Shipping Container Project: Solar is up!

When most people ask how my “tiny house” is progressing; they want to see pictures of the interior. Everyone is fascinated by the flooring choice, wall materials, countertops, and bathroom fixtures. However, I get very few questions about the systems that actually run everything. The entire thing is designed to be 95% self sufficient and operate in an off-grid format.

For all my fellow Energy Nerds out there — this one is for you!

Solar System Overview:

  1. Three 330 watt panels on the roof connected to custom tilt + turn mounts (Roughly 1kw of solar input total)
  2. Charge controller for managing the solar power (Renogy Rover 60 AMP)
  3. 24V Battery bank = 4x 180AH 6V deep cycle batteries wired in Series
  4. 3000 watt inverter with 9000 watt surge capability.  (AIMS Pure Sine)

Now the above system overview is probably too simplified for some people and a bunch of gibberish to others. First, I’ll provide a basic description of how this all works, and we can get technical later.

View of the 3 tilt turn panels installed

Whenever the sun is shining it’s releasing Energy that can be captured and used. The three solar panels on our roof are harvesting this energy and sending it (through thick wires) down into the container where it hits the Renogy Charge Controller. The charge controller stabilizes the solar power and inputs it safely into the batteries. It insures the batteries do not receive TOO much solar electricity (which would result in battery failure and be unsafe). It also keeps the solar electricity moving in one direction — you wouldn’t want electricity going BACKWARDS towards the panels. Basically, a charge controller is required in any off-grid solar system.


After the charge controller — the electricity is pumped into our battery bank. This is essentially four large batteries designed to be capable of holding various amounts of electricity at any given time. The amount of electricity contained in the batteries is displayed on the charge controller as a percentage. 0% meaning we have no usable solar electricity stored in the batteries and 100% meaning we are fully charged. Above you can see that I currently have 71% of usable electricity remaining, with 102watts of electricity going into the batteries from the Solar Panels. (the sun was setting at this point, because normally our panels are inputting around 700W on a sunny day) Making sense?

6V batteries wired in series creating 24V battery bank

The next step is getting the sunlight energy from the batteries to the house. This is done with our AIMS 3000W Inverter which converts the battery electricity to usable “household” electricity and sends it to all the outlets, lights, appliances, etc… Whenever the Inverter is turned on, the outlets throughout the shipping container are active. Plug something in and it works! Just like a standard household outlet. The 3000W part of the Inverter is describing how much maximum electricity we have available through this size Inverter. FOR EXAMPLE: 5 lights, radio, the mini fridge, fan, and my laptop use about 265 watts — well within the capacity of this Inverter. As you turn things on, the amount of watts rises, with the maximum available being 3000 watts.

This particular AIMS Inverter also has the option to charge the batteries from a standard “on-grid” source of electricity. If the container was near a structure that has grid power available; you can plug the container into a outlet (insuring proper breaker size for the amp draw) and have this charge the batteries or even bypass our entire system and run the shipping container off standard power.

AIMS Inverter hard at work

We will get into mechanical systems in a separate blog — but I want to note that our Minisplit (which is how we have air conditioning during summer) uses roughly 825 watts and is the biggest electrical user in the shipping container. Recently, during a sunny 90F day — I worked for 6 hours with the Minisplit providing AC the entire time. The batteries had a 100% charge when I arrived and were at 45% when I left.

Using a very inexpensive wall mounted power meter; you can view the total amount of electricity being used at any given time. Below you can see that I am using 463 watts of electricity at this point in time. By looking at this little power meter, and comparing it to the Renogy Charge controller — you can actively see if you are using more energy than the sun is currently inputting. Pretty fun thing to do as you turn things on and the sun moves around 🙂

Solar used monitor
We were using 463 watts of electricity when this picture was taken

Solar System Budget:

  • 330W Solar Panel x3
    • $215 each = $645 total
  • Renogy Rover 60 AMP Charge Controller (12/24V)
    • $215 total
  • AIMS 3000W Inverter/Charger
    • $925 total
  • Solar LCD Power/Energy Display
    • $20 total
  • 400 AMP/Hour 6V Batteries x4
    • $85 each = $340 total

$2,145.00 total cost before wiring, disconnect, switches, etc

I’ll write up a technical article later that outlines how/why we wired everything including wire sizes, connections types, lengths etc.

For now, this is a good overview of where we started at for our Shipping container tiny house renewable energy system. We plan to double the battery bank in 1-2 weeks, but for now this is working great.

Thank You,

Written By:

Luke Langhals

Tour Du Mont Blanc (French Side) Part 4: Hitchhiking Away

My mountain haven served a hiker style breakfast early and plentifully. After fueling up for the day and chatting with my fellow adventurers — It was time to begin hiking onward. I left the hostel alone, knowing that my new Australian/American hiking friends would not be far behind me and always enjoying the option of having everyone chase me up and over the mountains 🙂

Leaving the hostel begins with an uphill climb to the only major mountain pass for today. It is continuously up with snow patches surrounding on all sides. Sometimes walking on stones and other times walking through snow.

Leaving Hostel

Looking backwards you have a great view of similar sights from the night before. Majestic mountain peaks, green rolling hills, wide open valleys, and snow patches for miles…..all without a building or home in site. I couldn’t imagine a better way to start a morning, and I can honestly say this was the most majestic morning hikes that I might have ever experienced.

After the coffee fueled uphill hike; I eventually reached the pass between two mountains. Off to the left is a spur trail towards another summit. In the distance I could see Julia hiking up this side spur — which is about a 1-mile round trip that is entirely optional. The Australian cousin crew caught up with me at the mountain pass. I discussed the spur trail briefly with them but ended up deciding on proceeding forwards without attempting the additional summit.

Luke pic 3
Me on the pass — ready to head downhill

The trail forward was a little confusing. I was standing on a rock podium trying to get an idea of where it leads. The trail was covered in snow and seemed to drop off the face of the world in about 100 yards. I assumed there was some switchbacks that lead me down the steep mountain face……However, one of the cousins had hiked this part of the TMB before, and she informed me the trail descends directly down the steep snow face and sliding was the best method.

snow slide
Before the sledding fun

I trudged through the snow and up to the edge of the “drop.” The mountain did in fact become much steeper down here and I could see long tracks in the snow from other hikers butts 🙂 I could not see any footprints, which meant that sliding was the method here. I sat down with my 30 lb pack and began using my hiking pole to push myself into a controlled slide. The controlled part of my slide quickly turned uncontrolled and I slid off target too far left and was forced to jab my hiking pole into the snow to slow my descent. This bent the pole but did allow me to climb onto a jutting rock surface to better access a strategy.

Next, I trekked sideways with the slope and got over to a section where previous hiker’s sledding had left an imprint. I settled by butt and pack into the bobsled track. Using my hip as the main point of contact and pointing my legs straight downhill. Beginning the slide this time was easy and i kicked my legs while sliding to keep me on track. My new method worked! And this butt sledding became a very fun experience — I was whooping for joy while elated at my success a controlled slide down the face of the mountain.

snow slide looking back
Looking back at snow slide area
Sledding fun!












After sliding downhill for awhile — the landscape changes quickly. You leave the snowy/rocky outcroppings and enter into a lush green valley. It’s amazing how quickly the views change from snowy rocks to babbling brooks. I finally caught up to the hikers that had been in the distance for most of the day. They were nice enough to snap a picture of me hiking downwards into the valley.

after snow
Continuing deeper into the valley

The next several miles are completely downhill, as the trail stretches towards the valley bottom. Per normal in the Alps — the view is amazing. Surrounding hikers with mountains on all sides.

Going Downhill after crest.jpg

Eventually, small signs of civilization begin popping up. Fenced cows in the distance and even a small barn. The trail winds past old stone structures that have been long abandoned and were probably used by mountain farmers generations ago.

It is not an overly difficult section of trail, but there are a few water crossings to be careful of. I managed to completely soak one of my feet after a slip.

Going Downhill.jpg
First sign of civilization in quite awhile 🙂

I took several breaks during this section. In large part due to the amazing scenery. Blissful is the best way to describe the feeling of sitting and looking across this great landscape.

Also, the trail begins passing through some pastures and quickly the next small farming village comes into view far below.

Luke Jumping

Upon reaching the small village, I had a decision to make. This was the first road I had seen in awhile, and the next leg of my European vacation needed to begin at some point….the road gave me an opportunity to begin hitchhiking towards civilization and eventually across France to begin the Camino de Santiago.

I was sad to leave the TMB, but this seemed like the best chance I would have in awhile. Some of my hiking companions passed me and continued on their journey’s…not wanting to explain a goodbye on the trail; I told them I would catch up at some point. I hope they all had a great Tour du Mont Blanc!

The small village here is actually more of a collection of farming buildings. There wasn’t exactly a train station, so I set off across France on foot. My thumb out and a smile on my face.

On wards — Camino de Santiago here I come 🙂









Tour Du Mont Blanc (French Side) Part 3: 2nd Day Hiking

Les Contamines to Refuge Du Bonhomme

Camping Le Pontet offers a nice small breakfast for hikers with plenty of coffee to fuel up before the 2nd day of hiking Tour du Mont Blanc. I set out before 8 am, with hikers in front of me and behind me. All headed in the same direction.

Leaving Camp Pontet
Leaving Camp Le Pontet

The beginning is mostly flat and tree lined. A mixture of gravel trail and roads with small outcroppings of various buildings littering the first 1-2 miles of hiking. The crisp morning air was refreshing and the tree covered section should be relished before the upcoming elevation gain and rising sun (another day in the European heat wave).

A small stream/river runs along this flat section of trail, and you will spot a beautiful small church across a bridge on your right. This is named Church of Notre Dame de la Gorge and is a known tourist attraction in the area. I wish I could have viewed the interior; I heard it is beautiful.

Church of Notre-Dame de la Gorge

Immediately after I passed the Church, the trail turns to slick stone and begins heading steadily uphill. Another hiker had mentioned that this section could be very slippery in the rain, but luckily we had dry conditions this morning. During this uphill section, I got trapped behind a slower moving American tour group who had hired a guide for their own personal Tour du Mont Blanc trip. Their large guided group hike was in stark contrast to my personal solo adventure. If I was traversing with a 10-15 person group, it might have been beneficial to choose a guided trek; it was nice to hear their guide explaining various facts about the Tour and offering different advice on hiking.

First uphill behind group
Beginning Uphill Climb 🙂

The smooth rock uphill climb is pretty enjoyable, with trees on both sides. The coffee was still pushing me forward at a quick pace and I made it past the American tour group and flew upwards — for the mountains were calling….and I needed to find them.

Continuing to gain elevation, the trail winds through the forest and offers some waterfall views along the way. Both of which were cascading with large amount of snow melt and supply a good excuse to take a break.

Trees and Stream
Trees and streams 🙂

After tree surrounded trekking all morning, you eventually break away from the forest and immediately are presented with mountains on all sides. Of course the ones in front are upwards, and I knew that the elevation gain was not going to stop. However, the next 2 miles of trail was extremely pleasant and relatively flat. Several small mountain hostels are located on each side of the trail. Around 10:30 am I arrived at a very well kept public restroom area high up in the mountains. Immediately following this is a very cute hostel/restaurant with an outdoor patio. Many of the hikers who were at the same hostel as me the night before were stopping here to rest and refuel.

Leaving Forest into mountains
Leaving the forest, for mountains



After the long morning climb, I was happy to arrive at this small refugee (La Balme) and sit at one of the umbrella covered tables. Here I ordered a coffee and small breakfast while enjoying nearly 360 degree views of green fields and jagged mountain peaks. The owner here spoke excellent English and for $4.00 — I had the most beautiful location for a small breakfast.

Lunch Cafe

After leaving the cafe, I hiked onward with beautiful cow pastures on both sides. Refueled by brunch and coffee, I sped forward towards the approaching elevation gain, which i could see several miles in front of me. This entire section of hike honestly seems like something out of a postcard — almost like it is not real.

After breaking away from the cow fields, the trail begins heading steeply upwards towards today’s summit. Elevation is again difficult but not without great rewards. The view I stumbled into, was nothing short of the quintessential sights I have always imagined the Alps would offer. It is a beautiful section for hiking upwards.

View backwards to lunch cafe
The view backwards, the lunch cafe is down on the right

Rolling stone covered fields behind, and jagged mountain peaks ahead. This section of trail should be relished by all. If the steep incline didn’t slow me down, the constant looking around definitely lowered my pace.

Luke hiking up.jpg

I was lucky enough to have some fellow hikers snap a picture of me on this climb. Again you can see the distant trail that I’ve already covered, and the extent of the elevation gain that I would assume is only about 1/3 complete by this point.

I met some fellow American hikers here. They were from New York and we talked briefly about their plans to do the Tour du Mont blanc, as well as home. It’s interesting to run into American’s on European treks. You get so used to talking with locals and visitors from other European countries — you sometimes get very excited to talk about anything from home.

I would end up leap frogging with this group several times today; them passing me and me passing them. The trail onward is slow progress. Speed is hindered by by elevation as well as my first encounter with snow!

Heading up to Col Bron1
Beautiful Hike!
First snow
First snow!

The summit becomes more apparent in the distance, and now the hike is more perseverance than anything else.

Rocky and snowy switchbacks will become your new best friend while hiking the final stretch towards Col du Bonhomme (the first summit for today).

Reaching the Col is somewhat of a mixture between trying to catch your breath while simultaneously having your breath taken away from this 360 degree Alpine view. The summit was filled with 30-50 other hikers relaxing, enjoying the views, and snacking. I stopped to chat with my American friends, and met a group of cousins from Australia as well. **Travel Tip: Talking to strangers while hiking helps me feel more cemented into the fabric of the trail, while also providing someone to take pictures of me 🙂

Top of Col Bron
Finally reaching today’s first summit! AMAZING 360 views

After taking a needed break, I left Col Du Bonhomme and steered myself towards the next summit for today. Trekking through the now often snow covered trail and climbing over boulders and rock outcroppings protruding through the ice.

After Col Bron1
View between the Cols

The area between Col Du Bonhomme and Col de la Croix is amazing. There is not a  structure in site — and you are graced with mountain views at every turn. After Col Bron2

Through my conversations with my fellow hikers, I learned that habitations headed forward could be very sparse….and many had booked ahead in Les Chapieux (the small village where I had planned to stay) However, I had heard of a beautiful mountaintop hostel just over the next Col. It was a little shorter than I planned on stopping, but I figured they would have a phone to call ahead and check on accommodations further down the mountain.

Immediately after crossing Col de la Croix, I saw the amazing Refuge Col de la Croix du Bonhomme — perfectly named for the two amazing peaks I had just traversed.

Refuge Col Bronhomme
The most amazing views you could ever want from a hostel

I entered the hostel, and asked the front clerk to check ahead for accommodations. It was still pretty early in the day (2 pm), and my plan was to continue onward. After a few minutes of him speaking french to the other hostel, he hung up, smiled at me, and said — “It looks like you will be staying here tonight.” — apparently there was no room for me at the next Inn 🙂

I was happy to oblige, as the front porch of this refuge had the most beautiful mountain views, without another building in site. Also….they had food, beer, and a roof to put over my head.

Guitar Refuge
Thanks for the music!

The 4 American’s I had previously met today walked in not long after and we all shared a beer together. The hostel provided a guitar which one of them was happy to play and provide music for our small group. I actually found out their names! (Emily, Brian, Tyler, & Nancy). They would end up hiking on to the next village, but the music and laughs were greatly appreciated.


I also ran into the Australian cousins and a girl named Julia who I recognized from the trail today. We all ended up having hiker family dinner at the hostel together and I even got to play a game of scrabble.

Refuge Col Bron View
Hard to beat this view from your front porch

Overall, today was difficult, rewarding, and gave me my first taste of the ‘real’ alpine spirit. Surrounded by nothing but fellow hikers, nature, and mountains.

Thanks for reading!

Luke Langhals


Extra Pictures from Today!

Extra Pics1
Green pastures surrounded by snow covered mountains
Extra Pics2
View from the Refuge
Extra Pics3
Ice and Rocks
Extra Pics4
View from Refuge Outhouse window









Tour Du Mont Blanc (French Side) Part 2: First Day Hiking

Les Houches to Les Contamines

My morning began with a quick breakfast in Chamonix and a trip to the local train station. From here it is an inexpensive 15 minute ride to a smaller village named Les Houches (Pronounced Lay Joose for my fellow American friends). A very nice semi-english speaking attendant was able to get me a ticket and show me where to board the train. This was my first train ride in Europe, and the step by step tutorial this woman provided would prove to be invaluable throughout the trip.

Upon arriving in Les Houches, you can begin searching for signs that say TMB. There was luckily a group of Brits headed to hike the TMB as well, so I asked them which direction I should be headed. The confident male responded “Just follow us, I think this is the way.”  His wife turned back to me and said “He has no idea….the blind leading the blind.” An expression that I ended up hearing multiple times during this trip 🙂

Les Houches Hikers from train
Following my fellow backpackers off the train

There are a couple ways to start the first day on the TMB hike — 1. you can take the cable car and eliminate several uphill miles or 2. you can begin at the roadside trailhead and climb your way up.

Les Houches Village
Walking into Les Houches to find the trail head

It is about a 15 minute walk from the train to the hiking trailhead, although I will point out that I passed through the town 3 times before actually finding the location to begin….. (It is through town, pass the visitor station & cable car, then under an overpass on your left)

Les Houches Trail Head
Here is the TMB trail head in Les Houches

I was here to hike, so I chose option 2 deciding to get a solid day of elevation gain. The trail starts with several hundred wooden stairs. The wooden steps and dirt trail gains elevation quickly before transferring back to a mixture of steep paved/gravel streets. Leaving the town, you will get a great view of the village and it’s surrounding mountains. This was the last point, I had phone service for the majority of today — the trailhead was a good spot to touch base with family before disembarking.

TMB Just Beginning
About 500 yards up the trail, climbing quickly

I happened to be in Europe during a complete and unforgiving heat wave. It was easily 90F outside and the sun was beating down upon the roadways. About 1/4 way into the climb, i regretted not taking the cable car and avoiding this part 🙂

The views though……do continue to expand as you climb through the first 5 miles of your TMB hike. Its steep and unforgiving, but it’s a beautiful beginning to this trip. Much like leaving civilization behind as you head into the great unknown escape of the Alps.

After much climbing, huffing, and puffing — you reach the first summit location (Col) known as Col de Voza; on top of which there is a large hotel that was serving a buffet style lunch for guests and hikers. $20 Euros for all I could eat, coffee, and drinks? Sounds great after climbing for several miles! Hotel name is: Village Vacances Col de Voza

I had lunch with some Irish friends while on top of the Col. We had met previously several times today; once while trying to find the trailhead and again while leap frogging during today’s grueling paved incline. Me passing them taking a break, to only be passed by them later on. They were a interesting bunch and I enjoyed the comradeship that comes so easily to hikers trekking in similar directions. I’ve hiked many different places, and there is no easier way to strike up a conversation than sweat stained eyes viewing uphill together at upcoming hardship. It breeds conversation.

Leaving Col de Voza; the trail immediately begins to descend steeply. Downhill was a nice break from the constant uphill I had just traversed. On the other side of the Col, views immediately begin to open in front of you…and they did not disappoint.

Decending View

After entering another valley and crossing a river, the trail switches back in an upwards direction until you reach the small village of Bionnassay. From here, the hike continues with extraordinary views, quaint small mountain villages, and a mixture of trail/road walking.

Small Village Day 1
Cute little towns

The journey after Col de Voza is significantly easier, and my pace was greatly accelerated. I was gaining Kilometers far quicker than the original uphill climb.I even had time to stop and chat with some fellow hikers utilizing one of the many public fountain areas located in a small town.

Fountain Bath
Public Fountains in town






The next stop was arriving in Les Contamines and finding a place to rest my head for the evening. Having booked no accommodations ahead — I chose to stop by the local tourism office. An action that I would do throughout my European adventure, as these offices are HUGELY useful in Europe and the workers are always quick to offer assistance/advice.

The nice gentlemen working here (seeing I could not speak French) called around to every hostel/inexpensive hotel seeing if they had a vacancy….sadly they did not. Good planning Luke with his ‘no booking ahead’ clause 😦

Luckily there was a campground with a hostel building that had a bed for me. I just had to trek another 2 KM outside of town to reach it. Not thrilled with the extra walking for today, I decided to have a quick beer on a patio in Les Contamines. My Irish friends from lunch arrived shortly after and we spoke briefly before I needed to set off and find my campground hostel. Those lucky bastards were smart enough to book a hotel ahead of time within town — cheers to planning ahead I guess.

I continued down the highway searching for Camping le Pontet, and a needed nights rest in the hostel.

The campground itself was very clean and the dormitory area was full of fellow TMB hikers. I received a top bunk and had opted for the communal hiker dinner. This was served family style with tables of 6-8 people all sharing communal dishes. My particular table did not include any English speakers, but I was happy to sit there eating dinner and enjoying a nice local beer while listening to stories that I couldn’t understand. Overall, it was an inexpensive place to stay and the dormitory area had partition walls between many of the beds for privacy, a shared common area for boots/relaxing, and a massive shared shower/bathroom area to clean today’s sweat off of me.

Communal Dinner
Community “Family Style” hiker dinner — very common scene on the TMB

In summary, this was a very good start to my European hiking adventure. I felt good about my pace, hiking ability, and was not overwhelmed at any point. Onwards to tomorrow; where I knew my journey would become more secluded from towns and further dive me into the mountain wilderness.

Hike Map
Hiking route for Day 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines


Tour Du Mont Blanc (French Side) Part 1: Getting to Chamonix, France

Part 1 = Getting to the start of Tour Du Mont Blanc

I decided it was time for me to do some backpacking in Europe; However, I could NOT decide if I wanted to do the Camino de Santiago or Tour Du Mont Blanc… I decided to try and do sections of both in June/July of 2019 🙂

My plan was to do 3-4 days on the Tour Du Mont Blanc, visit Avignon to scratch my history itch, move across France to begin the Camino, Run with the bulls in Pamplona, and continue walking across northern Spain for as long as possible — easy enough right?

I chose the French side of the tour because most other hikers move counterclockwise and I wanted to start with the “herd.” The TMD crosses through the corners of Switzerland, France, and Italy. I thought one country at a time made the most sense for a partial trip on this amazing hike.

Map of Tour Du Mont Blanc route

I began my journey by flying into Geneva.

Funny Travel Note:

My planned flight left Columbus, stopped briefly in Toronto, landed in Montreal to refuel, and then off to Geneva, Switzerland.

My flight between Toronto and Montreal was slightly delayed, but from my understanding — I would be staying on the airplane which would continue onwards to Geneva. However, upon landing I was notified that the plan had changed and I would need to disembark the aircraft and go to a different gate to make my international flight.

I went to the desk after hustling off the airplane and asked which gate my next flight was leaving from. The women typed some details into her computer, looked up and said “The Geneva flight is going to be leaving from Gate 56 in 5 minutes, and we are currently at Gate 1.” I stared at her trying to grasp the small window I was being provided, and she looked back to say “I don’t need you to walk fast….I need you to run!”

This was my first time ever sprinting through an airport. And oh boy did I sprint. I would be damned if I would miss my flight to Europe and postpone my trip. I dodged, and shoved, and ducked between confused fellow airport travelers. The intercom spurred me faster — “THE GENEVA GATE WILL BE CLOSING IN 2 MINUTES — ALL PASSENGERS MUST BOARD IMMEDIATELY.”

During my stampede through the crowded airport, I thought that this was ironic that I would be running with the bulls in Pamplona within the next 2 weeks. For in this airport in Montreal, I was the bull. Parting the crowed and slamming through with no consideration other making my connecting flight.

I arrived at the Gate with a few other sweating and frazzled passengers. The shut and locked the gate behind me as we boarded and took our seats. I made it 🙂

Upon arriving in the Geneva airport, I had planned to explore the city and begin my European adventure with a day walking the streets of Switzerland. However, upon landing, I could feel the mountains pulling me and the hustle bustle of the city immediately disenchant me.

I had discovered the OMNI app before heading to Europe. This amazing little phone application will show you the time & costs for buses, trains, and flights between any two locations in Europe on any given day. Pretty nifty for getting last minute connections around the continent.

OMNI was nice enough to find me a bus from Geneva to Chamonix, France — leaving the airport within 2 hours. The bus pickup location is a little difficult to locate; it is directly across from the main terminal exit, but you need to cross the taxi/pickup lanes to get to the bus pickup area.

Phone Apps for Traversing Europe:

OMNI (Bus, Train, Ride Share, Plane) (Private Rooms and Some Hostels) *Free night every 10 nights booked

Hostel World (Hostel booking)

Hiking Project (Trail Maps and Topo maps with GPS location tracking)

After a couple hours on the bus, I finally arrived in Chamonix and was soooo happy to finally see mountains surrounding me. Mountains and raw nature always provide a calming effect on my soul.

Chamonix 1
The town of Chamonix, France

Using the App, I found an adorable little hotel with a private balcony in downtown Chamonix within a 10 minute walk from the bus stop. I decided against a hostel knowing that I would be staying in hostels for the foreseeable future and wanting some luxury for my first night in Europe.

After checking in and assembling my pack in preparation for beginning the hike the next day; I ventured out to explore this quaint mountain town. Chamonix France is an outdoor lovers paradise. A ski town in the winter and a mountain adventure in the summer. I passed many shops selling ski/snowboard equipment, hiking gear, and mountain bikes. The streets were a hodgepodge of unique French countryside architecture, small cafes with outdoor patios, and restaurants. I was reminded closely of another town in the United States that I like to visit — Chamonix is comparable to Steamboat Springs in Colorado.

Chamonix Luke
Having a beer in Chamonix — getting ready to begin hiking

Overall, I’m glad that I made it to Chamonix and spent a day exploring the town and preparing to begin this section of the Tour Du Mont blanc. The following morning I would need to find my way to the trail head.

Chamonix 2
Chamonix Fance 2019


Shipping Container Project: DIY Steampunk Bathroom Vanity

Material List for this project is at the bottom of this page:

PART 1: Countertop

It began with a question…..what should I make the bathroom vanity out of for the Container? Given the off-grid, and tiny aspect of this home, I wanted something that fit the ‘fun’ aspect of this construction. It had to be a little funky and it also had to be pretty cheap. I’ve done Penny Countertops, I’ve tried copper, I’ve done reclaimed materials, I’ve experimented with concrete…what should I try in this particular project?

The answer was to jumble everything together and see what happens. I nicknamed the project Steampunk Vanity.

I began with the the cabinet box itself. A jumble of reclaimed 2×3, 2×4, and live edge wood off cuts that were spliced together into the bathroom box. The bathroom counterop space was drawn in the plans as a 24″x56″ surface. It would sit on top of the condensing (all in one) washer/dryer, and it would house the bathroom sink + faucet +storage.

I went to the garage and cut myself a 24″ x 56″ section of 3/4″ plywood to give me a platform to work with. I then walked around my basement to find a suitable sink shaped vessel and discovered and older copper looking wash-bin that would eventually work as my sink.

Steampunk Counter wood 2019
Here is pretty much what I started with!

The copper wash-bin was pretty deep but I wanted part of it to stick up above the countertop surface. I traced a circle around the bottom and then made a second circle slightly larger; this would allow part of the wash-bin to go underneath the countertop and the other part to be exposed on top. This is more understandable in the next picture…..

Steampunk counter wood cut 2019
Wallah! it fits!

Next, I decided to re-utilize my leftover “feather” concrete for the surface. This would lightweight and should give offset the copper with a nice modern/industrial feel. I mixed up a small bath and began applying it as I did before. One….layer….at….a…time 🙂

Steampunk Counter First layer 2019
First Layer being applied

Each layer of feather concrete is about 1/8 of an inch thick. I used 5 layers to get a solid feeling surface over my plywood base. I love it when friends stop by and say “hey, can I help with whatever weird project you’re working on….”

Steampunk Counter Bridget 2019
Bridget lending a hand. Friend’s do help out sometimes!

With my multiple layers of concrete smoothly applied, I next pulled out an old sock and rubbed applied the concrete sealant. This process again is outlined in my previous BLOG.

Steampunk Sink in No Edge 2019
Sealant on + sink dropped in

After 2 applications of sealant, I could tell that the trim/edges of this project just weren’t going to do it for me. I wanted something to surround the concrete countertop and frame the project with a fun application. Of course I turned back to my favorite thing…pennies.

I cut a 1.5 inch trim board to size and screwed it into my newly made concrete countertop. The back side and right side will be against walls, so I only required trim on the front and right.

I painted the squared off trim black, and began gluing pennies to the top edge and front edges. This was my first time doing pennies on a vertical surface and liquid nails secured them perfectly. I supported them from the bottom with the table so they wouldn’t slide down before the glue set, but after this they were attached pretty well before Epoxy.

Steampunk Pennies before epoxy 2019
Penny edge held on with glue before Epoxy

I taped the edges the best I could with HVAC foil tape to prevent Epoxy from getting on the concrete counter. Push the tape down firmly to insure the Epoxy doesn’t make it’s way under your tape barrier. I poured a very think line on top and spread this around using a foam brush. I continued to go over the surface with thin lines of Epoxy, using the foam brush to ‘pull’ it down over the vertical pennies where it (for the most post) would stay put. Drop clothes on the floor stopped any drips.

Steampunk Counter Penny Edge 2019
Foil tape on — ready for Epoxy pouring

After the Epoxy dried for 12 hours, I carefully pulled the the tape off and removed any excess using a razor blade and fine sand paper. I placed the copper sink back into place to insure everything fit.

Steampunk Counter Done 2019
Trim finished, counter finished, before installation


So…..we now have a countertop with trim, and a spot for a copper wash-bin. However, this is not a functioning bathroom vanity unless I find a way to make this copper bin into an actual working sink vessel!

First step was insuring the basin was waterproof. I filled it up to the brim with water and allowed it to sit for 2 days straight. The water level did not lower at all, and this was a very good sign for my DIY sink!

I wanted to protect the finish and insure the sink held up over time. I brushed water based Polyurethane to coat the entire inside of the basin with 3 different coats. Allowing each coat to dry 2-3 hours between coats. This insures the Poly is still tacky to the touch when the next layer is going on and supports adhesion between layers.

Next step was installing a functioning sink drain. I stated by purchasing a pop up drain from Amazon. It’s important to choose one that does NOT HAVE OVERFLOW, because DIY sinks don’t have a built in overflow section.

Next, I used a 1.5 inch hole saw bit to drill a hole in the center of the basin’s bottom. I dropped in the drain and realized that the sink bottom would need to slope towards the drain. Without an indented area around the drain, water would collect and sit within the basin.

I used a hammer, flat head screw driver, and wood blocks to pound the edges of the 1.5 inch hole and create a sloped area for my drain to sit. I inserted the drain per it’s directions and tested it ability to hold water.

Steampunk Sink Testing 2019
No leaks!

With the drain working, the countertop complete, and the penny edging installed — the next step was relocating my “Steampunk” bathroom vanity project was nearly complete. Next, I started a DIY faucet project….but we can talk about that later.

Steampunk Counter In Container 2019
Countertop + Sink Basin installed in the container

Written By:

Luke Langhals


Material List:

3/4 Inch Ply Wood — — — — — — — — $19.00 — — — (Had extra laying around)

Concrete Layers — — — — — — — — — $26.00 — — — (Ardex Feather Cement – Amazon)

Concrete Sealer — — — — — — — — — $24.00 — — — (Quikrete Cure & Seal – Lowes)

1.5″ Poplar Trim Board — — — — — $7.00 — — — (Had extra laying around)

600 Shiny Pennies — — — — — — — — $3.00 — — — (Got at the bank)

Epoxy — — — — — — — — — — — — — — $23.00 — — — (Famowood 1 qt. – Home Depot)

Pop Up Drain w/o Overflow — — – $10.00 — — — (Antique Brass – Amazon)


Zero Carbon Yard & Garden Care

It seems like every homeowner I meet has developed a collection of gas powered tools to help them maintain their outdoor spaces. Lawn mowers, chainsaws, hedge trimmers. edgers, and weed whackers whirling away during any given sunny day is commonplace in all neighborhoods.

When I first purchased my semi-urban home, I immediately began looking into getting my own collection of carbon fueled monsters and yard care toys. My yard and gardens were overgrown from years of neglect. I knew that the only answer was horsepower, gasoline, and carbon fueled machines. However, that was before I saw my first reel mower being used by an older neighbor….I was intrigued, and set out to see how many non-carbon fueled yard care items I could acquire.

I went to the big box hardware store and found myself in the midst of an onslaught from various types of gasoline lawnmowers. I asked the clerk to show me a reel mower, and his blank stare proved that I was barking up the wrong tree. I next asked for some hand shears, and was shown a battery powered trimmer. The collection of options at most Big Box stores was clearly not going to suit my new Carbon Zero desires. Online shopping would be the best option per usual 🙂


Amazon has a variety of options in reel mowers, saws, watering cans, and hand shears. I bought one of each and set to work on the overgrown jungle that was my backyard. At first, I had a lot of neighbors offering me to let me borrow different gas powered items to assist with the job. I actively had to resist people bringing me over different tools to help with my outdoor maintenance.

Below I’ve provided links to the items I use most frequently

American Reel Mower: Cost = $100 (Reel Mower: LINK to AMAZON)

This is 4th year with this mower. I’ve sharpened the blades each year and had to replace the handle grips after 2 years. It is still working well for my lawn care, and maintains a nice cut. Overall, it’s very lightweight and I can carry it with one hand. Here is a link to the sharpening kit which should last me over 5 years of sharpening for $16. (Sharpening Kit: LINK to AMAZON)

Folding Saw: Cost = $23 (Saw: LINK to AMAZON)

This is the closest comparable saw I can find to my current one. I’ve two of these for over 5 years now; one for lawn care and one for backpacking. They are amazingly lightweight and have held up well for cutting branches, small firewood, fences etc.

Steel 6″ Hand Shears: Cost = $18 (Shears: LINK to LOWES)

I’ve had these shears for 3 years now. I used them very often for trimming bushes, cutting out weeds, and edging my grass around flower beds and sidewalks. They have three different positions and although have developed some blade rust, still cut nicely.

On a weekly basis I use 3-6 tools to keep everything ship shape. I have over 30 perennials planted, roughly 1100 sq ft of grass, 2 large garden boxes (vegetables & herbs), 6 bushes, and a mixture of small trees.

Nowadays, my neighbors has become used to my strange yard care tactics. If you ever drive around Columbus and see a man trimming his grass edges with a pair of hand shears….that is probably me!

I honestly believe that storing gasoline, charging batteries, replacing spark plugs, maintaining engines, and mixing oil ratios takes longer than grabbing a trusty hand tool and getting to work. No pull starts for me; just a little time and effort.

The benefit of my carbon zero approach? Everything is quiet, lightweight, and doesn’t admit nasty fumes. Further, hand tools give me superior control when compared to larger gas powered options. Finally, the sustainability aspect is rewarding to me. I feel like I’m operating my own little organic garden in Columbus’ urban core 🙂


Written By:

Luke Langhals

McAfee Knob: 1 Day Backpacking Trip

Driving from Columbus, OH to Myrtle Beach takes roughly 10 hours. About halfway through this drive, you cross the Appalachian Trail, and I never like to miss an opportunity to hike on the AT!

The McAfee Knob view point is one of the most famous sights on the AT. It has graced book covers, movie screens, and countless social media sites. It is a true gem in the Appalachian mountains and a pretty easy hike.

Parking access is simple to find at VA 311 (you can literally type McAfee Knob into google maps). The Appalachian Trail crosses the parking lot here and although the parking is often crowded — I didn’t have any trouble finding a spot on a Thursday in April 2019.

Parking lot
Parking area

The hike is about 8.5 miles from parking to summit and back to parking. Out and back.

We didn’t arrive at the parking lot until 6 pm; our plan was to reach the second shelter and camp for the evening. Saving the majority of this out-and-back hike for the morning and enjoying the sunrise on McAfee’s Knob.

We parked our car and headed across the road where the elevation immediately starts to rise. Being as this is on the AT — you can follow the white blazes for this hike, which makes for easy navigation.

Within 1/4 of a mile, you will reach a information kiosk that directs you towards McAfee’s Knob — bear right of the kiosk and continue following the white blazes.

Along the trail you will pass two shelter locations with ample camping sites nearby. Both shelters have a well maintained privy and several established fire pits. The first shelter is within a mile of parking and is named John’s Spring. We met two through hikers here and I was able to hear about the exciting life on the trail….the comradery of long distance hiking is something I miss very much, and I always enjoy talking with people who are making the long trek.

Dave in a shelter
A standard Appalachian Trail Shelter

After leaving John’s Spring shelter, we continued for another mile and found ourselves at Catawba Shelter while dusk was quickly approaching. The shelter itself was crowded with eager backpackers and we set up camp roughly 100 yards away at a designated camping area.

I had my friend David with me as a first time backpacker, which I always enjoy. We made camp and settled in for some campfire stories and an early bedtime. I used my old faithful backpacking tent and David slept in a hammock. There were various semi-flat tent sites near Catawba Shelter and many well spaced trees for hammocks. In April, I was toasty warm in my tent, but David said he was pretty cold in the hammock. Insure you check the temperature before your hike and more importantly the wind speed. Hammock’s can get cold pretty fast when the wind picks up….especially at elevation.

Tenting at McAfee.jpg
My old faithful friend. Over 1000 backpacking miles together

We awoke at 5 am and used headlamps in the darkness to get back on the trail. We wanted to reach the famous McAfee knob sunrise and we flew up the trail for the remaining 2+ miles of this hike.

As dawn began to approach, so did massive amounts of fog. The trail was coated in a beautiful white cloud that made hiking spooky and beautiful. I knew we were growing close to the viewpoint, which is about 30 yards off to the left of the trail. However, the fog made us miss the McAfee Knob sign and we accidentally traveled too far. The trail started to descend quickly which was our clue that we were leaving the summit. Luckily, we were able to notice this mistake and turn around to find the correct viewing location. If you make the same mistake, you will eventually reach the Pig Farm Campsite or Campbell Shelter — Turn around and retrace your steps back to the summit.

The sign for McAfee’s Knob is mounted on the side of a boulder to the left of the trail. Keep your eyes open and you shouldn’t have a problem finding it.

Walking up to the summit; I was hoping for a viewpoint that spanned across miles. I was planning to be stunned by the rolling landscape and beautiful sunrise…..

Stock Photo of Knob
I was expecting to see this!

However, mother nature disagreed with my plans. She chose to give us a slightly different view on this fine morning. We approached the jutting stone ledge and found ourselves fully encompassed within a foggy cloud. No distant view points for us this morning — but I still was not disappointed in the summit. The stone outcropping is beautiful and continues down for 100 yards. Obviously, the biggest photo opportunity is on the ledge/knob, but there are several different stone ridges that awarded us some fun while meandering around the summit.

Below are some pictures from on top of McAfee’s Knob

Luke on the edge

Me on McAfee’s knob in the fog

Dave near edge
David viewing into the fog
McCafee Knob FOOL AT 2019
Seeing if I can give my parents a heart attack (Not nearly as dangerous as it looks!)

After playing in the fog for awhile, we returned to the trail and had a pleasant downhill trek back to the car. A very enjoyable 1 day backpacking trip!

Written By:

Luke Langhals




Thermal Camera for DIY Projects

Thermal Camera’s are an essential tool for people trying to discover energy losses and home comfort issues. For many years, these were expensive gadgets that only a professional would consider buying. However, we are now beginning to see some affordable options hit the market!

If you plan to add insulation to your home or want to find where those pesky cold drafts are originating — I would highly recommend you invest $200.00 in the FLIR Thermal Camera (on Amazon).

This nifty little device plugs directly into your Android or Iphone. It is then as simple as point and capture. Your goal will be to see where heat is leaking into and out of your home. Further, you can see how heat is moving around your house and this assists with finding plumbing/ducting behind walls.

Here are a few shots I’ve taken with my FLIR. It becomes pretty obvious where insulation will be most effective.

Hotwaterpipethermal resized
Hot water pipes wasting energy: Click picture to link to the blog
Basement Rim joists wasting energy: Click picture to link to the blog

Overall, anyone worried about Energy Usage needs to better understand where their heating/cooling air is being used. This is the most expensive part of your utility bills and understanding it’s movement will help save you money 🙂

Written By:

Luke Langhals