how do you live without power off grid

28 Aug
2012

Another one of those questions “How do you live without power?” makes me laugh.

The question actually floors me, have we digressed that much in the world. Just because my RV isn’t hooked into the grid, doesn’t mean I don’t have a plethora of options.

It is overwhelming, even when I lived on the grid, how much power and how many devices people have. They keep them plugged into the wall all the time. They have lights on in every room. They don’t use energy efficient devices.

I’m very energy conscious. I remember the save power campaigns as a kid and I still follow the premise. Power is really quite easy to manage if you reduce your gadgets and keep an efficient home.

Now power has been a problem this summer but that’s because I needed to throw money (on a tight budget) this summer getting other areas up to speed. It’s fully taking care of now but not without hiccups, which I’ll explain later (I broke down and bought a generator).

power options

My RV has power.

It comes from a battery. The battery is charged by the RV engine battery and alternator. I simply need to turn on the engine and charge it up. The battery is than hooked up to an inverter, which converts DC power to AC for things like laptops and fridges (propane fridges are a much better option). You need a controller or charger to make sure you don’t over juice your battery.

The less power you need to charge the easier it is. I hardly need any.

In a small space you don’t have a bunch of items and gadgets hooked up. You use what you need. You do things manually.

I only need to charge a few devices, my rechargeable LED lantern, rechargeable batteries once every month or so, electric toothbrush, laptop and my tablet. I do have some cordless tools but I’m slowly replacing them with corded tools to run with a generator. I’ll also pick up a couple different styles of lanterns for next season as I feel a CFL lantern gives you different type of lighting that is easier on the eyes. I

Portable Internet is also in the works, but finally I can share with the other RVer, Neil.

We also have a small solar system but it is really only designed for one person and needs a better location to capture the sun. It gives us a bit of a backup.

ideal power setup

  1. Solar panels to meet your needs (probably 120 watts will meet basic needs with about 500 + allowing more gadgets)
  2. RV/Marine grade12V  batteries (2 or 3)
  3. Battery charger
  4. Inverter with 2 outlets (at least 200W)
  5. 2000-3000 watt portable generator with built in inverter
  6. 5000-10000 watt generator for projects and “group power”
  7. A power “shelter” to muffle the noise
  8. portable solar charger backup to charge small devices
  9. solar or USB chargeable devices
  10. car inverter

You can set all that up for less than $2000 or $500 if you want to start with the basics and grow it from there.

a little story

As I said, I broke down and bought a generator. Actually, I bought two. In July, I risked buying a old generator. I was tired of running over to the library to charge up my laptop and tablet 4 or 5 times a week just to get a couple hours of Internet. It wasn’t very conducive to writing either and was very expensive in gasoline.

Also, having injured both of my hands with repetitive strain and a fall, I am now worried about recurring injury with overuse of my hands. I’ve been building a lot of things with my hands and the strain would do permanent damage, so I’ve got power tools to help ease the burden.

We were supposed to have a solar system up this summer but it took longer than expected to get it going and didn’t provide us with enough juice. Neil has a little portable 2000 watt generator and I was able to plug into it when he turned it on. (Neil arrived in late June and we struggled with power for all of July). We are waiting for several 120 watt solar panels but don’t expect a system in place until next summer. I’m also considering a little stand alone portable system like the ones at goal zero.

But a funny thing happened in July and August. The power gods were against us. My tablet lost the ability to charge so I have to wait until I can afford repairs, leaving me with only one device, my laptop. If I use it at night, it’s low on juice in the morning. I do have a 9 cell lithium heavy duty battery to give me 6 or seven hours (but if I watch a movie and do a bit of work in the evening, 5 or 6 hours could easily pass).

To top matters off the RV battery is on it’s last legs and I was hoping to make do and replace it next spring with a 2 or 3 cell system as well as a battery charger. It’s not holding power for very long.

So….I bought an older generator for a steal, or so I thought but it needed a carb refit and the model was too old to restock. You live and learn. While it was getting fixed, I borrowed the property owner’s generator and it fizzled out on me (we have since got it working).

Neil had gone on a holiday and took his generator with him. When he arrived back, his generator had broken.

Fortunately, I was given a credit from the generator repair place and bought a brand new Briggs and Stratton  5000 watt generator with the help of Neil and a 2 month payment plan with the dealer. It’s half paid now and the other half at the end of September but…we have power.

I bought the bigger model because we are working on our own services for Tiny and Low Impact alternative home owners and will need the power in the future for tools and building, etc. I could have bought the 2000 watt “whisper model” with a built in inverter. Eventually, I’ll have both and and solar.

Power is important. It keeps us connected, warm,cool, entertained, in light and so much more. It takes us to a level of luxury allowing us to enjoy our surroundings…and my surroundings are beautiful with all the nature around.

So…many car rides into town, a tablet, 3 generators later it looks like we are finally powered up. When Neil gets his generator back, we may use it more frequently since it is quieter and a little lighter on the gas but mine will power more devices with higher capacity, so we can run a microwave, power tools, air conditioner, fridge etc.

While I could live without power as a choice, I choose not to. I’m happy with that choice and we will go cleaner and cleaner over time. As it sits, our generator and a few devices uses substantially less power than a small home would.

Our footprint is still low.

Think about off grid, tiny home living. We’d be happy to help you out.

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