Off Grid with a Large Family -do able? - Homesteading Today
Homesteading Today

Go Back   Homesteading Today > Country Living Forums > Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy Sponsored by LPC Survival


Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools Rate Thread
  #1  
Old 02/09/10, 06:55 AM
UUmom2many's Avatar  
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Florida
Posts: 452
Off Grid with a Large Family -do able?

I'm just at the beginning of my off grid education. I've been reading but I'm still concerned we're not going to be able to do it 100%.

There are a few factors that I just can't understand to overcome. We're in FL so the AC issue is of course there. Does anyone power an AC unit off solar?

1. there are a ton of us. We have a lot of laundry. There are times that it's either too cold or too humid to hang laundry outside so using the W/D is pretty much imparative.

2. We have a fridge and a freezer that run all the time. I'm looking at propane for the stove as using wood in the summer is just not an option. I will look at building an outdoor oven possibly solar maybe wood burning. I cook a lot so there's that.

Our electric usage for this past month was 81 kwhpd it jumped double since December though. It usually runs between 40 -60 except in July where it's more like 70. This is the first time in a year it's been this high. I attribute it to the lack of insulation in the house we're in. It's OLD, drafty when you open the cabinets in the kitchen on the floor the temp drops 10 degrees in the cold. We have to use space heaters -like 4 of them- for downstairs since there is only 1 vent for the AC (ac was put in after the house was built so no way to run ducts) and we have electric heat which we'd compensate with a wood stove in the new house. We're also going to put in pos hot water for the sinks and we already collect rain water for the garden which we'd probably put in a solar hot water heater.

I can see the room for change and improvement. If we lived in a better insultated house (we literally have cracks to the outside in places but we're working on it) I might feel more confident in solar meeting our needs.

I have lots of kids that we homeschool and I try and cook mostly from scratch so there's a lot of electric usage going on every day and night here.

Any ideas on what we could do or are we just looking at an extensive solar system in the new house?

Sorry it's so long.

Crystal

__________________

Crystal

Mom of 5 ages 8 and under in a Unitarian, Military, Homeschooling family in the city.
www.solidityofrainbows.blogspot.com

Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 02/09/10, 07:42 AM
 
Join Date: May 2002
Location: Foyil,Ok
Posts: 1,960

you can do anything as long as you have the money for it. I wanted to buy a property that would have been off grid. We couldn't wing it at in OK you really have to have AC. I do anyway. I figured it out off of our usage. it would have cost about $40-60K to run a small ac unit. Couldn't do it. we passed. solar is getting cheaper all the time. If you can be both solar and have land ties that would be great for the times you use more.

__________________
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 02/09/10, 08:26 AM
conscious's Avatar
Paul in Indiana
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: NW Indiana
Posts: 103
Quote:
Originally Posted by UUmom2many View Post
I'm just at the beginning of my off grid education. I've been reading but I'm still concerned we're not going to be able to do it 100%.

There are a few factors that I just can't understand to overcome. We're in FL so the AC issue is of course there. Does anyone power an AC unit off solar?

1. there are a ton of us. We have a lot of laundry. There are times that it's either too cold or too humid to hang laundry outside so using the W/D is pretty much imparative.

2. We have a fridge and a freezer that run all the time. I'm looking at propane for the stove as using wood in the summer is just not an option. I will look at building an outdoor oven possibly solar maybe wood burning. I cook a lot so there's that.

Our electric usage for this past month was 81 kwhpd it jumped double since December though. It usually runs between 40 -60 except in July where it's more like 70. This is the first time in a year it's been this high. I attribute it to the lack of insulation in the house we're in. It's OLD, drafty when you open the cabinets in the kitchen on the floor the temp drops 10 degrees in the cold. We have to use space heaters -like 4 of them- for downstairs since there is only 1 vent for the AC (ac was put in after the house was built so no way to run ducts) and we have electric heat which we'd compensate with a wood stove in the new house. We're also going to put in pos hot water for the sinks and we already collect rain water for the garden which we'd probably put in a solar hot water heater.

I can see the room for change and improvement. If we lived in a better insultated house (we literally have cracks to the outside in places but we're working on it) I might feel more confident in solar meeting our needs.

I have lots of kids that we homeschool and I try and cook mostly from scratch so there's a lot of electric usage going on every day and night here.

Any ideas on what we could do or are we just looking at an extensive solar system in the new house?

Sorry it's so long.

Crystal
What about doing laundry at a laundromat? Also, have you thought about an earth bermed/underground house to eliminate the need for a/c?
__________________
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 02/09/10, 08:30 AM
UUmom2many's Avatar  
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Florida
Posts: 452

The time it would take to wash at a mat 7 loads a WEEK would be ridiculous. Plus our land is out in the middle of no where so there's gas costs too. we'd have to take the Astro pulling a trailer for the laundry into town. Then what happens if we can't get there? I will and do use a line to dry when the weather permits but between the 100% humid days (which doesn't dry laundry) and the rainy season it's limited. I will have a large porch so I could probably hang lines there even whne it's raining.

We looked into underground but we have such a high water table and flood zones we don't feel comfortable building like that here. Earth bearmed...maybe but I'm not sure where we'd get the dirt, we have a lot of sandy soil in FL.

__________________

Crystal

Mom of 5 ages 8 and under in a Unitarian, Military, Homeschooling family in the city.
www.solidityofrainbows.blogspot.com

Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 02/09/10, 08:56 AM
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Former State of Franklin
Posts: 3,654

First thing you need to do is cut your use, as I assume you don't have an unlimited checkbook.

Your current use ( figuring 60kw/hr/day ) is about 1,800 month.....which is twice the national average of 900. You would need a 15-20kw solar power system to get in that range. Assuming $6-8 watt installed, you're looking at $100,000 on the low end.

You need to seal up, caulk up, insulate, change light bulbs, change habits, change your cooking/water heating/dryer to gas, or solar in the case of water heating ( the cheapest form of active solar power ).....and do whatever you need to get down under 1,000kw/hr/month....and preferably a lot less.
Conservation is many, many times cheaper than generation.

You mention a new house. IF you're building, you have an excellent opportunity to cut your power use vastly. In Florida, I would look at LOTS of mass in the floors/walls. DO NOT build a traditional "stick" house. Build what they built in the pre-AC days ( only today, you get the advantage of better forms of insulation as well )....mass in floors/walls to moderate temperature swings. Insulated slab floors, concrete block walls, doubled, with 3-4" foam between....R-60 overhead insulation.....high ceilings with fans....whole house fans for early/late cooling season. I did this type thing in my house, and it can be 90 outside, and 75 inside with no AC. Also, instead of central AC, consider zoned units like Mitsubishi ductless "mini-slim" ( Google them ) units. Great to cool/dehumidify one area instead of a whole house.

Get all that done, THEN you can start looking at generation.

Also, I wouldn't be looking at whether it's do-able.....if you look down the road, I think it's a case of "no choice".....if this "cap and trade" crapola passes, electric bills are going to double at least......so the best idea is to start figuring out NOW how you're going to use a LOT less, and beat the crowd.

__________________

Last edited by TnAndy; 02/09/10 at 09:13 AM.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 02/09/10, 09:16 AM
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Montana
Posts: 1,493

Hi,
I agree with Andy -- you need to work the conservation hard first.

I'm just curious -- why do you want to go off grid?

Gary

__________________
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 02/09/10, 09:30 AM
UUmom2many's Avatar  
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Florida
Posts: 452

We're on one limited income with 7 people. We don't make a lot. We might have to rethink our stick frame house then...we were going to go with plans for a 20x38 stick on piers using the attic as livable space. I'll have to talk to hubby. We're building out of pocket with our own work. I know we can do better. I know we use a lot.

I don't want to put any additional money into this house. We're never going to get it back and we won't be here that much longer. This month was the highest it's ever been. Even in July last year it was only 71. I'm not sure what we can do in this house to make it better.

Gary - our goal is to live off the land and get as close to 100% self sufficient as possible which might be around 50-60% in actuality. I really hate relying on the electric co. like I said because it fluxuates so greatly, prices rise etc. Plus it's just not in sync with what we want to do with our lives, how we want to live and raise our kids. I don't like my kids thinking that power is a given with no concious thought as to how it gets to the outlet.

If something were to happen to Dh's job I want to be secure. We get hurricanes here and power goes out sometimes for a week so security with that also. Then there is the freedom of not worrying about a bill every month our $300 electric bill each month could buy a lot of 45w panels over the course of a year.

__________________

Crystal

Mom of 5 ages 8 and under in a Unitarian, Military, Homeschooling family in the city.
www.solidityofrainbows.blogspot.com

Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 02/09/10, 09:34 AM
conscious's Avatar
Paul in Indiana
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: NW Indiana
Posts: 103
Quote:
Originally Posted by UUmom2many View Post
The time it would take to wash at a mat 7 loads a WEEK would be ridiculous. Plus our land is out in the middle of no where so there's gas costs too. we'd have to take the Astro pulling a trailer for the laundry into town. Then what happens if we can't get there? I will and do use a line to dry when the weather permits but between the 100% humid days (which doesn't dry laundry) and the rainy season it's limited. I will have a large porch so I could probably hang lines there even whne it's raining.

We looked into underground but we have such a high water table and flood zones we don't feel comfortable building like that here. Earth bearmed...maybe but I'm not sure where we'd get the dirt, we have a lot of sandy soil in FL.
I assumed based on your signature line that you lived in the city.

Have you looked into geothermal for cooling? That may be your best option.

I've got friends outside of Baton Rouge that didn't have a/c for a while. They spent the days outside so they would just jump in a big tub of water every once in a while.

Good luck.
__________________
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 02/09/10, 12:27 PM
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Wisconsin
Posts: 964

The short answer is Yes, you can. Everyone before the 1900's lived off-grid. The question is can you do it with a modern lifestyle.

If you just want to reduce cost, off-grid is not the way to go. Even with the high prices of the grid, alternative energy just can't compete with the cheap(ish) cost of on-grid power. The easiest way to save money is to not use as much electricity like others have said.

All heating should be done with the cheapest fuel. Propane generally wins over electricity depending on local costs. Since you're in a temperate climate, and will have AC anyway, a heat pump, possibly geothermal, will be a cheaper, as far as electricity usage goes. If you want to go off-grid it will be hard to power, however. If you are going to have AC anyway, it makes sense to use the system as a heater as well. The slight increase in initial cost can be made up with power savings later.

Replace the electric dryer with a gas one. Stove/oven would use propane as well. I've seen a web sight that showed a wood powered dryer. You probably don't want to go that extreme, but its an idea. Another idea is a solar collector ducted into your current dryer. Solar heated air, and you only use the power for the fan and tumbler. Most of the energy usesage is in the heating elements for the dryer.

Since you're building new, you should look into some of the research on passively cooled homes in FL. I don't know if you can totally eliminate the AC with 100% humidity and low temperatures of over 75degF at night, but it would help. Massive insulation would be the minimum requirement for the house.

It all comes down to how much effort you're willing to put into the project. Some things are easy, like reducing power usage, but some are more difficult... have you seen the bicycle powered clothes washer?

Good luck

Michael

__________________
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 02/09/10, 01:43 PM
wy_white_wolf's Avatar
Just howling at the moon
 
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Wyoming
Posts: 5,261
Quote:
Originally Posted by UUmom2many View Post
.... We get hurricanes here and power goes out sometimes for a week so security with that also. ....
Do you really think that a PV system would survive very well in a hurricane?
__________________

If the grass looks greener it is probably over the septic tank. - troy n sarah tx

Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 02/09/10, 01:48 PM
UUmom2many's Avatar  
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Florida
Posts: 452

Like I said I'm just learning about it. Our property is pretty much in the middle of the state one littleish county away from GA. Now we're in Tampa on the bay and our power gets knocked out with storms but we don't have house damage or anything.

__________________

Crystal

Mom of 5 ages 8 and under in a Unitarian, Military, Homeschooling family in the city.
www.solidityofrainbows.blogspot.com

Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 02/09/10, 04:59 PM
Forerunner's Avatar  
Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Illinois
Posts: 9,287

Some parts of the world just aren't physically conducive to efficient convenience.

__________________

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Barry Goldwater.
III

Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 02/12/10, 09:27 PM
 
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: southern ohio
Posts: 260

when we were thinking of building a new house we were really interested in cordwood or stackwood style. the thicker your walls and floors are the better it will be. I remember a cousin of mine rented a house one year that was made out of block. It was like creek rocks and it was beautiful but the thing I remember most was how cool in the summer it was. She would open the windows, there was big shade trees close to the house and it was cool, they also had some kind of big fan up in the attic of the house. It was noisy but it helped to cool. They didn't have air conditioning but it was okay. Now, I know this wasn't in Florida but I think it would help with the thicker walls. Also, with the block walls in the winter it seemed to hold the heat better. Once they got it warmed up in there, it seemed to stay nice. Hope this helps. We also want to get our electric bill down. Our main thing is refrigeration. We can't have solar, they say we don't get enough sunshine in the winter. I know our ancestors lived fine without electricity. Heck, my grandparents didn't have electric, but I like my ice in my pop. lol Our electric goes out all the time, it was out twice this last week during the winter storms we've had.

__________________
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 02/13/10, 12:08 AM
 
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 40

I have been off-grid for 15 years and from the description of your lifestyle I would not suggest going whole hog in to solar power as it would require a large expensive system.

In stead I would work at reducing your electricity costs first.

If your home is losing heat fix the heat leaks and add more insulation.

Propane heat with a wood stove for backup might help.

Propane is a multipurpose fuel and can run a fridge, stove, furnace, and water heater.

If over time you can get all your major appliances off electricity then a solar and wind system might work for you but I would go with a grid tie system and use the alternative energy to reduce your bills.

__________________
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 02/13/10, 12:09 AM
 
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 40

I have been off-grid for 15 years and from the description of your lifestyle I would not suggest going whole hog in to solar power as it would require a large expensive system.

In stead I would work at reducing your electricity costs first.

If your home is losing heat fix the heat leaks and add more insulation.

Propane heat with a wood stove for backup might help.

Propane is a multipurpose fuel and can run a fridge, stove, furnace, and water heater.

If over time you can get all your major appliances off electricity then a solar and wind system might work for you but I would go with a grid tie system and use the alternative energy to reduce your bills.

__________________
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 02/13/10, 11:41 AM
blooba's Avatar  
Join Date: Feb 2010
Location: Finally!! TN
Posts: 2,224

I lived in Daytona Beach a few years and never used AC. I had an old 60+ yr old home so it was designed without AC. I was near the beach so plenty of ocean breeze. Just open the windows for a nice cross breeze worked for me, it got warm a few days but they were managable. Once you went inland it got hot.
Northern Florida's climate is alot different then where you are now. Make sure you build with cross ventilation in mind and you'd be surprised how little you REALLY need AC. Sure some freinds would come over and complain but their thermostats at home were set to 65 so as soon they came out it felt hot. It takes a little while to get used to no AC but its very do-able.
Heck your property probably just got snowed on, so don't forget about heat....lol

__________________
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 02/13/10, 06:34 PM
texican's Avatar  
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Carthage, Texas
Posts: 12,117

On a budget and off grid don't go very well together. If you have grid power available, it's the way to go.

If you want to start building an off grid system, you can go slow and add panels, storage capacity, etc. as you go.

With off grid systems, you basically are spending your electric budget for the next 10 to 20 years, all at once.

Florida, I believe, has some fantastic rebate programs available (or did). Might want to check into it. Louisiana has like an 80% rebate, combined with the feds rebates.

__________________

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Seneca
Learning is not compulsory... neither is survival. W. Edwards Deming

Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 02/14/10, 09:31 AM
Rockin In The Free World
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,058

1800 kwh per month means that off-grid is definately not for you. Where the energy comes from is not the issue, how wisely and conservatively you use that energy is the issue. Grid electricity is actually far cheaper than any other form.

The first order of business would be to learn about electricity and determine what exactly is using your electricity, and how much of it : an electricity audit. If you're worried about being without power, than a fuel powered generator could be an option.

__________________
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 02/15/10, 05:54 AM
blufford's Avatar  
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Delaware
Posts: 2,217
Quote:
Originally Posted by UUmom2many View Post
The time it would take to wash at a mat 7 loads a WEEK would be ridiculous. Plus our land is out in the middle of no where so there's gas costs too. we'd have to take the Astro pulling a trailer for the laundry into town. Then what happens if we can't get there? I will and do use a line to dry when the weather permits but between the 100% humid days (which doesn't dry laundry) and the rainy season it's limited. I will have a large porch so I could probably hang lines there even whne it's raining.

We looked into underground but we have such a high water table and flood zones we don't feel comfortable building like that here. Earth bearmed...maybe but I'm not sure where we'd get the dirt, we have a lot of sandy soil in FL.

You do know that a laundrymat has more than one washing machine. I can do 7 loads in less than 2 hours. That would take me all day to do at home.
__________________
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 02/15/10, 08:03 AM
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: WI
Posts: 2,180

I know that this gets mentioned a lot, but the first step in considering whether a renewable energy system is for you is to cut your overall energy usage first. A general rule of thumb is that spending a dollar on saving energy eliminates $3 to $5 that needs to be spent on the equipment to generate that amount of energy. Energy conservation is the first step ALWAYS!!

__________________
Reply With Quote
Reply



Thread Tools
Rate This Thread
Rate This Thread:

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are On



All times are GMT -5. The time now is 06:37 PM.