So, before you can even think of building, much less moving into, an off-grid house, you have to calculate exactly — and I mean exactly — the amount of watts, joules, smoots, pounds, radio carbon year conversions, bloits, sagans, mickeys and even inches you use every day.
There is some math involved. And formulas. And books of formulas. And books explaining the books of formulas. Here’s where I would like to mention that in another life I was a Dean’s List student in Physics and Math. After an hour of working with the formulas, I gave up and watched an episode of “The Big Bang Theory.” The conundrum of how much energy usage to plan for was, in fact, solved, as so many things are, at the airport, where I ran into a “Down Range Radio” listener who had been off-grid in Montana for years.
“Dude,” he said, “take your best guess and double it. Then add 20 percent. And another generator.” Finally! Facts! Seriously, the amount of power you can use is limited by the amount of power you can produce, which is limited absolutely by your wallet. After all, the formulas are carefully calculated, and the simple rule is, “Get as much as you can afford, then adjust your lifestyle accordingly.” This is complicated by the fact that the alternative energy industry seems split down the middle—one-half refugees from 1968 who pine for Jerry Garcia and wish we could all be transported back to the Early Middle Ages before pesky humans ruined the planet, and a second half who, up until last Tuesday, worked for Best Buy and are still learning to spell “photovoltaic.” I realize the previous statement is totally unfair to the sincere, committed, intelligent individuals in the alternative-energy industry, and as soon as I find such a person, I will heartily apologize.
My favorite is the vendor who actually sputtered at me, being the first time I had ever heard anyone actually sputter, “OMG, you actually want to keep your sick lifestyle! You want a coffee maker! You don’t care about Mother Gaia at all!” Well, I like Mother Gaia as much as the next guy, especially in Her Celestial Form that helps grow coffee beans, coffee being one of the greatest contributions of Islam (look it up) and, IMHO, a daily necessity. I have brewed a cup of coffee on the trail in Alaska at 42 degrees below zero, and then chipped the ice off the surface to drink it cold. No coffee maker, no dice.
It turns out that even off-grid, you can have a coffee maker, but you are going to have to buy all new as-energy-efficient-as-possible appliances. Your refrigerator is going to be powered by good ole 120 AC (as efficient as a propane-powered version and much less expensive), but small and without an icemaker. The stove is of an off-grid design, powered by propane with an igniter fueled by a 9-volt battery… no clock… no timer. Microwaves are great because they cook things quickly, but get the no-frills ones. Washer… front-loading, efficient, expensive; dryer… propane; dishwasher… super high efficiency.
When you’re done, your kitchen is going to look, and work, suspiciously like a 1950s Kitchen of the Future, except in black or white instead of pastels.
To learn more, click Michael Bane Builds an Off-Grid House.
Have you built an off-grid house? Tell us about your experiences in the comment section.