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Energy Crisis on the Off-Grid Homestead

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

Our pitcher pump installed in November was a lifesaver during this small crisis

Unlike millions who recently lost power in a storm, we are not affected by power grid failure. But that doesn’t mean we don’t ever have a power crisis. Whether we are on or off the grid we all need to think about being prepared for the unexpected, and not being so dependent on electricity.

On Thanksgiving day we were thankful. The next day our thankfulness was challenged when all of our generators died.

How many generators do we have? Well, we had started with two. “Old One” (4000 watt, kinda small), purchased before Y2K, served us well after a tropical storm the following year, and again when Hurricane Charley knocked our power out for 13 days. That summer we bought “Big One” (8000 watt, twice the power) really discounted as an open box deal, to run more of our household at a time in power outages (there were more that summer).

This first year here on our new homestead we over-used these generators, but when one needed servicing we had a back-up (unless, of course, we failed to repair one!). We bought “Tiny One” (800 watt, very small and portable) at Harbor Freight for $90, handy for small odd jobs.

Several months ago our trusty “Big One” quit working. It cost more to repair than it was worth, so the repairman, who owed us money, gave us “New One” (2500 watt) to try, since “Old One” also needed repairs.

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

This was "Big One" who ran everything including our air conditioners this summer. My dad installed breaker boxes on our main generators to make them more practical to use every day.

With “New One” we had to alternate charging batteries, running the well pump, and using the washer as it could not handle all at once. But we managed fine. That is, until the day after Thanksgiving.

We’d had a power crisis in October as well.  Our inverter and batteries are protected from the elements under our deck, which is great as long as no one pressure washes the deck.  Groan.  When we finished building the deck in October we pressure washed and sprayed it with Thompson’s water sealer.  We thought the inverter was protected, but didn’t realize water was running in from nearby boards.  As with many projects, we stayed up late to finish it, and our brains were probably not fully functioning.  When the power started blinking we realized too late what had happened.  That was a $275 mistake!

Till Silver Oak could get the parts and repair the inverter (the FET board was bad…I’m sure you know what that is), we used our back-up system which is a cheap inverter and automobile battery charger.  Once the main inverter was repaired Silver Oak made a shield over it with metal flashing.  Now if we pressure wash (or someone trips with a bucket of water) it should be protected.

 

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

Our main inverter, a 2000 watt magnum purchased from an Amish businessman in OH.

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

Repairing the main inverter as the blue one (under Silver Oak's head) and the big black automobile battery charger are being used as back-up.

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

Inverter repaired...

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

...and covered with this flashing with the sides bent down so water will run off beside the inverter rather than into it (there is breathing room under the flashing and plenty of ventilation around it, in case my brother sees this and becomes alarmed...ha!).

Then came the day after Thanksgiving.  Silver Oak was using the skid loader we’d rented over the weekend. “New One” suddenly went wild and a connecting rod came loose (I’m sure you know what that means). We pulled out recently repaired “Old One” (but we had failed to do a test run). It fired right up and lasted…about five minutes. A terrible knocking noise proclaimed something was badly wrong with that one too.

We suddenly found ourselves with four non-working generators. “Tiny One” had problems too, but after an hour of tinkering Silver Oak got it running, taking precious time as the skid loader sat waiting. “Tiny One” is very fuel efficient, but must run nearly all day and night to charge the batteries. We became extremely conservative with power usage to avoid an outage.

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

This is "Tiny One." It works in a pinch. Earlier this year Silver Oak made "pigtails" for each generator to make it easy to quickly switch from one generator to another when necessary (notice the short cord from the generator to the house power cable). Pigtails are adapters for the various electrical outlets on different generators.

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

Making a pigtail

“Tiny One” slowly charged the batteries, but could not run our well pump or washing machine. For a week our only source of water was from our recently installed pitcher pump in the front yard! One day I pumped about 50 minutes with Evenstar filling in periodically to fill the water tanks on the roof (200 gallons). Silver Oak set up the small utility pump we used before we had a well when we hauled all of our water home. We pumped into the tub, then the utility pump pumped it to the tanks on the roof.

What great exercise! There I was, pumping water with the pretty little old-fashioned pump into an old tub that used to be my grandpa’s, under a clear blue sky, in our front yard. What a life! But I got worn to a frazzle! I wondered how I could survive doing this every day till we had a generator that could run the pump again.

But never fear. We conserved water like never before, and it lasted three days! We turned off the little diaphragm pump that creates water pressure for the house and used gravity flow. It takes amazingly less water when not pressurized. We used the diaphragm pump for showers, then turned it off. For larger amounts of water, irrigating, and animals, we used the pitcher pump. The kiddos actually prefer it for filling watering cans to water fruit trees and plants. That’s the way it used to be done. We could do it too.

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

Filling watering cans to irrigate the new fruit trees

Silver Oak had to work so we limped along using “Tiny One” and the pitcher pump. Then, one week after Thanksgiving…”Tiny One” quit too. He just wasn’t made for running that much.

I pulled out the oil lamps, filled them and trimmed the wicks for lights that night to reserve battery power for the fridge only. My dad thought it sounded like “Little House on the Prairie.” I said it was more like “Little House in the Scrub Woods.”

Silver Oak’s landscaping work had to wait…he stayed home the next day to install the remaining solar panels! My dad changed his busy schedule and surprised us by coming out to help. He brought with him an even bigger surprise…another generator! He had serviced it for a friend who insisted we use it temporarily. What a blessing!! We immediately did several loads of laundry, and of course, filled the tanks on the roof again.

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

My dad and Silver Oak install the solar panels on the (south-facing) deck roof.

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

Flexlight (also Thinfilm) panels adhere directly to a metal roof, making them impossible to steal or break in a storm unless the whole roof goes. Once they're stuck, they're STUCK!

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

The panels are wired together in groups of three. They continue to function in indirect sunlight or partial shade. Even during this season when the sun is farthest south, we are getting plenty of "juice" to charge our batteries.

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

All solar panels installed on deck roof and wiring completed!

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

Another view

In two days the solar panels were completely installed, and we have been in business ever since!! The following morning it was so neat to look at the inverter screen inside our front door and see the batteries charging with no generator! They were so depleted they didn’t fully charge until the second day, but once fully charged we tried running the washer off the inverter as well, and although it takes lots of power, it works!! If we do laundry in the morning with plenty of sunshine, we’ll be fine.

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

Around 8:00 the next morning the inverter screen showed our batteries were already charged to 12.6 volts. The night before it had been down closer to 11 volts. When allowed to get too low battery life is shortened.

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

The power crisis gave me an excuse to use our oil lamps. This one is an antique we bought from an elderly neighbor years ago.

It’s hard to describe how exciting it is to be virtually generator-free after depending on one for over a year! We still can’t run the big well pump on solar with our inverter (2000 watts is too small), so we run the generator just enough to fill our water tanks. That will be remedied when we install the windmill that is still waiting in its box.

Our energy crisis made things a little tough for a week, but it was a huge blessing in the end. It forced us to prepare our oil lamps and practice conserving water and power, and gave us a glimpse of life without our power system. The more familiar and prepared we are with these things, the less stress a real crisis will be. Most of all, it forced us to get the solar panels done!

How did we cope with loss of water and power sources?

- Used alternative water source (what if we had not recently installed the pitcher pump?)

- Eliminated high water pressure

- Saved used water (gray water) for flushing toilets or other jobs not requiring totally clean water

- Used portable handwashing jug if there wasn’t water from the faucet

- Turned everything off except the fridge

- Used oil lamps for light at night if needed (it was so homey)

- Thanked God for the beautiful 55-70 degree weather!

Until the windmill is up we will use a generator 20-30 minutes a day (rather than 4-8 hours).  Our power bill just plummeted to under $5 per month.  Aren’t you a little jealous?  Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid HomesteadBlessings,

 

Energy Crisis on the Off Grid Homestead

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25 Responses to “Energy Crisis on the Off-Grid Homestead”

  1. michelle says:

    I would love a 5 dollar water bill. When we move back home. We are planing to use windmill power to power our home. Please let me know how it does.

    • Rose Petal says:

      I will definitely be reporting how it does. We’ve now had two overcast days in a row, and while the panels have not supercharged the batteries as much as usual (as on a sunny day) they are still maintaining a very normal range of charge. The batteries seem to “like” the charge from the solar panels better than they did from the generators. And since this type of panel works even with indirect sun, we are still getting charged. We had thought we would eventually want to add a homemade wind generator to provide charging during rainy season or even at night, but if things keep on at this rate we may not need it.

  2. Bobbi says:

    I am very jealous and was wondering if Silver Oak would ever consider installing solar panels and such on the side? :) I would love to have those solar panels and be totally off grid as you are. Maybe one day. :) Blessings!

    • Rose Petal says:

      Silver Oak would love doing that on the side if it involves setting up a system like ours! He would want to work alongside the homeowner so they have an in-depth understanding of how it works for ongoing maintenance and independence. If you’re serious some day, let us know!

  3. Lisa Lynn says:

    Hi Rose Petal,
    It is very interesting to hear about the challenges of living off grid. I hope to do this one day, so I am glad to learn from others :)

    I would love to have you join us over at Wildcrafting Wednesday!
    http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/2012/12/wildcrafting-wednesday.html

  4. Lisa Lynn says:

    Thanks for linking up at Wildcrafting Wednesday, Rose Petal! Please come back next week and let us know what you’ve been up to!

  5. Sarah says:

    Just wanted to say hi! I found your site last week, and came back to find another great post. Very inspiring for sure. We just moved to a ONE acre plot from a 10 acre plot of land. We are trying to learn how to live on less land than before! I am in northern Indiana, so growing season is non-exsistant right now(we don’t have a greenhouse YET). LOVE the solar panels! My son is interesting trying to BUILD solar panels, but I had never seen flexible ones before! Awesome! Thanks so much for sharing! I will be back!

    • Rose Petal says:

      So glad you stopped by, Sarah. You are facing a challenge going from 10 acres to one. But sharing how you are learning to maximize your space and do more intensive methods will benefit many others who are not able to live on multiple acres. Blessings to you!

  6. Thanks for linking up to Homestead Abundance this week. Lots of folks on the Joybilee Farm Facebook Page are wondering about off grid living. This post will be a fantastic, realistic explanation of the some of the things that they need to consider. I am sharing it on my Facebook page today.
    Chris

    • Rose Petal says:

      I’m glad and honored if our experiences will benefit others. Off-grid has its challenges, but mostly because we are still learning so much about it. It’s definitely getting easier as time goes on.

  7. Mary says:

    Hi. Loved reading about how you are off grid. What kind of solar panels are those? I would love to install some.

    Thanks so much
    Mary

    • Rose Petal says:

      The panels are a newer technology and are called Flexlight Thin Film laminates by Uni-Solar. When we bought ours Uni-Solar was in bankruptcy so the warranty was void. But we spoke with contractors here in Florida and those who use them on their homes and they all had very positive experiences with them. One roofing contractor said he didn’t care if there was no warranty because they have never failed or had problems.

      We love them because we see our batteries charging early in the morning and late in the afternoon when the sun is way too low to be hitting them. Even on cloudy days they charge, although not as well. If another hurricane comes our way we don’t have to worry about them being ruined unless the roof itself is damaged.

      More info and a contractor I spoke with can be found here: http://jdlthinfilm.com/index.htm

      We purchased ours by the box (50) at a reduced price from http://www.agt.com/home-epc.html in Ft Lauderdale, FL.

  8. Linda says:

    I have never seen flat solar panels like that. Could you give information about them so I can look into getting some?

    • Rose Petal says:

      You can read my response to Mary above for more info. They are more expensive than conventional panels, but since we purchased a whole box of 50 and sold a few at our cost, we did ok. It is much cheaper than connecting to the grid (for us since we are so far in the woods) and paying a monthly electric bill, especially since fuel prices are going up and up.

      Sylvain Mandell at Advanced Green Technologies is the person who sold us our panels. He can be reached at SylvainM@agt.com and their website is http://www.agt.com/home-epc.html. I don’t know what the status of the manufacturer (Uni-Solar) is now, if they are still in bankruptcy or not. Either way, we are very happy with the panels so far.

  9. Rose Petal, your posts are read by all of us with such admiration. You are an inspiration to us all at Seasonal Celebration! Rebecca x

  10. Deb says:

    Can these panels only be installed on a metal roof? Are there any that can be put on shingles? If you don’t know that’s fine. Looks and sounds great. Would love to be able to do this but no money now and have a shingled roof on all buildings except 2 and they’re outbuildings. Love all the info you have provided. I would like so much to have a plkace like yours. Especially nice space wise aas there are only 2 of us plus the cats. Keep sharing.

    • Deb says:

      Tried to fin dout prices for a box of solar panels like you mentioned to get an idea how long to save for us or if it’s possible. Any idea how I can get tot hat? Did you get them online or see them in a store? Not trying to be nosy but wondering the price of these as our son might be interested with us. Could you e-mail me with a ball park price please. Your use and satisfaction with them makes me really want them. Maybe could be used for power in our chicken coop. Do you use them on the outbuildings or just house roof? really excited to share with hubby on these but need more info before I try to get him and son on board with the idea. Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

      • Rose Petal says:

        As I wrote in my email to you I have some of the answers to your questions in the comments above. We were told they work only on metal roofs, but you could ask around to make sure. It was one of the most expensive parts of moving here, and cost us more than our house (we didn’t pay much for this tiny house)! But we waited for a tax refund which enabled us to purchase them and as soon as we got them installed we began to save hundreds of dollars a month over running a generator. When you are already off the grid and your only option is to make your own power, it is worth it.

        • Deb says:

          Thanks so much for taking the time to answer all my questions so well. I so enjoy reading your posts on all the things I’d like to be able to do. I will try to look up more info on my own thanks. Hope all humans and critters are well there and thanks again. Have a wonderful weekend.