Looking back on our efforts to be “off the grid”, I think that in general we have done a good job of working with the sun to heat, cool and provide electricity for our home but it was not without some very painful “missteps” and hard learned lessons along the way.


My biggest mistake was not to provide Tammy and family the basics of reliable electricity, a stove, hot water and heat during the building process. Our pioneer woman stepped-up of course, cooking and heating water over a open fire at times to feed the crew but a little more planning would have made life a lot easier and even the famous “goat story” could have been avoided!.

The goat story happened on one of our coldest recorded December nights a couple of years ago. One of our mama Boer goats decided to give birth to triplets with temperatures in the teens. To add to the excitement the kids had a selenium deficiency that caused them to need bottle-feeding and some nursing. Of course, we were without some pretty basic needs of hot water, electricity, and a heated house to get this done. Well suffice to say the heroine Tammy (who had already endured plenty) managed to save their lives but finally lost her sense of humor and had a minor meltdown directed at the unsuspecting husband who just happened to be out of town!! Fortunately friends, family and some awesome interns came to my rescue. Eventually those basic needs were taken care of and I am happy to report that I was able to move back inside the house and out of the goat pen!!.

One of the really the fun parts of natural design is the principle of mimicking nature in her use of the sun to provide most of our energy. The video below looks at some of the ways we used the suns energy in smart, simple and sustainable ways.

Getting started our first decision is what Renewable Energy (RE) technology or combination of technologies work best in your area and fit your way of life. Choices run the gamut from solar, wind, geothermal, hydro to biomass, with each having several competing technologies and variations. Here in the Mojave we are blessed with the best Insolation Index in the USA- this set of big words simply means that anything that depends on direct sunlight works really well here. It was therefore a pretty easy for us to select Solar Photo Voltaic (PV) as our main electricity source.

In 2013 when we designed and installed our Photo Voltaic (PV) system our initial goal was to make it as small, frugal and simple as possible. However after living with no amenities for a while, the goat incident and many trips to the Laundromat we decided that hot water was a non-negotiable necessity and made our one “fossil fuel” concession towards a propane gas stove in the kitchen and a propane water heater. Turned out that both of these require a lot of electric power (Watts) to operate and would have required a much bigger PV and battery system. Tammy the chef also much prefers the consistency of a gas range. We are working on installing our solar water heating panels to heat water for heating our house (we have radiant heat installed in the floors) and minimize the use of propane to heat domestic/shower water. A wind turbine is also in the future-our winds generally blow from midday into evening-time, making it perfect supplement for that evening meal and TV watching time when we use more power.

The next trick was to minimize the size of our battery bank by rethinking how we live and making sure we had very efficient appliances and plenty of LED lighting. Batteries are expensive; environmentally a nightmare (lead-acid is just not friendly stuff) and they have a short life, approximately 10 Years if you baby them!. Fortunately we again had a great local company (Battery Mart contact info) that was extremely helpful in sizing the number of batteries to fit our needs (see attached sizing chart)and setting us up with the correct cables etc. An example of a life-style change is doing the clothes washing during the day- less chance of drawing the batteries down to far this way! Check out this video for some dos and don’ts

Well turns out that 2.2 Kilowatts (KW) which is about a third the size of any regular home system was a bit small, especially in the winter with a lower angle of the sun and some cloudy days. So here in early spring 2016 we swallowed our pride (really my pride!) of trying to go it alone and brought in the pros from Desert Solar (DSEnergy contact info ) to bring our PV system up to “specs” and help us pass our final inspection on the house. They have actually drawn up a complete system design, which looking back may have been a good idea upfront!! We are looking forward to about 4.2 KW with most of the panels still south facing and some on the east roof, to give us a fast start in the morning and on the east to keep the swamp cooler juiced up in the middle of summer.

In the end Off the Grid living is all about how you conserve power and live a smarter life-using electricity while it is being generated. Practices like doing your laundry during the day and hanging the stuff out to dry, simple but forgotten practices! Yes it does take more work to live like this but it really is fun and rewarding to be doing our part to be better stewards of our resources, supporting a sustainable future and even saving a few dollars along the way.