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Monday, July 15, 2013

Small budget alternative energy, the early years



My lovely wife and I were married at 20 years old, about 35 years ago. Several years and two children later, my lovely wife and I bought our first house. It was 22 foot by 22 foot 4 room house. The bathroom was so small, it only had a tub and a toilet -no sink. There was an attached garage that later became a bedroom and a full sized bathroom. We paid $15,000 for the house.

We had very little money, but we did have a place of our own. *not counting the bank, of course.

Heating in New Hampshire is always an issue. The house came with an oil fired hot air furnace, the type normally installed in trailers. I improved the efficiency of the furnace by fixing some duct issues. Soon after, I put in a simple woodstove. Some years that was my sole source of heat. Heating oil was over 70 cents a gallon. Who could afford that?

This house sat on the end of a 50 X 100 lot in town. Not a lot of room for processing firewood. Fortunately, my dad had a larger piece of land, about a ½ mile away. I'd get my wood delivered to his place, where I'd borrow his chainsaw to cut it up. It was also split there. All the wood was moved to my house in a borrowed homemade trailer pulled by my 1977 Honda Civic. It took a lot of trips to get 5 cords of wood to my house.

My hot water was electric. With small kids in the house, we used plenty of hot water. Something had to be done about the electric bill. I salvaged a 30 gallon water tank from a kerosene heater. With some salvaged copper pipe and a bit of soldering, it was rigged it up with a small heating coil. The coil sat on top of the woodstove and circulated hot water using convection. The wood fired tank would feed into the electric. My water heating bill dropped 90%.

That was fine for the winter, but what about summer when the woodstove wasn't working? Remember, still had very little money. As soon as it became too warm for the woodstove, I'd disconnect the salvaged tank and move it outside in a sunny area. I gave it a good coat of black paint. Someone had given me a big coil of black plastic pipe. That sat on shed roof. Water would come into the tank, start to warm up, then get a boost from running through the coil of plastic pipe. While not as productive as the woodstove, it still reduced my electric bill 70 – 80%.

Over the years we made steady improvements to that house. When I sold it, there was enough money to get me started on my dome home in the country, where I could be even more self reliant and independent.

-Sixbears

14 comments:

  1. What a neat story, we heat with only wood now and it is a real efficient heat compared to oil and propane which we tried in the same house. I keep waiting for the fanatics to outlaw burning wood!

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    1. Thanks. Would not surprise me if they would outlaw it. Crazier laws have passed.

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  2. It IS illegal to burn wood in some CITIES. I think counties and states are still okay with it, though.

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    1. Another reason to stay out of cities.

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  3. Someone has to keep the electric companies in business so I both heat and cool my place via electric. Keeps me poor.

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    1. Someone has to keep those guys in business. They can't rely on me.

      It gets darn hot in TX, so you have to do something.

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  4. Bet you have learned a lot over the years! The school of hard knocks and trial and error has more than likely taught you more about self reliance than many of us could learn in a month of Sundays!

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    1. What is tough is knowing how to do something, but having absolutely nothing to work with. It's happened to me. I can do a lot with little, but I need something.

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  5. You're a mine of ingenuity and sensible advice! I am planning to, somehow, incorporate some of those ideas on our boat, wood stove, coil, passive water heating,etc. And definitely solar panels, basically to be a self sufficient as its possible to be on a boat. We'll see how that goes, soon. It will be an intersting ride!

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    1. Glad to hear my experiences are of some use.

      I'm enjoying your boat project. Self sufficiency on a boat only makes sense.

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  6. I like how you think and admire how you live.
    There needs to be many more bears in the woods...

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    1. Just trying to get by. Thanks Flying Tortoise.

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  7. Adding a wood stove this year to my house, in fact my first load of mill ends (7 cords) will be delivered this week. I have one AGM new battery and 60 watts worth of solar panels, a 7 amp controller and a 1100/2400 watt inverter for my solar generator. It's a small start but it gives me a little independence from the Grid.

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    1. It's a huge start. Heat and light when others don't have any. Most people do nothing but complain. You have taken positive steps to take control of your life.

      Well done!

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