Going off the grid

Discussion in 'Energy & Electricity' started by clydescomm, Oct 10, 2010.

  1. clydescomm

    clydescomm Member

    My wife and I want to take an electric mobile home off the grid. Double wide mobile home on permanent foundation (crawl space) until we can build a more energy efficient house on the land in 2-3 years.

    I want some input from others that have already taken houses off the grid.

    Considerations: eastern North Carolina, mild winters, HOT summers, lots of rain, sun, no wind unless a hurricane rolls in from the gulf.

    Its currently all electric and the city power is costing the average home owner $400-600 a month!

    My initial proposal for the house:
    Propane- stove, furnace
    Solar- water heater, lights
    Electricity- refrigerator, freezer, clothes dryer, dishwasher, ceiling fans in every room (a must for the summer heat)
    Considering adding as much natural lighting throughout house and garage as possible

    Garage- to be run off a generator for power tools, welder, etc.
    Solar- for lighting

    I have read a few things on the internet indicating a solar solution will cost $30-50,000 with a pay off of well over 10-20 years. There has got to be a more affordable way of going off the grid. I'm looking forward to the ensuing discussion. :)
  2. gypsysue

    gypsysue The wanderer

    Propane might be cheaper than electric, it might not. See how much propane costs in your area. Can you put in a woodstove for heat? I know in a mobile home that can be a problem with homeowner's insurance. And you might not want to cut/buy firewood and keep a stove going. On the other hand, you'd have a way to cook, no matter what, as well as being able to stay toasty warm!

    The nice thing about propane is that when the power is off, you can still cook and sometimes still heat. There won't be a blower for the furnace though, if the power is off. For the cooking stove, you might have to light the burners by hand if it's an elecronic ignition model without pilot lights.

    We have about $5,000 tied up in our solar power system and have enough "watts" to run a 10-cf frost-free fridge, as well as lights, laptop computers (Take WAY less watts than desk top models), TV/DVD player, sewing machine, and small kitchen appliances (blender, mixer, etc.). On clear summer days with long hours of solar charge I can run my electric food dehydrator and my husband runs his tumbler (cleans brass for reloading ammo).

    We researched prices and amp/watts information, then bought our own panels, charge controller, inverter, etc., and put it together ourselves. My husband welded up a frame for them and made a tower to mount them on, which swivels so we can move it throughout the day to track the sun.

    We stopped using a clothes dryer and began hanging the laundry. We even have lines on the covered porch and inside the cabin near the woodstove, for rainy day or winter drying. It helps put humidity into the air in the winter, which is nice! It's amazing how much money a clothes dryer can add to an electric bill! Or wait for a sunny day to wash laundry.

    We wash dishes by hand. Our hot water can be heated either by the woodstove or the sun, though another option would be a propane hot water heater.

    We put in five skylights to make for more light on cloudy days.

    We have a generator for my husband's larger power tools and the welder.

    If it's been cloudy for several days, we just conserve power. Less movies on the TV, less time on the computer. Mix the cake batter by hand with a whisk instead of the mixer. It's a good time to read a book or work on crafts that don't require electricity.

    Up here in Montana we have very short days in winter and we can get long spells of cloudy or foggy weather. But we're very happy with our off-grid set up.
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2010

  3. NaeKid

    NaeKid YourAdministrator, eh?

    Can you break-down your power-use (appliances) to try to come up with a reason for the $400 to $600 bills for power? Are you using alot of power to keep stuff cool / cold (fridge, freezer, air-conditioner) or using alot of power to keep stuff hot (furnace, stove, hot-water-heater). On your bill it should tell you what your kWh (KiloWatt Hours) is for a month. What would you be able to disconnect to lower that power usage?

    An average desktop (tower) computer draws a minimum of 500w (that is tower, accessories, monitor) and can draw well over 1200w for a skookum-setup. If you leave your skookum-setup computer on 24hrs a day, that equals 28.8kw per day, times 30 days (for a round number) would cost (here in Calgary) about $70.00 per month to run --- or for a simple tower computer about $29.00 to run.

    An average laptop takes about 15watt to run. Using the same calculation, leaving it on 24hr a day for the same month will draw about $1.00 per month.

    Taking those kinds of numbers into consideration will help you plan out your solar-requirements to run inverters to run your AC-powered equipment. If you can drop your requirements for AC-power and run on DC-power (what a solar-panel "exhales"), you can drop your costs for inverters significantly. By wiring your house for 12-volt power (like an RV) you can get around the need of AC-power for a microwave, TV, VCR/DVD/BluRay, etc.

    If you can "get away with" a 300 watt inverter that costs $50 you save yourself significant money. If you need a 3000 watt inverter to power your equipment, it might be closer to $500 (I have seen prices from $400 to $600 depending on manufacture).

    By being smart with your money, a good solar-system does not need to be expensive to run a house as long as you can get away from a "centralized" power system of big batteries (big wires, big money), big inverters (big money) and big power draws.

    MMM and GS have done wonderful things with their system and have done it simply and inexpensive.

    Oh ya ... I have about $1500 into my solar-system right now (wiring, batteries, charge-controllers, solar-panels, etc) and I am fine during summer. I will need to expand on the system if I want to run full-time winter as well.
  4. Tirediron

    Tirediron RockyMountainCanadian

    Going off of the grid requires gentling down of your energy usage, prefabbed housing is never (well almost) designed site specific
    A chest freezer can be converted to a fridge , room for big energy saving right there,
    Cross ventalation with the air intakes low on the north side and exits high on the south side will help with cooling
    The night sky will absorb a lot of heat, so solar water heaters facing the night sky on the north side can help with cooling as well
    Solar panels are an expensive way to generate electricity but about the best system for right now
    If you haven't already spent money on the manufactured home , or if it isn't already in place, don't go that route , for site specific housing they are a terrible investment.
    If you build your systems to function after SHTF they will be in place if something happens and also much more efficient in the current situation.
    Shelter your East, south and especially west window to prevent solar gain in the hot months and try to get solar gain in the cooler months
    Remember that the "modern embilical cord housing model" is a result of consumerism, covered over by some attempt at efficiency
  5. mosquitomountainman

    mosquitomountainman I invented the internet. :rofl:

    First, Bunker Bob is probably the expert around here on solar power like you’re describing.

    Like Gypsysue (my wife) said - use propane or natural gas wherever possible. Don’t plan on running a dryer, water heater, furnace or electric stove off grid unless you have lots of money to spend. Also, many propane/natural gas ranges use electricity for oven thermostats. Just something to be aware of. Also, just switching those items over to propane or natural gas may not save you any money if you don’t cut energy consumption down. Like NaeKid said, you need to find out where all that power is going.

    We did things backward compared to a lot of people. We began without electricity and still do not want to become dependant upon it. It’s much easier to adapt to off-grid living our way than to try to go from living on the grid to living off grid. You might want to do a web search for an old article of mine titled “Paring Down for Off-Grid Living.” It will give you some ideas of living minimally off-grid. The truth is that you can have an off-grid power system to run anything you want to as long as you want to spend enough money so finding ways to save on electrical usage will save you a ton of money for solar equipment.

    It takes some work but what you need to do is figure out what you plan on running then set up your solar power system accordingly. The price to set up will be reflected by what you want to power. GS and I use net book computers for most of our needs. In a typical evening we’ll have on two LED lights (less than 10 watts total) and two net book computers (less than 60 watts total). That’s lower energy draw than most people use when they turn on the living room lights. We use a wood stove for heat so there’s no blower fan to use electricity. The only big draw item we have is a refrigerator and it’s extremely energy efficient. Plus we shut it off during the winter when it’s cold out and solar power is low.

    I’d advise buying a good inverter if you plan on doing this full time for a long term. A good inverter will run you about a dollar per watt. The cheaper inverters will work but they won’t last nearly as long nor will they hold up under heavy loads. They also use more electricity just to power themselves. What size will depend on what you need to run.
  6. gypsysue

    gypsysue The wanderer

    We lived in this cabin in the woods for a couple of years with oil lamps as our primary lighting. We used a camper stove (3-burner with small oven) off a 20-lb. propane bottle. We hauled (and still haul) water from town, washed and rinsed dishes in two dishpans that had to be dumped outside. Carried a bathtub in the house for baths, heated the water on the woodstove or propane stove, bailed it out of the tub after baths, then carried the tub back outside. Used an outhouse for the last 7 years.

    Over the years we built up the solar electric system, put in plumbing with overhead tanks with gravity-flow water, drains set up on in a gray-water system for the sink and shower, a propane range with full-sized oven that has pilot lights and doesn't require any electricity to run, we cook on the woodstove in the winter (to save propane).

    We paid cash as we went, and did without until we had the cash to buy or pay for things. We can live very well on a very small amount of money, and use extra money for improvements to our system.

    Sometimes in order to improve our lives, we have to step back a little. I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world. I wash laundry in a wash tub with a hand-cranked wringer! But I'm FREE!
  7. clydescomm

    clydescomm Member

    Answers to some of the posts

    Thanks everyone for throwing out some suggestions.

    As a matter of explanation, in NC our typical winters involve lows in the 40's and summers days (April-Oct) are typically in the upper 90's if not over 100. The reason the electric runs over $500 a month is the city upgraded their power plant and have levied taxes to recoup the cost over a 10-20 year period. So there is no way to drop the cost below about $300 according to all the neighbors.

    If you find a lot over 2 acres that is not protected wetlands here its almost a miracle. Since we are less than 100 feet above sea level if you find a lot at 10 acres, 7-8 of it will be protected wetlands that you get the privilege of paying taxes on even though you can't use it for anything. Coming from 62+ acres of grassland in Kansas where we raised our own cattle, chickens, goats, garden, fruit trees, etc. makes this a bit of a culture shock. We just found 12 acres (mostly wooded, not in any floodplains with no protected wetlands) with a double wide mobile home on permanent foundation (bank owned) and extremely over grown. We offered half of the appraised value and got a respectable counter offer from the lender.

    The ultimate goal is to be off grid, raising our own food and be debt free asap again. There appears to be an old water well already drilled so that is a plus. We were so close in KS before my wife was relocated to keep her job and retirement. The plan is to buy it cheap, build a garage, dig a pond (water\food source), clear\plant some pasture to get back to sustainable living. In a year or two build a extremely high energy efficient house to get rid of the pathetically inefficient mobile home type construction.

    All the appliances evacuated the premises (typical) in the foreclosure. However it is all electric so the furnace and water heater are obviously electric. The exterior wood stove ducted into the HVAC is a possibility although I am not sure that the cost will warrant its use since the typical winter temperatures are in the low 40's. In KS, we consistently had temperatures in the teens and wind chills well below zero. Firewood shouldn't be a problem on the acreage in NC as about 6 acres is still wooded. I do have some electrical background so I will do some research into converting to DC power. Does anyone have any recommendations for books that evaluate well proven methods? Also recommendations for reputable manufacturers would be helpful.

    Although I would love to live the mountain man lifestyle in a cabin in the Montana wilderness in case the SHTF, we are currently still somewhat attached to the consumerism umbilical cord. :-( We raise much of our own food already therefore the need for the freezer (beef, chicken, vegetables, etc.). In KS, we actually had 3 freezers and plenty of wind for wind generation. As many others that may read this post later, we are working towards a more affordable lifestyle but with the move to NC we have had to start over and getting the land is the first step.
  8. bunkerbob

    bunkerbob Supporting Member

    MM thanks for the kudos, living off-grid is a lifestyle, even though we have all the modern conveniences, we watch what we use and allow for those days when we are low in power. Don't count on solar, generators or the wind exclusively, neither of these will suffice by themselves. You need all, we started small and through the years added on as we could afford it.
    Look on my simple site... bunkerbob for some more info.
    We also built a super efficient home out of ICF block and lots of insulation, no HAVC, just a small evap cooler and 2 wood stoves, the temp outside this summer rose to 110deg and the inside never went above 83deg.
    Look back and search PS for binders full of info.

  9. HozayBuck

    HozayBuck Well-Known Member

    I have some questions about this subject... first let me say that I've come to the conclusion that dragging a heavy trailer around behind a big truck isn't the way to go ...for me at least , it's not even close to being mobile..

    I intend to trade my big Dodge
    ( or sell it) and get a Ford E series cargo van, the kind most plumbers etc use... I'll have my bed and such in the back..

    I plan to wire in some 110 outlets with an outside plug in for shore power have a small microwave and 12volt lights for reading etc..

    On the roof cargo rack will be a black plastic water container for showering off the back end... a 2000 Honda gen set and 2 deep cycle batteries and a solar panel... NOW !!... I need power to run my Cpap machine while I sleep and have no idea how much battery power it will take or how big of an inverter it will take but I really need it to sleep well... I don't need the battery power for anything else much..I use a lap top.. and of course wouldn't try to run the microwave with 12v power... but that c pap is very important!...

    I can make this van into the perfect rolling home for myself ... I winter in TX at the homestead and plan to head out this April for the Utah desert area around Lake Powell...

    The cpap label says it's AC 1.70 max???? don't have watt on it...anybody have a clue?
  10. gypsysue

    gypsysue The wanderer

    Hozay, amps times volts equals watts.

    If that 1.7 is amps, and the volts are, say, 120 volts, then it takes 20.4 watts.

    Your 2 deep-cycle batteries should easily run it overnight, as long as you get enough sunshine most days to keep the batteries topped off with a solar panel That will depend, in part, how many watts or amps your solar panel is.
  11. SurviveNthrive

    SurviveNthrive a dude

    The Blob, good link, thank you.
  12. mosquitomountainman

    mosquitomountainman I invented the internet. :rofl:

    Where'd you live in Kansas? I grew up in a town between Witchita and Kansas City.

    From a survival perspective there are a lot of places that make more sense than the mountains of Montana! Our climate makes growing anything ecxept root crops a real challenge. Months of cold and snow use a lot of firewood. It has good points too but there are easier places to be self-sufficient!

    Hope things work out well in your move. Sounds like you've got a lot of good homesteading experience already.
  13. twiggie

    twiggie The end is extremely nigh

    Instead of using ceiling fans have a few swamp coolers on hand to rig up into the windows for the summer. Find some cheap plastic drums with lids, some sort of large hvac style tubing, box fans, and evaporative cooling padding. evaporative cooling has the potential to lower room temperature by as much as 20*F.
  14. Tex

    Tex Pincushion

    Here's what I see. Putting a doublewide on the property will slow you down. Doublewides are not very energy efficient and it will take a huge solar system to feed it. Then when the "real" house is ready, you won't need the whole system you invested in.

    Also, evaporative coolers (swamp coolers) only work in very arid climates. I don't think you could use it in NC.

    My plan is about 10 years out for when the kids are out of school and ready to move out.
    1. Build my RE system while I live in an RV trailer. Also put in the septic system and have a well drilled for water.

    2. Build a basic 30x50 metal building. The building will be super insulated and have 1 bath, 1 bedroom, and be built so that it can be used as a garage down the road. It will include a simple kitchen, W/D, wood burning stove, and fridges and freezers as necessary. Furnishings will be minimal. (concrete floors, simple electrical and plumbing fixtures, etc..)

    3. As soon as possible, I move into the shop/apartment. I can live there for 2-3 years while I build a nicer permenant home.

    4. The small bldg can be used as a guest house, be converted into a nice garage, or used as my (or my wife's) house when we are old and widowed while one of my sons and his family moves into the main house.
  15. NaeKid

    NaeKid YourAdministrator, eh?

    If you wanted a course in setting up DC-systems, look to the local college to become an RV-tech (maybe even an online course). Most of the equipment needed can be found in an RV - fuse panels, 110vac - to 12vdc converters, wires, sensors, light-boxes ... etc. By following "tried-n-true" 12-volt systems and just expanding on it, you would have yourself a reliable system without needed to reinvent the wheel.
  16. HozayBuck

    HozayBuck Well-Known Member


    Thank you kind sir!! why is it that I can use my computer to ask questions, yet don't think of using it to research my questions ?... I'm not blond... unless Bald is a color..
  17. mosquitomountainman

    mosquitomountainman I invented the internet. :rofl:

    Swamp coolers use a lot of electricity to run the fan and power the pump. They use less than an air conditioner but are still high draw items if you're living off-grid. Ceiling fans are more off-grid friendly.
  18. Tex

    Tex Pincushion

    HozayBuck - 1.7A x 120V = 204W

    If you are running a 12V DC system for your house, you should consider line loss and use a heavier wire.