Before moving off-grid, I had a lot of preconceived notions about what “off-grid living” meant. Say goodbye to grandma’s antique 1000-watt waffle iron, put away the power tools and don’t even think about a dishwasher … right? Well, not really.
While “off-grid” can mean living without electricity and hauling water and all of your meals on a wood stove, it doesn’t necessarily have to.
To my surprise, with a small rooftop array on an off-grid cabin in rural Vermont, we’re able to enjoy more luxuries than the average suburban home has available. Even in a cold northern climate, there’s more than enough free solar energy at least 8 to 9 months of the year to power things you might not consider owning with the expense of grid-purchased electricity. Add in a wind turbine to collect energy from winter storms, and you may be set up for quite the life of luxury.
1. Whirlpool bath tub
For off-grid homes, a whirlpool bathtub can be a great way to relax after a long day working in the woods. While it may not be an option most of the winter except on the sunniest days, March through October is whirlpool bath season. Imagine relaxing comfortably, submerged up to your neck with jets flowing all around you after an eight-hour session hauling logs and splitting wood. Some of that wood, once dried, went into your wood-fired boiler to heat the water for your tub, and the surplus electricity generated throughout the day while you were outdoors is powering your evening tub.
Believe it or not, a dishwasher can be a great way to utilize solar electricity during peak hours. Unless you happen to live where a gravity well is an option, a water pump uses a significant amount of electricity.
If doing dishes by hand, the best time to run water is mid-day when production is at its peak. The question is: Do you want to spend the most beautiful part of the day trapped indoors with your hands in a sink, or do you want to be outside enjoying the fruits of your off-grid life? By wiping off your dishes and loading the dishwasher in the evening, all it takes is a second to turn on the dishwasher mid-day when you come in for a lunch-time break.
While a complete off-grid lifestyle is practical for a tradesman, what about those of us who were raised in a city and still need to make a living through a more “on-grid” line of work? While wired broadband is becoming more available in rural areas, the more remote areas still do not have those options. If you happen to be in an area covered by cell service, there are options for cellular-powered wireless adapters for computer use. In a slightly more remote area, there may be radio Internet options that still allow high-speed connection by routing the signal through a series or mountaintop towers, as is commonly available in rural parts of the northeast. For those in true wilderness, satellite Internet is remarkably dependable in all but the stormiest of weather.
4. Radiant floor heat
While an indoor wood stove is an exceptionally practical and dependable way to heat a home without electricity, it requires quality hardwood to burn to avoid chimney fires from softwood creosote buildup. For those living in conifer or hemlock forests, an outdoor boiler might be a better way to use your available resources. Fortunately, with the super-efficient models on the market today, they only require minor retrofits to run directly off battery power. A small inverter placed within your boiler shed to power the boiler fan, and the use of DC electric (directly battery powered) pumps to circulate your water or antifreeze, and you have a low-energy solution and warm radiant floors to boot. Still, make sure you have an electricity-free form of heat to get you through the worst storms, but most days your boiler will keep you toasty on just a small amount of softwood.
5. Dehumidifier or air conditioner
Really? A compressor on solar power? Yes! Peak summer heat and humidity often coincide with peak solar output. Around the summer solstice, our battery bank will be full by mid-day, meaning that a whole afternoon’s production will be wasted without an outlet.
Once you’ve done all your electricity-using chores, go ahead and switch on the dehumidifier or air conditioner with your free electricity. Obviously you need to monitor closely to make sure it doesn’t stay on past peak solar output, but that’s a small consideration for a free burst of comfort during the heat of the day.
6. Electric cooking appliances
While many homesteaders are building summer kitchens to keep the heat out of the house during hot months, solar-powered homesteaders have the option of setting up an electric-powered kitchen either indoors or outdoors for the summer months. Single burner induction ranges can bring a large canning pot to a boil in no time, and will barely dent our mid-day production at high summer. A small countertop electric oven, like an oversized toaster oven, is great for baking summer pies or a quick meal using free electricity. Just as wood stove cooking accomplishes two tasks, heat and food, a separate set of solar-powered summer appliances means lower bills and quick meals.
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