Kevin Warnock

Entrepreneurship, ideas and more

Archive for November, 2010

TechShop in Menlo Park, California

without comments

I am writing this post from TechShop in Menlo Park, California. TechShop is a membership do it yourself shop. They have a wide array of tools so costly and large one could not own them and keep them at home, unless one had a really large house and was prepared to devote most of it to a workshop.

TechShop Menlo Park, California USA

I am really excited right now, as TechShop will soon open a branch location in San Francisco, just a block from the Moscone Center convention center. This location is easy to get to from my house as the Muni Metro stops at Montgomery Street, just a few blocks from the new TechShop.

I joined TechShop today as a full member of the as yet unopened San Francisco branch. One of the perks is that one can use the Menlo Park shop free of charge until the San Francisco branch opens, which could happen any week now. It’s supposed to open this month, but apparently the more realistic opening time is next month.

I got a thorough and exhaustive tour of the Menlo Park TechShop from a very enthusiastic employee named Mel. I told him about my desire to one day build extremely green homes from ocean shipping containers, and he got it immediately. He advised getting started as soon as possible as he said the media will love this idea, and there is an upcoming TV show to be shot at TechShop next year that would probably like to cover a project like this provided it’s beyond the idea phase.

I’ve been thinking about Green Homes, my code name for the project, particularly feverishly this month. Many of the intriguing ideas I’ve worked up in my head for my bus conversion apply to shipping container based green housing as well. I really want to help make the world a better place, and I’ve become a huge fan of the movement away from so-called McMansions towards more realistic sized homes.

I’ve struggled with how I would promote such a business and make sales. I have decided that among the best ways to spread the word would be to make a prototype home and take it on tour, the way Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Houses does with his small conventionally constructed houses. Shipping containers are heavy, so I can’t tow one with my car. But, thankfully, I have a bus conversion that can tow a large trailer. I checked today and it appears there are hitch mounting points in place, as I saw connection points to let the vehicle be towed from the back. These anchor points are massive.

A shipping container home will be heavy, as a 20 foot container empty weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. By the time I add granite counters and tile floors the weight could be up around 10,000 pounds. Even for a bus conversion this is heavy, but there’s a cool product that I read about first just last evening. It’s called Tuff Tow. Tuff Tow is a pair of wheels you install into the trailer up front by the hitch. These wheels are freeway capable, and are on a swivel mount. These wheels can support up to 2,000 pounds. The idea is that the large majority of the tongue weight of the trailer is offloaded onto the Tuff Tow device, and only a few hundred pounds is placed on the actual vehicle hitch. This means my bus conversion would only have to deal with pulling the container, and not with potentially huge vertical axis forces, which would be especially high going over bumps and dips in the road at speed. The Tuff Tow costs $1,700 but it will make towing a heavy green home painless for the tow vehicle, and it will mean I can detach the home from the tow vehicle without jacks, I believe.

Tuff Tow device to reduce trailer tongue weight loads

Tuff Tow device to reduce trailer tongue weight loads

I can envision myself driving around North America showing a self contained green home, giving speeches, participating in panel discussions, educating politicians, inspiring students and generally being an advocate for more efficient living. I think I would be a good television guest, and that I could direct my sales skills towards persuading people to change their aspirations for an ever larger home. While a bus conversion might seem to be a counter productive tow vehicle due its huge size, my conversion gets 11 miles per gallon as it’s a 4 cylinder, not an 6 or 8 cylinder like most bus conversions. A bus is long and heavy, which makes for safer towing of a heavy trailer. But the real benefit to using the conversion is that I can avoid the heavy footprint and cost of staying in a hotel while on tour, as I can stay up front in the conversion. If I tried to stay in hotels with a shipping container home hitched to a 15 mpg pickup truck, I don’t know where I would park the combo, as I doubt many hotels would want me to take up five parking places to rent one room. The bus conversion is also a great demonstration of small and efficient living, so visitors would be able to see two compact homes at once, which I think increases the public relations value of any tour.

While I don’t yet know if it’s possible, my current plan is to weld trailer axles directly to the shipping containers, fabricate ┬áthe A shaped hitch, install a Tuff Tow unit up front and tow the container without attaching it to a trailer, as the container would itself be a very durable self contained trailer. I’ve not seen such a trailer before, so this might well be one of the key early inventions of mine in my quest to become a green home entrepreneurial leader.

From what I’ve seen and picked up from the several hours I’ve now been at TechShop, I am hopeful that by my membership here that I will be able to make quick progress towards making my first green home, using many of the amazing tools and resources they have here.

Written by Kevin Warnock

November 27th, 2010 at 6:53 pm