Archive for the Off Grid Category

Beginner’s Guide to Prepping – Should You Prepare?

The cold wind howled with a chill we hadn’t felt since last winter. We bundled up and threw a couple of extra logs on the fire. It all seemed pretty normal for a late fall day in Idaho. But the temps kept dropping and then everything went dark. The house was cozy, but I knew that without power to keep the furnace running, the outlying rooms would start to get cold. I gathered the kids and their bedding close to the wood stove, and we hunkered down for the night.

 

wood heat

 

Are you prepared if the power goes out? What if there is a storm and you can’t go to the grocery store? Our story could have panned out much differently had we not been prepared.

Maybe you don’t face the threat of harsh winter storms or hurricanes but chances are you rely on the income from your job. What if you were to lose that without notice? Would your family go hungry?

No Pay!

Several years ago when the government was busy arguing over the federal budget our family went through two periods of no pay. During those times we had food to eat and money to make our payment. It was scary because our lives were in someone else’s hands but we didn’t fear whether we could feed the family. Our family ate like kings as co-workers applied for unemployment benefits.

 

home-cooked meal

 

Through all of these experiences, we have learned how important it is to be prepared. Does that mean that you need to build a bunker and stock it with two years of freeze dried meals? No. You can prep without being a doomsday prepper.

You want to stock up on some essentials – where do you start?

 

Scenarios to consider Cooking during disaster

  • Your climate – What are the extremes in your area? If you lost power during one of those extremes what do you need on hand?
  • Power outages – Can you still cook? What discomforts will you suffer? Will your animals have water?
  • Economic distress – What if computer networks fail and you cannot use your debit card?
  • Job loss – Can you feed your family for the next three months as you find work and wait for the first paycheck?
  • Natural disaster – Flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, wild fire, extreme heat, extreme cold. Every year part of the US is hit with a natural disaster. If one hit your city would you be prepared to weather that storm?

 

After considering different scenarios choose which ones you feel you need to be prepared for. Now decide how you can insulate your family from the effects of those situations.

 

 

Job loss is a risk everyone faces, even if you are self-employed. Does your family have provisions to get you through a hard time? I have heard people talk about losing work and going home to bare cupboards. How do you choose what to spend that last paycheck on? Will you get work fast enough to continue paying your bills?

How much do I really need?

dry goods storage

I like to keep at least three months of food on hand at all times. Six months or more is even better! That way if the car blows the transmission you will have a lot of breathing room. Of course, a savings account goes hand in hand with all that we are talking about.

Having food storage is like a dedicated savings account that is set aside just for feeding your family. If you are buying food and preserving it while it is in season, you will have a great return on investment!

Keep these items on hand
Food

  • Cooking supplies
  • Water
  • First aid supplies
  • Medication
  • Toiletries
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Diapers
  • Gasoline
  • Propane
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Fire wood
  • Clothes line or drying rack
  • Bushcraft knife
  • Tools to make repairs

 

Your Turn!

  • What preps will you start building up today?
  • What gaps do you have in your preps?

What You Should Know About Prepping and Homesteading

Scenes of ramshackle cabins in the secluded woods flash on your screen featuring characters that remind you of Grizzly Adams. He hunts and forages all of his food and cooks it over the campfire while muttering about living off of the land.

Next on your watch list is Survivor Bob. He has preps stashed in the forest, a carefully curated survival kit on his back and lives in a missile silo. He can lock his doors and not resurface for two years if an asteroid hits Washington and the government collapses.

off-grid living

Both prepping and homesteading have been popular on television lately and have gained a lot of attention from the media; but what is prepping? What is homesteading? What are the pros and cons of each?

Homesteading starts as a mindset that says “I can produce that!” rather than feeding the machine of consumerism. It is a movement of self-reliance. It includes everyone from the apartment dweller who cans produce purchased from the farmer’s market to the off-grid, self-sustaining farmer.

Prepping is also based on self-reliance. But rather than the lifestyle of a producer, their focus is one that prepares for one or more catastrophic events that propel them into a survival scenario.

survival

There are positives to each way of thinking, and the line between them is often blurred.

Many homesteaders are motivated by perceived changes and threats in the world and want to be prepared to live without the commercial supply line. More and more, peppers are realizing that stockpiling two years of MREs is not sustainable and have begun learning traditional homestead skills.

What can we learn from homesteaders?

Fall gardening

  • How to grow your own food
  • Self-reliance rather than an entitlement mentality
  • How to be frugal and make the most of our resources
  • A can-do-attitude and a desire to gather and learn new skills
  • Simple living

What can we learn from preppers?

  • Being well equipped for an emergency.
  • How to stock up on first aid supplies.
  • Have a plan if you are forced to leave home in a survival situation.
  • Survival is often a mental game. Peppers have played out scenarios in their mind so that they can quickly and accurately react.
  • You can prep no matter where you live.

 

There are pros and cons to every decision we make in life. Carefully weighing them out is vital. The debate about whether prepping or homesteading is superior is foolish and divisive and needs to end!

Learning lessons from each other is essential to life; no two people are alike. Think of this as a spectrum rather than two separate lifestyles. Find where you fit and make the most of it!

I fall more in the category of a homesteader than a prepper but find myself inspired to keep more emergency supplies on hand when I talk to my prepping friends. We face the possibility of significant winter storms that could have us holed up in the house for a couple of weeks at a time. If we aren’t prepared for that, it could be a dangerous scenario.

 

What are the pitfalls of homesteading?

  • Very labor intensive.
  • Not sustainable in poor health.
  • What if an emergency forced you to leave your homestead?

How does prepping fall short?

  • Can become too focused on prepping to enjoy the simple pleasures of daily living.
  • What happens when the preps run out?
  • Eating MREs for two years is less than satisfying.

Are you Grizzly Adams, living off-grid, or are you Survivor Bob, ready for a major catastrophe? Be inspired by both. Stop and smell the fresh herbs on your window sill and then take a hard look at what you can learn from your prepping or homesteading friends.

Your Turn!

  • Are you a prepper or a homesteader?
  • What skills or preps do you want to add to your current lifestyle?

10 Reasons to Live Off-Grid

The security of self-sufficiency and the freedom that comes

wood heat

from being a producer rather than just a consumer is what our family is working toward. We have found it on so many levels here on our suburban homestead and look forward to increasing that as we eventually transition to our off-grid homestead.

We have started taking steps in the direction of an off-grid lifestyle by heating our house with wood and growing and preserving a lot of our own food.

On the coldest night of this winter, our county lost power, thankfully only for a few hours. There were stories of families huddled together to keep warm as the temperature plummeted outside.

It took as much as a full day to heat their house back up to a comfortable temperature. We have been heating with wood so we stayed cozy and warm. The only worry we had, was for the neighbors.

As we work toward our off-grid dreams we have put pen to paper and compiled our top ten reasons for wanting to live off-grid.

1. Freedom from utility bills

Likely the first advantage that comes to mind when considering an off-grid lifestyle is eliminating utility expenses. Exploring alternatives for power, water, and sewer is a great way to reduce the cost of living.

2. Good stewards of the Earth’s resources

When we are responsible for our own resources we are more aware of where they come from and how much we are using. Eyes-wide-open awareness is the most effective way to bring true change in any area of life.

3. Security

When tied to the grid we are tied to more than just the electric company. There are so many variables that could cause us to be without power. We want to eliminate that risk as much as possible. Not just by creating our own electricity but learning to live without it too.

4. Freedom to choose your lifestyle

Living off grid gives you options. Maybe you want to live in a yurt with no amenities. How about an RV? A tiny house? You might want a big house with every convenience but on a property that is too far from the electric grid. These are all possibilities off grid.

5. Location, location, location

Being free from the electric grid means that you can position your house in the best or most beautiful place on your land no matter how far it is from the electric lines.

6. Living as producers instead of consumers

orchard-fresh apples

Our family has really enjoyed our garden and livestock so much! Learning how to grow, harvest and preserve our food feels incredible. We are looking to expand that into so many other aspects of our off-grid life.

7. Environmentally responsible

Learning how to use much less electricity, recycling gray water and having a composting toilet are great ways to reduce your carbon footprint and make off-grid living work.

8. Learn new skills

I am excited to learn more about solar, harvesting water, building from the ground up and living more in touch with our land.

9. The sense of accomplishment

This might be the thing we are most excited about, building our homestead from the ground up. To be able to really express who we are in every aspect of our lives then look back and see all that we have learned and accomplished.

10. Encourages a life unplugged

Living off-grid is a chosen departure from everyday modern life in some form or another. That departure causes change, even if it is as simple as hanging the laundry to dry instead of throwing it in the dryer. Many off-grid tasks connect us to nature and life outside of a screen. We plan on embracing that with open arms.

Going off grid is not the wonder-drug that will solve all of your troubles. There are many choices that can be made, no matter where you live, to reduce your carbon footprint. For our family, it is the combination of all of these reasons that inspire and compels us to work toward our dreams of building our off grid homestead.

Your Turn!

  • What does off-grid living mean to you?
  • What reasons for living off-grid would you add to this list.

Common Off Grid Living Misconceptions

It’s been a full year since I moved out of my apartment and into my tiny house, with that came the shift to living off grid.  Many of you have read my tiny house solar posts which talks about all the nitty gritty details of my solar panel system, if not, check it out because I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on it.  Now that I’ve done this for a while it’s become very clear what I got wrong and what others non-off-griders (grid muggles?) about off grid living.  I can now spot a grid muggle a mile away when they start talking about living off the grid.  Here are some of the misconceptions you learn about when you go off grid.

Harbor Freight solar kits is all I need!

I hear this all the time from folks, “I’m going to get one of those Harbor Freight solar kits to power my house”.  These kits are great, if you only need 45 watts, which really is only good for changing a laptop (30 watts) and cell phone (5 watts), maybe some power drill batteries; all of these things are insanely lower power consumption.  If you need to run much more, these system will leave you very disappointed, cold, hungry, and in the dark.

Clothes washing is easy… right?

Time and time again people geek out over various contraptions for washing your clothes.  I’ve seen them all, the plunger looking things, fancy peddle powered spinning ball gyros, and  hand crank counter top tumblers.  The truth is hand washing clothes isn’t terribly difficult; sure a normal washer is easier, but barring that, I’ve found a tub or large sink really works great.  You can always spot the people who’ve never actually done it because they talk about washing clothes while true off gridders talk about drying clothes.

Drying clothes in an off grid setting in a tiny house is a royal pain.  It’s fine if the weather is nice out, but if it’s really humid, or freezing cold, or worse, raining, you can forget about having dry clothes.  What it really means is for about half the year you get dry clothes, the rest of the year you’ll have mostly dry clothes that you’ll give up and put on because everything is still damp and you need to leave the house.

Drying racks are great if you have just a few things to dry because you can rig something in your shower.  But when you’re talking about a full load, it means you have to setup your drying rack inside your tiny house, which takes up most of your living space, then you need to let it dry in a day or two.  This typically translates into perpetually having your drying rack out, which makes the tiny house much less livable.

The ideal option would be to have a small outbuilding where you could setup a clothes line and have a wood stove in the corner.  You could also do what I do, head to a laundry mat or pay a laundry service.  After doing laundry by hand for 3 months while living in Croatia, I’ve since transitioned to doing my laundry in a normal washer and dryer.  Here in Charlotte I can have my laundry washed, dried and folded for $2.50 a lb, which as someone who loathes folding clothes, is so worth it.

Roof top mounted solar panels

The weird thing about solar is mounting on the panels on the roof is one the worst places you could put them.  By their nature roofs are hot, which heat decreases the efficiency of solar panels.  They are high up, so they are hard to get to in order to maintain, brush off snow and clean grime that builds up over time. Finally, on a tiny house the space you have to deal with is very small, because tiny houses have tiny roofs.

If you’re going to be traveling a lot with your tiny house, roof top is very practical, but you’re going to be hard pressed to do any sort of heating or cooling with that few panels.  The best option is ground mount if you can swing it.  You can access it easily to clean off snow and grime, you can easily inspect it and fix things for maintenance.

Not having backups… for everything

When you are your own power source, there is no power company to call when things go wrong.  In most cases that’s a good thing because you often find yourself at their mercy and if you’re in a remote location, at the bottom of the priority list.

It also means that if something goes wrong, say the morning you have an important meeting to get to, you still need to make breakfast, take a shower, and do what you need to do.  To this end I have backups for each of my main systems:

Thinking you can live off grid with no propane

I hate the fact that I need to use propane, but its an absolute necessity.  Of course if you have $50,000 to spend on your solar system, you wouldn’t need propane, but most folks don’t.  Even my system, which is around $20,000, couldn’t come close to powering a hot water heater or stove/oven.  The one exception to this might be if you have a really good hydro power turbine, then maybe, but that’s dependent on you having flowing water and a large drop, very difficult to find when buying land.

The one thing with all of this is how appreciative and grateful I have become for fossil fuels, they are a true miracle.  They don’t come without their consequences, but the fact that I can pay $2.50 for a liquid, put it into my car and it takes me 50 miles in less than an hour… have you ever had to walk 50 miles?  I have gone on multi night backpacking trips over 50 miles, fossil fuels are a true small miracle.

You could potentially get away with no propane if you did wood heat and had a water heater exchange on it, but honestly the idea of waking up 2 hours before I need to leave every day to make a fire, heat water to shower and cook on, isn’t in the cards.  Even if I had the time to do that, I wouldn’t, I don’t want to spend me entire life chopping wood and stoking a fire, life is way too short.

A wood stove is the dream

This is something that many off gridders have in their cabins, but I personally can’t get into.  When I grew up, I had a wood stove, everyone did when I lived in NH in the 80’s.  I distinctly remember going over to my friend Jimmy’s house and his mother telling us we needed to go chop some wood so we had enough for the night.  Chopping wood, stacking wood, moving wood, building up the fire in the morning: it was just a part of life.

The part that no one talks about how much work it all is. Here’s what every day would be like:

You wake up to a pretty cold house every morning in the winter, dash out of bed to rekindle the fire and put a few logs on the fire.  About an hour later, you can finally take a shower without freezing.  But oh wait, you forgot to fully close the stove and some smoke came back into the house, your work clothes smell like a camp fire.  You head off to work and then come home to a cool home, time to add more wood, but wait you’re out of wood inside.  So you get dressed again to go into the snow, you head to your wood pile and start stacking wood into a wheel barrel.  While you’re loading up, you pull a log to find a snake making it’s move to bite your hand.  You take care of the snake and keep stacking.  Wheel the wood to the door and start carrying it in.  You finally get wood stacked and fire roaring, to turn around and see a trail of destruction where you tracked in mud and dirt from the wood.  You spend the next 15 minutes cleaning the floors.  

Compare that to me:  I walk it, press one button and in three minutes my house is super comfy.  I kick off my shoes, grab a drink and start reading a good book.

Solar tracking is really important

This is another one that I can spot a solar newbie a mile away.  They talk about a pole mounted tracking system, which allows your panels to follow the sun.  But here’s the dirty little secret:  You add one more panel to your system and you’ll make more power and save a lot of money!

Typically solar trackers improve solar gain by about 15-20%, so if your system were to generate 1 KW fixed, it now might do 1.2 KW.  But here’s where it all falls apart.  A solar tracker usually is at least $1000 extra dollars in equipment and you need to pour a large concrete footing for a couple hundred bucks.  Let’s call it $1500 for the whole thing if you do it all yourself.  But if we were to just use a fixed system and buy one or two more panels ($250 a pop) we could increase our system to 1.5 KW in a day.  So for 33% less money I can get around 30% more power AND have no moving parts to break.

DC appliances and propane fridges are worth the money

It is absolutely true that DC is much more efficient and inverting DC to AC takes up some power, but it’s not the only thing to consider.  There is a major myth that is perpetuated from information that was once true, but is now no longer.  The problem is that there are a lot of websites out there with old information.  With recent advances in inverter technology and lower costs for panels, the gap has dramatically decreased.  While it is inefficient to change from DC to AC, you can make up the difference completely by the addition of one or two solar panels.

When you weigh the cost of specialty made DC appliances, for example a Sun Danzer Fridge for $1100, against going regular AC fridge, mine was $130, plus an extra panel, mine are $290 each, the math is simple.  I can add one more panel and save hundreds.

The other part of the story is that a lot of electricians are hesitant to work on DC systems, many won’t.  In addition to that, the market for DC appliances is small; this means less options for a higher price tag.  Going AC give you lots of options, easily sourced electricians and all at a lower price.

My recommendation is to go full AC power and then just add a panel or two to your array.

 

Those are my thoughts on common misconceptions about going off grid

Your Turn!

  • What things have you thought about when going off grid?
  • What surprised you about this list?