Living Off Grid – Backup Systems

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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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.

Emergency 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
The 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.

Winter 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

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