Saturday, June 4, 2011

Reflections on Off-grid Living So Far

O, great Sun. 'Tis a beautiful thing to behold and recharge one's batteries. 
So, Bheki, how'd that whole off-grid thing go this past Winter? I see you're still alive.

Well, I'm glad you asked. Once the weather broke and I stopped building up to six fires a day (four - six on the really bitter, windy days - in the cabin and one or two in the Garden Shed), I realized just how exhausted I was and I took a nap every day for two weeks. Overall, because of our lovely contractors and the building inspector, we are no where near meeting code for energy efficiency. We have major drafts to tend to. Even with the wind blowing through the cabin, the heaters did a VERY good job heating the cabin. I estimate that I can cut the fires down to one a day on each level when the draft issues have been taken care of. Seeing how we were ripped off by contractors and codes weren't enforced, I'm not sure when funds will be available for that. Heating the cabin and hot water with wood was work but it felt like worthy work. With heaters on two levels, I believe I am up to any Stair Master challenge. In medieval times, I'd get a piece of armor thrown down at my feet. I'm not liking the image of spandex being thrown at me. I lost over twenty pounds and my arms are starting to look like they did before middle age spread set in. For these reasons, I have deduced that wood heat is healthy heat. That being said I would have liked more hot water. We were not producing enough hot water to run both the in-floor heat on the front porch and bathroom AND for hot showers and dish washing. We had enough hot water for showers. That's it. Now that the weather is warm enough, I'd rather not put a fire in the Garden (Lower) Level heater to make hot water for showers. We knew that we'd have to think of something else for making hot water in the Summer but there was too much going on for me to even think about it. I also would like more hot water for dish washing. I wear gloves so I can wash dishes in cold water. There's a balancing act when putting together an off-grid system. You have to balance needs and budget. You also have to start somewhere and build from there. There will be tweaking. The Husband sometimes gets a little down on himself because everything isn't PERFECT. The Husband, being the luckiest man there is, fortunately is married to someone who understands Rome was not built in a day. Besides, Rome eventually fell. Or at least crumbled over time. In looking at the hot water issue, we also need to keep in mind that we're looking for a source of hot water for a short period of time - from approximately June to September. Can we really justify the cost of a solar hot water system for those few months? I do not think so. Sometimes, I think The Husband has visions of PV Arrays lined up like little soldiers across our entire 30 acre clearing. Sigh. Now, we are reaching float around 10:30 in the morning. Could we power a small, electric hot water heater? We wouldn't have to run it all the time. We're looking into it. If we had a wind turbine, could we then run the electric hot water heater for showers and dish washing in the Winter too, thereby enabling us to use the hot water from the wood heat to heat the front porch and bathroom in-floor heating? Right about now an outdoor, wood fired hot tub is sounding real good. When you're putting together your system, keep in mind that you are using more power than you think. We underestimated our usage and forgot to figure in what the inverter uses. If you glean nothing from my ramblings, heed this: PAD YOUR USAGE NUMBERS. THEN, PAD THEM AGAIN. Granted, you are going to have to balance those numbers with your piggy bank. That concludes my heat and hot water report.

On to electricity. The generator is heavy. And, boo, it's gas powered. I think by now I probably would be wasting my time trying to hide the fact that at times I have quite an imagination. There seemed to be far too many days I was running around the cabin like Scottie in the Engine Room of the SS Enterprise, poking at the Hyper Drives. Wind turbine. Engage. Powie. Zoom. In reality, remember we unplugged the watt sucking frig, so yes, we need more power. We always planned to add a turbine. However, there's nothing left in our piggy bank but construction dust and bills. Solar power is really fascinating though. If it didn't waste power, I'd probably still be standing by the light switch marveling that solar power works with each flick on and off of said light switch. Cool. Look at that. Very cool. Again, the array and the batteries all need to be balanced with budget and space. You've got to have a place for your battery bank. Also, there are theories on batteries. We're reading that batteries like to be stirred vigorously. By that I mean, running a bunch of juice into the batteries hard and fast to stir all those little things that were in those drawings in our science books in school. Otherwise, again theory, the batteries will not hold their charge as well and shortened battery life is eminent. Which could mean, that you don't necessarily want all the batteries in the world in your basement even if you had the money and the space.   Bottom line on the electricity, definitely glad we did it and looking forward to adding on to the system. On to the Laundry Department. Things went well in the Laundry Department. I always had clean clothes. I love my wash machine and my drying rack. The Culinary Department Report. This is something that I feel needs a lot of work. Like I've already said, the watt sucking frig needs to be able to stay plugged in all Winter. I don't like chicken in the crock pot. To me, the texture is icky. No one wants to eat anything described as icky. Not even the feLIONs. The fattier cuts of meat in the crock pot - definitely worth the power it takes to cook it. I am hoping to have this down to a science by the time Winter rolls around again. My goal is to have the kitchen completely organized for culinary success and to know exactly the best way to cook something so it tastes good and uses the power available efficiently.

The other thing I want to address is this: All you can do is try. Go ahead and dream big. Plan YOUR ideal system for YOUR NEEDS and GOALS. Then jump in and get started. Live with what you start with. You're going to learn a lot. I know you thought you were going to die during High School Science class but this is far more interesting.  You're also going to have to protect yourself a little from negativity and nay-sayers by reserving any real discussions about off-grid living to those that are supportive of this life style. I'm beginning to suspect the large quantities of pesticides in our food causes eye rolling and quite possibly stupidity. We live in a society where individuals tend to be petty, judgmental, jealous, gossipy, and do NOT like any body or any thing different than what they themselves and/or the rest of the "collective" (society) are doing. I do NOT know how doing my own thing is so offensive. I'm just trying to get my usage to match up with what I make. I don't know why others feel offended because I don't do what they're doing. As long as no one is committing acts of cruelty and/or destruction, I really don't give a hoot what anyone else does. GO FOR IT! If you really feel you can't do anything right now because of your life situation, there are things you can do. PRACTICE. EDUCATE. DREAM AND PLAN. TRACK YOUR USAGE. PRACTICE SOME MORE. Whatever size system you want, figure that out, then spend a day living within that wattage budget. Then try it again for another day. And again. Yeah, fake it til you make it and bank what you'll save on your utility bill. There's no reason you can't look around right now and shut things off that are running that aren't being used. Mike nearly broke out in a sweat when he was recently at his brother's house and there was a row of desk top computers all lined up and running and no one was even in the room. Yet, he ridiculed our off-grid decision because he felt the bottom line cost of the system taking 15 years for payback was not a wise financial decision. I get confused real easy because I've written lots of checks to the utility company and there was NEVER a payback or break even point with them - period. The guy down the road told me his electric bill is $200 a month for a household of two and he has a TV running in every room basically 24/7. Meanwhile, he's rolling his eyes and foofing at us because of the off-grid thing. Just be aware that if you talk to other people about what you're doing or they see what you're doing, you could run into some attitude on a day you don't need their negativity or gossipy pettiness. There are others who are genuinely interested. One suggestion is to know who is in your corner and spend your time there. Meanwhile, go for it and let the eyeballs roll. And I say that even after I've actually lived off-grid.

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