For anyone thinking of “living off the grid” there are a few items to be considered:
1. Planning and Education
The reason many people have not rushed to get their own power sources is that the start-up costs can be immense. Wind turbines, batteries, power converters and solar panels are expensive so the first key in going this route is to get educated on the ins-and-outs of alternative power installation. Many community colleges offer night courses, and now building supply stores are getting in on the act so there is no shortage of expertise. You will learn the difference between solar energy types – passive and active – as well as the right number of storage batteries you will need to run your needs. Become an expert, and soon you will installing your own system and saving thousands of dollars.
2. Rethink Your Home Energy Requirements
Most builders never think “outside the box” - their own boxes. And those that do have problems selling energy-efficient homes because, in most cases, they don’t look like the “McMansions” or the “Pressboard Palaces” people have been encouraged to buy. If you one of these, or an older home, spend around $150 to get your home inspected for energy leaks and then follow the recommendations. This could include insulating bare-concrete basement walls or upgrading windows. Sometimes all it takes is some good caulking techniques.
3. How Much Power Do You Need?
Appliances that generate heat also use great amounts of power. This includes ovens and toasters which can use as much as 1500 watts to make a couple of pieces of toast. If this is what you require then count on spending almost $20,000 for solar panels and batteries, or to build a windmill generation system. Most people who live off the grid also dry their clothes in the wind or in a greenhouse dryer so that the sun’s heat is magnified. These are considerations for living without power lines.
4. The Sun Can Heat Homes
Not only will the sun’s heat dry clothes it can also heat a home. In our northern climate most of the extremely-cold areas in winter also have a lot of direct sun. Yellowknife and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in January and February are very cold. However, this is the season where the sun is low in the sky and so shines directly into any windows facing the south. Using the “greenhouse effect” and triple-paned windows with low-emissive coatings and heavy argon gas between the panes can keep a room very warm. Not only that the effect will trap the heat so that the room will stay heated after the sun has gone down. If the room has tile floors this heating effect will last longer, and this means a longer period when the furnace is off.
5. Light Lights
During the past few years compact fluorescent lights (CFL) have largely replaced the old incandescent bulbs. However, CFL’s will soon be placed by a more cost-effective and power-miser type of light that comes from LED’s, or light- emitting diodes. The knock against CFL’s is that they contain a poisonous mercury gas that causes disposal problems.
6. Like-Minded People
Another way to get the information you need to make informed decisions is to join a group of people who are already in the process of “off-grid” living. Many of these groups are found online or through stores that sell alternative energy devices. Following these people can save countless dollars and save time.
7. Utilizing a “Grid-Tied” Approach
In Canada many power utility companies will buy your excess power and either give you money or a credit on your account. This may be an easier way to start because it negates the need for storage batteries as the excess electricity is bought by the power company. Even for die-hard people who want to leave the grid completely this is a great platform from which to jump off.
A great way to start to organize your thoughts and plans is ask yourself: "What is 'Living off the Grid' about to you as a homeowner; and what kind of life you envision having in your sustainable home? Check back soon for more resources and information.