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7 Tips for Living Off the Grid

Solar energy

During times of spiking oil and electricity prices many homeowners begin rummaging through magazines and the internet looking for ideas on how to decrease their dependence on petroleum products and utility companies. This creates a brief flurry of activity that either begins to die down as homeowners get used to the prices. But mostly the fervor cools off when they find out how much a system to generate alternative heat and power actually costs.

"Living off the grid" is a phrase used to describe a home where the total amount of electricity used in a household is self-generated. Not so long ago many rural homesteads had minimal electrical devices like lights that were powered by a gasoline or diesel generator. Cooking, hot water and home heat was supplied by burning wood or coal in stoves and only the radio and lights relied on generated power. Today there are many new devices for generating power from wind to sun and the key to getting the most out of these sources is to figure out how much you really need.

1. Plan Your Move

Getting the gear for living off the grid, like wind turbines, is expensive but worthwhile. The best way to achieve you goal is to find out everything you can about it. This includes taking course offered at local community colleges and building supply stores. Learn the terminology, like the difference between passive and active solar energy, and find out how much of this you can learn to do yourself rather than paying the going rate for installation. Take one step at a time and your short-term goals will be to both learn the technology and to cut down on your own energy use.

2. Energize Your Home

Most homes built up to ten years ago were based on old, energy-wasting concepts. Many of these are "McMansions" that require huge air conditioning and heating systems that draw huge amount of energy. Homeowners with these houses should go through their homes with a LEED-qualified inspector. The local Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System (LEED) office can give the names of qualified persons who will tour your home and show you where you are losing heat and/or cooling. By following their insulating and power-saving guidelines you are on your way to self-sufficiency.

3.Calculate Your Power Needs

If a person likes toast every morning then he or she will have to have a system that generate 1500 watts. This means having upwards of $20,000 worth of solar panels and batteries, or a large windmill. If you have the money to invest then you are not worried, but for the beginner on a budget there has to be a triage of sorts. For example, the new televisions and computers have LCD that which draw a small fraction of power that the old cathode-ray tube designs did. So, you could easily have these in your equation. However, electric dryers, toaster and anything that creates heat will demand lots of power.

4. Use the Sun

In northern areas there is a paradox: the colder the winters the more the sun shines. Late January through mid-February are traditionally the coldest months in Minnesota, and during this time the sun shines directly into south-facing windows. By trapping the sun s heat with triple-pane, low e and argon-filled windows the room stays warm longer meaning that the furnace stays off longer. (Conversely, homeowners in southern areas can use window shielding to block out the heat.) In addition, tile floors and masonry walls absorb the heat and store it until the sun fades and the room begins to cool. However, these surfaces stay warm for hours afterward and slowly release heat.

5. New Lighting

The old, incandescent lights are being replaced by compact fluorescent lights (CFL). However, these "curly" lights, although very economical, contain mercury vapors which are harmful to landfills when they burn out. The new LED lighting is not only very economical but is environmentally safe. For a fraction of the cost of lighting homes with the old incandescent bulbs you can have much more LED lighting.

6. Networking

The best way to get up to speed with living off the grid is to find people who think like you but have been doing it for longer. They have already spent the countless hours of research and can save you a lot of steps. This especially true if some of these people have systems in place. They already know the costs and also many of the pitfalls and this can add up to huge savings for a novice. Not only that instead of quizzing sales people for the best products you will have mentors to steer you to the best systems.

7. Grid-Tied System

In many states you can have alternative energy such as windmills while still being on the electrical grid. One of the advantages to this is that certain power companies will buy your excess energy. So if your windmill is producing electricity during a time when you don t need it this electricity will go back into the system and you will either be paid or receive a credit. This plan in itself could produce a zero-sum expenditure on power and allow you to operate a dryer or toaster for free.

For more information on alternative sources of power consult our Contractor Directory or simply post you project online and one will contact you.

Posted by: TrustedPros
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