Okay the goal is to cut the electric bill and have lights and power during outages. Oh and not to spend thousands! Through trial and error we plan to create a kit that is user friendly and easy to install with no ugly solar panels on the roof.
Working on it a few hours a week after work and purchasing a few items at a time it should be completed in about 2-3 months.
Day 1 - Color coded Romex. At a glance the house wiring is white Romex and the Solar wiring will be white with black stripes. The entire family has sat cut and taped over a hundred feet of Romex so far.
Day 2 – Purchased 2 small can lights with halogen bulbs. We changed out the bulbs to the 3 watt LED GU10 bulbs. After carefully planning where to place the lights we decided that the livingroom would be our first victim. We place the light so that it could be used as an accent light or as a primary light if the power went out.
Once the light and light switch was installed, we decided to hook it up to the existing house power to see what it looked like. Oh My LOVE It! After the project is complete, we may change out the light switch to a timer and use this light as a security/night light.
Day 3 - It took us a few days to find a spot for the 2nd light and switch. We decided the center of the bathroom counter at the other end of the house. Once again I love it! We will be back at a later date to add 2 more lights for a total of 9watts to light the bathroom.
Day 4 - We sat in the family room adding black electrical tape to color code more Romex
Day 5 Well it was nearly a week before we could get back to the solar project. We need to work mostly outside and it’s been raining. Instead we’ve added some nice solar powered outlets to the project.
The bedrooms now have a solar powered outlet and a light switch that controls an outlet. This is my favorite feature so far. No more fumbling to turn on the lamp in the dark.
Just hit the switch next to the bed. Awesome!
Day 6 -
We changed the front porch and one hall light from the utility company feed to our solar feed. Physically it all works great, but there are a few kinks to work out.
1. I’d love to change out the fixtures in the hall and porch, they are older, square recessed fixtures that can only take a screw base bulb and the LED does not produce enough light for the hall area and closet. So we are using a CFL that takes more watts than we planned. This will be fine for now and I’m sure larger wattage LED bulbs that fit will be out soon.
2. The LED screw base light bulbs have a buzz to them. It’s annoying to the family. (I can’t hear it). Taking them back to the store. (Days later) We never took the bulbs back they are in the hall on in the front porch fixtures.
3. Since it is raining out we have not done much outside. We need to purchase a medium amp hour batteries and a solar panel. I’m trying to find locally a relativity inexpensive true deep cycle batteries and solar panels.
Right now the system runs off of my 1969 Mustangs battery (the wrong type of battery for this PV project but it will do for now). and one small 7.5 watt amorphous solar panel, AC automotive trickle charger (no sun, it’s been raining) or the house power. When the battery is fully charged and powering the system we have 6 hours of continuous light. The goal is 18 hours of light to accommodate for at least 8 hours of daily use and non-charging cloudy days.
The rain has given us time to properly calculate all the battery amp hours, and solar panel watts needed for the system under the worst conditions (ie.. cloudy cold days or extremely hot days.) Just like me batteries and solar panels like 75 degree sunny days or their efficiency drops.
Day 7 – We finally got around to the finding a box for the batteries. We thought about building a nice, small wooden shed, but figured it would just slow the project down (At least it’s out of the Rubbermaid container). Luckily we found a container that was perfect for the batteries charge, controller and inverter.
Now to drill holes in it for the wiring. Today I have been trying to find batteries for the system that are local and not massively expensive. (We are still running off of my 69 mustang battery.)
To be really honest, today was vegi garden day. Since we had to move one of the above ground vegetable planting beds for the solar box and it was a nice day,we got distracted.
The Solar project and the vegetable garden share the same area on the very sunny side of the house. We’ve been using broken paving stones and bricks to make all the pathways in the garden. Nearly everything in the garden area is recycled and reused from other projects. So adding the solar project here is a perfect fit
Day 8 – 9
We finally bought a new AGM battery for the system. A quick hook up with an inverter and meter we will find out if the system really works as planned.
Almost 10 hours now and the lights in my house are still on (except the bedrooms) using our back up system. Yes, I did get up at 3am just to check and see if the lights were still on. The goal is 18+ hours before the need to recharge to accommodate for cloudy days and do it for very little $$.
The monthly utility savings so far could be up to 15%, aiming for 30%.
We manage to get 14+ hours before we turned off the lights just because. The battery was down .3volts from last night Wow!
With all those lights on we barely scratched the surface of our new battery’s power.
The sun is out & the system is recharging via a small test solar panel @.33amp and 7.5watts
Day 10 It’s amazing how a little solar panel just sitting on top of the battery box is able to keep up(barely and on a sunny day) with only our test power usage. Once we add 2 more bedrooms, 2 overheads in the family room and convert 2 outdoor coachman lights solar panels will be needed. But first we need to build the mounts since the solar panels will not be going on the roof . The solar panels are going to be place so that they take up no yard space and will barely be seen by visitors or neighbors. I have 2 designs. but we are going to use the easiest and most cost effective design first. Let’s see how this works?
Day 11- Back to Lowes shortly for more Romex and AC outlet boxes.The family has really taken a liking to the solar lighting we’ve installed in the house. The lights and light switches are just where they want them, so they prefer to use the solar. By the end of the day there will be solar lighting in nearly every room of the house.
We found an old 20watt solar panel in the shed . (Can’t even remember why we have it) Anyway, we are going to use it to charge the battery for now. (We keep increasing the load, that’s a good thing right?) We might even use the smaller one too. That will take a little planning though solar panels are picky when not of the same wattage.Once we finish wiring and know what the final load will be we’ll purchase the solar panels. Trying not to make too many mistakes on this project. Mistakes =$$$
Day 12 –
A lot was accomplished this weekend even though we had trouble wiring one of the bedrooms and had a little mishap. We spent over an hour trying to feed Romex from the attic down an outside wall. What a pain! Nothing we did worked. Every other room took maybe 10 minutes to accomplish the same task.
In the picture you’ll notice a light switch next to the bed, it controls the light at the desk.
We have 2 bedrooms wired like this. My son and daughter love the new lights in their rooms. They turn of and on the lights from the bed. With both lights on in one room, it uses only 6 watts.
We also painted and ran the conduit on the outside of the house. Everything now runs into the box. It’s starting to really take shape in the power box. We were doing great until we bumped the inverter clamps and shorted out the inverter. Oops! Note – when it is getting dark and you can’t see that well, stop! Thank goodness we were only using a 400 watt inverter and it’s not expensive.
Day 13 - The new inverter is nice and we are up and running again. Today it’s 80 degrees and the side of the house where we are working feels more like 95, hot and miserable. Tomorrow it will be barely 50 with rain and snow just 20 miles away. What a difference a day makes.
(Do not try this at home) Since we are cheap, we took apart the old inverter. It says clearly on the label “no serviceable parts, Do not open!” What the heck it’s already broken. Anyway, after replacing the 2 fuses inside the inverter, it works great.
Our original system would be just about done, but once we realized it was working okay, we got really into it. We made it much bigger than just the back up system we started. We want to add two more lights and we need “real” solar panels (remember we just have those little guys charging the system). Right now we’re not able to recharge the batteries fast enough due to our larger load and the fact that the family is using the newly installed solar power lights (down goes that utility bill!!!! added bonus} more than the normal house power.
We have never run out of power we’re just pushing the battery/charging system too hard.
I know many people are reading this saying” that’s just too much work”. Well it is and it isn’t. It’s more of a challenge. When this is all done and proven to work well, we will be putting a DIY package together with all the pieces and parts for a good, simple, inexpensive system. All of the load calculations and mistakes we will do so you don’t have too.
If that’s still not your cup of tea or you live in an apartment, condo or mobile park we have a solution for you too. Here comes the sales pitch and how we got started,
Back up power for the home and on the go. It’s a simple, easy, plug and play system that even your grandmother can set up. Check it out @
Off to check the solar/veggie garden. How about the “Sustain Garden” ? Last nights pounding rain and hail may have bruised the plants some. Tonight the prediction is a severe frost warning and well below freezing temps.
So the garden is a little frostbitten. The fragile Armenian cucumbers are nearly gone but everything else is just fine and today was 85 degrees again.
We made a couple of changes to our plan. We had 2 lights in the kitchen that were to be on the solar power system. We decided to leave them on the house current. Instead we changed the 2 coachman lights on the outside of the garage to be on solar power.
We did this because the 2 kitchen lights were already LED can lights, we could better use our battery’s power elsewhere.
Our 2 coachman lights have always come on via a dawn to dusk photocell and still do. But now they each have an LED 2watt light bulb.Not quite as bright as the 9watt CFL but it’s okay. Almost as much light for only 4 watts as compared to 18watts. Now the back up system can handle the load just fine. FYI, we found out the dawn to dusk photocell draws 1/3 of an amp 24/7. (Never even thought of that).
We have been amazed that our 20watt solar panel seems to be keeping up on a perfect temperature, sunny day. Basically that means our system works beautifully if the moon,sun, and everything else is perfect. Now to make it work when things are not perfect.
The biggest expense so far is the battery system, but really that was planned for. When our system started to grow from a back up only system to a whole house system we found the big expense to be the LED light bulbs. Finding good, not expensive bulbs that had low wattage was harder than we thought. Just because it’s an LED it may not be any lower in wattage than a CFL. We found many LED’s that looked great, but they were listed at 9,13,and 15 watts. We bought only bulbs that were under 4 watts and were bright. That’s the hard part, bright. I will have to post new pictures showing the lights.
We spent last night moving light bulbs around. Every manufacture has a different color temperature. When the lights are on, some bulbs lean to the green, some, blue, some yellow, etc…You just can’t have a room with a green and blue light. It looked very strange.
We have looked at bulbs everywhere. Thank goodness we did not buy any online. At least we could see, touch and even return them if they did not work out for us.
Dixieline Hardware had 2 watt bulbs that are almost = to a 40 watt at $8 a piece. They are pure white when lit. We ended up putting them in the coachman lights and on the front porch. They work great there, especially since 1 of the bulbs had an annoying buzz to it and we were too lazy to take it back. We did have to paint the interior (brown) lid of the coachman lights, bright white in order to reflect the bulb’s light back down towards the ground. Looks great!
At Fry’s electronics we found the “Miracle Bulb” (green label) part spot – part normal bulb at 2 watts. We bought 2. We’ve place them in the bedside lamps in the kids room. Lights up the rooms very well They are pretty nice, very bright, just pricey at $14 each .
At Costco they had a 3 pack of 4 watt bulbs for $19. We’ve place those in the 2 family room lamps and the master bedroom. In the family room one lamp is on the house current and 1 lamp is on the Solar. The bulbs match beautifully and are my favorite so far. The look and the price makes them a great buy!
Well after many delays we finally bought the framework for the solar panels to attached too. Now to cement them in.
Actually day 18 turned out to be a week later. We have 2 unistruts for the uprights and 1 – 10 foot brace for the horizontals. After digging 2 holes with the post hole digger we cemented in the unistrut uprights 4 feet apart. Now to let it dry.
Today, I attached the small 20 watt solar panel on to the framework. That poor little solar panel looks so lonely. So far the system works just fine with the little panel. Our outdoor lights are on it, along with the living room light. Our son uses the bedroom solar lights exclusively. If we are going to use the system in the fall and winter as part of our normal house lighting we need to have 1 or 2 bigger solar panels. Presently the system barely keeps up, add a cloudy or rainy day and we fall behind.(but it’s never failed us yet). We never planned to used the little solar panel in the system, so this is kinda fun experimenting
Order the solar panel, cables and connectors now we wait!
Finally the time to take the new solar panel out of the box. Okay so we forgot to order the mounting hardware. We’ll adapt something for now. We just want it up. We’re like little kids on Christmas morning.
At 8:44am after an entire night of use the system is almost fully recharge. WOW! This weekend we will take the time to mount everything correctly and run all the cables out of sight. But for now it seems to work beautifully. We have lots of room for expansion too! More picture real soon.
A month down the line. the electric bill has gone down nearly $100 and we are still playing with the system. We now have a pure sign wave inverter (that takes more power to run) Oops! and the garden tomato plants are growing so tall that soon they will shade the solar panel. Everything runs fine so far.
We’ve built some great outdoor lights to run off the system.
We call them can lights. (Or should I say dog food can lights) Maybe we will just leave it on the SDG&E system. Who knows.
The entire outdoor lighting system runs off a 80 watt transformer. We are now accent lighting, nearly 1/4 acre very nicely and cheaply too.