What Is Off-Grid?

Does it have to be an ideology or could it just be circumstantial?

When I first contemplated starting a blog about our adventures living off the beaten path, I considered calling it Stories From Almost Off The Grid.

To be honest, we didn’t originally choose a lifestyle of independence.

We kind of fell into it.

After we sold our house and hit the road looking for property, our priorities were nature and seclusion – not necessarily living off-grid. The stories naturally followed, however, and I started my blog with that theme.

I once posted on Facebook that we lived off-the-grid and the town troll suggested that I couldn’t be considered off-grid because I had the Internet. Another person once suggested the same applies because I have a phone.

Ridiculous.

One could argue till the end-of-time as to what qualifies as “true” off-the-grid status. It varies for everyone.

Our family happens to live this way for a lot of reasons but I feel the adaptations we’ve made and the hardships we’ve overcome help to define what it is to live off-grid. When we bought undeveloped land we had to change our paradigm and we had to get busy.

We installed a solar power system and dug a spring through breccia and bedrock with our own hands. We planted a garden and learned to install and repair our own appliances. Having to provide for ourselves taught us how to be more resourceful.

We like not having to pay someone else for our power although only through the summer (until we tweak our solar power system). My husband wants ducks and geese for their eggs. We want our own dog – not the neighbor’s. We’re planning on farming truffles but to pull it off we’re having to think outside the box because it’s too cold here.

We have been inspired.

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Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

At the end of the day, this idea of living independently has caught on with us regardless of how we came into it. I believe that however or why a person comes to live off the beaten path isn’t so much the point – it’s the experience.

Besides, you can’t make this shit up. The stuff that has happened to us since we left the suburbs makes for one hell of a story.

 

 

The Never Ending Repair Cycle

I keep reminding myself I asked for this. I entered into this adventure willingly but I’m reminded daily that it comes with a price.

Living out here away from the cities with no utilities is exhausting and I’m pretty sure my blog will someday morph into “Stories Formerly From Off The Grid”.

I’m up in the middle of the night again unable to sleep. There’s either an air or water leak in our RV fresh water system and the pump keeps cycling on and off about three times a minute. It’s driving me nuts.

I could disconnect it but that would mean putting my boots and coat on and going outside in the rain to disconnect the pump from the battery – which might wake my husband.

If an RV water pump is turning on and off by itself, it’s either an air pressure or water leak or the pump is bad.

We’ve tried to track down the cause without success. I’ve listened carefully for the sound of running water inside the RV but haven’t heard anything. I looked underneath the trailer for drips but have only spotted a small one coming from one of the holding tanks.

My next step is to replace the heat hose going into the pump to see if the system is losing pressure there.

On top of the leak problem, our furnace stopped working. I browsed the online RV forums for clues but we’ll have to open an outside access panel that’s sealed shut in order to check the fan reset switch, if there IS one.

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We accidentally put bad gas in our small generator and broke it.. Then I accidentally stripped a bolt inside the carburetor while I was trying to repair it. JB Weld didn’t work so now it has to go to the shop. Thankfully we have another larger generator but it’s a gas hog.

We tried to install a propane refrigerator to replace the electric one that was using seventy percent of our electricity but after a month of trying we couldn’t get it to work. The extra fridge sat in our living room for a month but now it’s tucked back into it’s spot. The RV seems suddenly spacious.

It seems like after we fix one problem, another one pops up or we cause another one until we’re back at the beginning. Like a wheel, it goes round and round – never to end.

Update: We bought a new water pump – problem solved.

 

Featured Image by  Christopher Burns on Unsplash.

 

DIY Solar – A Poem

A venting I must go

Bought a freakin’ solar kit

Thought it’d really be a hit

Catch the sun rays from the sky

Found out different tell you why

First you have to wire it right

Clamp them hard and do it tight

If you don’t they break in two

When you strike them with your shoe

Get it all set up and goin’

Plug it in and nothin’s showin’

Check it all with a volt meter

Skip a wire and you’re a cheater

And when you still don’t get power

Throw a wrench go take a shower

Next day when you’re at it still

Find out your controller’s ill

Then redo it put together

Hope that rain’s not in the weather

Find out that your cable’s wrong

Wow this’ now taking too long

All I want is my TV

Tools all over skinned my knee

Cables came redid them all

Will my power come on at all

No of course not that’s too easy

Batteries fried and I’m uneasy

Check the RV for the problem

Breakers sockets test all of ’em

Turns out that we’ll be just fine

Only use it at night time

What to do now what is next

Send the comp’ny email text

Hit the troubleshooting checklist

At the bottom and now I’m pissed

What the fuck did I do wrong

That I can’t turn my lights on

Feel so mad like I’ve been jerked

Bought a gas gen cause it works!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Many Is Enough?

A solar poem.

One two three four five six seven eight

How many solar panels does it take?

Nine and ten and eleven and twelve

Now you’ll have to buy some shelves

Thirteen fourteen fifteen sixteen

This is really getting extreme

Seventeen eighteen nineteen twenty

Quick the generator’s empty

 

 

Good Things To Know About Batteries For Your Solar Power System

Hint: You get half of what you pay for.

It’s five o’clock in the afternoon and as soon as we got home I, as usual, check the status of our new solar power system.

To my dismay, the charge controllers are only showing that the batteries have a 11.9 volt charge or forty percent state of charge (SAC). They should never be discharged below fifty percent.

It appears as if the batteries are either not charging or they are not holding a charge. To find out, we’ll have to test them. It’s also overcast and when there are multiple possible causes, the fun begins.

When we bought the solar power system we learned a lot about deep-cycle batteries (their are other types you can use for solar) including the fact that you’re only supposed to discharge them no lower than fifty-percent. If you do, the battery won’t work as well the next time around and it’ll get worse the more times you over-discharge them.

So basically, when you buy one battery you’re buying one-half of a battery and you only get to use half of the amp hours listed on the label if you don’t want to ruin it.

Plan to buy twice as many batteries as you think you’ll need.

But wait, there’s more.

The batteries are where all of that free energy will be stored until you use it. If it isn’t set up properly, all of that sunshine is going somewhere besides your refrigerator. It’s a good idea to learn a little about them if you’re going solar.

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Setting up a battery array can be confusing and the topic of batteries in general, is hotly debated in the online forums. Some issues you will have to deal with are:

  • How to connect them correctly (there are many different configurations).
  • How many solar panels at how many watts per panel will you need per battery to charge them each day?
  • How many batteries will you need to meet your power needs?
  • How to calculate how much power you’ll need.
  • How to equalize the batteries in your array or does your controller do that for you?
  • What is equalization?
  • What type of battery is best and how much of it’s charge can you use to prevent rendering it useless?
  • How to tell if it’s useless (one bad battery will compromise the performance of the rest)

Try browsing any forum looking for answers and you’ll find certain personality types:

  • The guy with the overly scientific approach who posts mathematical formulas broken down into several categories depending on the type battery, panels, geographical location and whether or not you like peanuts.
  • The guy who gets right to the point; “your batteries are dead, done, depleted, sulfated.”
  • The poor newbie who dared ask a question without all of the information needed for the first guy to apply his scientific formulas.

Another thing we didn’t know about batteries is that they may be bad but appear to be good if you don’t test them the right way. A surface charge is the false reading a bad battery will have right after it’s fully charged – but it’s temporary. Make sure you test a battery at least four hours (preferably twenty-four), after it’s been fully charged in order to get an accurate result.

We’ve had batteries tested at stores that had a surface charge showing they were full that, when tested later, dropped volts – they were bad.

We’ll test our batteries and if they’re good, the problem lies elsewhere in the system.

Learn the basics about batteries before you buy a DIY solar power system. It’ll help you to not ruin them like we may have ours. Not everything is in the instruction manual.

And get a low-voltage-disconnect to protect them from over discharging. HUGE Industry-Wide Problems With Solar

 

 

 

 

Modern Day Pioneers

Simple daily tasks made complicated.

Clean clothes don’t come easily nor does most anything else when you live on raw land.   Here, there’s no sticking the clothes into the washer and pushing a button.

Utilities are even more complicated. We have a solar power system and a gas generator. Which one we use depends on what we want to do, how much electricity it’s going to take, the time of day, what’s broken, and what we have on hand that day.

Want some coffee? If you’re like us and are out of propane in the dead of winter and need some caffeine, you’ll need either a blow torch or some firewood and fire building skills.

You want a bath? This is going to take some time. Put the pot on the stove and turn it on high and you’ll have your bath in about an hour. A shower? Maybe, if you can take one in less than five minutes and the generator has gas and the water pipes aren’t frozen. Oh, and if the trailer’s water tank is full enough after dishes.

But you need water for some of these things. To get water meant weeks of digging and breaking rock to get to it. We were really lucky to have natural springs on our property. Before that, we depended on city water and the neighbors.

All summer we drove our truck to the city water department to fill our 55 gallon drum every third day or so then one day in fall, the standpipe closed for the winter. Our neighbors came to the rescue for a few weeks and let us fill up at their outdoor faucet but it was incredibly laborious.

Eventually we built a trench down the hill from our spring to the hole we dug to act as a holding tank near our trailer. Surprisingly, the spring produced water all winter in plenty.

We still had to get the water into the trailer which we did by pumping it through a hose and adding a touch of bleach in the process.

As for the laundry, we’d have to decide whether or not we wanted to load everything up and drive into town to the laundry mat or do it at the property. More often than not, we did it by hand at home.

That meant getting the water into a tub or the bathtub, depending on whether it was summer or winter. We used a water pump for that then we’d pile the clothes in and add the detergent. A clean plunger came in handy for sloshing the mix up. I’d then turn the container over to drain it and fill it up again with fresh water for the rinse. The water would still be pretty much black but my standards were pretty low at that time.

For the wringing out, I’d drilled a bunch of holes in one of those Home Depot all purpose buckets and I’d put the clothes in, take my shoes off, and mash grapes; that is, climb on top and mush the water out of the holes with my feet. Then we’d hang the mess of still sopping wet clothes on a line we’d strung up between two trees. There they would most likely get rained on.

The clothes would be stiff and wrinkled by the time I pulled them down and took them into the trailer. But hey, they were mostly clean and better than they were before. They would then sit on the couch in our cramped trailer for another week before I grudgingly sorted them and put them away.

When we were still living in the small trailer, taking a bath or shower was tricky because the hot water heater was broken. I tried to fix it many times with no luck so we’d have to time it once we activated the heater and then you’d have to be ready to jump into the shower at exactly twelve minutes in order to catch the window between the water being ice cold still and the water heater boiling over outside.  The heater is still messed up but we have one that works in the new fifth wheel.

For electricity, we run on solar mainly at night and in the mornings as we don’t have enough panels to generate the power we need. We ordered our third set of solar panels this morning and added a new charge controller to the existing eight this afternoon.

At this point, we can’t run our electric refrigerator on solar so we unplug it and keep the door closed until we start the generator. If it’s plugged in when we plug in the solar, we lose our internet. That’s where the protocol comes in. Many things we do here involve following a set order of tasks to keep things running smoothly.

When the generator goes on, we plug the fridge back in. Then we can do laundry and use the microwave. When that’s reversed, we unplug the fridge and so on. Just be sure the laundry and anything you want to microwave is done. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve turned off the generator only to realize we wanted to nuke something.

We ordered a propane fridge today – finally.

If the solar has flopped in the middle of the night and you want to use the internet or your computer needs juice, turn on the inverter that’s plugged into the RV batteries and plug the modem into that extension cord.

Does this all sound exhausting? It is.

At least we have hot water for the kitchen now! The repairman came today and turned the temperature dial to cooler. That was the only thing wrong with it! Two Idiots, A Water Heater and a Hero

So you see that simple daily tasks are not so simple for us. We went from being fully automated to fully dysfunctional.

Modern day pioneers we ain’t.