Post by Crusis
This will apply to any state, really, but with the cost of extending electricity to your bug out land here in Colorado, it’s best to find alternatives to the electric grid. Here in our local area to have electricity extended to your house is $3600 a pole, and the poles cannot be more than 300 feet apart. You can see that half a mile of electric line will cost you $30,000 or more. You can buy a lot of non-electric appliances and solar panels with that! Best of all, you’ll probably get a lot of tax credits too. Actually best of all is that if S does HTF, you’ll be able to carry on as usual.
The first goal of any off grid electrical system is to reduce the electrical usage of your household as much as possible.
How to do that you say?
Non-electric or hybrid appliances. Let’s talk possibilities, starting with refrigeration.
With a propane refrigerator you get a lot less for you money in terms of size and luxuries than you do with an electric unit. It’s the price you pay for refrigeration where there isn’t any electricity. But let’s face it, a cold drink, ice, and preserved food are worth it.
This is one of the cheaper units I could find. $1299 for 6.0 cubic feet of refrigeration, and 1.7 cubic feet of freezer space is pretty steep. But when you consider that it runs on 1.5 gallons of propane a week you actually get a pretty good efficiency from it. If you multiply that out by 52 weeks, you get 78 gallons of propane. And hey, if you buy two of them you get 12 cuft of fridge and 3.4 cuft of freezer for 156 gallons of propane a year. With a 1000 gallon propane tank dedicated to refrigeration, that’s almost 13 years of refrigeration with 1 fridge, or 6 and 1/2 years of cold with 2. Of course if you build a cold house and just use these in the warm Colorado months, you could even extend that.
There are propane freezers too, you can figure you’ll pay a lot more than you would for an electric unit. But let’s face it, you’re going to want to can and dry all the food you can, so using up propane that you might not be able to replace if SHTF might not be your cup of tea. So how about electric options?
The best way to go is 12 or 24 volt DC. Why? Because you can cut the losses of an inverter from your solar panels to your freezer. Something like this:
This freezer uses 240 watt hours per day. I am not a solar energy expert, but if I have it right that means it runs, literally, on 240 watts of juice a day at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or the energy of 2 120 watt bulbs left on around the clock. Since Colorado has 5 hours of usable Sun a day in the winter, you have to be able to produce 240 watt hours in 5 hours. 240 watt hours divided by 5 hours of usable sun = 48 watts of solar panels. This freezer should easily run on a 100w solar panel with appropriate battery storage. That almost makes the $1299 price worth it! Well, actually, in my opinion it does make it worth it.
Everyone who knows about solar please chime in and let me know if I got that wrong. But that’s my understanding.
How about drying clothes?
Well, in the Summer there is the line method, which is the best of all. Out the cost of some good clothes line, a couple of poles, and a bag of clothespins and you get the best smelling free dryer around. But what about in the Winter? You can do the same thing, but in your house. There are some, however, who are going to want the convenience of a regular clothes dryer while they can have it.
Pretty much everywhere I check the propane people are saying that propane dryers heat up faster, and give a softer and less wrinkled dry to clothes than electricity. In a bug out land situation, unless you can afford a very large solar array, electric dryers are going to be out of the question. Clothes dryers typically use 1800-5000 watts and that is AC. You’ll lose significant juice as you hop up a 12v DC solar panel current to standard household current levels. You’re still going to need electricity to operate the tumbling motion and the sensors, however, from what I can tell that is a very small part of electrical consumption in a dryer. Propane dryers use, typically, 38kw/h a year vs. 966 kw/h for electric dryers.
Washing the stank out.
You simply can’t get around needing electricity for your standard clothes washer. But you can get the most efficient washer possible and change a few habits to reduce electrical use. You can get a tub and washboard, of course, but if you want a machine to do it for you there are still options. Get a front loader. They use less water which means your well pump will pump less. A front loader will use 400kw/h a year, vs 1000kw/h for top loaders. You’re still going to need a heft solar array for that, but it is an option you have at your disposal. Personally, I think I’d go with the washboard and tub, and just use the propane dryer only when absolutely necessary.
The best way to watch TV at bug out land is to watch a laptop. I am assuming you’ll be watching DVDs or downloaded YouTube style videos, or maybe home movies. An LCD big screen will eat up 200w or so, while an average laptop is designed to be as efficient as possible and will use 50-75w. You get the added bonus that it’s a computer, of course! If you use it 2 hours a day, that adds 6-8 kw/h to your needs over the course of a day.
Unless you have a cistern with runoff collection, you’re probably going to need a well. You can always get a hand pump and haul your water to your house manually. If society goes down long term, you’re even going to want to have that option open to you. But in the meantime, you’re probably going to want to have a well pump. They are generally energy hogs, but you can find those intended for off grid homes. Here is a 120w 12v DC 1/5 horsepower well pump that you can run when you need it.
It pumps 1.5 gallons a minute at 240 feet. You’re probably not going to get any better than that. Considering that the well pump doesn’t run continuously, you’ll probably not need to put up a huge solar array for the pump. This pump is $775, which is a lot more than a AC pump, but if SHTF you’ll be happy to have the water.
You might also consider something like this:
A backup hand powered pump for the day your well pump dies or if you’re just short on power due to overuse or cloudy days.
Speaking of water, you’re going to want to heat some of it for hot water in your bug out home.
An electric water heater, 40 gallons, will use 4500-5500 watts of power. That’s simply not going to work for bug out land that is off the grid.
A solar water heater might be your cup of tea.
Or maybe the type of water heater that uses propane would suit your needs. Tankless would probably save LP gas in the long run.
And, the best of all in my opinion, the wood fired water heater. Heat the water when you need too with your own wood.
Ideally you’re going to use a wood stove, you’ll be able to use resources on your land that are renewable and only require the power you personally use to cart it into the house. There are propane options, but you will eat through your supply that would probably be best to use for refrigeration or winter clothes drying. Wood pellets or corn are an option, but let’s face it, a simple wood stove is easiest to feed and you can cook on it if you need too. Which brings us too:
A propane cooking stove is pretty efficient. Think about how long your grill cooks on a single tank.
You can make these burn fuel at the rate you want simply by adjusting the flame and by using alternative methods to heat your food. On top of the wood stove, for example. There are so many options for an LP stove that you pretty much determine what you’re going to buy depending on what budget you have, and just go get it. Unlike refrigerators, LP stoves are pretty comparable to electric or natural gas.
You could just go with a range if you didn’t need an oven, of course.
There are also the old school stoves.
These will not only allow you to use your wood on your land to cook, but the residual heat will flow into the house as well. Some of them look pretty cool too, I particularly like the Baker’s Oven. I bet that thing makes a killer pizza! Best of all, no electricity required.
Your typical electric range uses 4000-5000 watts.
So what do we need electricity for if we use the most electric efficient appliances?
Laptop for TV/Computer
For operating the tumbling of the clothes dryer.
Probably an in house water pump to provide pressure to your faucets.
A clothes washer if you use one.
Lighting, unless you use kerosene or propane lamps. Candles work too.
Potentially for fans to move heat or cool air about the house.
Small kitchen appliances.
I think it’s fairly obvious that by looking at the resources available at your bug out land, wood, water for micro hydro power, or even geothermal for heat you might be able to save a lot of money on a solar array for your electricity. Generator usage can be kept to a minimum as well. 1000 gallon propane tanks can be found used, and they’ll last a long time if you use the LP sparingly. Propane is the longest storing hydrocarbon fuel, a tank should last 15-25 years depending on temperature extremes.
If I had my way, I’d have an 1200sq foot or so cabin, with one of those Baker’s ovens for heat, a solar or wood fired water heater, a propane dryer, 2 of the propane refrigerators and 1 of the freezers, and electricity in the kitchen and the living room for small appliances. A separate solar array for the well pump with spare panels. Ideally any of your electric items would have backups so that as things break you have a spare. Probably not practical for big appliances, but for small things like a laptop or a radio it’s probably a good idea. Ideally I’d have 5 of those 1000 gallon tanks on hand for at least a decade of power. And a propane powered truck.
Expensive? Yes, but the money spent will keep your life as civilized as possible for as long as possible. If you have it, you might as well consider it an investment in insurance. Insurance for living well as opposed to living in 19th century conditions.
Have I forgot anything? I spent way too long writing this so it’s possible something slipped through the cracks. Let me know if I have and I’ll add it in.
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