Bug-out with the in-laws.

Mon, Mar 31, 2014 - 10:43pm

I made some real progress on my solar system this week, built from cast-off parts and cracked solar cells we picked up at a steep discount. Seemed like a good idea when we started, but now I am rethinking my approach. I have bumbled into a sequence of events that had I known what was coming, I might have stayed on the couch. My subconscious can see these sequences coming. What seems like a simple task quickly becomes complicated. So I procrastinate!

"Honey, can you fix that scraping sound when the car hits a bump?

"Sure," I say, "I’ll work on it next Saturday."

But when Saturday comes around I look out at the car and find some other important task to do, like cleaning my desk, so that I am busy and productive. But I suspect my wife knows that I am just procrastinating the fix on the car. I just don’t want to go start the job. My subconscious knows what is coming.

So seven Saturdays later, with a very clean desk, I finally go buy new shock absorbers for the car, knowing I’ll have to change all four. Two Saturdays after that, I rent the compression tool, and then I park the car and get to work.

Now where is my floor jack?

One hour later, I get the car jacked up, take off the wheel and notice that some other part I don’t know the name of is broken. Now where is that Chilton manual? So it’s back to the auto parts store. Next I cannot find my good 15mm socket. Here is my stripped one, I can always find that. Don’t know why I haven’t thrown it away. So I have to search through all 6 tool boxes (No, I am not the most organized guy).

Finally, I get to that last bolt holding things together and it is stuck. WD-40, Liquid Wrench—I try everything. So it’s down to the hardware store to buy a 3 foot section of 1" pipe to use as a cheater.

At long last the job is all done and I realize that I have pulled a muscle in my back. Two days later my left shoulder locks up. I should never wonder why I don’t want to go out and fix the car.

The tire still scrapes the wheel well when we hit a bump.

Well my homemade solar system is taking a similar turn. It is becoming far more work that I envisioned. I shouldn’t wonder why I really did not want to start this, why I wanted to go buy solar panels and just install them. But my wife found these cracked cells for 80% off and ordered them. And once they arrived, we had to dive in and give it a try. But it is turning into one of those sequences of unpredictable problems that slows the project down to a crawl.

We acquired 80 framed prints from a used building supply company. A hotel had donated them after they remodeling the rooms. My wife offered them a hundred dollars for all of them after we noticed they had not sold any at $5 each for a couple of months. They smiled, took our money, and we cleared a large space in their store, solving a problem for both of us.

Other people are using old storm windows to build their panels, sandwiching the cell arrays in between the glass with spacers (tile spacers are inexpensive and perfect for the job). But if you are not fortunate enough to come across an inexpensive source for glass, building your own will quickly increase in price. Plexiglass seems to be too expensive. UV resistant resins seem expensive as well.

I can also see that we must radically change our energy habits. Turning lights off is a good start. Low wattage LED light bulbs can replace my high wattage bulbs that cost me 10 times as much money to use.

My electricity costs me $ .134 per kilowatt hour. My modest panels can generate 1.5 KW hours in 12 hours of daylight, which equals about twenty cents per day. When I have a 1000 watt system, it will save me $1.60 per day. Using the low wattage bulbs and modifying our energy usage should cut my electricity consumption in half. Right now I spend about $3 per day on my standard electric bill. If I can eliminate my electric bill totally, that will save me $1320 per year, but I’ll need a 2000 watt system with good energy habits to achieve that. This should pay for the system in three years! Well that’s not too bad—a 33% return per year. Sure beats a 10 year T-note

Notice the broken and chipped cells. On this back view, you can see how we used metal foil tape to hold the cracked and broken cells together. The energy output is as good as the unbroken cells due to the way they are wired up with multiple collection points for the electricity within the design of the cell. Most of the cracks don’t matter. Other broken portions were taped back on strictly for aesthetics.

Alas, a setback on Sunday:

We just finished building a 4th panel. When we tested it we found a problem. It reads the proper voltage output for 2 seconds and then goes to zero. Now I have a panel to troubleshoot. Since the cells are connected in series, one bad cell can render the whole array inoperable. Now, I’ll have to open it up and break apart the connections in sections, looking for the bad cell like Dad used to change out all the bulbs in the Christmas lights to find the one that was burned out. My electronics genius friend says that it’s likely a solder joint that got too hot and burned through the layers. He also says it’ll be tricky to find.

Other problems I face are the use of glass panels. I don’t know how they will stand the test of time. I live in a windy area—winds strong enough that they might rattle and twist my panels, cracking the glass—winds that break off tree branches or pick up junk and toss it around through the air. We also receive strong hail storms a couple of times per year. I would prefer to have acrylic panels due to these reasons. Additionally, my homemade panels will have to be mounted. These do not have convenient mounting flanges or holes. I still have to figure out this small problem.

I think, in all this planning, shopping, testing, building, that unless you simply enjoy that kind of activity, it is probably best to buy your solar components from a vendor, assemble your system, and get it working. I mention all this so people wanting to save some money building panels can hear about the challenges I am facing, and people who are short in time and don’t want the tedium can be confirmed in their decision to buy factory panels.

A person has to use UL approved panels if you wish to sell electricity back to the power company. My panels will not pass their test. Now I feeling guilty that those panels are sitting out there in the sun wasting the power they are producing! I gotta get the rest of my system finished and connected.

In other news…

My wife’s sister is a serious prepper and has been for several years. She is the one I have mentioned previously with the policeman husband who says keep prepping and gave her a pink assault rifle. She looks like Ann Barnhart in the pic she sent. Well she has a daughter, my niece, who has a boyfriend, and he wants to be a prepper too (isn’t that precious?). The other day he came to my wife’s sister and made a speech with a request. He said, "You know I love your daughter and I will take care her and I want to be there to help your family when things get tough (so far so good!), moving to the bug-out house in the outback to live with you forever. But I have one request. Can I bring my parents with us?"

Maybe I’ll start my own blog: In-laws at the bug-out cabin.

I did not hear how she responded to that request, but it got me to thinking. How can she turn these people away. This kid will marry her daughter and he is asking that they take in new family members—a very reasonable request. But now I am wondering who is going to remember that I am planning a bug-out cabin and show up at my door one day. How do I turn my sister away? Or my brother and his family? Or my own parents? Or my sister’s new fiancé and his family? Or my wife’s two brothers and their families, and my nephew and his new wife? Or my good friend of 37 years and his adult children—the electronics genius that helped me build my panels? How long can this list get?

I know you have considered these things. Where do you draw the line? How many people can live off of two acres? Must you have a hundred acres and simply start a town? Maybe I need to build another 20,000 watts of solar cells.

Then I wonder how bad things are really going to be and if it is all for nothing or our prepping will save our lives. ? And that’s a whole ‘nother question.

About the Author


Mar 31, 2014 - 10:58pm


one seventh of our lives is spent on monday! sad

Mar 31, 2014 - 11:13pm

tooth, two(th)!

It is hard to believe the is my turd tooth.

The threads have been brutal this weekend, not alot of metal on this metal site lets hope the expiration of the March contracts changes things bit

Now to read what the good doctor has written to enlighten us. I am sure I won't be disappointed.

PS stack.. within reason

Mar 31, 2014 - 11:18pm


And you'll end up with a nice little community, Dr. J. Needs a friendly name, like Woodbury... or Terminus!

Mar 31, 2014 - 11:29pm


Sounds like a bit of heaven on earth with the out-laws…I mean in-laws. Purgatory is gone 57 so it will have to be named something else Silver66

Mar 31, 2014 - 11:34pm

Simple Answer to difficult question

Who ever brings the most amount of seed to your door, a Skywater Alkaline-Ionized water system or over time has proven to be a consistent resource of aid. Everything else is moot.

Family must earn respect like everyone else. When it comes to survival a warm heart must be balanced with fairness in decision making, some people are more prone to make mistakes than others to be sure. Can you afford to have mistakes occur frequently? Do your 'guests' provide some sense of harmony to the situation? Stressful situations are dramatic, how dramatic are your 'guests' normally?

We all need help sometimes and its fair to ask for it. Trusting your instincts is the best gift you can give yourself. Start there.....

Mar 31, 2014 - 11:54pm

Great DrJ

Great post thanks for the insight. When you first got those panels I was thinking "damn how come I never can catch a break?" Perhaps you saved me from a load of trouble and I would have had to learn the hard way. Maybe since you have so little invested you just start over and salvage them for parts as time goes by. Solar panels are on my to-do list after I clean my desk!

Thanks again for having the balls write about the good, the bad and the ugly.

Apr 1, 2014 - 12:08am

Hey Tom

If I can't be honest while complete anonymous, what good is the anonymity?

Apr 1, 2014 - 12:25am

"I'll Help You...

...Locate, design, and build just the bug-out cabin you need."

Gold Dog
Apr 1, 2014 - 12:43am

Dr. J

I have embarked on many similar projects....now my desk is dirty again!

Your friend,


Apr 1, 2014 - 12:50am

agreed DrJ

but why is the web full of BS? Even when people are not tryin g to swindle you out of money, there seems to be lots of 'hero' stories.

Apr 1, 2014 - 1:08am


Apr 1, 2014 - 1:11am


I didn't know I could do that.

Apr 1, 2014 - 1:27am

*on HFT subject.....and why now......

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, A SOLUTION, To quell your fears and uncertainties. MYRA Much safer. Guaranteed return. And the whole point of this show for the much greater number of sheep than I ever expected. Come on. They expose the casino for the reality that it is, but leave the real root of the systemic problem unexposed behind the curtain? Watch in awe as the herd is redirected to aid the FED. "WELCOME BACK MY FRIENDS, TO THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS!" "you've gotta see the show...it's a dynamo!....you've gotta see the show!"

Urban Roman
Apr 1, 2014 - 1:27am

Dr. J, Robert Earl Keene wrote a song..

Robert Earl Keene's Merry Christmas from the Family
boomer sooner
Apr 1, 2014 - 1:33am

Do a little digging before

Do a little digging before writing off the in-laws. Daddy In Law might be a closet Hamm Radio guru with a Rig to die for. In the bunker, outside info will be worth its weight in gold.

I have a buddy that has gotten into that stuff heavy and now is driving all over the country buying equipment and ebaying. Parts to full rigs. Most are going to S. America and Asia.

Also have a customer who does a stint once a week (Thurs 12pm CDT) at his house, receiving communications from the back country of S. America and relays info by phone & email to family, churches, ect. Not the occupation you would expect to find doing this (attorney). Unbelievably gracious person and had I not known him, I would not have had a clue upon first impression.

Incredible how far you can talk, around the world with enough power. Buddy only has a beginners license and he talks to people on the east coast and Florida all the time. Bought my dad for Christmas a couple of hand helds, one for the four wheeler and one for the motorhome, so when he is hunting in Colorado he can at least key up ER or talk to mom by way of repeater towers. Second thought, need to order a couple for the jeep and base camp.


Side note, learning how to use is like putting together 80% off solar panels! Dipped my toe a while back and still stink at finding the right channels to even get squelch.

Apr 1, 2014 - 3:52am

More people?

More people brings a mixed bag of advantages and disadvantages.

As a rugged individualist on your own, your personal survival goals are obvious. And your personal responsibility for whether you succeed or not.

Add more people and instead you become the hub of a more diffuse community (mayor?). You can plan bigger. More people to plant and harvest. Critical mass. Mutual support. A little more quality to life. Someone to sing with or drink a beer with round a woodfire when the day's work is done. But you also create some interdependency with those people and require them to be responsible and to pull their weight.

Will they all follow your lead or will they challenge your leadership as they pull in different directions? Do you need a charter to establish ground rules for anyone who might join you? Will they be difficult to live with? Argumentative? Prone to drama? Or will they be good team players?

Some people might bring specialist skills. Also just because someone doesn't currently have the skills doesn't mean they can't learn. Look at your skills gaps and ask people who want to join you to acquire some of the skills. Agriculture (ask them to learn to look after their own vegetable patch), blacksmithing, gun-making, fletching, first aid, weaving, etc.

The skills might not be obvious in a look at their current lives - If you looked at me, at first glance you would probably turn me down - I'm an accountant working at a senior level in a multinational manufacturer, living in a comfortable high rise apartment and no bug-out cabin - but in my youth I learned guerilla warfare and counter-insurgency techniques, survival (jungle, savannah, desert - I grew up in Africa), archery, some farming, carpentry, metalwork, car maintenance/bodging, home building, pottery and enough technology to get to a mix of 17/18/19th century base building from scratch without tools. Yes - I could build a power loom with spinning jenny - I have the blueprints tucked away. Although like you I would probably encounter a lot of unexpected problems along the way.

(No - I'm not trying to book a place in your cabin. I'm in a different continent)

You might find this useful to think about the different mix of people to avoid a disfunctional group:


Apr 1, 2014 - 6:02am

"5 minute jobs"

There are NO 5 minute jobs!

My girlfriend calls it the "domino effect".

I know how you feel, I've wasted more money "saving money" than I've saved! ;-(

Apr 1, 2014 - 6:04am
Apr 1, 2014 - 6:17am


Solar powered bunnies. Beats the duracell bunny. But you might get better energy conversion if you use them to power a treadmill connected to a dynamo. Put a dog on a separate treadmill behind them to increase the workrate.

Apr 1, 2014 - 6:26am

5 pairs

of bunnies and none carrying a little one? I think not! meter should read 10.5 at least!

Stack on....did anything get better?

Safety Dan
Apr 1, 2014 - 8:34am

NDAA Legalizes Propaganda

CIA Media Infiltration & Operation Mockingbird | Brainwash Update

Abby Martin takes with a look at America's history of government infiltration in news media citing the CIA's secret cold-war program dubbed Operation Mockingbird.

CIA Media Infiltration & Operation Mockingbird | Brainwash Update

Now our government can legally mislead and misguide us. How do we know that is true? After all, they can legally do this?

How do we know Turd isn't a government crony; that Dr J isn't really a Chinese PLA agent planting misinformation?

For the record, I know Dr J & Turd are the real-deal. Hmmm, now I wonder, I seem to remember something about the President has a half brother in China. Wait, where did the worst Pentagon internet theft/attack come from? Pentagon Admits 24000 Files Were Hacked & Confidential report lists U.S. weapons system designs compromised by Chinese cyberspies

WHAT?? CHINA?? SAY IT ISN'T SO... Btw, what is it that President Obama's half brother does and owns?

Apr 1, 2014 - 8:57am

Safety Dan RE: Media Infiltration

How do we know it isn't in effect?

We are positively, absolutely, drowning, and I do mean drowning, in it.

Apr 1, 2014 - 9:00am

Very Funny Essay Dr J.

So many preppers take themselves way too seriously.

Preppers are an easy target for comedy like the movie "The Survivors" 1983


Like you, I do everything myself. (I guess I'm a 'prepper' of sorts ) Today I will be repairing my roof and tweaking my drip irrigation system from my "unregistered" water well that I dug ("jetted") myself ( saves me about $35. per month pumping 3-4,000 gallons per day ) I won't bore you with the rest. I grow a huge amount of my own food.

Community is the big kahuna of problems for the prepper. Both our strength and weakness. Just take a look at this directory of "Intentional Communities" and cruise through some of the listings. Sheesh! You think your church/job is dysfunctional?

Try a modern 'community'!



BTW after the apokolypse, I'd keep an eye on the grumpy cop without a pension check. He'll be the first one to suggest the formation of a "Safety Squad" for a small tax on each household. smiley

His brother will pitch you a "Fire Suppression Squad" after all you wouldn't want the children to be at the big 'learning dome' without somebody checking the fire exits.

And if you ever feel like things are getting out of control you can call on "The Expert On Community Relations"...ah that would be me. wink

Safety Dan
Apr 1, 2014 - 9:34am

Flyinkel, I'm drowning...

Reminds me of a recent podcast that was done and a story about where a certain computer was located... We are watched, and misinformed by others. For clairty, I do support and believe Turd, but some of the newbies on the site sure make me wonder if they aren't employed by big brother...

4 oz
Apr 1, 2014 - 10:25am
Apr 1, 2014 - 10:25am

Amen Dr J

this sounds all to familiar to my own situation, thank you for reminding me that I am never going it alone in the daily chore of swatting out the bugs.

Apr 1, 2014 - 10:26am

Dr. J

I have been enjoying your writing and your practical approach. I, too, struggle with the issue of whom to take care of when the SHTF. There are so many loved ones that just are not preparing. I think most people get caught in a "everyone will be in the same boat" mentality, and do little to nothing to survive a time without the systems intact that they now take for granted.

While part of me wants to be able to tell someone whom has mocked me for years about my prepping and "doom and gloom" mentality, to eff off, I probably would not turn away a loved one no matter what has transpired before we reach a life and death scenario.

If I were you, I would sit at the Professor's desk for a little while, and make a list of everyone who is on the list of potentially showing up at your door, and assign them a task list of things they need to complete in order to receive a golden ticket to Dr. J's Bugout Bonanza.

OK niece's boyfriend, you can come along, but first you are going to have to have this, this and this, and you are going to need to be proficient in this, this, and this.

Turn liabilities into assets while you still have the time. Sounds to me like you could assemble quite a team with those already planning to bug in with you. I would start by telling that chap to get the solar array working!

There is safety in numbers as long as you are not in charge of large numbers of useless eaters.

Edit: And by the way Doc, maybe after your niece's boyfriend gets the solar array working, you could make him proficient in knowing where all of your crap is. It takes a special kind of disorganized to misplace a freaking floor jack!wink

Mr. Fix
Apr 1, 2014 - 10:29am

Dr. Jerome, excellent essay!

It hasn't escaped me how much easier it is to keep my own car in perfect running order, then it is to keep my wife's car in the same condition. I think the biggest difference, is she has much, much higher standards than me.

My back tires have been hitting the wheel wells in my Mustang for about three years now, and I couldn't possibly care less. If that ever happened to her car, she would consider it inoperable.

I always opt for the “do-it-yourself” approach towards home repair and prepping, and I might be one of the few that actually enjoys it. I guess I just love to tinker.

As far as friends and family wanting in on my bug out plans?

It's not going to happen!

I think I'm better at saying no to family than most people I know, but in my case, I would simply be returning the favor, since they all think I'm insane for prepping in the first place.

Regardless, it sounds like you're on the right course, I think all prepping is good,

and regardless of what the future holds in store for us, it will still be beneficial regardless.

And yes, they can most certainly save your life.

Motley Fool
Apr 1, 2014 - 10:43am

I think this is a good day...

To sell all my gold for silver. Or maybe even silver solar panels. :O

On a less date related note. @ Dr. Jerome

The question you pose is something I struggle with myself. How does one find a balance between compassion for your fellow man, especially those related by blood, and your own survival. I have not yet managed to think of an answer. The only thing I can be sure of is that is will be more clear in the moment, and I hope I have the wisdom to make the right decisions at that point.

Patriot Family
Apr 1, 2014 - 10:51am

I think the key is to store

I think the key is to store enough supplies away to prepare for the possibility extended family members may need to join our household. Some of us with a preparedness mindset over the years have used a small portion of their financial resources to store away extra food, clothing and supplies to accommodate a few family members showing up at their door. It's not much money - might depend on your point of view. This is something my wife and I are really thinking through and starting to address. For instance, I am in India for a couple of weeks and am buying name brand antibiotics for just a dollar or two per package. I plan to buy a little more to cover additional people.

We've used the past couple of years to educate our family members. My parent in-law have surprised me by starting to buy PMs and store a little extra food. My sister laughs at me though, and my mother always says, "That's nice". My step father thinks I'm nuts and has no plans to live in such a world if the S really does HTF.

The likelihood of a Mad Max scenario is remote. But are you prepared for a repeat (or worse) of the Great Depression? How about an extended major recession? That's the most probable outcome at this point.

As much as people say they would turn family members away, I couldn't do it if they made the journey to join us.

As for my wife and kids, we are still looking for a decent location/community to live in somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. If I can drive home on the weekends from Seattle, it's fair game. We really don't like Seattle from a family preparedness perspective. NE Washington, Idaho and Montana are still on the list. Still praying about it. Ready to buy now though!

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