Friday, February 12, 2016

On the Grid vs. Off the Grid - The Hybrid Solution

The true costs of living off the grid are a lot more than you would imagine. While the dream of being energy independent is a worthy goal, the costs associated with off the grid living may not be a feasible solution. With limited resources and even a more limited budget, the majority of people may be better off using a hybrid solution.

While we often complain about the utility services we receive, it is easy to forget that the costs for maintaining that service comes at a higher price than we realize. When going totally off the grid, the majority of these costs for maintenance and upkeep will shift from a utility service to you. Having a backup system in place to in case your current services are interrupted may be a better option. It is also important to remember that sheltering in place will generally be your best option in all but the most extreme circumstances.

The Hybrid Solution

While I would prefer to be totally off the grid, it is not economically feasible in my case. Your income can severely limit monetary resources to accomplish off the grid goals but can be done if you use a combination of current resources with good backup options in place. The best place to start is with satisfying your basic needs.

1.) Shelter

Normally your home will be the first and best option for shelter. There is a chance that it may become temporarily uninhabitable due to storm damage or other problems. While repairs are being made, even a simple storage shed can solve your needs for temporary shelter. In my case, I have a 12 X 20 storage shed that has a simple solar setup (approximately $600) that provides light and electricity independent of the grid. It also has a couple of sleeping lofts and is well insulated. If necessary, in an emergency it could act as a secondary shelter.

2.) Water

Water will be an absolute necessity. Drilling your own water well may be impractical and extremely costly. It may also be prohibited by your local utility. Fortunately, the simple collection of rainwater can solve most of your water needs. A rainwater catchment system (approximately $500) combined with a good filtration system can solve most of your water needs. In my case, our monthly average of 3 inches of rainfall can completely fill all our water storage barrels and provide us in excess of 500 gallons each month.

3.) Auxiliary Power

There is still a need for temporary power in order to keep certain appliances properly functioning. Your refrigerator and freezer won’t keep your food adequately without a continued source of power. In my case, I keep a small portable gas generator (approximately $400 + fuel) to use for just such an occasion. If a major power outage of any lengthy duration occurs, I can keep my appliances functioning long enough to cook and eat the food items they contain.

4.) Cooking

There are several other priorities that also need to be addressed in order to have off the grid backup for your current utility services. The easiest and probably the most affordable sources for heating and cooking needs are propane and wood. Gas and charcoal grills or wood stoves are affordable, require minimal maintenance and work extremely well in an off the grid or emergency situation. Most people quite often have one or both already available for use (I have both...can’t have too many backups).

5.) Heating

Small propane heaters ($200) can also provide emergency heat if needed during colder weather and are usually extremely portable. Most can even be used indoors with proper ventilation. You may even have a fireplace in your home that can provide an auxiliary heat source.

You don’t have to live off grid but can use simple and low cost options to provide alternatives to help you maintain your lifestyle in the event of an emergency.

Got hybrid solution?

Staying above the water line!


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Gear Review: Camelbak Big Chill

Summer temperatures in Texas can get a little warm.  I love my Tervis in the office, but it was just not convenient for my mountain bike. I decided to put the Camelbak Big Chill to the test.

For fun, I rounded up some of my other water bottles to get them in on the action.  They were not all the same size bottles, so I used a 16 oz cup to place the same amount of ice in each bottle.  I only placed ice in the bottles and just measured how long it took for the ice to melt in each bottle.

At the end of 1.5 hours, ice was still visible in all the bottles.  The single wall stainless steel dropped first.  Then, my basic water bottle melted.  An hour later, my non insulated Nagalene and Stanley were done.  Not surprisingly, the two insulated bottles were the only ones still with ice.

The Camelbak Big Chill made 4.5 hours before the ice had all melted.  It gave out while the Tervis still had several ice cube remnants visible.  

The test started at 11:00 AM and outside temperatures reached into the mid 90's.  The Camelbak Big Chill will not replace my Tervis around the BBQ pit, but it will definitely be my companion on my mountain bike excursions.  It might even replace my day hike water bottle.

Staying above the water line!


Friday, July 17, 2015

Gear Review: SOG Fasthawk Axe VS SOG Tomahawk Axe

Blade Length: 2 inches  Weight: 19 oz.  Overall Length:12.5 inches

Blade Length: 2.75 inches  Weight: 24 oz.  Overall Length:15.75 inches

Performed a quick field test on some oak firewood in the backyard.  Smaller oak limbs(4-6 inches in diameter) were cut in half easily with both SOG axes.  The largest piece(10-12 inches in diameter) the SOG Tomahawk was definitely easier, but the SOG Fasthawk did the job as well.  In addition, I pruned some small limbs(4-6 inches in diameter) off trees.  Again, I could not find a significant difference in performance between them.

I found the compact size of the SOG Fasthawk to be worth the slight sacrifice in performance over the SOG Tomahawk.  The Fasthawk will be allocated to my EDC(Every Day Carry) and the Tomahawk will find a home in my BOB(Bug Out Bag.)

Staying above the water line!


Monday, July 13, 2015

Carson National Forest: A Visit With Mother Nature

Mother Nature offers a full spectrum of challenges on nearly every outing.  Outdoor enthusiasts must prepare for possible obstacles or suffer the consequences.

A favorite is always water crossings. Don water shoes and splash around, or use trekking poles to help balance across rocks and logs?  Always judge water crossings carefully as these can spell disaster if not done with care.

Weather dominates preparation for most trips.  Always research the climate and patterns in the area visiting.  Mountains require sunscreen and sunglasses due to higher elevations and increased sun exposure.  However, a rain jacket was also packed to cover the common summer rain showers.  Mother Nature blessed me on this outing with some free marble size hail along with the rain.

The Forest Service and volunteers do tremendous work in trail maintenance.  However, one must always be ready for recent obstacles left by Mother Nature.  Exercise caution in choosing to simply step over or go around.

Mother Nature can provide changing conditions on nearly a daily basis.  Heavy rains from a previous day converted an easy trail into a rock hopping mud festival.  Surprisingly, I enjoyed both.

Even Mother Nature's spectacular scenery offers interesting challenges.  The mosquitoes in  this area were so numerous that I can't believe they aren't  visible in the photo.  I'm glad the bug repellent kept them at bay while I snapped the photo.

Mother Nature creates the wonders that make outings worth the trip.  With proper preparation and research, you can make sure your outing is enjoyable no matter what nature throws at you.

Staying above the water line!


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Carson National Forest: Waterfall

The outdoors are full of adventure and spectacular scenery.  Waterfalls shine as the inspiration to many of these excursions.  This little waterfall kept me company while taking a break on the trail.


Another waterfall was not as accessible.  A short scramble using trekking poles opened up a photo opportunity for this waterfall.

Staying above the water line!


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Carson National Forest in New Mexico: Adjusting to Altitude

Venturing into the mountains must be accomplished with caution.  Mountain altitudes pose health risks to the human body.  Simple guidelines help diminish the effects of altitude.  With the proper preparation, time in the mountains can be safe and enjoyable.

Guidelines for diminishing the effects of altitude.

1. Hydration

At altitude, drinking plenty of water is crucial.  The body loses increased amounts of water during respiration, exertion, and more frequent urination.  In addition to water, utilize sport drinks and juices to hydrate while replacing lost electrolytes.  Avoid using drinks that sabotage hydration such as caffeine and alcohol.

2. Rest

With less oxygen available in the thinner air, the body will labor to perform normal activities.  Give the body time to adjust by resting and reducing normal physical activities by 50 percent.  Take the opportunity to get a good nights rest.  If necessary, sleep on your side, use a nasal saline spray, or descend to a lower elevation when sleeping.

Many people associate the effects of altitude sickness to a hangover/flu with symptoms such as headache, dizziness, nausea, poor appetite, fatigue, and shortness of breath.  Following these guidelines will help diminish the effects of altitude on the body.  If hydration and rest fail, descend to a lower elevation, as time is the only way for the body to successfully adjust to altitude.

Staying high above the water line!


Friday, June 26, 2015

Gorman Falls-Colorado Bend State Park:Hiking in the Texas Hill Country

Abundant rainfall in the area has Gorman Falls flowing nicely.  The area is protected by the Colorado Bend State Park, so visitors are limited in how close they can get to the falls.  The Texas State Park does provide an area near the falls with great views.

Gorman Falls will make you think an underground cave has erupted to the surface.  Water from Gorman Creek cascades 60 feet forming calcite deposits similar to caverns.

Colorado Bend State Park near Lampasas, Texas does offer several hiking trails including the 3 mile round trip Gorman Falls Trail.  This trail does have many large limestone rocks which can make footing difficult at times.  

As always, bring appropriate attire, footwear, and supplies.  Leave the flip flops in the car.

Hiking to the water line!


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