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Author Topic: To go Off-grid or not to go...  (Read 3188 times)

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Offline ljohnsaw

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To go Off-grid or not to go...
« on: December 17, 2012, 01:09:23 AM »
I'm curious to see how many timber frame buildings are "out back" and have gone to an off-grid setup.  I could certainly go on the grid if I want to pay the extortion money to get connected and the on-going ransom, or I could go off-grid.  (BTW, I work for a power company...)

I've thought about the pros and cons and would like to hear others chime in on the subject from experience.  Here is my situation:

I plan to build a small cabin - ~600-700 sq-ft main floor, maybe that much basement/workshop (4' or so underground, 3-4' above) and a sleeping loft area of about 300 sq-ft.  Heating will be a wood stove, no A/C, just windows.  Stove, fridge and tank-less hot water heater will be propane.  Due to the area water depth, I will probably put in a shallow. low-volume well and a large storage tank.

Electrical "need" that I see are general lighting and water pump.  Lighting is easy - LEDs.  For the pump, my idea is using a generator to fill the storage tank (1,200 gal?), a very large pressure tank (bladder type) and a (more than one?) RV 12v water pump.  Of course, the faucets, shower head and toilet will all be low-flow/usage.  My only other "need" is to run my CPAP but that runs on 12v as well.  If we had TV reception, a RV model would work there as well, though a TV is not high on my need list (my son might disagree with that! ;)).

So, I'm thinking a moderate solar set up.  I have a small set up (45w - two 6v batteries) for my pop up tent trailer and I'm pretty happy with that.  I think I would just need to do at least 4x that for the cabin.  I still need to do the load calcs but I'm guessing a 1kw setup would be overkill.  My real question is about the batteries.  The temps at the cabin get down right cold - below zero is likely at times.  Is having the batteries in the basement enough protection from the cold?  We will not be there all winter (just weekends, school breaks) so there will not be a tended fire/heat source.

Pros and cons?
John Sawicky

Just North-East of Sacramento...

SkyTrak 9038, Davis Little Monster backhoe, Case 16+4 Trencher, Home Built 42" capacity/32" cut Bandmill up to 54' long - using it all to build a timber frame cabin.

Offline beenthere

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Re: To go Off-grid or not to go...
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2012, 01:32:49 AM »
Check out how member PlicketyCat handles off-grid in Alaska. She is on her third (I believe) winter and appears to be managing. Might shed some light on the use of batteries in the cold (than yours) weather.
Her blog
http://www.jenninewardle.com/

http://www.forestryforum.com/board/index.php?action=profile;u=10792
south central Wisconsin
 It may be that my sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others

Offline Al_Smith

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Re: To go Off-grid or not to go...
« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2012, 06:21:18 AM »
I'm certain that with determination it's possible if a person prefered to live a startan life style .The Amish for all intents have done it for years .

Offline shinnlinger

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Re: To go Off-grid or not to go...
« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2012, 05:21:41 PM »
My take is if costs over 20k to hook up to the grid you should build your own system.  I have a co worker way out in the woods off grid who does pretty well.  You have to make some lifestyle changes but he seems to do alright   Commercial power is actually a pretty good deal when you start pricing alternative options to it.    In some states you can sell back to the grid and that can be ok because you don't need to to deal with batteries which is a significant expense/hassle, but that only makes sense if you state allows it and you aren't too far from a utility pole
Shinnlinger
Woodshop teacher, pasture raised chicken farmer
34 horse kubota L-2850, Turner Band Mill, '84 F-600,
living in self-built/milled timberframe home

Offline sprucebunny

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Re: To go Off-grid or not to go...
« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2012, 06:09:15 PM »
A refrigerator is a big energy user. I was going to get a small one and add insulation to it.

I lived on a boat for 3 years. We didn't have solar panels; used the engine to charge batteries. ( And ice and frozen turkeys  ;D )
MS193, MS192 and an 026  Weeding and Thinning. Gilbert Champion sawmill

Offline shinnlinger

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Re: To go Off-grid or not to go...
« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2012, 06:21:26 PM »
For a fridge,  I was thinking if you dug a hole with well casing (Or an upright propane tank with the top cut off) just outside your house where the roof would dump snow in it all winter and had an insulated door to your house with a dc winch powered dumbwaiter that would lower a tray of perishables onto the ice all summer as it melted further and further into the hole. 
Shinnlinger
Woodshop teacher, pasture raised chicken farmer
34 horse kubota L-2850, Turner Band Mill, '84 F-600,
living in self-built/milled timberframe home

Offline thecfarm

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Re: To go Off-grid or not to go...
« Reply #6 on: December 17, 2012, 06:46:35 PM »
Ever think of a windmill? Kinda pricey,but depends on your wallet.
Al,the Amish that we are around use alot of air and hyd power and a big diesel to run it all.
And if they rent a place with power a big freezer can be used.
Model 6020-20hp Manual Thomas bandsaw,TC40A 4wd 40 hp New Holland tractor, 450 Norse Winch, Heatmor 400 OWB,YCC 1978-79

Offline Builder-Bob

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Re: To go Off-grid or not to go...
« Reply #7 on: December 17, 2012, 09:48:08 PM »
My 2-bits as a current "off-gridder"...I live full time by myself in an older 18' travel trailer. For the winter, I built an 8'x12' shed style building onto the front side of the trailer to hous my pot belly stove, shelving, and dry wood supply for the stove.  I leave the trailer's door and window open so the heat comes into the trailer. I have a small battery powered fan to circulate the warm air into the trailer or a ac fan when the generator is running. I have a propane tankless water heater (off ebay), 12v pump for water from the trailer holding tank. I have a 250 gallon water holding tank that I pump from into the trailer's small holding tank. I get my water from a community well that I haul in 2- 55 gallon drums, pump that water into my 250 gallon tank. I don't have any solar yet, I see value in that but not in my budget yet. I have one 12 deep cycle battery to run the 12v lights in the trailer and the 12v pump.  I have a gas 2000/1500 watts inverter style  generator for ac lights and computer. It runs about 10 hours on 1 gallon of gas.

My intentions were/are to build a permanent off-grid house about 600 sq.ft., when the budget permits.   Living off the "off-grid lifestyle" takes some adjustments...but not too difficult.  My daughter has lived the lifestyle for the past 20 years...raising 3 boys. They wouldn't live any other way.  The adjustment is made easier when one see the $$$$ one can save.

There are numerous website geared for off the grid lifestyle that will give you some information.

I live in the mountains 5000 elevation...it has been snowing the past few days.  My snow "plow" is the tongue from a mobile home that I chain to the hitch on my 4x4 Suburban and drag it around to clear my road. Works pretty well, have used it several times...works best with less than 6" of snow on the ground.

Oh...last winter it was hard to keep the travel trailer warm with all the air leaks and thin original insulation. This past fall I covered the exterior with 1 1/2" foil backed rigid foam, sealed all the joints with that foil backed sticky flashing material.  So far this winter it has been WONDERFUL, easy to keep warm and don't use near as much wood as last year...NO air leaks.
Good luck.
Measure once, cut twice, if it doesn't fit cut it again.

Offline Piston

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Re: To go Off-grid or not to go...
« Reply #8 on: December 17, 2012, 11:22:01 PM »
You could use a propane refrigerator since your planning on a gas hot water heater anyways.
-Matt
What the Lion is to the Cat the Mastiff is to the Dog, the noblest of the family; he stands alone, and all others sink before him. His courage does not exceed his temper and generosity, and in attachment he equals the kindest of his race.

Offline ljohnsaw

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Re: To go Off-grid or not to go...
« Reply #9 on: December 18, 2012, 12:02:05 AM »
Thank you for all your ideas.  I like the ice hole but I'd worry about attracting varmints.   :D

I'm not planning (at this time) to live there full time.  I still have a young son (8-1/2) that needs to go to school.  I'm thinking a summer/winter break get-away for 1 to 4 weeks at a time.  I have a propane fridge in my pop-up trailer and have seen the bigger ones in large trailers.  They work pretty darn well and very fuel-efficient.  So, it's a natural to go propane stove and tank-less hot water (have that at home).  It might cost a grand or two to set up the solar and batteries and maybe a hundred / year on replacement batteries (averaged out).  Far cheaper than buying my power.  The biggest hold-up is pumping the water up from the well but using a generator and a holding tank just might make sense.
John Sawicky

Just North-East of Sacramento...

SkyTrak 9038, Davis Little Monster backhoe, Case 16+4 Trencher, Home Built 42" capacity/32" cut Bandmill up to 54' long - using it all to build a timber frame cabin.

Offline Brian_Weekley

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Re: To go Off-grid or not to go...
« Reply #10 on: December 18, 2012, 07:25:28 AM »
The biggest hold-up is pumping the water up from the well...

Something I've been investigating also.  Not sure how "well" this Simple Pump model works (no pun intended), but is something like this a possibility...

http://www.simplepump.com/OUR-PUMPS/Solar.html

If you search for "simple pump" on youtube, you can find some videos of it in action.
e aho laula

Offline shinnlinger

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Re: To go Off-grid or not to go...
« Reply #11 on: December 18, 2012, 08:05:23 AM »
I helped the same off grid co worker I mentioned in my ice hole comment (what if you kept it sealed but had a door to push snow in and keep varmints out) install one of these systems http://www.bisonpumps.com   they work pretty sweet on deep wells.
Shinnlinger
Woodshop teacher, pasture raised chicken farmer
34 horse kubota L-2850, Turner Band Mill, '84 F-600,
living in self-built/milled timberframe home

Offline Piston

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Re: To go Off-grid or not to go...
« Reply #12 on: December 18, 2012, 02:56:57 PM »
Do you have a tractor?  You could use a PTO pump for the water, and of course the tractor is useful for a million other things around camp. 
-Matt
What the Lion is to the Cat the Mastiff is to the Dog, the noblest of the family; he stands alone, and all others sink before him. His courage does not exceed his temper and generosity, and in attachment he equals the kindest of his race.

Offline Al_Smith

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Re: To go Off-grid or not to go...
« Reply #13 on: December 18, 2012, 06:41:51 PM »

Al,the Amish that we are around use alot of air and hyd power and a big diesel to run it all.
And if they rent a place with power a big freezer can be used.

Yeah it depends on the elders within the region. Some use diesel generators too but they don't tie into the power company. Some even have cell phones.

Now some people have a survivalist mentality and that's fine but it's not easy nor economical unless you have a natural gas well or something.

As romantic or pioneerish in spirit you have to remember nothing in this life is free. You could survive in a teepee I suppose but I can't imagine why anyone would want to.

In 1712 they really didn't have much choice but in 2012 we do. To each their own though you can have my share of "roughing it."


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