Monday, August 31, 2009

8/31/2009 Day 5

It was rather chilly when I left work today and headed towards my mobile apartment. I left a window open on the “cool side” of the van (the side that receives the sun last). So today, it didn't start feeling warm until about 11:30. The generator started right up from inside, which was a definite bonus. After that, running the air conditioner made it rather cold in here. I suspect the outside temperature is not as high as the other days have been. I suspect this trend will continue on into winter. Anyways, I ended up sleeping until almost 3PM, which is phenomenal. Shortly thereafter, I turned off the A/C and the generator to see if it would stay cool inside. The breeze seems to have died down, so unfortunately, the van is starting to heat up again.

Left the van around 3:30 for the gym. Did a few upper body exercises and finished up with a 3 mile run (18min), after which I felt like puking. Did the hygiene thing and returned to the van shortly after 5pm for a quick rest before heading into work to rest.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

8/26/2009 Day 4

Each day, I seem to edge out a little bit further before turning the generator on. I woke up at 10:40AM today. Actually, I half-woke up earlier, and scooted towards the cooler side of the van. The sun comes up and hits the driver's side, and any slats of sun peaking through warm up that side of the bed. But it is relatively cooler just two more feet to the right (North). I suspect that when I get the curtains in blocking even more light, the inside will stay cooler longer.

Had to drain the air conditioner again today around 1PM. Putting a physical drain is becoming an even higher priority, one I hope to accomplish this weekend. I also hope to remove the other seat in the van and replace it with a makeshift table/shelf (actually an old wooden packing crate I have). I came up with some ideas today on putting in a sink, all of which is dependent on the table going in. With a proper table and “sink”, it's not too far of a jump to form a small “galley” for cooking rudimentary meals and perform basic washing.

Around 3PM I took off for lunch and when I came back, I fired up the generator -- no issue. But the air conditioner wouldn't start. Power was getting to the plug.. other things I plugged in worked. Over the next few minutes, I tried multiple things to get the A/C working with now luck. The temperature started ratcheting up and I hurried to open windows. But ultimately I was becoming drenched in sweat inside that vehicle as the air conditioner failed to start. Finally, I turned off the generator, played with the circuit breaker, and started back up. This time the A/C worked. The only thing I could find in the generator was that if you attempted to start the A/C within 3 minutes after a power failure, it may refuse to start the compressor to prevent overloading it.

Based on today's failure, I may consider getting a Vornado circulator to use as a backup to the air conditioner.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

8/25/2009 Day 3

Today the generator ran out of gas. I was actually expecting this to happen, I just didn't know when. I believe it was supposed to run for something like 11 hours on 4 gallons. I ran it from 10AM till 4:30PM yesterday (6.5 hours) and then today from 10:30AM until it ran out at 1:30PM (3 hours). So I got 9.5 hours of usage out of the tank. The generator claims to be a 4 gallon tank, but when I went to fill it, I could only squeeze in 3.23 gallons. So I calculate that to be 2.9 hours/gallon, or... 0.34 gallons/hour. If was 4 gallons, I would have gotten 11.6 hours out of the tank, so the runtime is fairly accurate, the tank holding amount is not. I think it would be easier to figure out how many gallons the tank holds than it is to figure out how long it would run at 50% load. Granted, I'm not even sure if my air conditioner pulls “50% load”.

Fill-up: 3.239 gallons @ $2.559/gallon for $8.29

I discovered that I hadn't packed a towel this week, so I can't hit the gym until I locate one. Alternatively, I could use a t-shirt for the job, but I've done that before under different circumstances and it didn't work out quite so well.

Monday, August 24, 2009

8/24/2009 Day 2

Earlier last week, I had taken the van in to get the tailpipe replaced. I also wired up the generator so I could start it from inside the van. I used a 4-wire trailer hookup kit. The one side is spliced in with the generator's key start switch. The other side is inside the van. There is a connector close to the generator that I can use to unplug (for when I drop the generator).

I bought a toggle switch and a pushbutton switch, but I have yet to solder everything together. I can work it by connecting the battery to the starter for a few seconds. To shut it off, I have the connect the ignition to ground until the generator stops running. This is a bit backwards from most starter switches I know, but it's workable. I tested this quite a few times over the weekend, so I was pretty psyched about being able to start my generator from inside the van.

Today I didn't wake up till 10am and it wasn't as hot as last week. But it was getting warm. I grabbed my wires and tried starting the generator. I could hear it trying, but no dice. After several attempts, I finally went out to the generator and started it by hand using the choke. This worked and back into the van I went.

Getting back to sleep wasn't easy. I slept, but I ended up tossing and turning. While the generator is fairly muted inside the van, I wonder if that or the vibrations keep me awake, or if it's just the amount of daylight coming in that is keeping me awake. The air conditioner was making it downright chilly inside. I even found myself wearing the blanket throughout the day!

Anyways, I "slept" till about 1pm before starting my day. I'm actually not sure what to do between 1pm and 6pm.

3PM: I've cleaned out the van. Apparently I didn't pack my screwdriver, so I am unable to hang the curtain rods. However, now that I have cleaned out the van and played a game of Spider Solitaire, I am exceedingly bored. I don't want to show up for work before 5:20pm (at which point, I will head to the one bathroom for teeth brushing purposes). The boredom will definitely motivate me to hit the gym, I just wanted to try a full day in the van today.

4:30PM: I am going to head out and get breakfast before work.

Monday, August 17, 2009

8/17/2009 Day 1

Apparently I chose the hottest day of the year to test this out. I woke up around 9AM with it being stinking hot. I don't have a thermometer in here, so I don't really know just how hot it was. But, I later learned that today hit triple digits. Also, it was very humid.

After I woke up, I must confess I got a bit nervous about firing up the generator in the work parking lot. I had chose the side of the building that almost never gets used, but there were some cars near me and people would occasionally walk by. What would they think seeing me hop out and fire up my generator? Would anyone raise a ruckus?

There was one person in particular that kept walking back and forth in front of my van. I suspected that she was on a lunch break and chose to spend it in the rear parking lot. I ended up waiting until she had gone past the driver's side of the van. Then I hopped out, fired up the generator, and jumped right back in.

The air conditioner worked great for cooling the van down. Within minutes, things were much more tolerable inside, cool even. However, I couldn't get back to sleep. I could lay there with my eyes closed, but every time I came close to drifting off, I would hear a noise and be instantly alert. I was certain that someone from work (perhaps a security guard) would come walking up to the van to inquire about my running generator. Nothing happened, but I lost a lot of sleep over it. At the least, I felt rested.

Around 1pm, I noticed the air conditioner was making lots of "water noises". Shortly after that, it started getting warmer in the room. The air conditioner wasn't blowing as cool of air as it had been. At this point, I decided enough was enough and prepared to hit the gym.

Later, I worked out that the air conditioner had filled up with water. It's designed to turn collected water into water vapor and send it out the vent. My guess is that on really humid days like today, it had nowhere to send the water vapor, so it collects. I will have to run a drain hose from the air conditioner to a point outside my van. Hopefully I can do this without putting another hole in the floor.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Equipment

Update 6/6/2011:
As you should have gathered from previous posts, I did end up needed to run the generator again.
Here we are at the "22-month" status.  My operating expenses come to $50month and if you factor in the original equipment costs ($4,750) divided over 22 months ($215), it comes to $265/month expenses.  In other words, I spent $5,860 over the last 22 months vs $13,200 on an apartment ($500/month rent + $100/month utilities) for 44% savings!

Update 4/14/2010.   I have been collating my recent expenses.  While I still plan to add updates and summaries below, a detailed list of my expenses is being kept here.  I will not be tracking vehicle fuel on this spreadsheet, but will maintain that on a separate sheet (soon to be available).  Additionally, since I shouldn't be running a generator anymore (it's not even on the van anymore), I don't expect generator fuel to increase either.

With the recent conversion to solar panels, I spent an additional $1737 on solar panels, charge controllers, insulation, batteries, and various wiring.

As of 4/14/2010:
Non-Fuel Operating Costs: $387
Equipment Costs: $4698
Total Costs: $5,085
Comparitively, a $500 apartment plus $100 utiltiies ($600) would have cost me: $5200
So, as of today, I have a $115 savings.  This is somewhat low as a result of me purchasing all the van renovation stuff.  However, I shouldn't need to purchase anything large for a LONG time.  If my current solar panel is not up to the task of keeping my batteries charged, I may have to consider another $600 solar panel for the roof, but I'm hoping it won't come to that.

I have also freed up the Sharp Air conditioner and the PoweMax generator for use at the house.  I could claim to sell them to myself and reduce my equipment costs, but I like to keep it real.

I break down the cost of my equipment and expenses below, but my equipment cost from August 2009 till today (2/19/2010) is  $2,856.  

Operating Costs (as of 2/19/2010): $890.66
Omitting travel related fuel:  $290.70
  • Van fuel: last fill-up 12/3/2009 ($21.07), running total: $599.92
  • Gen fuel: last fill up 9/28: $5.68.  running: $25.68
  • Propane: (as of 2/19/2010): $9
  • Insurance: $20.17/mo starting 8/2010.  As of 2/19/2010:  $121.02
  • Gym Membership: $20/mo startin 8/2010.  As of 2/19/2010:  $120
  • Other: $15 (inspection)
From 8/17/2009 - 2/19/2010 (6-month mark) total: $3746.79
  • Operating cost monthly  breakdown:  $148.43 (w/o travel:  $48.45)
  • Total cost monthly breakdown: $624.44 (w/o travel: $524.45)
 Initial Equipment

  • '91 Chevy Van G20 with 122000 miles  ($1800)
    •  This beast came equipped with a hardwood dashboard, seat that folds into a bed, and dual-blinds on each window in the rear.  It also has a 2" hitch, luggage rack, and ladder to reach the roof.
    • I added curtains around the rear interior of the van to further block out light and provide additional insulation.
  • Haul-Master 500lb Cargo Carrier ($80)
  • PowerMax XP4400E 4,400 Watt 6.5 HP OHV Gas Powered Generator With Wheel Kit And Electric Start (CARB Compliant)  ($480)
    - I wired in a "remote start" that allows me start and stop this beast from inside the van.  The generator sits on the aforementioned Cargo Carrier.
    - This portable air conditioner  has a duct/vent that I can run out a van window. In fact, I have semi-permanently mounted the duct/vent in the van window and I can connect and disconnect it from the air conditioner as needed.  This keeps the inside of the van cool on hot days.
  • Century 6205 2.6-Gallon Portable Toilet ($50)
    This double-gasketed portable toilet allows me to perform necessary functions without hoofing it to the treeline or a neighboring gas station.  It's a step up from using bottles and keeps the smells inside.  Most dept. stores and RV shops sell the pour in "deodorant" for these to help keep the smell from building up.  At the end of each week, this gets emptied into a regular house toilet.

 Initial Cost: $2,665

Equipment added in September, 2009:

  • Coleman SportCat Catlytic Heater ($50)
    This is a catalytic propane heater that runs off of the smaller propane tanks (16oz).  These heaters are considered safe for indoor use if you have some ventilation.  They produce no harmful gasses or smoke, consuming only Oxygen.  As long as the vehicle is vented (allowing fresh Oxygen to enter), they are very safe for use.  This one is supposed to run for 14 hours off of a 16.4oz tank.  The problem I had with is is that it only puts out 1400btu.  I want something that will crank the heat out to quickly warm the van.  Then I would shut it off while I slept in my sleeping bag.  In December, I replaced it with the ProCat.
  • Two 16.4oz propane tanks ($3 - included in operating cost)

 Running Cost: $2,715

Equipment added in December, 2009:

  • Coleman ProCat Catalytic Heater ($85).  This replaced the SportCat Heater above and kicks out 3,000 BTU.  It also has a small fan that runs off of two D batteries. 
  • Inflatable Twin Air Mattress ($50).  The bed that came with the van was quite uncomfortable.  The air mattress takes care of that.  It also comes with a built in pump to quickly inflate the mattress as needed.

 Running Cost: $2,850.

Purchases in January, 2010:

  • Two 16.4oz propane tanks ($6 - my how prices double in winter, operating cost)
 Running Cost: $2,850

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tracking Expenses

Google Doc has changed how they "publish" spreadsheets, so from now on, I'm just going to publish the link here. The summary is below.

Totals as of November 15th, 2011:
Equipment: $5,500
Operating: $1,380
Total: $6,879

My comparison is a $500/mo apartment + $100 utilities.
From 8/1/2009 to 11/1/2011, the cost would be $16,000.
Which means I have currently saved $9,120 or 43%.