advise: going off the grid

well … so much for ‘change’ danny
more power for the rest of us and we’re probably polluting less too!

South Carolina
It shouldn’t be too hard down there, no pipes to freeze.

energy requirements

– Last Updated: Feb-12-07 9:40 PM EST –

Not bad advice but I'd question some of it as there are a lot of variables. After you minimize your consumption as much as you can, what really are your requirements and tolerances? How many "appliances" and conveniences can you do without? How warm is it where you live? What are the resources you can draw on?

There are too many variables for absolutes. We lived for a full season out of a cabin (outside camping most of the summer) without any electricity and surprised ourselves at how little we missed.

It would be nice if you could keep a log and keep the forum posted it you really take this on.

I’d love to be able to do that
one day maybe. Would love to live on a ranch in central/south-central Texas, clear, large pond/small lake stocked with fish and crawfish, raise goats, grow my own vegetables, have my own well, and wind/solar.

Not me
I want a big house and heated pool. I may burn rotomolded kayaks as an energy source.

Here’s a very goo place to start:

Total electricity (no other energy source) bill in a real home (2 adults, 1 Newf, no kids) in a very cold January a couple of years ago was $28. Almost went this route myself. May not be off the grid, but can get very close.

when I’m living off the grid again I know where I can stop to wash off.

easy, tonto
i live in a part of the world where people can be “off the grid” just by their choice of a homesite.

here’s what the typical “off-the-grid” friends do when they visit:

  • they flip the light switches on and off, cooing with appreciation;
  • they also LOVE to take long, hot showers; and,
  • they tell us their latest diesel generator / windmill / hydropower maintenance problems.

    Their common theme: they would all love a monthly power bill …

Check into
Lehmans!! they have those hard to find items like refridgerators that run on kerosene(or propane, natural gas). It’s amazing how little kerosene it takes to run one.

If you live near a running stream, a small water wheel can provide a nice supply of 12V power. Just don’t tell anyone you are doing it. In some places it isn’t legal(which is really stupid).

Waterwheel, fridge by combustion

– Last Updated: Feb-13-07 12:15 AM EST –

Again, this brings up the problem of whether any money can be saved. With a simple waterwheel, I would expect that it would be very difficult to control the voltage to match changes in load. And of course you'd need an inverter to run anything that takes AC, and stepping up an average sort of 12-volt supply to 110-volt AC would leave you with precious little in the way of amperage so you'd just end up using it to run the radio and things like that. It wouldn't suprise me if someone has invented a sophisticated device to control such a thing though, maybe by providing automated control of the voltage to the field windings, but I'm sure you can count on it being very expensive. Of course, if you're an electrical engineer and are lucky enough to be more than just "book-smart" (which is a rarity among engineers nowadays), you could build your own.

I don't think that refrigerators which use propane are as cheap to operate as the electric ones we all have right now in the kitchen. If that's true, and since kerosene is more expensive than propane on an energy-output basis, I'd expect that a kerosene-powered refrigerator would be a good way to increase your expenses, not decrease them. In my book, buying kerosene or propane doesn't make you any more self-sufficient than buying electricity, but that's another issue.

off the grid
i run an entire lodge, restaurant, gift shop, and gas station off the grid.

  1. you need a good generator that can handle your load with plenty to spare. i have two 16 kW generators. i rotate them, and always have a backup
  2. next step is to install a battery bank. if you can afford auto startup/shutoff, it is nice. generator runs, and excess power charges the batteries. once batteries are full, generator shuts off and runs off the batteries until low, then the generator starts. this saves all the “wasted” power from the generator time.
  3. now you get to install your solar, wind, and hydro components. 30% tax break on solar, so if you install/invest in your generator and battery bank, install at least a small solar panel and the whole project will get you your 30% break. the more “clean” sources you include right away will add more to the overall cost, although you can recoup some of that by spending less on your battery system, or a smaller generator.

    remember, this will be a lot of work. you will have days where the power goes out, and you don’t get to wait with a candle for it to come back on.

propane is not a compromise
but a smart solution for many things, but not all of course.

Where i live it is Y2K every time the wind blows hard…lost 45 pounds of deer meat to a power outage. Now i use a propane refrigerator and propane freezer (also have propane lights in the house)…I can heat the house with propane or wood.

Propane stores forever unless you get a leak-dont let that happen. I usually sit on 1000 gallons of propane and IF/WHEN the SHTF then the propane will power the refrigerator and freezer for 15 years (propane refrigerators have no moving parts and have been in use 50 years before electrical refrigerators).

OK, i’ve got 2 battery banks/inverter/solar panels but they are running only lights/TV/Sat. dish,computer, etc—no big electrical loads like a washer or refrigerator…without any sun the two very very large concord batteries (AGM and no outgassing) will power my house for 2 weeks)…

The inverter is intertied to the grid and knows when power is on and charges the batteries/tops them off/ and equilizes them as needed…when the power goes off it automatically switches over.

I’ve super insulated my home…the whole house is wrapped in 6 inches of expanded polystyrene (my version of the Drivit system) so its easy to knock off the chill with propane while the wood stoves get going.

My point is that its OK to do a hybrid system, use the grid a bit here and there, be prepared for times of no grid.

Good luck.

My Servel gas refrigerator and a cooking range go through about $300 worth of propane a year at current prices. The refrigerator cost $1200 and is small by American standards, but most Europeans would consider it quite jumbo—they food shop every day and get by with tiny refrigerators. I have had wood cooking stoves, but dislike hving to split wood so fine for them. I heat the house only with wood from my property, but that costs plenty of money in chainsaws, trucks, log splitters, gas and sweat.

I’ll vouch for rvwen’s comments. His off-grid friends sound VERY familiar!

Many of you folks are probably using some of those “energy saving” twist bulbs. Yeah, they will reduce your electric bill some. The smallest size you see in WalMart these days is 15 watt—which is equivalent to a 40 watt incandescent bulb. Lots of RV fixtures use 15 or 22 watt fluorescent bulbs. I can tell you this: if I were to use energy HOG bulbs like those, I’d have to buy fuel by the tanker truck.

Nearly all of my lights use 4 watts–even room lights—and I am always on the look for lights that will use even less. My computer is an older Apple iBook serving desktop duty. It and my 7" TV run off a small Heart inverter. Whenever I run the generator, I am doing some combination of clothes washing, battery charging, water pumping or ironing. The water system is interesting: I have a well with a submersible pump–which I only run every week or so. It pumps water up a hill to a buried tank and we gravity feed water down to the house. The shower isn’t like you might expect in a good hotel, but it’s adequate at about 25 psi.

One of the few benefits to this spartan existance is that I can gloat when neighbors have a power outage and are reduced to using candles and wondering if everything in their freezers will be lost.

Why do I do it? Because I am $30,000 far from “real” electrical service, the woods are beautiful and quiet, and I cannot imagine living in the city again. Oh… and it’s interesting self-educating yourself in the engineering, mathematician, and electrician trades.

nothing personal

– Last Updated: Feb-13-07 8:45 AM EST –

But why do you need a television? And notebook? And an iron?

I'm not trying tp pick on you, but my off the grid friends sound completely different. Does this sound like you when you go to an "on the grid" friends' house?

I think it's a lifestyle change. If you're used to finding your work and play outside, you'll adjust. If you're used to having TV, electric lights, a washer and dryer, etc., you'll have a tougher time adjusting.

After all, Richard Proenekke didn't need any energy.

link to off the grid site:

Off the grid living…

Got a running stream on your place? use hydropower to generate electricity 24/7…

Back before Y2K, I went Solar, wired every room in my home for 12 Volts, installed the required deep cycle battery bank, and augmented the solar with a wind turbine…I installed a generator (Propane) and the electrical switching for the automatic switch from commercial to generator/battery power, even dug a well and installed a 12V pump for it.

Same design for the water, a 500 gallon tank placed above the roofline on a scaffold to gravity feed water to the house. Solar water heater for hot water, feed through the commercial hot water heater, through the propane powered on demand heater, to the faucets.

Now, I bought the components, did the work myself, (Always helps to understand the inner workings, it saves money on repair bills later)and completed the work 6 months prior to the event to get used to the system and make minor changes/tweaks…

Was it in vain? Y2K was a bust…so I’m out all that money, right?..nope…

Alabama is Tornado Country, even the thunderstorms are rough…I’m powered up and running when everyone else is in the dark, and with a reverse meter, the power I generate is returned to the grid and I get a rebate on my commercial bill from the local utility.


Voltage control and combustion fridge
Voltage control is simple. Any good charge controler has voltage control built in. Building a house to run on 12V isn’t any harder(actually easier) than building for 120V. RV can run easily with nothing more than 12V systems.

By using water power combined with solar and perhaps wind(I don’t care for wind–not reliable) along with your battery banks a reliable power supply can be setup and maintained.

The kerosene domestic refridgerator burns 1.5 to 1.75 gallons per week. You do have to refill the fridge every 2 or 3 weeks with fuel. To adjust the temperature you adjust the flame–no thermostat.

I would also think about a composting toilet instead of septic system.

I intend to have my own nuclear plant

Lots of talk about being ready…

– Last Updated: Feb-13-07 12:59 PM EST –

... for power outages as a benefit to being somewhat off the grid in this discussion. Well, you don't need anything fancy to do that, if that's your only intent. Get whatever generator you can afford (it need not be huge), and custom-build a power chord that will connect the 220-volt outlet of the generator to the 220-volt outlet for your clothes dryer (make sure to use wire of ample gauge). Open the main breaker and fire-up the generator, and you now have normal power being delivered to every circuit of the house, but not enough power to run everything at once unless your generator is a big one. Now, just take turns running the necessary stuff, the furnace, the freezer, the refrigerator, oven/range, etc. All of those things can be run very sporadically to get you through a power outage. Hey, if the power is out for such an extended time, there's probably no reason to go to work, so what else have you got to do besides shuffle power "from here to there" every few hours.

Problem there…
the main point to remember is to Throw the Main Breaker…

Back feeding the power lines can result in your generator charging the power lines in reverse, stepping up the voltage as it passes IN REVERSE through the transformer at the pole, sending a potentially FATAL charge back through power lines being worked on by utility workers…

even if you dodge the bullet on the back feeding, as your neighbors start getting power, their usage will draw down your generator to less than useful voltage.

Yep, you can’t forget that part!

– Last Updated: Feb-13-07 1:52 PM EST –

Yes, absolutely don't forget to open that main switch!

Really, a person shouldn't do this unless they actually understand what's going on. I'm sure it's not actually legal, but if you know what you are doing it's a great alternative to using numerous extension cords or a costly built-in generator system. It's also the only practical way to quickly and easily supply auxiliary power to your furnace and blower.

Also, the whole set-up is dependent on your own ability to guestimate amperages, though if you screw that part up, the worst you'll do is either trip the dryer's circuit breaker (if your generator can produce that much power) or the generator will just bog down or trip its own breaker.