Going off-grid seems to be something like the holy grail of the prepping and survival community. I mean, which of us wouldn’t love to be able to live our lives, without having to pay those bills every month? Why wouldn’t we want to go off-grid, especially if it means that we are more self-sufficient, preparing ourselves for the inevitable disaster, whatever and whenever that might be.
Typically, when we talk about going “off-grid” most people are thinking electricity. But while that’s an important part of going off-grid, it’s not the most important. If we’re going to consider all our utility usage, especially our energy consumption, then the biggest part of going off-grid for most families is heating their homes. Except in the deep south, where air conditioning is more important than heating, heating our homes is the biggest chunk of our energy consumption.
With that in mind, it only makes sense to start our process of going off-grid by seeking means of heating our homes through the winter; one that doesn’t require the electric company, the gas company or any other company that brings any sort of power right to our homes.
That limits our options tremendously. There are few forms of fuel that we can readily harvest on our own. Most require a considerable amount of technology and are best harvested in large quantities, allowing the companies that harvest them to spread the cost out over a massive number of users. None of us can pay those costs alone.
Nevertheless, there are some options we should consider.
Related: The Best 5 States for Living Off-Grid
In many ways, I’d have to say that solar heating is the ultimate off-grid heating system. Solar power is clearly a renewable energy source, it doesn’t require any work to harvest and the energy itself is free.
The big drawback to it is that effective passive solar heating requires that the home be specially designed and built to allow sunlight to enter the home and be converted to heat energy. Most homes are not.
Even so, it is possible to get at least some solar heating out of most homes, although you might not be able to heat your home on solar power alone. The main key is to have a lot of south-facing windows, where sunlight can come in during the day, hit dark colored surfaces and be converted to heat. Even without a means of storing that heat for the night, this will help lower your dependence on other forms of energy for heating.
If that’s not enough, adding a sun room on the south side of the home, which has been designed for passive solar, can generate a considerable amount of heat, perhaps even enough to heat your home.
There are two keys to make this work. The first is to have a large enough thermal mass to store the heat that your passive solar heating system is going to generate. This heat will then be able to radiate into the home at night, providing your family with heat. The second is to have a means of circulating that heat throughout your home. Ideally, that should be by convection; but in an add-on situation, you’ll probably need some sort of fans, like ceiling fans.
Related: How to Build Your Own Solar Panels
Electric heating is probably the most energy inefficient and costly way of heating your off-grid home.
In order to have off-grid electric heating, you would need to generate enough electricity to power your electric furnace or electric baseboard heaters and have a battery backup system which is large enough to store the electricity you would need to have, in order to heat your home overnight.
A few years ago, I priced out a solar power system which would produce my average energy usage. It was $60,000. This didn’t include any sort of battery backup system and in reality, didn’t produce enough power for my max usage months. Adding those in would probably make the system top out at over $100 grand. About the only good thing would be that I wouldn’t have any operating costs.
Propane exists in that grey area between being on the grid and being off-grid. While it is not technically connected to any sort of grid, you still have to have a gas company of some sort which can deliver the propane gas to you, filling your tank. So, while you might be off-grid for the winter; this isn’t workable for a long-term survival situation.
The big problem with propane is cost. While propane heaters are fairly inexpensive, the gas isn’t. By comparison, it’s even more expensive than electricity, which is considered by most people to be the most expensive home heating method. But in a direct comparison of the same amount of heat generated, propane costs is 57.4% higher. It looks even worse, when compared to natural gas, which heats most on-grid homes. Again in a head-to-head competition, producing the same amount of heat, propane costs over six times what natural gas does.
Once upon a time, much of the US Northeast was heated by coal. People would have coal chutes going into their basements, where coal was offloaded so as to be available for the coal-burning furnace. It wasn’t homes either, but apartment buildings and commercial enterprises as well.
Yet coal has lost favor in recent times, mostly because it is considered to be a “dirty fuel” even worse than other fossil fuels. It produces more carbon dioxide than any other fuel, according to the Energy Information Administration. Therefore, if you are concerned about the environment, this may not be the best heating source for you.
Leaving that out, coal is a fairly cost-effective means of heating your home, although it is more work than heating with propane or natural gas. But compared to wood, coal is much less work. That’s because the energy density in coal is double the best hardwood firewood you can find. You can store double the amount of heat energy in the same space as wood. That’s because coal is about twice as heavy as wood.
The key is to use anthracite coal, which produces less sulfur and less pollution than bituminous coal (the kind burned in power plants). Anthratic coal looks more like a stone, than the black coal that we are all accustomed to. But anthracite coal is only about 1% of US coal production. Prices vary; but average $53 a ton, making it even cheaper than buying firewood. Of course, if you have coal on your property and a means of mining it, you can get your coal for free.
Related: How To Heat Your Room With Vegetable Oil
I’ve only seen waste oil used in heating workshops, never a home. Yet waste oil furnaces are highly efficient fuel burners, allowing oil that would otherwise become hazardous waste to provide heating.
The one big drawback is that commercially available waste oil furnaces are rather expensive, since they are designed for use in industrial operations. But then, you can always build your own.
This may not seem like an effective off-grid heating method, but you can buy waste oil from dealers. All you need is a tank to store it. When you compare the cost of waste oil to other heating methods, you find that every gallon of waste oil burnt saves $5.05 over using propane or $2.82 over using natural gas.
But that’s not the big advantage in my eyes. When I look at waste oil, I think of all the disaster scenarios I’ve read about, where cars are no longer driveable. If such a scenario were to occur, the availability of waste oil would be nearly endless. All you’d have to do is scavenge it from all the cars just sitting around.
I’ve left wood for last for a reason. Regardless of all the benefits I’ve mentioned to the methods above, there is no better off-grid heating method than wood.
Wood is a renewable resource, which you can harvest yourself. That means that unless you live in an area lacking trees (I do; we don’t have a lot of trees here), you can harvest your own fuel, making the cost of heating your home free.
Even in areas with limited trees, there are still ways you can use wood to heat your home. There are always people who need trees trimmed, dead trees removed, or limbs blown down by storms cleaned up. With a little ingenuity and some elbow grease, you can keep yourself in firewood for nothing more than the cost of gas for your truck and chainsaw.
Even if you do buy hardwood firewood commercially, it’s still the cheapest form of home heating there is, other than solar. It’s also something that can be retrofitted into most homes. While you might not be able to keep your bedrooms toasty warm with a wood-burning stove in the living room, you will be able to keep the living areas warm.
When we compare wood to other forms of heating, we find that it costs roughly 13% of electricity, 8% of propane and 52% of natural gas.
Besides that, if there ever is a TEOTWAWKI event in our future, wood will probably be the most abundantly available fuel source you can find, with the possible exception of waste oil. But then, the waste oil will probably run out eventually, while wood is a renewable resource. Properly managed, our forests will keep producing wood for generations to come.
Related: The Ultimate Bug Out Home For Just $250
One Final Note
Many of these heating methods only heat part of your home, because they don’t use the ductwork of a modern HVAC system. Yet for much of human history, that’s what people lived with. The idea that every room of a home must be kept at a comfortable 76°F is actually rather new. About the only people who could afford to heat every room of a home in olden times were the richest of the rich.
In the past, people concentrated on heating the main living areas of their homes. The only heat which would get into sleeping areas would be through natural convection of doors left open. Children often slept in the loft, because it was warmer.
Our ancestors also did a number of things to keep themselves warm, which we’ve let go by the wayside. Sleeping together to share body heat was common, with all the children in the home often sharing one large bed. It was also common to use bed warmer to warm up the bed, before getting into it. Beds would be piled high in the wintertime, with all the blankets the family had, helping to keep that body heat in. All in all, I’m sure they were warm enough, even though they didn’t have central heating.
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I’m very interested in this
You left the best for last….yes wood is best whether it’s burned in a wood stove or a fireplace…wood burning stove is best.
35 years ago when I was a much younger man and we heated almost exclusively with wood, I would have agreed with you; however, heating with wood is a lot of work. Cutting, splitting, stacking, hauling and then cleaning and disposing of the ashes takes time and is hard work, especially as we advance in age.
The maxim about wood heat says: ”Wood always heats twice, Once in the cutting and once in the burning” and it is soooo true.
Your coal price is very out of date. Last March the retail price of rice coal (the size used by most self-feeding coal stoves) was $259/ton where I live, about 2 hours from the center of Pennsylvania coal country.
First concerning wood. The Permaculture community has adopted what they call a, “Rocket Mass Heater.” It is based on the principle of the stoves of Europe in antiquity, though it never caught on in England, probably why it didn’t catch on in America. It is fed with small sticks, later with small logs. One person said they used 2 cords before, but now about ⅓ of a cord now. They need tending more. There is an exposed firebox, the draw keeps smoke out of the house. A column go es directly up, causing the gases to swirl, and burn completely, before being drawn down to a series of ducts slightly above ground level. A bench is made, usually if cob, clay, sand and straw mixed to make a moldable structure, then the exhaust rises up and out of the house. They don’t smoke. The exit pipe is not hot. The heat is stored in the cob, and an 8 hour burn will keep the house warm for a day or more. Here is a picture:
How about comparing the price of natural gss with electricity and propane.
I encountered a Japanese product called a “utampo.” I think it holds 7 liters. It is made of metal, with a secure screw top, and gasket. It is Oval looking down, and Oval from the side, all curves. It slips in a quilted drawstring bag. I put boiling water in it, and put it in bed under a pillow. Get in bed, and you feel no heat… for a few minutes, then it begins to radiate heat. Careful with boiling water, if kept covered, will still be warm in 24 hours, but you can use warm water, tepid, and sandwich it between your legs, and those major veins in your inner thighs will draw heat to your whole body. I’ve seen them for sale on the internet, but don’t like the ones I see. I like the ones I buy from Soko Hardware, 1698 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94115,
(415) 931-5510. You can tell them Tom suggested it, or not. You can put them under a pillow in your chair, so your legs rest on it. I am disabled, and I like my utampo.
Word of caution about yutampo. It is easy to get serious burns from the yutampo. We had several cases where GIs had a tad too much central nervous system depressant fluid and in their inebriated state, got third degree burns from the yutampo.
Japanese houses traditionally did not have central heating. If the family were awake, in the wintertime they sat around a low table with a charcoal brazier called a kotatsu in the middle. The table had a futon over it and everyone put their legs and hands under the futon to keep warm.
An additional technique before bed one took a very hot bath either at home if the family were somewhat well to do or at the local bath house if not so well to do.
I can remember walking back from the bath house in just my underwear and a light yukata which is a light weight kimono and be perfectly warm. The highlight was to stop at the roasted chestnut stand, step under the curtain around it into the warmth of the roasting chestnuts and get a bag full of hot roasted chestnuts to take home and have with hot tea before retiring for the night — with the yutampo.
Yu is the Japanese word for hot water. O-yu is hot tea water.
Later kerosene space heaters became the go-to form of home heating in Japan.
Now the Japanese houses have radiant heat in the floors to heat their homes.
In Northern China and in Korea, the homes have radiant heat. There are channels that run under the floor to heat the home from a wood or coal burning fireplace. In some homes the family bed is above the fireplace so that the bed is heated for the family to sleep.
What does that have to do with heating the home?
If one lives someplace other than SoCal, it might be that in order to survive cold winters, some modification of the home might be in order to take advantage of what folks who live in real cold climes do to keep from freezing to death at night.
Some kerosene space heaters and catalytic space heaters are considered safe to use in sleeping spaces. Now might be a good time to start investigating such. Kerosene space heaters take K-2 kerosene, so there is a slight smell of kerosene that some people can’t stand. Personally, the smell of kerosene doesn’t bother me when the alternative is spending the night trying to sleep in -10 degree temperature.
My Oto-san, my Father-in-law, would prepare the bath each night. We would take turns sitting on a small stool by a drain in the floor, with the old style bucket, but there was a plumbed wand for water, and a Scrub brush, then in a tank about 4 feet long, 2½ feet wide, and maybe 3 feet deep, and soak in the water, then it was the next person’s turn. I have a, did you call it a yukata?, with the sash and the woolen drawstring jacket, from Minoo Hot Springs. My Oto-san’s and Oka-san’s house had large rubber pads with electric heating elements in the bedroom.
Tom: If you are speaking of the 1950s and early 60s, your in-laws were relatively wealthy. Your father-in-law must have been retired to start the bath. In most homes preparing the bath for the family was the wife’s job. The Japanese wife typically was the first up in the morning and the last to go to bed in the evening.
The in-home bath was my gift to my wife’s family before we left Japan. By that time my wife’s mother was too frail to go to the public bath, so having a bath in-home was a big help in her care. I wish we had the tub now. It was Japanese cedar and as you indicate, about three feet deep. It had a metal fire box in the bottom to heat the water. It would make a great hot tub on the patio now and a great bath tub in an EOTW scenario. And now I am not sure I could afford one made of Japanese cedar. They are scary expensive these days.
Love this & another burnable sores are cow pies though they may not smell as nice
Cow pies, buffalo chips, horse droppings, water buffalo — almost any grain or grass feeding animal’s manure will burn and I think the odor is more like peat or grass burning than what Viet Nam vets remember burning each day.
I must admit that I have zero experience burning animal droppings as campfire fuel. The plains indians were supposed to use buffalo droppings for campfires. I wonder what buffalo meat tastes like dried over buffalo droppings? I’ll bet it is nothing like buffalo dried over mesquite or oak.
BUT, if one is hungry enough . . .
I rely mostly on wood heat. For emergency heat, I take an used vehicle oil filter. I fill it 1/4-1/3 with used motor oi. It doesn’t have to be clean oil;.Place filter in center of stove and cover the filter with a sheet of paper. Light it and keep it burning until the oil in the filter ignites. This is only recommended for closed fire stoves. Prepare for a very hot stove. There is no smell and no other fuel is needed. How you dampen your stove regulates the heat. DO NOT exceed recommended amount of oil.
A stove can become a white hot furnace with too much oil.
I agree with Mike regarding the price of coal. When i lived in the MidAtlantic, we could get a ton of loose call for about $240, and that was 10 years ago. Where i am now, It’s $340 a ton. I’m talking anthracite, i don’t know the pricing for bituminous.
Lots of people in my current location burn wood, and i did the first few years i was here. I went back to burning coal because it’s more convenient. No needing to age the product, don’t need to worry if it gets wet, critters aren’t interested in getting in it, no splinters, and i don’t have to cut, chop, and split.
I found that coal gave a deeper heat than wood, too and with much less tending. For the same size stove, i shake it down twice a day empty the ash pan, refill the hopper, and done in less than 3 minutes. With wood, no matter how i tried, the stove i had needed tending every few hours (went as long as 6). Price wise, if i buy wood that’s green, i can get a cord for $150; if i want one i can burn now, it’s at least $100 more.
Now, if i were building, i’d use a rocket stove for heating, as that uses a lot less fuel. Or for a wood stove, i’d consider one by silverfire.us as they do a double burn where they get the most out of everything they burn (they have some biomass stoves that look pretty interesting).
When I was a kid we used a coal furnace to heat the house and to make hot water. We would bank the furnace about eight p.m. and it would last all night, keeping the house cozy and warm until my father got up around six and opened up the furnace. He would add coal and that would last until he got home from work. We used egg size anthracite. Egg size was a standard size used in furnaces back then. During the summer we used pea coal in the bucket-a-day to make hot water. It was a much smaller coal stove and used a bucket of pea coal a day to make water hot enough all day that one had to mix cold water with it for bathing or in order to put one’s hands in it to wash items. It was banked at night and the flue and grating opened up in the morning and fed new coal. Tending the bucket-a-day was my job. A coal scuttle was a standard size and thus the name “bucket-a-day.”
We didn’t salt the roads when it snowed in those days. All the public buildings used coal to heat them and so there was always plenty of ashes which were put on the roads for traction. Homeowner would put ashes on their front steps and sidewalk to make them safe for walking.
LCC, my stove can use nut (preferred) or pea (not preferred but will work) size. I use nut.
I have used the ashes to provide traction during winter, and it works well. My town collects all ashes at the dump, so I usually do make dump runs to dump cold ashes there.
They use a combination of things on the roads here, including grit. I swept up a bunch of it from my driveway that was thrown by the plow and spreader trucks, and reuse it to provide traction around the house.
I also heartily recommend a pair of Stabilicers® for one’s feet when it’s slippery outside. There are a number of different companies that make rubber grippy things you can put on your feet, and i’ve tried a number of them.
In a SHTF situation, where we may not have snow removal crews and spreader trucks as available to keep roads and paths clear, having an easy way to help us keep upright when it’s slippery will be very valuable. Heck even in a non-SHTF situation, it’s great.
Wood ashes can provide grit; but coal clinkers AKA slag, have been used many places and often work better.
For keeping upright on ice a good pair of boots with Vibram lug soles or by placing instep crampons on a normal shoe or boot both work well. I use both here.
From my background in both martial arts and roller skating I’m pretty stable and the key is short sliding steps taken carefully and slowly. While it may take more time, I’ve found that slow and steady not only wins the race, it keeps you from falling while on the journey.
I keep 2 cords on hand most of the time. When 1 cord is used up I buy another cord of green mixed split and limb wood. Saves a lot of money. I usually burn 1/2 cord a winter if the electricity is on all the time. If the power is out for an extended period of time I will run out of wood.
I have oil radiator heaters. Still uses some electricity to heat the oil but much less expensive than electric. My house is all electric. We also have south facing window and use the sun. I live in Arizona so have to shade them in the summer and use evaporative cooler and fans to cool us.
I am a older, disabled Vet. We live in the hills where wood is plentiful. But I can’t, and don’t want to burn firewood anymore. The physical work connected to wood is now simply beyond my abilities.
However I am absolutely sold on using Wood Pellets. Easier to load (one 40lbs bag works for us between three to seven days, weather dependent). Easy to clean. And regularly priced around $250 a ton (50 – 40lbs). It has a fan that circulates the heat, and I point one fan down the hallway to heat the back. It gets so warm at times, I open a door a crack.
1-ton lasts us, 1 to 1-1/2 years. Yes years. My home is a 3 bedroom 2 bath, at around 1200 square feet. And a single level. In case of no power I have a generator that runs on gas that more than powers the stove.
We are putting a home up on 5 acres, I will have solar for hot water and some power.
Yea well when the Shit Hits The Fan I think the only thing available is going to be wood. Natural gas not available. Electricity not available. Propane not available. Coal pretty much not available. Mine it your self? Coal? Are you kidding me? Mine it your self? Don’t know if I should laugh or just shake my head. Mine coal your self.
If one lives in the anthracite region of PA and W, Virginia, mining coal by oneself is not an impossibility, Wannabe. There are a great many small mines operated by a couple, three miners who use it for home heating and sell a little on the side. Coal was mined for centuries with pick and shovel. At the end of the world as we know it, we will be back in the 18th century, so mining coal with pick and shovel will not be as far fetched as it sounds on first glance.
Here in SoCal, coal oil or tar might once again come into its own. The tree huggers all decry the ’69 Santa Barbara oil spill, but oil has seeped from underground deposits for centuries here in SoCal. The local indians used it for a variety of purposes. There are still natural seeps that abound in this county some not far from where I live. However, before I dig up crude oil from an oil seep to use for heating purposes, I will try wood first.
Wannabe & left coast chuck,
I grew up in western Pennsylvania only 40 miles north of the West Virginia line, and now live in Ohio, about 130 miles from the Kentucky border. The adjoining areas of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio are only really delineated because of the Ohio River, and are otherwise very similar. I have friends in southern Ohio that have coal outcroppings on their farm, jus there for the digging. A pickaxe or spud bar, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow or cart and one can have a substantial amount in a few hours.
These folks also have gas wells on their property.
Wood is probably a good choice, since those seeps are ancient and can be dangerous as many critters found out in what is now urban Los Angeles. The La Brea Tar Pits, possibly the tree huggers worst natural nightmare. LOL
I live with neighbors who are the original off grid pioneers, the Amish who heat primarily with wood and use no electric.
We OTOH live by the preparedness maxim: ”2 is 1 and 1 is none” and have multiple ways to do nearly everything, so the loss of any one energy source has multiple backups, for heating, lighting, and cooking, and communications.
We have collection boxes that sit in the south facing windows of our sun room and on sunny days can pour heat using convection into that room with no power or moving parts. Inexpensive to construct, they can help lower your heating bill any sunny winter day.
Ceiling fans work OK; but, some inexpensive dryer duct or PVC pipe using 12 volt box fans salvaged from old computers works quite well.
This really depends on your definition of long-term. If we had a power outage, we would switch mostly to wood for heat, only sparingly using propane to intermittently run the generator for pumping water and keeping the freezer and refrigerators cold. Small amounts of propane would also be used to cooking and heating domestic hot water.
Using these austerity mode techniques, we could run without many problems for at least 6 months and up to a year.
I don’t know where you get you numbers for propane and electricity; but, I see no credible source that supports your assertions.
We’ve heated with a combination of propane and wood backup for more than 30 years, and my calculations show the following, even living where the electricity costs are relatively high:
• Electricity: 3412 BTU’s per KWH or $38.00 for 1,000,000 BTU’s @ $0.13 per KWH
• Propane: 91600 BTU’s per gallon or $11.25 per 1,000,000 BTU’s @ $0.959 per gallon plus 7% sales tax for 10.8 gallons
These values are the actual values we paid this past summer, making electricity more than 3 times more expensive than propane.
In the past year, July 2018 to July 2019 we used 1423 gallons for all of our heating, cooking, domestic hot water, and part time operation of our whole house generator.
Beyond my calculations, here are some other references:
Comparing benefits & cost of propane vs. electric heat
Energy Cost Calculator
The only places I know that use this fuel are garages that do vehicle and machinery repair and oil changes, who end up with a nearly unlimited supply of fuel.
When we first move to this property we heated exclusively with wood for the first 2 years. We now use mostly propane; but, can still heat a significant portion of the space with wood and keep numerous cords of seasoned wood on hand atall times.
If you have equipment to use wood heat, corrugated cardboard rolled tightly can make a good backup or emergency fuel.
True, so distributed heating systems can help here, which in our case works as follows:
1. In our living room (front of the house) we have a ventless propane plaque heater capable of a continuous 30,000 BTU’s.
2. In our summer kitchen (back of the house) we have another ventless propane plaque heater capable of a continuous 30,000 BTU’s.
3. In our kitchen (center of the house) we have a gas range with an oven and 4 burners. Placing a Terra Cotta pot over a burner and tuning on the gas will heat the pot and radiate heat into the kitchen, like another plaque heater.
4. Other rooms in a pinch can use one of our buddy heaters that run on a 14-16 oz propane canister or a 20$ BBQ style cylinder with a conversion hose.
• Sleeping together to share body heat was common, with all the children in the home often sharing one large bed.
This is still often done along with building shelters and trapping heat with such devices as canopy beds.
• It was also common to use bed warmer to warm up the bed, before getting into it.
We still do, and today that bed warming can just be an electric blanket, which uses little power when only used for 15-30 minutes before turning in.
• Beds would be piled high in the wintertime, with all the blankets the family had, helping to keep that body heat in.
We still do this; but, layering things like Mylar space blankets can add a lot of efficiency without that crushing weight.
One item you didn’t mention that has been one of our best investments are all new high efficiency replacement windows & doors, and whole house foam insulation, that allows us to keep the heat we generate inside the house.
These items also lower your summer cooling costs.
I actually had to dig into one of my old books to find this one. I helped a mason construct one of these about 40 years ago, and while it would be hard to retrofit in an old home, making it part of a new construction or addition would be great.
It’s called the Russian Masonry Fireplace. A massive masonry stove with a horizontal switch back like chimney structure, to provide a long flu gas path to extract maximum heat into the masonry. They were often built in the center of the house, like my current fireplace. Once they get heated, they can provide heat to all adjacent rooms and the mass stays warm long after the fire is gone.
These can even burn hay or straw, and often people would sleep on top of them.
Another help besides insulation could be a windbreak.
We use windbreaks all around the house in the form of numerous kinds of trees that do indeed help.
The downside is playing pickup sticks each time you are getting ready to mow and of course all of the leaves deposited in the fall. These are generally piled and allowed to decompose until spring.
2 things not mentioned.
1. Refrigeration, 300% efficient! read the specifcations. 3000w of heating will require only 1000w (or less) of electricity !!!. it is electrical but doesn’t make heat, simply transfers heat from one place to another, hence its efficiency, which apparently can go up to 800% in perfect scenarios. i.e collecting heat where its less cold and locating the heat to where it isn’t already hot.
2. Electrical solar panels – make DC current. An inverter is not required for this power to be used onto a conventional water storage heating element. It is a good off-grid way to heat water! —i presume building a custom water storage inside a house would be a way to store heat from daytime into night-times…..there is a loss of energy using inverters, so avoiding an inverter i think makes this off-grid idea quite efficient? Used solar panels may be discarded for various reasons but they are cheap, reliable and whatever they make is a bonus. Be cautious as connecting them in series can give VERY high voltages, so as always….dont touch electricity. Use the VAR (volts,amps,resistance) and WAV (watts,amps,volts) triangles to ensure the resistance of the element matches the panels maximum output, don’t worry about when suns not shining because the heater element still uses whatever little bit is made because heater elements are not made for any set voltage, apart from if you go above its rated voltage it might internally short out.
Since you really cannot get more than 100% it’s not quite that simple; but, you are on the right track.
Heating and refrigeration use ”Heat Pumps” with the only difference being which side is kept hotter, controlled by a reversing valve,
On very cold days (about 35° or lower, there is not much heat to move in an air base device, which is why a water based device using a well is more efficient, since that water always sits at a warm 50° in winter and a cool 50° in summer.
The biggest problem with a heat pump for heating is that the outlet temperature rarely exceeds about 95° which seems cool when compared to a furnace @ 120° or higher.
Good quality inverters can be 90-95% efficient.
Electric resistance heating is technically” 100% efficient; but, there is a curve, to get to that point, where the elements glow cherry red, and the wild DC for this system while easy to use, is probably not right at the sweet spot.
In any case, if you can find enough panels cheap enough, the energy is free and efficiencies don’t count quite as much.
Connected in series can develop high enough voltages to damage the panels, so a series / parallel arrangement is probably best all around.
I’m not sure this description makes a lot of sense, since maximum output would be calculated in watts in bright sun, and that has little to do with the resistance of the element.
Heater elements are rated for a specific voltage, normally 234 VAC RMS or 360 VDC; but, panels are unlikely to cause a problem with the little power injected from PV panels.
i live in the moutains in Idaho and yes i use wood. However i used to run old mercedes diesels on veggie to go to work, and i have over 500 gallons of veggie left, would love to see the waste oil burner diy plans if you have them? I experimented with vegetable oil in a stainless bowl full of dry straw in my wood stove, it burned pretty hot but not all night actually scary hot once the oil started boiling over. Looking for an easy alternative i can weld as needed
Easy way to burn scrap oil (either veggie or petroleum based) is simply mount a tank at a point higher than the wood stove, run a small copper line to the stove top, drill a hole for the line and seal with furnace cement or epoxy. Put a ball shut off valve inline, and open to let the oil just drip on your wood….use less wood, and you can get rid of huge amount of oil. Neighbor of mine runs the stove in his shop this way….he has a small fleet of dump trucks, and the scrap oil from maintaining them heats his shop nicely.
When we first moved here as a rental, the heat was wood and an oil stove that worked similarly.
The oil dropped into a cast iron pot, so you had to put some paper into the pot to soak up the oil like a wick, and get it started burning.
After it burned for a while, the pot was hot enough to vaporize the oil at which point it burned a clean blue flame.
A few businesses around here filter the oil and then feed it to a normal oil burning stove.
It wasn’t me who commented about old oil burners. But basically it is a sealed box with a chimney out the top, then a pipe around half the size of the chimney runs inside the chimney for about 10 inches, approx from where the chimney starts. The internal pipe turns 90 degrees out of the chimney and then 90 degrees back into the box. The hard part is knowing where to let the air in. you must make a series of flutes around the chimney, down low. Maybe one or two rows should be below the start of the inside chimney pipe. They are a noisy device that should howl a bit. The air going in the flutes on the chimney causes perfect burning of the oil and high velocity in the chimney. This velocity causes fast flow of recirculating vapors back into the box through the inside tube. When working right they burn so clean you cannot believe it is burning old sump oil. I think you pour a little kerosene on top of the oil to get them started initially. I am in Australia and i saw one for sale recently called a “demon Heater”. Perhaps that might help you google something? The bottom “box” section is about 2 foot round and less than 1 foot high. pretty sure the is an air control on top of the box alongside the chimney. Hope this helps.
One point that wasn’t mentioned, but I think it is important.
You can use a coal stove to burn wood but you can’t use a wood stove to burn coal. Coal burns much hotter than wood and will make your wood stove cherry red and will soon burn it out.
Oh, and by the way, when your wood stove is cherry red, the fire hazard is quite high
We have a kitchen queen. Awesome cook stove and puts out enough heat for the house. Would love to add in a wood boiler as well to help off set it when the wood cook stove is not on but that will come in time.
Hello Ohio Prepper,
1. Can you explain why you say “you cannot get more than 100%”? I work with refrigeration, know it well and i thought the specifications speak for themselves. An electric kettle cannot ever achieve 100% efficiency because it makes the heat…and there are always losses. refrigeration doesn’t make heat! it only transports it to other places to benefit us. Either away for cooling or to us for heating.
2 I agree on colder days there is less heat to collect, hence why I commented about efficiencies being variable – but even up to 800%. My heat pump hot water system is nearly 500% efficient as purchaed and it qualified for a very generous government incentive due to its efiiciency.
3. I love the idea of a water based device! imagine having a large pool of water to collect heat from, conduction of heat is easy from water.
4. Yes, heat pumps struggles to give high output temperatures, and cannot compare to fire, but depending on what the electricity costs, the high efficiency may be the cheapest heat you can get.
5. Yes, modern inverters are very efficient. But there are still losses, complication of wiring and the cost of the inverter. Solar panels can be wired up just like batteries direct to heating element…so easy!
6. Can you explain “wild DC”? I am assured DC works a heating element more effiiently than AC….and it makes sense to me, better to use continuous DC rather than have the current constantly switching polarity.
7. How would the heating element get to glow cherry red if it is used to heat water, submerged in water?
8. Conventional roof top solar systems connected to inverters are normally connected in series, apparently they often run up to 600v DC!!! I don’t think it is likely any panel would be damaged from over voltage. In any case the heating element will specify the maximum voltage. It is then that if you wish to use my solar panels going into parallel connections would be required.
9. Using the triangles is important because if an element has 50 ohms resistance and the panels are in parrallel able to provide only 100 volts and then 400 watts of power it wont work well. Because 100 volts divided by 50 ohms equals 2 amps. Then 2 amps times 100 volts only results in 200watts that the element will allow in.
10. Heating elements will operate from any lower voltage. To be clear try connecting a 12 volt car battery to one and it will still work (although will need a lot of amps to make up for the low voltage!!), so they will make use of any lower voltage, but of course if it is low voltage and low amps then of course heating effect will also be very low, but if its free energy from the sun then its only gains!
Hope this helps.
I worked in the design of HVAC and Heat pump control systems and while an air based heat pump will produce around 3kW of thermal energy for every 1kW of electricity consumed, that is only an ”effective efficiency” of 300%. From the thermodynamics perspective it is impossible to have an efficiency of more than 100%, since the implication is that more energy is being output than being input. It’s more of a technical and mathematical definition, similar to computing power factor in an ac circuit with imaginary vectors and phase angles, and more the purview of a nitpicky engineer. LOL.
We have quite a few of those systems around here, manufactured and installed by Water Furnace Renewable Energy, Inc. out of Indiana.
I’ve seen three installation types.
If you have enough land, they bury a loop filled with water and an antifreeze compound for more efficiency.
For smaller parcels, either a well and a sump to drain off the waste water, often into a creek or 2 wells, one for drain and one for sump.
When used for summer cooling, the waste heat is also used as a heat supplement for domestic hot water.
Perhaps; but, my propane setup is rather inexpensive, paying only $0.959 (95.9 cents) per gallon this past summer. The 1423 gallons, about $1550.00 paid for all of my heating, cooking, domestic hot water, and partial generator usage for a year or about $130.00 per month all in.
Finally as I get older, I’m not as interested in the cheapest heat I can get; but, really like to be comfortable in the winter.
That’s true if all you want is heat; but, PV Panels can provide power for other things and with efficient LED lighting, can make your life less dark, while direct thermal collectors can heat air or liquid without the expense of the PV panels or wasting that electricity that can run other things like communications.
Solar panels still have to meet some threshold before the connected elements begin producing any substantial amounts of heat. It’s that theoretical vs., reality once again.
If you look at the direct output of a panel, without a charge controller, you will see wild swings in voltage between dark and light, and even on a bright day will see dips from a passing cloud. A battery is generally measured at a fixed voltage, from 1.2 to 13.8 and will slowly drop in voltage as the battery discharges. Measuring a direct PV panel will see wide voltage swings, usually smoothed out by the charge controller.
Actually AC works as well as DC; but, at a higher measured voltage, to average out the swings. Look at RMS (Root Mean Square) to see the equivalent DC voltage to its AC counterpart.
The primary benefit of AC is the ability to passively transform voltage a current with simple magnetic devices.
It depends on the type of element and how it is contained. Most elements in an electric water heater are contained in an insulated metal or ceramic sheath that allows heat to escape into the water; but, not get shorted by the water and produce no heat, so they can get quite hot, with enough energy input, such as a 240 VAC RMS source. Because of this insulation, there is a minimum threshold that must be met for heat to escape and begin heating the water.
Actually panels first go to a charge controller, with the best ones being MPTP that takes the wild DC and makes the voltage proper for charging batteries.
In your design, it would depend on a lot of things, such as if there would be enough voltage AND current to be of any use, since like so many paper designs, often reality can be a slick opponent. I have numerous dents on my forehead from such issues. LOL
Correct; but, I think the mention of triangles may confuse those not already familiar with them and this in part makes my point, about perhaps not enough power being available. Also a typical electric dryer element measures around 20 ohms and operating on 240 VAC RMS or about 170 volts DC equivalent can show you the power you will need to get started.
As an analogy, take a large pot of water and set a candle under it. Theoretically and mathematically the candle is heating the water; but, heating it enough for real use will take more energy density than that candle will ever provide.
Once again this is only in the theoretical. Refer to my candle analogy above for realistic.
It would still be best to concentrate the solar energy to direcly heat the water.
“Can you explain why you say “you cannot get more than 100%”?”
That would be the Second Law of Thermodynamics. As the name suggests it’s a physical law, and there’s no way round it.
I do not understand why every body wants to be off grid, if it is going to cost as much or more than being on grid. I have a house run completely off of electricity.I installed solar panels and my electric bill is $22 a month Why would you want to mess with batterys I have several old antique cars, and I constantly have to buy batteries as well as maintain them
So when shtf and the grid is down you can still have the comfort of electricity.
I think it’s a romantic fantasy for those who have never tried it, or perhaps how some people think they will be independent.
Personally I like grid based utilities; but, have means to continue without much interruption, should those utilities fail. Being prepared does not mean we need to go back and live in caves with campfires clubbing bunnies for food; but, we should have alternatives in case the larger infrastructure fails.
Do you have enough solar capacity to run your entire operation and if so, how do you power things @ night without batteries or other power storage devices?
The Ohio Prepper, I want to say I have learned a lot reading your responses and thank you for providing them.
I agree with you that for many living off-grid is a romantic fantasy. I like the convenience of being on-grid but want to be prepared to keep myself warm, watered, and well-fed should that convenience stop. For me, the time to learn that alternate way is now, while the convenience is still there to back me up, should i mess up somehow.
You are quite welcome. I’ve been doing this for a very long time and often teach seminars in my community, hoping that at least some people will get the message, that life can and will have upsetting events, and being prepared for those events just makes one a bit more secure and comfortable. All of my personal EOTW events have been more health related; but, one only needs to look to the wildfires and power outages out west, the hurricanes on the gulf coast or eastern seaboard, or the tornados in Dayton in my own state, to realize that a SHTF event can happen to anyone and any preparation will make you safer.
The best time was years ago; but, the 2nd best time is now, since it’s never really too late to start.
How you go about it will in some part depend on your location & available infrastructure.
Urban living means you not only have on grid power; but, also necessities like water & sewage where you rely on other to do their job. Rural living means that some of these utilities are your responsibility; however, you get more control of them.
I’ll note our situation here; but, only s a potential guideline for others.
Electric is provided by a local cooperative; but, we have a whole house generator and plenty of propane fuel and consumables (oil & filters to maintenance); however, prior to that we had (still have) a gasoline powered generator and plenty of long heavy gauge extension cords to plug in the refrigerators, chest freezer, well pump, and chargers for batteries used for lighting and communications.
Most of our electronics, computers, satellite receivers, HDTV’s, battery chargers and some LED lighting are plugged into simple computer UPS units. Prior to having the whole house generator these kept everything running during glitches and for a while when power was out allowing us to turn things off if necessary.
We have a well & septic system so if we have power, we have water and of we have water, we can flush. If you have a septic system or your urban system is still flushable, you can manually flush with a bucket. We still keep several 5-gallon buckets full of water with a loose fitting lid to keep out bugs & dirt as a backup. Assuming a modern low flush toilet using 1.6 gallons, you can get about 3 flushes per bucket.
For potable water, we have the well; but, also a creek on the property, rain catchment, and ponds in the area, with ways to filter the water.
A search for: “amazon shtfandgo filter” will include this one: ”Gravity Water Filter Kit for DIY Purifier, Includes .2 Micron Ceramic Filter, Pre Filter, Dispenser, and Instructions by SHTFandGO” for around $30.00.
All you add are some food grade buckets, a drill & bits, and some time and you have another necessity covered.
In a grid down situation we would be in pretty good shape; but, we have a local MAG for support and have been at this for a long time.
It’s been said that the most important part of a plan is simply to have one, and as you work on your plan, each day makes you a little more secure.
I’ll ask again.
Tom, it’s because you can’t rely on the grid always being there. Even in normal circumstances, like now, the grid in many parts of the country isn’t something you can rely on. The power lines to homes around here are still above ground, and you can just about guarantee they’ll go down at least once every winter.
Is being off grid a romantic fantasy? Maybe, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing. Anyone who wants to be prepared needs a backup for when the grid fails. If that backup has enough capability to replace the grid for everyday use, why not do that?
The bulk of our power is also above ground; but, with the exception of a drunk or errant driver occasionally taking out a pole, we rarely have lasting outages, and when we do, our cooperative gets right on it. That’s probably one of the good things about rural living around, since other utilities like internet are still rather lame.
Our backup has enough capability to replace the grid; but, that requires fuel, other consumables, and maintenance. With 3000 gallons of propane on site, we could easily run without much interruption for at least 3 months and 6 months or more with some austerity measures; but, this mean stopping the generator and doing maintenance on it every 8 days (200 running hours), so having it as backup instead of primary is just a better option for us.
I still consider being totally off grid a romantic fantasy unless you are very wealthy or very young and living in a region with lots of sunlight.
Even then, one also needs to have storage when it’s dark or the wind isn’t blowing, so purchasing and maintaining some battery banks with inverters, or your own hydro facility is required, unless you pretend to be doing that by using the electric utility as your backup, which is often done; but, actually cheating your system in the long run.
If we ever hit that lottery, we could probably look into such a system.
My friend is interested in living off the grid so he can work remotely with nature. I like your suggestion of using gas heaters that can efficiently heat your home during cold climates! He should probably reach out to an HVAC service center if he’s interested in this.