It is important to note that the selection of appliances for your off-grid home will make a huge difference. When setting up a completely off-grid home or cabin its important to remember what the major draws of energy are. In a typical American home around 80% of the monthly utility bills come from just a few places; air conditioner, heat, hot water, cook stove and dryers. If you are setting up an off-grid home its not advisable to operate these major sources of energy with electricity. It CAN be done, but your cost to set up your off-grid home will be astronomical and you don’t get the best value for energy use. It's much smarter instead to use things like propane for furnaces, cook stoves and water heaters. Rather than having a clothes dryer a good old fashioned clothes line makes much more sense. Another good way to keep warm if you’re in a more northern climate is a wood stove in the winter. These small changes will really add up for you over the lifetime of your off-grid home. Below we will expand on the major energy draws and provide tips and tricks for more efficient energy use.
1. Furnace, Heater & Hot Water
It is our suggestion to never use electrical heat for your off-grid home applications. Most manufactured homes you find in major cities have ducts and forced air. This takes huge amounts of energy as they circulate the air and blow it around the home. A smarter way to heat your home would be something like a propane direct-vent heater. This will save fuel since each room can have its own heater and thermostat. You can also design the build of your home in such a way to take advantage of convection from lower to higher floors. For example, a wood or gas furnace located on the bottom floor or basement in a multi-story home will allow hot air to rise without needing to power a fan, a duct or blower. Another tip which can add up over time is to have a door at each stairway on multilevel homes. This way you can control the rise of heat through the home. Rather than keeping a bank of hot water, using tankless water heaters is a great way to never use more hot water than is strictly necessary.
2. Home Temperature & Air conditioning
It is our opinion that air condition is just too energy intensive at this point to be practical for an off-grid home. Energy efficient fans to keep air circulating are a much better option for energy use. However, some climates in the south of the US become almost unbearable without AC, so if you must use an AC, a small window unit is the way to go. Something that can cool the most important parts of the home and can be run anywhere from 3-6 hours on a sunny day with around 1000 Watts of solar modules. If you are going to use an AC unit, make sure to choose an Energy Star rated appliance for sure.
3. Heating Water
We already touched on this earlier, but any electric water heater is out. A tankless or instant water heater is a great option, but our suggestion would be to use natural gas or propane. You could even get a wood fired hot tub heater since that a non-non-electric appliance.
4. Freezers and Refrigeration
When you tell your friends and family you are setting up an off-grid home, they might offer to give you their old beer fridge or older freezer that is just sitting in the garage. Now this is very kind of them, but when setting up an off-grid home these older appliances (if they are not Energy Star models) are ABSOLUTELY not worth it. Most standard fridges and freezers will deplete your battery charge much too quickly. We offer a variety of off-grid fridges and freezers which are designed for solar powered homes. They are much more highly insulated and energy efficient. If you’re setting up a hunting cabin or something similar, you might be able to get away with a high quality cooler like a Yeti which will be able to keep your food and drinks cold for the duration of your visits.
5. Clothes washers & dryers
Unless money is no obstacle for you, and you live in a super sunny state, do not put a clothes dryer in your off-grid home. A good old fashioned clothes line is the way to go. Some modern energy star washing machines are reasonably efficient with electricity. They are efficient enough to be run from portable solar generators even. These are the best style to use for full time off-grid living and will require a true sine wave inverter to run. The modern horizontal axis washing machines are the best but some top loading machines will work, they just use more water and electricity than a horizontal axis machine.
The first and most obvious thing when it comes to lighting is your use of LED’s. Every light in your off-grid home should be efficient LED’s, no exception. You can also save yourself some headaches if you install motion sensor lights in area’s like the basement or sheds since you dont need to remember to shut them off every time.
Obviously it’s advisable to wash all dishes by hand, though after living with a dishwasher its hard to live without one. Dishwashers can be very hit or miss. Many times they have two power heaters; to dry the dishes and to heat the water in order to clean. You CAN still use the dishwasher if its an Energy Star model and if you simply disconnect the water heaters. Lots of people dont know this.
Anytime you are heating, you should avoid using electricity if possible. This is no different for your kitchen stove. If you use a propane or natural gas stove then you require no power at all. If you choose one with a pilot light then you’re set.
9. Water Pumps
DC pump use can be alright since they use very little power. Always avoid higher horsepower than you need since most DC pumps can get to depths of 100-900 feet with little power use. Consult an expert in your area since each need will be different.
10. Home Office
If you’re going to be running printers and computers at your home we recommend a true sine wave inverter. Standard knowledge surrounding printers and computers is that they do not require a true sine wave inverter but can get away with using a modified sine wave inverter. While this is true, we suggest for your best results to make a home office room that you power through a large true sine wave inverter.
11. TV, DVR, Stereo, Satellite etc
The first thing that we suggest for any type of entertainment system is an outlet strip to cut all the power from the equipment when not in use. Many TVs, steno’s etc use power even when shut off. Smaller TV’s around 20 inches generally use around 85 watts and should work with any inverter. Satellite TV works with any inverter and a DVR does as well while using around 45 watts. If you’re going with a larger flat screen or high quality audio gear they can be quite efficient in terms of power usage but tend to require a true sine wave inverter.
Our first suggestions for hand held power tools is to get a portable solar kit something like an Inergy Apex or maybe a Goal Zero Yeti 1000/1400 Lithium. If you have a portable kit that comes with their own solar panels, you can recharge and operate the tools wherever you want without drawing from the homes power. This will also allow you to use power tools away from your workshop. If you do use home power for your tools, make sure to note that most of the hand-held power tools you will use operate on 800-1500 watt inverters and larger power equipment will normally work with 2500 watt inverters.
These are just a few tips and things to consider when building an off-grid home. For more in-depth or specific help you can write in to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 877-242-2792.
Are you especially interested in portable kits? then consider checking our next blog - Small Solar Power System.
If you are planning going off-grid, you might also be interested in our blogs What Size Solar Panel is Needed to Charge a 12V Battery? or How much do solar panels cost for a 1500 square foot house?