Monday, June 21, 2010

The Evolution of an Off-Grid Life

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The evolution of an off-grid life

As you know, we live off the grid. We live a pretty posh and comfortable life now (most of the time), but it hasn't always been that way! I thought I would take a minute and tell you how we got from "there" to "here".

When we first moved into our shouse, almost 10 years ago, we had no electricity, no running water, no drains - nothing that would resemble "normal". We had an 11 year old, a 4 year old and a 1 year old. We built our shouse as a shop, and with no foresight at all and neglected to put windows in it - mostly. We did have two windows... one in our "bedroom" and one in the "bathroom". I use the words bedroom and bathroom loosely because we had just one big room, with areas divided by group of furniture. We had no sheet rock on the walls, just insulation. No electrical wiring, no plumbing. It was pretty rustic! We hauled water from the neighbors (even though we had drilled a well - we still had to put in a pump and a pressure tank and get a generator to pump the water). We had a milk cow, so we went through about 35 gallons of water a day just for her! That didn't include drinking water for us or water for laundry, cooking, dishes and cleaning. We used a bucket with bags (located in our shed) for a bathroom. I did laundry on the wood cookstove and hung it in front of the stove to dry. In the beginning, we used Aladin lamps for light, but found they required CONSTANT attention! They provided good light, but I couldn't leave them unattended for a minute, or they would catch fire and a $7.00 mantle would go up in flames! We also had a Petromax multi-fuel lantern that was made in Germany, and was supposed to be the best. It was fussy to say the least. I would light it when I was schooling the children, because it was the only light we could see by and not get headaches. It was complicated and dodgy and it leaked like a sieve. One day it caught my kitchen table on fire and I threatened to take it outside and shoot it with the shotgun! Finally, my folks brought us two Coleman lamps. Joy!!! We could see and didn't have to battle the Aladin's or the Petromax.

After hauling water for about 3 months, we put a pump in our well, got a generator, (a Chinese diesel - that is another story) plumbed the house (after a fashion) and had cold running water. I was in heaven! I even got a sink and drains!!! I still had to heat water on the stove, but that was nothing! We could take baths in our bathtub, wash dishes in the sink and I didn't have to haul water for laundry or for watering the animals. We did have to start the generator any time the pressure tank was out of water, but that was a pleasure after the months of hauling water.

The first Thanksgiving in our shouse we were thankful indeed! My folks spent they day with us, helping my husband install a window in the living room and another one in the kids' room upstairs. We had a turkey dinner, cooked in the wood cookstove, fellowship by lantern light and hearts overflowing with thankfulness. It was truly a Thanksgiving to remember.

After about a year and a half, my husband wired our house for electricity and we bought a used Trace inverter. My husband arranged for his buddy (with a boom on his truck) to deliver our first battery bank - two HUGE forklift batteries. Our lanterns were on their last legs, it was getting dark, and the guys were in the shed fiddling with hooking up the batteries.  My husband came in, flipped on the inverter and.....nothing. He went to the bathroom, adjusted the inverter and suddenly light, electric light, flooded the room! I looked around in horror - my house was filthy! By the light of the Coleman's it had looked romantically cluttered, but by the light of harsh fluorescent shop lights, it was hideous! I almost cried "turn of the lights", but refrained. Instead I started cleaning. If your were to ask my kids, they would say I haven't stopped!

Little by little, other things come on line. We put in a toilet, installed a hot water tank and even bought a wind turbine. The turbine killed our inverter, so we upgraded to a larger one. We eventually bought a second inverter, and my husband wired them so they would run the well pump. We sold the turbine and bought two small solar panels. They were fun, but didn't do much. We killed a number of generators - the Chinese diesel, two 10KW military diesels, a 5KW military diesel, and finally a little Honda 5KW. We learned a lot. We decided to put our money into solar panels instead of generators and stepped up to the plate and bought 2150 watts of panels. This year we didn't start our generator from May until October! We now have a 5KW Onan generator (it is old, and built like a tank, and we love it) that we bought on Craigslist for $200.

We have learned a few things about being off the grid and about being prepared in general. Some of the biggest lessons we have learned are:

1. Redundancy. We like to have 3 ways to do everything! Solar panels, wind turbine, generator. When trouble strikes, it is essential to have more than one way to deal with it.

2. Use your back-up plan. A lot of the things we used when we were first off the grid, we bought in anticipation of Y2K. Some worked. Some didn't. The Aladin's, the Petromax are a case in point. If we had depended on these, they would have let us down.

3. Change your expectations. I had it in my head that certain things would happen by a certain time. They didn't. My first reaction was to become discontent and mad at my husband. I learned that I just had to change my expectations. I had to live were I was, not were I thought I should be.

4. These are the "Good ol' days". I learned to enjoy our hardship, because that is were memories are made and thankfulness is generated. Our first winter, we read the entire "Little House on the Prairie" series, "Swiss Family Robinson" and "Heidi" together as a family. Every evening we would snuggle under blankets, sip hot cocoa and I would read. Those are memories of a lifetime. With every improvement in our circumstances we had an opportunity to be truly grateful for things that most people take for granted. A toilet that flushed, a light switch that worked or a hot bath were true causes for celebration.

5. Life isn't supposed to be easy. It isn't in the good times that God molds and shapes us into the likeness of His son. It is when the generator breaks, again. It is when you are 8 1/2 months pregnant and the water pipes break and your husband is at work and you have to get on your hands and knees and do a temporary repair. It is when you don't think you can take one more crisis, and your milk cow sinks in mud bog when it is 28 degrees and sleeting and you have to lay on your stomach in the mud to get a rope around her belly to haul her out with the tractor. That is when God is doing His work. And that is exactly where I want to be!

1 comment:

  1. I love this story! It gave me a glimpse of what day's may look like when venturing west. Yes, it is through the trials that God molds us and are gift is great memories with our family. :)