We kicked off the talk by discussing what "off grid" means—basically living independent of municipal utilities. We refer to our own setup as "semi off-grid." I'll go into our details next, but first I want to address "why go off-grid," as we did in our conference talk. Here goes...
WHY GO OFF-GRID?
1. Reducing carbon footprint. Solar and wind power don't require the drilling, refining, transporting or burning of non-renewable, polluting fossil fuels. (This was our No. 1 reason for choosing off-grid options.)
2. Financial viability. Bringing municipal power or water to a site can cost more than installing off-grid systems—some of which are eligible for tax breaks and all of which come with the added bonus of reducing recurring costs.
3. On the road again. THOW dwellers who relocate on a regular basis often have off-grid generators and on-board water tanks so they don't need to count on being able to plug in at every site.
4. Becoming self-reliant. Some people sleep better at night knowing they'd don't depend on a power grid or water treatment plant.
5. Producer, not consumer. Learning how to grow, harvest and preserve your own food can be empowering. Whether it's food or energy, when you produce your own, you'll have more respect for everything you use.
1. Solar/battery power. The sun shines free of charge. Our solar generator powers at least 80% of our electrical needs in the summer.
2. Alcohol-burning stove. Clean-burning, renewable alcohol provides all the heat we need for making meals indoors. We do additional cooking on our wood-burning grill outside.
3. Spring water. Our site is a bit remote. We're lucky enough to be able to tap into a spring-fed cistern for all our water.
4. Passive heating and cooling. The best example of this is our six clerestory windows, designed to let heat escape the house in summer and let heat into the house in the winter.
5. Composting toilet. Instead of using municipal drinking-quality water to deal with our black waste, we compost the solid waste, eventually turning it into a soil enhancement for our ornamental gardens.
6. Wood stove. Our wood-burning stove keeps things toasty on the coldest of days. Because it's a "gasifier," it doesn't release much particulate matter into the air.
7. Vegetable garden. We're growing some of our own food, which means the vegetables we eat haven't been sprayed with pesticides or preservatives and haven't been transported miles to get to our table.
8. Waste. In addition to composting black waste, we compost all food and most yard waste. (Twigs, branches and logs get stacked for campfires, grilling and heating.)
1. Electricity in the middle of a snow storm. When it's cold and dark for too long, we don't draw enough power from the sun; then, we switch to drawing 100% power from the grid.
2. Hot water tank. Hot water heating is one of the biggest "energy hogs" out there. We would have needed to double our array and battery storage to power all the house all the time with solar.
3. Water pump. Pumps spike wattage when they turn on, stressing electrical battery storage systems like ours.
4. Microwave. Also a voltage spiker.
5. Refrigerator. In hindsight, we realize the refrigerator we chose could easily be drawing power from our solar setup.
6. Back-up heat in the winter. We can't feed the fire when we're not here; we rely on the grid to power two, energy-efficient electric heaters that keep things at a base temperature.
7. Internet. We share service from a wireless provider with our neighbor.
8. Laundry. While we hand wash and hang dry on occasion, we share a washer and dryer with our same neighbor for the bulk of our laundering.
9. Etc. We buy gas to drive our car, we purchase most of our food from grocery stores, we keep our money in a bank, etc.
We intend to cut more of our reliance on grid electricity, which isn't "green"-sourced where we live, and we're considering putting together our own solar/battery setup to bring power to our screen house.
Are you off-grid, semi off-grid or thinking about it? We'd love to hear what you're doing.