Looking back the past three years and identifying what we have learned form our experiences.
Solar – Off grid means some alternative type of energy unless you really want to rough it. Our solar experience has been a good one. We are still forming opinions and about the best way to operate our system but for the most part have settled in to a routine.
It works the way it works. You only really have to decide how big a system you want to have and then how to maintain it. Most of the learning curve is right up front starting with how to determine how much electricity you use every day. You could have a complete stranger (system designer or installer) guess what your needs are but it is far better to actually figure it out yourself. Once you have that information in hand you can design and size your system.
The next step is installation of the system. We chose to have someone else do it. Many people do their own. After it is installed and running the only thing left to learn is how to use and properly maintain your system. Our system is set up to operate by itself on autopilot with no interaction from us but we’ve learned over time that it is more efficient to take an active role in the daily functions.
We decide when to run the heavier power load stuff like our 220 volt deep water well pump, vacuum cleaner, dishwasher etc. We also decide when to use our generators, large or small. We decide how far down to let the batteries go until they start charging. If you take an active role like we have it takes a while to learn what is a good balance between convenience and your system components. We have learned how to get the most out of our components with the least amount of equipment stress. That won’t happen if you run it on autopilot.
Living remote – Rural would best describe our distances to the typical amenities. It is anywhere from 40 - 250 miles round trip to utilize everything from shopping to airports and hospitals. We have to go at least 40 miles for food and family doctor care. 100 miles for limited shopping, a dentist, and some larger equipment repair facilities and up to 250 miles for major hospital care. We like where we live but it is a major inconvenience if you have to have a tractor fixed or surgery at a hospital.
Planning of trips is essential. We usually go to the grocery store, hardware store, feed store, gas station, library, and post office in one trip to town. Because we have animals to care for we can never go anywhere for more than a long day unless we get someone to take care of them. Since we have no neighbors, that is a problem for us. Where we came from, all of those things were within 10 miles from our house and most of them within one mile.
Well Water – A lot of people have wells for their water but I never have. I always had city water available right to my property line.
Now I have a 300’ deep well, pump, 1,600 of waterline, and a 1900 gallon reservoir to take care of. We are fortunate to have good water quality so that is never an issue. We live in the mountains so it should stay pure.
In the three years we have lived here I’ve had several water line leaks to repair. Last year we had to have our old (existing) pump replaced with a new one.
We’ve also had to learn about the effects of hard water on appliances, inline seals, and fixtures. We never had any of these issues where I came from. The water was so “soft” you could use it in your radiators, batteries, and irons with no negative effect.
Chickens – Well it wouldn’t be a homestead without chickens now would it? As mentioned in earlier blogs I did have chickens as a child but have not had any for the last 45 years or so. Chickens aren’t hard to care for but there are a few things you need to learn, especially at these colder temperatures. Laurie goes over and above with heated food in the coldest winter months. Our chickens are really well fed. We know they can survive on their own to at least minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit.
One of the biggest things I re- learned about chickens is how much entertainment they provide. I never get tired of watching them run, especially from behind. There is no other movement like it.
Our flock has grown and we gave a few away recently to a neighbor just getting started on their own homestead. Their children have made pets of them. When you do that they beg for food a lot but on the other hand they never complain about anything.
Homesteading is something I’ve always wanted to do. As prepared as I was to switch to this lifestyle I am still amazed at how much there is to learn.
eEd and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com and offgridworks.com.