With the right mindset and enough time on your hands, living off-grid is a fun experience. But, it’s not for everyone. After saying goodbye to my dome project, two Twitter friends offered to put me up on their property for a few weeks. It’s a 100% off-grid cabin on 20 acres with no utilities. I ended up staying for an entire month. In fact, I only just left last week. During that time, I harvested rainwater and powered my travel trailer off solar and propane. Here are four necessary chores I had every morning to ensure things went as planned.
1. Move the Solar Panels
In most areas, the strongest sun comes from the south and west. For some strange reason, we had some powerful sunshine from the east until afternoon. So, I pointed the solar panels in that direction in the morning but then turned them west by the evening. Consequently, they were always facing the opposite direction in the morning.
Sometimes, I also unplugged the panels. Monsoon season brings a lot of thunder and lightning to the mountains. One lightning strike could hit a panel or wire and completely wipe out my electrical system. It’s unlikely, but why risk it? So, some mornings, I would also need to check the cords and plug things back in.
2. Charge the Lights
I first learned about packrats while camping at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Apparently, these rats like to build nests in the most inconvenient places, such as the engine bay of your truck or the undercarriage of your RV. Online, I found countless forums where RV owners complained about thousands of dollars in damage done to their vehicles by packrats. That’s because they don’t only build nests; they will chew through wiring, insulation, etc. along the way.
Every night, I put lights out under the RV and truck. In the morning, after setting up the solar panels, I would grab the lights and bring them inside to charge them. I used two headlamps and two small, solar lights. I also put out those string lights I bought for my Mexico trip under the RV. However, I think other factors did far more to keep packrats away.
3. Inspect the Vehicles
In the morning, I checked under the RV and popped the hood of the FJ Cruiser to see if I spotted any packrats or nests. I had zero incidents but my friends had two or three instances of packrats getting into their vehicles or building nests. Thankfully, the packrats didn’t do any damage. One morning, I went out at 5:30 am to check for packrats because the alarm kept sending warning chirps. On that note, these are the top reasons I think I didn’t have packrats:
- The alarm on my truck is very sensitive. A diesel truck, V8, and heavy thunder can set off those warning chirps. During the colder nights, when we dropped to 60s-weather, I think the packrats did try to build in the truck but Samson kept delivering those warning chirps and that kept them away. They probably thought my truck was a wild animal.
- My cat travels in the FJ Cruiser. Most rats know better than to venture into cat territory. I don’t smell Shadow in the FJ Cruiser, but I’m sure the packrats can. That likely kept them away from the RV, as well. Had any gotten inside the trailer, I do not doubt that I would have had dead carcasses to clean up. Shadow is a hunter.
- My lights blinked and flashed. My friends used lights that shined a constant light. I thought flashing and blinking lights would be far more annoying to any animal, so I used that instead. I do think that helped to dissuade the packrats.
4. Check Water Catchment
When I lived in Jamaica, we set a large plastic barrel out under the gutters of the zinc roof (tin, for the Americans) to catch runoff. We used this to bathe and complete other chores whenever the water company shut the water off. This sometimes happened during the hurricane season, while they were working on the lines, or after very heavy rains.
I hadn’t harvested rainwater since my teen years in Jamaica and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it as an adult. I bought three 5-gallon buckets and set them up outside. Often, I would go outside during heavy rains, thunder, and lightning to move them in the direction the wind was blowing rain from the gutters off the roof. Because rain often came after dark, it was in the morning that I could see how much water I managed to get.
Living off-grid was an exciting experience because I had the time to be bothered about harvesting water and moving solar panels throughout the day. I didn’t mind hauling my full buckets on a wheelbarrow after getting water from the tank on the property when I ran out or manually filling the RV tank. It was all part of the experience and provided good exercise!
Maybe if I had a regular nine-to-five life those things would feel like a hassle. But, that’s the beauty in re-engineering your life to enjoy the simpler things and to use what nature has to offer for sustenance. Things that might otherwise drive you nuts in everyday life simply become part of the adventure.