I’m writing a different post on solar power in WNC right now, which I expect to be up soon, but in that post I found myself digressing a lot to talk about other forms of alternate energy and general tips on decreasing your energy usage. Energy is a very important consideration when planning a homestead, and it’s one I’ve been thinking about (and researching) for several years. So I thought, hey, maybe I’ll break this into a series of posts about powering your homestead! Enter the Homestead Power Series.
(An asterisk* in the middle of text means that I plan on expanding on this topic later. Check back later and you might find a link to a new post!)
First things first: Homesteading and Simplification
Modern homesteading does not mean regression to outdated feudal-era farming. There is a very good reason why modern conveniences exist, and solar power allows you to keep many aspects of a modern lifestyle. Want a washer and dryer with TONS of buttons? Three refrigerators? Four Keurigs? A TV that runs 24 hours a day that you use to binge Netflix in your sleep? That’s all doable… but the energy costs of running such a system will be inaccessible to most Americans.
Solar panels get more affordable all the time, and you could always take out a loan if you want $50,000 worth of solar power. But remember that the goal of homesteading is self-sufficiency. You want to produce most of what you need to survive without a traditional 9-5 career – and ultimately, this means that you should have little to no debt. With that in mind, the question isn’t simply how many solar panels do I need?, you also need to ask yourself how many solar panels can I reasonably afford?
Ultimately, you’ll need to balance convenience and sustainability.
- It won’t require too much of a lifestyle adjustment to turn your computer off when you’re not using it, or to keep your lights off when you don’t need them, or to switch to energy-efficient CFL bulbs.
- Switching to energy-efficient or non-electric appliances* may be a little bit more difficult, but these are still very doable and will save you money in the long run.
- More ambitious homesteaders may want to do away with as many appliances as possible, such as a washer/dryer and dishwasher, preferring to clean their clothes and dishes by hand.
Challenge yourself to find a system that may be mildly inconvenient, but is still sustainable. If it’s too difficult, time-consuming, laborious, monotonous, or simply annoying, you won’t want to keep doing it every day/week/month for the rest of your life! But a little bit of discomfort can convert to massive energy savings in the long run. You can check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s guide to Reducing Electricity Use and Cost here.
Once you’ve lessened your energy output in whatever ways you’re comfortable, check back with your energy bill and see how much you’ve saved. Consider: is the difference between the old number and the new, probably smaller number significant enough to be worth your time and inconvenience? Hopefully the answer is yes!
Types of Homestead Power
- Labor/Human power*
This cannot be underestimated. The single biggest power source running your homestead is you. The more manual tasks you’re willing to take on to lessen your power needs, the cheaper your energy costs will be. I’ll be talking about this more in a future post about Homestead Kitchens.
- Smart construction*
It does you no good to spend thousands of dollars on an efficient heating/cooling system if all of that energy is escaping out of cracks in your window and door seals! You may also be losing efficiency due to poor insulation (hello, apartment living). And if you’re building a new home, you can decrease your energy needs by using passive solar construction – tall windows that let heat escape from the high corners of your house, ceiling fans that circulate warm air around a room or kick it outside, adding windows on the south side of your house to take advantage of winter heat, etc.
- Solar Power*
Who says you can’t have a computer on a farm? The best part about being able to power your electronics on your homestead is that you can work from home, if needed, to help fund your simpler life!
- Wind Power*
A really efficient solar battery may be able to carry you through a sunless, windy day… but why not help yourself out by adding a wind turbine into your homestead system?
- Wood burning*
While fireplaces are one of the least energy-efficient systems in a home, a wood stove can be a great option to heat your home in the winter – and it provides a great cooking surface on top. This system works best when you have access to wood on your homestead. But be careful; wood stoves can cause flare-ups for those with asthma or other breathing problems, and they require extra precaution if you have young children in your home.
It takes a lot of electricity to power a refrigerator and/or stove, not to mention heating and cooling your home. (You’ll see what I mean in the upcoming guide to solar power!) You can offset some of these costs by using propane appliances (or heating/cooling) instead of electric. This system only works if you live reasonably close to a source of propane. Many gas stations and grocery stores offer propane tanks, but if you’re 45 minutes from any sign of civilization, that may not help you.
- Other sources*
Because I’m sure I’m forgetting something.
If you have a financial adviser, s/he may have told you that the best way to get a return on your investments is to diversify your financial situation, whether that’s between multiple sources of income or multiple companies into which you put stock. That’s good advice, and it also applies to your power needs. If you can combine 3 or 4 or all of these options, you’ll have a homestead that works for you in every season, and with several backup systems in case one of your methods of power stops working.
Use this list as a jumping-off point for your own research, or bookmark this page. Eventually those topics will become links to some information specific to WNC! I’m still near the beginning of my homestead journey, so expect this site to be updated often with new info. (I’m also planning a Homesteading Skills Series* with a similar format!)
Leave a comment to brag about your awesome power system, or leave recommendations about powering the homestead to us newbies to homesteading!
Also published on Medium.