher voltage cells to the whole pack or from the whole pack to a lower voltage cell.

Trying to run a large off-grid lithium battery bank without a BMS is asking for long term issues, reduced battery life and return on investment, and even worse explosions or fire. Spend the extra cash and get yourself a proper BMS.

We chose REC BMS for a few reasons.

  1. They have a great reputation for stability and customization, and are particularly knowledgable of using batteries off-grid.
  2. Their support is fantastic, and very technically detailed
  3. Their products can talk natively to Victron gear using the proprietary Victron VE.Can protocol. This was important for setting both charge controllers and the Color Control GX which is the heart of our monitoring system.
  4. Deep level settings are accessible via their new WiFi Module so you don’t have to connect a computer to make updates
  5. Measures battery temperatures via probes, but also has an internal temperature for the unit itself (we’ll talk about why this is important later)
  6. Displays real time info at the cell level on it’s own touch screen
  7. Can be configured with a Precharge Delay. This should prolong the life of our equipment by sending a trickle charge to components so that they don't get hit with a large "in-rush" of current.
  8. Measures current using a precision shunt resistor - this gives a very accurate “State of Charge” percentage.

You may be wondering why we didn’t opt for some kind of built in BMS? It’s true, there are a lot of options on the market for lithium batteries that come with a BMS built it. Unfortunately this often inflates the cost quite a bit, and puts all these separate pieces like voltage and temperature sensors inside a closed housing. This means if something goes bad, finding and replacing those components will be a huge a pain. Or you might even just have to buy a whole new unit. By keeping things separate, long-term maintenance becomes easier.

That being said, actually connecting our REC BMS was by far the most complicated part of our install. There’s a lot of moving pieces, a lot of wires, and a lot of strange connections. I’ll do my best to illustrate and explain how ours is setup, but make sure you read their manual in all it’s nerdy glory when you go to install your own.

This is our recommended shopping list:

Note: if you go directly to the BMS page, you can add many of these options, build your own bundle, and get extra discounts.


REC BMS Wiring Diagram

Step 1 - Turn off the BMS, pull the cell wiring harness out, and start running individual wires from each battery cell to the corresponding number. You can use small 18 AWG wire - one end will go into the screw terminal, and the other we crimped on ring terminals to go on the positive post of the cell. Keep in mind that the first input in the harness actually goes to your negative connection on the battery. Then you connect to all the positives in order down the line. Do not plug in this wiring harness until later!

Wiring REC Cell Sensors

Remember how we grouped our batteries in packs of 2? This was so we would have 16 cells which happens to be the exact number of inputs the REC Q BMS has. If we wanted more storage we would need to do it in sets of 16 to continue to create a 48V battery pack. So instead of 32 batteries we’d have to buy 48 and parallel them in packs of 3. If you really need more than 16 cells being monitored, REC does sell a Master Unit that acts as the Primary, and then you can connect multiple Q 16S BMS’s as secondaries underneath it. But that’s more complicated and expensive. We recommend keeping things as simple as possible.

Speaking of cells, if you have less than 16 cells, you can also use the dip switches on the unit to tell it exactly how many you’ll be using. Don’t forget that in this configuration you still have to run a positive connection to the 16th pin.

Wiring up 16 individual cells will take a while, but this will allow the system to not only keep track of each cell of your battery, it’ll also enable that important balancing feature we talked about earlier.

Step 2 - Now it’s time to connect your VE.Can Bus communication cable that goes into the back of the Victron Color Control GX. This allows the BMS to talk natively to the central hub of your power system.

The next one gets a little complicated. It can go directly to your REC Touch Display, a small led touchscreen that gives you all sorts of useful info like State of Charge, Cell Temps, Cell Voltage, Amps being used, and more. Or you can connect it through the REC WiFi module.

REC WiFi Web App

We highly recommend getting the WiFi Module for a few reasons.

  1. If you don’t have it, you have to buy some PC software, and use a special RS485 to USB cable to even connect it. Then go through an arduous Windows driver installation setup. Because it connects to your RS485 port, that means any time you want to use it you have to disconnect your display. For someone who is Mac based like me, this would be a huge pain in the butt.
  2. The WiFi Module stays connected all the time, and is easily accessible from any device via direct WiFi connection. You still get access to the full programming features of the BMS, but in a much simpler and easier to use web version of the application.
  3. You can also choose to connect it to your existing WiFi network so that any device can connect quickly at any time without needing to connect to the unit’s specific WiFi network
  4. You’ll likely be doing a lot of tweaking to settings in the beginning, as well as monitoring, so being able to do this on any device is incredibly convenient.
  5. By the time you buy the PC software and cable, you’re halfway to the cost of the WiFi Module anyway. Totally worth the $100 upgrade.

So yeah, we recommend getting the WiFi Module.

Step 3 - That means your RS485 port on the BMS goes into the module’s main communication port. Note there are small positive and negative wires coming out of this cable that need to be connected to your main positive and negative post.

REC BMS Touchscreen Display

Step 4 - Use the WiFi Module’s display cable to connect to the REC BMS Display. This also has negative and positive wires that need to be connected to your main positive and negative post.

Step 5 - The temperature sensors. This cable comes with 3 sensors attached, just screw in the connection at the BMS and place the sensors where you like on your batteries with some tape.

Step 6 - The current sensor wire will connect directly to the positive and negative output screws on the top of the shunt. This provides an accurate system State of Charge back to the BMS. Remember that the positive side of the shunt is where you battery negative connects, and the negative side of the shunt is for everything else.

Moving on, we have the output wiring harness. Again, make all connections with this unplugged. You’ll plug everything back in later in a certain order.

Step 7 - Now, we mentioned the Precharge unit above. Even though this can seem like it’s really over complicating your setup, we think it’s worth installing. According to REC, it “charges the input capacitors of the system components before the main contactor switches on which eliminates high inrush currents at the switch-on of the contactor and prolongs the contactor lifespan dramatically.”

For the BMS wiring harness, you only have two connections. One that goes straight to the “Battery” side of your contactor. And one that goes to the BMS Input + on the Precharge Unit.

The rest of the Precharge connections are pretty self explanatory:

  • System + goes to the “System” side of your contactor
  • Battery + goes to the “Battery” side of your contactor
  • System - goes to the “Negative” side of your shunt
  • Contactor + goes to the positive contactor wire
  • Contactor - goes to the negative contactor wire
Victron Color Control GX

Victron Color Control GX & VRM Portal

The Color Control GX is the communication center of you entire off-grid power system. It controls all products connected to it, gives live info at a glance, and even creates a Remote Management Portal (VRM) so you can access you system from anywhere in the world.

Before you fire up your system for the first time, you’ll want to make sure everything is connected to this display.

Victon Color Control GX Wiring Diagram

You’ve already connected the REC BMS via the VE.Can Bus, but in order for it to talk directly to everything you’ve got a few more cables to run.

To connect the Quattro Inverter, use a VE.Bus or Ethernet cable. And for the MPPT Solar Charge Controllers, use VE.Direct cables (one for each charger). The display also needs power, so connect its positive and negative wires to the positive and negative of the system.

You may need to put a Terminator Plug into your second VE.Can slot (it comes with one), and if you want to run the VRM portal full time, a USB WiFi adapter will allow you to connect the display to your network. Hardwiring ethernet is also an option. You can even get a USB GPS adapter if your system is on the move. Pretty cool!

Booting for the First Time

At this point, you’ve built out the base of your system. We’ll look at solar chargers and additional inverter connections in a minute, but now’s the time to boot up the system for the first time, and see how things are working.

Here’s the order.

  1. Plug in the Outputs wire harness on the BMS (simultaneous)
  2. Plug in the Cell wire harness on the BMS (simultaneous)
  3. Turn on the Battery Disconnect Switch
  4. Turn on the BMS - you’ll see a red light

At this point, the BMS is going to run a bunch of checks:

  • Tests balancing switches
  • Tests BMS address and cells number
  • Tests temperature sensors, self-calibration and EEPROM memory parameters.

After 7 seconds - if all is well - the light on the BMS will turn green, you’ll hear the “clunk” of the contactor, and everything connected to the system side of the contactor will turn on.

REC BMS Settings

The BMS needs the proper settings in order to know how to charge and balance your batteries, as well as passing along crucial information like load and State of Charge to the Color Control GX.

For reference these are the settings REC shared with me for my particular cells. Note: your settings will likely be different. Consult your battery spec sheet, and reach out to REC to get specific numbers for your battery bank.

Voltage Settings

  • Balance Voltage END [V]: 3.55
  • Balancing START voltage [V]: 3.4
  • END of Charging [V]: 3.55
  • END of charging voltage hysteresis per cell [V]: 0.25
  • Max allowed cell voltage [V]: 3.75
  • Min allowed cell voltage [V]: 2.7
  • Max allowed cell voltage hysteresis [V]: 0.2
  • Min allowed cell voltage hysteresis [V]: 0.1
  • Min Vcell discharge [V]: 2.95

Current Settings

  • Shunt: 200A/50mV
  • Current sensor coefficient: 0.007813
  • Current sensor offset [A]: 0
  • Max device charging current [A]: 180
  • Max device discharge current [A]: 180
  • Charging coefficient [C rating]: 0.5
  • Discharging coefficient [C rating]: 1.5

Temperature Settings

  • Minimum allowed temperature for charging [℉]: 32
  • Maximum allowed cell temperature [℉]: 150
  • Max allowed BMS temperature [℉]: 131
  • Max allowed BMS temperature hysteresis [℉] 5

System Settings

  • Operational capacity [Ah]: 560
  • Chemistry: LiFePO4 Winston

Victron Color Control GX Settings

For now we’re really just looking to see the Color Control GX has turned on. Remember, the inverter itself should be shut off and the 200A Pole Toggle should also be shut off.

Depending on your setup, you will need to make some adjustments to the settings for the Color Control GX.

  • Settings > System Setup > DVCC
    • Main > On
    • Limit Charge Current > On
    • Maximum Charge Current > On
    • Maximum Charge Current > 150A
    • Maximum Charge Voltage > 56.8V
    • Shared Voltage Sense > On
    • Shared Temperature Sense > On
    • Temperature Sensor > REC-BMS battery on Can Bus
    • Shared Current Sense > On
  • Settings > System Setup > Battery Monitor > REC-BMS battery on Can Bus
  • Settings > System Setup > Battery Measurements > REC-BMS battery

If you’ve connected everything properly you should see your battery’s percentage, voltage, amperage, and wattage all on the battery portion of the screen.

Keep in mind that most systems will treat the battery pack as 50% full by default until it’s been charged to 100%. So if it is showing a lower percentage than what you think it should be, just be patient.

Now you can test the Inverter. Turn on your 200A Pole Toggle (you might get a spark, don’t worry), and then flip the power button on the Quattro. The green light should turn on, and the Inverter icon on the Color Control GX screen should change add a green light, and change the status to “Inverting.”

Victron Quattro 48V 5kW 120V Inverter

Victron Quattro 48V 5,000W Inverter

Congrats, you’ve got power! That’s not to say you’re finished yet, though. It’s time to make more connections. But first, turn everything off in this order:

  1. Inverter
  2. 200A Pole Toggle
  3. BMS
  4. Battery Disconnect

At this point you should already have your positive and negative trunk wires providing power to the Inverter - and a VE.Bus connection to the Color Control Power Center.

Victron Quattro Inverter Wiring Diagram

Generator Input & Charging

If you want to charge your batteries via a generator, simply run some 6/2 wire to the AC In-1 connection. Then connect the other side of the wire to a 30A plug. Note that we’re now in 3 wire territory. Black is Line, White is Neutral, and Green is Ground. Also know that you’ll need to change the charge settings for your generator input.

Our backup generator is a small Harbor Freight 3500W Predator. But Victron assumes you’ll be using something much larger. I think the default input current limit is upwards of 60A. Our generator puts out about 25A max, so we had to change this setting.

Unfortunately Victron doesn’t make this easy. We had to do the dip switch dance - a very convoluted way to set your input current via tiny switches behind the top panel of the Quattro. I won’t get into this here - you’ll have to read the manual carefully. But once it is changed you’ll see the number for Input Current Limit updated by going to Menu > Quattro Inverter on the Color Control GX.

Supposedly you can change this and some other settings by connecting the Quattro to your computer via an MK3-USB cable and software, but we haven’t tried it yet. Maybe one day.

Grounding

The Quattro requires all grounding cables to be connected together. Not just the main AC in and Out, but also chassis grounds for other equipment. As you can see in the diagram, both solar charge controllers and the Inverter itself all have chassis grounds that should be connected together. Finally, you’ll want to run a minimum 6 AWG bare copper wire to a copper grounding rod per your local electrical codes.

120V Power

Finally, we get the whole point of this setup. Clean, stable 120V household power! This is as simple as running a romex cable from the AC Out connection to energize your main panel box, and then connecting whatever you want on individual breakers. Because our inverter would be powering multiple things, we used larger 6/2 wire here to the main connections, and then standard romex to individual circuits.

Victron SmartSolar MPPT Solar Charge Controllers

Victron SmartSolar MPPT Solar Charge Controllers

Technically you can connect your solar earlier in the process, but we were still wiring our solar panels, trenching the conduit, and waiting on Amazon to deliver our final circuit breaker so it happened last for us.

Even though we installed combiner boxes at the ground mount array with individual circuit breakers and a lightning arrestor that should prevent any possible power spike to make it into the building, we added additional 40A Circuit Breakers for each main solar line going in front of the charge controllers inside.

This not only doubly protects the charge controllers and batteries, but allows us to completely shut off the solar from the inside of the building. With 7,200W of solar most days we’re running the system completely off of the sun so we need to be able to stop that power flowing through if we’re working on something.


Victron Smart Solar MPPT Wiring Diagram

We went with two Victron SmartSolar Charge Controllers (MPPT 250V, 85A). Technically we could have gone through one, but since we were already future proofing by having two combiner boxes and heavy gauge wire run through the conduit, it made sense to set it up with 2 in case we ever put in higher wattage panels one day (highly likely).

The wire runs for these are pretty simple. The positive PV wire goes through the 40A Circuit Breaker and into the PV + input on the charge controller. The negative PV wire goes straight to the PV - input on the controller.

Then the Battery + connection uses 2 AWG welding wire with crimped ring lugs that flows through a 100A Single Pole Toggle before connecting to the System side of the Contactor.

These 100A breakers act as even more protection for the batteries and system as the power coming out of the MPPT charge controllers is higher than what the panels are putting in. MPPT is cool like that.

The Battery - connection also uses 2 AWG welding wire and connects to the Negative or System side of the Shunt.

Don’t forget those chassis ground connections to the Inverter main ground, and VE.Direct cables to the Color Control GX.

Booting the Solar Charge Controllers

Once all your panels are connected properly, and wires are run from the combiner box through the charge controllers, it’s time to turn everything on.

  1. Turn on the Battery Disconnect Switch
  2. Turn on the BMS & wait for the Contactor to turn on
  3. Flip on the breakers in the Combiner Boxes at the solar panel ground mount
  4. Turn on the 100A Pole Toggle Switches going from the MPPT Charge Controllers to the System
  5. Turn on the 40A Circuit Breakers going from the solar panel array to the MPPT Charge Controllers

I should note that I did this a bit backwards the first time and caused a bunch of headaches for myself. See, the SmartSolar MPPT Chargers are…well…smart. They should be able to sense your battery setup and adjust their settings when they’re booted up for the first time.

In my haste to be extra careful, I did not flip on the 100A Pole Toggle Switches until AFTER I turned on the 40A Circuit Breakers. This meant that there was no connection between the MPPT Charger and my batteries so it wasn’t able to auto-sense my setup and defaulted everything to 12V instead of 48V.

As you can imagine, this caused all sorts of failures, alarms, and more. It was assuming my battery pack was over voltage, triggering the BMS contactor. Fun times.

Thankfully the SmartSolar Chargers are Bluetooth enabled. Remember the hoops we had to jump through for the Quattro Inverter? Not the case with these. Just use the VictronConnect app on your phone or laptop to quickly connect and change any setting necessary.

In our case, we needed to make a few important adjustments:

  • Settings > Battery Voltage > 48V
  • Settings > Battery Preset > Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFiPo4)
  • Double check your Absorption and Float voltages as well.
Change Victron Charge Settings on Phone via Bluetooth.

Final Tweaks & Adjustments

Congrats - you’ve got power my friend! It’s been a long road, but by building the system and doing the install yourself you’ve saved thousands and thousands of dollars. High Five!

Moving forward I want to set a few expectations. Know that your new battery cells may take some time to balance. They might even overheat the BMS a few times as it works to get them within the right range.

We were constantly tweaking the BMS settings over the first few months trying to get it right, but still had a few shutdowns in the peak of the afternoon in the summer. It did its job, the VRM system sent us notifications, but it was still worrisome.

Finally I reached out to REC BMS, gave them the specs on my batteries, and they replied back with the EXACT settings I needed. I mean, as soon as I entered them the BMS never overheated again, the cells balance each day, and things have been running perfectly.

Don’t be like me - just ask and get the right settings out of the gate. Would have saved me a few months of stress.

Not having these settings right caused all sort of other issues. Because the internal BMS temp was reaching it’s max multiple times a day and rebooting, the WiFi Module and BMS Display were constantly loosing their connection during that reboot cycle. It didn’t affect the data flowing to the Victron Color Control, but it was still annoying.

I also had some initial issues getting the WiFi module to connect to our WiFi network because we are using a cell based setup, and the IP address scheme needed to be manually adjusted.

Thankfully REC’s support was fantastic, and they got me up and running.

Victron Remote Management or VRM Desktop Web App

Real World Impressions & Power Usage

At the time of this writing, we’ve had the system for over 6 months, and couldn’t be happier with the results.

It’s easy to throw around a bunch of theoretical numbers, but seeing this setup run silently and problem free in the background has been amazing. Especially once we got our BMS balancing settings locked in.

Because our house isn’t built yet, we’re still only using a fraction of this system. Currently, we average about 13kWH of solar production each day, and 10kWH of consumption. During the summer when we were running the air conditioner in our Airstream and Mini Split in the Solar Shed, that number was closer to 35+kWH.

I’m excited to see how it performs once we have the house built and even more appliances running. Because right now I know we’re just scratching the surface in terms of solar production during the day. It’s usually filled back up by 10 or 11 in the morning.

All in all, this system is a beast, and cost about half of what our neighbors have spent on their own pre-packaged systems. Even better, should we outgrow our current power needs, we can switch out components, solar panels, or add more batteries to create even more capacity and wattage.

Tiny Shiny Home Solar Shed Power Corner with Battery Boxes and Breaker Panels Covered.

What Would We Do Differently?

It’s not all sunshine and roses, though. Hindsight is always 20/20 so now that we’ve been using this system for 6 months full time off-grid - would we change anything?

Understand Alibaba’s payment and shipping better

Like I mentioned in the battery portion, the whole purchasing, deal making, and long shipping times from Alibaba were less than ideal. I had no idea what was going to happen, when it was going to happen, or if it was going happen. I had thousands of dollars invested in other equipment that depended on the batteries making it here. I had hundreds of hours in building our earthbag solar shed and ground mount that depended on these batteries. We had our friends coming to help us install them, it was really hot outside and we needed our air conditioning to work. It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle, and the not knowing was overwhelmingly stressful.

Now I have better idea of what to expect. Payment is weird, the vendors may wheel and deal, and shipping from China takes about 2.5 months. But I got a massive amount of storage at a fraction of the cost. Totally worth it!

Solar Panel Wattage

We bought used 240W panels from Santan Solar during their Sidewalk Sale for an amazing deal. $25 each! We were so psyched to have secured that much power for so little cost.

It wasn’t until we started researching what it would take to build the ground mount to house them on that we realized our mistake. The steel pipe, concrete, and IronRidge pieces totaled nearly 5x the cost of the panels themselves. Holy cow.

If we had to do it again we’d buy higher capacity commercial panels, and build a smaller ground mount.

The only upside here is that if we ever do want more power we can replace the panels we have with higher capacity panels pretty easily and have a TON of solar.

SmartSolar Battery Voltage

Having our charge controllers connected to the battery on boot would have saved us a lot of panicked calls and grief since it defaulted to 12V instead of 48V. We had no idea what was going on, and it took some time to track down why our new solar setup wasn’t working at all.

BMS Balancing Settings

And finally, let me reiterate again that I should have reached out to REC so much earlier regarding my balancing settings. If I had let this continue long term I probably would have fried the components of the BMS since it was overheating so many times a day.

This stuff is complicated, so don’t be afraid to ask smart people for help.

Cost Breakdown

Now you may be asking, “How much did all this cost again? Didn’t you say it was way cheaper?” Great question. With this article approaching 10,000 words, I’ve decided to create a separate cost breakdown and spreadsheet calculator to make sure it’s not too overwhelming.

Also I’ve tried to include links to each piece of equipment in this installation article so you can go ahead and start purchasing the necessary pieces if needed.

I’ll add the link to the cost breakdown here as soon as it’s ready, UPDATE: the cost breakdown is complete! See how much we spent total here

Wrapping Up

Whew! I’m not sure how I keep talking myself into writing these massively detailed posts, but here we are again.

Thanks to the internet, there is so much great information out there about DIY solar systems. While it’s my job here to do that research and compile what I’ve learned to make the best power system decision for me and my family, I couldn’t end this article without giving a shout-out to those that have come before us.

  • Beginning from This Morning - by far Juan and Michelle were our biggest influence for the overall big ideas as well as detailed implementation like wiring the BMS and building the battery boxes. We could not have done this without them!
  • Wild Wonderful Off-Grid and Handeeman - Both of these channels helped us understand how to build our massive solar ground mount.
  • Will Prowse of DIY Solar Power - Should you need to go deep down the rabbit hole of all things lithium battery banks, Will is a wealth of information and does extensive testing. Highly recommended.

I hope our installation breakdown and wire guide give you a better understanding of how to build your own large off-grid solar power system, and do it in a way that is safe, stable, and cost effective.

If you found this interesting I have to let you know that we’re just getting started here on our off-grid homestead. Besides building all sorts of unique, sustainable structures we’ll be setting up rainwater catchment, even be creating other smaller independent solar systems for various uses. So much going on, and we’d love to share it with you! Make sure you’re subscribed so you don’t miss our next project.

Until next time!

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/earthbag-chicken-garden Hyperadobe Earthbag Chicken Garden Build 2021-11-28T00:00:00-05:00 2022-05-12T12:05:46-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

It's time for a new project here on the off-grid Tiny Shiny Homestead! We're building a chicken garden. What's that, you ask? Well the waste from gardens feed chickens. And chicken waste after properly composted can feed a garden. So why not make them one single thing?

The twist? We're making it all out of Hyperadobe Earthbags.

P.S. this article covers the first 100 days of building. For days 100+, keep reading Part 2.

Our unique structure includes a 42' circular diameter outer wall, a 21' circular inner wall, and an intersecting 10'x8' rectangle. 

It will be about 5' high to keep predators out, but not too high so we still have plenty of sunshine coming into the garden.

The coop will have a pitched roof that collects rain water and pumps it back through for irrigating the garden.

And we have lots of plans for openings, bottle brick windows, and so much more. In fact, we have a good explanation of the initial project here.

Daily Progress Videos

That's right, friends! Daily videos are back! We'll be posting videos Monday - Friday each week until the project is done.

New segments include:

  1. Make It Monday - we create something cool to share with you
  2. Tiny Shiny Tuesday - we shine a light on other people doing cool things
  3. Where's it at Wednesday - keep an eye out for something special! If you know, you know ;)
  4. Book Club Thursday - the kids share their favorite books
  5. Fun Fact Friday - the kids share a fun fact (or 5)

Ready? Let's build a chicken garden!

Day 1 - Breaking Ground on Our Chicken Garden! New Hyperadobe Earthbag Project

Very excited to be back working on a new project. Our Chicken Garden. We'll be making this with hyperadobe earthbags and we can't wait to get started! Make sure you pay attention to all the chicken names through this series! There will be a test at the end!

Mason Jar Monday: Thai Chicken Ramen Recipe

Day 2 - We Didn't Let the Wind Stop Us! Earthbag Chicken Garden Trenching

As usual, we're already not feeling it by the second day 😂. That's ok, though. Today we continue to trench the large exterior circle.

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: Green Dream Project

Day 3 - Pruning the Mesquite Trees Around Our Chicken Garden

Today we continue to work on the outside trench, but also take time to trim our mesquite trees and clear out the brush underneath them. This will allow these trees close by to grow quickly and provide shade in the years to come. We also introduce another chicken, and give you something to search for. Keep your eyes peeled!

Day 4 - Three Shovels & a Pickaxe - Trenching our Earthbag Chicken Garden by Hand

Yep, we're still trenching, and doing it all by hand! No machines necessary :) We also introduce Book Club Thursday, and find a cocooned friend while digging.

Book Club Thursday: Fun Jungle

Day 5 - How Level Does Our Earthbag Trench Need To Be?

Hey look at that, it's finally time to pull out that laser level! We've just eyeballed everything up to this point so let's see how many adjustments we have to make.

Day 6 - Crossing the Finish Line on the Outside Trench

We're still trenching by hand. It can get a little discouraging when you don't have an entire day to devote to a project, but little by little we'll get this chicken garden done!

Day 7 - It's all in our heads. Should we have measured?

We should really keep track of how many times plans change per build. We're real good at rolling with the punches and making things up as we go. Don't worry. We'll have a solid plan for the house before we begin that project :) 

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: The Upside of Downsizing

Day 8 - Why Are We Trenching by Hand for this Project?

Ok we hear you! So many comments asking why we aren't using a tractor or tiller or some manner of machinery to dig our trench. We'll share why trenching by hand is best for us on this project. And of course, we'll keep on trenching. Hey, we're almost done! :)

Day 9 - Shou Sugi Ban - Preserving Wood in the Desert

Out here wood doesn't last too long, but by burning the wood, scraping the ash, and sealing with linseed oil, we're able to preserve the wood for much longer out here in the harsh desert.

Book Club Thursday: The Nightingale

Day 10 - How Far Can the Water Go?

We nearly forgot that we need water to start laying bags. Let's see if we can find enough hoses to make it over to the Chicken Garden, fix our well-worn cement mixer, and learn about pink dolphins with Jax's Fun Fact Friday!

Day 11- We're Tired of Trenching - Finalizing the Edges for our Hyperadobe Bags

Finally! The last of the trenching is done and we're about to move on to filling our hyperadobe earthbags! The more we look at these trenches, the more excited we get because we'll be growing salsa next year! Wahoo! Also: Mason Jar Monday smoked chocolate chip cookies!

Mason Jar Monday: 

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup Browned Butter
  • 1-1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/8 Cup. White Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2-1/4 Cup Flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Bag Chocolate Chips

Directions

  1. Brown butter and mix into sugars until fluffy.
  2. Once sugar mixture has cooled, add vanilla and eggs and mix well.
  3. Combine dry ingredients then mix into butter and sugar mixture.
  4. Mix in chocolate chips
  5. Roll into balls and refrigerate at least 2 hours
    (Add bacon bits to dough balls before baking if you choose to)
  6. Bake 300 degrees on pellet smoker grill for 10 minutes or in 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.
  7. Enjoy a few and give the rest to friends:)

Day 12 - Let the Hyperadobe Bags Begin!

The day we've been waiting for. The first bags of our hyperadobe chicken garden walls are now being laid! How long will this take?? Longer than we hoped for.

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: My Little Homestead

Day 13 - My Little Homestead Visits TSH! - Let's Talk About Bags!

We invited My Little Homestead back out to see the finished shed and enjoy a meal together. We absolutely adore this family and are so happy to have met them. They are a wealth of knowledge on earthbag building, roofs, family togetherness, and so much more. Make sure you're subscribed to their channel to keep up with their family adventures.

In today's video we also lay more bags, create some frames for the chicken run and chicken coop, and explain why we are starting on the exterior circle! Let's do this!

Day 14 - Shou Sugi Ban Wood Frames for Chicken Garden

We ran out of cement so we're on to another important part of our build. Finishing the Shou Sugi Ban for the wood frames that will let in more light and air into the chicken run! We've always got to be thinking ahead to the next few steps. This is an important one. Plus, you get Ada's book recommendations and to meet our hen named Mango!

Book Club Thursday: Ranger's Apprentice Series 

Day 15 - It's way more fun with kids! Hyperadobe Earthbag Building

Hyperadobe Tips, a chicken named Penguin, Fun Facts with Jett, and more bags in the ground! It may be slow moving, but we're still moving on our Hyperadobe Earthbag Chicken Garden!

Day 16 - We're Making Progress Each Day

We're still laying bags in our trench, make a Christmas/Summer drink for Mason Jar Monday, take a Kitten break, and install our drainage tube.

Mason Jar Monday:

Cranberry Lime Topo Chico Refresher

  • 1 Bottle Topo Chico Mineral Water
  • Ice
  • Frozen Cranberries
  • 1 Whole Lime

Day 17 - Jax Quits & It ALL Turns To Chaos - Hyperadobe Chicken Garden

Today we're attempting to finally track down and fix the issues with our Harbor Freight cement mixer, get some last minute cement, introduce our Tiny Shiny Tree Collective, and try to get that last 6ft of bag laid at the end of the day. Sheeesh. Oh, For the Content!

Day 18 - Dreaming of Ways to Make Laying Earthbags More Efficient

We're finally ready to move from the outside circle to the inside circle! We're feeling good and already looking ahead for ways to make these bags go a little faster. A custom tamp would be so handy. Maybe one day we'll invest in that! Until then...tamp, tamp, tamp.

Day 19 - It'll Be a Big Day if We Can Finish This Earthbag Course

With the outside garden circle finished, we come together and rally to get our first courses on both the inner circle and rectangle finished. That means we officially have at least one course on the entire build! Jax talks about his book pick of the week, and the boys get ready for a bachelor weekend.

Book Club Thursday:

Day 20 - Girls are at a Horse Show, But the Boys Keep Earthbagging

With the girls gone at a horse show, the boys manage to lay a full course on the chicken coop! We also explain interlocking earthbag structures, share a fun Italian fact, and talk about how you can support us during your holiday shopping.

Shopping Links:

Day 21 - The girls are back, just in time to work!

Boys work and the girls come home with enough time to get some more bag work done! Pretty sure Nine Nine was the happiest he's ever been with all his humans together again. Now, let's lay some more bags!

Mason Jar Monday: 

Dutch Baby

Ingredients

  • 4 Tablesppons Butter
  • 1 Cup Milk
  • 3/4 Cup Flour
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla
  • 5 Eggs

Directions

  1. Heat the butter in a cast iron pan in the overn at 400 degrees while you make the batter.
  2. Blend together all the other ingredients for a solid minute.
  3. Pour into hot cast iron pan and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown and puffy.
  4. Squeeze a fresh lemon (or orange) over the dutch baby and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
  5. Enjoy :)

Day 22 - Clearing the Work Area, Trying to Get Through the Intro

If we can make through the intro, welcome to Day 22! Jon's showing Ashley how to man the earthbag bucket, laying more bags, and Jett finally clears the work area of all those dangerous stakes.

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: Factotum Farms (use code TINYSHINY)

Day 23 - A New Way to Lay Hyperadobe 90 Degree Corners

Ashley and Ada head to town to pick up a second cement mixer. It's time to get these bags moving faster! The rest of us continue to add another course, take an animal break, and talk about how weird 90 degree corners are on an earthbag building.

Day 24 - Will a Second Cement Mixer Speed Up Earthbags?

Fool us twice, as they say. Yep, putting together the 2nd Harbor Freight Cement mixer was just as dumb and confusing as the firs time. But hey, it works! Together with our added machinery and help from some good friends we make some serious earthbagging progress!

Book Club Thursday:

Day 25 - Tamping Wars, Friends Helping & Major Progress

With our friends the Fords still in town, and our process clear, we go up a full course on BOTH the coop and run. That's over 100' of hyperadobe bag in one afternoon. Whoah! We also have a tamping war and fun fact to finish out the weekend.

Day 26 - First Chicken Garden Door Frame Install

Today our first door frame goes in and we talk about the importance of cleats. We also introduce you to our last chicken of our flock and make one of our favorite sides - Green Sauce!

Green Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 Avocados
  • 1 Bunch of Cilantro
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1-2 jalapenos
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Water
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients in a blender.
  2. Store in fridge up to 2 days
  3. Enjoy on tacos, eggs, pretty much anything.

Day 27 - 35 Feet of Hyperadobe Bag in 40 Minutes! WE ARE MOVING!

With the second mixer we are seeing a big jump in production! We'll continue laying bags to get ready for the next door frame, PLUS Ashley gets to introduce you to one of her favorite brands, Onle Organics and gives you a code for 10% off!

Tiny Shiny Tuesday : Onle Organics (10% off, Use code TINYSHINY)

Day 28 - Cutting Bottle Bricks, Teaching Hyperadobe

Sad news - Ashley's grandfather passed away early this morning. This video is dedicated in his memory ❤. Today we're cutting our first bottle bricks for the chicken garden and teaching some neighbors how to lay hyperadobe earthbags.

Day 29 - Our Kids are Amazing - We Need to Let Them Do More

Today we change our plans again, and decide to wait on our glass bottle bricks and window openings. Need to go up at least one more layer. We also start teaching the kids how to lay bags and trust them with more parts of the process. Spoiler, they rocked it.

Book Club Thursday: Hatchet

Day 30 - We May or May Not Need Better Communication

Today we address our dirt cement mixer situation, lay a bunch of bags, and laugh about how Ashley still won't explain all her plans for the walls to Jonathan. Oh, it's Fun Fact Friday!

Day 31 - Ginger Molasses Cookies & Chicken Run Openings

Today we have to go up several more courses on the chicken coop so that we can prepare to install our openings. These are unique screened sections that will let light and air through into the chicken run while also providing a place to hang or display plants in the garden area. We also make some Ginger Molasses Cookies for Mason Jar Monday.

Ginger Molasses Cookies

DRY INGREDIENTS

  • 4 1/2 Cups Flour
  • 4 teaspoons Baking Soda
  • 2 teaspoons Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Cloves
  • 1 teaspoon Ginger
  • 1 teaspoon Salt

WET INGREDIENTS

  •  1 1/2 Cups Butter (Room Temperature)
  • 1 Cup White Sugar
  • 1 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Molasses
  • 2 Eggs
  • Turbinado Sugar

DIRECTIONS

Combine dry ingredients and whisk until mixed.

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Then add eggs one at a time and mix into fluffy butter.

Slowly add dry ingredients and mix into butter and sugar mixture.

Chill Dough. Roll into balls and dip in Turbinado sugar. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 375° F, sprinkle more Turbinando sugar if desired. Cool, and eat!

Day 32 - Locking in Openings, Experimenting with Bottles in Hyperadobe

Today we officially lock in our large screened openings in the chicken run, and start experimenting with the best way to put bottle bricks in hyperadobe earthbag without shattering them during tamping. We also review an ICECO single zone fridge and talk about our friends @Beginning from this Morning for Tiny Shiny Tuesday.

Save 12% off at ICECO

Day 33 - Can we Lay an Entire Course with Bottle Bricks?

Today we continue to experiment with putting bottle bricks directly in our hyperadobe earthbags, even though half of us are gone at the dentist. Did we break any bottles? Mmmmaybe :)

Day 34 - Frequently Asked Questions & Nesting Boxes Going In!

Our Hyperadobe Chicken Garden is going up and it's time to build the nesting boxes. We're also answering so many frequently asked questions today! Also, meet Doug Judy the orange and white kitten!

Day 35 - Hopping Hyperadobe- Locking in the Nesting Boxes

Let's be real. Most of you are here for our dog, Nine Nine. I don't blame you, he's the best. Today we're locking in the nesting boxes, Nine Nine shows us his jumping skills, and we try a new way to incorporate the bottles into the bags. Plus, Ada tells an interesting fact about sloths!

Day 36 - Bottle Brick Breakage Won't Stop Us!

Today we lay individual bags between bottles in hopes of not breaking them, but an accidental trip causes us to break one anyway. Also, we make some tiny tasty pies for Mason Jar Monday.

Mini Apple Pie Recipe

  1. Start with a good pie crust. This is my favorite recipe.
  2. Form the pie crusts in the Ball Jar lids and keep in freezer until you're ready to put it all together and bake.
  3. Chop up apples into tiny pieces and squeeze some lime or lemon juice on them.
  4. Cook with 1/2 T Butter, Cinnamon and Nutmeg (to your liking) and a dash of salt.
  5. Once it's just starting to get a little soft turn off the heat and add a teaspoon of honey (or more depending on your variety of apples.
  6. Roll out the other dough to use for lattice.
  7. Fill mini pies just like you would a big pie and add the lattice top, and trim off extra.
  8. Bake at 375 until done. I like to pull them out after about 20 minutes and add some melted butter to the top because my RV oven does not like to brown anything. 
  9. Pop it back in for another 20-30 minutes or until the crust is cooked and there you have it! Delicious mini apple pies :)

Day 37 - Laying Earthbags in Real Time

Today we lay a ton of hyperadobe earthbags, break yet another bottle, and take some time to buttress a short bag in real time so you can see all that's involved with each course.

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: Glassy As Flux

Day 38 - Earthbag Shenanigans & Tool Breakage

Today we attempt to go up two full courses on the chicken coop, but are foiled by a faulty tamper. After compacting over 80 tons of dirt, we'll give 'em a pass, I guess :) Don't forget to keep your eyes peeled - it's where's it at Wednesday!

Day 39 - Experiments with Earthbag Bottle Openings

Today we try a new way to put bottles in our hyperadobe earthbag courses, try to get used to our new tamp, and get ready for our Christmas extravaganza tomorrow!

Book Club Thursday: Amulet

Day 40 - Earthbag Drumline, Family Farm Photo Session

Merry Christmas friends, and thanks for such an amazing year! We hope you enjoy this fun episode. We start an earthbag drumline, lay a bunch of hyperadobe bags, try to take a family holiday photo, and more. This will be our last video of 2021, so we will see you next year!

Day 41 - Have we Lost our Hyperadobe Mojo?

Oh friends, it's been a while since we laid some earthbags, and it shows! Once we get warmed back up, though we manage 1.5 courses on the coop and back half of the run. We also share our favorite local coffee shop, Talking Irons!

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: Talking Irons Coffee Saloon 

Day 42 - Rain, Wind, & Cold Won't Stop Us Today!

Ashley and the kids rally through cold, rainy, windy weather to put a course over each of our bucket openings! This is a big step forward, and we can't believe how tall it is! Also we answer some frequently asked questions.

Day 43 - Gotta Let Those Hyperadobe Earthbag Courses Dry First

Bear with us friends - our terminology's a little off today. But we're continuing to make great progress on the chicken garden, even if we have to stop a little early to let a previous course dry.

Book Club Thursday: The Kane Chronicles (Books) (Graphic Novels)

Day 44 - Cob & Bottle Coop Loop

Today we finally get to play in the mud again. Typically when adding cob and bottles we cut two bottles, tape them together, then cob around them. Today we're trying something new by adding a whole one gallon glass jug that our neighbors saved for us! We'll see if it will work!

Day 45 - Hyperadobe Earthbag with Friends - It's more fun this way.

Our friends, @Beginning from this Morning are here and join in on the earthbag fun. Let's lay a whole bunch of earthbags!

Day 46 - More Courses, Bottles + Cob, A Broody Hen, & More!

So many things going on today! We continue up more courses over our buckets, start a new cob & bottle section, and create new heavy duty cleats over the vertical bottles on the side of the coop door. We also introduce a new segment: Make it Monday! and deal with a broody hen.

Day 47 - Ankle Braces & Helping Friends

Today we help our friends Factotum Farms on their cob house build, experiment with our own cob + bottle setup, add more courses, and remove the angle (ANKLE) braces from our door frames.

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: Grass Roots Farmer's Co-Op (save $30 off first order

Day 48 - Adventure Day PLUS We Answer More Questions About the Chicken Garden

I say we can still count today as a work day since we did address some questions about the chicken garden. We've so enjoyed being able to take a day and spend it with friends showing them some of our favorite places around southern Arizona.

Day 49 - Cob and Bottle Pattern Fail

You win some, you loose some. Today did not go as planned but we're going to make the best of it and turn this bottle mound into something else. Lesson learned - I much prefer doing bottles randomly instead of patterns. I knew this, but now it's confirmed.

Book Club Thursday: Inheritance Cycle

Day 50 - Change of Plans for our Chicken Garden Ventilation

We were hoping to add a nice new window we had left over from our solar shed build, but wouldn't you know it...things didn't go as planned. So we switched things up and made something else instead.

Day 51 - A productive day almost derailed by ogling 😂

I'm getting a tad distracted today. I mean, look what I get to stare at. How we ever get any work done is beyond me.

We went up another 1.5 courses on the coop wall and we're getting ready for some really fun parts on this build! Check it out!

Day 52 - Finishing Cob & Bottle Mountains

Okay, okay. Cob mountain turned out pretty cool. It's fun when things turn out when you let the sculpture lead the way.

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: Talking Irons Coffee Saloon

Day 53 - Kids Take Over Cobbing for the Day

Kids knocked out some cob work this morning and did a fantastic job. Then we all worked together to get the bags up to lintel level on the west wall. Now we're really getting somewhere!

Day 54 - Cutting Tons of Glass Bottle Bricks

Ashley planned on cutting hundreds of bottles, but something always happens. Today we ran out of tape, but at least we got enough done to start the next cob mountain range :)

Book Club Thursday: Timeless: Deigo and the Rangers of Vastlantic

Day 55 - Fixing our Mistakes & Finishing the Second Cob & Bottle Mountain

It's super easy to take down cob and bottles if you need to. We got done, looked at it, and decided to make some adjustments. No problem. We're getting so close to laying more bags and we'll be up to the door frame before you know it :)

Day 56 - Installing Hurricane Strapping & Cement Mixer Repair

It's a weird, rainy day - and we've got a few things we need to do before we start laying more bags. First up is to fix the cement mixer that broke on Day 55. Then we remember that we really need to install our hurricane strapping to hold the roof down on the chicken coop. Finally, Ashley makes some Roasted Tomatillo Salsa!

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Ingredients

  • 20 Tomatillos
  • 3 Cloves of Garlic
  • 1/2 Red Onion
  • 1 Jalapeño 
  • 1 Poblano Pepper
  • 1 Bunch Cilantro
  • Juice of 3 Limes
  • Pinch of Salt

Directions

  1. Add Cilantro, Lime Juice, and Salt to blender and set aside.
  2. Roast Tomatillos, Garlic, Red Onion, Jalapeño, and Poblano until well roasted.
  3. Add all ingredients to blender and blend until chunky smooth. Chill and serve!

Day 57 - Tiniest Hyperadobe Bags Yet!

So many questions about if we'll be putting a header or lintel over the mountains before we lay bags. Today we're talking about why we're not doing that. Let's get bagging! 

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: REC BMS

Day 58 - 1 1/2 Courses at a Time

Today we go round up some more clay for cob, and lay 1 1/2 courses of earthbag on the chicken coop. Keeping it simple!

Day 59 - Buckets Removed, What Goes Inside?

It's finally time, friends! The big red buckets are removed so we can fill with cob + bottles. Then we add more bottles around the door of the chicken coop, and cut down some of our shade sail posts to make lentils.

Book Club Thursday: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish

Day 60 - Does Unexpected Weather Slow Us Down?

Today we take the 6x6 beams we cut down, and re-purpose them as lintels over our window openings in the chicken run. But unexpected heavy clouds, winds, and potential rains have us worried we won't be able to lock them in with earthbags. Watch to see what happens!

Day  61 - Want a custom tamp? Yes, please!

Huge THANK YOU to Dwayne from @Off Grit for the custom tamp. Where have you been all my life? This is the next best thing since sliced bread. Let's lay some bags!

Granola Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 C Oats
  • 1.5 C Toasted Coconut
  • 2 C Chopped Nuts
  • 1 C Dried Cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Salt 
  • 1.5 C Coconut Oil (melted)
  • 2 teaspoons Vanilla
  • 1/2 - 1 Cup Honey

Directions

  1. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
  2. Remove and mix up and cook again 10 minutes.
  3. Store in airtight container :) Enjoy!

Day 62 - Getting Creative While Fixing a Broken Bottle Brick

After Jonathan busted the top of our cob + bottle mountain yesterday with our new beastly tamp, Ashley figures out a way to fix it. We time our earthbag laying process, and turn up much slower than yesterday :(

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: Custom TSH Dinosoap from Factotum Farms

Please allow at least 2 weeks before shipping.

Day 63 - Is it too tall?

The inner circle is SO CLOSE to being complete. We just keep showing up and the walls keep getting taller!

Day 64 - Short Day, Short Bags, Let's Finish the Chicken Coop!

Today we're setting the bar a bit lower than normal because we spent most of the day working on a big, exciting video coming soon. So that means it's time to finish up the bags on the chicken coop!

Book Club Thursday: Artemis Fowl or Full Series 

Day 65 - Earthbag Walls on the Run Complete! What's Next?

Whew, what a crazy 65 days it's been, friends. As you can see from the intro, we're getting a little loopy - but manage to push through and finish the final hyperadobe course on the chicken run! Then we're taking some time off to re-group and get ready for the next phase.

P.S. DIY Off-Grid Solar Article is here.

Day 66 - 132 feet is a LOT of earthbag!

We seriously underestimated how long it would take to lay a complete course on this outer circle. It's crazy long and may take a little longer than we had planned. Little by little, we'll get it done. We're just glad to be back.

Day 67 - Cutting Gate, Openings & Shou Sugi Banning Wood

Today we take a break from earthbags to get ready to cut our wood for our gate and window openings on the outer garden circle. Then we start the Shou Sugi Ban process before running out of time.

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: Dungeon Forward

Baby Goat Prep, Laundry, & More Earthbags

Lots going on today, friends! We're getting the goat lodge ready for incoming babies, putting down fresh bedding and building a separator for the mama and her kids. We do laundry possibly for the last time on the shade sail posts, and get some more earthbag work completed.

Day 69 - One More Massive Hyperadobe Course Complete

It's only taken us 3 days, but the next level of the course on the outer circle is complete! We rally to finish it up, and prepare for baby goat births tomorrow. Well, we think tomorrow. We'll see!

Book Club Thursday: Willodeen

Day 70 - Baby Goat Birth Gone Wrong - A TOUGH Day on the Homestead

Today was a hard day on the homestead. Births are always exciting and you always expect things to go smoothly, but it doesn't always work out that way.

Day 71 - She is ALWAYS Changing Plans.

Today we're laying more bags but we also get to show you something that's going to make our lives and laundry day a whole lot easier! PLUS Ashley changes plans last minute...again.

Sunshine Clothesline

Day 72 - This Blew Us Away! Braving the Wind & Laying Earthbags

Little by little we continue making progress on the outer circle. Windy season is here and is making things difficult. The second phase of our new homestead laundry is here, too! Welcome the Lehman's Hand Washer 🎉.

Lehman's - Save $20 off orders of $150+ 

Use Code TAKE20

Day 73 - Are the Baby Goats & Mamas Ok? Checking in After that Traumatic Birth

Today we're making a little progress on our earthbags, but more importantly checking in on our new baby goats and their moms. Mabel had a rough delivery, loosing one of her kids, and almost requiring a c-section to remove. Thankfully no surgery was required, but we've had to keep a close eye on her this week.

Day 74 - We NEED your help! New Idea for Outer Wall

Another day, another section of hyperadobe earthbag! BUT today we have an epiphany about how we might get this thing done faster. What do you think?

Book Club Thursday: Honest History

Day 75 - Vertical or Horizontal Openings? Last Minute Layout Change

Today we lay even more bag, build a test frame, and make a final decision moving forward for our outer walls and the window opening orientation and placement.

Day 76 - Walls or Fence for the Garden? Clearing Up the Chicken Garden Plans

Friends! Today we step back in time and talk about our original plans for the chicken garden after a throw away comment on Thursday got everyone suggesting to just build a fence instead. Hint - that's not the plan :)

We also start to build & install our main door frame and water glass some eggs!

Supplies for Water Glassing Eggs:

All 6 of Us Working Together Means Major Earthbag Progress! #HISEA Boot Review

Did we just lay 66 feet of bag in one day? Yes, we did! It's amazing how much faster we go when we're all working together and not missing anyone for the day. Plus, I'm pretty sure the hats made us go faster :) Also, check out #HISEA link below for 15% off your choice of boots! Super comfy boots and a LIFETIME WARRANTY!

Hisea Boots: https://bit.ly/35BLZ7k
CODE: tiny15 for 15% off!

Day 78 - What Happened to Her Eye? - She Looks Like a Rockstar!

Today started a little unexpectedly with a trip to the eye doctor, but we still managed to finish laying the next earthbag course in preparation to install our window openings!

Day 79 - Can We Build 10 Screened Openings in One Day?

We've talking about it for what feels like weeks, and today we finally start building the screened openings for the outer wall of the chicken garden! Do we run into a few hiccups? Yep? Do we get all 10 finished? You'll have to watch to find out :)

Special thanks to Rose for sending the kids some stuff to play with :)

Book Club Thursday: Imaginary

Day 80 - We LOVE How These Screened Openings Look Installed

After building our screened openings yesterday, it's time to put them in! Cue lots of leveling, plumbing, and cleat building before locking everything in with hyperadobe earthbag layers.

Day 81 - Safety Glasses Going On, Angle Braces Going In

Today we're back at it building the rest of our screened window openings. Let's do this! Also a follow up on water glassing eggs.

Day 82 - Friends Make Building Way More Fun!

Our friends Tom and Delmara and their sweet kids from @ramona_the_airstream are camped here with us for the week and we are so happy to have them. Their family is a ray of sunshine and we are having a blast.

Follow Ramona the Airstream on Instagram

Day 83 - Earthbag Wall Lookin' GOOD with Openings

Today we show you how to use a level. Lots of comments saying we're using our level wrong and it just makes us laugh. Let's learn together :) Also, we lock in our West facing screened window openings. That outside is lookin' good!

Day 84 - NEW Animals, Morning Chores & More Earthbags!

Today we pick up our first meat birds for the homestead, tag along for morning chores and planning, and lay a bunch more hyperadobe earthbags with our friends Ramona the Airstream.

Book Club Thursday: Percy Jackson Series

Day 85 - The WIND is Just Too Much, Let's Chat!

The wind made us quit a bit early today, but let's walk down the driveway and answer some questions :)

Day 86 - She Already Made the Decision?

We continue to earthbag the next course, Nine Nine has the best day playing in the dirt, and we decide-not-decide if or how we're decorating the exterior wall.

Day 87 - Homestead CLEANUP & Earthbag Progress

It's a short bagging day because OMG we have so many little things to fix and clean up around the homestead. Come hang with us while we fix our electric fence, pick up blown trash, and more.

Day 88 - Walk & Talk Internet Dating Questions & More Earthbags

Today we continue to lay bags between our screened openings on the West side, then take another stroll around the property and ask each other questions from an internet dating site. Fun times!

Day 89 - Oops, We FORGOT to Install These Yesterday

During our intro we realize we forgot to install our top layer of cleats in the screened window openings. Will it be a problem?

Book Club Thursday: The Giver

Day 90 - The BOYS Lay A TON of Earthbags!

The girls are gone for the weekend so it's up to the boys to keep working on the chicken garden. Can they do it

Day 91 - ANOTHER Eye Injury! When Will She Learn?

Today Ashley makes an unexpected trip to the eye doctor so we're down two people for the day. The boys and Ada still rock some earthbags, though! Also, Adali and Jax start a new entrepreneurial adventure!

Day 92 - Pretend She's an Ocotillo 😂

Today we continue working on the North wall of the chicken garden and plant some new plants on the homestead!

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: Tiny Shiny Shirts!

Day 93 - Ten Feet SHORT - We Almost Finished the Next Earthbag Course

Well friends, some days you win, some days you come within 10' of winning. Today we just weren't quite motivated enough to finish the last bit of earthbag on this course for the chicken garden. That's ok, though - Ashley's all goggled up and protected from the wind, and hey we we really did make a lot of progress!

Day 94 - Teamwork Rocks - Friends Help Us Lay Earthbags!

A big high five to Jason & Selena from Factotum Farms for helping us get a ton of earthbag laid today. Make sure you go buy some of their amazing goat milk soap as a thank you :)

Factotum Farms


Book Club Thursday: Daughter of the Deep

Day 95 - Don't Look at Our Hole!

Today we have even more friends come by to help us earthbag, and we get so much done! Also, we may get super awkward near the end of the video :)

Day 96 - Hurricane Straps for Roof on Hyperadobe Earthbag Wall

Today is hurricane strap day for the back wall. We are nearing the instillation of our headers over the openings and we're starting to see an end to the bags. Today for Make it Monday, Jax and Ada make some smoothie bowls!

Day 97 - Nesting Box DEMO - Making Changes to our Coop

Today we finish our last bit of bags up to the screened window opening height, and revisit our nesting box in the chicken coop.

Tiny Shiny Tuesday: @Viviendo Sin Fronteras
Best Nest Box: https://bestnestbox.com

Day 98 - Mass HEADER Production for Screened Openings

Today we build and install 10 lintels (or headers) over the screened openings on our outer wall. This gets us one step closer to laying our final hyperadobe earthbags for this project!

Day 99 - Nine Nine Presents: Earthbag Chicken Garden

Oh friends, it's a special day - day Nine Nine! That's right, our furry Bernedoodle friend shares his thoughts on what his crazy hoomans are up to earthbagging that big dirt circle in the desert.

Book Club Thursday: Earthbag Building

Day 100 - EVERYTHING is Breaking!

What are the odds that on day 100 everything would quit working? Sigh...this is not how we planned on ending 100 days of building, but it is what it is.

Adali & Jax's Greeting Cards

The Project Continues

Yes, this is a really long article! So big that we had to split it up. Days 100+ on are in Part 2, which you can check out here.

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Want to know what's next? We're creating videos of this project Monday - Friday so make sure you're subscribed on YouTube so you don't miss a thing!

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/hyperadobe-earthbag-solar-shed-office-tour Hyperadobe Earthbag Solar Shed Office Tour 2021-11-27T00:00:00-05:00 2022-02-24T21:25:29-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Hi there, we’d like to give you a tour of our hyperadobe earthbag solar shed office! This 200 square foot building took our family of 6 about 8 months to complete here on our off-grid homestead in SouthEast Arizona.

First, let’s give you a little background on what hyperadobe earthbag is, and why we built this sustainable, unorthodox structure from the dirt on our own property.

Hyperadobe Solar Shed Office Interior Bags still visible

What is earthbag building, specifically hyperadobe?

Earthbag, sandbag, or as Ashley’s Dad affectionately calls it - “dirtbag” - is a construction technique using tubes or bags filled with dirt, cement, and water to build monolithic structures.

These natural, sustainable buildings are beautiful and organically shaped, and use minimal resources. In our case, we used 12 parts native soil to 1 part portland cement with some water added in our bags. When these elements are mixed appropriately and tamped into place they cure into basically a rock wall.

Photo Credit: Cal-Earth Institute

Superadobe Earthbag

This process uses solid woven polypropylene bags along with barbed wire to lock the layers into place as you go up. Cal-Earth Institute has popularized these types of building structures over the last 30+ years.

Solid bags and barbed wire are great for dome based structures, and provide incredible stability and simplicity.

Hyperadobe Outlet Layout

Hyperadobe Earthbag

This process uses raschel tube netted bags that are UV protected and don’t require barbed wire as the mesh interlocks naturally from layer to layer.

We chose hyperadobe because the bags were half the cost, didn’t require barbed wire, and the UV coating meant we didn’t have to worry about covering them while building.

Plus the simplicity and safety of the process meant we had no hesitations letting our kids help during the entire project. That’s right, our whole family built this!

Airstream morning clouds mountain

Why did we build this first on our property?

Our years renovating and living in our vintage Airstream instilled in us the value of multi-use spaces.

So when we set out to build our first structure, we knew we didn’t want to waste an opportunity to use it for more than one thing.

Solar Shed

First up, our desert homestead is 100% off-grid. So a big part of this project was not only to build a climate controlled space to store our lithium batteries, inverter, charge controllers, and BMS - but to build a massive solar panel ground mount and trench those wires through the walls to power everything.

We won’t cover the ground mount here, but just know it was an important part of the process.

Office

Second, we needed an office. A place to work in quiet and solitude. Jonathan dutifully used his Tiny Standing Desk inside the Airstream for 5 years, and it was time for an upgrade. Also, with Ashley spending more time editing videos and writing articles the little 3 square foot corner in the trailer just wasn’t doing it anymore.

With a large adjustable standing desk and file cabinet storage this area lets us create more room in the Airstream and simplify work.

Guest Room + Hang Out Room

Third, our trusty Tiny Shiny Home was bursting at the seams. Our kids are growing quickly, our new dog is taking up all the floor space, and Mom & Dad deserve a little privacy after so many years sharing so little space.

This part of the building also give friends and family a place to sleep if they come visit, which is awesome!

Applying earthen scratch coat interior

Testing out Natural Building Techniques

Another huge benefit of building this small structure first let us experiment with a ton of natural building techniques:

  • Hyperadobe earthbag
  • Cob & Bottle Bricks
  • Bottle brick windows
  • Cob Plaster
  • Earthen Floor
  • Earthen Plaster
  • Cement Plaster
  • Buttressing
  • Earthbag floors
  • Bas Relief
  • Passive solar
  • Wooden rafters + decking + metal roofing
  • Negative reveal ceilings
  • Arched Entryway + Shelf
  • & so much more

As we begin future projects, we’ll take everything we’ve learned and apply it moving forward.

Solar Shed Office Dimension Plans

Building Specs

This solar shed office is a 9’ x 14’ rectangle intersected with a 10’ diameter circle. We used 3,400 linear feet of 16” hyperadobe tube netting, moving over 80 tons of dirt, clay, and sand.

This project took our family of six 11 months total, or 8 months of consecutive work.

How much did it cost? Since this was literally the first thing we’ve ever built - and we were dealing with COVID, wild fires, and insane material prices - we lost track of the costs on this.

We do know the cost of our solar system, and will be sharing more details on that later.

But we don’t know exactly how much the building cost. We’ll work to keep track of costs better on future builds now that we have some experience. What we can tell you is that hyperadobe bags cost about .15¢ per linear foot - so the main structure itself cost very little. It was the frames, doors, windows, roofing, furniture, etc... that turned out to be the majority of the costs. 

Now that we’ve talked about the how and why, let’s get to the fun stuff and dig into the features of the building!

Clerestory Windows Inside

Clerestory Windows & Passive Solar

An important part of our experimenting for this structure was to use passive solar to shade the building in the summer and warm it in the winter.

This uses a row of high windows facing south to allow light in during the Winter, and a roof overhang to provide shadow during the Summer.

It’s important to note that earthbag buildings aren’t necessarily insulative, they use their thermal mass to absorb heat during the day and slowly transfer it through to the inside over time.

So in the summer, we’ve noticed it stays very comfortable for most of the day, and almost too warm at night as the heat transfers through. As we get into the winter months, with the added warmth of sun coming through the windows we expect that the transferable heat will keep things nice and toasty at night as well.

Besides helping keep the temperatures naturally regulated year-round, the high up windows provide beautiful natural light, and raise the ceiling to make the small space feel huge.

Buttresses

Structural Buttresses

When building with earthbag, long walls over 10’ need extra support in the form of interlocking buttresses. The south facing wall was the only wall that met this criteria so we designed buttressing around the front door to protect the entry way and create a beautiful entrance.

Front Door Overhang

Front Door Overhang

In addition to buttresses, the front door really needed extra protection from the elements. We created a simple overhang with metal roofing to allow a clean, dry way to enter. Eventually we will use this surface to catch rain water as well.

Solar Shed Flowerbeds

Flower Beds

Not everything has to be structural! Sometimes you need to add a little extra beauty. We used earthbags to build small flower beds connected to the buttresses and building so we could plant some greenery near the entry way.

The spaces use pond liner against the earthbag walls to protect them from excessive moisture.

Metal Roof Installed on Hyperadobe Earthbag Building

Single Pitch Metal Roof

Many earthbag buildings you see use a dome style roof to create a single monolithic structure and save on material costs. Roofs can be complicated, so why bother?

Here in Cochise County, the water table is rapidly dropping because of large orchards and diary farms so drilling a well isn’t a great investment. Many of us here believe rainwater catchment is the way forward, so the more surface area we can create to catch it the better.

Also, hyperadobe style bags aren’t as suited to domes, and we felt more comfortable going with vertical walls and a more traditional single pitched roof.

This would allow us to catch water and provide the right overhang for passive solar.

As you can imagine, safely engineering a roof attached to earthbags was tricky. We used hurricane strapping many layers down so that the weight of the bags would keep the roof on during wind events. And of course more traditional roofing techniques like hurricane ties helped as well. It’s not going anywhere!

Cob and Bottle Bricks Inside

Cob & Bottle Bricks to the Roof

One downside of a pitched roof is that it doesn’t play well with laying earthbags. Once we had the roof installed, there was an empty triangle we needed to fill, and by that point the bags were too difficult to use.

So we cut wine bottles and taped them together creating bottle bricks, and embedded them in cob that we built up to the decking on the roof.

This was a pretty time consuming process, especially when cobbing up into the rafters to make sure everything was sealed up from the outside.

But, the bottles allowed us to use less cob, and they created gorgeous light design features inside the building that light up during different times of the day. Just check out that morning view!

Diamond bottle brick exterior

Exterior Earthen Plaster

Another cool thing about hyperadobe bags is that applying a cob or plaster coat them is easy because of the built in mesh. Protecting the outside of a building like this requires a few layers and steps.

  1. Create a clay, sand, and straw cob to fill the cracks between the bags
  2. Create a thinner and wetter version of the cob to scratch coat the entire surface of the bags and even out inconsistencies
  3. During this phase you can also build up any decorative features or window framing
  4. Create a sand, clay, and cement plaster to cover the scratch coat and protect from the elements.
  5. During this phase you can add any bas relief elements from the same mix (see below)

We really wanted to use a full earthen final plaster, but our high winds and monsoon rains ripped off our first scratch coat over the summer and we had to re-apply. Because of this we went with a cement fortified exterior final plaster with the hope that it will withstand our weather events. We’ll see how it goes!

Solar Panel Ground Mount and Solar Shed

Off-Grid Power Center and Solar Ground Mount

Like we mentioned above, a big part of this building was to provide a temperature controlled space to house our batteries and solar gear.

Since we’re off-grid, it’s up to us to provide our own power. We built out a 7,200 watt solar panel ground mount array that connects to a 28kwh lithium battery bank and 5,000 watt inverter.

The plan is that this will power our Airstream, everything inside the solar shed, and eventually our house. Because of this, the wires running in and out of the building were complicated. We had:

  • 4 solar wires coming into the solar charge controllers inside
  • 1 6/2 wire going to our Airstream
  • 1 6/2 wire going to our house (eventually)
  • 1 6/2 wire going to our generator input plug (so we can charge batteries via generator in case of an emergency)
  • 1 6AWG bare copper wire going to a grounding rod outside the building

Since earthbag walls are solid, we had to plan ahead for all this and put in PVC piping, then lay conduit and trench all the lines to the respective places. While not part of the “build” it was obviously integral to the function of the structure. And it was so much work!

Back Cement Patio with Mini Split AC and Deep Freeze

Back Patio + Deep Freeze

The circle offset with the rectangle provided us with some empty space out back, so we poured a concrete pad to create more usable space.

This let us mount our mini split air conditioner and put a deep freeze for food storage. As you can imagine, our little refrigerator in the Airstream was bursting at the seams for our family, so the freezer was a welcome addition.

The extended roof provides nice shade, and the potential to store some small items to keep them out of the rain and wind.

West wall exterior

West Facing Wall - Picture Window & Bas Relief Balls on the Wall

This wall gets pounded by the sun in the afternoon, but is also the gateway to an incredibly gorgeous view of the Dragoon Mountains. So we had a bit of a conundrum. We wanted to see the view, but didn’t want it to heat up too much.

Bas relief close up

Enter bas relief or earthen sculpture works. By affixing these “balls to the wall” they cast shadows and create small microclimates on the outside of the building. Remember that whole thermal mass thing? Well, if there’s less heat on the surface of the bag then it transfers through less. That’s the idea anyway. So you end up with a delightful artistic pattern that also helps keep the building cooler.

The final piece of this puzzle was to add a dark pull down shade to keep the sun from heating up the building too much through the window. So far it’s working great!

Earthen Floor

Earthbag Subfloor & Earthen Floor

When we started building this solar shed, we always planned on raising the floor about 4-6” up to the correct level, but assumed we’d be doing it with gravel or maybe even cement. But by the time we were ready to install the floor, getting a cement truck out to our off-grid property wasn’t an option, so we tried something different.

Earthen floor install on bags

We already had hyperadobe earthbag material left over, and dirt was free. Why not use bags to fill 5” of that space? So that’s what we did. Starting with crusher fines, we leveled out the floor, put in a plastic vapor barrier, and started laying earthbags on top. This combined with the 12” rubble trench for the walls, a higher ratio of cement in the first bags underground, and grading dirt away from the building should protect it from moisture. I mean, most of the time out here it’s so dry and the humidity is so low this could be considered overkill. But we do have those monsoon rain and flash flood events we need to prepare for.

Moving on, we always knew we wanted to experiment with an earthen floor in this building. But man was it a lot of work! And our first mix cracked like crazy and we had to rip it out and start over. Eventually we found the right mixture (2 parts mortar sand, 1 part native soil, finely chopped straw, water) and put down a gorgeous earthen floor.

We sealed it with multiple coats of boiled linseed oil until it was water resistant, and used a natural bio-wax for extra protection. It’s like walking on magic, friends. Maybe there’s something to that whole grounding thing after all?

Wall close up interior

Interior Earthen Plaster

Another important experiment we wanted to try with this building was true earthen plaster. Like the outside, there were several steps to this.

  1. Run Romex lines along the bags to outlets, switches, and lights (you can’t put them inside the wall like in a traditional building)
  2. Create a cob scratch coat from clay, sand and straw to fill in the cracks
  3. Build the wall all the way up to the ceiling after installing (see below)
  4. Create a cob brown coat to cover the electrical lines, even out inconsistencies
  5. Create a final earthen plaster from beach sand, native sand, finely chopped straw, and toilet paper

The final plaster was applied as a thin coat, and then re-compressed with a plastic trowel after partially drying to keep from cracking. This created a beautiful smooth finish with a lighter color that brightened up the interior. Between the earthen floor and the earthen plaster, walking inside just feels like a warm hug. It’s so relaxing, organic, calming, and inviting.

Solar Shed Interior Arch Ceiling

Negative reveal plywood ceiling

After all that work on the roof, and building up the cob to the decking to seal it in, we still had to figure out how to make a ceiling for this shed. A lot of people would have just left the rafters exposed, but because we wanted this to be a more climate controlled building we knew we needed to insulate it.

Starting with denim insulation, we filled the cavities between the 8” rafters, and then set to work on a unique ceiling technique. Negative reveal ceilings use purlins and rafters painted black with panels evenly separated and attached over top. The black inset areas create a floating effect.

Even with the supply chain shortage, and wood prices through the roof (hah) we were able to source some beautiful birch plywood and cut into 2’x4’ sections, glue and brad nail into place using quarters to space them. We added a little linseed oil to seal the panels, and we’re still amazed at how well it turned out.

This ceiling truly brought a very modern feel to the interior in contrast with the natural organic walls that we LOVE. When you wake up and see the light dancing on these panels from the bottle bricks, you know it’s going to be a good day.

Earthbag Archway Shelf

Archway Shelf

This may be our favorite feature of the whole building. We mentioned buttresses before, but it’s important to know that where the circle and rectangle intersected also had to be reinforced. So they interlock which just means that one one layer the circle bag goes all the way through and on the other layer the rectangle bag goes to the inside of the circle. Kind of hard to explain, but here’s a picture.

Solar Shed Guestroom

Since this was such a small building, we wanted a walk-thru door, and definitely wanted to experiment with earthbag arches. However, the further we got into the build, we got worried about the archway being supported with 10 or so bags on top so we decided mid-build to just stop laying bags there. It wasn’t structural, didn’t need to go to the ceiling, and turns out allowing that space above greatly increased airflow and temperature regulation. Also it looks really really cool.

The shelf creates a great focal point and place to add some plants and decorations. We dig it.

Earthbag office adjustable standing desk

The Office - Adjustable Standing Desk Workstation

Finally, we get to the office part, right? That’s definitely how I felt after 8 months building this thing. Like I mentioned before, I’d been rocking a tiny standing desk in a tiny corner of our tiny shiny home for years. It was time for an upgrade.

The plan was always to use the entire west facing wall and center the desk around that gorgeous picture window. We originally wanted 2 desks - one for Jonathan and one for Ashley that could raise and lower independently.

Desk mountain view

But it turns out it was cheaper and simpler to get one really long one and both of us use it. So we grabbed a Flexispot Bamboo Top Standing Desk to fill the space. After some initial issues getting the legs to function, and super helpful support on their end we got it working.

To round out the ensemble I snagged a rollable filing cabinet with magnetic seat on top and swanky office chair from Laura Davidson. I can’t even tell you how great it feels to have a real desk again!

Oakywood Laptop Holder

Desk Accessories

Since it had been years since I had a desk to put anything on, I went all out with my newfound space.

We reached out to Oakywood, and they were kind enough to send us a monitor stand, headphone stand, dual laptop stand, geometric pen holder (that I put a cactus in), and phone/watch chargers for review. Let me tell you, the quality and style of these accessories is second to none. I love the natural walnut juxtaposed with the mathematical honeycomb patterns. It just fits the inside of the solar shed like a glove.

Oakywood Monitor Stand

They also make wireless phone chargers, felt keyboard pads and more. Seriously, go check them out, and use our affiliate link if you see something you like.

Ugmonk Analog Task Organizer

I’ve been an Ugmonk fan for a long time, and finally had some space to put their super minimal desk accessories. Analog is a simple daily to-do system (in matching walnut!), and I just had to grab those crazy cool HMM magnetic scissors.

Now, let’s get some work done!

Solar Shed Power Corner

Power Corner - Lithium Batteries, Charge Controllers, BMS, Inverter

Tucked away behind the door is our power corner. It’s where our 28kwh lithium battery bank lives along with access to our Victron solar charge controllers, 5000 watt inverter, Color Control GX, REC BMS, and more.

It’s also where we mounted our circuit breaker boxes for power out (to the Airstream and house) and for all the lights and outlets in the solar shed itself.

The batteries are housed in a custom steel frame and compressed with heavy duty plywood and allthread rods. But we didn’t really want to see that mess all the time so we built some 3-sided plywood boxes to cover both the batteries and circuit panels. For now we’ve left the other gear visible for airflow and access purposes.

We’ve also put together an in-depth installation guide and cost breakdown of our off-grid solar setup.

Cellular Internet antennas

Mobile Internet Setup

Another important part of our office was internet! Coming from our off-grid traveling days, we were already setup with a robust off-grid cell based solution that we simply transported into this building. This includes an Omni Directional 4G Antenna connected to a WeBoost 4GX Cell Booster connected to a Pepwave Surf Soho Router. Our mobile hotspots tether directly to the router with their signals increased by the booster to provide fast, reliable internet in the middle of nowhere. We have a detailed explanation of that setup here.

The setup is slightly modified in that we still have an additional Pepwave router in the Airstream that we’re connecting via external wifi antennas. Long term we’ll probably run data cables, but this is a good temporary solution.

Also, yes we know about Starlink - it’s not available here yet, and there are potential issues with the 100+ mph winds we get as well as our proximity to the Dragoon mountains. Also, how they may choose to throttle speeds and terms of service once it’s out of beta. We’re keeping an eye on it, but for now we’re getting comparable speeds with our cell based setup without the $500 investment for the dish.

Earthbag Building with Mini split Air Conditioner

Thermal Mass + Mini Split Air Conditioner

There are a lot of assumptions about earthbag buildings. Many think that because the walls are thick, it must hold its temperature really well, right?

Sort of, but not in the way you might think. Technically, earth has a very low R -value, even with thick walls. It’s not necessarily insulating. But it does have thermal mass properties which means that as the sun warms the building during the day, that heat is absorbed slowly through the walls and released inside overnight.

So in a more real world scenario, the building is very cool in the morning and midday, but starts to warm later in the evening and overnight.

We did a few things to combat this. We already talked about passive solar, and how a roof overhang casts shadows over our clerestory windows in the summer, but lets light come through them in the winter.

The roof also overhangs as much as possible while still being structurally safe, with the hopes that we minimize the amount of time the sun is hitting the outside walls.

Next, we used a technique called bas relief on the west facing wall. By applying a bunch of spherical shapes, they cast their own shadows, create tiny microclimates, and should keep the sun off the walls in some capacity.

We also put 7” of denim insulation in above the ceiling panels.

But the true insurance for keeping this building temperature regulated is our mini split air conditioner. Hardwired into our solar electrical setup, these newer cooling and heating units are crazy efficient and nearly silent. Crucially, they also can provide heat as well.

Between the 16” walls, passive solar, and ceiling insulation we rarely see our mini split pull more than 600 watts of power to keep things temperature controlled. Which is just crazy. So far we’re super happy with the results.

Solar Shed Guest Room Bed

Guest Room Circle

The 10’ diameter circle that intersects our rectangular office only has one function - to house a bed for guests and TV for hanging out and watching movies together as a family.

We managed to cram a King sized circular bed in there, and a 50” television hung on the wall. After spending so many years watching stuff on my computer monitor in the Airstream, this was a huge upgrade :)

Other than that, there’s just some power outlets and a ceiling fan to provide light and keep air moving. Simple and easy!

Special Thanks

While our family of 6 completed the bulk of this work ourselves, we have to take a few minutes and thank those that helped us get this shed done.

Tiny Shiny Homies

This Patreon style community is our membership area where we share behind the scenes videos, get input on future projects, and special live video calls. Our Homies support - both affirmational and financial - truly helped us find the time, energy, and materials to push through and finish.

There’s already over 70 Homies and counting - go here if you’d like to become a part of our community.

Ashley’s Dad

He came out for a week and helped us plan and build the roof, which we definitely could not have done ourselves. His math ninja skills and years of construction experience were a huge boon, and we learned so much. Thanks, Dick!

Factotum Farms

Our friend and neighbors Jason and Selena have helped us in so many ways! For this build, Jason brought his tractor over, moved dirt, dug the holes for the solar ground mount, and used his plasma cutter to cut our 3” pipe. And they both helped us put a bunch of cob on the walls.

Mike & Tina

Mike also brought his tractor over more times that we could count and moved dirt from our pit over to the solar shed for us to use. Oh, and he helped us put on our metal roof, too. Thanks, Mike!

Beginning From This Morning

Juan and Michelle are longtime friends, and we were so excited that they came and visited the homestead after finishing their vintage bus restoration. They brought their large solar system expertise and welding gear to help us get our off-grid power system designed and setup. Again, we couldn’t have done this without their help. Thanks, Juan and Michelle!

Solar Shed Entrance to Guest Room

The Results

Now that we've finished this project - and have been using it for several months - we're happy to report that we love this little building.

It has a warm hug zen kind of vibe as soon as you walk in, the earthen floor feels amazing under your feet, and the insulation and mini split keep it comfortable year round.

As an office, it's wonderfully contemplative with its organic shaped walls and view of the mountains. And as a guest room it's cozy and quiet.

We can't forget about this building's main purpose: power for our off-grid property. What once was us constantly checking to see if we had enough gas for the generators or if the Airstream power bank was getting topped off each day has been replaced with not even thinking about it most of the time. The massive solar array and battery bank take care of business.

But more than anything else, this project has shown us that even with no construction we can create something truly amazing with minimal impact on the environment. It allowed us to experiment with so many natural building techniques that we'll be using as we design and plan our house build. And it's given us the confidence that our family can do this together. 

Here's some additional pictures of the completed project:

Solar Shed Picture window exterior Topo Chico Bottle Brick Window Family builds incredible earthbag building off-grid. Solar Shed Exterior at Sunset Oakywood Headphone Stand Gabion Footers Decorative Bells Overhang From front door view Earthbag solar shed power inlet and outlet Decorative Fern Bas Relief Bas relief interior spheres Diamond bottles interior Bird hooks mounted to wall Solar Shed Earthbag Office Solar Shed Earthbag Office

Documenting the Full Build

Curious how we actually built this solar shed office? We extensively documented the entire process here on the site and on YouTube.

And finally, we created a 2+ hour movie documentary time-lapse of the entire build here:

Whew! Still here? Thanks so much for taking a tour of our little solar shed office.

This is the first of many projects on our homestead so stick around if you want to see what we do next!

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/5-things-we-learned-from-our-30-day-youtube-challenges 5 Things We Learned from our 30 Day YouTube Challenges 2021-09-22T00:00:00-05:00 2022-07-06T18:02:31-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Do you ever feel like your YouTube channel is stuck in limbo, and you can’t break the cycle? We sure did. Here’s the story of how we took a chance and did something crazy to kick the algorithms in the nuts. A video every day for 30 days, tied to a specific project.

Let’s back up, though. Ashley and I had been toiling away on the internets and creating things by hand since at least 2006. That year it was a cloth diapering business. Then it was hand-made custom signs and furniture. Eventually we got into designing our own t-shirt line and block printing them by hand, but had to close that down when we started traveling full-time in 2015.

Traveling all over the country and our subsequent Vintage Airstream renovation + love for boondocking and camping off-grid finally got us moving in the right direction online. We grew our Instagram account to 20k, launched a few products and courses, did some influencer stuff, were covered by some major publications, and built up a small but consistent affiliate revenue.

During this time we experimented with YouTube, made some great videos of our travels, and one semi-viral video touring our renovated Airstream (nearly 500k views).

Truthfully, even with all our effort we were still making pennies on our time. A normal YouTube check was about $150 every couple of months.

Getting Serious About YouTube

When we decided to settle down and build an off-grid desert homestead from scratch, we made a commitment to post a YouTube video once a week for a year. From 2020 to 2021 we did just that. Growth was slow and steady, rising to 4.5k subscribers and bringing our grand revenue total to $150 a month.

At this point, as you can imagine, we were looking at the numbers and the time and really starting to ask ourselves, “is this all worth it?” All these years of making content, photos, videos and the monthly income wasn’t even enough to buy groceries.

As 2021 rolled around, we decided this would be the make or break year. So we did something crazy.

Ashley had been watching other homesteaders on YouTube for a long time as we were researching our property, and one thing in particular stuck with her. A popular YouTuber named Justin Rhodes had said something to the effect of, “I won’t give you any advice on your channel unless you’ve made a video every day for 30 days. Then I’ll know whether you are taking this seriously.”

Which is fair. I’m sure a lot of folks ask him questions. But 30 DAYS of videos? How the heck?

Ashley had mentioned this a few times, but it wasn’t until we started pairing the idea of daily videos with a specific project that things clicked for us. And that’s how the 30 Days of Hyperadobe Solar Shed Office was born.

For us that meant taking a definable project (in our case building our earthbag building), and uploading a video each day showing measurable progress. It was a TON of work, but it changed so much for us.

Project Results

So how did it go? Well, on the project front, we made HUGE progress. Here's a few milestones:

By now we have well over a hundred videos of our solar shed.  You can see the whole playlist below (click the little number in the top right to see all).

YouTube & Revenue Growth

After two rounds of 30 day challenges, we noticed some big changes in our channel, too:

  • We started with 7,000 subscribers, and an average views 1k per video.
  • We grew to 12,500 subscribers and 7k views per video.
  • We started with $150/mo in ad revenue from YouTube
  • We grew to $900/mo in ad revenue + $500/mo in membership revenue (see below).
  • Currently we've had over 500,000 cumulative views on our solar shed videos which is crazy.

Let’s just take a second and celebrate this. Not us (that would be weird), but because it proves that small YouTube channels have an opportunity to grow organically with planning and hard work. That’s exciting!

In addition to seeing solid growth, we learned a lot about ourselves, our family, and our limits.

We learned so much, we’re launching a 6 week program to help you run your own 30 day YouTube challenge - but more on that in a minute.

Right now we want to share the 5 most important things we learned during this process.

Your videos dont have to be perfect

1. Your videos don’t have to be perfect. 

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve pushed back publishing a new video because we didn’t feel like it was ready yet. For our fellow perfectionists, a 30 day challenge will cure you of that. The video has to go out whether you’ve fixed every minuscule thing or not.

Obviously we don’t want to put out crappy videos, but setting a hard daily deadline really helps you “let it go” and hit publish more often. Related, the more videos you make the faster and better you’ll get. It’s a win/win cycle.

You can make the time

2. You can make the time. 

We had the same initial reaction you’re having right now. “There’s no way I have enough time to do this.” But it turns out if you really commit and are willing to experiment with everything in your life, you’d be surprised how much time you can open up.

Don’t be afraid to get up earlier, skip watching nightly Netflix, adjust your schedule, delegate responsibilities, even change your eating habits to get more time. We learned that we had way more time than we realized, and have kept many of our changes to our daily schedule even after the 30 day project was over.

Give yourself some credit

3. Give yourself some credit. 

You can accomplish more than you think. I’ll say it again. You can accomplish more than you think. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed, but don’t let that stop you.

I firmly believe we managed to follow through simply because we didn’t give up or let our lizard brains tell us we couldn’t. Look, we’re just a couple of suburban kids with zero experience building an earthbag building. All signs should point to “you’re going to fail.” But we haven’t yet. We do our research, work hard, and learn from our mistakes. Believe in yourself and tell the lizard brain to shut its leathery face hole.

Bribe your tribe

4. Bribe your tribe. 

Ah, I’m sure at this point you’re thinking, “Right, but what about your kids?” Yeah, we have 4 kids, and every single one of them have rocked it during our challenges. Now, I’m not going to lie - our kids are AWESOME. The way they jump in and help with minimal complaining is amazing.

But I think it’s fair to say that additional motivation isn’t a bad thing for something of this scale. In our case we made sure to talk about it before we started and let them dream big for how to get rewarded at the end. Spoiler alert - It was ice cream and a mini-bike. Also, we like the mini-bike, too :)

Momentum matters

5. Momentum matters. 

One thing we didn’t anticipate was the incredible community and goodwill that sprung up around the daily videos. We actually became a part of people’s day, and so many of them told us how sad they were when it was over.

We were able to use the 30 day challenges and a jumping off point for our patreon style membership, and were blown away by the response. That community continues to this day, and we’re so thankful for our Tiny Shiny Homies.

So even though we’re not the biggest, most successful YouTube channel out there, we stumbled on to something pretty great with this 30 day challenge. It stretched us as individuals, as creators, as a family, and so much more.

Until next time, friends!

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/we-gotta-get-this-shed-done-daily-video-project We Gotta Get This Shed Done - Daily Video Project to Finish our Hyperadobe Earthbag Solar Shed Office 2021-08-18T00:00:00-05:00 2021-10-15T12:18:07-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

That's right, friends, it's another daily video series! We are going to work day and and day out until this hyperadobe solar shed office is finished - and take you along for the ride. Let's get started.

Day 1

We begin our journey picking up where we left off - i.e. we just finished our solar, batteries, and electrical installed. So now we continue plastering the inside of the building. The goal today is finishing the interior brown coat!

Day 2

With the brown coat finished, it's time to start the finishing coat. Too many finishings? Maybe, but that's what we did!

Day 3

We continue to put final plaster coats on in the guest room while Jonathan installs internet antennas and measures for the television they'll be putting in. Nine Nine is all kinds of adorable.

Day 4

Yep, it's more final plaster coating in the guest room. Going a little slower as we do detail work around bottles, lightswitches, windows, and outlets. Also, we fix our front gate.

Day 5

Today is our youngest' birthday! Ada is 10 years old. We can't believe it! Most of the day was spent celebrating, but we did manage to come back and finish the last bit of plaster coat in the guest room. On to the office!

Day 6 

We live in wine country and it's harvest season. Ashley helps a local vineyard by waking up at 3am to go pick grapes. Then, back at home, we create a form for our first ever concrete pad! We end the day stomping grapes and showing off our new 'Get This Shed Done' T-shirts!

Day 7

We finally finish our form, get the area prepped, and start pouring when the delivery truck shows up. Let's lay our first concrete pad!

Day 8

So. Much. Sifting. But first Ashley attempts to fix hairline cracks in the guest room. Then we prep for finishing plaster in the office and Jonathan cleans up all the 'shed' around this place!

Day 9

The boys head to town for some fun at an Airsoft field while the girls keep working on the final coat in the office. We also explore some decorative cob!

Day 10

We push through and FINISH the final plaster coat in the office! What a huge step! Just a few more touchups and the interior walls will be complete 🎉.

Day 11

Today we're cleaning up the last of the bottles, wiping down the walls, and getting ready for the floor in the guest room!

Day 12

We were so excited to get going on the floor, everything went according to plan...Until it didn't. But you'll have to wait until day 13 to find out why!

Day 13

We don't always get it right and we're here to show you our mistakes so you don't make them, too. We failed the first attempt at our earthen floor, but then found the magic combination of mortar sand, our soil, tiny bit of clay, straw and water. It resulted in a pretty sweet floor!

Day 14

We installed our mini split! Wahoo! Cool air never felt so good. But it wasn't easy getting here. As always...there's problems along the way.

Day 15

We're trying a different scratch coat fortified with 10% cement to see if it will hold up to our crazy monsoon rains better. Our cob was solid until the sideways rains came. We're hoping this is the magic mix.

Day 16

That's right, more scratch coat. It's going to likely be days of scratch coat but that's just the way it goes. Plus, we're introducing a new venture we're calling 30 Days to a Better You...Tube :)

Day 17

Today we're starting on the office floor and answering some of your frequently asked questions!

Day 18

Today we lay the rest of our earthen floor in the office, but we also add some more river rock detail! Check it out!

Day 19

Today we go mattress shopping for the first time in a good 10+ years. PLUS, we buy all the things for inside the solar shed. Let's do this!

Day 20

Today we officially start on our front door overhang. We've been talking about it for months, but it's finally time! We begin by measuring a bunch and setting cement braces for our posts.

Day 21

Today is the day, let's build this overhang - decking and all 💪!

Day 22

Storms are rolling in so we had only a few minutes to get the underlayment on and the wood of the overhang painted. Check it out!

Day 23

We start the morning by petting Nine Nine way too much 😂. But then we measure the overhang so we can order our metal roofing, the windows so we can order custom blackout blinds, and then lay the FINAL earthen floor coating in our hyperadobe solar shed office.

Day 24

Today we're touching up our floor due to a minor mishap with our mini split. We're also adding chicken wire on some wood to help our exterior coat of plaster attach better! One day at a time, we're getting this shed done!

Day 25

Jonathan had to take the truck into town for an oil change and errands so Ashley and the kids spent the day rocking the exterior scratch coat on the West and North walls. They got so much done!

Day 26

With everyone back together, we rally and finally complete the exterior cob scratch coat (again - monsoon rains washed a lot of the first coat off). Getting excited to finish this phase of the build!

Day 27

Very productive day today friends! We created some tinted test batches trying to find the right shade for our exterior final coat. Then we worked on some decorative cob elements. And finally we laid down the first linseed oil coat on our floor. Whooo!

Day 28

Lots going on today, friends! We had our buck delivered for goat breeding, replaced our Shelter Logic Garage-in-a-Box cover, and put more coats of linseed oil on the earthen floor in the solar shed.

Day 29

Today we put our final two coats of linseed oil on the earthen floor in the solar shed, retire our ground deploy solar panels for the Airstream, and clean up the mess from the Shelter Logic Garage-in-a-Box re-covering.

Day 30

Let's freeze stuff! Our freezer is finally here and we're trying to fill it up :) And a special delivery from our favorite coffee shop, Talking Irons! Thanks Sara and Thomas. Plus, we got to clean the linseed oil off of our rocks!

Day 31

Today we're waxing our earthen floor in the guest room. Turns out we didn't order enough wax so at least we have one room done, and just in time for the mattress to be delivered. Jonathan and the kids set up the bed, and Ashley stains the window sill.

Day 32

This day did not go as planned, but we're rolling with it and having a couple popsicles.

Day 33

Lots of little projects accomplished today, friends! First we added a heatsink to our REC BMS to help it when balancing our massive battery bank. Then we installed our front door trim (finally), hooked up our off-grid internet in the shed, and got our front door cement pad area prepped.

Day 34

Day 34 and we're getting shed done! We got the metal roof panels on and poured an entryway cement pad. Busy day and we just barely beat the storm.

Day 35

More big steps today friends! We finished the metal roofing on our overhang, talk about our cement tinting experiment, created more decorative + functional cob around the windows, and the girls started a fun new project.

Day 36

We're dragging a bit today, but we pushed through and got one thing checked off the ever growing list. Gabions around the posts. This is not structural at all, just visually pleasing :)

Day 37

With almost everyone gone today for dental appointments, Ashley and Jett start testing our final plaster coat and realize we need a better sifter.

Day 38

Hip Hip Horray, we had a productive day! It feels so good to get these little things checked off our list. We installed the blinds, waxed the window sills and worked on the exterior some more. Guys! How about that sifting? Ahh, I love this family. Let's keep going!

Day 39

Let's get some balls on the walls! Today we're working on the west wall of our Hyperadobe Solar Shed. We'll be adding spheres to cast shadows to create micro climates on the west wall that gets pounded by the sun in the summer. This (theoretically) should help the west wall not heat up as much. At least that's what Cal-Earth says :)

Day 40

Alright friends, short day today as we continue to add our final plaster mix to more of our building. One step at a time, but we're in the final stretch!

Day 41

Today we race the rain and finish our West wall relief spheres and exterior plaster coat on the entire circle part of the building. Only one side left!

Day 42

You asked for it, we've got it! Nine Nine had the best morning ever, and we managed to capture it all on film for you. Enjoy! We also finished the balls on the west wall, and started plastering the FINAL south facing wall. OMG!

Day 43

Oh my friends, WHAT A DAY! We finish the exterior plaster coat on the entire building AND finally fix our standing desk. Plus we install some exterior solar lights, and even start cleaning up a bit.

Day 44

After our long, hard road to finishing the exterior coat yesterday, it was time to have a little fun, and get the dirt cleaned off bottle bricks, windows, doors, and more.

Day 45 (Last Day)

Oh my friends, it's the last daily solar shed video. Can you believe it? We can't! Today we finished cleaning windows, FINALLY put plants in our flower beds, and started a few small building projects. Get ready for the big reveal coming soon!

We Got This Shed Done!

This 200 square foot sustainably built earthbag structure was built by our family of 6 over the course of a year. We used over 3400 feet of linear hyperadobe tube mesh, moved 80 tons of dirt, sand, and clay, and installed a 7200 watt, 28kwh lithium solar system to power our property. Techniques explored include hyperadobe earthbag, bottle bricks, cob, earthen floor, earthen plaster, bas relief, passive solar, negative reveal ceiling, archways, and more.

Watch the walk-through tour here.

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/hyperadobe-solar-shed-office-scratch-coat-insulation-and-ceiling Hyperadobe Solar Shed Office - Scratch Coat, Electrical Wires, Insulation & Ceiling Panels 2021-06-22T00:00:00-05:00 2021-06-22T15:38:06-05:00 Ashley Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

It’s been too long since we’ve had a chance to sit and write down all the things that have happened since our last 30 More Days of Hyperadobe Solar Shed YouTube challenge. So, let’s just dive right in, shall we?

Connecting the roof and hyperadobe walls

The first thing we HAD to do was build the cob walls up the rest of the way to ceiling and close the structure in. Because of the 1:12 pitch of the roof there was just a lot of weird places to cover. It was way more cob than we realized, but we kept at it and finally made that connection all the way around. Huge day!

Installing windows in our earthbag shed

The next step was to finally install those windows we wanted to put in at the end of our 60 day challenge. We were a little worried about how the clerestory windows would fit, but everything went it with little fuss and leveled up nicely! We did have to trim some of the flange where our hurricane straps went over the rough frame openings, but we were shocked how quickly the windows were installed.

Exterior Scratch Coat

Next it was time to get our first scratch coat finished on the outside. This is a mixture of clay, sand, chopped straw, and water. As for our soil, the ratio we used for the outside scratch coat is:

  • 3 parts native sifted soil
  • 1 part clay
  • 1 part straw
  • Enough water to mix in to get the right consistency. 

If you're doing a project like this, you'll need to test your own soil as everyone's is different.

Despite everyone’s suggestions to ‘just use the cement mixer to make the cob’, we opted for a more natural approach. We used a tarp and our bodies to mix the soil. Why? Good question. Mostly it was because that’s the way cob is supposed to be made. This is an ancient technique that has been used for centuries (though I’m sure they didn’t have tarps to use).

We wanted to experience the full effect of our hard work being put on those walls. The fact that we all touched every bit of soil that went into making this building is mind blowing. Our hands, our bodies built this! Just let that sit in for a moment. I still have trouble digesting the fact that a family of 6 with next to no building experience, created this structure.

But that’s not the only reason we opted to forgo the cement mixer option. You see, we are completely off grid. No power source besides the solar on our Airstream and a little generator. So in order to run the noisy cement mixer, you’d also have to be running a noisy generator. 

Two noisy, unnecessary pieces of equipment means we’d have to constantly be yelling at each other to hear one another, plus the use of more gas. No thank you! And honestly, it really wasn’t so bad. Yeah, it feels like a lot to do when you’re in the middle of the job, but there’s something to be said about getting uncomfortable, putting on your big girl panties, and getting your hands dirty to get a hard job done. We’re not afraid of work, that’s for sure.

Exterior Scratch Coat on Hyperadobe Building

Running Electrical Wires

After we got the outside done with the first scratch coat, we opted to leave our front door overhang until we finished up the inside. We’re in a bit of a rush to finish up inside so we can hook everything up and use it!

First things first, we needed to run all our Romex lines and get those all secured before we could begin the interior scratch coat. We choose to go with buriable Romex. We have seen power run several different ways in earthbag structures like this. We momentarily considered having all our wires run in a fancy conduit on the outside of the cob and bags, but we just really want a nice, clean look for this building, so under they go!

IMG 0393

One thing we would do different next time is to NOT use the U-nails to secure the wires. That’s all we had at the time and we wanted to get it done. But a quick trip the following day to a big town, we picked up some cable staples and that was a game changer. Not only did they stay in the bags better, but they were specifically made for what we were doing. They were wide enough to not squeeze the wires and it was a huge difference in the easy of installing. Just do yourself a favor and invest in the cable staples.

Other than needing to chip away of few bits of bags near the outlets, we were ready to roll. Jonathan somehow thought this would be done in an hour. Well, spoiler alert. It took much longer. Here’s the video proof.

Interior Scratch Coat

Now comes the fun part. Covering all the bags on the inside of the building! We started with the circle. The kids were all in! We finished the circle in just two days. By this time of year, we were really starting to get up in temperatures throughout the day time and when you start hitting the earthbags with water before applying the cob, man did it get humid fast. We were just dripping the entire time, but it had to get done. With the promise of ice cream with each big task completed, the kids were all about it, kept up the entire time. I could not be more proud of them.

One thing that drastically improved our work flow at this point was investing in a hose splitter and extra hoses. This way there could be a hose in the room to wet down the bags before applying the scratch coat, and a separate hose at the cob making station. No more back and forth with the hose and waiting on each other to finish up with it. Streamlining your process like this will make things go so much faster!

Applying earthen scratch coat interior

Next it was time to tackle the bigger office room. More surface area meant it really did take about twice as long. But we didn’t give up. It was really cool to see it all transform right before our eyes. No more red bags visible, it really changed the look, the sound, and the feel of the space. One thing we kept saying is it feels like a cave, but not in a good way. It was dark, and we panicked a little. The echo was also a concern. But remember, at this time we had not began work on our ceiling. That comes next and changes things for the better! In the video below, you'll see us finish covering the interior walls.

Insulation Day

We’ve been researching for months about how to finish the ceiling and what insulation to choose, and should we put vents in? It’s a lot to consider but we settled on denim insulation. Mostly because we needed it the day we were at Lowe’s and that’s all they had, but it was a strong contender from the beginning. If money weren’t an issue, I would have liked to use a wool insulation like Havelock Wool, but we are working on a budget and some things have to be cut back.

Now that we had all the insulation, it was installation day. You can watch that video here.

We were pretty surprised at how quickly it went up, and I LOVED that we could use our mesh bags to hold it up. We could have used less if we had cut the straps in half, but we had plenty of bags so it wasn’t a huge issue. We ended up doubling the insulation because it was only 3.5 inches thick and it needed to fit in-between our 2x8 rafters. The with was perfect with our 16” on center rafters and the doubling up of the insulation was perfect because it allowed about an inch gap between the roof and the insulation. We’ll likely be doing this step differently when we build our house, but just remember. THIS IS JUST A SHED/OFFICE! It’s not our living quarters, but rather our first build. We are learning so much on with each step we complete.

Okay, so insulation is up, time for the ceiling! 

Negative Reveal Plywood Ceiling Panels

I’ve known how I wanted to do our ceiling for quite awhile. I wanted crisp, clean lines and a negative reveal. Our neighbor Mike gave us a great tip on a lumber yard in Tucson (Hood Distribution) and we got a sweet deal on 3/8” Birch Plywood. We bought 12 sheets and cut them down into 2’x4’ pieces (four panels from one sheet of plywood). Now, you may be asking, “what the heck is a negative reveal?” Great question!

We installed…we’ll call them perlins...in between the rafters every 2’ on center and painted them black along with painting every 4th rafter black, but in a staggered order. It may make more sense to just watch this video of our ceiling install.

So basically, a negative reveal is when you leave a space between each panel, and that negative space between the ceiling panels shows. It gives the ceiling a nice sense of depth.  As long as you measure and make sure all the spaces are equal on all sides of the panels, it looks really great. 

We opted for an 1/8” reveal which was roughly the size of two quarters taped together. 

Quarters

Yep, that’s how we got it done. Holding up quarters in between the panels for the entire ceiling. Dropping them with each move of the panel, one kid on quarter pick up duty, but we got it done. If you plan on giving the negative reveal a shot, my tip is to start in the middle of the room and measure, measure, measure.

It worked out so perfectly for us to use full 2’ panels on nearly every section we did. Oh, and one more tip! Get a really good quality glue! We used 3 tubes for this project. We glued each panel up and used 16 gauge brad nails to secure it. 

Did we go overboard on the nails? Perhaps, but that’s how we do it around here. I can’t even begin to tell you how great it was to find a battery powered brad nailer. Saved us from having to buy an air compressor and use our generator to run it. It actually worked pretty good even though we would have rather had a Dewalt. Unfortunately all Dewalt’s brad nailers were out of stock EVERYWHERE! Even online!

Well, there you have it. That’s what we’ve been working on since our last Day 60 video. So what’s next? I’m glad you asked!

We’re in the middle of testing a finish for the ceiling panels. Once we decided on how we’ll finish them, we get that done, and then cob our walls up to the ceiling. THEN we’ll be able to begin our final coats of earthen plaster on the walls. THEN we’ll be able to start the floor. THEN we’ll be able to hook up all our solar power stuff!

It’s getting close, but there’s still so much work to be done. We’re here for it!

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/30-days-of-hyperadobe-solar-shed-office-daily-recap 30 Days of Hyperadobe Solar Shed Office Daily Recap 2021-03-18T00:00:00-05:00 2021-04-29T22:42:59-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Have you ever done something crazy? Like - "what were we thinking, how are we ever going to do this crazy?" This is the chronicle of our 30 60 Days of Hyperadobe Solar Shed Office build. And it is…crazy.

Update: We extended this 30 day project so keep on scrollin' below to see additional progress.

To give you a quick backstory, this project started started as a solar shed to house our batteries and inverter for our off-grid solar system. Then we thought, “hey since we’re building something let’s make it an office, too. Jonathan & Ashely could really use a space to work.” It was going to be a pretty simple rectangle straw bale build, but because of insane lumber price increases, we quickly pivoted and changed it to a combo rectangle & dome hyperadobe building. The dome would house a bed and couch hangout area that could double as a guest room for family.

Why did we choose hyperadobe instead of superadobe earthbag?

  1. We already had the right mix of clay and sand in our native soil (free materials!)
  2. Tube mesh bags were half the cost of solid superadobe cal-earth style bags
  3. Hyperadobe bags didn’t require barbed wire between the courses because the mesh interlocks when tamping. This kept the cost down and made the project much safer for the kids.
  4. Speaking of the kids, this type of building was something we quickly realized anyone could do. This would truly be a family effort.
  5. These hyperadobe bags were also UV treated so we didn’t have to worry about keeping them covered or getting the building up too quickly before they deteriorated.
  6. We were very interested in earthbag building, and this seemed like a newer evolution of that methodology that was even easier and cheaper than what was out there.

So after months of all this research and planning, it was time to get started. We dug the foundation and started laying the first courses. Then we got sidetracked with a bunch of other things on the homestead.

But we’d still work on a course here and there, slowly going up higher and higher until we it was time to install a rough opening for our door and form for our entryway between to two structures.

Finally we got to our electrical box level, and had to make some important decisions about where power would be both inside and outside the building.

Oh, we also made a video explaining our dolly bucket system, and the whole process for laying bags.

And that brings you up to speed where this 30 day project starts. You see, all that progress before I mentioned took months of work. But we asked ourselves, “What could we do if we worked on this thing every day for a month?” And then we asked ourselves, “What if we chronicled the whole process and made a video about it every day, too?”

And then we said, "Nah, that’s crazy!” and proceeded to do it anyway.

Our goal was to complete all the hyperadobe earthbag courses, build the roof, and install the windows and doors by the end of the 30 days. Did we do it? Read on to find out ;)

What follows is a day by day account of our project along with the video we posted each day. Enjoy!

Day 1

Where it all started! But before we could lay any bags, we had to finalize and install our electrical boxes. If you watched the previous video, we figured out how to build the interior electrical box cleats, but were struggling with the exterior ones because there needed to be a way for the electrical wire to go from the inside to the outside. It’s kind of confusing.

Anyway, we ended up using 2x2’s on each side of the conduit, and that worked perfectly.

Building and installing the electrical box cleats took all morning, so we really had to bust it to finish a full course by the end of the day. But we did it!

Status Report: Course 5 Completed, 23" From Floor, Electrical Boxes Installed

Day 2

After yesterday, we were all tired and sore, and it was cold and windy. We were not in the mood, which was not good. It was only day 2! Thankfully the weather cleared up, and we were able to go up one more level by the end of the day.

Status Report: Course 6 Completed, 28" From Floor

Day 3

We had to build door cleats for this level, and came up with a better system for adding the nails for easier installation.

We were also starting to feel like we were finding our groove with the bag technique, and began using our level more consistently on each bag. Looking good!

Oh, and we realized we were quickly reaching a height where we need more scaffolding inside. Hardware store run soon?

Status Report: Course 7 Completed, 33" From Floor

Day 4

This was the day we hit the wall. The kids weren’t feeling it. We were all tired, sore, and bored of putting dirt in bags.

So we resorted to bribery. “Candy, drinks, whatever you want at the dollar store!” we told them if they finished.

It worked, and we made it up one more course for the day.

Status Report: Course 8 Completed, 38" From Floor

Day 5

Bag work came to a screeching halt today as we needed to get some work done and run into town for supplies.

Out here we're 1.5 hours from the closest big box hardware store like Lowe's or Home Depot, so a trip into town ends up taking most of the day. Ashley took the kids and they picked up our door, main windows, wood for the frames, and some smaller scaffolding to use inside the building as we get higher up.

While we didn't get up another course, securing the windows, door, and scaffolding were very important to our next steps moving forward. 

Status Report: Bought Windows, Door, Scaffolding, and wood for rough frame openings. 

Day 6

Today we split up to haul some water, fix our measuring tape, and build more cleats. But we got a flat tire which threw everything off. 

Anyhow, we put in several cleats to help us mount connections for our wires that need to come in through the outside wall. And then went up an entire course!

If that weren't enough, we had to switch out to the spare tire as the sun went down so we could go get it fixed the next day.

Status Report: Course 9 Completed, 45" From Floor

Day 7

What a weird day! We tried to start building our window frames, but had to get our flat tire fixed, wash our puppy, and more.

Status Report: No real progress today, but we got back at it tomorrow.

Day 8

Today we got back on track. First things first, we finished building and test fitting our window frames. Then we went up a whole other course in preparation for installing the frames tomorrow.

We also had so much help today! Our neighbor came and moved more dirt for us, and some friends helped sift. We love this little community!

Status Report: Window Frames Built, Course 10 Completed, 48" From Floor

Day 9

Finally! We were ready to install our window frames. We put in our huge vista window, our small egress window, and a small bottle brick window that we kind of made up on the fly. Each needed cleats and supporting 2x4's to hold them in place until we have more bags installed around them.

Status Report: All Window Rough Opening Frames Installed!

Day 10

Things started getting complicated today. In addition to having to lay bags around our windows and cleats, we also started installing our PVC sleeves for electrical coming into and going out of the building. Oh, and light switches!

All the starting and stopping + shorter runs meant we couldn't use our dolly system, and things slowed way down. We finished got half a course. We were pretty bummed, but this is all a learning opportunity, right? We thought fewer surface area for bags would equal less time, but apparently not.

Status Report: Half of Course 11 Completed

Day 11

After only getting half a course done yesterday, we rallied and did a whole course and a half! Whew! 

Super proud of the kids stepping up and helping us get it done.

Status Report: Course 12 Completed, 56" From Floor

Day 12

Back when we built our door frame and entryway form, we only built part of the form. But we had gotten to the point where the bags were so high that we needed to build the rest of the arched entryway between the two buildings.

So we pieced it together and got it installed in preparation for more the next layer of bags.

Status Report: Built & Installed top of Arch Entryway

Day 13

It's glass bottle cutting day! In preparation for our bottle brick windows, we needed to do some tests on different bottle types and sizes. This will allow us to make sure we're building the frames the right depth and size.

We also took time today to answer a bunch of frequently asked questions to comments we kept getting asked over and over again. 

Status Report: Cut Glass Bottles for Bottle Brick Windows

Day 14

We installed our final unique diamond shaped bottle brick windows on the front of the building, and laid down half of a course. Once again, all the stopping, starting, cleats, and now diamond windows slowed us down.

Status Report: Built & Installed Small Diamond Bottle Brick Window Frames, Half of Course 13 Completed

Day 15

Today marked two weeks since we started the challenge! This morning we did some planning for our roof, then went up another half a course.

Status Report: Course 13 Completed, 62" From Floor

Day 16

We finally built our first lintel that will go over the small bottle brick window. We also start trying a few methods to get the building more level all the way around.

Status Report: Built Our First Lintel, Half of Course 14 Completed

Day 17

Today we actually leveled and installed the bottle brick window lintel, and experimented even more with filling the bags with different amounts to achieve level.

Status Report: Installed Lintel, Course 14 Completed, 65" From Floor

Day 18

Today was all about using our bags filled at different amounts to finally get level all the way around. It took basically two half courses to get there, but we were really happy with the results.

Status Result: Courses and heights got a little fuzzy here with bags partially full. Let's just say we're up higher.

Day 19

Today we had to take a day off from laying bags to finalize our roof plans, put a parts list together, and get estimates from local suppliers.

Status Report: Roof Plans Finalized, Bids Sent Out for Materials

Day 20

After getting back the bids from roofing material suppliers, we made our decisions and got everything ordered. Oh my goodness!

Then it was up yet another half course of bags to finish out the day.

Status Report: Roofing Materials on Order, Half of Course 15 Completed

Day 22

Once again other duties around the homestead kept us from working on the solar shed all day, but we did manage to get up another half course. And then work on our animal paddock!

Status Report: Course 15 Completed, 70" From Floor

Day 22

Today was all about adding hurricane strapping to eventually hold our roof down. And going up another course, of course!

We also talked about a few things we would have done differently for next time.

Status Report: Course 16 Completed, 75" From Floor

Day 23

Today was an exciting day. Even though we only went up half a course, we ran our final bag over the arch entryway!

Status Report: Half of Course 16 Completed

Day 24

Today was our Anniversary! We celebrated by heading into town to pickup 7200 watts of solar panels for our solar shed that we got for an amazing deal at SanTan Solar. And of course we got delicious sushi!

Also, we announced our patreon-style membership area, Tiny Shiny Homies!

Status Report: Solar Panels Acquired

Day 25

Today we had to re-build our dirt sifter as it was starting to fall apart. We also braved the insane winds and sprinkling rain and went up another course.

Status Report: Course 17 Completed, 80" From Floor 

Day 26

Moving right along, we go up another entire course and are now officially above our windows and doors. Lintels here we come!

Status Report: Course 18 Completed, 84" From Floor

Day 27

We built all our lintels today, but only installed 2 out of 3. Getting them leveled and cleated in took more time than we thought. That's ok, we're getting so close!

Status Report: Lintels Built and 2 Of Three Installed

Day 28

Today we installed our final lintel over the big vista window and go up half a course around the circle building.

We also made an off-the-cuff design decision to not lay anymore bags in the area over the arch entryway.

Status Report: Lintel Installed, Half of Course 19 Completed

Day 29

With the end in sight, we rallied for nearly 100' of earthbag in a day - a course and a half with no doors or windows to break it up. Whew! We were sore all over!

We also research and planed for our mini split air conditioner and installed the necessary PVC sleeves.

Status Report: Course 20 Completed, 96" From Floor, Installed Mini Split PVC Sleeves.

Day 30

We made it! The last day we went up the final full course, bringing the earthbag part of this project to a close. 

Status Report: Course 21 Completed, 120" From Floor

DJI 0817 DJI 0818

Wrapping Up the Solar Shed Challenge

I cannot believe our little family pulled this off. While we didn't get the roof installed or the windows and doors put in, we did manage 30 days of constant work, plus shooting, producing, and editing a video each day. That's 17 courses and nearly 100" tall! I'm so proud of us.

We couldn't have done it without you, though. All your encouraging notes, comments, and support helped us make it through.

Many of you are asking, "what's next?" Glad you asked, because we decided to do another 30 Day Challenge. Let's get this roof on!

Day 31

That's right, we're back for another 30 days of hyperadobe solar shed. Yes we're insane. Today we focused on getting the rough opening window frames built and installed for our clerestory.

Status Report: Built clerestory window frames, installed in place with cleats.

Day 32

With the clerestory windows in place, it was time to start laying bags around them to build up the front of the building.

Status Report: Laid bags between window frames, started on the sides.

Day 33

Today we had to finish building up the bags on the front and side of the clerestory in preparation for a very special guest tomorrow!

Status Report: Finished laying staggered bags down the side to match pitch of roof.

Day 34

Excited to welcome our special guest, Ashley's Dad to the Tiny Shiny Homestead. His building expertise and math ninja skills are going to help us get this roof on quickly and correctly. Today we focused on running string lines, getting measurements, and setting concrete bases for our posts. 

Status Report: Picked up Ashley's Dad, ran string lines, dug and concreted in footers for posts.

Day 35

We keep forging ahead with our roof build, readjusting the front beam and setting the back and middle beams in place. It's at this point we realize our change of plans to use one of our 12" tall LVL beams for the back means we need to lay more bags to get the middle beam at the right pitch. Cue a light night bagging session!

Status Report: Front and rear beams in place, added two more earthbag layers for the middle layer.

Day 36

We have rafters! Well, some of them. Finished setting the back LVL beams and started laying rafters.

Status Report: Installed all rear rafters.

Day 37

Our last day with Ashley's Dad so we busted our butts and finished up the front rafters and (gasp) added some decking! Guys, we're getting so freaking close to having a real roof!

Status Report: Installed front rafters and most of decking.

Day 38

After four insane days of roof building with Ashley's Dad it was time to send him home, relax a bit, and finish getting up the decking pieces.

Status Report: Finished installing decking pieces.

Day 39

We finish screwing down the decking on the plywood. We also take a look back at Day 34 working with Ashley's dad to better explain how we are securing the roof. Spoiler Alert - There's been a TON of research go into this roof!

Status Report: Added additional screws to decking. It's firmly locked in place.

Day 40

With the beams and decking in place, it was time to start securing everything. Hurricane straps, rafter ties, and more. Also, more Q&A w/ Jon & Ashley about setting the back beam and adding more bags on Day 35.

Status Report: Hand tightened hurricane straps, screwed in hurricane ties on each rafter.

Day 41

We install LVL supports, tension the hurricane straps, and start installing our facia boards. We also take a look back at day 36 when we started putting on the rafters.

Status Report: Tension hurricane straps, add LVL supports, install front facia boards.

Day 42

Today we install the rear facia boards and do another Q&A sessions about day 37.

Status Report: Install rear facia boards.

Day 43

Time to paint our facia boards, side rafters, and exposed beams!

Status Report: Paint all facia boards and exposed rafters and beams.

Day 44

Today we had grand plans to install our underlayment, but ended up just a bit short on material. Oh well!

Status Report: Hammer stapled most of underlayment onto decking

Day 45

Today we had also had grand plans to finish our underlayment and put on the metal roofing. But our goat decided to have babies instead.

Status Report: Finished underlayment, birthed twin goats.

Day 46

Today we started laying the metal panels on the roof! There were a lot of hurdles to overcome - getting the huge panels up on top, fighting the wind, and generally not knowing what we were doing. Thankfully our neighbor Mike came and helped us out :)

Status Report: Installed all top metal panels on roof.

Day 47

Today we ratcheted all our hurricane straps down, and installed our hurricane ties on the rafters. This was not very exciting, so we also took a minute and answered many of the questions we've been getting over and over again.

Status Report: Tightened hurricane straps, installed hurricane ties, answered all the questions.

Day 48

While the large metal panels went on the roof pretty easily, the trim nearly wrecked us. Words were said, metal was bent, but we pushed through and finished the dang roof. Whew!

Status Report: Finally finished installing all metal trim on roof and didn't get a divorce.

Day 49

With the roof a distance memory, we get to start testing our soil for our cob mixture.

Status Report: Ran some soil tests, mades some cob batch tests.

Day 50

Learned a lot from our first cob mix test, made some adjustments, and started filling in cracks. Also we may have a mud fight.

Status Report: Crack tests.

Day 51

Still working on that cob mix, but decided to try our first bottle brick windows!

Status Report: Completed diamond shaped bottle brick windows.

Day 52

With our small bottle brick windows complete, it was time to tackle the big one. Today we officially started our TopoWindow™ (Topo Chico Bottle Brick Window). That's right, we've named it. This is going to be so cool!

Status Report: Completed first row on the TopoWindow™.

Day 53

Before we could finish our TopoWindow™ we had to cut more bottles. Like, a whole bunch more bottles. 

Status Report: Cut remainder of bottles for the TopoWindow™.

Day 54

With all bottles cut, today we finished cobbing the TopoWindow™ !

Status Report: Completed TopoWindow™.

Day 55

Now that all our bottle bricks were done, it was time to focus our attention on the space between the top of the hyperadobe bags and the roof. We started slow, still experimenting without mix and randomly placed bottles to fill the space.

Status Report: Started cobbing up to the roof.

Day 56

We continued to add cob and bottles up to the roof line.

Status Report: More cob, more bottles.

Day 57

We finally started to get in the cob groove, but ran out of bottle bricks! Had to spend time cutting a bunch more.

Status Report: More cob progress, cut more bottle bricks.

Day 58

Today we really clicked into gear on the cob, and got a bunch finished. We're loving how it's turning out!

Status Report: Even more cob progress, getting so close to the roof!

Day 59

Today we experiment with different ways to fill the wall, and get all the cob to roughly the same distance from the rafters.

Status Report: Built up all cob walls within 4 inches of rafters.

Day 60

We made it! The end of our second 30 day challenge. Celebrate with us as we install our first window and look back at how far we've come since Day 1.

Status Report: Installed our first window...nevermind we're taking a long nap!

Wrapping Up the Second Solar Shed Challenge

And somehow we managed to make it through another 30 days! We got the roof on, learned to cob, built our bottle brick windows, and more.

We couldn't have done it without you, though. All your encouraging notes, comments, and support helped us make it through.

"What's next?" you ask? You'll just have to subscribe and follow us to find out :)

Hyperadobe Earthbag Solar Shed Office with Roof Hyperadobe Solar Shed Office Interior Bags still visible Hyperadobe Solar Shed Office Cob Bottle Wall ]]>
https://tinyshinyhome.com/hyperadobe-off-grid-solar-shed-office-electrical-outlet-boxes Hyperadobe Off-Grid Solar Shed Office - Electrical Outlet Boxes 2021-02-08T00:00:00-05:00 2021-03-21T12:34:02-05:00 Ashley Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

And just like that it’s time to add some electrical outlet boxes to our hyperadobe solar shed office!

Everything about this type of construction is different. We’re really just trying to figure it all out as we go. Yeah, we’ve visited some other buildings being built in a similar fashion, but everyone we’ve talked to is doing things differently and also figuring it out as they go. So, we’re determined there’s not necessarily a ‘wrong way’ to install these electrical outlet boxes, but rather just our way.

This entire project is really just a test. We’re practicing to see if this is how we want to build our home or not. There’s so much to learn and we’re excited to be at a new phase in the building process.

For our interior electrical outlets, we’re just taking our cleats, but flipping the 2x4 over on it’s side and attaching the outlet box to the 2x4.

Hyperadobe Installing Electric Outlets

It’s not rocket science. And the cool thing about this type of building, some people don’t install these outlets until the very end, so if we need to, we can always adjust things later!

We'll be installing 3 outlets in the cylinder room, and 3 in the office, as well as 3 exterior outlets which we have yet to decide exactly how to install. 

Hyperadobe Outlet Layout

Ever phase of this build has been met with HOURS of research. We over analyze every detail because we don’t want to mess it up too much. But also, there’s not a lot of information out there about building with hyperadobe bags. We’re just hoping that we can figure it out as we go, create good content, and be able to help others down the road.

We’ve still got a lot to figure out, but we’re up for the challenge!

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/january-chores-on-the-homestead-unexpected-loss January Chores on the Homestead & Unexpected Loss 2021-02-02T00:00:00-05:00 2021-02-02T11:02:19-05:00 Ashley Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Our kids have been asking for us to document their morning chore routine. Likely because they want us to know how much they contribute to the homestead and have valid argument for an increase in pay. Touché.

Really though, they are literally running the animal operation on their own and we couldn’t be more proud. I thought they would get over it in two weeks, but here we are 4 months in with animals and they’re still getting up with the sun and rocking their daily chores.

Adali milking our first mama goat Fay

Milking Goats

Their chores are constantly changing. Now that Fay is being milked, it adds a bit more complexity to the mix. They separate the babies at night and after they get some milk for us, she runs back to her babies to nurse them. Fay is an excellent mother and extremely protective over her little Frankie and Figgy. Some would say, at times…too protective. 

We’ve definitely watched her roll a pig or two and nearly injure Brooklyn. Would love to know from other goat owners if this is typical for her to be so overly protective. 

But we are loving playing with the babies each day and watching them grow. Still up in the air as to if we’ll keep them. I think we’ll decided after we see what sex babies Mable gives us this April.

Ada feeding chickens

Feeding Chickens & Collecting Eggs

Our chickens are finally producing more and we’re getting 3-4 eggs a day! I’d love to add more chickens in the near future and can’t wait until we are able to raise them from babies. One day… All in good time.

Jett feeding Kune Kune Pigs

Fattening Up the Pigs

The pigs are just as annoying as ever, but they’re staying fat and happy on our scraps and some fresh alfalfa hay and pellets. We keep saying…they will one day pay us back in delicious bacon :)

Jax Feeding Rabbits

Our Rabbits are...Boys?

In another turn of events, we found out recently that the trio of rabbits we bought turned out to be a trio of BUCKS! Seriously! We’ve had some bad luck with breeders telling us we were getting quality animals and turned out…not so much. 

It’s all on us though. We’re new at this and we’re slowing learning that you can’t just trust everyone. A costly lesson to learn for sure.

Brooklyn & Nine Nine Playing

Puppy Playtime

Once the morning chores are done in the paddock, the kids let the dogs play with each other and get good and tired before Nine Nine comes back in for the morning. Brooklyn is quickly growing and will soon pass up Nine Nine. It will be interesting to see how their dynamic changes.

Captain's Grave

Our First Loss

When we first discussed adding animals to the homestead, we were very clear with the kids that there will be loss. We all knew it could happen at any time. We’re acutely aware of how many predators we have out here, and the potential risks that come with having so many animals here. Even with knowing it will happen, we were still unprepared for the unexpected loss we experienced this week.

Ada and I were on our way to her horse riding lessons and as we pulled out of the driveway, we saw our cat laying in the road, lifeless. Ada jumped out of the truck to verify that it was indeed Captain, and we both just broke down. It was a long, sad day. I didn’t even realize just how attached I was to this little cat. He’s been our top mouser and a very important part of our homestead. 

We gave him a proper burial and took some time to grieve. We know we gave him the best life possible with plenty of hugs, rubs, treats and warm places to stay. 

We’re super sad to have lost such a great cat. And to those of you who will say, “it’s just a cat” I was once you. I’ve said that before. But now I get it. He was not just a cat. He was part of our family, and he’ll forever be missed.

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/airstream-renovation-checklist Vintage Airstream Renovation Checklist & Guide 2021-01-28T00:00:00-05:00 2022-03-03T15:54:45-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Airstream renovation is more popular than ever! We get messages each week from people starting their own renovation projects, and they have so many questions. We totally get it, we did too.

But what are you really getting into with a vintage trailer restoration? We thought we had it all planned out, but holy smokes did our project throw us some curve balls!

This article is an exhaustive look back at our process, master plan, checklist, process - whatever you want to call it. And as a companion we've created a PDF Checklist you can download to print and follow along for your own renovation.

It may cause you to think twice about jumping into a project this size. And if this 10,000 word article doesn't do it, maybe our ridiculously thorough cost breakdown will :)

But if you're still game, we have lots to share below. Let's get to it!

Article Overview

  1. Assessing the Damage
  2. Planning Your Airstream Renovation
  3. Demoing your Airstream
  4. Floor & Frame Integrity, Testing Tanks
  5. Shell-Off Renovation
  6. Removing Interior Walls
  7. Exterior
  8. Inspect Wiring
  9. Roof Installation
  10. Closing the Belly Pan
  11. Axles & Wheels
  12. Re-wiring 12V and 120V
  13. Insulation
  14. Install Interior Panels
  15. Take a Minute to Party!
  16. Building the Interior
  17. Batteries & Power
  18. Lighting
  19. Overhead Storage
  20. Propane Lines
  21. Appliances
  22. Bathroom
  23. Countertops, Tables & Sinks
  24. Cabinet Facings, Latches, Hardware, Doors
  25. Floor Installation
  26. Finishing Touches
  27. Go Adventuring!
  28. Additional Resources
Airstream Before Dinnette

Assessing the Damage

Buying a vintage trailer should come with its own handbook, amiright? There are so many things you want to keep in mind when purchasing one of these beauties, but much of it you’re never going to know about until you really get in there and start taking it apart.

So once you’ve made the huge decision of which trailer to buy, before you do anything it’s time to start taking stock of what needs to be fixed.

Checking for leaks

Oh, there will be leaks, friend. Even if the owner tells you there aren’t. As much as we love our Tiny Shiny Home there’s definitely a few flaws in the design. Over the years, rivets will lose their seal, compartments will start to leak, and rear frame separation where they put steel and aluminum next to each other is a genuine concern.

Start by opening the cabinets and looking for water stains on the subfloor. Also, look for water stains along the interior skins and ceiling.

You’ll likely find even more leaks once you finishing demoing, but this is a good place to start.

Testing Water Systems

Does your city water inlet work as expected? Any leaks around your faucets? Look for water lines in cabinets and under the sink and check for leaks.

How about the fresh tank? Can you fill it up and use the water pump to push water to the faucets?

Does the hot water get hot and mix properly? All of these are important features you wan to be working properly.

Sagging Axels & Old Tires

Most likely you’re going to need new axels and tires. In fact, I’d say get them replaced before moving the RV long distances if you can. We got lucky and towed ours about 1,000 miles right after we bought it, but we easily could have had a blowout or axel failure. Shoot, we had a 3 year old axel fail so it happens.

That being said - if this renovated trailer is just going to sit permanently on some property you can skip this step. But if you plan on traveling with it, invest in good axels and tires.

Oh, and add a lift for good measure, especially if you plan to boondock or take it off-grid.

Windows

Airstream windows are like gold encrusted diamonds. They have rounded corners and are curved vertically to the shape of the trailer. In other words, you can’t just run down to Lowe’s and grab a new one.

Plan on shelling out $500-$700 a piece for any broken or missing windows on your vintage Airstream. Plus they may be out of stock or hard to find, even at the places that sell them. This is important to keep in mind when planning our your renovation. Are half of them busted? It’s going to cost a small fortune to replace them, and you may have to wait months before they’re even delivered.

Rivet Leaks

Next you’ll want to check the exterior rivets for leaks. Use this suction cup on each one, and if it pulls off easily then it’s time to replace. For now, just mark the problematic ones with some tape. You’ll want the interior skins off to buck rivet new ones later.

Checking each rivet now will give you an idea of how many rivets you need to buy and how much time to set aside for resealing.

Floor Damage

Like we mentioned above, viewing the subfloor for water stains is a great way to look for leaks. But it could also signal larger problems you need to be thinking about now. Is the floor soft in any areas? Does it feel like it drops down (especially in the rear)? There’s a good chance the stains have turned into more permanent rotted wood which will need to be replaced.

You won’t know for sure about any of this until the Airstream is properly demoed, but will help you mentally prepare for the work ahead.

Seals

There are a number of seals on the door, compartments, and windows that you’ll likely need to replace. While they are fairly inexpensive, there’s a lot of manual labor involved with removing the old, rotting seals and replacing with fresh ones.

In addition, the windows will probably need new positioner guides, and screens will need to be replaced.

And for goodness sake, be careful taking the windows out - remember, they’re expensive!

Electrical

At this stage, it’s important to test all the electrical systems. Does the battery & 12V system work? Do the lights and switches operate properly? How about fans and speakers? Furnace, fridge, and water heater? Do all the running/brake/backup lights work when connected to a tow vehicle? Do the brakes engage?

When connected to shore power do the plugs and air conditioner work? Is there an inverter that powers the plugs from the batteries, and is it working properly?

At this stage it’s important to check basic functionality because if things aren’t working right, there could be issues with rodent damage behind the walls. This can also inform whether you get to use the existing wiring or will have to replace.

Propane

Did the trailer come with propane tanks? When was the last time they were certified? With a vintage trailer you’ll probably need to get them re-certified so that they can be re-filled.

What about propane lines? Are they in tact and free of leaks? Do the propane appliances like furnace, hot water heater, stove, and oven work as expected?

Plumbing & Tanks

Any leaks around your plumbing?

Take stock of how your tailer is setup. Does it have a fresh tank, gray tank, or black tank? Ours didn’t have a gray tank at all - that’s right, all that sink and shower water just flowed out onto the ground! You could fill up the tanks, but it’s going to be hard to really test for leaks these until you demo, so just make a mental note of the setup for now.

Cabinets

Original vintage RV cabinets can either be in surprisingly good shape, or in need of immediate replacement. Most of the time, you’ll be able to tell pretty quickly which category yours falls into. 

The first step is to open and close all compartments. Our vintage Airstream had these weird sliding doors everywhere called Tambours. Some of them still worked great, but many of them wouldn’t budget or got stuck half way.

Spend some time pushing and pulling on the walls and cabinets, too. You want to see if they’re still properly attached to the walls and to each other, creating a safe, strong interior.

Lots of people don’t bother replacing cabinets because 20 years ago everything was built like a tank. Even with our 1972, all the interior walls and cabinets were super solid, and we hated ripping them out.

If you do, make sure to take some time and marvel at how well each piece fits together and provides structural integrity while still remaining lightweight. Pretty cool.

Appliances

Test those appliances! These can be some of the largest costs involved with renovating a vintage Airstream, so take some time and really put each one through its paces.

Furnace - Does the thermostat work properly to turn it on? Does it blow hot air out all of the vents? Check the outside vent to make sure it’s not blocked with any debris. And of course, check for propane leaks as well.

Refrigerator/Freezer - Does it stay cool as expected when connected to shore power? Does it switch over to propane when running off your batteries? Check for propane leaks here as well.

Stove/Oven - Do these light and create a flame? Do the knobs work to change the flow? Sometimes these units will be separate, so be sure to check them independently, and look for propane leaks. While you’re at it, why not cook up a tasty dish just to make sure?

Air Conditioner - Does the thermostat work properly to turn it on? Does the compressor kick in and blow actual cold air? Are there any leaks around the unit on the roof?

Hot Water Heater - Most likely you’ll have a 6 gallon water heater that uses propane and/or electric to heat your water. If you haven’t used it before, it will take time to fill the reservoir and get it up to temperature. Try it both on battery power (so it uses propane only) and hooked up to shore power. With both, check for water and propane leaks.

Vents - Do they open and close properly? Do they leak? If there’s a 12V fan and light, see if they still work.

Tongue Jack and Ball Hitch

You’ll definitely want to make sure your hitch coupler locks properly. The last thing you need is it coming decoupled when towing, right? We’re still using our original because it was in great shape, but they are easy to replace if yours is making you feel unsafe.

Also, keep an eye on that tongue jack! Ours was electric and totally gave out on us right at the end of our renovation. We took the Airstream to the countertop shop and couldn’t get it off the truck because it wouldn’t go up high enough.

--

Whew, that was a lot of assessing, yeah? Well friend, we’re just getting started. Now that you’ve taken stock of what works and what doesn’t it’s time to dig in and begin your planning. Ready, set, go!

Side view of Airstream at sunset

Planning Your Airstream Renovation

Oh my goodness - where do you even start? We know exactly how you feel. Renovating a vintage trailer is a gargantuan task that requires knowledge of everything from electrical to plumbing to fabrication to woodworking to interior design and more. But I think we can all agree that before you start any work, you should have some sort of plan.

Will this plan change? Most likely! That’s ok, though. Get some ideas on paper so you can start thinking through how everything connects together.

Research Other Renovations

First things first, spend some time researching what others have done first! There are so many beautiful renovations out there, and you’ll get lots of good ideas in inspiration. Here’s a few to start with:

Basic Floorpan & Layout

Now it’s time to plan your own. Measure your interior dimensions, make a mockup, and start placing cabinets, beds, appliances, bathrooms, etc… where you want them. We used Adobe Illustrator because I’m a designer and that’s what I was used to. You can also try programs like Sketchup or just grab some graph paper, make cutouts and move things around.

The key is that your mockup has to be to scale so you have a realistic idea of what will fit where. Even at this early stage, you need to start thinking about some how other systems will integrate with your design.

  • Make sure to put the wheel wells in your mockup. You’ll quickly see how what you thought was an empty space actually isn’t - and how you’ll need to build cabinets or beds to conceal them. Or maybe you’ll work them into the design as a bench. Just don’t forget to put them in the floorpan.
  • Get under the trailer and see where the propane lines come up through the floor to various appliances. Start thinking about which appliances you’ll want to have propane, and how you might need to reroute those propane lines if they’re in a different place.
  • Another thing that may not be obvious until you start demoing is the furnace ducts and tank cavity heating. If you’re planning on using a propane furnace, remember that you’ll need space for ducts to run the entire length of the trailer on the side it’s installed. You’ll also want to plumb that duct into the water tank cavities under the subfloor to keep them from freezing in cold temperatures.
  • Speaking of water tanks, don’t forget that their location is critical to how you run your plumbing. You may not know where they are exactly right now, but you should be able to tell by searching your model online. The location of the tanks are important, so it’s probably best not to change these radically. For instance, the fresh water tank is likely located just in front of the axles for stability when towing when it’s full. And too many full black or gray water tanks near the rear of the trailer could cause trailer sway. Make sure you’re thinking through how your sinks, shower, and toilet will drain - their location may be limited by where the tanks are located.
  • Related to grey tanks, you’ll also want to plan around their vent tubes. If you look on top of your trailer you’ll find at least one opening where the tank can vent. You may have to build cabinets around these to hide them so keep that in mind.
  • Finally, when thinking about plumbing always make sure you can access the connections. So even with a cramped area like a shower give yourself a way to get in there if something needs to be fixed.

Decide on your power system and Create an Electrical + Wiring Plan

There are so many ways to power a vintage Airstream! It can be hooked up all the time, or run off solar and batteries. Planning your power system is kind of a whole thing that I won’t get into here. But you can check out our deep dive article, and see how we chose to design a low power system specifically for living off-grid.

To go along with your floorplan, create another layer and start thinking about how you’re going to get power to your appliances. We also focused on where our lights would go, and how they would be grouped together for switches. You’ll have to figure out how to run wires through the ceiling or along the floor in cabinets, keeping in mind which side of the trailer your appliances, switches, and plugs will be on.

Airstream floorpan with light groupings and appliance locations.

At this point you don’t need a 100% locked in electrical plan - things will probably change the deeper you get into the renovation. But you want to have the high level things figured out, and be thinking about how it will integrate with your cabinets.

Ashley after demo

Demoing your Airstream

Now that you’ve got a plan, it’s time to start disassembling everything.

I should back up here for a second - many people decide to use as much of the original interior as possible so a full gut isn’t always necessary. I mean, we recommend it if you plan on living in it or traveling with it because of potential structural issues that may need to be addressed.

But if you’re trying to keep it uber simple you can probably skip this step. Alright, onwards!

You may be tempted to just take a sledgehammer to everything, but we recommend taking it slow and paying attention to how everything is put together. You’ll get a lot of great ideas for your own build when you see how the engineers designed these vintage interiors. We were really impressed with their ingenuity.

You’ll also find out very quickly that everything is connected to each other. There’s no way to just take out one cabinet because it’s attached to the wall, ceiling, and nearby cabinets, too. Often in ways you wouldn’t expect. Just keep hunting for that rogue screw - you’ll find it eventually :)

We tried our best to keep things in good shape, hoping to sell. Especially the appliances. They’re still sitting in a storage facility somewhere, but if they still work try not to trash them. Maybe someone can use them.

One thing we recommend is saving the dividers as templates for when you create your own walls. Recreating that curve is THE WORST™. Trust us.

We ended up making several trips to the dump (and getting charged for it), but we had a few dumpster divers come and pick up some of it for us which was kind of nice.

Speaking of the dump - if your water lines use copper, try to save it and recycle. Same if you’re going to replace your propane lines. You’ll get a few bucks back at least.

Be careful pulling out plumbing and fixtures - there could be water left in the lines or you could crack your tank like we did taking out the toilet and have to buy a new one.

Eventually you’ll get all the cabinets and fixtures out, then you can focus on the flooring. Getting down to the subfloor will be really important because you’ll be able to clearly see any soft spots, rotten areas, or water damage.

At this point, you’ll also need to decide if you’re taking your interior walls off. If you’ve come this far, we highly recommend it. Having access to the area behind the walls means you can adjust or replace wires, insulation - and most importantly deal with leaks and re-riveting. More on that in a bit.

Congratulations, the first stage of your demo is complete! Now let’s see what your frame and tanks look like.

Before Tanks Installed

Checking the Integrity of your floor and frame, testing tanks

Now it’s time to open her up and see how big of a project you’ve gotten yourself into. The next step is to drop the underbelly and check the frame for rust and cracks.

A deteriorating frame means you’ve entered “shell off” territory, and you’ve got a more complicated project ahead of you. You’ll have to separate the top of the Airstream from the floor and frame, re-build it, and reassemble. More on that in a minute.

Now we did have to replace part of our subfloor. The back near the bathroom had rotted out, and we had the beginnings of rear frame separation. So we did do significant work there. But we didn’t need a lift or total re-fabrication of the frame.

While you have the underbelly off, now’s the time to really test your existing tanks for leaks. If you can, remove them entirely, fill them up, and see what happens.

Also, if you’re going to need new tanks (or additional tanks), you need to think about ordering these soon. They are custom and take time to fabricate. Ordering custom tanks was one of the most stressful processes of our renovation. Making sure we specified the exact location and type of fitting was terrifying since they were so expensive. Thankfully, it all turned out ok in the end.

Shell-Off Renovation

We mentioned that we didn’t have to do a shell-off renovation, but in case you do find yourself with an unsafe frame, these are the basic steps.

  1. Remove interior walls, wiring, and insulation. 
  2. Brace the frame so it doesn’t warp or bend when you lift it off.
  3. Remove the sub-floor (this is very difficult because of the way the floor, frame, and shell are bolted together).
  4. Carefully use a pulley or lift system to suspend the outer shell so you can work on the frame.
  5. If you’ve come this far, you’re probably going to re-build the frame so hopefully you're good at welding. Might be worth having a company build it for you.
  6. Once you’ve got a shiny new frame you’ll lower the shell back down, and connect the subfloor and frame all back together (this is also difficult).

Like we said, we didn’t have to do this, but we know others that have. Here’s a few folks you should check out for more detailed info on shell off renovations.

Interior Walls Off

Removing Interior Walls

We quickly skipped over interior walls earlier, but wanted to provide some more context.

Document panels before removing 

We highly recommend taking copious amounts of pictures and numbering each interior panel as you remove them. That way you’ll know what order and where to put them back. Drilling out interior rivets is easier than buck rivets, but also tricky. You have to get right through the middle and destroy the expanded part on the other side of the wall. The exterior ring will break off and get stuck around your drill as well. Take it slow, and have some extra hands for those big panels. Or use Clecos to keep the panel up until you’re ready to take it down.

Check Insulation

With the walls off you’ll either have some nice fiberglass insulation to remove or a horror show of dead rodents, feces, and chewed wires. Our plan was to replace this insulation so we removed it all.

Remove Vinyl

Have vinyl, fur, or some other ridiculous material covering your beautiful aluminum? Turns out you can remove it (with great effort). Get heavy duty gloves, some disposable paint brushes, and a large flat area. Start in warm weather and layer several coats of Jasco on the vinyl, letting each application sit for 20 minutes or so. Depending on the age of your panels, you may need 3-4 coats before you start to see the vinyl bubble up.

At that point you’ll be able to rip a lot of the vinyl off by hand or with pliers. But there will still be stubborn parts left. Re-apply your Jasco again until they start to loosen up, and use a plastic scraper to get the rest off.

Now comes the hard part - what’s left after removing the vinyl is the glue they used to adhere it. And it is some nasty stuff. You’ll need approximately 400 heavy duty paper towel rolls, and gallons of Goof-Off. You’ll put the Goof-Off on the glue, and you’ll get a few seconds to wipe it off. The key is that you can only remove a few inches of glue at a time. It’ll quickly dry and then start smearing if you’re not using fresh towels and Goof-Off so take it slow.

Finally, use WD-40 to polish and shine it up when finished. Oh, and take note of what parts of your panels will actually be visible. There’s no need to do a bunch of extra work for an area that will be covered by a cabinet!

Removing Endcaps 

If your Airstream is like ours, you probably have some large plastic endcaps inside that will also need to be removed while removing the other panels. Be very careful with them to avoid cracking, especially if you’re going to re-use them. Our front cap had a bunch of gauges in it so there was some wire detangling that needed to happen during the process. They’ll likely be large, heavy, and awkward so get them on a solid surface as soon as possible.

Caulking Airstream

Exterior

Oh the vintage Airstream exterior! It’s so shiny, but so prone to leaks. You’re going to have a lot of work to do on the outside before you can focus on the inside. Let’s get to work!

Testing rivets for leaks 

If you didn’t do your rivet leak test already, now’s the time. Check every. single. one. But now you’ll want to drill out the bad ones and replace them. Don’t bother with the expensive fancy rivet drill - just use a 1/8” drill bit, take it slow, and you’ll get the hang of it quickly. We recommend buck riveting with a bucking bar instead of using olympic rivets. With the interior walls off you’ll have full access to do it right.

Also, check all your seams for leaks. Scrape off the existing caulk and re-seal with Trempro. Related - don’t bother with any other sealers. Trempro is the only thing you need, trust us. Go ahead and re-seal the inside seams with Trempro for good measure.

Remove & replace all seals from windows and compartments

Rubber gaskets are relatively cheap, and the last thing you want is a leak you could have easily prevented. Take each window and compartment off, scrape off the existing seal, and replace.

Windows will probably need new screens, which can be found at any hardware store and are easy to replace. And you might need new positioner guides as well. Vintage Trailer Supply sells them, and they’re easy to drop in.

Stabilizers

You’ll want to decide if you’re using the original stabilizers or adding new ones. You would have had to take them off when removing the underbelly. Ours were in pretty good shape so we disassembled, painted, and re-lubed them before putting them back on.

Front Door 

Re-sealing the door and screen will be tricky, especially if you don’t want them to leak. Do lots of testing here before putting everything back together. Also, we recommend adding a deadbolt at this stage for extra security as they normally require access behind the interior walls. We wish we had done it back then as it’s too big of a pain to do it now.

Remove Paint 

Those old Airstreams really love blue, amiright? There’s a chance you’ve got a few lovely blue stripes or multi-colored plaques that are going to need updating. How you choose to do it is up to you. Some strip all the paint off and re-finish like it was to maintain that vintage glory. Others like us remove all the color for a more modern look. Either way, there are going to be letters, plaques, decoration that need some attention.

Stabilizers

While you have the underbelly off, take those existing stabilizers (use some jacks to keep it steady while they’re off) and give them new life. We completely disassembled ours, removed the rust, primed, re-painted, and re-lubed so they were as good as new.

Patch Holes 

There’s a good chance you’ll need to do some patching on your exterior. For us, there was some damage near the door and an old radio antenna we didn’t need anymore. This is pretty simple, cut some exterior aluminum larger than the hole in the shape you want, add some Trempro behind it to keep water out, drill holes evenly, and use clecos to hold it in place. Then buck rivet permanently. You can even make fun shapes like stars, circles, etc… to give your trailer some personality.

Tail & Running lights 

Besides checking to make sure the lights actually work when hooked up to a tow vehicle, you may have a damaged, leaking, or broken light. Taillights can be in a pre-made enclosure that you might have to replace if it’s messed up enough. But the running lights are fairly standard, and can be changed out easily. Be careful, though - sometimes these are leaking through their holes into the shell and need to be sealed from the inside.

Leak Testing

Finding, fixing, and re-fixing leaks turned out to be one of the most frustrating aspects of our renovation. Just when you think you’ve got them all, you’ll find a new one. Or realize the patch job you did didn’t work. The best way to leak test is to have your subfloor visible, the inside walls off, and then let the trailer sit outside in a couple of good downpours. With the interior walls off you’ll have a much easier time tracking those leaks down (they’ll be visible on the wall or ceiling). And with the subfloor visible, you’ll find those small, but persistent leaks as you see visible wetness on the wood.

I’m not going to get into too much more detail, but just want to encourage you not to give up. Sealing the trailer is going to be vital to its usage and longevity in the future, so keep at it until ALL the leaks are gone.

Airstream with interior walls off and 12V wiring.

Inspect Wiring

With the interior walls off and insulation removed you should have full access to all your wiring. So it’s time to make some decisions!

Use Existing Wiring

Inspect the 12V wiring already in use. Does it all look good? Did everything work before you demoed? What are you power plans like? If you’re trying to throw something together quickly and not reinvent the wheel, you could just leave everything as is.

Or if you’re like us and planned on re-designing the power system from the ground up for our family of 6 to live off-grid you might as well pull them out and re-run everything. I mean, if you’ve gone through all the trouble of ripping the interior out and removing walls and insulation I’d go ahead and replace the decades old wiring - but that’s just me!

Additional Wires

Even in a perfect world where you have no additional power requirements, and all your cables look perfect, now is the time to run any additional wires for displays, switches, remotes, antennas, thermostats, and more. Make a plan, start a wire list guide, and know exactly what you need to do.

7-Pin Wiring

How do the wires look for your brakes, running lights, brake lights, etc…? These were the only wires we didn’t replace - though we probably should have.

Jon Replacing Rivets On Roof

Roof Installation

Let’s get that roof installed, patched, and waterproofed! An Airstream renovation will likely involve replacing a lot of the equipment on the current roof. And you want to get it all put in and sealed back up before moving on to the interior.

Airstream roof plan for mounting solar panels.

We spent a lot of time doing mockups and layouts of our roof because we had to find the best way to fit as many solar panels as we could up there. Sandwiching them between 3 vents, an air conditioner, and various TV and internet antennas - on a super curved roof no less - took a lot of measuring and planning.

Vents & Fans

Good vent fans aren’t super expensive, and are most likely worth replacing. Keep in mind the size of your vent shrouds when measuring for other items like solar panels.

There are also gray water vents to keep in mind. We had two, and even though we kept them in the same place, the vents themselves needed to be replaced and re-sealed.

Air Conditioner

Even though our 1972 AC still worked, we weren’t about to hit the road full-time without replacing it. With an Airstream, you’ll want to install the drainage kit that allows the unit to drip its condensation through a tube that runs through the walls down to the wheel well. This was a little tricky, and made it hard to connect to the should inside with the wooden runway we added to the ceiling. The connecting tube was only so long!

TV Antenna

There are newer cool omnidirectional TV antennas - if TV is your thing. But we opted for an old raise, lower, and point style so we could attach a directional internet antenna to the top. Honestly, this turned out to be a huge pain because we had to install it to the side of the AC with all the solar panels we added, necessitating a crazy custom mount because of the curve of the roof. We’re glad we got it done, but it was a huge pain.

Internet Antennas

In addition to the directional, we also installed an omnidirectional 4G antenna and wifi booster antenna as part of our robust internet setup. These took up very little room, so easy to plan for.

Solar Panels

Like I mentioned, our solar panels required a ton of planning to get 5x 100W panels to fit between everything. We decided not to screw our panels, but to use special tall mounts, Aluminum primer, and VHB tape. Then we bought our own aluminum bars, tapped them, and created a way to tilt at 45 degrees in the winter.

Running Wires

Some of the things you install on the roof will have their wires built in. For instance, a TV antenna’s wire will come down through the bottom, so you don’t have worry about finding a way to run the wire through the roof and keep it waterproof. Same for your vents and air conditioner.

But items like solar panels and internet antennas you’re on your own. Some people use a combiner box - it’s a water proof box that requires you to cut a hole in the roof and seal it. The box allows you to make connections inside, run wires out the bottom inside, and close it up on the top.

Airstreams also have these really cool refrigerator vents that you can use to run wires into if you don’t want to drill holes in your roof. However, there area are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Make sure to let the wires go down past the vent before going up into it so that water can’t follow the wires inside
  • There will probably be a screen of some sort that you’ll need to cut through. Keep as much of this as you can so it still functions to keep bugs out.
  • The edge of the vent and the screen are very sharp. Use some PVC pipe or something similar to protect your wires on those edges.
  • Use wire guides to keep your roof nice and tidy.
Dad And Jon Install Belly Pan

Closing the Belly Pan

With the outside shell sealed and the roof finished, you probably want to move as quickly as possible to get the underbelly buttoned up. This will allow you to move your focus to the interior, and be sheltered from the elements. That doesn’t mean this step is easy, though! There is still a lot to do.

Wheel wells

How have those plastic wheel wells held up after decades of use? Do they need to be patched or replaced? Now’s the time to do it. We ended up just patching ours with aluminum pieces and rivets.

Install Water Tanks

This is a big one. Replacing or re-installing your fresh water, gray water, and black water tanks is a big job, and tied to any planning you have already done for placement. Because of our composting toilet, we converted our black tank to a gray tank and added a second smaller gray tank that we connected via a PVC pipe to make one big gray tank. Making sure all the tanks are properly supported and insulated is very important.

Floor Insulation

When you dropped your bellypan, you likely found a bunch of old gross fiberglass insulation down there. This is the time to replace it or come up with a new type of insulation to put in. We ended up using string and small pieces of wire to hold the individual sections up until we were ready to put the pan back on.

Propane Holes & Vents

Where are your propane appliances going inside? Do you need to plan for more holes in the underbelly or close off some existing ones? Same thing for any floor vents you may not be using anymore. Now is the time to patch them up.

Rivet the Underbelly Back On

With everything in place, use clecos and a pneumatic rivet gun to put the pieces back up one at a time. If existing rivet holes are too large, go with a bigger flanged rivet, or drill new holes. This is a big step, friend! Take a minute and celebrate!

Patched up wheel well

Axles & Wheels

With your belly pan back on, let’s install your axles and tires!

Install new axles and wheels

We highly recommend putting new axles on your trailer, especially if you plan on driving it anywhere. Torsion axles wear out over time, and unless someone has put new ones on recently they aren’t safe. Same with your tires. A blowout or axle failure on an Airstream can be catastrophic, so spend the extra money and replace these.

The axles will bolt to your frame, and you may have to drill new holes to make it work. We ended up removing our shocks during the process as they didn’t fit with the new axles. We also recommend 16” truck tires for a small lift and guarding against blowouts.

Decide if you want a lift

While you’re adding axles, now is the time to add a lift if you want one. We made the mistake of waiting a year, and adding it after the fact was incredibly difficult with the existing propane lines. A lift will help longer trailers not bottom out so often, especially coming out of weird gas stations or going down boondocking roads.

Test your brakes and lights

There’s a good chance your brake lines will run inside the belly, so once the axles are put back on and wired up you should take some time to test them. Also test your running lights, brake lights, and reverse lights as well.

Man holding Airstream renovation electrical wiring diagram on an iPad

Re-wiring 12V and 120V

We touched on this earlier under “Inspect your Wiring,” but really you probably don’t want to get into a huge job like rewiring until everything is sealed and closed up outside. Re-wiring your trailer is a huge job - so huge we have multiple deep dive articles explaining what we did.

  1. Planning our Solar & Electrical
  2. Installing our Off-Grid Power Setup

This “checklist” article won’t get into that much detail, so make sure to go read those for more background.

Plan where your power center and batteries will be

Knowing where your batteries, inverter, converter, distribution blocks, and fuses will be will directly impact how you run all your wires. Lithium batteries can be installed anywhere, but Lead Acid and AGM have to be vented to the outside. Most of these large pieces of your power system should be very close together, too.

Once you’ve decided on an area that will fit all this equipment and be safely vented, you can get into the details of wiring.

Plan Every Wire

You’ll want to know where every single wire is going to and coming from - and how it’s going to get there. Things like:

We recommend first designing a mockup of your trailer showing where all major appliances and lights will be. Be thinking about your cabinets and how you’ll run and hide wires.

Then use a wire list guide to number and add additional information to document your entire wire setup.

Install wiring

With your plan in place, run each wire, numbering it on both sides, and bundle them based on the route you’ve decided on. We have bundles running through our roof, walls, and along the floor on the roadside.

Make sure to allow extra wire on both ends, and use wire clips to keep them snug up against the ceiling. For wires in the wall, tuck them into the ribs next to the insulation.

Removing Interior Panels

Insulation

Now that your exterior is mostly finished and waterproof, you’ll want to decide on your insulation. There are so many ways to do this - spray foam, fiberglass, denim, Reflectix, rockwool, etc…

Do your research

We aren’t going to tell you how to insulate - but keep in mind that some types are temperature dependent. For instance, we were going to do spray foam, but by the time we got to it the temperature was too low outside. So we switched to a combo of Reflectix and rockwool sound and fire batten.

What we eventually realized is that you have a 1.5” cavity to fill with something. And the R values weren’t different enough to get to stressed about it. So do your research, and do what works for you.

Installing Insulation

It’s time to install! Spray foam will be a whole thing, complete with special suits and lots of expensive gear. Other types will be a lot simpler - maybe some spray adhesive or metal/wood strips to hold up the ones on the roof. You just need it to all stay in place until you get the panels back in.

We’ll get to actually hooking up these wires later, but you’ll need it all planned and installed so you can get the interior panels back on for now.

End Cap Done

Install interior panels

The time has finally come to put those interior walls back on! Are you excited? I’m excited! This is a huge step forward! Ok, enough exclamation points. Let’s get down to business.

Air conditioner condensation tube

Remember when we covered this during the roofing section? Well it’s just another friendly reminder that you need your air conditioner condensation tube in place before putting your skins back on.

Ventilation for gray tanks

Same idea here. Even if you replaced your tank vents on the roof, you still need to connect to them somehow. Our kitchen sink vent actually had a formed PVC pipe that went behind the skins. Crazy, right?

Re-installing your interior panels

Remember when we talked about numbering each panel and taking lots of pictures? Now is the time to get those pictures and study them. You’ll need to put the panels back in the opposite order you took them out. This is where clecos become your best friend. Also you should have a few friends come over to help because really long panels are impossible to get up on the ceiling by yourself.

End Caps

Oh yeah - by this point you probably already have a good idea of what you’re doing with the endcaps you took out earlier. If you’re keeping them, a nice coat of paint will make them look like new again. We kept our bathroom cap, but threw away our front cap in favor of new aluminum strips. That in itself was a whole process - we got our inspiration from here.

Take a minute to party

I know I said you should be really excited in the last section, but let’s take a breath and really appreciate how far you’ve come. From this point on, it’s all downhill. You’re basically done with the outside, and ready to start your inside build! It’s a huge accomplishment, and a huge relief to switch gears from exterior to interior work.

Ok, party’s over, let’s get back to work.

Lower Kitchen Cabinet And Wall

Building the Interior

While you may not have every single detail figured out here yet, you should definitely have solid plans for where each cabinet, structure, and appliance will be.

Focus on large areas first

Get your largest areas built first. Dinette, kitchen, beds, and cabinets. We started with our bunk beds because they had to be integrated into the wheel wells. Build these structures around appliances, and keep in mind wiring, plumbing, water lines, and furnace ducts. We used tape on the floor to mark where everything would be to help visualize as we built.

We built everything from scratch with 1x2’s, 2x4’s 1/2” and 3/4” plywood, and custom milled poplar. But we also had Ashley’s father-in-law - a carpentry ninja who could make anything we dreamed of. He even helped us build these awesome fold down bunk beds for the kids.

Leave cabinet facings until later

No need to get bogged down with doors, latches, and hinges right now unless you’re installing something pre-built. For now, you need to get the main structures built.

Wheel Wells

Did I mention wheel wells earlier? In most trailers, the wheels are blow the frame. But with Airstreams, they come into the frame, eating up precious space. When designing and building, try to use them to your advantage.

Mark where your tanks are on the floor

The last thing you want to do is accidentally screw into your brand new water tanks! Use tape or spray paint, and mark where they are.

Use Walls for Integrity

When you demo’d the trailer, you probably noticed how everything was connected together. Walls and cabinets were connected to increase the strength of the whole structure. Try to do the same thing as you re-build your interior.

Walls in particular are great ways to tie cabinets and beds together for extra rigidity. In particular, we used walls between our kitchen, bunk beds, and bathroom that helped support our folding bunks.

Connect to ribs or studs

Wherever possible it’s important to connect you cabinets to an actual rib, and not just into the skins. Ribs function like a stud behind the wall of a house, so it’s good to have the ribs marked on your skins. We recommend self tapping sheet metal screws combined with wood framing that you can then attach your cabinet to.

Furnace Ducts

I mentioned this earlier, wanted to circle back. If installing a propane furnace, it’s important to remember that you’ll need to run multiple ducts to various areas of the trailer. Often these will have to go through the cabinets, so you’ll need to make sure you’ve got room for them.

Counter tops

Once you’ve got all your cabinets and counters built, it’s time to get that counter top on! We custom ordered solid surface tops, but many use butcher block or create their own. Be careful here with weight - most cheaper residential countertops are very heavy.

Lithium batteries installed in a renovated vintage Airstream.

Batteries/Power

There’s an awful lot of work that goes into installing an electrical system in an Airstream. You’d be doing good to read our thorough breakdowns of how we planned our power and then how we ran all the wiring and connected everything. The explanations below are the high level overview version.

Connecting your Wires 

While you should have already run the wires you need before you put your interior skins back on, you probably haven’t connected them to anything yet, and that’s ok! Now that you have cabinets to install appliances into and hide wires, it’s time to start making those connections.

We recommend DIN-Rail Terminal blocks for cleaner, safer junctions at both your appliance end and power center end, but you’re free to make your connections however you like.

Fusing and Grouping Circuits

During this phase you’ll be grouping lines onto fused circuits. Large appliances should be on their own fuse, but smaller loads like LED lights or 12V charges can be grouped together.

Create a Wire List Guide, and number every line so you can track down what you’ve done later. It will also help you plan how to group smaller loads and what fuse size they will need.

Install Batteries & EMS

Now that your power center is grouped and fused it’s time to add some power! Install your batteries, and make any connections necessary for sense boards, Energy Management Systems, and more. Running solar? Connect your solar panel lines to your solar charge controller, and program it for your batteries to start charging them.

Install Inverter, Converter, & Transfer Switch

With your batteries connected, it’s time to start adding the other important pieces. Connect your Inverter and Converter, keeping in mind you may need a transfer switch for your shore power connection to avoid power conversion loops. Oh, and don’t forget to add circuit breakers for each major line.

These will all connect to your 120V wires, and be sure to make any junctions inside a sealed box.

Testing 12V

Begin testing any appliances that run off your batteries. Do the lights turn on? Do USB chargers work? Do your internet boosters or propane alarms turn on? Does your Inverter power your 120V receptacles?

Testing 120V

Now plug up to shore power. Does your converter charge your batteries properly? What about when they’re full - does it float properly? Does the transfer switch turn your inverter turn off? Do all the plugs and 120V appliances work properly?

Testing Solar

Is your solar charge controller programmed properly for your batteries? Are the panels outputting the correct amounts of voltage or amps?

Remote Monitors

As part of your charge controller or EMS install you’ll likely have some kind of monitoring panel. Really study what you’re seeing on these as you do all these tests and begin to get familiar with how everything should work.

Lights On

Lighting

Switches

Part of your light grouping will be connecting switches to turn them on and off. There’s a good chance you’ve done this already, but if you haven’t now’s the time.

Overhead Lights

Now that your power is setup, finalize any overhead lighting and grouping, and get your ceiling closed back up. FYI, this is a very exciting day!

Overhead storage in Airstream

Overhead Storage

We found it was best to start building floor level cabinets first because they were so structural, hid wring, and enclosed appliances. Once you’re done there, it’s time to build upper level cabinets.

Size and stability are the key here. You’re working with a very rounded roof and limited mounting opportunities. Making these small enough that you don’t hit your head on them, but large enough to actually store stuff is a tricky balancing act.

For mounting we recommend a few ways to stabilize:

  1. Install a wooden rail that runs the length of the cabinet and is secured to the wall via self-tapping sheet metal screws that go directly into the ribs. Hopefully you still have those marked, right? Screw in every rib you can, and use the rail to install your cabinets onto
  2. Create riveted brackets near the top of the cabinet for additional stability. You probably saw these when you demo’d, and can even reuse them if you want.
  3. We talked about walls earlier, and upper cabinets benefit tremendously from their additional support. Secure your cabinet horizontally into the walls with screws.
Propane Lines Underneath

Propane Lines

Propane is one of those parts of the renovation that is a “whole other thing.” Learning how to cut, flare, and connect copper lines, add shutoff valves, and mount everything can be a lot to take in. All in all it shouldn’t be too bad, though.

Installing Propane Lines

There will be lots of planning here as you figure out how to take your trunk line and split off to all the other appliance lines you need. Especially in the fittings needed for these connections. Get yourself a cutting, de-burring, and flaring tool as well.

Propane lines are usually run on the underside of the trailer for safety and access reasons. Keep in mind that if you’re doing a lift you may have to re-route them above the axles.

Install Shut-Off Valves

It’s always a good idea to add a shut-off valve for each appliance under the trailer. This way if a leak develops at your stove (which totally happened to us after a year of travel), you can shut off the propane to it and work on making fixes safely.

Install a new Regulator 

Chances are your original regulator is old and should be replaced. Thankfully they’re cheap! Go ahead and invest in this now while you’re running new lines.

Re-certify propane tanks

Do you have shiny vintage aluminum propane tanks? Don’t throw them away! You can get them re-certified for a fee. It took us a while to find somewhere that would do it, and you may need to get new valves put in. Of course you can always buy new ones, too.

Test for Leaks

Many folks are wary of propane for good reason. A silent leak could be deadly. Thankfully, testing propane lines is pretty easy. Get some soapy water and wipe it on all connections while you’re using a propane appliance and creating pressure. Bubbles mean you have a leak so you’ll need to re-make the connection.

Of course, you should also have a propane/CO2 detector hardwired to your batteries that is constantly checking for those things in the air. And make sure any time you run a propane appliance that it’s vented to the outside. For instance, when running our oven or stove we turn on our vent to suck those fumes out.

Airstream Kitchen Stove

Appliances

While you’ve likely already installed the majority of your appliances, here are a few other things to keep in mind before you start finalizing your interior.

Finish all appliance installation

This is where you finish everything up. Physically finalize your appliance installations, thinking about those vented to the outside like your furnace, water heater, and fridge. Make sure they’re all level and have the appropriate amount of space around them.

Connect Propane & Power

Finish making your propane connections inside if you haven’t already. Also, finish making any power connections to your appliances as well.

Connect Additional Wiring

Many appliances will need more than just power. Things like thermostats, tank sensors, and speakers all need to be connected for things to work properly. Thoroughly test each one to make sure it’s working as expected.

Airstream Bathroom Vanity

Bathroom

Hey! Time for that bathroom! After you’re over the initial shock of just how small this space will actually be, let’s get down to the basics.

Install your Toilet

Decide on the toilet. If going the traditional flush toilet route, you’ll want to make sure your tanks are in the correct places and lined up to be plumbed to the toilet. I know, I shouldn’t have to say this, but we know renovators who have failed to actually hook up the toilet to the black tank. It’s a bit ridiculous.

If going the composting toilet route (like we did) it makes things a little easier. Just make sure to leave room for the plastic throne. They’re bigger than a normal toilet.

Install your Shower

Installing a shower or tub can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Many renovations out there have some beautiful tile work and fancy fixtures, but you could go our route and choose function over fashion. You just need to know how you plan on using this RV. Will you be traveling full time? Will you be primarily boondocking down crazy bumpy roads? Staying at RV parks all the time? Are you stationary and not so worried about the weight of the final build? You’ll need to know most of this before you even begin your renovation, especially before you begin installing a nice tile wall back there :)

When plumbing the shower/tub you’ll need to keep a few things in mind. You’ll want full access to all the pluming. Even if it’s a tiny 4 inch ‘closet’ like what we have, we know we can at least get our hands back there to turn off the water should there ever be a problem. Make sure you take in consideration the ventilation pipes that will come from your gray tanks or plumbing lines. And that P trap, make sure you have plenty of room for that under your tub or shower. You may have to get creative and raise the tub up a bit to accommodate it, but it’s a necessary step that needs to be thought about.

Bathroom Door

Lastly, what about a door to shut off the bathroom? If you’re traveling alone, perhaps this is less of an issue, but for us, a family of six…we needed that door :) Will it swing into the bathroom? Will a pocket door work better for you? Lots to think about. You just don’t want to get in a situation where you install a door only to realize that when the door swings open, it’s running into your shower curtain rod.

Airstream Dinette

Countertops, Tables & Sinks

Time to start thinking about countertops and sinks! That’s a very exciting step and really makes your trailer begin to feel more like a real home. But let me tell you what I wish we would have done differently. Our kitchen sink! Guys, we bought a really nice Ruvati stainless steel kitchen sink, but we wanted an undercount sink. If you listen to nothing else we say, please listen to this. Do not do an undermount sink UNLESS you plan on reinforcing it from the underside. Huge mistake on our part. Let us say it again, a trailer is nothing like a normal home. You’re hauling this trailer down the interstate at 65MPH things will rattle loose. We promise you. Some things will break, don’t let it be your kitchen sink. 

Ours came loose on our second trip, probably because we were storing our Berkey in the sink while we traveled so that’s another no-no. It never occurred to us that we would need support under the undermounted sink. Thankfully we still had room and some scrap wood that we could make some bracing underneath, but let that be a lesson to you :)

Of course you want to make sure all your sinks are plumbed to your gray tanks, but you know…we’ve heard of this step being forgotten. Don’t forget your vents for the tanks.

As for countertops, there are so many different options out there. We went with an acrylic solid surface and have been pretty happy with that. Just wish we could have found a lighter weight option when we were in that stage.

If you’ll have a dinette table or a table of some sort, nows a great time to get on that, too.

Kitchen and Kids Bed

Cabinet Facings, Latches, Hardware, Doors

Hey, it’s really starting to look finished in here! Don’t give up now, though - we still have more work to do. Assuming you built your own cabinets, now’s the time to get the door facings on.

This turned out to be way more time consuming and expensive than we thought. By the time it was over we had nearly 50 cabinet door facings to make, paint, and install hardware onto. Woah!

Building Cabinets and Drawers

Now is the time to build those drawers and cabinet doors. There are so many ways to do this, so no crazy details here. Just be consistent in your style and sizing.

Hinges and Drawer Slides

Install each drawer slide hardware on the opening and drawer itself. And install hinges on each facing. We highly recommend soft-close mechanisms, and a tool like this to help make mounting 100+ hinges faster.

Locking Latches

One of the most important pieces of hardware in your trailer will be locking latches for every opening. When you start driving, you want every single one locked down so things don’t start flying everywhere when you hit a bump. The final stage of the cabinets will be installing these. We recommend going with high quality metal ones that will last.

Airstream Flooring

Floor Installation

Oh, the great floor debate. There are so many ways, materials, and opinions on what’s the best option for flooring in your Airstream. I’m not here to tell you exactly how you should do it, but I kind of am :)

Why we Recommend a Floating Floor

We really, really, really suggest you do a true floating floor if you plan on hauling your trailer. Yes, it looks pretty on Instagram when you see an empty trailer and the subfloor covered up by the latest trends in vinyl planks or marmoleum - but from experience, you really want to be able to see that subfloor around the edges of your trailer. Around all the edges is where you’ll likely see leaks. And if it’s covered in new flooring it can be difficult to see where the leak is affecting your subfloor.

Installing your cabinets first and your floor last will not only save you money on the cost of the flooring, but it will also save on over-all weight of your build. Flooring is not light.

Installing it last will also allow you to change it out should you ever have a major problem. We know folks who traveled with a full fresh tank, the kitchen sink came on, filled up their gray tank as they were driving and overflowed the kitchen sink onto the entire floor messing up their new hardwood floor they just installed. However, because they installed the flooring last, it was easy to remove it, dry out the subfloor, and replace it. Not so easy if your flooring extends under all your cabinetry.

Some people don’t use underlayment, but we’ve found it adds a bit of cushion to your step and a bit of insulation to the floor. We get several comments about how nice it is that our floor isn’t freezing cold in the winter, compared to theirs. Yeah, it adds a bit of height to the floor, but not enough to make a huge difference.

If you do a true floating floor and are worried about what the edges look like, add some quarter round, trim, or even just caulk around the edges. It’s easy to remove and doesn’t cost as much as trim.

The only thing we screwed into our floating floor was our pedestal for our dinette table and our composting toilet.

1972 Airstream Remodeled

Finishing Touches

Can you believe you just rebuilt your trailer? I mean, what an accomplishment. The hard work was worth all the blood, sweat and (so many) tears. Now you have this incredible space that you get to decorate and live in. Obviously I’m not going to tell you how to decorate the inside of your trailer. 

You may want to stuff it with camo colored roosters for all I know! 

But there are a few things to consider when adding the finishing touches. If you can, live in the trailer for a week or so before you commit to any permanent mounting of shelves or decor. It really helps to know exactly how you’ll end up using the space before you make anything permanent.

Mounting Tips

The last thing you may want to do is put holes into your brand new walls. In that case, you need to know about Command Strips and Command Hooks. They make some really great options for hanging things as well as fastening things to the wall that will withstand all the jostling around that towing your trailer will cause. 

They’re easy to remove and don’t leave a sticky residue on your walls. They also make Velcro versions of their mounting strips and that makes things even easier!

Of course there are some things you’ll likely need to mount that are more permanent like a shower curtain rod, knife rack, mirror, etc. We really liked to keep it simple. Our bathroom has one tiny mirror mounted from Ikea and our retractable shower curtain is a huge space saver. With an already extremely tiny shower, having the ability to push that shower curtain out a bit further makes it feel so much bigger than it really is. Then being able to push the shower curtain rod back into the the shower space when not in use makes the tiny bathroom feel just a bit bigger. Little things like that make all the difference when living in a tiny space.

Paint, Backsplashes, & Wallpaper

The aluminum walls of your Airstream make for easy clean up. I can’t speak to if you have decided to paint them, but for us with bare metal walls, it’s super easy to just wipe down. However, you may be wanting more finishing touches like a backsplash or wallpaper. All of that can be done and done really easily. Just do your research if you decide to tile and opt for a flexible grout if you plan on traveling full time.

Backsplashes, wallpaper, and paint are also great ways to make the inside of the trailer feel like your own. You probably already did your painting or staining while creating your cabinets, but backsplashes and wallpaper are easy to add after the fact.

Cushions & Mattresses

One thing I’m sure you’re wondering about - cushions and mattresses! Yes, you’ll probably need something custom created so unless you’re great at fabrication this can get tricky.

Our first attempt was to order custom sized foam and have someone create covers for our dinette and kids beds. We used this for many years until the foam started to wear out. Then we replaced with organic, natural wool-based cushions. This was waaaay more expensive, and we’re not sure if it was worth it. You’ll have to find that line between affordability, comfort, longevity, and health for your own renovation.

Curtains

You’ll also want to think about curtains to cover your windows. These will likely need to be custom, though we have had luck taking existing curtains and making them shorter ourselves. We highly recommend these simple curtain rods to keep them in place.

Virgin, Ut Boondocking

Live Like You Mean It

Well then. If you’ve made it this far it’s obvious you had deep motivations for renovating a vintage trailer. And likely you’re going to use the dang thing, right? So now’s the time friend! You’ve put in the work, and created something amazing. It’s time to get out there and live like you mean it!

We hope this exhaustive look back at our renovation helped you a little bit, and we’d love to know if you have anything to add. As a companion piece to this article we’ve created an Airstream Renovation Checklist you can print out and check off as you work. If anything its sheer size will give you a better idea of everything you’re getting into with a vintage trailer restoration.

Grab yourself a copy, and get to it!

Additional Resources

We have plenty more Airstream renovation resources available if you still have questions!

And you can always give us a shout in the comments below.

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