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Oct 5 09 7:13 AM

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So who here would consider themselves "off the grid".
What type of systems do you use to help with everyday life
I would love to hear some ideas and see some pictures of different types of "off the grid" homesteads.

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#1 [url]

Oct 5 09 9:09 AM

Call or send Jay a Email for a visit. I think you said you had kids and it will be hard for them. "off the grid" also means maybe NO other kids to play / visit with. You need to think real hard about off grid. Nancy and I were off grid in the mountains and the save power-save water- no TV- no phone can get to you. Even reading a book takes lights and power.


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#2 [url]

Oct 5 09 3:25 PM

We are not connected to the electric grid, yet have a full sized "normal" refrigerator, a freezer, three computers, three TVs, electric washing machine, power tools, a bit plotter (a printer for blueprints), lights all over the place, kitchen appliances like Kitchen Aid stand mixers, etc.  We do not, however, leave the lights on or run things that make heat like hair dryers and toasters.  The air pop popcorn popper pulls 1,475 watts and our inverter (the magic box which changes battery power to regular household current) can put out 1,500 watts.  So I have to turn everything else off while I'm making popcorn.

There is an electric pole for our neighbor's house right at the end of our short driveway so we could be connected to the grid without any additional power poles.  In our case, though, we don't have a building permit so the electric company didn't want to connect to our house.  After we installed the photoelectric system (four solar panels, the inverter, a charge controller, fused switch and eight deep cycle batteries for $6,800) we then found out we could have connected to the electrical grid because our house doesn't need a building permit.  It was built prior to 1915 and has documentation prior to 1930.  However, we are now invested in Hawaiian Electric and they pay us dividends and we don't have to pay them.

Since then, we have gotten four more big solar panels and now we run the backup generator much less.  My DH is good with engines, so he found one which wasn't working well at a yard sale and he fixed it up.  Eventually, we will get a small wind generator, too, but we are in a fairly windy area.

Let's see.  Specific off grid advice?  Curly bulbs are your friend.  Incandescent light bulbs are evil.  When you wire up your house - it is just like a "regular" house except where the electric meter would be is the solar system.  Anyway, when you wire it up, make some wall outlets have an on/off switch on the wall above them.  Plug in anything with an "instant on, timer, or standby mode" into those outlets and turn them off when you aren't using them.  Otherwise, be very aware of how much power is being used.  I like to do laundry on sunny days.

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#4 [url]

Oct 9 09 2:23 AM

I'm not off-grid yet but I've been doing a lot of research. Bill points out an important point though, it certainly doesn't seem like it makes life easier. Saving money and being environmentally friendly come at a cost too, and it is usually your time and effort. I only have one solar panel set up now, and it helps but doesn't cover much of my power usage needs. I am saving up money to buy another one but  I'm phasing it in because I dont' have the cash to invest up front.

It sounds like chooks has an awesome system set up and is doing well with selling electricity back to the power company. I'd like to see a picture of how you have it set up. I'm especially interested in the batteries, since I have had the most trouble figuring out which kind is best to use.

Solar Panel Installers

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#5 [url]

Oct 9 09 10:24 AM

We are not connected to the electric grid at all, so we don't sell power back to the company.  We do hold stock in Hawaiian Electric, though, so we get dividends from the company even though we aren't a customer for them.

Once the system is in place, you get used to using it so there isn't all that much more bother than a standard on-grid plug in and pay for it system.  Considering the average electric bill here is around $150 and the average wage is $15, you have to work ten hours a month to pay for electric use.  We put in way less than ten hours worth of "bother" per month so we've saved at least nine hours of time each month.  Considering our life is finite, time is fairly important and could almost be considered "time = life" so if we followed this argument much further everyone would be rushing out to get off the grid.

Our battery system is eight batteries at the moment.  They are 6 volt deep cycle batteries and come from Costco.  I think they were $68 each last time we bought batteries.  We get new ones about every eight years or so.  They are wired in series in groups of four and then those groups are wired parallel.  When wiring in series, the voltage is in increased and when wiring in parallel the amperage is increased.

Installing solar panels is stone easy.  The basic components are the solar panels, a solar controller, the battery bank, an off switch and the inverter.  Choose a roof which faces the sun and put the panels on the roof - usually there is some sort of rack to hold them.   Racks will vary depending on how many panels and the type and pitch of the roof.  From there, a pair of wires goes to the solar controller, it is a fairly small box.  Ours is about the size of a carton of a dozen and a half eggs - one of those bigger egg cartons.  It is mounted inside on the kitchen wall near the inverter.  From the solar controller, the wires go back outside the house to the batteries.  The batteries are on a really sturdy wooden rack with a rubber floor mat tacked on the front to keep rain and chickens off of them.  The rack is made of 2" x 6"s and 2" x 4"s and set on big flat bricks.  You want the wires from the panels to the batteries and the batteries to the inverter to be a short run.  At low voltages you need big thick wires which are expensive.  There are two wires which go from the battery bank to the inverter.  Our inverter is a white square box mounted on the kitchen wall.  It is about the size of one and a half shoe boxes.  Two wires come out of there and go to the circuit breaker box and from there the wiring is the same as for any house.

There are a couple of gauges mounted next to the inverter.  One shows how much power is stored in the system with nice handy colors - green is good, yellow is not so good, red means it is time to go start the generator.  The other gauge shows how much power is going into the system.  That one isn't strictly necessary, but it is nice to see the needle up in the high numbers when the sun shines and to watch the needle move as clouds go over. 

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#6 [url]

Oct 9 09 10:35 AM

Chooks, did you guys set up your system or did you have a company do it for you? I would also love to see some pictures.
 Even though we are not 'off the grid' we try to live like it. We don't watch tv, I hand wash clothes, cook over fire, walk as many places as we can, don't use heat/air, used grey water for flushing, ect.... So I think that I will beable to adjust. The kids are so used to this life style I am sure they will do fine.

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#8 [url]

Oct 9 09 10:21 PM

We can't afford to have a company do anything for us so we kinda put it together.  It's not hard at all.

We live like we are on the grid, we just watch power usage pretty closely.  Electric washing machine but we hang the clothes, at least until I dig the gas dryer out again.  No heat or air, but most houses don't have that around here anyway.  No lack of water so gray water isn't necessary to be used.  Gas stoves are way better than electric.

Most of the "living off the grid" pay attention to what you are doing sort of stuff is done when the appliances are bought and the system is set up.  On a day to day basis, it isn't much different that a regular house.  We have gas stove/water heater and neither one requires electric power to operate.  The rest of the time we just go along like regular folks.  When the meter gets into the red, we start up the "iron sun" (Honda generator) and charge up the batteries with that.  About once a  year or so we go out and check the water levels in the batteries and make sure the wires are tight. 

When power companies size the system you'd need to run your house, they like to use your electric bill so they can install a really big system.  Most solar folks cut way back on their electrical use instead of sizing the system huge enough to let them use power in a typical non-thinking about it fashion.

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#10 [url]

Oct 10 09 10:41 AM

Nine years at this house, five years at a different house and about seven years on board the boat which started the whole thing.  Boats and RV's have a lot of solar sorts of set ups, but frequently they try to use 12volt appliances which aren't anywhere near as handy as 110volt ones.  The solar technology has improved leaps and bounds in the past several decades.  Depending on your location on the island, there is also the possibility of wind power, too.

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#11 [url]

Oct 10 09 11:24 AM

A real basic little off-grid gig is to just connect a little cheesy inverter to your car's battery and run an extension cord to power a compact florescent or two, and maybe a radio. Better if you can swap out a deep-cycle marine battery into your car/truck. Not much to pilfer if you're just getting started. However, you gotta remember to not deaden your car battery.

As for bigger battery banks, I remain a fan of Trojan T-105 batteries. A couple of those, with say 100 watts of solar panel can be a nice little system for years.

Generators? The Honda EU-2000 is great (1000 bucks -- think washing machine.) Likewise, Trace inverters are bullet-proof. (A Trace with a built-in charger is what you'd want from the used market.)

(Curious if any OutBack inverter users here know if they actually require the Mate-unit for optimum performance?)

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#12 [url]

Oct 10 09 6:51 PM

another good thing to do with a battery of batteries is to check each with a true load tester and keep them with the pv array, one weak one will drag down the rest.
digital load testers i'm not so happy with; can't trust em.

everything grows if you let it

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#13 [url]

Oct 10 09 8:18 PM

The Trace inverters with the chargers are the DR series.  We are running a Trace DR2415 which stands for 24volts in, 1.5 kilowatts out.  The DR stands for Dominican Republic, which is an area which only has power part time, so when there is grid power, the DR charges the batteries.

Personally, I like the Trojan T-105's but there's more value per dollar for the Costco deep cycle ones.

We had 600 watts of panels on the roof for the first eight years here and it was a very marginal system.  We were really cautious about the amount of power used and we ran the generator a lot.  We now have 1,300 watts on the roof and we use all the power it makes.  That's eight fairly big panels, four of them at 150 watts, four of them at 175 watts.  Doubling the size of this system wouldn't be any too big in my estimation, but we can at least get by pretty handy on these.

We don't have a load tester, just one of those turkey baster battery tester sorts of things.  We check the water level about every six months or if it seems they aren't holding a charge for very long.  I suppose we should make a maintenance schedule for them, but we haven't yet.

I've known folks to park their car or truck close to the house and do the inverter running off the truck/car battery thing.  They usually would either park a standard drive truck/car to where it could get a downhill start if it needed it or added a second battery with a battery switch.

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