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.

Bucking Challenge: Electric v. Gas

I have wanted an electric chainsaw for a few years now, and when I was asked by my wife and son what I wanted for Father’s Day, I went with the Oregon CS1500.  The Oregon electric plugin chainsaw was one of the few chainsaws left out there that doesn’t use batteries.  I did not want a battery-operated chainsaw because who wants to wait an hour to recharge to work 20 minutes then wait another hour to recharge for another 20 minutes of work.  With the plugin, I can plug directly into my solar powered home and begin bucking wood for free, minus the need for bar oil.

In the video, I created a split screen and put myself side by side to make it appear I was racing myself in the challenge.  The Stihl was not warmed up, and had a slow start.  The Oregon electric just started and ran when I pulled the on trigger; however, it did not have the power the Stihl had.


I believe the electric chainsaw is a great option during the summer months when the solar panels create a lot of extra power.  Not having to buy gas or perform engine maintenance also helps with the decision to have one.  When looking at the cost, the MS 311 Stihl is $499.00 while the Oregon CS1500 was advertised at $99.00.  I will keep my Stihl for the deep forest work of collecting of firewood, but I will try and use my lighter Oregon electric whenever I can.

Will I drag the electric chainsaw into the forest connected to my tractor’s PTO generator?  I have thought about giving it a run just to see how it would perform, but the idea of hauling all the video equipment out to film it, doesn’t seem appealing when I want to just get the work done.  “The Bucking Challenge” video I created took an entire Saturday morning and afternoon to film and about another 10 hours of editing.

Tractor + Generator = Power

Before we even bought our land and were planning our off grid homestead, we wanted a diesel generator as our backup power system for those endless cloudy days.  Why? Because, the cost of dyed diesel is cheaper, and, most importantly, I don’t have to worry about the fuel going bad after a few months of it sitting in storage.  With diesel, I don’t have to add extra expensive fuel additives to preserve the gas for a year.  Yes, I am putting more wear and tear on my tractor, but I am also running it in the winter and not letting it sit for long periods of time doing nothing, so either case I am probably even on future tractor maintenance.

Our previous RIGID generator is still with us and still without a pull rope assembly and can be used if needed in a pinch. However, I had grown tired of the gas generator’s fussiness with the gasoline industry’s ever changing recipe and their self-destructive design to make people even more dependent on them each month to purchase fresh fuel or buy additives.  It seems that diesel has been the one line of fuel that has not been messed with as much as the others.  It is perhaps, the industry’s one nice gesture to the people who are so dependent upon them.


We have finally purchased our “expensive” diesel generator. But, it wasn’t that expensive in combination with the tractor.  We already own the tractor, so adding the Winco 15kW PTO generator was half the cost of a Honda 5.5 – 7 kW gas generator.  The great news, as well, is no more pull starting. Even if the RIGID was only 4 pulls to start.  It’s brutal when the back is already thrown out from some other incident and I still had to go and pull start a generator.  Did I mentioned the price difference in our area for dyed diesel compared to non-ethanol high octane fuel necessary for small engines.  The price difference in our area is 90 cents a gallon.  At this price, the difference for a 5 gallon fuel tank is about $4.50 savings per gas can we fill.  That adds up when all the calculations are done between how many times on average the generator needs to run during the cloudy winter season.

If you own a tractor and have the horse power, a Winco tractor generator would be an excellent backup in case of a storm or power outage.  The fuel would be the same you use for your tractor and can be stored indefinitely (20 years).

This post was not sponsored by Winco generators or Kioti tractors.  It is, however, sponsored by our off grid homestead business Pauper’s Candle Company. Visit today for your next candle purchase at https://paupers-candles.ecwid.com/

Snow Storm Hits and the Solar Panels Quit

During the winter gray skies and snow defeat our solar panels’ power production.  This is the time of year we rely heavily upon our backup generator once the battery bank is spent. Removing snow from the panels, isn’t too bad, but if left undone it can become a real problem if the snow melts into a thick slush and freezes solid on the panels.  I have the panels tilted to the steepest pitch possible for the winter months, which helps remove the snow when it warns up enough for it to begin to melt.  However, because it takes a lot of effort to adjust them each season, I leave them at the winter pitch all year.  My power production is fine enough during the spring, summer, and fall months even at the winter pitch year round.

The snow storm was severe enough to knock several trees over.  Many people were without power for the next 24 plus hours.  Even though we weren’t producing power from our solar panels, we had enough stored power in our battery bank to ride us through.  We did not realize our area had lost power until our son was excused from school the next day because the school was without power.  It is moments like these that being off the grid is really nice. We don’t have to wait until power crews can find the time in the outage to bring our street’s power back on.  We are no longer a number on someone else’s priority list.

 

Determining Off Grid Power Needs

When we started planning our off grid solar system for our home, we began planning what electrical appliances we wanted and weighing that against what we could afford.  The following video are our non-negotiables.  We determined what we wanted for our home and planned the size or our solar system and battery bank accordingly.

How do we survive Living off grid?… Quite easily, really. Our list of electrical appliances we use on the homestead.

My wife and I literally sat down and determined what were essential for our lives and what could go.  Unfortunately, some items had to go because the electricity demands would be too great for an off grid system. The number one would be electrical heat.  We could not afford to use electrical heaters within our home.  A space heater uses around 1500 Watts of power per hour.  Not an option.


Another appliance we rapidly kicked to the curb was the clothes dryer.  The clothes dryer on average takes around 3500 Watts a load.  Our battery bank only 675 amp hours at 24 Volts =16,200 Watts of stored power yet to use the power all the way to zero will rapidly murder the battery bank. So, I only really have about 11,340 Watts of usable power. Three and half loads of laundry and our battery bank would done until the next sunny day.  We hang dry all our clothes on either the outside line or indoor lines I built.  Anyone who would like to make a dent in their electricity bill could begin by hang drying their clothes, easy-peasy.

The other appliance we said an automatic no to was the dishwasher because it not only took electricity, but also water.  In the future, we probably could renegotiate this one depending on the water and power usage, but we will wait for something more efficient.

My wife and I love to cook and eat at home, but we knew right away that an electric oven and range would never work.  They take too much electricity.  Our friends found a gas oven and stove top at a garage sale for $50.00 and during the warmer months of the year, we cook our food on the propane stove.  As I stated in the video, the electric oven is by far the largest use of electricity.  It uses almost 5,000 Watts per hour!  That is almost half of our stored power.

We also ditched the microwave, due to studies on how microwaves can hurt people over long periods of time.  We decided long before moving off grid to no longer microwave our food.

What has our life been like without these modern conveniences?  No clothes dryer, electric range, microwave, electric heaters, how do we survive?  Quite easily, really.

Why Live Off the Grid?

The two main reasons we began to consider living off the grid were the constant rise in the cost of electricity and the storms that seemed to knock out our service each year.

Living off grid didn’t start to become an option until we lived on the Oregon Coast and lived through the Great Coastal Gale of 2007.  Our home was fine, but we were left without utility service for about a week.  Our frustration mounted as we saw the rest or our town below us gain power only to be left without power and water for another day and a half because the municipality thought no one lived on our hill, as if we were all vacation homes.  So, why bother checking, just forgo delivering power.  Another full-time local on our hill set the town and utility company straight, but the experience left me a little distrustful of the people running things.  Even if we had a back up generator at the time, we still would not have fresh running water due to the pump station was beyond our legal grasp to supply power.


The real shift to getting us to consider living off the grid was the electric company’s constant rate increases.  It felt like we were being drained of what little money we had left at the end of the month.  With the rising cost of property taxes, water, insurance, gas prices, inflation in the grocery store, my wife and I saw what little savings we had at the end of the month rapidly disappearing.  We were one emergency crisis away from losing it all.  If the car died or a major house repair was needed, we would not be able to make our payments or we would have to ration the food.  This really got me thinking that we needed take back control of our expenditures on utilities.  We needed to find a way in which we could control our bills.  Going off grid seemed like a feasible solution to taking back financial control from these entities that taxed citizens into oblivion to justify their jobs.  Sorry, but it was a bitter pill to swallow to see everything we worked so hard for disappear because of rate increases during a recession.

When we bought our property in Idaho after selling our house on the coast, we knew we would be living off grid.  We had no desire to live on the grid anymore.  When control over our utilities were in our hands and our off grid system was installed, we only had one power outage.  It was quickly remedied in 15 minutes and life went on as usual.  However, we have seen several storms since we moved to North Idaho, and the area at large has lost power several times.  We would never have known it unless our neighbors called to tell us, the lights and stores are dark when we enter town, or when I go to work, the students I teach tell me about it.  I now access the utility company’s website in which I can see the outage map for the local electrical grid. When friends call on their cell phones during their outage, I give them a report of their situation all from the comfort of my well lit home while watching a movie.

What is the worst storm you have been in that knocked your power out?  Describe how you managed.

Tankless Water Heater Install & Northwest Fires are Affecting our Solar Panels

It seems this summer, that firewood and the tankless water heater were the majority of my progress.  The weeks have passed by rapidly.  Family has come to visit and days have been filled with which project to do next.

Having the tankless water heater working has been a blessing. After a long day working in the dust, I enjoy a hot shower to relax my pulled and exhausted muscles.  The dishes are easily done with hot water accessible from the sink. Our laundry is cleaner now that the stains and dirt can be rinsed in hot water.  Life has been relatively normal as it was during our on grid days.


In this Youtube video, I explain how the install went and what I had to do to compensate for the wall thimble installation. I also demonstrated the bypass I created and explain the overall system.  Next week, I will crunch the numbers and show how much the unit cost to install including all the parts I had to purchase.

Hazy Days… This morning’s sunrise over the birch trees on our property. I can almost look directly at the sun without hurting my eyes.

As far as life today goes, we are discovering the smoke from the fires in Washington, Oregon and Canada have descended into our area for the past two weeks. Our sun has turned red in the sky at sunset and our moon last night was a deep orange.  We have noticed our battery bank has not been receiving a full charge the past couple days.  Today, we chose not to water our garden or orchard in hopes of keeping from having to pull the generator out in the middle of summer.   Yesterday, when we awoke our battery bank was at 67% charged when it usually is at 94% charged in the mornings.  No clouds, just smoke causing the low charge rate.  Yesterday, I checked periodically the solar panels’ charge rate and it was at half the production it would be on a typical sunny, non smoky day.  The odd thing is we can see the sun.  The sky is not blue, but hazy, yet the panels are greatly affected by it.

If you are off grid and in the northwest region of the United States or nearby in Canada and have solar panels, how has the smoke affected your power generation?