Off-the-Grid, Cheap Solar Montana Cabin

Very nice house design. It looks like they’re prepared for just about anything.

“Renovating a 100 year old Montana cabin in a meadow surrounded by pine forest: Living radical simplicity in an off-the-grid, passive solar design cabin with a cheap, simple, and efficient solar electric system, food-producing forest garden, and root cellar. There is a spring above the cabin that provides gravity flow water for the cabin’s one sink and the garden, two 135 W solar panels, two 275 amp hour batteries, 80 acres of pine forest to manage for wood heat addition to the passive solar gain, and a blending of old technology and new technology.”


3 thoughts on “Off-the-Grid, Cheap Solar Montana Cabin”

  1. Very Nice.

    Lovely Lady. Lovely Home. Excellent design.

    Any single person can look at such a project and think of things they might do differently, but her choices are what work for her, and I applaud her efforts. She’s happy, and that’s what counts far more than what others think, myself included.

    That said, it is always fun to consider what each of us might do differently to improve upon her efforts, (not intended as criticism.)

    Solatubes in the far back part of the cabin to get more natural light back there would be wonderful, and also can save electricity use. Even a stationary heliostat or two in the greenhouse could direct a significant amount of light further back into the structure. Or a heliostat or two outside the back cabin directing more light through the already existing windows. You may have noticed that she has a mirror mounted on the inside of her electrical closet. I suggest moving that mirror to the greenhouse area, possibly even mounting it on a door to make it manually adjustable to become a very simple heliostat to shine more daylight to the back of the cabin. It still can be a mirror that is used to observe yourself as you comb your hair, but serve double duty as a light reflector.

    Brighter paint colors in the back might help too, but that may or may not be an acceptable aesthetic choice for some. If you look closely at the 30 second mark, you can see that she does have a skylight in the roof in the middle part of the cabin, which I’m certain helps a lot.

    A small home built “axial flux wind turbine” would be a great compliment to her solar panels. That would probably make up a lot of the slack especially in the winter when she gets a lot less solar production. Plus… it creates a diversity of energy sources. Diversity makes the system more resilient from any one component failing or having lower production. It’s good to have multiple options to perform any one job.

    Obviously, she made the correct decision, to mount her solar panels on racks at ground level, instead of on the roof. Her broom was a very effective tool, not only to clear the panels, but to demonstrate to others the importance of accessibility to the panels to keep them clean and cleared. Always think about how you’ll clean snow, leaves, or even dust and dirt off your solar panels. You don’t want to find out you mounted them in the wrong place the first time it’s 10 below zero outside and the panels are under a foot of snow.

    One very simple way she could increase her solar production would be to simply mount the panels on a rack that she can manually rotate from east to west during the day. She might increase her production by 50% just by manually aiming her panels twice a day. That can make a big difference when power is at a premium in the winter. You don’t have to invest in expensive automatic tracking motors and computers. It’s really not that hard to manually rotate panels of the size she has if they are on a rack that allows rotation. It’s an option worth considering for most people using simple systems.

    She didn’t mention it, but it is clear if you look closely that she can (and does) cook on the woodstove. There is a coffee pot sitting on it after all. Again… diversity of options makes for better reliability. Smart choice on her part. Yet her woodstove is still very attractive and romantic. She can bake her cake and eat it too… in front of a warm fire.

    Nice Cold Box. Love those. More people should use them. They should be standard equipment for houses in cold winter climates. Either that or a heat pipe chiller.

    Lastly, don’t neglect the importance of the dog. They are the most amazing bed warmers. Nothing like climbing into a pre-warmed bed on a winter’s night. Not to mention that they are fantastic foot warmers while reading a book, sitting at a computer, or watching the idiot screen. Yup… a dog the size of hers is like an extra couple of kilowatts of space heater. They even clean messes spilled on the kitchen floor for you as a bonus service.

    • There’s a great shot of house from the exterior near the end of the video. I especially like the two additions on the front of the cabin with lots of windows. The same ideas could be used to retrofit other old cabins.


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