Off-Grid

Taking Your Toilet Off the Grid

Hi there 🙂

This past week I’ve been talking about off-grid amenities, starting with stoves, and most recently about refrigeration methods. Now, I’m starting to think about the bathroom. Toilets, showers, and sinks.

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Toilets seem pretty daunting to me.  Everybody is so funny and picky about the way they do their business. Most of our grandparents or at least great grandparents used an outhouse sometime in their life, but these days the mention of an outhouse elicits thoughts of hillbillies and dirt poor days gone by.

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People just don’t want to do what’s natural in a place where they can see that other people have too. I get it. If I were to ask my parents to come visit and tell them my only toilet was a compost toilet, I’m sure they would imagine visions of a port-a-potty and head for the hills.

But, believe it or not, it is possible to have “green” toilet in your home, sans plumbing, and it still be comfortable and sanitary. Just like every other “off grid” amenity, your level of modernity depends on the amount you are willing to spend. Personally, I’m not going to go off grid if it costs me more to build my self-sustaining homestead than it would a regular house.

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A doable option for many homesteaders is a commercial compost toilet. These come in many different variations, but the principle remains the same.  You do the doo and cover it with a material such as sawdust to prevent odor and aid the decomposition process. Then, you periodically empty the tank. After your compost pile has decomposed a year or two, you have a wonderful fertilizer.

My biggest fear would be the smell.  A number of homesteaders swear by their compost toilets and vow that they have little to no odor. I’m seeing rave reviews about a book called The Humanure Handbook. This book is promised to be life-changing, and give you all the information you would need to set up your own compost toilet. The benefits go far beyond the one that initially caught my eye: the next-to-nothing price tag. I intend to purchase the book soon (and it is available digitally)!

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I’m also very interested in outhouses. They don’t have to be as primitive as you think. You are limited only by your creativity as to how snazzy you make it. And, if you don’t like seeing the whole household’s business, what about adding a little flap?

I’m imagining combining these ideas into one, using the compost toilet concept but placing it inside an outhouse-style toilet structure (like a little bench) and adding a flap to the hole so that no one has to see the “humanure”. Straw or sawdust, etc. Can be put on top of the flap to keep it relatively clean and assist the decomposition.

Besides what it can do for the soil, why use gallons of water every time we flush? A compost toilet or outhouse is a major step toward going off the grid!

What do you think? Is this appalling or appealing to you? I can’t wait to tell you about some great shower options I’ve found for off-grid use.

Check out this cool combination outhouse-style bathroom I found with my Houzz app!

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Off-Grid

Choosing the Right Refrigeration for Your Off-Grid Home

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Hello there!

In my last post, I talked a little about how much solar and wind power it would take to power my wasteful energy habits. Most off-grid families cut down on their energy use drastically anyway, but to help that switch to conservative usage, I suggested installing appliances in your home that use an alternative source of power.

My first example was replacing an electric stove with a wood-burning stove for winter, and a propane powered stove for warmer months. Now, I want to propose a few more ideas about some really great off-grid refrigeration methods!

There are a lot of options out there to choose from. Propane powered refrigerators are pretty common and a great solution, however, I’m not planning on going too crazy with the propane. It might be great to have one as a back up, but as far as year-round use, I’d like to have a more reliable way to store food. You never know when something like propane might not always be so readily available. 

My first stop was to check out “clay pot” refrigeration.  Also called a zeer, this method dates back to around 2,500 B.C. in Egypt and the Indus Valley. The basic idea is that one clay pot is placed inside a larger one, and the gaps in between the two are filled with moist sand. The food is placed inside the smaller pot, and the top covered with a cloth. The evaporation of the water in the sand through the outer pot draws heat from the inside and keeps the food much cooler than the outside temperature.

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To me, this seems like a great method for modern day off-grid families to use for storing vegetables and grains, etc.

I really got to thinking hard about ways I could use a natural source of running water for keeping more perishable things like meat and dairy. After a while, it suddenly popped into my head. Almost ten years ago, I visited a place called Exchange Place in Kingsport, Tennessee.  It’s an 1850’s living history farm, and used to be an entirely self-supporting farm (the off-grid mindset has been around quite a while!).

There I remembered the spring house!  This is where it gets exciting. I remember it being pretty cold in there.  In July.  The spring house is where they kept their milk and perishables.  Apparently, these were pretty common back in the day, both on Southern plantations and Northern farms, and homesteads all over the country.

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The idea is this: a structure (well insulated, and preferably stone or brick, though wood is acceptable), is built either over the source of a natural spring, or beside a natural flowing creek or river.  The cold water is diverted through the spring house in trenches. Ceramic ware filled with milk was set into the water to preserve it,  and vegetables and meat were placed in containers in the spring house. The cold water kept the temperature in the building plenty cool enough to be considered a giant walk-in refrigerator!

Place some zeers inside your spring house and you have a double whammy! This idea just really appeals to me. I love the thought of going into the spring house on a hot summer day to cool off and get some milk that has been chilled naturally in a clay pot. So charming!

It’s a great idea to build your homestead close to running water, not only for refrigeration, but for many other reasons. For those of us who aren’t so lucky, a root cellar seems like a great option.

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Root cellars are most often dug fairly deep into the ground, with a home or structure built on top, and a trap door leads to the root cellar. The natural temperature of the earth at that depth keeps food cool during the summer but keeps it from freezing in the winter.  Other root cellars are built into the side of a hill, and some (in rockier areas that are tough to dig) are built on top of the earth, with natural materials piled on.

These are all great methods and I think ideally, I would love to use a combination of all three. What do you think? I’m very interested in learning more about other methods of refrigeration that don’t depend on the grid. 

Next, we can talk about toilets that don’t require plumbing! (Yikes?!)

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Off-Grid

Choosing the Right Power for Your Home

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Hey there everyone!

Lately I have been doing a lot of thinking about all the electricity my husband and I use every day. I keep thinking that, at the amount of energy we consume every day, we would require a behemoth of a solar panel (probably several), plus some extra form of power like wind or hydro, plus a backup generator.

Looking into all those things, I didn’t find the results very promising. All that stuff gets pricey. And, pretty complicated unless you’re somewhat of an expert (self-made or otherwise), or borderline genius.

As stated before, I am a bit lazy and a big time cheapo. It’s much easier for me to come up with ways to avoid using electricity than for me to figure out how to obtain a lot of electricity.

I started thinking about all the basics that use “the grid” that we personally can’t go without. A stove, drinking water, some sort of refrigeration, a toilet, a sink for washing hands & dishes, and shower/bathtub topped topped the list.

I really like the idea of using a wood-burning cook stove during the cold months to cook on, with the added bonus of heating the house. Of course, unless the cook stove is separate from the main house, you probably don’t want to use it year round. My idea was to use a propane powered stove during warmer months, and cut down on fuel usage by using a pressure cooker frequently. Let’s see how this stacks up against a common electric stove.
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Typical basic electric stove– $400 + monthly utility bill

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Propane range with battery start ignition– $450

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Pressure cooker– $20

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Wood burning stove w/ 2 spaces for cooking– $380

I don’t know about you, but the few extra hundred dollars it would cost to buy both these kinds of stoves would be payed back many times in a few months simply by not having an outrageous utility bill every month.

Stick around, and soon I’ll talk about alternatives for all the other amenities on my list.
I’m really excited about some of the refrigeration methods I’ve dug up! 😉

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Off-Grid

Choosing the Right Place to Go Off-Grid

Good morning everyone!

With my husband finally getting some time off, we loaded up the furry children and made the drive to Mississippi to spend some much-needed down time with his wonderful family this week.

Ohh the peacefulness! My soul is at rest here with nothing but the trees, our animals, and our family. At our home in Florida, we are constantly disturbed by the sound of traffic, noisy neighbors, barking dogs, and the loudest train I’ve ever heard in my life. Everyone seems to be in a hurry; everyone seems to think they are more important than everyone else.

Here, life is much slower, and most people seem to really mean it when they smile. I can step out the front door and breathe in without being assaulted by the smell of exhaust fumes in the air. Obviously I want to live here.

I would say to anyone who is planning as I am to go off-grid: pick a place that brings you peace. In addition to that simple notion, there are obviously a few other aspects you might want to take into consideration.

To me, choosing the right spot for your home is just as, if not more important than, every other step in the process of going off-grid and beginning a homestead.

First, take into consideration the building codes and restrictions of that county. The most lenient counties are probably going to be rural. I doubt I could build any type and size home I wanted in Memphis and throw up a windmill, some solar panels, a rain cistern, a garden, and chicken coop without my parade getting heavily rained upon.

In addition, what permits will be required? And, I wouldn’t suggest any place that has a homeowners’ association. My mother once had a big storm blow through and knock down a section of her privacy fence. The next morning, there was a letter in the mailbox stating it must be repaired within 3 business days or she would be fined a hefty sum by the homeowners. I doubt those characters would take kindly to me building a chicken coop.

Keeping all that in mind, you can build according to your own preferences, for example: if you choose to build a log structure or another sort of primitive home, you definitely won’t want to build in a low spot where the rain will collect and potentially compromise the stability and longevity of your home.

Also consider your main water sources. Using a well for water is common, but can become pricey depending on how deep you have to go to tap into groundwater in your area. You can save money building in an area with shallow groundwater.  Rain barrels are a more inexpensive resource, especially if you are only using them for your non-potable needs, i.e. showering, washing dishes, irrigation, and animal drinking water.

If you go the route of using a cistern for drinking water, it’s not advisable to build near any large sources of pollution, such as factory. It’s wonderful to have a natural source of running water like a river or stream nearby, though that’s not always an option.

When choosing a location for your home, one more consideration to make is the soil. For example, depending on what sort of crops you intend to grow, you will probably want very rich soil, though if you are going the route of casting your own bricks from native soil, soils with a high sand content make the most stable composition.

Most of all, choose the place that’s right for your family and individual needs and preferences. With the right mindset,  you can make your home at whatever place speaks to you.

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Off-Grid

Can I Go Off-Grid?

As promised in my first post (and suggested by this blog’s name), I want to start talking about homesteading. Going off-grid. What is this exactly? Why would I give up the life I am accustomed to? Who does this?

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If you Google either one of the terms, homesteading or going off-grid, a lot of results come up.  Most of these results I found discouraging, simply because of the exorbitant amounts of money that these sites suggest is necessary to “go off grid.

Why should it cost us so much money to downgrade our modern lifestyles? If this whole blog is about doing things for yourself, why would I write telling you to pay someone $15,000 to install some solar panels on your house? I won’t. Not here, because I’m just not buying in to that.

My grandpa used to tell me about growing up with no electricity. He was born in 1917, in Tennessee, out in the country. While I know he later loved watching his football games on television ten feet from his recliner, I doubt he grew up feeling he was suffering terribly, simply due to the fact that he wasn’t watching TV.

Now I’m not saying that deciding to live off-grid means you have to forgo electricity. Not at all. The point I’m trying to make is that our ancestors thrived on a lot less convenience than we do. And with a lot less money.

So, that being said, some of you want to know what in the world I’m even talking about anyway. I’ll give you a little background into my thought process, and then we can discuss what off-grid really means.

I have always been a little discontent.  The way of the world, this work-all-day just to keep the utilities and cable on, is not doing it for me.

Why do we need all this stuff anyway? Because society says we do. We go to work, come home, spend time with our families (or not), and live another day to pay another bill. Because it’s normal. It’s what you’re supposed to do.

Not me. I don’t need normal. I don’t need to have so many bills to be happy, and the power company is for the birds. Just plain crooks if you ask me. $400 a month just for power is plain old-fashioned robbery.

Well then, what does going off the grid really mean? For starters, not depending on utility companies for your day to day lifestyle. Not paying a monthly bill for water, electricity, gas, or telephone. For me, the thought of that kind of life is accompanied by the idea of growing my own food and becoming self-sufficient. This is homesteading.

So why would you do it? If the thought of breathing fresh air away from the city every day makes you cringe, it’s not for you. If you can’t imagine growing vegetables, feeding chickens, or drinking filtered rainwater, then no, of course you wouldn’t. But if these ideas appeal to you, I want to prove that it can be done, and done without spending rich man money.

Who does it? A lot of people. More and more Americans are dropping off the power grid every year. Some are major corporations that spend millions for “clean energy” and some are just average Joes. I say, the amount of money you spend on going off-grid depends on your creativity, just how much you are willing to do by yourself, and how modern you want your life to be.

Our goal is to achieve an off-grid, homestead lifestyle in the next several years. This blog will help keep us on track and make plans. Feasible plans.
We can get off the grid. Anyone can.

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