It Really Works… Introducing the Bicycle Generator.

For the past few months, I have been trying to build our own bicycle generator.  Soon it became a sort of obsession as I tried to take an old exercise bike and convert it to a human powered generator.  These past few weeks, I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  With help from a follower of this website, author of Random Thoughts [of an engineer] who pointed me in the right direction.  A bicycle generator, producing 6 Volts cannot charge a 12 Volt battery.  The Volts are like force and force the current Amperes through the system.  A 6 Volt generator couldn’t push its way through a 12 volt system.   It would be like a snowball trying to push back an avalanche, well maybe not that extreme, but since it’s winter, I needed a winter simile.

I tried to use a 24 Volt alternator, but that too failed.  The physical human force to power it was beyond our physical limits for any measurable amounts of time.  I tried using a small DC charge controller which could not be integrated into the system.  I debated buying a DC booster and went with an extra DC motor added in series instead.

Unfortunately, I have little to know knowledge of electronics. However, I plan to do another post and video about the deceptions on the Internet concerning these so called bicycle generator plans, and how people believe certain laws of physics don’t apply to them.  That is fine if people want to create their own religion, but please don’t put blueprints on the Internet and claim they work when they don’t.  I wonder if the authors who wrote the bicycle generator article actually built the bike. Hopefully,  they’re not spreading false information because they want a “blog article” paycheck even if it means their is no factual basis in the article.

Moving on… How do you like the music?  This song “I Believe You” comes from a used record I purchased years ago, Made in America, 1981.  I finally got to play it with a record player I received for Christmas.  I grew up listening to Karen Carpenter, and I love her voice.  To avoid a copyright strike on YouTube, I altered the song 4 different ways. First, I placed a slight echo, next I upped the bass, I sped up the tempo by 15%, Lastly, I added a slight reverb to give it an auditorium feel.  I have learned that altering older music for people to listen to online has been called VaporWave.  I am not a big fan of it and didn’t push this song so far out that it would be almost unrecognizable.  Plus, like electronics, I know even less about mixing music. If the video gets taken down by YouTube, it will disappear here as well until I can find another song to replace it.

Update:  The video was flagged as copyright infringement by YouTube’s algorithm within a few seconds of the first of the upload. So, I had to pick an open source song completely different from the one I had.  All that work mentioned above wasted.

 

 

Off Grid electricity is NOT free.

Out with the old… The T-105’s are being retired.

I believe I am guilty of promoting free energy on the off grid homestead, and during the summer months it appears that way.  However, during the winter months cloudy skies make solar energy creation improbable, and it’s the battery bank that keeps the home’s electricity going from day to day.  When the fog and inversion continues throughout the week, a 5 gallon jug of fuel is added to the generator. The generator is fired up to produce the home’s power and to fill the battery bank for a few more days.

Winter is the time of the year when an off grid home realizes they are not living “free”.  Perhaps a nice sunny equatorial home would provide the energy the home needs and less reliance on a large battery bank.  But even then, a home close to the equator has a constant 12 hours day and night. In which the daylight begins at 6 and ends at 6 in the evening.  If only we lived on the equator… but I really like the 4 seasons, so that’s out for now.

If you are thinking about going off grid, depending on where you live and what your winter is like as far as darkness and climate, you will want to size your battery bank accordingly.  Our new bank, if we conserve, can get us about 4 days, without direct sunlight.  We have added so many new systems that require more power and we added to our family another person, so power usage has naturally increased.  More lights are on, our fridge runs more often, and the phantom load of the Internet and the propane tankless water heater begin to add up over a few hours.  If I remember, like I just did, I shut them off.

As seen in the video,  I crunched the numbers and our new battery bank (basic electric bill) is estimated at $25.00 a month over a 10 year period.  That’s not bad, but that doesn’t include the generator maintenance or the fuel for it.  A 5 gallon jug is required to charge the battery bank from 50% back up to 100% and to equalize them.  Without equalizing, it’s about 4 gallons of fuel needed.  I am keeping tabs on our generator usage this year with the new bank and tractor generator; it will be nice to be able to prepare a constant monthly budget by spreading the winter expenditures year round.

Off grid electricity is NOT free!

If my wife and I lived on the grid in this area and had solar panels that covered our electrical usage, the power company would still charge us a $25.00 minimum monthly hook up fee.  That doesn’t seem fair, but with many people trying to save money with increasing electrical bills the power companies do not want people wiggling out from their profit margins, plus someone has to pay for all those linemen who repair the down wires after a devastating storm.  Either way off grid or on, you will have to pay someone for your electricity.  As electricity bills increase, so does the price of batteries. The T-105’s I first bought were $155 each in 2011; this year they are $180 a piece.

If you are thinking about supplementing your on grid home or building an off grid power system, now is the time to start because prices are always going up.

Working alone on the homestead

Today, I am spending much of the day alone.  I decided what a perfect time to write a post about working on the homestead alone.  During the rush to build our tractor shed, I did much of the prep work by myself.  My wife and son went to the local farmers’ market while I began to tie the posts together to prepare the building for the trusses. The video I created isn’t much to speak of, in fact, it’s very quiet, almost too quiet.  I speak a few times explaining a little bit about how any person working on a building project should have a good set of clamps to be an extra pair of hands and making the work of two people into one.  However, much of the video shows the work being done while the camera’s mic records the sounds or should I say the peaceful silence of the homestead.

It was a beautiful day and the silence was so welcoming after a busy week.  I enjoy silence, that deep silence in which you can hear, the clock ticking, a train announce its arrival to a crossing buck over 3 miles away, or air being drawn through the open dampers on a wood stove.  I love silence because most of the time I am immersed in noise.

Waking up… Nothing like waking up to a cup of coffee with a special tiramisu cake to start the birthday out right. Thanks to my beautiful wife.

As I sat down to type this, the house’s power shut off, Low Battery Cutout warning at the inverter. The house has gone dark, but the computer, powered by its battery pack, for now, is unaffected. I am debating starting the generator.  I am able to see from the morning light coming through the windows; I have a warm fire, and I really don’t want to break the silence by starting the generator.  I fear this winter that I will see more of these Low Battery Cutout days.  The sun is blocked by solid gray skies, and my battery bank is beginning to show its age.  The battery bank was purchased in 2011 and has faithfully run the house since Christmas of that year.  We could push the bank a little further and get our money’s worth, but that means the generator will have to run more often, about every third day instead of fifth or sixth this winter season.  I am not too worried about the situation.  Instead, I am enjoying the added silence.  Once you see this post, you will know I either broke the silence of the tranquil homestead on my birthday this morning to turn the generator on to access the Internet, or the solar panels were able to silently gain enough power to up the voltage of the battery bank.

May you all have a blessed day and find some time this Thanksgiving week to embrace a small bit of silence.

Saving Money on Your Electric Bill with DIY Plumbing.

Money… it seems to be the main driving force that built civilization. It also seems to be what people are most worried about.  The phrase “death by a thousand cuts,” describes many people’s financial burdens by over extending credit, which our society in America has made all too easy to do.  However, the phrase can work both ways.  We can destroy our debt by chipping away at it in small ways until eventually we have control again.  If you feel like your life is out of control, then making the move to gain control is the very act of being in control.

One simple way is to learn trade skills for yourself.  Over the years, I have bought both used and new books on plumbing and electrical skills.  If I saw a book that looked helpful, I would try to check it out in the local library first.  If it were a great resource, I would buy it used or new if I knew it would save me money in the end.  I taught myself how to change electrical fixtures and plumbing fixtures when updating an old house we once owned using the books I found. I also watch DIY programming like This Old House (watch an episode) and the birth of the DIY Network during the time.  Since then much has changed, but the DIY spirit hasn’t.

By saving money on doing your own home repairs, you can take that money and put it into buying a better system that will save you more money in the long run.  And, those extra savings can be freed up to go into paying off debt or to create a rainy day fund.

When looking at the  propane tankless hot water system, I installed.  I saved probably a little over $300.00.   If I was on the grid and had an electrical tankless system, I would be saving a lot more because my electric bill would drop between 27% -50% or more depending on my hot water use in the home (See EnergyStar’s White Paper: “Electric Tankless Water Heating: Competitive Assessment”).  If you could have 27% (on the low end) of your electric bill reduced every month, what kind of savings would that be?  What would that look like in 10 years?

Before you purchase your tankless electric water heater, I would highly recommend reading EnergyStar’s white paper on the subject.  For my home’s application a smaller unit works just fine since our homes water flow rate is between 2-3 gallons per minute.  This allows me to purchase a smaller unit for the home.  I also live in a home with a single bathroom and there isn’t much competition for hot water.  The reason I mention this is because if you have a home in which accommodates more people and has a higher hot water demand, you may need to purchase a larger tankless hot water unit.  The warning EnergyStar states is some of these units require a home to have over 200 amps of power supplied to the home. For newer homes this should not be an issue, but older homes may require an update to the electricity service supplied to the home.  Just be careful and be well informed before making any purchases.


In closing, what would you do if you could save between 27% -50% of your monthly electric bill?  Think about of turning that statement “death by a thousand cuts” to your advantage when it comes to saving money whether it is DIY projects or just cutting costs.

 

How to start a generator when the pull rope breaks

Earlier this year, our generator pull start rope broke as well as the spring with the starter recoil assembly. We were left in a terrible position, but had enough power to ration until the new part arrived.  The new part broke in the 1st pull.  If not for the advice of a few subscribers, we would have to not been able to start the generator when we needed it again.  This is the day we needed power for our home and homestead business, and if I could not get the power on we were going to have to drop over a $1,000.00 to get the right size generator for our home.  This was my  first attempt at pull starting the generator with a regular 1/4″ rope on the outside of the bell housing leading to the crank shaft.

A big thank you to those who follow this blog and subscribe to our YouTube channel for the advice and how to do this safely.


What led to this is the inability to find a new starter recoil assembly that will fit the generator I have.  It appears every part on the market advertised to fit the RIDGID 6800G does not actually fit the machine.  There is not enough clearance for the pull start spindle and the bell housing on the crank shaft.  It will install, but the motion of the bell housing once started will wreck the spring, which prevents the rope from ever retracting again. Whoever designed the replacement part did not consider this, and it is a failed attempt at a one size fits all part.  Unfortunately, anyone owning the generator RIDGID 6800G will one day have to face this problem.  Our machine lasted 6 years before this occurred.

There are options though before considering throwing your perfectly viable machine away because of this $30 part mix-up.  A person may be able to find a different bell housing and attach it to the crankshaft.  The bell housing and starter recoil assembly of a more reliable brand may work on the RIDGID, but this may take a little engineering.  I have not tried this yet, and I am honestly waiting to put money into our barn build this summer.  We have plenty of solar energy now keeping us going.

If there is no such hope for our generator and I have to purchase another back up electrical system.  I am debating two courses of action and both involve my new tractor.  I either plan to build or purchase a manufactured generator that will work on our tractor’s PTO.  I could generate a lot more power using the diesel engine than I did with the gasoline stand alone generator.  The fuel being diesel will will not need fuel additives to keep from going bad.  I could also use the farm grade dyed diesel which isn’t taxed as heavily as diesel used for driving.  I knew when we purchased the tractor, it would become a major part of our homestead, and it may become our main back up source of electricity as well.  Perhaps, I could convert to electric chainsaws and use the tractor’s generator to fetch our firewood.  The potential is endless.

Evolution of Off Grid Refrigeration

Off grid refrigeration seems to be an elusive topic online.  Many people give up on the idea altogether or try to incorporate a standard refrigerator/freezer and find their stored battery energy gone before the next day begins.  Refrigerators are just inefficient.


When purchasing our DC refrigerator and freezer, we thought we were making the logical choice for our off grid situation.  It was much better than staying with an ice chest outside and saved us money on ice during the warm months.  We love having a DC refrigeration system because it can function straight off the battery bank without need of an inverter.  If the inverter ever failed us, we would have refrigeration until the new parts to fix it could arrive.

SunDanzer DC Refrigerator and Freezer

Keeping cool… Our SunDanzer DC freezer is still working after 4 years of use.  We enjoy the low power requirement for our freezer.

However, from the video we share our disappointment and unfortunate discovery that was unbeknownst to us when we bought our refrigerator.  To save on power a moisture control system was not included in the refrigerator.  Unfortunately, the moisture build up eventually corroded our refrigerator’s temperature control shutoff and left us with a refrigerator that would freeze our food.  We had to manually guess when to shut it off and how long to leave it off before turning it back on to prevent the constant freezing and thawing of our food.  Not useful when taking a vacation.  So, we decided to purchase an energy saving AC freezer and convert it to a refrigerator.  It was a far cheaper solution than to purchase a Sundanzer and have to repeat the process again in another 4 years.  Our Sundanzer freezer still operates correctly because the moisture inside it just freezes instead of corroding it.

I guess through our negative experience we may help educate others on understanding and choosing their off grid refrigeration project.  This system could also be used in an on grid application and save the homeowner quite a bit on their electric bill each month. In combination with LED lights, a tankless on demand water heater, a natural gas over/stove, and eliminating phantom loads, a person could live relatively inexpensively in their on grid home and transfer their saved dollars to a debt they have desired to pay off early.

Having a laugh... We love our refrigerator and enjoy a good laugh after filming.

Having a laugh… We love our refrigerator and enjoy a good laugh after filming.

We love our refrigeration system currently and will share any pitfalls if they happen as we did with our last refrigerator.  The only disappointment I have is the inverter needs to be running to keep the refrigeration going.  The inverter itself is about a  1.6 amp hours, a phantom load on our off grid electrical system.  I still shut the inverter off at night, which shuts the refrigerator off, but since the house temperature drops and we don’t open the fridge at night while we are sleeping, it hasn’t been much of an issue.  But, when we take a vacation, I will have to leave the house powered up with the inverter running, so the fridge can keep our food from spoiling.

I know a lot of off gridders out there recommend by-passing refrigeration altogether and eat canned food and prepare only enough food for one sitting.  However, that is not our lifestyle choice.  I for one love left-overs.  I love a stew that comes out of the fridge and is heated up, day old cold home-made pizza, and even the quiche I make for my wife on special occasions.  To each their own.  I just wanted to share a system that doesn’t take too much power and money so that if a person wanted to benefit from off grid refrigeration, they could without worrying about their batteries or bank account running dry.

Wood Stove is Free Hot Water

The heat is on... The water registered 127 degrees Fahrenheit. The T and P valve should open at 150 degrees F and release the overly hot water. The CDC would like hot water heaters to be at 140 degrees F.

The heat is on… The hot tap  water registers at 127 degrees Fahrenheit. The T and P valve should open at 150 degrees F and release the overly hot water. The CDC would like hot water heaters to be at 140 degrees F, but this will do nicely without scalding us.

Free hot showers for the past three weeks.  The weather outside is cold enough to keep the wood cook stove fired up almost twenty-four seven to heat our home.  With the wood cook stove heating the home, cooking much of our food, and heating our hot water, we have been able to wash dishes, do laundry, and take showers without using propane.

My favorite part of our off grid home is our wood cook stove during the winter.  It is the heart of our home keeping us warm, supplying our cooked food, and heating our domestic hot water throughout the home.  The wood cook stove does not have a reservoir instead it is plumbed into the domestic hot water supplied to each faucet in the house.  When we turn on the hot water faucet at each sink or even the laundry machine, the hot water is derived from the wood cook stove.

No pressure... but if this is not hooked up correctly it could be explosive. The T&P valve is after the pressure gauge that helps monitor the system. The temperature/pressure valve will open if water heats up to 150 degrees and release about 2 gallons of hot water out the drain pipe to a lidded 5 gallon bucket below. In the 2 years we have heated our water with this system our T&P valve has never opened because the water temperature has never risen above 123 degrees.

Like clockwork… The Temperature and Pressure (T & P) valve is directly above the pressure gauge on the left.  The copper pipe running out from the T & P valve leads to a 5 gallon lidded bucket below.  The extra shut-off valves on the right are for a possibly a future solar water heater.

Even though the wood cook stove’s setup is one of my most successful ventures on our off grid home, I cannot explain how much in trepidation I had when hooking it up. I was on a few websites that warned profusely that I was creating a potential bomb that could blow my family up.  The scary thing was that if I did not hook the system up correctly, I could very well have endangered my family and our home.  I kept researching and one person warned me that whatever I do, I must include a T & P valve (Temperature and Pressure Valve) correctly.  I bought one that would open once the temperature of the water rose to 150 degrees Fahrenheit.  Once it reaches that temperature, the valve opens and releases very hot water into a 5 gallon lidded bucket.  I drilled a hole into the bucket’s lid to snugly fit a 1/2″ copper tubing, so the hot water would be safely contained.   Currently, our T & P valve has only opened once without us even realizing it.  When I was cleaning the stove, I discovered the bucket that contains the blow off had about a gallon of water in it.  Some of this I already stated in a previous post “Domestic hot water from a wood cook stove, now that’s a hot idea,” but repetition on safety never hurt any one, frustrate them yes, but never hurt them.

Fired up... The water tank that holds the hot water from the stove is a converted electric water heater (Yellow) to the left. The copper pipe seen next to the stove pipe is the emergency pressure relief system. The orange french press on the stove is my morning coffee.

Fired up… The water tank that holds the hot water from the stove is a converted electric water heater (Yellow) to the left. The copper pipe seen next to the stove pipe is the emergency pressure relief system. The orange french press on the stove is my morning coffee.

Why is a T & P valve important?  Well, without it, the pressure in the water tank or pipes will continue to build pressure from heated water and steam.  If the hot water is not used on a regular basis the tank or pipes could explode under the force of the steam.  Boom!  The other reason is we decided to use PEX piping throughout our house.  PEX does not seem to like temperatures above 175 degrees.  The PEX pipe could be heated to a point that could cause it to fail, weaken, or even melt.  I, therefore, put the T & P valve right before the water system converts to the home’s PEX plumbing line.  The T & P valve keeps the system an open system, not a closed system.  A closed system is very bad when heating water, very bad unless it’s Archimedes steam cannon.

Our hot water system has worked perfectly for the past three years.  I remember testing the newly installed system on August 17, 2013.  We are now successfully running 3 years on the system without a Boom!, but with an “ah” for hot water.