How to go off-grid fast and simple

 

 

 

This article describes how to fully or partially disconnect from the electrical grid by simple means that can be installed quickly.

 

You may find this information helpful if you are bothered by a smart meter or dirty grid power, if you wonder if you’d do better without electricity in the house, or if you’d just like to experiment without spending a lot of money.

 

Keywords:  disconnect home from grid, take home off-grid, simple solar system, electrical hypersensitivity, 12 volt solar, how to live without electricity

 

Introduction

This article describes quick short-term solutions, which can be put together in a few days at a total cost of less than $500.  These technologies are time-tested, but only provide a minimum comfort level and are not suitable for long-term use.

 

A permanent setup will have to be tailored to the specific situation, which may cost a lot more and take much more effort.  It can be done over time, and will provide a more comfortable living situation.

 

Going off the grid is a major lifestyle change and is not suitable for everyone.  If you require push-button convenience, or don’t think you can vigorously conserve electricity, this is not for you.

 

The methods described here have been successfully used for years by people who are both chemically and electrically hypersensitive (EHS and MCS).  There are other options available, most of which do not work well for people with MCS or EHS.

 

A link is provided at the end of the article to more detailed information, including other options and long-term solutions.

 

Partial grid disconnect

The first step is to decide whether to fully or partially disconnect from the grid.  A partial disconnect is often easier and more comfortable.

 

If you have a garage or an outbuilding, you may be able to keep the power on there, while disconnecting the house itself.  Then the refrigerator and washing machine could be moved out there and always have electricity.  If the grid power goes directly to the garage, it may be simple to keep the power on for the garage alone.  Another option is to have a long extension cord from a next-door neighbor to power the refrigerator in the garage.

 

If you have to run a washing machine or other appliance in the house, it could be done using a long extension cord.  Such a cord should only be plugged in for short periods, otherwise the house is not really off the grid.

 

Make sure to use medium-duty or heavy-duty extension cords, suitable for work shops or construction sites.  These are much sturdier than regular extension cords, and are available from building supply and hardware stores.  Ask the staff to help you get the correct size (gauge).

 

Make sure not to create a fire hazard by overloading the extension cord.

 

Extension cords are only suitable for temporary use.  Dogs and rodents in the yard may eventually chew on them, and other problems are possible as well.

 

Battery lights

 

General Electric battery lamp

 

Battery powered lights are a simple and low cost alternative or supplement to solar lights.  They can work well as a reading light when placed on the table, but they are not powerful enough to light up a whole room.

 

They do use up a lot of batteries, so consider using rechargeable batteries with a solar charger.

 

Solar path lights can also be used.  Sometimes they provide a better light if put inside a plastic water bottle.  Some of these lights have built-in charge controllers which send out EMF when charging in the sun (but not at night).

 

Gas lights

Coleman gas lamp shines in through a window, leaving the fumes outside.

 

Propane gas lanterns put out a lot of light.  They burn cleanly, but not well enough to have them inside a house.  They can be used to shine in through a window, providing light to a table placed inside.

 

The bright light may annoy the neighbors, but aluminum foil can be wrapped around the glass dome to block the light in that direction.

 

Gas lights can be mounted on special pedestals that fit on bar-be-cue propane tanks.  This is economical in the long run.

 

They can also fit directly on disposable gas canisters.

 

Gas lights are available from camping stores and camping sections of general stores, such as Walmart.

 

 

Aluminum foil prevents light from annoying the neighbors.

 

 

 

Small Coleman gaslight, mounted on disposable propane canister.  The lamp is on top of a small tower of concrete blocks.  Aluminum foil blocks/reflects light.

 

Solar electricity

 

The SUNFORCE charge controller comes with wires and terminals, ready to mount between the battery and the solar panel.

 

A small and simple no-EMF solar system consists of:

 

      a 12 volt solar panel (max 90 watts)

      a 12 volt no-EMF charge controller

      a 12 volt marine/RV battery

 

This type of setup was common around 1990.  Since then, inverters, pulsing charge controllers and many other technologies have become standard, but such technologies may not work well for people who are electrically sensitive.  Be aware that very few vendors and installers understand this and typically advise you to buy what they are familiar with, which may not work for you.

 

The solar panel collects photons from sunlight and turns them into electricity, which passes through the charge controller to be stored in the battery.  When the battery is full, the charge controller turns off the solar panel.

 

The battery then provides 12 volt DC electricity, which can be used to power a couple of lights at night.  On a sunny day, the system can also charge a laptop computer, for instance.

 

The system can later be expanded to do more, by adding more panels and charge controllers.  Just make sure that each charge controller does not get overloaded by too many solar panels.

 

The materials to purchase are:

 

Item

Cost

Vendor

Solar panel
12 volt, 20 to 90 watts

$100 – $300

Any solar dealer, such as:

Backwoods Solar
www.backwoodssolar.com
(208) 263-4290

Northern Ariz. Wind & Sun
www.solar-electric.com
1-800-383-0195

Charge controller
7 amp / 12 volt model

$35

Camping World
O’Reilly Auto Parts

Marine/RV battery
approximately 100 amp-hours

$100

Walmart
Kmart
auto parts store

 

Almost all solar charge controllers produce EMF and dirty electricity.  The listed charge controller is the safest model available.  It is manufactured by SUNFORCE, but often sold under various names and face plates.  See the picture on the previous page.  It comes with cables and instructions on how to connect it to the battery and the solar panel, which is very simple to do.

 

The solar panel should be at least 20 watts, and no more than 90 watts.  The larger sizes are more cost effective and will provide more electricity, especially on cloudy days.

 

The solar panel must be placed so it receives direct sunlight most of the day.  A south-facing porch, balcony or roof is best.  Make sure no part of the panel is shaded.

 

 

The solar panel is best placed outside, where it gets direct sunlight throughout the day.  It must be secured better than shown, when high winds come through.

 

 

The solar panel can be placed in a south-facing window, but it won’t produce as much electricity as when outside.  The window glass will reduce the electric output, especially low-E glass.  Partial shading (as shown in the picture) is not acceptable, as it affects the entire solar panel.

 

 

The battery is best kept at room temperature, and should not get colder than about 60ľF (15ľC), when using this charge controller.

 

If you need to keep the battery in the living space, consider using a more expensive deep cycle AGM battery.  AGM batteries are spill proof and emit no fumes.

 

A cooler can be used to store and protect a battery.  It can also keep the battery warmer at night.  Make sure to drill a few ventilation holes in the top.

 

You may need to hire a handy person to set this up, if you are not handy yourself.

 

WARNING:  A battery holds a lot of energy.  If the battery is shorted, it will rapidly release a lot of energy.  This can cause sparks, fire, explosion and spilled battery acid.

 

WARNING:  A battery contains strong acid, which can burn eyes, skin and clothing.  Be careful when working with a battery and make sure children, pets and others cannot access the battery.

 

WARNING:  Batteries with liquid acid can emit hydrogen, which is lighter than air and can explode.  Make sure such a battery is in a vented area.

 

Lights powered by solar system

 

12 volt RV lights.  The one on the left is a Model 311 from Thin-Lite,
which works well.  The one on the right is flimsy and runs hot.

 

Twelve volt lights are available from RV stores such as Camping World, and online.  They are usually cheaply made and some of them smell of hot plastic when on, but they are easy to install.

 

A light can be connected to the battery using an extension cord where the connectors are cut off.  Put ring terminals on the battery end of the cord.  Wire nuts or screw terminals can be used to hook up the light.

 

The battery has enough energy to turn a shorted-out cord on fire.  This can ignite carpeting, wood, paper or other things in a house.  Make sure to put a fuse on each electrical cord to protect against fires.  In-line fuses are available from any automotive supply store (see picture on next page).

 

Exposed wires, such as shown here, are only for short term use.  They are a hazard for pets and children, and adults may trip over them.  For long-term use, they should be protected, just as you would protect regular household wiring.

 

Item

Cost

Vendor

12 volt RV lamp

$25

RV supply

Extension cord, medium duty

$5 – $15

hardware store

Wire nuts or screw connectors

$5

hardware store

Ring terminals (5/16” post)

$5

hardware store
automotive supply

In-line fuse, 10 amps

$5

automotive supply

 

 

 

Automotive fuse equipped with ring terminals to connect it to the battery.  The extension cord is connected to the fuse with a yellow wire nut.

 

Connections can be made with twist-on wire nuts and crimped-on ring terminals.  They are easy to use, but some people may need the help of a handyman to set it up.

 

Refrigerating food

If you will not have access to an electric refrigerator, you can buy a couple of well-insulated coolers and use them as ice chests.  You would need to get more ice every two or three days.  Make sure to get the well-insulated models, which are sometimes called “five-day coolers”.

 

People have gotten by for years using ice chests.  They can work well for refrigerated foods, but will not work for frozen foods.

 

A propane powered refrigerator works very well, but it is expensive.  It can be supplied from a standard bar-be-cue propane gas cylinder, which is refilled every two weeks.  A propane refrigerator is best kept in a garage or sheltered porch, not inside the house.

 

Most modern propane refrigerators have electronics in them, which is best avoided.  One non-electric propane fridge is the Diamond brand.  Another option is to find a local RV repair shop, which may be able to sell a used non-electric RV fridge.

 

Cooking food

Propane camping stoves work very well for cooking outside on a porch, patio or balcony.  They are available from camping stores and the camping sections in Walmart and Kmart.  For long term use, it is best to get the hose and adapter to connect it to a regular bar-be-cue propane cylinder.

 

The stove needs to be sheltered from the wind, especially in the winter, as the heat loss may make cooking impossible.

 

A propane bar-be-cue grill is a nice supplement to the stove, but not essential.  It cannot be used instead of a stove.  The side burners on some models are difficult to protect against the wind, and thus not a good long-term solution.

 

People with MCS are often hesitant to cook with propane, but many have no problems when cooking outside.  Some make sure not to breathe in the fumes when lighting the stove and place the stove where it is not covered by any porch roof.

 

Hot water

Hot water for doing dishes, bathing, etc. can be heated in a pot on the stove in the short term.

 

Plastic jugs can be set out in the sun for heating water as well.

 

A household can reduce the need for hot water dramatically by doing sponge baths, washing dishes in a plastic tub and other measures.

 

Later on, a propane water heater can be installed.  Be aware that some models require electricity for their controls.

 

Heating the house

Providing heat for a house taken off the grid is often the most difficult issue.  Some people have a fireplace they can use, while most people will need to find a solution that works for their situation.

 

Some people get by with turning on the power to the house and heat it up for a few hours, perhaps while going for a walk or sitting in a car.

 

There are various portable and retrofit gas heaters available, but they are all problematic and not tolerable to more sensitive people.  This includes the “direct vent” and “vent free” heaters.

 

Wood stoves are used successfully by some people, though the fumes and ash dust can be difficult.  The better models generate less smoke, soot and ash than the cheap models.

 

Some people simply have no heat.

 

See the link at the end of the article for more information.

 

For more information

For more comprehensive information, other options, details, etc. see:  www.eiwellspring.org/offgrid.html

 

February 2013