Saturday, June 10, 2017

Solar Shed Part 16: Interior & Exterior Improvements

My solar powered office has been up and online for a while, but one of the joys of a space like mine is that it's always a project - and I can do whatever I want with it, constrained only by what is possible affordable and what I can figure out how to do!  For instance, I'm almost, but not entirely, out of space for more monitors.

This space is totally awesome for what I do with my time - it's working absolutely as well as hoped, and I have no significant complaints.  But, I have been making improvements as I go to make the space better for my needs.  Read on for some of the changes I've made since the original post last July!

More Monitor Wall Mounts

My rightmost monitor has been wall-mounted for a while, and I decided that I really like how that works.  I proceeded to wall mount another monitor, because it tidies the desk up, makes it easier to clean the dust (there's always dust), and frees up some space.  I found these great $10 wall mounts on eBay with VESA compatible mounts and they have plenty of adjustment range.  I don't usually adjust monitors once they're set up, so the adjustment being a bit fiddly doesn't bother me.

One of the reasons I went with plywood walls instead of drywall is so I can just bolt things to the wall instead of needing to find a stud.  Monitor mounts are no exception - I find a good spot, secure it to the 1/2" plywood, and it stays put.  There's no need to find a stud (and, really, with 2" of foamboard insulation under the plywood, it's not like most bolts will get into the studs anyway).

The display on screen is a common enough display in my office - it's my Folding@Home stats and workunit progress.  Because I have so many solar panels up, I have some serious overproduction in sunny conditions, so I use it for Folding@Home and BOINC (user stats linked - I'm SolarSyonyk for distributed computing in this office).  There's no harm in not using power from panels, but it's "use it or lose it," so I try to use as much as I can.

At some point, I intend to find a way to dump this heat outside so I won't have to spend a lot of watts expelling the heat with my air conditioner.  That would free up another GPU or two worth of compute power!

Speaker Relocation

My speakers are an ancient set of Altec Lansing ATP-5s.  I bought them in about 2002, loved how they sounded then, and still love them.  They've got a subwoofer (a bit on the loose/boomy side, so I keep it turned down), and 4 satellites with twin tweeters and a downward firing midrange speaker.  I love the sound quality on them, I love the volume, and they just keep trucking right along.

However, the downward firing mid means that they have to be sitting on something to sound right.  They sound really weird hanging in midair.  And they were just taking up too much space on my desk - so up they go!

Plywood walls?  Perfect for mounting things.  I cut two small plywood shelves, secured them with shelf brackets (one per shelf), and ran the speakers up.

They're nicely out of the way now, and have a better path to fill the office with sound.  I played around with the speaker positioning, and found that angling them at 45 degrees led to the best sound - firing straight out from the wall on separate walls was a bit weird.  This fills the office nicely with sound and doesn't have cones of sound echoing around.

Related to "getting things off my desk," I moved the receiver for my wireless shunt up onto the shelf as well - it's easier to see and out of the way.

Magnetic Screen Door

"As seen on TV!"

In the cooler weather, I don't need my air conditioner - I can just open the window and door and let the air pass through (fresh air flowing through is another nice perk of my office).  Unfortunately, for a good part of the summer, doing this leads to a lot of flies in my office.  That's annoying.

I considered a fancy rolling screen door at one point, but they're expensive.  Instead, I tried something cheap.  One of those silly magnetic screen doors you see on late night infomercials.

And... you know what?  They work!  Once one secures them properly.

I picked up a cheap one on eBay - I'm willing to risk less than $10 on something that looks useful.

The initial installation worked perfectly - until the adhesive stopped staying stuck ("You had one job!").  The sticky velcro provided doesn't stay stuck when hot - and I just can't imagine how a black screen door, in the summer, might get hot.

I resolved the issue by removing the adhesive entirely and using a staple gun.  Problem solved (so far)!

This is a huge improvement to the office.  With the window popped slightly open and the door cracked, I get ambient cooling on most days, fresh air, and no flies.  Win-win!

I do expect this to get replaced with a higher quality version at some point, though.  It flaps around an awful lot in the wind, and something is going to tear eventually.


The initial wall storage on the shop side ran out quickly.  I've doubled it, and while it's nearly full, I still have a few drawers left.  I'm out of wall space for these units, and they're mostly full, so... I'm thinking an under-bench pull out shelving unit, perhaps?

In order to find things, I've taken to labeling the drawers with a label maker.  This is really nice when I need to grab something - I don't have to search the drawers for something I know I have.  I can just look at the labels!

The other side got another drawer unit as well.  Lots of stuff at my fingertips now.  They also make nice shelves for larger but frequently used materials like wire.

Tool Storage 

Hard drive magnets are very useful things.  Long ago, in a previous job, the guy installing wireless radios for us asked if he could have the stack of dead hard drives.  He had a curious collection of clear plastic peanut butter containers and the like as well.  Spending the better part of the afternoon disassembling hard drives and hot gluing stuff together, he built himself quite a few plastic "parts containers" for the work van.  The magnets held the containers to the roof quite firmly, and he had lots of new storage space for small parts!

I also have a collection of hard drive magnets laying around.  I use them as fridge magnets, mostly (for things that one doesn't want sliding down).  But, they make good tool holders in an office as well!

A tiny bit of time spent with an impact driver (DeWalt 20V Max, of course), and I have some quality tool holders by my workbench.  The downside is that my tools are slightly magnetic.  Oh well!  I like magnetic tools anyway.

Bench Lighting

Winter is a thing, and this means dark mornings, dark evenings, and sometimes entire dark days.

I've added some strip lighting to my shed (you can see the faintly purple glow of some of it in the background), but that's doesn't cover my workbench.  For the work I do, really good bench lighting is important.  I found a pair of 4' LED shop lamps on eBay that seemed reasonable.  The lights hang from chains, which is important to me - my ceiling is sloped, so I can't just bolt a light to the ceiling and have it be level.

With the chains and a level, I installed the light over my bench.  It's quite the well built unit from what I've seen.

Excellent!  Light!  The cord runs down to an outlet, though I could stand to hardwire this at some point.

How big a difference does it make?  Huge.  It's always hard to convey the impact of lighting in photos, but I tried.  The following two photos are taken with the exact same exposure settings, and fiddled the same amount to match what things look like to the human eye on some particular morning.

You can get manual exposure cameras for the iPhone if you look - they're great fun!

This is with the lights off and cloud cover in the morning.  It's workable, but it's rather dim, and not particularly suited to detail work.

Pull the cord, the light comes on, and it's properly bright.  These are really good shop lights!  And, why, yes, I am building batteries.  What made you think that?

The only downside I've noticed so far is that the light flickers off and on when I'm using my spot welder - which is hardly the light's fault.  I'm doing terrible things to the AC voltage in my office for a few cycles of the waveform.  At some point, I'll see if I can replace the AC power supply with a DC buck or boost converter from my 40VDC system, and that should fix the issue.


Finally, as the sun dropped lower in the sky heading into winter, I had to start blocking off my windows.  I'd stuffed some boxes in the top months ago, but the door and side windows started to allow the sun to light up my monitors as well.

Hard drive magnets solve many, many problems - including how to hang curtains without curtain rods!

This arrangement keeps the sun off my monitors quite nicely, and they're easy to move in the summer when I want my view back (which, I'd add, is a properly good view).

Final Thoughts

This covers the major improvements since my last post on interior work - there are always minor things I change, but these are the big ones.

Having a space I can work with like this is entirely wonderful - I don't have to sit around thinking, "If only I could XYZ, this space would be so much better!"  I just do it!  The plywood walls, in particular, give me a lot of options for tweaking the interior space.  Being able to mount things to the walls, exactly where I want, is amazingly useful - and absolutely justifies the plywood over drywall.  I can hang a monitor anywhere.

What sort of things have you done in your workspace?  Let me know what you've found useful in the comments below!


  1. I'm surprised you haven't automated away turning on/off BOINC/SETI@Home by reading the current power available from solar and automatically turning it on/off as the sun rises or sets ;)

    1. Yeah, you'd think that's the type of thing I'd get around to doing, wouldn't you? :)

      It's on my list, and I know how to do it, I just haven't sat down to do it. Turning machines on is easy, turning machines off takes a bit more work.

      The other problem is that I don't always know how much headroom I have - if I'm in absorb, I know that I'm curtailing the panel output, but not by how much. So I'd have to add some hysteresis to prevent flapping, and... it's more complex than it initially seems. Plus, I'd probably tie it into weather forecasts for the local area.

    2. Hehe, yea, but wouldn't it be fun to work on? ;) I know, always easier for the heckler than the poor sap that actually has to do the work.

    3. I have no shortage of "things to work on." That list is getting longer now that I have a good multi-channel digital oscilloscope on order...

    4. Nice! That'd be a fun toy to write up a review and brief "how-to" tutorial on. Although I'm sure there's a billion how-to and such already posted on the web for the rest of us.

  2. I see that Ryobi 40V battery in the background! Was that mine from a while ago, or are you tinkering with another one?