May 03, 2006
Typical electrical loads
People tend to think that a small house will require less electricity than a large house, so a cabin would use even less. However, if we omit space heating and cooling, we will usually find about the same number of kitchen appliances, the same clothes washer and dryer, the same audio/video equipment, and the same mix of smaller devices like phone chargers and computer games. Although a larger home will certainly require more lighting, this does not necessarily mean they all are operating during a typical day. In other words, its not how many square feet in your home or cabin that matters, its the amount of electrical devices you plan to operate and for how long that determines your power requirements.
Replacing all incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps is mandatory for off-grid systems. These lamps are now available in many different styles.
Lets review your absolute minimum power requirements, assuming you do intend to have a few creature comforts. For anything less than the following list you may as well just pitch a tent!
First, you will need at least one light fixture in each room, and one fixture at any exterior door or deck. A 15-watt compact fluorescent ceiling fixture or table lamp should do just fine for most rooms, but you will want more lighting in the kitchen and dining areas. A really basic small cabin lighting system usually consists of 12-volt DC lighting fixtures typically sold for the RV and boating industry, powered from a 12-volt deep-discharge marine battery. However, low-cost DC to AC inverters are becoming so reliable and efficient that you could utilize normal 120-volt AC wiring and appliances, which are usually less expensive than specialized DC devices and are available in more varieties.
Selecting your kitchen appliances requires more effort since they usually consume much more power than light fixtures. First, you will want to avoid anything that includes an electric heating element. This means that toaster ovens, electric hot plates, electric hot water heaters, electric space heaters, electric drip coffee makers, and electric kitchen ranges are out. A small microwave oven is acceptable since they usually only operate a few minutes per cooking task, which is not a major drain for most back-up power systems. Actual battery and inverter sizing recommendations will be addressed in Part II of this article.
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