As readers know, we live off-grid. This means that we are not hooked up to the public utilities. The reaction that we receive from others is very diverse. Some are interested in how we manage without using a power company. They admire what we are doing and are truly curious in how it works. The flip side of this reaction are the people who are absolutely scandalized. Amazingly, there are people who truly believe that it is illegal to not be using an electric company’s services.
There are no laws that require that you must have electricity from a power company. It has only been within the past 2 generations, since World War 2 era, that all homes having electricity was commonplace. In communities such as the Old Order Amish, they still do not use any form of electricity. I find it interesting that there is great interest in looking towards alternative energy resources, yet the families who already have adapted to alternative means are looked upon as bizarre or radical.
We lived completely without any form of electricity for 3 years. We did not have the finances to purchase the large solar/wind power systems that a company installs for you. The cost for the system & installation is horrendous! We waited until we found a way to do it on our own. A trip to a home improvement warehouse was the turning point. I saw a small solar panel, approximately the size of a cookie sheet. I ended up purchasing 2 of these, along with electrical wiring, a small power inverter, and a couple of 12-volt car batteries. It wasn’t a great system, but we have used it for well over a year now without any problems. It wasn’t intended to be a permanent solution, but a temporary one that would give us a learning curve for expanding the system.
We are planning to expand the system over the next 2 years. We will be putting up a windmill tower, similar to those used on farms. The wind generator will be homemade and placed on top of the tower. The solar panels will also be mounted onto the tower below the wind generator. At the base of the tower, we will have a small shed to house the batteries.
One of the critical areas that we believe strongly about is to not overload ourselves once we have the new wind/solar combination. I absolutely love being non-electric in most things. I have found over the past 4 years that the more I have to do by hand, the more simplified my life has become. There is a rhythm to my days. Prior to being off-grid, my days felt hectic. Having electricity on demand did not make life easier. It seemed that there was always something more that needed to be done. It was the convenience of electricity that did it for me. Having lots of kitchen gadgets to use in food preparation, meant more dishes to wash. Being distracted by TV or DVDs made my days drag on longer. They also interrupted my nights when it was convenient to stay up late to watch a movie. I found that the more conveniences that I had, the more I tried to do in a day. The end result was my always being tired and feeling like I was behind in getting things done.
In expanding our power system, we will not be adding much to our electricity usage. I love shopping at stores like Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio. We have mail ordered much from them over the years. They specialize in items for the non-electric home. Many of their regular customers are Amish. It is always fun to see what they have. A couple of items that I am planning to purchase are a food processor and a blender, both of which are powered with a hand-crank. Of all the electrical appliances that I used to have, these are the ones I have missed the most. The kids and I are eating a vegetarian/vegan diet and these appliances will come in very useful.
There are 2 considerations in our expanding the system. Adding wind power will allow us to have the batteries charging 24 hours a day. A solar power system only charges the batteries when the sunlight is on the panels. Overcast days and the nighttime hours do not add to the batteries charge. The wind power system will address that problem. We will add deep cell batteries, which will give us more usage of the power the system brings in. All in all, we will be able to run my laptop computer while it is charging. This is a huge benefit since we homeschool. The kids can play educational games on the netbook. Who knows, we may even buy a portable DVD player. The main point however is that we will not be adding much more than we have right now. We have learned to live happily without all of the extras. We have more time for family. We think carefully about anything we add to our home.
As we remodel our home, we will be making a few changes in the kitchen and bathroom. One major change is adding a small propane water heater that heats water on demand. For me, that will be the biggest change of all. Our old water heater was electric. For 4 years now, I have heated our water on the stove. In winter, we always have a waterbath canner filled with water simmering on the back of the woodstove. In summer, I simply heat what I need using a tea kettle.
We are taking an idea the pioneers used to make our home far more functional. Like the pioneers of old, we are adding an outdoor kitchen as well as a shower house. We will still have the indoor bathroom and kitchen, but in summer months and during the remodeling, the outdoor ones will be a blessing. The outdoor shower will likely have a gravity-fed water system. The outdoor kitchen will be used mostly in summer. I will be able to bake bread and do my canning in that kitchen without the problems caused from the house getting too warm. We are looking at the larger propane grills and propane camp stoves. These will be more than enough for most cooking. We have even considered putting the kitchen stove I have now into the outdoor kitchen. That will provide me with an oven as well. The propane refrigerator that we have now will eventually be in the outdoor kitchen after we purchase a newer one for the house. The nice part of it is that the outdoor kitchen can be used as a summer kitchen as well as a place to cook for gatherings. I have had people ask me to teach them how to do canning and other cooking classes. The outdoor kitchen would be perfect for that as well.
There are so many considerations to take into account with off-grid living. I am going to be making that the primary topic of this blog. While, I may write about other things from time to time, the blog will give you a glimpse into how to live simply and off-grid. I want it to be the kind of blog I wish I had found prior to going off-grid. I was blessed to have known how to manage without electricity. Having Old Order Amish friends was a huge help in teaching me as a youth how to utilize the old ways. My father and his mother, my dear Gram, were also two of the greatest influences in my life. They talked to me often about the days of the Great Depression and how they managed to make it on very little. The same methods that they used back then are just as relevant today.
I hope that this blog will be a help to others. Whether you are considering going off-grid or are simply curious on how to manage during a long-term power outage after a storm. There will be something here for just about everyone.