Category Archives for Off Grid Power

The Story of our Solar System!

Hmmm... Where should I start?

We purchased our current home nearly 6 years ago. It had been sitting empty for quite a number of years and it has needed a lot of 'elbow grease'. One area that was desperately needing an upgrade was the power system. The solar array was very old and seriously insufficient, the batteries were half alive, and the equipment was ancient and 'Jerry-rigged'.

But a new system doesn't grow on trees, and ever since the time we purchased this homestead, we have been planning, saving, shopping, and scheming to upgrade this home to a larger, newer, and more efficient power system that will easily meet our families needs.

Here's how we did this:

  1. Started by measuring our current power usage. Then we entered all our numbers into a calculator that Nick designed so we would know how many solar panels we'd need and how large our battery bank should be.
  2. We researched the different sizes and brands of equipment available and decided which route we wanted to go with.
  3. Keeping a close eye on the market for the items we wanted, we saved and jumped on each item as they went on sale or as we were ready to afford them.
  4. Once we had everything ordered, we installed the system and flipped the switch! Whala! Simple, right?

Well, in some ways it was that simple. In other ways... not as much!

First, the Inverter

When we moved in the first thing we did was change out the inverter (the piece of equipment that converts power from DC current (the 'storable' kind of power - think batteries) to AC current (the usable kind that your phone charger is plugged into right now). The reason was that the inverter produced 'modified sine wave' electricity. You can think of that as 'dirty electricity'. It works... well, for most things. But your more sensitive electronics, like all our office equipment (Computers, duplicators, printers, sound equipment, etc) don't work as well (or don't work at all, as with my Vitamix blender! Haha!).

So the inverter was promptly swapped out with a new inverter that produced 'pure sine wave electricity' and would fit into our long term goals. One piece of equipment was done.

Next, the Solar Panels

The next thing we got was all our solar panels. We already knew what we wanted and how much we needed, so when we saw a really great deal on our favorite solar panels, we jumped on it! AND... those lovely panels were stacked safely in our garage for a few years while we continued to save and shop.

And... Batteries!

Finally, the batteries bit the dust. Nick made a gallant effort to stretch just as much life out of those poor things as is humanly possible. And believe me, he has the patience of the saints!! I would have given up long before, but here's a little about what he did to eek every ounce of life out of them. Once we got every penny out of them that we could, we finally purchased the new, much larger forklift battery bank and installed it into our power system. That was a VERY happy day!

Pole Mount

Next was to install the solar pole mount. And yes, we did it ourselves. Pole mounts are very convenient from a number of perspectives, and for us, it was a perfect fit. But installing one can be a HUGE headache if you think about having to lift all those solar panels to the top of a pole! However, we found a pole mount that was designed to be assembled at ground level and then raised to the desired height after installation is almost entirely complete. And THAT was a game-changer for us. MT Solar has the best solar mounts and it was like putting together a puzzle with some really great instructions. More about that soon...

And the rest...

Last, we changed out all the inside equipment and wired everything together. Now, I'm no electrition (if you can't already tell)! But even I was helping Nick wire all the equipment together (scary, right?!). Honestly, if you have a basic understanding of how to wire a home properly, then taking on this task of installing your own power system won't be any problem for you. And it wasn't for us.

If we can do it, honestly, you can too!

What plans do you have for installing a system? Where are you at in your journey of setting up your power system? We would LOVE to hear them! Comment below and share with us your story.

How To Keep Your Fuel Fresh & Your Lights On

One night it happens…the storm of the decade hits and your power is out.

Your water is gone within a couple flushes, your freezer is going to start thawing out, and the food in your fridge will start spoiling shortly.

But no worries…remember that generator you bought a few years ago?  That’ll light your house up again, right?

Maybe.  Or maybe not.  There’s a good likelihood that your fuel has gone bad (if you even have any stored).

So here are some key tips to make sure your fuel is in top-notch condition when you need it. Continue reading

How To Choose The Best Off Grid Freezer

Last year we decided to add a freezer on our homestead.  Up until then, we had been doing fine with just a fridge, but there are some things that are just better when frozen, and it was a convenience thing for us.  Also, having a freezer enables us to stock up on certain items when they are on sale, thus saving us money in the long run.

And anytime you buy a new appliance, it's an excellent opportunity to become more efficient--whether you are currently off the grid or not.  It will save you money now (on your power bill) and will save you a LOT of money when you do go off the grid in the future.

Be aware that many freezers can add a lot of extra power usage and run up the cost of your off-grid power system.  But if you are careful, shop wisely, and use a little strategy, you can end up with an excellent freezer that is super efficient.

Here's how I chose mine.  Don't feel like you need to choose the same one (models are constantly changing), but I think the process and info I used will help you in making an informed decision. Continue reading

How To Move An Off Grid Forklift Battery

Recently, Lisa and I moved an 1,800-pound forklift battery system all by ourselves—and without any heavy equipment!  In this post and video, I’ll show you how we did it and give you some tips and pointers from the numerous times I’ve had to move big batteries.

1,800 Pounds???

Forklift batteries (aka industrial batteries) are hands-down the most cost-effective options for an off-grid solar system.  But the biggest question I get from clients is “How can you possibly unload and move a huge battery like that?”

You see, forklift batteries can range from several hundred pounds to several thousand pounds.  I’d say that a battery weighing 750-1,500 pounds is the most common size of individual forklift battery found in an off-grid solar system.  Smaller systems might only have one battery, while larger ones could have several.

Moving that much weight at one time can be intimidating, to say the least.  So in this post, I’ll be sharing a bunch of tips I’ve picked up after moving and installing a number of forklift style batteries.

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Battery Desulfator for Battery Reconditioning or Maintenance

There are so many gimmicks and gadgets out there that I pretty much tune them out. And when they make big claims, it’s especially obvious!

When it comes to extending the life of batteries, there is no exception to this rule. Lots and lots of gadgets out there! Some good, and some a waste of money (or worse).

In this post, you'll see one of the very few “gadgets” I use with my off-grid solar batteries.  It’s called the Battery Life Saver, but generically most folks refer to these devices as a battery desulfator.

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Dying Battery Extender

When we purchased our new (to us) homestead, it came with an old dilapidated off-grid power system.

It didn’t take much expertise to see the writing on the wall—this power system was a relic from the past and was on its last leg. We would need to replace it soon...

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Solar Power in Northern Winters

I often get questions from folks who live in cloudy climates about the feasibility of solar power.  My typical answer is that we live in a location that is about as cloudy as possible in the winter.  Combine that with the very short winter days that come in a northern latitude and it's a recipe for solar failure.  Or so it would seem.

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Solar Generators – Trash or Treasure?

In the last several years, the market has been flooded with many so-called “solar generators”.  They are basically tiny, portable solar systems and are often touted as your key to energy independence or security. But do the facts bear out these claims? Are “solar generators” ever useful for anything?  In other words, are they trash…or a treasure?

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How to Take An On Grid Home Off Grid

You may be wondering how feasible it is for a home that is currently hooked up to the power lines to go off grid.  In many ways, it's probably easier than you think. However, there are a few items we should look at more closely.  In this article, I'll walk you through the basics of what you need to know and what to look out for.  And at the end, I'll give you a great resource for further information.

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