Summer of Sustainability: Off the Grid in Doddridge County

August 18, 2010

Summer of Sustainability: Off the Grid in Doddridge County – WBOY-TV – WBOY.com. (click this link)

Last Saturday one of the local television station came to our place and did an interview with Linda and I about our Off Grid Homestead. Although it was very hot and humid it was still fun to do. The link above includes the video of the story they actually aired on tonight’s 6:00 p.m. local news. Hope the paparazzi don’t start running up and down my road taking pictures of me when I’m out trying to mow the lawn.


CRAZY AUGUST STORM

August 4, 2010

Wednesday

Linda

A loud rumble of thunder was my alarm clock this morning. It was 0630 and the overcast sky was dark.  We already had a good storm last night with rain and thunder clappers and lightening.  It appeared this morning may be a repeat.  I threw on some clothes, let the dogs out and hurried down to the coop to check on the chickens.  I wanted to make sure they had plenty of food and water in case this was going to be an all day thing. The storm passed but the sky was still cloudy.

I thought I better turn on the generator for a while since we didn’t have much sun the day before to charge the house batteries.  I hit the manual start button. Nothing.  I checked to make sure that the main switch that connects the generator and the charge controller was in the correct position.  It was.  Tried the manual start switch on the generator again. Nothing.  I checked the propane tanks. Full.  At this point I was at the end of my trouble shooting abilities.  I emailed Sonny at work to see what he thought.  Apparently we left the cut-off switch on the generator panel “on” and it ran the primary generator battery down.

So Sonny called John (since we don’t have a phone yet) to come over and hook up a external charger to it.  In the meantime I dragged our backup gasoline powered generator out of storage and hooked it up and with a couple of pulls on the rope it fired up.  It worked just fine.  I let it run until John and Carol showed up. I was already supposed to be at their house this morning.  Instead they had to run over and rescue me.  Once John got everything set up they went home and I let the battery charge for about three hours.  I think we’re fixed now. I won’t be leaving that switch on again.

The sun popped in and out for a while and I headed over to John and Carols for the afternoon.  Carol was going to make me a home cooked meal.  We spent a nice afternoon in her studio.  She’s a great sculptor. She is working on a bust of John.  I’m amazed at the likeness.  While the artist was at work I played with some clay myself.  My fourth grade art teacher would have been proud of the Magnolia flower I created.  I didn’t intend for it to be a magnolia but that’s what it turned out to be.  You can’t argue with art.

I was getting hungry and looking forward to that ham and homemade macaroni and cheese.  John came in and informed us that a big storm was on it’s way heading East from Ohio.  Sonny called shortly after that and said it was getting real close.  Around here the roads can quickly flood and there is always a chance that a tree can get washed out and fall across them as well.  I had animals at home to think about so I hightailed it home.  I was getting close to my destination, about two miles away from home when the sky became angry and drops of rain hit the windshield. The wind was beginning to whip up and blow leaves and brittle branches off the trees.  I prayed a tree wouldn’t fall on top of the Jeep.

Cold Front

When I reached the mile mark there was a huge limb across the road. Thank goodness it wasn’t a full sized tree.  I really hate backing up (my tracks look like a snake).  With some maneuvering I was able to drag the big branch to the side of the road.  When I reached home the wind had blown over my patio chairs.  Once again I let the dogs out before the storm really hit hard and ran down to check on the chickens.  They were safe and sound in their little coop and I battened down the hatches.  The dogs and I, and of course Annie the cat were safe and sound while the storm raged. I just wish I could have had my ham dinner first, but that’s August.

Heat, humidity, and big storms to remind us that we are pretty small in the scheme of things, and the Almighty has the reins.


Trenching Cables and Wiring PV Array

February 5, 2010

Once we finished installing the 10” steel pipe install for the pole mounted PV panels we next had to get the wires buried. I got a local guy to bring his Kubota back-hoe over to dig a trench from the pole to the electrical room. We then put it in 1” electrical PVC pipe to protect the wires. We pushed several of the 10 gauge cables through as fast as we could and was finished in time for him to grab his John Deere lawn tractor to start back filling.

We then had the Kubota (with a back hoe) dig out a spot out over near the mud room for the future root cellar we plan to have blocked up in the Spring. Just when he was finishing up his front wheels dropped down in a water drain ditch and ripped off his hydraulic filter and within seconds all the fluid was lost. That is why he had to use the John Deere to finish up.

The next day John and I finished connecting the PV panels, grounded each and connected it to the recently pounded in 9′ grounding rod. We then connected 3 PV panels per bank in a series with their MC connectors. There were a total of 4 banks. Next we put a 3’ piece of 2×6 in the ground and mounted the Midnite Solar Combiner disconnect box to it. Installed 5 of the 1/2” strain reliefs in the bottom of the disconnect box for the ground and the 4 banks.


Overview of the Major Components

February 4, 2010

Xantrex controller and distribution panel

After doing a lot of searching on the web I finally arrived at the Alternative Energy Store aka AltE. I called their tech support and was happy to find that they had no issue with spending the time helping me understand what the major components did in the system. I wanted to over engineer my system to allow me to grow into it.

Originally discussed one of their pre-packaged systems but as they educated me and I gained a better understanding of how a PV system was suppose to work I began asking more questions. I wanted to make sure I could add additional components such as a Micro-Hydro or a Wind Generator down the road without being told “Oh you can’t do that with this system”.

I finally decided on a Xantrex 2.5kw system that includes the Inverter/Charger, Charge Controller, two banks of 8, 190 Amp-Hour 6V batteries, Automatic Generator Start (AGS) and distribution panels. There are also tons of cables and connectors with the system. The PV are 12, 205W Kyocera solar panels, mounted them on Top Mount configuration.

12 PV panel on Top-Pole-Mount


Battery Back-Up

February 3, 2010

Battery Bank before the Upgrade

When I ordered my batteries for the solar system the company recommended that I use a 48 volt setup. I then purchased eight 105 amp AGM 6 volt batteries and connected them in series. A few weeks later we decided to get a second identical setup and connect them in parallel. This configuration still gave me 48 volts but with twice the amperage.

I had originally put a “Battery Room” next to the “Electrical Room” (as pictured) and vented it for safety.  As it turned out, the AGM glass mat gel batteries do not “off-gas” which means that I could have put them anywhere I wanted. We still put them in the Battery room and now also store the backup 3500 watt Champion generator in there as well.

More on the primary Guardian Whole House Generator later.

Electrical Room and Battery Room


About Pothole Ranch

February 3, 2010

Looking where the House may sit

For us living off the grid isn’t about catching a ride on the green movement wagon. It’s about being self sufficient and living in a more simple, if not humble life style. That in it’s self will help lessen the burden we put on our world resources. It is a dream that my husband Sonny and I have wanted to achieve, but sometimes life pulls you into an opposing direction.

When we were first married some thirty odd years ago we moved from place to place in search of cheaper rent that would give us a few more dollars to live on. In 1982 when Sonny joined the Navy we moved every two to three years, never setting down roots. Of course we fell into the river of “Gotta Have” and the swift current sent us directly to the sea of debt. We had lost sight of what was most important to us.

Sonny retired from the Navy in 2003 and immediately started a job with a major company allowing us to live off the fat of a large paycheck. Suffice it to say the shininess soon wore off. I became concerned with the level of stress Sonny had to deal with on a daily basis and watched as it affected his health. Besides that, being a country girl at heart the city was stifling me. It just wasn’t worth it. So in 2008 we began looking  for property. We both love the mountains, particularly the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia or the Eastern part of West Virginia, but land was to pricey in those areas. So I visited my cousin who lives in the Northwestern corner of West Virginia.  We were able to find 70 acres of beautiful raw land within our price range. We were back on track to attaining our original dream. The home we built is comfortable and has everything we need. This Spring we plan to grow our garden and build a root cellar. The next step will be to get a few chickens and guineas as well as some goats. We may even try our hand at bee keeping. I hope that you will join us as we take this journey. Maybe some of our ideas will help you reach that dream of freedom and self sufficiency.



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