Venturing into the World of Solar Power

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Hubby and I are constantly looking for ways we can become more off grid.  The main thing that holds us onto the grid right now is electricity.  We can have water and heat in the camper without being connected to anything.  We compost our waste, therefore eliminating any sewer hookups.  But, we have not found a way to go completely off electric.  We have been wanting to get into solar energy but have been unable to afford it.  Since we live in a camper, we don’t need too much power.  The camper has a battery, just the same as a car or boat.  This battery can be used to run the electricity but only lasts a couple of days.  My goal is to figure out how much power we need to run solely off the battery.  If our budget was not an issue, I would run out and buy a full size solar set up this very minute.  But we are on a very tight budget so that is not possible.  We decided to start small and build/save up for a full system.  Harbor Freight is running a sale on their solar panels.  What usually costs $300 is on sale for $130.  We think this is a good place to start and bought one set.  The system is only a 45watt set up so it wont be powering any big power tools anytime soon.  I am hoping its enough to charge the battery for the camper.  Once the solar panels are set up, you are supposed to leave them charging for 3 days.  I set them up yesterday, thus making today day two of waiting.  I am very impatient and I couldnt wait until tomorrow to test it out.  I plugged a light into the box and what do you know? we have light!  granted it flickers and isnt terribly bright, but still!  Once I was done celebrating and showing hubby, I promptly unplugged the light so the system could continue charging.  I am sure most people would not be as animated as I am, but I am so tickled that we can have a light turn on without electricity in the common sense.  With only the help of the sun, and these solar panels, we now have a light that turns on!  Thats big news in my world!! This week we will try and connect the system to the battery and see how long it takes to charge the battery.  The next step is to unplug the camper from the electrical hook up and see how long we last on battery power only.   I am soo very excited about this next step towards living off grid!

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Laundry by hand

Another way I am “practicing” some off grid living skills is by handwashing my laundry. I ordered a plunger washer from Amazon and love it! First I fill up a pot (I have been using my canning pots for now on my small loads) with water. I add a teaspoon of detergent and the clothes for that day. Using the “plunger” I agitate the clothes for 10-20 minutes.
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Secondly I wring them out by hand (to get most of the soapy water out) and place them in a second pot. I fill this pot with fresh clean water and have a go for another 5-10 minutes. At this point the clothes should be pretty clean. I wring them out and hang them to dry. We have some collapsible folding racks from ikea as well as a hanging octopus with clothespins, also from ikea. I will use the octopus for socks and small items and the racks for shirts and larger items. One day soon I hope to put up a real clothes line, but for now this works perfectly. Since my pots are on the small side, I have been doing smaller loads more often. I have some larger galvanized bins that currently hold dirt that I might clean out and use instead.

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Using a Composting Toilet

It is our goal someday to live off grid. While right now we have the luxury of being hooked up to power and on a not too cold day, water, we are trying to “practice” some off grid living requirements. That said, we have also had trouble with our camper’s toilet from the day we bought it. We didn’t notice the issue at the rv sales lot because the black tank (the tank that holds the sewage) was empty and clean. Once we started using the toilet, there was a very obvious smell. I am talking overwhelming as soon as you walk in the door smell! We tried everything we could think of to get rid of the smell but it just wouldn’t go away.
Now that we are living on family land, we have a little more wiggle room. We decided to completely remove the rv toilet and instead go to a composting toilet. Now you can buy fancy composting toilets that look similar to a standard toilet. In my research I found that its very common for off grid rv’ers to put in composting toilets. Wanting to keep things inexpensive, we bought two 5 gallon buckets at Lowes. We found the toilet seat at Bass Pro in their camping section. The toilet seat snaps on a standard bucket and the lid closes flush with the seat.

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(the almighty throne)

Obviously the bucket with the seat is the toilet. The second bucket is for cover material. We bought a huge bag of sphagnum peat moss and I filled the bucket full. I keep a mason jar (man those jars are useful for just about everything!) to scoop the dry peat moss and dump on the toilet. The key to having a composting toilet it cover material. Cover material. COVER MATERIAL. I can’t stress it enough. You can use sphagnum peat moss, coconut fiber, sawdust, etc as your cover material. I read that you shouldn’t use wood ash because it neutralizes the compost and thus makes the compost take longer to do its thing.
The way the toilet works is pretty simple. do your business. cover. do your business. cover. repeat until bucket is full. as long as your business is completely covered (like a half inch to an inch of cover material each time) there will be no smell. whatsoever. You can get your nose right up in the toilet seat if you want and you wont smell a thing! its pretty awesome if i do say so myself.

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(Family cloths aka toilet paper hang on a shelf near the door. The small black trash can is for dirty cloths. We do have toilet paper available which can be added right into the bucket)

If an average toilet uses 7 gallons per flush, and the average person flushes 5 times a day, that means each person is wasting an average of 30 gallons of water each day! Our toilet uses no water. So between the two of us, we are conserving an average of 60 gallons of water each day. Hey, I do what I can to help the environment, especially if it helps my pocketbook too!

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(view into the outhouse)

We were going to just use the toilet in the camper, but having to have the two 5 gallon buckets took up too much room in the little bathroom. I was at Walmart and I saw this camping shower tent. It works perfectly as an outhouse! It has a window, a rain cover and “shelves” for our tp and reading material. It cost under $50 so it was super affordable. It might sound strange, but I really love the whole outhouse thing. Maybe not when its pitch black and 9 degrees outside, but a girl can hold it if she really has to…

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(The outhouse all zipped up)

My favorite thing about this toilet set up is that it is completely off grid. I don’t need running water or electricity to sustain it. Once set up, I only need to pay for the peat moss and a bag lasts practically forever! Technically I dont need to pay for toilet paper either. This would be ideal for going camping, using at a deer lease, the beach or anywhere where there is not usable plumbing. I will explain the composting side of it in a later post.