Monday, November 22, 2010

Progress Report Nov 22, 2010

DSC07007Things always take longer than I think they should. I ended up replacing all the bolts, doing that and tightening it all down took almost a week. This would not have been the case had we done it correctly in the first place.


Lessons Learned:
1. Use big bolts... 1/2 inch would have been nice. Make sure the bolts have a square head that you can put a socket around... not a screwdriver head.
2. Start at the center and build out, tighten down every time all the pieces are together, when a layer is done lift it up on sawhorses and continue.
3. Go from the outside in with the bolts, so the nut is on the inside.
4. Don't color code with paint unless you plan to repaint the entire thing when it is done, use colored tape instead.

Unfortunately I screwed up on every one of the above with the result being that it took a lot longer than it should have.

I left it all loose with the idea that it would leave some give for minor adjustments in the end... instead the weight pulled it all out of alignment once it started getting fairly large.

I used tiny bolts. They seemed big enough in the box, I did not realize that these things were going to do more than just hold the pieces together. In actuality they will bend and twist the flattened pipe ends into perfect alignment. Unless they are too small and break while being tightened. I used bolts with a Philips head ... which of course got stripped out whenever I tried to tighten them too much.

I painted all the pieces different colors to aid assembly. This would be fine if you are going for the exploding rainbow look, since the pipes are all visible when inside the dome. I ended up spending another several days and 25 cans of black spray paint to paint over everything.

I put the bolts so that when they were done there were sharp ends poking out into where the plastic shrink wrap would go. I don't know why.

But in spite of all this, the door is now on and it is almost ready for the cover. It seemed like the door would be kind of a pain, but it was actually really easy. We built a frame out of 2x12 treated wood and pre-installed the door in the frame. Then stood the whole thing up where it was supposed to go and roughly cut the pipes a little longer than the outside of the frame. The frame then slid into place (moving the ends of the pipes out of the way) and I drilled holes in each pipe that was touching and used a deck screw to fasten it to the frame.

Next is the trampoline ring which I will fasten with cables to the frame. Then the cover. I borrowed a forced-air propane heater from my brother which I will hopefully be able to use to shrink the cover. This is to avoid buying the $400 heat gun that I am supposed to use to shrink this stuff.

One thing I am still debating is how to insulate it. I could either use fibreglass rolls of insulation around the outside and shrink another layer on top of that. Or I could get sheets of extruded polystyrene (the blue styrofoam stuff that costs about $12 a sheet), and cut it into triangles to fasten up inside. It seems the cost will be about the same... at the moment I am leaning toward the latter.

Living in a Truck for Two Years. Part 2

I thought I would finish this up before I totally forgot what I was going to say.   If you missed it, part 1 is here.

I am not sure about the best way to approach this so that it will tie together in the end... so I am just going to make a big list of things that may be useful to anyone thinking about doing this.

1. You cannot legally park most places.  Apparently "normal" people don't like homeless people, and tend to get laws passed in order that those they don't like looking at or thinking about will go somewhere else.  For this reason you cannot park on the street, in an empty parking lot, or basically anywhere that is not going to try to charge you a lot of money.  This even extends to private property where you have been given permission by the owner.  My original though was that I would find someone with an empty yard that would be willing to let me park there for $100 a month or so.  While this is possible, it is still technically illegal.

2. Campgrounds are not inexpensive.  In Little Rock, AR there are a number of rv-parks, and campgrounds both private and government.  For a crappy looking rv-spot with water and electric in an industrial section on the outskirts of Little Rock it was $400/mo.  For a camping spot in a state park it was about $30/night or $600/mo.  For this you can get a pretty nice apartment fairly easily.  There may be cheaper options, but I was not able to find them, I even considered renting a mini-storage and just staying there.

3. Some businesses allow RV's to park in their lots overnight.  These include Walmart and Cabellas and maybe others.  They do this because people traveling in RV's have money and buy stuff in their stores.  So they want you to have an actual recognizable RV, not a slightly modified truck.  They also do not want you to do this for more than a few days at a time.

Basically, if you decide to do this you need to understand that if people notice they will generally disapprove.  They will likely not care if you are trying to pay off debt or save money, they already have a long list of prejudices that they will apply to you.  This means you will probably have to be sneaky and willing to be a little legally ambiguous.  You might get harassed, you might get fined.  I doubt much else would happen.

My solution was just to drive around in a wilderness area about 20 miles away and find fishing ramps.  Some of them had fire rings so people occasionally camped there.  Fishermen show up at 4am and can also be out late, so a car parked by a fishing dock will generally be assumed to belong to a fisherman somewhere nearby.  I found 5 different spots and rotated among them so I was not in the same place every night.  In the two years I was there, I was never questioned.  A couple of times people in 4wd trucks came through making a lot of noise but that was about it.

Other options would be to just buy a piece of land.  If you have the money it is at least a pretty good investment.  Some people sleep in motel parking lots, hospital parking lots, 24 hour grocery stores, anywhere they won't be noticed.  This is definitely not legal, but if you are sneaky about it and don't stay at the same place more than one night in a row, you can probably get away with it for a long time.  If you get caught you would likely get a warning or at worst a small fine.

One suggestion if you have a van is to make it look like a commercial vehicle, even disguise it with ladders and signs to make it blend in.  Then you can probably park behind stores as long as nobody notices you parking and not getting out.  Get there late, and leave early.

4. You will need a fitness center membership.  These are usually about $30-$50/mo.  But will give you a place to shower which is fairly important if you are working.  I usually would just hang around a coffee shop or book store after work.  You will probably find yourself with a lot of time to kill so find some places to go when you have nothing better to do.

5. Winter - I actually prefer the winter, it is easier for me to deal with cold than heat.  I had a good down sleeping bag from hiking the AT , and at least in AR I was easily warm enough in the winter.  The car was usually warm by the time I parked, so I just had to get into bed within a few minutes and all was well.  It is important to have some kind of insulating mattress in the winter.  A normal mattress would be fine, I used a thermarest car camping mat.  Which is basically a very durable air-mattress.

6.  Summer - Summer is a little more complicated.  It gets very hot and humid here in Arkansas and I don't do well with that.  I experimented with a number of ideas in order to stay cool without AC.  Most of them did not work, so I will just talk about what I ended up with that did work.  Basically, since I was not trying to be especially sneaky I kept a window down in the summer.  I got a piece of fine netting to keep the bugs out, and tied some coins in the corners to weight it down. I would throw this over the door before I closed it so that it would hang on the outside and cover the window.  I then got six computer fans (the type they put in the power supply), tied them together with zip ties at the corners added a power switch and hung the whole thing from a string so that it was in front of the window about 1ft from me when I was sleeping.  The idea here is that they are very low power (about 0.05 amps each) so they can run all night on the car battery without draining it.  They are also very quiet and durable.  This was probably the single biggest factor to being comfortable in the summer.  It also had the added benefit of killing all the mosquitoes that managed to get in while I was closing the door.  I have the finished fan packed away at the moment... I will dig it out and take a picture if anyone is interested.

The final step worked great until it broke.  Basically I got a cheap backpacking style tube air mattress and filled it with water.  This ended up being about 200lbs of water much to my surprise  (the one I used was a lot lower quality than the thermarest I linked to but basically the same idea). The idea was that while the fan kept the top of me cool, the bottom was still well insulated and hot on a mattress.  Some people seem to be able to get a cot inside to compensate for this.  Having a thin piece of cloth under you is a lot cooler than a heavy mattress.  I did not have enough room for a cot though, so I thought I would make a water-bed with cool water under me.  If it was especially hot I would freeze (at work) a couple of two-liter plastic soda bottles full of water and put them under the water-mattress after work to cool it down.  That way it would be cool by the time I went to bed.  This worked really well until the mattress started leaking a few months later.  I am not sure why it started, but once it did it was leaking all over.  I think I would try to fill it with a non-organic water based gel if I do it again.  It may have just been a low quality pad.  By the time it was leaking though, the worst of the summer was over.

I think that about covers the basics.  I am not sure how much interest there is in this so feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Giant Robot Project.

Up until yesterday I thought I had some pretty strange and ambitious plans.  Then my brother tells me about some guy on youtube who is building a giant robot and all the associated fortress / workshop / laboratory etc.  He is doing all this on the top of a mountain out in the woods in Vermont (I think).  He even has a giant geodesic dome made out of pipes with a trampoline on top, with lots of videos to demonstrate how it is all done.

Ah well... I am content to be the second crazy guy to build a dome with a trampoline out in the woods.  So go check out Jaimie Mantzels Giant Robot Project:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Update: The dome structure is complete.

IMG_20101105_123152Just wanted to add a quick update to show the completed dome sturcture.  Basically we finished to first two outside layers and then worked from the middle outward (as seen in the previous post) then lifted it up and attached it to the base.  This worked fairly well, except that we left all the bolts loose so that we could adjust it at the end.  Turns out that this makes the dome twist in strange ways when things start to get heavy, which makes everything not fit right in the end.  We used the board in the middle of the picture to lift the entire dome so that the tension in the frame could redistribute which helped a lot.  The dome structure actually weighs about 400lbs at this point.  We also ended up having to use bigger bolts (1/4 inch) since the smaller ones were getting all bent up.

A lot of the smaller bolts did not want to tighten at the end, there was too much tension and mostly just stripped out when we tried to drill them tight.  We started replacing them one at a time with the larger bolts and then just decided to drill another larger hole beside the first and leave the small bolt in as well as adding the larger one.  I expect to have it all tightened down by Monday.

The next step will be adding a door frame and then putting on the first layer of heat-shrink wrap.  The wrap came in today so hopefully I will be able to mess with it some this weekend to see how it works.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Progress Report Nov 3, 2010

It has been a while since my last post, so I thought I should give an update for the 15-20 people who seem to be reading this.  I went part time at my job at the beginning of October so that I could spend the mornings working on these projects.  Progress has been good since that point.  I spent a few weeks clearing land, pulling out thorn vines and digging up trees.  I made a big pile of the thorns and brush and after it had dried for about a month we had a bonfire... it is worth noting that dry thorn vines burn really well.  The flames reached about 35 feet. We had a helicopter do a flyby about 30 minutes later.

FlickrDroid UploadIt is starting to get colder here in Arkansas and since I need to be out of my current home in the next couple of months I decided to build a "geodesic yurt".  This will function as a temporary house so that I will have more time to work on the earth-bag dome/terrace/hot-tub without having to rush.  The basics of the dome are here: geodesic dome introduction, I will write a more detailed report when it is done, but I thought I would post some information and pictures now.

I am calling it a "geodesic yurt" because it is intended to be a semi-permanent structure.  Most conduit domes made this way are intended to be temporary for events like burning man.  This one is more yurt like in that it is intended to be a primary dwelling for several years.

dome-color-fixed-diagramThe reasoning behind this is that it is fairly cheap (less than $2000), can be built in a few weeks, and will be useful later as a storage shed / guest house / chicken coop or whatever.  It will be 19 feet in diameter which is about the same size as the earth bag dome so it will provide a preview of what living in the dome will be like.  Also, it will be practice for the greenhouse I hope to build later which will be about 70ft in diameter.  Since the ground is sloped where I am building it, I made a wooden deck to put it on.  The boards for the deck come in 10ft lengths so I built it 20ft by 20ft so that I would not have to cut anything besides the posts.  If I end up taking this down when the earth bag dome is complete then I will be able to use the deck material to build a porch for the dome.

FlickrDroid UploadThe construction of the deck was fairly standard, with a few concessions made so that I would not have to cut any boards.  The cost of the material was about $800.  One person would be able to build it in about a week I think.

I am using the more heavy duty 3/4 inch galvanized steel electrical conduit for the dome.  This comes in 10ft lengths and costs about $4 per piece.  The dome used about 50 pieces so about $200 in pipes.  The smaller 1/2 inch conduit is more like $2 a piece so it could have been done for $100. This will be a two story dome with a trampoline base that I will use as a bed for the second story, so I wanted it to be strong enough to support the second level.  It may have been strong enough with 1/2 inch, but I decided to overbuild just in case.

FlickrDroid UploadIt took about a week to cut, flatten and drill all the pieces.  For the most part there were two of us working on it for 3 hours a day.  We used a metal cutting disk on a cheap miter saw for cutting the conduit, then flattened it with a four-pound hammer on an anvil, then drilled it with a drill press.  Most of this could have been done a lot faster with a full day to work, but there is a limit to how much a person that is not used to it can swing a four pound hammer.  My forearms are still sore.

We color coded the pieces with spray paint, they were six different sizes.  One mistake we made here was not using the same colors in the diagram.  I would suggest that you check the diagram at desertdomes and use the same colors to avoid confusion.

IMG_20101102_121129FlickrDroid UploadThe dome is mostly assembled at this point.  I added an extra ring at the bottom to give it another three feet of height so it is not exactly according to the plans at desertdomes.  I have a couple of volunteers helping me put this together which is a great help.  I would suggest anyone dong this have at least two people to assemble the dome, preferably three.  One person could do it, but it would take a lot longer.  We did the bottom couple of levels first which brought it to about 6ft high, then we started assembling from the center out.  The idea is that when we have done the center we will lift it up and join it to the bottom.  I am not too sure about the wisdom of this plan since it will weigh about 150lbs but I imagine we will get it done somehow.

I have been through a number of ideas for the covering of the dome.  The original idea was to use cotton drop cloths painted over with polyurethane floor sealer (like on gym floors) or fiberglass resin. One complication of this plan was that the cloth would need to be cut to fit the shape of the dome which is not a simple task, and it would be fairly flammable when done.  Then I found out you can get heat shrink fire-retardant plastic fairly cheap.  They use this stuff to wrap buildings at construction sites, or boats for transport.  I got 100ft x 20ft 9mil white for $270 here.  It should come in this friday.  Basically it is like thick plastic sheeting that shrinks when it gets hot to about half of it's original size.  So I should be able to just drape it over the dome, fasten it down at the ends and have it shrink to fit.

IMG_20101102_121152I had planned originally to make two domes, one inside the other leaving about a six inch gap for insulation.  But now with the heat shrink wrapping I am going to try just making a single dome, wrap it, add a layer of fibreglass insulation and wrap it again.  It will probably not be quite as well insulated, but will be a lot easier, and less expensive.  I will still probably put a layer of polyurethane and sand on the outside to seal it completely... then will maybe paint it.

So far the biggest expense has been tools.  I will probably have spent about $2000 on tools when this is done but I expect I will get plenty of use out of them in the future.  I will provide a complete list of tools, parts, and expenses when it is done.

Hopefully this will be complete by the end of next week and I can start moving in after that.