10 Tips for Building Your Off Grid or On Grid Home

Here are some energy saving tips to think about when starting to build off grid or on grid.  You can Click Here to be able to download your copy of our 10 Tips.  Enjoy!

  1. Tip 1: Face as many windows as possible South to optimize solar gain. This will help in two main areas.
    1. Heat Efficiency:
      1. In the winter, with the sun coming into your home more due to the low position of the sun, this can cut down on heating you home whether on grid or off grid.
    2. Energy Efficiency
      1. With having your main windows south, this allows optimal sun to come in and therefore not as many lights are needed to be used during the daylight hours.
  2. Tip 2: Cement Floor:
    1. A cement slab will capture heat from the sun to help heat your home in Winter and help keep it cool in Summer
  3. Tip 3: Having 2 foot eves assists to keep the sun out of your home in the summer and keep your home cool.
    1. Having two foot house eves assists in the summer months and does not allow the sun to come too far into your home and therefore this keeps your house cooler.
    2. In the Winter, when the Sun is low in the sky the eves on your home will not inhibit the sun and will allow for the sun to come into your home and warm it up.
  4. Tip 4: Up-Cycle when possible. It will save you $$$$!
  5. Tip 5: Place rooms on the North side that you want to be cooler
    1. Bedrooms, bathrooms, utility rooms, and pantries are great rooms to have on the north side of your home.  They do not need to be as heated as your living spaces
  6. Tip 6: Have your main living space towards the south to capture the heat and natural light.
  7. Tip 7: Have few windows on the North side of your home to keep heat in
    1. If in snow country and snow sheds on the North and South sides of your home, having minimal windows and having the windows up high will help with not having snow pile up in front of your windows and therefore loose heat faster.
    2. It is always better to have snow against an insulated wall versus a window.
  8. Tip 8: Have a window in your bathroom
    1. This will allow for natural ventilation and will save on using the fan, which saves on power usage especially in the winter months, especially those off grid and needing to use less energy.
  9. Tip 9: Plants love being in front of the south facing windows.
    1. Placing your house plants near the south windows will allow your plants to thrive. I have enjoyed having my herbs in the south facing windows and in front of my kitchen sink for easy use when preparing meals and they grow superbly.
    2. If you are a gardener, growing your seed starts in the south windows is great. I have enjoyed this.
  10. Tip 10: Place your Kitchen near the South windows
    1. If you enjoy plants this allows for easy watering of your plants.
    2. Also, by having your kitchen near the south windows, your kitchen is filled with natural light, which can save on energy usage.

We hope these tips help to get you thinking when you are preparing to build off grid or on grid, or are remodeling your home.  Enjoy!


Macbeth, Mud Bogging our Driveway, and the Solution

Strange title I know.  My wife and I wanted to communicate the craziness of mud season in Northern Idaho.  I decided that reading the “Tomorrow Speech” from Macbeth was a great way to express our mud bogging adventure. “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing…” If I can’t laugh at myself then I really have no right to laugh at anyone else.  Especially, this time, it feels like I played the fool part well.

Last year, we decided to finally gravel our driveway. In the second scene of the video, with a few cuts, it pretty much expresses about 2-5 weeks of our excursion out of our driveway each day.  After five years, we had enough and decided to take our savings for the future shop and drop it into road fabric and rock for the road.  We no longer wanted to mud bog and hike the quarter of a mile in and out.  The amazing part is the main dirt road seemed to be established enough to drive on during the worst parts of the season, until this year.

To get to the paved  county maintained road, we have to drive about a mile of dirt road, a quarter of that being our driveway and easement.  This year’s late snow storms somehow created a long extended break up transition to spring.    Break up is when the ground’s frost layer some times 6 inches to about two ft deep, depending on the season, begins to melt on the surface.  The ice layer underneath however stays frozen acting as a barrier preventing the ground to absorb moisture.  The ground on the surface begins to melt and become saturated with water creating a slurry of mud.  As it warms, the mud gets thicker and thicker, but is held in place by the frozen layer still deep in the ground.  Once the frozen layer melts completely, the water can drain into the ground.  Sometimes pockets of the frozen ground melt due to sun exposure through the trees causing deep treacherous potholes to form that can bottom out the vehicle and wreak havoc on the suspension system.  The only sound way to avoid this is to use road fabric and a thick base of rock.

During the last scene of the video, in which we drive down the easement, I explain how much a quarter of a mile driveway cost us.  The road fabric, 2.5″ to minus rock bed, and the smoother 3/4″ rock for the driveway with about 8-10 inches depth cost us close to $6,000.00.

The tale told by an idiot, which is me, seems to be all this planning to save ourselves from the poorly established driveway and easement was moot since the road for the 1st time in 4 or five years went to mud, and we still had to mud bog in and out of the road this year.  The only answer is to place road fabric on the road and rock and gravel it all the way to the main paved road.  Alas, we are one of the newest neighbors on this road, and none of the other neighbors cares enough to fix it and will do nothing about it.  We have one neighbor using his tractor to level the road, but there are many others who have tractors and never lend a hand.   That neighbor is planning to build a different access off their property, so when I get good enough at driving our tractor, I will be left in charge of road duty for the 3/4 a mile to get out.  For years the neighbors have thrown rock on the road, but without road fabric to lock it in place, the next bad mud season the rock just disappears.

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.

Best Gas Can on the Market

For the past several years, I have been nursing our plastic gas cans and even hunting for used gas cans at second hand stores and garage sales.  I cannot express the frustration I have encountered with these worthless new gas cans; the nozzles are pure junk, made so cheaply they break and you can’t get your gas out of the can, so you have to resort to purchasing an adapter nozzle or even using a funnel. The new gas cans also don’t have vent holes that allow air to enter the can so the fuel is able to leave the can in a steady stream.

Those of you who follow this blog outside the United States are you finding the same poorly made fuel cans dominating the shelves in your stores as well?

If it wasn’t for a neighbor who used to race dune buggies, I would have never known about the VP Racing fuel cans.  They have a vent hole that allows gas to leave in a steady stream.  However, you have to create your own nozzle for a few dollars more that will fit into the lid of the can.  I only have one nozzle attached to one lid and trade lids between my 4 gas cans.

The upside and downside to the VP cans is they pour super fast when the vent hole is open.  I generally only crack the vent hole open to get a steady pour, but not something that will rush out of the can and over flow my small engine’s fuel tank.  The second downside and upside is they are heavy when filled. They can also handle about 6 gallons easily, but that extra storage comes with more weight to bear while trying to pour the fuel into a small gas tank. I am debating purchasing an extra tank just to fill only part way and transfer fuel from the other tanks so I can make filling our small engines’ gas tanks less of a chore.

Once upon a time, regular fuel cans came with easy to pour nozzles and vent holes before government legislation through lobbying got involved.  It saddens me to think a company can lobby government officials to pass legislation that benefits their patents and product by forcing better made products off the shelves in stores.  In the spirit of capitalism, this would never happen.  The United States isn’t what it use to be as far as allowing companies with the best designed products to compete on the store shelves.  Customers would have never chosen the poorly made environmentally “challenged” regulated fuel cans if the regular fuel cans were on the shelves.

If you are interested in investing in an easy to pour fuel can, you would be wise to invest in the VP Racing fuel can.  It’s a little more expensive, but when you have to buy the $10 nozzle kit to replace on the environ-“mentally challenged” cans, you’re very close in price.  Here’s the link at our “a store“.

The Importance of the type of fuel to use in your small engines

The other caveat I discuss in the video is the need for non ethanol gas in your yard machines and other small engines you may use.  The non ethanol gas has a longer life span than ethanol gas.  If you have an engine that will sit for more than 30 days, including vehicles, outboard motors, lawnmowers, generators, chainsaws, snow blowers, etc. then you need to use the more expensive non ethanol gasoline.  After 30 days, and sometimes even less if the machine is warmed up by the sun or hot days, the alcohol in the fuel will begin evaporate leaving water and other additives behind.  This expired fuel will gum up (tarnish) the small holes in the carburetor of your engine causing the need to rebuild and clean the carburetor before the engine can run properly.  By adding fuel stabilizer and possibly fuel additives that remove water you can possibly save the carburetor, but that won’t fix the spoiled fuel that has been sitting and spoiling in the carburetor while in storage.  To be safe, it is best to add the fuel stabilizer before placing the engine into storage for more than 30 days and run the engine for a minimum of 5 minutes with the treated stabilized fuel throughout the system.

If I had known this one simple preventative measure it would have saved me a carburetor rebuild in my 1968 Chevy pickup years ago.



A simple trick to improve gear shaft and axle performance: Snow Thrower Maintenance

Thank you for joining us at Living a Sustainable Dream, I hope this post will assist you if you have a snow thrower.  If you have no interest in ever owning one, let alone have a snowy enough climate to justify its purchase, that’s okay.  If there is one thing everyone can take from this post, it would be to read your manuals and keep them stored in a singular place for your equipment such as a lawnmower or a weed wacker.  If you do this, you will be able to perform the correct maintenance when necessary and possibly prevent equipment failure in the future.

Even though most of the snow is now gone, we have a few videos that we still need to post to complete our Snow Thrower Maintenance Playlist.  This post explains a simple maintenance schedule to improve your snow thrower’s performance and extend its life.  I was unaware of this until the auger shaft replacement I had to make early this year.  While searching the manual for a how-to instruction on removing the auger shaft [non existent in the manual], I discovered some strongly suggestive maintenance I had ignored these past 4 years.

The axle and gear shaft need to be lubricated every 25 hours of operation.  When I purchased the snow thrower, I skimmed the manual and didn’t pay any particular attention to the necessary scheduled maintenance.  I realize the importance and wish I had created a maintenance schedule of my own to adhere.  I am already beginning to create such a schedule and can’t wait until we finish a shop in which to conduct this regular maintenance on our equipment.

Our next post will be this Saturday and I will be discussing the best 5 gallon fuel cans on the market for the price as well as storing small engine equipment for a long period of time without running it.

We haven’t chosen a tractor name, so far, the family is split on Wiley and Klyde.

The Tractor has Arrived

Our new tractor has arrived and we’ve already made some use of it by moving several dead rooted up stumps and a large burned up log left by the previous owner.  What would have taken days and several weeks of back and knee recovery was done in a matter of a few minutes.  Just yesterday morning, it was time to swap out the snow tires. I put our large Suburban tires onto a pallet, moved them to our Suburban, and fork lift them to a height easy enough to slide the tires into the back. On a different day last week, I took the tractor to the west side of our home and smoothed out the weeded rough area to extend the yard.  What would take me days, is taking me minutes, and my back doesn’t hurt at the end of each day.

The video I created has nothing to do with the work I did.  Instead, I created a short 2 minute film celebrating that we finally purchased a tractor for our homestead.  I keyed it up to some inspirational music that I liked and filmed a typical “sunny” morning, waking up to a new homestead tractor.  I enjoyed doing all the cuts and film editing while placing “orange” everyday items throughout the film to lead up to the reveal at the end.   It was our only full sunny day this week.  It truly was a beautiful morning and was lots of fun to shoot.

I am so far very happy with our decision, I just wish the weather this week cooperated more, so I could begin gathering firewood.  It looks like the last few months of the school year I will be working two jobs full-time before summer break, one as a teacher and the other as a forest manager on the property.  During my sleep or shower time, I will have to plan the pole barn we are building.

So far, our name suggestions are: Surely, Klyde, and Wiley. There is still time to chime in and my wife and I are now split of 2 different names, our son may have to be the tie-breaker.

Budgeting for a Homestead Tractor

Ever since we bought our property back in 2010, we desired to have a tractor.  We wanted a tractor with a backhoe attachment, and we should have bought it back then, but I was stubborn about not wanting to go back in debt. If we had done this seven years ago, our tractor would have been paid off this year.  However, with payments, money would not be as flush and several projects would have probably not been accomplished during that time.

“What ifs” is no way to look at the world.  All our lives are full of what ifs.  Possibly, in the next seven years I will be thinking what life would have been like if we had not bought a tractor.

We crunched the numbers using a spreadsheet, and we found the tractor payments feasible for us.  Follow this link to download a free copy of our “tractor; monthly payment calculator”. Pauper’s Candles “Freebies” page.

We are diving in and trusting we are making the right choice.  What convinced me was when our generator went out of commission this past January, and we bought an emergency backup generator.  However, the backup generator did a poor job integrating in our system.  It was not a true 5000 Watt generator.  We decided to return it back to the store, but my wife and I could barely lift it.  We hoisted and strained to get the generator into our high-lift Suburban.  Our backs were wrenched and we felt sore for the next few days.  A tractor with pallet forks would have done it without breaking a sweat, and here we were killing ourselves.  That was the defining moment that I could make one back breaking mistake and injure myself to the point in which I would be in debt to several hospital bills and would no longer be able to work the homestead.

The loader bucket list… Our pro list definitely out weighs our con list. Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards

Being young, I arrogantly used my back, now that I am middle aged, I am becoming more cautious in protecting my body, which protects my freedom. That became the tipping balance for my wife and I to take the plunge back into debt.  Our tractor arrives this afternoon.

If you would like to suggest a name for our new mechanical mule, please leave a comment below.