People are surprised to discover that our house runs much the same as theirs even though we produce our own electricity. It hasn’t always been so but we have kept on improving and today its hard to remember what it used to be like.
We bought the farm 23 years ago knowing there was no electricity and the cost to have it was way beyond what we could afford. Ironically there were 3 sets of major power lines and pylons crossing the farm but apparently, if you find a way to utilise the leakage, it’s considered theft. Probably quite dangerous too. Thousands of volts are likely to fry you if you don’t know what you’re doing.
For the first year we relied on kerosene lamps for light, a 2 burner gas top for cooking and an old fashioned kerosene heater to stave off hypothermia. We had a petrol powered generator but soon discovered we had to run it continuously to make using the fridge worthwhile or even healthy so we bought a small gas fridge. It didn’t have a door but The Man of the House made one; a sheet of ply wood with a hunk of polystyrene glued on the inside. It worked and the generator only got started to run the washing machine.
Within a year, we had installed a chip heater to heat water and a log fire for warmth. The Man of the House rigged up battery operated lights to supplement the lamps or to use when we only needed a little light. The cheap solar lights you can buy today weren’t readily available in the 1990s and light bulbs that used anything other than the standard 240 volts cost a fortune. Motorbike indicator bulbs worked really well.
The Man of the House always knew we could use the stream running past the house for power and he worked away at various unsuccessful projects before he built the first waterwheel. I found a Mother Earth Manual at a 2nd hand book sale which had a plan and The Brilliant Man of the House built one.
Waterwheel number 1 was built out of plywood. A thing of beauty, we lowered it down the bank on a rope and walked it upstream to where it would sit alongside the powerhouse. Water was piped about 50 meters to fall onto the wheel and make it turn, sending power up to our house.
I will show you the inner workings but that’s The Man of the House’s territory and I know nearly nothing about how it works. The wheel is attached to a car axle which operates an electric motor out of a Smart Drive Washing Machine and all I know is that I don’t have to pump lamps anymore.
It required minimal maintenance but occasionally the stream rose and the waterwheel stopped turning. Power cut! But within a day or two the stream went down and power was restored. In 2014, a flood almost completely submerged the wheel. As you can imagine, it doesn’t turn too well when it’s under water. We lost power a couple of days before we were due to go on holiday. The stream took days to go down, the pipes had been dislodged and the wheel half buried in silt. This was no easy fix. So we went on holiday. We’d fix it when we got home.