How Do You Live Totally Off the Grid? : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

We are preparing to have a house built in the country and decided long ago that solar, wind and/or hydropower would be important additions. Since then, we've learned from the electric company that the first 500 feet is free, then it's $6 per foot to bring electricity to the building site. At the moment we are not sure how far away the lines are, but it could be 2500-3000ft. Can anyone give us advice as to where to go from here? I have already ordered two different alternative energy catalogs, but I'm still not sure how we determine what type of energy is the most effective. We bought the property because a river runs through it, but the house will be built above the water on a wooded ridge as the river does flood in heavy rain. Someone has explained the principle of using a hydro generator, but it's somewhat complicated. I would rather put the money totally in alternative forms of power instead of paying the utility thousands of dollars for their service which may not be viable in the near future. Would someone please respond who lives off grid? Thanks for any information. God bless. Mary

-- Mary (, April 11, 1999



Two things to consider:

(1) Supplies of solar/wind equipment are getting scarce, and access to trained installers is also getting scarce. If you intend to have all of this installed and working by the end of the year, you're going to need to make decisions muy pronto.

(2) If you intend to live off the grid, chances are you're going to have to change your lifestyle -- and that, too, is going to take time. I have both solar and wind generators, with a fairly sophisticated setup -- and it generates about 7-8 KWhr/day of electricity, depending on the amount of sunlight and wind on an average day. To put that in perspective, it's roughly equivalent to four 75-watt lightbulbs running 24 hours a day. Most of us have grown up in an era where electricity was an essentially "infinite" resource, available at modest cost; it's amazing how much energy is gobbled up by telephone answering machines, instant-on televisions, etc et etc.

-- Ed Yourdon (, April 11, 1999.

There are several "Off The Grid" web sites....good resources, information and support...I am not off the grid, but would like to be...

Do a web serach with the phrase "off the grid" the meantime I'll look for my bookmark.

-- Donna Barthuley (, April 11, 1999.

Here's one Mary:

Off The Grid

-- Donna Barthuley (, April 11, 1999.


We've just completed the installation of a 3KW solar panel system. To echo earlier comments, you'll need to move to get trained installers on line- I started my initial needs assessment back in October. You will find, in doing a utilization survey of your current electrical demands, that a solar panel system cannot support air conditioning, electric water heating, an electric range or standard refrigerator. We chose to augment our solar generating system with propane- for refrigeration (Servel and Frostek), hot water heating (Aquastar)and for a 6KW Onan generator (to charge the batteries during cloudy winter days primarily). I certainly would never have described myself as a "greenie" in any way, but once you learn how much different appliances gobble up in the way of electricity, and how much it would cost to feed them with your own capital intensive system, you learn good stewardship quickly. Best of luck.

Paul Urquhart

-- Paul Urquhart (, April 11, 1999.


For actual information about how one family did this:

-- Whetherman (whetherman@storm.warning), April 11, 1999.

I suggest that you search for the homepower magazine web site, and subscribe to their magazine...or better yet - order the last year's worth of issues. I don't remember the URL...they recently did two y2k issues.

-- jeanne (, April 11, 1999.

AND, to add to every above's prepared to sit down when you see the $$$$estimates. This is not easy or is it cheap.

Now....after you have read all the back issues and studied the web pages and is another suggestion:

We went off the grid before there was a grid to go off of. Bassackward, as per usual. Before there was solar..and viable windpower.

We did/and do use propane for our refrigerators: go to the RV industry. Sears still carries a non electric stove that can be ordered with a propane oriface. It comes in 24 or 30 inch widths and cost about $300. Take two, they're small. (But then you have a double oven and eight burners and it doesn't suck gas like a Baby Wolf.)

Consider the Luddite Kitchen. no electric utensils

For first, because we didn't know any better, we used Alladin lamps, and other fuel burning lamps. I wouldn't reccomend that now, unless you are very very careful.

You could get by with a couple of solar panels and a battery bank to power a 12 lighting and tv system, and propane for cooking & refirgeration and wood for heating, and a small converter for the sewing machine - don't get a computerized machine.

Then grow into more panels, more batteries, and a bigger converter to run your computer, etc, and to have more lights and a bigger tv.

We have a kind of hybrid system now....about 20 panels, three converters, three battery banks and a 7.5 propane generator for "really big stuff."

Good luck!

-- mary (, April 11, 1999.

"how do you live off the grid"? not to well, and not very long.

-- ed (, April 12, 1999.

You can live totally off the grid if you are prepared to change your lifestyle. A big system could easily cost you $10,000. A small "survival" system could be considerably less. Here's what I use in southern Queensland, Australia. Small and simple, but some neighbours use less. I am really out in the styx (sticks). Two 83 Watt solar panels and a a small 12v battery bank, three small 12v flourescent lights and a small 12v TV, plus a 12v car radio/stereo system installed indoors. A 600VA inverter will give me enough power for a SMALL old-fashioned twin-tub washing machine (wash/spin), but I do not use it often (once and sometimes twice weekly) or the batteries will run down. Your cooking can be on any fuel, wood, propane, kerosene etc. I have propane for the present. My refrigeration is also propane, but my neighbour uses kerosene. Even a small fridge takes too much electricity -- 10 Amps, maybe more -- and will empty the battery faster than the panels can recharge it. I have lived for months without any fridge; using powdered milk for my tea and coffee. I heat my shower water with a wood fired boiler. Consider that if Y2K gets as bad as some think, we won't be able to buy any fuel...

-- David Harvey (, April 12, 1999.

Try: or

Both are reliable, and helpful.

-- Bill (, April 12, 1999.


Ed indicated that off the grid is a lifestylye. I think that is an understatement. Unless you are independently wealthy, off the grid it is, of necessity, a totally different way of thinking for many. You must be cognisant of how much electicity you produce, use, and store. Light left on, drain limitted capacity. 'Phantom loads' from modern appliances (such a clocks in VCRs, Micorwaves, coffee makers) are a curse. Eneregy efficiecy ratings becomes a way of life, not an interesting footnote playing second fiddle to style. The ability to accept compac florescents (or DC lamps depending on you wiring scheme) determine your fixture selection.

You have the added homeowner tasks of maintenance of your 'power plant'. The $10,000 figure David suggests is a bargain based on typical energy demands in North American households - if you find it let me know.

For those having access to the electric grid the, the economics don't work. It is too dang expensive. The only way you can justify it if you are on the grid is because of a) personal commitment to sustainablity, or b) love of selfsufficiency, or c) Y2K providing an excuse to get some really cool (expensive) toys.

As far as shortages, maybe in some areas. However, I was at a seminar 3 weeks ago. Two installers representing separate (established) outfits were there. They will have a banner year this year - but neither indicated problems in taking on additional work or having problems obtaining system components. Regardless how you cut it, if you want battery backup for electricity, the systems get pricy in a hurry. The cost alone, limits sales - you have to be incredilby commited or scared senseless to shell out 12,000 (10,000 system with a bargain installation rate) and up (with the sky as the limit) to produce you own electricity.

Good luck in your quest. If you are in the WI, IL, MN area and you want to see if we can get a price break with company for multiple installations, let me know.


-- john hebert (, April 12, 1999.


Looking into the topic too.

When I visited the Real Goods Solar Demonstration Center in Hopland, CA, the salespeople suggested taking advantage of the extensive solar knowledge of their tech department.

Real Goods web-site:

Technical Assistance

If you require technical assistance with the design of a renewable energy system or installation help, please call 1-800-919-2400, Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm. Our Technical Department can also be reached by faxing 707-462-4807 by email at, or by post:

Real Goods
555 Leslie ST
Ukiah, CA 95482-5507

You can also get the The Independent Home from Real Goods ...

Locate it at their web-site, Catalog Products and click on Bookstore to find the links (lots of fascinating books there): products/

Great how to book!


-- Diane J. Squire (, April 12, 1999.

IMO, at least for 1999 and until you see how serious Y2K is, you would be better off (and cheaper) living off the grid WITHOUT electricity. Use propane, wood, oil lamps, etc. and/or maybe a small bit of solar to power tiny appliances occasionally. If you don't have gravity fed spring for water, you're putting your house in the wrong location.

Then, >2000, add electricity as you can/want to based on your living experience and Y2K impacts.

-- BigDog (, April 12, 1999.

Aren't you folks still dependent on supplies of propane & other fuels? What good is that if propane is not available/rationed/too expensive? "Off the grid" should mean independent. Seems like you've shifted your dependence rather than eliminated it. Just wondering.

-- Confused (by@the.terms), April 12, 1999.

Total independence is achievable but it is mainly a chimera. It's all trade-offs. We have enough propane to power our refridgerator, stove and hot water for two years and separate propane to take care of the greenhouse. If we can't get propane after two years (e.g, 2002), fuel will be the least of our worries. We also have wood heat stove for whole house, small back-up wood cook stove, etc. Gravity-fed water is really key since it saves the need for energy-expensive pumping.

-- BigDog (, April 12, 1999.

Fuel cells are pretty cool - I think about 30 military bases in the states run on them.

Fuel Cells.

Fuel cells are being used in prototype autos, and were what blew up on the Amtrak train - they use hydrogen in some types of fuel cells.

-- Lisa (, April 12, 1999.

Mary- We live totally off-grid, and we love it. You DON'T have to spend big bucks- IF you are willing to make changes in your lifestyle. You cannot live as you did with the electric hookup in an off-the-grid life unless you have SERIOUS dollars to spend.

But- if you're willing to look at what you truly NEED, you can do just fine. Our whole system is 2 75 watt PV pannels and an air 303 wind gen with a 4 battery bank. And- we live in Vermont- not known for long sunny days.

We installed the system ourselves and it cost under 3 grand TOTAL. We bought all our stuff from Real Goods- their techs were most helpful. If you have a river- hydro may work well too- they have some good hydro pumps- check out those sites listed in the above posts as well.

We have a propane fridge, AquaStar water heater. We have a backup generator for power tools and laundry. Our inverter is 800 watt- with a battery charger built in- get that in yours!

When we put the system together it was pre-y2k panic and there were sales and the companies weren't rushed.

We also use Alladin lanterns for low power times- in winter. Especially when our gen set broke down one winter.

You will need to evaluate your site for wind, sun and hydro. A hybrid system is great. Something is charging most of the time that way.

We use compact florescents, a VCR, computers and printer, mixer, blender, coffee grinder, stereo. No phantom loads- nothing is left plugged in. We don't leave lights on and forget about them. the computer is on only when in use. We adjust what we do to the state of the battery bank.

But- when the power goes out from ice storms or just because as it frequently does out here- we just keep right on with what we're doing. We only notice because the neighbors show up for water!

-- anita (, April 12, 1999.

Home Power Magazine

Happy reading!

-- Donna Barthuley (, April 12, 1999.

--I am not currently off the grid, but I did live like that for years and years. Here's your answer--just GIVE UP the idea of a normal all electric life. One point--you DO NOT NEED electricity. You just don't. Two, you can get by quite well with a minimum amount of electricity from a small solar panel, or small windmill. You use kerosene or candles for lighting. You use a hand pump for a well. You wash your clothes by hand and hang them up to dry(yes, even in the winter). You use a root cellar or a small spring house to store your fresh food. You use wood for heating and cooking. Now you can still accumulate a big battery stash for flashlights and small radios, etc. If you want a house that runs like the one you have now, be prepared for a lot of work, several different types and forms of alternative energy systems, and an expenditure into the serious 5 figures to pull this off. Myself, I fully expect cascading over-whelming failures, and are preparing to just go back to that sort of lifestyle, which isn't as bad as it sounds, really. I'm not planning on very much "normal" type energy supplies being available, and I also fully expect the thoroughly incompetent and ruthlessly violent US government to confiscate a lot of these folks expensive generators and fuel supplies, once the government runs out of what they have now. and all those guardsmen and reservists will mostly go along with it, too-protests now to the contrary. Some won't-they won't be party to wholesale theft and martial law-but I still feel most will "follow orders". They do now, they always have in the past, nothing to change that, I think. Now if it will get to solar panels and windmills, I don't know, but if the local warlord needs juice or food, and he's got the tanks and troops who need juice and food, I think he'll just take it if possible. Power, political power, has an inertia, and it flows from force and a past reality of "authority". My opinion again, the first six months after the crash will be v-e-r-y interesting. I haven't followed the y2k problem as long as others here, but quite a bit for over two years now, and the lies are so blatantly obvious, and the track recored of bigbro so odious, I see no alternative results. My recommendation is to have a stout house, go as low tech as possible, and have several back up buried stashes of food and gear. Small solar panel or two-fine, no problem, but I think you might want to get set up for complete existance at the low tech level before you commit all your resources to something that could make you more of a target. IMO.

-- zog (, April 12, 1999.

A round of applause for Anita.


-- john hebert (, April 13, 1999.

Agree with Zog on all counts. We're betting that our ability to feed 100 people or so locally (and long, long history of farms, self-reliance here) will provide us some, uh, "warlord protection" but we're certainly not, um, banking on it. Since my business is buying us a generator, we will end up having one, but we're assuming (for prep purposes) it may be ripped and we've been ready for long-term without electric anyway.

-- BigDog (, April 13, 1999.

Check out for good prices on PV panels. Delivery is resonable. This place is okay, I've ordered from them and HomePower has done a number of articles on Joel.


-- x (, April 13, 1999.

Interesting thread. I am planning for a standalone, small solar setup such as Anita's (two 75 watt panels).

Suppose the unusal occurs - you have three weeks (say) with no sun, thus no way to recharge the batteries. In that case, the batteries became dangerously discharged, and then what? We will not have a generator, nor wind, so unlike Anita's it isn't a hybrid system with some other way to charge the batteries.

How do you keep the batteries from being harmed? I plan to use golf cart batteries because they deep-cycle more than marine batteries. There must be a recommended way to deal with unusual, long periods of no sun. Would the only answer be to plan to get the highest possible capacity battery?

I don't seem to see this question addressed in my various readings. Thanks!

-- Debbie (, April 13, 1999.

Debbie- I'm no expert- but in your situation, if you truly have no othr way to recharge your batteries in low-sun, no-sun periods, then I think if you protect them from freezing, just let them be and cut off demand on them. Go to oil lanterns,etc- we had to do that one winter for a time- when the gen went and we had used a light for the chick brooder 24 hrs a day and my teen decided to do a VCR movie marathon one day- needless to say- we was in the red!

My resourceful sweetie though, hooked up his old classic 1965 MG to the battery bank via inverter in some fashion he figured out and recharged them that way to a point. then the sun came out, wind picked up and all was fine. That is an option by the way- recharging via your car in an emergency.But- check with a good tech such as at Real Goods or a similar long existing supply company for best info on what to do in that situation. We now try to be more watchful- even with a hybrid system, there are times- Nov. and Feb. come to mind, when power is tight. We reduce our usage considerably then- no net time then!

I must say that I do disagree though that unless you spend big bucks, you're doomed to just sit by the light of one 13 watt light and that's it. Yes- we have mega wind here and we face direct south, but we are in a far northern latitude and it's not "supposed" to work here!

Oh- and I didn't mention before- our well pump is a 12 volt Shurflo direct wired to the battery bank(fused of course).

-- anita (, April 13, 1999.


Perhaps you can you help to illustration the disparity in power usages. As a 'typical' homeowner I'll confess to glutonous power usage. Our home came complete with appliances - Refrigerator, Upright Freezer, Electric Stove, and Electic Dryer all about 20 yrs old. Even though it's just my wife and I, our home is the center of extended activity around the holidays - we even put up Christmas lights - the old time big bulbs inside and out. From 12/12-1/18 we used (this is embarassing) 1431 kw according to the electic bill. Just for comparison and to help educate us - so based on your current usage how much electicity would you use in a 37 day period?

Thanks jh

-- john hebert (, April 14, 1999.

John --- That doesn't seem possible unless you were lighting up an entire town ...... 40kw a day is BIG-TIME squandering but you're talking 200 if I got your drift?

-- BigDog (, April 14, 1999.


12/12 thru 1/18 gives me 37 days I according to my electric bill and 1431/37 comes in around 38.7 - which is embarassing enough. I sure hope I didn't get to 200. Realistically, in a crisis, can dramatically reduce that. Electric dryer - nada, old fashion clothes line goes up this summer. Elecrtric stove - nada, the petromax, grill, or homebuilt solar oven will do just fine, The old time refrigerator, if Wisc winter garage isn't cool enough too bad Freezer, would be nice but with the number of family expected that won't needed too long. Cook it up, use it up. Lights, nice but not a big deal the petromax lantern, coleman lantern , kerosun moonlighter do nicely and kick off lots of heat in the process. Holiday lights, yeah right.

So what does that leave me water - the well pump! That's my prime concern. If gas is available then the blower on the hot water heater would be nice. Washing machine, if we manage get a neptune or some such prior to needing, it would be a convenience but we have a couple washboards around.

A PV setup, tracker with a few panels and 'holes' for expansion, oversized inverter (to accomodate expansion), and 4 batteries... should get me by. Then as appliances die, I can replace with efficient alternatives and an extra panel or two...


-- john hebert (, April 14, 1999.

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