Can a city boy build his dream homestead on a mountain, by himself and with no mortgage?

Look out SoCal Edison, PG&E and DWP!

It was a cold blustery Thanksgiving weekend up on the mountain. Temps have dropped into the low-mid 50’s day and 20’s at night. The cabin was ccccold. It was time to try out ny new “Lil Buddy” propane heater!

I bought the heater at Camping World for about $80 last spring but never needed it until now. You screw a 1 gallon propane cylinder into the side valve and simply push the button and…instant heat.

It took about an hour to get the cabin from 24 degrees up to 60 degrees. Since it’s a combustion based heater, I need to crack the window open about 1/4 of an inch to vent the carbon monoxide (and NEVER run the thing while you’re asleep, NEVER!). A full cylinder should last 3-6 hours depending on how high you turn the thermostat. I heated up the cabin, shut of the heater, closed the window and slept like a baby. It was back down to about 48 in the morning but it was 28 outside. By the time I got back from making coffee in the trailer, the room was toasty warm.

In the pics above and below, you can see the Ikea $20 solar powered LED desk lamps. Sit it in the window in the sun for several hours and you’ll get 4 hours of reading light, they work like a charm for $20!

My other favorite toy is my new Makita 18v radio. It runs on 18 volt cordless power tool batteries. It has a terrific sound, big bass, and a surprisingly powerful antennae, all for $99 at the Home Depot. I also fell in love with the little LED flashlights you get at the cash register at the AutoZone, 2 for $5 and they work great.I have several and leave them spread around the car, truck, trailer and cabin so there’s always one handy.

Before I came up to the mountain, I found this Sunforce Solar Kit online at, it was highly recommended on one of the Solar Homesteading Yahoo groups I like.

It has 4 – 15 watt solar panels, a mounting frame, 120v inverter, charge controller, wiring and all the mounting hardware. It goes for $700 but Amazon was having a Black Friday Cyber-Sale and it was only $289! I was so excited, I told my best buddy Garzo. He had a bunch of American Express “points” that were expiring so for my Christmas present, Garzo cashed in his $100 in points and bought me the solar kit for only $189 AND they threw in free shipping (it’s a 62 lb box!).  I was gonna get Garzo a 12-pack of local micro-brewed beer (but I’m rethinking that now).

I’m so excited I could scream. Now I’ll have solar AND wind power!

I think that instead of the 30′ pole tower for the wind turbine, I’ll build a tall, narrow battery shed for the deep cycle batteries, orient the roof so that I can mount the solar panels on the roof AND put the windmill on a roof bracket attached to the shed. It’ll be my own little power generating station.  Elroy’s Power Company! This will allow me to store the gas generator in the tool shed and keep the charging batteries in their own hut, away from gasoline fumes and spark-generating metal tools.

I’m gonna take the time over the Christmas break to build the power shed, I should have enough scrap lumber to get it all framed up. Garzo will help and if I can guarantee a BBQ-d steak dinner and get the place decorated for the holidays, I may be able to coax some of my local homesteading friends over to help…before the snow comes!

24 responses

  1. NICE! Love to hear you’re getting ready to get all that off-grid stuff humming. The turbine looks great.

    One thought, as I recall the theft from our Solar Burrito buddy up in Washington… might want to noodle over ways to build your power station sturdy enough to thwart thieves.

    November 30, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    • Yes Michael, their theft has me worried. The whole reason I’m building the battery shed is so I can mount the solar panels and turbine permanently to the roof so they can’t be stolen. I’ve also made other security changes that will help when I’m not there. As much as I enjoy blogging and sharing my process, I don’t want to announce any security details. Suffice to say I’m much more comfortable leaving the place unattended!

      December 2, 2010 at 11:37 pm

  2. I grew up with wood and kero heat, we slept with it on all of the time safely. I would not want to now unless I had a carbon monoxide detector and smoke alarm though.

    Also, those little buddies have an attachment where you can hook them up to bigger propane tanks, might save you some money to refill the big tank instead of buying those small ones.

    Love your blog!

    November 30, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    • Thanks Annie! I thought about the larger tank but that would mean putting it outside which technically could make the cabin “a heated structure” and possibly “connected to any outside utilities”, as all the people in my area use external propane tanks. I want to do as much as possible to stay street legal!

      December 1, 2010 at 8:36 am

      • What about a small outside or inside closet? Done correctly, no one would be the wiser about what was in there and you could lock it to keep out prying eyes. Let’s be honest: if it blows up outside you would be just as dead as if it blowed up inside lol!

        December 1, 2010 at 11:00 pm

  3. Jeff

    I own the same set and used it last year for my burning man camp. They provided more than enough power to charge my battery while running a small homemade swamp cooler. My only regret is that I haven’t been able to use them since…

    Between the wind genny and the panels you’re all set!

    November 30, 2010 at 11:01 pm

  4. Wes Bartholomew

    What an inspiration you are !!!! I’m working on my 75th birthday, but before getting there, by golly, I’m going to be starting the basic design for one of these fantastic “escape mechanisms”. I LOVE the concept! Merry Christmas…. Give Garzo a big hug along with that wonderful dinner, and I bet everything will turn out just fine. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Wes

    November 30, 2010 at 11:07 pm

  5. Dude, you’re an inspiration. Can’t wait until it’s all up wired and running.

    December 1, 2010 at 7:23 am

  6. Erik Ordway
    Is the tank adaptor for the little throw away tank to a BBQ tank. That way you can say the tank is for the BBQ that you are storing there.

    December 1, 2010 at 8:47 am

    • I actually have the hose, Camping World gave it away free with the heater!
      This set-up would work like the heat is in the trailer. If I do it I’ll need to be safe and up to code. Wouldn’t I have to run a copper gas pipe through a hole in the wall to access the tank on the outside?

      December 1, 2010 at 8:56 am

      • Erik Ordway

        Ok here is a different tactic. Refill the small tanks from a big one. The biggest issue is that you need to make sure that you never over fill them.

        About 10 years ago a safety law when in place the requires over fill blockers that stop the big tanks from being over filled. The little disposable ones lack this. Basically if there is no room in the tank for expansion as the tank warms up they have a habit of going bang. The Instructable shows how to prevent this.

        December 1, 2010 at 9:26 pm

      • Good Lord Erik, I’m pretty sure I’d explode those smaller canisters, LOL!
        I’m going to revisit adding a propane inlet to the cabin when I get up there this weekend. The “BBQ” ruse is perfect for the land police and I love the idea of not having to keep buying those tiny canisters!

        December 1, 2010 at 9:35 pm

      • Erik Ordway

        You could also put a little pass thru port in the wall for running things like this and power cords. I think the copper is for permanent installations which this is not.

        I have a long history of bodging solutions that are not esthetically pleasing.

        When I was a kid we lived about a mile from the power lines so we heated/cooked with wood, lit house with kerosene lamps and had a propane powered fridge that was mounted thru the wall so that the tank and flame were outside.

        Latter on we got an ‘RV’ power hookup in the yard and ran extension cables to the house. The power coop was nice and sent a letter a month ahead, with the date, before the yearly meter reading so that could clean up.

        Have fun and keep warm.

        December 1, 2010 at 9:52 pm

  7. Jeff

    I absolutely love the simple, clean, organized set up. I read lots of blogs for ideas on what I am going to build on my property, and you are doing it right! Your warm, have power, phone, and it looks good. I read this one blog where the kid is actually sleeping in single digit temperatures, all his water is freezing, his building methods are going to fail miserably and he will not accept “constructive” advise, I wish he would take a look at your blog. I like the way you plan things out and do your research, it shows.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    • Thanks Jeff, I appreciate your kind words man. I do feel some sympathy for that other blogger. Some people are determined to learn the hard way. After all is said and done though, building a house is one of life’s great journeys and sometimes folks choose the long, bumpy, frozen road, even if it means their hut could collapse from not being properly framed or connected to it’s base frame!

      December 1, 2010 at 9:31 pm

  8. Wee done on winning the little turbine but please do not put it on the shed roof. I am familiar with those little turbines (should only be rated at 200watts by the way for average wind). If you place in on the shed roof you will have turbulence affecting it’s performance.
    I know that this may become a problem because we were asked to repair one (same model judging by the picture and rating) which had damaged brushes. Turbulence will create more trouble for your brushes than placing it in clean air on a pole.
    Check this guy out for serious information on domestic wind turbines, he has been using and building them since the 70s and this is a link to his article on roof-mounted turbines
    You will be glad to have clean wind available to the turbine if you place it on a pole – it will also be much harder to steal if it is placed on a guyed pole and you remove the gin pole after installation. It’s such a shame that you have to consider theft as a problem, it’s not something that we have to worry about where we live in Ireland.
    I live off-grid myself with my husband (wind and pv) and we are currently building a home by ourselves and using as much reclaimed material as possible, I read the tiny house blog and that’s how I found myself here.

    December 4, 2010 at 6:48 am

  9. Dude, awesome!! We have a propane heater in our tiny house (wall-mounted and hooked up to an external tank) and we love it. I was pretty worried about the whole carbon monoxide thing, but we leave it on low most of the day and even while we’re sleeping and we’re still kickin’! 🙂 (Don’t worry, we’re safe.) The IKEA solar lamp is just what I need—too bad I have to go to IKEA to get it… and the solar panel–what a GREAT deal! I wish we could afford it (even on sale, that’s most of a paycheck for me). Good for you!!

    December 4, 2010 at 1:32 pm

  10. Moontree Ranch

    I’ve been using a Mr. Heater on the top of a pair of 20# propane tanks in my shop for years. When we first set up our cabin in N NM I used one of those for heat…it did pretty good for minimal insulation and 200 sq ft. Our small wood stove does the work now one “split” of pinon will last about 3 hours.

    Pics of the stove can be found here.

    December 9, 2010 at 9:05 am

  11. I got one of those Sunforce 60 Watt solar panel kits from Costco last year (they were a little over $300), and if I could redo that purchase, I would. Within a year of use, the flimsy PVC frame has fallen apart, and one of the 4 panels stopped generating output. For another $300, I got a 100 Watt panel, which is a much better deal (and I built my own frame/tracker, which’ll last longer). Having said that, it seems like you got yours for a more reasonable price, so unlike me, hopefully you’ll get your money’s worth…

    December 14, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    • Sorry to hear your panel failed Ry, I’ll be mounting mine flat to the roof of the shed (it’s angled to the South 15 degrees) so I figure the frame will last much longer and the panels won’t move around so there’s no chance the connections will get loose. Since my panels are a gift, I’m hopeful Garzo’s Xmas money was well spent!
      Congrats on your windows btw, 2.1 looks great!

      December 15, 2010 at 7:57 am

  12. A handful of people were talking up a “complete” system from Harbor freight…3 panels battery, charge controller etc..I decide to get “Real” parts…the harbor freights units had plastic backs…and could not be mounted like real panels. I built a simple angled frame from aluminum angle iron…calculated its angle combined with my cabins roof pitch..110 ah gel and a morning star charge controller make of some more.

    thing have been running smoothly for over a year

    December 15, 2010 at 8:29 pm

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  14. Carlos Hafner

    Please, send me Site/Blog updates!

    March 17, 2011 at 6:43 am

  15. Kyle

    This might be an option. I have been looking into heating a small “shed” I’m building. I looked at some small wood stoves and they all needed a lot of wall clearance. I started looking at marine stoves and found these nifty little Fatsco coal stoves. They have a top attachment for cooking. They don’t have the best site but you can click on some photos.

    June 30, 2011 at 12:52 pm

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