Energizing Our New Off-Grid Home

How to run a freezer with solar power

Our temporary solar power tower.  We will need a much bigger system to run our new house.

We have been doing lots of research about off grid solar systems for our new home.  For the last three or four years, we have dabbled in small solar systems that run our temporary living quarters, and have gained a basic knowledge of how off-grid solar systems work.

Well…at least Ray has knowledge in this department!  I still can’t get my head around the difference between watts and amps, inverters and charge controllers, and……..

ugh……..

Anyway, we’ve been talking with sales reps from different companies about setting up and installing a system for us.  Quite frankly, we were shocked at how much their systems were going to cost!

As I mentioned above, we have installed our own small solar systems that run our freezer, small refrigerator, satellite TV dish, flat screen TV and a bunch of LED lights, and so we are aware of the general cost of solar panels and all the components to run the whole shebang.  Therefore, we had a general idea of what a whole house solar system was going to cost, but unfortunately, we didn’t expect them to charge twice the cost of the equipment to install the system!

That’s when we found a few companies online that sell solar system “packages” to homeowners that can then do the installation themselves, or at least most of the installation.  We zeroed in on two of those online/direct to consumer companies.

One of those companies, Wholesale Solar, was only a few hour’s drive from our homestead, so we decided to drive up there in person and see what they could offer us.  Their online store lists quite a few options according to kWh size, ranging from a small 1 kWh system for a tiny weekender cabin up to a 16 kWh system for a large ranch.  They were also offering a 10% discount on an entire system, so we were onboard with that!

We had a great trip!  It was good to get away from the homestead and see the sights.  Mt. Shasta (the mountain) is right behind Mt. Shasta (the town and where Wholesale Solar is located) and is absolutely gorgeous!

Our first trip to Wholesale Solar. Isn’t Mt Shasta beautiful?

During our scheduled meeting, we met with Cheyenne, System Design & Sales Technician for Wholesale Solar.  Although we were pretty sure which “package” would work for us and were ready to purchase the system that day, she insisted that we go home after our meeting and do some research to figure out which electrical appliances we would use and how much power they would require, then send her this list so she could evaluate how big (or little) our system should be.

A freezer run on solar power

We used the stated manufacturer’s numbers to figure out how many kWh we would need for our everyday living.  This one is for our small 5 cubic foot chest freezer.

We sent her a sheet of the electrical appliances we plan to install, along with their kWh rating and our hours/day of estimated usage.  We used a lot of manufacturer’s baseline amounts, such as 5 hours of TV a day (which is what they rate their kWh usage per year on), though I doubt we will actually watch TV for 5 hours a day!  We sent e-mails relating to our potential usage back and forth for a couple of weeks, and it was then that I was starting to feel that Cheyenne was being unreasonable.  You see, our future potential usage is really an arbitrary amount that can only be estimated!  How can we say how many hours our whole house fan is going to run next summer, or the summer after that?  Who knows how hot it will be?  It’s all an educated guess!

But, the truth is, we appreciated her nit pickyness because we certainly didn’t want to come up short in the energy department.  When we all agreed which of their “packages” worked best for us, Ray and I were pleased to see that the system didn’t need to be as big as one the “other guy” wanted to sell us.

I had sent the same usage amounts to the second online solar store, and  got a decent quote from them within one week, but it was only a “sample” bid.  So, when we got the final bid from Wholesale Solar, we sent that bid to this second company to see if they could do any better.  They replied that the bid was solar panel heavy and battery light, and then gave us another “sample bid”.  I guess they didn’t want to give us a “real” bid?

That’s okay.  We really like the people at Wholesale Solar, and we also like to spend our dollars as locally as possible, so we decided to go with them.  One thing we did decide to do, however, was to NOT buy our batteries…yet.

how to run a freezer off grid

Here is the charge controller, inverter and batteries for our small solar system that runs the freezer.

Why?  OMG.  If you look at all the different battery options for off-grid homes, I can guarantee that it will make your head spin.  Last year we were actually on the list to get the new Tesla Powerwall.  This is supposed to be the next generation of energy storage and we were excited to be one of their first customers.  UMMmmm…No.  When we were finally “graced” with a phone call from one of their sales representatives, he informed us that even though we were originally told this would be good for off-grid situations, they would not sell it as an off-grid battery.

Well.  Nuts.  Back to square one.

As it turns out, there is a company in Germany that produces a battery very similar to the Tesla Powerwall, called the Sonnenbatterie, which apparently costs less anyway!  But wait.  Then we found out about Lithium IRON batteries. And salt water batteries. And then there is the old tried and true L16’s (fork lift batteries).  We haven’t made a decision yet, and that’s okay because the house doesn’t even have the walls up yet.  We have time.

So, what we purchased from Wholesale Solar was the solar panels along with the brains of the system (inverter, charge controller, etc.), mounting brackets and wire.  We also bought a Kohler propane generator as a back-up.  And, so far this company has been very helpful and “hands on” in terms of customer service.  They even provide all the information needed to get the solar permit!

To save money on shipping (and have the opportunity for another fun, short excursion) we decided to pick up the system ourselves. We have a flat bed trailer that has come in very handy lately.  We brought up all our Faswall blocks on this trailer and will soon be hauling up all of the concrete blocks (CMU’s) for our retaining wall.

On our first trip up to Mount Shasta, we stayed at a hotel in Dunsmuir called The Oaks, which was the cheapest hotel we have stayed in…ever!   After one night in a clean, quiet room with a king sized bed along with all the amenities (flat screen TV, microwave, coffee maker, ref/freezer) we had a wonderful breakfast – included in the price!  All for less than $70.

SERIOUSLY!!!!

Our “free” breakfast after a very pleasant night in The Oaks, all for LESS than $70.

We did some sightseeing, and then we had lunch in the town of Dunsmuir at a place called Yak’s.

When we saw Yak’s from the freeway, we laughed ourselves silly at the name.  Isn’t that what the kids call, um, regurgitation?  And it’s the name of a restaurant?  Of course, we had to check it out and I took this picture to prove to my family and friends that there really is a restaurant called Yak’s!   It was good, and, no, we didn’t yak. 😉

We drove 10 miles up the road from Dunsmuir to the town of Mt. Shasta and the Wholesale Solar warehouse, and met Shae.  Shae was a very polite and friendly young gentleman who helped us load everything onto our flatbed trailer. Within an hour’s time, we were on our way back home.

This was the view of Mt Shasta two months after the first picture above, when we were at the warehouse picking up our system. After a few snow storms, the mountain was gleaming in white…so beautiful!  Could you imagine living in that home?

The drive home was uneventful and we made it to our property in record time, not that we were in a hurry.  Whew – we were lucky because the weatherman was calling for snow that morning, but we had dry roads all the way home.

Our solar panels all stacked together, and the back-up generator.

It’s going to be fun to finally get the panels installed, but we have to get our walls up first!  My next post will be all about the rebar in the walls.

Spoiler alert… we just (yesterday) passed our first county inspection for the walls, including the electrical conduit, the gas piping and the rebar.  Next comes the special inspection and then pouring our first “lift”.

It’s starting to get exciting and it finally feels real!

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23 thoughts on “Energizing Our New Off-Grid Home

  1. Great post . I have saved their site in my favorites a while back . And of all the info I have been able to find they will be the first one to check out when we are ready to do what you are doing.

    • Hey, Al – good to hear! So far we have been very pleased with Faswall, and I think you will be also. Keep posted, though, because I tell it like it is and sometimes can be painfully honest. If we run into any real issues with either Faswall or the build in general, I will write about it in this blog. BTW, I love your blog. I just read your article about Einkorn wheat, and I couldn’t agree more! We attend the Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa (sponsored in part by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) almost every year, and have listened to several discussions and talks about the merits of ancient wheat. It makes sense that our bodies recognize the gluten from a wheat that humans have been eating for thousands of years, and why our bodies reject the “modern day” gluten that our bodies just don’t recognize! After all, gluten is a protein that is good for you! Thanks, Al. Hope to hear from you again soon!

      • Vickie,
        Thanks for that and your comment on our website. We are looking at a small place on 6.5 acres. It has a rear abutting property that is over 170,000 acres of wilderness.
        If and when we move ahead it will be shared on our site.
        I’ll send you a picture.

        Best Regards,

        Al

  2. Sis, you two constantly amaze me with your hard work on the homestead. Daddy would be so proud of both of you. Love you guys bunches and oats ❤️

    • Gee, thanks sis! I can’t wait for you and Tom to come up and see the place, and for the day in the future that I can once again host our epic Thanksgiving Gathering! Love you more!

  3. Awww, Vicki! So awesome to know what you want with your solar stuff. That is so far beyond me. I just want to get our efficient log home built, and then see if we can add on some solar (maybe wind power). Love the pic of the mountains! It is beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

    • It’s amazing how much we have learned about all this alternative energy stuff. Luckily Ray understands it better than I do and has taken the lead on planning for our energy needs. I don’t think we have enough wind to bother with wind power, which is sad, because usually when the sun isn’t shining during rainy or stormy days, the wind is blowing…just not enough for us. Ah well. I am so glad to hear from you again, Michelle!

  4. Hello Vickie!

    Ah, lovely ole Mount Shasta. She’s something to behold isn’t she? I’m excited to see the walls going up and up in your next post. The suspense is killing me!

    I would love to add solar to our house someday, or wind even. It is so windy here most of the time, especially during winter when our sunshine gets limited. Putting up a turbine isn’t very helpful here though since they decided to tax them per foot once you pass a certain height. Anything to turn a tax trick you know.

    You will obviously generate enough power from your limited winter sun, but I’m assuming more panels make up for less hours? I’ve never really studied it.

    Happy building!
    -Sharon

    • Well, one thing we have learned is sometimes it doesn’t matter how many panels you have if you don’t have enough batteries to store it. But then, if you have too many batteries and not enough solar panels, it possible you will never get a full charge, which isn’t good for the batteries! We do get a lot of sunshine here on our homesite, and solar panels work even on cloudy days, so with a balanced panel to battery system, we should be just fine. At times when it’s raining for days in a row with thick clouds, we may have to rely on our generator. Or if we have a full house with lots of guests. Luckily, we can always add a few panels to our system, if we find we run out of energy too often. And yes, I know very well about those tax tricks. Anything to get another dollar out of tax paying, rule following, honest people. The people who build without permits and that don’t follow the rules are, unfortunately, the ones who come out financially ahead! Just sayin’ 😉

  5. I’m glad you all were able to take some time away from the homestead, even if you were technically on homestead business! One thing I’ve taken away from your blog posts is the need to be patient while going through the process. It’s not just a matter of moving to the hills and setting up a home!

    • Oh my goodness, Lydia, you are so right! Let me tell you, patience is one of the biggest lessons we have learned through all this! It was good to get away, even for just one night. We actually did a lot of sightseeing and hiked a couple of trails while we were there, and had a wonderful time. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. And thank you for posting such delicious recipes on your blog!

    • We just saw that in the news… Pretty cool! We can’t wait to see what they will offer, but I must say, we were disappointed when they told us their batteries were not recommended for off-grid applications. Unfortunately, that means the warranty for the Power Wall would be void if we tried to use it anyway, and we can’t afford that. As you may know, for an off-the-grid system, the batteries are the Achilles heel, because the solar panels may be guaranteed for 25 or even 30 years, but it is unusual for a battery to be guaranteed for more than 5 years. Which means you have to buy them again, and then again. But we will be doing a lot more research on this subject and hopefully Mr. Elon Musk (actually his engineers) will develop a battery for all those that are off-the-grid. Thanks for stopping by today, Homer!

  6. This is exciting! Fedora and I looked at solar at one point, and were totally overwhelmed. Good job to you both for marking smart decisions and pushing forward. And on passing your first county inspection!

    • Good afternoon, Beth. We were also a bit overwhelmed at first. Well, I was. Ray understands the in’s and out’s of solar power much more than I do, thank goodness! I will say, however, that each time we talked with a salesman or read another article online, I picked up just a bit more knowledge. Thanks for commenting!

    • Thanks, Uwe! Are you using solar power over there in Germany? Have you heard of Sonnenbatterie? I am happy to hear from you and Angi again. Hugs

      • Hello Vickie,
        We do not use solar power in our home.
        Of course we have heard of it, and we are very much in favor of it, the environment
        to help. It is not for us at present …
        Hugs
        Uwe

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  10. Great post! I have been really wanting to look into solar, there is so much to know! Thanks for sharing on Homestead Blog Hop – we have featured you this week! 🙂

    • Thank you so much for the feature, Liz! Reading about solar energy, googling around and reading on-line info, and going to numerous home shows and talking with sales reps has taught us so much. But the truth is, the hard work is still to come when we actually install the system. Thank you for hosting the blog hop and again, thanks for the feature!

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