Internet on the Homestead

My satellite internet dish by my garden

Access to fast internet is becoming an important factor when buying a rural property. Some need fast internet for working from home while others would like to still watch Netflix or YouTube in some evenings.

The best case scenario is to have access to fiber from your home. This is pretty rare for rural areas, but it does not hurt to research and inquire. Ask your neighbors or google ISPs in your area and ask them if they offer fiber or at least some type of broadband internet.

Some ISPs use point to point microwave antennas to give several mbps speeds. This is not the best for HD video streaming, but it should work for at least SD streaming.

Some areas have cell service. Most companies have personal hotspot capability. As long as you do not use a ton of data, this may be your best option. Some of my neighbors use their cell carrier for their home internet with sides even streaming video. If you have 5G in your area, all the faster!

If there are no options for your area, do not give up hope yet. You can always get satellite internet. It is much better than it used to be, but for their cheapest plans, you might not be able to stream video in the evenings when many others are online. We pay $60 a month for our service and are throttled for all but one day of the month. We are fine with this, however, as we can’t afforda big enough plan to avoid throttling. The throttle speeds are still fast enough to stream video or FaceTime/Zoom during the day. Just some evenings (or most during a time like the pandemic) the speeds are sore enough that only YouTube works and even that on its lowest quality.

Downside to satellite internet are the high cost, throttling, latency (slight delay when in a video or audio call, but still usable), and the weather can sometimes affect the service. When it snows, I have to brush off the dish with a broom, and rain can sometimes stall the connection for a bit. Overall it is fairly usable though still not ideal.

SpaceX is releasing a new type of satellite internet that uses the near orbit. They advertise fiber speeds and low latency for anywhere in North America. This is supposed to come out fall of 2020. This could be a game changer if it lives up to their promises. No longer will rural areas have any slower connections than the big cities or 5G.

Best of luck finding a good ISP in your area. Though the internet is convenient and necessary for employment for some, remember that even if you cannot stream much in the evenings, you can always download from services like Netflix or Prime Video or find other activities as a family like reading a book. 🙂

Making an Income from the Homestead

Firewood Pile

Though we may dream of simply living off the land and paying no bills, in reality, unless we want to join an offgrid community like the Amish, most of us have to pay for property taxes, fuel for travel, goods that require too much effort to be worth making ourselves, medical care, and many other needs or wants to maintain modern lifestyles. There are many ways to make a living still without having to commute off of your homestead.

If you currently have an employer in a suitable industry, ask them if you can telecommute from home. More and more business allow this as they can cut costs maintaining an office and many studies show working from home to be more productive in a lot of cases. The internet has opened the doors to work from home for so many industries. We can do what would be unimaginable just a couple decades ago.

Perhaps you enjoy gardening, woodworking, making crafts, or something else so much you would like to sell goods you make or grow at home. Simply increase your planting or production for some cash. Farmers markets, restaurants, or other local businesses might be great local customers.

Many are not aware that you can make money blogging. This blog is an example. Post regular quality content, and set up advertisements, paid content, affiliate links and reviews for products you use anyway. It does not take many followers to even make as much as $5,000+ a month from a blog. For more information on how to make a living from a blog, see this page.

If you can diversify your income through a few different methods, this can help you get through times when one income stream drops. Also save up an emergency fund if you can to keep paying the bills during income deficient times.

Once you have an income stream, see what hours work best for you. Can you work half time and still have enough income to get by? Or must you work full time or more?

Cut unnecessary costs so you can get by making less. Make a list of expenses and decide what can and cannot go. Sometimes something unnecessary is still not too expensive and makes a big difference in the quality of your life. Like our homemade espresso. Making it at home everyday and roasting our own coffee beans saves quite a bit of money. If you have more time and little money, you can usually save by stuff like cooking from scratch, not hiring out anything you can learn yourself, scavenge craigslist or classifieds for used tools/supplies, and grow the majority of your own food. All of this cuts expenses allowing you to stretch your income further. This is especially important if your income stream is not constant or guaranteed.

Find something you enjoy (or at least do not mind) and find out how to make money from it. The quality of life is so much better when you can pick your own hours, avoid commuting, and getting the fresh air on your own property. I stay 6 days a week at my home but have enough projects and family nearby that I do not feel isolated at all. Being home to raise kids is also such a blessing.

Sometimes income streams can take time to develop. Maybe you have to still commute for now, but if you can get your side hustle going, this may allow you to retire from your regular job. Be patient and enjoy the process as best as you can. Count your blessings and save your income.

Best of success to you and your homestead!

Zero Waste and Frugal Homesteading

People homestead for a variety of reasons. Zero waste and homesteading go hand in hand. This not only helps the environment but saves a good amount of money over your lifetime.

Chickens enjoying food scraps

Using kitchen scraps for compost or chicken feed results in zero food waste. Yes, even meat is fine to feed chickens. Though rotten food can potentially get a chicken sick, as long as they have access to other food, they avoid anything that is too spoiled for safety. between a dog and chickens, we have zero food waste. Even what the chickens do not East gets mixed in with their manure which I collect for great garden fertilizer.

Electric tools take less maintenance and are catching up to some gas powered tools in power (though we are not quite their for the more powerful ones). Look into electric lawn mowers, weed trimmers, and chainsaws instead of their gas counterparts to avoid having to pick up ethanol free gas regularly and maintainthe more complicated engines. Ideally you can pick one company and use just a few of the batteries interchangeably to keep costs down.

Instead of ziplock bags, use glass containersand silicone stretch lids over bowls or silicone reusable bags (especially dishwasher safe ones). They even make aluminum can lids you can wash in your dishwasher.

For guys, when you shave, use an electric trimmer or old fashioned razors instead of disposable blades.

It might sound weird, but instead of toilet paper, look into a bidet. Works better and only uses water. Even the cold water versions are really not uncomfortable and are very inexpensive ($20). I have enjoyed mine for a year or more and would never go back. I only use toilet paper for a runny nose now (and even then, you can use cloth handkerchiefs).

Girls have the option to use silicone menstrual cups instead of disposable feminine products.

Reusable metal straws are the best. We use ours almost daily. We just rinse them out when done then run them through the dishwasher later and have no buildup of food or need to use a small brush.

If you use coffee pods, by a reusable pod and buy coffee beans or grounds to refill it. We use an espresso machine and roast our own beans for it. We try to use the coffee grounds in our compost/chicken bin so they end up feeding our garden eventually too.

Instead of to go cups, use a vacuum sealed — look for a dishwasher safe version for easy cleaning.

Paper towels are handy, but most of the time a towel will suffice. They also make washable “paper“ towels that look and feel like a paper towel with good absorbency but are washable. Just make sure everyone knows not to throw it out. 😉

When on the go, consider using metal silverware instead of plastic and wash it when you get home.

Reuse your amazon boxes or newspaper spread out on top of your soil in your garden to get rid of weeds. Put some compost on top then mulch to avoid weeds for months or years!

Punch holes in the bottom of aluminum cans or plastic containers and use them as starting pots for seedlings. You can also use these containers for storing small objects like nails and screws in your garage.

Most lumber or furniture that is not rotten can be repurposed for other projects. Think outside the box. We used some old window sills as open shelves in our master bedroom and an old kitchen sink is going in our greenhouse. Sometimes furniture that is outdated just needs to be sanded down and stained or painted a different color. Old windows make great cold frames (mini greenhouses for growing plants in the cold seasons).

Five gallon buckets make great planters with some holes drilled in them. I have also made chicken feeders and waterers from them. You can’t have too many five gallon buckets for hauling tools and water on a homestead.

Pallets can be built into raised beds and all sorts of furniture.

Replace your lawn with a bigger garden to avoid having to mow and let your land actually produce resources rather than expend them.

Donate old clothes and toys to a thrift store. Embrace minimalism and avoid making unnecessary purchases. Focus on buying quality and practical items rather than the alternative on a whim. Take a day or two before buying anything unnecessary and ask yourself if you really need or can use this item. Most of the time the answer is, “No.”

Purchase rechargeable versions of your most used batteries such as AA or AAA.

Use a water flosser instead of dental floss.

Minimalism, frugality, homesteading, and zero waste have quite a bit of overlap. Whatever your motives, some of these tips can help the environment and your wallet at the same time.

Is Solar Worth It Yet? (2020)

Though the media and politicians push hard for more environmentally friendly options for power production, is solar ready for most homesteaders to jump on board?

Of course, the answer to this question is, “it depends.”

Are your motivations to reduce your carbon footprint? Or a backup to save tons of headaches in outages or emergencies? Do costs matter much?

Solar panel costs have come down a ton in the last several years. Take your monthly power bill that you currently have and look for your monthly and daily usage in KWH (Kilawatt Hours). Also take note of your power usage in the most energy intensive part of the year (probably summer with AC or winter with heating). Now determine what you can live without to cut down your usage. Are you currently heating your house with electricity? Can you switch to wood heat? Are you using incandescent lightbulbs still? Time to switch to LED. Is your refrigerator fairly old? Switching to a modern fridge will save electricity in no time. Heating your water with electricity? Look into a hybrid (heat pump) water heater or tankless water heaters (a hybrid is cheaper and uses less electricity if you have the requirements). Propane water heaters are also an option.

Once you come up with your estimated electricity usage for the worst part of the year, calculate how many panels you will need. If your house is on Google’s Project Sunroof, that is a simple way to calculate this. Otherwise, you can use the app Lumos to calculate how much sun you can get depending upon your tree placement and whether you should have a ground or roof mounted system.

Do you get a ton of wind regularly (such as at the coast or in a prairie)? Look into wind turbines as well. Have a year round creek on your place and water rights? Hydropower is the most economical and reliable of all home energy. Once you figure out if your property can have solar (if you would have to take out trees or get enough sun to make it worth it), you then must decide what type of solar system you wish to have: Off Grid, Grid Interactive, or Grid Tied.

Off Grid

Are you buying land without power connection yet? Is power a half a mile or more away? You can get a quote from your power company, but in this instance, if it costs more than several thousand dollars, you likely are better off with an off grid solar system financially. Being off the grid comes with pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Not at all dependent upon the power company to have electricity
  • No power bill ever again

Cons:

  • More expensive
  • Batteries may need maintenance depending upon battery type
  • If something goes wrong or you do not get enough sun in the winter, you need a gas or diesel generator to keep electricity

Grid Tied:

Already have power from the power company and do not care about occasional outages? A Grid Tied solar system is the most popular installation these days with solar being back fed to the power grid to offset your electrical bill. Many grid tied inverters have a backup receptacle for offgrid use if the grid goes down. Make sure to look into this if you care about keeping your refrigerator or other small devices powered in an outage.

Pros:

  • Least Expensive
  • Keep the simplicity of staying on the grid and do not worry about not getting enough sun for your electrical usage
  • No more power bill if your power company supports net metering and you have enough solar

Cons:

  • No electricity in a power blackout (unless limited power is supported during the daytime by your inverter via an offgrid receptacle).
  • If no net metering, this provides little benefit financially.

Grid Interactive

This is the best of both Grid Tied and Off Grid except the upfront cost. This system allows you to still use the grid but be independent of power outages. Your batteries do not have to be as big as offgrid use if you are willing to live without some appliances when the grid is down.

Pros:

  • Keep the reliability of the grid (no longer worry about no sun or electrical usage)
  • No power bill if net metering is an option and enough solar
  • Stay independent from power outages still with an inverter that turns off backfeeding to the grid but still powers the house during an outage (Most self sufficient of the three options)
  • If net metering is available but ever is dropped by your power company, you can easily switch to off grid usage should you no longer wish to pay a power bill.

Cons:

  • More expensive than Grid Tied and off grid
  • If no net metering is available, you still have to pay at least some of a power bill

Conclusion

Figure out your priorities.

Reducing carbon footprint or minimal cost? Grid Tied is the way to go. Get a secure power option and maybe some usb power packs for a limited backup to charge phones and lighting.

Backup for power outages but not off grid? Grid interactive. Or grid Tied with secure power backup and a generator if finances are limited.

Complete independence from the power company? Off Grid

Doing the research and installing solar yourself can save you a ton of money but does take extensive research and time. Look up diy companies like Wholesale Solar who can give you basic diy info and can help support you through the installation if you order from them.

I bought my solar panels from someone on Craigslist and tested each before purchasing. Doing this saved me quite a bit of money but does come with risks of its own (probably does not include a warranty from the solar manufacturers). I got my panels for around $0.30 a watt which was around a third of retail price at the time.

More grid tied inverters are adding backup options while the sun is shining. Some SunnyBoy, Solar Edge, and soon Enphase IQ8 inverters will have these capabilities even without expensive batteries. But do your research and find what works for you.

Solar is getting more affordable every year. Get quotes from multiple sources and do the math to see if it makes sense for you.

How Our Electric Bill is ~$30 a Month Without Solar Panels

Our electric bill ranges from around $20-40 throughout the year without solar panels. The average family uses about 30 KWh a day. We use 7-8 KWh. That means we use about one fourth the electricity as most of the nation. Many have asked us how we do it. Here are some ways you can decrease your electric bill as well.

Anyone thinking about getting solar panels would be wise to limit their electrical usage as much as possible before buying a solar panel system. It is much cheaper to buy energy efficient appliances and lights, for example, than more solar panels and a higher powered inverter.

The first thing going for us is our power company here in the Pacific Northwest. Though the price of electricity is about the national average – $0.11 a KWh, this is much cheaper than places such as Southern California or Hawaii where electricity is much more expensive. Part of this is the Pacific NW has a lot more access to hydropower than some parts of the country.

But we still use about a quarter of the electricity as the average American without compromising on most modern conveniences. Here is how we do that:

Heating/Cooling

The first and biggest money saver is that we heat our house with a wood stove. This can save in the hundreds of dollars per month. Since we have plenty of dead trees that we cut and split, and we get exercise from splitting by hand, I do not even count this as a downside (though it does take work, it can be enjoyable). Heating and cooling your house are the biggest loads of electricity.

What about AC? Where we live, it only gets hot around two months of the year. In these months, we open our windows in the evening or night and close them before it gets too warm outside in the mornings. We also will run our ceiling fan to circulate air. For the majority of the summer months, we do not miss AC. Only a few days has it truly gotten hot enough to wish we had more cooling.

Water Heater

A few months after we moved in, our water heater leaked all over. As the tank finally leaked (after 20 or so years from when the house was built), we had to purchase a new one. We discovered a few alternatives to an electrical element water heater. Depending upon your utility costs in your area, propane or natural gas might be cheaper than using an electric water heater, so look into that as well. They also make tankless water heaters (which use a ton of electricity on demand but do not heat unless needed). This may require rewiring and multiple units, so this was not the right decision for us. Passive solar water heating is a spendy but great alternative in many parts of the country.

Right as I was about to purchase a regular electric water heater, I came across a recent alternative: the hybrid electric water heater. At the time, it had rebates and tax credits which ended up completely covering the cost of the water heater. It also only uses around $120 (national average cost) worth of electricity compared to the previous $500. This $380 savings a year in itself is worth the additional cost even without rebates or tax credits (MSRP of $1399). As soon as we switched, we noticed our electric bill drop from around $50-60 to $30-40.

Setting the water heater to the lowest temperature that works for your household can save a lot as well. We set ours to heat pump only mode at 120F degrees.

Appliances

When we first bought our house, we bought all new appliances. From a financial point of view, this is not the best decision depending upon what you have, but we had planned on it and saved up for them beforehand. Try to pick out energystar appliances when you replace them. We got an energy star washer, dryer, and dishwasher. If your refrigerator is more than a decade or two old, you may save enough electricity on an energy star fridge to make it worth buying a new one. Look at the average usage per year and do the math.

A chest freezer can often be more efficient than a standup freezer, so do the math and bring that into your decision as well. Storing it in a basement rather than in a climate controlled part of your house can keep usage down as the compressor does not have to run as often to keep your food cold. Set your temperatures to the highest that is safe to eat (research this).

40 watt equivalent LED Edison bulbs in our pendant lights

Lights

We barely use our lightbulbs in our house. This is because we have so many windows. We only turn any on after dark until we go to bed (~2-5 hours depending upon the year). And the lights we use, I have switched all over to LED. LED bulbs use a fraction of the electricity of incandescent bulbs without any of the disadvantages of fluorescent. They also tend to have a longer lifespan up to 25 years instead of only a few years. Since our house is very open concept, one 60 watt equivalent LED bulb lights up most of our house. This is enough light to even read under. In winter months, the wood stove also lights the place a bit with a cozy atmosphere. We replaced our fluorescent shop lights in our kitchen with recessed LED lights that are way brighter with a much friendlier light. As LED bulbs have dropped in price in recent years, this is one of the cheapest investments you can make in dropping your electrical usage.

Further Ideas for Saving Electricity

We still use all the regular kitchen appliances such as an electric mixer/oat roller, flour mill, espresso maker, blender, toaster, etc. But we never run these very long. We do not leave our desktop computer on so only our internet router/modem are on all the time. Some people even turn these off with a timer during the middle of the night if you have phone service otherwise for emergency contact. During winter months, you can cook on top of your wood stove instead of an electric cooktop. There are also solar ovens you can purchase for cooking in the summer months without heating your place up. Using gravity fed water keeps a pump from having to be used much if any. A root cellar can help preserve many types of produce taking advantage of the earth’s stable temperature. A sunken greenhouse uses a similar concept to help grow plants year round without heating. A clothesline is a passive solar clothes dryer without a lot of work. Take it as a challenge to see how low you can get it while still being worthwhile and enjoy the savings to your wallet a year.

Once your electrical usage is down, look into the cost of solar, wind, or hydro for your area and see if the prices have gone down enough to a worthwhile investment. It is just about there for us.