These are some of the things I use living off the grid on a daily basis. I will only suggest things I recommend. Please understand that in most cases I did some research. In some, I took advice. Others were pure chance and still others were gifts. I do not aspire to the ‘best’ of everything but rather to what will do a good job and be reasonably priced in the doing. I have not always been right but I have been right much of the time.
Many of the ‘recommendations’ below have hyperlinks so that you can see what I am talking about. Even tho the hyperlinks are often used to provide a commission should you buy from them, that is not why the links are there. In fact, I don’t get any commission whatsoever. They are there for illustration purposes only. Actually, I have found that most products have better deals than those offered by Amazon (the first sponsored links I have employed).
For instance: if you choose Makita brand tools, you can usually get a 40% discount from their local distribution depot on ‘rebuilds’. Rebuilds are virtually new and come with the warranty. And then, of course, there are always ‘specials’ at Home Depot (Rigid and Milwaukee most of the time). And the Snap-on big red baton flashlight at Costco is around $20.00 rather than the $60+ through Amazon. In other words, the tool is being recommended first, the brand of tool is being recommended second and the place-to-buy it is pretty much left to you.
But first; a quick list of normal everyday things that you may as well chuck out right now. Big electricity consumers include anything with a heating element. Toaster, electric stove, hair dryer, clothes dryer, curling iron, space heater, iron, that sort of thing. Fuggedabout that stuff.
My list of verbotten also includes freezers and fridges and other more ‘passive users’ of electricity. They use less at any one time but, over a twenty four hour period, they are like power sponges. Having said that, there are some off-the-grid appliances that get good consumption reviews. The Amish make an electric fridge (Sun-Frost) which is pretty efficient. There is one exception: an older, well insulated, chest freezer modified to produce refrigerator temperatures makes a very low-power-use fridge. That seems worth the effort.
But, generally speaking you want to use electricity on only a short-term application basis as much as possible. Even a table saw drawing 240v can be turned on for a minute of cutting and then shut off. That’s efficiency.
OK, on to the good products vs some of the bad……………..
Honda gensets and pumps. I am pretty familiar with their range of gensets from 2000 watts to 6500. After your needs pass the 6500 watts stage, I would seriously consider diesel. Any Japanese diesel (Kubota, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, etc.) is good. My choice would be Yanmar. They make a great 7500 watt genset.
When we had a fire up the way a few years back there were three types of pumps employed in the effort to extinguish it. Only the Honda pump worked right away and one of the others never got working at all. Honda pumps seem to still work after a long term of sitting but others need to be used a lot to keep them working.
As of this writing OUTBACK make the best inverters. By a fair margin. OUTBACK inverter and charger and charge controller. Great product. Prices are too high but they are worth it.
The same goes for Surette batteries. Surettes are the best batteries you can buy for off-the-grid applications. They are at least 50% more expensive and, with shipping and all, budget twice or more. But they last twice or more as long. They are the best. My suggestion: buy ordinary deep cycle heavy-duty batteries for the first five year period. Forklift or golf cart batteries. I bought 12 8Ds. L16s are likely a bit better. Learn how to live with and keep alive the cheaper set. Then, when you have a handle on how to do that chore (each user has a different impact on their batteries), invest in Surettes. Battery experts say, “Batteries don’t die. They are ‘murdered’ by the owner.” So learn on cheap ones. CROWN batteries are also starting to make a good impression it seems from reading other forums.
And this just in: 2016. I just added 8 Discover batteries. Budget $6000. About 400 amp hours. The ‘pitch’ is that they are as good as Surrettes and will last longer than Surrettes ‘lightweight’ line. So far, nothing seems to outlast Surrettes BIG 2-volt units but, with a 48 volt system, I would need 24 of those and so it was out of the question. DISCOVER is made in Germany and has some kind of new-ish technology. My 7 year old 8Ds were finally getting into retirement age with a couple suffering from dementia so they had to be replaced. I haven’t had the Discovers long but so far, not a minute of genset time this summer. 2100 watts of solar panels has kept me topped up.
Off-the-grid ‘connectivity’ to the internet (which is getting back on the grid in a way) is tough. Satellite is the normal way but service providers (in Canada) anyway are not as good as they could be. It is expensive. It can be somewhat unreliable at times and, face it, satellite technology is not the kind of thing your typical DIYér can master easily. This is a technology that defies being independent. I was on the Hughes network. They are still evolving and that is putting it kindly. Hughes goes through a re-seller in Canada called Galaxy. Galaxy Broadband is slow by modern standards and very expensive. And bad weather (common in Canada) easily disrupts service. Their competitor Xplornet is improving but they had to, they were the poorer of the two services ten years ago. Xplornet has now come in with better technology, pricing and service. So, I took it. It is much, much better. Still not urban-cable quality but almost good enough. In fact, it is good enough to download a movie – impossible the old way. But we will live with it for awhile before making a recommendation.
Recommending Costco is a no-brainer. But we use Costco a bit differently than most people. We really do use the benefit of the BIG AMOUNT with which to stock up on staples. A lot of people would laugh at buying a blue barrel full of cheap shampoo. I did. But now getting in a two-years supply of such everyday items really makes sense. I am not recommending Costco so much as buying in bulk and preparing a storage facility to receive that bulk. You should also be prepared to repackage. A two-gallon tub of salsa will go bad before you get through 25% of it. You are going to have to learn to re-pack into sterilized jars that are more quickly used up.
The storage of all this stuff should not be in your house. The cost of a residential building per square foot is high. The cost of a good storage facility is low. In fact, if at all possible, getting a recycled shipping container is a great way to have cheap storage. Hard to beat $10.00 a sft for very, very secure storage.
I am a big fan of Pacific Energy stoves. Wood stoves. They are efficient, reasonably priced and local to us (Duncan, Vancouver Island, BC). Given that most stoves are big, heavy and need replacement parts, being local is a plus. But these are also very efficient burning stoves as well. And a few of the models are even attractive. Most are the ‘black box’ style but some are pretty. Always buy a stove properly sized – not too big. A bit too small is better than a lot too big.
Do not even consider a composting toilet unless you build it yourself. Those that are mass manufactured are poorly built, expensive and don’t work in temperatures lower than 50 degrees F. Waste of time in Canada. Don’t get me started on the SunMar story. In the old days, homesteaders used to build 4x6x6 (or so) boxes out of Cedar 4×4’s. A pipe would run to the buried-and-surrounded-by-gravel box. And the box would have a lid. That box would ‘seep’ into the surrounding soil and the solids would sink. THAT was their septic tank. And there are still some of those working well after 75 years. Yes, I know…rules, blah, blah, blah. But if you are a two-three-month a year user, consider it.
I have a Jonsered chainsaw. Medium-to-smallish. The 2145 model. And it is great. It is reliable and always up to the task I have at hand. I have to recommend it. But it is not the chainsaw of real men. Real men buy Stihl. And real men also prefer larger chainsaws. For reasons of insecurity and inadequacy, I am tempted to buy a larger Stihl but, really, the J2145 has been great. Logically, tho, I should have two chainsaws. So, we’ll see where that goes. I have been looking at the bargain that is a Makita chainsaw – if their reputation carries to that tool, it is a great buy.
I have had just about every brand of tool you can think of and they are much the same. Plus I have at least two of them. But, of all of them, Makita seems to emerge as the best. Bosch may be second. Maybe. I used to be a Milwaukee man but now they are at the bottom of the list. Lots of reasons. None of them crucial. I have just come think of Makita as the best. For cheap tools that you will use for a season and throw away (because you have to, anyway) the cheapest brand is Ryobi and they are made by the same folks who make Rigid and they also make the smaller Milwaukee units. You may as well buy Ryobi if you are just gonna work ém for a bit and chuck ém. Remember: the real cost of portable power tools is in the batteries.
Buy a chopsaw on it’s own little stand. All the brands sell chopsaws-on-stands. Go 12-inch with the extension cutting (like a mini radial arm). Then build bench extensions to the arms that the stands have attached. This will be the center of your building activities. Building will go 500% easier with that simple workbench/chopsaw combination. And buy two or three extra blades. Change and sharpen often (I could write a how-to if there is any interest). I like Freud blades.
If you are talking long-term tools, then you are talking Delta, big Makita and such. Few of us need that kind of investment.
You need ropes, blocks, blocks and taykles, come-alongs, winches and the like. Lots of them. If you have more than a few extension cords you are still short. Don’t buy the Home Depot crap. Buy 25 and 50 foot sections of heavier, rubber, construction-site cords.
OMYGAWD…..nails and screws………………..so much to say, so little time. Basically buy heavy-duty and buy everything you can (different sizes and such). Buy in bulk. You will need them (we went through 12000 deck screws and will still buy more!). The best way to think about nails and screws and bolts and such is that you will have to be your own hardware store much of the time. You really need to ‘stock up’ with stuff even if you don’t see an immediate need.
I have a Honda 50 outboard. It has been perfect. Can you imagine that? A perfect outboard?! But Sal has a Suzuki and it has been almost perfect, too (they didn’t install the zincs properly). I think they are starting to get a handle on outboard design because only the two-strokes still seem to have issues. And two-strokes are all but obsolete. Do not buy a used two-stroke for any reason other than back up and even at that, you are getting less reliability. You can buy the brilliantly conceived E-tec (it is 2-stroke) but it was poorly manufactured for the first few years. E-tecs were a nightmare. But I think they are better now. Still, all in all, I would recommend a Yamaha. Even though I have no personal experience with them, they are the motor-of-choice for all the charter fishermen on the coast and most of the locals have turned to Yamaha. It may be the local dealerships. It may be the ‘flood’ of used motors on the market after charter fishing season ends. I don’t know. But most of those who are in-the-know have Yamahas.
Getting a boat is something rarely thought out rationally. Less than it should be, for sure. People and boats fall in love. A boat is a very, very personal purchase. But I would advise against any of the lightweight aluminum. And that includes all of them. They either pound or leak or are tippy or all of the preceding. Frankly, I hate ém. Heavy aluminum (welded instead of riveted) is OK but unnecessarily expensive. If you are getting a boat to get you to your site, get one big enough for four people and all their luggage plus food. You may have more people or you may think you will have less……..whatever……..pick one big enough to schlep twice what you think you will. Trust me. Given the price of fuel, I would advise a displacement hull for the building stages. When everything is built and done, you may wish to add a zippy runabout but at the building stage, you will be carrying heavy stuff all the time and nothing zips when heavily laden.
We have a gas stove from the forties. A Wedgewood. It’s a beauty. They don’t build ’em like that anymore. So, I advise finding one like that and getting it ‘restored’. It will cost a lot but it is worth it. Even tho a wood-cooker is romantic as hell, it is impractical in moderate to warm climates. It is May and we have no wood burning. Waddya do? Those who have woodstoves either keep them going too long into the season or else they use Coleman propane. I suggest that you go restoration gas stove and re-jet for propane. Works for us.
I am a convert to metal roofs. We have the invisible, interlocking seam-type. Hasn’t leaked a drop, seems as good as ever and reduces fire risk (a much bigger issue when you are living off the grid). Just remember when you are building that having a square roof is more essential when you are using metal. Build the roof structure very precisely.
This year we bought a cheap little Homelite woodsplitter. Homelite is, I believe, another Chinese mfgér’s brand. I paid $400 for it. With some modifications to the legs and the switch, I have made this unit work well for us. We now do the woodsplitting and stacking all in one step and save half our time and effort in the process. I am currently against buying Chinese-made junk and I am sure to have that confirmed but so far, so good. It is a delight. So, in this case, I am recommending a small splitter rather than the manufacturer – tho I admit that that is not fair. So far, it has done yeoman’s work and the price was minimal.
You need flashlights out here. On the water. In the forest. And, even in the house sometimes. LED flashlights (and headlamps) are, of course, revolutionary. Brilliant in every respect. But each year some manufacturer comes out with a better one and the latest impressive unit and the best bang for the buck is Snap-On’s long red baton. It is called a hybrid since it offers two types of lights (beam and lamp effects). Costco sells them now and then. Great product.
We use Motorola walkie-talkies. Huge help. They allow us to work around the site and still be in touch. Important when building and handy when the people are nearby but still out of line-of-sight. But not too much distance – regardless of what they claim, they are good for a couple of miles only.
I love the barge that does our BIG deliveries. The 3-member crew of the barge (run by Inlet Navigation out of Campbell River and Menzies bay) are great guys. Real human beings. They come and drop their load and we ‘kill’ a few minutes cracking jokes and bein’ guys. Saying stupid stuff and laughing at ourselves and the world around us. It’s good.
Been awhile since I added to the list but I want to add ‘fuel tanks’. Ya need one. Maybe several. We have a diesel tank and a gasoline tank. 100 gallons and 80 gallons respectively. Saves a helluva lot of hassle, time and stink-in-the-car. And, remember, you need to ‘fuel up’ something all the time.
Get a big water tank. 1100 gallons will keep you going for a month with judicious use.
If you are living rural and a long way from others, you will likely use a 4×4 vehicle now and then. And it will not be insured. It will be a beater that is used to drag logs and push rocks and generally be treated like a rented mule. The wreck-of-choice out here is either a Toyota SR5-framed unit or a Chev of some make. Don’t worry about getting a ‘fuel pig’ because you will put on virtually no miles. Yes, it is inefficient but you are only going into the bush now and then for a mile or so. Think: tractor. If you are going to go further, get an ATV or a small Nissan or Toyota pick-up.
Get very heavy multi-ply tires.
Right now I think solar panels are a bargain. About $1.00 a watt. I paid $5.00 a watt less than nine years ago. I suspect that some of the rumoured breakthroughs in technology are coming soon and so they are blowing out the old innefficient panels (around 15% efficiency) before building up their inventories. The new panels are touted to be 45% efficiency so consider that when making your purchase.
Here’s a weird one – rubber boots. We all need boots and those of us on the coast also need rubber ones as well as havy logging-type boots. And most rubber boots are junk. Chinese-made $30-$50.00 boots are not worth the money. Weirdly, money is NOT the criteria for determining good value though. Sometimes a $40.00 Canadian or American made brand will do just fine for a long time. $200 English Wellies are too expensive and silly. Look for something in the $50-75 range made in Eastern Canada or New Zealand.
Gloves are essential. Buy a bunch o’ those leather gloves at Costco. Or something, anyway, when you are building. I sometimes cut off the ends of the fingers – I really like fingerless gloves for working in. Slivers, sharp metal pieces and even just sharp sticks cut and slash you all the time. I have gloves all over the place and I still get cut when I fail to put ém on.
I can’t work with a tool belt slung on my hips. Too awkward. So, I recommend hanging the tool belt from suspenders. Then it is comfortable enough to wear. You may feel differently. Women usually have the hips for wearing them. They don’t seem to prefer the suspenders.
Staying with clothing…we are fans of MEC. Mountain Equipment Co-Op. Not so much for the price, selection or even the cachet that outdoor clothing has achieved in these modern times. I just like the company. I like the way they do business and I like the fact that the employees are also owners and generally are proud of their work. MEC is a good corporate citizen and, if you are going to rail against BIG INDUSTRY & BUSINESS (as I do now and again) you should at the very least acknowledge those who do things right or at least better than most. MEC is high on that scale.
Yes, MEC charges market rates, makes profit and sells Chinese made goods. But that is the system we have and they are simply doing well in it. The good part is that they are eco-conscious, worker-sensitive and genuinely service oriented. Plus I usually like the staff I meet. MEC is on my list of endorsements.
I have a small 120 VAC, 20 amp welder. The smallest they make. But what a treat! Mine is a Lincoln. Miller, it seems, is better. Hobart is in there, too. The rest (I think) are cheapies but I really don’t know. But my Lincoln is great! Do you need a welder? I dunno. The further away from town and the more you want to do, the more you need a welder. But I didn’t need one for 60 + years. Mind you, I was missing out. Really. It is great. Even tho the welder is small, it can do a lot. You may have to pre-heat the metal if it is thick (with a propane torch) but with that concession, you can do just about everything an amateur DIY’er needs. I am pleased.