Minimum: $50,000 surprise!

New neighbours moving in.  Down the way about a mile or so.  Nice people.  Intelligent.  Courteous, fun.  We like ém.  They needed a bit of assistance yesterday so I went.  We got to talkin’ ’bout off-the-grid power.  The cabin they bought is pretty bare-bones in most respects and especially electrical power.  And I started by saying, “Well, there is too much to know to give it all to you now.  It is a steep learning curve that I am still climbing.  But, basicaly…..blah, blah, blah……” and I spoke steadily for at least ten minutes straight.  And I hadn’t even touched on inverters, chargers or a myriad of other related aspects of the topic.

“Whoah!  My mind is reeling.  I can’t keep all that in my head.  OhMyGawd!  We’re going to have to come to your place and take notes!”

“Well, that is a good idea.  No purpose in trying to learn it all yourself from scratch.  Trouble is, as much as I have learned, it is only half of what I need to know.  For instance, every battery system operates differently.  Yours will likely be different than mine.  Everyone has to get in synch with their batteries and, by the time they do that, they have often killed them off or crippled them and then have to get a new set”.

“What!?  Batteries?  They are pretty simple.  No?”

“No.  Operating off batteries is like raising children.  Do one thing wrong and you have a dysfunctional output.  And yet, sometimes with benign neglect, they go on forever.”

“Are you joking!?”

“Do you see me smiling?  A lot of tragedy has been inflicted on batteries.  A lot of pain.  The experts say, ‘batteries never die, their owners kill ’em.’ And they are right.”

“Wow!  Didn’t know that.  But don’t some people generate enough power to sell some back into the grid?” 

“Nah!  That’s a myth. In Canada, anyway.  Maybe in Arizona or the desert somewhere.  Maybe some super-rich guy in the south heavily invested in solar with many, many panels can do that.  But your basic off-the-gridder is – duh – OFF the grid and couldn’t sell any back if they had it.  And your basic Canadian doesn’t get enough sunshine year ’round to net out a surplus anyway.  Plus Canadians don’t get the 50% subsidy Americans get and, further, we ‘Nucks pay more for everything anyway.  Face it, you’ll be relying on a genset to some extent.  We all do.”

“Well, they are cheap, eh?  I mean I can get a nice lookin’ genset at Costco.  So the genset is not gonna kill me, right?”

“Wrong.  Chinese made gensets break down the most.  Basically you need at least two gensets.  I’ll explain all about that some time later.  But budget at least $12,000 for your genset system, maybe more.  And that may include second hand units!”

“My electrical system is gonna cost me $12,000!!”

“Nah.  That’s just the genset part.  The system in total will be triple that.  Depending on a few variables, you’ll be lookin’ at $30K to do it all right.  Or more.  It will still be small-to-modestly sized but it would be right.  Or rather, as right as any of us can do it.  But then, of course, you’ll probably ruin your first set of batteries….so…it gets worse.”

“But that’s my power, right?  Like, forever?”

“No.  That is just the lights and computer.  Maybe a movie or two?  The real heavy power comes from propane.  We use that in the range, fridge, freeezer, hot water and the old BBQ.  You could easily put $15,000 into that system, not counting the actual use of propane.”

“You are saying that we have to budget another $45,000 over and above the price of the property?”

“Well, now, that all depends on what kind of water system the house has?  Or what kind of toilet you want…..?  If you have a good nearby source of water and you do it all yourself, you can likely get away with as little as $5,000 in infrastructure.  Maybe up to $10,000 if you want it to be even the least bit modern and sophisticated.  And, if you want two bathrooms or two sinks or outside stuff……well, the credit line is the limit.”

“Anything else?”

“Yeah.  That was just the equipment list.  Hiring experts to do it for you…..?  You may have to double that figure.  Two friends of mine in the southern Gulf islands just built their own docks.  Did it for under $5,000 or so with basically salvaged materials.  Another neighbour way up the way had something similar installed and it cost over $60,000.  He had it done for him.  Professional expertise is more expensive the further you go from where the professional lives.”  

“Why do you do it?!  Living Off the grid seems prohibitively expensive!”

“Well, first off – it is worth every penny.  Secondly, you do it yourself as much as possible so that you know enough look after it.  In other words, living this way is purposeful and the first purpose is learning.  Don’t come out for the mint juleps on the deck or the happy kayaking.  Come out to learn.  Come out to do.  Come out expecting to work and develop skills.  Come out to be more independent and more real in your relationship to the earth and even the house you live in.  Doing this kind of thing somehow reconnects you with the basics of life and an inner peace and contentment comes from learning to deal with what comes up. 

“Or so I have heard, anyway.  I am still learning.”




8 thoughts on “Minimum: $50,000 surprise!

    • Well, yeah. I suppose. But I have never had an inclination to charge for advice. Two reasons: I hate to charge people for anything (a personal failing) and two, I am not THAT much of an expert. I can be wrong. I know stuff, to be sure. But I am still learning and have big gaps. And these people would be my neighbours. Methinks it better to help and advise for nothing. Then you have nothing to lose.


    • Yeah. Lead acid. But, of course, there are a gazillion different kinds and the kind that works best are really heavy duty like Surettes or Crown. The big 2 volt batteries work the very best but for a 48 volt system like mine that is 24 x 2 volt – and they are approaching $500 each…$12K in batteries is out of the question, so we compromise. I am currently using D8’s – the kind in Caterpillar tractors. Probably got a year or two left on them. I hope.
      Transport isn’t as bad as you might think so long as time is not an issue. Surettes are made in Quebec, I think and they are shipped out here as part of the purchase price. Local suppliers will deliver for free to the barge. And, when I get them on my own, I just do all the heavy schlepping myself. So long as a battery isn’t more than 200 pounds, I can still manage it easily enough. Over 250 and things get a little challenging.
      Most people use something like L16’s or D8’s. Some go for the big Trojans and the rich folk get Surettes. But Crown, it seems is getting good reviews and they are a smidge cheaper. The thing about batteries is they have to be bought all at the same time. When you swap out, you swap out the entire bank. So it is a big job.


    • Well, to their credit, BCHydro offered to put one in. Underwater and all. But, of course, they would only put a line down the main road (a logging road on the middle of the island) and most of the residents (there are few) all live much further away on the water’s edge (’cause the ocean is the real ‘road’ for us). So that means that we had to put in the mile or two or more of approved Hydro line on approved Hydro poles to approved Hydro meters and so on to get to each house. A rough estimate put us $50K for poles and lines and approvals. But even more to the point: why would I want to plug back into a system that I just unplugged myself from? Why would I want to pay them $200 or so a month with a promise from them and the govt. for increases? Not to mention ‘interruptions’? I DO PAY MORE. I know that. But, it is worth it. I am free of one more BIG BROTHER interference. I feel more free, anyway.


      • Free-men-of-the-land

        “Freemen” (or Sovereign Citizens, Living Souls or Natural Persons, as they sometimes call themselves) believe that all ­statute law is contractual. They further believe that law only governs them if they choose or consent to be governed. By implication, they believe that, by not consenting, they can hold themselves independent of government jurisdiction. These individuals believe that they can live under “common (case) law” and “natural laws” (per Wikipedia).


      • Yeah. Those Sovereign guys…….??? I can understand the argument, of course. We never signed on for this life and especially this as it pertains to the laws of the land. They make a good point – we did not ‘sign’ anything. But it is not a good point, not really. NOT signing does not imply the opposite: freedom from the contract. We have a social contract, a nation state contract and a legal contract just to name a few and all are signed on to by complicity-of-action-to-date. Just as I cannot be truly independent (no man is an island – even those who live on one) neither can a Sovereignist be. It is just impossible. Frankly – I think them stupid. By ‘acting out’ as Sovereign citizens they are drawing attention from Big Brother. Not a real good tactic unless you like being tasered. If they really believe what they believe, they should just ship out for remote spaces and live as they choose. Plenty have.
        I also question what the point is? “Freedom” said one spokesman and so I wrote what I wrote above. But there seems to be the additional motive of ‘not paying’. And I can agree with that to some extent – who wants your taxes going to support Enbridge, Exxon or other unworthy endeavours that benefit the elite few. But ‘not paying’ is also not paying your dues. And I think we have to pay some dues for some good things (few that there are). I would gladly pay twice my dues for the library, for instance. Best bang for the buck going. I just wish there was more of that kind of thing and less police-state, corporate state, hoary institution costs is all.


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