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For those living off grid: are you happy w your decision?

I know there have been a lot of posts on this but wanted to share my plans. Living in the country full-time is not doable for me right now (the main reason being that as my BF works in NJ during the week I would be on my own except for weekends). But their are financial and other considerations as well. Because I live in an area subject to flooding having a relatively long-term evacuation plan is something I've come to think of as a necessity.

I thought that a reasonable solution might be to continue to live in town and possibly have a (very) small cabin in the country. Areas without electrical service are much more reasonably priced here than areas with access to power lines and if this is going to be essentially a second home I don't have a lot of money to spend. Doing this would mean committing to an area where there may never be electricity (or internet or cable) however. It would be a weekend / vacation / emergency place for now, but I might want to live there full time in the future.

I'm curious how others who live off the grid feel about the lifestyle change they made. What is the best part of the way you live now? What is your least favorite thing? What in your opinion leads to success or failure? I love the forest and feel like a different person when I'm out of doors. Having a cabin has been a dream of mine ever since I can remember but I'm worried about making a commitment I may not be able to live up to. I'd love to hear from anyone who wants to share their experiences!
 

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Off grid life.

There are different levels of off grid living. We are definitely on the "budget plan." My wife and I wanted to be able to live entirely free from outside help if need be. We bought our land on contract and paid it off three years later. We remodeled a one-room log cabin and live in it. When we moved here the kids (four still at home) slept in tents in the cabin. My wife and I slept on a bed with mosquito netting over it. (No chinking between the logs so the mosquitos had free reign.) I shot a packrat off a counter the second or third night after we moved in. (No. 12 shot out of a 22 rifle)

We began with kerosene lamps and no electricity. Later we bought a cheap 400 watt inverter and I took a battery to work to charge it up. When I brought it home the boys used it to power video games. We got our first solar panel by trade (I replaced the starter on a car). We bought a charge controller from a neighbor who had upgraded his system. We've added to it as time has gone on. (We're now running about 1,000 watts in solar panels.)

We lived without refrigeration the first three years. We have a small electric ref. now that we run in the summer. (In the winter it's cold enough we don't need a ref.) Our lights are all low watt flourescent or LED lights. We have a propane cookstove but cook on our wood stove most of the winter. We still use an outhouse.

The biggest problem people have when living off-grid is getting used to having a limited amount of electricity. We purchase appliances by watt ratings. We use laptop and netbook computers. Our 21 in. television uses less power than most people use to light their living room. Our cabin has lots of windows and skylights. The first comment people make when they come in is about how bright it is in our house. We seldom use overhead lighting but rely on reading lights. We don't mind it at all but it bothers some people.

I had a friend comment once that he couldn't live like we do. I asked him what was so difficult about our way of life. He said that's what he meant. This lifestyle is all in your mind and attitude. The modern way of life is, well, modern! Civilization has thrived for thousands of years without electricity and central heat and air-conditioning. You just have to look a things differently.

We are asked about the "sacrifices" we've made to live here. I ask, "What sacrifices." I gave up the 9-5 ratrace with cranky bosses and constant pressure to suceed for hunting, fishing, trapping, gardening, foraging woodcutting and writing. My wife is planning a months long bicycle tour in the eastern and midwestern U.S. this spring/summer. She couldn't do that with a 9 to 5 job.

The only thing that really gets to us is being without money. We have to be very careful spending. Everything is on a cash basis! If we don't have the cash, we don't buy it. Period! I dream of what it would be like to just go to the lumber yard and buy the materials I need to finish projects but we manage. You just have to count your blessing and never forget why you wanted a lifestyle like this in the first place. But then, we never had much money to begin with! When I was "working" there was always someone with their hand in my pocket.

I've had some article published that might answer some of your questions. If you have any back issues of Backwoods Home magazine and/or Modern Survival Magazine (online) you might be able to find some of them related to your questions. My wife has had a couple published in Coutryside as well. I've had articles in other magazines but they pertain to other subjects. Some articles are available online. Just run a google search in my name (Steven Gregersen).
 

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Mosquitomountainman, thanks for sharing. :)

We have just started our 'off the grid plan' so it's nice to hear how others have done it. :google:
 

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Purchased land in 96, started a house in 97, finished it in mid 99. Started buying our energy system a little bit at a time. Moved there full time around Thanksgiving of 1999. Started producing our own power mid December of 99.

Started raising food in earnest a few years later- learning curve you know.

10+ years on the land, raising a child here homeschooling, producing our own power and growing most of our own food.

I wouldn't go back..... :D
 

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basic one day a week is set aside for the heavyest day of use of the battie bank ..

sat morning is laundry day is for the two loads of laundry that has built up over the week ..my washing machine was design to go into a rv and a basically a combo washer and dryer set up to wash cloths as there need and in the summer hang them out to dry on the line when it not to cold or wet weather to dry them

sat afternoon is also the bread bakeing day with the bread machine running makeing three loafs of bread for the week ..

the rest of the week it a standard daily load of 550.watts and on the sat load of 1000.watts total for the day with useing both the bread machine and washer and dryer unit ..for i plan for that day by shutting down diff power needs inside the home along makeing sure the battie bank can handle the load for the day before going off line to be recharged the next day by useing the combo set of solar and wind power system..

the system i use is a combo set of solar panels and wind turbine system to recharge the battie bank with each panel is set at a angle to catch the sun when it comes across the southwest sky dureing the day time along with catching a breeze i can to help also with the turbine is a low speed type that will catch any wind speed to allow the blades to spin to help with the rechargeing of the batties..

the problem i found when setting up the system with getting the panels at the right angle and hieght to catch the sun rays to get the max out of them along with makeing the bottom legs where at the right hieght to allow the sun rays to work it magic..

there is allways on one bank on line at all times and the other beening charge with each bank beening rotated in and out of the line to recharge them as they are need ..

along with haveing what is called my small two battie system design to run a few basic system when iam not at the shelter unit..this system runs the ventilation system to help with the mold and moisture control inside the shelter along with a hatch alarm system when iam not there when iam out of town ..
 

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hank2222, where did you get the photos you posted, looks to be a sweet setup for a mobile application, I never thought of putting both the panels and wind turbine on the same mast.
 

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Not really an issue with me,
I've always wanted to be 'Self Sufficient' on my 'Homestead',
(I'm not an 'End Of The World' kind of guy...)

When the electric company told me it was going to be more than $100,000 to run electric lines to my property,
Then came down to $57,000 as their 'Rock Bottom' price,
The decision was pretty much made for me...

Couldn't get water out there no matter what the cost,
We are more than 2.5 miles from the nearest water main, and couldn't get right of way to put the lines in even if I wanted to.
Neighbors were not a problem, it was the state owned land we had to cross to get there, and they wouldn't budge...
Wouldn't even discuss it!

The water well was $12,000.
Drilled into white lime stone,
Sweet, fresh, pure water requiring NO filters or chemical treatment at all.
It IS 'Hard' water coming out of lime stone, but for better water than the toughest government standards I'll live with a little calcium in the system.

I have about $2,000 in well pump, holding/storage tanks, plumbing from well house to home/garage.
The two solar (Thermal) hot water panels that provide us with 99% of our home needs.

Also added a $350 stainless steel hand pump to the well,
So if all else fails, I can swing on the handle for water to sustain us until repairs can be made.

On top of that, we have 'Runoff' water catchment, roof of garage is metal, so we catch that water run off and store it in above ground barrels and underground tanks.
Small pump waters garden, livestock, ect.
Pump is powered by separate solar (PV Electric) panels, so there is no energy cost to irrigate or water garden, yard or live stock,
And the above ground barrels are used in 3 seasons for 'Mud' shower to keep the crud out of the house, flush the crapper in the shop, wash parts, ect.
We shut the above ground barrels down in the winter when it will freeze them solid, and the sun doesn't shine enough to warm up the water for showers, ect.
(Probably don't need a 'Mud' shower when you aren't working in the garden or shop much anyway... Little woman doesn't like me tracking in the 'Crud' to the house, and what 'Mama' wants, 'Mama' Gets!

Outdoor pump/PV panels also warm and circulate the Hot Tub in 3 seasons,
Witch it's ALWAYS nice to have the hot tub when you bones ache from 'Farm' work!

------------------------------------------

Now, for electric,
We have about $22,000 in electrical production right now,
that includes 12 primary PV panels, Inverters, Charge Controllers, boxes, wiring and all the crap that comes with PV systems like mounting and racking.

I don't let my batteries sit there in the boxes and rot,
I have two electric vehicles, one golf cart and one converted S-15 pickup that is rotting away faster than slower.
It's a turd, but it's saved us TONS of money on gasoline, oil changes, taxes, ect!

Since they are both battery powered, we plug them into the solar array for the 'Battery Back Up', but can also unplug them and drive them around,
Use them to provide power to electric power tools which are cheaper and easier to use than gas engine tools when doing projects,
And you don't have to keep 15 gas engines running, remember to rotate fuel for them, have the maintenance issues with them, ect.
So that has saved us a TON of money on chain saws, weed eaters, ect. over the past few years.

A simple battery to AC inverter mounted in the vehicles lets us run power saws, chain saws, hedge trimmers, drills, and anything else you can think of that plugs in...
Never a dead battery in a cordless drill, simply pull out the tool and pull the extension cord out of the reel and you are in business!

The golf cart provides us with all the 'Farm' transportation and tool power/lights we need at a job site in the 'Back 40 pasture',
And the little truck, rusted out as it is, still provides us with trips to town for lumber, hardware, ect.
Plus, I'm not constantly at the small engine shop dropping off or picking up some gas powered gadget that broke down or the fuel went bad in...
AC corded tools are cheap, reliable, efficient, and available everywhere.
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The BEST ADVICE I can give you is,
Build as much of the rigging as you can!

Build your own 'Racks' for the panels. It's mostly upright posts with perlons (Cross boards to mount the racks/panels on)

A 'Yard Barn' near the panels for your 'Power House' is always a good thing!
My 'Power/Well House' is a yard barn with metal roof, sits over the well head to protect it,
Houses all the inverters, surge protectors, charge controllers, ect.
Since it's meal roofed, it's providing a good deal of lightening protection just sitting there (Grounded!)

The panels produce in DC (Direct Current) which doesn't push through wires very easily...
Keeping the inverters & batteries close to the panels will save you a TON of losses!
By converting to AC (Alternating Current) which DOES push through wiring very well,
You save those losses, and your system becomes more efficient,
And you reduce costs of long runs of large copper wire to the house.

You also keep the batteries and fire hazards out of the home.

Converting to AC means you don't need specialized light fixtures, appliances, ect. you can use what you have now,
The specialized stuff is EXPENSIVE, and often isn't made very well...

Just look for low consumption stuff now, like microwaves, hair dryers, ect. now, and they will transfer to the new place without problems.
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The runoff water from the panels and power house roof (and garage roof) is collected in my underground tank for washing off the panels, washing vehicles, ect.
Since it's 'Soft' water, it works VERY well for stuff like that,
And since all it takes is some gutters, downspout and some piping to the tank, there isn't any reason NOT to do it!

Since your panels/power house is going to be away from trees (Don't want the panels shaded at ANY time if you can keep from it),
There isn't a problem with leaves or tree debris in the rain water catchment.
No sense in paying for water to wash your panels since they are going to run off more water during rains than you can hope to pay for!
(which you will have to do about once a month, Sprayer on garden hose that delivers soap is plenty, wash them with long handle mop about twice a year and you will be fine)...
With PV, the energy is free, all you pay for is the catchment tank and pump to get it back out!
And if you watch what you are doing, you only do that ONCE every 20 years or so!

DO NOT SKIMP OUT ON BOXES/WIRING!
Buy "Square D" brand and get the good ones, not the 'Hometime' stuff!
You only want to pay for those boxes ONCE!

So get the good ones with copper conductors instead of aluminum, and the heavy steel boxes that are SEALED so bugs don't get in them.
Aluminum conductors, wires, ect. will waste a BUNCH of your PV output!
All that's money out of your pocket, and power that never gets to your house!

Use COPPER conductors, they don't heat up, corrode over, ect.
I'm aware that copper prices are up right now, but it's STILL worth the money to make sure your production actually makes it to the inverters and to your home!

Do some research on SUN TRACKING systems.
I was told about 15% increase by tracking the sun instead of having the panels mounted solid...

When I FINALLY switched to Sun Tracking, My production jumped up over 40%!
That's like having nearly half again as many panels which are VERY expensive!
Sun tracking cost me about $300 extra dollars, but saved me buying $3,000 to $3,500 more in panels!

Mine track for both angle of sun (corrections about twice a month) and for tracking the sun across the sky (corrections hourly).
I change angle MANUALLY about every 15 days, which takes two minutes with a hand crank, including walking out to the array,
And the sun tracking is automatic, done on a timer.
You can buy systems that do both automatically, but my home built system works great,
And since my electric vehicles are stored either inside the power house or parked beside the power house, I'm up there about every day, so it's not an issue.
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When you build or remodel, keep in mind you are going LOW CONSUMPTION!

Put your 'Entertainment Center' on a switch you can shut off when you leave the room.
Install low consumption Compact Florescent or LED bulbs!
Look for the most EFFICIENT appliances you can find!

We built the house 'Earth Sheltered', with 'Sod' roof,
And we insulated it like crazy!
Heating/Cooling costs are VERY reasonable.

If you are doing your heating system when you build/remodel,
I suggest RADIANT FLOOR HEATING!
VERY efficient, and you never smack a cold floor with your feet!
Again, it's a little more up front to do, but it pays for it's self QUICKLY!

When living in town, our heat bills could top $300 a month,
Now, with insulation and radiant floor heat, we have a 30% increase in Sq.Footage, but we haven't broken the $70 a month to heat yet!

Cooling is even better, most times between the earth sheltered, insulation, ceiling fans & Dehumidifier (very humid in Indiana in the summers!)... We produce our own electricity through PV, so we don't pay ANYTHING for cooling, and I like it about 72 to 74 degrees inside!

We have an 'Air Conditioner', a highly efficient system, but it RARELY RUNS!
Usually only to dry the air out on the worst days (we've been running about 95% humidity lately, and in the high 90 degrees) and the A/C doesn't run, more than two or three times a day even in these conditions.

--------------------------------------------

I can't recommend the sprayed in expanding foam insulation enough!
There are two kinds, Closed Cell, and open cell.
Closed cell is about 4 times what normal fiberglass insulation is,
But it's a moisture barrier, vapor barrier, insect proof, rodent proof, fire proof & mold proof if you have the extra ingredients added.

When you add up all the money you will save from thermal (heat) transfer,
How much the vapor barrier will cost you,
How much the moisture barrier will cost you,
How much the bug, mold and rodent treatment will cost you,
It's one hell of a deal in the long run!

Plus your walls (Studs) will have to be 12" thick to equal the thermal protection you will get out of 4" of closed cell foam!
No air leaks, no moisture condensation or migration problems, ect.

I had to hold off buying a new vehicle to afford the closed cell with all the 'Good Stuff' added, but it was WELL WORTH IT NOW! And I'm glad I did it!
 

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hank2222, where did you get the photos you posted, looks to be a sweet setup for a mobile application, I never thought of putting both the panels and wind turbine on the same mast.
Short masts will do very little for you.
The further you get up away from ground resistance the better off you will be.
Besides, I'm not crazy about having my EXPENSIVE panels connected to the same 'Lightening Rod' the wind turbine is!

When you are doing wind turbine masts,
I've learned there is no substitute for 'Heavy Metal'!

Single mast, HEAVY on guide wires!
Or a large tubing mast that is self supporting!

My wind generators need serviced about once a year, and I used to replace the masts quite often until I leaned the heavier the better!

There is a reason the large generators have masts that are MASSIVE!...
 

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I agree, my turbine in up on a very strudy pole on the hilltop. I just was going to use the short mast for my travel trailer. The tower is over 5 years old and going strong, the turbine is a Bergey, the only service they recommend is looking up once a year and listen for noise or wobbling blades.


Hey Jeep, post some photos of your place, love to see what you have done. We are both on the same page.
 

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I've got some pictures around here someplace, let me find them.
I got a little article in Mother Earth News a couple of years back, they took GOOD pictures, no fingers, no sun flairs in the lens,
I SUCK at photography!

I use the old TV antenna towers that are still available most places.
They seem to work pretty well when you use guide wires with them.
Since I have small generators that are home made, and we don't have 'Big Wind' except for storms, the TV antennas are usually pretty good for inexpensive 'Home' projects that are small scale like mine.

I actually think I'm going to give up on wind for where I am.
I don't have the time to mess with it or the money to upscale it, and it doesn't put out enough energy to make it worth while...
It was fun, and it was a learning experience, but it's just proved to not be practical.
Live and learn...

If I know me, the towers and generators will be up there for YEARS to come until I want the metal for something else!
I'm pretty lazy about things like that... :)
 

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i took the idea from a company called solar stick ..the big diference between my idea and there idea was my unit can expanded by useing a rope and pully system to extend the hieght up to another 6.ft by allowing a pole inside the main body to telescopeing the pole up that has the air turbine attchement head to get above the main area to catch more of a breeze when it need..

plus when puting my unit togerther i looked at diff types of mounts system to allow the unit poles to go inside the main body pole.. once the pole is extend up to the max height there is a small latching system that locks the unit in place to keep the pole from comeing back down after extend ..

plus i add attchement to the solar panels system to allow me to expanded the solar panesl system to 6 sets of single large watt panels front and rear of the system to help with the rechargeing of the battie system..
 

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Short masts will do very little for you.
The further you get up away from ground resistance the better off you will be.
Besides, I'm not crazy about having my EXPENSIVE panels connected to the same 'Lightening Rod' the wind turbine is!

When you are doing wind turbine masts,
I've learned there is no substitute for 'Heavy Metal'!

Single mast, HEAVY on guide wires!
Or a large tubing mast that is self supporting!

My wind generators need serviced about once a year, and I used to replace the masts quite often until I leaned the heavier the better!

There is a reason the large generators have masts that are MASSIVE!...
where iam at the wind power is about 7 miles a hour that way i add a small low speed air turbine system along with the solar panels acting the main source of power..along with the pole haveing a extras braceing 1"inch round metal braceing arm that goes to the ground

the wind turbine is the small model called the air X marine wind turbine it is a small turbine system design to go onto small sailboats for extra chargeing power.

the wind turbine sized 48 inch

the wieght is 13.pds

start up speed is 6.knots of wind speed

12,volt model..
 

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I didn't have a choice of going 'Off Grid'.
Since I do machine work and weld a lot, I would have rather been on a 'Split System', meaning solar with Grid Intertie,
But the local power company wanted WAY too much to run power lines back to my place.

Phone company wanted a ton of money, and the water people wouldn't even talk to me about putting in a water line.

It's extra work, there is no question,
Washing panels, extra weeding around support gear, and the cost can be Daunting in the front end,

But there are some resources you can use also,
Rebates and tax credits, you MUST keep up on the paperwork, but it's worth several thousand dollars to do the paperwork!

Think it through,
If sun tracking will gain you 30% or 40% in production, then do it.
The tracking rigs can be pretty cheap all the way to VERY expensive, but if you do as much of the work ("Sweat Equity") as you can, then the labor costs come WAY down.

The cheapest and best way to get started is research.
I recommend 'Home Power' magazine, it's pretty much a showcase of manufacturers products and some of the best, neatest installs out there.

You can take about HALF the cost you see on those pages off if you do 90% of the work yourself, and if you are no stranger to a string plumb line, tape measurer, and framing square, and you have enough IQ to run a power saw without cutting your fingers off, then you can save a TON of money on the install.

If you are just staring out, put your money in PANELS!
Cheap panels will be a pain in your butt for the next 20 to 40 years,
I made that mistake, and I won't do it again!

When you make your solar rack (PV or Thermal) build it STOUT!
Wind is a real big deal, and I tried those spindly little poles that hold 4 or 6 panels, and every couple of years I was out there putting in new poles again.
Now I use either large treated timbers (for parking/storage space under the panels) or I use 'I' beams for single posts, which I don't use anymore.

People are always amazed when they see a 'Car Port' with gaps between the roof panels, but it's not actually a 'Car Port', it's a solar array that just happens to shade my parking spot or give partial cover to the lawn mower or whatever you want to put under there.
 

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We installed a Zomeworks track rack earlier this year. They are a very well made unit but they have evidently skyrocketed in price. I bought this unit in 98 and through a fluke was never able to use it till this year. The price had basically doubled in that time period.

I saw an immediate difference after the six panels were installed there.

You are dead on correct about not buying cheap panels. We were in "the city" last weekend and pasted a Harbor Freight. I've always said avoid those panels, they seem like junk, etc. just from looking at the pics of them in the flyers and the fact that they have no real warranty. But I had never actually seen some first hand. OMG, what a bunch of trash. I felt confirmed in my assessment of them.

When you consider REAL AE panels are available for less on a dollar for watt basis, I can't believe anyone is buying the harbor freight panels.... :scratch
 
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