Living Off Grid – Reduce Your Electrical Use in Two Easy Steps

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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Are you kidding me? Just two easy steps? If it were that simple everyone would be doing it right?
Well, that’s all it takes and I will list them for you now and save you the trouble of reading this blog if you want.

1. Turn it off
2.  Eliminate phantom power

When Laurie and I knew we were going to go off grid and be on some type of solar/battery/generator electrical system we started doing our homework and research. The most common theme in everything we read was about lifestyle changes. Everyone told us that we were going to have to change the way we live if we were going to be successful in our off grid adventure.
That being said, I need to be real clear on this – not once have we sacrificed or gone without in terms of electrical convenience. I’m sure you are wondering how that can be?

In our condo we had all electrical appliances with the exception of a gas hot water tank and a gas furnace. Everything else was electrical including the dryer and stove. We were using an average of 11 kwh (kilo watt hours) per day. If you don’t know what kwh means it doesn’t matter for the purpose of this blog. All that matters is that we were using 11 of them.

We made a commitment to practice reducing our electrical consumption before we moved off grid. All we did was make a conscious effort to turn it off if we weren’t using it and to reduce electrical phantom power. We managed to get it down to 9kwh per day instead of the 11 we had been using. That is a reduction of 18 percent!

Before we made our move off grid we had to project our electrical usage in order to size our solar generating system. We projected using just under 5 kWh per day. Well, alert readers, you are already asking how that was possible when the best we could do was 9 kWh in the condo?

Here’s how we did it: We installed on/off switches for all of our wall sockets. They look just like light switches only they are connected to our wall plugs. That is to eliminate phantom power. That is the power you see on appliances like the clock on your microwave and stove, the power lights on your TV’s and stereos, and the clock and power lights on your DVD player. Nobody really knows how much phantom power really adds up to but it surely costs you something in electrical usage. Your appliance is supposed to be turned off! It isn’t if it is using power to light up a clock or be on “power saving mode” or standby.

It would not be practical for you to have switches installed like we did in your existing home but you can do the same thing by either unplugging your appliance or using a multiplug with a switch that allows you to turn off your appliance. Many of you already use these for plug in convenience for your computer work stations. As a bonus these will help prevent electrical surge damage from a storm or power surge.

One of the biggest reductions we made was by purchasing a propane dryer and stove and going to wood heat which eliminated the forced air furnace. One could argue you are just trading one natural resource for another by switching from electrical appliances to propane. True, except we also switched from a hot water tank to a tankless heater and we eliminated the gas furnace by using wood heat which helped cut our gas consumption considerably. Over all we reduced our electrical AND gas usage with the choices we made.

The last thing you can do in your current home is to turn it off when you are done with it. We made a conscious effort to do that and got immediate results on the next bill. See how much you can save in a full year!

Remember, just by turning the power off and eliminating phantom power we reduced our electrical bill by 18%!
When we moved and made the appliance changes and added the plug in switches we reduced our electrical usage by over one half and reduced our gas consumption at the same time.

Just a couple of side tips, we also started using solar flashlights and battery operated headlamps. You can replace a lot of batteries with the money you save by not turning on certain lights.

Did you really need to leave that light on when you left the room? Do you need all of your electrical entertainment appliances to be on standby or can you wait just a minute or two for them to warm up when you turn them on? Did you need that outdoor floodlight on when you took the dog out or the garbage to the curb, or could you just grab that headlamp at the door and use it instead?

I still use my electric and gas appliances as much as I need to. I just don’t pay as much to run them.  

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website  and