I spent the first 19 years of my life in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. In 1969, I got drafted into the army, and wound up in Vietnam, humping the bush with a light infantry brigade. When I returned, my head was a bit spun around, and I figured I needed my own little revolution, which involved getting out of the city—so I did.
My wife Jennifer and I found a beautiful 100-acre holler near Webster Springs, West Virginia, with a nice creek running through it. This part of West Virginia is blessed with good water, soil, and wood—and great mountain people. Our nearest neighbor is a mile away.
The house we built is at 2,250 feet elevation, with 50 inches of rain per year. A main reason we chose this site was its uphill water source. I buried 400 feet of 1-inch domestic water line to a spring 55 feet higher than the house that has never run dry. We also have a creek on our land, and it’s now the primary power source for our home.
Solar for Little Loads
Electrical energy was one of the last types of independence on my mind when we started out. For a few years, we were content with kerosene lamps and candles. We even had a kerosene fridge—so we were off the electrical grid—but not the fossil-fuel grid.
Eventually, I became aware of solar electricity, and started out with one Arco 35-watt PV module, a car battery, and a 12-volt car taillight bulb for reading and general navigation. Back in the “dark ages”—before Home Power and the Internet—RE info and components were hard to come by.
Over the years, I expanded the system, upgrading to 635 watts of modules and six deep-cycle L-16 batteries at 435 Ah for a total of 1,305 Ah. This setup powered lighting and a few small appliances such as a ceiling fan, food blender, mixer, stereo, and telephone answering machine. The PV array is mounted on a pole that can be manually rotated to track the sun. I can adjust the array’s tilt and access the modules while standing on the roof. My original Arco module, purchased when Jimmy Carter was in the White House, is part of the array, and still humming right along.