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……..


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.


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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