Preparing To Go Off-Grid

My husband and I are on a mission. We really, really want to be completely off-grid. We are desperate to break our dependence on outside utilities. Sure, we could just unplug and rough it, but it would be so much nicer if we were set up to have a few basic luxuries, especially since we have little ones in the home. I can do without a lot of stuff, but hot, running water is worth fighting for!

Going off-grid and living comfortably takes a lot of money though. Off-grid equipment is not cheap. And there’s a lot of stuff to get. We will have to achieve our goal gradually, buying a little at a time and building our power supply as we go.

The first thing we have to do before anything else is take an inventory of everything in and around our home which uses electricity. This will give us an idea of how much power we will need to generate. It will also reveal what we can do without, or substitute with a non-electric equivalent. I’ll have to go through each room and write down every single electric item there- every nightlight, hair dryer,  appliance, light bulb, and power tool.

The number of watts each item uses will be written on a spreadsheet. Most things have this information on a sticker somewhere. I’ve noticed that some of my appliances don’t measure in watts, but in amps. To convert from amps to watts simply multiply the amps x volts, this will give you the total watts used. You’ll need to know how many watts your household consumes because generators and inverters are rated in watts.

(Some tools and appliances will have two sets of watts listed; one measures how much power is used to start it, and the other tells how much power is needed to keep it running. You only need to consider the larger of the two numbers when logging wattage.)

Once I get this list made I will have a better idea of how many solar panels we’ll need. Man, I’m gonna have a LONG list!! Looking around me now, I’m realizing that we have a bazillion electrical devices in and around our home. We’re gonna have to make some major changes.

We’ve talked about selling our two desktop computers and pairing down to one laptop. I can get rid of the clothes dryer, and only hang dry. I can hand wash all of the clothes if I need to. We have the wood cook stove to cook on, though it isn’t in the house. I’d have to go out to the workshop every time I needed to cook. We are working on an old waterstove; if we can get it working and plumbed into the house it will supply us with our hot water and winter heat using only wood. There are lots of little things here and there that we could do to reduce our electricity consumption. None of this will make life easier, but for us, it would be worth the freedom.

The fridge, the well, and the A/C are going to be the biggest power consumers, I think. We have to have A/C. If it were only me, I could totally deal with not having it. But with the babies here, there’s no way I’m gonna make them sweat it out in the sweltering and humid summer months. I’m afraid the A/C is what’s gonna keep us connected to the power company for a while.

Next, we’ll need to figure out what kind of solar panels to get. What we need are photovoltaic modules, as opposed to solar hot water panels. But there are dozens of styles and brands out there. We’ll really have to do more research. I did find this review to be somewhat helpful.

Will we ever get there? It seems like such a fantasy world, living off-grid. I don’t know how many years it will take, but we will do as much as possible as quickly as possible. We figure, if we can completely disconnect, and put that $200 savings towards paying off our mortgage, it would shave 15 years and over $44,000 in interest off of our loan. That would be an awesome investment. So, this is our goal. I hope we are able to achieve it quickly.

If any of you have solar panels, please offer me some advice!! What are you glad you did? What do you wish you’d done differently? What mistakes can I avoid?

14 thoughts on “Preparing To Go Off-Grid”

  1. amen to being of the grid my wife 3 little girls and I are hoping to be completely off the grid this year alot of work just finished our root cellar big enough to store three years worth food forour family and others. looking for a good wood cook stove any Ideas?

    • pastorchuck,

      Ours is a South Bend wood cook stove, and we love it. Just make sure you examine it REALLY well before making a purchase if buying a used one, and do your research. Make sure there aren’t any gaps around the door, no rusted out places… you can use an ultraviolet light inside the stove and firebox to see if there are any patched places- they will show up a different color. Poke any rusty looking spots with a screwdriver to test for weakness. As far as other models though, I only have experience with this one. Good luck!!

  2. Hi there, I once lived in a solar and wind powered home that I designed myself. Was a dream come true and boy do I miss it. The reliance on man made power is etherial though it has worked thus far, mostly.

    We had wood fired stove and hot water heater. They were great and got them from Real Goods they have great products. The windmills were on each end of the house and allowed for more consistent power production. We used an inverter to convert the direct current (DC) to regular household voltage. Our refrigerator also was for the system we had that saying it was for solar generated power. We had a series of batteries that held the power that was generated. There were days that I had to look for how to use the power since it was full, that made it fun. The house was earthbermed and once it climatized after the first year, it was not hard to heat up the other 20 degrees needed. The house would never freeze solid. Was not hard to live at all, had a generator as back up which is just wise for anyone living with regular or self generated power. Learn what uses how much power and you will then know what is a good item to have and others that need some rethinking.

    Good luck with this, I wholeheartedly support your move to self generated power.

  3. I always just assumed that solar ower was free, except for the cost of installing it and the materials needed. Is it free power?

    • Sandra,

      Yes, the solar energy is free (well for now anyways, I’m sure the government will soon find a way to tax it as well!). But the cost of the solar panels, batteries, and inverter is very expensive. And then if you have to hire a professional for installation it is even more costly.

  4. Many years ago (the 70s) I wanted more than anything to go off grid. I bought my house speciffically with getting off the grid in mind. When doing my research I realized I should include both wind and solar. When the sun is shining there’s usually no wind. When it’s cloudy the wind usually is blowing.

    When talking with the so called experts of the time, I was also told that I’d have to get my whole house rewired for DC instead of AC. I was told I’d need all DC appliances too. Basically, they were telling me to treat my whole house like a giant house boat or camper.

    I had planned to create a solar water heating system separate from the electric to eleminate the drain on the power. I designed a system that would cost less than $20 to make back then. I think it could be made for very little cost even today.

    I never lost my desire to go off grid. I simply gave up getting it done easily. I’m sure things have change a lot since those days so please keep us informed what you find out…. ok? I’m still hoping that solar will become cheaper and easier as more people get a desire to go off grid.

  5. Our homes are very similar in size and mortgage, I think. I would love to be able to do this also. I hope you will post on your progress!

  6. Get a Kill-a-Watt meter from Radio Shack. It will measure how much each plug-in device actually uses. I have been on [email protected] for a number of years. It is very inspiring to follow the path of self-reliance of the list owner,Gig, a retired man in TX. Gig is currently using a single alcohol burner and solar oven. He inspired me to make a universal solar cellphone charger out of a solar car battery topper, which can be made for less than $20! Very cool, might charge a netbook as well. Definitely consider cycling down toward a netbook when your desktop dies. Mine uses very little power and I have gotten used to using it for everything, even it is is a tad slow with 27 windows open at once…sigh. They are also pretty inexpensive. Most completely off-grid family homes use propane. Solar water heating is the only current technology that almost always pays for itself. If you are considering wood to heat your water, solar hot water would be a good thing to add or even try first if you can afford it, much less work and no fuel to constantly acquire. I teach solar cooking. You can make a solar cooker from so many free items- fishtank, car shades, coolers, even an old chest freezer and it works year round, even in February.You might want to dig a small root cellar for some almost refrigeration. Lastly add insulation- you can’t have too much if you are trying for net zero housing.

  7. Kendra, this is so exciting but definitely a challenge! I’m with you… If there is one thing I don’t want to give up, it’s hot water!! Our home definitely consumes a ton of energy and so this is very interesting to me right now. I am being careful to only purchase energy efficient appliances when I must replace something. Hopefully, that would help in the long run whether or not we ever go off grid.

    Keep us updated on your off grid journey! I hope to learn a lot!

  8. In the end, we’re hoping to live without solar at all, but I figure my hubby who has to “transition” to these choices will end up getting solar panels at one point.


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