This is a guest post by Michael Scheer about his two off-grid cabins in Northern Arizona.
My name is Michael and about 5 years ago I wanted an off grid place for vacation and retirement. Like many others I am tired of bills, bills, bills and knew I would never have enough money to retire on unless I became debt free and my home was paid off.
A couple years passed and as things happened I had a friend who went through a divorce (I recently moved out of my ex-girlfriends home 8 months prior) and he needed help monetarily in order to buy a home and asked me to move in. The move cut my rent in half and enabled me along with my bonus check to purchase some land I found in northern Arizona at about 6500 ft elevation. Summers are mild with highs in the low 90’s high 80’s and winters are in the 40’s and 50’s with light snow. I picked up 6 acres for less than $4k.
Months later I decided to put in my first cabin. I bought a 10′ x 18′ cabin shell from Weather King Portable Cabins for approximately $4,200. I put in paneling, bed, couch, small coleman table/sink combo and shelving. I also purchased some solar panels and four 35amp hour batteries for power. I camped out until the cabin was delivered, this was in late May.
I had everything unpacked and was getting ready to work on the cabin when long behold a blizzard hit, my paneling was flying across the land, stuff was getting wet and the temperature went from 75 degrees to 30 degrees in a matter of minutes. Luckily, I have one neighbor (only one) who lives about 100 yards away who came to help, we got everything inside and covered and the learning experience began. Please enjoy, learn more and re-share below. Thank you!
Man Builds Two Off-Grid Cabins in Northern Arizona
Images © Michael Scheer
After a couple of years of trials and errors, and frustrating problems I am close to being done. To make a long story short the biggest hurdles are toilet, water and power, here is what I did.
The toilet was expensive but I settled on a composting toilet, Nature’s Head. I was able to hook the fan wires up to my solar charge controller load and it works perfectly. It never smells and is as big as a conventional toilet. The cost is about $1,000, but worth it. Using a bucket with a bag and hauling it really smells, especially in the summer, so I HIGHLY recommend this composting toilet instead!! If I have guests I also have a flushable portable toilet on hand which I can put in the large cabin.
The small cabin on the left is 10′ x 18′ and the large cabin on the right is 12′ x 30′. In the end the small cabin became my bedroom/bathroom and the large cabin is my kitchen, dining and family/guest room. Inside the large cabin there is a sofa that folds out to a queen size bed for guests.
The water is still a work in progress but I am happy where I am at with it now. I have a 600 gallon water buffalo and two 300 gallon tanks. I can get water at the fire station in town which is about 10 miles away. I use 5 gallon buckets, one full and one empty and Zodi portable instant hot sprayers for my sinks and shower. So far they have lasted over a year on the same batteries, I highly recommend them. My shower is in a resin shed on the outside of my small cabin, I heat water up on my butane stove or wood stove on colder weather. A well is the next step but we shall see, so far it is out of my price range.
When it’s hot I have a portable swamp cooler which does cool by 20 degrees. I have a 5.0 cubic freezer for food. It’s an igloo and uses less power then a small refrigerator. I know this because I bought both, first I purchased the refrigerator, which is 1.8 cubic feet and uses 185KW a year vs. the freezer which uses 174KW a year. I also went with the freezer not only for room, but I also bought freezer packs and use a cooler as my refrigerator. This way I just switch out the freezer packs every few days and my fresh food stays cool, during the winter I can put everything outside on my porch.
Last of all power. I ended up with four 100 watt panels, ten 35 amp hour SLA batteries and a 30 amp charge controller on the small cabin. I have a cobra 1500 watt inverter that works very well. The large cabin has six 100 watt panels, a 45 amp hour charge controller and a 2500 watt Whistler inverter. The challenge was what size wire to use on the batteries. The small cabin I use 4awg and the large cabin I use 0/2 awg. Since using these gauge wires I have had no problems.
For the solar panels, I nailed 4×8 plywood to wooden sawhorses and then tarred the plywood (3/4 in thick). I then glued the panels to plastic solar panel moldings and it seems to work just fine. Its heavy but movable (if need be) and durable. It is very windy up here, and so far no issues and it’s been about 2 years.
Images © Michael Scheer
This has been one heck of a learning experience and all I have left to do is put in the wood stove in the large cabin, which will be done very soon. I watched a ton of Youtube videos and read hundreds of articles, believe me this was not easy. I changed some things more than two or three times, so, for whomever tries this, be patient.
A big thank you to Michael Scheer for sharing his story with us!
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