Living 30 minutes outside of Yellowknife, NWT has its share of challenges, and it starts with living outside of the power grid coverage. We have previously written about some of our set up specifics and how we live off the grid. This article is to share an overview of our house and its various systems.
We will talk a bit about wood stoves generators, our water heater, diesel fuel, propane, fresh water, greywater, black water, glycol, hot water, solar, batteries, and our inverter and charge controller.
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#1. Our Off The Grid Water System
To begin, we live on a beautiful lake that has pristine water. And that’s an obvious benefit when living off the grid. We pump water from the lake with a well-insulated lake pump (heated with glycol in winter) to our holding tank set up.
The freshwater is obviously used for various needs throughout the house, such as washing, bathing, etc. The heart of the internal water system is our SHURflo 2088-313-145BX which is a 12 volt DC diaphragm pump. It has pleasantly given us plenty of pressure throughout the house whether operating a shower, tub, dishwasher, toilets or washing machine. It pumps directly from our 1100 gallon holding tank and pressurizes the whole house.
Read More: Our Off Grid Water System Setup
Read More: Our Off Grid Water System in Winter
#2. Our Waste Water Removal System
From freshwater, we move to the discharge streams, those being both grey and black water.
The black water is anything that goes through the toilet. And by that, I mean the everyday human waste, more commonly known as poop.
Our black water goes directly to a 2000 gallon holding tank that is conveniently located below us. It’s approximately ¾ under the house and ¼ outside the house footprint yet still enclosed with an insulated structure.
The cover is easily accessible as I just added a ladder to it this past year. It also has a pump-out pipe that extends horizontally about 15 feet. This makes it quite convenient when we have the local sewage company come to pump it out about twice or three times a year. That’s based on how many visitors we get and how many bran flakes we consume.
Our greywater system is somewhat different. It goes directly to the outside. It’s then distributed out the back of our property, or the lakeside. Sitting some 60 feet above the lake allows the water to be naturally filtered through the ground even though we sit on a lot of bedrock.
The showers and sinks all feed through one 2” PVC pipe, and the washer through a separate 2” PVC pipe. In warmer months, this runs to a barrel and my wife uses it to water the garden in the very dry summers here.
We’re challenged in the six months of winter, ensuring that there are no low spots in the pipe. We need to keep a fair slope mixed with daily wood-stove heated water to prevent the line from freezing.
I failed this week. And it froze, resulting in 10 hours of heating, complaining, a little cussing and a lot of begging to get it thawed out and running smoothly again.
I ended up running the generator and a hairdryer to finally get a particular section of pipe thawed.
Related: How We Prep for Winter
#3. Our Generators
Speaking of the generator, that leads us to the electrical part of the system. Our house is wired as any other house for the most part. And since we live off the grid, instead of receiving energy from the grid, we generate our own. We do have a few sources of power generation, that being two diesel generators, one regular gas-powered generator and also solar panels.
The two diesel generators we have are 10kw Lombardinis that we have housed in a separate power shed located about 50 to 60 feet from the house. The shed is heavily insulated. That helps both winter temperatures as well as reducing noise. It is about 10’ x 10’ in size.
Our generator shed also houses our extra 11kw Champion gas-powered generator. We keep that one as an additional backup to ensure we have power if there are any issues with the diesel.
What to Know About Generators if you Live off The Grid
#4. Our Solar Panels Help Us Live Off The Grid
We also have eight Kyocera 80 (KC80) watt solar panels on our roof with an additional 10 recently purchased 250-watt panels purchased that will be installed this coming spring. If we get one this year. These are each critical pieces to our power system, more so while we live off the grid in the far north, where we need the power to ensure we don’t end up with frozen children statues.
#5. Our Battery Bank System
Wondering how we capture, store, maintain and distribute such self-generated power? We personally have a battery bank consisting of a dozen batteries which serve us well.
Our off grid battery bank system includes 12 Surrette 530 6 Volt Three (3) Cell deep cycle batteries. These are specifically designed for solar panel photovoltaic, inverter, renewable energy and alternative (alternate energy) applications.
I configured this battery bank for a power source set as a 24-volt system. The batteries themselves are easy to maintain. They do require occasional maintenance to ensure the water levels stay above the plates I also periodically conduct what’s known as equalization.
Read More: Battery Banks for Living Off The Grid
Our Schneider Inverter can be programmed to complete the equalization electronically. We originally had the Xantrex DR Series 2412 inverter giving us a 12-volt system. We decided to upgrade to a Schneider Conext SW4024 which gives us the advantage of operating at 24 volts. This helps especially when pumping water up from the lake without having to use our generator.
#6. How We Live Off The Grid in an Extremely Cold Environment
Our two-story, chalet-style home is in Canada’s Northwest Territories, at about 62 degrees North. To the west of us is Yukon Territory, and beyond that is Alaska. It gets very cold up here in the winter. So we actually have multiple heat sources, yet the heart of our system is our big old propane boiler.
Our Propane Boiler
This, of course, gives an easy transition to our home heating systems, part of which is a 250,000 BTU Weil McLain egp65 propane powered boiler. The boiler itself heats our closed loop glycol system that unfortunately requires electricity to operate the circulation pump.
Our Off The Grid In-Floor Heating System
The glycol (anti-freeze) gets heated and then flows through the manifold, a contraption that looks like an octopus. It directs the glycol through the in-floor PEX lines as well as the upper-level perimeter baseboard heaters.
This is a great heat source since it keeps the lower level floor warm in the kitchen, laundry room, bathroom, and living area, as well as keeping the upper-level wall chill at bay. We’re hoping to replace the old boiler this year with a newer model that includes a built-in on-demand water system. This will allow us to get rid of our propane hot water tank but this will be in a future article on combi-boilers.
Our Wood Stove
In addition to the boiler heat, we have a wonderful Osburn 2400 woodstove. Our particular woodstove is rated at 100,000 BTUs with the capability of heating a home up to 2700 square feet. Both our boiler and woodstove generally operate together throughout the colder winter months and complement each other famously.
The Firewood Situation
The availability and cost factor of a good clean wood source challenges those of us who heat with wood in the north. We have two different avenues when it comes to firewood. They are Home Grown or Purchase. I will lay out the pros and cons for each below.
Home Grown Wood
There are generally spruce and birch trees spread throughout our region. And none grow very tall or large in diameter as would be preferred for firewood. To be able to harvest any trees locally, we have to get a permit from the City of Yellowknife. The permit allows you to harvest trees in various “burn” sections scattered in the region. They’re roughly a 2-hour drive from our house. And the fines for not getting a permit before cutting can be quite hefty. Note there is no charge for the permit.
For those who don’t know, a burn section is an area where forest fires have gone through yet have not burned the forest completely down. Many trees, although charred, remain standing and available for harvest. The wood is not really bad yet you do have a diminished the quality of wood and not the cleanest.
When getting our own wood, we have to factor the cost of the trip required to get to the burn section. The road condition can have an extreme effect on both truck and trailer. It is a *really* bumpy road. It’s constantly being repaired and flexing due to the extreme climate that regularly affects its operating condition. So the combination of the prices of gas, wear and tear on the vehicle and equipment, an axle repair, or spring replacement makes a purchased delivered load a viable financial option.
When buying wood there are a couple routes you can follow. We generally have folks in the area that advertise wood for sale. The costs can be anywhere from $300 to $400 a cord. Many also have a delivery fee of $30 to $50 a cord tacked on top. When you burn 10 to 12 cords a year, you can see how the costs add up.
You also have to be concerned with the cord size, whether it is chunked and split, the delivery vehicle size, many factors. You also find that the “cord” is not a true cord and that is challenging. These sellers go themselves to get a permit and will generally hit the same “burn” sections mentioned earlier.
The second option to purchase from a sawmill in the Territory about five to six hours away. They have a huge 18 wheeler “push” trailer that carries from 20 to 24 cords of wood based on how well it is piled. The wood is much better quality, larger diameter, already split and not from a burn area. The price for a delivered load is a flat $6,300 or $275 to $310 a cord, based on how well it is packed. The order we received late fall was about 23 cords and we ended up splitting with a neighbour.
Although many will be shocked at the price (and we realize it’s costly) sometimes you have little choice. We enjoy burning wood and will run the stove pretty much 24/7 for 6 plus months straight. We let it go out about every 4 weeks to do a thorough cleaning but other than that, full flames ahead.
This gives you a rough overview of our household systems. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments below or reach out to us on our Facebook page.
This post is part of the Homestead Blog Hop #224!