Friday, 06 April 2012 17:00

Backup Systems

Living off grid presents one set of challenges but we also live pretty far away from any services which presents another set of challenges. This article is about how we addressed both of those. In doing so we are well aware that ideas and opinions are endless and some of you will wonder what in the world we are thinking but that’s okay, someone else just might benefit from our experiences and that’s why I write these blogs.

We aren’t remote like some people but we are “out there” a ways. Our property is three miles from pavement and 20 miles from the nearest small town. We like it that way but it does present some problems. You can’t just pick up the phone and get a service tech at your house. They may not even be able to get up our driveway in the winter if it turns to solid ice. You also aren’t going to see law enforcement or an ambulance anytime soon after a call. Well, that’s the way it is but we do have some options available to us.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableEmergency Services: We have an Anatolian Shepherd guard dog and he is an excellent warning system for any kind of intruder on two feet or four.

We also joined a medical helicopter service that will come to our house and get us in case of extreme emergency. The service costs $150.00 for the two for us for three years. For anything else, we can be at a local hospital or clinic within 45 minutes or so.

We built our house out of non combustible materials on the exterior. We have already been through a wild fire (FIRE BLOG) and came out completely untouched due to design of property and home. We don’t have a sprinkler system inside but we do have hoses and fire extinguishers. One of our hose bibs is inside the house.

Water: When we moved here there was an existing well and 1500 gallon holding tank. We wanted gravity flow pressure for our water system so we put a 1900 gallon tank further up the hill and use that, keeping the older tank as backup. It is kept full. We actually did have an electrical part fail on our new system and had to schedule a service tech to come replace a part. We had over 2000 gallons in reserve when the part broke so we had plenty of time to schedule the repair. We only use about 50 gallons per day so we had a 40 day supply without even trying to conserve.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableThe water tank has a float system built into it. When the float drops to a certain level it turns the pump on automatically and my solar power system runs the 220V pump from either the panels or battery backup supply or both. I can turn the switch off at the panel and wait for a sunny day to pump.

I have another switch between the house and well that turns off everything automatic.  I have a 220 power chord tied in to that switch that I can plug into my portable generator to pump water. I can also bypass the batteries and pump water with my big generator. Bottom line, I have three ways to pump water, all independent of each other so if anything goes wrong with the solar or either generator I still have two other ways to pump.

We also have three water cisterns that capture water off the roof of the house and barn. (CISTERN BLOG)

Heat: Our main source of heat is our masonry heater. We use that almost exclusively from October to April. Spring and fall we can use our wood fired masonry kitchen stove (HEATER BLOG) to heat the house. As a backup to those two, we also have propane (direct vent) wall heaters with thermostats to keep the house as warm as we want. Those come in handy if we want to leave the house in the winter for any length of time.

Sewer: Well, we did leave the outhouse intact – just in case…………..

Electricity: We have our solar panels (SOLAR BLOG), inverter and battery backup system for our main power supply.  Over 18 months in service and we haven’t had an electrical outage yet. If we ever do, we have a propane fired 12kw generator that will run our whole household if we need it to. If those two items fail, I have a smaller 3500 watt portable generator that we can use to keep the essentials like freezer, phone system, and an appliance or two as needed.

Phones: Many of you have read about our remote cell phone system. (PHONE BLOG)I have a full set of replacement parts on hand and worse case we have our old emergency antenna and amplifier that plugs into a 12v outlet on the car and plugs into our phone for one to two bars of reception.

Cost: We were already going to have the masonry heater, kitchen stove, generator, and a new water tank up the hill. Total cost for the helicopter service, dog, propane heaters, switches and cords – less than $2,000. What value do you put on piece of mind? I think it’s a bargain.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWinter Transportation: All wheel drive and a tractor with a snow plow should get us out of here. Failing that, we always have the two horses.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website  and Off Grid Works.

More in this category: Forest Fire »