Our family has been living off the grid, here in Baja, Los Zacatitos to be exact for 25 years. When we first
installed solar power was just getting noticed (cell phones and computers didn’t even exist down here yet)
…we’re talking 1991, typewriters and the local fax/phone casetas were how we rolled.
When we were first presented with the option of buying a solar system (after living solely off of a generator), it changed our lives…No more noise running 24/7 (except on extended cloudy days, which are few as we all know and love)!!
Systems were much smaller back then, only carrying the most necessary load of simple lighting and our beloved blender. Stoves and Refrigerators were gas (propane) and a/c, heating appliances and power tools, still required generators.
It was an investment to get up and running but always felt good to know we were self sufficient, not reliant on town utilities and someone having the ability to flip a switch and shut us off for as long as they want…After living here for as long as we have, and all of the storms and hurricanes and yes Odile, I am more convinced than ever that solar is the way to go. Yes, some of our solar panels were destroyed or flew away to Miraflores in Odile but we still had enough power to keep us going until we were able to replace them.
We learned early on how to efficiently live “off grid”, not only with power but just as importantly with our water (still trucked in from local wells).
Our kids learned the basics early on (turn off lights, don’t leave the hose on and close that darn refrigerator door!). In addition there are lots of other things you can do to conserve power and water to make the most out of living the life.
First of all, when it comes to water, most of us have water purifiers with filters and water softeners as the local well water tends to have a lot of minerals and therefore can be very hard, causing faucets to quickly corrode and wreaking havoc with important necessities such as coffee makers. We have our water tested every few months or if we notice a difference in taste or smell, better to be safe than sorry… We’ve never been sick from either bathing, cooking or drinking our purified water…and once again in times of storms, as long as we had our pila (cistern) full, we had potable water… After Odile, many of our friends in town went quite awhile with no power or water…
We also utilize our used (grey) water from sinks and laundry for irrigation of our plants and palms and that in and of itself, saves us a lot of money. Water here in Baja is precious so we try to conserve as much as possible.
Another important consideration is the type of cleaning products and even the toilet paper you use… When your running grey water into your beautiful plants or garden you don’t want it full of toxic chemicals from your cleaning supplies, shampoos and laundry soaps…We switched over to all natural Thieves cleaning supplies and soaps as well other brands that are biodegradable. They work great and are not toxic to people or pets.
Properties off the grid also utilize septic systems which function more efficiently, for longer periods of time if you either don’t flush paper down them all of the time or another option is to use toilet paper made for septic systems, that breaks down easier. Construction of a good septic system that will do its job for many years is not only critical to your comfort but also to the impact on the environment, literally in your own back yard…
We do have air conditioning and a full size swimming pool. The key to economical off grid a/c is to install it in your bedrooms. Being able to sleep at night is the key to happy Baja summer living aka Happy Wife = Happy Life!!
Close the doors and windows, turn it on in the afternoon for a few hours and by bed time you can turn it (and your generator off) and sleep like a cool cat dreaming of all that propane $$$ your saving by not running you’re A/C all night long. There are also now A/C units that use a very low amount of energy and with a sufficient solar system can run straight off of the system for limited periods of time…We haven’t switched over because honestly we hardly use our A/C anymore since building our pool.
Our swimming pool is heated by flexible solar heating panels, which work great. In the summer time we turn it off, as the water naturally can get almost too warm on its own. We also have a back up propane heater (nice to have when weather/water is cooler) but again the goal is to use it as little as possible to keep gas costs down.
The pool is filtered by a DC solar powered pump, which comes on as soon as the sun comes up and shuts off when the sun goes down. All day it filters and circulates our pool and waterfall and is very efficient.
Even if given the option, I don’t think we’d convert to town power now…. A back up water supply from town on the other hand would be nice. It’s a good feeling to know we are in control of our own water and power needs. Eco or Sustainable living, "off
the grid", call it what you will but it has been a great education and experience not only for ourselves but more importantly our kids.
For more information contact Brenda McGonagle, REALTOR, CIPS, Agua Clara Properties, S.A. de C.V., Mobile. (011521), 624 145-2693, U.S. (858) 736-9293 , www.aguaclaraproperties.com