Mas del Encanto is 100% of the grid. This means we are not connected to mains power (the electricity grid), mains water (the water grid) or other networks like gas or sewer. This was a conscious choice; we didn’t want to depend on other people for our comfort and we were tired of all the monthly bills… So when we started looking for a property to buy, we knew we wanted one far enough from villages to not be connected to the grid.
However, we didn’t want to change our lifestyle too much – we certainly didn’t want to lose any of the comfort we were so used to. This page is about how we set up the house and its systems – it’s a work in progress and we might want to change certain details in the future. If you’re contemplating doing something similar or if you’re just curious, don’t hesitate to contact us!
We live on solar electricity. We have twelve solar panels (polycrystalline) that are connected to a charge controler; this makes sure the energy collected by the solar panels is stored into the batteries. We have 24 2-volts batteries, which makes for a total of 48 volts. Our (8kVA) inverter converts what’s coming out of the batteries into a voltage suitable for use (230 volt, in our case).
The whole system is hooked up to a generator (9kW continuous power / 12kW peak power), that will take over automatically in case the batteries are running low – it also charges the batteries if possible.
If this sounds like Gobbledegook to you, don’t worry, you’re not alone. The main thing is that we’ve got plenty of power to go around; and if we don’t, the generator will make sure we don’t have anything to worry about. In theory, the batteries are big enough to provide us with electricity for three days when it’s too cloudy for the solar panels to collect sunlight.
When we moved from the city to our little corner of paradise, we made a list of all the appliances we had or we wanted to get once we lived here. We make sure we get energy-efficient appliances (for instance, we sold our old fridge in Amsterdam and got an A+++ fridge here in Spain) and that way, we didn’t have to make big lifestyle changes when we moved here; although we sold the dryer in the Netherlands and didn’t get one here in Spain… things dry much better outside on the line on sunny, windy days (we get those year round).
Before the big house was finished, we lived in the maset (the renovated donkey stable a few terraces down), which is off the grid as well. It has its separate solar system, which is not as big as the one up here; it’s tiny, but still plenty to work a fridge, laptops and phones, light and sometimes an incubator 🙂
On the whole, we didn’t make big changes when we moved off the grid. Although I have to say we were always a bit conscious of our electricity bill, so we were never big consumers. Now we don’t get any bills anymore, and that feels great.
When we moved here, we a diviner came to our land and indicated the best spot to dig a borehole – which we did, and it’s fantastic. That being said, we were never presented with other options, and knowing what I know now, we might not do the borehole again; some of our friends and neighbours have had bad experiences with them (getting salty / silty water, the borehole collapsing, water being struck 100 meter lower than predicted which cost thousands of extra euros,…) and it’s a lot of hassle to get approved for running a bed & breakfast on. In this area, we get more than enough annual rainfall to live off – and since we’ve got a big roof over our heads, a few gigantic tanks might have been all it takes. Now, the rainwater will go to a natural swimming pool / water catchment pond / irrigation (work in progress, planned for the winter of 2017-2018). A third option would have been to get water delivered to our house – not the most ecological solution, but probably the cheapest and the least complicated now we’re running a B&B.
Ah well, back to the borehole. We’ve got a 4500 liter tank, which is the big blue thing on the picture above… since taking that photo, we’ve hid the tank inside a stone building, to protect it from the sun. A level control checks on the water level in the tank continuously; it will make sure that the tank is always full. It’s on a time switch, so it makes sure the water only gets pumped up between 11 and 14h, to make the most use of the sun.
We have several filters before and after the tank; we also have a pressure pump between the tank and the house, to make sure we get a good stream of water instead of just a drizzle.
We’ve had the water tested multiple times already (in different seasons, from different places) and mostly it’s just great. It is certainly potable, and it’s full of minerals; we get a bit of extra limescale which is annoying (but nothing a lemon scrub can’t fix) but apart from that, we love having water from our own borehole. It’s 140m deep, which means the water comes from an underground stream that is unaffected by chemicals used in local agriculture (it also helps that we’re a bit higher up, not many chemicals being used there).
However, we still provide our guests with bottled water – drinking water from our borehole is our choice, but we understand not everybody likes that idea.
HEATING & HOT WATER
The inertia tank that will soon heat our whole house
At the moment I’m writing this, our hot water still gets heated by a gas boiler. However, this is a temporary measure; in February 2017, our wood stove was installed… as soon as everything is connected (we’re currently waiting for the chimney to be delivered), we’ll be able to heat the house on wood alone.
The wood stove is connected to a 500L water tank downstairs – which means the fire heats the water in the tank. This hot water goes to the radiators, and a heat coil in the tank makes sure we get hot water for the tap and showers. We’re still keeping the gas boiler for backup though – and to use in summer. Our experience is that we use a lot less hot water in summer though; for a while we were contemplating the acquisition of a solar boiler to heat water in summer – but we soon realised this would not be worth the investment for now.
It’s such a waste when water just goes down the drain after use and doesn’t get used again… which is why we really wanted a grey / black water system. We’ve had to make a lot of concessions there, mostly for financial reasons; having a fully functional grey water system (where water from the shower is used for the toilet, and water from said toilet is used to water the plants with) would require so many more pipes, a few pumps and a lot of paperwork… So we settled for a simplified version: water from the upstairs bathroom gets reused in the big planter downstairs. Which at this time is not operational yet, as we don’t have any trees in the planter yet… Hopefully in the spring of 2017.
This is another concession we had to make.
In the maset (the tiny house we lived in before the big house was finished), we had a composting toilet; it felt great to know that our body waste would be used (in a few years) to fertilise our trees with. Even more, we never had to flush it.
However, we decided not to do this in the big house; partly for financial reasons (our first composting toilet was DIY, but a “real” composting toilet is not cheap), partly to simplify things when it came to permits and stuff. After having lived with a composting toilet for a little while, I still feel a little pang inside every time I flush my real toilet.
Waste from our toilets goes into two different septic tanks with overflow.
The internet is the only thing we kind of cheat with – we’re online, so we’re technically on a network. We get our internet with radio waves, the antenna is in Horta de Sant Joan (which is the village we have the best line of sight to… but there’s other villages with antennae). It’s fantastic; most of the time our internet is faster than what we were used to in Amsterdam. Sometimes however (usually on Sundays or holidays), too many tourists in the area try to post the pictures of their fantastic weekend in Matarraña, and the network gets a bit too crowded and slow… Everything goes back to normal on Monday mornings though.