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Home Forums General Discussion Taking on an Off Grid Home

This topic contains 9 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  elnav 6 years, 6 months ago.

Viewing 10 posts - 1 through 10 (of 10 total)
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  • #36811

    Christofolous
    Participant

    Hi

    I am increasingly interested in off grid posssibilities. I am looking to move my family early in the summer and we have found an off-grid property at a reasonable price. This property has no possibilities of grid based power and so I need to ensure that any off-grid technologies for heat and power are sustainable, especially through a Canadian winter.

    I am hoping that I can bounce a few questions off you friendly folk and help me determine whether this property is a realistic prospect.

    Firstly (and perhaps most importantly) is the financial aspect- are there any issues with getting a mortgage on an off-grid property and do the same issues relate to house insurance as well?

    Secondly, the house currently uses a small bank of static solar panels to provide the power – I do not currently have enough information to say their output or how they have been installed (other that they are south facing). I am not convinced that this will be enough to maintain power for the whole property and as the weather can be so unpredictable, I would think that adding in wind turbines in combination with solar would offer a better balance than opting for solar alone. Is this sensible?

    I am a person that is very keen on reducing costs, but not at the expense of having an inefficient and potentially dangerous setup to begin with. So from a learning perspective, can any reading material be recommended?

    I thank you all for taking the time to read this post and hope that your knowledge can expand mine.

    Thanks

    Chris

    #41334

    elnav
    Member

    Chris where in Canada are you talking about? Conditions vary greatly and the higher latitude compared to much of the US makes for very different conditions. I live in the BC interior and we do have plenty of off-grid homes. Some right here in the village. The bulk of the advice you read coming from southern states needs to be amended to suit the northern latitude location. One local so called solar dealer is being sued because an expensive installation on a ranch failed to perform as promised by advertising coming from s.Cal marketers and the dealer did not know enough to compensate for our northern location. The system failed to deliver. Our company lawyer advised us to not get involved when we were asked to fix it because the owner was so mad he threatened to sue everyone in sight if anything else was not right. Who needs that kind of aggerevation?

    #41335

    Christofolous
    Participant

    Hi elnav. I’m in sunny Nova Scotia, there are a few off-grid homes here, and it would appear that the trend is rising. The property that I’m interested in is appealing as a considerable amount of work has already done to make it energy efficent, and as grid power is catagorically not an option for the property I want to make absolutely sure that I can keep the family warm (and with the creature comforts) by building on the technology that has already been put in place. It makes sense to find out what others are using to provide their power / heat and then work it from there. As for aggravation – no thanks. I’m not interested in arranging a big fat mortgage, doing a bunch of additional work and then finding out it doesn’t provide what we’re hoping for.

    #41336

    elnav
    Member

    The first planning tools you need is a power consumption calculator and a chart of insolation for your specific location. Go here:

    http://solardat.uoregon.edu/SunChartProgram.html to download the reelevant sun information for your specific location. this will give you enough data to determine the average amount of usable sun that location gets. The power calculations will tell you how much power you need to collect in the sun hours available. This in turn determines what size solar panels are needed. You will probably also need a “kill-a-Watt meter to measure how much energy each one of your electrical devices uses. Now you can plan which one s to keep and which ones to get rid of.

    Your mention of a ‘static’ PV panel array suggest you already recognize the benefits of a movable sun tracker array. You may want to make the panel array movable and add the automatic drive later. In the meantime a simple shaodow pin will suffice in letting you adjust the array manually. Unless the array was installed recently you would gain by adding an MPPT controller to the existing array.

    check out my website blogs for more commentary on how to go off grid.

    http://www.electronicnavigator.com

    I do not sell product nor do I even have Google or Amazon ads at this time. I do not even recommend specific products on my blog site although I do as a consultant and designer.

    I do not have specific information on mortgage rules in N.S. but I know we have off-grid homes here with mortgage financing so it should be feasible.

    What financial institutions are concerned with is having the property insured and complying with codes. CHMC has standards for non conventional building methods and of grid home construction so it should be possible to get financing. Ask around.

    #41339

    Christofolous
    Participant

    Hi elnav

    Thanks for this info and for taking the time to write it all down.

    Full investigations are underway and we will be viewing the property this weekend. This will hopefully mean that I’ll be far more informed as to the current power capacity by Monday.

    In the spirit of sharing information and experience. I found a handy little wind atlas for NS which shows wind speed for the province at 30, 50 and 80m above sea level:

    http://www.gov.ns.ca/energy/renewables/explore-invest/maps.asp#windatlas

    http://www.nswindatlas.ca/

    They might come in useful.

    #41353

    LJ
    Member

    Chris,

    As I like to say “living on alternative energy is not for the faint of heart”. Actually, it’s been great so far (15 months). We installed a new system in our new home and after the initial bugs were worked out, it’s been reliable since. After talking with a few, we settled on a local company to design and install our system – and we’re glad they did. I would suggest hiring someone to come out and inspect your system as part of the home inspection subject on your purchase contract. There are so many systems that weren’t installed properly, or the equipment is so old there is little value in it. Don’t trust batteries – you never know how they’ve been cared for so they may not have as much life left in them as the current owners claim.

    As to mortgages and house insurance – no difference for us from a conventional house. We used a chartered Canadian bank so I’m sure the rules would be the same on your coast as ours (BC). We made sure the insurance company is aware of our solar equipment so it’s covered.

    How is this house heated? You’re not going to heat a house with solar PV so they must have something else? We have an outdoor wood boiler with a high efficiency propane boiler as a backup. We have hot water radiant floor heat and find that the circulating pump for the wood boiler is a power pig in the winter, but that’s the only issue we’re planning on tweaking in the system.

    Good luck and best wishes!

    #41354

    elnav
    Member

    “circulating pump is a power pig” I have been trying to get data from the furnace manufacturers on their product power consumption but they either will not or cannot provide the data. I have run into solar websites that strongly advice not to use this kind of furnace yet I know of some off-grid homes where they do manage. Too little information is available at present. I’m told there are too many variables to enable anyone to calculate in advance just how much power such a system uses. That is baloney! Somebody knew enough to know what size pump to install with the boiler to begin with. Do you have a kill-a-watt meter that you can use to determine how many watts your system uses? How do you plan to tweak your system?

    #41356

    LJ
    Member

    Our pump, yep it’s a pig! It’s been an interesting exercise meshing alternative energy with conventional plumbing and electrical work. Nobody gets that a constant 150w draw is a big deal.

    Anyway, we have a boiler from Central Boiler (second smallest model) and I spoke with one of their guys who told me that the pump they recommend is a Taco 007 which draws .7 amps or about 84 watts. For some reason, and I still have to sit down with our plumber with my facts and figures in front of me, we have a Grundfos Brute 3-speed pump installed which draws 1.3 amps/150 watts juice, and that’s at SLOW speed. I am leaning towards switching to the new generation of pumps just out from Grundfos – the Alpha pumps. They’re smart pumps, varying their own speed depending upon need, and using between 5 and 45 watts of power. It appears that this pump is similar to the Taco 007 in specs.

    We have around 10 feet of head and although we go through two heat exchangers, there are few curves or corners. Our pump cavitates often, which I believe is caused by either over-sizing or under-sizing and ours surely isn’t under-sized.

    In a nutshell, that’s how we plan to tweak the system, for now. The other option is to look at a DC pump, but I haven’t spent much time on that and the Alpha might make it senseless to bother. The other interesting idea is to use Alpha pumps in place of zone valves, but we’ve already got them so I can’t see bothering to replace them.

    We do have a Kill-a-watt but our pump is hardwired in.

    Our solar system handles the load fine, but in the dead of winter if the sun doesn’t shine each day, the genset will come on. Without the heating system, we could go for three days before the genset started, so it is significant. Our home is log, and new, so once we get it all sealed up properly, we assume our heat loss will decrease immensely. In the evening, the remote shows a fairly constant drain of between -6ADC and -10ADC and most of that is the heating system.

    We do have a high efficiency propane boiler as a back-up, but we used that the first few months before the outdoor boiler went in and it was EXPENSIVE. Off-grid heating choices are certainly limited!

    Cheers!

    LJ

    #41358

    elnav
    Member

    10 feet of head is not excessive, however pump there is a difference between for example 1/2″ diameter 3/4″ and 1″ piping size. Its been my observation that most plumbers do not give this sufficient attention. When the system is on grid who cares if the pump works a little harder and draws more current.

    That little difference is ccrucial for off grid.

    A similar situation exist with electric wiring – especially when wired for DC power instead of AC power from an inverter. wire gauge and resistance is significant

    By now it may be difficult to replumb, especially the insulated run from boiler/furnace to house. The Grundfos Alpha may be your best bet.

    #41363

    elnav
    Member

    LJ and Chris

    I found this circulation pump with low wattage rating.

    http://www.wsetech.com/pump.php

    The AC 120V model is rated 33 watts and they list a ‘solar’ model rated at 15 watts.

    This should make it attractive for off grid.

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