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What We Covered
Air conditioning has historically been challenging to handle with an off grid solar power system. But times have changed and we have great news for you!
But, if you want to go off the grid with air conditioning and do it with a reasonable budget, you’ll need to use some strategy. And that’s what we’ve got for you on this episode!
00:00 – Intro
02:28 – The Big 4 Off Grid “Do not’s”
04:26 – Off Grid Window Air Conditioner
08:30 – Portable Air Conditioner
10:43 – Off Grid Mini Split (Ductless) AC
14:43 – Solar Power to Burn In The Summer
16:35 – Tips To Reduce Or Eliminate AC Usage
- Download our free e-book: “What You Can Do NOW To Start Going Off The Grid“
- Example of 12,000 BTU AC/DC mini-split air conditioner
- Example of 8,000 BTU window AC
- Sustainable Preparedness – details on how to make your homestead systems (water, power, heat, etc) more independent
Hi there, I’m Nick Meissner. And I’m Lisa, his wife. Welcome back to The Ready Life podcast, where you are empowered to make your homestead as independent as possible for basic necessities like water, heat, food, and power. And in this week’s episode, we’re gonna cover 1 of the big questions that folks have when they’re going off the power grid, how can I have an air conditioner? Am I gonna have to sweat it out?
Is the question that we hear every now and then. So we’re gonna answer that with some solid options for you to keep your home comfortable without using massive amounts of power. But before we do, you probably have at least some curiosity about off-grid power systems since you’re here listening to this very episode. So we have a special gift just for you that will help you get up to speed on what it takes to actually start going off the grid. It’s a little ebook called What You Can Do Now To Start Going Off The Grid.
Not tomorrow, not in a year from now, but right now. You can download this little ebook by visiting thereadylife.com/offgridnow. That’s thereadylife.com/offgridnow. No spaces all lowercase. Yeah that’s right no spaces all lowercase.
You can also find the link in the description below or the show notes page too. That’s right. So We’ve already mentioned in episode number 4 that if you want to go off the grid with a reasonable budget, you’re going to want to use something other than electricity for what we call the big 4. What are the big 4? So, The big 4 would be your water heater, your oven range, your clothes dryer, oddly enough, and your HVAC system, your heat and your AC, which is what we’re talking about today, our AC.
Right. Each of these use massive amounts of power if you’re using the electric version of each of these items and it would be cost prohibitive to power these off the grid. They account for probably 80% of most homes power usage if you’re using all of those, the electric version for all of those. And there’s no reason why we need to use conventional electric appliances for any of these. We’ve got great alternatives.
I’m not going to take the time now to go into the alternatives for all of those right now. But for that last 1 in particular, heat and AC, back in episode 4, we focused a little more of our attention on the heat portion because that’s the most critical 1 to survival. I mean, you can survive without AC. You might be uncomfortable, but you can survive. But in a lot of areas, it would be pretty difficult to survive without some source of heat when it gets really cold.
And so we suggested some alternatives to HVAC for heat, such as a wood stove or other lower power options. But we didn’t spend much time on AC, so we wanted to come back and revisit that and take a look at good alternatives to a forced air HVAC system when you want to go off the power grid and yet stay comfortable and cool in the summertime. So let’s take a look at some options. So the first option would be a window AC unit. You’ve probably seen them, you’ve maybe even had them.
But a window AC unit, you can find them where they don’t use that much power, and in contrast to other AC units. And so the window AC unit, while it may not be the most efficient, it can be the cheapest and the easiest to install. We actually have 1, and that’s what we currently use to keep our house comfortable when the summer days get unbearably hot. And it works for us because, you know, here in our climate, we don’t get that hot for that long. We’ll have maybe a week or 2 of weather that’s in the upper 90s or 100 degrees, something like that.
But it’s not that long. And this little window AC unit that we have, it works fine. It’s a 6, 000 BTU, very small actually. You look on it, you look on the tag or on the box that it came in and it says that it’s for 260 square feet. Now our house is like a thousand square feet ish somewhere around there and it’s a very poorly insulated thousand square feet.
Our temporary house shall we say until we rebuild at some point. But we found that implementing some of the strategies that we’re going to talk about a little bit later, we’ve been able to make this unit work just fine and help us to stay comfortable even on like we had we got almost right at 100 degrees I think this summer and it we were nice and comfortable in here. So it is possible to make do with smaller units like that and with a window unit, it just kind of depends on how much heat you’re dealing with, for how long, how big of a home, things like that. And our unit, our little 6000 BTU unit, it only uses about 370 watts when the compressor is engaged, when it’s full blast pumping out cold air. So that’s not too bad.
No, it’s not. Especially considering that in the summertime we’ve got a lot more sun and all of that. And so it works for us. But most folks are probably going to want a larger model or maybe you want a couple of these small ones. Maybe if you’ve got a more spread out house, maybe you want a 6, 000 BTU in 1 room and another 1 in another room, something like that.
Yeah, and another thing too is that we’ll sometimes close the doors to certain rooms that we don’t use as often or ones that are not as well insulated. We do have 1 in the house that is not very well insulated at all. And so we don’t even try. We just close the door on that 1 and during the heat of the day you only go in there when you absolutely need to but we spend most of our time out in the main part of the house where our window AC unit keeps it quite comfortable. Yep and that just that 1 thing that’s another tip I guess we should have added to our list of tips at the end.
I thought of that just now. Closing the door to, you know, closing off rooms that you don’t need, especially if they’re especially uninsulated. So anyhow, if you wanted to go with a larger model though, just to give you an idea, like a 10, 000 BTU window unit, you could expect to use probably in the 7 to 800 watt range when it’s running full blast. So still, you know, feasible, just depends on how long you’re gonna run it and how large your power system is and how much Sun you’re getting all these kinds of things but but certainly quite feasible to do off the grid yes that’s a little bit about window AC’s what’s next on our list so the next 1 our list is a portable AC unit which we actually have 1 of those also It’s a larger unit that sits on the floor and we can roll it around the house or whatever, but then it has a Maybe a six-foot piece of plastic Yeah a plastic pipe or duct that you run to a window and then you can install that in a window and then the unit just sits there in your floor Or we would put it up on our counter in the kitchen just because it got the cooler air higher in the house.
But yeah that 1 that 1 worked when we needed it, but it was not our favorite. It didn’t keep the house quite as, it didn’t keep the house as cool or as comfortable as our little window unit. And it used more power. Maybe we just didn’t have a very efficient 1 or I don’t know, Anyway, that was just our experience. It only makes sense to me that it’s not gonna be as efficient because you’ve got the whole unit sitting here in your house.
When it’s running, that unit is giving off heat. That’s true. And then it’s Taking the heat that it’s extracted from the air and it’s sending it through this I don’t know six-foot pieces plastic pipe that has no insulation around it and running it out to a window and shooting it out the window and I just thought about how much well not only thought about I witnessed how much heat It’s true that thing was giving off in our house. Here we just spent all this power to extract the heat and then we’re putting some of that heat back in on its way out. And So it just is, you know, yes, it’s convenient, but not a very efficient route to go.
And we just don’t even use the thing now. We really like our window AC unit much better. Yeah, it’s just not as easy to install. So if he’s not here to install the window unit, I drag the portable unit in because I can install that 1 myself pretty easily. So.
But once the window unit is in for the summer, it’s in. Yeah, then it’s in. We don’t have to bother with it after that. Then we come to mini-split systems, sometimes called ductless systems, and these are the kinds of systems that you’ve probably seen where somebody up on the wall of their house, they’ll have this box kind of thing that just bolts to the wall and shoots air, cool air into the house. And there’s no ducts running through the walls anywhere and it’s not in a window or anything like that.
It’s right there on a wall and the actual compressor and unit itself is outside and it’s running lines into the blower unit. And so that’s, I’m sure you’ve all seen them, but that’s just to make sure that you’re familiar with what it is. These are really, they offer some nice options and are, if you shop carefully, you can find some really efficient units out there that will pump out a lot of cool or a lot of heat. You can even use them for heat. I personally feel like we’ve got better options for heat.
But for AC, it can be a really great option, especially for larger homes. I don’t really feel like our home warrants 1. Maybe when we rebuild, if it’s a larger home, you know, maybe we’ll put 1 in at that point in time, but for now the our window unit works fine for us, but I will say if we had a larger home, a mini split system can do a great job, be much more efficient. However, it is more expensive than a window unit, like probably 3 to 4 times as expensive as a window unit, comparable window unit. And also it’s more difficult to install.
You know, window unit, you just stick it in the window and have to get some of those things worked out. But with the mini split system, you’re actually installing a system. And so it is a little bit, it’s not too bad. Depends upon whether you get self-charged lines or not, where you’d have to have a HVAC guy come out and charge the lines and all that. But anyhow, it can be a great option, a 12, 000 BTU unit, which is kind of on the smaller side with these split systems.
But a 12, 000 BTU unit you can expect to use somewhere in the neighborhood of a 1000 watts at full blast. But with a lot of these you can dial them down where it’s not always just running at full blast, where it’s running at a slower speed and using considerably less power. And I’ve seen units where it will, you could dial it down where it even uses less power than our window AC if you had it really dialed down and running very slowly. So it makes for a lot of options. And I’ve even seen 1 that’s an AC DC unit where it can run off of either AC or DC.
In other words, You could run it off of solar or AC and have both hooked up simultaneously where it will choose whichever 1 is available, which is pretty cool. Yeah, now he’s using the term AC 2 different ways here. So we have the air conditioner, which is AC, and then we have the AC, which is alternating current, which is basically your outlets. So if you go into your kitchen and you plug in a popcorn popper, that’s an AC outlet. And that’s what you just plugged your popcorn popper into.
So same thing he was talking about here with the AC power with these especially this 1 brand that we found recently. We’ll link to it in the show notes but it you can wire it directly into your solar panels or you can plug it into your AC outlet and it’ll work right off of that. So that’s really, really cool. Now I just, I feel like I need to mention this though, because we’re talking a lot about how much power these air conditioning units use, but it is worth noting the fact that in the summertime when you need the air conditioning unit that’s when you’re producing a whole lot more power than the wintertime. In the wintertime, you may not be getting, at least for us, especially in the northern climates, we’re not making as much power in the wintertime because we have shorter days.
But in the summer, we’ve got longer days and a whole lot more sun so we’re producing way more power than we could ever hope to consume during the summertime and that’s why having an air-conditioning unit is very feasible on an off-grid power system. Right, good point. Within reason obviously. It does get a little bit more challenging if you are in a climate where you’d be running it 24 7, because if like for us where it cools off at night, we are only needing, we only need AC when it’s daylight outside. At nighttime we don’t need it.
In some climates, which I grew up in 1 down south, it’s miserable at nighttime too and you’re not getting any solar power So then you’ve got to make sure that your battery bank is large enough to power that AC. There I go again, AC, that air conditioning. There we go. At nighttime. And so these are things that we get worked out in the system design, you just have to take it into account, make sure that you build a system large enough to power it, and it can totally be done.
But what we’re after is trying to keep your system as cost effective as possible, and this is how you do it with these tips that we’re giving you on the most efficient options for AC. But there are also some tips that could help you to not have to run your AC as much or if you’re in a climate like ours maybe even do without AC altogether. There are quite a few folks up here that don’t have any air conditioning. And so here are some tips that might help with reducing or eliminating your air conditioner usage. First 1 would be a well insulated home.
That is so key because just like in the winter time that insulation helps keep the cold out and the warmth in, well it does the exact opposite in the summertime. Helps to keep the cool in and the heat out. And the better insulated your house is, the less air conditioning it’s gonna need to keep it cool. And if you do live in a climate where it cools off at night, or even if you don’t, there’s spring and fall where it might cool off at night. And during those times, you open the windows up, cool the house off at night, close the windows.
It will, if your house is well insulated, it can keep that cool in through the day where you might not even need an air conditioner at those times. Yes, yes, something our house is not. Very true. We have a well-ventilated house. Yes, that’s right.
Another thing that we’ve found has really helped is actually having curtains or blinds that you cover, especially those windows that are getting a lot of sunlight through them. So if you’re not getting direct sunlight through a window and it’s a well-insulated window, then you don’t need to use a curtain or blinds. But we’ve got a couple of windows in our house that get lots of direct sunlight in the morning and during the midday. And so those windows, we just cover them with some blinds or sometimes we’ll even use a blanket to cover it, just to keep some of the heat out so we can keep the house cooler longer. That’s right.
And this is especially true for windows facing east or west, because in the middle of the day the sun is a lot higher up in the sky, and so there’s not going to be as much of the sunlight coming in through windows, but in the mornings and evenings It’s lower in the horizon and it can shoot in and just heat your house up in the mornings when it’s cool. And then in the evenings when it’s starting to get a little hot, then you get sun shining in and it just takes it over the top where it’s miserable. So that can help a lot there. Also, I already mentioned opening your windows at night. This is a key strategy if it cools off in your area.
But a couple of things I wanted to mention there was an attic fan. If you have an attic fan in your house, that can be an excellent way to ventilate the heat out as soon as it starts getting cooler outside. We’ll be watching the temperature and as soon as the outside temperature gets a little bit cooler than the inside temperature, we open the windows up and turn a fan on. We don’t actually have an attic fan, so we have a pretty high-powered fan that we can sit in a window that shoots the air out and it will pull air in. The cooler air in our open windows through the house.
That’s right. So that’s 1 thing that we do. What’s something else? So years ago, I remember we used a swamp cooler, actually. We lived in a really dry climate for a little while And the swamp coolers did phenomenally well to keep the area or the living space very comfortable.
I think the technical name for them is an evaporative cooler. But most people call them a swamp cooler. We just call them swamp coolers. But basically it’s working off of the principle of water evaporating in the air and it absorbs heat when it does that. And so it’s basically a fan blowing over water, right?
That’s the basic concept. Yeah, I think so. Cool. And some people like having a little humidity in the air. If you’re in a desert climate, it can get pretty dry.
That’s very nice. So that’s an option. Yeah. Also, basements. I know some people who migrate to the basement during the heat of the day.
Because- On exceptionally hot days. Yeah, on exceptionally hot days just because the basements tend to stay cooler because they’re down in the ground. Kind of the idea of a root cellar too. Keeps the temperature even and cool. So if you have a basement, you can utilize that area instead of using an air conditioner.
Right. And then of course there’s the old standby ceiling fans that have been used for many, many years. I would say though that if you’re going to use ceiling fans try and make sure that you’re using the most efficient ceiling fans you can find because a lot of conventional ceiling fans out there they’re not very efficient. It might not look like a ton of power but 50 or 70 watts running 24 7 adds up to a lot and even at conventional appliance stores these days if you shop around you can find ceiling fans that use far less than that I mean like a tenth of that that used just 5 watts plus or minus when it’s running and still moving a reasonable amount of air. So that’s an option as well.
And then I think the last strategy that we had that we wanted to share was 1 of our favorites, actually. And this is if you want to get by with a underpowered air conditioner like we’re doing, ours is, like I told you, it’s rated for 260 square feet, and we’re using it in a thousand square foot house that’s poorly insulated. That’s, I was going to say, well ventilated. There you go. Look at the bright side.
It’s well ventilated. I like that. The glass half full instead of the glass half empty. So if you want to use an underpowered unit, or even if you have a larger, maybe a split system, and you wanna be able to dial it down where it’s not using as much power, then 1 way you can do that is to start it up before your home ever even starts to heat up, like in the morning. For us, we would turn it on, what, about 9.30 in the morning, something like that.
Of course, it’ll depend upon trees around your house if you get a lot of shade in the morning or things like that. But before the house ever even starts to heat up, turn that AC on low or whatever is appropriate. In our case, since ours is already a small unit, we’d just turn it on high. And we had plenty of power to burn anyway. And what that does is it gets you ahead of the curve, where you’re already cooling the house before it heats up, and it’s so much easier to keep a house cool than it is to get a house cool.
If you wait until your house is 75, 80 degrees and then try and cool it down, it’s gonna be a lot harder and take a lot more power. And those are the words of somebody with experience. This is true. Those days that we forget to turn that window AC unit on first thing in the morning, we usually find ourselves about midday going, you know what, let’s just go to the lake and cool off. Yeah, or early afternoon.
That’s when it starts getting kind of miserable in the house. It’s 03:00 or so. Yeah, around 3 or 4, where we’re like, okay, can’t take it, I can’t think anymore, it’s too hot. Right. So the key to comfort and efficiency is to stay ahead of the curve.
I can’t stress that enough. Yes, for sure. Anyhow, I hope this has been helpful, these tips to help you know how you can stay comfortable, even in a hot summer day, but yet be off the grid with a very cost effective off-grid solar power system. It can be done, you can do it, and it doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. That’s right.
And just a reminder, don’t forget to download your free ebook, What You Can Do Now to Start Going Off the Grid. You’ll learn our top 4 secrets that’ll help you become energy independent and how you can become your own power company. So just visit the thereadylife.com/offgridnow. No spaces, no capitals, just offgridnow. Or you can access it in the show notes page which is linked in this in the description of this episode.
That’s right. Well thanks for joining us and we’ll look forward to seeing You