Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More off-grid fun!

There's only one thing better than building your own off-grid home -helping someone else build theirs.

Right now I'm pretty tired out. I'd forgotten how much running wire takes its toll. Of course, since the house currently doesn't have power, I'm using battery powered drills. They've come a long way in the last few years, but don't have the sheer power of a large corded 1/2" drill. On the plus side, they are pretty nice for things like screwing in outlets and switches. It's a more delicate job for which battery powered bit drivers do an excellent job.

In a more perfect world, off-grid construction would go something like this: Install the battery bank -perhaps in it's very own little power shed. Hook it up to a decent inverter/charger. Charge batteries with any combination of solar, wind, and maybe a generator. Use the power from the alternative energy system to build the house.

Here's what really happened. First builder used up time and money but was unable to retrofit an existing building. In fact, that attempt ended in a tumbled heap of broken lumber. Stuff happens. Builder #2 is called in. Pretty much starts from the ground up. Of course, now the budget is blown, and the clock is running. All remaining funds go toward paying Builder #2 to erect a house shell.

The wonderful alternative energy project is put on the back burner. Gas generators provide on site power for construction. Builder #2 actually knows his stuff. He does nice work. However, like most major projects like this, there are setbacks. The shell is almost completed. It's got walls and a roof. A fine chimney has been built by a skilled mason. The place is solid. It also lacks windows. Our builder is off in another state taking care of a family emergency.

Windows would really have been nice. The window openings are covered in house wrap, so at least snow isn't blowing in. It is snowing, however. This being northern NH, temps have been dropping into the teens. Yeah, windows would be nice. It's a bit drafty in the place. This is a prime spot for wind power, but I'd appreciate the wind more in a buttoned up house.

Originally, I was going to help wire the place back in June. I finally got sick of waiting. The building owners and I picked up most of the wiring materials and set to work. The entrance panel and the first room are done. To test everything, a battery and a small inverted were used to energize the panel. Everything worked great -until I turned on more power than the little inverter could supply and it blew a fuse. Don't you just love destructive testing?

The little woodstove is unable to raise the temperature more than a few degrees. At least one can thaw out by standing right next to it. Did I mention at all that windows would be nice? They are piled up in the corner of the building. At least they actually exist, so I'm encouraged.

Today is a day for good news. The first room is wired. Everything installed works the way it's supposed to. The owner tells me that the budget for the battery bank is looking hopeful.

When I left the young couple for the day, they were on the phone talking to their builder -something about windows.



  1. Have you ever seen the video Les Stroud did on building his off grid home in the Canadian wilderness? It was a terrific amount of work, and he hired out most of it to specialists. My place is on the grid, we have a line coming up the mountain. The trouble is, our power grid dates back to the 1930's, and is off every time there's a wind or rain or snow or a bird lands on the line. I have a generator to back it up. I built a massive solar panel system with an inverter and deep cycle batteries in 1999, but it was a bitch to maintain and could not run the house, even if we only used minimum load, for more than a couple of hours before I had to turn on the generator anyway.

  2. Hi Hermit. Yes, I saw the Les Stroud video. My wife and I got a huge kick out of it. We kept making "BLAAANT" noises every time they did something stupid.

    I can go about 4 days with no grid power or sun. System has given few problems. I water it about twice a year and adjust the angle of the panels every 3 months or so.

    Grid power out here is a bit better than it used to be but it's still bad. I got the go ahead on my system when my wife was told "there's nothing you can do about power outages."