Living Off the Grid – Steps to Help You Become Independent

September 24, 2016

Independent Film

Preparing to live off the grid can be exciting. Finally, you get to actually move toward reducing your carbon footprint.

You are venturing into a new world where you eventually will be saving money or making money, depending on the amount of electricity you produce. Usually the process is gradual and as with anything new there are costs involved.

Here is an overview or rather some of the steps involved in setting up an off the grid system.

First, study your appliances and figure out the kWhr per appliances. Energy produced is measured in kilowatt hours. For example, two 50-Watt light bulbs left on for 10 hours causes one kilowatt – hour of electricity (2 x 50 watts x 10 hrs).

Conserve your energy

Search for hidden large wattage electric users: one is the 380W glow bar ignitor in gas ovens, and/or stoves. It is on even while the appliance is heating or cooking.

Put in or switch your single or double pane windows to tri-pane, especially with ecoatings, using either argon or krypton gas, although argon gas is cheaper.

Make your doors pass the blow test.

Place spot lamps around the home. Spot lighting where you light up your work spot, be it watching TV to cooking on the stove to Internet searching on the computer, helps reduce energy use when compared with lighting up an entire room. In addition, spot lit rooms feel more cozy than cold, harsh well -lit environments.

Determine if you are going to use only solar power or only a wind turbine or a solar / wind hybrid system.

Whatever system you have chosen, make sure to check the water levels in your batteries every 3 months and add distilled water if needed to maintain adequate water levels. This ensures that you will get the longest life out of your battery, be it 5 years or all the way up to 20 years depending on the battery type selected.

Before installing solar panels in a state that has below zero temperatures, make sure you provide a way to clear the panels of snow and ice which otherwise can drop your electrical output drastically.

Using only a wind turbine

Determine if you are going to build your own wind mill. For help and many different windmill projects go to other power dot com. They even have a forum you can join.

As well as checking out state wind maps, examine the landscape at your home site. Are there tree/vegetation deformation in the direction of the prevailing winds (indicates strong wind speed) or is there a lack of any noticeable vegetation differences (indicates low wind speeds)? You can find a Griggs- Putnam index that uses tree deformation to predict wind speed. In addition if you have a seasonal variation in your energy needs, make sure it matches your wind season. If so, great. If not, time to think of increasing your wind turbine size.

Using only a solar system

Use the solar panels to charge up electric car or electric hybrid batteries. Why not make full use of your electric power system and go all the way into becoming self-sufficient. If the Solar taxi can make it around the world, what is stopping you from driving around town in your electric or electric hybrid vehicle.

Using a solar / wind hybrid

Remember, that I said if your heavy energy needs are opposite your strong wind time, you need to ramp up your wind turbine purchase? If you use a solar/wind hybrid system, just forget oversizing your wind turbine. Having both energy sources in place is like having a backup for the wind and vice versa. Hence, you can scale down your models, thereby making your purchases more affordable.

Solar water pump

When setting up solar panels for water pumping in areas of winter snows, make sure you set them on poles high enough to avoid snow drifts and damage from animals. The proper tilt is the latitude of the site.

When planning to pump water from your well, or even a pond, to a higher point, you need to estimate the lift or head, designated in feet. However, think top down in your head estimation. In addition, for a pressurized tank be sure to add the pump’s head pressure to the tank’s water pressure.

In the 1980’s systems installed typically used electronic controls to operate valves and pumps. These had a tendency to fail and techs that knew how to fix them were hard to come by. It is no wonder that solar pumps lost favor until just recently.

Some modern systems, believe it or not, tend to be simpler. These are called passive water pump systems. The PV 12 V panel is directly wired to a DC pump. This eliminates controls. Next non-toxic antifreeze is heated and circulated to a Heat Exchanger(HE). Via gravity, the HE allows tap water to circulate through it, which heats 120 gallons in and insulated tank. This is known as a closed loop, PV solar hot water pump system. Passive systems can be less expensive than active systems

Active water pumps come in open or closed loop types. Determine which is the right system for you. Active systems do use electricity to operate the pumps, and controllers and open and close the valves. This does mean more expense and will not operate in the event of loss of power, but they can be more efficient.

Open loop active systems are the least expensive but due to no heat exchangers and thereby no use of antifreeze, will not work in colder climates that are subject to below freezing temperatures. They simply circulate the warm water through the collectors from storage tanks. You can easily scale this system upwards as long as you realize lower hot water temperatures for households, not commercial use. Standard line pressure will work fine here.

Rainwater harvesting

Being off the grid, when one or more critical energy components fails, you need to provide crucial contingency supplies like water. You can’t just call up your local electric company and wait a few hours for things to get back to normal. You need to store water for use in those emergencies.

When collecting rainwater off the roof tops, you need to remove the “first flush” and divert it from entering your storage tanks. This “first flush” water contains dust and dirt that settled on the rooftop prior to the rain. There are a number of methods from manual to automatic to allow the water from the start of the rainfall to be used for landscaping and watering your garden and not enter your water storage tank.

Your water storage tank needs to have a tight-fitting lid and be situated away from trees, but kept in a dark place. Less sunlight hitting the storage tank means less chance for algae to grow, allowing the water to stay clean and cool.

Envelope house

You don’t need a cathedral ceiling to circulate the air in your home, you need an envelope house. Air is passively circulated throughout this entire home.

During the day the air in the greenhouse rises and after hitting the north wall’s peak gets pulled through the basement or crawl space. This warms the earth or masonry in the basement tunnel. Conversely, at night the air may be cooler, causing the earth or masonry to give up some of its heat into the air.

If building a home, try to use the cool air from the basement to cool down the house during the summer by allowing air to move freely from the basement to the first floor of the home via porous flooring or parallel slits in the floor above the basement. Of course, don’t forget the south-facing sunroom for the winter months.

Although the heat loss and gain is hard to measure, really now, isn’t the low cost or little or no need for additional heat evidence of significant savings? The shells of the 2 envelopes as well as the foot or more gap between them produces a R value of at least 30.

Contingencies

Food

Over time all components wear out or breakdown necessitating repair or even replacement. When you are connected to the grid, you expect the utilities to be prepared and have contingency plans. Just because you are not attached to the grid, why should you be any different. By planning now, any disruption in your power system will be an inconvenience rather than a disaster.

Meat or Poultry

The entire idea of living off the grid is to save money. If you have to buy freeze-dried or canned meat, besides tuna, you will probably be spending money and a lot of it. Hence, having some animals would provide you with meat without needing refrigeration.

Some possible poultry suggestions are guinea hens, musovy ducks, and regular coop chickens, kept in a chicken coop, of course.

Guinea hens are unique in that they are good runners as well as fliers, at least for short distances. They require minimal supplemental feed and forage and do not scratch in the dirt like regular chickens do. Hence, if you let them run wild, they will not destroy your garden and grass like regular chickens would.

Energy

Inexpensive candles can be purchased. The safest ones will be the wide candles with a diameter of at least 2 inches and a height of 4 inches or more. Be sure to buy a glass base for each candle. Then, as the hot wax drips it will hit the glass and cool safely.

Toilet

Think compost toilet. So your ordinances require a septic system. Fine. Why not install a compost toilet as a backup system. Unused, but ready to go in an emergency.

A compost toilet is really an ecological system. You have two main toilet systems at all times. One that is at rest to decompose for a year and one active. The active one requires you drop a handful of soak (straw or sawdust) after every use and it has an air vent as well as a drain to expel excess liquid. Now, this compost toilet system must be checked everyday, but the end result is excellent compost to be place on your garden. Not recommended for your vegetable garden though, as a safety precaution.

Water

See rainwater harvesting as one major contingency plan. Others include extra storage tanks ready to go at a moments notice.

Protection

Guard dogs can be placed in with pastured animals as well as llamas and donkeys. Now, guard dogs will take special care as they do not eat what the other pasture animals do. However, the llama and donkey do forage in the pasture, but the llama can be subject to either fits of anger or favoritism toward individuals in a farm family. Yes, the donkey can be stubborn, but its legs and mouth going at the same time is enough to scare off even me!

Stages

If you find yourself short on space or proper ordinances to raise animals and / or a garden, think of moving in stages toward living off the grid. If you find yourself with space, but short on money to implement contingency plans, you, too, can move in stages toward living off the grid. That is, use the grid as your backup plan until you have most of the components in place to live comfortably off the grid. Until then, focus on developing one source of alternative energy such as wind or solar and one contingency plan such as animals or stockpiling food, be it canned or freeze-dried or both.

For help and many different windmill projects go to http://www.otherpower.com
For 28 additional steps to living off the grid see http://www.mysolarenergyplus.net and get the Extreme Green Energy Report.

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