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off-grid living from the ground up

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off-grid living from the ground up

Old 06-18-09, 09:57 PM
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monsieuroctagon
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off-grid living from the ground up

Lately I've been fantasizing day and night about the possibility of living off the grid completely. I'm thinking solar power/heating, well water with grey-water recycling and treatment, subsistence farming, and geothermal heating/cooling systems. I've already planned for a while to make sure my first car (that just died) would be the last I owned. I'm thinking a little beyond that.

Help me indulge in this fantasy a little longer. Has anyone here managed to go off the grid completely? Where did you start out? How long did it take you to cut yourself off from the grid?
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Old 06-18-09, 10:10 PM
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off the grid would mean no internet?
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Old 06-18-09, 10:17 PM
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Rowan and I are completely off the grid as far as traditional power goes. Any power to this area burnt out during the bushfires in early February (Rowan's home also burnt down in the bushfires, as did the homes of approx. 2000 other people), but there wasn't power up here where we are currently living anyway.

I'm powering this computer with the use of a generator which is humming away outside, and we also have limited solar power. It was connected up to some rather inadequate batteries when Rowan moved here, and he has purchased better batteries which he will likely connect this weekend. He is also looking for a more extensive solar system.

Along with our desire for limited generator use and more solar use has been the quest to convert everything from 240 Volt power to 12 Volt power. That has been a bit of a challenge, but I think we now have lights that are 12 Volt (they still need to be installed) and we have a car-cooler to keep meat for a few days that is also 12 Volt.

But I will add that wireless internet access is great up here in the hills ... good signal!

There is no plumbing up here, so our water is rain water collected in a cistern up the hill a ways. This does power a flush toilet, I'm pleased to say, so that we did not have to go the long-drop route. We've also got another cistern next to the cabin. Over the past few days Rowan has installed piping from the cisterns into the cabin so that we have cold running water into a sink. We are trying to get a battery-operated hot water heater to work, but it is presenting some challenges.

Over the past few days we also moved a cast-iron tub that was outside into the cabin, and in a moment when the hot water heater was working we managed to fill the tub with very hot water and bathe. However, we can't do that too often because we are dependent on rain water and it hasn't been raining a whole lot in the past week. We are thinking about some sort of shower system.

Our heating is the fireplace, and we are in the process of insulating the cabin so that it retains the heat. That's been a bit of a problem, especially as winter is fast approaching. The last couple mornings it has been frosty outside, and only +5C inside.

These are some photos of our place, and I will be posting more later today. But in the photos you can see our solar panel, and the cisterns, etc.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/1430288...7619719051119/

This cabin is located on 1200 acres of land owned by the people who own the orchard (also on this land) where Rowan works. They've been generous enough to allow us to live here for an indefinite period of time ... especially considering there is no housing in this area because so much of it was destroyed.

There is a track ... not much more than a cow path ... that goes on for a km or more to get to a rough gravel road that goes on for about 2-3 km to finally get to the paved road. From the paved road, it is another 5 km to either of the two very small towns on either side of us.

Because the land and particularly this cabin are so remote, we have been borrowing vehicles to run around and get the stuff necessary to make ourselves comfortable up here. While living car free would be an ideal, we think it is not practical in our circumstances, and therefore we are looking for a vehicle.
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Old 06-18-09, 10:36 PM
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Haha Machka, I was thinking of you when I posted this! I checked out your pictures yesterday and thought the outdoor bathtub was great.

Some telecommunications would probably be necessary and practical. I'm banking on internet and telephone service through cell tower service having a much greater coverage and lower cost within the next 10 years. Solar power, likewise, is expected to drop in price.
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Old 06-18-09, 10:38 PM
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Originally Posted by monsieuroctagon View Post
Haha Machka, I was thinking of you when I posted this! I checked out your pictures yesterday and thought the outdoor bathtub was great.

Some telecommunications would probably be necessary and practical. I'm banking on internet and telephone service through cell tower service having a much greater coverage and lower cost within the next 10 years. Solar power, likewise, is expected to drop in price.
The outdoor tub (which worked by filling it, and then lighting a fire under it) has moved inside.

Wireless internet is quite reasonable, and we're using Skype for phone calls, which is also quite reasonable.
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Old 06-18-09, 10:59 PM
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airstream bambi?
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Old 06-18-09, 11:05 PM
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In the old days, about 150 years ago, some people would head for what was then known as a "poor man's county". This is where land was cheap, the climate relatively mild, and where you could coon hunt all winter and fish all summer. Popular areas were the Ozarks, West Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Tennessee and Mississippi.

I don't know if it's possible to live like that any more, but back in those days subsistence hunting & fishing was how people lived with the absolute minimum requirements for capital and labor.
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Old 06-18-09, 11:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Platy View Post
In the old days, about 150 years ago, some people would head for what was then known as a "poor man's county". This is where land was cheap, the climate relatively mild, and where you could coon hunt all winter and fish all summer. Popular areas were the Ozarks, West Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Tennessee and Mississippi.

I don't know if it's possible to live like that any more, but back in those days subsistence hunting & fishing was how people lived with the absolute minimum requirements for capital and labor.
of course....
The American Indian Wars
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Old 06-18-09, 11:23 PM
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Originally Posted by AsanaCycles View Post
airstream bambi?
or Kifaru tipi and big dummy?
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Old 06-19-09, 05:15 AM
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Note that doing what Rowan and I are doing is not cheap. Good generators are expensive. Good batteries are expensive. Good solar systems are expensive. And even the business of getting all the piping in for water etc. adds up.

Plus we've been doing insulating ... the walls are almost done, and we've got the materials for the ceiling to keep us from losing heat up there (bats of insulation, lumber, metres and metres of netting and calico cloth, etc.).

Rowan has purchased a good chainsaw (I was surprised how expensive those are!) to help us with the firewood, plus we've got several axes etc.

I think it would be difficult to do this in a town ... there would be water issues, I think. So you'd need to pick a place in the country.

If you're thinking of doing this, and being car free at the same time, you'll need to pick a place in the country that you can conveniently access with your bicycle, and not just your bicycle, but your bicycle pulling a trailer because you'll need to haul all these materials in to your place ... and things like those batteries weigh in at about 90 lbs each (we're using three of them).

Which also brings up the point of where you're thinking of sourcing things. If you've picked a nice place in the country, and have given up your car, and the batteries are only available from the town 50 or 70 miles away, that's quite a ride for them. That's a part of our situation. We got the batteries from one place (off ebay) quite some distance away. We've picked up the lumber and calico from another place about 70 km (40-ish miles) away because that's the closest place to us for that sort of thing. The 12 volt bulbs for our lighting system also came from the same place. We checked the local "large" (~2000 people) town, but they didn't have what we needed. We are getting our new generator from a local place, about 8 km (5 miles) away, so that's good.

And you've got to look at banking (you'll probably want to go mainly online banking), and the medical situation (we've signed up with the ambulance service ... I'm not sure how that works, but we get a reduced rate if we have to be picked up by ambulance way out here).

And jobs! We're fortunate because we're living on the land where Rowan works so his job is just over the hill. But when I am allowed to work, I could possibly end up with a job in any of the towns in a 40 km (25 mile) radius. If I happen to get a job at a closer town, I could probably cycle, but if I get a job over the Black Spur 40 km away in Healsville there's no way I'm cycling that.

These are just some of the things to consider while you're dreaming.
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Old 06-19-09, 06:36 AM
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Originally Posted by monsieuroctagon View Post
. Solar power, likewise, is expected to drop in price.
I have been hearing for 30 years that solar power was going to drop in price. I am still waiting. My guess is it is not going to drop in price. Everything else may go up, but I think solar will stay fairly expensive.
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Old 06-19-09, 06:43 AM
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Google "Earth Ships" ..... there's a community of them just South of Taos New Mexico.....really quite doable.
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Old 06-19-09, 08:43 AM
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Originally Posted by Machka View Post
Which also brings up the point of where you're thinking of sourcing things. If you've picked a nice place in the country, and have given up your car, and the batteries are only available from the town 50 or 70 miles away, that's quite a ride for them. That's a part of our situation. We got the batteries from one place (off ebay) quite some distance away. We've picked up the lumber and calico from another place about 70 km (40-ish miles) away because that's the closest place to us for that sort of thing. The 12 volt bulbs for our lighting system also came from the same place. We checked the local "large" (~2000 people) town, but they didn't have what we needed. We are getting our new generator from a local place, about 8 km (5 miles) away, so that's good.
But I'm in America! Here I can get my individually wrapped lightbulb shipped to an outhouse in montana if I want to, and it will only cost me 6 bucks.
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Old 06-19-09, 10:22 AM
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Originally Posted by AsanaCycles View Post
off the grid would mean no internet?
Library (like me) or coffee shop with laptop and wifi.
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Old 06-19-09, 04:31 PM
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Originally Posted by monsieuroctagon View Post
Lately I've been fantasizing day and night about the possibility of living off the grid completely. I'm thinking solar power/heating, well water with grey-water recycling and treatment, subsistence farming, and geothermal heating/cooling systems. I've already planned for a while to make sure my first car (that just died) would be the last I owned. I'm thinking a little beyond that.

Help me indulge in this fantasy a little longer. Has anyone here managed to go off the grid completely? Where did you start out? How long did it take you to cut yourself off from the grid?
Hi monsieuroctagon,

Just wanted to let you know I'm on the exact same wavelength as you (Dreaming night & day about living a new way! Old way I guess, or at least simpler ), sending you positive vibes! Cheers,
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Old 06-19-09, 07:50 PM
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Don't forget about these guys:

http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/
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Old 06-19-09, 09:47 PM
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Originally Posted by monsieuroctagon View Post
But I'm in America! Here I can get my individually wrapped lightbulb shipped to an outhouse in montana if I want to, and it will only cost me 6 bucks.
OK, that's one lightbulb ... how many of them are you planning to use? Like I said, these things add up. Plus, is that the "right" lightbulb. We could get lightbulbs all over the place, provided we wanted 240 Volt bulbs. But if we wanted bulbs compatable with a solar system, which is 12 Volt here .... different story all together.

There was supposed to be some government incentive for solar systems, and we figured all sorts of places would be stocking stuff for solar systems, and that the prices would be dropping ..... but nope. The government incentive has just fallen through, and even the large "Home Depot" type places looked at us blankly when we asked about 12 Volt stuff.
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Old 06-19-09, 10:29 PM
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Hey, love the pictures of your place way out in the bush. Man I'd like to live like that. I think what you've done is great.

I've been "off-the-grid" since 1997 and living on 300 watts of solar power and four L-16 6 volt batteries. Running on solar as I type this.

You can get a lot of 12 volt stuff at Camper/RV places and catalogs. I still get my 12v quartz halogen bulbs at Home Depot. I'm running a 12V propane furnace and 12V propane 10 gal RV water heater with a 12V RV pump keeping my hot and cold running water system pressurized full time...you wouldn't know the place from a regular house.

Best buy of all was the 40 quart ARB 12V refrigerator from Australia. I found it at a Jeep place although it's kind of expensive at $700 (years ago) but it's still running in full time use and only uses 2.8 amps while in operation to hold temp just above freezing.

I'd want to have about a 1KW wind generator in conjunction with my solar. Nice power on cold windy nights when you have to run the furnace a lot.
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Old 06-19-09, 11:44 PM
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Originally Posted by wernmax View Post
Hey, love the pictures of your place way out in the bush. Man I'd like to live like that. I think what you've done is great.

I've been "off-the-grid" since 1997 and living on 300 watts of solar power and four L-16 6 volt batteries. Running on solar as I type this.

You can get a lot of 12 volt stuff at Camper/RV places and catalogs. I still get my 12v quartz halogen bulbs at Home Depot. I'm running a 12V propane furnace and 12V propane 10 gal RV water heater with a 12V RV pump keeping my hot and cold running water system pressurized full time...you wouldn't know the place from a regular house.

Best buy of all was the 40 quart ARB 12V refrigerator from Australia. I found it at a Jeep place although it's kind of expensive at $700 (years ago) but it's still running in full time use and only uses 2.8 amps while in operation to hold temp just above freezing.

I'd want to have about a 1KW wind generator in conjunction with my solar. Nice power on cold windy nights when you have to run the furnace a lot.

Well, it wasn't really our choice ... the bushfire made the choice for us. The OP asked how long it took for us to go off the grid completely, and I'd have to say it was a couple hours while the fire burnt everything down. Fortunately it stopped just short of the cabin we're in now, or we might have had to convert some old stables into living quarters.

Nevertheless, we have been toying with the idea for some time anyway.

I've had this image in my head since I can remember ... I've been drawing it in margins of class notes, on the backs of envelopes, and everywhere since I was a kid ... and now I'm there!



We're running a 12V/4 Amp car cooler at the moment - an 18-litre Buddy right now for keeping things cool, but we'd like to go with an Engel or Waeco car fridge eventually. We got this Buddy cooler for free at one of the evacuation centres after the fire. It was there because it didn't have a cord, so Rowan took it and rigged up a cord for it, and it works just fine.

We still need to get proper solar panels. We've got some, but they are quite limited, so we're mainly running a generator 1KW gas (petrol) generator. However, we'll get there with the solar panels.

And right now ... we're about to insulate the ceiling. Or at least get started on that.

Last edited by Machka; 06-19-09 at 11:56 PM.
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Old 06-20-09, 05:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Machka View Post
OK, that's one lightbulb ... how many of them are you planning to use? Like I said, these things add up. Plus, is that the "right" lightbulb. We could get lightbulbs all over the place, provided we wanted 240 Volt bulbs. But if we wanted bulbs compatable with a solar system, which is 12 Volt here .... different story all together.

There was supposed to be some government incentive for solar systems, and we figured all sorts of places would be stocking stuff for solar systems, and that the prices would be dropping ..... but nope. The government incentive has just fallen through, and even the large "Home Depot" type places looked at us blankly when we asked about 12 Volt stuff.
Need to hit up the boat and rv specialty shops...www is your friend They make nice 12volt fluorescent lights that will really help with power management. I use them in my RV's and have been toying with a low voltage home system. The car type light bulbs are power hogs and don't provide the lumens for the amp draw that a fluorescent or LED will. For hotwater look at a Zodi Heater.

Aaron
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Old 06-20-09, 05:22 AM
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Originally Posted by wahoonc View Post
Need to hit up the boat and rv specialty shops...www is your friend They make nice 12volt fluorescent lights that will really help with power management. I use them in my RV's and have been toying with a low voltage home system. The car type light bulbs are power hogs and don't provide the lumens for the amp draw that a fluorescent or LED will. For hotwater look at a Zodi Heater.

Aaron
Yeah, we've got 5 12volt fluorescent lights ... 3 are in use right now, and 2 are just sitting here waiting to be installed. They were actually here already when we got here, which is partly what motivated us to go the 12volt route.

We do have a hot water heater, but it needs a bit of work to get it working consistently. When it does work, it works really well.
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Old 06-20-09, 07:56 AM
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Originally Posted by wernmax View Post
Hey, love the pictures of your place way out in the bush. Man I'd like to live like that. I think what you've done is great.

I've been "off-the-grid" since 1997 and living on 300 watts of solar power and four L-16 6 volt batteries. Running on solar as I type this.

You can get a lot of 12 volt stuff at Camper/RV places and catalogs. I still get my 12v quartz halogen bulbs at Home Depot. I'm running a 12V propane furnace and 12V propane 10 gal RV water heater with a 12V RV pump keeping my hot and cold running water system pressurized full time...you wouldn't know the place from a regular house.

Best buy of all was the 40 quart ARB 12V refrigerator from Australia. I found it at a Jeep place although it's kind of expensive at $700 (years ago) but it's still running in full time use and only uses 2.8 amps while in operation to hold temp just above freezing.

I'd want to have about a 1KW wind generator in conjunction with my solar. Nice power on cold windy nights when you have to run the furnace a lot.
Wow, that's impressive. How close to main roads are you? Do you own a car? I think that eventually I will need to get another car just for utility, like a pickup truck or hatchback.

Machka, I think your problems seem more connected to a sparser supply chain in Australia and a narrower diversity of goods. I'm betting that in Australia people aren't as crazy about RVing as Americans are, causing a much smaller demand and availability of electronics that run on 12V power.

I read an article in popular science once about making a system of underground pipes which would channel stuff into your house so you could buy things and they would be sent to your house in a capsule like at the bank. Maybe I could get that. it'd let me have a much faster supply of fabulous consumer goods like nail clippers, robotic dogs, PowerSquids, etc...
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Old 06-20-09, 10:37 AM
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Originally Posted by AsanaCycles View Post
airstream bambi?
I like the bigger ones better

Aaron

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Old 06-20-09, 06:15 PM
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Originally Posted by monsieuroctagon View Post
Machka, I think your problems seem more connected to a sparser supply chain in Australia and a narrower diversity of goods. I'm betting that in Australia people aren't as crazy about RVing as Americans are, causing a much smaller demand and availability of electronics that run on 12V power.
The Australians love RVing (Caravaning) too ... it's just this particular location. We're remote. If we could travel the 110 km into Melbourne, we'd likely have no difficulty finding stuff ... but how often do we want to make that trip?

Which brings me to this ...

One of your first steps would be to find a location in which to carry out your dream. If you're going car free, you don't want to be too remote. But if you are thinking of living off the stuff you grow and raising animal, you'll need a lot of land for that so you will need to be somewhat remote. You won't be able to living in the city for sure, and you won't likely be able to live in a town although you might be able to live at the edge of a small town.

Also if you want to grow stuff and raise animals, you'll need a water source like a pond or stream on the property.

Do you have a location in mind? Have you looked around at possible places?

Next you'd want to consider your accommodations. You could go the RV route ... that's an option we're looking at after we leave here. But if you want a permanent house on your property you can either build it yourself, and there are lots of eco-housing sites to check out for ideas for that ... or you can modify an existing house.

If you're looking for several acres of land, with water, near a town ... with a house on it. My suggestion would be to look for something with a small, well-built, well-insulated house. Small houses are easier to heat.


If we had not been thrown into our situation where we have to make do with what we've got, the suggestions above are where I would start on your dream.


A couple other questions ...

1) Have you camped a lot? I would recommend doing a lot of camping (and cycletouring would be a great way to go) this summer and see how you like the remoteness of camping, and the "roughing it" aspects of camping.

2) Have you got a lot of experience raising animals and dealing with all the issues that can come up with animals? If not, you might want to combine your camping experiences with visiting farms/ranches that have animals, etc. and having a good chat with the farmers/ranchers.
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Old 06-21-09, 05:54 AM
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I've added 10 more photos to my set ... mainly showing the insulation project.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/1430288...7619719051119/

This was taken at the end of Day 2 of our ceiling insulation project. We've done 2 of the 6 sections of the ceiling ... just getting the insulation up. We're going to put up calico material to cover the insulation so it doesn't just sit up there.



This is a photo of our wash machine and the bucket of rinse water. The water in the large green bucket is half the water used in one wash by an average wash machine like ours ... it is just the rinse water. We siphon it off, and then use it for the washing part of the next load.



And this is a photo of the firewood we collected yesterday. There are heaps of dead trees around so we're basically just collecting it and cutting it up. That quantity might last us the week if the weather is fairly warm. We didn't have to light a fire till evening today. But if it gets cold, it might only last a few days. Scary but true.
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