PB and I have been living 100% off grid since December 2007, we have done most everything ourselves, mostly by hand, it’s cheaper that way. Over these last couple of years, we have discovered a few favorite items that really work well for us. These are items we actually use on a regular if not daily basis, these are things I wouldn’t want to live without. Many of these items we salvaged (ie FREE), some we purchased and were worth every penny.
Here they are, click on the pictures to see full size:
1) Propane cook stove. We salvaged ours from an old travel trailer that was being dismantled, it has 3 burners on top and an oven. We actually have 2 of these now, we are in the process of cleaning up the second one. I haven’t decided if we will use the second one inside the sky castle or put it to use in an outdoor kitchen, either way, it will be a great addition to the one I use every day.
We got ours free from some friends who were getting rid of some old travel trailers, they needed some major cleaning, not because they had been used and not cleaned, it was because of mice. They had made homes inside the stoves, we had to remove the insulation and replace it with new, we scrubbed the stove, inside and out, after that it was as good as new. If you find a treasure like this, be sure to check and make sure the orifice for the unit is for propane, if it’s not, it will not burn properly, orifices made for natural gas are larger so if you try to use propane in a natural gas orifice, you will get a blow torch flame, ask me how I know (grin).
2) Cast iron cookware. I absolutely love my cast iron comal and 10 inch frying pan. I use them everyday. I even make biscuits (not cookies) in them, I use my comal for the biscuits, I place a deep lid on top to make it like an oven. The biggest concern about using cast iron cookware is properly cleaning and storing it. If you use it everyday, it’s not such a big deal, just wipe it out, if you do it while it’s still somewhat hot, it’s easier to clean. Do not use soap on your cast iron, do not use harsh metal scrubbers, use a plastic scrubber or a rag and some hot water to clean your pan, dry it thoroughly, oil it lightly and put it away for the next use. If you are going to store it for a long time, make sure it’s clean, oil it well, inside and on the outside, and store it until your next use. A well seasoned cast iron pan will not stick and will be easy to clean. Never, NEVER leave your cast iron pan soaking in water, they will rust. I prefer getting mine pre-seasoned from the factory, or acquiring mine second hand, preferably from someone who took care of their cast iron pans.
3) Pressure cooker. There are so many ways to use this, my only regret is that I didn’t know about these earlier in my life! The one I use is a stainless steel, 6 quart pressure cooker, it’s the perfect size for 2-4 people, it’s big enough to cook a whole chicken or a pot of beans. The main thing that I love about my pressure cooker is how fast everything cooks, it’s microwave fast! I can cook a pot of pinto beans in 15 minutes or less. The only reason it takes THAT long for me is I am at a high altitude, for anyone using it at lower altitudes, you can cook them for 6-10 minutes and they will be done. To do beans I pick and clean the beans, then soak them overnight. The next day when I’m ready to cook them, I rinse the beans, put them in the pressure cooker, cover with an inch of water (use beef or chicken stock for more flavor), add chopped onions, chili powder, ground pepper, chopped jalapeno pepper, and any other seasonings or meat I wish (wait to add the salt until after the beans are cooked). I add a little oil then close the lid and turn on the heat. Once the rocker is rocking, I turn down the heat and start timing it. For me it takes about 10 minutes. I then turn off the heat and allow the pressure to come down by itself, if you are in a hurry, you can put the pot in the sink and pour cold water over the pot until the pressure is released. I also make baked potatoes in my pressure cooker, they turn out great! Soups, stews, you name it, you can probably cook it in a pressure cooker.
With the quicker cooking times, I am using much less propane, before I used this method, I couldn’t make a pot of beans or baked potatoes, it just flat out took too much time and fuel, I couldn’t afford to use that much propane cooking all day.
4) Tankless water heater. I still remember the day when we received our tankless water heater, before that we had to heat water on the stove if we wanted or needed hot water for anything, bathing, cleaning, doing dishes… Now all I have to do is turn on the hot water tap and in seconds I have hot water. The one we use is a smaller unit, it’s considered a portable unit though we have ours permanently mounted on the wall.
5) 12 volt water pump. Once you have water, you need a way to pump the water from one place to another, unless you are lucky enough to have gravity on your side. For us, we are pumping water from a small tank just outside the kitchen wall into the kitchen, everything is level, so we use a 12 volt water pump to move the water from the tank to the sink. The benefits of using a 12 volt pump is we can hook it up directly to the batteries, we aren’t losing energy by using an inverter.
Our pump is inside the sky cabin, near the sink, that makes things a bit noisy when the pump is on. When we first hooked up the inside plumbing, each time we turned on the faucet, the pump would come on, it sounded a bit like being next to one of those air pumps at the gas station, but it was a small price to pay to have running water. The main reason we keep it inside the sky castle is to keep it from freezing during the winter.
6) Pressure tank This is something that isn’t completely necessary, not like the water pump, but it certainly has made life better. The way a pressure tank works is it is first and foremost a tank, it has a rubber bladder inside, on one side is air under pressure, the other side is for the water, it allows the water to be under pressure, that way the water pump does not have to run each time we turn on the water faucet. Now it’s much quieter in the sky castle, until the pump has to come on to pump up the pressure tank, it runs for several minutes, then goes off until it’s needed again.
We salvaged these as well, someone was upgrading their equipment and do longer needed their old pressure tank. All we had to do was clean this one up, it had sat for a while unused, we had to run bleach water through it a few times because it had a mold smell, once we flushed it a couple of times, the mold smell was gone and it works like a charm. Since then, we have acquired a second pressure tank in the same way, it’s always a good idea to have backups. Now our water starts out in a tank, goes through the wall in a hose, this goes to the 12 volt water pump, next it goes to the pressure tank, from there it goes to the cold side of the sink faucet, another pipe goes to the tankless water heater then to the hot water side of the faucet. Another pipe goes to the Berkey Light water purifier, which brings me to the next item.
7) Berkey Light Water Filter. It’s debatable whether or not this water purifier is a necessity, I would say it is, even though our water out here is very good, we are still storing it in a tank before using it, I prefer running my drinking and cooking water through the Berkey Light water purifier. This unit is perfect for off grid use, it requires no electricity or water pressure, it is strictly gravity fed, all you have to do is fill the top reservoir and let the water trickle down through the filters, you get clean great tasting water in the bottom reservoir.
We have automated the filling process by cutting a hole in the top cover and running a water pipe into the top. all I have to do is turn on a valve for a few seconds and the top reservoir is filled. The only maintenance is about once a month or so, I empty the purifier, I disassemble the top from the bottom tanks, I remove the filter cartridges, I clean everything with a 3M green scrubby pad, I reassemble everything then fill the top tank. I always put in a few drops of food coloring (or Kool-aid) in the top to test everything, if everything is OK, the water coming through the cartridges is perfectly clear, no color (or Kool-aid) comes through.
I would have liked to make this a nice neat 10 item list, but in all honesty, those 7 items are the most useful and important to us, there are probably others, but for now I’ll leave the list at 7.
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