Replacing Lead Acid Batteries

Vented Box For Batteries
Vented Box For Batteries

Replacing lead acid batteries is inevitable in all off the grid systems. Our battery bank of 24 lead acid batteries were used when we got them. In fact, they were used when the person we got them from bought them from the railroad. Even so, they were in excellent shape. Very clean with no build up inside at all. We depended on them for many years. At least ten or more. Last year they started failing. By the end of the winter we were running our generator daily and they still did not hold a charge.

Our Generator
Our Generator

My husband, Larry, started researching lithium ion phosphate batteries after hearing good things about them from our off the grid friends who had them. In particular, the LiFePO4, which I mentioned in a previous post here. That led him to Battle Born batteries. They were pricey. But so was constant gasoline usage for the generator. Not counting the smell, noise, the wear on the generator, as well as many times having to work on it when it would not start immediately (especially in cold freezing weather!).

Peaceful Forest Homestead
Peaceful Forest Homestead

We could only afford two unless we took out a loan to buy more. If we had replaced the lead acid batteries, they would have been expensive too, just not as much as the LiFePO4 ones. We would have had to replace all of them. So in the long run, this was the way to go. We knew that eventually we wanted to switch over to the lithium ion ones anyway, so why not do it now? See what happens. Life is a gamble anyway, isn’t it?

New window and wall
New window and wall

The batteries arrived very quickly. Battle Born contacted Larry back immediately after he placed the order. The best customer service of any company we had bought from! When they arrived, Larry was in the middle of replacing the window and wall along the hearth so he couldn’t install the new batteries immediately. When he finally got around to it, first he had to remove the lead acid ones and move them out of the battery box. Did I mention these batteries are VERY heavy? Very much so.

24 Lead Acid Batteries
24 Lead Acid Batteries

He had moved them from the living room to the cellar only recently, about a couple of months before. Yes, I do know they should have NEVER been in the living room to begin with. They were there for years and I was nervous about them being there, but it was beyond my control so I lived with it. Now in the cellar they were in a special vented battery box built especially for them. They were moved to a pallet for that time.

Solar Electric Cooking
Solar Electric Cooking

Just two lithium ion batteries changed our power use immediately. It was like having unlimited power, though we still turn our system off every evening. The only things we use once the power is shut off is the refrigerator and DC lights. We have a strip of blue lights around the top of the hearth that turn on automatically when it gets dark. Since then we have added more lights around the house and even in the shed. These batteries are powerful, considering we are only using two 100 amp hours, 12 volt deep cycle batteries now. I can even use electric for cooking which I never could before. Just wait until we add more to our system.

Pallet that held batteries
Pallet that held batteries now holds canning jars

Next I had to figure out what to do with those old 24 lead acid batteries. I wanted them out of the cellar quickly. They possibly could have been brought back by equalizing them with grid power. I thought about selling them, but didn’t know what they were worth since I didn’t know for sure if they could be brought back. I Googled “what to do with old lead acid batteries” and found they could be recycled and should be. In fact, they can  be sold to your local scrap yard. We sold them the next day! Probably got more than if I had tried to sell them on craigslist.

Solar and Wind Charging
Solar and Wind Charging batteries

So when a friend of mine implied lithium ion batteries were not powerful enough to run her home, I really had to laugh. These batteries are more powerful than she will ever know. These batteries are basically trouble free with nothing to do but hook them up. They have a built in battery management system (BMS) which controls the charge going in and going out to maintain their balance. Our new batteries can be discharged up to 100% with no damage. Charging so much faster than lead acid ones. I realize being new and expensive right now even solar installers may not be that knowledgeable about them. They will be though as they learn more about them. Did I mention they take up less room as well as being lightweight? These batteries are truly the way of the future!

 

katlupe

Copyright © 2017 Kathleen G. Lupole
All Photographs Copyright © 2017 Kathleen G. Lupole

 

 

 

Cold Weather Preparations

 

April 7, 2017 Snow
April 7, 2017

Cold weather preparations are underway here at Peaceful Forest. Even though we are having an unusually hot late September, we are hurrying to be ready. Since early spring actually, we have been working on this. Our plans are to make this an easier life. As we get older, we find that is what we want. An easier life. Winter in New York can be brutal and most years it is. I don’t believe we ever really have had an easy winter. If it doesn’t snow in December or January, you can count on it for February. Last year, winter of 2017, we had snow right into April and it was cold right up to June.

Firewood
Firewood

Using two wood stoves for heat in our house means we need a supply of firewood. Chainsaw supplies such as extra chains, new files, fuel mix, etc. are a necessary part of the cold weather preparations. Making sure they are in tip top condition and running good is another important chore. As soon as all the leaves have dropped from the trees in our forest is the time to forage for dead wood that has fallen during the summer. I usually use my garden cart to scout for it but not sure about that this year since it seems to have a constant flat tire, even with a new tube.

New Window
New Window

This year we were finally able to put in one new window in the living room. All these years we have lived here we have badly needed new windows. These windows are probably the original ones that were put in this house when it was built. They have that wavy glass and are not energy efficient at all. I usually staple clear plastic over the whole window including the casing to keep it warmer. Not that it helps that much! I never realized I’d get so excited over a window, but I did and I still am. Next spring we hope to add two more in the living room and one in the bathroom.

New Door
Love the new door!

We were also able to replace our exterior door in the kitchen. How happy that has made me! We lost a lot of heat through that for years. Now it closes tight and I can even lock it! Nope, I could not lock it even when we left the house. I used to worry about it but now I am relieved of that worry. Now we stopped using the sliding glass door because it is not energy efficient to slide a door open and shut. As soon as my old cat, Patches learns that door is not the one to use to come in, we won’t use it at all.

Jewel Cook Stove
My old wood cook stove.

A sad note is that we had to remove our wood cook stove. I had always planned on replacing it with the Pioneer Maid. The Jewel though was falling apart and last spring it smoked horribly. I had always cooked on it even in the summer months years before because it didn’t really heat up the kitchen that much. Not this year. Then I thought we’d just keep it as a decorative item in a corner of the kitchen when it was finished being remodeled. I had the idea to store all my cast iron cookware collection on and in it. Well when my husband took it out, it just fell apart. It was ruined and there was nothing to save. So he loaded up on the truck and took it to the scrap metal place. I had cooked on it since 1997.

US Stove Logwood
New little stove

It was sad to see it go, but without it taking up the corner of the kitchen, now we had so much light coming in. I loved it! For this coming winter we bought a small wood stove just to get us through it. Once my husband had it all set up with a new brick hearth, I decided I don’t want to change it. I don’t want a big dark wood cook stove making it dark again. Since we started using electric for some of our cooking, I’d like to pursue that line of cooking instead. Easier and cleaner for both of us. I still have our monster of a wood stove in the living room that I can cook on. The little wood stove can be used for small cooking jobs, but its surface is very small. Our cold weather preparations here are an ongoing part of our life. Staying warm, having enough good food to sustain us, a dependable water supply and the determination to not let the cold weather bring us down is always our plan.

 

 

katlupe

 

Text and Photographs Copyright © Kathleen G. Lupole 2017

I write this blog based on my experience living an off-the-grid life. Some of the links you may click or products I recommend may or may not compensate me for including them in my post. Be sure to read my disclosure page if you are concerned about that.

 

 

 

Solar Electric Cooking

barn solar panels
More solar panels coming!

Summer of 2017 wasn’t much of a summer for us really. Cool most of the time. Very wet and that makes for a very buggy season. Didn’t have much of a garden this year. Pretty busy with the projects on the house so not much time for anything else. Our lead acid batteries were failing fast and we had no way to equalize them and bring them back. I saw many YouTube videos on how to do that, but being off the grid, we had no power source to use to do the process. Finally we were able to purchase two Battle Born LiFePO4 deep cycle batteries. They are lithium iron phosphate batteries. With just TWO, we are able to run our whole house (granted our house is not the norm) with computers on all day with no generator. I was so happy not to hear the generator fired up every morning. Because that is what we had to do once the old lead acid batteries started failing and were not be able to hold a charge.

electric lawnmower
Our electric lawnmower

I will write more about these particular batteries in a future post. But for now, I want to just say they were worth every penny. Not having used the generator since the day they were hooked up has saved us close to $100. a month in gasoline. My husband mows our lawn with an electric lawn mower so no gasoline bought for that either. Now the only thing will be the chainsaw. Hopefully in the future, we will be buying an electric one for that also. Eliminating fuels is our top priority. Next one……..propane!

Solar Electric Cooking
Solar Electric Cooking

How to get rid of propane for cooking? Especially in the summer? We could cook on an outside fire and we did. Not as often as I’d like though. Now with more batteries and more solar panels, which are not all hooked up yet, we can use electrical cooking appliances. Not a big electric stove, but I am using an Instant Pot. Has been working great when we are charging from the sun. Actually I like it much better than the solar oven. The solar oven is awkward to set up. Carry outside and then keep moving it around. My thought on that is something I have seen online, setting up the solar oven in your kitchen, but so it is powered directly by the sun. You access it completely in your kitchen! Yes, that would work great for me. Would take a bit of remodeling in the kitchen to do it, but it could be done.

Cooking in the Dutch oven
Cooking in the Dutch oven

As we get ready for winter here, I will be using the wood stoves for most of the cooking. I don’t mind doing that since the firewood is burning for heat anyway. By next summer though, I figure we will have added more batteries and that will increase our cooking capabilities with electrical appliances. I have a brand new induction burner waiting to be experienced with. If we can use that, then I know we can get rid of the propane. It is just the oven in the summer that would be a problem. Just learning new ways of cooking foods that usually were cooked in the oven. I enjoy this new learning curve!

katlupe

Text and Photographs Copyright © Kathleen G. Lupole 2017

I write this blog based on my experience living an off-the-grid life. Some of the links you may click or products I recommend may or may not compensate me for including them in my post. Be sure to read my disclosure page if you are concerned about that.

Powering Up Computers

Computer
Powering Up Computers

Powering up computers on your homestead is something you will eventually want or need to do. As I said in prior posts, at first we did not need it. We were busy trying to set this old house up for basic living. After awhile we felt like we were being left behind. Larry had been a computer person right from the start. He had worked at IBM in Endicott, NY, and had an early model IBM computer that used DOS (disk operating system) as the operating system. So he was missing it. He had taught me how to use that old system long before Windows ever appeared on the scene. I was soon doing my writing on it and I remember us accessing the old IBM bulletin boards in my old apartment.

town
Going to town

Before we moved here we had a desk top computer with a larger tower. That was when we had to use dial-up because that was all that was available at that time. It was packed away because we had to figure out what we were doing here first. At first we had no power and those type of computers take a lot of power. I know, I saw it in my electric bill and I was on the night rate at my old house. It didn’t take long to figure out that we really needed a computer. We needed it to make money. We needed a way to research what, why and how to do various projects we were working on. We had the little Backwoods Solar off the grid catalog, but we needed much more information than that. Driving to town to a library was not something you want to do when you are in the middle of something and need the answer now. Not to mention the fact that back then there was no internet at the library, just outdated books published before new technology in alternative energy systems took place.

Our First Solar Panel
Our First Solar Panel

Eventually we hooked up the computer after we got our small solar system operating. We had to run our generator much of the time, at first the generator being our old car or truck pulled up to the house window to connect it to the batteries in the system. I started selling on eBay and it wasn’t long before I bought a used desk top Compaq computer. I could not afford to share time on the computer with Larry and he wanted to be on it for long periods too. So we had two computers with two large towers and a printer and then I was in business. I was busy with eBay as it was back in its heyday.

Bike With InStep Cart
Bike With InStep Cart

It was also the time we were living without a motor vehicle, about a period of nine months. Instead of taking the packages to the post office we had to take them to our mailbox which was about a mile away on a desolate corner at the end of our dirt road. So they could not be left there to wait for the mailman. Larry bought a new mountain bicycle and an Instep bicycle cart for it to haul the packages to the mailbox every morning. Nikita, our dog, would get excited when she saw me start packaging my sales up because she loved going with Larry to the mailbox. It was good exercise for her and our neighbor’s dog would watch for her to come by. On their way back, sometimes they would stop there to visit. Larry would sit on a log to wait for the mailman to come by.

The Corner
The Corner

I know many people claim that technically you are not living off the grid if you have a computer, a phone, propane or buy your food and other supplies. Oh really? To tell you the truth, even the mountain men bought their supplies. That is why they trapped and hauled furs to trading posts. The Native Americans made items out of the animals they killed and other natural materials and traded them to each other, other tribes and white man too for other items they needed or wanted. Even Dick Proenneke (Alone In The Wilderness) had to have supplies flown in to him in the Alaskan wilderness.

Finger Lakes Trail
Finger Lakes Trail

People who go camping take a huge amount of stuff with them when they go. Some even take propane with them and generators. Now if you  can go camping without one thing, no matches, no knives, no tools or anything at all and make everything you need, food, cooking, shelter, bedding……….then go for it! You’ve got that covered if you can do that. I’d say that is about as off the grid as you can get. Most people cannot do that. I know I cannot and I have no desire to do that.

dirt road
Our Road

Most people will tell me they admire how we live but they couldn’t do it themselves. I am left wondering “why?” Maybe it has to do with not having a television? What they don’t realize when they come here is, that we choose not to have one. We could, if we wanted it. We are computer people and a television holds no interest for me. If I want to watch a television show I can see it online. Some people like the constant noise from one going all the time. I know quite a few people who do. I hate that and I find the noise unbearable. Sometimes I just leave someone’s house if that is something I am forced to listen to all the time. Now my mother was bedridden and she had a television going on all the time, but that was understandable.

rabbit
I enjoy quiet time with my pet “Rabbit.”

I love music and listen to it almost every day, but not nonstop all day and not extremely loud. Many nights I listen to my MP3 player or read books on my Kindle Fire. I am for the most part a quiet person and appreciate the sounds of the birds singing outside or my pet house rabbit chewing his hay. In fact, I keep my computer’s sound on mute all the time and only turn it on if I am watching a video.

sun on solar panels
More Panels

The main thing to know is that you can build your system to accommodate whatever you choose to have in electronics or appliances. Right now we are in the process of adding more panels so someone said to me, “Now you can have a television.” No, as I stated above, “I CHOOSE not to.” I choose to add a water pump so we can have running water in our house. I choose to be able to power our washing machine so I don’t have to do my laundry by hand. I choose to add electric cooking since that means I can get rid of the propane bill. Electric is free for me. I choose to add electric heating, but that will be awhile. Maybe we could change the gas chain saw to the electric one and not have to purchase the gas. Before we can do many of those things in the future we need to increase our batteries. We have changed from the lead acid ones but that is a future post.

katlupe

Copyright © 2017 Kathleen G. Lupole
All Photographs Copyright © 201
7 Kathleen G. Lupole

I write this blog based on my experience living an off-the-grid life as a modern homesteader. Some of the links you may click or products I recommend may or may not compensate me for including them in my post. Be sure to read my disclosure page if you are concerned about that.

Well To House Connection

Pitcher Pump
Pitcher Pump

The well to house connection isn’t as easy as it sounds. Especially when you are not talking about a modern drilled well. This well is a shallow hand dug well. About 25 feet. It is not far from the front door which is a good thing when you have to haul the water inside. Connecting it to the house is one of the next things on our agenda. It has been a long time coming. Now I can finally see it on the horizon. Can you tell I am excited about this? Since the work was being done to connect the electric wires to the barn underground, it seemed like the best time to do the work on the water too. Eventually that would be connected so this work is all done and ready for the next step.

Ditch for Water Pipes
Ditch for water pipes

The ditch was dug below the frost line which is 18 inches deep. Then it goes into the room that will have the water tank in it. It isn’t very far. From there the pipe will be hooked to the other pipes that will go through out the house. The pipes are PVC that are sold in the plumbing section of Lowes. I don’t know if there is a difference in what PVC pipes are made of, but this is what we used. If it is not safe to use, please don’t bother telling me since I am stuck with it regardless.

Water Pipes Underground
Water Pipes are Underground

Once inside the well, the pipe from the house is connected into the pipe going down into the bottom of the well. There is an elbow connected to that pipe. Since our well has a cement slab on the top of it, I never saw the inside up close before. This was very interesting to me to see the inside and all the rocks that were piled up inside for the sides of the well.

Hand Dug Well Inside
Inside the well

Putting a hole in the side of hand dug well is something that has to be done very carefully. Not wanting to cause your well to cave in is something to be aware of. Our well was very well built by whoever did it long ago. There was no problem doing this. The rest of the photos will show different views and you can see for yourself how the water from the well will come into the house.

Water Connection
Water Connection

katlupe

Copyright © 2017 Kathleen G. Lupole
All Photographs Copyright © 201
7 Kathleen G. Lupole

I write this blog based on my experience living an off-the-grid life as a modern homesteader. Some of the links you may click or products I recommend may or may not compensate me for including them in my post. Be sure to read my disclosure page if you are concerned about that.

Batteries, The Heart Of A System

2 Volt Lead Acid Deep Cycle Batteries
2 Volt Lead Acid Deep Cycle Batteries

The most important part of any off the grid energy system is the battery bank. The energy (or power) comes from the sun (hydro, or wind, or wind and sun both, as in my case) through the solar panels or wind turbine then goes through the charge controller and then into the battery bank. The charge controller does just what the name says, it controls the charge going into your batteries so they do not over charge. If the batteries are already at full charge, our charge controller, which has a diversion load on it, that means it diverts the power to another element. This charge controller has heating coils on it so the extra power goes to that. Eventually it will be hooked up to the water heater and the extra power will heat our water. At present our water is not piped in the house yet. Hopefully that will be done soon. Our plan is to have water collectors on the roof of the house as well as the electric water heater in the cellar.

Solar Baby House 1999
Our house in 1999

Back in 1999 when we moved here lead acid batteries were the best option for off the grid home set up. We started out with two and added two more later, even though the experts say not to do that. They say it will cause your batteries to have a short life. Contrary to that advice, our batteries were great. Never had a problem with them and when we replaced them years later, they were still usable. We gave them to friends of ours who used them for their golf cart on their homestead. Those lead acid deep cycle batteries were 6 volt, which were sold for fork lift trucks at my husband’s place of employment at the time. So we got a good deal on them with his employee discount. I am sorry I don’t have any photos of those batteries but at that time I did not have my digital camera and I couldn’t afford to buy film then. Those were tough times getting started here.

24 :Lead Acid Deep Cycle Batteries
24 :Lead Acid Deep Cycle Batteries

A few years later my husband designed a website and I listed products for a friend, who was a solar installer. He paid us in giving us 24 lead acid 2 volt batteries that he was given by a customer who was switching over to being grid tied (connected to the electric company grid with no battery bank). These batteries were very clean. The plates had no build up on them at all. They originally had been used by the railroad and then the homeowner, of course. So we were the third owners of them and they worked flawlessly for over ten years.

Charge Controllers and Meter
Charge Controllers and Meter

It was just in this last year they started not holding the charge very well. They still didn’t look dirty inside, but they could have been. They needed to be equalized and we had no way to do that process. By putting each battery on an automotive battery charger and letting it trickle charge (very slowly charged) for a couple of days or however long it takes till they reach full charge. Then let it sit for a couple of hours with no load on it. After that it needs to be tested with a hydrometer. I imagine they can be sold to someone who is on the grid and has the power to do that. We could not carry out that process here.

Lead Acid Deep Cycle Battery
Lead Acid Deep Cycle Battery

When these batteries were charged, I would hear them bubbling all through the afternoon and night. That bubbling is what cleans the plates as it chips away at the sediment on the plates. Eventually the sediment will settle on the bottom of the battery and build up over the years. Someone can empty the battery out and clean the inside by hand. Then refill and charge. It is a lot of work, especially for 24 batteries, but can be done. We just couldn’t do it here, or knowing my husband, he’d have done it.

Solar Baby Generator
Our old generator

Since the batteries are the heart of our system, keeping them clean and filled with distilled water was essential battery care. Testing them, dusting them off and paying attention to them was important to keep our system running. These batteries served us well. I am proud to say we never abused them or misused them at any time. My husband is very critical of every element of our alternative energy system, especially including the battery bank. About a month ago we replaced those 24 lead acid batteries with 2 LifePo4 batteries from Battle Born Batteries. We were using our generator daily due to the batteries not holding the charge any longer. Using the generator is the last thing you want to be doing! I will be writing more about these batteries in a future post as I learn more about them. We plan on adding to the battery bank with more of these new batteries. The nice thing about them is you can add to them one by one if you need to. Yes, two of these batteries have replaced our 24 lead acid ones! If you are curious about how that works, keep an eye on this blog because I will be telling you about it soon.

 

katlupe

Copyright © 2017 Kathleen G. Lupole
All Photographs Copyright © 201
7 Kathleen G. Lupole

I write this blog based on my experience living an off-the-grid life as a modern homesteader. Some of the links you may click or products I recommend may or may not compensate me for including them in my post. Be sure to read my disclosure page if you are concerned about that.

Wiring For Our Solar Panels

New Wire
New Wire

Wiring was the most expensive part of our alternative energy system. The farther the panels (or turbine) are from the batteries and house, the more you need. We had purchased the various components needed by now, including the roof racks. Roof racks were needed to place them securely on the roof. We made sure to buy enough racks for future solar panels. The brand we purchased was Unirac, though the exact model we bought has probably been improved and changed since then. I will be honest though, it was very scary watching my husband climbing on top of our barn and installing the racks and later the panels. He had to do it alone with no assistance from anyone, because it is just the two of us here now.

 

Ditch For Wires
Ditch For Wires

Once the wire was bought, work began on the installation of it. A ditch had to be dug from the house to the barn, from the spot where it would come into the house. In the middle of this project, it had to be interrupted to do the work on the water system that would eventually bring it into the house. That will be a future post. At the house the wire then ran through the new room and into the root cellar to the circuit breaker box. The wire underground was strung through conduit to protect it from the elements and rodents. It was all set and ready to be connected in the barn.

Conduit
Conduit for wiring

2/0 cable gave use the ability to transfer 12 volt DC power with virtually no loss, saving us the need to add a converter at the barn that changes it to AC and a converter at the house to change it back to DC. Each converter would use energy to convert it. This set up would allow us to have less components. AC is a smaller and cheaper wire. It is really a preference thing. Whichever you want to do is up to you.

 

Wired
Wired in the upstairs of the barn.

In the barn condit was fastened to the walls to enclose the wire. From the downstairs wall the wire goes upstairs and is connected to the combiner box (made by Midnight Solar). The circuit breakers are in this box and each panel has its own circuit breaker and are connected from the roof to it here. An AC wire is run to the barn from the house in the same conduit along with the DC wire. In the downstairs of the barn, the AC wire is wired to a light switch for a light downstairs. It runs upstairs also to be wired in to various wall plugs and light switches. A DC motion light was installed in the upstairs of the barn and works great. If you see that light on at night, you wonder what is going on up there. The equipment was purchased over time until we had all the parts needed to complete this project.

Wiring Downstairs In Barn
Wiring downstairs in the barn.

Finally the day arrived for the solar panels to be installed on the barn roof. Each one had to be carried up the ladder and mounted to the roof rack. Once in place their wires were plugged into the MC4 connectors. A wire runs from the panels to the combiner box. That completed the installation of moving our first five panels to the barn roof and the process of wiring them in. To add more panels now, the roof racks are all set for them to be mounted in. Should be easier.

Solar Panels on Barn Roof
Solar Panels on Barn Roof

 

katlupe

Copyright © 2017 Kathleen G. Lupole
All Photographs Copyright © 201
7 Kathleen G. Lupole

A Cluttered Homestead

A Cluttered Homestead
Falling Down

A cluttered homestead is what most people picture when they think of an off the grid homestead. Over the years I have joined (and left) many off the grid forums and Face Book groups and one was for women only. Most of these groups are made up of people who want to live off the grid, but never do. Real people living off the grid usually don’t have time to spend on these forums or groups. I find these groups are made up of people who put down what others are doing or how they want to do things. I call the off the grid groupies, the “rule people” and believe me they don’t belong there. Off the grid is not about rules and regulations. I don’t care what they say or how they think it should be. I live it and have lived it for eighteen years now. Many of them post about off the grid homesteads being junky or shabby looking while they are living in a house in a city, which would never allow them to have any junk or deep grass in their own yards. They are correct though, that just because you are living off the grid or in a rural area, you do not have to look like an eyesore.

 

Junky Shed
Junk

When you purchase a property in a rural area, off the grid or not, often what makes it affordable is the fact that there is a lot of junk left on it. All that trash that the sellers left on it is now your trash, for you to get rid of. When my neighbor moved here, the original homestead had burned down and all that was left was the hole of the cellar. He had a lot of heavy equipment so he was able to move all the junk and trash into that hole and cover it over. Now after a number of years, you’d never even know a house had been there to begin with. Some farms through out the years have accumulated a lot of discarded farming equipment such as tractors, spreaders and other things. When the property is sold all that junk is usually included unless you specify to them to remove it before you buy it.

Abandoned
Abandoned

Yes, you can make money selling all that scrap metal. First you have to separate the metal from the rest of the parts. That means taking it all apart, piece by piece. It is a hard tiresome job. Who wants to do that when they want to get their garden put in first? If you have the money it is easier to just pay someone to come do it for you. Or if you are fortunate to find someone who wants the metal bad enough to take care of the junk and trash for you too. You don’t have to pay them and they don’t have to pay you either. Just a clean deal and make sure they remove all the trash and junk too. Sad to see a peaceful setting with a cluttered homestead on it.

Broken Glass
Broken glass bottles.

When we bought our property, it was a hunting camp and had been for quite a few years. It didn’t look too bad as far as junk went. At that time the woods came right up to the house. Not much of a backyard at all. Only the area leading to the outhouse was clear. Once we started clearing it though, we found junk and trash buried all over the place. The inside too, the day we moved in we had to deal with all the stuff the sellers left behind. Like old mattresses and bed springs. We had to pay to take them to the landfill. Over the years we have uncovered plenty of beer cans, bottles, old rugs and more bedsprings. Around here that is what the hunters do….drink and litter the forest with their trash. I always know when hunting season has started by how much trash is alongside our little dirt road. I always wonder why they don’t appreciate the beauty of the forest. How hard is it to take their garbage home or even to a gas station, where they have big garbage cans right next to the gas pumps? Maybe they should be charged for hunting in the state forest to cover the cost of cleaning it up after hunting season. If you buy a hunting camp property there is a likely chance you will find plenty of garbage on it that you can’t see.

Fingerlakes Trail
Used to be populated in this area.

The state forest surrounding our homestead was at one time a thriving community with a schoolhouse just over the bridge near our house. Our property had a sawmill on it and across the road were homes and along the creek was a grist mill. Back in those days (1850s) people didn’t have as much garbage as we have now. A cluttered homestead wasn’t that common. They had pride in their homes’ appearance. Maybe they didn’t have as much garbage and junk as we have now, but they did have some. So what did they do with it? I figure they burned the trash and buried what wouldn’t burn. Our house is the only one remaining in this immediate area. What happened to all those homes? Probably buried beneath the forest floor as far as I can tell. Just old foundations if you look closely. Old bedsprings are everywhere though. Our dog, Nikita, hiking with my husband, Larry, once started crying loudly. He rushed to her and found her foot stuck in one of the old bedsprings. Luckily he was able to free her from it. Other animals, such as stray cats, dogs and wild animals wouldn’t be that fortunate.

Truck Trail
Truck trail had houses on both sides at one time.

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Copyright © 2017 Kathleen G. Lupole
All Photographs Copyright © 2017 Kathleen G. Lupole

 

Moving The Solar Panels

Solar Baby's Roof Racks
Preparing the roof for the solar panels.

Moving the solar panels to the barn roof was a big job for my husband. There was much involved with accomplishing this feat. This didn’t take place until 2009, but the years before, he was trying to put this one objective in place. First he dug a room under our porch connected to the root cellar. This room would eventually house the water heater and pressurized water tank and pump. The wires coming from the barn, underground, would come through this room to the circuit breaker box, batteries, charge controller and inverter. The plan was in the future to move the batteries downstairs to the vented battery box which is in an area behind the root cellar. Digging out this room took more than a year by hand. No equipment except manual tools, a ladder and manpower. The huge rocks that were underground had to be carried up a ladder and out, one by one. Some were huge! He carried them out to the backyard and built a very large raised bed for the garden. A lot of hard work for sure!

Foundation work
Making a spot for the batteries.

Are you wondering why moving the solar panels to the barn roof took so long? Winter is why. During the winters the work would halt. Here in NY state we get a lot of cold weather and snow. Our house is in what is called a snow pocket. That means we get even more snow than the surrounding local area and it usually sticks around longer too. Winter is hard here at Peaceful Forest, heating and cooking with wood means a lot of work. Hauling water into the house daily and out to the horses. Bringing in at least two loads of hay a month and caring for the horses, along with a long list of other daily chores around here.

Winter at Solar Baby
Winter happened!

In the middle of digging out this room downstairs my husband discovered the foundation wall on the house needed to be rebuilt………oh no! That took a bit of money, time, and hard work. He replaced the stone foundation on that wall with cinder blocks and built a sliding door connecting the two rooms. I am not positive of the time frame on this, but I know it was before 2009, he had to work on the roof too. Funds were limited and the upstairs had leaked ever since the tornado in 2000. Six trees had fallen on the house and ruined the rain cap on the chimney, as well as some damage to the peak that caused the leaks. We were tired of all the pots to collect the rainwater every time it rained. While doing the roof work on that part of the house, he discovered rotten boards on the back half of the kitchen roof. So that had to be replaced as well.

Solar Baby Installing Solar Panels
On Top!

Some of this work is still being worked on. Some is just ongoing due to living in an old house. Like all people, we had other things in our life that took precedence over our work here. Mostly involving our families, our three grown kids and two sets of elderly parents. We kept buying the materials, components and other items needed to finish the job of moving the solar panels to the barn roof. Paying as we go, without taking out a loan to do so, makes our pay off on this project immediate. Sacrificing to save money, such as living with no vehicle in a rural location for over nine months was not easy, believe me. The hardest by far for me, was living without any refrigeration for more than six years. Yes, it was hard to do while we were doing it, but well worth it in the long run.


Solar Baby Panels
Solar Panel on the roof!

Finally panels are installed on top of the barn roof! It was quite an undertaking for someone to do this with no help. Having to carry the panels up the ladder along with whatever tools were needed. Sometimes I held the ladder. I could not imagine doing this job myself. My husband, Larry, will force himself to do any job no matter how intimidating it may be. Especially if it is standing in his way of moving on. This was an important job that needed to be finished. He did it. Little by little over time, but he got those panels on the roof pretty quickly once he started. I wouldn’t recommend doing a job like this on your own, alone. It would have been nice to have help, but we had no one to ask.

Barn Roof with Panel
Solar Panels in the sun

Larry made a little wood frame that was tied to a tree behind the barn. That is what he held onto when getting on the roof. I was as nervous as could be the whole time. He kept assuring me it was secure, but I figure he was just saying that so I would be quiet and not worry so much. The first thing that had to be done was to attach the roof racks to the barn roof. He put up more than we needed at this time with the future additional panels in mind. He had to be careful screwing the racks into the roof so that it didn’t create leaks in the roof. As far as I know, it did not.

solar panels on barn roof
In Place

Once the racks were in place, it was time to start adding the panels. These panels were bought at various times. The only two that were the same size were the last two we had purchased from the altE Store (an online alternative energy store). The other three were bought as single panels from time to time whenever we could afford one. Back then, panels were a lot more money than they are presently. Two of them were bought on eBay. All of our equipment has been purchased online. It is much easier for us and we can usually get exactly what we want. Well almost……..but that is a future post.

Living in the Forest
The forest surrounds us

As each panel is brought up on the roof it has to be connected with MC4 connectors in the back then bolted in. Then they are set in place on the rack. So Larry had to spend some time up there. Now they are all in place and ready to generate more power. He spent a lot of time studying the pattern of the sun during all seasons, to find the right spot for the panels. It paid off. We do have some shading due to the large trees across the road. But that is what we have and we have to live with it. If you are in a more open spot, you would get more power coming in. Several times over the years, that forest has been logged, but sadly they never took down the trees closest to the road which is the ones shading our panels. I figure one of these days some of those trees may just fall over on their own. It is the price of living in the forest and I wouldn’t want to give that up.

 

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Copyright © 2017 Kathleen G. Lupole
All Photographs Copyright © 2017 Kathleen G. Lupole

I write this blog based on my experience living an off-the-grid life as a modern homesteader. Some of the links you may click or products I recommend may or may not compensate me for including them in my post. Be sure to read my disclosure page if you are concerned about that.

Building Our Solar Energy System

Peaceful Forest
The road in front of Peaceful Forest.

 

Building our solar energy system slowly, one piece at a time over the years, was a more affordable way to do that for us. As much as we enjoyed our simple life here, we had that yearning to watch our movie collection of over 300 VHS tapes. Especially on cold winter evenings. Even though we had given away my large screen television before we moved here, because I felt it was out of place in this house. Saying we wanted to live a life based on self-reliance and then having a huge screen television taking up half of our living room was saying otherwise. We still had our small DC powered television that had a VHS tape player built into it. It was what we used when my husband, Larry, drove an over the road truck. Our cat, Nutmeg and I traveled with him over the whole country searching for our potential homestead. As you can see, we ended up back here where we started from in New York state. We did not find another place as pretty (to us) as our home state. We both grew up here and loved our rolling hills, mountains, abundance of water sources and most important to us, our dark green forests.

Siemans 50 Watt Solar Panel
Siemans 50 Watt Solar Panel

It wasn’t too long before we got a 5o watt solar panel (still have it, in fact), a very small charge controller, an automotive inverter off the shelf at Walmart, wires and two batteries. Ah, yes……..batteries are the heart of the off the grid system! Best to learn to care for them right away. We started off with two fork-lift truck lead acid batteries purchased from Raymond Corp. where Larry was employed. We did not have a generator at that time. Instead we would pull our old car up to the house and connect the batteries to the car with cables and let the car charge the batteries. It was stinky, noisy and expensive, but it worked. Once we saw how well that was working, we set up a regular size television with surround sound and hooked up the VHS tape player (which was one of those older models that is quite large compared to the small compact DVD players now). We never used it to watch regular television, except for the week of September 11, 2001. Pretty soon Larry had our big desk top computer hooked up and we added dial-up to our phone service. So we were online, which opened up a whole lot of opportunities for us. I remember how during a long movie our batteries would need a charge and Larry would have to go hook up the car to run while we watched to the end of the movie. Very primitive now, when I think back to it.

Our First Solar Panel
Our First Solar Panel

With just one small panel on a wood frame we were able to move it from one side of the house to the other. Chasing the sun, so to speak. The addition of two more panels changed our ability to do that. Now we had to have a permanent spot for them. Kind of heavy to be moving them around all day long. So Larry built a wood frame for them and put it in front of the house. Another addition was a generator. First it was a Coleman generator that is usually used by campers. It wasn’t built for this kind of use and did not last very long. In 2004, we bought two more panels, these coming from Alte Store (highly recommend!). From Backwoods Solar we purchased an Xantrex charge controller, an Xantrex inverter and a TriMetric meter. Now we were getting serious!

Solar Panels on wood frame
Solar Panels on wood frame

From Backwoods Solar, we also purchased a generator kit they had at that time (they don’t sell it any longer). It was built for off the grid systems and charged DC only and that is the one we are still using today. It has a different motor though, as that has been changed and rebuilt many times. You know how those fuel powered things are! This new motor is working better than any of the other ones we have had in the past (knock on wood…..). The key to the generator is to buy a good one, then use it as little as possible. To hook up various components of the system we needed wires, fuses and hardware. I can’t begin to explain every detail of that since I did not do the actual work. I will share more details of the various components on future posts on this page.

The Generator
The Generator

My husband did a lot of research and learning while building our system over the years. He had a friend who helped in the beginning because he had his own system, though not off the grid. He maintained and built systems for other people in our area. So he helped us in the beginning. Now my husband has passed him in his knowledge of our system. Building your own system is good for you because then you KNOW your system and usually can troubleshoot it when need be. Sometimes the advice you get from others and even professional solar installers, might not apply to your system at all. A mistake can be deadly. Take a course, read some books, view some videos. Learn, while you plan and build your system. It is an on going process since this equipment is constantly updating and changing.

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Copyright © 2017 Kathleen G. Lupole
All Photographs Copyright © 2017 Kathleen G. Lupole

I write this blog based on my experience living an off-the-grid life as a modern homesteader. Some of the links you may click or products I recommend may or may not compensate me for including them in my post. Be sure to read my disclosure page if you are concerned about that.