Hello there. My wife and I live off-grid in the western mountains of Maine. We moved out of "town" over three years, it was. The house wasn't a full two-story colonial, with 2,000 sq feet of living space" a full basement. Three bedrooms, 2.5 baths. All this, and it was off-grid too. The house had been built in 2008 and had to be designed with off-grid living in mind. The place was overbuilt and insulated to the max. The previous owners had spared no expense on materials. Now the sad part, the previous owners had turned the place back over to the bank because they couldn't make a go of it. They suffered several setbacks that left them with more than one mortgage, a ruined battery bank, a destroyed generator, and no way forward.
The property was "bank "owned" and "had been vacant for four years. The bank had sent in a crew to remove anything that they thought was in danger of being stolen. The wood stoves were gone, as were the inverters, spoiled batteries, generator, basically anything that was at risk of theft. You have to keep in mind this place has its own private road, and is pretty much in the middle of nowhere.
We negotiated back and forth with the bank for quite a while. Although it's a modern home that looks like it would be more at home on Main Street than an off-grid home in the middle of nowhere, no banks were willing to finance an off-grid home. So many people looked at it and tried to buy it, only to have financing fall through. On the other hand, we had the cash to purchase the place outright.
The bank wasn't interested in doing anything to the place. They offered it to us at a much-reduced price if we decided to take the place as-is". Because a lot was missing from the electrical system, we couldn't do water or sewer tests. The bank did agree to pay for a brand new battery bank, and to bring it back, but not install all the stuff that they had in storage. We weighed our options, decided to take the chance, and bought the place. We had already spent over two weeks in a motel, so we moved into the cold, winterized house in the woods of Maine in early January.
Things were pretty primitive for the first couple of weeks. We had one wood stove in the basement, no propane tank or contract, and mostly Coleman camping gear for lights and cooking. We melted snow on a kerosene heater to get water for flushing the toilets. Like I said, pretty primitive. We probably should have been more worried about the possibilities, considering the first owner's failure, but we were too busy to be very worried. Looking back, it was quite an adventure. I had taken a week off from work to give us time to do our real-estate closing and initial move-in and hoping to get things functioning enough for us to be comfortable. We had put most of our camping gear, portable generator, and anything else we thought we might need to get started into the storage units last, so everything was right out where we could get at it.
As I mentioned before, the bank had agreed to bring back all the stuff that they had removed. We were given one final chance to view the property before s signing the papers and taking ownership. I think we did our walk thru at 11:00 am, and our closing wasn't until 1 pm. When we got to the house, the property management people were there returning all the stuff. They had already unloaded the wood stove, the backup generator, inverters, and the pallet of 24 brand-new batteries. The downside to all this is, all they did was put everything in the kitchen. And I mean everything, in a pile, in the kitchen. The refrigerator/freezer had been removed, but there had been no mention of the bank having it in storage. We assumed, and it did end up being the case, that the previous owners had taken the fridge with them when they left. We had already bought a new energy star-rated fridge, which was scheduled to be delivered that same day. The only catch being the propane backup generator, which weighs around 800lbs, was now sitting in our kitchen in the very spot that the fridge needed to go. Thankfully, the appliance delivery guys helped us lift the generator and get a couple of carpet pieces under it so that we could slide it around on the hardwood floor. They brought in the new fridge, and off to closing we went.
It was a pretty standard closing, other than the fact that we were buying the place outright, with no financing.
By mid-afternoon, we were back at our new and frigid home.
My wife and daughter made a few trips to the storage unit to get our bed, some sleeping bags, and any other stuff we thought we might need to get started. On our way home from closing, we stopped at a Tractor Supply and bought a pallet of those bio-brick sawdust blocks to burn in the wood stoves.
Ever seen a Toyota Tundra with a ton of wood in the back ??!!! The ironic part is, we sold our old house with an entire winter's firewood stacked in the basement. You just can't plan for everything.
I checked the chimney for obstructions and got the basement woodstove fired up. If you've never tried it, it was interesting to try to warm up a whole house that's been sitting unoccupied for years and now in single-digit temperatures. I also had a couple of those kerosene heaters that I put on the ground floor. The place started coming to life. There were many noises as things warmed up, and the frost went out of the wood. We busied ourselves setting things up. We got our bed upstairs and started moving things. The whole moving-in process took a long time. We had gotten rid of a lot of stuff, but you never really know how much stuff you have until you move.
On to the great power fiasco…
I had been calling all around, trying to get someone to start a propane contract with us and deliver a tank. It's not like it was a new setup All the lines were run, and there was a large cement pad for the tank to sit on. They say "cash is king" but I found that it just doesn't matter to some companies. Finally, after a week or so, I found a small company just starting up, and they were glad to have our business. They delivered the 500Gal tank and filled it. The owner said it would be about a week before his one tech guy could check everything and complete the hookup. Not the best situation, but at least we were moving forward. We use propane a lot here. It runs our backup generator, water heater, dryer, stove/oven, etc. We knew we'd have all this stuff going eventually, but we'd just have to get by.
We have a family friend named Tom, who has been living on solar power for years to at least some extent. He had designed and built his system (and its many incarnations) over the years. Tom was instrumental in putting our power system back together. We were fortunate to find all the original tech manuals for the twin 2,400-watt inverter/chargers in the basement. Between the manuals, the length of all the battery connector cables, and the positions of all the microswitches on the inverters, we figured out how the original setup had been wired. It took the better part of a day to get all the new batteries in place, make all the connections, but the inverters back up and do the rest of the wiring. During this process, it became evident that the inverters had been removed with a pry bar, and handled pretty roughly by the property management crew, or as I came to refer to them, "the goon squad". The inverters had some broken micro switches, bent lugs, twisted covers, and looked pretty rough on close examination.
We wired up my small 4,200-watt portable generator temporarily to give us power for lights and stuff independent of the mains. I did this by making a double male-ended heavy extension cord.
(Disclaimer: This is a very DANGEROUS thing and not something you would want to use under any normal circumstances).
I plugged the generator into an outside outlet and was able to isolate the stuff I didn't want to power, by turning off the main, and several breakers. By doing this, I now had 110 power to most of the lights and outlets. This also gave us lights in the basement to complete the rest of the reinstallation. Once we got it all hooked up, we did several tests with a multimeter, making sure we hadn't made any mistakes, and we were ready for the big test. We powered down the small generator and removed the "death cord," and we began to bring things to life. We started with the 110 stuff, lights, outlets, ceiling fans, etc. Then came the first big test….Running water. (No big hurry) To Be Continued...