Building a Rainwater chicken waterer

We have built a LOT of chicken waterers in our years of chicken wrangling. They break, clog, or otherwise just become a pain to deal with. No matter the size, filling it is always irritating.

With that experience in mind, we set out to build an easy, affordable and quick to put together rain water chicken waterer.

The supplies

Note: that might not sound inexpensive to some – but bear in mind it has all be eliminated all water hauling for the chickens for about 9 months of the year and has eliminated the need to use well water for the same duration.

The process

Once the materials arrived, we simply laid out eight holes about 2″ up from the bottom of the barrel and drilled them (the drill bit size recommended comes with the packaging for the drinker cups).

Next, we screwed the cups in the filled the water up several inches above the cups to and let it sit a while to ensure there were no leaks.

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We then drilled a hole for the fill hose adapter that came with the rain barrel diverter and screwed in the adapter.

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We then took the waterer down to the coop where we installed the rain barrel diverter into the gutters of the coop. Per the directions, we installed this just a little bit above level with the rain barrel input hose. If it is too high, the overflow won’t easily flow back into the diverter. Too low and you won’t get any rain in your barrel. Installation was easy. Just make a cut in your gutter, slide the diverter on (requires some finagling) then trim down the excess gutter, insert

Installation was easy. Just make a cut in your gutter, slide the diverter on (requires some finagling) then trim down the excess gutter, insert it into the bottom of the diverter and re-attach all to the wall. Note: we found that this all worked best with some silicone caulk around the inside. Fiskars should really have designed this to slide INTO the gutter, not over it. Physics – duh!

 

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Easy diverter installation

 

Once all that was done, we simply trimmed down the hose to our desired length put the diverter into the ‘divert’ mode and waited for rain. What does that mean you ask? The inside flips over to direct all water down the spouting (ie. in the winter) or flipped the other way directs water first into the barrel. When the barrel is full, the back pressure of the water causes it to flow back into the diverter where it exits via the gutter.

The first mild rain filled the bucket half way. We’ve not watered our chickens by hand since the installation! We used our fingers to allow enough water to flow into each cup. From there the chickens figured it out quite quickly.

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Lessons learned

  • The Fiskars diverter works okay, but required caulking and some tweaking of the positioning to get the water flowing properly.
  • Take time to observe the water flowing into (hopefully) the barrel during a rain.
  • This won’t work when it begins to freeze, but sure saves labor and time until then!

Homestead uses for Thermacore panels

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Thermacore panels (these are 8′ x 24″)

Thermacore panels are the technical/trade name for insulated garage door panels. They have many valuable uses on a homestead or farm. At $.70/sqft (in our area), they are among the least expensive options for most cases where they can be used.

Thermacore panels are painted steel panels filled with about 1 – 1.5″ of solid foam. They have an Insulation value of about R-9 and because they’re steel, have the possible added benefit of being compatible with magnets. Because they’re metal, they cannot easily decay and are easily cleaned with a power washer, etc. Remember… these are made for garage doors.

The panels are easily cut with standard power tools. We use a circular saw with an old blade installed in reverse. We make finer cuts for fixtures and such with a jigsaw with a long metal blade.

Walls

One of our favorite uses for Thermacore panels is for finishing walls in outbuildings, basements, etc. Compared to installing (and more importantly, finishing) drywall  (“sheet rock”) which takes several cycles, Thermacore panels go up very, very fast by screwing them to the framing.

With some forethought in framing, they are very structurally sound and stiffen up walls much more than drywall does. If one is okay with the white-colored finish, the attached panels provide a surface that needs no other finishing aside from a wipe down with a damp rag.

We prefer to install the panels vertically because of the paneled appearance of the panels. When doing so, we have found it adequate to fasten with self-tapping hex screws (3″) at the top and bottom and if possible, the middle of the panels. Usually this requires about a dozen screws per panel. This also sometimes requires horizontal blocking in wall framing About half way up the wall.

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Thermacore panels used as wall sheeting

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These panels are about 1.25″ thick. There is a .25″ gap between the panel and lumber above because it has not yet been fastened tightly.

If  installed horizontally, just fasten to the wall studs as you would with drywall. The panels are designed with edges that slightly overlap the next panel creating a nice fit.

Thermacore panels make great wall sheeting for barns, mudrooms, root cellars, rabbitries, some animal stalls (and with great care to handle sharp edges!) and more.

Shelves

Thermacore panels are very strong. We’ve seen them used for canning shelves, with vertical supports about every four feet. We use them ourselves for barn shelving that hold the largest of plastic tubs filled with all manner of supplies. They are very quick to put up and much less expensive per square foot than a comparable lumber solution. Further, since they’re metal, they’re more forgiving to spills and such.

Raised Garden Beds

Thermacore panels make for very quick and easy garden beds. We’re able to secure them locally in 21″ and 24″ widths and just about any length. Married with 4″ x 4″ corner posts and decorative caps and you have some very nice (and deep) raised garden beds. These panels are metal, and as such could potentially rust if areas without paint are exposed to ground moisture for long durations, but we feel that is less likely to happen compared to wooden beds that would likewise rot.

See an example here: http://yourhouseandgarden.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Garage-doors-into-raised-garden-bed.jpg

Cold frames

Thermacore panels would also make great (though opaque) walls for cold frames. Since these panels have an insulation value of R-9, they provide a very easy means for insulating the sides of a cold frame. Too tall for your liking? Just bury them a few inches into the ground.

Ceilings & Ceiling Sheeting

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Thermacore workshop ceiling

As with wall sheeting, Thermacore panels make for a very fast ceiling solution. Our bank barn has a lower level that is exposed the elements. Thermacore panels attached to the underside of the floor above not only insulate the floor above, but also prevent bees, birds, snakes, and mice from utilizing the space between the rafters.

Inexpensive plant edging

We were growing tired of trying to keep the grass encroaching on our blueberries, so we decided we needed to surround them with some sort of barrier. Unfortunately, most of the barriers sold at big box stores were over-priced and not the most fun to install.

In our neck of the woods, barrels like the one below can be purchased for about $8 used.

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Photo from bascousa.com 

We had the idea of taking a barrel, cutting off the top and bottom, and then cutting the barrel into slices horizontally. Doing so, we were able to get about 6-8  slices, leaving us planting rings that were roughly 3-4″ tall and about 24″ in diameter. The size was just right for surrounding our blueberries.

We then lightly tapped these into the ground and mulched only within the planter ring. The rest of the patch we filled with left-over decorative gravel from our kitchen garden bed project.

The results looked like this:

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Here is a slightly better angle:

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Ten Reflections of a seasoned chicken wrangler

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We’ve been keeping chickens for nearly a decade (9 years actually) – certainly a lot less than some, but enough to be ‘seasoned’ in the same sense that a cast iron skillet could be considered so after as much time.

We’ve had a lot of failures and frustrations along the way, but enough enjoyment, fresh eggs, pasture-raised meat, and joy to offset the negative times.

Below are just some observations and reflections from our experiences.

Chickens don’t smell so nice.

I love Joel Salatin, but he must have some secret sauce up his sleeve, or just really dull olfactory senses. We’ve given our chickens premium food, premium space, good housing and more, and you know what? They wreak!  In fact, aside from their closest competitors for stink – rabbits, chickens are just about the smelliest of farm animals we’ve owned.

Meat chickens even more so and among meat chickens,  Cornish-X meat chickens are the worst for offensive odors. I am sure that some have figured out how to reduce this, but it must require entirely free-ranging chickens.

Roosters can be an enjoyable part of your flock.

Operative expression: “can be”. A rooster with a nice disposition will help create a pretty calm and healthy flock. Hens seem to enjoy having them around, and their ‘shepherding’ skills can be very helpful and healthy for the flock. We enjoy the crowing and quite honestly, don’t get why people don’t.

It is hard to have too many hens, but very easy to have too many roosters!

Though we enjoy roosters, you can have too many, and when you do – it’s like an MMA cage fight to the death – only over time. Roosters will edge out the weaker roosters after a protracted period of rooster gang wars. It can be brutal to behold.

Chickens die, get used to it.

I don’t mean that chickens die more often that other animals, but they aren’t immortal. While we like to keep healthy animals, sometimes a chicken just isn’t long for this world. As a homesteader, I don’t want weak chickens in my flock. If they survive illness, great – that’s a good trait to have, but if they don’t and perish, it’s best to just move on (assuming you’re not seeing huge mortality rates). Chickens are not the hardiest of creatures, though some more so than others. When a chicken appears to be on death’s door, it probably is. Decide if you’ll hasten the process, or spend your time trying to nurse it back to health.

Hens spend their lives providing you eggs, don’t turn them into soup.

Old hens are hardly tasty and in our opinion, not worth the effort to cull for food. They spend their lives providing eggs for our family, the least we could do is allow them to live out their days in peace. Yes, they will consume food. Yes, it might not be economical. For us, it feels like the right thing to do. They don’t generally stop laying eggs entirely, they just slow down some. They’re can still contribute, they’re just beyond their prime. We wouldn’t support killing the senior citizens among us because they stop working, why hens?

Low egg production is ok!

We don’t light our coops during the colder darker months. Give the chickens a break. Get more of them to increase production. Again, not economical, but also allows chickens to have the break their creator designed them to have.

Happy chickens = more eggs.

We notice that when we withhold table scraps to the chickens, we get less egg production, despite the layers have plenty of high-quality feed and water. They just enjoy table scraps! When we have pigs, they often get the bulk of table scraps, and the chickens protest by providing less eggs.

Meat chickens are worth the hassle.

Despite being a messy and stinky job, raising meat chickens has been worth. We’ve done from 50-100 a year for our family and the results have been great. It’s a very economical means to get high-quality meat for the freezer or canning.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small investment that yields big results.

Give chickens animal protein occasionally.

Chickens enjoy meat. If you can manage to give them some to eat, they’ll be happier. Don’t worry, they won’t turn into aggressive attack chickens. If you raise other meat, you probably have the opportunity to feed them some of the byproducts of doing so. Ofal (heart, lungs, livers, insides, etc) can be a real treat for chickens, and make use out of something many have few other uses for.

Chickens need air.

Duh, all animals need air, right? Yeah, but chickens need more flowing air than most animals and may seem counter-intuitive to new chicken owners. Chickens don’t have the most robust of respiratory systems (one reason they get sick relatively easy). Don’t build an airtight coop believing your little chickies are gonna be nice and snug – you’ll just be subjecting them to harsher conditions. Allow for some airflow, particularly at or above their head level where they’re roosting.

Are we “Survivalists”?!

Did the title of this post catch your attention? Good. Many, many people sneer at the thought of being a “survivalist” – or “prepper” and not without cause. Many are turned off by paranoid proclamations of doom and gloom and the accompanying encouragement to run for the hills, store up food and water, heavily arm themselves, etc.

Then there is the sustainable homesteading crowd. For some, those words might conjure up images of venturing out west on a covered-wagon train, eating cornbread and beans over a campfire as you hand-clear a hundred acres of raw wilderness with an ax and saw.

“Sustainable Homesteading” – might conjure up other pictures of a bunch of dreadlock-sporting granola types howling at the moon and dancing around a drum circle.

We sometimes get curious looks or inquiries about ourselves. Are we “preppers” or “survivalists” or “homesteaders”, “farmers” perhaps? It’s a difficult question to answer without some explanation.

We would propose that if one were to pursue one of these things, in time they’ll become the others – at least in part.

Now we’re not saying that if you try growing your own vegetable garden, you’ll end up living in a bunker with 25 years of freeze-dried food.  It’s just that the path to being sustainable followed far and long enough, is likely to result in you being a pretty good survivalist whether you want to or not. Likewise, the journey of a well-thought-out survivalist is going to eventually lead toward a life of sustainability.

Why is this?

Because you cannot be/do one without the other. In order to be sustainable, one must be able to provide for a need indefinitely without exhausting all their resources in doing so. So for example, to be sustainable regarding food, one must be able to provide an ongoing, inexhaustible source of food without exhausting their means to keep doing so.

Hmmm… sounds exactly what a prepper or survivalist might ponder as they think about how to indefinitely provide food for themselves and their family in the event of an emergency or disaster. In order to truly “survive” some scenarios, one would need to do so sustainably, or their survival would have an expiration date. That wouldn’t make for a very good survivalist!

To be survivable long-term requires being sustainable. If one is sustainable, they’ve provided continuity for doing what needs to be done for as long as it needs to be done. Those people, whether they like the name or not – are in some senses “survivalists”.

At the deepest level, someone pursuing sustainability is doing so because they want themselves or their environment to flourish despite whatever else is going on in the world. Nevertheless, many (including ourselves) don’t consider ourselves “survivalists”. We would prefer the term “thrivalists”, because what we do, we do to thrive, not to survive. What is the point of the latter without the former?

Why bring all this up? Because the journey to simple, by nature, is a movement toward being sustainable. This entails reducing dependencies on systems and resources that are without and managing those within to the best of your ability. If we can’t keep doing what we do, we haven’t accomplished all that much.

A survivalist might do things because they expect systems to fail. A thrivalist does them because a life that is not contingent upon these things is not enslaved to such things.

The great news is, as one becomes more sustainable, they’re prepared for times if and when those systems and resources ever become unavailable. That’s exactly what the survivalist hopes to accomplish and that is what the sustainable homesteader aims for as well. For us, we’ll stick with “thrivalist” since no other term does justice to our intentions.

 

A reasonable plan toward residential solar or other renewable energy

Solar Installed

Solar energy is expensive. It currently costs more than grid energy, leaving many people to conclude it isn’t worth it. If your motivation to choose alternative energy is mostly to save money – you won’t get that outcome with this information.

At present – establishing alternate energy at home has not yet reached financial parity with grid power. For most of the general public, an investment in your own private renewable energy infrastructure is going to be more expensive, or at best break even. There are exceptions – like those with exceptional wind or hydro capacity on their property, however, most people won’t be the exception.

So…. is saving money the only reason to pursue renewable energy? No! Here are some other solid reasons for doing so:

  • More energy independence
  • Emergency power
  • Energy reliability or performance
  • Earth stewardship (* this is a nuanced idea)

In our case, we work from home – one of us as a web technology consultant. Lost power = lost work = lost income. Rather than have to pack up and go to town every time the power goes out (which is often not possible due to weather), it made good sense to install solar for backing up the business.

For those just interested in living on the cheap – stop reading this now. Other than some tips that might help you save 10-15% on your current energy bill, you’re not going to find much else below.

Below is a plan for “baby steps” one can take toward obtaining and using renewable energy. This is a plan that requires on-going, incremental changes and investments rather than a large, all-up-front expenditure. This approach delays the more significant costs until they are the only remaining ‘next step’. Doing so helps avoid financing these steps and also allows one to learn along the way and revise the plan as necessary. This should ultimately make renewable energy less expensive to implement in the long run but still allows a family to benefit along the way.

The following steps will allow your household to accomplish energy reliability, security, and sustainability in increasing measures over a period of time. You could compress these steps into months, or stretch them out over years of decades. Anyone can follow this approach in a time-frame that meets their budget.

Step 1: Measure and Monitor Usage ($)

If you don’t know how much energy you consume, you cannot adequately determine what you will need from a renewable energy system.  Likewise, if you cannot adequately size an emergency backup generator system without knowing what you need. You could easily spend an unnecessary $1-2k on too large of a generator sheerly for not knowing the loads you will need to support.

Measuring consumption is uber important! Our first step doing so was to purchase a Kill-a-watt (~$40). This allowed us to see what individual appliances were consuming, find and remove “ghost loads” (things that consume power when not “on” or “in use”) and gain insights into our usage.

Next, we invested in a system called The Energy Detective (TED). TED allows us to measure all our energy use for the entire household, down to the second. We have a large and complex household electrical system, so we got the TED version that monitors up to 4 panels. Our cost was around~$500, but a typical cost would be between $150-$299. Though we’ve not tried it, Neurio, another home energy monitor looks promising.

Some may already be balking at such expenses. Let me encourage you with this: It is typical that when a household starts to monitor usage to see a resulting decrease in use of around 10%.  Awareness of use causes changes to behaviors and patterns. What is 10% of your electric bill and at what point is a $200-299 investment worthwhile to make such an investment?

Step 2: Reduce consumption (FREE to $)

With an awareness of how you are using energy comes an almost-automatic reduction in usage. When you begin to associate dollars and cents with things being on/off, you start to change your behavior. You also start to consider what can be done to reduce your usage.

Get this idea in your mind now… By reducing your consumption immediately, you are ultimately reducing the size (and therefore cost) of a renewable energy system. Make sense?

There are three main ways once reduces consumption:

  1. Changing behavior
  2. Managing use
  3. Replacing offenders

Changing behavior – These are mostly simple changes – like choosing to run your dryer less or at times that are less expensive. Or, even better, get a clothesline – one of the best and cheapest solar appliances ever invented! Changing behavior might also entail turning lights off when you leave a room, turning your computer off when you’re not using it. That sort of stuff. These changes are usually zero cost.

One idea we really like is taking one day a week to have an ‘energy sabbath’ of sorts. Turn off / unplug everything non-critical and focus on togetherness. You could stand to save 15% of your power bill, reduce pollution, and be better off for the time spent together.

Managing use – Similar to changing behavior, managing use includes establishing minimal devices that manage how and when power is consumed. An example might be power strips that turn off peripheral devices  (printer, DVD player, XBOX) when a related main device such as a tv or computer is turned off. These require minimal investment but reduce consumption.  Another great example is the addition of low-cost means of reducing electric energy consumption. This might entail installing (and using!) a clothesline (can you tell we’re fans of clotheslines?) or installing a wood stove to rely less on electric heat.

Replacing Offenders – Though not always necessary, sometimes the best investments one can make in their energy consumption can entail replacing appliances or devices that inefficiently use energy. Still using a fridge or freezer from twenty years ago? Upgrading those appliances to Energy Star, or otherwise, more efficient versions will offer your more payback in the long run than keeping them. The same can be true of water heaters, furnaces, etc. Again… remember that the lower your energy consumption now, the smaller the renewable energy system you will need, and you may potentially have more funds to dedicate to such from paying less for electricity.

Step 3: Isolate critical loads ($$)

You are going to quickly discourage yourself away from backup or renewable energy if you try to size either system based on your total electricity use. Forgeddaboudit! Instead, determine what are your “critical loads” and seek to first back them up (ie. with a generator) and secondly, later on, to run them from renewable energy. You’ll thank us that you took this approach if you do since you’ll have much better understanding of how things work.

This step involves auditing all your electrical circuits to determine which ones are critical or essential. For example, if you live in the country, this might include your well pump, septic pumps, etc. For most people, it will include a refrigerator and/or freezer. It should include some lights. Here’s a great way to determine this… Carefully consider what your “must haves” are in the event of a power outage of seven days and place every circuit in one of three columns: “Don’t need”, “Nice to have”, “Must have”. If you take our “energy sabbath” idea to heart and try this throughout the year, you should already have an idea what things you must have operational.

Once you’ve done this, you should begin to physically isolate those critical loads. This is often done in either a generator panel or a sub-panel that is wired into/alongside your main electric panel. The goal here is two-fold. 1) Separate the circuits and 2) provide switchable backup power to these circuits. This is work best done by professionals or very capable DIYers.

Our critical loads, isolated in their own sub-panel(s)

Our critical loads, isolated in their own sub-panel(s)

In the future, if/when you get to renewable energy, it will be far easier to do when your physical infrastructure has organized these critical loads into one place.

Furthermore, measuring your critical loads (ie. with a TED or other energy monitor) is also easier at this point. This point is worth emphasizing. When your loads are isolated – even if not yet backed-up, you can now measure them independently and begin to do so right away. Measure them for a few months, or a year or even better a full year. You will gain valuable information needed to accurately size a backup power solution and/or an alternative energy solution.

Why? Because you will gain information such as your persistent, average, and peak electrical loads on your critical circuits. With this information in hand, you can determine the exact size of a backup generator, solar panels, wind turbine, batteries, etc. You will also be able to determine what items from your “Nice to haves” might be able to be moved to your “critical loads”.

Take it to the next level: Energy consumption is meausured  (in North America) in kWh (killowatt hours). That is a measurement of “watts hours” (Wh) divided by 1000. A Watt Hour (Wh) is the measurement of watts consumed x the hours used. If you had a 100 w bulb on for 24 hours a day (100 W x 24h = 2400 Wh). To get the kWh, divide this by 1000 (2400 Wh / 1000 = 2.4 kWh). Add up the watt hours of all the appliances you want to support with solar, and you’ll get your total Watt Hours. Just don’t overlook that not all appliances run constantly, but at intervals throughout the day. A simple enery monitor such as a Kill-a-watt does all this work for you.

Watts is a measurement of  Amps x Volts. So if you have an appliance that uses 15 Amps and a voltage of 12oV it will use 1800 Watts. Now… if you then run thata 3 hours a day, what do you suppose the Wh might be? If you guessed 5400, you’re correct. And in kWh? Yes, 5.4 kWh!

These numbers are important for all conversations pertaining to sizing backup or renewable energy.

These steps require the help of a qualified professional and WILL cost money – perhaps several thousand dollars. However, they are a worthwhile investment into your future and will save you potentially thousands of dollars wasted on over-sized solutions later on.

Step 4: Backup Essentials ($$)

When you isolate your critical loads, it is now far easier to back them up. Usually, this is done with a generator, some sort of physical transfer switch, and a generator input receptacle. If you’ve done the steps above, especially monitoring, you will know what your critical/essential loads require and what size generator is necessary to meet those requirements.

Once again (unless combined with the previous step), the services of a qualified professional electrician are required here. The cost is not trivial, but not unbearable either. You will need to purchase a generator, transfer switch, and a means of connecting the generator to the transfer switch. Additionally, you will need to secure the services for connecting all these things together.

When you are done, you will have the means to run your critical electrical circuits on backup/emergency generator. You will also then have much of the infrastructure in place for eventually powering these same loads with renewable energy.

How we did it: When we were at such a phase, we used a simple double pole, double throw (DPDT) switch that had two inputs – one from our main service panel, the other from a generator outlet. When we needed to run the generator, we’d move the switch into the “generator” position, start the generator, and be on our way. When we were finished with the need, we’d shut down the generator, return the switch to the “Utility” power position, and resume normal life. This is not automatic but is also very affordable.

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Portable Generator outlet - just plug in the generator and flip the switch when needed.

Portable Generator outlet – just plug in the generator and flip the switch when needed.

Step 5: Add Batteries, Inverter, Charge Controller ($$$)

Now it’s time to determine how much energy you want to store. This is done by multiplying your critical loads by the number of hours you want to operate them by batteries, factoring in the percentage of the battery that can be used without reducing their longevity. For example, if your critical loads required 10 kWh/day, and you wanted two days, and you wanted to never draw down more than 20% of your batteries, you would need to have enough batteries so that 20% of their combined stored energy amounted to 10kWh per day for two days (or 20kWh).

In industry terms, the number of days you wish to be able to run without recharging your batteries is referred to as “Days of Autonomy” or “DOA”.

Here again, knowing your real needs/usage (through monitoring) is critically important. Otherwise, the best you can do is guess and your guess is likely to be way too large (expensive) or way too small (inadequate).

This may seem an odd step to some. Why install batteries before any sources are producing power?

Here are some reasons for doing so:

  1. They are the infrastructure for off-grid or grid-interactive solar or wind applications. If you never want to be able to use your renewable energy when the utility power is unavailable, you don’t need this step. However, what sense does it make to have potentially tens of thousands of dollars in renewable energy and not be able to use it when you need it most – in a utility outage? Believe it or not, most home solar installations in our country are what are called “grid-tie” systems and cannot operate, or operate at a greatly reduced capacity during a utility failure.
  2. With batteries and a generator in place, you can operate a generator only long enough to re-charge your batteries during an outage. For example, if it took two hours to charge your batteries but they could support your critical loads for 24 hours, you’d only need to run the generator for two hours every day vs the entire length of an outage. In short, batteries extend generator fuel.
  3. Optionally, using the right equipment, you can program your system to use grid power or battery power based on peaks and lows of cost. This can be done by re-charging batteries using grid power when rates are low and using generator power (in the case of automatic backup generators) when grid power is at peak rates.
Solar batteries can be heavy - this one is 2200lbs

Solar batteries can be heavy – this one is 2200lbs!

Step 6: Add Renewable Collectors ($$-$$$)

With all the above done and with the proper equipment, you can add in renewable energy products such as solar panels, wind turbines, or micro-hydro. It’s important to know how/what you intend to do at this step before purchasing the equipment from Step 5 because you need to ensure everything plays nicely together.

With renewable energy sources, you are probably not going to save a lot of money. In our case, we probably save $15-$20/month. That’s nice and all, but not even close to worth the investment if it were for financial gain. What you will gain is “fuel extension” and additional (redundant) source of energy.

Step 7: Learn, learn, learn

Owning and maintaining equipment such as above is NOT simple, hence one of the reasons we’ve avoided blogging about it 🙂 Nevertheless, it is doable! To get the most out of the experience, invest time into learning everything you can about these subjects.

 

First Days with the Chest Freezer as Fridge

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All the parts and pieces finally fell into place for us to setup our Chest Freezer as a Fridge. For those new to this thread, we had purchased a new Energy Star Chest Freezer from Lowes, an external Thermostat Control from Amazon, and put them together to have a super-efficient refrigerator.

We hooked the thermostat up in about 5 minutes. It consisted of unwinding the semi-stiff metal thermostat probe wire, running it up over the back of the freezer, down into the freezer, and across the back. We hid ours underneath a built-in rail used for hanging baskets, so it’s not visible or in danger of getting damaged.

The Thermostat

Once installed, we simply turned the built-in thermostat to it’s max setting, then plugged the freezer into the external thermostat, and then the external thermostat into the wall. The Johnson Controls Thermostat’s plug has a female receptical for the freezer to plug into.

It ran for about 3o minutes to reach our desired temperature of about 37℉, then shut off the power. From then on, it’s run less than 10 minutes per hour.

This AM, with the Kill-A-Watt attached for 12 hours, the unit has used .22 kWh of power. That’s quite impressive and at today’s prices equals a few nickels over $15 for the year if this stays consistent! That’s a whopping big difference from our old fridge which cost $115-$120/yr! We had thought that we’d save up to 95% from what we’ve seen others achieve and we’re currently realizing a savings of 87%. That’s acceptable 😉

How does it work for the family?

The new "Fridge"

So far, everyone really digs the setup. At 14.5 cubit feet, it’s quite a lot of space, it has way more room in it than our previous fridge, and everything is very easy to get to, except by our 4-yr old, which is a bonus since we are always telling her to get out of the fridge! We could literally store twice as much food as previous and still pay 80% less for the power. Not bad, eh? Looking and reaching top-down into the fridge is nice too. We have a bird’s eye view of everything and it’s all easy to reach. Hopefully the pictures give some idea of the setup.

Is it worth it?

A few people have commented that this is not much of a savings. If you just bought a brand-new Energy Star fridge, that might be the case. I wouldn’t go this route had we had a new, efficient fridge (at least not yet). However, if you’re in need of a new fridge, consider this for a minute.

Cost Comparison

New Energy Star Fridge New Chest Freezer as Fridge
Cost of Unit $900 $450**
Electric Cost 5yr. $275 $75
Total $1175 $525

The above prices for the fridge are based on what we’ve seen available in the size range that we would need. **Price includes extended warranty of 4 years and price of thermostat!

That should put things into perspective. Perhaps some people don’t care about saving $750, but we do! Further, our savings will continue year after year. So if you already need a new refrigerator, consider this option, otherwise, find another way to save $30-50/yr.