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Our Simple DIY Home Solar Power System

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This basic off-grid solar power system is simple to install and can be easily expanded…

By Greg Seaman, Posted Jul 18, 2012

DIY Home Solar power systemBringing some of the benefits of electrical power to our off-grid home has been a hit-or-miss affair. Over the years we’ve tried some very simple approaches to lighting and small battery recharging for our flashlights, such as hauling a 12 volt car battery to a small rural school about a half mile away every time it needed to be topped up. This was time consuming and inefficient. But we didn’t want to lose the feel of our simple home by bringing in a large generator and the jugs of gas needed to run it, and the prospect of setting up a wind turbine or solar array seemed expensive and a technological eyesore in a natural setting.

…developing using a dialup internet connection on a phone line strung through the woods was challenging…

For many years we managed to get along without the conveniences which electricity can provide, but developing using a dialup internet connection on a phone line strung through the woods was challenging, and charging my laptop became a regular necessity. A few years ago, wireless broadband was introduced to our area, and the promise of high-speed internet was the stimulus we needed to build our own reliable, affordable and simple “do-it-yourself” alternative energy system.

Today, with the help of a local expert on off grid home solar power and alternative energy systems, we have the best of both worlds. Our basic solar powered energy system provides more electricity than we expected, it has been very reliable and maintenance-free, and it is almost entirely hidden from view. A solar panel on the roof with a few wires leading to a small battery bank powers my laptop, and a radio mounted on a tree for receiving the wireless broadband signal. The system also provides enough energy to charge several small power tools, run our home sound system and, amazingly, power a full-size chest refrigerator year round.
solar battery bank
Our simple home solar power system is comprised of four basic components: a solar panel, a charge controller, two 6-volt golf cart batteries and a small inverter. My son and I were able to install the system in a few hours, and there have been no maintenance issues other than checking the fluid level in the batteries every few months. The cost of this complete solar system, in today’s pricing for the components, was less than $1000.

The cost of this complete solar system, in today’s pricing for the components, was less than $1000.

We have already enjoyed about three years of trouble-free use from this system. The refrigerator has not been off for over two years, which is pretty impressive considering we live in the Pacific Northwest where the short winter daylight hours provide minimal solar exposure for the panel.

The basic components of this off grid solar power system are as follows:

1. Solar panel

We have a single solar panel mounted on the roof of our home: a 123 watt Sharp Photovoltaic Module, model 123UJF. The panel is equipped with a permanently attached junction box for ease of installation of wires and conduit. Two boards are lag screwed into the roof and the solar panel is bolted to the boards using wing nuts, so it’s easy to lift if maintenance is required. The panel surface is about 5” above the roof surface. The panel is hinged to the mounting board, which allows the panel to be tilted towards the sun, and to increase ventilation. We plan on adding a cog/string system to make it easier to tilt the solar panel towards the sun from the ground. Two wires run from the solar panel, one is the power line and the other is a ground line. The power line runs down the roof to the charge controller, where there is a fuse. A box on the porch which houses the charge controller, inverter and batteries. The ground wire runs beneath the house and is attached to a rod which is driven about two feet into the earth.
solar panel
It should be noted that the panel guidelines state that the installation of PV modules requires a “great degree of skill and should only be performed by qualified licensed professionals, including licensed contractors and licensed electricians.” We installed our system ourselves because our supplier, who is a licensed installer, gave us explicit directions and came by to inspect the installation after it was done. We suggest that you follow the recommendation as stated in the module instructions with regard to installation.

You may notice there is a shadow on the panel being installed in the picture above. This shadow crosses the panel in about 20 minutes, so there is a small loss of efficiency over the course of a day. But we live in a beautiful forested area and I value the tress more than 100% efficiency in solar gain. If there were a major solar loss I might top the tree, but our system provides for our needs and so we will live with the shadow, for now at least.

The cost of the solar panel in today’s pricing is about $425.

2. Charge Controller

We use a Trace C12 Charge Controller which automatically adjusts the amount of power running into the battery. The controller has a small LED light which indicates the state of charge so it’s easy to see when the batteries are fully charged or if they are becoming depleted. The light flashes either red or green, with multiple flashes indicating the status of charge at any given time. We can see that if the light is red we should reduce our power use, and if the light is green then we have the power needed to charge or run additional devices.

charge controller

The cost of the Trace Charge Controller is about $90.

3. Battery Bank

Two 6-volt golf cart batteries are wired in series for a 12 volt system. Each battery is rated at 232 amp hours. The batteries are enclosed in a wooden chest with hinged lid, and the top panel of the chest is removed to provide plenty of ventilation. The battery posts and connections are kept clean, and periodically checked to ensure good connections.
solar batteries
battery box
The cost for the two batteries was about $400.

4. Inverter

The final piece of the system is a small inverter which converts the 12 volt DC power into 120 volt AC power. This enables us to use standard electric devices without the need for adaptors. Inverters are available in a wide range of wattages for different size systems. Ours is a small inverter made by Nexxtech, rated at 300 watts, with a 500 watt surge capacity. It comes with two cables, red and black, with alligator clip ends for gripping to the battery posts. In choosing which size inverter to buy, we calculated how much power was available to our system and what devices we wanted to run. In calculating power needs, it is important to add the power requirements when two or more devices are running simultaneously.
solar inverter
Our Nexxtech 300 watt inverter cost about $30.

What this system provides:

An alternative energy system can be used to provide electric power to any number of electric devices, such as appliances, tools and computers. The bigger the system, obviously, the more power it will provide. To give you an idea of the capacity of a small system like ours, here is what we use our solar energy system to power:

solar powered refrigerator
This is a DC powered refrigerator, the same size as a conventional chest freezer (4’ wide). The refrigerator draws 40 watts of power and can be converted to a freezer by replacing the thermostat. Since the refrigerator is a DC model, it is wired directly to the battery, bypassing the inverter. So the refrigerator keeps running even if the inverter is turned off. Our refrigerator has been running continuously for over 2 years without any problems. Even during the dark days of winter, the unit has adequate power to keep running.

vers sound systemThis is our Vers sound system which lets us use an iPod or direct cable from an iPhone or computer to deliver a rich sound while drawing relatively little power. We can run this sound system about 3 hours a day in winter, and as much as we want in summer.

solar powered laptopOur solar system provides adequate power to run a laptop computer all day if necessary. We also run a router from our inverter so that multiple computers can be operated at the same time. In addition to the router, a small radio is installed on a tree about 300’ from our house which receives the wireless broadband and transmits the signal to the house.

Besides the laptop, we have a battery-powered driver-drill, which is a very useful tool. Our system recharges the battery for this tool in about 30 minutes.

These are the principle applications we use which are provided by the solar power system described above. However, you can use a wide variety of electric devices as needed. Today, we enjoy the benefits of our system without feeling a technological intrusion into our off-grid homestead and lifestyle. The refrigerator especially has made a big improvement in our day to day living, since storing food is so much easier. Over time we may expand our system by adding more batteries for storage, and eventually a second solar panel or small wind turbine.

Bringing electricity to rural locations is something of a balancing act since we don’t want our simple lifestyle changed by too many electrical gadgets. It does require some restraint to keep things simple, but the few electric amenities we now have are most appreciated!
GregAbout Greg
Originally from Long Island, NY, Greg Seaman founded Eartheasy in 2000 out of concern for the environment and a desire to help others live more sustainably. As Editor, Greg combines his upbringing in the cities of New York, Boston and San Francisco with the contrast of 31 years of living ‘off-grid’ to give us a balanced perspective on sustainable living. Greg spends his free time gardening, working on his home and building a wooden sailboat with hand tools.


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  • Greg Seaman

    We’ve since strung up a few LEDs for light. In winter our power is reduced and we only run lights for reading..

  • RAPTOR555

    I’m in the process of installing a solar system in our motor home and the installation instructions here are exactly the same as for the motor home. I’m using two Renogy 100 solar watt panels (200w total), a 28 amp Nature Power controller, and a 2000 watt Cobra inverter (hard-wired from the batteries to inside the motor home w/6ga. solid copper wire). I believe I’ll be able to run the motor home box with very little use of the generator when parked somewhere where there is no power hook-up. Everything is already installed except for the two solar panels which should be here this week. It was an easy job and a lot of fun doing it. Total cost for the system and wiring will be less than $500. I found that has the best Renogy solar panel prices by far. Do it if you can; it’s worth it especially if you put it in a motor home that uses gasoline to run the generator at 1.3 gallons per hour. We all know how expensive gasoline is these days. We expect to hit the break-even point in 1 1/2 to 2 years; not a bad investment considering the solar panels are guaranteed for 25 years.

  • Knightsix

    Greg, wonderful article. I’ve taken the first step to disconnect my very large home from the grid. Have to admit my motivation came about as a result of my power company, constantly shilling for CFL bulbs and solar power, lost a great deal of $ as a result of overwhelming customer conversion it failed to account for in annual budget planning. As a result, it surreptitiously petitioned our Corporation Commission for a rate hike which was granted! Customers stabbed in the back by saving (solar and efficient lighting) doing exactly what the utility showed them to do…then going behind those same backs to increase rates lost via customer savings!

    I live in Arizona, so have a timer on the hot water heater for one hour daily, then decided to turn it off completely(cold water isn’t very cold anyway), reduced the pool cleaning cycle from 8 to 4 hours nightly after 9pm, do not use the clothes dryer (I have strung up plastic chain across the patio and sun-dry my clothing outside or inside using two drying racks, replaced every incandescent bulb in the house with CFLs (going to LED soon), and am anal about any light being on in a room I do not occupy. I use the dishwasher twice a month- maybe, preferring to hand wash the few dishes I use. I only run the AC on the floor I’m on, and both thermostats are set at 82*. I have 9 highly efficient ceiling fans that I run on low 24/7, and recorded a 2* temp drop throughout the house as a result of that alone. I open all doors for cool breezes after the summer heat. My highest 2012 Jul~Aug summer bill was $438…for one man, living alone in a two-story house, 3679sf livable.

    That same bill has been reduced to $132. If my math is correct, that’s a 70% reduction in electrical cost, accomplished via a simple change in living style…a change that has not acted to inconvenience me in any way whatsoever.

    But I’m not done yet. I fully intend to go completely off-grid; double-axis solar power stands, power shed to contain all batteries, charge controllers, sine-wave controllers, system shelving, wiring to house, power switch box – the works. I will leave grid power available if needed, and will absorb the small monthly service fees for that, but have a stand-alone generator available if it comes to emergency power needed. ROI? Forget that. 25~30 year returns on investment would doom any such project due to high cost/low efficiency of presently available commercial systems. I’ll absorb the cost just to bid the grid system goodbye, and build as much of the systems as I can by myself, using excellent guidance from good people like you who have plowed the road before me. Thanks for sharing your project. John

    • Greg Seaman

      Thank you John for your inspiring comment. You are ahead of the curve and a living example for your friends and neighbors.
      I have one thought to pass on, based on experiences I see with others who are moving toward energy independence. Be aware of the constant change in technology so that you don’t over-subscribe to any technology that becomes outdated quickly. For example, many in my community rushed to get the new 127 watt panels. Now just a few years later, everyone wants the newer 253 watt panels, so the 127s are on sale, or simply uninstalled and left unused.
      My advice is to try to keep it simple. It is something of a balancing act adopting new technology.
      Thganks again for your comment, it is truly inspiring.

  • Greg Seaman

    Most people in my community use the 6v golf cart batteries. I’ve checked mine only twice this summer and they needed only a small top up/ The maintenance is minimal.
    I prefer the 12 v setup, but also keep power needs minimal. My system has mo transmission issues since the panels are on the roof and wiring only through the house. The 24v systems have an advantage as transmission distances increase.

  • Joven lavachado

    Great idea, these will help my countrymen back in the Philippines, because of all year round full sun that mother nature gave us. Hopefully i have the chance to learn the idea,innovation with this solar grid while i’m still here in the U.S. Residing right now in Sherman Way, Winnetka. L.A. Thus, Eartheasy has office here in Los Angeles, California? Please let me know. Thank You

    • Greg Seaman

      Sorry, Eartheasy does not have an office in L.A.

  • Kuyakulit

    Hi Greg, thanks for the great blog. Can you share us the list of materials and the circuit design of your project? Wishing to have one in our place. The electricity in the Manila is one of the highest in Asia. Monthly bills is not easy to manage now a days. Thanks again for sharing.

    • Greg Seaman

      You could show this article to your local solar supplier and they would be able to set you up. The system is very basic – just a panel, some cable to the charge controller (now a 30 amp model), two golf cart batteries (the specs are in the image on this page) and a small 350 watt inverter.

  • Greg Seaman

    The system described in this article is designed to provide and store a certain amount of power. The type of structure does not really matter. My system has been expanded to three panels and a larger charge controller (30 amps). In your situation, you need to decide how much power you will need, then you can scale the system as needed.
    There are no other supplies you would need for a home built using shipping containers, although you will probably need to drill through the metal to mount your panels and route the cable, so be sure to get some silicone to caulk wherever the cable goes through a wall.

  • SachI

    Thanks so much? Would I be able to hire you to do this for me? I live on Long Island. Let me know if you’d be willing, not sure if you still live in the area. Thanks. It would be a few months from now not right away

    • Greg Seaman

      You would want a certified installer for this. Or you could try it yourself and have it checked by a professional.

  • pjxii

    Love this site!!! I am looking to build a small retitement cabin in rural Virginia in a few years and this system would be perfect for my lifestyle. Thank you so much for providing it, I now have the confidence to have an off-grid system that I always wanted for my small home.

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks. Our system has been used for years now and we are very pleased with its performance. In a few years the panels will be even more effective and at lower cost.

      • pjxii

        Greg, this may be outside the scope of the article, but how do you handle hot water for bath/shower in this home? That is probably the one thing I’m still trying to figure out in planning my small house. I will be using well water and really am determined to not tie-in to the grid. Taking a (brief) shower is the only thing I’d need hot water for.

        • Greg Seaman

          We have a wood cookstove (Elmira Oval) that has a water jacket in the firebox. The water jacket is connected to a water heater which is plumbed to the shower and two sinks. It takes about an hour of fire in the cookstove to provide a generous shower. Faster for subsequent showers.
          In summer when it is too hot to fire up the cookstove we have a small solar shower in the garden.

  • jonathanjames61

    Hi Greg,please I will be grateful if you send me further information about this your solar project, i will like to use the same in my home.

    • Greg Seaman

      I thin most of the information you will need is already here in the article. Only change would be to get a newer solar panel with more capacity, in the range of 250 watts. A larger panel also would reuire a larger charge controller. A 30 amp charge controller should suffice for a 250 watt panel.

  • Greg Seaman

    We bought the system components from a dealer who sells alternative energy products. This system is designed to provide basic power for our limited needs. If you want to supply a bigger house with higher electrical needs, a system like this can work but it has to be scaled up – more panels, batteries and larger capacity charge controller and inverter. There are many variables so you should definately consult with a qualified alternate energy provider for the best answers to your question..

  • Norma Griffiths

    Thanks so much for simplifying a complete system. I live in FL. You would think everyone would have solar but few do. I am determined!! We shall see how I do with your wisdom!

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks Norma. The batteries are key, so be sure to keep them topped up. With my system, I usually need to add a bit of distilled water every couple months.

  • Greg Seaman

    We use paired up 6v golf cart batteries, the specs are shown in the photo in the article. The inverter is small at 350 watts but sufficient for our needs. We did not make our panel, it was purchased from a qualified dealer.

  • Angel

    Fascinatingly creative, could you tell us about your outside solar shower?

    • Greg Seaman

      Very simple system. Just a black bag hung on the fence with a spigot and hose. The garden hose is brouight alongside so we can mix in cold to get the right temperature. Takes about an hour to heat in the summer sun.

  • carl hall

    Awesome Post, been interested in going Off Grid for a couple of years..Grow my own Veg/Fruit at the moment, and looking into Brewing my own Pear Cidre..the whole Green and sustainable living is my in Town in a flat, but grew up on a Farm and miss it so..with bit of Luck will be buying old farm house with a bit of land in the time this happens..i don’t want to be using Mains Elec..and would like to draw my own water,Grow my own crops etc..
    Again Great first visit to this site.

    UK reader

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks, and good luck to you. I think you’ll find it exciting to break new ground. Go for it!

  • carl hall

    Awesome Post, just kinda stumbled across this Site..glad i did.

  • John

    Do your two batteries run 24/7 keeping the fridge going from the solar panel?

    • Greg Seaman

      Yes. The fridge is DC and wired directly to the batteries. This runs 24/7. The frdige has been running nonstop for about 3 years now.
      The rest of the system is run through the inverter so we can run AC for powering the laptop, some LED lights and a few other items.

      • John

        Thanks you Greg!  John W. Samarin

  • Billy Darroux

    I live in the Caribbean, and thought that this is the most practical piece i have seen on DIY power. You must have been a teacher in another life.

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks Billy. What a fine compliment!

  • Hana Horack-Elyafi

    This is a brilliant, succinct post. Just what we need to save ourselves a good chunk on our electricity bill!

  • Knightsix

    Greg, it’s been awhile. I’m focusing on isolating my refrigerator/freezer from the grid now. It’s the only device left in my house running 24/7. The data plate shows 120vac @ 9.5amps. I’m rounding up and want sufficient backup, so my plan is four batteries. I went back and re-read your article on solar panels, specifically the point about switching from 127v to 253v solar panels. Would you be kind and provide the brand name of the 253v panels. Any ‘new’ info on those would also be greatly appreciated.

    Also, I’ve been doing some reading on “desulfation” of batteries. Seems there are some positive aspects of such devices, in that they are able to remove and/or prevent a buildup of sulfur on battery plates…thereby extending battery life. Any thoughts on this issue?

    Thanks in advance. John

    • Greg Seaman

      Hi John,
      The panels are 235 watts, not the 253 which I mistakenly wrote earlier. Sorry for my not so sharp memory. The panels are made by Sharp and should cost about $250 – $300 depending on the supplier.
      I am not very knowledgable about desulfation, we don’t have much of a problem in this regard although there is likely some sulfur buildup occurring. Our batteries cycle regularly which is key, and the refrigerator runs 24/7 which further increases cycling. I also equalize the batteries every few months which helps prevent sulfur buildup.

      • fosterparrots

        I am new to this technology and am hoping to set up a system in Costa Rica, well off the grid. What does Equalizing the batteries entail? Thanks. Marc

  • Hazel Pj Grey

    I went to Interstate and bought a 35 Amp 12v deep cycle Gel battery for just under $100. It was designed for an electric wheel chair so is half the size of an automobile battery. It is safe enough to be kept inside your living space as most electric wheel chairs sit right next to the bed all night plugged in and charging.

    • Greg Seaman

      Gel batteries are safe for use in limited ventilation areas. As long as the cells are physically intact, not damaged, and charged properly, there should be no problem.

  • Greg Seaman

    Hi Pat. Yes, wind turbines are practical here in the NW, and becoming more widespread as newer designs hit the market. One thing to think about is the noise of the whirring – look for designs that are quiet.

  • Sara Sparks

    I’m presently in the middle of an ice storm. I installed propane for situations like this to keep me warm…but was wondering…even if my house is wired on the gird, could this be utilised to lets say give light, computer, maybe fridge for one room. Do I have to go through the power system already set up or can I wire a couple of outlets off of this (I’m not an electrician and would have to consult on of course) Dont’ know the lingo ….but you get the idea.

    • Greg Seaman

      Yes. You can install a simple, independent system for emergency lighting and computer and a small fridge, especially if the fridge is designed for energy efficiency, such as the SunDanzer models. However, the solar gain is low in winter for northern locales. If you don’t have enough solar power you may need a small generator for backup. We keep a 750 watt generator (very small) for times when solar power is unavailable.

  • swampdaddy

    Love the information. I always enjoy reading about other people that are using solar and living off the grid. I will be moving to Alabama to my small cabin and am looking forward to living off the grid and getting away from the hustle of the city.

  • Beth Winters

    I’ve been searching for Orlando Residential Electrical Contractor when I discover your page. I love the solar panel idea, also thanks for the prices provided, really helped. Have a great day!

  • Donna P

    I would love to solarize our (gravity fed ) well pump….I’m thinking this would have to be large enough to provide our whole house’s electric requirements. ( 220) Any ideas?

  • Greg Seaman

    We know several people who use tankless water heaters. They work great. For us, the propane is heavy to carry in to our place, and very expensive. One caution with the tankless water heaters – be sure the line is drained if there’s going to be a freeze and your unit is in an unheated space.

    • Richard Powers

      Roger that on the draining of the lines for freeze.. But as for the propane transport inconvenience; Years ago I had and 1969 Ford RV which my girlfriend and I actually lived in for about a year or so, which had a gas tankless hot water heater which we would only light for showers.. The water would instantly get scalding hot, so we had to be sure to adjust the cold water stream to compensate before getting in. You could take as long of a shower as you wanted and the temperature would stay constant…. Anyway, what I’m getting to is this; I just used one of those small 20lb propane tanks like you connect to a BBQ grill and interchange the tanks at most any convience store.. Each of us would take a 10 minute hot shower at least 3 times a week (totaling at least a full hour of hot showers per week), and only one portable propane tank would usually last us about 6 week or more.. My point is, a to carry a single 20lb tank once a month or so to your place would be effortless and inexpensive!.. You might want to look into such an option.
      By the way, I only mention the Eccotemp L5 above, but I’ve never used that model, but it looks to be about the same size as the one I had.

      I want to thank you again for your blog, it’s presented in such a way that makes it simple to understand, and doable.

      • Greg Seaman

        I hear you about using the smaller 20lb tanks, this is what I use for my backup lights and a 2-burner range so we can make tea in the morning before the wood stove heats up.
        My neighbor uses a Paloma and it has worked well for them over 20 years.
        For our location, I have to row about a 3/4 mile, hike a few hundred yards to get the 20 lb tank, them carry it back to the boat. Then up a steep hill about 65′ to the house. The costs for the propane is about $20 per tank. Too much work and cost. Insteasd, we have a water jacket in the cookstove for showers, and in summer we have an outdoor solar shower.

  • Greg Seaman

    I’m not qualified to give you a reliable answer. You could put this question to a dealer of solar products, they would be able to answer your questions.

  • Patricia Salvales

    Very informative, this is great.. most people don’t know much about solar though they want to have one, and this article nailed it… its complete and easy to understand.. thank you..

  • AC Aglipay

    Hi Greg,

    Excellent blog I must say. I really learned a lot on how solar power set-up works. However, i’m still hoping you can give me a suggestion on how to star up my own system.

    I just want to power up a normal household refrigerator about 6 cu feet, I am wondering what it takes to do this.

    I’m not quite sure if this set-up also works for regular refrigerator since what you posted is DC powered.

    I have already contacted a contractor but they seem to want me spend more than what i need (only figured that out after reading this blog)

    THIS IS THE SETUP THAT THEY SUGGESTED: ( do I really need this kind of set up just to run a single refrigerator for a at least 12 hours?)

    Solar Panel, MonoCrystalline, 100W/18V/5.99A

    Controller, 30A/12/24V, Auto Voltage Function

    Off-Grid Inverter, Pure Sine Wave, 600 Watt 12V/60Hz

    Battery, Deep Cycle, 220Ah/6V

    They also told me that I cannot use a car battery as a battery bank as it will not be efficient… I see now that isn’t true.

    Any help and suggestion will greatly be appreciated! I’m just trying to figure out a way to make this as cheap as possible.

    • Greg Seaman

      I’m not qualified to give advice. ut the estimate you receives seems reasonable. And the deep cell golf cart battery is much more effective than a car battery, although we used a car battery for years before getting a better battery back.
      I suggest you do some more reserch via the internet before making any decision.

  • Greg Seaman

    The 400 watt inverter will run the fridge but, depending on the amp hour rating of your batteries, will probably run the batteries down in a few hours. You want to make sure to use a deep cycle battery, as a regular starting battery will not hold up to the contant discharging/charging cycles.
    You would be better off to buy a 12 volt RV refrigerator.

    • Brent Sherman

      Hello Greg, If I wanted to purchase the items in your system for backup power for my A/C refrigerator and A/C horizontal freezer, would it help to just buy more batteries? Or, do you know of anyone who has used an A/C to D/C converter for a refrigerator or freezer in a backup power situation?

      • Greg Seaman

        To expand capacity you might do better adding panels rather than batteries. However there are other factors to consider such as your location and the type of panels. Best advice is to ask your local solar installer since they have experience in your climate zone.

        • Brent Sherman

          Thanks so much Greg! Best Wishes to you and yours!

  • Greg Seaman

    The batteries are still running and are in good shape. Have done little maintenance other than keeping them topped up. Once in a while I equalize them..They cycle frequently and regularly. The brand is US Battery, US 2200 XC.

  • Greg Seaman

    Hi Doug,
    The panels are grounded but the inverter is not. This was approved by an installer who inspected my system.
    The refrigerator is DC, directly hard wired to the battery, bypassing the inverter (since we want it running full time). I did install a fuse in that line.
    The inverter has detachable connections to the batteries so it’s easy to replace with my spare inverter. (Sometimes in heavy rains a few drips find their way to the inverter and short it out. I put it over the heater to dry, and use the replacement during the interim.)
    The best sources for design information have come from neighbors who are doing the same thing. We share knowledge, and run things by a professional before making any purchases.

  • Greg Seaman

    It is difficult toi estimate your voltage needs without the specifics on the appliances you plan to use. For example, is the refrigerator AC or DC, and what size. You will need to write dwon the specs for your refrigerator and the washer, and then estimate how many lights you want, which should be LEDs. Take this information to the panel supplier and they will tell you what panels are required, as well as the ideal charge controller and inverter.

  • actofcourage

    Great stuff thx

  • Ted

    Hi Greg, I’m interested in the radio used for wireless broadband. Does that supply your internet or ?? The reason I ask is I’m planning on moving aboard a sailboat and looking at options. Solar and wind are the main focus for power.


    • Greg Seaman

      It’s a small (about 8″ square, 1″ thick) lightweight unit I have mounted on a tree. It receives a signal from a distant tower and provides my internet. There is a wire from the radio to my house, it runs 325′, which is the max without signal loss. My battery bank (located at the house) powers the radio via the same wire. The draw is tiny, so power is not an issue except during stormy days of winter. On a sailboat you might get away with a smaller unit since reception is usually pretty good on the water.

  • Greg Seaman

    Good comment Cliff, thanks!

  • SMH

    I thought we will be making our OWN solar power system (from scratch) LOL. Apparently we have to buy a solar panel.

  • Michael Greig

    And you guys live in the Pacific Northwest?? Just imagine what can be done with a few more panels in California! Thanks for the article, great read.

  • ice

    Nice way to make the most of solar
    energy by DIY.

  • corq

    Thanks for your post I feel a little better now about having to use consumer grade inverters; I am powering a self-sustaining watering system for a largish patio from a rainbarrel. I brokedown and used a cigarrette style socket barrel connector with car inverter to power the fountain pump, and powering a raspberry pi via 5v usb to a special power plug to schedule the watering on/off switch. I found many of the “off the grid” -marketed solar inverters to be a bit heavy for my needs, but I can always scale up later. I’m a ways off from retirement and not sure I’ll ever be completely off the grid, but I look forward to some “minimalism” where I can find it. Your work here is very inspiring!

    • Greg Seaman

      Great comment, thanks!

  • Danielle Torgerson

    Can you please put up a Pinterest button? Great info thanks

  • Greg Seaman

    No battery warmers are used in our setup, the batteries sit in a box on the porch all year. We live in the Pacific Northwest so the extreme lows you experience don’t happen here. I suggest you consult with a local solar provider on this issue.

  • Olivia Honey

    THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH!!!! :) I am about to take this on. and your advise has been nothing short of amazing

    • Greg Seaman

      Good luck with your project!

  • kevin

    HI Thank you for sharing your ups and downs of living off the grid – we are doing exactly the same in the Canary Islands. We have just purchased a 2000 watt inverter as i am going to run a washing machine. A question please – all our previous inverters ( which include a 350w and a 1000w ) work fine, however when we set up our new one -2000w- it beeps quickly then turns green then we get no power and it just beeps. It came with an earthing point and a wire – we dont want to keep messing with it – so i want to check if the earth is really necessary, because we have nt encountered it before ? many thanks and it is really good to read about your successful solar journey. Kevin

    • Greg Seaman

      Hi Kevin,
      This is not my area of expertise, sorry. I suggest you connect the ground lead and give it a try, but beyond that you should direct this question to the manufacturer website. Good luck.

  • Greg Seaman

    Thanks for your comments.
    I have not written any books on the topic, but we have a number of articles about living off-grid, all from first hand experience. If you go to any of our blog pages and type “off-grid” into the search box, a list of these articles will pop up for you.
    You can also go to the Preparedness section of our blog for additional related content.

  • Greg Seaman

    Thanks Robert.

  • vicki formosa

    Thank you very much for this site. We are moving from a 1850sq ft home and renovating a 500sq ft guest house into our home. I am so interested in solar and trying to convince my husband is difficult. We are going through major changes and so I have decided to take interest myself. Again, thank you for the info!

    • Greg Seaman

      We resisted the idea of a solar power system for years, it seemed complex, expensive and not in keeping with the simple life we chose. But it turned out to be easy to set up, not very expensive, and an improvement in our quality of life.

  • Greg Seaman

    Thanks Randy, we’re on the same page. Sustainable living practices are becoming more relevant as we realize the scope of our environmental degradation.
    Good luck to you!

  • Herbert

    Thank you for this information. i am just starting to put up our own solar system at home. Godspeed.

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks Herbert, I think you’ll be impressed with solar power.

  • Greg Seaman

    In our location we have no electric power.

  • Greg Seaman

    Thank you Onye for your kind comments. It is very gratifying to me.
    Saludos to you!

  • Onye Onye

    Hi Greg. Thanks for getting back. You know what, I am thinking of collaborating with Eartheasy once i get back to Nigeria next two yrs to start developing individual power unit completely independent of the National Grid. It is a shame that in Nigeria, there is frequent blackout inspite of the windfall from crude oil, large water bodies which can be damed, or even generate power from Gas that is been flared to the atmosphere in the refineries. Your solar set-up is the simplest available in the web. to testify to that , u can see the huge interest and post on it, over 100. Its simplest is quite encouraging. By the way, I am an agric engineer and u know that solar energy utilization in engineering or agric has the sky as its limits.of water. I am getting back to u in future meanwhile i enjoy reading the posts. Hasta luego señor.

  • Greg Seaman

    Yes, it is getting to where independent power systems are viable for small applications like homes and small communities. The prices have been steadily going down and the technology continues to improve.
    Thanks for your comments.

  • Greg Seaman

    Calculate all your anticipated electric needs and take the list to a solar power dealer or an alternate energy provider. They should give you a free estimate of what your system requirements will need to be.
    For the refrigerator, read our blog about solar refrigerators. Our suggestion is to go with a chest style, DC powered, with easily replaceable thermostats. Thay way you can convert it to a freezer when needed. We use the Sundanzer model 225.

  • Greg Seaman

    Your local solar installer should be able to give you a free consultation.

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