In 1995 I built a small house as my personal residence in Palo Colorado Canyon, in the coastal mountains 20 miles north of Big Sur, California.

This small house sits on a ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean at an elevation of 1800 ft. The orientation of the property is due south. The remote nature of the house eliminated the possibility of access to utility power. Development of an independent renewable energy system was the only viable option.

Solar Electricity

Electricity is supplied by a small photovoltaic system, 12 volt battery storage, and a small 120 volt inverter. At the time I built my house and installed the photovoltaic system, I had also installed a small pelton wheel. In the summer months my batteries would be full by 10am. In the winter, particularly during an extended stormy period, solar was limited. This pelton wheel was a very effective  power supplement. Winter stream flows are plentiful and the micro hydro provided renewable energy to spare.

Water supply

My water source was a spring. Getting a continuous and reliable supply of water from this source to the house is a major production. This spring is located on the far side of a deep canyon at the base of a grove of Redwoods. It is a very good spring, but it is over 700 feet away and 50 feet in elevation below the house.

The spring is tapped with a 12’ deep well point, and at the driest part of the year (Sept) the flow rate is 2-2.5 gallons per minute. The water is gravity fed through a ¾ inch poly pipe that traverses a steep hill and across the creek to a holding tank. At this point the water is still 500’ from the house and now 90’ lower in elevation.

A 2500 gallon primary storage tank sits on the ridge 40’ in elevation above the house. My solution to transfer water from the midway holding tank up 130’ to the primary storage tank was a high lifter pump. It is a super efficient, water powered, piston pump that uses the power of water flowing downhill in a pipe to lift some of that water above the source. It is a kind of “hydraulic lever”. This worked well for me, but the new owners have installed a DC solar slow pump that replaced the high lifter. This DC pump is solar powered but can be used with a generator at the flip of a switch.

water heating

My domestic water was heated with a solar water panel on the ridge. The panel was plumbed to the water heater with an insulated soft copper re-circulating line. The water was assisted in its circulation through this panel with a high temperature solar powered water pump. During the day in the summer this panel heated way more water than I could use. I also plumbed a loop that circulated water through a manifold in my wood stove and into my water heater. On a cold winter night my wood stove could heat enough water for ten showers and not run out. My back up energy source was propane, but I rarely, if ever needed it.

My shower was outdoors under a bay tree. A hot shower outdoors on a stormy winter night under that bay tree was a microcosm of an independent renewable energy driven backwoods lifestyle I miss very much.

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