Figuring out how to power our homestead.
As we continue to renovate our tiny cabin before moving in, our family took some very important steps. I think this might be the hardest part of the whole move for some folks that are thinking about going off-grid. For us though, it honestly wasn’t that bad. We have always been conscious consumers and have always been particularly careful about our electrical usage. The less money I spent, meant the more money I had for other things. Like cute little piggies, sheep, or garden seeds. I will be the first to raise my hand and openly admit that yes, I am addicted to garden seeds, and just about anything with four legs that can be pasture raised. Just don’t tell my husband.
As my husband and I talked and made plans. We both discussed what was important to us, and what it would take to get there. We made a list of must haves, power consumption, and then power supplies. So, let’s get started.
As we started making a list of my husbands must haves, we very quickly figured out that he only cared about having something big enough for his power tools. We checked the wattage on all his tools and the biggest wattage was his air compressor at about 2,000 running watts, but 6500 starting watts. It took us less than 30 min to figure out his wattage needs were. Mine, was a little more complicated. Folks I had to break up with the toaster, the instapot, the ceramic griddle, the crock pot and so much more. Pretty much anything that has a heating element is over 1,000 watts.It was a huge awakening moment. I love my kitchen and this broke my heart to see so many watts listed on the things I love. It’s pretty easy to find the watts and it is listed underneath most items right next to the serial/model number. There are just some things I could not bear to part with and those are staying. My 1,000 watt electric grain mill, my 1,000 watt vitamix blender, my dehydrator, chicken plucker, meat grinder, computers, my coffee grinder and stick blender. So the things I use pretty much every day or several times a week were under 300 watts. Such as the coffee grinder, stick blender, cell phones, and cameras. Other common things I had to break up with was the washer and dryer. The delima…
Now, that I had a list of must haves. I had to figure out how I could do the same thing with lower wattage. Some things were easy, such as swapping out the destop computers(500 watts) for a laptop and tablet(about 80 watts, and 5 watts a piece). That’s a big difference. Cell phones are about 5 watts as well. Coffee grinder and stick blender are under 300 watts a piece. And Amazon had a portable washer for about 280 watts too. So my highest wattage for everyday necessities was about 300 watts. After looking over my list I quickly realized we had a few issues for power sources.
After narrowing down my list, I noticed that Sergio and I had a few big electric sucking tools that we loved. These typically use about 1,000 running watts. I also had another list of smaller items that we used on an everyday basis. We had a small budget and we didn’t want to invest in solar till we knew exactly how much power we needed and what we could or couldn’t live without. We really wanted to focus on moving to the property and studying the environment around us, such as where we got the most sunlight, and getting necessary infrastructure into place. Batteries take up a lot of space when trying to store solar harvested power.
As we started looking at batteries and generators we knew that, one, we needed something big enough to handle power tools, two, it had to be quiet enough to use without disturbing neighbors or wild life, and ,three, affordable. We also knew that we would need a smaller source to run all of our daily items. That is when I started looking into portable power stations. Essentially it’s a huge battery that you can plug into. I found a couple of brands that we thought would be a good fit and purchased them off of Amazon. One was a 330 watt portable power station and the other was 500 watts. The first one cost $259 and the latter about $400. I tried the cheaper one, but it was clear after a week that it wasn’t going to work for us. It was not user friendly. You would push the button to turn on the outlet needed and it just wouldn’t charge the item in that socket.
I then ordered the more expensive one and it has been smooth sailing ever since. We love it. It is a little heavy but let me tell you it’s a beast. At 500 watts I can run even our portable laundry washer. One word of advice. You do need to pay attention to the starting watts and running watts. For instance an item could be 350 watts, but it needs 600 watts to start. In theory my portable battery could handle it but it is not big enough for the starting watts. Aka the amount of watts needed to start up that particular item, and after the initial start up then the running watts kick in. This is huge, and very important no matter what generator, solar system, or portable power you buy. Needless to say, we quickly fell in love with it and we carry it everywhere. You can even charge it in the car, with solar panels or in any conventional home with electricity. This would make camping so much easier for people who have medical equipment, or want to run some small lights or even keep devices charged. For my husband though we needed a power horse. So we started looking at the starting watts of all his tools, what additional purchases were needed for items that were not included such as wheels, or push start batteries. We even looked at fuel consumption and the decibels of how loud they ran. Our search took us to Harbor Freight. We realized that what we wanted was an inverter generator for the household/frequent usage. We could run sensitive electronics on it if we wanted too. And most importantly it was quiet. We could still have a conversation without having to shout. It ran 11 hours on 2 gallons of gas. We were sold. We talked about it endlessly, but we just couldn’t commit to such a large investment. Then came the 20 percent off coupon. We were ecstatic. It dropped us down to what we had budgeted and let me tell you we ran. We couldn’t get there fast enough. And we brought her home. We read the manual, poured over the details and we finally gave her a test run. It was wonderful. She purred like a Mercedes. She wasn’t loud and obnoxious. You could hear her, but it was tolerable. Actually more than tolerable. Quieter than a lawn mower but just a little louder than a refrigerator. I can’t tell you how excited we were to find something in our budget and that fit our needs. We didn’t want the world to know we are running a generator. We also didn’t want to lose our peace especially if we had to run it more frequently than expected. This is something that we know will last us a long time if not forever. Maine is pretty dark and cloudy in the winter, so we will need something to charge those solar batteries anyways. For my husband we ended up getting a 6500 watt generator. The air compressor is a watt hog. And we figured out that out the hard way. Though his air compressor was tiny it had a 2.5 horsepower motor which needed a minimum of 6000 starting watts. It would have been cheaper to get a smaller air compressor but it wouldn’t have been big enough for all of our needs. So that’s how we chose our sources of power for our cabin. In our next blog post, I will be highlighting all of our favorite offgrid purchases.