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According to the statistics, the average North American household uses 30-50 kWh electricity per day, or 900-1200 kWh per month. When electricity prices jump to $0.24 or more per kWh, it’s costing you thousands every year. 

Worse, though, if your goal is to move off-grid and gain some independence from the power company, and your consumption is in the average range, you’re going to find that a system which will cover your needs will cost $50-100,000. That’s the point where most people stop and say that they just can’t do it.

As a quick note – this was written when we were living in a little off-grid cabin in the mountains. We moved back on grid in September 2016 because of health problems.

There are people, of course, who have that kind of cash readily available, or who can get a personal loan for it. Do you have it sitting around? Could you get that kind of personal loan?  

Not us, either. 

And when we spoke to our bank loan officer before moving to the deep woods, we found out that off-grid homes are generally not eligible for a mortgage. Not here, and probably not anywhere. (They are absolutely inflexible on the requirement that all mortgaged homes be hooked up to grid power. Private well and septic are fine, but not private electricity.) So if you are planning to move off-grid, you are likely going to need to finance it yourself.

Now, with the huge price tag, why should you even consider it? Well, IF you can figure out how to use less electricity while still maintaining a good life, it becomes more feasible. If you are paying $0.24/kWh and using 30 kWh per day, you are paying $2,628 a year, and that’s before any delivery fees, debt reduction fees and whatever else your electricity company is tacking on. (50 kWh would put you back $4,380 a year!) But even so, who wants to be paying the equivalent of a second mortgage in order to pay for electricity? 

When we lived off-grid for three years, our entire system cost less than that. It wasn’t a big system. In fact, it was very, very small. We reduced our usage to practically nothing and then rebuilt to figure out what we truly needed. 

The first PV system we had came almost entirely from Canadian Tire.

We had two deep cycle (marine) batteries, 8 20-watt solar panels, a simple inverter, a simple charge controller, and an 8-to-1 adapter. It didn’t make a lot of power, but it ran our LED lights. (Go a winter without lights and you’ll know why that was our number one priority!) And it taught the Mister a lot about installing and running a PV system. 

Our second system was an amazing upgrade. We got a MPPT charge controller and 3 250-watt panels. What a difference! Even on cloudy and rainy days, we have electricity. In fact, even during a *blizzard* we had power, so long as we regularly went out and wiped off the accumulated snow. Combined with our battery bank, we can go at least three days without sunshine and not run out of electricity. 

It’s all relative, though – on a sunny winter day, we make about 2 kWh of electricity, and we have battery storage for 600 amp hours. That’s a far cry from what most people use. 

If you are looking to go solar, keep in mind one very important thing – installation is often 3/4 of the price. So our $3000 system would have cost us $12,000 or so if we had needed a solar technician to install it. Add more for larger, fancier batteries instead of our Canadian Tire marine batteries. Add more for automatic rotation, roof installation, etc. Can you see how getting a large system would cost up to $100,000? (Stephanie says they’d be happy to build one, but drastically cutting back your energy use is generally the first step she advises!) 

So with all that in mind, let’s look at why your household uses so much electricity and how we spent three years using less than a tenth of the average usage.

The Electric Hogs In Your Home

The reason is actually simple. But once you recognize it, you’re going to wonder if it is possible to change anything. 

It’s your appliances. The things that make life easy and reduce your workload so much. Those “electric servants” that have completely changed the way of life for modern people.

The top energy hogs are:
washer and dryer (especially the dryer!)
hot water tank
refrigerator (about 500 kWh/year)
electric oven
This isn’t looking quite so easy. They’re all very important, aren’t they? 

We’re not even going to get into the other ones, like your entertainment center, dishwasher and furnace fan, and possibly even your phone. (One study says that an iPhone can use as much electricity as a medium-sized Energy Star refrigerator!)  Let’s just look at some of the big offenders that pretty much every house in North America has.

Washer and Dryer

How We Lowered Our Power Use

During the winter, I will admit, we take our clothes to town and wash them at a laundromat. This isn’t a long-term solution, but it has nothing to do with electricity. My wringer washing machine lives outdoors and simply will not function in the cold. Nor do I function well in freezing temperatures with wet hands. With six of us in the house and limited running water in the winter, laundry is my nemesis.

When we get a wash house built, I will return to doing our laundry in the winter. In our case the issue is less one of electricity than it is water and shelter. And yes, I did say a wash house, separate from the house, and not an indoor laundry room. 

My washing machine is a refurbished Maytag wringer. It runs on a 1/2 horsepower motor and can wash an incredible amount of clothing with 10 gallons of water. 

In the summer, though, all laundry is washed in the wringer washer and dried on the line. With two fully charged 100 amp batteries, I could do 4 big loads of dirty homestead wash back to back. That’s a lot of laundry with not a lot of electricity. Now we have six batteries and a lot more solar panels. Electricity will not be an issue.

How You Can Lower Your Power Use

First, make sure that you’re using an energy efficient machine. Recently, a friend of mine replaced her washer and made sure to select ons that was an energy miser. The cost is higher up front, but she’ll make her money back as energy prices increase. 

I have joked that my summertime clothes dryer is solar powered, energy-efficient and cutting-edge. It’s a clothesline, of course. When my brother married a Chinese girl many years ago, he learned to hang clothes out the apartment window, pinning them to each other so they would dangle down and dry. She grew up in a place where no one had the space for a clothesline but everyone had clothes that needed to dry. Other people have hung laundry in bathrooms, over radiators, in furnace rooms. 

If you’re looking to go off-grid, you’ll want to find a way to dry clothes without an electric dryer. Some off-gridders use gas-powered dryers, which run on electricity but heat with gas. That is a more efficient use of both the gas and the electricity.

Hot Water Tank

How We Lowered Our Power Use

When we moved to the woods, we had a propane hot water tank. It’s not electricity, but it is still fuel that costs us money, and we wanted to lower the usage. We started turning it off when it wasn’t being used, simply to conserve propane. We noticed the propane was lasting much longer. But then, in the first few months of winter, that old hot water tank decided to give up the ghost. With an anticlimactic leak – “Why are my feet wet? Why is the carpet wet? Oh, no, why isn’t the hot water tank on?” – it died.

We started heating water on the propane cookstove when we needed it. It took a while to adjust to this (almost a year, to be honest!) because we are so used to having hot water on demand. Instead, we needed to plan for anything that needed hot water. (Just wait – you’ll soon be reading my scandalously shocking, but slightly misleading, post “I Haven’t Bathed In a Year”.) 

I’ve since learned that the hot water heater often accounts for 13% of your home energy costs. For hot water! 

Funny conversations happened, like when I’d talk to my mother and mention that I just bathed the children. “But where’d you get the hot water?” she’d ask every time. 

Same place my grandmother and all women before her did – I heated it on the stove. 

The shocking thing, though, since we had already been turning the tank off frequently, was that our propane usage dropped like a rock. Without looking it up on any chart, we realized that the number one energy hog in your home is the hot water tank. The worst part is that this energy hog is turned on all day and all night, just waiting for someone to take a shower or wash their hands. 

How often do you really need instant hot water at midnight? 

How about during the day, if everyone is at school or work?

How You Can Lower Your Power Use

Turn the hot water tank off when you’re not using it. 

At the very least, turn the temperature on it down. You don’t need it at 140F. All that does is burn children and unsuspecting guests. For every 10 degrees that you lower the heat, you’ll save 3-5% in your energy costs. 

Insulate the hot water tank so that you’re not losing the heat that you do generate. If your hot water tank is warm to the touch, it needs insulation. 

Install a low-flow showerhead and take shorter, cooler showers. Not cold, just not hot enough to cook a lobster. 

And if you use a washing machine, do your wash with cold water, not hot.


How We Lowered Our Power Use

I’ll lose a lot of you with this one, but holy moley, the fridge uses a lot of power. And you know it, even if you don’t think about it, because you’re so used to hearing that thing humming day and night.
But how in the world do you lower your energy costs when it’s the fridge? I mean, we all NEED to keep our food from spoiling, don’t we? Yes, but perhaps you could switch to a smaller fridge and save some money. 

When we first moved to the homestead, we used a tiny 3.3 cubic foot propane fridge. When it stopped working, we did not replace it. There’s too much to get into here, but you can read all about living without a fridge and learn the methods we use to keep and preserve our food

We  do not run a freezer, either. Most of our food storage is canned, and we try to eat seasonal food as much as possible. There’s a learning curve when switching from “everything’s available at the grocery store” to “what is available and growing or in storage at this time of the year”.

Another thing we do in the winter months is to store food outside the front door in a large plastic lidded bin. It’s not fancy, but it does the job. That has to be the one thing I like most about winter. I may not  get many eggs, and we need to carry firewood and shovel snow, but I can freeze things easily!

How You Can Lower Your Power Use

Eliminate leftovers as much as possible and, when you need to replace a refrigerator, get the smallest one that will work for your needs – that is, food that you regularly NEED to refrigerate, not leftovers that are waiting to be thrown out. 

It took me a while to learn how to make food for the people who are actually eating, and there are times when I misjudge. But since we only have 3.3 cubic feet of space, I need to keep it available for the stuff that really needs to be there.

Use jarred food in sizes that fit your family. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying it or canning it yourself. Use appropriate sizes. If you’re single or a couple without children, perhaps you should do pickles in half-pint jars and jam in those cute little jelly jars. 

Know what foods need to be chilled and which ones really, really don’t. You’re throwing money away if you’re running a big refrigerator every day just to keep your mustard cold. Milk, meat and leftovers absolutely must go in the fridge. There are many things that don’t, though. Eggs (especially if you get them fresh from a farm), mustard, ketchup – these all store just fine in the cupboard. 

The most energy-efficient forms of food storage, according to an old post by Whole New Mom, are dehydrating and canning (in that order), with freezing a distant third.  

I’m not sure that I’d want to run a dehydrator or freezer on solar power, so we rely heavily on canned. 

I suspect that the exact numbers would change according to many variables, but my takeaway from her post was that freezing costs three times as much as canning (which I can do on my propane stove or on a wood cook stove) or dehydrating (which can be done with the wood stove), and that’s when you are on grid. 

When you are responsible for making your own electricity, it becomes even more expensive. Keep reading to find out how you can save money on cooking fuel – an electric stove is another huge energy hog!

Electric Oven

How We Lowered Our Power Use

Our current stove runs on propane, and when we replace it, we’ll buy another basic model propane stove. When it comes to heating and cooling things, that is far more efficient than electricity. 

We have ordered and will be installing a wood cook stove, which will heat our home and cook our meals at the same time.

Use fuels for what they do best!

If you have the climate for it, a solar stove is great.

Also, if I’m outside working in the garden, it might be feasible to run a rocket stove.  I’ve found that, with four young children, I can’t use a small, easily overturned stove that must be outside. 

Another goal of mine is to make, or have someone make for me, a Fireless Cooker. All of these are ways to cut back on cooking fuel.

How You Can Lower Your Power Use

The nicest thing about your stove is that it’s not costing you money unless it’s actually running, right? But wait – chances are, your stove has a clock, an electric timer, maybe even an entire computer in there. In that case, yes, you’re spending money on it even if you’re not using it.  

If you live in an apartment, get a toaster oven for small items. That will save a lot of electricity, and they are incredible inexpensive when you think how much they can do. 

And learn to use a slow cooker for items that need to simmer low and long. Before we moved off-grid, I cooked many of my meals in a big Kenmore slow cooker.

If you’re in your own home, consider a rocket stove or barbecue outside, or a wood cook stove inside. New ones are very fuel efficient and are now designed to operate with less clearance than old ones. 

And of course, there are amazing devices like sun stoves, and sun ovens (like this one that comes with a dehydration and preparedness accessory kit – awesome!) Thermal Pots and more.

So what do you think? How much electricity does your household use daily? Do you even know? Could you lower it to an amount that would make an off-grid life affordable?

I bet you could!

Just Plain Living

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