Our Off-Grid Experiment 0

Our Off-Grid Experiment Takes Shape

Our Off-Grid Experiment Takes Shape

I am a physics lab instructor.  I know that things do not always turn out the way you thought they would from theory.  So it was only natural that when my husband and I decided we were ready to build the solar home we’d always wanted, that we would build an experimental house first.  And so the adventure begins . . .

How it all Began

Our original plan was to build an earth sheltered home into the side of a south facing hill.  The cover provided by the earth would keep the home from freezing in the winter and south facing windows would let in the winter sun to help warm the house.

I started designing the house, complete with indoor swimming pool and generous sized living area.  It was a beautiful design that we would really enjoy living in, but . . . I didn’t even start to total up the costs – I didn’t have to!  This would be an expensive design and cast in concrete.  What if it didn’t work the way we hoped?  Jackhammer time!  Renovations are not so easy with a concrete house.

Floorplan for our Experimental Solar House

Floorplan for our Experimental Solar House

So we decided to start with something smaller and simpler –  we designed a  24′ x 28′ ready-to-move (RTM) house, with a story-and-a-half floor plan, to test out some of our ideas.

Passive Solar Design

We wanted to try out the basic principles of passive solar design, applied to a house that is built to standard R2000 specifications – the specs to which most homes are built in Saskatchewan.

We designed the home with 9.3% south glass (area of south facing glass divided by the floor area) and a brick thermal mass wall behind the wood stove to absorb the excess solar heat.  Windows on the east, west and north were kept to a minimum.

Solar and Wind Power System

We also wanted to have a solar and wind power system.  We looked at the option of a grid-tied system but the utility had no provisions for net metering.  It was also estimated to cost about $12,000 to bring power onto the property, so we decided to go all out and have a stand alone off-grid power system.

We did a load analysis to figure out the minimum amount of  power that we could use and still have all the appliances we really wanted.  We figured that we could live comfortably on 150 kWh per month if we used propane for our cookstove and on demand hot water heater.

We chose a 920 Watt solar array and a 1 kW Southwest Windpower wind turbine to provide the renewable power and a 1500 AH battery bank for power storage.  A 4000 Watt Xantrex inverter would convert the DC electricity to household 110 VAC electricity so that everything would operate the same as in a standard house.

The complete renewable energy system should run everything we need most of the time but occasionally, especially in the winter, we expect to start our backup generator to recharge the batteries.

Now the next step was to start building, on a beautiful 10 acre parcel of land that we bought 20 miles south of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and right next to Pike Lake Provincial Park.  Our acreage is rolling prairie, complete with south facing hill and patches of trees and bush.   We chose our building spot and went to work.

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