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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Living Off the Grid?

Being laid
up like I am I have had a chance to catch up on some reading. One book I
finally got to read is called Living off the Grid by Dave Black. The book put
me off the first time I tried to read it with a lot of touchy feely stuff about
saving the earth by using less energy. I got passed that this time around and
read with some interest the ideas Mr. Black put forth.
I also
started thinking long and hard about my feelings and thoughts about going off
grid. Now my wife will tell you that I would just as soon go to war with the
local Edison as not. It is a long story but they are a bunch of lying stealing
SOBs and if this were a hundred and fifty years ago I would tell them to come
armed the next time they see me for I plan to shoot ‘em on sight. But, this is
not the old west and I can’t do that so I just bite my tongue and hope they go
Anyway, I
like so many of you, have dreamed of going off grid and getting rid of that
Edison bill. I can imagine telling them to come get their poles off my land; I
don’t need them anymore. In a real good day dream, I take the poles myself and
use them to build an elevated deer blind.
Mr. Black
laid out a lot to think about when it comes to going off grid. The type of
house, direction it faces, and material it is built of all make a difference in
your cost and ability to go off grid. Common sense says an earth shelter house
in a south facing hill will heat cheaper than an old farm house sitting in the
middle of a windy field.
My farm
house is of new construction. It is not one of those McMansion with seven
different roof lines and walls that jut in and out nor does it have huge
windows. I built my house with one roof line and square walls. The builder
fought me every step of the way, he didn’t think I should build what I wanted
but rather he wanted to build something that had “style and resale value.” I
could not make him understand this farm was in the third generation of
ownership and my boys already have plans to live here after they are done with
their military careers. That notwithstanding, I did several things right
according to Mr. Black and a bunch of stuff wrong.
I did right
when I built the outside walls with 2X6s for extra insulation. I also built it
with all brick to keep it both warmer in winter and cooler in summer. I also
insulated several inside walls so we could cocoon down to one large room if we
needed to.
I did some
major things wrong too. My house has only one window on the south side, and my
house runs North/South not East/West. I get no solar gain during the winter
from southern windows and I can’t put solar panels on the roof because it
doesn’t face the south with the biggest part of the roof.
The biggest
drawback to going off grid that I see is the cost. I only did a guesstament
calculation so I could be off by a lot, but this is what I got. To start, I
need solar panel and or wind turbines, or both, enough to cover the fact that
Michigan doesn’t have all that much sun generating days. I also need stands or
towers for same, storage batteries, invertors, and of course wiring. Based on
the amount of juice I currently use (no pun intended) I would need to spend in
the neighborhood of thirty thousand dollars.
Ok, for the
sake of argument let us say I have that much. (I don’t, trust me on that.) If I
spent it on going off grid I would save a little over one thousand dollars a
year in Edison bills. Not a great return in my book.
If I put it
in the bank I could make maybe 2% or around $600 which would cut my bill down
to about half.
Or, and here
is the plan I like, I could take that money and buy about ten acres of farm
land which goes for around three grand an acre right now around here. Even if I
shared the land and stayed a “gentleman” farmer that much land would produce
about two thousand dollars a year in crops payment. Not only could I knock off
my Edison bill but pay the taxes or about half of my year’s gas bill for
heating the place. It also gives me long term investment potential if TSHTF
with the ability to raise more food crops to sell locally.
Yeah, I
would like to be off grid if we go to TEOTWAWKI, but even then sooner or later
the solar cells will need replacing as will the batteries, so eventually I will
be just like everyone else.
Mr. Black
gave me a lot to think about in his book that is for sure. He also points out
that even if you are off grid the rest of the world is not. If we have a major
event that knocks out the power grid all the items that are produced with the
grid will be lost. How will we buy new solar panels or batteries?
Yes, going off grid would be good in some
cases, but not all. Before I would take that step I would sit down and run real
accurate numbers and make sure that it was a good investment to go off the
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