Tiny Shiny Home Blog 2024-02-22T15:42:20-05:00 /feed Tiny Shiny Home hello@tinyshinyhome.com https://tinyshinyhome.com/superadobe-dome Superadobe Dome Home 2023-12-09T09:59:00-05:00 2024-01-10T09:31:40-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Back at the end of the summer, we shared our hyperadobe roundhouse plans for the very first time. It was years of designing, experimenting, and planning finally becoming a reality. And a huge inspiration for our design was the WillowEnd RoundHouse, the first permitted earthbag structure in Australia.

Turns out this guy Hayden from Curvatecture was hired to manage the earthbag construction of that house, and we both already followed each other without realizing the connection. A whole lot of excited messages later, Hayden arranged for us to jump on a video call with himself and the family that actually designed the house and live there.

We had a great conversation with them that you can watch here which shaped some of the final important changes to the floorplan, and the more we talked to Hayden he started floating the idea of coming to help us work on our house.

I mean first of all, who does that? He was offering to fly across the world, stay with our family who he’d never met, and help us build our house for like a month. So incredibly generous. But you know, sometimes you just talk to people and know there’s something special happening.

So we started to see if we could figure out a way to return this huge favor. And the more we talked, the idea of running a small dome workshop here on our property seemed like a perfect fit. We could raise some money to cover his travel costs, and even better, he was planning a superadobe video course, and this would be a great way for us to film the entire process for him.

And with that the superadobe workshop was born! 

The videos below are a compilation of our planning of the dome, picking up Hayden, the full 7 day workshop, and then the work we have to continue to do to complete the dome home. Enjoy!

We Went WHERE? It's a SuperAdobe Roadtrip!

We are gearing up for our very first Superadobe Dome Workshop! Led by Hayden from Curvatecture, this week long event will cover everything from education to classes to building a superadobe dome from bottom to top. Join us on our epic journey as we pick Hayden up, visit Cal-Earth and the Mojave Center, and get prepped for the workshop.

The Story Behind the Superadobe Workshop

Today Hayden helps us get our door and window forms built, and we run a few last minute errands before the workshop starts.

Building a Superadobe Dome Home - Day 1

We're excited to bring you along for the first day of the Superadobe Workshop! Hayden from Curvatecture teaches dome geometry, bag laying techniques, and more.

First TRUE Earthbags? Day 2 Building a Superadobe Dome Home

Yesterday was all about teaching the fundamentals of dome and earthbag building, but today we really "dig" in, start our buttresses, and lay a bunch of bags - including our first true earthbag!

DOOR FORM GOING IN! - Day 3 Building a Superadobe Dome Home

Today we install the door and wood stove forms, and learn about stabilized and unstabilized mixes.

HOW MANY LAYERS? - Day 4 Building a Superadobe Dome Home

Today was an epic bag laying day. The team rallied and laid 5 WHOLE COURSES!

WINDOW FORMS Good or Bad? - Day 5 Building a Superadobe Dome Home

After an epic bag laying day yesterday, today we install our window frames and slow down a little bit :)

TOGETHER WE ARE ONE - Day 6 Building a Superadobe Dome Home

Many of y'all have been wondering how in the world these windows are going to work with the dome shape. Today Hayden introduces the "eyebrow," and it should all start making sense.

DID WE MAKE IT? Day 7 Building a Superadobe Dome Home

Welcome back to the FINAL DAY of the Superadobe Workshop! Let's try to cap this dome - and try not to cry that it's over!

P.S. Make sure to check out the School of Superadobe.

Superadobe MEETS Hyperadobe!

The Superadobe Dome Home build continues as we add a hyperadobe bench and try gravel bags for the first time. We also give you a walkthrough tour of our hyperadobe roundhouse.

This Part Gets COMPLICATED! | Superadobe Dome Home

We're continuing to make massive progress on the superadobe dome home while Hayden from Curvatecture is still here. Door vaults, window installs, exterior plaster (I mean, render). Whew!

Hyperadobe MINI DOME!

Today we're installing the door on our Superadobe Dome Home and building a mini hyperadobe dome out of 8" bags.

TATTOOS & TEARS 😭 - Hayden Heads Back to Australia

It's a sad day, friends. Hayden from Curvatecture is finally headed back to Australia. We commemorate the occasion by getting tattoos together and doing some final work on the Superadobe Dome Home.

The PLASTER MATTERS! Changing the Shape of the Superadobe Dome Home

The Superadobe Dome Home continues! Ashley and Adali work on bottle bricks over the self supported window and door openings, we get our cubic mini wood stove, and the whole family pitches in to keep working on the exterior plaster.

PERFECTING DOME SHAPE Before Stucco (We're a Little OCD)

Today is all about trying to complete the exterior base plaster before prepping for the final stucco coat. We continue to put multiple layers on up top to create that iconic dome shape, cover the buttresses, and get frustrated plastering the inside of the mini dome.

RUSHING to Finish Superadobe Dome Exterior Before FREEZING TEMPS

We're using lathe and stucco on the exterior of our superadobe dome home for the very first time. Let's see how it goes.

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/outdoor-shower Off-Grid Outdoor Shower Built with Hyperadobe Bags & Glass Bottle Bricks 2023-09-21T00:00:00-05:00 2023-09-25T17:53:11-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Our family spent the last month building an open air outdoor shower out of hyperadobe earthbags and glass bottles. So many glass bottles.

This was a fun little project that included our first exposed aggregate concrete floor, a drain that flows directly to our permaculture berm and swale, a ridiculous amount of glass bottle bricks, a multi day earthbag workshop, a portable outdoor water heater, and the fanciest shower head we’ve had in over a decade.

After showering in our renovated vintage airstream for the last 6 years we are ready to spread our arms, enjoy the view, and not have to wait on someone for a shower ever again.

Shower Wall Shape

The Design

Our goal with this shower was to design a unique shape out of a single wall that would provide a killer view of our high desert homestead while keeping the person showering modest and protected from the wind. Using a natural curve we were able to make the wall very strong, turning in on itself to create an entry way and enclosed shower section

Finished Shower Walls

The Materials

While the design of this outdoor shower is pretty unique, the materials are very simple. We're using hyperadobe earthbags for the base and recycled glass bottle bricks higher up on the wall.

Hyperadobe Bags & Bottle Bricks

Hyperadobe bags are just a UV treated mesh tube that you can fill with water, soil, and clay or cement, tamp down, and turn into a super solid wall structure. So far we’ve used them to build a solar shed office, a chicken garden, a composting toilet outhouse, and we’ll be using them in our huge family home project starting soon. We really like them.

Exposed Aggregate Floor with Shower Drain

The floor of the shower is a simple concrete pad sloped to the center with a drain going out to our berm & swale. We decided to use exposed aggregate and glass beads to give it a different finish.

Glass Bottles with Light Shining Through

The star of this build is definitely the 700+ bottles that were cut, cleaned, taped together, and meticulously put into place to create a wall of light that shows off every time you're inside.

Finish stucco coat and mortar

To finish it off, we used mortar between the bottles and a fiberglass one coat stucco and cement sealer to protect it from the elements.

IMG 6242

The Shower Elements

First off, to shower you need water! We strategically placed this outdoor shower right next to our rainwater catchment tank and solar water pump house. So we had pressurized water available close by.

Gasland Water Heater

Then we used a portable outdoor on demand water heater connected to a propane tank to provide beautiful warm water as needed. Of course, we had to upgrade the shower head, too. 

Rainfall Shower Head

This rainfall disc and handheld wand should help us keep ourselves sand our dogs clean.

Shower Hooks

Finishing Touches

From there it was just a matter of adding some hooks for our clothes and towels, cleaning up around the outside, and enjoying our magical outdoor shower. It's going to be hard to go back to a regular shower again.

Shower D No Text Shower C No Text Shower B No Text Shower A No Text

Cost Breakdown

How much did this life changing outdoor shower cost? Well, a little more than it should have. If we had gone with cob instead of mortar we would have saved a good chunk. But either way it was relatively cost effective.

Item

Cost

Concrete Floor

$150.00

Drain

$9.00

16" Hyperadobe Tube Netting

$50.00

Recycled Glass Bottles

$0.00

Gorilla Tape

$65.00

Type S Mortar

$450.00

One Coat Fiberglass Stucco

$250.00

Sealer 

$70.00

Gasland On Demand Water Heater

$170.00

Shower Head + Fittings

$70.00

Hooks

$10.00

Total

$1,300.00

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/house Hyperadobe Roundhouse Build 2023-07-28T00:00:00-05:00 2024-01-12T10:08:50-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

After 3 years of building, preparing, learning, and experimenting on our off-grid homestead, it's finally time to begin work on our home.

This is by far the biggest project we've tackled yet! Behind the scenes we've been planning, designing and organizing everything, trying to get to a point where we can actually break ground and share the process with you. 

We'll use this space to share each step of the process.

Step 1 - Laying the Foundation

Join us as we share the months long pad preparation, and dream big about our next step on our off-grid homestead.

Step 2 - Hyperadobe Earthbag Roundhouse FLOOR PLANS!

We're talking house plans...and changing them. But we wanted to show you where we found inspiration for this design. Check out @willowend_round_house on Instagram to see their sweet home. We also visit Clay's incredible hyperadobe house and come away with more ideas to incorporate so we can finalize our layout.

Step 3 - Utility Planning in the Hyperadobe Roundhouse (This is STRESSING US OUT)

Designing a hyperadobe roundhouse from the ground up is so much work! Before we can break ground we have to finalize all our utilities: Rainwater, pressurized water, solar, electric, septic, propane, internet, and more.

Step 4 - We're Hitting PAUSE ⏸️

Ashley heads to Indiana to see her family, and we pause on the house planning. Jon & the kids work on a few small projects before she gets back.

A New BEGINNING and a Much Needed Reset

Jon leaves for the day to get the truck worked on, and Ashley takes the kids on an adventure to de-stress about the house build. This could be the start of something new.

We're FINALIZING our Hyperadobe Roundhouse Floor Plans!

Thanks to our new friends at Willow End Round House, we're making some important final changes to the floor plan of our hyperadobe round house. Promise we won't change anything else (jk/lol!)

Breaking Ground - Hyperadobe Earthbag Roundhouse BEGINS!

After months of researching, planning, and preparing, we finally complete the steps to break ground on our hyperadobe roundhouse!

Are We REALLY Trenching Our Huge Earthbag House by Hand?

As we begin digging our sewer trenches we make a big announcement - daily videos are back in October! But oh do we have so much to plan to get ready for it. Come along with us as we prepare.

We Had a Little HELP? Hyperadobe Roundhouse Trenches by Tractor

The backhoe makes quick work of our trenches, but we still have so much to do before daily videos start in October. We're getting closer!

Daily Videos BEGIN! Cleaning the Trenches on our Hyperadobe Roundhouse (Day 1)

It's the very first day of our October daily videos, and we're starting by cleaning the trenches on our hyperadobe roundhouse. We also might be visiting our favorite coffee shop and making some delicious mac & cheese for friends :)

Working & Learning TOGETHER as a Family (Day 2)

Welcome back to Day 2 of our hyperadobe roundhouse daily video challenge! We're fortifying the earthbag trench, doing water runs, making delicious food (https://tinyshinyhome.com/recipes) , and taking a moment to be thankful that we get to do it together each day.

WHAT COULD IT BE? More Trenching & Unboxing Something Delicious! (Day 3)

Welcome back to Day 3 of our hyperadobe roundhouse daily video challenge! We continue to do handwork on the main sewer trench line and get a special delivery from @FontanaForniUSA.

Maestro 40 Gas Oven →

This is NEW! Pizza Oven Modeling & Sewer Trenches (Day 4)

Welcome back to Day 4 of our hyperadobe roundhouse daily video challenge! We're all over the place today, doing a photoshoot for that awesome Fontana pizza oven that showed up yesterday, getting well casing pipes for our sewer lines, and digging more trenches. Oh, officially announcing our very first superadobe workshop!

Is It TOO LATE? (Day 5)

Welcome back to Day 5 of our Hyperadobe Roundhouse Daily Video Challenge! Today we're continuing to dig the sewer trench to the kitchen and start leveling the slope on the main run. We also finally have shirts available!

Serious SETBACKS & Loosing Multiple Days (Day 6)

Welcome back to Day 6 of our Hyperadobe Roundhouse Daily Video Challenge! Or maybe it's actually day 6, 7, & 8. Honestly friends, the last couple of days have been pretty rough. We're really tired of digging.

Pulling TOGETHER & Pushing Through the Trenching (Day 7)

Welcome back to Day 7 of our Hyperadobe Roundhouse Daily Video Challenge! After struggling the last several days feeling overwhelmed with trenching in our compacted foundation, we band together as a family and make huge progress. Bird Hooks →

We PROMISE We've Thought About It - Digging the Last Trenches by Hand (Day 8)

Welcome back to Day 8 of our Hyperadobe Roundhouse Daily Video Challenge! Today we get an added boost from our friend Dan, and finally finish digging our additional trenches. Whew!

We MISSED an Important Measurement! (Day 9)

Just when we thought the trenches were done, we measured the circles, and they need some cleanup work. Will Jon make it? Also, the Passion to Profit Bundle is coming soon.

MARKING MILESTONES as a Family (Day 10)

Today we check on the new buck, build a chicken ramp, celebrate our trench milestone, and then get back to it. Final leveling and prep for gravel in the rubble trench!

DETERMINED to Make it to the NEXT STEP! (Day 11)

Today we have one goal and one goal only. To start putting gravel in our trenches. Can we do it?

Don't Judge Us, We're Tired 😂 (Day 12)

Today we clean and organize our storage unit, move to a large one, and yes finally start adding gravel to our trenches!

RUBBLE TRENCH Progress + Lunar Eclipse Party (Day 13)

Today we continue to add gravel to our trenches, and check out the ring of fire lunar eclipse!

BIG MILESTONE - Plumbing our Hyperadobe Earthbag Roundhouse (Day 14)

Today we PLUMB! And check out some rad geodesic domes from our friend Kyle.

We WASTED A WHOLE DAY Doing This 🙈 (Day 15)

Today cut some well casing to cover smaller pipes, replace the battery in our solar pump house, and try to leak test our new plumbing.

UTILITY TUNNEL - Protecting Water & Electric Lines Under Earthbags (Day 16)

Today we take a side quest while waiting to see if there's any leaks in the plumbing. Before we lay bags we need to setup the utility entrance and support it with metal casing.

Ok We're A LOT Irritated 😡 (Day 17)

Today we have a few setbacks, but manage to finally start filling in the sewer trench.

DID YOU KNOW? Flashback Edition ⏳ + Geodesic Dome Update (Day 18)

Today we help Kyle move his massive 3 story dome, continue to fill in the biggest deepest sewer trenches, and ask each other a lot of questions.

She HAS TO DO THIS Before Family Comes :) (Day 19)

Today we cleanup in anticipation of Jon's parents arriving, and make more progress filling in the sewer lines.

Family Helps FINISH Hyperadobe Roundhouse DWV Trenches (Day 20)

Today is a big day! Jon's parents come visit, and we all rally to finish filling the sewer trenches.

The LAST STEP Before Laying Bags? (Day 21)

Today we fill in the last of the gravel over our sewer lines and show my parents our property.

REBUILDING Our Hyperadobe Earthbag Dolly Bucket System (Day 24)

Today we spend our last day with Jon's parents and build a new dolly bucket in preparation for laying our first hyperadobe eathbags.

THE MESSIEST Pallet of Portland Cement We've Ever Seen 😱 (Day 25)

Today we get our gnarly pallet of portland cement unloaded, and rearrange the staging area to start laying our first hyperadobe earthbags on the roundhouse.

HYPERADOBE EARTHBAGS BEGIN on the Roundhouse! (Day 26)

At long last, we lay our first bags on the hyperadobe roundhouse!

Daily Video Challenge ENDS + Laying More Bags (Day 27)

Today we continue to lay our first earthbags and look back at what we did in October.

CAN'T BELIEVE We Did This! Hyperadobe Roundhouse Foundation

It's time to catch you up on our progress on the hypderadobe roundhouse. The first full foundation course is laid!

Holidays & Hyperadobe on the Tiny Shiny Homestead

Today we make great progress on our 2nd course of the hyperadobe roundhouse and celebrate Christmas.

Hyperadobe Roundhouse FOUNDATION: Perfecting the Dolly Bucket System

It's time to tweak our dolly bucket system a bit more and finish laying the 2nd course on the hyperadobe roundhouse. 

Problem SOLVED! How We Installed Ramps Over Our Hyperadobe Walls

With the hyperadobe earthbags coming out of the ground, we can't continue to build our roundhouse until we create some ramps to get over the walls and install them. Let's solve a problem together!

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/lightning-protection Lightning Protection for DIY Off-Grid Solar Power System 2023-06-07T00:00:00-05:00 2023-06-08T18:09:14-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Hello friends, today we’re going to tell the story about how a rogue lighting strike cost us thousands of dollars, left us without power for almost a week, and the changes we’re making to our system to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

If you’re not familiar, we installed a large fully off-grid solar system for our desert homestead about two years ago. All DIY, pieced together ourselves.

It’s got 7200W of solar panels, a 28kwh lithium battery bank, and a 5,000w AC Inverter.

The video explaining this system has racked up well over half a million views, and we continue to sell the high res version of the wiring diagram to this day.

Now when we installed the system we did put in lightning protection. The solar ground mount from IronRidge was grounded by design, and our combiner boxes also had lightning suppression built in to shunt to ground.

Solar Combiner Box Inside - Breakers & Lightning Arrestor

However, last Summer was a historically strong monsoon season with epic storms, and a rogue indirect ground lighting strike took out our Victron inverter, one of our charge controllers, and our BMS display.

This cost us thousands of dollars to replace, and we were without power for nearly a week. It sucked. Real bad.

It also led us to a months long journey researching additional lighting protection, desert soil conditions, warranties and even insurance.

Now that we’ve got some distance, perspective - and new gear - I’m going to walk you through the additional steps we’ve taken to hopefully secure our system against another storm.

We’re updating our downloadable diagrams to reflect this, and want to share some of the details and thought behind this decision.

What did we miss?

The main thing I think we missed the first time around was the erratic ways that lightning can move during a strike. Especially with wire runs 100’ long.

Initially we assumed that the solar panel array would be the most important thing to protect because it’s a big metal target. But it turns out it’s the indirect ground strikes that can cause the most damage.

Indirect Lightning Strike

So if lightning hits the ground near your install and energizes your wire it could go either direction. In our case we were protecting our solar panel array, but our charge controllers inside the solar shed were not protected.

Even worse, our AC lines didn’t have protection on either end.

Now look, there are a lot of internet opinions on lightning and grounding, especially combined with fully off grid systems. And there are a ton of products out there that say they protect from lightning, but many of them just don't really do that much. All that to say, after a lot of research, we chose MidNite Solar’s SPD’s or surge protection devices. Here's why.

Mid Nite Solar SPD

Most fuses and breakers are built for high draws, and not large, fast influxes of voltage like you’d see with a lightning strike. So while we have plenty of fuses and breakers protecting the system internally, a lightning strike just moves too fast for those to react. 

The MidNite Solar SPD’s are built to clamp down immediately when high voltage or amperage is detected, protecting whatever device it’s closest to and shunting the surge to the ground. 

If you have a lightning strike, the SPD will be unusable once it clamps and shunts to ground. You’ll need to replace it, and while MidNite Solar does have a 5 year warranty, they only cost about $100 which to replace which his a small price to pay to protect expensive gear like inverters and charge controllers.

Mid Nite Solar Surge

Protecting the DC Side of our System

Let’s start with the DC side. Like we mentioned, we already had lightning suppression breakers in our combiner boxes at the solar panel array. In our case we had two separate runs and two separate charge controllers. Because the wire going into the solar shed was close to 100’, we needed to add a 300V DC SPD device to each charge controller.

Victron Smart Solar MPPT Wiring Diagram w Lightning

So we ran the positive wire of the SPD to the positive PV connection on the charge controller, the negative wire of the SPD to the negative PV connection on the charge controller, and the ground of the SPD to the ground chassis of the charge controller. In our system all grounds are connected to the earth ground connection on the Victron Inverter and run to a grounding rod outside the building.

When connected properly, we see both blue LED lights.

Charge Controller SPD Depth

My only complaint with these SPD’s so far is that they are just super large and awkward to install. For our solar panels we had to put them inside a box, but let them hang over our wooden backboard because they were too deep to sit flush.

Protecting the AC Side of our System

Things got even more complicated when it came to the AC side using our Victron Quattro inverter. Its connection system is not nearly as modular as other options on the market with holes you can pop out.

Thankfully we were able to use a free compression clamp to hold the 300V AC SPD in place upside down like this.

Inverter SPD Wide

The AC SPD’s are a little different. They have two hot lines and a ground. In our case, with our Victron Quattro, this meant one wire to our Generator In hot wire and one to our AC out hot wire. Then of course the ground wire to earth ground.

Victron Quattro Inverter Wiring Diagram

Because of this, we usually only see one LED light turned on protecting our AC out since we rarely use generator backup power. If the generator was on, then both LED’s would be lit.

Now we’re protecting the solar panel array, solar charge controllers, and the inverter. What’s left?

Some might add another DC SPD on their battery bank - though since we’re already protecting the charge controllers (DC in) and Inverter (AC in and out) we didn’t feel it was necessary for our install. We could change our minds on this in the future.

Airport Full Build C Plain

Protecting our Vintage Airstream 30A Power

Recently we ran a 100’ AC line up to our Airstream metal truss cover, and that’s only end of our wire run that isn’t protected. So the last thing we’ll be doing is installing our 300A AC SPD on our electrical box at the Airport.

The AC SPD’s are little more confusing depending on your setup. In this breaker box we have the 100+’ hot wire coming in here. So we’ll run one of the main wires to that lug, and the ground should connect to the ground lug on the box which goes to its own grounding rod.

Since we only have 1 hot leg at 120V, we’re just going to cap this wire and not use it.

When we install the run for our house, then we’ll want to add an additional SPD at that breaker box as well.

Grounding Rods

Additional Grounding Rods

Oh, and one more thing. As we’ve researched our specific soil type, it’s become apparent that the heavy sand content doesn’t hold enough moisture to make a great connection. And if we’re trying to shunt excess voltage directly to the ground, we want to make sure it has the clearest path possible.

So we put in in at least 2 more 8’ ground rods connected by 6awg copper wire 6’ feet apart.

Solar panels and ground mount at sunset.

What about Warranties & Insurance?

Why wouldn't Victron or REC cover a lighting strike under warranty?

Well, it would be nearly impossible for them to protect against it. And really it's more of an insurance situation anyway.  

Some bundles or kits might come with a warranty, but if you're DIYing and putting multiple components together this kind of scenario wouldn't be covered.

We also spent quite a bit of time looking into whether we could insure our gear - but because of the Owner-Builder opt out here in Cochise County, and the fact that we'll never have a certificate of occupancy on this property, that shut down basically every conversation we tried to have.

If you are going through traditional building methods and inspections then you should be able to get that certificate and have a more productive conversation with an insurance agent.

Tiny Shiny Home Family

What Did We Learn?

First of all, we learned we needed to update our wiring diagrams! If you’ve already bought the them you can just log back into your account and re-download the new versions with the SPD’s wiring included. And of course if you haven't gotten yourself a copy yet you can do that here:

DIY’ing your own off grid solar system is hard. And just when you think you’ve got every last bit researched and buttoned up, you never know when a storm will wreak havoc on your system and your wallet.

So what are our recommendations?

  • Lots of lighting protection
  • A healthy savings account
  • A backup generator
  • Redundant pieces of gear on site for an emergency.

We’ve learned that this journey to living more sustainably and self sufficiently can be humbling. We just have to suck it up, learn from our mistakes, and keep moving forward because those storms are always coming, and you can't let them stop you.

See you next time!

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/casa-de-caca Casa de Caca - Hyperadobe Composting Toilet Outhouse 2023-02-15T00:00:00-05:00 2023-07-25T10:37:11-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

We’ve spent the last few months building a composting toilet outhouse out of earth and recycled materials - and we’d love to share it with you!

Casa de Caca Drone Overhead

What Is It?

Our family of 6 built this adorable little hyperadobe earthbag structure that houses a unique composting toilet system for us and our guests to use while we build our house.

This is a 7’x10’ rectangle buried 3 feet underground to aid in the composting process. We used 1,000 linear feet of hyperadobe tube netting, and experimented for the first time filling the bags with only clay and our native soil. 

The project took us about four months to complete, and as you can see below there are nearly 40 videos of the daily process if you want to dive deep.

IMG 7674

Why Did We Build It?

We wanted a way for visitors to be able to go to the bathroom. But we wanted to do it in a natural and sustainable way. So not only did we use as much recycled material as possible for the building itself, we also installed a fully compliant composting system which we’ll explain a bit later.

And of course, this project was our final opportunity to test and experiment with more natural building techniques before our house build.

24 Toilet Seat

Composting Toilet System Explanation

This composting system is based on the plans from Watershed Management Group and is approved for use in the state of Arizona.

The high level idea is that each barrel will be buried low enough so that you can sit down like you would on a regular toilet. Only one barrel is considered active at a time. We’ll be building a special seat that goes on top with venting, seals, and insect traps to keep pathogens out.

Each time you use the restroom, you cover the solids with wood chips. This aids in breaking down the material and keeps the smell away.

While you can have everything go in the barrel, we have modified our system to work like a more traditional composting toilet and divert the urine so that the solids and liquids never co-mingle. 

This means even less potential for smelliness and that the solids compost even faster. Which is important for family of 6 like us.

So in addition to covering the solids with wood chips the urine should be followed up with some water down the tube to dilute it. Otherwise stuff will build up and clog the lines.

13 Septic Run

Here in Cochise County, we were required by the health department to divert the urine to a septic system with a leach field. Personally we think that’s dumb - diluted urine is great for plants, and we would have preferred to plumb it that way - but for permitting it was simpler for us to pipe the liquids to our house septic system.

23 Barrels Inside

Back to all the barrels. Because composting takes time, you fill up the first barrel most of the way, cover it with noseeum bug screen and a ventilated lid, and then give it 4-6 months to fully compost without introducing new material. During this time you need to aerate it every couple of weeks to keep the process going. At this point you’ll know if you need to add more carbon material. If it smells, it needs more carbon material. The special toilet seat lid is moved to the next barrel and it becomes the active barrel.

We have so many barrels because as a family of 6 our goal is that by the time we’ve filled up the last barrel, the first one is ready to empty and use as compost. We’ll just shovel it into a wheelbarrow and go put it around the native trees.

I know it’s a little complicated - but the goal is a low maintenance composting system for a large family and our guests.

Daily Videos

When we work on large projects like this we record every day of the process. If you'd like additional details on certain parts of the build check out the daily step by step videos below:

Day 1 - Prepping Trenches and Holes

The first step is to mark off the area, dig out the foundation, and double check the layout of our composting barrels to make sure they fit.

Day 2 - She's Making MORE HOLES!

Today Ashley's getting started building the toilet seat for our composting system in the earthbag outhouse.

Day 3 - Level, Set, GO! - Rubble Trench Prep

It's another day at the Casa de Caca! We're testing our new Harbor Freight truck bed unloader (eh), leveling the area for the bags, and double checking all the maths for the urine diversion that will connect to our septic.

Hisea Boots - Use Code TINY15 to save 15%

Day 4 - How Do We Do This Again? - Time to Lay Earthbags

Can you believe it? We're officially laying our first hyperadobe earthbags on the Casa de Caca. While we don't get as far as we'd like, it's exciting to feel like this project is properly kicking off.

Day 5 - Earthbag Surgery? Our Bucket BROKE!

Finally finding our groove with the ol' hyperadobe bags again! But it turns out if you leave your bucket in the sun for 3 months it becomes brittle and breaks off inside the bag. Oops!

ROASTED SALSA RECIPE

  • 8 Roma Tomatoes
  • 10 Tomatillos
  • 3 Jalapeno
  • 1 Red Onion
  • 1 White Onion
  • Salt to Taste
  • Roast all ingredients until soft and slightly charred.
  • To a blender add juice of 
  • 3 limes and
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • Blend up all ingredients and store in jars in fridge. Will last one week in the fridge.

Day 6 - We Might Need to SLOW DOWN a Bit!

The hyperadobe bag team is in full swing, and we're knocking out courses quickly. In fact, we're a little worried we may have to slow down so we have something left for our workshop attendees to do in a couple of weeks 😂.

Bagel Recipe

Day 7 - Now We're CUTTING Doors!

We're laying yet another course of earthbags on the Casa de Caca while heading to Originate to get a vintage front door that may or may not need some modifications.

Date Bar Recipe

Day 8 - The BUTTS are Going In

Before we can lay any more bags, we need to trench out for our buttresses around the door frame. Then it's a mad dash to finish up for the day.

Day 9 - Hyperadobe Bag Dimensions

Another day, another layer of bags! Today we talk about the actual tamped dimensions of our hyperadobe earthbags, get to ground level, and share a few tips along the way. Oh, and Casa de Caca stickers!

Day 10 - We Have to Lay This Course Before the Next Step!

Can you believe it? We're already up to door height! Today we lay the final course before installing our door frame for the Casa de Caca. Also, Casa de Caca t-shirts!

Day 11 - We Can't Believe We're Doing This!

Today is all about getting our door bucking frame installed! We also finish the vapor barrier on the West wall, and lay another course and a half of bags.

Day 12 - Double Doodles = Double the Fun = Double the Work!

Two and a half courses! That's what we did today. All while sidestepping two doodle pups. Now we're off to take a nap 💤

Day 13 - Family's ALL HERE - Two More Courses Let's Go!

The family's all here, and we're ready to earthbag! Today we power through another two full courses as we continue to prep for our upcoming hyperadobe workshop.

Day 14 - ONE LAST CHANCE to Finish Bags Before the Hyperadobe Workshop?

It's crunch time, friends! Our Hyperadobe workshop is fast approaching, and we have to get up to window height since we're teaching frame installation and bottle bricks. Let's go! Also, pancakes!

Pancakes

  • 1.5 Cups Sourdough Discard
  • 1.25 Cups Milk
  • Whisk thoroughly 
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1.5 Cups Flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Cup Melted Butter
  • Whisk some more!
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla
  • Scoop mixture and place on hot oiled skillet
  • Flip when solid and browned on one side
  • Top with your favorite toppings
  • Enjoy!

Day 15 - Who Else Wants a COMMUNITY Like This?

It's finally here! The two day hyperadobe earthbag workshop is in full swing. Join us and 30+ attendees as we learn about our composting setup, lay hyperadobe bags, install window frames, and cut bottle bricks.

Day 16 - Still the WORST Parents Ever? 😂

With most of us still recovering from our workshop and a bit of sickness, we try to have a leisurely day laying bags. But end up doing more than we probably should have. Jax gets a little annoyed and we take a trip down memory lane to that time he called us the "worst parents ever!"

Day 17 - We're so HIGH we Need Some Help!

How do you lay earthbags when they're over your head? The scaffolding comes back out, and we continue to lay short bags locking in our frames and new lintels. Also, we make some delicious olive oil orange cake 🍰.

OLIVE OIL ORANGE CAKE

  • https://pin.it/2SZzSkz
  • ICING: Orange Zest, Bit of Heavy Cream, add Powdered Sugar to desired consistency while mixing

Day 18 - Let's Make LINTELS from Scraps!

Today we're finishing up the lintels or headers over our window and bottle brick openings and locking them into place with hyperadobe bags. Also, we make some toasted coconut goat milk ice cream. Yum! 🍦

TOASTED COCONUT GOAT MILK ICE CREAM

  • 6 Cups Goat Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla
  • Toasted Unsweetened Coconut (to taste)
  • Chocolate Chips (to taste)
  • Enjoy!

Day 19 - Everything is Running Out - Will We Finish the Walls?

Today we managed to run out of all the things! If we can't get more hyperadobe bags, we might have to get creative in the next video. Also, banana muffins!

BANANA MUFFINS

  • 3 Ripe Bananas
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/3 Cup Oil
  • 1 TSP Vanilla
  • 1 1/2 Cups Flour
  • 3/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1 TSP Baking Soda
  • 1 TSP Salt
  • Bake at 350 for 16-18 Minutes
  • Topping: Chopped pecans, cinnamon & sugar

Day 20 - She Has a CRAZY PLAN!

Out of hyperadobe bags? Well, we'll just improvise our way to the roof. Let's goooo!

Day 21 - Oh MATH, How We've Missed You (Not Really)

This may or may not be the second day we tried making rafters! Fortunately, even though things weren't perfect we think it'll work. Also, the kids didn't have much to do so you get to enjoy epic games of paper rock scissors and tic tac toe 😂

Day 22 - We Got What Done Now?

Today is a grab bag of small bits of progress on the earthbag outhouse. Adding hurricane ties to the rafters, installing the small windows, ordering our roofing, and more.

Day 23 - We Might FINALLY Be Getting the Hang of This 😱

Let's install a metal roof!

Day 24 - RECYCLED TREASURE Out of Trash?

We're cutting old bottles and making something beautiful!

Day 25 - Recycled Glass EXPERIMENTS in the Casa de Caca

Let's put even more trash in the Casa de Caca!

Day 26 - Ceiling Height Cob is the GOAL!

Today we're cobbing up the rest of the walls to get ready for our ceiling install.

Day 27 - This Ceiling's NOT PERFECT (and that's ok :)

Today we're installing insulation and a plywood ceiling on the Casa de Caca with the kids help :)

Day 28 - How We're Making Sure the Casa de Caca Doesn't STINK (Part 1)

Today we're finishing up our ceiling, installing vents, and starting to close up all the areas near the roof.

Day 29 - Let There Be LIGHT!

Today we're adding even more vents, cobbing the rest of the way up to the ceiling, and installing our solar lights in the Casa de Caca.

Day 30 - How Many STEPS Will it Take?

So many things going on today, but one big goal! We're drying in the building, finishing our bottle brick window, and even base plastering the inside of the Casa de Caca.

Day 31 - She's DETERMINED to Finish the Walls! (Part 1)

We're officially racing to finish the final plaster coat inside the Casa de Caca. Can you believe we're already at this step?

This Water Line HAS TO GO THROUGH our Hyperadobe Wall (Day 31 Part 2)

We continue to work towards finishing the final plaster coat on the inside of the Casa de Caca - and running water lines through our walls!

Day 32 - How do the Composting Barrels fit in our Hyperadobe Outhouse?

With the interior walls complete, it's time to move to filling in the floor, prepping for plumbing, and getting our composting toilet barrels ready.

Day 33 - Hangin' Out & Hangin' Doors with My Little Homestead

Today we get a big assist from our friends at My Little Homestead installing our reclaimed door on the hyperadobe Casa de Caca outhouse.

Day 34 - Filling in the FLOOR on the Casa de Caca 🎉

It's time to move an enormous amount of dirt to get this floor filled in on the Casa de Caca. Plus a few other fun side projects like new window screen and a sink platform.

Hisea Boots: https://hisea.com use code TINY15

Day 35 - She CAN'T STOP Smiling :)

Let's punch a bunch of things off that list! Today we finish plumbing our foot powered sink, epoxy the toilet set, make metal barrel covers, clean inside, and Ashley paints and stains the coolest door ever.

Day 36 - One Last Experiment

The time has finally come to start finishing the exterior hyperadobe bags on the Casa de Caca! Everyone pitches in to stucco the front wall, and we re-do our toilet seat lid.

Day 37 - She's a STUCCO MACHINE!

We're finishing the stucco coat on the Casa de Caca! Hyperadobe bags are no more. Watch Ashley power through the last two walls all by herself 💪.

17 Drone Far Away

Wrapping Up

Oh my goodness friends, we can’t believe you made it all the way to the end. You get a high five! If you like what we’re doing out here - building naturally and sustainably, living off-grid, greening the desert, we’re just getting started here on our property. Be sure to check out some of our other projects:

Our next big project is our house build and we hope you’ll follow along!

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/gray-water-septic Gray Water Septic Plans & Installation for RV's & Tiny Houses 2023-01-30T00:00:00-05:00 2023-01-31T20:51:35-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

What’s a gray water septic? Why would you use it? How does it work? And is it even legal? All great questions. Let’s dig in.

What’s a Septic System?

A traditional septic system is a way for a house or building that doesn’t have access to city sewage pipes to send all of its waste water - from sinks, showers, and toilets - into a buried waterproof tank that is large enough for the solids to settle at the bottom.

The remaining liquid exits the tank into the leach or drain field via perforated pipes which then uses the soil as a natural filter to remove harmful bacteria.

Traditional Septic Full

There are plenty of rules, regulations, and permits around traditional septic systems for good reason. If they’re not installed properly you run the risk of injecting harmful elements into your soil or overloading the ground and causing backups and tainted areas on your property.

But on the flip side of that, septic tanks installed correctly can also be great for the environment because you’re essentially taking all the water you use and filtering it back down into the ground to replenish the water table.

A gray water septic is very similar to a traditional septic, but only deals with gray water, not black water.

What’s the difference?

Gray Water - this is waste water that comes from bathroom sinks, washing machines, bathtubs, and showers. It should contain very low levels of contamination and be easy to filter and discharge.

Black Water - this is the waste water from toilets that contain fecal matter. In some states or countries, your kitchen and dishwasher are also considered blackwater because of the food particles and grease that will come from them. The level of contamination is much higher and requires more work to filter.

So when we talk about a gray water septic, this should only be for water that comes out of a bathroom sink, shower, or washing machine (and only using approved soaps).

Septic Finished Airstream Drone

Why Do You Need a Gray Water Septic?

In most cases, as long as you are using biodegradable soaps and cleaners, you should actually be re-using your gray water as much as possible via irrigation or watering for gardens.

But sometimes, you might want to make that gray water infiltrate back into the soil. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Stinky Smell - sending your gray water to an open air basin can definitely result in that unpleasant gray water smell permeating your area. Especially if you have a lot of wind.
  2. Bacteria - Unless you completely enclose that basin, any animals you have like dogs, cats, goats, chickens, etc.. will be drawn to drink it and could get serious bacterial infections.
  3. Nowhere To Go - Finally, maybe you don’t have a way to create a basin or trees to plant, and it would be simpler for your gray water to just go into the ground.

So we’ll reiterate here - if you can safely repurpose your gray water, please do that first! It’s such a better way to use it and is much better for your immediate environment. 

But if your’e in a specific situation like we mentioned above where you need all the gray water to go underground, then this gray water septic plan is for you!

Is it legal?

Obviously we can’t answer this question for every situation, but many local codes encourage gray water re-use and for single family installations there shouldn’t be too many requirements related to a true gray water septic. It’s when you start adding the black water to the system that you have to deal with codes and inspections.

Of course, as always, please consult with your local government codes to make sure before proceeding.

Gray Septic Fill

How does a gray water system work?

What we’ve pieced together from various sources of inspiration is an idea similar to a normal septic system, but much smaller and easier to install yourself. Because there’s no large solids or grease that needs to settle in the bottom of the tank, we can send the gray water down into the ground as quickly as possible.

The trick is to make sure we never over saturate the ground and cause it to seep up to the surface.

We’ll be using drainage gravel and plastic barrels with holes to allow quick drainage, as well as overflow tanks and a leach line.

Today we’ll be walking you through how to build a small gray water septic system. This one is sized for our renovated 1972 vintage Airstream that is permanently parked on our off-grid homestead. It has a 40 gallon gray tank, and we as a family of 6 don’t use more than 75 gallons per day.

Is there a rule for sizing your system? Not really that we could find. There are plenty of guidelines for traditional septic systems, but this is because in the US the average water use is 60 gallons per person per day. So those are operating on a much larger scale, and are dealing with the aforementioned fecal matter and food grease.

Since we’re using so little water, and because there are no solids involved, our system will include 2x 55 gallon barrels and a 10’ leach line field.

This will allow us to completely flush our full 40 gallon gray tank into the first barrel and the second barrel is used as a backup if somehow another 40 gallons came right after. With our lower pressure solar powered water pump system this wouldn’t even be possible, but any septic system should be over sized just in case.

The 10’ leach line is also extra insurance in case both were to ever fill up and the water needs somewhere else to go.

Now that you’ve got the high level idea, let’s grab the materials and show you how to build it step by step.

Gray Water Septic Supplies

Gray Water Septic Supplies

Thankfully this is a very simple system. You’ll need:

  • 2x 55 Gallon Plastic Barrels
  • 10’-20’ of 3” Schedule 40 PVC
  • 1x 90 degree 3” Schedule 40 PVC Fitting
  • 2x 3” Schedule 40 Couplers
  • 1x 3” Threaded Fitting + Screw Cap
  • 2’ of 4” Schedule 40 PVC
  • 1x 4” Schedule 40 Coupler
  • Footloose Sewer Cap
  • 4 tons drainage gravel
  • 30 sqft vapor barrier vinyl
  • 1x Tube of Waterproof sealant

Building Your Own Gray Water Septic

Installation Steps 1 2

Step 1 - dig the hole for the system. A few things to keep in mind here. First, you need to know where the source will be. Where is all that gray water going to be coming from? Plan the septic location at least 20’ away from your source.

Ideally you want the septic to be sloped away from this output, and if you can use your land’s natural elevation drops this will make things easier.

If you can’t, then you’ll have to make sure your lines and the hole are all still sloped at roughly 1/4" drop per foot, and this will affect how deep you have to dig.

Assuming you’ve got a natural elevation drop, for this system you’ll need a hole that is roughly 7’x4’x5’ deep. The depth is important for drainage and you should allow one foot of space and drainage rock around each barrel.

Step 2 - dig your trenches for the pipe connecting from the source to the septic and then from the septic out to the leach line. These don’t have to be super deep, but for the leach line we recommend digging down at least 2’ so you have room for the pipe and gravel below grade.

Installation Steps 3 4

Step 3 - Now that the site is prepped, start bringing in your drainage gravel. This is usually different than regular gravel - check with your local rock yard and see what they recommend. Bigger rocks mean more opportunity for water to infiltrate quickly.

Fill the bottom of the main hole with 2’ of drainage gravel.

Step 4 - Take your two 55 gallon barrels, flip them upside down, and drill at least 12 1” holes in the bottom. We used a cross pattern to space them evenly.

Installation Steps 5 6

Step 5 - Since we’re going to connect the barrels with 3” Schedule 40 PVC get a 3.5” hole saw and cut out holes across from each other on each barrel. Keep in mind that each hole should be sequentially a little bit lower as you go from the source to the leach line.

Step 6 - Now set the barrels in the hole on top of the gravel, letting the large 3.5” holes facing each other and lined up with the source and leach line. At this point you can test fit the pipe to make sure everything is going to work - you may find you need to adjust the depth of your trenches during this stage.

Installation Steps 7 8

Step 7 - With the barrels exactly where you want them, fill the rest of the hole with drainage gravel all around the barrels stopping right below the holes for the PVC connections. You can either tape off the holes so no rocks get inside while filing or you can leave the PVC pipes temporarily inserted.

Step 8 - Add about 1’ of drainage gravel to the leach field trench. There should still be enough room for the PVC to sit on top of the gravel.

Installation Steps 9 10

Step 9 - Take your 10’ PVC leach line and drill some 1” holes in the bottom of the pipe. Add a cap to the far end to force the water down to the perforated holes.

Step 10 - If you haven’t already, slide all the 3” pipe into the holes on the sides of the barrel a few inches, and get them where you want them.

Installation Steps 11

Step 11 - Clean off the tops of the barrels and put down a vinyl vapor barrier covering all the gravel in the main pit. Cut around the barrels so it sits right against the edges.

Installation Steps 12

Step 12 - The vapor barrier for the leach line goes above the perforated PVC pipe.

Installation Steps 13 14

Step 13 - Now it’s time to install your clean outs and finish up! We did 2 types of clean outs, but really you can do whatever you like here. The idea is that you want access to both barrels in case they need to be pumped or cleaned in the future.

This is the easiest way we found to do this. Cut a 2”-3” section of pipe and glue it to a coupler. Drill a hole in the top and push the pipe down in until the coupler stops it. Now measure from the top of the coupler to ground level and add a few more inches.

Measure and cut that pipe, glue it in to the coupler, and then install the cap on top.

We did a 3” pipe on one barrel with a threaded coupler and threaded plug cap.

On the other barrel, we did a 4” pipe with a footloose sewer cap for easy access to pour liquids directly into the septic with one hand.

Step 14 - Now that you have everything in place, it’s time to seal all your connections. Run a bead of waterproof caulking around all the places where the pipe enters the 55 gallon barrels.

Installation Steps 15

Step 15 - Finally, once the caulking has set and dried, begin to fill back in the trenches and hole with your remaining dirt back to ground level. Compact as you go, and watch the vertical plumb of the clean outs.

We definitely recommend putting rocks or a barrier around the clean outs to protect them and make it visually obvious that something is there.

When you’re ready, make your source connections and run some tests! Use the clean outs to visually inspect what’s happening while the gray water comes in.

Wrapping Up + PDF Download

And that’s pretty much it! Now you have a system that will naturally filter and infiltrate your gray water into the ground in a safe and less stinky way.

If you need a permanent copy of these plans and steps, we have a PDF guide available for purchase here - otherwise feel free to reference this video or the article on our site as you build your own.

Happy gray watering - we’ll see you next time!

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https://tinyshinyhome.com/remote-mini-vrm-system Remote Off-Grid Mini 12V VRM Solar System for our Homestead - Installation & Wiring Guide 2022-12-18T00:00:00-05:00 2023-01-30T11:38:17-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Looking for the simplest way to create a small, self-contained, 12V solar system that can be monitored remotely? 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.

Tiny Shiny Homestead

Small 12V Solar System Goals

We’re already powering most of our property via our massive DIY 28kwh solar system, but in the name of redundancy we’ve also setup several small, independent 12V solar powered systems that we use for pump houses and sheds.

Now, I want to be clear - there are absolutely simpler and cheaper ways to create a small DC system. Our first pump house literally just had a small solar panel, cheap charge controller, a battery, and an RV pump. We’ve pushed thousands of gallons through that thing, pressurizing water for our trailer and building multiple earthbag buildings with it.

There is nothing at all wrong with keep things simple.

But as we started to install more mini 12V systems in various locations on our property that didn’t have access to power or internet, we felt like we should start investing in a better way to keep tabs on all of them.

Our main solar system was already setup with a Victron Quattro Inverter, Smart Solar charge controllers, and a Color Control GX that was passing data to Victron’s VRM - a remote management portal that you can access from anywhere on any device.

We’ve been super happy not only with the performance of the gear, but the VRM itself. Victron’s website and apps are well designed, provide deep levels of customization and reporting, and continue to have active development unlocking new features like widgets on iOS or enabling bluetooth connectivity for data transfers for nearby components.

So with all that in mind, we decided to use the Victron VRM as a base for all our other smaller systems as well. This would allow us to quickly see all our power installations in one spot.

Our biggest issue was that each power system or building we wanted to connect was scattered all over our 6 acre property, buried beneath metal roofs or inside earthbag walls, and not near a wifi internet connection.

We’re going to get nerdy and figure out how to make this work, but first let’s talk high level specs.

VRM Systems Locations

High Level Specs & Use Cases

Currently we have 4 VRM systems:

  1. Solar Shed (Large Full System)
  2. Feed Shed (Mini VRM System)
  3. Airstream Cover Pump House (Mini VRM System)
  4. Earthbag Chicken Garden Pump House (Mini VRM System)

Our Pump Houses usually run a 12V water pump, lights, and RV tank pad heater, and our Feed Shed has LED lights and venting fans. These are intentionally low power systems, and we’re not trying to pull any high draws from them.

Here's a few high level specs before we dig in:

  • Battery Storage - we usually go with a 12V 100AH Deep Cycle Lead Acid Battery. These are easy to grab pretty much anywhere, fairly inexpensive, and resistant to the wild temperature swings we can get here in the high desert. They’re tough and don’t need fancy BMS’s or special protections.
  • Solar Panel: While a small 100W panel is big enough for this size system, we've been using these 240W Santan Solar panels instead because they're so cheap.
  • Smart Solar Charge Controller - Since we’re sticking to the Victron Ecosystem, the Smart Solar 75V/15A is the perfect size for the 240W panel without breaking the bank.
  • Smart Shunt - In order to relay data about the battery’s state of charge, the Victron Smart Shunt quickly connects to the battery while also having a data connection port.

We also make sure to install fusing and protection as well as small load centers with blade fuses for each item we want to power. But we’ll cover that in more detail later.

My general goal here is just to give each system plenty of breathing room to power what it needs to and get charged back up each day. Are the oversized? Probably. But the batteries and panels are so cheap I’d rather get them setup, not have to worry about them, and have options for future expandability.

Also, a Disclaimer: I’m not an electrician. All information here is solely for entertainment purposes, and should you feel uncomfortable doing this yourself, all electrical work should be performed by qualified individuals according to local electrical codes.

Article Overview

  1. Small 12V System Goals
  2. High Level Specs & Use Cases
  3. Remote Mini VRM Wiring Guide
  4. Internet Connectivity & Victron VRM Portal
  5. Self-Contained Power System Storage Tote
  6. Wiring the 12V Mini VRM Victron Solar System
  7. Settings
  8. Ruuvi Temperature Alarms
  9. Connecting 12V Loads
  10. Cost Breakdown
  11. AC Power Option
  12. Wrapping Up
Mini Off Grid VRM Solar System

Mini Solar System VRM Wiring Guide

Wondering what this thing looks like all connected up? 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.

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

VRM Screenshot Desktop

Internet Connectivity and the Victron VRM Portal

The biggest hurdle in this whole idea would be connecting the various Victron components to our VRM for monitoring. To do this you need a GX device from Victron that will serve as the central “brain” for the system. Then you have to have a network to connect the GX device to so it can push the data up to the cloud.

Because our various buildings and locations were spread out all over our 6 acres and not near our wifi network, this is where things got tricky. Let’s look at our options.

  1. Color Control GX - This unit has a screen built in and multiple ways to connect components. But if you’re not near a wifi network, you need a cell based modem to connect to the internet. This is by far the most expensive option at around $550 - plus the $250 for the modem and you have to use your own data plan. Definitely overkill for a small system like this.
  2. Cerbo GX - This unit has even more inputs, but no display so it comes in a bit cheaper at $350. There’s also the “S” version with fewer inputs that cost $270. But you’d still need that $250 modem and your own data plan if you’re not near a wifi network. For our little 12V system, this still felt like it was overkill.
  3. GlobalLink 520 - This unit was definitely more like it. It’s a very simple GX device with only 2 physical inputs, and it comes with a built in LTE-M antenna and 5 year data plan for only $230. With such a simple system, we didn’t need to monitor more than the solar input and battery SOC so this seemed like a good option.
  4. Raspberry Pi + Venus OS - Not only does Victron do a great job of keeping their software up to date, they’re also super hacker friendly. Case in point, the software that actually runs on their GX devices is available as an open source download that you can then install on any computer you want. Many folks have bought cheap Raspberry Pi mini computers, installed the Venus Firmware and made their own versions of the GX devices.

    While this sounds cool on paper, you still need either need a close wifi signal or some kind of cell attachment with your own plan to connect remotely. And by the time you buy all the pieces you might need and bring your own data plan, it’s not much cheaper than the GlobalLink. Plus it’s so much more work to get it setup.
  5. LoRaWAN Module - Finally, the most nerdy of options. Long Range Wide Area Networks - or LoRaWan use “Internet of Things” gateways to pass small bits of data very long distances for free. Like anywhere from 1-18 miles. There might be one in your area - check the map to see if you have coverage nearby. If not you can even setup your own gateway if you want for others to use.

    While this is fascinating that Victron even makes this module, it is pretty limited. It only connects directly to one piece of equipment so you’d only be monitoring one thing at a time. And at $80, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for our particular install.

As you may have seen in the diagram we went with the GlobalLink 520 - it hit the sweet spot of functionality, simplicity, and cost for our sized system. We could run hard data connections to the solar charge controller and smart shunt which then passes that info into the VRM for monitoring and reporting.

Global Link Connections

Recently, Victron upgraded the firmware on these units to allow even more components to connect via Bluetooth and pass the data to the VRM which expands the possibilities with this little unit quite a bit. I’ve got my eye on a compatible Ruuvi Humidity and Temperature tag. Would be awesome to know if a pump house is dropping below freezing inside and get a notification.

Box Straight On

Self-Contained Power System Storage Tote

Since each of these 12V systems would be inside pump houses or dusty environments like our feed shed, I wanted a way to protect and contain all the components.

Turns out these plastic storage totes from the hardware store are a great off the shelf solution that don’t cost much. A 12"x26"x18" bin is the perfect size to put your battery and a few pieces of scrap wood for a mounting everything to for easy access.

Mini VRM System Top Angle

The walls are thin and easy to drill through to install rubber grommets to run wires through, and while they aren’t water or air tight, they do provide considerable protection for everything. Plus since the lid isn’t sealed, the battery can still vent. If you want to add more venting, it’s easy to cut a hole in the side and add your vent of choice.

This allows you to put everything except the solar panel in the box carry it wherever you want, then run the wires in when you’re ready.

All 3 of our mini VRM systems live in these boxes and we’re big fans.

VRM Component Wiring 100

Wiring the 12V Victron Solar System

Alright, let’s look at how this is all connected. Since everything in the storage tote is so close together, 10AWG or 12AWG wire should suffice for most connections. But of course if you’re running a high load over a long distance that should be sized appropriately.

Use this simple chart to calculate what thickness wire you need or check out this helpful deep dive for additional info. 

Length

 

Amps

5A

10A

15A

20A

25A

30A

40A

50A

60A

70A

15ft

   

16

12

10

10

8

8

6

6

4

4

20ft

   

14

12

10

8

8

6

6

4

4

4

25ft

   

14

10

8

8

6

6

4

4

2

2

30ft

   

12

10

8

6

6

4

4

2

2

2

40ft

   

12

8

6

6

4

4

2

2

1

1/0

50ft

   

10

8

6

4

4

2

2

1

1/0

1/0

60ft

   

10

6

6

4

2

2

1

1/0

2/0

2/0

70ft

   

10

6

4

2

2

2

1/0

2/0

2/0

3/0

80ft

   

8

6

4

2

2

1

1/0

2/0

3/0

3/0

90ft

   

8

4

4

2

1

1/0

2/0

3/0

3/0

4/0

* Numbers in AWG unless otherwise noted. Wire size based on a 3% or (0.36 V) voltage drop for 12V. Always oversize wires if voltage drop is critical.

I wish each connection was consistent, but you’ll be encountering everything from crimp on ring connectors to spade or butt terminals to screw clamps. I recommend having wire strippers, crimpers, screwdrivers, and a box of connectors on hand.

We mentioned earlier we were using a 240W used solar panel from SanTan Solar. It runs at 37V or 8A and generally PV wire is 10AWG.

Step 1 - You want to start by running the PV positive and negative wire to a 2 Pole 10A Circuit Breaker. This is to protect the charge controller from any spikes coming from the panel.

Step 2 - From the breaker we go to the positive and negative PV in connections on the Victron Smart Solar MPPT 75V/15A.

Step 3 - Coming out of the charge controller, the positive wire runs through a 25A Mini ANL Fuse and cover to the positive post of the battery.

This is an additional source of protection for the battery from any spike that might come from the charge controller.

Step 4 - From here we come off the positive post of the battery through a 25A DC Circuit Breaker.

Step 5 - Then we add a small fuse block or load center. This will allow us to isolate each item we want to connect and fuse them individually.

Now for the rest of the Victron Gear.

Step 6 - The Victron Smart Shunt connects its battery minus side directly to the negative post of the battery. The system minus side is where all other negative wires will connect together. There’s also a VBatt+ wire that connects directly to the positive battery post.

Step 7 - Finally, the GlobalLink 520 is hardwired directly the positive and negative posts of the battery so it always has power. At this point you can also connect the Solar Charge Controller and Smart Shunt to the GlobalLink with VE.Direct cables so they all start talking to each other.

Mini VRM Settings

Settings

Before we connect any loads, let’s tweak our settings on the Victron components. The easiest way to change settings is to use the Victron Connect App on a smartphone or tablet. This is done via Bluetooth so you just have to be close by and you’ll see the option to connect.

Funny story - I bought my Lead Acid batteries at a local Walmart, called up maker of the battery (Everstart) to see if I could get some specific numbers from them - and the support person I talked to had absolutely no idea what settings I should use. Didn't have a spec sheet to reference or any information online. Not very helpful! So we'll be going with generic 12v Lead Acid battery settings.

Victron SmartShunt Settings

First, we want to tell the system the voltage and capacity we’re dealing with. In our case that meant:

  • Battery Capacity: 100Ah
  • Charged Voltage: 13.2V

We didn’t feel the need to change any of the other settings and left them as is.

Victron Smart Solar MPPT 75V/15A Settings

Then we want to tell the charge controller how to charge the battery.

  • Battery Voltage: 12V
  • Tap “User Defined” for Battery Preset
  • Absorption: 14.3V
  • Float: 13.4V
  • Equalization: 14.3V

The rest of the settings we left as is.

Victron GlobalLink 520 Settings

Finally, we would need to connect this device to our Victron VRM Portal. If you don’t already have a VRM account, make sure to create that first. Then click “Add Installation” and choose the GlobalLink 520 Icon.

It’s going to ask you for the VRM Portal ID that is located on the back of the GlobalLink. It might be on the box as well, but learn from my mistake and take a picture of this number before you do your full install.

Pop in that number, give it a name, and as long the GlobalLink is connected to the LTE-M network, you should see it load in your VRM. That’s it!

To keep data usage low, the GlobalLink updates every 15 minutes, and you’ll see your solar input wattage and battery state of charge. And now that you’re connected to the VRM you can setup your own custom alarms and notifications or turn on custom widgets and run reports.

Ruuvi Angle

Ruuvi Temperature Alarms

I mentioned earlier that I had my eye on some Ruuvi Humidity and Temperature sensors since Victron had updated the GlobalLink 520 to connect with them wirelessly. Well, I couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer and ordered some while I was working on this installation guide.

I wanted to use these devices to keep tabs on the temperature inside our pump houses - even going so far as to setup VRM notifications for freezing conditions.

Here’s how it works. First download the Ruuvi app on your phone (iOS or Android), then pull the plastic battery stopper out, and find the device via the app. Here you can setup some settings, and give it a name - but really what you are doing is activating it so that the GlobalLink can see it.

Now go place it near your GlobaLink. Open the Victron Connect App on your phone, and connect to the GlobalLink. Go to Settings > Smart Devices and wait a minute for the Ruuvi Tag to show up. Activate it, and that’s pretty much all there is to it. You’ll need to wait until the VRM refreshes to see anything (remember, it updates every 15 minutes) - but then the temperature sensor will show up on your dashboard.

To create custom notifications, go into that installation in the VRM, Settings > Alarm Rules. Select “Add New Alarm Rule”, choose the Ruuvi Tag as the device, then the Temperature parameter, then set your specific amounts on the next screen.

This was confusing for me - I initially set my temps in Fahrenheit, but the VRM seems to only read this setting in Celsius. So these were my final settings:

  • Low: -2
  • Clear low alarm above: 0
  • High: 43
  • Clear high alarm above: 37

Then just make sure you have your notification settings turned on to deliver via email or push on your phone. Fancy!

Mini Off Grid VRM Solar System Load Examples

Connecting 12V Loads

Now that the main system is connected, it’s time to add your loads. From a high level standpoint, you’re going to be connecting the positive wire from your item to an individual spot on the load center and then adding the proper sized blade fuse (1.25x the max amperage it should draw). The negative wire will go to the system minus side of the Smart Shunt.

I’ll walk you through a few examples of how we are using our systems, but really what you connect and how you use it are totally up to you.

Venting Fans

This AC Infinity AIRTITAN T8 was the perfect size to fit over our barn doors in our feed shed, 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.

USB LED Lights with 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. We also used the same lights and switch for our chicken coop. These are very easy to wire as they come with most of the connections already installed. We just needed to run a positive and negative wire to the switch and plug in the lights.

12V RV Water Pump

Creating pressurized water from a holding tank was the main reason we even started making these small 12V systems. At the time, we didn’t even have AC power on the property and needed a way to get pressurized water to our trailer. Since then, we’ve seen the value of having redundancy and making sure our water source isn’t connected to a single main power source.

This Shurflo 3.5gpm 12v Pump is a little power house. We’ve been using one in our renovated vintage Airstream for 5 years without a hiccup. Then we put one in our first solar power pump house over 2 years ago and have pumped thousands and thousands of gallons without any issues. Highly recommended especially if you combine it with a larger pressure or accumulator tank. Anyway, we usually run these through a switch for easy access, and it’s just a matter of connecting the positive and negative wires together.

RV Tank Heater Pad

Something we’ve been trying recently is looking for a low power way to keep the inside of our pump houses warm enough in the winter so they don’t freeze. The jury’s still out on whether these tank heater pads actually do their job, but theoretically they should come on when it gets cold and provide some warmth near your water lines.

Similarly, you just need to connect the positive and negative wires, and can also run through a switch if you want.

Mini VRM Inside Left

Cost Breakdown

So what should the whole system run you? Great question. Here’s a detailed breakdown:

Item

Cost

12"x26"x18" Storage Tote

$19.00

240W Cracked Back Solar Panel

$45.00

Solar Panel Z Brackets

$8.00

20' Solar PV Wire x2

$40.00

15'/ea 10AWG Red Wire + Black Wire

$30.00

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

Total

$880.00

So it’s not the cheapest, obviously. Again, you can do this much more simply - but if you’re looking for a way to connect a small system to a remote management portal we think this is a great way to do it.

It’s great having rock solid cell based connections to pass our data to the cloud and be able to view the status of each system at any time.

Mini Off Grid VRM Dual Charging System

What if you have AC Power?

During our most recent project - moving our Airstream to a permanent covered location - we found ourselves in a situation where we actually had AC power available at our pump house.

We could have switched the whole system to run on 120V power, but decided instead to create a dual charging 12V system. Everything would stay the same except we would add a Victron Blue Smart IP65 Charger that would plug into a standard outlet and connect directly to the battery to keep it topped off.

That way if the AC power ever went out the solar panel would continue to do its job and charge the battery.

The Charger comes in several options and sizes - we went with the 120V 5A version since it would just need a trickle charge, and kept it on the default settings.

Wrapping Up

Who knew such a tiny 12V system could get so detailed? I’m not sure how I keep talking myself into writing these super nerdy posts, but here we are again.

I hope our installation breakdown and wire guide give you a better understanding of how to build your own remote mini 12V system that relays data back to you for monitoring.

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’re setting up rainwater catchment, lots of fun power installs, and so much more. Make sure you’re subscribed so you don’t miss our next project.

Until next time!

Mini VRM System Top Down Airport Pump House 2 Airport Pump House Inside Box Grommet 1 12 V Power System Bucket Chicken Garden Lights DC Fan Inside Box Lid Mini VRM Solar Breaker Mini VRM Shunt Mini VRM Global Link Mini VRM Inside Left ]]>
https://tinyshinyhome.com/airstream-metal-truss-carport-permanent-trailer-site DIY Off-Grid Airstream Carport - Permanent Metal Truss Trailer Site 2022-10-06T08:46:00-05:00 2023-03-09T20:55:58-05:00 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. Gabled roof - Having the roof pitch to the East and West would allow us to keep most of the rain and hail off while also using the angle of the sun during different seasons to keep it warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. Metal for strength and durability - we decided on steel framing and metal roofing instead of building something out of wood or earthbags
  6. Catch Rainwater - Rainwater catchment, storage, and pressurization will be vital to providing water for the trailer
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Off-Grid Grid - Finally, since this would be where the Airstream stays permanently, we’d need to use everything we’ve learned the last two years to create our own power, water and gray water waste utilities.

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
  16. Designing Outdoor Space
  17. Cost Breakdown

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.

Cost Breakdown

So how much did this project cost? It definitely turned out to be the most complicated and expensive project we’ve worked on so far.

Now we’re going to try something a little different here - instead of overwhelming you with every single individual thing we bought, we’re just going to share the high level costs associated with this build.

Item

Cost

19'x36' Open Frame Miracle Truss Building

$13,500.00

2”x8”x12’ Boards for Purlins, Facia

$900.00

19'x36' Concrete Pad

$7,000.00

3,000 Gallon Enduraplas Tank

$3,250.00

Scissor Lift + Trailer Rental 1 Month

$1,700.00

Bucket Truck Operator

$500.00

Gutters, Downspouts & Fittings

$1,700.00

Gray Water Septic - Barrels, Pipe, Fittings, Gravel

$600.00

AC Electric - Conduit, Wires, 30A Receptacle, Outlets

$1,500.00

Pump House Structure, Insulation, Concrete Pad

$1,200.00

Pump House Plumbing, Filters, Pressure Tank

$1,400.00

Mini VRM 12V Solar System

$1,300.00
Outdoor Furniture, Step, Lights, Decorations$2,000.00

Grading, Finishing Gravel

$1,200.00

Tools

$300.00

Total

$38,050.00

So we spent about $38,000 on this project from start to finish, which sounds like a lot to us, but when you factor in the 50 year warranty on the Miracle Truss building, the entire pluming/pumphouse/electric/septic setup, and the concrete pad and finishing work. If we had hired this whole project out it would have cost so much more.

How's it Working Out?

It’s been about a month since we finished the Airport so we wanted to give a few updates.

First, we love it so much. The outdoor space, the added protection and shade, It all feels good. So far the shade vs. sun is working out just like we planned - parking the trailer on the SouthEast side means it is getting warmed during the winter, and should be shaded more in the summer.

The structure itself is super sturdy, and we’re not worried at all about the high winds here.

The pump house is working out great, too. The descaler has stopped almost all our calcium deposits, and the 4.5” of insulation, buried tank, and heated hose means we don’t have to worry about water freezing anymore.

Being able to relax outside checking our amazing view of the mountains while stoking a fire in our chimnea is pretty awesome. And so is having some overhead lights for when company is over.

And finally the graded and graveled area round the whole thing feels like home. For now at least.

Like we mentioned, the whole point of this project was to move the Airstream so we can start on our house. Which will be happening in the coming months.

So make sure you're subscribed because there is so much more to come. We’re just getting started and hope to see you again soon!

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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 2023-01-18T11:00:47-05:00 Jonathan Longnecker https://tinyshinyhome.com/
This post may contain affiliate links or compensated reviews. Please read our disclosure for more info.

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!

Day 175 - HOW ABOUT STUCCO? Final Plaster Testing

We're back for another round of "find my plaster that won't crack!" That's right, we're still researching and experimenting with different mixes and ideas. Today we attempt a homemade stucco.

Day 176 - WELCOME TO THE STUCCO GUN SHOW - We're Back at the Chicken Garden

Can you believe it? We're finally back at the Chicken Garden doing our final stucco tests before ramping into production. Let's see how the new mortar sprayer, compressor, and generator work!

Day 177 - SAFETY THIRD! Stucco Production Ramps Up + Lem's Shoes!

Stucco, Stucco, and more stucco. Oh, and today we finally talk about our favorite barefoot work boots and barefoot shoes!

Day 178 - Stucco & Homemade Tortillas?

Today we're adding more stucco to the chicken garden and making homemade tortillas!

--

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!

]]>
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!

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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 2023-08-03T22:38:36-05:00 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 SPD

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. Lightning Protection
  19. Cost Breakdown
  20. 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:

28k WH Battery Configuration 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.

Lightning Protection

Since installing this system, the Summer of 2022 brought a historically strong monsoon season with epic storms, and a rogue indirect ground lighting strike that took out our Victron inverter, one of our charge controllers, and our BMS display.

This cost us thousands of dollars to replace, and we were without power for nearly a week. It sucked. Real bad.

It also led us to a months long journey researching additional lighting protection, desert soil conditions, warranties and even insurance.

We've written a new article and created a new video explaining what happened and what precautions we're taking in the future:

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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