Building our Experimental Solar and Wind Powered Home 0

ORaising the wallsur experimental off-grid home was designed, the solar and wind power system chosen, and now it was time to put the plan into action.

Our first hurdle was getting the mortgage.  Our bank had no problem with providing a mortgage for the house but a mortgage requires an appraisal.   The company that performed this service for the bank had no idea how to a assess an off-grid solar plan.  After more than a month’s delay they finally decided to appraise it as if it were a standard home with utility power.

What this meant to us was that instead of starting to build in July as we had hoped, we weren’t able to get going until almost the end of August.  A winter build – not what we’d hoped for, but it made for some interesting experiences!

We got to work – laid out the house so that the south side would be oriented to true south, compensating for the magnetic declination.  Since we were building this small experimental home as Ready-To-Move (RTM) we poured concrete piles and used teleposts to support the house, rather than a basement.  Then the floor went on, built with I-joists filled with R28 insulation and tar covered ICO board, sealed with Blackjack, on the bottom to keep out the rodents.

Family and friends helped us frame and raise the walls, put on the steel roofing and worked with us on the inside finishing.

They were all curious about this off-grid solar home, something unique to the neighbourhood and to their experience.  Our renewable power system consisted of a battery bank, charge controller, inverter, solar panels and a wind turbine.

Installing the Battery Bank

Installing the battery bank

Installing the battery bank

The batteries arrived in November.  Carrying them into the house was quite a job – they weigh about 120 lbs each and there are twelve of them.  It’s great to have good neighbours – one was on hand to help us with the unloading.

We set them up in a roughly triangular shaped closet that became our “power center” to house all of our solar equipment and a pantry cupboard as well.  The battery bank has it’s own sealed box with a vent to exhaust the hydrogen gas that is produced when they are charging.  Once closed in, you could no longer see this interesting feature of our power system, so we replaced the front panel with clear acrylic.

Installing the Wind Turbine

Re-wiring the H80 wind turbine for 24V

Re-wiring the H80 wind turbine for 24V

By the time we were ready to put up the wind turbine, it was January.  We had chosen the Whisper H80 turbine and when it arrived we first had to rewire it for our 24 Volt battery system.  We had ordered a 24V turbine but a 12V model had been shipped in error.  Rather than ship it back to Arizona we decided change the wiring configuration ourselves.

Getting Ready to Raise the Tower

Getting Ready to Raise the Tower

Next we had to mount it on the tower.  We had poured a concrete pad late in the fall and installed a 22′ guyed tower.   Since we were installing it at the top of a rise, we hoped this height would be adequate.  It was short enough that we could raise the tower by hand with the help of a couple of our neighbours.  The following summer we increased the tower height to 40′ because the turbine was not producing the expected amount of power.

The charge controller, which was supplied with the wind turbine, was mounted in our “power center”.  It is the grey box that you see on the wall in the photo of our battery bank.  Now all we needed was some wind so we could see the turbine in action.

A welcome sight - the wind turbine is producing 33.5 Amps!

A welcome sight - the wind turbine is producing 33.5 Amps!

While we were building the house, we constantly battled major winds and gusts that made construction much more difficult.  But, as soon as that wind turbine was up, we were becalmed!  The turbine needs a 7 mph wind before it will produce power – we waited for over a week, and still nothing.  Then one night we came home after dark and were just walking in the door when my husband said “Hey, what’s that sound?”  We stopped and listened, and heard a “whooosh whoosh whoosh . . .”.  It has to be the wind turbine – is it finally turning?  I ran inside and checked the display on the charge controller and, sure enough, we were getting power!

Adding the Solar Panels

Installing the solar panels

Installing the solar panels

In February we installed our solar panels.  The wind turbine was expected to produce most of our power so we started with only four 115 Watt panels.   We worked through the cold and finally had them mounted on the rack and connected to the charge controller.   Now all we needed was sunshine.  Well, you guessed it – the sun didn’t shine for the next 10 days!  But at least with the solar there was some power even on those cloudy days so we had the satisfaction of knowing that the system was working.

By March everything was installed and the home finished – well, more or less.  There always seems to be something left to do, isn’t there?   After spending the winter pretty much living in our construction zone, we were happy to relax for a while as spring started to bloom on our prairie acreage.

Our home is finished in time for spring

Our home is finished in time for spring

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