Going off the grid and trying to work out what the best appliances will be? By choosing the most efficient appliances you can cut down on your electricity use quite significantly, which will in turn mean you don’t need quite so much solar power to run them, resulting in a lower cost to install solar!
Off Grid Fridge/Freezer Options:
There are a few different options for fridges in terms of type: traditional AC electric, DC electric, or LPG/3-way.
3-way fridges and DC fridges have traditionally been the most popular with off-gridders, because they’re designed for off-grid use in campervans, easy to find in campervan supply stores, and (up until recently) were more efficient than AC fridges. These days, as modern appliances become more and more energy efficient, these options are becoming less popular due to their higher price point.
For AC fridges, there are several different options. For an off grid fridge, we would recommend an inverter type fridge as they are the most energy efficient – though this does come at a higher price point than other fridges. If you don’t have the option, just look for the lowest power user you can find.
How can you tell how much power a fridge uses? Because fridges don’t have a constant power draw (they cycle off and on), it can be a little difficult work out from the specs, so you can read the Energy Star rating sticker. If you already have a fridge and don’t have the Energy Star information, you may be able to find the information online, either through a website selling the product or the Energy Rating Calculator (New Zealand or Australian version). If not, you can use a plug in power meter. You can plug this in between the fridge and power point and it will measure the power it uses over the day. This will help you understand how to account for it in your power system, and whether it’s worth upgrading.
Best Washing Machine for Off Grid Solar (and Dryers):
Like many other appliances, washers and dryers have also become much more efficient recently, and it’s much more reasonable to have electric ones if you’re off grid. Again, you can refer to the Energy Star rating for these appliances and aim for the highest efficiency.
That being said, we would still recommend forgoing the dryer and simply hanging them out to dry, because they use a lot of power, and the times when you need a dryer are usually the times when there is less sun to charge batteries. If a dryer is a necessity for you, washer/dryer combos or heatpump condenser dryers are the most energy efficient options. You might also consider a gas-powered one!
To find the best washing machine for off grid solar, make sure you look for one with both hot and cold water input, so that you don't have to use power to heat water - you’re probably already doing that with non-electric sources. Get the right size machine for your needs, as the smaller they are the less energy they use. In terms of front or top loader, it will come down to your space and budget, but front loaders use less energy as well as less water – an equally restricted resource when you’re off-grid.
How to Pick a Dishwasher for Off Grid:
Dishwashers can be a tricky one as, unlike washing machines, it’s less common for them to have a hot water input, and even then they still require internal heating to get the water hot enough to sanitise dishes.
The most efficient models tend to be dish drawers, but just like the more efficient fridges and washing machines, this comes at a higher price point. Again, you can use the Energy Star Rating here to make your decisions, going for the smallest size that will suit your needs.
With both washing machines and dishwashers, when you run them is almost as important as the draw of the machine. Timing your usage for the earlier part of the day when there's plenty of sunshine left to charge the batteries is the best way to minimise the impact of that power usage.
Off Grid Water Pumps:
Pumps are another item where you will want to choose the smallest size pump that is suitable for your needs,
You might consider here a battery-less solar water pump kit to move water from your collection point up to a higher holding tank, then using that as a gravity fed system.
Off Grid Oven Options:
We recommend going with a non-electric source for ovens and stove tops because they use huge amounts of power and usually run for extended periods, making them very cost-ineffective to run on an off grid solar power system. Typically off-gridders will swap to woodburners or gas for their ovens - you can read more about cooking alternatives here.
That being said, there are some options that may be okay once you’re more comfortable with managing your power usage. A single induction hot plate or a small air fryer can be added to your appliance usage as a nice-to-have – something that you run when there’s plenty of sun and your batteries are fully charged. This is only recommended with larger systems so you don’t accidentally overload and damage your system.
Off Grid Air Con/Heater Options:
Heaters fall into the same category as ovens – we highly recommend using alternatives such as gas or woodburners in order to have the most cost-effective system. Unlike ovens, there usually isn’t a situation in which you might power an electric heater with off grid solar power, as they run for extended periods and are usually only needed during winter (when there is very limited solar generation).
Air conditioning is quite a big power user, although not as high as heating, so we’d recommend not using it and swapping for a fan. If it is a necessity, smaller isn’t necessarily better here, as they’ll have to work harder to heat/cool the space - again, you can look out for Energy Star ratings here.
Heating Water Off Grid:
Hot water cylinders and other forms of electric water heating are also not recommended – for the most cost effective solar power system, switch to an alternative like gas or woodburning. Some people like to set up an electrical dump load to start heating water when there is excess solar generation that isn’t being used, but this is supplementary.
Choosing Other Off Grid Appliances
When it comes to the other smaller appliances, you can still make a number of small savings that will add up. If your solar power system is being pushed to the limit with your other appliances, these items could make a big difference.
Anything that has a battery powered option is a great choice – such as laptops and cordless tools – because they can be used as needed and recharged when you have power available, and with tools in particular you don’t have to worry about startup spikes overloading your inverter.
When it comes to lighting, switching from traditional lightbulbs to LEDs can cut your lighting power usage down to an almost negligible amount while offering the same amount of light. LED TVs are also the most efficient if you have the choice, followed by LCD, CRT, and plasma.
Phantom draw is one thing to be aware of when considering your appliance power usage, as many items will still use power in standby mode. Things that have remotes or always have lights on such as microwave, TVs, stereos, and computers will always be using a little bit of power – while it’s not much, plugging these items into a power strip that you can easily switch off will give you better control over your power usage.