A Bunch Of Things

Thing #1: Soon we will need to be working in container #1. I know, I know, what a concept. But we have used the space for storage, and that stuff will have to find a new home. One item in particular is the supply of metal that we have on hand for windows and doors. So one afternoon I built a roof-hung rack in my shop. I used 1.5″x1.5″ angle iron, welded the pieces together and then hung the unit from the carriolas with roofing screws. Here is the finished rack loaded with some steel:


Now my shop has a roof rack.

Thing #2: With the concrete for the walkway by the front door completed, there is only one more piece of front entry concrete to go — the first step at the bottom of the stairs. Right now it is just a muddy mess:


Tackling this last slab, Armando and I spent a day making forms for the pour and setting rebar. The next day he picked up another man and the three of us made easy work of pouring the concrete. As usual, after the guys finished pouring and screeding (striking the concrete flat), I stayed late to trowel the surface.

As I waited the sky became darker and darker. I got most of the slab finished, but still needed another hour or so before I could trowel the last part. While I waited for the water to evaporate I kept an eye on the sky and prepared a couple tarps that I could pull over the slab at the last second.

Ultimately I lost the battle with the rain. Cynthia and I pulled the tarps into position; it rained for several hours and by that time, the rainwater had run off the steps above and onto the new slab making streaks, and the slab was too far gone to work any more. So the next day, Armando troweled on a thin layer of cement and fine sand to even out the damage. Aside from a color difference (which will be a moot issue when we tile the steps five years from now), the step is just fine now.


This is the view from the front door. I like the geometry a lot. Because of the slope of the driveway, the bottom slab is actually tilted down about eight inches. It is really a ramp, but it is difficult to tell because of the triangular shape of the slab.

Thing #3 — Curing the floating house feeling: Now when you look at the house, it looks very tied to the ground except for containers #1 and #2. The house has too much “float.” We don’t like the black holes under the containers. Take a look at this panorama:


Cynthia and I held a design committee meeting about the issue. When the house is done, the two doors on container #1 will be open. We’ll build a roof and a floor, and the end wall will probably be glass block. So to ground this part of the house we decided to extend the foundation around the front of the house. We had a few of the six-inch foam building panels on hand so I decided to use them instead of buying concrete blocks. Here is Armando digging the foundation:


The foundation is poured and the panels are in place.


I’ll have more on this little project as it progresses.

Thing #4 — Doors!: Time is passing rapidly and our date for moving-in keeps getting pushed back. I have a lot of fabricating to do on the doors and windows and I have to get to it. But I have to spend a significant amount of time working with and supervising Armando on other projects. The other day I was expressing my anxiety over all of this to Cynthia. “Why don’t you hire a man to weld,” was her question to me. I want to be clear; Cynthia gets full credit for this — I wanted to do it all myself but it just wasn’t reasonable with our desire to move from The Pit. And so I hired another man. Arimas, a local young man with a lot of welding experience, was available and was anxious to hire on.

I worked with Arimas all his first day and we nearly completed three doors. I could have done just one myself so we are already ahead of the game. Cynthia took this good photo of Arimas:


I showed him how I made some wooden jigs to get the size of the door just right. In the next photo you can see that I formed the door inside the door jamb so that even if the jamb isn’t perfect, the door was custom fit. I held the cut-to-size door pieces in place with clamps, then had Arimas tack weld the corners so that the frame would hold square:


Sticks at the floor allow enough clearance for the floor tile plus space at the bottom and top of the door. The shims at the right side of the door provide for opening and closing clearance. This door frame is ready to be tack welded.

Next we took the tack-welded frame out of the door jamb, put it on the workbench, and completely welded the corners. Then we took the piece of container siding that used to be where the door opening is and cut it to fit into the door frame:


We tack welded the panel into the frame and now it is ready for sanding, urethane caulk to seal the panel to the frame, and paint:


After I got him going and over the course of three days, Arimas completed three doors, got the frames for two more doors ready for the metal panels (these are for the laundry and I still need to cut the panels from container #1), and made a door jamb for the kitchen door in #2. I’m happy that I actually listened to my very smart wife. Full credit to Cynthia!

Thing #5 — Dealing with a lot of water: A lot of water runs off the Big Roof and drops close to the house. In just a couple weeks, the falling water dug quite a hole at the west side of the house and this isn’t good. I decided to extend the roof away from the house.

Armando and I erected two posts for the roof extension:


Then Arimas and I spent a morning framing the little roof extension:


As Arimas set the next rafter into place, I ground the previously-welded joints smooth, cut the tops of the columns off, and applied a coat of paint to the welds.

We were just about ready to apply the roofing panels when our Internet provider arrived to install service here at the new house. (We’ll have overlap for a month or two, but it is worth it; Cynthia and I are sitting in our new house today, Sunday, both enjoying some peace and quiet. She is reading about soap making and I am writing this entry. It is so nice to hear the chirps of the birds without hearing all the car and truck traffic that we get at The Rental Pit.)

Armando was digging the footing trench for the foundation extension, so I pulled him off that to help Arimas install the roof panels. With the panels installed, now we just need to pour a small concrete slab for the water to drop onto.

Thing #6 — Internet: We are now up and running with 3 megs at the new house. Because we are out of town we have few Internet options. We could get a measly 1 meg from the telephone company, Cable & Wireless, for about $45 per month. We had them before but service is very iffy because the signal has to travel through a long, old, buried copper cable that comes several kilometers from town. For a long time we paid them for 2 megs, but I never got more than 1 when I would run a speed test. One time we were out of service for thirteen days!

Other companies say they can provide service, but when they get here they see that their antennas don’t point in our direction. But one company agreed to put a small antenna pointing our way, so we can get a pretty good 3 megs for $110 per month. It puts a dent in our budget, but we depend on the Internet for so much. Maybe now we’ll be able to have reliable entertainment video downloads and better Skype conversations. We had Netflix in the States and watched a lot of movies but because of the slow speed available to us here we haven’t been able to watch movies much at all. Here’s a screenshot of a speed test that I just ran:

Fullscreen capture 7212013 24449 PM.bmp

To be clear, the speed test was run through Cable & Wireless, but we are not using them as our service provider.

That’s a pretty darn good speed. And oh, Cynthia has been sitting next to me watching YouTube videos and reports that the videos run without stopping to load all the time. Life is good.

Thing Hot Item #7: Here’s a photo of Cynthia cleaning some of the beads that she made:


That’s all for this week. I think we made some good progress. Thanks for stopping by.

12 thoughts on “A Bunch Of Things

  1. Your major project is more and more interesting to us… It took a long time for ME to figure out how this was all coming together, but … now I see and am STILL impressed and enjoying your industry and progress… BRAVO!
    Cynthia looks happy AND industrious too .. great looking sample of beads … I would love to see more and …some detail (and maybe her plans for them…?)

  2. Awesome instructions and game plan. Your project is coming along nice. Love the pic of your dog in the middle of all the work. I’m still in the planning stages of my container project so checking yours out has my wife and I excited about starting our project…My greates challange is I’m in the Houston, Texas within the city limits…looking at creative ways of getting around some city codes. We will see what happens. Thanks for the great details and pics.

    • Hi Ishman, Thanks very much. I’ll try to keep the videos coming. I don’t envy you trying to do this in Houston, good luck! But I think there is a lot of leeway under the alternative part of the Building Code. You will just have to massage it to your advantage and try to sell it to the powers that be. Fred

  3. Hello Fred,
    the water issue has my interest. Water in Panama is always too; too much, or too little. With all the runoff from the roof, have you considered building a cistern to catch irrigation/housekeeping water for the dry season? We had about 7,000 gallons underground with an electric pump system for the dry months when we lived in Venezuela. The pump was on demand with pressure maintained around 50 psi. I hate to add to your workload but now is the time to plan for such things.

    • Hi Jim, sorry for the delay in responding to your comment; we’ve had the pedal to the metal, even working most Sundays. I’m dog tired! Yes, water. Too much or too little. We had that dry spell because the rainy season was late in arriving, and even the big community cistern was dry for the first time ever. But now you should see how much water pours off the big roof. The fish pond is out of the question for storage, but we do plan another pond in the back yard. I think we can tap into a natural spring. I’m somewhat concerned about using water that has passed over the galvanized roof panels. Perhaps as you say, we could use it for irrigation and showers, etc., but use bottled or reverse osmosis for drinking. Any comments/suggestions? Thanks, Fred

      • We are glad to see the web issues resolved, we were dying waiting for the newest developments and you have been BUSY! 🙂
        I would not use catchwater for drinking/cooking but for everything else it can be a godsend during the dry spells. The house in Venezuela had a garage-sized concrete tank underground and it saved us during the dry seasons there. We had water delivered in 5 liter jugs for drinking, like our neighbors, but we lived in town.

  4. Fascinating build. I’ve been looking over your old posts here, and I like how you’ve made your doors. One thing I have not seen (I may have missed it) is how you allow for door knobs or handles. Do you have anything you can share on that? Also I am interested in the hinge configuration on your doors.
    The reason I ask is I am planning to put a secure exterior door in my container and would like to learn anything I can from you’re experience.
    Great work,

    • Hi Ian,

      Door hinges — As you have probably seen, I made the doors from a frame of 2″x2″x1/16″ steel tubing and the door jambs from the same 2″ tubing. Problems came in when I wanted to attach a butt hinge — the tubing is too thin to hold a screw. I could have welded on some steel butt hinges made for the purpose (they have no screw holes, you just weld them to the door and the frame). But I had a bunch of nice stainless steel butt hinges on hand and thought I would use them because rust is an issue here. Where each hinge was to be mounted, I ended up welding a piece of 2″x4″x1/4″ flat stock to face of the door tubing and another piece to the face of the door jamb tubing. I then face-mounted the stainless butt hinges on these pieces of flat stock by drilling holes and tapping machine screw threads into the flat stock. I bought half-inch long, 1/4/20 round-head stainless machine screws for the application instead of flat-head screws to give me a bit of wiggle room if I drilled a tad off center. It was much easier to align the hinges in the face-mount fashion than on the edge of the door and jamb as is the standard way. My way isn’t an official way to do it and some may say that they don’t like to see the exposed butt hinge in an unconventional application, but I’m building on the fly here. Also it is a lot of work tapping all those screws, but the hinges don’t look bad all stainless and all. I’m happy enough with it.

      On doors that need security where the exposed hinge screws could be removed or the hinge pin tapped out (such as your exterior door if it is an out-swing door), on the hinge-side of the door I drilled three holes in the door jamb and welded three short pieces of rebar to the door. When the door is closed, the pins on the doors fit into the holes in the jambs making it impossible to remove the door even if a thief removes the hinge pins. Our front door is a different story from all the other doors because it is made from 2″x4″ tubing. There is sufficient space to drill holes in the door for a standard door lock (although I did have to weld a short extension onto the door handle part that connects one side of the lock to the other side of the lock because most door locks are made for doors up to 1-3/4″ thick. My door is two-inches thick. I think that official extensions are available but good luck to me finding it here in Panama. It was a dicey little welding job…).

      As to the locks and handles, I’m still developing this and I am afraid that you will have to stay tuned. I have been developing plans for some keypad controlled electric door locks to provide better security between rooms inside the house but that is down the road after the tile is all installed. I’ll try to post something in the next few months… Although three doors, the one on Cynthia’s studio, the door at the roof deck, and the back door are already done. They obviously had to have locks on them. I bought weld-on, face-mount spring latch/deadbolt locks and welded them onto the face of the doors. The doors can only be opened from the outside with a key, there is no handle to turn to open the door. In-elegant but high security. Where the key cylinder has to pass through the door, I drilled one-inch holes through the 2″x2″ door tubing. From the outside, only the face of the cylinder can be seen, quite a streamlined look, not giving a thief a lot to work with.

      Thanks for your comment and question Ian. You got me thinking about upcoming tasks… Fred

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