Camping & Survival

“Dude! Seriously? A Coffee Maker?”

Picture shows a gray, black and red coffee maker powered by propane.

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.

SLRule

Energy Saving Off-Grid House Appliances
To reduce energy consumption and generation needs, Michael Bane’s Off-Grid House utilizes energy-efficient appliances wherever possible. They still use their old coffeemaker, but will upgrade it when the current one dies. Websites to research energy consumption include Energy Star, Consumer Reports, and Top Ten USA. Below are some of the actual appliances in the Off-Grid House: (1) Unique Off Grid Gas Stove (30-inch LP, no window); (2) Big Ass Fan Haiku Ceiling Fan X0-32W; (3) GE 1.6-cu.-ft. Microwave Oven (#JVM3160DFBB); (4) Samsung 4.0-cu.-ft Steam Front-Load Washing Machine (#WF405ATPAWR); (5) LG SteamDryer 7.3-cu.-ft. Clothes Dryer (#DLGX3251W); (6) Whirlpool 18.9-cu.-ft. Top-Freezer Refrigerator (#WRT359SFYW); and (7) Whirlpool Gold Series 24″ Tall Tub Dishwasher (#WDF750SAYB). Note: Images may not reflect the specific models, and some manufacturer stock numbers may have changed or the units discontinued. Cheaper Than Dirt! does not carry these items.
SLRule 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.

[mbane]

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (20)

  1. The people who produce Tesla Motors EV’s. Have a commercially available Rechargeable 85kWh 400-volt Lithium-Ion Battery Pack for home usage. Price has yet to be determined.

  2. Bass Pro sells a nice and inexpensive stainless stell percolator that will work over any heat source sufficient to boil water.

  3. Having grown up in an area with harsh winters and lake effect storms then later in a hurricane zone for decades taught me that as far as electrical power goes we should plan to use the same amount of power when gird power is not available as when it is. Even short term needs of three of four days with a portable generator is problematic without fuel storage which is expensive and dangerous plus it deteriorates quickly causing equipment problems and maintenance. Candles and flashlights progressed to a portable generator with a cord and limited prioritized power to one with a transfer switch in a permanent outbuilding and a fuel storage tank to finally an automatic start and maintenance run permanently mounted natural/propane generator sized for whole house use with a large underground fuel storage tank.
    In the end the cost was little more for the permanent solution than all the stuff along the way and with little inconvenience.

  4. I have no problem with using high efficiency appliances in an off the grid situation, especially when it’s intended to be a permanent long term solution rather than a bug out and temporary one.
    Affordability is the issue for most and those of us with more experience than money will remember how our parents and grandparents lived their daily lives. No one wants to give up convenience, especially at an age, speaking of me, when daily chores that were routine and hardly noticed can now become major efforts.
    However, there is nothing to say that when mass produced energy may be unavailable or unafforadble that some of the simplicity of yesteryear won’t work just as well.

  5. Our ancestors never had the convenience’s we have today, they survived & multiplied. It won’t be easy yet it can be done. Just imagine putting a washer, stove & fridge in a covered wagon heading west ! Putting up a wind turbine or running a generator says” I’m over here & have things you need ! ” Get back to the real basics that’s my motto, sometimes I make cowboy coffee to bring back the memories of a simpler life, who needs a percolator ?

  6. Don’t forget the electric company (most of them) will provide your power use for the last 12-24 months. This is a useful benchmark for total watts consumed. It will include seasonal changes. The highest month of usage could serve as your worst case threshold particularly if you plan to upgrade your appliances.

    Propane is off grid, but still requires a company to come out and deliver it on a regular basis based on the size of the tank you have.

    I am just starting the planning to DIY a solar/wind setup that will stay on grid until power loss; then function as off grid with no loss in power provided. This will be in a small neighborhood, not remote.

    Cost remains my biggest obstacle, so it will be a multi-year process.

    Ed

    1. @ Ed.

      Stop looking at it as a “House Project” and start looking at it “Boat Project”. Ocean conditions, are far worse then anything your likely to see on land. Example, the Stirling-Steam Engine, in most likely to produce the highest yield of power then any other system on the market, And can be used in any environment, and is virtually maintenance free. And even at its highest power production you’ll never no that its running, because its that quiet. It has an efficiency rating in the upper 90’s percentile group. And can be operated from combustible, Non-Combustible, Solar, Wind, Tydal, Geo-Thermal, etc. And there other sources I have mentioned. Its your house and your choices, and most importantly your money. Choose wisely.

  7. HONDA (CHP, Combined Heat and Power) are Non-Networked Cogeneration Units. They have a 26.3% Power Efficiency Rating on the Betz Limit Scale and a 92% Heat Efficiency Rating on the Betz Limit Scale. This is a Thermal Dynamic System, so fuel provided too it can come from many sources. Its NOT Multi-Fuel, its fuel SPECIFIC, meaning a single source. (http://world.honda.com/cogenerator)

  8. Cost is an issue, obviously, as generation costs, storage costs, and conversion costs (unless you are running a straight 12v system).

    The answer is either running a parallel system or a grid tied system.

    In either of these systems, you use normal, on grid, AC power for your day to day pre-apoc living, especially for the big appliances. The off-grid generations serves to lower your power bill pre-apoc and power those NECESSITIES post-apoc.

    For a 12v system, you put your lights on the system and make sure you have anything else you want to have post apoc work on 12v (look at boating/rv appliances).

    The upside of that is the DIY ease and efficiency. The down side is double wiring and the inability to drift everything to off-grid.

    For a grid tie system, you can easily add to it over time, lowering your bill towards nothing (and possibly being paid). When the power goes out, you will want to make sure it is hooked up to only power critical systems unless you generate enough for everything.

    Grid tie with AC conversion is much more expensive and will likely require electricians (especially for the grid break for when the power goes out). In the long run, however, this lets you walk your way into complete autonomy.

    Walking into it is helpful, as it helps motivate you to reduce your consumption (which is easier and cheaper than adding capacity).

    Truly being off grid, however, cannot be based on moving everything to LP, as you are still tied to the grid (if only when the truck comes to fill the tank).

  9. @ Carl P: I don’t see why you’d think there’d be any mudslinging with such helpful information. I will say I feel you are out of touch in your cost analysis. You are accurate in costs, yet inaccurate in whom you think can afford it. What you propose as affordable, is still quite expensive to the average prepper.

    Not everyone has the time or ability to research salvaged materials and so they are stuck with the extremely outrageous costs offered at so-called green outlets. Heck even direct shipped crap from China is shockingly overpriced at the moment.

    I’ve even looked into ordering individual cells and assembling panels myself, and it is still cost and time prohibitive without any guaranteed results.

    As for the elitist attitude, I don’t find it to be regional so much as it stems more from those that can actually afford the technology and already own it, and not so much from the average joe like me that simply wants it at a reasonable cost.

    Maybe “barbaric” wasn’t the right word; “infancy” would have been a better choice. But if you understood what I do about the true potential in yet-to-be-developed power sources, you would agree our current methods are quite “barbaric” in contrast.

    If you are as knowledgeable as you claim, I know you must have seen the numerous trial and error YouTube videos with even the most savvy of persons explaining how they, “…tried this first, … and then that, but later this worked better, … and in part 2 of my video I’ll show you my upgrades since this didn’t do what I had intended.”

    So what may come easy for you simply is not for most – which is probably why a fair amount of your career has been spent building these systems to help others that could never have done it as well on their own.

    As I move up in my career and head towards retirement, I found myself with more time to indulge home prepping projects. So about two years ago I embarked upon the alternative energy portion of my prepping. I found myself incredibly let down as I discovered how undeveloped this technology really still is, as compared to where I had imagined it was at. I know that is subjective, but nevertheless, it was a reality for me.

    I truly respect and understand your passion, but please be more understanding. There are far less people capable of piecing together these systems than you let on. I will never give up, and must say I appreciate your can-do attitude which gives me encouragement. But I am still frustrated, as I’m sure are many others.

  10. its not that either of you are wrong and there is certainly truth in a good deal of what you say but I think your being a bit shortsighted in your view as how AltEngSrc may be effected and built at manageable cost and maximum use.

    Alternate Energy Sources, Technology, available Information and hardware is only looked down on it seems in the so call “cultured” areas of the lower 48 states. A sad underestimation at the very least.
    I’m pretty sure that I can not agree that the alternate energy field is in the “barbaric” stage of evolution. Young, yes! I think that in the lower 48 and in those areas where there is an extensive power grid in existence that the mind set may yet prevail that alternate energy sources are poor, undeveloped, insufficient, crude and so forth for the simple reason that as yet they haven’t reached the ability to provide renewable energy for what is considered and viewed by most (as they consider themselves) to be the “civilized” and “cultural” centers of US society. We’ll see how that falls out for them if the SHTF at some future date.
    I don’t mean to be flip but I’m tired of the fact that a great majority of people in the US seem to think that alternate energy sources are on par with rubbing two sticks together and little better. This arrogance and somewhat of an elitist attitude is the quick sand that this industry continues to wade thru in the US and part of which holds it back from becoming a premier world energy source and Tech leader.
    Yes, it can be expensive to convert to these sources but it doesn’t have to be that way! There is a fairly wide range of equipment available on the market to accomplish this either as a phased in set of upgrades or as a new construction dedicated built-in system. With a wide cost and application range to fit almost any budget.
    One doesn’t need 100K or more for a privet, self-sufficient, alternate energy system that will cover ones needs in an off-the-grid or an on-gid back up system. One does not need a large and expensive array of solar panels and besides there are places that solar is of little use. Nor wind farm towers that are 200 feet tall. There are other technologies that with a small investment (say 5K often far less with a little research and leg work) in the areas of Wind Generation, Hydro Electric, Geothermal (if one has access to such resources), to name a few are quite feasible and can be put in place, DIY, with simple tools, common sense, and a little time.
    Battery Storage Technology is getting better with every year that passes. The last two decades have seen significant advances in this concern that have made it to the public market place. Costs is small for the tech recived.
    Fact is that places like Alaska, Hawaii, and some of the mid and northern tier states, along with countries like Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway to name a few, are well in advance of the of the technology and certainly the mindset of the general US populations view and use of land mass. Their use of non carbon energy sources is significant and far beyond “test and evaluation” projects.
    Such areas as waste heat reclamation and storage, reliance on non-grid or no grid energy power sources that produce a minimum of 65% and often more of the local energy power demands that do not use carbon non-renewable fuel sources in these places is far from the “barbaric” stage of their evolution.
    I’m somewhat passionate where this discussion is concerned as a fair amount of my career has been building these systems in extreme and remote environments to support, run and maintain both small (as in single structure projects) to large projects (such as ice research stations, vills in Alaska and other remote places in the world, large off-shore drill rigs, and several extreme commercial projects that wanted to be as Green as possible to name a few. To be self sustaining and self sufficient one does not need a power grid that produces at 100%, 24/7. That would be a waste and put an undue strain on the equipment in place over the long term when its needed most.
    Both my homes were built or remodeled to be off-grid. 365 days a year, alternate energy source capable as needed at is 100% off grid and 100% self sustaining. I also share a hunting retreat. Its was done completely from surplus equipment or low cost off the shelf tech. It has a small wind generator on a 35’ tower, 2- 50watt solar panels and two hot H2O solar panel. 3 each, commercial deep cycle marine batteries, a plug in 2000 watt inverter. Total cost was about $1350 installed and operating.
    The Rocky Mountain location was planed, funded and phased in over the two and a half year build time. The cost was just short of 14K and included two small wind generators, one small set of 6 solar/electric panels, 6 large marine deep cycle storage lead/acid batteries, inverter/power distribution system., The Batteries are government surplus big things that were used in ships, but were just a bit more in cost of a commercial marine battery with just about 5x the storage capacity. Shopping SURPLUS sources is a good thing!
    There are six solar HydroHeat water panels that I built myself that incorporates 3, 65gal, gas fired as needed, hot water tanks for storage. In the summer at least four of the panels have to be cut from the system or the water gets too hot. In winter on a sunny day I can generate 114 degree heated water.
    There is also a small, homemade, hydroelectric system using a natural dam on the property with a 68’ fall to the generator house.
    The turbine and generator system was sourced from recycle and salvage parts and is an ongoing project but when its turned on produces a regulated 120v/60cyl at a max 1.1KW as long as the spring that feeds the pond continues to run. I do not count the Hydro system as a part of the cost to the house project as it came after and as an experimental weekend project. However cost, so far, is under $1200.
    All I’m trying to say is that the technology and resources for residential Alternate Energy sources is more advanced and available than most might think or consider. Don’t underestimate this field, the information thats currently available, or its ability to provide for more power than one might need….. even to power up the SHTF “must have” coffee maker, although I find a French Press to work better than a coffee machine ;-).
    Spend some time looking at what’s out there, who’s doing what, what’s on YouTube, it’s easier than one thinks to make off grid useful power to sustain ones needs, and you don’t have to been rich to do it.
    I’m quite sure that there will be much mud to be slung in my direction for my opinion concerning this subject. So be it, fact is I have power to live…no matter what happens. I didn’t spent much money doing it. Its low maintenance and its never failed me.

  11. I will leave the volts and amps to you.
    Before my first cup of coffee I thought this blog was about coffee. Having lived WAY off the grid in the 70s this is my survival coffee pot. Fill a empty pork and beans can with water,put it on hot coals,add grounds(instant sucks),let cool, drink out of can.
    I do know how to use a 2000 volt neon transformer to keep cats off your pigeon coop. Cats wouldn’t walk through our yard!

  12. Ah this is a touchy subject for me. A word from the wise… just when you think you’ve got power calculated correctly, you’ll find you don’t.

    Before becoming a cop, I thought I wanted to be an engineer like my father. I was most fascinated by electronics, and even took courses. I became sufficient to the point of soldering my own project boards and making hobby lasers and custom security alarms etc. That’s how I discovered I enjoyed crime-fighting as well; and thus I became a cop.

    Later in life, along with many others these days, I’ve become a part-time prepper. My past degree in electronics led me to have the confidence to build several custom battery back-up stations as a hobby. One thing I’ve learned is battery dynamics is a science unto itself.

    As I said, just when you think you have a handle on it, you’re thrown a curveball. Between poorly rated product labels with misleading power consumption and batteries that don’t last as long as specifications state, building your own off grid system (large or small) becomes a true feat and ultimately boils down to trial and error… that is, unless you can afford to go over the top. But I must warn you, anything relating to off-grid energy is very, very expensive.

    From everything involved such as the solar panels, deep-cycle batteries, monitoring equipment and heavy-duty wiring with appropriately calculated fuses, this stuff is not cheap and has become a very expensive hobby for me.

    Even if you instead hire a professional, they will inform you if you later add just one unexpected item too many to their custom pre-calculated off-grid system, it will completely change the dynamic of their design and consume faster, charge longer, or even completely fail.

    One day the industry we will get better at this, but until then, people need to understand this technology is really still in quite the barbaric stages compared to what we know we could achieve in the future.

    1. G-man, yet another dynamic that is frequently forgotten, even by electronic engineers is, gradually changing battery capacities.
      Not only with each cycle will the battery capacity lower, but with age as well.
      Hence, one designs in a fudge factor to account for that.

      As for off the grid coffee making, done that for decades, ranging from off of a campfire to my home gas stove. It’s called a percolator.
      Saw a shelf full of fine ones at Cabelas this morning.

      For the stove, hanged why the author thinks a blank front gas oven is better than a modern tempered glass front, decent design that is double pane is energy efficient as with that blank front. About the only real improvement is it’s easier to clean without glass.

  13. I disagree. What comes down to, is what are you willing to endure in Lifestyle, Hardship, Where you live and How much are you willing to spend. There are many Independent Power Generation Systems. That allow you to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.

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