Off Grid Solar Living Lesson #1: Everything Matters in Solar Powered Homes

solar house
A solar-powered house

One of the things we’ve learned during our time living off the grid is to take nothing for granted.  Our system with normal sun exposure generates about 200 kilowatt hours per month.  While that may sound like a lot, keep in mind the average American home uses about 1000 kw-hrs in a month, so we have to reduce our consumption 80% compared to the average home.  We have a backup generator, but the propane that runs it is very expensive so we hardly ever use it.

So how do we do that?  Well there are a lot of ways, and we’ll cover them all in the coming blog posts.  But the bigger-picture message here is energy consciousness.  We are able to greatly reduce our consumption simply by being conscious of how much we’re using.

My wife and I know for instance that opening the refrigerator door open for too long not only makes the fridge run longer but also means the lights inside are on while the door is open.  Leaving the computer modem on over night seems innocuous enough, but in fact can make a big difference.  Getting rid of unwanted appliances and reducing the use of others makes a big difference.   Oops, left the garage lights on all night!  That means the generator will kick on and burn through about $20 in fuel.  That’s an easy lesson to learn!

The Kill-o-Watt Meter
The Kill-o-Watt Meter

Living off the grid requires understanding energy consumption

One easy way to start learning about our energy consumption was the Kill-A-Watt Meter.  This handy device simply plugs into the wall and then you plug your electronics into it.  It will tell you in watts, volts, or amps how much you are using.  This will go a long way to tell you just what the big consumers are in your house.  You might be surprised, that new refrigerator might use a 120 watts or so but the hair dryer might use up to 1000!

We’ve had a baptism by fire in energy awareness and we hope that our lessons will help you and your family.

Kriss Bergethon is a writer and solar professional from Colorado.  He lives off grid with his wife and two dogs.  For more information visit his site at Solar Panel Kits.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/87913776@N00/ / CC BY 2.0

  1. PathAcross

    Great stuff. It’s true, everything I’ve read about switching to renewable energy comes with this same recommendation: get used to living with less power. Even if you never go solar this is a great idea to reduce the electric bill.

  2. Joe

    That us a great looking picture of a small house do you have a web site where plans etc for structures like that are available and who builds such a structure

  3. Uncle B

    Super insulation materials have been back-shelved by capitalists eager to sell energy products. Can off-grid life be made more practical by finding and using them? Straw Bale homes in Northern parts of Canada can be totally Solar heated – even at such latitudes! Stupid Yankee Doodles at much more favorable latitudes still pay for heat! Insulation by straw bale yields R80 walls, ceilings! Time to pay attention to Straw bales once again and build energy efficient outer shells for cheaper heating/cooling costs!

  4. Verniel

    Great post! Living “off the grid” will surely help people realize how to use energy more efficiently. Aside from solar power, wind power is also something that we should look at. Just the other day I was reading about a Micro Wind Turbine that generates up to 43.2 kilowatt hours daily! Those are the kinds of smart energy solutions that could significantly reduce power usage and fight off the greenhouse effect.

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