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Do I need electricity?

 
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Alright permies folks, I need some input. The primary question is: Do we need electricity? Let me give context.

We just moved to South Central Alaska. We hope to buy land within the next 12-ish months (though we know things don't always go according to our timing and thats alright), to build a home on. Our goal is to have a secure, comfortable home that we own (and the bank does not own), that we can raise our future children in, Lord willing. We would like to be able to grow as much of our own food as possible and basically be as self sufficient as we can. The environment of our home is also very important to us. We want it to be both productive, healthy, and restful. Personally I think there is a lot of buzz and stimulation in our culture and world that isn't always healthy or even productive (then again, some is unhealthy in the name of productivity). We would like our home to be quiet and peaceful, a place where we can come home and be refreshed.

Further context - We are in full time ministry, and that is our first priority. Although self sufficiency is desirable to us, it is not the end all. My husband works full time for the ministry, and will continue to. I plan to be at home and can give my attention to what homemaking requires. In order to be close enough to town for him to get to work every day, we will also be within driving distance of stores everything we could need. So there will be a back up plan, and an ability to become more independent over time, rather than having to depend completely on ourselves out of the gate.

One of my biggest questions right now is electricity. The extent to which we plan to use electricity has some pretty big implications on how we proceed. I see a couple of options:

1) Plan to be on the grid. This is pretty self explanatory.

2) Plan to be off the grid. Wire the house for on site electricity production. Use money that would have been used to run electricity to the site for on-site electricity production infrastructure.

3) Plan to be off the grid. Don't put any wires in the walls or under the ground. Generate electricity on a very small scale for select functions (ex. a stand alone solar powered deep freezer or well pump).

4) Plan to be off the grid. Don't put any wires in the walls or under the ground. Don't use any electrical appliances or devices.


There are many plots of land available that do not have electricity yet, and they are generally much more affordable. We have discussed purchasing a lot like this, getting the house put up and moving in, so as to be living with as few bills as possible. Then down the line when we have the money saved, get electricity run to the lot. If we take that route, we'd want to plan for electricity in the long term design of the property/build, but have everything functional with out it. This would be particularly important because we are looking seriously at either building with SIP's or Logs, both of which will require a wiring plan at the time of the build to have channels cut for wiring in the walls. But if we design everything to work with out electricity... do we really need it? After reading a bit about EMF's and dirty electricity, I'm not totally sure its in our families best interest... especially once you add our human propensity toward laziness, screen addictions, and continual marketing/surveillance schemes that come through electrical devices. (I know some of that is controversial, and I in no way want this to be a controversial thread. But those are some of our personal concerns - you don't have to agree).

But then again, we have never done any homesteading,  so I have no idea "whats worth it". As in, is having the electricity to run a food processor, vacuum sealer, etc worth the cost (be it in on grid or off grid investment, along with temptations to be lazier, etc) it in the long run if we want to put up our own food each year? I see a lot of scope creep when it comes to electricity. If you have the power for a food processor, why not use it to run your grain mill too? How about the well pump? Lets just get an electric refrigerator rather than managing the ice box, since we have power. Suddenly we are more dependent on electricity than we set out to be... We start listening to the buzz of the fridge and freezer kicking on and off, the electric grain mill takes off like a jet engine every time we grind grain, so we grind less often in bigger batches, and the last half of it is going rancid by the time we use it. But it's so much more convenient, so we sacrifice some nutrients. Since I don't have to pump water everyday and turn the grain mill, and wash the dishes by hand, I have a bit more down time, so I'll boot up the laptop and put on a movie... Suddenly the quiet, distraction free environment we pursued has eluded us. It also seems like we electrify a lot of things that don't need to be powered with electricity, just because we can. For example, It's not hard to mix bread by hand, but we spend a couple hundred bucks on a kitchen aid to do it for us, so that we can do something else for the 7 minutes of bread kneading. Do I need to be so busy that I can't afford 7 minutes to knead my bread by hand? Maybe if I didn't have the kitchen aid, I'd knead my bread by hand and make a habit of slowing my mind down and saying a prayer of thanks while I did it. Then again, growing your own food is a lot of work. Maybe that 7 minutes of needing bread is just the right amount of time to harvest the herbs for tonight's meal?

These are just a few things I'm weighing in the balance as I think about this topic. I know it comes down to personal preference and seeing what works for you, but it is a foundational question for how we move forward, so I'd love to hear anyone else's thoughts on the topic.

Maybe it would be helpful to hear how you all use electricity and why? Especially on the homestead - what do you find it essential for? Have you experienced the scope creep I mentioned? What do you do about it?

Thanks in advance!

-Eloise.

 
pollinator
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I have battled this in my mind while planning my build. I have settled on a version of 3. I will have a very modest solar system by today’s terms to charge phones and laptops and run lights and a fridge, the system will be about the same price as getting grid power installed. I did live on oil lamps and zero power for a while. I spent more on oil, candles, and batteries than a small solar system would cost just to run lights.  My numbers are for Kansas or Tennessee, yours will be very different but you get the idea.
 
pollinator
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I personally would not live without electricity by choice.  Certain things are pretty necessary for me to live the way I want to.  I may not have to have a freezer, but living with one is certainly a lot easy, and less expensive, than living without one in a challenging climate.  I can heat with wood, but if I get sick or injured or just too old, it's nice that my furnace has a fan.  Many of my tools are electric.  My well is 485 feet deep, so a well pump is pretty much a necessity.  I like having a cell phone, both for convenience and for the fact that if I have an accident while working alone in the woods, there is a chance I can call for help.

You can certainly do without all of those things.  We have a large Amish population here and they used to do it.  They have kind of found a "loophole" in their rules though.  They can borrow and use many of the things they can't own.  They ride in cars, but don't own them.  They borrow cell phones regularly.  They buy power tools, including electric ones, and then give them to a friend that isn't Amish so they can "borrow" them when they need them.  I'm certain they could transition back to truly no electricity pretty easily, but I think it's important to note that even they use it now.

I think you could definitely cut your dependence on electricity to the point that you could generate enough of your own if you aren't in a part of Alaska that has enough daylight hours.  A few solar panels could provide enough for the bare necessities.  
 
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You don't need electricity... except to run your computer and internet connection (satellite)? so you can hook up to Permies!
 
pollinator
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Our goal is to have a secure, comfortable home that we own (and the bank does not own),


I can tell you that there is nothing wrong with using a mortgage to own a house,its better than saving cash first.
There is a topic on permies about good and bad debt, it may help you understand the difference.

I found electricity makes life easier and comfortable for myself.
I am off grid, but it is expensive to set up and batteries do need to be replaced over time, so its not free.
But it may be more reliable in the boondocks!
 
pollinator
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Hi Eloise,
That sounds like a fantastic goal. I personally appreciate your comment that ministry is more important than homesteading.

Specific to electricity, I would use it, but sparingly. One angle to think about is that you may not stay where you build your house. I know your plan is to build, raise kids, and grow old there, but things can change. If you have to sell your house, then having it wired for electricity would make it more attractive to a buyer. Solar/generator vs being on the grid should be about the numbers. How much would it cost to get a grid connection, and how much would it cost to buy a solar system? My sister and brother-in-law are building their house and even though it would only be about 3 poles to get on the grid, the cost was about the same as buying a solar system big enough to cover their usage. Because of that, they are planning solar. If one is obviously more expensive, go with the other.

About the appliances, I would just say that having the option doesn't mean you have to use it. I used to make bread fairly often and I would hand mix it and hand knead it. But when we were in a hurry, my wife would make it and use our kitchenaid to do it faster. Having an option for those crazy days is nice... and on the quiet days, I like taking that extra 7 minutes to knead the dough.

Distractions can come from all over, and not just from things that run on electricity. Perfectly good things can take us away from what we should be doing sometimes, so we need to be self controlled regardless of electricity. Having said that, I think most of the most distracting things come from the Internet these days. If I was looking to avoid distractions, I would get rid of (or not get in the first place) the Internet before I would worry about electricity.

As for the EMF stuff, I've always been a bit on the fence about it myself. I think the people who say there is no issue whatsoever are wrong. There are studies that show wireless baby monitors right next a baby's head is not good for development. There are also many people who develop cancerous tumors in their body right next to where they carried their cell phone for years. I also think the people who think all electricity and signals are harmful no matter how far away from them, are wrong too. We know the fields generated by electricity drop off very quickly as the distance grows. For my own compromises, I use a cell phone and I carry it around in my pocket... but I take it out of my pocket whenever I can, at work or home. I try to use as few wireless devices as possible. In short, I don't think its a big problem, but I also don't think it would hurt to keep the higher voltage electricity away from my head while sleeping. Maybe put things like dryer, dishwasher, microwave, and other high usage devices on the side of the house away from your bedrooms? Have very little or no electricity in your bedroom at night. If done at the time of designing, then these things are not a big deal and don't really restrict a normal life at all; and it can reduce your exposure if you want to be on the safe side.
 
master steward
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From personal experience, my dear hubby could never adjust to the off-grid lifestyle or mentality.

Dear hubby is tied at the hip to his TV.

We spent a month at our off-grid cabin in West Texas.

Dear hubby ran the generator constantly to be able to watch TV.

I took advantage of that time to use the internet, why not?

If we were starting up again where we are now this is the way I would go:

2) Plan to be off the grid. Wire the house for on site electricity production. Use money that would have been used to run electricity to the site for on-site electricity production infrastructure.



I know so much more about generating electricity now than I did back then.

Also unless a person wants to build a house the way the pioneers built houses having electricity for power drills, saws, hammers, etc. is the way to go.
 
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R Scott wrote:I have battled this in my mind while planning my build. I have settled on a version of 3. I will have a very modest solar system by today’s terms to charge phones and laptops and run lights and a fridge, the system will be about the same price as getting grid power installed. I did live on oil lamps and zero power for a while. I spent more on oil, candles, and batteries than a small solar system would cost just to run lights.  My numbers are for Kansas or Tennessee, yours will be very different but you get the idea.



This sounds fantastic... With satellites pounding their rays into us all the time, we just need some internet usually and have access to so much with our little computer phones and a bit of solar.
 
pollinator
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We've got a version of #3. We can charge cell phones and laptop, rechargeable headlamps and overhead lights, batteries for cordless tools. If the sun's shining, I can run a food processor for a bit. We can run a small fan in the evening when it's hot, a sewing machine, small stuff like that. We have no big appliances and no running water.

The main thing I miss is a chest freezer. I do a lot more dehydrating for quick food preservation now, but freezers are awesome. I don't mind canning for stuff like tomatoes that you're going to cook forever anyway, but soggy, mushy canned beans, for instance? Blech. I miss my freezer for stuff like that.

We don't do laundry at home either, but that's more because of the water situation. Some kind of manual washer would be fine for me.

One thing about heating with wood is you can't go anywhere in the winter. My in laws do a big week long Christmas thing every year, and I can't go cause the house would freeze.

I have to say, I don't think you need to worry about having too much time on your hands, even with some electrical conveniences. If you have a garden and projects outside the house, you'll be busy. I'm out of flour and haven't got around to grinding any because I'm trying to take advantage of daylight hours to get a deck built, new garden area mulched, dog house sided, and straw harvested for winter dog bedding. My husband has a full time, often more than full time, job off the property. It means lots of stuff never gets done. There's a lot of stuff that takes two people to do and some of the building stuff he wants to do on his own cause that's what he enjoys. None of it gets done cause he's gone for 10-14 hours during the week. Then weekends are taken up with mandatory maintenance type stuff, not furthering projects.

And speaking of daylight hours, breakfast is done, so time to get back outside!
 
Eloise Rock
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Wow, Thank you all for your responses! They have been helpful and thought provoking. We have been slowly adding small pieces of self sufficiency, but there is still so much we don't know..

-R Scott - thanks for your input. I have wondered about the cost of running non-electric lights as compared to electric. Since we have such short daylight ours here, I expect a solar system would have to be a bit more robust to do the job (as compared to TN). But that also means more darkness and more candles/oil burned. A couple of years ago I started rendering tallow from deer we harvested, and it made great candles. We used them exclusively on the bedside table rather than a lamp. I am hoping that if we can get a moose we can harvest some of the tallow (they carry tons of it). That would make for a cheap option, but not necessarily as effective either. I don't think it would be enough for winter sewing projects which leads to the issue of the sewing machine... not sure how we would make it with out that at this point.

John C Daley - Thanks for your input. I have actually read your thread about debt. I agree that there are good debts and bad debts, and don't think there is anything inherently wrong with using a mortgage. We just prefer not to. We all have choices to make about what we want to leverage and what we don't. Its just a matter of personal preference and risk management. We happen to fall on the other side of that coin from you, and I personally don't think that is wrong either. It will require different things from us, and carry a different set of rewards/ benefits is all. We may not be able to do it all with out debt. We will just have to see how things end up going, what land becomes available, what the markets do, and what option seems most prudent at the time.

Matt McSpaden - I appreciate your input on all fronts. That is a great point that the internet is probably the source of distraction, rather than electric appliances. I have definitely never been distracted by my kitchen aid haha.  Unfortunately we find it increasingly difficult to get away from the internet as well. Banking, bills, work/ministry correspondence. Everything seems to be done online these days. Even the organic garden I work at exclusively uses Facebook to communicate what produce is available for u-pick. It's expected that you know what you can pick and can refer to it on your phone in the fields. The owner gives me a hard time consistently for not having Facebook, and having to sneak a picture of her list at the counter to take with me when I go pick. But if there is one thing I'd like to get rid of its the internet. I think that is where our human weakness tends to be overcome by opportunities for distraction. That's also probably where the scope creep appears as well. We use a hot spot from our phones for internet, so it is limited bandwidth/ data usage per month which definitely helps. But its definitely still an area of weakness for us. We are both happier/healthier when the laptop is buried in the closet. Even permies can become a distraction, reading/dreaming about the things we would like to do, and not taking advantage of the opportunities today has to do some of those things. It does come down to personal self control.. but knowing your limits is important too, and I think our culture tends to not admit how weak we really are on this front.

As much as I dislike it, home re-sale is something we have to consider as well. There are very few building codes here (basically none if you are out of city limits) so it's tempting to go all out if you will... But we do not know what the Lord has for us in the future, and we could very well find ourselves in a different location down the road. So we have to consider that as well.

Jan White - Thanks so much for your comments and sharing your experience. The freezer is probably the biggest hang up. Winters here are long, and summers cool with long daylight ours, so I am really hoping we could pull something off with a solar powered freezer. When it needs to run often, there is plenty of sunshine for it. Then it gets cold enough to not need to run anymore (so long as its outside the insulation envelope of the house). If anyone has done this I'd love to know about your experience.

The wood heating thing is something I have thought a lot about as well. Right now my plan would be to have an interior wall in the house that is high mass that all the plumbing runs on. An RMH would also be on this wall, with most of the plumbing (all but the kitchen sink) running past the bench. My hope is that we could make it a few days to a week with out a freeze up (depending on temps), but it obviously remains to be seen. I also plan to have easy access valves to drain all the plumbing if we will be gone longer than that, or if its particularly cold. But its all theory right now. If anyone has input/advice we'd love to hear it.

Also a good point about not having too much time on my hands. I expect you are correct!

You all have been so helpful. Thank you for taking time to write. If there is further input, I'm all ears.

-Eloise.
 
pollinator
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Battery operated tools (think Ryobi) make my life easier and make me more self-sufficient,  especially aging.   Having electricity to charge them is important to me.  I could live without if I were in survival mode, but not by choice.

My dogs are raw fed and I eat keto.   I need meat storage,  even if it's temporary while I prep to CAN as much of it as I can,  and for the dogs it's healthier not cooked.  I have a super tiny fridge/freezer downsize,  like dorm/studio size and it's perfect.  I don't want to give that up.

I am addicted to drip coffee.   I could live with boiling water on a wood fire,  or I suppose there is always propane or something.. but,  I like my drip coffee pot quite a lot.

And a small apt. size washing machine.   Those are what I want electricity for and dont want to live without.   Fridge/freezer,  coffee maker, and charging Ryobi batteries.  Maybe I could get that with solar without tying into the grid?  

If I had a well,  I'd probably want a powered well pump as well.
 
John C Daley
pollinator
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Eloise, do you have much wind in the area you are looking at?
If so that may be the answer to the short days.
Some really smart units are made for yachts now.
 
Eloise Rock
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We have some occasional wind but not much... I do not know enough yet about the area or wind generation to know if thats a feasible option yet. My guess is it would be limited, but I could be wrong.
 
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Here is my thinking on the matter:

If you are building a house, install electrical wiring.   If you ever move, you will take a heavy financial loss without wiring.  You will be essentially be selling a shack, not a home.

With wiring, you keep all your options.   Having electricity run to your home raises it's value, and if you decide to self-generate, it gives you backup power, if desired.   Also, if you generate more power than you use, it can actually pay you a few dollars a month of credit/income.  

Wind or solar power can be good, but hydro is the best IF you have a river or creek that doesn't run dry, and you have enough drop to produce power.   It's always running 24/7 and isn't weather dependent.  

Think carefully before building.  It's very difficult and expensive to add house wiring after the fact.    Having a fridge/freezer and running water is nice.  Bucket water and outhouses are a pain to maintain, but they are cheap, if allowed in your area.   Drying or canning all of your food absorbs a lot of time and costs you money, too.

And as a fellow minister, here is something else to consider...   If the ministry is your primary focus in life, the large amount of TIME you lose running buckets, heating water, hand-washing clothes and so on would be better used in service to your creator.  TIME is one of the biggest things you will gain from having electricity and running water.   You will lose many hours a day if you don't have those two things.    

You cannot generate more time.  That, you must use wisely!
 
master gardener
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I have asked myself, “How much electricity.”     I am hooked up to the grid. But I also have a layered backup system in place.  Most basic are two independent 150 watt solar arrays,  their purpose is solely to charge small deep cell batteries.  Those batteries can run lights, a couple of fans, and charge a laptop  computer.   I also have a 2500 watt solar array and a backup genie.  I think I would have a minimum of  a dual fuel generator and a small solar array at a minimum assuming I had the funds.
 
John C Daley
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John Dean, Quote" a dual fuel generator "
Is that petrol and / or propane?
Staff note (John F Dean) :

Yes

 
Yeah, but how did the squirrel get in there? Was it because of the tiny ad?
Better Wood Heat: DIY Rocket Mass Heaters (8-Movie Set) by Paul Wheaton
https://permies.com/wiki/134176/Wood-Heat-DIY-Rocket-Mass
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