Thursday, January 6, 2011

Off Grid Do's and Don'ts (Terlingua)

I made it 36 hours without running the charger after disconnecting the wind genny, but its totally cloudy and semi dark here now. (Has been off and on for days) going from cloudy to mostly cloudy and then fairly cloudy. This spurred me to write about this.

Don't expect that if you have enough solar to do a good job in the summer to expect it to do the same in the winter.

Don't expect to get much good from a wind generator. (Unless you have a large generator and massive battery bank)

The wind conditions here seem to be mainly in the day light hours when you don't really need it if you have sufficient solar to do the job. Only on rare occasions do they work to your advantage. (like on cloudy days and at night) Not to say you shouldn't have one because the times it works probably makes it worth while.

Figure on about double the solar than what you would need in the summer and probably considerably more batteries than you think you would need to deal with the winter conditions. (If you plan to have the same lifestyle year round)

Keep a lot of candles around for the winter nights. They also put off a very small amount of heat with the light, but don't expect them to do much in the way of heating large areas. It would take a very small well insulated area for you to notice any difference. See tip below for an emergency heater.

A sun tracking system could offset the need for some extra panels, but that could be expensive unless it is a manual deal where you go move the panels several times a day. That can be a drag and its easy to forget and in that case it is working against you instead of for you.

Emergency Heater tip.

While I was in the Army we were taught that a heater can be made out of a one pound metal coffee can, a roll of plain white toilet paper (not the loose fluffy stuff or scented!) Use something like the old styled Scott tissue. Also a bottle of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol (No higher percentage!) You don't have to use a coffee can you can use other type cans, but the roll of toilet tissue needs to fit firmly inside it with no space between it and the wall of the can. the roll also needs to be at least a small distance below the top of the can and a coffee can comes out just about right.

First you remove the cardboard tube from the inside of the toilet paper and place the roll in the coffee can. (all the way to the bottom with no paper sticking out) Then you pour about four ounces of alcohol onto the paper to saturate it. Best to keep a couple of pie plates handy one turned upside with the can setting on the bottom and the other to place over the flame when you want to extinguish it, Also keep it away from anything that will catch on fire. Once you've done that light it with a match and it will help a lot in small well insulated spaces, but will only marginally help in large areas. (Maybe a hand warmer.) should last over the night.

Also while I was in the Army one not so bright sergeant and private decided to use gasoline instead of alcohol because they didn't have any alcohol and both wound up with severe burns. Never do that!

Reason for this tip is if you ever run out of propane on a really cold night it could help a good bit if you have a small area you could set it up in. (Maybe a closet?) Should keep a 6 x6 area semi comfortable if it is insulated well enough. Would also need a small amount of ventilation, but this heater doesn't put out carbon monoxide.


  1. I have the wrong TP!!Did you carry all that in your 80lb pack? Had fun yesterday taking the littlefoot to Littlefoot...their place is awesome. I hope the sun shines for you tomorrow!

  2. Thanks for telling us about these dos and donts . itll save a bunch of headaches in the future for us.

  3. David, I have known about that for some time but never tried it. Hope I never have to :-)

  4. Frann, no you are supposed to steal that from the indigenous people. ;) I think the little foot tickled Littlefoot. Now if you can just find a big foot to go with it.

    Nick, I forgot to add the part about keeping a 4 inch paint brush around to keep the solar panels dusted with. That seems like at least an every other day thing here.

    DD, I've used those before, but it was years ago. They work pretty good if you have the stuff around to make one out of. Would heat a small winter styled tent pretty fair. I'm afraid I'd need a dozen or so to help much in this place though. No closets in here big enough for me and one of the heaters.

  5. Thanks for the tips David. Wish I had known about the homemade heater during the chili cook-off...almost froze to death on Tuesday night of the event :-(

  6. Tffnguy

    In the Navy we used "roungh and ready" tiolet paper. That tiolet paper would probably melt the foldgers coffee can. When I was in the Persian Gulf, heat was the issue. Nothing warmer than the engine room off a 50 ft. workboat in June. (130 degrees) twin 671 detriot diesels runnin hot and I had to change out and alternator belt.

  7. Good tips, David! I would also highly recommend one or two oil lanterns. I have one of these, in red:

    They put out some heat, and they make a model that you can cook on, the Dietz #2000.

    I used my lantern every night while camping on my land. It puts out decent light, and gave some of the ambiance of a campfire :) I actually bought the thing to have around for next time the power goes out here in the winter, but was really glad I took it along on the trip to Texas. Don't know how I lived without one.

  8. MsB, its getting harder to find metal coffee cans now days so if you get the makings for one before long you will be able to call it an antique. ;)

    cc, in the field we used a small number of paper squares for TT out of the C-Rations, but I don't remember what we used in base camp. Most of the times I saw those heaters used was states side while out in the field. A few guys would keep the stuff to make them on hand to warm the tents when it was cold. The Sergent and private sharing a tent had everything but the alcohol, and the serge decided to use gasoline. BIG Mistake!

    Abby, I have a very small oil lamp my sister gave me, but a candle puts out more light. It also uses cartridges so you can't refill it. I may eventually get one of the larger lamps?

    I've been trying to find some cotton twine to use to make candles out of the left over wax from all the other candles, but seems like now days everything is nylon and that won't work. I'll be riding in to Alpine with the neighbors this afternoon so maybe I can find some there?

  9. Ms were at the cook=-off? See you next year....

  10. Thanks for the tips, David. They are informative and useful.