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Jim Eddy, EzineArticles.com Basic Author

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After 31 years of living in our home in Northern California, we are moving to a new location. We love living here and wish we could take our home with us, but we can't. If you are interested in living in an off grid home please click on the picture or click  HERE to see how you might become the next owner.

Back in 1978 I made my first solar water heater for my house. It consisted of a solar collector made from copper pipe and placed in an insulated frame and covered with the glass from a used sliding glass door. I used an old 40 gallon water heater tank that I had kept after replacing it with a new one. It was a thermo-siphon type system that did not require any pump since the tank was elevated above the solar collector. It really worked well! That was my start in my solar adventure.

I began to experiment with different ideas concerning solar. I used to put one gallon milk jugs in a South facing window with a temperature probe inside and would graph the results every half hour to see how hot the water got. I even painted them black and ran more tests. I bought a cosmetic/defect photovoltaic solar panel and began to tinker with how it worked. I bought a small wind generator and did the same. After a lot of tests I figured it was time to do the solar thing all the way.

We lived in the Mojave desert in Southern California at the time, but wanted to move someplace where the sun still shined regularly but there weren’t as many people sharing the same spot. After finding a nice area in Northern California to move to, my wife and I began making plans. I designed a passive solar house that would take advantage of the South facing property that we bought. We bought eight 50 watt photovoltaic panels, a 2000 watt inverter, a 30 amp charge controller and eight 6 volt deep cycle batteries just before our move. We bought a 5000 watt back-up generator shortly after arriving in our new town.

It took us a year to build our house - yes we built it ourselves! In September 1989 we moved into our new home after living in a 29 foot 5th wheel trailer for a year. Our solar system was installed and we began to live "OFF THE GRID." Our youngest daughter still lived with us so there were 3 of us at the time. We soon discovered that 8 panels were not quite enough since the number of non-charging cloudy days in the winter could quickly deplete the system. We purchased 6 more panels after about a year and our system was set.

We soon installed a solar water heating system using two collectors that we traded work for and a used 80 gallon propane tank that was removed from a renovated house. The panels were installed on the roof and the tank was placed in the laundry room next to the 40 gallon propane tank. It uses a differential solar controller and a pump to control and circulate the water. This was set up to preheat the water entering the propane water heater. Most of the time the propane water tank never comes on and just passes the hot water right on through to the faucets.

It is now 2014. Our youngest daughter has been to college and is now married, so it is just the two of us. We’ve been off the grid for 26 years and loving it. It is not that difficult to maintain the system, but it does take some work. Batteries last from 5 to 10 years depending on use. They need to have their water levels checked and water added periodically. We are now on our third set. Solar electric panels do lose their charging capacity over the years. The 50 watt panels now generate around 35 watts. New solar panels are warranting that they will maintain 90 percent of their rated capacity for up to 20 to 25 years. Ours had no such guarantee but they have done well. We have added newer panels to our system and have upgraded our charge controller and inverter. We took advantage of some of the tax incentives that were available.

With the money that we have saved over the years, we have taken several trips to Hawaii. It is nice not having an electric bill waiting for us when we return!

You can also visit the Living On Solar Blog to talk about all things solar.

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