Interested in starting a project... Know nothing.

Well I'll start with some background information.

I live in Cincinnati Ohio, currently I am a student and Northern Kentucky University. This is my final year of school (graduating with a Bachelors in Entrepreneurship this Spring) and I am contemplating starting a project, to live off the grid and to cut down all my costs when i leave college.

My family (Parents, a brother and his family) live on a farm (about 24 acres). Solar power is definitely an option, when the sun isn't shining then it's almost always windy/storming so a combination of Solar/Wind is very plausible here.

I am contemplating building a small house, maybe 30ftX20ft. My needs are simple, I am an outdoors guy. Basically my needs run as far as Window AC, Refrigerator, Freezer, Microwave, Lighting, a small television, and plumbing.


where would be a good starting point to learn what system i will need? what special needs does an Off-Grid system require?


I have recently helped a brother build a log house (attached to the power grid) So I understand basic construction, but i am completely at a loss when it comes to power and electricity.


any tips, sources anything? I would appreciate it a lot! :)

Comments

  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,804 admin
    Re: Interested in starting a project... Know nothing.

    Basically:

    1: Conservation
    2: Measure your loads (monthly, or with a kill-a-watt meter)
    3: Do you have utility power (Grid Tied vs Off-Grid)
    4: Solar Thermal for Domestic Hot water/heating is usually a better investment (more maintenance though).
    5: With solar electric, are you looking to save money, have emergency backup power, just want to "go green", etc.? For short outages, a small generator (like a Honda eu2000i) may be more cost effective vs full Off-Grid capable system.
    6: Wind power may work if you have a very windy location. It is not cheap, needs tall tower (at least 30' above obstructions) and finding a good generator (that doesn't break) can be hard.

    Just as an FYI... Grid Tied solar will cost you around $0.25 per kWhr (very rough, not including any rebates, more if you don't have good sun). Off Grid solar costs around $1.00 per kWhr (again, very rough price). Utility power is usually around $0.10 to $0.30 per kWhr (depending on where you live).

    Home Power Mag. is a good place to start reading.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Interested in starting a project... Know nothing.

    my answers in bold.
    Well I'll start with some background information.

    I live in Cincinnati Ohio, currently I am a student and Northern Kentucky University. This is my final year of school (graduating with a Bachelors in Entrepreneurship this Spring) and I am contemplating starting a project, to live off the grid and to cut down all my costs when i leave college.

    it is nice to keep costs down if possible and being a new graduate i'm sure your student loans and such will be a pain to you for some time. this is an expensive endeavor with the initial investment to produce your own power.

    My family (Parents, a brother and his family) live on a farm (about 24 acres). Solar power is definitely an option, when the sun isn't shining then it's almost always windy/storming so a combination of Solar/Wind is very plausible here.

    there is a problem finding quality wind generators and their maintenance will be high being parts move and wear out. most are staying solar. i am also to assume you will build your place on the same property while living in the home with all of the family so correct me if i'm wrong?

    I am contemplating building a small house, maybe 30ftX20ft. My needs are simple, I am an outdoors guy. Basically my needs run as far as Window AC, Refrigerator, Freezer, Microwave, Lighting, a small television, and plumbing.

    you might wish to consider building a larger place you could expand into if you intend to stay longterm with a spouse and maybe new additions to the family. a small utility room for some stuff like the breaker panels, electronics, batteries, etc. would also be nice. you didn't mention the type of heat you'll use or how you intend for hot water.

    where would be a good starting point to learn what system i will need? what special needs does an Off-Grid system require?

    here is a good place to start getting ideas from us and many of the posts here and as mentioned homepower mag is good too. this takes much planning just like one would for building the home. bill outlined well for you some steps to take.

    I have recently helped a brother build a log house (attached to the power grid) So I understand basic construction, but i am completely at a loss when it comes to power and electricity.

    now is the time to learn. just as your brother probably had to follow some construction guidelines to make the place safe and so you will too. you will just have a bit more complexity because of the nature of the rules that govern solar and wind installs for electrical production. even though you indicate it will be a standalone system, it should be wired and handled just as a utility tied home would be and then additional for the needs a solar/wind system entails. with that much land, maybe hydro power is possible too, but i know your area is pretty flat so maybe not.

    any tips, sources anything? I would appreciate it a lot! :)

    read read read. ask any questions that come to your mind after some reading. all this so you learn to do. we may not have all of your answers for you and ultimately we can make suggestions, but you have the final say and it is your investment to make.
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: Interested in starting a project... Know nothing.

    Actually leaving school pretty financially sound, i'll probably be grabbing a cheap apartment after.


    I have not given much thought into water heating, I've looked into Solar Thermal heating a little, but is there an affordable way to make it work for such a small set up?

    The farm is pretty flat, and using the creek nearby for energy is a bad idea, it tends to go dry for long parts of the year (maybe if i snagged land nearby that's just off of the little miami mwahahaha)

    for heating I'm leaning towards natural gas (guess for water & heating) however with how small i want to build heating might just not be a problem (using space heaters, or good old fashion wood stove or fireplace)
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,804 admin
    Re: Interested in starting a project... Know nothing.

    For a do-it-yourself solar thermal project--look at solarroofs.com

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • icarusicarus Solar Expert Posts: 5,436 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Interested in starting a project... Know nothing.

    Read, read, read! Glean as many ideas for energy conservation you can find. Visit as many solar installations as you can.

    Remember that what you do doesn't have to be exotic or expensive (relatively). Time and energy spend in the design phase pay off big time in the construction, installation and use. I have been reading and learning and doing since the first energy "crisis" of 1973.

    As Bill said earlier, conservation, conservation conservation. Good design, high levels of insulation, simple passive solar design to maximize solar gain coupled with good insulation to keep that heat in, (including night shades for glazing!) Zone heating, ideally multiple heating units such as Rinnai space heaters, my personal non wood favorite! Preheat hot water augmented with demand gas/lp. Beware hype and vaporware.

    Don't be afraid of doing some diy. A simple solar sun space on the side of a house can be build quite inexpensively using recycled glass. (One of the great unsung bargains is recycled tempered glass panels from Patio doors. 34"23"X76" glass units can be had for ~$5, a great source for sunporches, coldframes, flatplate water heaters etc. Almost any glass shop that does service work has tons of them. Since they can't be cut their use is limited to their sizes.

    I guess my point is, be creative, and learn all you can, and don't be afraid to fail. The parts and pieces from any failed projects often recycle themselves into the next one.

    Tony

    PS This site is a wealth of information. The web is full of good information,,,but alas much misinformation as well.
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Interested in starting a project... Know nothing.

    you can do lng, but allow for solar thermal and a fireplace. propane is another option too and many here like to use that for their fridges. i think propane will jump out of site in cost along with many fossil fuels down the road. you've got some time to think about much of this and i'm sure the options are starting to register with you now making you think. good.

    the building should have very good insulation in the walls and ceiling. i'm not sure what they recommend for this general part of the country nowadays, but i can guarantee it's over r20 for the walls and more for the ceiling. i like the urethane foam boards with reflective foil as they pack excellent insulative quality in a smaller thickness at around r7 or r8 per inch and fiberglass needs far too much area and can degrade with moisture present. a big investment will be your windows. i believe that the fiberglass triple pane with reflective coating is your best bet. many may say use argon and double pane, but the argon leaks out over time and double pane by nature is only so insulative making it sensible in conjunction with the high r values you seek to put in everywhere else in the house. if you elect to have passive solar heating towards the areas the sun will exist during the winter (south +/-) then do away with the reflective coating in those windows as this allows the heat to enter. shutters are an option for windows without a reflective coating.

    oh, i almost forgot that with a well insulated airtight place (especially one with a fireplace or stove) it may be necessary to bring in fresh air. this air will need to be preheated and can be done with a heat exchanger type of a deal. brock had brought this to my attention a ways back as he did it due to his having an indoor pool i believe and we discussed it for a few posts, but he may wish to say about it again here.
    many of these things are also addressed in home power magazine too (not just about pvs) and it is possible to buy up many of the past issues and have them on disks.
  • SolarJohnSolarJohn Solar Expert Posts: 202 ✭✭
    Re: Interested in starting a project... Know nothing.

    Your goal to live off-grid and cut costs is admirable, but why not make it your goal to live entriely free of fossil fuel? That's what I would do if I were in your position. I would consider heating with pellets or corn (because it's cleaner than wood). I would have a solar water heating system, and a solar PV system. I might install a composting toilet. I would drive an electric car (they should be available within the next few years). And, though it would be terribly expensive at today's prices, you might eventually be able to drive using free power from your PV system. Like I said, ZERO fossil fuel use. The main benefit is that you would be setting a good example and inspiring others to do similar things. You could demonstrate that it is possible to live comfortably, with all of the conveniences that grid-connected folks enjoy. At the same time, zero fossil fuel use would have a tremendous positive impact on the environment and would have a positive impact on national security.

    Waddaya say?

    John
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