MAIL: Off-Grid Realities

Pressure cooker
Another little item that has become indispensable to me is a pressure cooker.
Pressure cooker

I just read Allen Sindelar’s timeless article, “Toast, Waffles, and Pancakes” (HP133) and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I have been living off-grid for the last 11 years, and encountered the article while preparing an off-grid living presentation for a self-help course that Yukon Housing Corporation provides to assist homeowners in managing the construction of their own homes. Some of them are building in remote locations, and have questions about being off-grid.

I love the relevance of the title, because it is hard to explain to people the little idiosyncrasies of off-grid living. Here in the Yukon, in northern Canada, there’s a vast difference in our solar resource and temperature from summer to winter. My solar-electric system operates with virtually no diesel backup all summer, since we get nearly 20 hours of daylight. In the winter, sunlight drops to less than two hours per day. So, it is my winter routine to come home from work, fire up the generator, and get all the stuff done that I need to do—cook dinner, sometimes do laundry, watch TV, run the dishwasher, etc.—while the batteries are charging.

In the summer, I save the laundry for the weekend, during the day, when the sun is on the PV array. My dishwasher has a delay timer that I set to come on when I know the batteries will be charged. My kids have learned to turn off the lights when they leave a room, and ask before they watch TV or play video games. And they look out the window to gauge the weather before asking for waffles!

We heat the home mostly with wood and have an oil heater for backup. Our winters are long, and we require space heating for eight months of the year. Our need for air conditioning is minimal in the summer—most homes here don’t require it.

Another little item that has become indispensable to me is a pressure cooker. The pressure cooker does chicken cacciatore in six minutes and a pot roast in 20 minutes—all on the stovetop. That’s a device worth mentioning!

I also wanted to mention something in reference to battery versus plug-in clocks. My generator is an older model that fluctuates between 60 and 61 Hz, which causes my plug-in clocks to “gain” time. Over a week, this gain adds up. So I now use my cellphone for an alarm clock, and the kids have battery-powered clocks.

I appreciated the idea proposed in the article for using larger freezers, electric fridges, and microwaves. I put our electric fridge on a plug strip. If my battery’s state of charge is low, I shut it off at night, since it doesn’t need to run all the time if no one is opening the door. Ice cream in the freezer gets a bit too soft using this method, so we store it in the big chest freezer.

Karen Jahraus, Yukon Housing Corp. • Whitehorse, Yukon

Comments (2)

Temporary Username 211's picture

Times have changed. Chest freezer & dishwasher were not part of my off-grid experience 20 years ago.

Michael Welch's picture

Isn't that the truth. Of course, PV modules are 1/4 the price-per-watt of 20 years ago -- but running a generator daily is not something I want.

I don't think I'm to the point of wanting a dishwasher -- though I wouldn't mind having a super-efficient freezer.

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