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Going Off-Grid w/ Solar, Part 1: An Overview

June 10, 2019

Talking about solar power and off-grid utilities is a sketchy subject, even amongst people who advocate for “self-reliance,” and “liberty.” It can stoke people’s anger, very, very quickly, I’ve found. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but I suspect it’s primarily three things.

First is, it smells like patchouli and unwashed hippies. After all, it’s “green” energy, right? I mean, it’s actually not, really, but, it is often marketed that way (we’ll come back to why it actually isn’t later). And, if you’re “green,” you’re obviously a nasty-smelling, foul leftist. Everyone who is a real conservative knows that we have enough coal and oil in the United States to keep our economy going for the next 500 years, without problem (well, except for the folks in the oil industry that actually understand how oil industry economics actually work, but again, that’s irrelevant to the current conversation).

The second issue about off-grid alternative energy is, it can’t save everyone. Alternative energy production, whether wind or solar, doesn’t pencil out well, at all, on the industrial scale. It works best on the small-scale, at the individual home, and—arguably—the small village. It doesn’t work worth a shit on the city, county, state, or national level. Many people, even in the “liberty” oriented “self-reliance” communities, seem to get really pissed when someone else finds a solution that allows them to live with some semblance of modern civility and utilities, even when a storm knocks out the local power (granted, my tendency, when someone announces that the power is out, to respond with, “Really? Weird, mine isn’t.” probably doesn’t help their anger management issue…).

Finally, and I suspect this is the biggest part, even though it’s actually the easiest to remedy, is the apparent cost of alternative energy installation. There are hundreds—if not thousands—of books available, dedicated to alternative energy. There are books on system design. There are books on component selection. There are books on installation. I’ve been reading books on alternative energy for well over 20 years, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. There are thousands—probably millions—of magazine articles, website articles, and even entire websites, dedicated to alternative energy systems, covering the same array of information.

Unfortunately, one the things I’ve noticed about the media available on alternative energy is, almost exclusively, it tends to tell people how expensive alternative energy is. I’ve seen books and magazine articles, in recent months, that insist a household PV system (PV stands for Photovoltaic, the proper term for the method solar panels use to produce electrical current) will start at a minimum of $10,000. I’ve talked to people who have had PV systems installed on their homes, and they invariably have paid closer to $20,000, and those were grid-tied systems.

In our local area, there are two or three different companies that advertise locally about their solar installation services. “Cut your electric bill to nothing!” “When was the last time you had a $15 electric bill?” (The basic hook-up maintenance fee in the local area is right at $15.).

I have a cousin who used one of their services, and had their entire roof retrofitted with solar panels, in a grid-tie system, hoping to reduce their electric bill dramatically (it’s the South. It’s hotter than three feet up Satan’s asshole here, in the summer). They did. He was stoked, when he got his first electric bill, and it was $22, when it had been almost $200 the month before. On the other hand, when I asked him what his monthly payment on the PV system was, and he said $400, he got a really crestfallen look on his face, when I started laughing my ass off at him. I don’t know how long the note is, and I don’t know what the interest rate is, but in his case, solar doesn’t win, especially since, if the power goes out…his goes out too. The utility companies generally don’t allow grid-tied systems to have battery bank support, because then, if the power goes out, your system is still charged, and could—theoretically—backfeed into the system, and kill one of their linemen.

So, grid-tied solar definitely does not pencil out, at the current time. Even though it’s sometimes marketed as being “more environmental,” because it “reduces the amount of fossil fuels the power company has to burn,” this is simply untrue. The power company has to keep the generators running, because they don’t know when a whole bunch of people are going to suddenly turn on their air conditioners or video consoles, and they’re going to need a very sudden upsurge in power. It certainly doesn’t pencil out for affordability and savings for the home-owner. Even if you paid cash for the system, it’s going to take you decades to get your investment back on electric bill savings.

Well, then why use solar?

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We chose an off-grid solar system for power for a couple of reasons. First of all, when it’s done right, it can actually be extremely affordable. For a rural location like ours, where the power company was going to have to install new poles and lines to reach our house, the cost of our PV system was dramatically less than what the power company wanted for the installation, and we don’t have ongoing electric bills on top of it. I’m kind of a cheap fucker. If I’m going to spend money, I want to spend it on things tangibles.

Second, we wanted reliable power. While our local utility is actually pretty decent, there have been a half-dozen outages in 2019 alone. We’ve had one, from a nearby lightning strike causing the breaker in our system to pop. While it took the utility company between 12 and 72 hours to get all the power back on, it took me 30 seconds to walk over and flip the breaker back on.

Third, we wanted resilience. Regardless of your position on Peak Oil, and other issues, the reality is, if the economy collapses—as it is showing increasing signs of doing, according to a wide range of economists with pretty solid track records, the power company isn’t going to make keeping power on to residences a priority. In the event of a CME or an EMP—both of which even the government is increasingly admitted are a matter of when, not if—the power company is going to be toast. Will a small-scale solar installation survive? Maybe, maybe not, but it damned sure has a better chance than the large utilities.

For all three of these reasons, a grid-tied system simply didn’t make sense for us.

I managed to build our system for less than $3000. It started out, when we were living in a portable shed, and building the house, with a single 210W, 12V solar panel, a cheap inverter off Amazon, three Marine/RV batteries from Wal-Mart that combined offered 330 amp hours of power, and a 700W inverted from the local parts store. The batteries were $70 each ($210). The solar panels was $105. The inverter was about $34, and the inverter was $70. We used that system for two years. At a total price of $429 (let’s round it to $450, to cover the cost of the wires and different connections I used), amortized over the 24 months we used it (I think we actually used it for 26 months, but…), our “monthly electric bill” was $17.49…the house we rented before, our monthly bill was $120 a month. So, in four months, we had broken even, and the rest was—literally—free energy, at that point.

Of course, that small of a system limited what we could run on electricity, if we didn’t want to kill the system of run out of power. In that shed, we had electric lights (and with babies in the house, we generally leave at least one light on through the night), two fans running through the day, in summer, and a smaller, 36” flat screen television and DVD player. We also charged laptops and cellphones. There were only 3-4 days, in that time frame, when I had to tell everyone to turn everything off, except the lights, because the batteries were low. In every one of those cases, I was able to hook my truck up to the battery bank, with a pair of jumper cables, and recharge the batteries, in an hour or so.

Our current system is significantly larger, but still smaller than most off-grid PV systems. We have six 240W panels, making our PV array a 1.4KW array. Most household sized units that I’ve seen are closer to 5-10KW. We have a 60amp SunnySky MPPT charge controller, an AIM 5KW inverter, and twelve 105ah Duracell AGM batteries, for a total storage capacity of 15.75KWH (105ah x 12.5V x12). Of course, since you don’t actually want to discharge the batteries past 50% capacity, really, we’re limited to roughly 7.5KWh of capacity.

The panels were purchased for something like $120/panel, for a cost of $0.50 per watt, which is, of course, significantly less expensive than the roughly $3.00 per watt of a retail price. The panels were new in the box, located via a Craigslist ad, by a friend (full disclosure: even though I was going to repay him for the cost of the panels, he ended up giving us the panels, so I actually didn’t pay for them. I’ve still included the cost of the panels in my overall cost estimates). They are manufactured by Trina Solar.

The charge controller, from SunnySky, was purchased after my previous charge controller, purchased via Amazon, for $50, turned out to not be a MPPT controller after all, and caught on fire one day, when the panels were producing more power than it could handle. Nothing better than smelling burning plastic, and looking frantically for what the source is, only to see your charge controller, right next to a bank of batteries, in flames! The SunnySky charge controller cost me something like $200, and has worked amazingly well for two years now, and has a much easier to read and understand digital display than the other piece of shit I had. The AIM inverter, even for the 5KW version, was only $400. That’s a total, so far, of $1320.

The battery bank was, by far, the single most expensive aspect of the system. After using a set of cheap Everlast Deep Cycle Marine/RV batteries for three years, including a couple of ill-advised deep discharges, we had two of the three batteries go bad. One was completely dead. It wouldn’t hold a charge over 11.2V. The other would hold a charge, but only at 12V, meaning it has lost half of its capacity (a fully, 100% charged 12V battery should actually be at 12.5-12.6V).

I contacted the local off-grid solar installer, and asked him for the price of an on-site consult. It turned out—unremarkably, given the local culture—that not only did we have a couple of mutual friends, he had actually heard of me, and was interested in looking at my system anyway. He came out, looked over the system, and declared it “good to go. I wouldn’t have done it any different, except…” he recommended a couple changes I already knew needed to be made, like getting my wiring from the battery bank to the house, either buried, or up off the ground, and that I needed to build a better structure to house my battery bank. For the record, both still need to happen…

I asked for a recommendation on higher quality batteries. Expecting him to recommend really expensive golf cart or forklift 6V batteries, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he recommended—and used on his installs, unless the client specified something else—a simple 105ah glass mat battery by Duracell, that was available from Sam’s Club. I checked Sam’s Club, and the batteries were $179 each, plus a core charge of $10, for a total of $190. I have twelve batteries in the bank, currently. Total cost of the batteries was $2280, but I didn’t—be sure—buy them all at once. I started with four batteries, and then added two every two months, until I had ten. We used just ten for the better part of a year, before I finally went and bought two more.

So, thus far—including the cost of the panels, we’re sitting on $3600 worth of PV system. Of course, when you add in incidentals like wiring and connectors to put the system together, it’s probably closer to $3700.

That’s considerably less than the $5000 the power company wanted to extend the lines to our house, and I don’t have electric bills. For me, that was a no-brainer. We currently manage to run a 7.5 cubic foot deep freeze, lights throughout the house, a radio, the large flat screen television, a DVD player, three or four fans throughout the house in the summer, and we charge two cellphones, two laptops, four two-way radios, a shortwave radio receiver, and a few other things that escape me at the moment.

We have been using the current power system for pushing three years now. Amortized over the course of 36 months, our power “bill” comes out to $102. That’s not particularly impressive, until you start looking at the longevity of PV systems. It is currently expected that PV panels SHOULD have a working life span of 20-30 years, before there is a noticeable drop in power. Assuming we can get the expected 7-10 years of life out of the AGM batteries, versus the cheaper Everlasts that lasted three years, and absent a lightning strike that blows up the inverter or charge controller, we should get a solid four more years out of this system, without needing to spend more money on it, and probably more like another seven years. If we get the low end of seven years of life out of the batteries, we’re looking at a cost amortization of $44/month. If we get the full ten years, it drops to $30 a month.

It’s important to note that, while the AGM batteries don’t require maintenance, I do check the batteries monthly, with a voltmeter. Even after the amount of time we’ve been using this set of batteries, our batteries are still at 100%. We’re extremely careful to make sure we don’t get them below a 50% depth of discharge though. I’ve heard of people getting 15 years out of a set of batteries. While I don’t expect that, it would make me very, very happy.

Talking to friends in town, the average monthly power bill these days, in our area, is just north of $200/month. While the cost savings are nice, the bigger benefit on that front, from my perspective is, the system is already paid for. I don’t have to worry about making that bill every month.

More important to me, is the independence it offers me. One of our neighbors works for the county water department. Since we use rainwater catchment for our primary water supply, and have a composting toilet, and a greywater system, we don’t use the county water system. I was talking to that neighbor the other day though, and he mentioned that, at some point, I should expect that someone from the county was going to show up at our gate, wanting to inspect the property, for tax appraisal purposes. As he pointed out, they’ll see the place on satellite imagery. (To be clear, he’s 100% supportive of what we’re doing…and when I pointed out that if it was the Water Department that showed up, I’d know exactly who sent them, he hastened to tell me it wouldn’t be him, because he didn’t want to end up dead).

I responded that, there’s no building inspection/code enforcement in the county, so what were they going to, besides appraise it for taxes? He thought about it for a moment, and laughed. “Yeah, usually they threaten to have your power turned off, because you don’t have county water hooked up. That’s not going to work with you, is it?”

Nope.

Creating our own power offers a lot of independence. Developing our own water sources (we could do a well, but while local hand dug wells usually hit water at 10-15 feet, most of the drilled wells in the area are closer to 2000’, and we’re on top of the mountain, so it might even be deeper…and that shit is expensive!), with three spring-fed ponds for back-up (our water catchment system cost me less than $500 to build, and currently holds just over 1100 gallons), increases our independence. Local monthly water bills in the county are currently running approximately $105/month, so there’s financial savings on that front as well.

Finally, we get a lot more resilience out of our system than the local utility subscribers do. Our closest neighbor is ¼ mile from us, through the woods and across a pasture. Their power goes off for at least a couple hours, every time a storm blows in (and since we’re on top of the mountain, a LOT of storms blow in, at full strength), from downed lines. They are at the end of the power line, so they are hardly a priority for repair. As I mentioned previously, our power has gone out once this year, and it was a thirty second, effortless repair for me.

If the power grids go down for a longer term, our system will not last forever, of course. Batteries go bad eventually, electronic components short out or burn out. Solar panels can catch hail stones or thrown rocks, or other flying debris, and crack or break (PV panels are actually remarkably resilient though. Ours has absorbed golf-ball sized hail with no damage at all, even when metal roofs were dinged to Hell.)

But, our system does offer a more cushioned fall. We will be able to run lights a lot longer than others will. We will be able to keep our chest freezer running longer, facilitating much easier food preservation. We will have entertainment options for the children, beyond just doing chores and homeschool work.

Sure, a gas, diesel, or propane generator would allow us to do that as well, but not for nearly as long. Sure, batteries die, and while standard truck or car batteries are not particularly convenient for off-grid power applications, they will work in the short-term, and there will be a LOT of unused car batteries available, when nobody can get fuel for their cars. Even if an ad hoc battery bank like that only lasts six months or a year, with enough salvaged batteries, that gives the system a really long lifespan, even if the Duracell batteries don’t make the 10 year expected lifespan.

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We’ve been using a 5KW gas generator to to run power tools. Obviously this is not as sustainable or resilient as it could be. One of the fixes I have found is to begin switching as many tools as possible over to battery-powered tools. I was really hesitant to do this, initially, because of bad experiences in the past with battery powered tools, but I started with a couple of DeWalt cordless drills, and pretty soon found I also had a DeWalt cordless circular saw, and then a cordless Sawz-All, etc. I’ve not switched over completely yet (DeWalt doesn’t make a cordless angle grinder, that I’ve seen, and all of our power tools are DeWalt, except for a single Milwaukee hammer drill, and one Milwaukee circular saw that I’ve owned for twenty years.) I’ve been using the cordless tools an increasing amount, over the last two years, and have fallen in love with them. While I used my standard DeWalt circular saw for most of the work building our house, I don’t think I’ve pulled it out a half-dozen times since, for various projects, reaching for the cordless saw instead.

The battery pack tools are convenient, because I can charge them off the household electrical system quickly and easily, if not efficiently (think about it…the solar panels are charging batteries, which provide power to the house…which is being used to charge batteries. A better system would be to hook a PV panel directly to the batteries to charge them somehow. Unfortunately, I’m not smart enough to figure out how to do that….

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There are a number of things I’ve done “wrong” in developing our off-grid solar power system, according to the prevailing wisdom. Most obvious is, “don’t mix old batteries and new batteries.” Well, that’s fine, if you can pony up the money for all your batteries at once, or if you never have to expand the system’s storage capacity, but for the rest of us, it’s kind of a necessity. What I’ve found seems to work though is to simply check the status of the older batteries, before adding a new battery. If your old batteries are still capable of 95% or more of their new capacity, you’re probably okay adding new batteries to the bank, without worrying that it’s going to kill your new batteries.

I “fucked up” by purchasing “cheap” components, like the inverter and charge controller, that were Made in China. As I mention in the new Rifle book (shipping starts next week, for those who have pre-ordered, see the “Campfire Chat” article for this week), I see a lot of people who seem to use their rifle accessories as status symbols. “Oh, I’d never buy anything less than a US Optics/Scmidt & Bender for my rifle! Anything less is Made in China crap!” Never mind the fact that the photo they show of their rifle makes it abundantly clear the rifle is not used for regular, realistic training, but is a much-beloved safe queen. I see the same thing happening in solar discussions. “Oh, if you don’t spend at least $3000 on your Trace Inverter, you’re going to hate it, and your house will burn down.

Do you get what you pay for? Within reason, generally yes. Sure, a Trace Pure Sine Wave inverter would probably produce a slightly better form of electrical current than the AIMS modified Sine Wave inverter I have. Is the difference worth $2600? I don’t know, but it’s not to me. We manage to run a lot of electronics, on our modified sine wave electricity, that the conventional wisdom says we shouldn’t be able to, with no problems. I’d rather spend that $2600 on something else. Fortunately, I live in a place where off-grid living still generally means “no electricity or running water,” so even having a solar system is unique enough that I don’t need to “brag” about it. I don’t need to use my PV array as a status symbol. Hell, I built my house by hand, using traditional building methods. That’s bragging rights enough, as far as my neighbors seem to be concerned (we’ve had neighbors we don’t know, show up asking if they can check out the house, because they heard about it from someone).

I am going to expand the system. I have several more of the Trina Solar panels in storage under the house. My plan is to build a second, slightly smaller system, independent of the house system. I will put the freezer on the second system, and add a ductless “mini split” air conditioner to the house. A 24,000 BTU system can be found for around $1000 brand new, and I’ve got a local friend who got his used for less than $500. The cool thing about the mini-split is that they use considerably less power than a standard A/C, and the start up for the compressor is capacitated somehow, so it’s not a sudden surge that kills the batteries and overstresses the system. My family—and myself—will be grateful for the cool air, in another month, when night time temperatures are in the upper 80s, and humidity is at 90%.

The best part of switching the freezer to the new system will be the ability to put a regular refrigerator on the current system. We’ve been using a propane refrigerator for a couple of years now, because everything I had read claimed they were super efficient, and the most economical way to run a refrigerator off-grid. Unfortunately, they actually blow through a LOT of propane, and the local propane company won’t deliver to our house, because of the access road condition.

So, since we can’t get a 500 or 1000 gallon tank filled, we use several 100# tanks to fuel the cookstove in the kitchen, and 20# tanks to fuel the refrigerator. Our refrigerator—a deluxe side-by-side model from a RV—is reputed to be one of the better versions, but it only gets about 8 days out of a 20# tank of propane. I can currently refill a 20# propane tank for around $15, but when I have to do that four times a month, that starts adding up in a hurry. It would be more economical, as far as I can tell, to add a couple of panels to the array, pushing it up to a 2KW system, and a couple more batteries, and just use a regular electric refrigerator. Considering I can buy a used high-efficiency base model refrigerator for a couple of hundred dollars, and the propane fridge cost me $1300—and an eight hour round trip drive—it ends up penciling out better to just run the electric fridge, after expanding the current system. Now, if I could just convince someone to buy the propane fridge off me…..

A lot of solar “experts” insist that, for a household sized system, running a 12v system is uneconomical. They all recommend stepping up to a 24 or 48 volt system. We started out with the 12v system, because we were running such as small system. While I might get some more economy out of the 24 or 48v system, I can’t complain about the 12v system, and I already had the components. I may try 24 or 48V for the secondary system, for the freezer and A/C, but I really haven’t decided yet.

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Ultimately, I highly recommend going off-grid solar, if you live in a rural environment that makes it plausible. You’re probably not going to get to install and use an off-grid PV system in the middle of a city or a subdivision. In that case, I think a PV generator, with a single panel or two, and a couple of deep cycle batteries, that will keep your essentials running for a while, in the case of a mid-term power outage is a really solid idea. To me, it makes far more sense than a loud diesel or gas generator. Especially in a situation like a Hurricane Katrina situation, where you might want to keep stuff running in your house, without enticing looters, the silence of the solar generator offers some significant advantages.

Designing a PV system can really be accomplished two ways. The first—textbook—method, is to conduct an energy audit of what your current electric uses are, and then build a system to suit that, possibly with some oversize percentage built in, in case you need it later. This is also the most expensive way to design the system, outside of simply paying an outside contractor to come in and do it for you.

This method wouldn’t work for us, because we didn’t know what our usage was going to be. We knew we were giving up a lot of modern electronics—well, we thought we were—to go off-grid, and so we weren’t able to determine any sort of accurate figure.

We used what I call the “ol’ broke hippy” method of designing the system. We bought what we could afford, when we could afford it. When we had enough to cobble a small system together, we did. We used that, until we determined we needed to expand the system, then we added what we needed to get the desired expansion. This allowed us to take our time purchasing components, looking for the best prices and best components. There is a great book, available from Real Goods Solar, called “The New Independent Home,” by Michael Potts. It’s a series of case studies, from the 1970s-1990s, of folks who built off-the-grid houses and homesteads, using different methods and approaches. I read the original edition of the book in the late 1990s, when I was in the Army, and loved it. The newest edition adds the “New” to the title, and is even better. Be forewarned though, most of the people he discusses are very….well….”earthy” would be a good way to describe it…. (Books are the only thing I’ve ever actually bought from Real Goods, strangely. They offer a lot of really cool off-grid stuff…)

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38 Comments
  1. Blair permalink

    Great read, I’m gathering material now for a PV system at our home. I have the skill sets and knowledge for this but the hype and dollars put me off. For the longest time I was hesitant because of the battery bank construction with limited life-cycle and charging issues. I changed my outlook on that when I found IronEdison.com. You may want to check it out. Different chemistry, outstanding life, re-buildable and low maintenance. In short, it’s a modern version of T. Edison’s design, one he sold to H. Ford and still working some hundred years later. Exide took it over and then slowly let it die out, why build to last when you can sell more replacements?

    • Chad permalink

      True. Iron edision has nickel batteries that will last forever. Cry once 😀

  2. Inventive permalink

    “Hell, I built my house by hand, using traditional building methods. That’s bragging rights enough, as far as my neighbors seem to be concerned (we’ve had neighbors we don’t know, show up asking if they can check out the house, because they heard about it from someone).”

    Kinda curious about your house design and the “traditional methods”. I know you’ve mentioned hand hewing vs a chainsaw mill before, which kinda leads me to think you timber framed or something like that?

    Regarding the cordless tools, I’ve been using Milwaukee’s M18 stuff for a while, and it’s awesome to not have to worry about running power, or having to cut stuff near the shop and then move it out to build site. Can just toss the saw, drill, and raw materials on the tractor and work on whatever project I’ve got on location.

    • MoreSigmasThanYou permalink

      “Kinda curious about your house design and the “traditional methods”. I know you’ve mentioned hand hewing vs a chainsaw mill before, which kinda leads me to think you timber framed or something like that?”

      The last entry before this one said:

      “Hell, I live in a house that would not really stand out (well, other than that metal roof) in much of 14th Century England, and have been known to walk around in a kilt. I’m not judging that.”

      So yeah, timber framed is a given. Maybe wattle and daub? Too bad he didn’t shoot video of himself building it.

    • mtnforge permalink

      Know some guys did that. Really cool. Post & beam style. All with hand tools. Beautiful. They claimed the best way is to use lumber from trees on your land. How that wood grew accustomed to the weather and other environmental factors, providing the best wood and longevity for your structure, how it reacts better to the weather on your house.
      Makes a lot of sense to me.
      You should brag. That is the acme of self reliance. Must be pretty nice living in such a house you made with your hands. Every day you go to sleep, get up, look up and think I made that.

      • MoreSigmasThanYou permalink

        I don’t know about local wood, but there are significant differences between old growth wood, and home-improvement-store farmed lumber; which grows much faster, and therefore has fewer growth rings. You can see how the new stuff is much more porous. Obviously old growth will have way less water infiltration, and therefore is less susceptible to rotting and freeze-thaw.

        A lot of the difference is in what varieties of trees are used to get the wood. Curious what kinds of trees Mosby likes to use in his building projects.

    • mtnforge permalink

      Sweet! Stands to reason your timber from your own land would be similar to the old growth example you posted up.
      What wood did you use for your house if you don’t mind my asking you? I’m a metal guy. And a true crap-enture. Always admired you wood artists. Nothing like a fine executed piece of woodcraft. Wholesome.

      They sell what I hear is southern yellow pine in the corporate big box stores here. Not the finest lumber. Prices are crazy. I don’t know how anyone can afford to build a house these days.

      Number of small lumber/saw mills operating around here. Super reasonable. Last time I got a 3/4 ton truck load it was 36 cents a foot. Logging is a big industry in WV. Fir and Poplar is what you mostly find for rough cut lumber.

      We back up against millions of acres of paper company forrest land. Warehouser owns it currently. They use everything. Every species. Pulp, peelers, high end veneer, lumber, timbering, flooring, plywood, particle board, toilet paper, animal bedding, even small wood fired power plants lately. Lot of Hard Maple grows along with the Poplar. I got some pretty fine Curley and Tigerstripe Maple from a tree fell over this spring in a storm along the creek. 138 rings at the butt. Picked out the best figuring. I love the tigerstripe, it shimmers like a gemstone you raise the grain right with a propane torch. Drying it for knife and hawk handles right now. Might try a sword sheath, like to attempt to forge at least one sword.

      Curly Maple has an unique feature. You can chase fine .999 silver, wire into it. Without any glue it keeps. The wood cells supposedly “grip” the silver. Makes for very beautiful motif work in gunstocks and knife scales. Popular in the Colonial Era for rifles and edged weapons. Far as I know it is the only wood to do so. I use a thin flat wire. Get it from jewelers supply houses. I recently started using it myself on knife handles, and a tomahawk I forged as a gift for my farming neighbor. I chased Our Cause We Leave To God And Our Rifles on the handle, with a crescent moon and a shooting star.

      FYI, you know the Tulip Poplar, it is one of the oldest continuous existing living species on Earth? It’s said its mostly unchanged from prehistoric dinosaur ages. Tulip Poplar honey is excellent too. They have these Day Lillie size, orange and yellow flowers. Pretty. Everything is at them for the nectar. We can hear the buzzing for a couple weeks each spring up in the tops along our windbreak. They grow straight as a rule, 150 ft and sometimes taller. Huge butts some trees. 72 inches and up. they also call them peelers, make veneer for plywood with the nice straight even butts.
      Buddy I worked with built his house with 4 Poplars we gave him, has his own saw mill. The butts where so large one 16 ft log was maxing out his car hauler suspension.

      Lot of Tulip Poplar in WV. It is the preferred wood for mine posts. Has very high compression strength. I seen posts in deep mines that have been there for decades holding up the top. Red Oak for crib blocks. Built up in columns, laid the long ways horizontal log cabin style. Crib blocks are a universal device in the mines, get used for everything, very handy for jacking up a coal car to R&R a trunnion or wheel unit.

      • MoreSigmasThanYou permalink

        I’d also like to know what wood he used in his house. Of course there’s a good chance he just cut down some trees without worrying about what species they were. There’s nothing wrong with that.

        If you want to see over the top wooden structure building, search the web for “tithe barn roof”, or look at the joinery photos in “English Historic Carpentry” by Cecil Hewett.

        Thanks for dropping knowledge about trees. A local tree you might want to keep an eye out for is the black locust. I’ve got some where I live. The flowers are edible. Cooking is my family’s main interest in the tree. For me the biggest problem with the tree is that the flowers are usually too high up to be readily accessible. Other people may not like it because the root system is expansive, resilient, and sends up suckers all over the place. For that reason, it’s considered “invasive”.

        The wood from the tree is interesting. To my knowledge, it is the most resistant to rot of any untreated wood. All the buildings in the first Jamestown colony were built on top of black locust posts. The Colonial Williamsburg open air museum still uses black locust to construct raised garden beds.

        Black locust wood was exported to Europe for treenails to be used in ship building. Black locust was used for railroad timbers. Black locust continued to be used for the majority fenceposts in the U.S. before various forms “pressure treated” wood started displacing it from the market in the 20th century. These days it’s not nearly as popular as it was for most of American history.

        Black locust also has the advantage of being a nitrogen fixer. The ones around me all grow wild, but tend to be very tall and straight because they’re descended from trees that were cultivated for timber. No idea what you’ve got where you are, but you’re right in the heart of the original natural range.

      • mtnforge permalink

        They used Douglas Fir. Big ol’ straight moss swamp Fir’s. Right from the spot they put up his house on.
        They had a fellow came in and made shakes and clapboards for his house, had two machines makes them on the ground right next to the tree you drop for them.
        These guys are all from over to Vermont who seem to be behind a renaissance that was beginning in the 90’s up in northern New England.
        Can’t imagine a better way to build yourself a home.
        I like the style and layout of the 1 & 1/2 story English Cottage with a broken back 1st floor addition. A central Chimney, fire place and woodstove flues, both floors. Knee wall second floor with built in window settee’s and drawers, and a bit of gingerbread trim on the outside. Long overhang farmers porch too. Got to have that. On a dry fit granite block foundation, so you have a built in root cellar. Plus your well under the kitchen floor, plumbed to a hand pump at the sink. This also gives you a Polish refrigerator in the summer, to keep things cold, have a windless and a stainless sttel basket to lower food down the well.
        An enclosed wood pit out the Kitchen door, an inside boardwalk around the back wall of it to a two holer outhouse, so you don’t have to fight the snow all winter.
        I be happy, die a content old cadger.

        Appreciate you, I’ll check that out. One of the fellows I mentioned before worked for a guy in NH, ( i was born & raised up in NH till we moved to WV), names Tedd Benson, who published a book, I bought one from this guy, he kept a few to sell in his truck, called ‘Building The Timber Frame House’, looks like a well composed technical manual. Has B/P’s for all the types of miter and scarf joints, floor plans, King Posts, purlins etc. What templates to make. Like I said I’m no carpenter, but you have to be brain dead not to appreciate and admire the craftsmanship and artistry goes into these timber frame structures. And the intrinsic value. Beautiful, just amazing to me.

        Great book just for reading pleasure. Has some historical accounts in it. Mostly it is a how to manual. Written in a good natured tongue in cheek manner.

        I hope one day not to long, build a timber frame art studio for my wife. Be a good way to try my hand at it. I actually already forged up a two sizes of Slicks, a corner chisel and a set of various size straight chisels, and one of those big ass wood and steel strap mallets, what do you call them, a Commander is it?

        Scored 4 big old wood saws, at yard sales, fixed them up, reset the teeth, made new handles for one as they where missing. they where marked from $10 to $25 bucks, cant go wrong. Shit, you can’t buy the raw carbon steel stock for that money. Got a real old hand forged peavy needed a new wood shank for 12 bucks. Also one of those protractor style timber lifting hooks with a two man handle. Looks like a extra large set set of ice tongues.

        Oh man we have Black Locust out the ying yang! You got that right it is hardy and grows like a weed, has amazing anti rot properties.
        It makes excellent cord wood too. Burns so hot it’ll burn out your coal grates and shakers in less than a winter.
        We have a hot air coal/wood furnace. To save having to buy new shaker grates and the frames every year, I took to cutting up 3 inch thick cast iron storm drains from a pile bought from a metal salvage yard near by and modifying them to fit the furnace.

        I’m looking out the window right now at a monster in our neighbor’s field across the road she gave me for cutting it down for her. Easy a cord and a half of wood standing there. Whatever it finishes out split and stacked, except for the big old gnarly red oaks around here, there is nothing better to heat with.

        Yeah, Black Locust fence posts are highly sought after, there’s a few guys who specialize in manufacturing Locust posts around here. One of our property lines is a goat fence run in 1974. Barb wire is all but rusted away but the posts are in great shape. We use 150 foot of it re-fenced as one side of the pig pen. Wood is as still hard as a new made post.
        People joke about it being so viable, if you don’t strip the posts past the inner bark and let them set out to cure for at least a year they can sprout and grow into a tree. I thought it was a hillbilly wives tale till I seen it with my own eyes.

        The Locust stumps left on our land I’ve cut for firewood all have grown new trunks. And fast growing, yikes.
        Stuff must have a high mineral content. If its a cloudy day our getting into dusk, freaking sparks come off your chainsaw teeth in the cut. That beast across in the field, it will end up using a brand new chain and probably wear out the bar by the times its stacked in the wood pile.
        We like to save the better straight branches for posts. They make dandy black raspberry cane trellis posts.
        The original farm our land was a part of grew, Jewel Black Raspberries. They naturalized over the years in large patches that migrate year to year. But they tend to blight in the big patches. We found they do very well when we plant 3-6 canes around a 7 foot post, and use some bailing twine about 4-5 ft up, keeps the canes upright the next year when they fruit, easier to pick too.
        That Black Locust is so rugged, even green, we sharpen one end and can drive them straight in no need to dig a post hole. I’m getting too old anyways, better to work smart not hard.

        The natives around here mention eating the flower clusters, dip them in egg and flour and fry them in bacon grease. Everything tastes good fried in bacon fat. LOL’s. They smell nice. My old lady fried up some Elderberry flowers last week, they had a very nice flavor. She mentioned it’s time to try the Locust flowers. They just started flowering late last week.

      • MoreSigmasThanYou permalink

        “Stuff must have a high mineral content. If its a cloudy day our getting into dusk, freaking sparks come off your chainsaw teeth in the cut.”

        At first I thought that was because someone tied a wire around the trunks. Then it happened so consistently that I thought it was happening because the bark had absorbed granules of sand while the tree was growing. Consider that modern pressure treated ground contact wood is copper infused (that’s why it’s green), and it never sparks. So I think whatever is causing the sparking has to be granule sized, not atom sized.

        At any rate, the wood is tough on chainsaw blades.

        My wife mixes the flowers with meat and uses the mix as stuffing for Chinese dumplings. I’m thinking the recipe might have originally called for flowers from the Japanese pagoda tree, or the Chinese honey locust. Both of them have flower clusters that are almost indistinguishable from the flower clusters in the black locust, and both of them are included in the 50 fundamental herbs of traditional Chinese herbal medicine.

        Personally, I think all the plants in the genus Gleditsia and the genus Styphnolobium should be in the same Linnaean subfamily if not the same genus. The plants all seem extremely similar to me.

  3. Vagus permalink

    I haven’t personally run in to any opposition to PV systems, except from some engineers who get snooty about efficiency (no shit it’s less efficient, but I would rather like the lights to be on after the hurricane). That’s said, Jesus tapdancing Christ, if someone says no because it’s “leftist”, that’s just Darwinism (which they won’t believe in either).

    Mother Earth News runs some damn good articles, hippies or no.

    Last soapbox, people generally admit that food production/ storage > guns when it gets down to the wire. People also admit that “leftist” preppers are better at food production/ storage than traditional preppers. However, people are also convinced that the hippie preppers will be DOA when things go to hell, for some reason…

    • mtnforge permalink

      The purists are funny that way, about maintaining the perfect azimuth and angle to get every erg of energy from the sunlight hitting you panels. Or the one that is really fun is the line loss from resistance running DC down your cable runs. How welding cable is not suitable, have to use the industry approved quick disconnect cabling systems. When all long electrons travel along the outside of a copper wire, the more fine wires in a cable gauge the more paths electrons can travel, while the approved cabling is less wires in a given gauge. I been a welder 45 years, it really matters how many wires are in a given gauge. The more the conductors in the cable has, the cooler it runs while welding, the better your welding arc.
      I was amazed how much current good solar panels produce at full sun. Some pretty fine technology right there. Cranking!
      The first four panels we bought are Kerocya’s, 150 watt, 12vdc units. They stopped making them. I hooked a meter to one at night under a half moon and they made 8 volts. Not much current probably. But at high noon in July, those four put out a whopping 34 amps at 21.78 volts, feeding direct into a 1280 amp hour fork truck battery that weighs 750lbs. It must be absolutely the purest sine wave current. I got a 350 amp Lincoln gas drive welder, it doesn’t compete, even at the 75 volt, 85 amp CV, constant voltage, setting, with a 24 horse Wisconsin engine running at 3600 hundred rpm spinning a 4 pole welding dynamo, takes twice as long to charge compared to the solar panels, all things equal.
      It is a real shame Kerocya stopped producing solar cells. They manufactured them in the US too. I think they where some of the best.

      It is easy to arm chair all that stuff. Doing it is a whole other thing. The off grid system is far more complex too. You have to compromise in some ways, because expense, or how you have to improvise. It fast became apparent those minutiae don’t amount to much in the real world. I see their value, but like you said, you have the lights on is what counts.

  4. MoreSigmasThanYou permalink

    “The utility companies generally don’t allow grid-tied systems to have battery bank support, because then, if the power goes out, your system is still charged, and could—theoretically—backfeed into the system, and kill one of their linemen.”

    I talked to a solar installation salesman about this. He said that they have an electronic unit in development that will allow solar panels to provide line power directly to a house without being tied into the grid or a battery bank, and which can be used on panels that are currently grid-tied. He put my name on a list of people to call when it comes out.

    The way I figure it; 8+ hours of electric service during the day is way better than no electric service at all, and close to as good as round the clock electric service. Given the price/hassle/chance of the house burning down problems with adding a battery bank, I’m going to gamble on the unit coming out before civilization collapses.

    • ragman permalink

      Great in depth article detailing your installation and experience. The Duracell batteries sold at Sams are manufactured by East Penn. You simply can’t do better than that for a commercial battery. Thanks again for the great article.

    • mtnforge permalink

      For a dump load, I tried a 750 watt grid feed inverter. Hooked it up to a contactor on a charge controller that separated the dump load from the battery, direct feed off some solar panels. It was an experiment to see how everything worked and what it saved on the bill. The inverter I used had a failsafe, where if it sensed the mains power went out it shut down, stopped back feeding.

      Not long after got the opportunity to talk to one of the linemen putting power back after a log truck took out a power pole down the road. He said they take it on faith somebody is back feeding someplace with a generator or other sources. They use insulated tools to turn breakers and switches on so they wont get wailed, and isolate the part of the system they need to work on from anything that can back feed, like all the house lines on that given section.
      He said there are so many ways guys get killed you have to isolate and ground everything.

    • Louis Michael Andreotta permalink

      Good morning mtnforge. The National Electrical Code changes yearly and should be used in building your system. Talk to a local electrician and local solar supplier as they should have the latest info on system requirements. I designed and built my system years ago before some of the safety requirements (anti-island equipment) required for grid-tied systems. Even so, I installed a 3-relay transfer switch for my core system solar solution. Each relay is inline for each power source (grid supplied AC, generator supplied AC, and inverter supplied AC) such that only one source is live at any point in time. My system is small in size (2KW/200 amp/hour battery bank) and is used to power 90% of my AC load including a refrigerator and freezer. All other items such as water pumps/microwave/toaster are left on the grid. The 3-relay transfer switch and a built-in transfer switch/relay in my inverter are all automatic to prevent AC from heading out over the lines. I strongly recommend an automatic transfer switch to protect your family, house, neighbors, utility workers, and first-responders.

      • mtnforge permalink

        Yeah. And a very good morning to you Sir!
        Thanks. Hear what your saying. But we have no need. Our off grid is entirely, physically isolated from our mains grid system. There is no way the two can be connected without physically attaching a jumper.

        But…, you having your act together and looks like you know your stuff…you might find this an intriguing tale…

        The grid feed inverter I mentioned is the only connection to our mains power I have ever hooked up. It was temporary. A 6ga positive/negative cable from a mechanical solenoid, direct feed, no battery in the circuit, from 4 150 watt solar panels, to the DC in side of a single grid feed inverter, the inverter plugged into a 110vac wall receptacle.

        This began as an R&D experiment to get an idea, a reference if you will, to see what kind of power we produced specifically from those 4 isolated solar panels, backfed into the mains grid, to determine how our mains service bill reflected our real world off-grid power output over a set time frame.
        The reason behind that being, after getting the off-grid system up and running, where everything running off it, was on a totally separate system, we wanted to establish how a known constant, 4 solar panels, would reflected on our mains grid monthly electric service bill. Lets say for Shits & giggles.

        Aside from that experiment, absolutely no physical connections exist between our off grid and mains grid. We built a new separate service entirely independent of the existing mains grid system to power what we run off it, (along with adding more devices that are direct DC powered only, over time: 12 volt TV, music system, resistance heaters, LED lighting, radio comms. The object being to eliminate reliance on DC to AC inverters, a possible weak link in our system if the world went very EOTWAWKI, ie more built in reliability.).

        What we began to notice, once a reference point was created, or, seemed to be occurring that is, we were paying for kilowatt usage we did not use. The math didn’t add up. Math doesn’t lie, physics do not lie. For 2 years we watched, calculated, documented, ran watt hour meters and catalogued the data. No matter what we came up with, the mains grids bill showed way too much kilowatt hour usage. We even totally disconnected things like our AC powered water heater from the mains grid system, fed it DC power to DC elements we replaced the AC elements with. Our mains grid power bill never showed the absence of two 220vac elements heating a 100 gallon water heater, along with no longer using our 220vac clothes drier, it also was unplugged, we air dried our clothes on a clothes line.
        On top of this, for an entire 2 months we ran two freezers and a refrigerator only from the off grid system. We used 10 gauge construction grade extension cords from inverters to run them so we know they where totally isolated from the AC mains power. The mains bill never once reflected any of this reduction of AC mains grid power usage.

        The only conclusion was we are being cheated in no uncertain terms. Or, the billing and meter reading departments are FUBAR’d. The bottom line, whatever the cause, mains grid bill is not accurately reflecting our real world usage.
        What it showed was once we reduced our bill below $75 dollars a month, for some incomprehensible reason no matter how much we reduced usage of our mains power, one way or another it was not reflected on the monthly bill accurately. Not even close.

        My wife had the epiphany of the year when she remarked,”Honey, go outside and just yank the damn meter off the wall, thrown it over the hill and see what the bill shows next month”.

        I mean to do just that one of these days. But in my old age, prudence has become a virtue.

        Another interesting thing happened. When we first had our off-grid system up and running, before we built the dedicated isolated off-grid fed system, we began a conservative trial period where we put first this part of the house, and that appliance or device on the off-grid system, so we could figure out the real world capacity the system was capable of producing, and maintain a max depth of draw of 20% or less on the battery set.
        A 15-30 year battery set life was our #1 imperative goal. The company engineer who we went thru for this custom built battery to our specs, recommended we maintain this range of depth of draw in order to get this life cycle from the battery. In order to make this possible we did the aforementioned trial and error period.

        A number of months we reduced our mains grid bill to around $30, next month, all things being the same as we watched how our off grid system performed, the bill would be $55, then next month $75. Nothing was changed. But ink on a piece of paper the power company mailed us did. Always increasing our bill back to $75 dollars, no matter what we actually used.

        Mmmmm. Pretty interesting would you say?

        What I think we where witnessing is the power company fudging the usage, that they for whatever reasons, require a minimum of $75 dollars from the residential customer in order to operate at some level of income. It has nothing to do with kilowatt usage. That is window dressing.
        Mind you, we live in about as rural location as is possible to live east of the Mississippi. No one we hear of has an off-grid, or a greed feed system. That tells me, probably most run about $150 to $200 per month electric bill. We ask around and this is pretty standard. Maybe, and it is only conjecture on my part, because there is a relatively low ratio of customers per mile of transmission lines per say, $75 bucks is what they need to get, minimum, from us connected to this rural system we are on.

        – Add in politics and government meddling, some corruption of your choice, here:____________.

        Unfortunately, without the winning power-ball ticket, my metal fab/blacksmith shop has to run off mains grid power. Most of my equipment runs on 220vac with 3 phase conversion.
        I would love to totally unplug. I’d do it in a NY minute if the funds where available.

      • G_Man permalink

        Good morning mtnforge! You are not alone! This was not quite an experiment, but close enough. I tracked the meter reading over a year to know ahead of time what the electric bill should be and how well our system works. I had figured only on appliance in the initial solar sizing so the addition of the freezer created an issue in that I had to compensate for the higher load. I had to read the fine print on the back of the invoice that we received to understand the what and the why I was being charged so high. It turns out that my service provider would skip reading the meter due to weather and National Disasters (Irene for example). In addition, the state legislature and Public Service Board negotiated with the service providers to get We-the-People a good deal. I won’t moan too much about the service provider as they have a great team out there during the worse of the National Disasters. The service provider does correct the numbers the next month. With only 2kw of solar, and a small battery bank (Edison type), we don’t even bother to fire up the generator during long term (weeks) power outages. We have become lazy. My bad. But we will add an additional 4 solar panels to the system this year, just because we have the space. Keep on smiling!!! It worries the PTB when we do… LOL

  5. Terry permalink

    DeWalt makes at least two 20v angle grinders, the DCG412B and DCG413B. As for charging, wire a automotive 12v socket to your battery bank and use the Dewalt DCB119 charger. You could then also charge off the truck in the field.

  6. Yup, DeWalt does make a cordless grinder. I use one here at work regularly. 18 volt. Does the job of cutting through hardened steel pretty well.

  7. Michael F permalink

    I’ve lived off grid on PV and wind for several years. The solar has been trouble free, but the wind turbine was replaced twice in the first year, a real pain in the ass. Look into a sacrificial diode protection device to protect your system from lightening strikes, they’re a lot cheaper to replace than a charge controller or batteries.

  8. James permalink

    This is a very nice article about solar and dipping your toe and more into solar.I am personally looking into/working on a siphon system to help heat the home with water heating panels from old 2 pane slider doors(get em free from remodels as a carpenter).While on carpenter thing trust me,the Rigid 18 volt kit works very well and is guaranteed including batteries and charger for life,have kit with circular full size/drill-hammer drill/impact driver/sawzall and flashlight which will run 40 hours straight on a fully charged battery,have used for years,great tools and did blow clutches in sawzall(I thought I was being a bit tough on unit) and fixed in a couple of weeks for free.

    I really like the builditsolar site for info.,a lot of good projects including a lot of home made systems and a lot of experimental stuff there,a good peruse.

    As for solar being hippy/new age ect. do not care,if it works will try it and works for me use it,also helps have very long hair and thus look like a “hippy”.

    Thanks for a great read and as a licensed carpenter/contractor among other so called certs a bit jealous of the no building code/inspection thing,really need to find a unincorporated township ect. for a secondary/perhaps down road primary home.

  9. mtnforge permalink

    Since your first post John I given what you wrote a good think.
    With all the energy improvements from new windows, to building our own off grid sloar & wind system, we save $100 to $200 per month.
    For all our days on this mortal coil, every month till I die, I keep 100-200 dollars. Nobody taxes it. Nobody has their fingers in it taking their cut. It my wealth I created by my work and making a solid investment that gives me an excellent return on my investment. And it is a practical every day investment. I never need an emergency generator. I create very little waste product. Or pollution it that is a concern. I spent my hard earned dollars wisely. To date with all the improvements I believe we invested over $9000. I did it paycheck by paycheck, a solar panel one week. A spool of wire another, and so on. For a nine grand incvestment, for all my living days, maybe 30 years, my investment will pay me back at the current kilowatt hour electric rate, $54,000. The math: 30 years times 12 months, times $150 per month is FiftyFourthousand Dollars. Care to tell me where I can invest 9 grand, get that return, plus the full, 100% use of what I invested in on top of that 54 large?

    Wall Street pass me my beer!

    Where are you going to make 54 thousand bucks with investing 900 dollars paycheck by paycheck, with almost no risk? I have 100% of everything I bought with that $9000 in my paws. Can’t say that about investing unless you invest in physical tangible assets you literally hold in your habd and have complete control of. Like a gold bar, and a paper of precious gems. Or lead and rifles.

    I still need to add more capacity to cover our freezer and our refridgerator laod 100% of the time. But that is simply adding improvements in generation. When we don’t produce enough solar or wind to keep from drawing our 12vdc, 1280 20 hour rate industrial fork truck battery below a 20% depth of draw, and we try to maintain this rate of discharge to get the 30 year life our fork truck battery is capable of, by keeping it at or above that 20% draw.
    I may add a separate battery, along with more wind and solar capacity, for running refrigeration on a dedicated separate sub system.
    I would very much prefer to go with 12vdc powered refrigeration because the math works out the DC powered fridge units are more efficient. Yet they are very expensive.
    I did purchase a 12dc unit, that RV use to build built in refrigerators in their RV units. The unit we got is good for a medium size fridge. It is an experiment. I’m planning on massive thickness of isocyanate foam board.
    Something I have found I had to do with a number of features of our stand alone off grid system, is experiment. Unlike grid feed systems, there are no standards, no established figures or approximate output. There are too many variables. A grid feed system simply feeds what it creates into the mains system thru a wall 110 plug. No fuss. It cares not how much power.
    Off grid, one must balance power needs, with battery capacity, by how much your system can put in to replace what is taken out at every instantaneous moment 24/7/365. If your not making power, your battery bank only has a finite reserve to feed your needs. Draw your battery bank past the “cutoff” voltage, you have zero power, you place undue strain on the life cycle of your battery set. It is a fast diminishing return that leads to destroying the prime component, the battery.

    For instance wind turbines. Very tricky things. If the wind don’t blow they make no power. If the clouds are blocking the sun, your solar panels make very little power. At night, the sun don’t shine. All these things happen at the same time, you aren’t making any power. This isnt for the timid. You have to account for these eventualities. Well, build, or adapt something, to make an efficient generator. Some get an old Ford diesel pickup, a beater, all rusted out, no longer road worthy. They just happen to make a dandy generator. They have nice heavy duty alternators. They can idle up to a month on a 34 gallon tank of fuel. At idle they make gobs of torgue. The math for watts of power per horse power is it takes 1 hp to make 730 watts, all things equal, in a perfect world, theoretically, that is. But it gets you in the ball park. Most homes use very little power during certain periods of a day. Your not using lights, the fridge and freezer are packed, they require minimal power to keep the set temp, the TV is off, your not using hot water, the computer, the tv etc. You can shut off your generator, save the fuel for when your using your most power. Soi your not running your ford truck day and night. Charge your battery bank when your system is using the least power.
    I scored a complete low milage running 1970 single port aircooled VW beetlebug engine. real gas misers. 45 miles to the gallon average pushing a 1200lb vehicle. Made a starter bracket, welded up a sheet metal 15 gallon gas tank, rubber mounted the engine on a timber sled, the engine is man handleable, it weighs about 150 lbs, (a flat opposed 4cylinder engine has perfect primary balance. very little vibration), bought a 1 wire race alternator from Summit racing for $89 free shipping, wired up 20 ft of -6 welding cable, an extra driven pulley off the alternator pulley that also drives the cooling fan, that will run my whole house on 4 gallons of gas for 28 hours nonstop. Because at an idle speed of 750 rpms, the engine produces around 18-20hp, and alot of constant torque. I bolted 2 extra flywheels on the existing flywheel to provide added enertia if a sudden load kicks in. The whole set up, engine, new starter, tune up kit, oil screen and oil, metal, lumber, race alt, cable and fittings, hose clamps and fuel hose, couple fitting, I scrounged a free fuel tank cap assembly, costs me $350 bucks and some sweat equity. I have a very simple, air-cooled, gravity fed fueled 100 amp generator, that I don’t need even a battery for, I use the off grid battery bank to start and run the generator engine. If not I can jump start it from a vehicle. I can drag it around by hand if needed. It should outlive me. It wont freeze and crack the block in the winter either. It hasc an oil bath air cleaner so don’t even need to buy an air cleaner element, can use the drained oil from the last oil change. In a pinch I can make ethanol, change the carb jets up 40%, and run it on 178 proof or higher moonshine I can make fermenting corn and other fermentable’s I grow on my 5 acres of independence, if the petro fuel supply becomes unattainable. Or I can in a pinch build a fuel gas producer unit, make fuel gas from wood, or coal. I live in WV, we got lots of both.
    See what I just did there?
    A sustainable system, in a holistic cycle, using my investments in my way of life aplying some ingenuity and elbow grease.
    And when I was a lad, I wanted to be a welder. Everyone said you would be shit for nothing if you didn’t go to college.
    Oh yeah?
    I done pretty good for myself for a guy with a 7th grade formal education.
    If I can do this, as a working man on a blue collar paycheck, you rocket scientists out there should whoop my arse.

    On those wind turbines, aside from the tower, which is complex, and cost more usually than the entire rest of the turbine system including cables, rectifier’s, voltage and dump controllers, and the dump loads themselves. They are another critter compared to solar panels. Totally different. They can produce a shitload of power in high winds. The one we have is on a 45 ft tower on the crest of a 3000 ft elevation ridge-line. At max speed, this puppy puts out 2000 watts at 14.2 volts at the battery terminals. It is a rare earth permanent magnet flux air-gap flow brushless 3 phase alternator. Actually it is two 1000 watt units on a single shaft. The blade is a 5 airfoil gull wing formed aluminum, 86 inch swept area rotor on a steel center, straight direct drive on the alt shaft. No gearing. It is rotor built for low wind speed startup, at the average wind speeds on the ridge, it pumps a pretty steady 100-150 watts at around 21 volts dc, at the charge controller. Don’t sound like much right?
    But that is whats called instantaneous power. At any given moment, it is constantly putting that wattage into the battery or dump load if the battery is at full charge. That is reliable, like having two 75 watt lightbulbs running non stop 24/7. It adds up over time. And this is not counting higher wind speeds. The trick in most places is to capture the breeze that generally exists at 40 to 60 feet off the ground. If you look up at the tops of the trees around you, you can see a breeze if there is one. If the leaves are twinkling back and forth, your probably seeing 7 to 10 mph breeze. A large diameter, multiple blade rotor can capture that wind and convert it into electrical power. But you have to have a breeze, and then get your turbine up into that constant wind. 60 feet of tower, that is strong enough to withstand the force of say 50, or 75 mph high winds, is a lot of tower. I sweated my ass off figuring out how to build a 45 foot tower where we get 30 to 50 mph winds regular like.
    Though, I used my ingenuity and metal fab/welding experience, designed and built a vertical axis cantilever trussed mast, employing 3 guys instead of 4, the trusses gather at their cantilever point 3/4’s up the mast height, I used 1 inch EMT conduit as guy stays, linked together with steel plate double shears with high grade bolts through the pipe shear interfaces so the guys have built in flex, and can fold up when tipping the tower to ground access for maintenance. This saved us a considerable sum of money in materials, which we are putting towards a second turbine.

    My dump loads are 12vdc water heater elements, and hvy duty equipment auxillary 12vdc resistance fan forced heaters, like for log skidders, hvy trucks, buldozers etc.
    The use of dump loads is to always maintain a “load” on the blades to keep the turbine from over speeding and self destructing, essentially a brake, instead of a computer controlled, or self furling design. The other aspect of the dump load style is why stop making power when your making the most power in high winds? You don’t shut down solar panels when they make more power than you are using or can store. You divert it to something that can utilize the surplus power generation. Like a grid feed inverter if your able to plug into the mains grid. Or make hot water. Heat a Jacuzzi or pool, or a greenhouse in cold weather so you can grow food more months of the year. Which is our next plan. Your only limited by your ingenuity and thinking.

    I think what John mentions about some folks get all tied up in knots about off grid power is it is in many ways like creating liberty. Because it is creating liberty, and freedom, and it takes thinking outside the box, thinking, and more than anything, acting, outside accepted norms. Many people are threatened by this action to be free from the accepted approved modes of acting and living. Just like many are adversed to preparing oneself to act in armed defense of ones property, family/tribe, and self.
    They themselves fear doing, or acting, or living freedom. It is very scary. You must be totally committed to being self reliant, self sufficient, it requires courage, going against the mainstream.
    Perfect analogy is the unalienable right of arms, being your rifle is your property, being that is the first thing about ones weapons, and the idea of using them, violently possibly, that is a very frightful thing to some folks. It is bucking the establishment, goin against The Man, to coin an old hippy flower power term.

    the main aspect we have benefitted from building our off grid vsystem is not what it cost us. It is what we have freed ourselves from. Dependence upon an uncontrollable entity, the power company, in an increasing unpredictable world that is breaking down bit by bit, becoming increasingly more costly to enjoy its benefits. This too is a scary thing for some. It also threatens the monopoly of power, no pun intended, but it does, as it removes a customer from the power companies income stream. Enough people do so, it threatens the power companies monopoly and bottom line. And we can not have that in this day of corporate/state collusion, corruption, and control over every facet in the sphere of our lives, all to get the last buck, the bottom line, and maintain that power over keeping that stream of the last bucks coming possible which can be squeezed out of the dirt people just shy of them going into revolt and having another revolution.
    And there are those who fear that also.
    So, when you go off grid, you are rocking the nice comfy boat of self applied serfdom and slavery to the powers that be.
    You are building anti-fragile elements into your life and way of living. You also are getting something “for free” so to say, to some people. The wind and the sun is there for the taking. In a way it is free, but only once you invest in capturing what is basically something you could call, “raining soup”, all that abundant free energy once you make your capitol investment in equipment to take advantage of all that free soup falling from the sky. And as it is said, envy is one of the mortal sins, so too coveting. You can call it jealousy also. Somebody is getting something I’m not. But some who think like that, do not invest, or care not to consider the investment required, all they see is somebody else is getting something they ain’t getting. And that can not be allowed either.

    It is a sad thing to have to point out. The world is full of all sorts. It takes all kinds. Some are not very nice people. Plain & simple.
    Some would rather see you destroyed, even if it destroys themselves, if it means denying you your hard earned rightful due. The world is heading deeper into this, it has a ways to go before it begins to turn the other direction. Maybe this is the circular nature of human activity. I do not know. I do know I will never make a slave. I will never comply with things I can effect in a positive way by my own druthers. I hope it doesn’t come to it, but I won’t comply with other things, even if it requires me using force. I am a natural born Freeman.
    I’m also an American. I got American know-how and can-do running thru my blood. I never quit. I never say die. I always am looking for a better way to effect my life and the circle of Liberty below my feet.
    Off grid power is simply another tool in my freedom kit. Just like my combat rifle. And the small unit infantry combat training I have gotten from people like Max Velocity and knowledge from people like John Mosby. It is all part and parcel of Liberty and freedom far as I’m concerned. The holistic. The sustainable. The self reliancy. Self sufficiency. And self determination.
    I see myself as “off grid in everything possible. It is mindset. Above all, it is action. It is The Act, that counts.
    And this is probably the single most dangerous thing possible in this day. I am a dangerous person to some. An existential threat. People like John Mosby, and myself, we represent the spirit of never bending a knee to no man or earthly entity. People such as ourselves, we are becoming legion, we are a tiny but mighty plurality, we are indomitable by nature and action. We have abundant motive power, we have audacity and the courage of our convictions.
    We are people who are impossible for tyrants and potentates to control.
    And this probably scares some people to death. And seeing our freedom in the form of off grid power is something to attack because they are afraid of freedom, or success even. Some simply are afraid of being successful people, in anything.

    Takes all kinds to make the world go round.

    • Good stuff,mtnforge. Are you going to have a blog again ?

  10. Cedar Cove permalink

    The Backwoods Solar catalog is great resource for anyone looking to get into off-grid power. It is available for free:
    https://www.backwoodssolar.com/catalog-request/

  11. James permalink

    Forge,like your VW genny,a friend had a pinto on jack stands with exhaust piped out of baby shed it is in,works well as his genny and will run his home (important circuits)during outages at a idle with a heavy duty output alt he had to finagle a bit to fit in pinto engine compartment.His big thing is de-ethonaling his gas as carb and used irregularly (does a once a week run/test).He claims he will remove said engine and stand it some day,been 6 years so far so not holding me breath!

    I also was thinking about article,(getting you to think is what makes a good article)and the mention of water reminded me a friend has a Bison hand pump that pulls over 300″ off his well,he has with a lot of work gotten it into home and so far can leave primed even in New England winters,un-primed a bit of work to get a pull again but doable.I have researched their pumps and they claim to have units that can hand pump much deeper depths but have never used them so do not know beyond me friends how well they work at deeper depths.

    I can see how powers that want to be annoyed by these actions and some jealous but also believe it inspires many to try their hand at becoming even a little more self sufficient which can only be a good thing and we all need to when able pass on info. ect. to help folks get started(even if I am not a rocket scientist!),articles like this are a great start.

    • mtnforge permalink

      Your last comment is the best. Thats the truth. We help others we help ourselves. Force multiplier. Join The Honorable Resistance.

      Talk about pumps. I haven’t kept up with recent products. About 10 years back, found one I liked and works as advertised. A Sigma K2. Excellent lift and outlet side pressure capability. Unique design. Pump’s made in Europe, only place I could buy one from is a guy up in Canada. It is a Rotary Vane hand pump, short stroke, about 90 degrees each stroke, pumps on both strokes. The vanes have flapper valves incorporated into them. Cast iron body, bronze vanes and plain bearing, alloy shaft, simple gland nut packing seals, 2 standard pipe connection features for inlet and outlet. Sturdy case with rugged cast in mounting lugs. Works any in any position. We use it in our roof water cistern system, copper piped, with an expansion tank. The pump produces 37psi line pressure at our 3000 ft alt, with check valves, is fed from the bottom of a cement block cistern, with a head height of 12 ft when its at full capacity. The gravity fed feed to the pump is supposed to be a good advantage. The cistern is 8x8x12ft tall, with a home made aggregate/sand/charcoal two stage “washer” filter. I make the charcoal from the hardwood cordwood we use, in a 55 gal barrel kiln, the aggregate is what is used in a reverse flow potassium permanganate black flow filter system for ferric/ferris iron water filtration. Ag and sand comes in 40 lb bags from a water filter systems company, shipped UPS. It is some special specie of crushed stone that has an infinity for various Ions and certain contaminants. Function’s like the self cleaning actions in a cold water creek. I don’t use the PP, as there’s no iron or minerals in rain water but minimal it picks up from the roofing shingles, remaining after a period of time for the rain allowed to “wash” the roof, before switching to collection thru the “Washer” filter. This filter is good because it can be made from variety of self sourced resources. The roof water washer concept came from the fantastic homesteading book, written in the depression era, ‘5 Acres and Independence’.
      Rain water needs only a quarter of the laundry soap, seems our cloths are lasting longer, are cleaner, my wife loves how soft her hair is. We use Berkley style ceramic/charcoal gravity water filter candles for drinking and food water. Beer and wine yeast ferment much better with it.
      5 acres is packed with practical farming info and methods from prior to WWII. Before industrial farming practice took over farming. I been referencing it most of my adult life. Homesteading farms, sharecropping, was common in those times. Lot to be said for sharecropping too.

      My friend and compatriot, I share property boundaries with, has a 75 head cattle farm. About 300 acres. We work together sharecropping on his land. He provides the farm plots of course, the equipment, I do the work and supply the seed and soil amendments. He the cow manure, me the green manure crops. We crop Sourgum, (basically sugar cane), he has a old tractor PTO driven cane squeezer, we plant corn, mostly grinding corn, some sweet eating corn to can or enjoy fresh, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, fresh and dry beans. You never tasted a Pinto bean unless you grow and dry them on the vine. Mind blowing quality and taste. Store bought dry beans are heat dried. No comparison whatsoever to the real McCoys.

      Heard of others using a Pinto or other ford 2.3 liter 4 bangers. Superb engine really. Always admired the 3.2 for its qualities and ruggedness.
      Got one from an early Ford Ranger, its sitting in the shop waiting for a purpose. It may end up being a 4 pole AC generator for the shop machine tools and welders. And a junkyard power hammer for the forge. Run a 7- 10 kilowatt 4 pole head should cover it, one of those excellent Chinese made 4 pole units that have been around forever, like what a lot of people drive with the Lister style mechanical injector diesel engines. You regulate them with engine rpm’s. A company in Maine makes a couple Lister copies. Those Lister puppies are fuel misers from what I’ve heard, they have that big old heavy flywheel as the drive pulley. Another old timey piece of technology that’s been around forever.
      4 pole is nice because they run at 1800 rpms instead of 3600rpms, like the residential gas engine gen sets you buy at homeless depot. 4 poles Llast far longer, run quieter, bearings, brushes, less heat, less mechanical stress. You can gear up from idle speeds lot simpler if you have the HP/Tq a Pinto or Beetlebug engine has. The engines already make the power to overcome parasitic drag from oil windage and frictional losses, so adding an alternator, the drag from one is like a fart in a mitten power requirement wise.

      I raced and built road racing chassis and exhaust systems for my own motorcycles for a couple decades. Learned a lot about those mechanical losses, how to tweak every hp out of my race bikes. Ceramic ball bearings are an excellent way to gain some inherent power. They have extremely low frictional loss, and the lightweight ceramic internals reduce inertia and drag. On the dyno swapping out 2 rear steel alloy axle bearings for ceramic units freed up enough HP to permit 5mph increase in top speed, and the graphs show 4-5 hp in the low to midrange power curve. These are mods that don’t wear out and efficiently use existing power. That is smart money incremental improvements. I know at the end of the straights I was drawing away from other racers, the dyno doesn’t show what improvement changing the front wheel bearing produced. Maybe another 4-5 horsepower, giving me 10 more mph than before? Whatever it was it was tangible results.
      Thats gaining an extra edge. In the home brew power generation game, many little real world improvements mount up. Your starting, unless you got limitless funds to throw at it, at rock bottom in a sense. It may be in a given situation, those small gains make all the difference to success.
      Like a Pinto or VW engine, you may see small incremental improvements. No big deal. But say your having to make your own fuel, ethanol lets say, from corn you grew for instance. Right there you have a lot invested in labor time and materials. Is it better to trade that ethanol for something else, convert that something else into fuel? Or use your fuel to run your gen set? Remember, you need about 43% more alcohol than gasoline, it has around 40% less latent BTU’s than pump gas. Thats close to 50% more fuel consumption for the same watts. Lot to think about. It gets complicated in a hurry. You got to think on your feet and not get caught out making the wrong choice, while the unknown unknowns are creeping around behind you. That corn might end up being the difference between making it thru with enough food instead if there was a bad crop the next year or pest problems destroy your harvest. What do you do right?

      Now that the wind turbine has a proven run time, I’m changing out the shaft bearings for ceramic ones at some point. Small potatoes? Maybe not. The formula for conversion from wind to shaft power, can’t remember the scientist’s name, is at the absolute best, theoretical mind you, is you can not pass 35 and some percent conversion of the power in the wind, using airfoil blade rotors to spin a permanent magnet, magnetic flux, (no brush type) alternator shaft. So right there is your starting deficit. Its baked in. In one way its relative, so what you get is what you get. Right? And that formula does not account for drag from the magnets as they pass the field coils, called cogging, or seal and bearing drag, nor wind turbulence, all the myriad of factors. So like the 748 watts per HP formula, it is relatively less all things considered in real world results.
      Another kind of theory, goes something like this: the smaller the engine displacement, the greater the relative scale of improvement from increasing combustion efficiency. I find that rule is very true, and applies not just to the internal combustion engine.
      My point is I’m thinking, by using ceramic ball bearing for my wind turbine, I hope to decrease wind speed start up, if it is a half MPH improvement, it is a rather high percentage of the average windspeed at my location. Which is approx 7-10 mph average. Whats a half MPH gain, or improvement, percentage wise? Added up over time? Instantaneously also? The gains payback from the first watt, and become a “profit” after payback is reached. (really its not start up speed, but what they call “cut in speed”, the point not where the blades turn, but where there is enough torque created where the blades are driven fast enough to overcome the drag in the fields created by the load, or draw, from the battery that wants to suck up every amp fast as it can, (plus your line resistance), which is more, or “heavier”, the lower the battery is drawn down in its depth of charge. More current in the first stage of the charge cycle, closer you get to the state of full charge, requires more voltage, basically in simple terms. Important to know. It is why a 12VDC solar panels, wired into a charging 12 volt battery, produces 18 to 21 volts. The charge voltage has to be higher than the battery voltage. A wet acid lead cell type battery also acts like a big fat capacitor, it drags down the voltage feed into it, or like a excellent buffer, it reduces “wild” voltage a permanent magnet flux, rectified 3 phase alternator produces, some figures state over 100 volts DC. The 3 phase side of the alternator circuit, before the bridge rectifier converting power to DC is really wild! Ive heard well over 100 volts a leg and its zooms all over the place as the wind and battery load varies.
      I’m no engineer. I have no way to determine the actual improvements in tangible paper numbers. But if using the ceramic bearings gains me say 25, or 50 more watts at the low average windspeed zone, it is a net gain in power of superlative gain I’m putting into my off grid system, right where it counts the most in real world numbers. More Power baby!
      Another turbine feature is, “When the sun ain’t shining the winds blowing”. Ideally, running solar/wind, you get the best of both worlds. But mother nature is very very fickle. You can not depend on it. You can take advantage of what the old lady grants. That is the game right there.

      But see, the process, in free your mind, as Morpheus said to Neo in the Jump Program, matters. As he said to Neo: You have to let it all go Neo. Free.Your. Mind.

      Thinking outside the box, where it leads?
      If anything, this is the main off-grid component. Your thinking. The rest of the parts make up the balance.
      Just like in small unit infantry combat tactics, the basic essentials, without them your not a very effective combat warrior. The weapons and gear are secondary. How you use the one weapon, your mind, that makes you the Warrior.
      Ever since I got my first SUT class training at Max Velocity’s, this warrior mindset empowered me in so many ways. So much of my life transfers into it. My combat rifle went from being the center of my ideas about combat to a very good tool that complimented my way if thinking and how I acted. Like in combat handgun as per Colonel Jeff Cooper, use the weapon between the ears, the pistol on your belt is an extension of the primary weapon.
      That translates in spades, again the holistic element, to being self reliant, such as building and running our off grid system. How I farm for our food. My interactions with the tribe I am part of, and how I perceive outsiders, threats, benefits to costs ratios of those dynamics, how I use the terrain to my advantage in my area, how I prepare in all things, and other less tangible dynamics in my AO and the sphere of my life.

      I think the Stoics had similar mindset and thinking process. It is OK to incorporate the philosophical, the spiritual, historical, past with present, flexibility, intuition, audacity, everything is connected. Everything is relative.

      For the homebuilt gen set, how this translates into tangible gains in less fuel consumption I would like to find out by doing.
      Another example from past experience was I began to use Klotz engine lube in my race engines, it is synthetic, made from beef fat of all things, has a nice smell like Marvel Mystery Oil, same cherry red color, as a matter of fact. Lasts more than twice any oil I had tried previously. Ran much cleaner also. Which says to me it reduced a lot of frictional wear. Little mom&pop company makes it. Great oil. 10 more hp on the dyno almost along the entire power curve just swapping out from Mobil 1. And hi wear parts, rings, pistons, rockers and shims, (I used Ducati V twin engines in my bikes), lowered oil temps, roller crank bearings etc last longer, more than doubled in service life of everything and more. Eliminated 100% the piston and valve failures with other oils I experienced, even at Daytona, the exploding engines became history, that track eats engines for lunch because your at WOT redline for so long up on the banking. Always jamming the throttle to the stop accelerating out of the apex, its a fast track in every meaning of fast. Like a minute 30 seconds, WOT, never backing off, top gear, 10,000 rpm redline, 178 mph thru the speed trap. Givin’ her everthin’ she gut Captin’!!!

      These little tricks and helps really add up in a given area of breaking the envelope.
      Like you say man, sharing this stuff is paramount to something larger, better, than just the sum of our individual selves. Force multiplier.

      Funny thing is, it is very surprising how difficult it is to convey to many people how these things really add up. That they even work to begin with. How much they count for so much in the larger picture. It is not a cookie cutter off the shelf JIT need it right away inventory world when you go off-grid into the wild. All of the off grid things are that way.
      For me its the glass is always at least half full perspective.

      That holistic mindset and way of thinking is almost an alien concept to a lot of people. You see it all the time in remarks made by John on here and other small unit infantry combat tactics adapted for us civilian’s and our particular criteria from other sources. You can’t do that, thats not what the .mil does, or the simple it will never work gloomy gus’s. Maybe some of it is the “Not invented here” mindset.
      I don’t know, and it only matters in regards as a reference point in how not to think, and how to best share what you have that you learned by the actual doing. But what I do know is I find is my best tools and weapon is whats between my ears.

      And I can tell you have this thought process too. Plus, taking action, and only action, putting ideas and epiphanies to the test is what matters.
      Sometimes you just got to grab your balls and go for it regardless, and you learn lots more by failure than success. Or something that in your wildest expectations never crossed your neuron junctions.
      Lot of iterative process in this stuff. Improvisation, adaptation, like the Marine Corps combat hardened Gunnies like to exemplify.

      Or Rocket Scientists!

  12. nick flandrey permalink

    Hey John,

    Dewalt made a cordless grinder in their 18v line. It works ok, but eats battery like nobody’s business.

    The solution to that is to use the adapter, and run modern 20v lithium dewalt packs in your legacy 18v dewalt tools. They even make 4 and 5 Hhr packs to run their leaf blowers that work very well in the sawzall, grinder, and circular saw.

    I get a second lease on life for my 18v dewalt tools (which got varying amounts of use-some like new years later), and all new batteries to replace my failed and failing 18v NiMH packs.

    Buy the batteries with chargers in kits. They are usually much cheaper that way. Also, buy more than one 18v to 20v adapter so you don’t have to constantly swap batteries.

    nick

    • nick flandrey permalink

      Ah, should be “4 and 5 A-hr batteries”

      n

      • mtnforge permalink

        Got a set of early Milwaukee cordless tools, the 14.4 volt ones. The tools have been 100% reliable. No reason to junk good tools. The batteries all went south. Found a guy on ebay who sells, or exchanges battery packs he builds or refurbishes himself, in Missouri. Been a year and a bit now, work better than the originals seems like. I think they are a bit higher voltage, supposed to be higher amp rating. They definitely run longer on a charge than OEM came with the set.

        Maybe that battery technology is better now?

        They work real good whatever. Half the cost of factory replacements. I took one apart check out the work, all nice solder joints, looks like factory, even the cardboard insulation.
        Got to thinking a few times. These industrial grade battery packs they got now strike me as state of the art. Maybe a sharp fellow could make a dandy off-grid battery bank with them?
        1000 to 1200 charge cycles, rated at full depth of draw life, is pretty awesome specs. Run them keeping your depth of draw at 20% or less, they might be lifetime battery sets. With the connector designs, easy to get the system voltage you need, any series parallel combination.

        Thinking about it, you could find a lot of nifty uses beyond running power tools. Like Radio Comm’s for field use. Remote LED lighting of say a bunker or command post. Boot heaters in real cold situations. Make a super cell phone or laptop stand alone power supply far better than the Gucci gadgets in retail stores. They just seem like a great handy power source waiting to be improvised. They sure got built in ruggedness.

    • Mike Jamison permalink

      Read the reviews before purchase. It seems that there are many problems with this system. I have the 18v tools and was hoping that this was the golden BB to revitalize them, but I would rather put the money toward a new 20v system.

  13. John, you brought up EMP. The only EMP weak link on the PV panels themselves are the small diodes that function as a one-way switch during low light hours. They basically stop the batteries from radiating your stored power from the batteries back through the panels and into the atmosphere at night. Most panels have a plastic box mounted on the back somewhere near the electrical connection point. If you pop the cover off of the box, you should see a diode. Usually they are press fitted, although occasionally they will be soldered in. Pop one out, write down the identifying info, then order spares. They are very cheap. When they arrive just twist the wire ends together, in parallel, and they will be safe.

    A spare inverter and charge controller stored away in a small faraday box will seal the deal.

  14. SBK permalink

    Dewalt makes cordless grinders for their 20V line. I have the brush motor version. A buddy of mine has the brushless version and gets better battery life. Dewalt also makes a charger for their 12 and 20 volt batteries that runs off of 12 volts so you can charge directly from the battery bank instead of through the inverter.

  15. James permalink

    Forge,the irony of pinto me friend has is the body pretty solid,still has the bumper bolts that caused all the fires in rear end incidents,he could probably sell for good money and thus get a different motor and have monies for other “alt/hippy power sources”.I will do a little research on pump you mention,even if I don’t ever get one sounds like a interesting/useful critter.

    I have noticed over the years as a carpenter the battery tech for cordless get so much better,me first was the old 9.6 volt Makita drill,very “chic” in the day(yes,I aged meself!).I will again state thru the decades have learned to love the Rigid gen 5 system,but,use what works for you,just personally love the lifetime guarantee,at least till it all falls down!

  16. Chris permalink

    Hey.
    Enjoyed reading your overview. Our story is similar in with different details. We still live in our shed (wife &I) but it’s 40 feet long and we have added to it significantly.
    FYI, dewalt makes a good battery operated angle grinder that I have found quite useful. DC411B is the one I have that takes the old 18 V ni-cads.
    Also, I would suggest to anyone to have two systems. Yes a little more money but you have redundancy/back up.
    We are grateful to God every day we’re being able to libe out here.
    Thanks

  17. Dave Miles permalink

    HVAC guy here, just to stick a bug in your ear, The mini splits use special magic Japanese inverter technology, I believe I read they can be picky about the sine wave they need. Can’t find where I read it but just a heads up. They’re great systems but can be fucking complicated to fix.

  18. Lathechuck permalink

    I have three solar systems. The smallest is a 1W, 12V panel (sold as a battery maintainer for parked autos) on the roof of my garden shed, maintaining the charge on a 12V, 7 AH battery which drives a strip of LED lights (from Ikea) so I can put my tools away after dark.
    The next is a 200W, 24V panel (gifted from a SolarCity salesman, when it became obsolete), which charges a pair of 12V, 7 Ah batteries, which can run my ham radio gear.
    The biggest is a 5 kW grid-tied system which has run my electric meter net-backwards for the last four years.
    Comparing your off-grid expenses against the monthly on-grid bills of your friends and relations can be misleading, because they’re probably consuming a lot more electricity than you are. You’re counting every watt-hour, and they’re just taking it all for granted. I don’t know how much energy is used by, say, a refrigerator with an automatic ice-maker (because I’ll never have one, but your peers probably do), but any time “heat” is explicitly involved, you’ve got the potential for big energy usage. Whether it’s resistance heating (for cooking or hot water), making ice, or pumping heat outdoors (A/C), that’s usually going to dominate the more obvious things like TV, radio, and lighting.

    One gap in my knowledge is “what is the minimum battery capacity for a charge controller?” The user manuals don’t say, and the vendor doesn’t know either. (I asked.) They just assume that you have some big lead-acid wet-cell deep-cycle unit, but what I have are much smaller. Say I have a 7 Ah 12V battery: if my panel can produce 10A in full sun, is it going to damage the battery, or the charge controller?

    By the way, I killed one charge controller, apparently by having the panel hooked up without a battery, if only for a few seconds (while I swapped batteries). I assume that the battery loaded down the panel, but the panel voltage got too high without it. Ideas?

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