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Is it time for an Off grid Property Owners Association?  RSS feed

 
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Myself and many others (off grid experts) are struggling to find a sustainable business model supporting off grid property owners (power, water and waste grids). The reality long term is that off grid living is not very sustainable. We have yet to see anyone build and maintain any off grid property with utility grade infrastructure thru a full family lifecycle. In other words, when you get old you can't stay in your off grid home. After a decade or so huge amounts of deferred maintenance mean the property and environment get compromised. Of course, if you don't want electricity, internet, water and waste systems that meet EPA standards when you are 80 - that's different.

There are lots of retailers making money selling equipment that is usually improperly installed, often unsafe and hard to maintain.

So several of us are trying to decide how to proceed. We are considering forming some type of national or international property owners association. The idea to become the consumer's guide and reliable technical resource. So much bad and even crazy info on the web. So much waste and potential danger to the environment and more importantly your families economic future.

What do people think?
 
pollinator
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I certainly think that there's sense behind your suggestion. Some of what you're describing sounds more like a Consumers Report for off-grid living products, though. That may be a way to start it, and much of the groundwork could be laid here at Permies.

Though much of the groundwork for an International Off-Grid Property Owners Association could also be done here. I don't see why you couldn't do both.

I think you're right. There's the potential for profiteering everywhere we look, and this trend is no different. It would be good to be able to appeal to a larger body that focuses on this issue.

-CK
 
pollinator
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Mmm is what I think . Firstly since this in many areas is a rapidly developing area , new discovererys being made , new products being marketed , prices in many areas falling why would you expect this to behave as a mature market does ? It is not in my opinion and is unlikey to settle down soon I think . That chap Mr Musk seems to pull new rabbits out of the hat regularly :-)
Secondly why would folks want to sign up for the over regulated utility standards promoted by the electric company's ? I don't care how old I get it's not for me I want to limit my use for the good of the planet not expand my system for the benefit of sales persons or the belief I should have a bigger washing machine .
 
pollinator
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Tod, you're obviously much, much younger than I am. Do you truly believe.......or is it that you have a mis-idea of the abilities of the rough, back to nature oldster.....that in a few years when I become 80 I will no longer be able to live on my homestead? While my own system is rather small (but I can run everything but a spa -- I have no need for electric hot water, air conditioning, electric heat, electric dryer, electric cook range) and self installed/maintained, I have seen systems here that are quite large, electrical engineer installed, and specialist maintained. Many of the off grid people are young, but a good percentage are elderly retirees in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s. From what I've personally observed, us oldsters maintain our systems far more effectively than the younger less experienced crowd. So I'd suggest that in order to market your idea you may wish to be more careful, and less insulting, about the capabilities of the older off-gridder. Not all of us are frail and standing in our coffins!

That said.......having a group may benefit lots of people, especially those starting out off-gridding.
 
David Livingston
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I have thought some more about what you said . I don't think off griders see themselves as a market that you can exploit . They are all very independent and prefer to do things by themselves  . The insinuation they are polluting the planet I find insulting and frankly bizarre . Compared to a nuclear powerstations ? :-)  also that when they are older that they will have to move just because they cannot cope is as sue above points  out is also insulting . Not a good start if you want to form a group I would suggest.

David
 
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Interesting idea.

It looks like you've identified a real problem - how does the customer know what kind of off-grid system to get?  How can the customer make sure that the system they get will last them the rest of their lives?

There are three probable solutions.

1. Paternalistic business practice - protect the customer from their ignorance by doing the regulating and thinking for them.

This is what I'm hearing being suggested in the first post.  Set up a system or an agency, or a standard or whatever so that all off-grid electrical systems are the same. 

Problems with this:

p1a - not everywhere is the same.

What works in one part of the world, may be woefully inappropriate for another.  Having one universal standard doesn't always work... I would go so far as to say, it almost always never works.

p1b - Not everyone's electrical usage is the same. 

A person interested in living off-grid is someone already aware of electrical usage.  They probably already understand that a clothes dryer takes more electricity than a washing line.  It doesn't make sense to me to create a system that is big enough to power an ultra-modern electrical guzzling family home.

p1c - I suspect that the customer base that wants to live off-grid are also the kind of person who resents business practices that makes them feel dependent on an external force telling them how to live their lives.


The second option is my preference. 

2. Customer education!

Navigating the world of off-grid power is crazy-complicated for an electrical layperson like me. 

I've had friends mortgage (and subsequently lost) their farm to buy the latest solar power off grid system - only to discover that it's not appropriate for their location.  They could have known this with a tiny bit of research... of course, the information they needed is all but impossible to find on the internet because there are too much muddle and misinformation being plastered about. 

Some companies take the time to educate their customers and this, in my opinion, is the best thing they could do to help the situation.  Free consultation.  Sit down and talk with the customers, asking them "how do you expect to live in 50 years"?  A company that makes it easy for a customer to approach them. that takes the time to listen and suggest different options, this works best! 

Since I haven't found a company like this locally yet, we are doing our own customer education.  In about 10 years, our roof is going to need redoing and at that time, we will be switching off-grid.  In preparation, we are wiring up the outbuildings with different off-grid systems to see a) what works best for our location and b) what is easiest to maintain.  We are using different batteries, control systems, wind, solar, rain power.  Starting with small lighting systems and water pumps, and we will be moving up to include things like heat and on-demand water heaters.  At the same time, we are evaluating where we use electricity in our home.  Our cooking, heating (which is primarily electric), well pump, lighting, computers, power tools, etc. currently take $100 per month for the whole household.  I hope to get this down to $25 and keep it there so that we won't need so big a system when the time comes. 

It's all about being aware of my own electrical use and being alert to what systems are appropriate to my location.  If a company could do that for me, that would save one hell of a lot of hassle and we would go off grid much sooner. 

Solution three:
3. Design a better mousetrap system

This would probably be easier than solution 2. 
 
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My first post on this site. I will be starting a thread on a tiny cob home build in the near future. I found this topic interesting as the house I currently live in is entirely off-grid. I did not build it myself but did have it built for me from a plan that I had drafted. I live in Far North Eastern Australia on the South side of a hill (southern hemisphere) in a valley surrounded by rainforest with some of the highest railnfall in Australia. Stand alone solar system that cost a LOT less than the quote I got from the coal fire powered dealers of electricity gave me to connect to the new place. 22000 litre/ 5000gal water tank from my roof with an electric pump that has not missed a beat. Clivus Multrum composting toilet. Having these water and toilet systems cuts out a lot of piping and treatment once more saving money. This is a approved house that I did have to jump through some hoops for but mostly through ignorance within the local council where i live rather than actual real world problems. The 3.5 kw solar system is more than adequate for the amount of power that I use. Instantaneous gas hot water as well as a gas cook top. Due to the warmth of the climate I live in hot showers are not really necessary for most of the year and the Wim Hoff breathing technique works wonders for the other times ;) ... I average 9kg of LPG gas per 6 months for hot water and cooking. I also use my 3 kva generator for about 50 hours a year when the cloud cover is super dense and or its rains for longer than 3 days straight. Which can be often during our wet season. It actually ends up costing a lot less in the long run to not be connected to the water/sewage/power/phone/rubbish/post grid. If I could change anything about the current house I live in it would be to put a 10000 litre water tank up higher on the hill I live on and pump up to it and use the gravity feed. Otherwise a hose from the main tank works wonders if for any reason the power is off. All this information I gathered from the internet and put together with my builder. It was not really difficult and the maintenance is almost zero. The toilet really takes care of itself apart from normal cleaning of the bowl. The solar system requires that you monitor the energy you use. The biggest change to a normal appliance in the house is a chest freezer converted to a fridge with a $15 thermostat. I still have a electric jug, vitamix blender, small freezer, 1000 w sound system tv etc etc and ceiling fans. The house was designed very open and hence it breaths during the hottest months of the year where the temps regularly reach 35 + degrees celsius... and I have a ceiling fan in my bedroom and the living room and two on the very large verandah that do not get turned on. This was built just over 7 years ago and so far the only issue I have had was the stem seals of the wet cel batteries were faulty from the factory and will be replaced very soon for a heavily discounted price early next year.
  I have no doubt that the house will be 100% liveable in 50 years. I would say the energy system will be far superior by then and hopefully my water tank with be made with hemp plastic and non toxic to contain the beautiful water that is provided by my roof. As I said. I will be starting a thread on here in the near future to ask advice from all about the construction of a sub 200 square foot cob home located on my property about 100 meters from the main house. Downsizing my life ;)
   Hope this helps
ps... An interesting side note is that the Plumbing Inspector from the local council where I live made the life of Myself and my builder very difficult during the build regarding grey water treatment systems and in the end the digging and installation of an entirely unnecessary absorption trench. Clivus Multrum provide and cheap and efficient grey water 12 v pump system that runs beautifully from your solar system that i was not allowed to use to get my final inspection approval from said council. My final building Approval Inspection was booked in for the Same day that cyclone Yasi, A genuine Category 5 Cyclone hit dead centre where my house sits :) The other 4 properties up my end of the valley are off grid so whilst everyone else in the entire region had no power except for generators... We all had solar and my house became a place to escape the horror show that is a disaster area in the aftermath with no power, clean water and working sewage .Even though surrounded by forest and on a hill side it sustained only a 4 meter piece of guttering being ripped off and water inside the house where I had stupidly opened a window thinking it would help relieve pressure during the centre of the storm. The Plumbing Inspector on the other hand as i later found out when he finally arrived 2 months later to inspect the house I was already living in had lost his entire house 3-4 km north of me and Apologised for his earlier behaviour regarding my insane idea of trying to live a little lighter on the planet. He later build a house with solar, composting toilet and water tank... OFF GRID...lol!!!
 
gardener
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I'd like to throw my hat into the ring. If somebody's going to set themselves up as a gatekeeper, to decide what should and shouldn't be done, I prefer that it be me.

Of course that could have been said by almost anyone who lives off grid. Independent folks are capable of making their own decisions, and networking, when they want to compare notes on what works and what doesn't and on which company is good and which is not. This site helps with that.
 
pollinator
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If I am 80yrs old and super frail and living on the grid in a big nice city like say NYC, I am going to end up in a nursing home and crippled and if I am off-grid it would be the same so, there is no special off-grid problem. If anything being off-grid and 80yr old, my life style will most likely mean improve the odds that I am less frail even if I started out with 'exactly the same genetic pre-disposition'.

Even if I am off-grid I can just as easily order from walmart/amazon to deliver my tiolet paper and light bulb or tubs of oil. So not really a problem if I have an address.

If I am in the on-grid in the city or off-grid and my roof is leaking and I am old and frail, I can still hire a roofing guy in either case, in fact it will cost me less per hour to hire a rural roofer than in the city and homdepo/lowes has the same raw material cost online if i buy in the city or off-grid with free shipping.

It might be a bit harder at 80yr old for me to chase my herd of buffalo/cow, but I can still go to my fish pond/tank with a net or fishing line and harvest fish, eggs will be about the same, and even chicken. And again I can always do store brought.

I can see why you are having a hard time making money off off-grid folks.

Maybe you could be the middle man that connect off-grid with on-grid folks. Like website that takes a 30% cut from folks who want a bed in breakfast at a off grid cottage/farm/homestead. Or maybe a network of classes/instructors that on-gridders want to pay for and as the market place you take a fee. (If you go with my market olace idea I would like a 30% cut of the profits too 😉)
 
pioneer
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Tod duBois wrote:
So several of us are trying to decide how to proceed. We are considering forming some type of national or international property owners association. The idea to become the consumer's guide and reliable technical resource. So much bad and even crazy info on the web. So much waste and potential danger to the environment and more importantly your families economic future.



To me, Off Grid Property Owners Association sounds too much like Home Owners Association. I'm sure you mean well, wanting to reduce waste and environmental impact, and want it to be a consumers guide, but it sounds like it could evolve to include regulations, with one group of people telling others what they can and can't do on their property, and I certainly don't want people telling me what I can and can't do.
 
Dale Hodgins
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"So several of us are trying to decide how to proceed. "

Is that 3, or 30. How many is several?
 
Su Ba
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Me thinks the message has been sent........in general, already established off gridders tend to be independent people who don't like being told what they can and can't do. And oversight association setting rules surely won't be popular with them. So such an association will need to target newbies who know virtually nothing about living independently.

Personally I'd never flock toward a regulating group of any sort. The regulations already in place ruffle my feathers plenty. As Paul puts it, there are already too many "departments to make you sad".
 
Chris Kott
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I wasn't seeing this as an HOA type thing. Education and trumpeting the flaws of bad products in a publication designed to inform off-grid consumers sounds like the least invasive way of using this idea for good purposes.

I see how such ideas could be used destructively, which is outside the spirit of the OP, if I can judge intent from word use.

I personally am not offended by the suggestion that it would be good to have an independent body or concern that sells it's periodical to pay for consumer product testing that may otherwise be lacking in the marketplace.  Again, think Consumer Reports. Nobody has to buy the mag/online publication. If it's not really good stuff, it will fail. If, however, it is so good that it saves people tons of money, or say, provides really great sourcing and carbon footprint/embodied energy measurement comparisons and saves people time figuring out the individual strengths/weaknesses of components in a system, I can't see how this could possibly be a bad thing.

-CK
 
David Livingston
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Independant body / confederation / even union all sound good to me :-)
However the OP seems to me to be talking about a business proposition for himself and unknown others
I hope he can drop by and clear this up
Also I would like know more about why he believes that going off grid causes pollution and is unsuitable for old folks  as I see things totally different as I get older I see myself going more off grid and polluting less :-)

David
 
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We're not strictly off-grid any more because when we installed the big solar array, we decided it made more economic sense to connect to the grid electric so we could sell our surplus energy.

I'm not really sure what EPA standards are or why they are considered so important to off-gridders or sustainability, but my husband is 80 and infirm and neither of us has any intention of ever leaving here.
 
James Freyr
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I was thinking about this some more this morning while grating potatoes and fingers. We really need OP to drop by and clarify some things regarding the intentions and goals of this association he wants to form. When we writes about a "sustainable business model supporting off grid property owners" I'm left wondering if this means something like a consulting group, but I wonder who would want to pay for ideas when we have books, or even better, Permies, with good people who already have real world experience in such areas as dealing with power, water and waste, ready to share and answer questions. OP also states "they have yet to see anyone build and maintain any off grid property with utility grade infrastructure thru a full family lifecycle". I'm sure there are plenty of families out there that have done just this, but OP's group of people haven't been exposed to these families. It seems to me that it's the "utility grade infrastructure" that is key here, as billions of people have successfully lived off grid for thousands of years, proving that off grid living is sustainable.

Tod duBois, please come back and share in further detail what you are trying to achieve with your business model.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I have lived completely off-grid, and I've lived completely on grid. For several years, I did a little of both.

I have found that over time, there has been vast improvements, in the quality and durability of battery powered equipment, low-energy lighting and 12-volt stuff of all sorts.

The price of solar panels has dropped massively, since I bought my property 15 years ago. At the same time, quality has gone up. Now, instead of fiddling with rechargeable lights of dubious quality, I have Milwaukee and Makita flood lights, that take the same battery as my primary carpentry tools. I cut a lot of wood and other materials at work, and I never bother to bring an extension cord or a generator to my jobs anymore. They have become obsolete for me.

I charge my batteries on the grid, because it's available to me at home and at customers houses. When I go to the farm, with all of my batteries charged, I always run out of time to do things, before I run out of battery power on all of my tools. I own these tools, because it makes total economic sense, even in the city where I have ready access to power. So, having all of this neat stuff to use on my off-grid property, doesn't really cost me anything extra, but it has made everything easier.

Many things that would have been considered off grid, niche market items a decade ago, are now mainstream. Most contractors that I know, have a number of cordless tools, that can accomplish just about any building task, in the absence of electricity. When they go to their cabin, they take these things along.

My tenant, Randy spent $600 on a solar panel and $400 on batteries. He is a very light user of electricity, since he went to all LED lighting and he has a radio that is very efficient. This small investment gives him most of the power that he uses. There's a cell phone and a laptop. 20 years ago, he might have had to spend thousands to accomplish the same thing. He also spent about $600 on a small windmill, which provides him with less than 10% of the power that he uses. This has clearly demonstrated, that at my place, where winds are very irregular, solar is the clear winner. Therefore, I won't spend one penny figuring that out.

Last Christmas, there was a 4-day power outage. Randy met some of the neighbors as they were walking the trails, and they mentioned some of the problems they had encountered. These people live closer to the road and they are on grid. Randy had not been aware of the power outage.

I do a lot of tree work at other landscaping, in the city, where I have access to the grid. When I go to the farm, I use my four different cordless saws, my cordless hedge cutting equipment and other items.

As efficient refrigerators and other off-grid appliances, have become more mainstream, their prices have dropped, as compared to the price spread a few years ago.

All of these developments, plus the vast amount of information available on sites like this one, make it so that most thinking people, could figure out how to live comfortably on their rural property. There's definitely more planning and figuring to do. I like to compare it to managing systems on an RV or a sailboat.

You must maintain your equipment, and understand how it works. For me, the key to that has been simplicity. I don't have a dozen different systems to worry about. I'm most pleased with my Milwaukee Tools, so as the Makita stuff wears out, I will replace it with stuff from Milwaukee. This leaves me with one, very common battery platform. When setting up the cabin with electrical stuff, I'm going with one voltage, and one type of equipment that matches that voltage.

I have never gone in for many of the lavish energy expenditures, that are available on grid. I have never had a heated pool, an air conditioner or a garburator. There's not one thing that a grid-tied suburban house does, that an off-grid farmhouse cannot do.

My off-grid property, produces all of the fuel, and building wood needed. This happens, without me doing anything other than gathering it, and cutting it up.

If there were some sort of Property Association, I would have to see what exactly it is that they do. If they have stuff to sell, it would have to be competitively priced. If there were any sort of annual dues, it's almost certainly something that I wouldn't join. I'm just not a joiner. Most importantly, if it gave me a set of rules to follow, over and above the laws of the land, I would definitely be very wary of it.
 
pollinator
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I've seen a great range of lifestyle choices for folks living off-grid. There are Youtube folks in say Alaska that have some massive systems in place to handle the remote winters, and when I visited Heartwater Farm in Utah they have a quite advanced setup for solar and water heating of their monolithic dome and farm.

At the other end of the tech spectrum, Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley live at Cobville with 2 small solar panels attached to a small car battery, providing power to a couple light bulbs between several buildings. They have no fridge, don't drive into town often and living expenses are under $5000 per year. Ianto is 78, still gets up every single day and walks up the mountain side to search for dead wood, blaze walking trails through the rainforest, and listens to nature as he goes.

Because they are also teaching regularly, there is usually some younger folks to help with certain tasks like bringing cut wood down the mountain in wheel barrels for example. So part of the equation is whether you have community that can help keep an aging Permie independent by helping with tasks that become too demanding. Another part is how much do you rely on technology and needing to get new stuff, where marketing/sales pitches can catch a person off guard.

I think a permaculture Consumer Report review system would be great. Permies has a book review section, so perhaps additional categories can be added to books, like 'water storage', 'electricity production', 'waste systems', etc. Then as people use a given product they could review it on the site, include the cost, ease of use, reliability and the like.
 
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Many places in Australia are off-grid and none of them are seen as any different to the suburban places.  It's pretty normal to live via solar-power, tank water & bio-digested sewerage.  It's not alternative, just what you do when you live in the country!  So we don't use separate associations - just the regular building associations.
 
Tod duBois
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Interesting about Australia. Please tell us more about how the local authorities keep people safe in rural Australia. In the USA most off grid properties are only quasi legal since most are not built with permits or have permitted systems that the inspector doesn't really understand and may not be maintained properly. In California, for example, it is almost always required to have a fire sprinkler system. A fire sprinkler system requires a substantial pumping system and water supply. So a home might need to power a 1.5hp pump for an hour or more in case of a fire. That's just for the interior of the home, not property firefighting.

 
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Last Christmas, there was a 4-day power outage. Randy met some of the neighbors as they were walking the trails, and they mentioned some of the problems they had encountered. These people live closer to the road and they are on grid. Randy had not been aware of the power outage. 



When I was in my mid twenties in the mid 90's, I lived in a small log cabin that was heated by wood which was the only source of heat and cooking.  There was no propane, or electricity in the cabin... oh yeah, there was a very old battery powered radio that was very efficient as I hardly turned it on and the radio was built before planned obsolescence dominated the market.  I had a wind up clock.  The water system was rainwater catchment off the roof.  For lighting I used Kerosene lamps, and I mostly phased these out with homemade beeswax candles.  I would sit at my little desk by the woodstove with three mirrors on it, and four candles and this would provide plenty of light for reading in the long winter nights at 54 degrees North.  I did a lot of my firewood by hand with bow saws, but also had a chainsaw.   I used my wheelbarrow to move the wood from the beach and through the dunes to the cabin.  I had no refrigerator, but did have a pit in the nearby forested dunes that had pails in it; on top of the pails was a garbage bag full of moss and this was covered by a piece of driftwood plywood.  On my first winter before the candle making got rocking, I burned two liters of lamp oil, and 3 gallons of chainsaw gas and mix.  I walked or road my bicycle or hitch hiked when I needed to go to town.  I remember going into town on my bike to get some lemons, parsley, cilantro, and a jalepeno to add a little zest to a big humus for a potluck.  Power had been out for 4 days.  I had no idea that there was an issue.  The grocery store was closed.  I road my bike back home and used apple cider vinegar and powdered cayenne, and skipped the greens and made notes to get some seed and build a greenhouse the next year.  I would dip my pail in the rain barrels.  There were no pipes to freeze, except for the drain from the sink and it never froze.  I would let the fire go out and my tea cup would be frozen to the counter in the morning; within twenty minutes of the fire going, the cabin was 20 C and I was wearing a T-shirt, or no shirt at all if I was cooking pancakes.  

I might have been able to get some wind power in the dunes, but that system would have had to be extremely tough to deal with the intense oceanic storms, and would have required at least a three hundred foot cable to get to the cabin and be in a place that trees could not fall on it.
   
I chose to live simpler and not invest in such as system.

Off grid can mean many things and have a lot of different systems.  People say that they are off grid, but have a huge propane tank for lights, hot water, and fridge and a diesel generator for electricity.  They aren't tied into the grid, but are very dependent on mains resources.  A solar system can be very large or it can be quite small.  I doubt that these systems need be, or are, particularly dangerous.  Running wood heaters, and damping them down for the night, can be the most dangerous act in any off grid situation.  There was some attempt I remember back in the 90's to say that tinkering with 12 volt systems was dangerous, but the argument would quickly swing to automobiles which most people tinker with regularly.  Ever jumped a car?  :)

My friend Tim powers his entire house off of solar, with predominantly LED lighting.  Like Dale he uses a lot of battery operated tools including a chainsaw.  He has an inverter to create 120 for a couple outlets in the house, including one to power a bright incandescent bulb and one he primarily uses for kitchen appliances and an induction stove top.   He has an efficient freezer and his fridge works off a combination of ice packs from the freezer and cold water pipes that flow every time someone turns the tap on in the house.  In comparison to grid power, his system is virtually flawless without the high power demands of tons of 120 systems. 

While California might have strict laws on fire systems such as sprinklers in the homes, I don't think this is the case in most other places in the world. I consider California to be on the cutting edge....  of the over regulated world. 

 


 
Tod duBois
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Friends, fans and less than fans. We all know that off grid living is possible, the real question is it sustainable and safe for society. We have a duty at least somewhat to the greater good even if we as individuals are amazingly resourceful and willing to sacrifice our own safety for some lower costs or perceived freedoms.

The REAL question is is this right for Grandma, your daughter and her children when you are long gone and for other people in and around your property. How do you know if you are now damaging the environment? How do you know your systems won't start a fire someday and hurt people and property? What responsibility do we each have to the rest of society?
 
pioneer
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I'm confused as to the purpose of the organization.  Would it be like Consumer Reports for off-grid stuff?  How would it differ from Home Power magazine?

I sold real estate, mainly country property, for a couple decades in western Oregon.  I once had a listing that was a home that could be off-grid - and it was also grid-tied for convenience.  A really nice place.

I'm not sure there is much need for a consumer protection organization.  People who I met who were interested in being off grid were usually more knowledgeable than your average homebuyer, particularly about systems.  Actual off grid homes (no grid tie) are not conventionally financeable that I know of, so there really are very few people buying and selling them.  There seem to be more people creating new ones, in my experience.

Last year my husband and I looked at an off-grid home for ourselves, and I just asked for all the system details and then started looking into each one.  I didn't find this task too challenging; it seemed that the info was out there on various sites.  As for other aspects of an off-grid property, like septics, wells (except pumping), and internet - those things aren't usually different from any rural home,  unless the property has a composting or greywater sewage system... or am I missing something?

If the goal is to create something that simplifies the info found online, consolidates it, and makes it more consumer friendly.. I can see how there is room for that type of thing. There is almost always room for communicating info in a more accessible/digestible way.  HomePower magazine, for example, is pretty technical and you have to access all the articles to look at older reviews.

Could you explain your concept more?
 
raven ranson
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I'm looking into putting a larger (more than a single light) off-grid power system into one of my outbuildings and I discovered today that where I live, I'm required to have it installed and inspected by a certified electrician who has a certificate for off-grid style installations.  If I don't, then my insurance won't be valid and I run the risk of not passing a building inspection. 

The more I look into this, the more I discover how many regulations are in place.

The REAL question is is this right for Grandma, your daughter and her children



I don't think it has anything to do with gender or age.  This thread has already heard from people of different ages and stages of life who successfully maintain a high quality of life off-grid. 

I think the question that this thread is about is how does a new customer find out which system is right for them?  This has everything to do with customer education - not regulation, the government does enough of that and the target customer isn't all that fond of being regulated - but education! 

Perhaps that's what a "property owner's association" could do.  Research and publish a magazine that tells us what we need to know.

How do you know if you are now damaging the environment? 



I'll be asking these questions of the companies I am thinking of hiring for installing off-grid systems on our farm.  If they can't answer this, with evidence, then I won't be hiring them.  I'm also doing my own independent research. 

How do you know your systems won't start a fire someday and hurt people and property?



All electrical systems pose this risk, not just off-grid ones.  That's probably why our city insists on inspecting any electrical system and having them installed by a licenced professional. 

 
Tod duBois
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Yes! We are now getting to some of the meaty topics:

Kim brought up a HUGE one: "Actual off grid homes (no grid tie) are not conventionally financeable" - it's worse than that, off-grid homes are actually discriminated against by appraisers, bankers and mortgage companies. If anyone has tried to refinance an off grid home be advised - it is a very good idea to have a spoof meter so the home looks like on grid with solar - your appraisal value will be much higher. This is one of the topics the association would try to tackle - if a home is off grid why can't it be worth the same as a comparabe grid home?

Ranson then added: " where I live, I'm required to have it installed and inspected by a certified electrician who has a certificate for off-grid style installations.  If I don't, then my insurance won't be valid and I run the risk of not passing a building inspection." Actually, this applies to where everyone lives though you may not know it or may not want to comply. The reality is inspection is about keeping people safe, both the residents and the neighbors. It's not about unnecessary regulation. People die when fires happen.

Home Power is great but like all media companies are funded by those selling the products. So while they provide a great amount of useful information, you are regularly directed to the products that support the media flow.
 
Dale Hodgins
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The question was asked, how I know that I'm not destroying the environment. It wasn't directed to me, but to all of us generally.

I know that I'm not destroying the environment, because I'm not spraying anything, I'm not handling liquid fuels at all, so there couldn't be spillage, I'm not importing fossil-fuel to heat the building and I'm not using any sort of commercial fertilizer.

For anything to be real, I think we need to see a mechanism. I don't see any way that I could be harming the environment.

If I were burying batteries in the back 40, or dumping motor oil, or spraying something awful, that would be harmful to the environment. And none of that sort of behavior has anything to do with being tied to the grid. A grid-tied house could just as easily contain people who do those things. I think those types of houses are more likely  to contain people who haven't really thought about their homes impact on the environment.

If part of that grid is a sewer system, I think many of us are aware of the sort of awful shit that people put down drains that lead to a public system. People who own their own sewer system are far less likely to put something stupid down the drain, because any chemical dumped down the drain, remains on their property. Even someone with no moral compass, would still have some idea that this could harm their property value.

Homes that use renewable energy, and far less energy than average, pollute less, they don't pollute more. People who produce their own food naturally, pollute less, not more. Those who make and repair their own clothes, pollute less, not more. People who make their own natural cleaning products, pollute less. People who purchase cleaning products designed to not destroy their personal septic system, also pollute less.

I can't think of any category of consumption, where a person living according to the general ethics of people on this site would tend to cause more pollution at home, than the average grid-tied person, who is accustomed to using all of the energy they desire, and dumping things down the drain with impunity.
 
Chrissy Star
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Tod duBois wrote:Interesting about Australia. Please tell us more about how the local authorities keep people safe in rural Australia.



GENERAL:
We have medicare so if you are sick, go to a doctor (or hospital) and bulk bill (means you don't have to hand over any money).
We are rural fire brigade (manned by volunteers but government funded for equipment etc), you have to get a permit off them if you wish to burn anything.
We have waste treatment facilities where you can dump your unmanageable waste (either for free or a small fee).
We have police, ambulance or fire on "000" phone call.

BUILDING:
If you build within 200m of your fenceline (boundary) council approval must be sought.
There are zones where land can or cannot be cleared for whatever reason (conservation, native species protection etc).
To get a bank loan or council approval for a house, you need an architect to sign off on your plans.  Thus, simply go to one which advertises that they do green houses.
Builders have licences & experience in their trade.  Go to someone who is experienced in the building style. 
When you buy something from the shop (building material etc) it has to be Australian Standard compliant. 

What else would you like to know?
 
S Bengi
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Tod, I like the idea of making extra money as much as you do.
If you had team of structural engineer, architect, electrical, plumbing, gas, solar guys, that could help some folks like me breeze thru the permitting process, say in every state in USA. I think that there is a need/market. That way you could get governement hall used to my 'crazy' idea, get 'me' a experimental permit or variance or just a regular permit but one that is fast track.

I can do most of the actually plumbing/electrical/carpentry work, but I might need you to sign off on some permit paperwork after a quick once over or if I hit a snag with city hall, I can call you up and fast track my permit due to your existing government relationships.

Just be aware that alot of permies like permanent/long term/one time expenses. So it will be hard for you to sell a monthly subscription model. Very much about paying my electric bill once a decade with batteries vs monthly payment. Very much about doing one time earthworks vs hand watering the fruit trees daily.

However there is a market for most things, and so if you were to say, I am trying to start a biz where the masses say in the city want to add some sustainability and redundancy, by installing a grid assisted solar installation that can feed the grid if there is excess, but also disconnect and run off the grid if the grid goes down. There is market for that.

You can also 
 
pollinator
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Tod duBois wrote:Myself and many others (off grid experts) are struggling to find a sustainable business model supporting off grid property owners (power, water and waste grids)...



I think you are misusing terminology; if you used the term "Co-op" instead of "Association", I think your title may be better aligned with what you want to do. When I think of the term "association" I instantly think of a non-profit collective body that is trying to promote a certain market. Yet when I think of a Co-Op, I think of a group of people trying to make profit, or save money...by collectively pooling their money to get a larger scale. To me "a sustainable business model" is NOT what an association does, but is what a Co-Op is all about. (Maybe I am wrong though))

I do not think you are entirely wrong in other areas of your post, as here in Maine I see a lot of people move towards homesteading and off-grid homes and then as they grow older they tire of the workload and then move away unable to sustain it. I am not saying everyone is like that, I know older people who live out their days in such a way, but even here in Maine...the Permicultural Capital of the world, they are not common.

It does not have to be that way. I think technology for off-grid systems is moving in a direction so that can happen, and myself I plan to move out of my current large home, built so that if I was injured in a car accident tomorrow, I could live out my days in a wheelchair without changing my home; to a new smaller WOFATI home for just my wife and I. That house may, or may not be completely off-grid, as I have not decided on that detail, but I now have everything I need to produce 20 KW of off-grid power. Our primary goal is to get out of this !@#$%^&* wind and have a smaller house for just her and I. But doing that requires a lot of planning, and I am not sure a lot of people really do that.

Tod duBois wrote:There are lots of retailers making money selling equipment that is usually improperly installed, often unsafe and hard to maintain.



I could not agree more with this statement, and saw that with all the stuff my Uncle installed on his house. In his case he was just spending excess money he has on "toys" and collecting environmental rebates whenever and wherever he could. There is a super-fine line between being overly complicated, and yet something that looks cobbled together and is homemade. Myself, I prefer the homemade stuff. I know a windmill has all the dynamic forces of an airplane so it is not to be taken lightly, but the first "areoplane" was built by a bunch of bicycle makers too. This is a difficult situation for off-grid manufactures, but I think a market exists. I know plenty off people who cannot get the return on investment they need to reduce their $80 a month electrical payments. They are not mechanical enough to make their own off-grid solutions, but my Uncle's expensive 5 KW windmill will never pay itself off either. That middle gray area is what is not being catered too.

Tod duBois wrote:So much bad and even crazy info on the web. So much waste and potential danger to the environment and more importantly your families economic future.



This is the part that I am not sure I agree with. It is the internet after all so that statement pertains to anything on the internet. Information on the internet is no different then going into a hardware store where people come in and sit down on empty kegs of spikes around the old pot bellied stove. From that conversation a person might get some really off the wall responses from the old duffer that cannot get out of the 1960's, and yet some futuristic ideas from the guy still in college. What a person decides to accept for information is VERY SUBJECTIVE. The beauty of the internet is that everyone speaks up, and I get to step away from my circle of friends and hear the old duffers comments, and the futuristic comments, along with everyone else's; and from that proceed with what I feel is best. The problem is, what you may feel is poor information, may just be coming from the old duffer stuck in the 1960's, and yet to him, your futuristic ideas may be wrong. The reality is, only the homeowner can truly decide what is right for them because micro-climate is everything in off-grid situations.
 
Dale Hodgins
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So, the question of whether or not it's broken, seems to be a regional thing. Those trying to live off-grid near major metropolitan areas, are likely to find more regulatory hurdles, but they can also drive into town and find everything they need.

Disparity in education, regarding what to do and how to do it, is quite extreme. That's, because most of us are self-educated. Yesterday, I listened to a flat broke lady tell a group of people about how she was going to build a giant concrete dome, complete with ponds, storage area and living space, just as soon as she finds some free land, in this city where a building lot costs half a million. :-)

The internet is my primary source of information, beyond my own observations, so it doesn't matter where I am. I've found that even on this island with only 600,000 people on it, just about everything an off gridder could want, is readily available, with more choice than ever before, better quality and durability.

I have spoken to two different people who specialize in setting up off grid electrical systems. They have lists of happy customers. When I initially contacted both of them, they went into a short spiel about what I could expect from an off grid system and from them. Both brought up the idea of going with new, efficient appliances and lighting, and not using electric kettles, electric heat and so forth. After having a chat with the guy who spent the most time on this, he told me that his first order of business when he meets a new client, is to see how educated they are, regarding what they want to do. He sometimes has to get people to scale things back quite a bit, if they come in with pie-in-the-sky expectations. To me, this makes him a good choice. He doesn't promise what he can't deliver, and he doesn't go ahead with things until people understand exactly what they are buying.
 
Tod duBois
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Thank you, everyone, for pitching in, a lot of good insight. I've decided to shelf the idea or concept for awhile and return to academia (if they'll have me) and go earn a doctorate and be a professor (that's the vision).

It remains unclear if the university will allow me to study the off-grid community in an analytical way but who knows. Maybe I can use science instead of opinion in the future

Good luck and keep the lights on!

 
David Livingston
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Not sure is science vs opinion is the right paradigm . I would have thought that finding out what people want rather than telling them what they need might be a more effective business model and in line with Permaculture where folks are advised to observe the land to work out what would be the best planting scheme :-)

David
 
Chrissy Star
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Tod duBois wrote:It remains unclear if the university will allow me to study the off-grid community in an analytical way but who knows. Maybe I can use science instead of opinion in the future


If you ask me, there is always a uni who is interested in a particular field - you just have to find the right research centre/academic/school at the university...and check out multiple universities.  I have moved town to access the right university for the field I was working in at the time.  It is a good feeling to know you are with the right crew.

All the best!
 
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Tod duBois wrote:Myself and many others (off grid experts) are struggling to find a sustainable business model supporting off grid property owners (power, water and waste grids). The reality long term is that off grid living is not very sustainable. We have yet to see anyone build and maintain any off grid property with utility grade infrastructure thru a full family lifecycle. In other words, when you get old you can't stay in your off grid home. After a decade or so huge amounts of deferred maintenance mean the property and environment get compromised. Of course, if you don't want electricity, internet, water and waste systems that meet EPA standards when you are 80 - that's different.

There are lots of retailers making money selling equipment that is usually improperly installed, often unsafe and hard to maintain.

So several of us are trying to decide how to proceed. We are considering forming some type of national or international property owners association. The idea to become the consumer's guide and reliable technical resource. So much bad and even crazy info on the web. So much waste and potential danger to the environment and more importantly your families economic future.

What do people think?



Tod duBois wrote:Thank you, everyone, for pitching in, a lot of good insight. I've decided to shelf the idea or concept for awhile and return to academia (if they'll have me) and go earn a doctorate and be a professor (that's the vision).

It remains unclear if the university will allow me to study the off-grid community in an analytical way but who knows. Maybe I can use science instead of opinion in the future

Good luck and keep the lights on!




Wow, you stuck some old nerves eh? Community knowledge seems to be a good thing but far as a body of governance. The EPA, despite it's name, doesn't necessarily do a bang up job at protecting the environment. They approve Monsanto's RoundUp after all among other things. I think most of us are trying to get away from that kind of situation as it always seems to devolve into power plays, greed and regulations that stunt innovation. Some young people just think they're more open minded and/or smarter than the rest and so they 'rightfully' should be able to govern others and I think unfortunately, you may be coming off that way. But hey, that's politics.

Hopefully, your becoming a phd is just seeking knowledge that you can share with others and not meant to become the expert that wants to be a controlling entity. This forum and other web resources are our consumer's guide and reliable technical resources though we do have to think critically. Not everyone can and/or will do that but that's human nature. Up until the industrial revolution, humans didn't cause very much damage to the planet and people did live off grid for multiple generations.

Living off grid can is a lot of work. If you want a big house but don't put the effort into building and situating it properly, it's going to be a lot of work and/or not very comfie. If you use tons of man-made materials, you're probably not doing the planet any favors.

Should we be going forward with innovation or going backward to live like we did in the 1400s? There has to be some sort of happy medium between going forward and going backward and I think that's what most people here are striving for.

I'm 53 years old and 120lbs but I get out there and cut and split wood. My buddy just got a new airtight wood stove with updraft and catalytic features and that showed me that I need to get one. His stove puts out as much heat as mine with him burning a few pieces of 2-3 inch wood while I'm using 2-3 - 6 inch split pieces. Someday, I hope to have shelter that requires almost no wood and that wood will be sticks I pick up off the ground.

We just got on the grid after 7 years but mostly because I'm a fabricator and alternative energy won't run a welder, air compressor etc. Meanwhile, I've cut down my usage of electric equipment/tools. People out here will laugh or scoff at you if you start talking about climate change or desertification but I still have them swapping over to LED lighting. I didn't bother trying to do so with compact fluorescent because I worked with fluorescent  for years in the electric sign business and already knew about the mercury issue. LED uses even less electric so I'm able to swap people over with the cost savings. Same with gardening. I grew the best potatoes in the area on my second year here because everyone else, who had been gardening for years, never put organic material in their soil. Slowly, they're coming around but it's not from me telling them things. It's from me showing them. I'm in the Show Me State.

We'll all get there eventually but trying to govern and specify what people should do or buy isn't going to do it. Patience grasshopper and lead by example.
 
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