By Sequoya Cross of Backwoods Solar
Studies have shown that for every dollar invested in making your home more energy efficient, it reduces the expense and size of a solar panel system multiple times over for living off the grid. Some of the most significant ways to reduce your electricity use is to evaluate the age of your major appliances and heating and cooling methods.
Improvements to Reduce Energy Consumption
Anything over 10 years of age should be replaced and Energy Star and gas appliances installed wherever possible (although this increases your gas bill). These methods will further decrease your draw on the grid or your batteries. Weatherize your home, and if you are in the process of building a home or renovating an existing one, use passive solar techniques and wood heat to help cut down on the use of heating and air conditioning appliances, which are some of the largest draws of electricity.
Minor Changes for Energy Use
Rather than major life-style changes, people can keep most advantages electricity offers while consuming only a small percentage of the power others use. The amount of power your system generates depends on the natural energy resources at your location and on how much equipment you install to gather that energy. The amount of benefit you receive from that energy depends on careful selection of lights and appliances for maximum energy efficiency and on your conservation habits. That means using special lights, refrigerators, and freezers that use about 1/4 as much power. It also means using natural gas or propane for major heat production in cooking, water heating, clothes drying, and home heating.
By installing extra switches and smart power strips to cut power off phantom electric loads, that is, things like stereos, TVs, garage door openers, and office equipment, all of which consume power even when turned off can save a considerable amount of energy over time. Use motion sensor and timer switches for outdoor lights whenever possible and heating systems that distribute heat without pumps or blowers and cooling by evaporative methods instead of air conditioning.
Major Changes for Energy Use
By really evaluating and being conscious of your energy use, we learn how to get the most benefit from the fewest kilowatt-hours. In short:
- Design the whole house (water, heat, power) for low energy use.
- Carefully select very special low energy lights and appliances.
- Eliminate energy waste in appliances and from human carelessness.
At Backwoods Solar, most of our employees live in off-grid or grid-connected homes that get some or all of their power from renewable energy methods. We are constantly adding to and improving our efficient systems in order to maximize the benefits and cut down on the carbon footprints we have.
Shawn incorporates several methods, using solar and wind to power his home. Scott and Tracey live completely off-grid with a year round micro-hydro system that powers their home built from timber they milled on the property. Tom uses solar to run his growing off-grid house (which he is working on an addition very diligently before the rains come). John powers his off-grid cabin with solar and Alan is designing his off-grid system for his own home and currently supplies back-up power to a grid-connected deep well submersible pump.
Sequoya is slowly growing into a grid-tie system for her small home that utilizes Enphase micro-inverters. The added benefit that micro-inverters have made in the industry is that they allow a homeowner to grow into a system over time, slowing adding to it as their budget allows. Instead of making the expensive investment all at once, a homeowner can start smaller and take the savings they realize on their utility bill and invest it back into the growth of their system.