Living Sustainably

Aquaponics | Rain Harvesting | Composting | Other Green Products

Archive for July, 2013

What is an Off Grid Power System?

Most of our installations are for clients who want to live in remote locations where the Solar ROI can be immediate. These locations are either not served by the electrical power grid, or poorly served with frequent outages, due to weather or other reasons. Some of these systems are mobile, as in boats and RV’s.

While adding solar to an on grid home is certainly doable, and admirable, it’s an expense not easily justified, as the grid is typically very cheap to install and hookup. However, there is a monthly electric bill, and prices are not known to decrease, or even stay static, but increase over time.

An off grid home is insulated from grid outages, and increasing energy costs. A remote home which would require power to be brought in from long distance can show an immediate Return On Investment (ROI), the the cost of the solar power system is typically less than the installation charge to bring the grid in. Remote property is typically less expensive than property serviced by the grid, offering more opportunities for savings.

An off grid power system typically consists of Solar Panels and/or Wind Turbines, but also may include micro hydro and generator systems. The charging sources fill battery banks with regulated power for 24/7 operation, even when the sun or wind is not in operation. The batteries can power low voltage devices directly, and regular household appliances though AC Inverters.

Conserving power by using energy efficient appliances, and time shifting heavy loads to times of generation, can greatly decrease the total cost of the system by reducing the size of the system needed. This process does not mean reducing services. An off grid home can have the vary same conveniences and services of an on grid home, just done in slightly different ways to meet the power and financial budget of the owner.

Off grid power systems can be professionally installed, or homeowner installed, and may qualify for state and federal rebates and incentives, improving the ROI even further.

For free information on how to design and build your own off grid power system, rain water harvesting, and other off grid tech, see


The Backyard Chicken Problem

When I was a kid, we raised chickens in our backyard. We enjoyed the healthy fresh eggs, and when a chicken stopped laying, it went into the stew pot.

This saved our family quite a bit on the food bill, and provided us with fertilizer for the garden, enhancing the production of fresh vegetables.

The chickens also eliminated much of the bug problem as they rooted out various garden pests.

Apparently, many of today’s backyard urban farmers are having difficulty eating a “pet”, and urban laws prevent on site burial even if a chicken dies. Gene Logsdon describes the issues in detail at


“Weird Trick” eliminates electric bills, fat, and annoying posts?

I hate all these “Weird Trick” emails and advertising links. You know right from the title, they are promoting some “secret” method of getting something for nothing, and they are right. That something is money from your wallet, and the nothing is what you get in return. There are very few shortcuts in life. You can’t get rid of your electric bill without a significant investment in Solar Panels, Inverters, Batteries, and other pieces of equipment. You can’t get rid of fat without changing your eating and exercise habits.

That said, If you are serious about reducing your bills (and your waistline), there are tried and true methods of reducing your resource consumption, and efficiently using the resources given to us.

Grow a garden, and eat your own produce.
Turn lights and equipment off when not using it.
Install more efficient appliances.
Live closer to the natural sun cycles, don’t stay up late at night watching TV.
Work outside more, gardening, microfarming, and more.
Use site grown wood for heat and hot water (saves money on fuel, and grows muscle / reduces fat).
Use Solar / Wind to power your home (it’s not cheap up front) and insulate yourself from power outages and increasing electric / fuel bills.
Get a bicycle and reduce automobile usage when practical.
Harvest and store rainwater for domestic or irrigation purposes.

There, those are some weird tricks. Learn more at the ESSNMAG Resource Page.


Winter Gardening

wg1Winter gardening may seem like an oxymoron to some people. In reality, though it is entirely possible to extend your growing season through most if not all of the year.

Traditional greenhouses are one way to go, but you can actually keep your garden in its regular place.

Your winter garden plants will need cover from the cold though. You can provide this with a simple system of arches over each row in the garden. The arches can be made with a thin flexible wiring found at a local agricultural supply store or gardening center. A more sturdy frame could be made using PVC pipe. The smaller the pipe, the more flexible it will be. Enclose the arches with a breathable lightweight material that will protect the plants from the cold temperatures, yet still allow air and some sunshine in. The colder the weather, the more layers of fabric you will need to add.

wg2These row covers protect and enable your plant’s growth in many ways including keeping moisture and heat from the sun inside and protecting the plants from wind damage. Tender vegetables like lettuces, spinach, and other greens need the most protection.

Other plants like onions and garlic are more hardy and don’t even require protection from the cold. They are perfect for winter gardening. Learning to garden during the winter is one of several essential survival skills. After learning winter gardening, family food storage would be the next survival lesson.

Edible plants are not the only winter gardening you can enjoy. Witch hazel grows wonderfully during the wintertime and has a deliciously sweet smell to boot. Evergreens are beautiful winter plants and provide color. They also provide the backdrop for focal points such as deciduous trees. Planning placement of the garden plants is crucial to its beauty.

wg3Winter is the time for pruning. Plants that bloom early have too many greens around them from the previous year. Pruning them will reduce the growth of bacteria. Winter pruning is good from a visual standpoint as well. Removing criss crossing branches allows the form of the tree to become more obvious.

Don’t give up on your gardens just because the seasons have changed. Your methods may be a little different, but you can still achieve the same delicious and beautiful results.

Ben Tanner is a survival and prepper writer for