Living Off the Grid (And Without Propane)

Our Ontario home is powered by sun, wind and wood, and consumes almost zero fossil fuels.

| October/November 2011

Twenty years ago, when my wife, Lorraine, and I decided to move off the grid, our motivation was simple. Lorraine wanted to move closer to her family, preferably to a piece of land large enough to offer some privacy and plenty of room to support her “addiction” to animals. A lot at the back of her family’s farm fit the bill (and the wallet). There was only one downside: It would have cost tens of thousands of dollars to connect the property to the nearest electric lines. The solution was obvious: Don’t connect to the grid and instead plan to run our house entirely with renewable energy. We put our plan into action, and have been enjoying off the grid living ever since. Here’s how we run our rural Ontario home using an absolute minimum of fossil fuel energy.

An Efficient, Off-Grid Home

We built our home to look like a traditional country farmhouse from the early 1900s, and added some passive solar features to reduce the heating and cooling load. For example, the large roof overhang on the front porch shades the house from direct sunlight in the summertime while allowing the low-angle winter sun to warm the house. We also made the home as energy efficient as possible. We insulated primarily with blown-in cellulose, manufactured from recycled paper products. For areas that were difficult to insulate in this manner, we used spray foam (urethane) insulation, which has the added benefit of forming its own vapor barrier. Other energy-efficient features of our home include solar-powered vent fans, radiant-barrier insulation, vapor and wind barriers, and careful joint sealing.

Our domestic water system is “off the grid,” too, and we’ve made it as efficient and eco-friendly as possible. We have a standard drilled well with a deep-well submersible pump and a large water-pressure accumulator tank to minimize pump cycling. Our fixtures are all low-flow or ultra-low flow, which keeps our water consumption well below half the Canadian national average of 91 gallons per person per day. Our septic tank has an effluent filter, and a leaching bed that allows our wastewater to percolate through the earth and right back into the water table. To keep the water clean, we have always used natural and phosphate-free cleaners.

Solar and Wind Power

Our electrical-generating equipment originally consisted of a photovoltaic (PV) sun-tracking array with a peak electrical rating of 1.2 kilowatts. This array is composed of 16 individual PV panels rated 75 watts each. We also installed a Bergey 1.5 kilowatt wind turbine on a 100-foot guyed lattice tower.

Rounding out the electrical-generating mix is a 10 kilowatt diesel generator, which we run on between 30 and 100 percent biodiesel, depending on the ambient temperature. We would prefer to use 100 percent biodiesel all the time, but we have to add some diesel to the fuel mix. Biodiesel doesn’t work well in extreme cold, and in our location, winter temperatures can be as low as minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit.

The PV panels provide approximately 85 percent of our total annual electricity requirements, while the wind turbine provides 10 percent and the backup generator provides the remaining 5 percent or less. The electricity feeds into a battery bank with a gross capacity of approximately 3,500 amp-hours. Low-voltage power from the batteries feeds into an inverter bank with a total output capacity of 6 kilowatts, which in turn supplies household electrical needs.

12/4/2016 11:22:06 AM

Wood heating is great. We heated exclusively with wood for over a decade, and held down jobs where we were away from home for long days, six days a week. Our whole life was consumed by splitting wood, stacking wood, carrying wood into the the house to be burned, burning the wood, and cleaning up after the wood (chips, ash). The house had to be winterized every time we left to visit family for a few days, in case the masonry heater couldn't keep up if the temperature fell to sharply, or in case we were delayed in our return due to weather conditions (this was frequently a problem). We would have loved heating with wood if we hadn't had to work away from home during most of our waking hours. Most people have to have a job to pay the bills. It might be nice to do if we had a pension to live on, or worked from home. We moved and use a heat pump to heat our new old tiny house, and I worship the thermostat.

9/30/2014 11:40:37 AM

I always wanted to live out in the country and have the bare minimum in terms of utilities in my home. I have been fascinated with the aspect of using renewable energy and being able to have the necessities during bad weather. I recently decided to purchase a Kitchen Queen Wood Cook Stove and I am in love. Not only can I cook with it but I can heat my home and my water. It has saved me a ton already when you look at the cost of heating with natural gas or propane anymore. I purchased my stove through If you are interested in taking a look just follow this link: Growing up my grandparents cooked solely on a wood cook stove and I always dreamed of having one. Now that prices have gotten so high when it comes to heating and natural gas alternative methods are becoming much more important. Wood cook stoves are very beneficial not only in long term but in short term as well. Take the Kitchen Queen Wood Cook Stove for example that not only allows you to cook but also heat your home and water (if you want). I recommend using when purchasing a wood cook stove. Not only do they offer great prices but they also have amazing customer service. During the month of October they are offering a deal where if you spend $3,200 you get a $100 off coupon. To get to their site simply follow this link:

Rose Macaskie
2/26/2013 4:10:03 PM

You say that using wood is carbon neutral which it is because any wood you grow to use as fire wood wood takes up the carbon that your burnt wood released and using wood as a fuel sort of assures that we grow trees that will take up the carbon the wod we are burnign releases into the air however, letting wood rot is not carbon neutral but can be a way of secuestring carbon for a long time in the soi so if you burn it you stop the soil holding on to the carbon in your wood. /When organic matter breaks down, the carbon in it can be returned to the air, the bubbles in champagne are an example of carbon returning to the air but it is also possible that part of organic matter rottign in the earth turns into fulvic and humic acid molecules which are molecules that contain a lot of carbon atoms and that are very durable, may last for a thousand years or more depending on whether or not the conditions in the soil are right and remain right . I dont know and am not sure if scientists know yet under what circumstances organic matter turns into humic and fulvic acid molecules as it breaks down and i dont know under what circumstances these molecules lose their longevity and themselves break down but it seems evident, as the molecules are dark brown and black, that there are not many of them in soils that have been eroded , in any soils that are the colour of the mineral that the earth is composed of in any region, so on forest floors and good soils not on ploughed arable land. These molecules dont only maintiain carbon in the soil, they also are very good at helping plants take up nutrients being good at catching onto and letting go of atoms an ability that helps chemical processes like digestion, this is a bit of science that gets above my present level and is about such things as how nutrients get through cels walls, so humic and fulvic acids secuestra carbon and help plants to grow, so in burning wood you are depleting soils and reducing the secuestration of carbon in soils, I am afraid, as i am this moment conteplating buying a ceramic type mass heater. rose macaskie madrid

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