A Sustainable Dream

The Pursuit of Sustainable Living

Month: October 2014

Storage Container Home: Electricity

In today’s generation it is not very common to go without electricity or at least not have electricity to the degree that we are used to! When we first moved to the property we had a 20 acre hay field that hadn’t been mowed and baled in a couple of years! It was raw land.

Then we purchased the RV that we would use for temporary living arrangements while we built our apartment and eventually the house. The RV had a 12v battery that needed to be charged. Having a little experience with solar electricity and installation I decided to look on craigslist for a solar panel. I found a 240 watt panel and purchased a solar controller and inverter off of the web so I could utilize the sun to charge the battery. We were able to get this to work on some things but not others. We could run a space heater for a little bit (hahaha), we could run the vacuum but not the carpet cleaner. We could also run the coffee pot but not at the same time as the hair dryer.  Needless to say these were annoying since neither one of us have ever had to do without electricity in our lives.

In  comes the gas powered generator. Since we wouldn’t be getting electricity for 3-4 weeks we purchased a 4000 watt generator. I was thinking that 4000 watts would be sufficient to get us by for a month. What I didn’t realize at the time, lessons learned, was that the generator had two 13.5 amp circuits and the 30 amp plug didn’t mean that the generator would put out the full 30 amps! Even though it had a 30 amp RV twist connect plug it would still only put out the 13.5 amps! Well, that next month was brutal since I work from home. Yes, I was able to charge my computer and phone and do my work but I sure sweat a lot.

While we were waiting on the electric company to run our lines we had to file two easements with the county and provide those to the electric company. Then we had to set a permanent power pole for the meter base to sit and it had to be6′ tall and 5 ‘ deep encased in concrete. The  underground run needed to be in 4″ conduit and the depth I believe was 39″ (if I recall correctly).

We had to either have an outdoor disconnect or outdoor panel tied to the meter base and everything had to be grounded to a ground rod. I decided to use an outdoor panel with pass-through lugs because the disconnects were around $350 and the outdoor panel was about $100.  Running the electricity is pretty expensive. I spent about $1500 on materials and then $5 p/foot for the electric company to run it (@ 900 feet). The first 300 feet they provide so it their part cost $3000.

The electric company does not waste time. When they were scheduled to come install the 900 feet of poles and cable and run the underground to my pole, it only took them about 2 hours! I was impressed beings it had probably taken me about 40 hours to get it all ready.

We also ran a 6/3 direct burial cable from our power pole over to the apartment and RV. We used a 50amp breaker off of the outdoor panel and then wired that to a sub-panel. On the sub-panel we installed another 50 amp breaker and cabled that over to a 50 amp outdoor RV plug where we could connect the RV. We also installed a 20 and 30 amp breaker and wired the apartment’s electricity to that. We haven’t had any real problems living off 50 amps for the last 11 months so all is good!

Wiring up electricity is not all that difficult. I had some previous experience with electricity in the Navy and then with my job at Northern Telecom. If you want to do it yourself find a friend that has experience with electricity and ask a lot of questions. I asked questions and looked to youtube for some ideas. Friends and relatives are a wealth of knowledge. Get an electrician to check your work if you are unsure.

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Trenching Water Line from Meter

Trenching the water line wasn’t that bad. We rented a trenching machine that could trench up to 4 feet in depth. The goal was to knock out all of the trenching for the water and the electric at the same time. The trencher cost about $400 to rent for the day. If you are ever going to do this make sure you get one with a blade on the front so that you can fill the trench back in after you verify that everything is connected good.

Once we completed the trenching we laid the water line into the trench the full 1500 feet. From the meter to the house we used 3 500′ rolls of 1″ polyethylene pipe and brass fittings/valves. We put our line at around 18-20″ below ground. Being in North Texas it does get somewhat cold in winter but typically doesn’t freeze for long periods of time. If you are in colder climates of course your trench will need to be below your frost line.

Planning ahead and for the future can save you a lot of time and headache. Knowing that we were going to start the house within the year, we went ahead and placed a T with a ball valve facing where the house would be. The line continued towards the RV and future apartment. We stubbed the water line into the apartment and placed a garden hose stem to the outside to connect water to the RV. All of this was easy to do. The hardest part was cleaning the excess dirt out of the trenches where the water and electric trenches crossed each other.

When we first moved out to our property we didn’t have running water. I would take the trailer over to the well and hook up to a fire hydrant and fill my water tank, bring it back and use a 12v pump to transfer the water to the RV holding tank. I then had a 12v on demand pump that would kick on every time you used the water inside the RV. We were really happy to have running water again 🙂 . I included some pictures of that process.


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Storage Container Home: Setting the Piers

When we first moved out to our property it was literally a hay field. The property was purchased and then we put our house on the market. Little did we realize that our house would have a purchase contract on it in a week and we would be moving out in 5 weeks. We initially moved our stuff into storage but at $160 p/month we wanted to get it out as soon as possible. We decided to purchase a storage container and place it on concrete piers.

I didn’t know much about pouring piers and welding when we moved out here but I am always up to learning something new. I called a friend of mine and he came out to help me stake it out and get the forms in place. Once we got that part done it was time to dig. We rented a “little beaver” auger from home depot and it did a decent job on this hard black clay here in North Texas.

Once we had the holes done we were ready to pour the concrete. We put a few pieces of rebar in the holes and poured. We also added a weld plate with a J bolt welded to the bottom. I wanted a way to hold the container down to the piers in the case of heavy storms. Once done we lifted the container onto the piers using a tractor with chain and a section of large diameter PVC pipe.

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The Goal!

Our family bought an 18.5 acre hay field with no previous infrastructure, structures or utilities. We hope to fund the project on cash flow and avoid a mortgage with the bank when all is said and done.  Some of the things that we have done over the last year are: create entrance and 1/4 mile long driveway to property, installed electricity (we plan to migrate to solar and other alternative power sources as soon as cash flow allows), installed water, constructed shipping container storage building, built apartment off of the container, planted straw bale garden, constructed chicken coupe (and raising 26 chickens currently), installed clothes line and setup water tanks to harvest water from apartment roof.

Since we both have full time jobs we haven’t been able to create this blog page until now :-). We recently started construction on our home and just finished pouring the concrete piers that our shipping container home will rest on. We look forward to sharing our progress with all of our friends and family and any other people that need encouragement and help.

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