Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Hydro Free Weekends

After yet another $300 hydro (power) bill, we decided to take the plunge... and bought our first set of solar panels.It's just a little starter set/ RV kit, but it's a starting point.  Sadly, no, I did not do any research regarding brands/types, etc.  Here in the sticks we can shop at Walmart or Canadian Tire.  Canadian Tire has a wider selection of bits and pieces, and they're probably better quality, definitely higher prices, but no package deal.  I was a bit lost and confused and unsure where to start.  So I bought the Walmart kit, which included the wiring, regulator, adapters and lights.
#2 built a very simple wooden frame over the entrance way roof and mounted them up. Two panels (18 Watts each), plus the mini 'battery charger' we already had went up on the south west side.

And one panel on the south east side.  It's not ideal, as they are stationary at the moment, but we'll need more panels before we bother building a mobile frame.  The single panel catches the morning sun, while the other side doesn't get sun til around noon.

Our current battery bank is an oddball collection from various vehicles, and we're still working out which ones can be recharged and still hold a charge, many having been frozen when not in use.  The inverter is only 400 Watts- a spare I bought when Husband was still driving long haul.  Needless to say, we have a long way to go...

For our first "hydro free weekend", we flipped the main breaker to the house on Friday morning and went cold turkey.  It was a beautiful, sunny weekend, so we figured the odds were in our favour, lol.  Wow- talk about shell shock...

The first issue we had to deal with was one of the batteries was beyond dead, and while it seemed to be charging at first, it wouldn't hold it's charge and started draining off the other batteries.  Things went better after Husband took it out of the system.

Next up- the inverter is just too small.  While it was sufficient to charge cell phones, rechargeable flashlights, my kindle, all four lap tops at once, and run the tv and satellite for about 3.5 hours at night...  400 Watts is far less than the average kitchen appliance.  The coffee pot requires 900W, the toaster 1500W.  Of course the stove, fridge, freezers, washing machine, hot water tank, and well pump were all out of the question.

We ran the generator for about an hour in the evenings to chill the freezers and fridge, as well as light the garage and kitchen while cooking supper.  Everything stayed frozen, despite the warm weather and the extra heat from the woodstoves.  We did lose a jug of milk in the fridge, but everything else was ok.

The third issue- extension cords.  We don't have nearly enough long, heavy duty extension cords, and had to constantly be unplugging this and plugging in that...  And we were constantly tripping over cords sprawled out every where...  Not helpful while stumbling about in the dark.

We used outdoor solar lights for the boys' rooms at night, as well as the living room and sunroom.  We could definitely use more of them, and a back up supply of batteries.  Some of my older lights wouldn't work. 

We burned candles in the kitchen, bathroom and our bedroom.  We went through far more candles than I expected, although most were fat decorative candles which left heavy pools of wax behind.  I took the opportunity to make another batch of candles, combining the leftover wax with beef tallow.  I melted the wax and fat over the fire pit and poured it into a silicone muffin tray.  Simple and functional.  I will need to try my patience with making tapered candles as well- much easier to carry from room to room.

We used the kerosene lamp in the kitchen.  It surprised me how quickly it burned the kerosene.  I was not expecting to have to refill it over three days, but we emptied it twice.  I had to wash the lamp every day- we need practice getting the wick to the right height without blackening the glass.

We used the fire pit to heat water in my 'turkey tub'.  The picture below is actually from when I was butchering chickens.  Scrap wood- long dry branches from the pasture were used for the fire, requiring much less cutting and 'man power' than using proper firewood.  Since many of them have been on the ground for a few years they're super dry and burn hot!  We had sufficient hot water for dishes, cleaning, and sponge baths.  But where did the water come from?

Well, for this experiment we cheated...  We hauled water from Mom's in the barrel we use to haul water for the critters, rather than going to the creek and then filtering it.  For drinking water we used our stored water from the basement, which was well past it's prime for storage.  While it was still 'clean'- no algae, at least, there were some little white floaties in a lot of the bottles.  I poured the water through a coffee filter before using.  I think it's from the pop bottles aging.  We didn't use all of our stored water, but came close.  I'll be adding to my storage.

We cooked on the wood stoves and fire pit.  That went pretty well, since we've cooked on them plenty in the past.  Space was an issue, so I'm pushing Husband to expand the stove top with a sheet of steel.  The pig slop and doggy stew were constantly being pushed out of the way, so took much longer to cook than expected.  I had to start the morning feeds at night to let them simmer overnight, and the evening feeds after breakfast. 

Tea was no problem on the wood stove, but coffee was out.  The glass top of my stove top percolator has gone missing...  That will need to be replaced.  Husband cheated and went to Mom's for coffee, lol.  She even brought over a couple of thermoses full.

We entertained ourselves with cards and board games, and books.  We got up early with the sun, and went to bed early as well. 

Monday after the boys left for school I flipped the main breaker back on, then shut off all of the little ones.  I turned on everything in the house, and plugged things into empty plugs.  Then I started flipping the breakers, one at a time, walking through the house to see what came on.  I only made it about halfway through the fuse panel before I called it quits...  Up the basement stairs, up the upstairs, outside to the garage, back to the basement...  That's hard on these old legs.

I found two breakers that don't appear to be connected to anything.  I left them off.  I figure they might as well stay off until someone discovers that something isn't working.  I don't know if they add to my hydro bill or not, but obviously they aren't really vital...

About the hydro bill...  Just to clarify, we aren't really hydro hogs...  We are using an average of 50 Kwh per day, which is certainly bad enough, but includes the excess water pumping for the critters, heat lamps for chicks, incubator, and power to the outbuildings- expenses that folks in town don't share.  Over a third of the bill is delivery charges, debt retirement (from the old Ontario hydro), and taxes...  Which makes me crazy.  With so few people in our area, they charge through the nose for delivery- someone has to make up the losses on the lines...

So...  the over all plan is to install a second fuse panel in the basement, run the solar power to it, and switch one breaker at a time from hydro to solar.  We'll keep expanding our system as we can afford it, and someday, get off grid.  In the mean time, we'll continue with "hydro free weekends", to improve our awareness of our electrical use, (especially with getting the boys to use one thing at a time, instead of turning on the tv and walking out of the room), to see how many watts which appliances use, and what we can live without, and to test how the solar panels do in various types of weather.  Although next time, I think we'll leave the freezers and the water on.  I know which breakers they're on now...


  1. I am impressed with your work. I read and read again. Then, I could not comment. I think it was my computer. Okay, I thought I Maybe not. I wish I had some off grid electricity! My utility bill--water, sewage, garbage/city services, and electricity were only $160 this last month. AND, I have vowed not to use the heat until Thanksgiving. We will see. After that, using the dryer and heater for the house will cause the utility bill to soar to over $300. I will get a bill on the 10th which will be lower than last month, so that will be something.

    My WM does not carry solar anything, not even the components.

    1. Thanks, Linda. Thankfully we don't pay for water (well), and the septic tank only needs to be pumped once a year! Garbage is by the bag- they have to be tagged when dropping them at the dump. Heat, of course is free, if you don't count the firewood permit, chainsaw gas/oil/maintenance, and hours of back breaking labour. Yeah, the dryer is a huge hydro suck. I;m hoping to talk myself into keeping the clothesline in action this winter. We're into the grey days of fall now, so it's already getting hard.

      That's weird- that they carry something here and not in the US. Usually it's the other way around. I'm sure if you did some searching you could find a local supplier though- or at least, more local than me, lol.

  2. Simple trick to cut your power bill up to 75%:

    Want to know how to easily produce all of the renewable energy you could ever want right at home?

    And you will be able to make your home completely immune from power failures, blackouts, and energy grid failures
    so even if everyone else in your area (or even the whole country) loses power…you won’t.