Off-grid living

One of the things I enjoy about off-grid living is having to work with what God gives us by way of weather. As an example, since we make all our own electricity, I wanted to not use any to move water. Thus, we installed two wells (actually cisterns to collect spring water) a few years back that are higher than the house so that the water would flow by gravity to the house. When we installed the water supplies, I had no idea of the elevation difference between them and the house, but I hoped that there would be enough pressure to make the water flow where we wanted it. To my surprise, our highest well produces about 107 psi – more than enough. The second well, which I had to connect to the house during the drought this summer, produces about 60 psi. Using a GPS to measure elevations, it appears the the upper well is about 250 feet higher than the house, and the lower well is about 120 feet higher than the house. But what difference does that make when the wells run dry? Thus the installation of a third cistern this summer.

This new well is located about 1300 feet from the house, and produces about 45 psi – certainly enough to give us water throughout the house, even in the attic where the hot water tank is located (more on that later). However, the boys are not happy using this well, since “there is no pressure” when showering.

So why did we go this route for our water supply? It cost about $2500 to install the new cistern, and took me at least 40 to 60 hours to dig the hole, install the cement dry well, lay out the pipe, trench, and bury everything. Was it worth it? I could have hired someone to drill a well close to the house and installed a typical water system, and had no more concerns about water or water quality (surface water supplies are not always pristine).

Consider the amount of electricity that I would have had to generate to use that water. We probably use a couple of hundred gallons a day. Assuming that we could use a small submersible pump that only draws six amps continuous (up to 36 amps on startup!) at 230 volts with a large tank, we are still going to use a significant amount of electricity. If I lived in Arizona, this might be feasible, as I would likely make enough power during the day to allow me to run this pump. But, alas, I live in Vermont, where we don’t get six hours of sun on average each day. So gravity fed water works for me, and with the three sources, I think I should be set, even when we get another drought (I had plenty of water in the new well even during the worst part of the drought).

If you are planning for going off grid, you may want to consider how you will keep water flowing into your house. This seems to be a major issue for people when they lose power. Having a backup plan for maintaining your water supply when the power goes out can make the difference between a minor inconvenience and a major headache.


About Lee

As founding member of Net Zero Renewable Resources, LLC (NZRR), Lee is involved in all aspects of renewable projects, from meeting with prospective customers to ascertain their renewable energy goals, to designing systems, and facilitating and overseeing all aspects of the installation. Having designed and installed his own solar electric backup system in 1999 and currently living off the grid in a home powered completely by solar, Lee understands the intricacies of renewable energy and is able to explain complex systems in easy-to-understand terms.
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