Small Cabin

Small Cabin Forum
 - Forums - Register/Sign Up - Reply - Search - Statistics -

Small Cabin Forum / Off-Grid Living / Going off the grid
Author Message
# Posted: 10 Oct 2019 13:58

First hello. I’m new around here and looking for some guidance about off-grid living.

My wife and I have a dream to live off the grid. We've talked about it on and off for quite some time and recently started looking for somewhere to live.

We have just come across what at first glance appears to be the perfect land for us. In terms of the location in the US that we want to live, far enough away from other people, but close enough to the facilities that matter to us. We are fortunate enough that we have the financial resources to purchase the land (with cabin) without requiring a mortgage.

What my question, or need for advice is is about water, power and heat. There is a well on site which is producing good volumes of water - over 40GPM. The water has been tested (and clearly I’ll have my own tests done too) to ensure it’s safe. Of the 3 items of concern, this one (currently) gives me the least cause for concern.

I won’t lie - we do like some luxuries in terms of the occasional hot bath, refrigerated and frozen food (plus we plan to have our own livestock to give us meat we know the history of) etc. I also don’t want to end up in the situation where we don’t have electricity to turn the lights on at night if we need to for any reason.

Obviously we will have a solar set up of some sort and clearly we can have a propane/gas/diesel backup generator but we would want to use the generator as little as possible. Our chosen location is about 100 miles South of the Canadian border so in the summer, I don’t see any issue with the solar but for the winter, what’s the best approach? I don’t see that there is too much of an opportunity for solar outside of summer. How would you handle this? And how do I go about trying to ‘size’ (and therefore price!) our solar/generator setup? I presume for hot water, we would use some sort of gas heater for year round use?

Finally heat - clearly wood is the best source of heat. Are there other options we should be considered either as main or backup source of heat? We will also be ensuring the cabin is properly insulated!

You may be able to tell, I’m the kind of person that likes to have a backup for any “mission-critical” systems and this is where I’m not so clued up on. I would really appreciate and comments, thoughts or advice from anyone with more knowledge than me (most people in the world!)

Thank you

# Posted: 10 Oct 2019 20:02

I would use an indoor wood fired boiler for domestic hot water and heating throughout the late fall, winter and early spring. Although called "indoor" it would actually be outside the cabin in a small utility building. This keeps the mess of a fire outside.

If you aren't planning on having a basement you can put all the equipment for storing and purifying the water into a utility room next to the boiler. Bring the water from the well underground to the utility room and then underground to the cabin.

The cheapest/easiest option for heating would then be baseboard radiators.

You'll also have to decide what sort or grey water/black water septic system you want. Are you legally allowed to use a composting toilet? If not, can you install a septic field?

For appliances an electric ac fridge/freezer is best, and for cooking a propane stove without a "glow bar" in the oven. Having a propane backup water heater is a good idea as well as a direct vent backup propane wall heater for emergencies.

Lighting should be all LED. Buy the most energy efficient small appliances, water circulation pumps and well pump you can.

# Posted: 10 Oct 2019 20:52

No solar outside of summer? Why? You don't say exactly where you are but most locations don't go without sun for too many days in a row. The only issues with solar in winter are correct sizing of your storage (to match expected no sun days), correct sizing of your charge controller to array to account for VOC spikes at very cold temps. And my personal advice is to oversize the array so you can charge even on light cloud/intermittent cloudy days.

With 1470 watts of solar on our roof, today with no visible sun but bright skies we were pulling into over 600 watts. The clouds parted about 1Pm and within an hour we were floating. With 8kw of lithium batteries we have went z full 3 days with virtually no charging and still didn't hit low battery cut-off. We run an electric fridge and small freezer.

Don't write off solar for winter.

# Posted: 10 Oct 2019 23:13 - Edited by: creeky

Lots of off grid builds to explore here that's for sure.

I live in the far north. With lithium batteries I use solar year round. Next year I am going to put in an air source heat pump. I'm tired of paying for propane. I figure if changing from a propane fridge to electric can pay for 1/2 my solar system.
Maybe I can pay for the rest of it by putting in a heat pump. I'm looking at either the GREE, Fujitsu or Mitsibushi.
This way. No propane. No wood chopping. I like the muscles I get chopping wood (I'm old, chopping wood is a fitness membership for me). But the cleaning up gets tired.
I use propane to keep the place warm when I'm not around. The cost does add up.
Yup. I'll be trying some sort of heat pump.

Oh. I have 2kw of solar panels and 10kwh of lithium battery goodness. A 3 kw inverter. a 150/45 solar controller.
I'm getting fidgety so I'll probably upgrade the low frequency inverter to torodial (victron). The low frequency isn't a clean enough wave form to charge the electric car. still. an 800 dollar inverter to a 2500 dollar one. good thing I'm working. smile.

# Posted: 11 Oct 2019 07:16

Here is my build in a snapshot & it is working very well BTW.

Location, North Eastern Ontario near Algonquin Park.

Solar Powered, 2kw of panel, 24v/20KwH FLA battery bank, Midnite Solar 200 Controller, Samlex 4kw Pure Sine Inverter/Charger. Fixed Ground Mount and usually by noon (if not earlier) the battery system is in float.

Build: 20x24 Cabin. 2x6 Advanced Framing @ 24oc. Walls have 5.25" of EPS-II Hard Foam, cathedral ceilings have 7.25" of PolyISO. Frost Protected Slab Foundation (with 4" XPS Foam) with Radiant Heating (Best for off grid, very efficient). Roof System uses a Cool Roof, siding is Live Edge Cedar installed using a Rainscreen method. All windows & doors are "Bailey Boxed".

I designed & self-built my home with only the concrete pour & tinning my roof were contracted, the rest I did myself. I used DeWalt 20V tools which did 90% of the work ! A Nail Gun was a huge saver and a must really (says the guy who went through 5 cases of nails - NOT by hand!)

Well is 260' deep, using a Grundfos SQ5 Soft-Start 120v pump (soft ramp-up, max wattage is 1000W when reaching max pressure (45psi Is my setting) very Solar System friendly ! NB: Pumphouse is also 75' from cabin and I have a 50gal pressure tank in pump house.

Main Heating System is from Radiant Heating system, provided by Very GOOD Deal, great support and very cost effective. I also have flat top air tight woodstove & kerosene backup heater as well. NOTE: It runs no more than 1.5 hours in 24 hours @ -30C/ -22F (outside) to keep temps at 25C / 77F ** in 4 years, I've only burned 2.5 stove cords of wood, it really isn't needed.

Hot Water is provided by a separate On-Demand heater which is an EcoTemp FVI-12 (not recommended, get a better one) which works ok but is terribly finicky and difficult to keep a consistent temp with.

Generators: IF you want to have a backup genny for your solar system, I STRONGLY recommend one that is propane fuelled as LPG will not sour or go bad and will last till needed. Gas & Diesel have issues with long term storage plus. Many brands are available, from Generac which is $$ to cheapo no names that you have to avoid. Best Bang for Buck is Champion Stand-By Generators see here:

I also used a 7200/9000 during construction to power my table say, compressor (also runs my mig). I have a 3kw Inverter Genny as a safe backup for my electronic goodies.

REF Info:

Radiant Flooring DIY !
They design, sell & support the DIY'er and are GREAT AT IT. BTW, no one beats their on-demand heater prices, Takagi RULES (you can also use one heater for both hot water & heating if you wish)

Cool Roof System (a vendor but great description) IT WORKS ! Summer outside & I have a forest green roof. 35C / 95F outside and inside never goes past 25C / 77F AND the loft (16' peek) is never more than 2C warmer (except if I have wood stove going in winter of course)

Rainscreen Siding:

Note of interest. I have tested my home & the heating / cooling aspects to extremes because I live in an extreme spot at times. up to 40C/105F in summer heatwaves & -40C in a cold snap, plus being on a ridge 1200 feet above the valley... Heat remains very well due to the hyper insulation & "screening" effect of the roof & siding. with NO HEAT or power, I have allowed the house to cool and it only loses 3-4 degrees Celsius per 24 hour period due to the thermal mass & insulation (my slab is 6" thick and has 4" of EPS (R20) double code requirement). IN the summer, the peak of the roof inside the ridge vent can reach almost 60C / 140F (probe thermometer) while inside the loft remains at 25C / 77F. The airflow from the soffit is enough to try & suck paper up into the cavity thanks to the thermosyphon effect.

INSULATION: The big question, where did I get it and how affordable. Simple enough, I got my insulation from Commercial Roofers as "Take Off" insulation from commercial building which are being refitted / redone. All good insulation has to be removed for recycle (by law here) and that is mostly EPS-2 or better, XPS & of course PolyISO. CDN $
- $10 for 4'x4'x5.25" EPS-2 (walls).
- $7 for 4'x8'x3.5" paper faced ISO (roof)
- $8 for 4'x8'x4" paper faced ISO (roof)
- $10 for 2'x4'x4" XPS (Dow Roofmate) used under slab)

I use a Grey Water system for the kitchen, shower, washroom sink & urinal (including we pee in the composting toilet REF: ). A Composting - Sawdust type toilet ( see Humanure handbook : ) All plumbing is surface mounted and accessible if required and for difficult spots like the Shower (a galvanised sheep trough with galvanised tin walls etc) and the toilet we-pee I used a Waterless P-Trap from Hep-Vo REF: which turned out to be a godsend ! a Nice BTW: They also allow air into the drainline like a "puffer vent" does for long runs but without any gasses escaping and simplifying the plumbing a bit. My Grey Water system runs out of the house to a filter container (catch hair, particles etc) that drains into a buried 50 gallon drywell (large plastic olive barrel) which feeds into two 50' perforated 4" screened O-Pipes that are buried 10' deep into a bed of gravel and covered by the sandy loam soil here. never a problem but must watch what goes into the sinks... no grease & filth or toxins !

It's long, it's detailed, probably raises questions BUT I hope it all helps in your planning & pondering. Good Luck & Have Fun.

# Posted: 12 Oct 2019 18:24 - Edited by: rockies

Creeky, there's this type of heat pump. JCWPD_BwE

If you chose the smallest unit (MAFP020A) would you be able to run it on a solar PV system? What if you added one of their solar hot water units?

# Posted: 15 Oct 2019 19:00

Steve S: some questions.

1. Foam is only on exterior of the sheathing? Anything within the stud cavity or between roof rafters?
2. How many well/circulation pumps? Make and models, energy usage?
3. Kerosine heater a direct vent, no internal air for combustion? Thermostat to turn on if int temp drops?
4. How/where do you store/purify the well water before it is heated?
5. How did you design for wildfires?
6. What did you do for ventilation? Range hood fan, bath fan, etc?
7. Do you have a washer/dryer, dishwasher, microwave? Electric fridge? Propane stove?
8. What other electronics can you run off your PV system?

# Posted: 15 Oct 2019 20:51 - Edited by: ICC

Quoting: Steve_S
Here is my build in a snapshot & it is working very well BTW.

Sounds like a great place to live.

rockies, no need for wall cavity insulation when doing sheet foam.. I like to leave it out altogether if one is doing sufficient sheet foam on the exterior. Leaving the cavities empty of insulation simplifies the build since sheet foam is already being installed. Plus the empty cavities removes the concerns about installing insulation around the pipes and wiring.

I use a Mitsubishi heat pump for heating and cooling. I have a wood stove in the home mostly for the aesthetics.

# Posted: 16 Oct 2019 05:34 - Edited by: Steve_S

I have an old thread that covers a lot of this you know.

1) 5.25" EPS between the studs. 7-1/2" ISO between rafters
2) Well Pump: Grundfos SQ5 120V soft Start
Radiant Circ Pump: Grundfos ups-15-58fc
3) Kerosene Heater is a portable unit. Have never needed it.
4) ?? 260' deep well & I have a 50 Gal. Pressure tank. I don't "store it" ? I use the Rainfresh Family of filtering.
5) moot
6) Broan Stainless Range Hood, No Bath Fan (have window) have DIY HRV for house air exchange.
7) No Washer / Dryer. 1200 watt Panasonic Induction MIcrowave, Danby Electric Fridge (240kwh per yr) , Unique Off Grid Classic LPG Stove.
Computer equipment, 47" LED TV is my computer screen and a lot more electronics.

I can everything off my system, including table saw, big compressor etc but I only put the nasties on a genny When needed. Never a Problem.

I have posted all this in several posts over the years and a lot of it in my Cabin Build post which I haven't updated in ages.

BTW an observation: Who in their right mind would put Foam Insulation like I have on the exterior of the build ? or 7-1/2" of ISO ? Seriously, that's requires a head shake and common sense. I think it is fairly obvious in what I wrote previously, soo one has to wonder why these questions were asked... hopefully it helps Mr. Moose when he returns to this thread.

# Posted: 17 Oct 2019 16:24

Hello there

Thank you for those great responses. Annoyingly, the property that we have been eyeing up has instead been snapped up by someone else.

Heating - rockies, I’m surprised you say to have a wood fired boiler outside the house. Surely it’s better to have it within to heat the house during use? What am I missing here?

Waste water - we would definitely want a septic system. I know the install costs are a little higher than a composting, however I think it would offer better lifestyle.

Water - if we have a heater outside the envelope of the house, a good idea for the water treatment to be in the same room - stops it freezing up I guess!

Solar - nowadays : I (possibly incorrectly!) assumed that solar during the winter wouldn’t produce enough. It looks like the average daylight hours from Oct through March average around 10 and 4 for sunshine hours…dropping to as little as 2. And that’s the average. I didn’t think that an array (unless HUGE) would provide enough power?

Steve_S - your place sounds amazing! Do you mind if I ask what your build budget was? We would need more space - the place we were looking at buying was about 2,400sqft. All that info is amazing - I will certainly be reading all those links you kindly posted. Do you have any photos? I'd love to read your build post - I suspect it's a long and interesting read!

Thanks again!

# Posted: 17 Oct 2019 19:43

"BTW an observation: Who in their right mind would put Foam Insulation like I have on the exterior of the build ? or 7-1/2" of ISO ?"

Some info on adding foam insulation on the exterior of the sheathing.

Info on calculating the minimum thickness of exterior roof foam sheathing.

And for walls. id-foam-sheathing

And there's this article on putting insulation only on the exterior of the sheathing and leaving the stud cavities empty. -ceilings

I guess some of the building scientists over at Green Building Advisor like it.

# Posted: 17 Oct 2019 20:24 - Edited by: ICC

Quoting: rockies
And there's this article on putting insulation only on the exterior of the sheathing and leaving the stud cavities empty.
I guess some of the building scientists over at Green Building Advisor like it.

Exactly! It is not so strange really, but it is outside of the box, so to speak. And note that the article is about 10 years old. Doing my walls like that did cost more but I totally avoided the work of installing cavity insulation. We built a home like that in 2012 (for someone else; a paid job) and I liked the way it worked out enough that is the method I used on my own home build a couple of years later. The labor on the exterior foam sheathing took some extra time but we did not have to fuss with the wall cavities. We still did the rain screen wall that was going to be done anyhow but did it over foil faced sheets of polyiso using a 1 inch air space. For a DIY person not counting their labor perhaps that extra labor would not be as good a trade as when you are paying someone else. But I think it results in a better home as noted in some of rockies other links.

EDIT; deleting the cavity insulation also means you can save maybe 25% to 30% on the cost of the framing lumber by using 2x4 instead of 2x6.

# Posted: 18 Oct 2019 04:30

My old Build post is here on this link:

The place s not Huge at 500 sq feet. Excluding land costs (which I got a heck of a deal on) I figure abut 70,000 CAD. Now 12K was the well drilling, another 12K for solar system (spring 2015 price).

Note that solar prices have come down considerably (some things more than others) and the quality & capability has gone up quite a bit. Lithium Batteries have also dropped and many more options are available too (increasing weekly). With good efficient appliances, electronics it's doable. Conservation is far cheaper than generation & storage.

On the insulation, 5.25" of EPS-II on the outside of the sheeting on a 2x6 wall ? oivey.

# Posted: 19 Oct 2019 01:04

I would look at

I still like used xps. But for insulation I've started to look more at some of the rock wool insulations. Last longer. Probably recyclable in 100 years. And Larsen Truss walls are pretty easy to assemble. Not that I've built one. Next building.

Rockie. I've seen the arctic equipment. THing is, once you look at prices... and solar hot water is too labour intensive. Lifespan is too short.

I like to keep things simple. Right now its the GREE sapphire I think they call it now. Extreme in Canada. The Fujitsu cold climate. And Mitsibushi has a new one too. Hyper heat or some'at.

The top cold climate GREE and Fujitsu are over 14 on Heat efficiency (HSPF). Fantastic. Used to be 10 was amazing.

I think, next time, I'll make my solar system a bit bigger and go with heat pump a/c and heat. Probably with wood back up.

Your reply
Bold Style  Italic Style  Underlined Style  Thumbnail Image Link  Large Image Link  URL Link           :) ;) :-( :confused: More smilies...

» Username  » Password 
Only registered users can post here. Please enter your login/password details before posting a message, or register here first.