Are you interested in ECOLOGY?  Then you might find one of these Homestead.org articles handy:

Going Bats: The Benefits of Bat Houses on Your Homestead by Patricia Halderman

Eco-Friendly Tips for a More Sustainable Home by Andrew Brusnahan

A Country Girl's Best Friends (Vinegar & Baking Soda) by Adrianne Masters

Waste Not, Want Not by Adrianne Masters

The Lost Art of Beekeeping? by Trendle Ellwood

Beginning Thoughts on Keeping Bees by Kim Flottum

Getting Ready to Get Ready for Winter by Kim Flottum 

Wintering Bees by Kim Flottum

Robbing the Bee Tree by M.J. Nutter:

Honey Health: Honey in Home Remedies and Skin Care by Karyn Sweet

How about the HOMESTEADING LIFESTYLE?

Adam vs. the Post Pounder by Sue Dick

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - Country Neighbors: a Mixed Bag by Sue Dick

Beat the Vacuum Tyranny by Magdalena Perks

Homesteader vs. Survivalist by Sheri Dixon

A Country Girl's Best Friends (Vinegar & Baking Soda) by Adrianne Masters

Redefining Neighborhoods Back on the Land by Barbara Bamberger Scott

Fergus the Red by Sue Dick

Waste Not, Want Not by Adrianne Masters

Gimme Shelter (And Iíd Like it to Look LikeÖa House, Please) by Sheri Dixon

 

Let the Wind Howl

Living Six Years Without an Electric Bill

by Chris Devaney

I like to tinker.  I like things mechanical.  A little music is good too, especially if it is creative.  And I love things that are free: like the wind.  The sound of it, the feel of it on my face, and the intrinsic energy inherent in it.

Over six years ago, I put up a rooftop-mounted wind generator, and then another the following year, and then a third a year or so after that.  It wasnít hard to do and didnít require any special-function tools, just the regular ones everyone has.  Even so, I figured that I better leave the tools handy.  Those mechanical whirlygigs, I supposed, will need attention, and more than likely, lots of it and real soon.  I get a typical wind of 10-15 mph almost every day, stronger in the winter, and much stronger in a storm.  Notice the weather beaten and wind eroded appearance of the stain on my homestead, certainly in need of a fresh coat.  I even had a hurricane back a year or so ago.  No one liked that.  Not the house, not me, not even the wind generators.  But nothing broke, so those tools still lay dormant!

Normally, due to a genetic flaw from somewhere in the past, I seriously lack organizational skills.  I just leave my tools wherever the last project was.  This tool filing system came about from having to drop everything and quench the fires typical of every do-it-yourself homestead.  Then, of course, there were those especially special fires, the hot ones, the ones you canít put off, not even for a moment.  We all have them. 

Mine may involve immature but awful big and awful friendly livestock playing with the ladder Iím standing on, or even worse, a bunch of eternally immature Australian shepherds trying to herd a slow-moving porcupine or an even more recalcitrant skunk towards an open door.  Such episodes dull the mind, they so laden it with immediate panic that not only is the tool hopelessly mislaid, perhaps even thrown, that even after the rescue, (or climbing back up the ladder after being tossed off it) my brain is still dulled to the point where I cannot not even recall WHAT I was working on... the tools laid down or tossed in haste, become hopelessly lost almost forever...  until the lawnmower finds them. 

But, for the most part, sans panic, this drop-íem-where-you-are process works out ok, I only have to remember what the last thing I worked on was and... voila! thereís the tools.  All in all, it works pretty good for me.  Of course, now and then I need to have duplicate sets of cheap Chinese tools scattered around.  Iíd be derelict if I didnít mention to you, however, that this filing concept breaks down when it comes to rooftop projects.  And since this is dealing with a rooftop project, I best mention that this filing system works dangerously poorly for this kind of project.  Being clanged on the head by a big pipe wrench, even a cheap Chinese one, rolling off the roof because the roof somehow knows I am within reach is not my cup of tea anymore.  I donít think it is anyoneís cup, except perhaps Evel Kneivel, but I think he is dead.  Or at least severely wounded.

So, it comes down to this: when the wind generators get broken, I have to hunt for the tools because I know they are not on the roof.  That could take days; it could even take weeks, but the doggonnest thing is... the dang wind generators donít break! So much for tinkering.  So much for chaos, one less need for duplicate cheap Chinese tools or choice words because the tools are not on the roof where, in a perfect world, they should have been leftWho needs tools if the dang things donít break?  Well, I suppose, thereís still the tractors... they are always broken, or rusted, or... well, never mind!

Alas, thatís not entirely true.  There have been some repairs made to the wind generators and this update to the Rooftop Wind Farms article is designed to highlight the maintenance issues Iíve faced and then pave the way to subsequent articles on installing a fourth wind generator.   

To recap from the Rooftop Wind Farm article, I have three roof mounted wind generators: two Southwest Windpower 400 watt Air-X units and an 800 watt Mallard 800E along with some solar panels that supply my electrical power needs.  I do have, and I highly recommend if you live off grid, a backup gasoline powered generator.  In fact, I have two backup gas generators; one is a small 1,000 watt unit that I use most when the sun and wind abandon me for more than 4 days at a time. 

It is a cute little fuel miser that will run my computers, both at once when I need to, plus fire up lights, a boom-box, low-power tools and assorted other things including the radio dish for my internet connection, wireless router and some other electronic doo-dads.  I also use a second and larger gas generator, a 3000 watt unit, to juice my power tools or water pump... the big boys, the watt suckers, like the two-burner electric stove I use for burning dinners on occasion.  It is less miserly on gas so I use it only when required.  But with the backup generator, I can cook beans and steak at the same time.  I cannot with my alternative energy setup and do not mean to imply that it is a totally sufficient system for the typical household.  At least not at the scale I live on. 

The Repairs

The Air-X units, those fish-tail looking units near the crest of the roof, have been flying for over 6 and 5 years respectively.  The big green, 6-bladed Mallard on the lower south roof has been in service for 3 years.  So, being almost 7 years off the grid, I have some experience in dealing with the unexpected, the malfunctions, Iíve had direct contact with Mr.  Miserable, Malfunction-Murphy himself.  Here is a list of the repairs so far:

  • Air-X, west side of roof: Burned out control circuit board 1st year of service, repaired under warranty by the factory. 

  • Air-X, east side: Same thing, first year of service, circuit board replaced under warranty.  A replacement circuit board was sent to me free of charge from the factory with instructions on how to install it.  Oh boy!  I get to use tools.  Where might they be?

  • Mallard 800E: In the 2nd year of service it suffered a bent hub, thatís the thing that secures the blades to the rotating shaft.  The hub was replaced with a new design, one that is stronger and lighter.  Cost: around 25 bucks, 28 bucks if you include new cheap Chinese replacement tools for the ones you canít find, thirty bucks to include a can of shiny paint to match the rest of the unit.  Oh boy, once again, more roof-time.

  • Replaced ALL rubber vibration isolating mounts on the mast, way more than once.  Eventually I changed them all to solid mounts with rubber spacers.  I only had to do that once, problem licked. 

  • Air-X east side: Tossed its plastic nose cone in year 3.  Nose cone retrieved from the meadow and I epoxied the cracked cone then reinstalled it.  Two weeks later I had to fetch it again, same meadow, about the same distance away.  No more epoxy, it is now and forevermore running without a nose cone. 

  • Air-X west: Blown fuse.  This is a very noticeable condition with the Air-Xís although it took me about 20 minutes of head scratching to figure out what was going on the first (and only) time it happened.  When a fuse in the Air-X blows, the unit will free-wheel and winds up to full speed, the internal speed control senses this and slams on the brake.  The brakes are nothing more than a feedback of generated current into the armature windings that creates an electro-magnetic drag on the rotor.  This slows the rotor and the brake releases.  Then, the unit spins itself crazy again until the brake once again slams it to a stop electro-magnetically.  This will go on and on unmercifully until you realize the fuse has blown and replace it.  To correct this, I put the stop switch between the Air-X and the fuse.  Now if the fuse blows, the stop switch can still be thrown to the closed position which shorts the windings and puts a drag on the rotor at all wind speeds. 

    The Mallard does not have the electronic brains like its sisters, the Air-Xís.  There is no automatic electronic braking feature.  I use a stop switch positioned between the fuse and the wind generator that will short the windings to create the drag.  Otherwise, without a stop switch positioned ďupstreamĒ of the fuse, the Mallard could spin itself to a violent death if the wind is strong enough. 

Thatís it!  No other repairs, not even tune ups.  Well, no, thatís not true.  I did clamor up on the roof one more time to adjust the voltage control unit on the Air-Xís to the OFF position.  That was necessary after I installed a diversion load controller on the battery bank inside the house to take over the control functions.  Note that the Mallard does not have any circuit boards or control electronics in itís housing.  A definite plus in my experience. 

Robust little things these little wind generators are, I must say, but if you are a tinkerer, it can be a dilemma.  Thereís just nothing to do but sit, watch and listen to them sing ... all day long.  ďNo fix-emsĒ, they should call them.  My tools are rusty from repose... at least I suspect they are, I canít find them since they are not on the roof where, according to my tool filing system, they should be. 

One other maintenance issue to be aware of is that in the winter, after a wet snow and cold windless night, the blades can ice up and not spin until the sun comes back out to melt the ice, generally the next day.  I have yet to climb up on the roof to de-ice the blades, a particularly treacherous thing to do on a metal roof in the winter. 

So, thatís it for maintenance.  Letís talk about cost effectiveness. 

Bear in mind that Iím not a financial genius. 

West side Air-X.  Below the wind generator is a wind speed sensor coupled to a read out display inside the house.

Payback Time

Does is make sense to generate your own electricity?  Will it pay off in your lifetime?  It did for me.  Although my circumstances are a little unique, with the wind generators, the pay-back period was almost immediate and well in my favor. 

Iím often asked how long it took to break even on purchasing and setting up an off-grid facility.  The cost of a small (read that as very small) system like mine is relatively budget friendly: less than $600 each for the Air-Xís, $385 for the Mallard.  Thereís additional costs of around $250 each unit for pipe, mounting hardware, wire, switches, gauges and other support equipment (like replacing lost tools), not counting the free labor... mine, or kids', if you can find them.  Thereís also an inverter and batteries to consider and that could get expensive depending on your choices.  Miserly me took the cheap road during the learning phase, Wal-mart batteries (deep-cycle kind, about $60 each), 5 of them, and two 750 watt inverters for about $79 each.  Iíve added more items along the way but for the most part, the above represents a functional basic system that has worked well for me.

I donít use much electricity, hence I donít generate much electricity, or is it the other way around?  In either case, does it make more sense to generate it or just buy it from the locals?

Aside from personal philosophy and the thrill of doing it myself, in my case it certainly made sense to generate it myself.  With a minimum $30/month electric bill, ordinarily it could take a while to justify the cost of the off-grid system.  But it would have cost close to $14,000 to bring power in to my facility since I do live a fair stretch from civilization.  Hence, the payback justification was quite immediate.

An 800 watt Mallard chasing the wind.

The real payback for me however, came from the psychological and philosophical change to my very core thatís worth way more than the dollars I have or ever will have saved.  It is actually no longer a matter of dollars saved.  I have comfortably found that I just donít need much of the stuff, the very same stuff that I didnít even need before but didnít realize it.  Ahh, the Zen of it all!  My eyes have been opened.  And I get lullabied to sleep almost every night in the process of generating the electricity for tomorrowís use or for the next few days. 

 

Continued on page 2   >

 

 

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