Off Grid Appliances: Everything You Need to Know
Unlike 20-30 years ago, living off-grid today is a real possibility. If you are attracted to the idea of cooking on a wood stove and heating your off-grid home with it, you can read n to discover how exactly to do that. Besides that, we will see what other off-grid appliances you can purchase, and how you can install some of them by yourself.
The fact is that the reality of living is becoming less comfortable. Long queues, long commutes, and sky-high energy bills. This is our reality. Many people need to take a break from all this, so they invest in a small solar system, a piece of land, and build an off-grid cabin there. The reality suddenly becomes much better.
If you, too, are attracted to the ideas of self-sufficiency, producing your own energy and food, preparing your firewood for the winter, and many more, you will certainly enjoy reading this article. Your off-grid home could become a reality in no time.
When planning for an off-grid home, organization and a systematic approach are the key. Without these two, you will be lost in the woods, and with them, you will be off-grid living within a year (depending on the size of your home). Choosing the right piece of land and the right type of home for you will save months, so make sure to do it beforehand.
Once the home is there, it is time to equip it with off-grid appliances and furniture. Off-grid appliances today are varied and come from many different manufacturers. Unlike a year back, you can also choose the type of energy source that the appliances will use, and you will be able to enjoy all the comforts that life has to offer. This time, with a better view.
On the other side of the spectrum are preppers. You never know when the next snowstorm is going to hit. Being totally dependent on the grid for electricity and natural gas piping for heating and residential water use is simply not enough for everyone. If nothing else, history teaches us that being prepared can save lives.
The winter of 2021 killed several people in Texas. A warm state in the south, Texas was hit by a once-in-a-lifetime storm, which completely rebooted the grid and left millions to care for themselves. This does not happen in an off-grid living setting. A simple solar system can provide electricity for the most basic of needs, and wood cook stoves will ensure that your home has some warm food and is at a comfortable temperature.
What are Off-Grid Appliances?
In all of the hassle that has happened in Texas, those with off-grid appliances seemed to have been untouched by everything that was happening around them. Indeed, off-grid appliances are perfect for off-grid living in remote areas, but they work even better (and save money) when you are on the grid. Whatever your reasons may be, choosing off-grid appliances will save energy, natural gas, and money.
Off-grid appliances are special appliances that feature extra insulation and super-low energy use. Almost all appliances can be made as an off-grid counterpart. You will barely notice any difference in how well they do their job, although you may have to be ready to make some compromises. An electric water heater, for example, uses a lot of power, so being in an off-grid home may mean shorter showers. If you are OK with this, let’s head on and learn as much as we can about these appliances.
List of Off-Grid Appliances
First things first. Before you start looking for off-grid appliances, see which appliances you already have in your home. Most of them are used daily, such as in the oven, and the electric stove. The refrigerator runs every day too, and so does the TV. However, as the list of appliances gets longer, you will see that you have many appliances that you may not actually need. A toast press, for example, is not used very often, so you may not need to have one in your off-grid home.
By thinking this way, you will cut down on the natural gas and electricity that you need. This will mean longer times before filling up that propane or natural gas tank. Always remember that completely off-grid living means that some sacrifices have to be made.
Here is a list of appliances commonly found in US households:
- Major appliances:
- Water heater,
- HVAC unit,
- AC unit,
- Mechanical ventilation,
- The stove,
- The oven,
- Freezer (especially chest freezer),
- Small appliances and devices:
- Coffee maker,
- Hot drawer,
- Media center,
- Gaming Consoles
- Desktop computer,
- And many more.
The thing is that not all of these are essential, and by choosing the appliances that are necessary and Energy-star certified, you will be able to save a ton of money and energy over several years. Another added bonus to many of these is that off-grid appliances are made to last much longer than regular appliances, as they are heavy-duty and made to withstand temperature extremes.
The heart of every home is the kitchen, and the heart of every kitchen is the stove. As you may know already, stoves can operate on both electricity and natural gas. In off-grid living conditions, you may want to opt for a gas stove, as they can be quite large consumers of electricity. Unlike electricity, you can fill up the natural gas tank at most gas stations.
A gas stove or a gas range is the best example of an off-grid stove. With a setup like this, you will be able to save vast amounts of electricity, plus cook like a pro. Gas ranges allow for more precise temperature control. Just make sure you choose a type that does not require electricity to start up, as you will need to supply that electricity yourself. Pilot lights are super-handy, but will consume a lot of gas over the lifetime of the gas range.
Wood Fueled Stoves
However, natural gas stoves, ovens, and ranges still take a lot of gas to run. If you do not want to be running back and forth to the gas station every couple of days, there is a really simple solution: the wood stove. Although less practical, a wood stove can be a great source of cooking heat and a great source of heat for the wintertime.
Preparing the firewood can be a bit of a neck pain, but this off-grid appliance is unbeatable when it comes to the heat it gives off and the versatility of uses. In fact, a wood stove is also a great way to help reduce your carbon footprint, as the wood that is cut down will naturally reestablish itself in several years’ time. This is, of course, under the assumption that the firewood you use comes from responsibly managed forests.
The heat that a wood stove gives off is a big plus during wintertime, especially as it helps heat the space. However, that same heat coming off this off-grid stove can pose significant issues during summertime, as the heat will stay indoors. This can make your AC work extra hard to keep the home cool and is not the best solution for all. The solution seems to be building a separate room, accessible both from the house and the outside where the stove will be placed.
A refrigerator is an appliance that we cannot and should not try to do without. It keeps the food cool and safe and saves a lot of money in doing so. Just imagine having to purchase groceries every day because the lettuce has gone bad or because the eggs are past their prime. This is simply unfeasible for many, so you should be aware that there are off-grid refrigerators. There are even two types of them:
- DC electric refrigerator (connects to direct current), and
- Propane refrigerator.
DC Electric Refrigerator
Off-grid refrigerators generally do not need a lot of electricity. One great example is a DC electric refrigerator, which uses around 30% less energy to keep your groceries cool when compared to a standard on-grid fridge. A DC electric refrigerator uses the DC voltage, which means you can connect it straight to your batteries, saving potentially thousands of dollars on an inverter. There will be some limits, though, as a DC fridge may not be able to cool as much of your groceries in a 24-hour period or it is a smaller size.
Still, a solution like this is one of the best off-grid appliances. It is so good that most RV owners actually own a refrigerator like this. Living off-grid does not have to mean being less comfortable for you.
A propane refrigerator, on the other hand, uses a coolant, just as your regular fridge does. The thing is that a fridge like this actually uses heat to keep your groceries cool. It burns propane and is more difficult to install than a DC fridge, so you may want to be careful if you are installing it on your own. Off-grid refrigerators running on propane also need the fuel (propane gas) replenished every once in a while. They will use anywhere between 0.5 to 2 lbs. Of propane per day.
A freezer may be similar to a fridge, but the temperature it keeps the food at is not. For this reason, your freezer will use more power to freeze the groceries, but not as much to maintain them at that temperature. The thing is that you do not open the freezer door as often, so this already energy-efficient appliance does not have to work as hard.
As many off-grid homeowners do their own gardening and strive towards self-sufficiency, their off-grid system can include more than one freezer. If this is the case with you, you should know that they do not use much power to begin with. Most self-sufficient households will use the second freezer only during summer, to store food that should be pickled for the wintertime. During winter, when there is little light and energy, the second freezer is already empty, and – unplugged.
There are off-grid dishwashers that use very little electricity. The thing is that any dishwasher can be used in an off-grid setting, for as long as you know how to use it. The truth is that doing the dishes manually uses more water and more energy (to heat the water and run the water pump) than washing them in the dishwasher. For this reason, search online stores or look for Energy-Star-certified dishwashers. You will be able to find at least a single model that uses very little energy.
Run it at low temperature, or try using the short cycles. Beware that certain wash cycles may not wash the dishes as well and repeating the entire wash cycle can use more energy than running it on a higher setting. For this reason, try out the different cycles and temperatures that your dishwasher has.
If you would like to go for an Eco+ version and reduce the impact you have on the planet, you should start purchasing eco-friendly, organic dishwasher tabs. These tabs are made from all-natural ingredients and will not pollute the planet. The bonus side is that you can even make them on your own – mostly with the ingredients you already have in your home.
An off-grid appliance that you definitely need is the washing machine. Living off-grid does not mean that you do not need to wash clothes and stay clean. However, most modern washing machines use a lot of power and a lot of water, so being able to make the right choices is likely to save both money and energy. Here are our recommendations.
When choosing a washing machine, firstly assess your exact needs. If you will be living in an RV, or a small cabin, you may want to go for a smaller model. Forget about those huge laundry machines, as they gulp down on energy, money, and space. Beware that the smaller the model, the more energy it will use for each lb of clothes you put into it, and try to find a balance.
The next thing to consider is how you would like it to be powered. If you have a moderate amount of clothes to wash, you may as well use a manual machine. These washing machines either have pedals or cranks that you can spin to do the clothes. The water is added manually, and there is no rinse cycle.
Furthermore, even if you decide to use an electric washing machine, beware of the type of loading system it has. The thing is that the best off-grid appliances such as washing machines will be able to save both water and energy. And this means one thing – a front-loading machine. They are also gentler on your clothes and have higher spin cycles than top-loading washing machines.
There is also another way to save when doing your laundry. Look for a washing machine that has both hot and cold water inlets. This way, you will be able to install a small solar collector (not a panel) on the roof, to produce hot water for you and will be able to use it to do your laundry. This way, you can save even more, as the spinning of the drum or the agitator itself uses only about 150-300 Watts of power.
Your water heater is the next important element to consider. As we all need to take showers, you should definitely include this on your list of off-grid appliances. However, making all the hot water you need and keeping it hot makes water heaters appliances with very low energy efficiency. This should say that being smart and intuitive about how you heat your water pays off dearly. Luckily, there are several ways to save on energy here.
Firstly, you should consider your hot water needs and try to figure out how much power you will need to heat the water via electricity. This may not be much, so you may be well-off with a few solar panels and a tank-type water heater. On the other hand, your needs may be very high, in which case you may need to invest in a natural gas or propane water heater.
In this case, you can combine several appliances that are fueled by the same type of fuel. This is a common case in off-grid appliances, as people try to make their use as simple as possible. Your water heater, gas range, and propane fridge can all use the same type of fuel, and provide more comfort to your off-grid lifestyle.
Alternatively, you could install solar collectors and let them do the hard work for you. This way, hot water will be abundant and you may not need to spend a dime to heat it during the summer months. However, if you live in a place with cold winters and would like to have hot water year-round (nothing better than a hot shower to stay warm during winter evenings), you should consider purchasing a hot coil for your wood stove.
This way, your wood cook stove, or just the regular wood stove can provide you with both hot food and hot water. This type of coil is relatively cheap and can be installed on the side or on the back of your wood cook stove. Beware that some wood cook stoves may lose a portion of their functionality if the hot coil you want to install goes on the inside of the stove. In this case, for example, your oven may not be able to bake as well anymore or reach very high temperatures.
By combining these two ways of getting hot water, solar collectors during summer and a wood stove during winter, you will be able to have hot water for a fraction of the total cost you would be paying otherwise. In any case, solar power is always the best option, but living up north can make utilizing it very difficult.
Benefits of Off-Grid Appliances
Your off-grid appliances have many benefits to offer you. The thing is that off-grid propane fridges, gas ranges, water heaters, and even off-grid electric appliances all use very little power, last a very long time, and save money for as long as you use them. This will significantly decrease your carbon footprint.
You will have to forget about some comforts that on-grid modern appliances provide you with, such as a TV screen on your fridge and coffee makers that keep coffee hot all day long. This is because the energy resources are sparse when off-grid and your propane tank should always last you as long as possible. Washing machines may not provide you with a very strong spin cycle and you should definitely forget about a dryer, as it uses several times more electricity than your washing machine does.
Drawbacks of Off-Grid Appliances
However, not all is perfect with off-grid appliances. The thing is that propane refrigerators do not work when there is no propane. An off-grid electric water heater may not get enough sunlight to provide you with all the hot water you need, and your tankless water heater may draw too much power to make the whole network secure and strong enough. You may not even be able to have an air conditioner without a proper upgrade to the energy system in your home.
Besides this, your gas ranges may run out of gas when your special dinner is halfway cooked. The air conditioner you have installed may draw too much power in relation to the solar power you’re getting in your area. All of these are some known drawbacks. Luckily, most of these issues can be avoided by means of good planning. This is the key to success in off-grid living.
Consult those around you to find out more about the struggles and the problems they faced when starting out their own off-grid journey. You should also look for pre-planned off-grid setups, and find some security in proven and tested setups. Most modern appliances would be included in a setup like that, so, if you can take the extra initial cost, you should go for it.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Off-Grid Appliances
So far, we’ve seen that there are off-grid appliances running on propane gas, solar power, and firewood. Regardless of how large they are and how much power they need, by being smart about your energy sources and paying attention to safety (to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, for example), you can make a system that works well and enables you to live off-grid. There are several factors to consider when designing such a system:
- Energy efficiency,
- Power draw,
- Water usage,
- Ease of maintenance and care,
- Required space, and
- Installation difficulty.
As a lot of off-grid homeowners also pay attention to their carbon footprint and are eco-conscious, we can expand the list of factors to consider. The expanded list would also include:
- The possibility to run on renewable sources,
- The availability of renewable biomass on the plot of land you’re buying,
- The ability to use several energy sources for a single application (for example, powering your water heater via solar collectors during the summer, and through biomass aerobic digestion in the wintertime; or heating your home using biomass furnaces),
- What the output is of different devices you use – a wood stove, for example, will leave you with a lot of wood ash, which is toxic in high concentrations, but is a great fertilizer once spread throughout your lawn or garden),
- The ability to generate power using wind turbines or solar panels,
- Whether you will be installing a battery bank or not,
- Do you have long periods with no rain – important for choosing the right type of water-efficient appliances – believe it or not, whether your rainwater catchment system is enough for your needs or not, depends more on how many gallons your toilet flushes than the water efficiency of your laundry machine.
The journey to self-sufficiency is an adventure in its own right but is definitely worth it.
Energy Efficiency and Power Draw
The energy efficiency and the power draw of your devices and appliances are very important considerations to make. For example, heating using electricity is very efficient, but also very costly. At the same time, heating your home using firewood will only be around 35-40% energy efficient, but will be much cheaper, and possibly, eco-friendly.
Whenever looking for a new appliance, always consider its energy efficiency. Luckily, you do not need to be an electrical engineer to do so, since all appliances sold in the US have an energy-efficiency rating label right on them. The closer the appliance’s energy-rating is to the A-rating, the less energy it will use. Some devices may even have a rating higher than A, such as A+, A++, or even A+++. Each plus added means that the appliance uses 10% less energy than the previous category.
When designing a power system for your off-grid home, you should pay attention to the overall consumption of electricity as well. A 300-Watt fridge that runs 4 hours a day will use 1.2 kWh of electric power every day, while a 200-Watt fridge that runs 8 hours a day will use more, despite having a lower power draw. Besides this, you should always pack more juice in your batteries than you actually need, since many appliances draw several times more power to start up than when running.
There are other ways to increase your energy efficiency. What you should do here is to determine the energy source and see what other ways there are that you can utilize it. Purchasing a washer and a dishwasher that both have hot and cold water inlets will save you a lot and improve the energy efficiency of your home. Beware that this only makes sense if you have power sources that are cheap or free and abundant, such as solar panels.
Water usage is another important factor to consider. Most washers and dishwashers have their water usage stated on the label. Beware that this is an estimation and that you should look for actual water usage per cycle, which can usually be found in the user manual. Always choosing eco-mode or the ‘green cycle’ can easily save you hundreds of gallons of water every year.
However, there is one more thing that you can do to reduce the water usage of your appliances even more. That is building good habits when it comes to running these appliances. Your dishwasher and your laundry washer should only run when full, as they will always use the same amount of water. The exceptions are modern appliances that can be used in an off-grid system which can determine how much laundry, for example, is in them and can adjust water usage based on how full they are.
Ease of Maintenance and Care
The ease of maintenance and care is yet another factor to consider. It is worthless purchasing a device at a high initial cost usually the case with off-grid devices), if you have to take care of it every day. The ease of access and care are important because they save you a lot of time. This is one of the reasons why many people do not want to purchase propane refrigerators – they do not have a self-defrost function. Thawing them can take well over an hour and will likely need to be done once a month.
Propane refrigerators and water heaters take up a lot of space. If you plan on living in an RV or a small home, you should carefully consider how much space you have available. Consider that most large appliances take up a lot of floor space. There are options to make them smaller and mount them on the wall. There are tankless water heaters that are installed on the wall, and even water heaters with a tank.
In any case, check your options before making your purchase. It is often more costly to correct mistakes than it is to do them right the first time. Whenever in doubt, check for online reviews and solutions or simply ask. You would be surprised by, for example, the number of laundry machines that take up very little space.
The installation difficulty is the final factor to consider before purchasing your new appliances. While most electric appliances are plug-and-play, some that require connections to propane or natural gas lines are more difficult (and dangerous!) to install. The most difficult on the list are air conditioning systems, which can take months of experience to master.
In general, the more connections that need to be made, the more difficult the installation. Installing an air conditioning unit, for example, takes at least three connections – one to the power and two for the coolant liquid to run through. A standard AC refrigerator, on the other hand, has a single plug – the most difficult thing is getting it into place.
Taking Care of Your Off-Grid Appliances
Taking care of your off-grid appliances is another important consideration to make before purchasing them. Taking care of them is not difficult or much different from taking care of your regular appliances. However, there may be a few things to consider to properly maintain your appliances:
- Your off-grid gas range may need extra care, especially if you use it frequently,
- Your energy-efficient fridges may need defrosting from time to time,
- Your off-grid water heaters may need checking on their gas levels once a week or so,
- Your tankless water heater may need periodical cleaning of the heat exchanger, especially if it is powered by propane or natural gas and if you live in a windy, dusty area,
- Your laundry machine may need to be full when a cycle is started – resulting in more years of service and a more financially-stable off-grid life for you,
- Your power source will take some work throughout the year, with the exception of solar panels, which only need to be checked and cleaned once a year,
- Your environmentally-friendly lights will cost more, to begin with but will cost less down the road.
These are only some of the important factors when it comes to caring for your off-grid life and appliances. Always check the manual and ensure that your home is as energy-efficient as it can be and that your appliances, such as your water heater, provide you with many years of service.
How Long Will a 20 lb Propane Tank Last for Heating?
A 20lb propane tank will last around 2 hours. Pay attention to the entire system that relies on propane to ensure you have enough gas. Your fridge, for example, can also be drawing on propane to power itself – with an average daily use of between 0.5 and 2 gallons. If your water heater is connected to a propane tank as well, it will last even shorter.
Is there a Solar-Powered Refrigerator?
Yes, there are solar-powered refrigerators. Namely, a DC refrigerator can be connected straight to a battery, without the need for an inverter. These fridges use less power than standard AC refrigerators. In addition to this, your DC refrigerator will easily improve the efficiency of your entire home, as there will be no energy loss in the inverter itself.
Is Propane Heat Cheaper than Electric?
Yes, propane heat is cheaper than electricity. Propane heat is also more suitable for off-grid applications, especially if you do not want to overinvest in energy storage options, such as solar batteries. Propane heat is also available on demand and is a perfect solution for tankless water heaters as well as space heating.
How Can I Stay Warm Without Power in Winter?
Even if you do not have power in winter, there are still ways to stay warm. You can invest in a propane heating solution, as well as purchase a wood stove. This way, you will still be dependent on fuel, but gas and firewood can be stored for long periods, sometimes even years, unlike electricity.
Living off-grid is a great way to save money, energy, and the planet. If you strive towards self-sufficiency, you should know that there are many appliances that you can use to make your home more energy-efficient. Different solutions, such as tankless water heaters, DC refrigerators and other major appliances for off-grid applications exist and are even likely to last you for a longer time.