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“What You Can Do NOW To Start Going Off The Grid”
What We Covered
In this episode, we share a huge tip from our off-grid journey.
Off-grid solar power can be a great investment in the long run, but it does require an up-front investment. If that’s something you are not able to swing right now, this week’s episode is for you.
It’s all about taking small, budget-friendly steps to get you off the grid. Whether you’re currently on the grid and looking to transition gradually or setting up off-grid from scratch, we’ve got you covered.
Plus, we answer a follower’s question about choosing the right refrigerator for their off-grid solar setup. Tune in now and start your path to off-grid living!
00:00 – Intro
04:26 – The Two Scenarios You Might Be In
05:42 – Scenario 1, Stage 1: Gradually Transition From On-Grid to Off-Grid
09:07 – Details on Fuel Powered Generators
19:11 – Details on Transfer Switches
20:31 – Generator Shed
21:33 – Make Sure Your Generator Will Run When You Need It!
22:47 – Pros & Cons of this stage
24:06 – Scenario 1, Stage 2: Add Batteries and an Inverter
27:18 – Inverter Details
32:49 – Scenario 1, Stage 3: Add Solar or Other Renewable Charging Sources
35:55 – Solar Panel Mounts
40:43 – Charge Controller Details
42:36 – Scenario 2: Gradually Setting Up Off Grid Without Grid Power
43:22 – Scenario 2, Stage 1: We Suggest Skipping Stage 1 But Here Are Suggestions If You Don’t
47:32 – Scenario 2, Stage 2 & 3: Same as Scenario 1
48:36 – Question of the Week: Best refrigerator for going off grid
56:52 – Free download for you – “What You Can Do NOW To Start Going Off The Grid”
57:41 – Wrap Up
Some of the below links may be affiliate links where we make a small commission without it costing you a penny. Thanks!
- Sustainable Preparedness – our website with details on how to make your homestead systems (water, power, heat, etc) more independent
- Fuel Stabilizer – PRI-G (for gasoline) or PRI-D (for Diesel)
- DC refrigerators (SunDanzer DCRF450 manufacturer or cheapest price, SunStar ST16RF, SunFrost RF19, also Unique makes several options)
- Iota charger/converter for powering DC appliance with 120v AC (12v, 24v, 48v)
- Download PDF – What You Can Do NOW To Start Going Off Grid (11 pages packed with actionable details to help you start your off grid transition):
Hello, and welcome back to The Ready Life podcast. I’m Lisa, and I’m Nick Meisner. Today, we’re gonna be talking about something that we feel very passionate about, and that’s helping you realize your dream of going off the grid and becoming independent for your power needs.
Today, we’ll be looking at one of several ways that you can actually start going off the grid today. Yes, I mean today. That’s right.
If you go back a few episodes, in episode number four, we covered the topic of what is the cost of an off-grid solar power system. And if you didn’t catch that one, feel free to go back to that episode on whatever platform you’re listening or watching to this on, and you can find it there. Or you can go to thereadylife.com forward slash the number four, and that will get you there as well.
But in that episode, we looked at just a really, really rough idea of what an off-grid solar power system might cost. And I think probably a lot of you were… pleasantly surprised because we’ve all heard massive numbers that people have paid for solar power systems. And we just wanted you to see how reasonable it could be to get into an off-grid solar power system if you are calculated and if you use strategy, which is what we are showing you how to do in this podcast and other resources and online courses and things like that.
But I don’t know about you. But back when we went off the grid, we didn’t have a large chunk of change to throw at something like this. Even though I feel like it’s pretty reasonably priced, if you do it right, even still, it does take the upfront expense for the equipment. And a lot of us don’t have money like that sitting around.
And so what we wanted to do in this episode is to discuss with you a strategy of how you can start this process and kind of spread it out. Because one of the things that I think of is the easiest way to buy a big-ticket item when you’re short on cash is to make payments.
Now personally, we are kind of allergic to payments. We don’t like the whole debt thing. We don’t like payments and all of that. But you got to admit, it is easier to make a smaller payment each month than it is to make a great big payment right up front.
But you can get the same effect as if you were making payments on a solar power system and avoid the debt that those payments bring by breaking your complete ideal system that you’d like to end up with into smaller pieces. And you know, basically purchasing these… in stages and setting up your system in stages one step at a time. And in doing that, you can kind of break it up into several smaller payments.
This is actually what we did because, you know, like I mentioned, we didn’t have a large chunk of cash to put into a solar power system when we first went off the grid. We were strapped. We were short on cash. It was all we could do to get the land. And we actually built just the shell of a house. It was a raw piece of land. We built just the shell of the house and got it to the stage where we could move in. It was unfinished, but it would keep us warm and dry and have the basic needs that we had. That was the position that we were in. We were stretched just to get to that point. And the last thing we could swing at that point in time was then putting money into a solar power system.
So we did this by example just out of necessity and we want to share with you how you can do this.
Now, there are two basic types of scenarios that folks are going to be in when they’re doing this. One scenario is one that we hear all the time. Somebody emails in and they say we live on the grid. How can we make this transition to an off-grid power system? So the first person lives in a home already. Maybe they’re in the country. And they want to take their home off the grid. The second person is somebody who is moving, or they just purchased some land. They live in town maybe, and they’ve got their property. And there is no power on the property. Or there is power close by, but they want to set up their homestead independently. So they’re starting out without power. So those are the two scenarios that I can think of.
Right. And like I said, for both, we’re going to end up doing very similar things, but it’s just two different ways to come at this.
So first, we’re going to start off with the first scenario and kind of run through this in some detail. And then I think you’ll see that a lot of the pieces that we’re going to talk about. fit for the second scenario. So for the first scenario, this is where you are currently on the grid and you want to transition to being off the grid gradually. How can this work?
So the first step, the very first step that I would have you do is to have an electrician install a transfer switch on your house or on your electrical panel connected to your electrical panel.
And what this transfer switch does is it enables you to power your home or certain circuits in your home’s electrical system with an alternate source of power safely. You might think that you could hook up alternate sources of power to your home, just go in and plug it in or something. Plug a generator in. Yeah. But it’s not that simple. There are very important reasons why you need a transfer switch.
And for instance, if you hook an alternate source of power up to your home and you didn’t have a transfer switch, then let’s say it’s a blackout and you pull out a generator, hook it up to a transfer switch up to your home and power your home. Yes, it’s going to power your home, but it’s also going to send electricity back down those power lines and electrify those power lines. And that could electrocute somebody, especially a lineman, that might be trying to work and fix the reason why the power is down in the first place. Exactly. Right. Also, when the power comes back up, it’s going to fry your generator or whatever your alternate source of power is that you had hooked up. So it’s going to be required by law pretty much everywhere, at least in the US. And it’s just a common sense thing to do. You need a transfer switch. So this is your first step, and is this ideal? By no means is it ideal. No, but it is great to have like an emergency backup situation because if you have at least a transfer switch and a generator installed, then power goes down, you can switch the generator on and save things like your freezer, or you’ll still have water at your home. So those are kind of essentials for life. It’s two of the three basic necessities of life right there.
Right, for any of your perishable food items and things like that. So it’s definitely not ideal, but it is helpful and it’s a good first step. Yes, you only have power when the generator’s running. That’s a disadvantage for sure. So we’re not going to stop there, but this is just a first step. Now I want to drill down a little bit more into some of the details of this.
For instance, the generator. I’m really a believer in getting quality whenever you possibly can. I believe that you save money in the long run when you get quality. And the generator is no exception. So what is that saying? Like pay once, cry once. Buy once, cry once. Yes, exactly. And then you never cry again. Yes, exactly. So with a generator, as far as the size of generator, I would say it’s going to depend on a lot of factors here. So I can’t give one answer that’s going to work for everybody. But just in general, at least six to eight kilowatts, that would be 6,000 to 8,000 watts of power, would be a good size for a lot of folks.
Now, having said that, if you have a lot of large electrical items in your house, such as an electric water heater, an electric forced air heating system, an electric clothes dryer, an electric oven and range, these kinds of things, a generator of that size is probably going to be very underpowered if you’re wanting to use all of these items, especially all at once. But even if you wanted to just power your HVAC system in your house or something like that, six to eight kilowatts probably isn’t going to fit the bill for you. So I would suggest that you decide whether you’re wanting to use this generator just to power essentials, you know, just the important items that you really need, like a water pump, fridge, freezer, you know, these kinds of things and some lights and stuff like that, whether you’re good with that or whether you want the generator to just power your entire house, just as if you were on the grid, you know, just as if the power was up where your business is usual. If you wanna do that, then you’re going to need to look at these large electrical loads and it’s going to take a big generator to do that kind of thing, so.
But if we’re planning on going off the grid, then now is a good time to start thinking about your appliances in your home and maybe switching those over to something that’s more energy efficient. So when you’re thinking about sizing your generator, kind of think long term too. That’s true. That’s very true. Because you don’t really want to way oversize your generator, because the bigger it is, the more fuel it uses. Even if you’re not using as much power, it’s a bigger engine, fuel to run. So yes, these are things to take into account and we’ll be touching on that in our question of the week actually. Yes, we will. Yes. Anyhow, so that gives you an idea. Like I said, you may need more, you may need 10, you may need 15 kilowatts if you’re wanting to power some big items. But for a lot of folks, especially once you end up off the grid, a lot of folks, six to eight kilowatts is a good size of generator, we’ve found.
So that would be the size. What about some brands? What do we use for a gasoline-powered generator? We use a good old-fashioned Honda. Not exactly old-fashioned, but a good old Honda. Reliable. I’ve had really good success with those. Yes. And they just, they run, yes, there’s cheaper generators out there for sure, but they… We’ve just, they’ve run pretty much flawlessly for us for many years. Yeah, and when you’re, especially if you’re at this stage one, you really want something that’s going to be reliable. You don’t want just a cheap run of the mill generator that may or may not actually work for you when you need it most. And so. Right.
Now, we’re talking about gasoline generators because that’s the most common type of generator out there. Let’s go through some pros and cons with gasoline generators. For instance, you’ve got to haul fuel in for them, and gasoline can go bad pretty quickly if you don’t stabilize it. So you’re definitely going to want to stabilize any fuel that you use in your gasoline generator. And I’m just going to tell you a quick tip here, pro tip for gasoline: it’s P-R-I-G, as in gasoline. It’s P-R-I-dash and then the letter G for gasoline. That stuff is used commercially, and we’ve used it for decades. We actually have stored gasoline with P-R-I-G on board for six or seven years in hot, humid conditions, which are the worst, and it ran just fine in the car after all that. So I’m pretty impressed with the stuff and highly recommend it.
But this is a factor to take into account because gasoline is not the only fuel type out there, is it?
No, no. Actually, you can do a diesel generator or a propane generator. That’s true. So let’s talk a little bit about each of those.
With a propane generator, one of the big advantages is your fuel never goes bad. Propane lasts indefinitely. So that’s definitely a big advantage. Also, you’re not having to haul fuel in five-gallon containers or 55-gallon drums or whatever. The delivery company comes out and fills up your 500-gallon or a thousand-gallon tank, and it runs off of that. So that can be really convenient. A lot of nice advantages to propane generators. And as far as brands, there’s a number of brands out there, but Onan, Kohler, even Generac makes some decent propane generators. So those are options for propane.
And one other thing I should mention, just sorry to skip back here to the gasoline side of things, but if you are going with something, you know, we mentioned Honda, and there are a lot of generators out there that are kind of… I’m not sure how to describe them, but mixed brand where some company will buy a Honda engine and stick it into their generator, and only the engine is Honda. The whole rest of it is some aftermarket who-knows-what, the electrical parts, the generator part that generates the electricity and the voltage regulator and all these things. I would caution you about those kinds of setups, and the same would go with propane. This is more common with a gasoline generator that I would caution you about those because some of those can be really cheap, and they just stick a Honda engine in there because then they’ve got the branding of Honda. And you think, “Oh, this is great,” but the electrical parts are not Honda. So just be aware of this. And bad things can happen when you use a cheap generator if the electrical parts on board, the electronics on board are not good quality. You can have voltage spikes and things like this happening, and it can mess up appliances or electronics in your house. I’ve heard of it happening. So just go quality if you can. Same with gas or with propane, and really as far as diesel too.
Yeah, again, back to the… buy once, cry once.
Right, exactly. I know that’s one thing we’ve learned is every time we’ve bought cheap, we’ve always regretted it. But when we took the time or the extra money and spent for something that was really good quality, we’ve never regretted it. That’s right.
So moving on to diesel, with diesel, it’s got the potential to be the longest-lasting type of engine. So if you’re going to be running it a lot, then diesel may be the best option for you. However, it does still have some drawbacks, like you have to haul fuel, and your fuel can go bad, diesel can go bad, just like gasoline can. I think diesel is a little bit less volatile than gasoline as far as stability, so it may not go bad as quickly, but it certainly can. And once again, I’m going to recommend a stabilizer for diesel. It’s PRI-D. Similar to I mentioned P-R-I-G that’s for gasoline P-R-I-D is for diesel and we’ll have a link to Both of these in the show notes if you go to the ready life comm forward slash Ten the number ten But anyhow, you’re gonna have to stabilize your fuel, but with a diesel generator, they just they last and last and last. I mean you can get tens of thousands of hours out of these things. And they are noisy, yes. And they’re heavy. You’re not gonna just pick that thing up like you would a small gasoline generator or something like that. It’s heavy, it’s a chunk of steel. But if you’re gonna be running it a lot, then it could be a great option. They’re typically a little more fuel-efficient than a gasoline generator. And advantages like that just last a long time. Some good brands are Kubota, Isuzu, Onan; there’s others out there as well, but those are some good options for a diesel generator as well.
But anyhow, so that’s a little bit about generators. Once again, you want to have a transfer switch put in, and as a general rule, it’s gonna need to be an electrician that puts it in. There are some transfer switches out there that you may be able to wire in yourself if you’re handy, and you could… wire them into just certain circuits on your panel, where it will only transfer those particular circuits over to the generator. And that would be the way to go if you were going to just, you know, if you had some other big loads like an HVAC system and electric oven and range and clothes dryer and stuff like that, and you wanted to just power the essentials with your generator, then you could use one of those transfer switches that just does certain circuits. But you may want to do a transfer switch on the whole house or even a subpanel, which is basically a smaller breaker box that will feed only the loads that you want to be powered with the generator when that time comes. So there are a number of options. You can talk to your electrician about that. They’re super familiar with this. Lots and lots of people have transfer switches, so they should be able to get you all set up with that. And so anyhow, as far as the generator, though, you wanna keep it out of the elements, don’t you?
Yeah, so you need to build a generator shed or have it somewhere where the exhaust can go outside. So you don’t wanna do it in your garage. Absolutely. There have been many people that have died of carbon monoxide poisoning by running a generator inside their garage or something like that. Maybe they left the door open a little bit or the door blew closed, and they weren’t watching, or any number of things can happen, and please don’t try it. Your generator needs to either be running in an open-air under an open-air roof or needs to have plenty of ventilation, exhaust vented outside, that type of thing. So be careful with that. But you do want to keep the generator out of the elements. You don’t want it sitting out there in the rain and snow and that sort of thing. Yes, for sure. So a generator shed is a must.
Right. Do we want to just, one of the things that folks will often do, though, is they’ll buy a generator. And I think, “I’m good. I’m good. You know. Got my 10 gallons of gas there, got my generator, and I’m good.” And five years later, they have a blackout, and they pull out the generator. And they wonder, “Why can’t I get this thing to start?” For one thing, if it’s battery started, or if it has an electric starter on it, they probably couldn’t even get the thing to turn over because the battery is probably dead on it. And even if they did get it to turn over, if it was a gas or diesel generator, the fuel has almost certainly gone bad. And all kinds of things can happen when you let equipment sit for a long time. So definitely exercise your generator at least once a month or every other month, something like that. That’s a good rule of thumb to exercise it. Keep your fuel rotated. Even if you stabilize it, it’s a good idea to rotate it. And just your regular maintenance, you know, keeping the oil changed, things like this are gonna be really important if you want that generator to be there for you when you need it.
So, pros and cons with this particular stage. The pros would be, of course, you can have power during a short-term blackout. That’s great. That’s a step up from where you’re at right now, I’ll bet. But some of the cons are that if you have just a generator and a transfer switch, you only have power when the generator’s actually running. So this is just a very short-term temporary measure. Right. Also, as far as cons, how much fuel do you have, and how long is it gonna take you for? Because if you’re having to run that generator all the time to keep your fridge and freezer going and things like this, then that 10 gallons of gas that you had sitting there, you’d be surprised how quickly you can blow through it. So do you have enough fuel on hand to take you for a while? And this is a disadvantage to this stage. What if the generator doesn’t work? It’s noisy. It’s noisy, yes, indeed. And it’s expensive to run a generator continuously. Burns a lot of fuel. Puts a lot of wear and tear on the engine. And so it’s not for long-term use. This is only for short-term. Step one. Transfer switch and a generator. Exactly.
So step two is we are going to now add a battery bank and an inverter power center. But the main pieces of equipment here are a battery bank and an inverter. Now, if you’re wondering what is an inverter in all of this, you might want to take a gander back to one of the previous episodes on solar power systems that we’ve done on the Ready Life podcast. And you can find out a lot there about all of this kind of equipment, but just very quickly, an inverter is taking the power from the DC power from a battery bank and converting it into regular AC household current that you use in your house so that you can run your refrigerator and turn your lights on and run your water pump and all this kind of stuff. So what we’re gonna do is we’re going to set up a bank of batteries. We’re going to hook up an inverter to that bank of batteries, an inverter charger, where it’s going to do the conversion both directions. It’s going to take AC power from your generator, convert it into DC so you can charge your batteries up, and then when you need it in your house, it’s going to take DC power from the batteries, convert it back into AC so you can use it in your house. And what this is going to enable you to do is to run the generator just for a little while, just for several hours to charge the batteries up, and then you can power your house or more likely certain circuits on your house for perhaps a few days, just depends on the size of your battery bank. But if you size it appropriately, then you should be able to run for, you know, plus or minus three days on just your battery power, which means you’re only running your generator for several hours, and then you’ve got three days of power that’s 24-7. That’s pretty awesome. Yeah, in this step, you get to do something very beautiful called turning the generator off.
Yes, indeed. And then you can run on the battery power for several days. That’s right.
So this is definitely a big step forward. It’s not where we want to end up because you still are reliant upon that fuel-powered generator. But we’re running it a whole lot less, and that 10 gallons of gas that you had is gonna last you a lot longer now. And it’s not gonna be as noisy and all these kinds of things. So definitely a step up. And this little system that you’ve built can be run straight into that transfer switch that we were using for the generator. And so now the generator’s gonna be tapping into your inverter charger instead of being hooked up to the transfer switch. The only thing that’s gonna hook up to the transfer switch is the output from your inverter charger. Everything’s gonna be running through your little off-grid system because now you have a bona fide off-grid power system. Congratulations, yay! It’s not a renewable system, it’s not a solar system or whatever, but it is an off-grid power system.
So just a few details here, what size of inverter charger is a good size, you know. Like I said for the generator, there are a lot of factors here, so I can’t tell you because it depends upon how efficient your home is and things like that. We talk a lot about efficiency, and we’re going to be going more and more into this in the podcast about how to become more energy-efficient without changing your lifestyle and things like that. But assuming that you have an efficient home and that you’re preparing to go off the grid, we find that for efficient homes, 4-kilowatt plus or minus inverter chargers seem to work pretty well. If you aren’t pretty efficient, then you can stack multiple inverters to get 8,000 watts or more. Or you can even buy larger inverter chargers. They’re making them these days 8 kilowatts, even more, in one generator. I mean, in one inverter, sorry. And these inverter chargers, many of them can produce either 120 volts or 240 volts. Now, if you don’t know what that means, that’s OK. Don’t worry about it. That just means that your inverter charger is going to be able to power your water pump and your well and things like this. So that’s a little bit about size, not very scientific. When we talk about designing systems in the future, we’ll go into more detail there, but this just gives you an idea of what’s typical. And I’m seeing systems getting bigger and bigger these days, so yes, you’ve got some folks that stack multiple inverters on top of each other. When I say stack, they’re basically connecting them together where they have multiple times the output. And you can totally do that, but we don’t really touch on those kinds of systems a whole lot here because what we’re really trying to do is help you to be able to do this on a budget. And that’s what we had to do. And that’s what we’re trying to help you to do, is to think smart and to use strategy rather than to just throw money at this. So if you want to just throw money at this, then this may not be the right strategy for you. But that’s what this is about. So that’s a little bit about the size of the inverter.
What about some brands? Magnum, they’re ours. Outback is one that your folks have. And Schneider, I think, is the other brand. That’s really common. They’re good inverters. Good quality. Yeah. Those are the three. Yeah. There’s more. There are a lot more out there, but these three are the three brands that we really trust. They’re good quality and they’ve been reliable. So, yeah. Right. The market has been flooded lately, the last few years, with lots of inverters from China and all over the place. And I don’t know what to tell you about all of them. You don’t know until you’ve used them for a few years. So these are brands that have been around for decades, and they make equipment that’s made for powering your house. This isn’t just for some little emergency backup. These aren’t gadgets. These are built for people who live off the grid. So that’s why I like these.
So what are some of the pros to this? I think we’ve already alluded to a lot of these. Yeah, so pros would be much less generator run time, less fuel. You’re not plowing through quite as much fuel. There’s less wear and tear on your generator. So your generator is going to last you longer once you get to this stage. And did I mention the noise? You’re not running the generator all the time, so you don’t have that crazy generator noise going on in the background. So, yeah. That’s right. But as far as cons, the major con I can think of is that you’re still dependent on the generator and fuel and things like that. This isn’t a renewable system, but we’re still on stepping stones. And this is much better than step one was. And the nice thing is, is that all this equipment that you’ve been slowly getting in each stage, it’s building the foundation for your power system in the end. So it’s not like you’re going to have to buy some equipment and then say, well, OK, in step two, we get rid of this equipment and we get new equipment. This is all equipment that you’re going to still use in your power system once you have it fully set up and renewable. So you’re not wasting any money. Exactly. If you do this right, and here’s the thing, when we’re saying use strategy to set up a quality system on a budget is you’ve got to design your system ahead of time if at all possible. Because then if you have done that, then you know which equipment you’re going to need. And you can, when you set up, when you’re at stage two, you’ll know what size of inverter charger you need or what size of battery bank you might need, that sort of thing. And yes, these are things that could be altered later on, but anyhow. It’s nice if we can get it set up the way that it needs to be so that you’re not having to redo stuff later on. And that comes from design.
And that takes us to step number three, which is potentially the final step in this process. So remember, we started out with just a generator and a transfer switch and some fuel storage. And then when we were able to, we added batteries and an inverter charger and a few other little lesser pieces of equipment, breaker panels, and things like this, but that enabled us to get more independent. Now we get to step three, which is where we add in some renewable sources of charging.
Solar is going to be the most common. That’s what most people use. It’s easy, maintenance-free for the most part. I mean, there’s basically no maintenance, no moving parts. Everybody’s got some amount of sun. Yes, some people have more than others, but everybody has some. With the other types of renewable energy, it’s not as consistent as the sun. Like wind, it’s more variable. A lot of locations are just no good for wind power. And unless you have a pretty awesome creek on your property that has the right amount of flow and fall on it, then hydro is not gonna be an option for you, hydro power. So solar is the common one.
So yeah, at this stage now, you can look around at your property and figure out what resources you have to create or generate energy besides just your generator, especially sources like he mentioned that are renewable. Like if you have a creek, that’s awesome. You’ll have power coming out your ears. I know some people who do have hydroelectric systems set up, and it’s just wonderful. We don’t have that luxury, and a lot of people, like Nick said, don’t. But solar is a really great option for most of us. And like you said, wind is, you know, it’s a hit or miss with wind. But, you know, I’m sure we’ll be talking about each of these more. But the point is, this is the stage where you’re gonna be getting your system where it’s renewable.
So we’ve already got the building blocks, already got the batteries, the inverter, all of that. We’ve already got a backup generator case we have times when it’s really cloudy and we’re not getting enough Sun for the solar panels to be charging our batteries and things like that. We already got those building blocks, and so now we’re just going to be plugging in renewable sources with solar panels. The additional items that you’re going to need would be it’s not just the panels you also have to have a mounting system, and you’re going to need a charge controller. The charge controller basically just keeps those solar panels from overcharging your batteries. Newer, modern charge controllers also do some other fancy stuff, but at its core, that’s the most basic function of a charge controller, is to keep your solar panels from charging, overcharging your batteries. And then of course, you’ve got wires and breakers and all these kinds of things. But that’s the basics.
So let’s talk about mounts for a minute because mounts can be surprisingly expensive. Yeah, you can sink a lot of money into mounts real fast if you’re not careful. That’s right. But there is the old adage, you get what you pay for, too. That’s true. And in my opinion, that kind of holds true with this. So yes, probably the cheapest way to mount your panels is to stick them on the roof, like almost everybody does. And you could do that. You could totally do that. to putting them on the roof. I don’t like it. And the reason being, this is especially so for those of you that are in areas that do get snow. When you get snow piling up on your roof, you can end up with the snow covering the solar panels, and you’re gonna get nothing until you get warm enough weather to melt your snow. Or maybe, hopefully, your roof isn’t insulated very well. And so you’ve got lots of heat leaking out of your roof and it’ll melt your solar panels. That’s a mixed blessing there. But you could end up with a very negative situation in the winter in snow country with them mounted on your roof. Also, if you have like a metal roof where the snow is wanting to slide off, it could push on those solar panels and- Cause some damage. Cause some damage, things like that. So that’s one reason I don’t like it.
Another is that very seldom is your roof the best pointed the best direction and at the right pitch. And this means that your solar panels aren’t gonna be producing as much power as they could because your solar panels produce maximum power when they are pointed perpendicular to the sun’s rays, pointed right at the sun. And so this is a challenge with roof-mounted solar panels because they’re typically not adjustable, it’s just going to be whatever the pitch of your roof is and whatever direction it’s pointed. So you know, you could say, well, I’m just going to oversize the system and put more solar panels on there. You could and just throw more money at it and mount them on the roof. And you could do that if you want. But just throwing these out as cautions about mounting them on the roof. And then another thing would be, and I mentioned this, that it’s not adjustable. And the position of the sun moves, especially in the northern latitudes, it moves significantly where in the wintertime the sun is way down there in the southern horizon, and in the summertime it’s way… It’s more overhead. Overhead. That’s a lot of variation, and so it’s not probably going to be ideal for most of the year, the direction of your solar panels.
And then finally, the last thing I would say is, I don’t really like the idea of having to get up on my roof to do something if I needed to do something, if I needed to clear the snow off of the panels. You know, it could be risky to climb up there anytime something has to be done. It’s not that often that you gotta do something, but if you needed to, I like having it down closer to the ground where you can access it better.
With a ground mount, that mounts on like a pole, you can have a very nice setup where it’s easy to access from the ground and they’re even adjustable. That’s what we have personally, and I really like it.
The downside is they can be spendy. The pole mounts for a quality pole mount, they’re kind of spendy. And so, you know, you get what you pay for, but with ours, it’s really sturdy to adjust the vertical tilt of the panels, there’s just a little hand crank, I just walk over. I can even do it. Oh yeah, it’s super easy. It is really easy.
So, you know, it’s up to you. There are other options. I mean, I’ve even seen folks build a kind of a false wall out of like four by sixes, pressure-treated four by sixes, plant them in concrete in a line and run some lumber in between them and they could mount the solar panels to that. or the side of your house if you have a south-facing wall, there’s some options there where you would still be able to adjust the tilt of your solar panels if you wanted to. And that could be cheaper. So where there’s a will, there’s a way you can usually come up with something that just depends on how much you have to put into it and that type of thing.
So now what about the charge controller? So with the charge controller, I recommend that if you have a solar panel, you If your inverter manufacturer also makes charge controllers, and if it’s a charge controller that would suit your needs, then I recommend sticking with the same brand because they’re going to communicate better when you use equipment of different brands they don’t communicate.
That doesn’t mean that they won’t work. They can certainly still work. Lots of systems out there have an inverter that’s one brand and a charge controller that’s another. It’s just that the communication is more seamless when it’s all in the same ecosystem. Same brand. Right. So that would be one thing I would say. And my favorites are, you guessed it. Magnum. Outback and Schneider, those three. Once again, they all make good charge controllers. There’s some other good ones out there, but I figure why not stick with the same brand as your inverter. Yes.
And one final thing here on this step three is we even broke that step up into two stages when we first, well not when we first went off the grid, but when we got to stage three we put in a small solar array because that’s all we could swing at the time. And back in those days solar panels were kind of spendy. They’ve gotten cheaper now and so if they were as inexpensive now as they were then as they are now, we might have gone ahead and put in a larger one and just been done with it. But we put in a smaller array and then a couple of years, I think it was later, we saved up and added to our solar array. And that’s another option as well. So you can really break this up and take it one step at a time.
So what if you’re going off the grid, cold turkey, you don’t have any power at your house? You’re setting up a cabin out in the wilderness, and you’re wanting to set up an off-grid power system to do that in stages, because you don’t have the money right up front. So with this kind of a scenario, it’s going to be very similar to what we did previously. It’s basically, except the main difference is that you’re not having to interact with the grid. And the other thing is you don’t have the grid as your backup. So with scenario number one, where you’re currently on the grid and you’re transitioning off, we’re good to go during stage one, because the grid is powering your house when you’re at stage one, where it’s the generator only. So that’s not a problem. However, with scenario two, where you don’t have grid power there as your backup during that stage, then I would suggest that you perhaps skip step number one. which is the generator only. Go straight to step two if it’s at all possible.
Now, having said that, I’m gonna confess to you, I’m gonna be honest, we did start with step number one. And so I guess I’m speaking from experience here when I say to skip that step, it can totally be done, but there’s some major disadvantages, because once again, you only have power when the generator’s running, and what this means is that full time, in your house, you only have power when that generator’s running. And so for things like water in the house, you’re gonna want to have a really large pressure tank. If your system involves a pressure tank, then you’re gonna need a really large pressure tank, which is what we did. And the reason being is that enables you to run your generator, run the water pump for a little while. pump that pressure tank all the way up, and now you’ve got, if you have a large pressure tank, you may have 30 or 40 gallons of water in that tank. And by the way, that’s not a 30 or 40-gallon tank, that’s actually probably an 80-gallon tank, that’s how they call them. But I’m talking as far as the amount of water that it actually holds. It might be 30 or 40 gallons, and that could be enough to take you for a good chunk of the day, maybe even the whole day if you don’t use much water. And that means that you don’t have to be constantly running the generator or starting it many times a day. So that’s going to be one thing that’s helpful if you do find yourself in that position.
Another thing, you know, as far as keeping food cold, that’s a challenge. It really is. You could get a propane refrigerator. They do make those where they’re completely non-electric. But long term. I would discourage you from going that direction because once you set up with a solar system, do you really want to be having to pay for propane to power your refrigerator when you’ve got absolutely free solar power coming in that could power it? So, you know, it is an option, but what we did. Let me guess, an icebox? Nice chest, yep, with blocks of ice, not cubed ice, but blocks of ice. And you’d be surprised if you have a really good ice chest that’s really well insulated and you use blocks of ice, you’d be surprised how long those can go. I mean, you could go for a week even with sometimes with that kind of a setup. So we did that for sure.
For lighting, you’re going to want to have, back in the day, we were using an Aladdin lamp, a kerosene lamp at night just so that we didn’t have to run the generator all the time. If all we were doing was reading, you know, then we’d use something like that for lighting. If we were doing laundry or something like that, then we had the generator on anyway. Yeah. And you could do that in the evening so that it can double-purpose, you know, dual-purpose while the generator’s running. You’ve also got lights in the house and things like that. Yeah. But that is an option. But nowadays, there’s so much battery-powered stuff, you could totally get some battery-powered lights that have large batteries and use something like that in your house or things like that. And then charge them up while the generator’s running. Right, right.
So once again, this is not at all recommended, but I’m just providing these tips in case you end up in a pinch like we did where you were completely off the grid and you can’t swing buying the batteries and the inverter, but you have a generator. That’s how you can make it work.
But that brings us to stage number two, which is gonna be basically the same thing. Batteries, inverter, and generator. And you’re gonna charge the batteries up with the generator, and then you’ve got two or three days of power, plus or minus, in between running the generator, but you’ve now got power 24 seven. And then as you’re able to add solar, or some other form of renewable energy to your system to charge your batteries up. And there you go. It’s how we got off the grid one step at a time with on a shoestring budget, truly.
Exactly. Well, that’s awesome. There are other ways too, that you can start working on your off-grid journey now. And we’ll talk about those in future upcoming podcasts like system design, how important it is to design a system that’s tailored to you and your personal lifestyle. And then secondly was energy efficiency, which we’re going to talk about that also in a future podcast. But we finally come to the question of the week. Question of the week is regarding refrigerators. And we actually have been mentioning refrigerators a number of times. But the question is that they… Well, here, I’ll go ahead and read it. Oh, okay. Go for it.
So, it says, hello, Nick. I really enjoy listening to your off-grid boot camp videos. They are very helpful and informative. That’s just a quick note. We have a full course called Off-Grid Boot Camp that we have some students also that have sent in some questions. So, we do not have a solar plus battery system yet, but I’m looking into it more this year. I have a question about refrigerators. We need a new refrigerator and possibly a freezer. We currently have two large chest freezers and one upright refrigerator freezer, side-by-side door type. I would like to replace our current fridge freezer with a 24 volt DC refrigerator only model.
What do you think about buying the 24 volt DC fridge and an AC to DC converter? So I can use the 120 volt AC power until we get the DC solar system. Any recommendations you have would be welcomed, such as brand, AC to DC converter, Sun Frost, Sundancer models, etc. Thank you, signed John.
So that’s a great question, John, and I applaud you for thinking ahead and thinking about this when you’re needing to replace an appliance. That’s really an awesome way to do this. Yeah. If you see off-grid in your future, but you’re not quite there yet, this is one of the best things you can be doing right now at this stage, is to be working on getting your appliances transitioned over to something that’s efficient and that you’re going to be happy with using off the grid.
To answer your question, as far as DC refrigerators and freezers, I should probably first say they’re making the conventional AC units more efficient than they used to, for sure. So that is a possible option that you could use a conventional AC refrigerator, freezer. If you shop around very carefully for Energy Star models and find the most efficient one you can, then you could do it. It’s certainly possible to do. We know a lot of people who have just regular fridges that they’ve found a really good energy-efficient one, and that runs just fine on their off-grid power system. So that is a possible option.
However, I will say that they still do, even the efficient AC models, they still do use a good bit more power than the super efficient DC refrigerators and freezers that are made for off-grid use. Those run straight off your batteries. That right there makes them more efficient, but they also have very efficient motors. They have super duper insulation built into them and things like this. So yes, in the past, the only option out there years ago, the only option was SunFrost. I think John mentioned SunFrost. Yes. And SunFrost is super expensive, like fabulously expensive for their 19 cubic foot, I think it’s the RF 19. you’re gonna pay like 3,500 bucks plus or minus.
I thought Sunfrost had gone out of business, and I think they did for a little while, but I just checked and their website is online. Looks like you can still buy them. So I’m kind of surprised that they’re still going though because they are so super expensive. They’re great and I have family that have used one for, let’s see, 20 years or more, something like that. Something like that, yeah. And they are very efficient. But when that was the only DC option, I used to tell folks, just go with a conventional AC one because you could get it cheaper, a good bit cheaper, and just take the money that you saved and put it into a bigger power system.
But lately, we’ve been seeing some good options come on the market for DC refrigerators or freezers that are more reasonably priced. We actually just recently got a new fridge that’s a DC fridge. Let’s see how long ago was that? A year and a half ago? Is it really that long ago? I think so. Oh my. We’ve had it for a while. Anyway, yeah, ours is Sundancer, which I think was another brand that John mentioned. He mentioned Sundancer also. And so that’s actually what we personally have, the DC RF 450. And it’s a 15 cubic foot fridge freezer, freezer on top, fridge down below. Pretty conventional size. We’ve been happy with ours. Yeah, it’s been very nice. It’s very efficient. It’s even more efficient than the SunFrost, to be honest. And it is the cheapest of all of the upright fridge freezers that are made for DC use, at least that I’m aware of. It’s the least expensive of them. It’s a good brand, been around for a long time. And we’ve been happy with ours. Also, they make 12/24 volt. Like our model, we have a 24-volt system in our house because we’re pretty efficient. And our refrigerator will run off of either 12 or 24 volts. But they also make a 48-volt model, which is great because a lot of folks these days are setting up 48-volt systems. A lot of folks aren’t as efficient as we are. And so they’ll go with a 48-volt system. But you can expect somewhere in the range of $1,600 to $1,800, which is actually pretty on par with what you’re gonna pay for a new fridge anyway.
Right, in fact, I haven’t checked lately, but the cost of everything has been going up. I wouldn’t be surprised if the conventional fridges and freezers cost even more than that. So pretty reasonably priced there. The Sunstar is another option. The ST16RF would be comparable in this range of uprights that are, you know. I think that one’s 16 cubic feet maybe. And it’s actually supposed to be the most efficient of the three of these. It’s a little more efficient than even the Sundancer. But it’s a little bit more expensive in the $2,200 to $2,400 range. And they, as far as I’m aware, do not make a 48-volt model. But anyhow, that’s kind of the lowdown on those three most popular ones out there. Now that we have these options.
As far as a converter though, because what John’s looking at is he wants to go ahead and buy this DC unit, but he’s still on the grid. So he’s got AC power in his house. So how do you get that AC power to power your DC refrigerator? And that’s using a converter. There are a number of options out there, but one option that you’ll find at off-grid retailers is made by a company called Iota, I-O-T-A. And it’s the DLS series of charger converter. You can look at the specs for the refrigerator to see how many amps it needs and just make sure that the IOTA is able to output that amount of amps. But I think almost any of the ones that they make would be plenty sufficient for powering a refrigerator freezer, because you’ve got to realize these things only use about a little over 100 watts, well, plus or minus 100 watts when they’re running.
Not taking much power. And we’ll have links for a lot of this stuff in the show notes page. So if you go to thereadylife.com/10, then that will get you to the show notes page where you can get a hold of links and all this kind of stuff. And also we’ve got something, a free bonus for you, a free extra for everybody that listened to the podcast today. Kind of goes along with what we were just talking about here.
Yes, we’re going to give away a free e-book called “What You Can Do Now to Start Going Off the Grid.” So a lot of the stuff that we’ve talked about today is also in our little e-book. But we also look at energy efficiency and system design. And a lot of the tips and tricks that we’ve learned over the years that have been really helpful, they’re in this ebook that we are giving away for free and you can find the link also to download the ebook in the show notes.
That’s right. Just go to thereadylife.com/10. So anyhow, that’s what we wanted to share with you. Really appreciate you joining us today and we’ll look forward to chatting with you next time. Yes, and please send us your questions. And tell us your story. If you’ve already started this process or if you’re getting ready to start this process, we want to hear your story and share the joys of this journey with you. So please send us your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s right. And thank you so much for joining us today. We’ll see you next time.