Category Archives: Off grid

The House Design

house_drawing-1Homestead in the Holler is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to
We have spent about 2 years on our farm now and have gotten to the point where we are ready to build a house.  It took about that long to get a feel for the best siting and to get various other prerequisite projects completed, such as a barn to store the straw bales.  This has given us some time to think about what we really want.  Here are some of the things we considered in our design:

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Getting Propane

Sometimes things just don’t go quite as expected.  When we got to the point of needing propane, I started asking around for the best place to get propane.  Everyone suggested Cash Gas, so that was easy.  I gave them a call and left a message.  No call back.  I started calling every morning and never got an answer and never got a call back.  They had no address listed, so there was no way to just stop in and talk.

This led me to finally stop in at Titan Gas since they have a store front.  I had been warned by multiple people that you can’t count on them for refills, but I figured I had no choice.  They were quite friendly and scheduled tank delivery for about two weeks later.  On the day of the appointment, I stayed close at hand all day, ready to talk with them.  They still hadn’t shown by late afternoon, so I finally called and learned they wouldn’t be coming out.  It seems they were short handed and just couldn’t cover all their appointments.  Fair enough, but you’d think they would at least call.  Anyway, fast forward to Saturday morning.  I received a call early that morning from Titan Gas.  The manager said they don’t normally work Saturdays but were doing so to catch up.  Great!  The installer showed up about 30m later, with a propane tank on the back of his truck.  His first question was “is that a wood stove”?  I told him it was and he said he was very sorry but company policy was not to fill propane tanks in mobile homes with wood stoves.  Ai yi yi!  This was a development I hadn’t even considered.  Thankfully the installer was a very nice fellow and told me all about why and let me pick his brain on next steps.  To make a long story short, the reason was legal and had nothing to do with safety.

The installer’s suggestion was precisely what my backup plan was: use 100lb tanks that are refilled in town.  Easy enough.  Just a tank with POL connector and a twin stage regulator were needed.  I looked around and found that Lowe’s in Springfield had the tanks and regulator, so I purchased two tanks and a regulator.  This was connected to the mobile home and we were in business!  Prior to installation, I did a 24hr leakdown test and then tested each joint in the system after connecting a tank.  I purchased two tanks so that when we run out, it is quick and easy to switch tanks then refill the empty one.  With our low propane usage, a tank should last quite a while.  We shall see. 🙂

Since then, I have learned the secret to contacting Cash Gas.  One person told me to follow the truck around and talk to them when they make a delivery.  Another person told me that they can always be found at either McDonalds or Subway around 8AM.  Yet another person gave me the cell phone number to call someone directly.  All good to know as I’ll likely need that in the future.  Things work just a little differently here in the Ozarks from what I’m used to.  It is like a secret club.  Fun!  I’ve always wanted to be in a secret club!  Of course, getting in might be the hard part.  😉

EDIT 02/01/2015: There is a new small company in town called MS Propane. They actually have an office and are really quite nice. They look very promising… but we haven’t gotten our tank yet either. I’m convinced they will be great though.

Off the grid (part 1)

solar_part1We decided when we moved to our new farm that our house would be off-grid, meaning completely reliant on on-farm generated electricity.  We feel that this will force us to reduce our energy usage and ensure that we “walk the walk” not just “talk the talk”.  Batteries are definitely the weak link in off-grid systems, so they aren’t for everyone.  We may find that grid-tie works better in the future, but wanted to at least try off-grid.  We could immediately see that wind power would never have a chance of being adequate here much of the year, so we decided to start with straight solar.  Perhaps someday a trompe or steam-powered generator could assist in our power generation, but for now, PV solar will suffice.

I have mentioned before that we intend to build a new house soon, but wanted to have time to focus on getting the farm up and running first.  Thus, we moved a mobile home to the property and that is our current home.  Moving from a large home to a small mobile home is somewhat of a shocker, but that is another topic.  The mobile home was previously set up to be very reliant on electricity, so reducing usage was the the first step, as it always should be when designing an off-grid solar system.  By reducing electricity needs, we were able to choose a smaller system and thus a smaller battery bank.  The biggest consumers were an electric water heater, electric range, and electric dryer.  The obvious choices for the first two were propane.

This brings up a dirty little secret about off-grid living: propane.  Consuming propane really doesn’t seem all that “green” or sustainable.  However, we look at it as a stepping stone to something better.  Some cooking and water heating could be done with wood, but we are hopeful that biogas could be a possibility at some point.  It may not be practical, but an on-farm biogas digester would be excellent and we intend to research this further and do some small experiments.  For now, propane will cover our needs and we’ll do our best to use it sparingly.

We purchased a basic propane range and I extended propane lines to reach it.  Easy peasy.  Another option could be a an induction range or using an electric range but with automatic generator backup.  However, we both like cooking over a gas burner so propane was an easy choice.

The water heater took a little more thought.  We considered using a small standard water heater but finally decided that investing in an on-demand unit (Rinnai V65IP) seemed to make sense.  This choice fit with our desire to limit our propane use.  This again required adding some black pipe to bring gas to the unit and then a vent was added.  Nothing too major.  I would like to look into using the original electric water heater as a diversion load sometime in the future.  Any extra power beyond what is needed to run the home or charge batteries is diverted to this load.  In this case, it could be used to heat water.  The hot water outlet of the electric tank would be piped into the cold water input of the on-demand water heater.

The clothes dryer will be replaced with a clothes line.  On rainy days, indoor lines and racks will be used.  The extra humidity will be welcome in the winter when heating with wood.  In the summer, the outdoor line will be perfect.  Nothing like going from energy hog to zero energy usage!  We prefer line-dried clothes anyway, so it should be just fine.

The mobile home does have a propane furnace, but we intend to heat entirely with wood.  There was already a wood stove in place and we will use this.  Good fire wood is very available on our property and we should never need to cut a living tree for this purpose, unless we are thinning an area for some purpose.

Lighting is a smaller concern, but can chew through more than expected if standard incandescent bulbs are used.  Instead, all bulbs were replaced with LED bulbs.  Some were already replaced with CFL bulbs by the previous owner.  We will continue to use these but do not plan to add any ourselves.  We don’t like the idea of adding mercury to our environment.  Bulbs do get broken, so we’d just prefer not to contaminate our living quarters!

With all these changes in place, our analysis (you might use something like this) showed that around a 4KW system should be more than adequate.  The next few installments will document our system choices and how it all fits together.