A Solar Powered Freezer

Living in our travel trailer, off-grid, has presented quite a few challenges.

First, there isn’t enough storage space.  We have had to be quite ingenious in finding ways to store things we need for our everyday living.  But one thing we just didn’t have enough space for was food.  Sure, we have a closet for our canned and boxed goods, but the little refrigerator/freezer in our travel trailer just wasn’t going to cut it!  Especially if we didn’t want to have to run to town every week!

We decided to see if we could find a very energy efficient freezer to store our food. After a few google searches we found an Igloo 5.1 cubic foot chest freezer for sale at Best Buy.  Sure, there were a couple freezers that were more energy efficient, but they cost lots more – one of them almost eighteen hundred dollars more!  So, we had a choice:  do we spend money on a beefy solar system to run an energy efficient freezer, or spend more money on a more efficient freezer and less on the panels.  We opted to spend the money on solar panels.

Why didn’t we use a propane freezer?  Well, what if there came a time when we couldn’t get into town for more propane?  What would we do then?  What if the SHTF and no propane was available…  at all? Besides, propane is a petroleum product and we are trying to use the least amount of fossil fuels as possible here on our homestead.

So, back to the electric Igloo freezer.  Here is the Energy Star Guide for this freezer:A freezer run on solar power

Do you see that it only costs twenty-one dollars a year to run this appliance?  Holy Cow, that’s less than two dollars a month!  At just 172 kilowatt hours per year to run this freezer, we figured it couldn’t be too hard to set up a solar system to run the freezer.

With that in mind, we bought the freezer.  Ray did some more on-line research and found a company called “Windy Nation” that sells solar panels, charge controllers, inverters – just about anything you would need to set up an efficiently run solar system.  They put together entire “kits” – all you have to do is tell them what appliance you want to run and how many watts would be required to run the appliance (or appliances). Their customer service department is excellent and they have guys that will give you installation advice over the phone.  With a smile!  It’s rare to find good customer service these days.

When we got the panels (in just a few days) and unpacked them, we were very pleased!  They were just what we needed.

The first thing Ray had to do was to build the tower that the panels would rest upon.  Fortunately, we just had some very tall oak trees removed so that our fruit orchard would receive more sunlight, and sunlight (of course) is good for solar panels!   Ray built the tower next to our tool shed with redwood treated 4” x 4” posts set in concrete for stability and 2” x 4” lumber for tie-ins and support.

How to run a freezer with solar panels

Here Ray has two of the panels up. The tree to the right was rotting, so Ray put the dish and the smaller solar panel on the new tower also.  The smaller solar panel runs the lights in the tool shed.

Once the panels were mounted on the solar tower, they had to be kept covered so that they would not receive any sunlight.  Why?  So Ray wouldn’t get shocked when he was setting up the rest of the system!

how to run a freezer off grid

Here are the charge controller, inverter, batteries and the freezer.

Do you remember our laundry shed?  Well, there was some room left in there, so we put the freezer, the charge controller, inverter and the batteries in there.  Ray built a shelf for all the components right next to the freezer, with the batteries at the very bottom.

The specifics:

We bought four – 100 watt polycrystalline solar panels,  100 feet of 12 gauge wire (made for solar), a 1500 Watt inverter and a 40 Amp charge controller.  The batteries are deep cycle marine “Die Hards” from Sears. The batteries were wired in parallel for 12 volt, which was then inverted to 110 volts for the freezer.  We also have a 50 Amp auto-reset circuit breaker on the wires coming from the solar panels before they go into the charge controller, for safety’s sake.  And for just in case, Ray put 3 feet of a copper pipe into the ground with grounding wire, so the charge controller and inverter won’t blow up if the line gets a surge.

How to electrify a freezer off-grid

Here is a better picture of the charge controller and the inverter. Good stuff, Maynard!

How does it work?  Beautifully!

We have been using it for about three months now and have had no problems!  I recently bought 36 pounds of bacon and 40 pounds of chicken breasts from Zaycon Foods.  (If you have never heard of Zaycon Foods, you’re missing out!)  After just a day in the freezer they were frozen solid!

I mean  S.  O.  L.  I.  D.

how to power a freezer off-grid

The freezer is almost full already! Of course, a full freezer uses less energy than one half-full.

“So”, you may ask, “what happens in the winter when the sun doesn’t shine as much?”

Good question.

You see, during the summer we get plenty of sun, which I suppose you already know.  Lots of sunlight = lots of solar power to run the freezer, right?  Right!  But it is also warmer and so the freezer has to run more to keep the food frozen.

However, in the winter the outside temperature is much colder, so the freezer doesn’t have to run as much, which is great because there isn’t as much sunlight to charge the batteries!

It’s a beautiful system, isn’t it?

We are learning a lot about solar systems.  Well,  Ray is.  I still get volts and amps and all that mumbo-jumbo jargon confused!  When we build our new home, we plan to run almost everything with solar power.  All the lights in the house will be LED, we will use an energy efficient refrigerator (no icemakers, digital displays, etc.), and a whole house fan and ceiling fans instead of air conditioners.  Also, we have put our name on the long list for one of those new Tesla batteries!

How to run a freezer with solar power

The solar power tower! The four big panels run the freezer. The two small batteries on the bottom are for the motion detector lights on the outhouse. The panel on the very top runs lights in the tool shed. Of course, the Dish is for our TV!

Our goal is to be completely independent of any need for outside energy – eventually.  At this time, the oven/range in the house will be run on propane. With no vampire lights.

“What are vampire lights?” you ask.  Those are the little digital read-outs (time, timer, temperature, etc.) that can be found on your range/oven, refrigerator, microwave, etc.  You would be amazed at how much energy these little lights use over the course of a year!   The range we have decided to buy is made by Premier.  You can see it by clicking HERE.  We will also be installing a hybrid solar/propane tankless hot water system.  But that’s just about it in terms of using fossil fuels for our new home.  Of course, if we can’t get our hands on propane, or if the price skyrockets out of our reach, we can always cook on our outside barbeque grill, bake in our future pizza/bread oven or even cook/bake during the winter in our masonry heater.  These are all future projects and we can’t wait to tackle them!

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Meanwhile, in the outhouse

I know.  It’s been a while since I posted anything on building our outhouse.

Sorry.

I know you have been waiting with baited breath to see our next step!  😉

We have been using the outhouse for more than a year now and have a very strong opinion about it…

WE LOVE IT!

Does it smell bad?  Not really.  Every few days or so we throw in either a sprinkling of lime or a cupful of composted wood chips.  This helps keep down smells and also moves the natural composting along.  I have heard that you can throw some red worms down into the pit and they will naturally compost the contents, but we haven’t tried that trick yet.

how to build an outhouse

We put siding on the inside walls and caulked the seams – that should keep the spiders out!

Once we got settled up here, we knew we wanted to finish off the outhouse, especially with some interior walls. I hate spiders and I think every spider within the vicinity of the outhouse set up housekeeping in the corners of the 4 x 4 framing studs!  We wanted to use something sturdy for the walls that won’t attract moisture, and decided to use siding!  You know…   the stuff you put on the outside of your house?  It was reasonable in price, sturdy, easily cut and painted very well.  We didn’t insulate the walls because, for heaven’s sake, it’s an outhouse!  😉

When we remodeled our master bathroom a couple of years ago, we kept part of the old vanity, and a few modifications made it the perfect fit for our outhouse.  The under sink storage would come in handy. The vanity was made from oak and was very sturdy, but had a few dings and scratches in the finish.  I could either sand it down, restain the wood and reseal it, or I could lightly sand the glitches and scuff the surface, then paint.  I opted to paint. Since I didn’t want to do too much sanding, I decided to use a fairly dark brown spray paint, which would help hide the imperfections in the wood.

Years ago (more years than I care to admit) I worked in a tile store, and was lucky enough get a lot of free discontinued or defective tile.  I once acquired 14 cases of 4″ x 4″ beige tile because the manufacturer found that the color was off just the slightest bit!  Between the free tile and the left-over tile from many projects over the years, I had saved a lot of tile.  Seriously – a lot!

How to build an outhouse

This is a picture of only a part of the tile I have saved over the years! The colored tiles were still boxed up. You can see the floor tile we found at the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store in the bottom right corner

So…  what to do with so much tile?

Why, tile the outhouse, of course!

The first thing I had to do was organize my tile.  I had boxes and boxes of this and that – beautiful blue 4 x 6 tiles, gorgeous multicolored 1 x 1 tiles, and hundreds of white, off-white, gray, almond, tan, beige, bone, etc., 4 x 4’s and 6 x 6’s.  I had end caps galore, along with bullnose and quarter-rounds in lots of different colors.

But, the one thing I didn’t have enough of was floor tile.  I really wanted to tile the floor because tile is so much easier to keep clean than bare concrete.  We went to our local Habitat For Humanity’s Re-Store and found the perfect tile!  I didn’t need many square feet to cover the floor and I found eleven 12 x 12 floor tiles for only 50 cents each!  Sold!

building our outhouse

I had lots of these beautifully textured, brilliant royal blue 4″ x 4″ tiles that made a nice accent to the tile.

After working out the number of tiles I would need for the vanity top and the bench seat, I thought the result would look just a little bland all in almond and white, so I decided to add a band of these brilliant blue 4 x 4 tiles. The blue in these 4 x 4’s brought out the blue accents in the floor tiles!  Perfect!

Laying the floor tile was easy.  I purchased a simple tile saw several years ago at one of the big box stores for about $80, and it has come in handy many, many times.  Since I had more tile than I really needed for the floor, I decided to use the excess as a floor edging, bringing the tile up the sides of the wall.  This would make it a lot easier to keep the floor clean because I would be able to basically hose it off!  I used thinset adhesive to set the floor tiles because I was tiling over a concrete floor and sides.

how to build an outhouse

This is a picture of the floor tile all set – but not yet grouted. I used 3/8 inch spacers. You can see a different tile I used at the threshold. This floor tile had a bullnose edge (which gives one edge a finished edge) and it matched the other floor tile pretty well.

When the floor was completed, I began to set the tile on the vanity countertop.  First to set

Building an outhouse

The edge cap tiles were a bit lighter in color than the almond colored field tile, but that’s okay, it looked good anyway!

were the edge pieces.  Since I didn’t have any corners for the edges, I had to cut them myself, which can be tricky.  I messed up on only one piece which was lucky, because I only had one to spare! Whew!  Once all the edges were set, I placed all the field tile – that’s the 4 x 4’s on the sink counter and the 6 x 6’s on the bench seat.

Meanwhile, Ray was cutting holes through the outhouse wall right behind the vanity.  These holes allowed us to install a couple of hoses, so that we could have running water in the sink!  A sink in an outhouse?  You betcha!

Building an outhouse

The hose on the left is a drain that goes out to our fern grotto. The hose on the right goes up to the faucet, supplying water to the sink!

how to build an outhouse

This old sink came from my grandma and grandpa’s old hotel in Gridley, California. A little elbow grease was all that was needed to make it almost new again!

This sink came from my grandma and grandpa’s hotel.  The hotel was built in 1872 and had old sinks, clawfoot tubs, armoires for closets, and pull-chain toilets!  Before it was torn down my family was able to get some of the better pieces. Just a little bit of elbow grease and some cleanser and the sink looked almost new again!  The old faucet pieces and parts weren’t useable, so we opted to use the hole on the right for a single faucet (only cold water would be supplied to the outhouse) and the hole on the left for a liquid soap dispenser, both of which we bought from a hardware store for less than $20.

A few days after the tile had been set it was time to grout.  I had three partial boxes of grout to choose from.  One was a creamy yellow.  Nope.  The other was gray.  Nuh-Uh.  The last one was a color called “camel”.  The color on the box showed a reddish, almost orange-ish brown, which is the color of our dirt!  So that was the one – camel!

how to build an outhouse

The sink is very functional now, with running water, a soap dispenser, pretty soaps, and a hand towel at the ready.

I decided to grout everything, even the counter-top and bench seat, with the camel colored grout.  I knew it would hide our dirt well, and was very pleased with the outcome.  Once the grout was allowed to set for 48 hours, Ray installed the sink.  The sink is supplied water from our water tower, which was built up the hill from the outhouse and is approximately 20 feet tall (height adds water pressure).  Several long garden hoses snake through the forest on our property from the tower to the outhouse, through the hole Ray cut in the wall and up to the faucet.  The waste water (which is considered gray water) is drained from the sink with a short hose out into the fern grove we are planting around the outhouse.

how to build an outhouse

I used the same color of grout for everything. Not only did it unify everything, but it is the same color of our dirt, so it should be easy to keep clean!

Then, what would an outhouse and sink be without a medicine cabinet?  My oldest sister, Deana, was remodeling her new home and didn’t want the old medicine cabinet that was in

Building an outhouse

This medicine cabinet probably came from the 50’s. A tag inside identified it as coming from Montgomery Ward!

the bathroom, so I took it.  It was a little rough around the edges and had a few layers of paint on it, but I felt that was what gave it so much charm.  So, I decided to gently sand off the loose paint and leave the cabinet in it’s charming, well used condition.  When Ray mounted the cabinet into the wall, I knew it was perfect!

Now I needed to finish the edges!  You see, the tile I used had raw edges.  That’s what field tile is – tile with unfinished (unglazed) edges.  We remedied that with some left over decorative wood molding.  We did have to buy a bit more to finish under the vanity, but all in all, the finish work in this outhouse cost us very little.  Now, while we are living in our travel trailer as we build our new home here on the homestead, our family and friends have a decent, functional and (I think) cute place to use when nature calls!

how to build an outhouse

Well….
What do you think?  We LOVE it, and so do our family and friends who come to visit!
Of course, the final touch is a beautiful oil painting my mother painted!  It looks perfect in there and I know it will be safe until our new home is built.

Other than landscaping, painting the outside and building a front porch/stair up to the outhouse, it is pretty much done!

Would you use my outhouse?

 

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Our Water Tower

My husband and I have recently moved up to our “future homestead” and will be living in our travel trailer as we are building our new home.  While our Architect and Engineer finish our house plans, and while the building department in our county reviews the plans before they give their approval, we are preparing our living arrangements so that we can live comfortably while we work.

One thing that needed to be done was to build a water tower.  Before the water tower was built, we would pump water from our well into a water storage tank that was sitting on the

This will be home sweet home while we build our new house. Solar panels run the lights, the TV, satellite receiver, fans and a CD/radio.

This will be home sweet home while we build our new house. Solar panels run the lights, the TV, satellite receiver, fans and a CD/radio.

ground, and with a few lengths of hoses, this delivered fresh water into our trailer.  It worked, but we just didn’t have much water pressure.  Sure, we could turn on the water pump in the trailer, but we are living off-grid and prefer to use our solar power for other things – like lights, fans, satellite TV receiver, flat screen television and a CD/radio. Contrary to what some people believe, living off grid is not living like Neanderthals!

It’s important to know that for every foot in elevation, you get almost half a pound of water pressure.  So, if the water source is 20 feet higher, you will have almost 10 pounds of pressure.  Most municipal water systems provide about 40-60 pounds of pressure.

Our main reason to have the higher pressure was to get a better shower.  Without the water pump on, and before the water tank was built, we used to have a trickle, not a shower! 😉  That was very unsatisfying after a hard day of work.

The first thing we had to do was purchase some lumber posts that were tall enough for the tower.  We were surprised to find that our local box store had 20 foot long posts that were 6 inches by 8 inches.  These came at a hefty price (a little over $100 each).  The 2 x 6 cross braces weren’t much cheaper because we chose to use treated lumber.

A water tower

This is some hefty lumber – and fairly expensive also!

I know, I know, treated lumber has poison in it and it will contaminate the ground.  We considered that, but tossed about the fact that our land is populated by millions (not exaggerating) of carpenter ants and probably more termites!  Do we build a very expensive water tower that will be eaten in a few years by six legged critters, or do we buy the treated lumber and enjoy the tower for at least 20 years?  Knowing that there were no food crops growing near the tower, the tower was at least 50 feet from our well, and our home was also going to be almost 50 feet away from the tower, we opted for the treated lumber.

Building a water tower

Deep holes were dug to pour a concrete foundation for each leg of the water tower.

The first thing to do was to dig the holes for a concrete foundation the water tower legs would rest upon, with room for more concrete to encase the legs.  The holes were dug fairly deep (more than 5 feet deep), rebar was pounded down into the holes at different angles to give even more stability, and almost three feet of concrete was poured into the holes.  Ray had to wait a couple of days for this concrete to set up before he could place the four legs of the water tower on top.  In the meantime, the first side of the tower was built on the ground.  It was much easier that way.  Dear hubby Ray set up a pulley system on one of the tall pine trees nearby, and used the quad motorcycle to pull the first side up into place on the poured concrete pads.  You can see in the picture below that he used both lag bolts and later some carriage bolts to build the tower.

How to build a water tower

Building the first two opposites sides on the ground first, then erecting them with a pulley system, was a bit scary, but it worked!

Once two opposite sides of the tower were up with each leg of the tower resting securely in the center of each concrete and rebar pad, Ray set about securing them together, again with the carriage bolts and some lag bolts.

building a water tower

Getting all four sides of the tower upright was an engineering feat! Have I told you my dear hubby can do just about anything? 🙂

After the four sides of the tower were secure, more concrete and rebar was poured around each leg.  You can see in the picture below that Ray built the concrete up like a volcano around each leg, to help with water run-off.  Once the tower has been in use for a few months and any settling has occurred, we will pour a 6 inch thick concrete pad under the entire tower, incorporating each leg, which will make it even stronger! water tower Iphone

The tower was now starting to look like an actual water tower!

how to build a water tower

4 x 4 treated lumber was used for the deck that the water storage tank will rest upon

The next task was to build a deck on the top of the tower to support the water storage tank. We decided to use treated redwood 4 x 4’s because the deck had to support a lot of weight!  The water storage tank holds 305 gallons. Did you know that a gallon of water weighs about 8 pounds?  So, if my calculations are correct, the deck of the water tower has to hold at least 2,400 pounds!  Sheesh!

Once the deck was built, it was time to hoist the storage tank up. Easier said than done, and I honestly didn’t know how we were going to do that.  However, my dear hubby’s ingenuity rigging up hoists and pulleys eventually got the job completed!  I’ll tell you a secret…  that was really, really scary to watch!

How to build a water tower

I was so afraid that the rope would break or come undone.    Boy, that was scary!

Finally, the intake and outtake pipes had to be plumbed.  The fresh water coming from the well goes into the top bulkhead (hole) of the tank and the water going to the trailer comes out of the bottom bulkhead.  The pump in our well is a very versatile pump – we can run it on either batteries, a generator, or solar panels.  Right now we are using a generator because we have a few trees to cut down before the solar panels will work right.  Once the solar panels are operational, we have a sensor that Ray will install into the tank on top of the water tower.  The sensor will turn on the well pump when the water gets down to a certain level.  With this set-up, we will be able to have our water tank automatically kept full without us even having to think about it!

Now won’t that be cool?

No leaks!  Done!

No leaks! Another project done!

This was another project completed to make our lives easier while we build our new home. We can now have a nice hot shower after a long day of work!

I can’t wait to show you what else we have been doing!

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