Monthly Archives: June 2014

Building a composting toilet – a real shitty story

When I first had the idea of building the Magic Bus, I had plans to basically build it just like a mini-RV. Equipped with a clean water tank, a gray water tank, and a black water tank. Well, two things changed that. The main thing that changed the plans was the fact that all that water was just going to add weight and use up more gasoline. The worst thing about the Magic Bus, is the gas mileage that it gets, which is not very good. As for gas mileage, it’s exactly like an RV.

Studying others who have built van dwellings, I knew there was a chemical toilet out there. I never liked that idea. I am actually not that sure, but I am pretty sure that chemical toilets are nothing different than those blue portapotties, and those things are disgusting. That’s when I discovered composting toilets, which sounded a lot better than a turd floating in some blue liquid. So I did some research and I liked it. It sounded like a much better idea than having three different tanks on board. The clean water tank was a given, and that’s fine, but I don’t see why the majority of gray water can’t just go on the ground, unless I am in a preserve or something. As for no black water tank, that sounded great, as I wasn’t thrilled to have to clean it out. Then I found the following video on youTube. This convinced me that composting was the way to go, and it didn’t seem to hard to build one of these things. A lot easier than solar panels.

Those toilets are like a thousand dollars. That’s a lot of money for a vented bucket and a funnel to a bottle. So I decided to make my own. First thing was to build a box to house house everything. I did the same thing I did for every other wooden structure. I ripped down white pine, and I notched, rabbeted, dadoed, whatever you want to call it, all the joints together. Then I put some thin plywood on the sides that weren’t up against a wall already. Then I painted it with more Rustoleum paint.

I thought and thought on how to make the door for it. Hinges? No, there had to be a better way. I decided to use three latches that locked the door in place. I made them out of some pieces of plywood, a dowel rod, and a block of wood. I angled the locking blocks of wood so that it will pull the door tight. Then it was just about adding some closed cell foam rubber stripping to make it airtight. Worked like a charm.

Then I just made a toilet seat out of some three quarter plywood, mounted it on the box, then used a router to cut a hole in the box flush with the toilet seat. Then I added a plywood lid, with more foam rubber stripping, and hinged it to the box. Then it was more paint to seal it up, to make it airtight, to make it waterproof, as this is in the shower. Which it also makes a great seat for the shower, or something to prop my leg on for shaving. It has many uses other than something to crap in.

I found a cheap replacement vacuum cleaner hose on Amazon to use for ventilation. There was already a hole in the wheel well of the van, where the previous owner installed a sink. When I got the van, along with the wood inside, there was a wooden box that had a metal bowl in it, and PVC pipes running to the hole in the wheel well. I got rid of all that first thing, and now I am using the existing hole as my ventilation. I cut the vacuum cleaner hose down to size. I cut a hole in the box, then I siliconed the piece of hose to the hole in the box and to the hole in the wheel well. That is, after I put a piece of mesh on the end to keep bugs and critters out. I will probably eventually add an exhaust fan to it, but more on that later. With the rest of the vacuum cleaner hose, I just use it to make eerie music by spinning it around real fast.

At this point, it was time to start working on the actual toilet functions. The part for the peat moss and where the poo goes, is nothing more than a five gallon paint bucket. As for the pee, well I couldn’t find a funnel that I actually liked, so I built a trough. Out of plexiglass, I built a box with an angled bottom. The bottom of the box angles both ways to a single corner. The trough also has flanges that hold it in place in the toilet box, with an arm that can be moved to lock it in place. The same with the bucket. Both are just wedged in there with a lever lock on them. Both can be removed and cleaned. I had to cut away some of the bucket to fit the trough in there, but that has caused no problems. The bucket is still very sturdy. The trough has a tube coming off of it to a one liter Coke bottle. The lid of the bottle has some tiny vent holes so the pee can get in, and the air can get out. The bottle is just velcroed to the bucket. I went as simple as I could.

All in all it came out pretty good, but as of writing this, I have no idea how well it works. I have not crapped in it yet. I have not pissed in it yet. I haven’t even bought any peat moss yet. That means that how well it works will be another blog. Come back then to know if I decided to add a vent fan to the whole thing, and if there were any other changes. I promise no pictures for that blog.

Composting Toilet Composting Toilet Composting Toilet
Composting Toilet Composting Toilet Composting Toilet

More Power – Solar Energy

I have never said that I know anything about solar energy. I am just someone that knows about electronics. This is my first attempt at solar energy. I am learning, and I am starting to figure it out, but I had a problem. My solar panels, the ones I had made, put out a total of 15 volts at 8 amps at max. The solar panel I purchased put out 20 volts at 1.5 amps. This poses a problem that I did not foresee. Different voltages was a problem.

I first wired the panels up parallel. That added the amperage together. So I was getting quite of bit of amps, but the voltage drops to the lowest voltage, which was 15 volts at best. This didn’t seem to charge very fast and didn’t seem any better than what I had. So I decided to wire it up in a series. Technically, it should add the voltage up, but the amperage should be the lowest of the panels. It should have, but there was an anomaly. I have no idea what was going on. You shouldn’t be able to push 8 amps through a 1.5 amp hole, but I was. When I put it in a series, it started charging a lot better too. Way better than before. If you went by my meter, and multiplied the voltage and the amperage, I was getting over 300 watts, and I know that can’t be right. They aren’t even rated to make that much. Even though it was working better, I still felt like I wasn’t getting as much out of the solar panels that I could.

I decided to use the broken solar cells I had left over and make two small panels, and I figured out how to make the frame better. This time I ripped down strips of wood three quarters square and built a very simple frame, but with lapped joints. I then used some of the super lightweight corrugated plastic board to skin it. I then did the same thing as before and trimmed it out with corner molding. Then like my last update, I poured expanding plastic foam in the frame. This is the way to do it. Extremely light and rigid. As for the soldering of the solar cells…. yeah.. still a pain in the ass.

Solar Panel Solar Panel Solar Panel Solar Panel Solar Panel

I wired the new panels in a series with the other panels that I built, which maxed out the voltage at 20 volts. That is now the same as the other solar panel that I bought. I then wired the other solar panel parallel with mine. Now I was getting close to 20 volts and almost 10 amps. This made a huge difference. I now know that my charging controller I built works like a charm, because since I hooked it up to my new solar array, it charges the battery in nothing flat. I turned on the fan, all the lights, and I plugged my computer in to the AC inverter, which uses a lot of power, and I watched. Even with all of that usage of power, there was still a trickle of power going into the battery. I say that’s good enough for now.

I can’t complain. I built a solar array that works, out of a bunch of broken solar cells. If I can do this, just think what someone that knows what they are doing can do. Solar energy is no pipe dream.

The video below first shows the voltage of the electricity coming out of the solar panels. Then when the button is pushed, the voltage shows the battery being charged until it cuts off, and returns to just the voltage of the panels.

 Solar Array Solar Array

It’s Alive! Electricity off the grid!

It’s been a struggle, building electricity off the grid, but I finally got power to the Magic Bus. For the full effect, we must go back to the solar panels.

As I had them laying out in the sun, testing them for their power, I noticed how hot they were getting. That’s when I had the idea that I should have had a long time ago. I blame the trying times that I am currently experiencing on not thinking of it until now. Things could be better… but I digress. Here is the “slap your forehead moment”.

I do foam work for a living. Now granted, most of the time it’s foamed rubber, but I do have foam plastic. Matter of fact, I have had some that is just going bad because I rarely use it. The actual product is this, Foam-it 5. I had the idea that I could use it as insulation on the underside section of my solar panels, and since it’s foam, it wouldn’t add very much weight. That’s when I realized, duh, that would also fix the problem I had with the plastic board warping in the sun. So if and when I make another solar panel, I will use thin wood frame, corrugated plastic board, and fill the frame with plastic foam. And yes, it does help with keeping the heat off the roof of the van.

I also broke down and bought a solar panel. I found a 30 watt panel for $70 on Amazon. I bought it at the same time as I bought the battery, which was also from Amazon. Both of them had free shipping, so I went for it. I got a 35 amp hour deep cycle battery, Chrome brand, for $75. My purchased solar panel was very different than the ones I built. Mine max out at 15 volts at 8 amps. Where this panel is like 21 volts at 1.5 amps. I decided to wire them up, each with their own diode, coming in parallel to the battery. I’m hoping this will give me enough of a voltage, over 14 volts as I hear, to peak charge my battery. And get me enough amps to recharge rather quickly. Only time will tell if I did it efficiently.

To install the solar panels on the roof, I decided to embed bolts into the roof for general mounting purposes. Since I was already using the expanding foam, I went ahead and used it here as well. I decided on carriage bolts for the smooth head, as I didn’t want to make it look as though it could be turned. I drilled holes in the roof that fit the bolt. On the roof side, up top, I drilled out the hole bigger to a half of an inch. Inside the fiberglass shell of the van, there is a plastic foam already in there. So I scooped it out around the inside of the holes. I then taped the bolts sticking up through the roof and poured the expanding foam-it 5 into the holes and let it go off. I used tape to protect the threads of the bolts. The roof had a thin layer of dirt on it that was enough to keep it from sticking. The excess just popped off.

Solar Panels Mounting Solar Panels Mounting Roof Solar Panels Roof Solar Panels

Once the foam went off, those bolts were in there, and still are. They are also water tight, I did add some silicone to the opening just in case, but it is insulated back the way it was before I installed them. I then used them to bolt down pieces of aluminum angle brackets. Then I just used long wood screws and screwed the aluminum brackets to the solar panels. Then it was just soldering the panels together and running the wire through the roof. There, I just used silicone, I didn’t bother using foam to fill the small hole for the wire.

So from there, the solar panel wire comes into the van and goes towards my voltage regulator, which you can see here. I changed the LEDs that I used on the circuit, and I just so happened to have found an old car battery tester while cleaning out an old garage. A little pocket size tester that says “overcharged”, “normal”, “alternator”, and “low battery”. Now the the alternator LED has so far done nothing, but the rest of the LEDs are important. So I added that little jewel to the mix. Then after fishing from storage an old project box that I had, and a repaint job, it is now my battery charger controller unit connecting my battery to my solar panels.

Battery Charging Monitor Deep Cycle Battery

Once there was renewable power, I ran wire the perimeter of the van with electricity. I then pulled off and installed a switch to power one of the strips of white LEDs. I installed another switch for the other LED strip. I installed a switch for my fan, and last but not least, I installed my 300 watt inverter that gives me two 120 AC outlets, and two USB charging outlets. I have the most part of the wiring hidden, but when all the wiring is complete, the wires will need to be addressed.

I have a water pump coming for the sink and shower, but before that, something else will be finished. It’s about half way done right now. I am just waiting on some parts and a final put together. I won’t tell you what it is, but let me just say, it will be real shitty.

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