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Understanding the basics  RSS feed

 
Peri Coombs
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My husband and I are researching our off the grid options in the hopes of building next spring in Ontario, Canada and I've officially hit the "holy this is overwhelming!" stage. I think that's because I have a few land plots in mind and am trying to gear the information I'm finding around them, to help decide which one to buy. So...I'm looking for a little clarification on the following:

Plot A is a level lot that slopes gently down to a FANTASTIC river (it's a very fast river...flow should not be a problem at all. Sustainability of flow should not be a concern either as it's coming from quite a large lake). It's about 50 feet from the edge of the flat land to the river...and the river is below the building site (again, a gentle slope) so we'd have to pump it up (sigh). And, this river does not run through the property, so I'm not sure at this time if we'd even be able to tap into it (have yet to make that inquiry).

Plot B is a level lot, but the river runs right through the property. I have not been out to see it yet, so I don't have much to go on unfortunately. Just thought I'd mention it.

Plot C is level with a fairly large pond. Not sure of the depth.

I have a feeling this is asking a lot, but with what little information I have provided, would anyone be able to point me in the right direction on how to get started researching what we would need to make this happen? I guess really, all I'm looking for is the most economical way to harness the water that is downhill and what you would need for that and then in contrast, the most economical way to harness water on level land from a standing pond.

This is a big ask, isn't it? I'm just so overwhelmed with all of the information floating out there, thought I'd take a stab at throwing out what we're looking at in the hopes of getting some kind of clarity.

Thank you for any information you can provide (even if it's a cheerleading statement urging me not to give up! LOL).

PS - a huge thank you to the moderators and all of the contributors on this forum! I'm SO excited to have found it and can't wait to delve into the other topics. Hopefully I'll be able to pay forward some advice
 
Glenn Herbert
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I guess the first question is what you want to use the water for.

If any sort of power source, the fast flowing river (if it is allowed) would let you use a turbine to generate electricity and/or pump water up for your use.
The other plot with a river could have the same potential.
The plot with a pond may be usable for a water source downhill of the pond, or with a wind or solar pump you could bring it where you want it. Obviously the water would have no power potential itself.
 
r ranson
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I don't know the basics yet myself, so I'll be following this with interest. You've certainly come to the right place to ask the question.

Where I would start is to find out what the water rights are for the properties. What are the federal, provincial, local and property restrictions on accessing and using the water.

I know my province is currently redoing their laws about water rights; so that in a few years we will probably have to put a meter on our well and pay bay the gallon for any water we pump into the house.
 
Peri Coombs
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Thanks so much for the replies!

Glen...we want to use the water to run the house, as any average, energy conscience household runs, with two teenage children living in it. We need to rely on the internet for work and some play, and my husband will need to run his tools in a wood working shop, but again, we are cognizant of our usage and minimize where we can.

R Ranson, I DEFINITELY came to the right place. Love this site and am so grateful I found it! You're advice is on point...I'll be contacting my town and then the MNR for further guidance.

I wonder if anyone would have handy some links to online information about using water for energy to run an average size house? I'm very overwhelmed with the reading I've been doing, so if someone could help narrow down my search efforts to an article that would be a good starting point and explains things to the layman, that would be greatly appreciated!!

Thanks again!!

 
Glenn Herbert
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So you are principally interested in electricity generation, and only normal household water use.

You need some combination of water volume and either speed or height of fall to generate electricity (or any other form of power).
The river sounds like it can give you lots of volume and decent speed, for an in-stream turbine. Being the outflow from a lake, you may be insulated somewhat from violent flooding which can destroy any equipment not well enough protected. What is the ice flow like at spring thaw?
The pond is irrelevant for power producing purposes.

Your best search term will be micro hydro power, and a good resource it brings up for me is
http://energy.gov/energysaver/microhydropower-systems
which looks like it will give a lot of good fundamental information.
 
Peri Coombs
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Glen, you're an angel! Thank you for taking the time to look that up and respond. I skimmed the website and it looks great as a starting point. Cheers!

I contacted the Ministry of Environment to check on regulations and they said to start locally, so I am waiting back to hear from our town's Chief Building Officer. Will post an update when I have one, for those interested.

 
Timothy Markus
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Location: Ontario, Canada
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Hi Peri, and welcome.

I think you're on the right track looking at water early on and you've given three different options. I'm currently trying to nail down what I want in a property and water is a huge plus for me. I'm looking to graze animals on pasture and possibly woods, so I've been looking for water solutions that can handle the demands of a decent amount of livestock and our Canadian winters. I was looking into a farm in the Parry Sound area and it had access to a creek and a lake. I didn't bother looking into the creek because of the lake, but I did find that you can take up to 50,000 litres per day (I think, you'd need to check your water body) which would have allowed me to build ponds and fill them. That adds up to quite a lot of water over a year and you wouldn't need anything near that amount, most likely. You will probably have the ability to take water from the river in some amount, though it may have to be for agricultural purposes, though they may allow other uses but I've only researched Ag. The advantage with a river is that you can use a ram pump to use the river's current to pump the water uphill. I'd suggest building or buying a tank at your highest practical elevation and pumping into it. Build in enough capacity to continue to provide enough water for at least twice as long as you think it would take you to fix any break-downs. A lot really depends on the amount of water you need, the size of the land, water uses, etc. Here's what comes to mind about your scenarios:

Plot A Unless you get deeded access to run a line across the neighbouring property to access the water (it would have to allow you to install, maintain, replace the line and agree to allow you to take the water) I would not consider the river at all when I evaluated this property. Get the agreement of the neighbour contingent on buying the land or you don't have access to it. If you can get that, it might be fine, but that's always going to be a potential issue. If you can get access and you keep this access for 20 years straight with no changes, you then have the right under Ontario law to that access. I'd never bet on that, though.

Plot B I'd be much more interested in this as the river runs through it. You could potentially use a ram pump to pump to a higher location and you may even be able to rig up a water turbine if the current is fast enough. That can give you electricity. Just make sure it isn't in the flood plain and you'll probably want to make sure that you give the flood plain height a little buffer. If you have enough room and need to, you can also build a pond to pump the water to.

Plot C A pond is good and has different pros and cons to the river. It saves you spending money on containment and you may find the rainfall is enough to keep it full. You can use a pump to store some in an elevated tank for some head.

When I started looking I wanted either a river or pond, and I would still love a river, but with the amount of rainfall we get we should be able to get all our water needs taken care of with rainwater. Over time our land management should re-hydrate the soil and make full use of the rainfall. Rainwater collection for gardening is preferred and you can also capture rainwater for either household grey water or both grey water and potable water. With proper design, you can passively capture almost all of the water that falls on your structures and store it. It won't have any surface water contamination and it won't break down like a pump. I really would love a river, but it can save me a lot of money not paying for river access when I don't really need it. If it's your dream to live on the river, buy plot B. Plot A is just near the river but you'd have full access to the river with plot B. I've been looking for a while now and I can tell you that very few plots are perfect but also that any listing you fall in love with isn't unique. You may have to keep looking a little longer, but you'll find another property that you'll fall in love with. In the end, you can work with any property, but some are better than others. If you really love rivers, though, you should buy a property on the river because it's a lot more difficult to install one than to buy a property that already comes with one.

Good luck.

 
Glenn Herbert
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Those are good points, Timothy, though as I read the OP, Plot A borders the river while not containing its entire bed. It is just the flat area that is 50' away from the water. The details of property boundaries and rights will be critical here, and that information will come in due course from the inquiries.
 
Rebecca Norman
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Hi Peri,
So exciting, to be buying land!

About getting electricity from water, I've looked into it, and I haven't run into much that's feasible for getting power from a horizontally running river, even if it is fast, powerful, and plenty of volume. It seems all practical hydro- power, needs a "head," ie a vertical fall. Our school is on the bank of the Indus River but on a plateau about 80 feet above the river. It's a good flow, a bit scary to swim across, but in these 20-odd years we haven't found a practical way to harness that energy without head. I am still hoping that we will still find a fruitful way to do that.

We use solar electricity, because this region is one of the best places on earth for solar. We use it for pumping and all the electricity for our school, where about 50 - 100 are living most of the time. That's over a hundred led lights most nights (each 2W), a dozen or two mobile phones (each under 10W and only a couple of hours), one TV (under 100W, and we don't use it every day or for many hours at a time), 10 - 20 laptops (each 50W while charging or being used). No heating or cooking appliances. When we need to use power tools, washing machine, or kitchen mixers, which are counted in kW not W, we try to make sure to use those before or during midday on a sunny day, to make sure the batteries charge up again before evening for lights. This past year it seemed the main reason we used the generator was for the skate sharpener, (which you as a Canadian would understand is essential and cannot be compromised on! -- I am not Canadian, I am a bemused bystander).

Asking how much electricity is needed for an average house is like asking "How long is a piece of string." You should make a list of all your power usages: The item, the wattage it draws when on, and how many hours per day it is on. Multiply those together to get your Watt-hours (Wh) per day, and then divide by 24 to see how many Watts you need to use, averaged out. A few high-wattage items will jump out as using more power than all the rest, because they produce heat, and you'll have to think if you can eliminate those. I would hazard a guess that almost nobody who generates their own renewable energy for their home uses a clothes dryer, hair dryer, electric stove or oven.

If I go back to living on the grid, my first purchase will be a toaster!
 
Peri Coombs
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All great advice, Timothy and Rebecca! Thanks so much for weighing in

Timothy...good to know you are located in Ontario and were allotted 5,000 litres per day! I realize this will most likely change according to district and body of water, but it's good to have that knowledge.

Rebecca...sounds like you're living an amazing life out in the Himalayas! While I agree that it will be difficult, Glen had mentioned that you either need a slope or speed to harness the water. That gives me hope that it can be done because finding a piece of property that has a river ON it AND a head is going to be very, very tough. I'm praying the stars align on all of this. When I think about it, part of me gets so excited and then the next minute, I can be so dismayed. The majority of me thinks there are too many barriers involved to make this happen. BUT...I'm determined to will it. And yes, life without a skate sharpener is...well, like life without a toaster (or a corkscrew )!

UPDATE: As you know, I called the Ministry of Natural Resources who suggested I contact my town first. So, I called the Chief Building Inspector who spoke with my husband when he returned my call. End result, it would seem our town has no regulations because he really had no idea what we were talking about. My husband said obviously this is the first inquiry he's had about hydroelectricity for a homeowner. I was THRILLED to hear this!!!

**Happy Dance**



 
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