Living off the grid?

Discussion in 'Non-Dart stuff' started by Erik, Aug 7, 2013.

  1. Erik

    Erik Site Owner Staff Member Site Admin Site Moderator

    Cabin Life: I am happy to report that the batteries were at 12.33v this morning! So after about 10 hours of runing the fridge and freezer as well as the HugesNet modem and the wireless router the batteries are still sitting at about 65% of capacity.

    Of course I'd like to see that up around 95% but considering the abuse they have taken and the length of their life (golf cart batteries are only about a 3 to 5 year battery when used like this - so I'm told) I'd say that's pretty good. And considering I'll be adding 4 more to the bank (taking it from 8 to 12) then I'm guessing I should be able to make it more then one long night before the generator needs to run ;)

    Speaking of which, it was nice to just walk out and hit the 'manual' button and hear it come to life and start to power the cabin again (which means charging up the batteries). I'll run it a couple hours this morning to get the batteries back up 85-95% and then let it rest while I work on the auto start.

    Only bad news I have this morning is that it rained last night and is still drizzling a bit. Why bad news? Becuase if the sun doesn't come out today I won't have much luck getting the solar panel charging system running. I do have a backup pan though for today: 4 golf cart batteries that I can wheel over to the well and maybe hook up in series to give me the 24vdc I need to run the pump. Only problem I see at the moment is that I'm not sure I have cables to hook them up with.
  2. Erik

    Erik Site Owner Staff Member Site Admin Site Moderator

    First up Saturday was the well. I did a fair amount of digging and found the broken wires. Fixed those, rewired the float into the pump and buried the wires as well as the conduit to the solar panels with all the wire running through it.

    WHile doing that a nice 2 point buck and his mate came by to visit. THey hung out for at least an hour!!! Pics to follow.

    Next the generator experience went into overdrive today. First I tried to wire it up so it would charge off the inverter since it needs 120vac for the generator charger on the battery. After much farting around I finally realized that is why they say you MUST have an inverter in order to run the generator...and inverter/charger in fact.

    So realizing time was running out I ripped into the battery bank and converted to 24vdc, reconfigured the charge controller and hooked up the new inverter. Once done I got the generator rewired for the new inverter and finally had both the battery charger on the generator hooked up and the generator hooked up to the inverter to power the cabin.

    I then set to hooking up the Magnum Auto Gen start switch and after many trips back and forth and downloading manuals and diagrams I realized I could not use the autogen start until I got more wires. I need one more to run over to the generator for the gen running sensor in the autostart switch. Once done I should be set.

    Next day....

    Seems my sinuses DID NOT like me climbing around under the cabin nor digging and backfilling lines etc and punished me over time last night. So at around 2am having only slept a few hours so far and fitful at that, I took some afrin actually the Western Family version) and cleared up my sinuses :) THen it was off to bed and SLEEP! Then my alarm went off and it was 5am and time to get the coffee going, and oh that coffee tasteth the best!!!

    So after shaving I went and cranked up the laptop and waited for the fridge and freezer to stop cycling. Once they quit I checkd power and it was 24.38vdc and rising! Saw it climb to over 24.4v as I went out to hit the start button on the generator to kick it into life and give the batteries a short recharge before heading to work.

    Last night as I was laying in bed I realized that I had about 50 feet of speaker wire and that the wire I needed for the generator didn't need to be big -- a match made in heaven perhaps ;) But I also took bag over $40 of stuff to Home Depot recently that I didn't have receipts for and the girl got confused when I wanted the credit on our account and gave me a gift card with the credit on it instead. So I'll pick up the romex and stuff I need today and fix the recepticle problem for the freezer and wire up the last wire to the auto gen start while I'm at it.

    THen if I could just figure out the stupid lights on the charge controller I'd be set! :D

    So while fighting the 'how to hook up' bug with the new Auto Gen Switch etc I went into a panic when after seeing my inverter quit charging I put my multimeter into the socket the generator feeds and saw voltage readings around 135vac. I was in a panic and thought maybe the inverter stopped excepting the power from the generator because of this. After all, it's designed to cut off shore power that is in the excess of 135vac or below 90vac (that can be adjusted to a tighter range if needed).

    Later out of curiosity I tested the output power again and it was 140vac and climbing! YIKES!

    Still later I checked the inverter power and it showed over 140vac ??? ??? ???

    I began to suspet my 10 year old Greenlee Multimeter. Today I bought it into the shop and tested the jacks on the wall. First read 118vac, uh oh I thought, but dilligent in my testing (I'm known in my field as a good troubleshooter) I tested another outlet and got 121vac, then 125vac, 129, 130, 135....something aint right. One of my techs pulled out his Fluke and it read 120vac on the same outlet my Greenlee was reading 129.9vac.

    My meter went into the trash and I felt a LOT better about my readings!!!! Now time to buy a new meter ;)

    Had a very good chat with Magnum Energy about the auto gen start switch and it's settings. One thing I've often struggled with is the voltage levels shown on my MPPT controller. Often the low voltage is around 11.9vdc (when it was a 12v bank) and while I knew that was likely under a load without specifics one cannot tell. Then this discussion confirmed what I thought and likely what someone smarter then me would say which is 'don't trust the controller!' lol

    So, with Magnum on the phone I discussed what setting to use on my system with my inverter and the consensus was 11.5v (which is really 23v on a 24v bank) so that when the batteries are under a load for more then one minute or when the bank is depleted to 23vdc the switch will kick on the generator and recharge the bank.

    Which confirms my previus belief that my system was not as depleted as I thought it was, it was just running the freezer or fridge and showing lower.

    Now to fix some other issues.

    The answer to my inverter question (why it stopped charging) was to use setting #1 so the inverter would kick to AC power and charge the batteries, once fully charged it would go into float on the batteries until the generator stops and remain on AC from the generator until that time allowing me to run various other things on Generator AC only circuits.

    In the other setting (o) the generator remains in inverter mode and stops charging once the batteries are topped off. which means it detected a fully charged condition each evening and determined that it did not need to keep charging the batteries.

    On a side note the two wire start on the inverter was designed for AGM systems aparently which on a 12v battery their engineer tells me, at 10.9v it is still not fully disharged. In fact he claimed it was at 50% which shocked me. Not sure I agree but I'm not an electrical engineer! lol

    So, I'll switch to setting 1 and let you know what happens :) I've also got a new voltmeter (multi) and some fuses to complete my Magnum install. With luck I'll get that done this evening and be fully operational! :)

    So there you have it, a day or two in the life ;)

    Soon I expect my posts will be about cutting wood to stay warm since temps are heading to the teens overnight now.

    I'll keep you posted!
  3. CraigB

    CraigB Best looking Craig B in the forum! $:-{P> Staff Member Site Admin

    So that's the fast food option out there, eh? :p
  4. Erik

    Erik Site Owner Staff Member Site Admin Site Moderator

    It can be ;)
  5. Erik

    Erik Site Owner Staff Member Site Admin Site Moderator

    Ground road -- bent the last 10 inches down into the ground as I couldn't drive it any deeper. Then attached the ground cable and buried it all.

    You can see where the ground goes here. Runs into the Midnight solar box and ground bus bar. Then I run a ground from there into the main breaker panels bus and tie my inverter and charge controller grounds to that bus. Imagine, I never had a ground for the last three years! I KNOW this isn't good but I just never got it installed as the last rod never made it down more then 5 feet (I need to pull it out with my tractor).

    Buried. I still need to extend the conduit from the solar panels up into the box but that will wait for another day. Hopefully not year though!

    New batteries installed and charged up. This gives me 660AH at 24v (compared to my old 12v system of 880AH this would be 1320AH with the 4 additional batteries)

    New Inverter/Charger. It's an 24v AIMS 4000watt Pure Sine Inverter with a 1000watt charger and the option to run it in Battery Mode which will always inverter from the batteries or 'Shore Power' mode which will switch to the Generator supplied power while charging the batteries and then remain on generator power with the battery charger in float until the generator shuts down. I prefer this mode as it means I can run the generator for longer periods for various reasons without drawing off the batteries. Then when I shut down the generator it kicks over to Inverter mode. It also has a 'sleep' mode which sends out a pulse of power every so many seconds and continues until something kicks on and needs power, then it runs until the item kicks off. This is helpful when I am away as it will just sleep until the freezer or refrigerator comes on then powers them and goes back to sleep conserving power.

    Started charging off the inverter with the generator running and dialed in the inverter to about 85% charging capacity. It' s interesting how sensative the charger settings are but I was able to dial it in to roughly what I think would be good for this bank based on the solar calculator's suggestion on how many panels I'd need using my 205watt panels. It tells me 4 so I dialed in the inverter to run about that much power. What was also interesting was watching the inverter/charging dial up the charge from start and then back off in steps as it went through bulk to absorption and then float.

    TriMetric monitor showing 101% of charge after running the generator and charging from the Inverter for a couple hours.
  6. vintageray

    vintageray New Member

    I can relate. Been living on my sailboat for 3 yrs.
  7. Erik

    Erik Site Owner Staff Member Site Admin Site Moderator

    What kind of power?
  8. Erik

    Erik Site Owner Staff Member Site Admin Site Moderator

    Lots has happened in the last 2+ months for those interested. For the most part I've been surviving with no working drains, no running hot water (and for a while no running water) but have managed to get by anyway. The winter was VERY cold this year getting down to the negatives (-12 to -15 at it's coldest) which for our area isn't quite normal.

    On the other hand I haven't had much snow which means things like my grey water drains have frozen and it also means I've used a LOT more propane than I expected to. So I'm down to 50% in my 500 gallon tank and still 2+ months of cold weather to go (actually it won't be above freezing at night until May or June but I won't need much propane since day time temps will go above 50.

    Anyway, I've mostly been plowing the little snow and ice I have on my road in and keeping warm while planning trips back to our main home in the city (which is when I go from sponge baths to showers and do laundry). My hope is that I don't have much longer before the grey water drains finally thaw but we'll see.

    Meanwhile I plan to do some milling soon (maybe this weekend) and hope to get back to finishing the interior also.

    And of course, I spend a lot more time on the dart board since there isn't much else to do at night ;)
  9. bret23

    bret23 New Member

    Hi Eric

    That is very cool I would Love to live off the grid. I have been watching all the shows about Alaska and the one about the Mountain men.

    You are a man after my on Heart i wish you all the Best of Luck & Happiness.

    Also let use know when you have your 1st Bigfoot Encounter:)

    Mugs Away
  10. Erik

    Erik Site Owner Staff Member Site Admin Site Moderator

    Thanks :) No bigfoot yet but lots of snow so maybe Yeti will stop by!
  11. Erik

    Erik Site Owner Staff Member Site Admin Site Moderator

    I've been getting a lot more snow lately....almost 2 feet on the ground now.

    Chaining up is the only way to get in and out now

    Good thing I have a tractor to keep the road clear....
  12. Erik

    Erik Site Owner Staff Member Site Admin Site Moderator

    Spring has sprung and that means I've been very busy! Lots to do on the homestead so less time for darts etc.

    The Grouse are out strutting around so I know it's spring!

    Got some cleaning done and painted the floor with deck paint to protect the OSB while I make flooring. I hope to get the flooring in over the next few months.

    Peeled logs to make an entrance to the place.

    Got the entrance completed after peeling 5 logs and drilling holes for them etc. Am pretty happy with it :)

    Got two sides of the back room finished with just the eves to complete

    Still need to make the door though.

    Started making more paneling

    pretty simple really ;) Fall a tree, mill it into lumber, dry it, rip it down to size, plane it, router it and stick it on the wall ;)

    Not the best pic but here's a shot from my phone after I 'turned the corner' going up the ceiling.
  13. Erik

    Erik Site Owner Staff Member Site Admin Site Moderator

    Saw a moose trotting down my 'driveway' yesterday on my way to work :) Gotta love that.

    Sometimes, I'll admit it, I drive home and as I kick in the four wheel drive to make the passage a little easier over the bumpy and steep drive I realize "I'm living a dream".

    There is just something about living like this, way out in the woods, alone (most of the time) and doing the things you want to do while enjoying the world around you.

    Heck, I might even get some darts going with other local soon.
  14. Erik

    Erik Site Owner Staff Member Site Admin Site Moderator

    Peeling logs for the entrance....ya it's a little more effort than tossing arrows ;)
  15. KopRalph11

    KopRalph11 Administrator Staff Member Site Admin

    Erik, sounds like you have a made a dream come true. Can't be a much better feeling. Well done
  16. Erik

    Erik Site Owner Staff Member Site Admin Site Moderator

    Yup :)

    Other than living away from my wife and not seeing her but every weekend or two it's pretty much a dream :)

    Could use a good dart bar too.

    Here are some pics of making the posts for my stair rail. I went out and cut down a dead Fir and bucked it into post sized pieces (and one for the railing):

    Took some pics of the process I went through to make the second railing (which was more or less the same as the first)
    First step was to measure and mark where to cut/notch the post. I used a hand saw for most of the cutting though I did use a miter saw for some of it I found the hand saw much better for this work.

    Once the cuts were done I knocked out the better part of the wood with my hammer and then used the chisel to get down to a flatter surface.

    Next I dragged out the draw knife and used it like a plane. It does a pretty decent job of getting things even and planing off material that is sticking up.

    Finally I get out my Timber Framing Slick and smooth the surface around the angled cut a but more. It's amazing how well it works if you take some time and go slow. No hurrying in this kinds of work.

    Standing the post up and clamping it in the vice helps with this step. Once secured I ran the router around the top of the post to radius the edge a bit. I like the way this turns out with the drawknife cuts showing in the radius.

    Finally after securing the post in the drill press and driving holes through it where I want to secure it to the stairs I mount and secure :)

    Of course I still have to sand and stain and varathane but not until I've cut the mortices for the railings.
  17. CraigB

    CraigB Best looking Craig B in the forum! $:-{P> Staff Member Site Admin

    Very nice, but looks like WAY too much work to me! :lol:
  18. Erik

    Erik Site Owner Staff Member Site Admin Site Moderator

    LOL it sure can be a lot of work! But it's one of those 'labors of love' kinda things. I enjoy working with wood.

    Back when I was just starting to play darts (11 yrs old) I was also buying power tools to make stuff out of wood....I got a lot better at darts for the next 30+ years but didn't do so much with I play with wood and dream about being good at darts! lol
  19. Erik

    Erik Site Owner Staff Member Site Admin Site Moderator

    It's been a while since I posted in here! Not much has changed though. I did however, finish the deck I wanted to get done:

    Sen here a little. This winter I've spent more time away since I'm working in Moses Lake now but I still get to the cabin for a long weekend every other weekend or so. Last weekend I have a Cougar (Mountain Lion, Puma, Panther -- same thing) following me around!

    This print was in the mud behind the generator exhaust (it melts the snow and makes mud). The cat was all over the place looking for me while I was inside reading ;)

    My batteries (solar power) were just about dead (made some poor choices) so I'll have to replace them this spring but for now I'm going to try adding some 'Charge It' to see if it helps. Then in the spring I'll add 8 new Trojan L16's and 4 more solar panels. That ought to solve my power issues (not enough) for the most part.

    I also plan to get the roof on the deck and extend the deck another 22 feet along the west side of the cabin. Eventually it will surround most of the cabin :)

    From a previous post I mentioned I need to make a door for my back room :)
    That's the result. I still have to mount hinges etc on it but for now it works fine.

    With luck this weekend I'll get more work done and since I shooting darts in a league again I'll maybe even do a little practice which is always nice at the cabin. Heck, I might even install a light for the board ;)
  20. coulomp

    coulomp New Member

    I can only wish to live in a place like that. hows is the building at holding heat? only ask as its -38 with wind out here today

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