Homestead Chat–Let’s Get Personal.
Some people wonder about life on the homestead, especially the off grid aspect.
I can’t promise to answer all of your questions, but I can give you a small glimpse into how our setup is working, or not working.
Water Systems and Solar Power/Batteries
Our area hit zero degrees last week. Before that, we had a couple of weeks with no sun. Those are two major hits when you are living on solar and a nontraditional water system.
First–the solar system and what no sun meant to us.
No sun means no power. But not immediately. Thankfully, we have a pretty good battery bank to store our power ( and we are not grid tied at all, so turning on the power is not an option). After a couple of weeks in the fog and clouds, even our good battery system drained, and we got left in the dark.
At that time, we did not have the knowledge, nor the resources (a few small attachments) to charge our batteries with a generator. This meant darkness, but that’s no big deal, as we’ve adjusted pretty well to using Kobalt and Milwaukee work lights to save power. We’ve lived without power at night for a good four years, so darkness doesn’t bother us.
And we do not rely on solar for heat. We use a wood stove for that.
But the Fridges…
What is the bigger deal to us was our fridges. Since hooking up the solar a couple months back, we upgraded to a real (not tiny propane camper-sized) fridge. Then two, 😆 we buy much in bulk, so we had food ready to spoil if we couldn’t get the power running soon. The guy we often call for help was down sick, so that left us to figure this out.
Greg and Andrew put their heads together and fiddled and researched. A couple trips to town and more attempts finally ended up with batteries charging by the generator. Mind you, it took all day to charge, but it was better than mushy food!
Once we know, we know, so now we can replicate this process when in need!
Let’s discuss the water now.
We have a traditional well.
We have a solar well pump.
This pump pumps water under the ground, via pipes, all the way up to the top of our hill, where we have an IBC tank (food grade) to collect the water. The pvc pipe is connected to the tank with adapters and cut off valves
From here, we gravity feed the water (also underground) down to our house, camper, and spigots. It works well when it works. And that’s most of the time.
When the temps drop to single digits, that’s trouble for us.
Enter Captain Hindsight
We should have
- Drained the holding tank
But we didn’t.
We knew it might freeze, but didn’t think about it freezing all the way around the tank, as water usually freezes from the top down. But the tank froze all around, outside in, which left the valve and water entry point frozen too.
So we had no water. At all. For days. Because the frozen temps lingered. For days. We didn’t even get out of the teens for several days. Then it has taken over a week to wait for the tank to thaw enough to fill. Yesterday, we hit near 60. The tank was still frozen, but finally this morning it has thawed enough to fill.
Note: the reason we couldn’t fill the tank up top is because the valve/incoming hole was frozen. Not frozen a little, but pretty thickly. We couldn’t risk pumping water against that, lest we explode some part of the pipes from the pumping water pressure.But Greg figured out a way to get some water, just not on the holding tank.
He closed one Frostless hydrant spigot (with an overflow release) up the hill leading up to the tank, and used the well pump to at least fill the water lines underground. This actually holds a lot of water for us. From there, we can fill the holding tank on the RV, and get water into the house.
It’s not a lot of water, and we do ration it, but in a week where in town they’ve been doing rolling blackouts which messed up some municipal water lines, we actually have a better way to get water ourselves, rather than depend on the city. People in town are having to limit water, and some have to even boil theirs, so we are still no worse than that. We can fill our Berkey filter, take a shower, and drink/cook.
Last week, we had to choose who got a shower, so maybe you smelled something funny when we came around.
Also–we had a water leak which turns out had nothing to do with our pipes at all. We kept filling that tank, only to have it empty in a day or two (and we can normally go for a week or two even on one tank). Kids kept telling me we were just using too much, but I knew that wasn’t true.
Everyone dreaded digging up thousands of feet of pipes to find the leak. Greg found the problem there too. We had a hose running water to the RV–it sprung a slowish leak and that was the trouble. One small hole caused a lot of leakage. 💧 Boy are we glad we didn’t start digging up lines!
Well, well, well… Installing our Solar Well Pump
All’s well that ends well, they say.
And the take home for us is this. In both situations, with our solar and water on the blink, we gained knowledge and experience. We fixed the problem and ended up better equipped for next time.
We had a few uncomfortable/annoying days when I was waiting to wash dishes. I didn’t get a shower immediately. But we didn’t perish from thirst, nor turn into cave crickets with no light. We just plugged on.
I got more cuddly with my hot water bottle instead of the heating pad, and have come to appreciate that little red bag at my feet. See
How to Get a Warm Bed While Living Off Grid
Homesteading Woman to Woman: Staying Warm on the Homestead
Keeping Your Working Man Warm Outdoors!
The hard days are hard, but they make us appreciate the better days that do come.
Homesteading, country living, off grid life–no matter what you call it–it involves learning. You can learn what your situation teaches you.
You can try to learn from others, and store those lessons away for a rainy day. You may never encounter these exact problems, but if you jump off the mainstream path, you’ll have some figuring out to do.
Here’s a gem from a book that we appreciated.
Where did you get your good judgment?” “From my experience.” “And where did you get your experience?” “From my bad judgment.
We are away for the winter, working on the road. We prepared our WY house with window wells, a newly built canopy for the back door so snow would not build up, melt and run downstairs. We left the power on and all heaters at 60 degrees because it gets cold in WY. We drained the toliets and filled them with RV antifreeze,, opened all the cupboard doors to get heat to the plumbing in the walls, etc. But when it got to -50 with wind chill none of that mattered. We have water damage from a frozen pipe between the upstairs and the downstairs, in the ceiling. Ironically we would of had to leave for repairs to be done…
So much destruction from humble little drips of water and cold temps. I’m so sorry for all of this hassle. I’m sure it would have been so much worse had you not done all of your precautionary measures. I hope it’s not too bad to fix.