Letter from Belize no. 94
12 May 2021
One of Henry’s jobs that I have had to learn in double quick time is managing the water and electrics. I always think the idea of “living off the grid” conjures up a rather romantic idea of free spirits living off the land and sun. Actually it is pretty hard work and inevitably it is not always purely eco-friendly in every aspect. I have noticed here in Belize that among those who have gone solar each has a somewhat different system and approach to it and that is determined by the life style they are looking for and available finances. So I am going to describe to you our system and how we have developed it but it is not necessarily a one fits all rule.
Where the Retreat is there is no piped water or electricity supply. Way back in 2010 when enquiries were made into having electricity brought in the quote given was approximately Bz$120 000 (US$60 000). This is a standard cost so obviously it would be reduced according to the number of dwellings sharing the service but for us as the only one, clearly the full charge was not viable. Besides, if one considers our whole philosophy of “simple living in harmony with nature” it rather defeats the object bringing in a pricey system that would incur high monthly payments. Belize’s electricity comes from Mexico. And this is, after all, a country with plenty of sun and plenty of water.
When Henry first moved on to the property he harvested rain water in a large tarp and would collect water in a bucket for his needs each day.
Then he discovered that there was an old well on the northern boundary. By old, I mean within the last 250 years. Henry had it cleaned out: it had been used as a dump for old bottles and crockery of the British loggers and one time pirates, which have been dated from 1780 to 1915. He re-lined the well with porous no-fines concrete and it now successfully supplies the guestroom and garden with water. We are very fortunate as even during last year’s drought the depth of available water was never less than 3 feet.
Back in 2011, lowering well lining. The concrete went between the outside of the cylinder and the well’s earth wall
The well has a submersible pump pumping the water to a holding tank at the house. Then with a small Shurflo pump the water goes from there to a tank up on the 2nd floor veranda. That tank gravity feeds 2 more tanks at the other end of the house which supply water to the vegetable garden
Rainwater collected off the roof feeds into 2 large stainless steel tanks. Water pumped from here goes into 2 storage tanks which sit in the roof space above the bathroom. A portion of that water is deviated through a solar heater on the roof supplying hot water for showers and dish washing. Of course this means no sun, no hot shower.
Obviously the pumps are electrically powered and for this and other electrical needs we have the solar panels. Originally advised by the solar panel supplier we bought 6 x 135 watt panels. We found this to not be enough even for just the 2 of us and a few years ago added an additional 4 x 300 watt panels. To store the power we have 8 x 6 Volt golf cart batteries. One really has to be on the ball managing the solar as the battery voltage must not be allowed to drop below 75% of their capacity. If this happens they simply do not last very long and have to be replaced. We have been extremely careful and have had 2 lots of batteries lasting 5 years each. The 3rd set were purchased with huge help from you and installed at the end of last year.
Just to give you an idea of what I mean by “careful” we don’t use any high-energy implements like microwave, iron, coffee maker. No AC or even a washing machine as in addition to electricity it also guzzles too much water. Clothes I hand wash and linen I take to a laundry service in town. Even with the new batteries we switch the fridge off overnight which means of course no ice-cream! Drills and the blender are not a problem as they are used in short sharp bursts but we only use them when the sun is shining.
The Tri-star and the Zantrex must be carefully monitored to make sure that output does not exceed input
We also have a generator which we use to charge the batteries on cloudy days. This of course requires butane or petrol and I sometimes feel sad that we have to resort to having a bit of a carbon footprint but that doesn’t mar the joy of living amongst nature and all it has to teach us and using the water and sunshine it shares with us.
So you can see this has been a huge and very worthwhile learning curve. Part of the learning of course was to be really aware of our usage. In the USA each person uses on average 82 gallons (310 litres). In the UK this is estimated at 39 gallons (149 litres). Henry used to reckon we used about 20 each (75 litres). I have also become acutely aware of how when we leave appliances plugged in and are not using them they continue to draw on the current, each item adding to the overall usage. I know many of you who are aware of this and that is wonderful as it all adds to caring for the planet.
My love to all