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Connecting Your Own Grid

Being on the “grid” is generally considered to mean that one is connected to the electrical grid supplied by a local electrical provider. Today, labeling yourself as “off grid” can mean a whole bunch of things. Maybe you don’t have water or sewer. Maybe you don’t shop at the store. Maybe you don’t have any internet and you consider yourself “off-grid”. However, literally speaking, being “off-grid” means not using the electric company.

The only connection my family has to any outside utility is through a phone line that provides data. This phone line is powered by our solar panels. Amazingly, we have DSLAM equipment in the area that allows locals to connect with DSL. We don’t use the phone line for phone service at all. Because we are so far out in the boonies, almost every number we dial is considered long distance. So instead we use a phone that is connected to our data line(VOIP).

We knew before we left the city that we wanted to take advantage of alternative energy technologies. Solar and wind tech has advanced leaps and bounds over the last 10 years, and even more in the last 2 years. However, I believe we are way far off from ease of use – plug and play systems that the average homeowner can pick up at the local Walmart. More on that in a minute.

Here are the top 3 questions we get on a regular basis about our alternative energy setup here on An American Homestead.

  1. Where do you get your equipment?

    The equipment was purchased from a number of different providers. One of our advertisers, Ready Made Resources offers a wide variety of alternative energy products for both large setups and small. Bob, the owner of RMR, is very knowledgeable about wind and solar setups. He has has helped us, as well as many hundreds of others to be more educated with the choice to set up their own systems. He would be a great resource to use if you are interested in purchasing a system. Plus, most of their products include free shipping and are competitively priced. I must also make a special mention of the Midnite Solar products. Their customer service has been phenomenal in answering questions we’ve had in the process. These companies get questions non-stop and it’s easy to understand why some of them could get frustrated with all of the “newbs” who call. But the Midnite Solar staff have been very positive every time I have needed their input. Primus was also very helpful with over the phone customer service questions. Ready Made Resources sells their wind turbines as well. It’s a good idea to do research and understand some of the basics of wind and solar before you call a company seeking information. And it’s always good practice to follow up with a purchase once your questions have been answered. Other companies of note that I have purchased from include: The Alt-E Store and Missouri Wind and Solar. homestead-solar

    Solar Panels: Our 250 watt solar panels were manufactured by Grape Solar and purchased from Home Depot. They were more expensive than others on the market, but I believe they were worth the extra money. There are a couple reasons why we went this route.

    1. The reviews from Grape Solar were great! I highly recommend that you always read customer reviews on a product. In this day and age, if someone is unhappy with the performance of a product, they are ranting about it somewhere. Do some research. Grape solar panels had excellent reviews from knowledgeable customers.
    2. Buying them from a big box store puts some concerns at ease. If anything goes wrong or if they arrive damaged, you have an easy solution to simply take them back to the store. Solar panels will come in a wooden packing crate. You will have to basically break apart the crate to get the panels out. If one of the panels arrives damaged and you need to return it, it will be up to you to either repair the crate and send it back or find another crate. This actually happened to us once. The solution was simple and we just returned the damaged panel to Home Depot. They took care of it and ordered another panel for us to pick up.
  2. How do you wire it all together?

    This is often the most daunting task when putting your alternative energy setup together. You have to consider a number of questions? Are you currently on the grid? If so, you’re going to need a grid-tie system that connects to your current wiring in your home. If you will be off-grid, then the equipment and set up will be different. Again, do research and take your time learning the concepts of setting up a system. It won’t happen overnight. Be patient. There are a lot of hard to understand diagrams out there. I took the time to build some charts that hopefully will be easy to read and understand in case you want to build a set-up similar to ours.

    1. Greenhouse Power System – the following diagram is the system that powers our greenhouse.
      solar-diagram1
      Click to Enlarge
    2. Office Power System – the following diagram is the system that powers our homestead office.
      Alternative-Energy-Wiring
      Click to Enlarge
  3. How much did it cost?

    The question we get the most is how much did it cost to build our off grid systems. That’s a pretty open ended question, but we can try and help if you are wanting to get an idea about a budget you will need. Keep in mind that we did all of the assembly ourselves and that probably saved an additional 30-40% in labor cost, maybe more. The overall expectation I would have for small systems like we have pictured above would be a budget of around $6-6.5k each. This would also include the construction materials used to house the equipment.

    Here are some individual prices for some of the materials.

    1. Lead Acid Batteries (golf cart) 6 volt purchased from Sams Club: $90 each.
    2. Rolls AGM Batteries: $362 each includes freight.
    3. Solar Panels – Grape Solar: $399 each from Home Depot. Store pickup.
    4. Primus Air 40 Turbine: $850 purchased from RMR.
    5. Wind Blue Turbine: $650 from Wind Blue.
    6. Midnite Classic 150 Charge Controller: $850 from RMR.
    7. Midnite Solar The Kid: $290
    8. Samlex Inverter 1000w: $400
    9. Samlex Inverter 600w: $250

Those are some of the bigger high dollar items needed for our system. Again you will save a lot of money if you spend the time doing research and install the system yourself. You will also learn a lot and be better able to determine problems should they arise. Not to mention that you will learn a valuable skill along the way. Just because we were interested, we got quotes from a company on setting up a system for our homestead. Basically it came down to this, if the “typical” American wanted to keep the “typical” American lifestyle with TV’s in every room, all the electronic and heating devices in the kitchen and for water, etc., the cost would be somewhere in the ballpark of $30k-50k to be totally off grid and not know it.

As for my family, we like being off grid. We like the idea of not being distracted by all of the electronics the world has to offer and the consuming lifestyle that goes along with it. That being said, we don’t at this point have any solar power in the houses and are completely okay with that.

I will also add that you will want to avoid very cheap systems out there. A lot of stuff is made in China, but that doesn’t necessarily mean its poorly made or cheap. But as a rule, I would avoid any solar products sold by Harbor Freight. The only exception would be if you want to set up a small system in order to understand the concept of how things work. But the reality is that it won’t produce much power and will probably break if you breath on it too hard. It’s junk. The old adage of “You get what you pay for” should be taken seriously when it comes to alternative energy systems. And again, read the product reviews!

That brings me back around to what I mentioned at the beginning of the article. There is a reason that you don’t and won’t see easy plug and play systems sold at your local Walmart. Setting up an alternative energy system requires a certain level of intelligence. Most Americans today enjoy being fat, dumb and lazy and their only concern is when the next big game comes on and if we have enough beer or soda in the fridge. It never crosses their mind about where their electricity comes from and how they might produce it on their own and what that might require. Being an American is all about “ease-of-use” and we want nothing to do with products that might be complicated.

Maybe one day, these systems will be easily set up and ready to use out of the box for the average American homeowner, but we aren’t there yet. The prices of alternative energy products are actually one of the few things in the world today that are declining. For those of us willing to put in the time and effort, having an alternative energy solution can be a very rewarding experience.

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About Zachary Bauer

Zachary lives with his wife, two sons and his wife's parents on An American Homestead deep in the mountains of the American Ozarks. They all moved there together in July of 2013 where they began to build the homestead. They are off-grid with the exception of a phone line.

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4 comments

  1. whitney thornbrough

    Perfect timing! Great info. I think Travis will be coming out in March to help me set my aquaponics up. This is the info I needed to get started. Shalom

  2. Nice article. I’m using a Zamp solar 160w portable system with 2 Trojan batteries in our camper now and it works great. I’m planning on a similar install as yours once we move into our new house. I’d love to power the shop using solar and batteries. I was curious why you used 2 VERY different types of batteries on your systems. You show the lower quality Sam’s Club battery on one end of the spectrum, and the “Cadillac” of batteries, Rolls Surrette on the other end. Seems a tad odd.

  3. Thank you for this excellent article!!! I learned more useful information from this one reading than I have in the entire time I have been trying to research solar for our homestead. We did an experiment with Harbor Freight products for our goat barn and it was a bust. Could never get the batteries charged. Thanks again!

  4. Barry Honeycutt

    Thanks Zach for sharing your info with us. Im gradually getting “off Grid” here in Texas, i wanted to talk with you when you were in Beaumont, i live 30 miles away-did not work out. I appreciate the things you share and your following Father, and the debates online on New 2 Torah…Keep up the good work my Brother, hope to hug your neck one day and share what Father is showing us….Your Brother Barry

    Im going to start investing in the solor power systems..Thanks again …

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