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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 yourtrash, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Our water supply is the most important need we have here at Peaceful Forest. This house was built in 1850 and hadn’t had many changes since that time until we move in. I have done research on our house and it most likely had some changes before the 1940s but not after that. For many years it had been a hunting camp. Owned by a bunch of hunters who lived to party, drink and trash this place. Garbage being mainly alcohol bottles and beer cans buried all over the place. We spent years cleaning it up. It did have its own water supply though – a hand dug shallow well with a pitcher pump. I don’t know if this is the original well that was put in when the house was built. It may have been, but the enclosure built around it may not have been added back then. I have no way of knowing that.
Our water supply has never let us down. Our well has never gone dry. Regardless of the weather, in hot dry summers under drought conditions, such as current conditions in July 2016. It is a spring fed well and the water is always clear, cold and good. Our three horses drink a huge amount of water daily. They have two 5 gallon buckets in their barn at all times. Their buckets are refilled several times through out the day. Many times when you refill a bucket and carry it into the barn one of the horses will immediately drink the whole bucket down right then. Then do the same with another bucket. Or another horse will come in from outside for her bucket of water. You can make several trips pumping a new bucket of water each time.
“How do we use a pitcher pump in the winter?” “Doesn’t the pump freeze?” Yes, it certainly does freeze. As long as it is drained down when you are done using it, then the next time you need it, just pour a cup of warm water into the pump. Wait a few minutes and it should be primed. If not, repeat with another cup. It usually thaws it out the first time. To drain it down when you are done using it, wait a a couple of minutes then raise the handle slowly and you will feel it drain down. Leave the handle up. If you don’t, you may have trouble thawing it out the next time you want water. After hearing so many people complaining about frozen pipes and having to use heat tape on their pipes it makes me thankful for our simple pitcher pump.
It is very important if you are using a pitcher pump on your well, to keep it clean. For some reason visitors’ male dogs always want to pee on it. Keep them away from it. Children always want to play with it. It is fine to teach a child to pump it properly but never let them bang it or hang onto it. Teach them to only pump it when water is really needed. Never waste your water. Never wash hands or anything else at the wall with the water running. Using soap or emptying dirty containers over your well with the water running is not a good idea. You need to keep the well clean. My father-in-law always told about his sister dropping their milk bucket into their well. They had to remove all the water. Bucket by bucket, climbing up and down a ladder. He said it was a horrible job but they had to remove all the milk and clean it out. So we are super careful around our well.
Through out my gardening season I keep empty buckets in different areas in the garden. When it rains I collect the rain water for watering the garden on days when it doesn’t rain. Then I don’t have to carry the water from the pump to the garden. Every morning we bring in two buckets of water that sit on the counter next to the sink. They are both covered with lids so nothing can drop in them. We dip from that through out the day. We have another larger bucket that sits on the floor that we use for things like cleaning, baths, showers, etc. Our water is heated on the wood stoves in the winter. Then we have a constant supply. In the warm weather we heat it on the propane stove.
During the summer we keep a number of green 2 liter soda bottles in the sun. They give you an instant shower anytime. I use them in my bath tub, just pouring the warm water over your hair and body. I know it sounds like it would be hard to do, but it is not. Uses no fuel. Figure on six bottles per person though I never use all six even with very thick, long hair. Clear bottles will fill with algae very fast in the sun. The green ones (from 7-UP, Ginger ale and Mountain Dew), not so quickly. They will get it eventually though.
The thing about living this way is that it is not costly or your situation desperate. There is always a way to make things work out. If our well went dry, which it never has (knock on wood!) we have other options. If needed we have a creek within walking distance. There is a spring too, about two or three miles away that everyone uses for water. I often see people there filling their water containers from the pipe that runs from the spring to the road. You can always find a solution to whatever problem arises on your off the grid homestead. Just “Google” it!
Essentials of the off the grid kitchen are not numerous. In fact the simpler you keep it, the easier it is to live with. Just because you are living without out grid power does not mean you can’t have any conveniences. Besides the more time you save by your tasks being easier and quicker, the more you will stick with it. These are items I use on my homestead almost daily. For the most part, they are not expensive or hard to find. I have a number of pieces of cast iron cookware, but the ones on this list are the ones I use more often.
By the way, when I refer to “off the grid” I am referring to living without the power utility grid. Some people seem to think it means no links to or life outside your home. No, that is not what I am talking about. I do not wish to live like that and don’t. The grid is the electric company that runs the big power lines that create a grid through out their area. Like in the picture above. That is what I mean when I say the grid. No power lines, no grid! Easy as that.
Now my list of off the grid kitchen essentials begins:
1. Cast Iron Large Skillet
I have a number of pieces of cast iron cookware, but these are the ones I use more often. A large skillet is good for frying up some meat and adding vegetables or pasta to it on top of the stove. It can also be used in the oven for casseroles or for making biscuits. My skillet has a little handle on the edge so I can use two hands to move it or to pour something out of it. It is made by Lodge and even though I have a few Griswold skillets, this is my preferred one. It can be used on top or or in an outside fire pit or on your grill.
2.Cast Iron 7” Frying Pan
I actually have 3 of these and use at least one every day when I make our breakfast. Keeping them seasoned makes it easy to fry eggs in one pan and have home fries cooking in the other one. All three of these were thrift store finds. They can be used in the oven or on the outside fire pit or grill also.
3. Cast Iron Griddle
I would be lost without this! I use it for frying any kind of meat on the stove, but it can be put in the oven just as easily. It can also be used for making grilled cheese sandwiches, pancakes or French toast. I use it so much that I keep it in the oven instead of in a cupboard. Just make sure you keep it well seasoned.
4. Cast Iron Dutch Oven
The Dutch oven can be used for so many things. I can bake with it on top of our wood heating stove or on a campfire outside. For years I have called it my crock pot or slow cooker, it works the same. Simmering a roast, stew, soup, chili or whatever type of casserole on your stove in it will have your whole family waiting anxiously for mealtime. If you are using it on a campfire, just invert the lid and put hot coals on top to brown whatever you baking inside. Works great!
5. Pyramid Toaster
The camping toaster is pretty well known, but the one I use is called the “pyramid” toaster. The other type that is sort of rounded did not work so well for us here. The pyramid one is the one we have used for 18 years now. It will work great on a gas stove as well as over a wood stove burner or outside fire pit. You just have to keep your eye on it or your toast will be cinders before you know it. This is the second I one I have had to buy because it wears out if you use it a lot and I did.
6. Water Storage Tank
A water storage tank is needed in your kitchen if you do not have running water. My grandmother kept a milk can of water in her kitchen. It really is an off grid kitchen essential in that water is constantly needed as you cook. I bought a water storage tank and it can have a permanent table or counter in your kitchen that is close to your sink (if you have one, I do). I also have water in pails next to the stove and the sink. I really use a lot of water on a daily basis and I am very conservative with it. You learn to be if you have to go outside to pump it or get it some other way and carry it in.
7. Ice Chest Or Refrigeration
Refrigeration of some kind is needed even if most of your foods do not need to be refrigerated. Storing leftovers or an ingredient you needed that had be kept cold. An ice chest will work and that is what I used for over six years. We had a styrofoam ice chest that we kept in our vehicle and every time we went to town we bought ice to put in the ice chest that we kept in the pantry. That ice chest was a regular Coleman type. Everything got wet and the labels came off jars of condiments and made the water in the chest get slippery and I hated it. But I did it till I could afford solar refrigeration.
8. Coffee Percolator
Coffee making is essential here! We love our coffee! Even now that we have more solar power than we did before, we still use a percolator that does not use electric. We can make coffee on our outside fire pit or on our wood heating stove. In cases of power outages people haul their percolators out and try to figure out how to make coffee in it. If you have a gas stove, gas grill, outside fire or wood heating stove you could still make your coffee. It makes better coffee than any coffee machine you can buy anywhere. So why change?
9. Stock Pots
Stock pots are always on my wood stove full of water. It seems like I always need some hot water for something and instead of having to wait for it, I usually have some ready. In summer, I heat one pot of it on the propane stove and just let it sit there. If I notice that it has cooled off too much, I will reheat it. In winter we have at least two on the big wood heating stove in the living room. That is how we heat water for laundry or showers or baths too.
10. Pressure Cookers
Pressure cookers (not pressure canners, there is a difference) are great for cooking a meal that would take a long time in just a few minutes. Mine is used when I am in a hurry to get a meal on the table. I can never believe how tender everything turns out in such a short time.
This is my list of off the grid kitchen essentials based on my personal choices. Your list could be completely different from mine. I am no expert and don’t claim to be one either.
Living without a refrigerator is tough. Preserving foods without refrigeration was done for centuries and is still done in many countries. Most people take refrigeration for granted. It does make life easier and convenient. If you want to live without paying for that convenience it can be done. I have lived off and on without it myself. When my husband and I moved to our homestead here the house already had a Servel gas refrigerator in it. We were very pleased with it even though it was a very old model from the 1930s. I liked the fact that it was very quiet and the food stayed at a constant temperature without the fluctuating temperatures that the electric models have. My Servel had one of those tiny freezers. I managed to squeeze packages of meat in it as long as I re-wrapped so it was as small as possible. Usually it was harder to get out than get in! It would freeze as hard as a rock and become embedded in the frost build up. I would go at it with my ice pick!
Now we have been here for eighteen years and my husband has been slowly remodeling our house which included insulating it. Once the house was closed up and insulated, the propane for the refrigerator started bothering me. I could not breathe. So we had to sell the refrigerator. We managed to live for over six years without any refrigerator except an ice chest. Our plan was to purchase the SunDanzer refrigerator and freezer. They are two separate units built the same as the chest freezers. Use very little power and are perfect for anyone generating their own power. We did purchase the SunDanzer refrigerator in 2013. Very thankful for that!
Our house was built in the 1850s and included an old fashioned root cellar which is also part of the refrigeration system. My root cellar has a dirt floor and fieldstone walls. It also has a big built in bin that is connected to the ceiling with no legs on the floor. I think it may have been used for storing apples since our property had many apple trees. I open one of the windows in the root cellar to let the cool night air in. Then in the morning I close that window so it does not heat it up. I want to keep it cool. The pantry is connected to the root cellar by a door and stairs. In the morning when I close the root cellar window, I open the pantry door a crack and let that cool night air cool our pantry all day. It works well. In the summer it is still cool, but not as good as I’d like.
My pantry is presently being remodeled to be the ideal food pantry. We are removing the window as it just takes up space and I will use a light in there. Dark is better for your stored foods anyway. It will have steel or metal flooring, walls and ceiling. There will be a air intake register on the floor to allow the cool air from the root cellar to come into the pantry to keep it cool. Presently everything in the pantry has to be covered and protected from the mice that always find their way in. We are hoping the new walls, flooring, ceiling and removing the window will help keep them out. I always planned on having open shelves in the pantry so anyone could go in and find something on their own. Not to be. I will be putting in metal cabinets with a tight fitting door that is strong enough to hold home canned jars of food. Even if I have mouse proofed it as much as possible, there is always that one mouse………
Luckily, I love to can! That was the key to our survival during this period. I will still be canning even if we had our Sundanzer freezer. When we have a freezer we will be able to freeze some foods. I will always try to use types of food that do not need refrigeration as much as possible. I am always canning many foods and even did that when I had the gas refrigerator. I can meat often and it keeps much longer than frozen. If you think canned meat tastes like the stuff you get in the store…….then you are in for a real surprise! Your own home canned meats are excellent. The taste is so good that sometimes I cannot believe it myself. I like to buy a big roast or big turkey breast or something else like that and cook it slowly in the oven at a medium temperature till it is more than half cooked. Then I can it and let if finish off cooking in the pressure canner. I save all the broth and juice and can that too. So tasty that I even drink it for a snack. Or use it for soup or gravy. What a savings that is!
Then there are those dairy products which make it the hardest for someone not using refrigeration. That is the whole reason I really wanted the Sundanzers. Cold dairy products are the main thing I missed. We used to put a bottle of milk in a cold pail of water or in a ice chest packed with store bought ice. It didn’t last too long and you have to consume those foods pretty quickly. I dumped a lot of sour milk and cream! Canned in the half pint jars I am able to can cheese and butter and keep them in the pantry for future uses. Some people will say “yuck, canned cheese?” or “Butter can be preserved without any preservation methods.” I know this. I like to store it for a period of time and not have to use it up. Canned cheese needs to be heated a little to get it out of the jar when you go to use it. The only thing you cannot do with it is put a slice in a sandwich. It comes out in a lump. For grilled cheese sandwiches I just spoon some out and put on my bread and it melts perfectly for the normal grilled cheese sandwich or anything else you need it for.
I found that living without refrigeration helped me save money at the grocery store. I did not buy all those extras that I used to buy since I could not store it back then. Now with the SunDanzer refrigerator we do splurge more often. I have found a store locally where I can purchase our condiments in the little packets that do not need refrigeration, such as mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, etc. So for a time being we used those but they were more expensive. Yes, the refrigerator made life so much easier. It takes up a lot of room in the pantry, but is so worth it. In the winter, it never turns on at all and when it does, it uses less power than my energy efficient laptop. It doesn’t lose the cold air when you open it because it is all down in the bottom of the unit. I love having the convenience of cold food! Still don’t have the freezer yet……..but we will!
Moving off the grid in 1999 was an experience for me. I had never really thought about it or what it would be like. The scariest part of it for me was being in the middle of the state forest. At that time my husband worked at night and I would be alone here. Yes, I would be lying if I said I was not afraid. I had our dog, Nikita, with me and she was a good watch dog. Only sometimes she would get scared herself! That did not help me. She was a young puppy and outgrew that phase pretty quickly. The bears and mountain lions I pictured forcing their way into my house at night never materialized in all these years.
Eventually I found that there was nothing to be afraid of. It was all in my head! In fact, living in the forest especially now in 2017, feels much more safer than living in residential areas. If it wasn’t for the hunters and the party people, I would say it was the best place to live. In all the years we have been here, we have only seen evidence of bears twice near our home. The property up the road used to have a rental trailer and the man who lived there said he had seen a really big bear. Not us down here though. Mountain lions or bobcats…….none of them either. We had a tomcat hang around here who looked like he had some bobcat in him.
The actual day we moved here it was raining. We had to try to move our stuff in and move the stuff the previous owners left behind out. Most of it went to the local landfill. It cost us some money to do so, especially because there were several mattresses and box springs. Since this property had been a hunting camp, there was a number of beds scattered about the house. We managed to get rid of them and make room for our furniture and belongings in a short time. We were still not considering electric power in any way. Moving off the grid for us meant that we just lived here the way it was. Not having electric is not really a hardship unless you need computers and the internet connection equipment.
The house had propane lights and refrigerator, though we brought our own collection of kerosene lamps and used them. There was a gas cooking stove and I used that. We changed the downstairs bedroom into a bathroom and installed our claw foot bathtub that my husband, Larry had found at a junk shop. I had located a SunMar composting toilet for $200. that a family had used while living in a school bus. It was like new. So we had all that we needed at that time. It didn’t cost much to move into an off the grid house. Using a propane refrigerator made the transition to this lifestyle much easier. We were fortunate that it came with the house, otherwise they can be quite pricey. Finding a used one for someone starting out would be the best option.
The very first thing Larry did was to install drains to the sink in the kitchen and to the bathroom for the tub. That way we were able to use them by filling them with water and letting it go down the drain. Made my life much easier as soon as that was done! At first I had to wash the dishes in a dishpan and then carry it outside to empty it. Kind of scary when I had to go outside to do that in the dark and I was home alone! I really appreciated the drains and still do.
Moving off the grid is not for everyone. No way would I say it is. It can be hard on you as you get older and don’t have everything done yet. It can be difficult to buy the equipment for an alternative energy system. My question is do you really need all that electrical stuff? I have had this on my mind for awhile now, as our batteries for our system are in need of replacing, and they are VERY expensive. If we did not want to be on the computer or use our electric refrigerator, it would not matter if we had a system or not. Those are things to think to think about. If you want to move off the grid, do you want a regular house with all the conveniences? If so, that will cost some money. I am not saying it cannot be done. It can be but you will need to spend some money to do so. The big question is how big of a system do you want or need?
Welcome to Solar Baby and take a peek at my husband’s and my life of living off the grid in this day of fast paced living centered around easy convenience. Larry and I have been living this way since 1999. It has not always been easy and I am not saying it is, even today. I previously began this blog back in 2008, but it was attacked and I lost all those previous posts. I believe the people who destroyed it are web designers, SEO people and hosting sites. I just don’t need them. And I am going to rebuild this site, but now with more information than before.
I have been trying over the years to share how to live with a small system. It is more affordable that way. So here I am attempting to teach the average people about solar energy. To the average person the thought of solar or wind power is way beyond their world. Yet they think nothing of throwing their hard earned money to the grid powered systems daily. Most people think you have to be making a six figure income to put one in their modest homes. I am here on Solar Baby to tell you that is not so. I know because I live with it….every day and have since July of 1999. Yes, it is a learning experience over time, but it is VERY affordable for the simple living folks like us.
Back when I started this blog, in 2008, we lived with 185 watts of power coming from three solar panels. In the dark days of winter, we had to use our generator more often. In the summer, it was a very different story. We only had to run our generator about once a week. In case you didn’t know, we have to run the generator to charge our batteries if the sun doesn’t shine enough to do it. I call our system a “add as you can system”. Meaning that we add a component as we can afford it. It is best to buy good equipment so you have to spend some money on each one. That is better than buying cheaper equipment that doesn’t last.
Right now we have 24 used locomotive batteries that we replaced our original fork-lift truck batteries with. A charge controller is essential to any alternative system as it controls how much of a charge is going into your batteries. Our controller is the Xantrex C-60 charge controller (60 amps, 12 volt) and back in 2004 it sold for $245. at Backwoods Solar. We have never had any problem with it at all. I would highly recommend it to anyone just building their system. A meter comes in handy for letting you know how much power you have going into the system and how much is going out or what you are using. The meter we have is the Tri-Metric meter made by Bogart Engineering.
The generator we use is made especially for off the grid systems and is sold at Backwoods Solar. It is a DC only generator and has made the biggest difference in our system. When we started out we used an old car for charging the batteries and not only did the exhaust stink, the car was noisy and the gas was expensive. The generator is not as loud as most generators, but you can definitely hear it. Works great and uses less gas than a regular generator. Some day when our system is built bigger, we will use our generator less and less.
My thought is that anybody can do this. How many people complain about the cost of their electric bill every month? Just start small. Hook up one 50 watt solar panel with a small charge controller and pick up a couple of the golf cart batteries. Then hook up an automotive inverter that can be bought at Walmart or any truck stop store to your system. Now you can run your lights and television without adding to your electric bill. Do you know what the best part is? You will not be without them during a power outage! Everyone else will be in the dark, and your house will be all lit up.
Be sure to check back here on Solar Baby as I rebuild my site. I hope to cover everything needed for anyone starting a new alternative energy system with a low budget. Thanks for reading!