INDEPENDENT POWER SYSTEM can provide most electric conveniences
at a remote home site, where bringing in utility lines would be
impossible or prohibitively expensive. Just extending utility
power 1/4 mile or more to reach a home site can cost $15,000 and
up, and that's before you get any power. Equipment to produce
your own solar electric power may cost less. If power lines are
not near your land you can choose clean renewable resources,
boats and recreational vehicles can use the same equipment on a
NATURAL AND FREE ENERGY already on your site in sunlight, wind,
or falling water can be converted to electricity. We specialize
in power entirely from solar, wind, or micro-hydro, plus
generator backup in climates short on sunshine.
WE USE IT! For over 30 years, Backwoods has specialized in
off-grid power for the remote home. For years Backwoods Solar
was entirely powered by equipment from this website, and
currently most Backwoods Solar employees power a home or a
portion of their home with our products. At Backwoods Solar you
are talking to people who use the equipment every day.
OUR CATALOG INTRODUCES BEGINNERS to the joy of making your own
power. The first 30 pages explain how to do it, what you need,
how to prepare a house to use solar electricity, and the
approximate cost for several examples.
The second section of the catalog contains all of our equipment
and prices, with more explanation on each class of product.
Towards the back of the catalog, you'll find order blanks and
shipping information, followed by instructional books, DVDs &
An Independent natural power system typically produces just 10
to 25% of the electricity consumed by a utility powered American
home. That is about 1 to 5 or at most 10 kilowatt hours of
electricity on each sunny day.
than major life-style changes, we keep most advantages
electricity offers while consuming only a small percentage of
the power others use. Here is how:
The amount of power your system generates depends on the natural
energy resources at your location and on how much equipment you
install to gather that energy. How much benefit you receive from
that energy depends on careful selection of lights and
appliances for maximum energy efficiency and on your
conservation habits. That means using special lights,
refrigerators, and freezers that use about 1/4 as much power. It
means using natural gas or propane for major heat production in
cooking, water heating, clothes drying, and home heating. (Try
to include passive solar home design and perhaps some wood
heat). We install extra switches to cut power off phantom
electric loads, that is, things like stereo, TV, garage door
openers, and office equipment, all of which consume power even
when not turned on. We often wire doorbells, wireless phones,
and motion sensor lights to DC power direct from the house
battery bank, to use no power when idling. We use motion sensor
and timer switches for outdoor lights. We use heating systems
that distribute heat without pumps or blowers. Cooling is
evaporative instead of air conditioning. We learn how to get the
most benefit from the fewest kilowatt-hours. In short:
1. Design the whole house (water, heat, power) for low energy
2. Carefully select very special low energy lights and
3. Eliminate energy waste in appliances, and from human
After meeting those three measures, a practical, affordable
solar electric system (or wind, or micro-hydro) can provide
electricity for a comfortable home.
Prior to moving, just five kilowatt hours per day ran Backwoods
Solar's business, shop, and Steve and Elizabeth Willey's home.
The business used four computers all day, lights for 4-5
workers, photocopy machine, postage machine, phone, fax, and
paging system, business communication radio, and electrical
workbench. The home included lights, microwave oven, range hood,
juicer, refrigerators, freezer, TV, satellite, VCR/DVD, stereos,
clothes washer, deep well pump, compost toilet fan, built-in
whole house vacuum system, fans, electric lawn mower, electric
rototiller & electric weed eater, plus a mechanical shop
building full of power tools.
YOUR OFF-GRID HOME
household appliances and lights use only a little electricity
easily supplied by the sun, wind, or micro-hydro. Solar electric
homes convert most of their power to 120 volt AC, to use as
needed for household appliances and lights. Most common uses are
lights, water pump, TV-VCR/DVD-satellite, computer, stereo,
vacuum cleaner, kitchen appliances, sewing machine, power tools,
and office equipment. Even high wattage appliances like
microwave oven, hair drier, toaster, and clothes washer consume
little power because their actual running time is short. Water
pumps including deep well pumps up to 1/2 horsepower are used.
Electric refrigerators and freezers are selected carefully to
save energy in a solar home; also gas and small DC powered
refrigerators are used.
YOU SHOULD AVOID IN
YOUR OFF-GRID HOME
ELECTRIC HEATING or COOLING APPLIANCES:
Electric heat, electric hot water, electric cook stove, electric
heated clothes dryer, and air conditioner account for 80 percent
of typical monthly utility bills. It is absolutely NOT practical
to operate these major appliances with electricity. These use
from twenty to one hundred times the power your TV uses. Other
fuels produce heat at much lower cost. Use wood or propane
fueled furnaces, propane cook stoves and water heaters; use gas
fired clothes dryers (or just a rope in the sun). Build homes
with passive solar heat design to save heating fuel for the rest
of your life. Later in this section, we give advice on wise
selection of major appliances.
AVOID MOST LARGE REFRIGERATORS AND FREEZERS:
Many refrigerators have poor insulation and run long hours every
day. Most still use well over 1.5 kilowatt hours per day, over
450 kilowatt hours a year. Careful shopping can turn up a few
models using less power. Special electric refrigerators and
freezers designed for solar powered homes use much less, and are
shown in this website. These highly insulated units can save at
least 50% of the energy consumed by ordinary refrigerators. The
added cost of more efficient appliances is less than the added
cost of a larger power system to cover the use of inefficient
appliances. Propane refrigerators, also in this website, can
lower start-up costs.
Air conditioning is too energy intensive to be practical other
than a window unit in a very large solar power system.
Evaporative cooling – swamp coolers – work well in non-humid
OF THE ART ELECTRIC HOMES TODAY
years ago, independent home power meant designing and building
your own equipment. Today, it doesn’t have to be a full time
hobby, though it still can be fun. Home power system designs and
components are standardized. Common problems have been solved by
the experience of thousands of solar, wind, or water powered
home owners. All the equipment is readily available, from a
basic starter setup for lights and TV in a small cabin, to a
full AC powered home and business. A good power system may
consist of just 3 or 4 integrated components that building
inspectors easily approve.
STILL — Independent electrical power is not quite a ‘turnkey’
appliance like a central heating system with sales and service
people knocking at your door. Many independent homes are in
remote places, where the owner is the prime decision maker,
meter reader, and service person. A practical solar electric
system requires some owner participation in planning,
management, and maintenance. The owner-builder who understands
batteries and equipment will have a better working system, save
money, and become more self-reliant.
responsibility is managing your batteries, that is, making sure
the batteries get fully recharged each week, and rarely
discharged below 50 or 60%. This is done by watching the meters
and if needed, running the generator to supplement shortfalls
due to extended no-sun weather. About once every month or two,
one battery cell should be checked with an hydrometer, a glass
tube and rubber bulb device with a float, that reads the
condition of battery fluid. At the same time, the battery tops
should be wiped clean and dry with a paper towel. Several times
a year you check every cell, and add distilled water to the
battery cells to maintain the correct fluid level. An extra
charge process called equalizing is sometimes required to
restore weak battery cells to normal. Batteries have limited
life, and need to be replaced every 5 to 15 years (depending on
type) no matter how well you care for them.
Solar modules last well over 25 years with little maintenance.
Warranty is 20 or 25 years on most modules sold at Backwoods
Electronic components are also long lived, but like TV sets, can
fail unexpectedly, or be damaged by lightning or by incorrect
installation. Most carry a 1 or 2 year warranty.
MUCH WILL POWER COST?
life-styles and power usage vary so widely between individuals,
a rural solar electric home can be set up anywhere from $2,500
to $53,000. Most often our customers spend between $6,500 and
$18,000. Cost varies with amount of power needed, and also with
the average daily sunshine hours for your location and climate.
Northern areas with overcast snowy winters need a lot more solar
modules and batteries than homes in New Mexico or Arizona,
though both may use the same amount of power. The quantity of
power you need relates to the number of people in the house more
than to the square footage of the home.
Windmill generators can be used together with solar, to generate
power in more varieties of weather. On a site with wind speeds
measured and confirmed, wind generation used together with solar
can reduce the total cost of the power system.
Micro-Hydro power is the best choice and lowest cost power
source for those few sites with the required water resource. If
there is a small stream dropping 20 feet or more in elevation
across your land, or a larger stream dropping 5 feet, water
power may be possible. You might generate all the power you need
from a micro-hydro turbine for as little as $5000 complete, or
as much as $16,000, plus the cost of the pipe line.
Backwoods Solar can help you choose and estimate the cost of the
right equipment if you let us know how many people are in the
house, something of the life-styles, the appliances, whether
there is a home-business activity, and anything else affecting
power usage. The above estimates do not include a backup
generator which can range from $3500 to $10,000 depending on
size and quality.
I PUT IT?
Batteries, inverter, and electronic controls should be installed
in a utility room inside or near the residence. Electronic
equipment mounts on 4 to 5 feet of wall within 8 to 10 foot
cable length from the batteries. Equipment could be installed on
the outside wall of a separate battery closet. Batteries take 2
to 15 square feet of floor space within the cable length from
wall mounted equipment, and should be beside, rather than
directly in front of wall mounted equipment. Allow ample working
room to check batteries, and avoid cramping everything in a tiny
closet. Electronic components need the same environment as a
computer, TV, or stereo: a place that is clean, and away from
Batteries should not be accessible to children or others
unfamiliar with their hazards. Flooded lead acid batteries emit
minimal amounts of flammable, (nonpoisonous) hydrogen and oxygen
gas when charging, so should be enclosed in a box vented to
outside by plastic pipe. They should stay above freezing but
avoid temperatures over 100 degrees F. An outside battery and
equipment shed may be used in moderate climates, but avoid
putting batteries on a wood floor vibrated by the generator
Distance from the power room to generator and to the house AC
circuit breaker panel is not critical. A generator should be in
its own shed some distance away, to avoid the noise.
Distance from power room to solar module location is limited, as
explained in the chapter on mounting solar modules. Modules are
best pole mounted, or can be roof mounted if trees and buildings
prevent good sunlight at ground level.
Hours: Mon. thru Fri.
8 to 5 Pacific Time.
Visiting Hours: M-F 1:00-4:00 PM
24 Hr. Fax: 208-265-4788
Backwoods Solar Electric Systems
1589 Rapid Lightning Creek Rd
Sandpoint, Idaho 83864 USA