This is the adventure of how my wife, Tammy Douse, and I, Richard Douse, came to alive off-grid. I’ll allotment how, aback 1998, we accept been bearing our own electricity and accession rainwater off our abode roof, while enjoying all the conveniences of avant-garde living.
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Our home that we now alarm “Rocky Top” is a 38-acre parcel of acreage about a half-hour drive east of Redding. It consists of a continued ridge, as able-bodied as a basin with a little winter creek running through its middle.
The aboriginal claiming was analytic the aperture problem. It had been assumed, correctly, that the best architecture armpit was up on the top of the backbone that offered a across-the-board appearance of Lassen Aiguille and the surrounding area. Because of this, the aperture analysis was done on top of the ridge. However, far bottomward in the valley, we were able to acquisition acceptable clay that anesthetized inspection. We then, literally, “jack-hammered” a aperture for the catchbasin catchbasin on the architecture armpit and ran 2-inch PVC aqueduct bottomward to a bleed field, 600 anxiety abroad and 200 anxiety below. With this botheration solved, we were able to get a admittance to build.
My wife and I both adore building, and calm we aboriginal congenital a garage-shop-RV anchorage which we again confused into, application our 5th caster bivouac as our kitchen, abdomen and bathroom. The garage/shop became our active allowance and bedroom. This would be our home for the two-and-a-half years that it would booty for us to body our house.
To see if we could alive “off the grid” application photovoltaic panels and batteries, we bought two age-old (1980 vintage) 110-watt panels and absorbed them up to a 1500 watt inverter to catechumen the absolute accepted (12 volt DC) adeptness to accustomed alternating accepted (120 volt AC), that would again run the abrasion machine, TV and our computer.
Of course, we would still allegation baptize and, at the time, conduct a 300=foot able-bodied seemed too expensive. We were additionally anxious that the water might aftertaste funny. Aback we had been anxious about blaze danger, we congenital our aboriginal architecture with an enameled animate roof. This roof would acquiesce us the befalling to aggregate rainwater that we could again abundance in tanks. If we were anytime threatened by fire, we would accept a ample abundance of baptize on duke for angry it.
This garage/RV anchorage was our aboriginal home, our prototype. It was a test to see if these ideas were absolutely doable. On achievement of the garage/RV port, we installed three 2,300-gallon tanks abaft it and beneath a roof. If you attending carefully you will see a stainless animate carry beneath the rain gutter and 2-inch PVC aqueduct that runs beeline down. This joins a affectionate of assorted which connects to all three tanks. The tanks, as it rains, ample from the bottom. As they fill, the aqueduct additionally fills as baptize seeks a accepted level.
People ask if we get abundant rain to ample these tanks. The blueprint is absolutely simple: For every 100 aboveboard anxiety of surface, one inch of rain will accord you 60 gallons of water. This accurate architecture will abduction abundant baptize to ample all three tanks with aloof 9 inches of rainfall! Unseen in this account are our two 105-watt panels on the roof. These panels were aboriginal acclimated in the Mohave ARCO activity in the aboriginal 1980s are still alive well. It is absolutely adamantine to “wear out” a photovoltaic adeptness console as there are no affective parts, unless you calculation the electrons which are agape out of their filigree aback hit by a photon from our sun! And then, while bearing electric energy, they drift aback to breadth they were and the process repeats.
Well, maybe not absolutely like that, but that’s the idea.
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The aboriginal three tanks provided enough baptize to acquiesce us to accomplish it through our dry division while we were active in the garage/RV port. However, we knew we’d allegation added accumulator already we were active a added accustomed actuality in a absolute house. So, aback we congenital what would become the “tractor garage” we additionally installed added tanks. In this account are two added 2,300-gallon tanks. Unseen are two 2,500 gallon tanks that are abaft the building.
During all phases of construction, my wife and I were also both alive abounding time at added jobs. Aback we did about aggregate ourselves, we anguish up active in the barn for 2-and-a-half years. From designing the affairs to laying out cord lines, we formed, caked accurate (with the advice of baby friends), did the asperous plumbing, framing, siding, roof capsule and painting. Because our acreage is home to rattlesnakes, I absitively I did not appetite to body on a aloft foundation. Because of the brand and the assorted levels, the foundation and slab would booty us the aboriginal year. Some things, of course, are best accustomed to subcontractors. In our case, that meant the top-out plumbing, the sheet-rock, asphalt work, the AC electrical in the capital house, all the cabinets, carpeting and the oak flooring.
Since we had committed ourselves to active “off grid” – we approved to absorb as abounding energy-saving appearance as we could anticipate of. The house is 2-x-6 framed, which allows for R-19 insulation in the walls. The exoteric was aboriginal absolutely captivated with OSB afore blind the blaze aggressive Hardi- axle siding.
As our breadth – Shasta County, California – is able-bodied accepted for its automated backbone summers, we absitively to aperture the roof backbone by captivation aback the roof capsule about four inches from the aiguille and again accoutrement the gap with 1/8 inch screening. This was again covered by the metal roof cap that sits on top of the metal ridges of the roof. As a result, aback hot air campaign upwards naturally, the attic is vented actual calmly and passively. This helps advance a almost air-conditioned attic breadth that, in addition, has two anxiety of absolute in insulation. This works to actualize a acknowledgment beam so that aback the temperature alfresco alcove over 110 degrees, we accumulate abundant of the breach that was acquired the antecedent night. To bring in that backward night and aboriginal morning coolness, we accept installed a awful able accomplished abode fan.
When needed, we accept beam admirers in the bedrooms, active room, and study. Alike on those canicule aback the temperature is abnormally high, the central our home stays in the mid 80s, which, with the beam fans, is comfortable. However, to accomplish things alike added comfortable, on abnormally hot canicule and nights aback the temperature stays high, I installed a through-the-wall air conditioning assemblage this spring.
The abode is powered by photovoltaic panels which allegation ample industrial-sized batteries active for 24 volts DC. There are four BP 120 watt panels on a Zomeworks tracker. We additionally accept six BP 120 watt panels, six Sharp 170 watt panels and six 185 watt Eoplly panels facing south. Facing southeast are two BP 150 watt panels We accept a 4,000 watt inverter/charger which not alone accuse our batteries, but converts the electricity acquired from these sources to 120 volts AC as needed. We additionally accept an Onan architect that runs on propane, but this does not see any use from April until some time in November aback our backing division begins.
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The RV/garage now has two 80 watt panels that allegation two golf-cart batteries that accumulation 12 volts DC to the pump that pressurizes our rainwater as able-bodied as bartering abstract for a 1500 watt inverter that runs our boutique tools.
A little 50 watt console on the pergola over the pond runs the pond pump that gives us a avalanche whenever the sun is shining.
Since we accept abstruse that you can’t absolutely abound vegetables on stored rainwater, we invested in a 300 bottom well. The able-bodied pump is a Lorentz and is run by four BP 80 watt panels. This baptize flows to a 2500 gallon catchbasin that is abstracted from our rainwater system. This baptize is pressurized by addition pump that gets its adeptness from two golf-cart batteries that are answerable from a two 50-watt panels on the tractor-garage roof.
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After adequate some success agronomical in aloft beds up on our ridge, we absitively to garden added abundantly bottomward in our valley. We had a 80-foot able-bodied accomplished and again installed a 24 volt Shurflo 9300 submersible pump, powered by the two age-old 110-watt panels we had on the garage/RV anchorage aback we began our project. This pump pulls baptize up out of the able-bodied and pushes it up a acropolis to a 2500-gallon baptize tank.
Most men would accede that a man can’t accept too abounding garages, and now you see that, if you alive off-grid, you can’t accept too abounding photovoltaic panels either!
For heating our home we accept a Monitor kerosene heater, which is acutely efficient. It alone uses about 70 gallons of kerosene a year. We additionally accept a baby copse stove for aback heating. Our refrigerator is conceivably the best you can get for off-grid solar living. It is alleged Sunfrost, and aback they say it saves electricity by a agency of five, you can accept it. It does. If every ancestors in the United States had one of these in their home we wouldn’t allegation adopted oil. We accept the big model, the RF19 (refrigerator/freezer) in 24 volts DC, but it can be purchased in accepted AC also.
For abrasion clothes we accept a Arrangement 2000 accumbent arbor top loader. Actual efficient. It uses actual little baptize and electricity after sacrificing charwoman ability. For baptize heating we accept an AquaStar on appeal heater. It’s great. Aback you about-face on the faucet you get hot baptize instantly. Aback you abutting the faucet you are no best heating water, alone the pilot ablaze is on. We do spend some on propane, mostly in the winter aback we’re socked in and accept to run our Onan 5500 watt architect for a brace of hours per day to top off the batteries. And we use propane in the kitchen.
And now, to acknowledgment the most-often asked question: “If I advance in solar power, aback will I get my money back?”
This catechism should be accessible to answer, but all the alleged experts attempt with it. They go into complicated algebraic contest that alone serve to abash people. Let’s not do that here. Let me accumulate it simple.
Solar adeptness installed on your home is an “investment.” It is agnate to added awful defended investments, such as a affidavit of deposit, frequently alleged a “CD.” With the acquirement of a solar system, either on filigree or off, or with the acquirement of a CD, you will lose absolute ascendancy of your money while the advance is alive for you. The solar arrangement is alive by extenuative you the amount of accepted electricity. That is, in effect, advantageous you money by not acute that you absorb it. The CD is advantageous you money in interest. What you are accepting from both of these investments are a acknowledgment ON your money. This return on your advance begins to accrue, in both cases, immediately. The acknowledgment will abide as continued as you authority (or renew) the investment.
With an advance such as a CD, you will accept a return OF your advance aback you banknote it in at the end of its term. Likewise, you will accept a return OF your solar arrangement advance aback you advertise your house. At that point you will no best be an investor. You will accept your money back. But accumulate in apperception this important fact. While an advance such as a CD will accord you a anchored return, with an advance in a photovoltaic system, your allotment of acknowledgment can alone access as the amount of “store bought” electricity goes up over the years.
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I achievement the advice accustomed aloft is accessible to those of you who are cerebration of “going solar” and accept been afraid to booty the aboriginal step. I achievement you will do that. It is one of the best important things you can do for your country and our planet. If you should accept any questions, accelerate me an email at email@example.com and I’ll do my best to accept answers.
Richard Douse lives with his two admired ladies: Tammy, his wife, and Ann Margret, his cat. They alive off the filigree in a home they congenital themselves. They abound their own aliment because they don’t assurance corporations accomplishing it for them. Douse thinks of himself as a liberal. He believes liberals are blue-collar folk who apperceive how to assignment and anticipate for themselves. He believes that what we do, alone and collectively, in the abutting 10 years will actuate whether acculturation continues – or goes away.
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