Category Archives: Off-the-grid

Off-grid Refrigeration – a cheap and effective way

Okay. I have finally decided to develop an improved refrigeration system. Here’s what I’ve been using up until now.

Basically, it’s just a stock pot with a wet t-shirt thrown over it for evaporative cooling. And filled with well water, which is actually between 48 – 50 degrees. So it keeps it pretty decent for vegetables but it’s not good enough for long-term storage of perishables. I need to get the temperature down to about 40. Or lower

Since I want it to be off grid I’m going to have to make it 12 volts so I don’t have to run my inverter.

And using a regular compressor driven refrigeration unit just uses too much power for the solar panels I have .

So I’m going to use thermoelectric cooling devices. Peltier chips. What they do is when you apply voltage one side gets hot and the other side gets cold. They can lower the ambient temperature by anywhere from 15 to 30 degrees. So since I’m only needing to go 10 to 20 degrees, I should be able to accomplish this. I could buy thermoelectric coolers pre-made but they won’t fit what I want to do. Because they only lower the ambient temperature, if it’s 90 degrees out it will only go down to maybe 60 degrees. But if I can submerse it in my well water, and change the well water regularly, the ambient temperature would effectively be 50 degrees. Which means I could get down to 40 with no problem anytime of the year. And also during the winter I could still use the storage system and just use the temperature outside to refrigerate like I have been doing. So I have two peltier chips on order. They’re not that expensive. About six bucks a piece. One is just for backup. I’m only going to use one and I’m going to put it on top of that stock pot so the cold is on the inside and the heat dissipation is on the outside and then a fan blows the cold around inside and I will insulate the pot outside.

The basic parts. An old peltier chips is shown on the right.

I could have used just a store bought cooler and cut holes in it to put the peltier unit inside but I like the idea of the metal container. I think that it will hold the cold longer when it’s not running if it’s insulated from the outside. And also I will submerse the bottom into the cold water. I may just get a round cooler and put put the pot inside the round cooler. And have the benefits of both.

In addition I plan on something that almost all of the inexpensive thermoelectric coolers for sale, don’t do. I ordered a cheap $5 temperature control module, that runs on 12 volts and very low power usage, that can sense the temperature inside and turn on the thermoelectric unit when it needs to be and turn it off when it doesn’t need to be on.

Most of the $50 – $70 thermoelectric coolers don’t have thermostat control. They just get cold or if your reverse the voltage they get hot to warm things up. They don’t get real hot, but you can keep food warm in them too. So my unit will actually be able to do that too if I want to heat it up, but I can’t imagine why I want to do that. But here’s the unit that I ordered.

Temperature Control Module

It’ll be here tomorrow. So I’ll update this post as I complete it. I have to cut a small square hole in the top of the lid of my stock pot. Mount the heat sinks on either side of the chip. Mount fans on top of that.

The fan on the bottom is to circulate the cold air. The fan on the top is to dissipate the heat and if it works out, I may just develop a way to circulate water through the heat part. So I don’t have to run the fan and just use a gravity-fed water to circulate through and cool the top heat sink. The better the heat is is disappated the colder the other side gets.

I always have to try to limit the amount of electricity I use, otherwise I’m going to have to go buy more batteries and more solar panels.

Because of my years doing computer repair, I have plenty of heat sinks and fans from old computers. So I don’t have to purchase those.

The drawback? Peltier chips are not very efficient. (ie. power in for result produced). But since they use such little power the amount of power lost doesn’t matter. And a large compressor does much more than I need, so I wouldn’t be saving anything.

Oh, and by the way. Those peltier chips that take electricity and make heat and cold? They also work the other way around. If you make one side hot and the other side cold they produce electricity. Not very efficient but they make a product which is a pot with a peltier chip mounted on the bottom. When you put cool water into the pot and put it on a campfire it can charge a cell phone. I think the ones I saw were called PowerPots.

UPDATE:. He is the nearly complete refrigerator with the insulation out side. The insulation is not permanently attached yet. A little more testing but so far it works pretty good.

The Budget

It’s time to finalize my budget.  For the past month I have kept track of what I need and what I forgot.  So now I think I can make a permanent budget list.  I am going to go for the $150 budget.  I can actually get by on less but there are times I like to splurge so I will stay with $150.  I have found that my favorite cabin food is hotcakes made with pancake batter mixed with oatmeal.  And ordering groceries and supplies online is working out great.  I save on gas money.

Here is my monthly grocery, supplies and costs list.  The prices will stay pretty much the same each month although I may substitute items for variety.

Update. I have decided to wait until the end of the month to list my budget and shopping list for October. This will be my basic budget for each month at the homestead.

Back to the Pond

I would still like to have a small pond here on the homestead.  I have been hoping to borrow or rent some heavy equipment to make it easier.  But that probably won’t happen. At least not before winter. That just leaves me, and my pick and shovel.  The land here is very rocky underneath, not to mention the gravel the previous owner brought in to drive their RV on.  So I looked over the land and realized a much better place is at the back of my property.  It is the lowest area and if I setup drainage from the cabin and deck area I think the pond with not only stay full, but will help get rid of the squishy areas around the cabin.  There is a lot of moisture in this area, as shown by the plentitude of mushrooms.
I also believe the best place for my garden is the grassy area next to the deck.  I’m sure this area was designed as an entertainment area, for parties and bonfires, but as a hermit I have no plans for using it this way.  The soil is less rocky, and more fertile.  Because of the gravel drive circling it it is a bit swampy.  But I can fix that with a little better drainage.  It is also the sunniest area on the acreage.
So I dug some test ditches at the bottom edge of the property.  It filled up immediately.  A good sign.  Lily drank some of the water and gave it her seal of approval.

There is quite a bit of rocks and old wooden timbers underground back there, probably from an old oil pumphouse or the saw mill that was once located there.  But overall it’s not too bad to dig by hand.  It is also very shady being basically in the middle of the woods.

I will need to remove some trees or the pond will just be a mosquito breeding ground.

It’s getting there, a shovel load at a time.

Life in the Woods

It’s been three weeks living solely in my cabin.  I haven’t updated here although I have been writing a lot of my fictional work.  My food is holding out nice.  I have realized a few things I’ve forgotten or would like and I ordered them from Amazon.  My $150 a month budget is looking very possible with no real sacrificing.  I have been completing laundry and am working on a water heater.  It will most likely be wood fired, but I might also make it capable of using propane.  The solar energy is working well.  I still would like to double it’s capacity just in case.  Been using candles at night.  They just seem to fit the woods better than the electric lights.

Change of Address

I officially changed my address with all companies I do business with.  And I forwarded my mail from Titusville to the Pithole Homestead.  I plan only on returning to the house once every few weeks to check on things and mow the lawn.  So it’s official.  I live in the woods.

Although I plan on the final move on August 2nd.  That day I hope to have the house as empty as possible.

Possum Day

Possum Day
Back in the 70s an 18 year old girl, pen named Dolly Freed, wrote a book about her adventures growing up with her divorced dad outside Philadelphia, in what would be today called a mini homestead. The book was called Possum Living, How to Live Well Without a Job and (almost) No Money. It is now available by audiobook, read by the now grown author.

The title Possum Living comes from the fact that possum’s don’t have to have day to day jobs and can still make a living and survive. Diogenes of ancient Athens was her father’s hero. He lived in an old barrel in the center of Athens and Alexander the Great is quoted as saying if he had not been born Alexander he would have prefered to be Diogenes. The bible gives an idea of the lifestyle in the quote “Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap or stow away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feed them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

So this brings me to today. I am calling it Possum Day.

For as long as I can remember I have dreamed of living in a cabin, away from the “civilized” world. This was my intention when I bought the Pithole Homestead several years ago. But instead of living on the land I have been trying to do a balancing act of living both at the cabin and at the house in town. This has never satisfied me. I want to actually be a member of the forest I live in. I have realized that one main thing has been keeping me from living this way. My vehicle. It is just too easy to jump in the car and head to town, when I really don’t want to.

So with my Declaration of Possum Day I will truly begin my adventure. It may take a couple of months to complete but starting today I will live on my land. My vehicle for now will be only for important trips and emergencies. Eventually I plan on not driving at all. In the 1976 book the girl and her father spent in one year $1498.75. Her fathers reaction was “where did it all go?”. Taking into account the cost of living from 1976 to today and that it is just me and my dog, my goal is to live on around $5 a day, or about $150 a month. For now I will calculate this not counting vehicle costs and taxes, Basically just the basic survival. The end result will be $5 a day, total. This does not mean I will start from scratch but I will make use of the the conveniences I have already setup, such as solar power, and I will attempt to maintain the status quo.

Today’s post is going to be a long one.  In fact probably a week long.
I will document here what I have and what I will do will each thing. I wil list my goals. By the end of this post I will have laid out my entire plan. Possibly, a 5 dollars a day may have been a good idea in the 1970s, but I may decide to adjust it after full consideration. Maybe more like $200 a month. But I will document the journey every day.

So now on with the show.

What do I have now?

Here is my basic budget of $150 a month, leaving a little extra.

Of course this will be supplemented by what nature provides.
Here is my current status.  As I write I will note other costs and adjust my budget later.

WATER
My new .5 micron water filter  ($8 every 3 months) is doing a great job removing rust. I am thinking of attaching a home built, solar powered, UV filter, but .5 micron is actually smaller than most bacteria.  Also another small water line and a solar pump would be nice.

Water well with filter

The 100 foot well provides ice cold water, which I use to keep a few items fresh.

Cooler – cooled by ice cold well water

And of course my solar shower bag heats the water up for a warm shower in the  summer.

    Solar shower

Winter is still heating water on the stove and washing up indoors.

HEAT
Heat is provided by a wood stove and supplemented by a propane tank ($17 a month).

Wood stove with propane heater sitting on top

The tank can feed a heater, a cooking stove, a bright lantern, and maybe soon a water heater.  I can also use the large tank to refill small 1lb bottles.

Propane tank

Propane stove

OUTHOUSE
Well, it is actually more of a porta-potty than an actual outhouse, or a lugable loo, as the Brits might call it.  State laws don’t allow for creating and actual pit outhouse. So I have designed an 5 gallon bucket, composting outhouse, which uses replaceable, biodegradable plastic bags ($10 a year) which can then be placed in a composting barrel.

Outhouse

Can with toilet paper and biodegradable bags

POWER
To keep the electrons flowing I have a 3 battery storage bank and a large 100 watt solar panel.

100 watt solar panel with wheel barrow to move as sun changes positions

I also have a smaller 40 watt panel that I feel bad when I see it making electricity but not going anywhere.

    40 watt solar panel

Battery bank

Solar controller

750w 120VAC power inverter

This powers my tv, computer, recharge phones and tablet, provide light and even a fan.

At full battery bank charge I have about 1500watts available.  That’s about 12.5 Amps max at 120VAC (depending on power factor of equipment run) or 125 Amps at 12VDC.  All 3 batteries charged provided about 120 AmpHours meaning I can run a 5 watt LED light bulb for about 12 days continously without recharging.  But they recharge nearly every day.
My well pump requires 220vac with about 3500 watts peak surge so I still use a gasoline generator when I need to pump water, or run heavy power tools.  If I double my battery bank I could probably run my well pump.

tteries Generator with Styrofoam to insulate the noise

So that is the basics, except food.  For now I purchase my food, usually in bulk.

 

Food

Supplies

There are many wild foods, and as anyone who has ever planted a garden knows, squash multiply.  Even better than loaves and fish.  If you plant one you’ll be giving them away for months.

Soups, rice, pasta, canned goods, etc.  But it is 2018, so I don’t really have to go anywhere to get my food.

Mailbox

Yes.  A large part of my budget was cell phone/internet.  I can order my groceries and supplies through Amazon, etc and have it delivered right to my mailbox.  I plan on putting a special large package box behind the regular mailbox.

UPDATE:  I  have added the package box.

ENTERTAINMENT

Yes, I am living in the woods.  Nature is my entertainment.  With bears in the morning, raccoons at night and chipmunks, squirrel, birds and deer 24 hours, there is plenty of nature.  But that is not all.

TV Antenna

Yes.  I have a tv.  And along with broadcast channels I have streaming video over my internet.  Jeremiah Johnson eat your heart out.  Remember, I am posting this online, and part of my meager income is via the internet.  And when I say tablet I’m not talking pen and paper.

Tablet with keyboard

While there is no power, water or sewage connections here, there is an old telephone pole with a telephone connection.  It isn’t connected and with decent cell service here I see no reason to connect it.

Telephones

I also have many tools and equipment for building and repair.

Mower

And I just got a new addition to my outdoor furnishings.

PARANOID?  MAYBE

At the end of my driveway is a ditch.

It presently can be crossed with a 4 by 4, but I plan on digging it deeper because I have a removable bridge.

Also there is a gate.

This gate is normally closed, even when, or especially when I am in the cabin.

You may have noticed that Lily has discovered the joy of photobombing.  Everything I want a picture of, she suddenly becomes interested in.

Also, as I have stated elsewhere, please contact me before just dropping in.  I am a friendly hermit, but I am also a well armed veteran and don’t want any misunderstandings.

(updates will continue throughout the week)

 

Wash day

Here’s how I stay clean at the homestead.

First the shower.


I still use the solar camp shower.  Just fill the bag with water, lay it black side up in the sun for a couple hours, hang it up and voila.  A hot shower.  By the end of the summer I hope to have water run from the well to inside the cabin.

For laundry I just use a wash basin and hang the clothes to dry.


For all washing, shower, clothes and dishes, I use original biodegradable Ivory soap.  It’s 99 44/100% pure.  What the other 56/100% is I don’t know.

The Two Bears

 


Two curious bruins were exploring the homestead this morning. One looked in the the window and said “somebody has been sleeping in my bed”.

After reviewing the video I believe what I thought were two yearling cubs was really a mother and her yearling.  The bear who stayed back in the woods appears a bit larger than the one who came to the door.

The Garden of Eatin’

The Garden is tilled

I wouldn’t count on a very good garden this first year.  The soil is pretty rocky and I couldn’t till very deep.  Plus, even though I pre-sprayed the weeds, the area was covered with Milkweed.  Milkweed is hard to get rid of.  It is already growing back.  I don’t plan on putting a lot of effort into it this year.  If it does grow I may just let the wildlife enjoy it.  By next year I hope to bring in some better top soil.  I am amazed at how many edible wild plants are available all over my land.

Car problems

I had a wreck caused by dehydration causing me to black out. (syncope) I was in a parking lot so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  I’ll cover a problem I discovered with too much pine needle tea.  I’ll cover that later.  I have done some repairs so the car is drivable.

BEFORE

IMG_0646

 

AFTER

IMG_0645

Writing online off the grid?


Some of you may wonder how I write and post pictures “off the grid”.  I cheat. I am off the wired grid but I still have cell service and a generator.  Cell service is sporadic and I usually need to go outside to connect.  But for writing I have these.

IMG_0630IMG_0631

That is an 8 inch Ellipses tablet and a tiny Bluetooth keyboard.  And behind that is a paper notebook and a couple of pens.  I can also watch downloaded episodes of Grizzly Adams on the tablet.

Continue reading Writing online off the grid?

The Homestead

Now that I know the old shed has tranformed into an insulated, heated cabin that can withstand the winter weather, I can officially call it a homestead.  Lot’s of things to do such as building a greenhouse and preparing to put in a garden.  Maybe even some livestock.  Chickens or rabbits most likely but not cows.  We’ll see.  The goal is turn the place into a self-sufficient homestead.

But this January thaw and heavy rain has brought up another problem.

Lake Pithole
Lake Pithole

Lake Pithole
Lake Pithole

I need to dig a drainage ditch.  With the amount of ground water I may actually start a spring.