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What are you doing to reduce your dependencies on the grid?

Discussion in 'Off Grid Living' started by Equilibrium, Jan 12, 2011.

  1. Equilibrium

    Equilibrium Monkey++

    I’d really like to know what others are doing so I can drop my utility bills even lower with the hope of getting off the grid piecemeal. These are a few things we’ve done to reduce our utility bills….because I needed money to spend on future upgrades and more important things:
    -When upright freezer died, we replaced it with a super efficient freezer. We did have to shell out an extra $150 which didn’t make me happy. Will do the same when refrigerator dies.
    -Thermostats down to 66° during the day and 62° at night. Lower temps are healthier anyway and you do get used to it. We’re thinking of dropping another 2°.
    -Closed and taped down floor grilles then closed and taped down air returns in bedrooms not used by kids who flew the coop. Shut doors to their bedrooms.
    -Disconnected garbage disposal. I’m composting everything anyway and keep a small bucket on the counter top that goes out to the composter when it’s filled.
    -Disconnected instant hot water in kitchen.
    -I still run the dishwasher but if I’m around when it hits the dry phase, I shut it off and open the front door pulling out the racks to let dishes air dry. We can use the extra humidity in winter anyway.
    -Dropped hot water heater temps to 125°. They balked at this for a bit but they’re over it.
    -Stopped washing everything on the hot water cycle. Stopped using the warm water cycle for everything except whites. I’ve learned everything comes out just as clean using cold water as if I’d been using hot or warm water.
    -Stopped using the 2<sup>nd</sup> rinse cycle on washer. Started using less detergent instead which saved another $5 at least monthly.
    -Line dry all clothes and linens outside or in basement (have wooden clothes rack & use steel I-beams to hang shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, blankets, sheets, etc.)
    -Unplugged everything not used regularly (lamps, 2<sup>nd</sup> tv, printer, clothes dryer, radios, toaster, can opener, microwave, etc.)
    -All lights off in house when not in use.
    -Turned off lights to front door and porch.
    -Thick plastic sheeting over basement window well openings.
    -Re-set one door that wasn’t shutting properly. It had been creating drafts.
    -Added glass storm doors to front doors.
    -No 50 strands or more of white holiday lights outside this year and no lighted mechanical deer. I definitely noticed we weren’t the only family that ditched seasonal lighting entirely or cut way back.
    -Looking into solar to power our well.
    -Planted assortment of deciduous native trees and shrubs in close to home to help with cooling in summer.
    -Started a windbreak of native trees and shrubs. It’s sited properly and species were well chosen to provide maximum protection from prevailing winter winds.
    The last three are works in progress. The last two aren’t contributing much to our savings as of yet but as the plants mature, they will.
    [FONT=&quot]What we’ve done doesn’t look like much but… our utility bills dropped to the extent that both the gas and electric company sent out meter readers after about 3 mos to check if they needed to replace our existing meters because this drop was completely inconsistent with our documented usage for the last 10 years. BTW, it does take a while to get into the habit of line drying everything. I found that unplugging the dryer helped me remember not to it use and…. everything line dried outside smells nicer and doesn’t require fabric softener so…. I’m saving another $10 a month not having to buy a Downy generic. Next up we’re going to buy hot water heater blankets. I’m thinking every little bit all adds up!!! Please share what you’re doing with me. I know there’s more I could be doing. [/FONT]
  2. Nadja

    Nadja RIP 3-11-2013 Forum Leader

    Looks good so far, however, I would not disconnect the instant hot water or tankless water heater under the sink. It does not have a tank that it must keep up to temp 24 hours a day. Only uses power when actually needed. I would replace that old clunker refer asap if I were you. There is a model called "LG" which only draws 3.2 amps. side by side refer doors, with a large pull out drawer on bottom which is the freezer. I believe it is about 23 cf. Very large and sure is a misor with power.

    In so far as grid sell back is concerned, you could start out fairly small and simply keep adding solar panels as you are comfortable with the price. Check into the Outback grid tie invertors or the Xantrax grid tie invertors. You would have this major expense , around $3,000.00 and of course the solar panels themselves. However, you would start seeing a drop in your bill even with the smallest of systems
  3. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    If you are planning to power up the well pump with solar, it's pretty certain that will be by far the biggest electrical load you will have. I'd say, without any particular reasoning, that if you go that route, a few more dollars will put you almost totally in solar mode, as well as in position to sell power back to the utility. TnAndy has that set up, you might look to him for real numbers, and his posts on the subject have some guidance already on the forum.
  4. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    The heater is most likely one of those for "instant" hot water to make tea, coffee, cocoa.....small dispenser on the sink that looks like a soap dispenser, and it does have a small tank, and keeps water at 200+ all the time......not a water heater that is tied into the sink faucet.

    HUGE waste of energy, IMHO, for the few times one would use it. Smart move to cut it off......if you ever do new counter tops, jerk it out completely !
  5. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member


    You're certainly ON the right path. Reductions in use are about 10 times more cost effective than production of solar.

    On the water heater blanket.....a roll of 3 1/2" fiberglass with a plastic tarp taped over it works far better than the 1" blanket they sell for that purpose. Although, if your water heater is gas, watch you don't cut off the air intake or get the new covering too close to the exhaust. Also, if your water heater is a new model, it most likely has polyeurathane foam, and is already pretty well insulated. You won't get the same "bang" for wrapping as the old fiberglass insulated tanks.

    AND if your tank heater dies, go back with a tankless gas model ( you mention you have gas of some kind )....they beat tank models hands down for energy savings.
  6. Equilibrium

    Equilibrium Monkey++

    Nadja> We're lucky to have a house built in 2000. All the appliances... except the new freezer.... are 10 years old. We bought the best energy savers we could afford back then figuring we'd never be moving. The kitchen frig was an energy saver of some sort. I'm sure it's no where near as efficient as an LG but it can't be a total hog at only 10 years old do you think? I love the frig brand you recommended, LG LFC25770SW Refrigerators - 3-Door French Door Refrigerator (25 cu. ft.) - LG Electronics US.
    Can't I start out small with a system that's not grid sell back.... maybe something that could be used at a new home? This house is getting awfully empty awfully fast. We have no need for this much space and we'd like to move someday to a location with a little bit more land and a much smaller house.
    ghrit> I've learned just enough to know I'm totally in over my head. I'd like a stand alone to fire up the well because a source of potable water is important to me and I've been led to believe a solar system could be used at a new location if designed properly. I think... not sure.... the biggest electrical load we have would be the Trane A/C units then the fans on the two furnaces. We started setting the A/C to 80 during the day and then 75 at night during the summer and early fall. As far as I'm concerned.... we could get rid of A/C for all but maybe 2 weeks during the summer and even then the basement always stays much cooler than the house so do we really need A/C at all..... I dunno.
    TnAndy> That's the exact kind of instant hot water we had. Well.... we do still have it but it's in a crate in the basement. I disconnected it and added a spray hose instead which is more useful. Silly gimmicky kitchen type gadget that the only person who used it was a girlfriend of mine whose hooked on some tea she brings back from China. Me... I use a tea pot and store bought green tea so there was no reason keeping it.
    Anyway.... I just ran downstairs and looked at the water heaters. They're a brand called Rheem and they're something called a Rheemglas Fury 50 if that helps. One we already shut down. It was on the other side of the basement and it was for a whirlpool type jet tub for 4. The kids used the tub.... we never really used it ourselves and the last coupla times I used it was for another turtle I picked up that couldn't be released back to the wild right away. Turtles don't need hot water.... it's a spare water heater for a rainy day as far as I'm concerned. I had a plumber down it. I touched two that are still connected and they're cool to the touch and I've been using the hot water and can hear one firing up so they're working. That tells me we must have a model of water heater that doesn't need a blanket or any type of wrap at all. Gosh.... this should have been a no-brainer if I would have placed my hand on one of them. Thanks for saving me money buying wraps and I'll check into the tankless models when the time comes.... hopefully the real estate market will swing back and we'll be out of here before then. BTW.... our daily kwh went from 78 down to 55 in 2010 so I know I'm doing more right than wrong and that's with running a dehydrator almost darn near daily. My dream would be to get down to 40 daily kwh. At least that's my goal.
  7. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

    I switched over to CFL's.
  8. drdave

    drdave Monkey++

    Until I can learn the tech involved in solar ( I am not yet convinced of its efficiency) I am still using fuels. For me, as a temporizing measure, I buried a 1000 gal propane tank and set up a 21 KW generator. For Op sec, I have the ability when needed to vent exhaust underground and panels to muffle the mechanical sounds. this rig has already proved quite useful for the frequent power shortages in the North Ga. mountains.
  9. Joseph Thomas

    Joseph Thomas Monkey+

    Very smart move Dave. You are way ahead of most. Next thing you need to look at is long term sustainibility. That has to boil down to solar, wind or hydro.
  10. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    That will work, but as you note, it's a "temporizing measure"......limited by the amount of propane you can store. And a 21kw Genset is bound to use a pretty fair amount.

    What you might look at doing is something halfway between solar and a propane generator. That is, to set up a battery bank, along with an inverter.

    Many times, your electrical load simply doesn't justify the fuel cost of running a generator....especially a big one like you have. Take the middle of the night, for example....fridge may kick on couple times, use maybe 1/2 kw/hr over the course of the whole night, and maybe you have a few other things going ( night light, clocks, etc that are really handy to keep running ) but no way you can justify letting a 21kw generator even idle to keep up.

    SO, with a battery bank and inverter, you could "coast" thru those times, and save the generator to refill the batteries AND do the heavy lifting when you're up and really using power.

    THAT is the most effective way to use ( and stretch out ) a generator.

    THEN, from there, it's not too much of a leap to move on to some solar to stretch out the generator running time even more....ideally to the point you almost never use it. :D

    The way I looked at my system was "what IF the grid went away and NEVER came back....what do I need to keep me somewhat close to the 20th century ? ".......and the answer was "some refrigeration, and some lighting".....pretty much everything else was either a convenience item ( like the dryer instead of taking time to use the clothes line ) or the microwave ( rather than taking time to fire up the wood stove and COOK ), or entertainment like the TV, computer, etc.

    No, the difference in the 20th century and ALL those previous ones was electric refrigeration and lights.

    So once I determined that, I figured about 300 kilowatt/hrs/month ( consistently.....crappy weather too ) would leave us living pretty dang good IF the world went to crap and the grid didn't come back on for a LONG time, if ever..... and I set out to build a system that would do THAT amount.

    The fact it also PAYS us a small amount each month in the form of a reduced or zero electric bill is simply a bonus that doesn't come with a whole house generator....it wasn't my primary motivation.

    Having a minimal amount of power nearly indefinitely WAS the primary mission.
  11. Kingfish

    Kingfish Self Reliant

    W e went with an 8000 watt Generac propane fueled generator for just pumping water. For short term it will also work as a backup for the entire house using the pump sparingly and not running our electric range or hot water heater. I have a gas powered 3000 watt honda that can handle most of the smaller 120 items as it produces over 20 amps of 120. The Generac will be used later to just power our pump and with 500 gallons only using it once per week to fill storage tanks we will have propane for 10 years. The unit uses .94 gallons per hour at half load. It wont even run at half load with the pump running. The over all plan is to get an Outback 3500 watt inverter and a smaller power panel and start moving circuits over to that as we add batteries and solar panels. We will get off the grid one circuit at a time. Another goal is to build a wood gas powered or sterling engine powered 10 k generator that runs off of wood fuel. In the end this will remove my need for the Generac and the propane. Wood heat, wood and solar power. It is going to take some time so the propane is here and we are setting it up. We have to cover short term first , then transition to long term self reliance. Kingfish
  12. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    Wood is good, but factor in age. Felling, cutting, splitting and stacking is fine as long as you're fit enough to spend the time and energy. Bear in mind that when you are no longer able to split and stack, there may not be suppliers that can get up enough fuel to deliver stove size pieces.
  13. Equilibrium

    Equilibrium Monkey++

    Does anyone have small "starter" solar OR wind they designed to build upon that isn't grid buy back?
    ghrit> "I switched over to CFL's." We're running down a supply of light bulbs from when we used to pay our electric bill in person and could get light bulbs for free..... another 10 years and we'll be out of our entire stock but we have started buying some CFLs.
  14. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    No, I haven't switched over yet (that was Brokor) , but am going to for the larger wattage (75 and up) bulbs when I get around to or get pushed into it. For now, at least, I'm sticking with incandescent until I run out of 60 watt and smaller. At present, all I'm using are small wattage for accent and specialties like lavatory mirrors. The bigger area lighting (kitchen and workbench) is florescent. Right now, I have an ample stock of bulbs for table and reading lamps. I think the requirement for CFLs is to be phased in over the next few years.

    I can't see the specialties like the bathroom fixtures getting pushed off the map for a LONG time to come. Getting CFLs for the Xmas "candle" lamps might be a trick. Those could, I suppose, be LEDs. Dunno. Don't care, either.
  15. Equilibrium

    Equilibrium Monkey++

    Oopsie.... guess I was typing while impaired. It was Brokor.
    They are making LED Christmas lights now.... I saw them for sale. I suppose the general public rushed right out and replaced all their old lights with the latest and greatest LEDs dumping what they had in landfills.... in the spirit of going "green".
    Anyone have small "starter" solar OR wind they designed to build upon that isn't grid buy back?
  16. Nadja

    Nadja RIP 3-11-2013 Forum Leader

    Sounds to me like you are doing it right. Its good to see you got your thinking going the right way. No reason to buy a bunch of solar only to find out something is not quite right or won't do the job and far to late to exchange it for the right one. Also, you may want to talk real nice like to TNAndy and see if you can get him to sketch up the plans on his homemade trackers. They look good, and I will bet you a heck of a lot cheaper then the sun trackers. Besides that, the sun trackers, every time the wind comes up need to be tied down to keep them from chaseing themselves into a no working situation.
  17. Nadja

    Nadja RIP 3-11-2013 Forum Leader

    I started with 1 kyocera 80 watt panel , 4 t-105 6volt batteries, and 1 used trace 1512 invertor with a small charge controller, which burned out in just a few months. Then bought a trace c-60 charge controller, which is still performing fine even after all these years. My used invertor just last summer had the battery charger go out, so bought a used 2412 mod sine wave invertor which is doing just fine. You can do just like I have, but wish I would have had the money to buy more up front as I would have liked to do the 24 volt system instead of the 12. If you look into either Outback or Xantrax ( the old trace) grid tie invertors I think you will find that they can be used as grid tie, stand alone or both. I will try and check into this tomorrow. Just got our pipes thawed out after 9 days or so, and will probably have to go help a neighbor ( mile away) get theirs thawed out as they are even older then me (just imagine).
  18. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Now we really need to define just what "Grid-Tied" means. There are two parts to Grid-tied. First is, using Grid Power to charge the batteries, and also power the AC Loads. Second is called the "Sellback option" where you sell back, any excess power your system makes to the grid, to reduce your Grid Bill. The Grid-tied feature is basic in ALL Inverter/Charger Units. Where the Sell Back option may, or may not, be included in an Inverter/Charger package.
    Nadja is correct, All the Trace Sw, and Dr, Series Inverter/Chargers are Grid-tied, and the SW Series includes the Sell Back option, and you choose to program them to use it, or not. The Outbacks come in both Sell Back, or non-Sell Back, Units, but even if you get the Sell Back, you do NOT have to use that option should you choose not to. It is all in the setup Programing.
  19. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    Homemade single axis trackers:

    6" pipe set in 4'x4' block of concrete. Rack pivots east/west on a 2" shaft in 2" pillow block bearings. Black part of rack is 1.5" square tubing, bright part are 10' lengths of electrical uni-strut.


    Two racks, ready for panels.


    Panels mounted, and 30vDC linear actuator in the full extended position ( east ) Backside shot.



    Looking down on the arrays tilted west.

  20. Equilibrium

    Equilibrium Monkey++

    Sorry BTPost.... I think I mean stand alone with no sell back. A system that.... excluding concrete pad or foundations, could be used at a new location in the event the housing market ever rebounds long enough for us to sell out of where we're at. I know we'll be moving... it's only a matter of when.
    Nadja> This can certainly wait. No rush at all... for sure a neighbor comes 1st. Please know I'm trying to learn by getting a feel for what's possible and... we've only got $2,500 budgeted toward solar something. Based on your comments, I'd completely forgo a 12 volt system entirely knowing full well it will mean waiting longer until there's enough money to start with the 24 volt system.
    TnAndy> Beautiful in my eyes. Can I ask how much all of that cost with you providing the grunt labor and approximately what daily kwh you get from those two "single axis trackers"?
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