7 Things I use, living off-grid

PB and I have been living 100% off-grid since December 2007, we have done most everything ourselves, mostly by hand, it’s cheaper that way. Over these last couple of years, we have discovered a few favorite items that really work well for us. These are items we actually use on a regular if not daily basis, these are things I wouldn’t want to live without.  Many of these items we salvaged (ie FREE), some we purchased and were worth every penny.

Here they are, click on the pictures to see full size:

1) Propane cook stove. We salvaged ours from an old travel trailer that was being dismantled, it has 3 burners on top and an oven. We actually have 2 of these now, we are in the process of cleaning up the second one. I haven’t decided if we will use the second one inside the sky castle or put it to use in an outdoor kitchen, either way, it will be a great addition to the one I use every day.

We got ours free from some friends who were getting rid of some old travel trailers, they needed some major cleaning, not because they had been used and not cleaned, it was because of mice. They had made homes inside the stoves, we had to remove the insulation and replace it with new, we scrubbed the stove, inside and out, after that it was as good as new. If you find a treasure like this, be sure to check and make sure the orifice for the unit is for propane, if it’s not, it will not burn properly, orifices made for natural gas are larger so if you try to use propane in a natural gas orifice, you will get a blow torch flame, ask me how I know (grin).

2) Cast iron cookware. I absolutely love my cast iron comal and 10 inch frying pan. I use them everyday. I even make biscuits (not cookies) in them, I use my comal for the biscuits, I place a deep lid on top to make it like an oven. The biggest concern about using cast iron cookware is properly cleaning and storing it. If you use it everyday, it’s not such a big deal, just wipe it out, if you do it while it’s still somewhat hot, it’s easier to clean. Do not use soap on your cast iron, do not use harsh metal scrubbers, use a plastic scrubber or a rag and some hot water to clean your pan, dry it thoroughly, oil it lightly and put it away for the next use. If you are going to store it for a long time, make sure it’s clean, oil it well, inside and on the outside, and store it until your next use. A well seasoned cast iron pan will not stick and will be easy to clean. Never, NEVER leave your cast iron pan soaking in water, they will rust. I prefer getting mine pre-seasoned from the factory, or acquiring mine second hand, preferably from someone who took care of their cast iron pans.

3) Pressure cooker. There are so many ways to use this, my only regret is that I didn’t know about these earlier in my life! The one I use is a stainless steel, 6 quart pressure cooker, it’s the perfect size for 2-4 people, it’s big enough to cook a whole chicken or a pot of beans. The main thing that I love about my pressure cooker is how fast everything cooks, it’s microwave fast! I can cook a pot of pinto beans in 15 minutes or less. The only reason it takes THAT long for me is I am at a high altitude, for anyone using it at lower altitudes, you can cook them for 6-10 minutes and they will be done. To do beans I pick and clean the beans, then soak them overnight. The next day when I’m ready to cook them, I rinse the beans, put them in the pressure cooker, cover with an inch of water (use beef or chicken stock for more flavor), add chopped onions, chili powder, ground pepper, chopped jalapeno pepper, and any other seasonings or meat I wish (wait to add the salt until after the beans are cooked). I add a little oil then close the lid and turn on the heat. Once the rocker is rocking, I turn down the heat and start timing it. For me it takes about 10 minutes. I then turn off the heat and allow the pressure to come down by itself, if you are in a hurry, you can put the pot in the sink and pour cold water over the pot until the pressure is released. I also make baked potatoes in my pressure cooker, they turn out great! Soups, stews, you name it, you can probably cook it in a pressure cooker.

With the quicker cooking times, I am using much less propane, before I used this method, I couldn’t make a pot of beans or baked potatoes, it just flat out took too much time and fuel, I couldn’t afford to use that much propane cooking all day.

4) Tankless water heater. I still remember the day when we received our tankless water heater, before that we had to heat water on the stove if we wanted or needed hot water for anything, bathing, cleaning, doing dishes… Now all I have to do is turn on the hot water tap and in seconds I have hot water.  The one we use is a smaller unit, it’s considered a portable unit though we have ours permanently mounted on the wall.

5) 12 volt water pump. Once you have water, you need a way to pump the water from one place to another, unless you are lucky enough to have gravity on your side. For us, we are pumping water from a small tank just outside the kitchen wall into the kitchen, everything is level, so we use a 12 volt water pump to move the water from the tank to the sink. The benefits of using a 12 volt pump is we can hook it up directly to the batteries, we aren’t losing energy by using an inverter.

Our pump is inside the sky cabin, near the sink, that makes things a bit noisy when the pump is on. When we first hooked up the inside plumbing, each time we turned on the faucet, the pump would come on, it sounded a bit like being next to one of those air pumps at the gas station, but it was a small price to pay to have running water. The main reason we keep it inside the sky castle is to keep it from freezing during the winter.

6) Pressure tank This is something that isn’t completely necessary, not like the water pump, but it certainly has made life better. The way a pressure tank works is it is first and foremost a tank, it has a rubber bladder inside, on one side is air under pressure, the other side is for the water, it allows the water to be under pressure, that way the water pump does not have to run each time we turn on the water faucet. Now it’s much quieter in the sky castle, until the pump has to come on to pump up the pressure tank, it runs for several minutes, then goes off until it’s needed again.

We salvaged these as well, someone was upgrading their equipment and do longer needed their old pressure tank. All we had to do was clean this one up, it had sat for a while unused, we had to run bleach water through it a few times because it had a mold smell, once we flushed it a couple of times, the mold smell was gone and it works like a charm. Since then, we have acquired a second pressure tank in the same way, it’s always a good idea to have backups. Now our water starts out in a tank, goes through the wall in a hose, this goes to the 12 volt water pump, next it goes to the pressure tank, from there it goes to the cold side of the sink faucet, another pipe goes to the tankless water heater then to the hot water side of the faucet. Another pipe goes to the Berkey Light water purifier, which brings me to the next item.

7) Berkey Light Water Filter. It’s debatable whether or not this water purifier is a necessity, I would say it is, even though our water out here is very good, we are still storing it in a tank before using it, I prefer running my drinking and cooking water through the Berkey Light water purifier. This unit is perfect for off-grid use, it requires no electricity or water pressure, it is strictly gravity fed, all you have to do is fill the top reservoir and let the water trickle down through the filters, you get clean great tasting water in the bottom reservoir.

We have automated the filling process by cutting a hole in the top cover and running a water pipe into the top. all I have to do is turn on a valve for a few seconds and the top reservoir is filled. The only maintenance is about once a month or so, I empty the purifier, I disassemble the top from the bottom tanks, I remove the filter cartridges, I clean everything with a 3M green scrubby pad, I reassemble everything then fill the top tank. I always put in a few drops of food coloring (or Kool-aid) in the top to test everything, if everything is OK, the water coming through the cartridges is perfectly clear, no color (or Kool-aid) comes through.

I would have liked to make this a nice neat 10 item list, but in all honesty, those 7 items are the most useful and important to us, there are probably others, but for now I’ll leave the list at 7.

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27 Responses

  1. I’m getting ho e built & living off-grid. When I was getting quote for well from the driller, it included a pressure tank and on demand pump. I was told that a pressure tank wasnt necessary that the on demand will suffice. Is a pressure tank really worth the extra cost? I’m building a 8k solar system with plenty of battery storage (16k blue ion lithium bank).

  2. Hi, new to site and looking at older entries. I enjoy yours. Nice to hear about fellow off-gridders. My husband and I teach dutch oven cooking to 4-H classes. You can wash cast iron with soap as long as the cast iron isn’t hot. When it’s hot it opens the pores and lets the soap into the cast iron. Sometimes it’s good to freshen up your cast iron cookware with soapy water. Just rinse real well, then dry over flame or burner and while it’s very hot (pores open)rub with oil to season. Hope that helps. On “must haves”, we bought a set of ryobi 18 volt cordless tools with extra rechargable batteries. Set includes circular saw, saws-all, drill and hammer drill. We recharge batteries off our solar power, and when you’re doing a lot of construction and home fix up projects it sure saves on the solar power and the need to run a generator. Again, I am enjoying your posts. We can learn from each other. Have a wonderful day.

  3. BeingStill: Wretha is correct in thinking that I was trying to be funny. I forget that my sense of humor takes a while to comprehend some times.
    I concur with everything Wretha says. Having lived for a few Years in a VW camper in a past life, I learned to enjoy the benefits of Propane, Other Petroleum products, I’m not to fond of. Living in a confined space makes even the slightest fume buildup unbearable. This led me to using vegetable oil for lamp oil. I used ordinary cooking oil and it works well with very little odor. I found that adding a few percent of beeswax to the oil causes it to gel nicely, making it less of a spill hazard when cold. Vegetable shortening such as Crisco make excellent candles in a container such as a votive glass and burn extremely clean. The other advantage is that the vegetable products can be eaten, not something that can be done with Petroleum products.

  4. BeingStill, I think Mainah was trying to be funny, no one is seriously suggesting using WD40 for anything edible…

    Joe, all the portable water heaters I have seen, including the ones we have and use, say they must be used outside or be vented. We use ours inside and we do not vent it, this is a calculated risk we take, our cabin is far from airtight and I only run the water heater for short bursts, no more than a few minutes at the most, so I don’t worry about getting a buildup of any noxious fumes. Now, once we have our shower setup finished, we will be using a second propane water heater (same model), that one will be vented outside, taking a shower will mean running the water heater for longer periods of time and that would be a problem if we didn’t vent it.

    The one in the pictures, the one we use in the kitchen area has a thermal barrier between it and the wall, as well as a thermal barrier on the ceiling right above it, there are always precautions that should be taken, don’t want to set my place on fire just because I want to do the dishes. LOL!

  5. I was thinking about a similar hot water set up. Most portable water heaters I’ve seen say not to use inside. Do you use any venting system? I was thinking of just getting some carbon monoxide detectors to install.

  6. RE: Mainah:
    WD-40 is toxic and NOT an actual oil. It’s actually a CLEANER… not a lubricant, even though it’s sold as a lubricant!! Please don’t eat off ANYTHING even NEAR WD-40!!!

  7. From a grateful person: thanks for things like this list… it really helps someone like me know where to put my priorities…means a lot.

    Quick note to Laurie if she comes back to this page:
    Are you saying you have rentals to rent to other people, and they are green/possibly are-could be-partially off-grid/and need to find renters for them? Or… the opposite? Anyone see a re-post around on this from her, maybe?

    Thanks folks…

  8. How come no one on this site has checked out producing ethanol in an ecologically designed farm for your own sustainability. Ethanol is way cleaner than propane and anybody can produce it themselves, you can cook with it or run a generater on it or even your diesel and gasoline vehicles with very little conversion, Check out the book Alcohal Can Be A Gas.Com, I hope this will help I’m building my still as I write this and hope to be producing early next year after getting my permit which is free for the asking from the government, we can produce 10K gallons per year for our own personal use tax free! We can also get a tax credit from the government for every gallon produced. I hope this will help some of you out there.

  9. The oven in both my 1960s units had a thermocouple to figure out if the pilot light was working. Might be a Canadian requirement. There was one for the top pilot light too, but I wouldn’t use a pilot light for a gas stove anyway… any old spark will do. The oven has to have a pilot light so the burner can turn off and on to keep the temperature. I have not seen a pilot light ever with no thermocouple.

    1. Len, the one in the picture (the one we are using full time) has no thermocouple, maybe a pilot light, not sure, we turn off the gas when we aren’t immediately using it. The other one we are cleaning up apparently had a pilot light and a thermocouple, it also has a thermostat for the oven, the one inside does not have a thermostat, it’s either on or off, no in between. Honestly I’m just glad to have either one so I can cook. I have gotten pretty good at using my comal with a tall lid to make biscuits and pizza on the stove top. :)

      1. Wretha, can you please post a step by step instructional on how to make biscuits on the stove using your cast iron? I’ve attempted this several times and can’t seem to get them cooked evenly! Also, I have a pressure cooker I have never used because I was worried that since it uses heat, it would be too much for our 400w solar array. Thoughts??


        1. Hi Amanda,

          Thanks for writing and asking me questions :)
          Step by step instructions for making biscuits on the stove top, unfortunately I tend to cook by the seat of my pants, but I’ll do the best I can at explaining it, I make drop biscuits made from Bisquick, I get my cast iron pan hot (not smoking, just hot), I put some butter in the bottom and drop in the biscuits. I cover the pan with a large tall lid to hold in the heat, I cook over low heat until the biscuits are done, I have no idea how much time that takes, I just watch them to make sure they don’t cook too fast and burn on the bottom. Honestly it’s been a while since I’ve done that on my stovetop, I usually bake them in the oven now.

          You asked about using a pressure cooker and if it would be too much for your solar system, are you using an electric stove? I hope you aren’t, cooking with electricity takes a LOT LOT LOT of power, anything that purposely creates heat using electricity is very wasteful and takes a lot of power. Maybe you have an electric pressurecooker, in that case I would definitely say you wouldn’t be able to use it on your system. I’d suggest trading it for regular old fashion stainless steel pressure cooker (not a canner). I love mine and use it on a regular basis.

          I hope I answered your questions well enough, if not, please don’t hesitate to ask more :)


  10. I’ve only just found this website tonight and enjoyed your post – we live off-grid in Ireland and use mostly the same favourite items as yourself.

    One of our recent pick-ups at a car boot sale was an old electric slow cooker which we use when it’s windy here.

    We also bought a single ring induction hob this year and have used it a lot over the summer because we have had plenty of electricity coming from the PV panels and we have had a good breeze every day.

    We really like that the induction hob uses magnets as the electricity to run it comes from magnets – our wind turbine. Our old enamel cast iron casserole pot is great on the small ultra modern cooker.

    Now, I must go and have a good read of the rest of the site.

  11. Speaking of cooking beans in a pressure cooker; I released the pressure a little bit too soon once and was scraping beans off of the ceiling for days.

    Be sure to use vegetable oil on the Cast Iron. WD-40 doesn’t taste very good.

    Great article.

    We like yard sales for picking up kitchen stuff.

    1. Mainah, haven’t had to scrape beans off the ceiling before, that must be fun. :) The newer pressure cookers will not allow you to open them if they still have any pressure in them, and yes, veg oil is much preferred over WD40. LOL


  12. Len, what thermocouple? Ours is old enough not to have those, we light them the old fashioned way, with a lighter, actually we use a lighter that is out of fuel, we just use the spark from it.

    Thanks HJ, didn’t know you followed me here, :), yes, those things do make life much more enjoyable.

  13. The other thing I have found with used propane stoves is that the thermocouple always seems to be gone. I’ve had two and always just used the top lit by hand. I have read that the old “white gas” cookers work better at higher altitudes, but that would mean hauling two kinds of fuel. Tankless water heat is great.

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