Dyna-Glo Verses Mr. Heater Portable Propane Heaters

Our Recent Experience with Portable Propane Heaters

Whether you live in a city or remotely, there is often a time where a reliable space heater comes in handy, – arguably, when its cold enough and your main heat source is not enough or not working, it becomes a device that can make an unpleasant day bearable. When you live in the wilderness and a long way from a hardware or department store, it is a good idea to have a space heater before you need one, because when you live remote, your options are more limited and supply is often exhausted when a storm approaches, – not to mention, if you live as far out as we do, you have dirt roads that easily become impassable or at least unpleasant during snow and rain storms.

Due to some recent experiences with new space heaters, I thought our experiences with two brands may be worth examining. We had a Mr. Heater Big Buddy that we bought last February (2018), mostly on a whim due to a clearance sale at our local Wal-Mart,  we used it a few times and found it a little finicky, sometimes difficult to start, but generally pretty reliable. It being so late in the season, we didn’t have much time to evaluate it last year.

This season, which began in late October 2018, we promptly learned that what began as fussiness and a tendency to be difficult to light became a tedious challenge to light and keep it lit. I am not sure what the problem was, but I tend to think it was the carbon monoxide safety switch or valve, perhaps set too sensitive. After a month long series of exchanges with Mr. Heater customer service, who were always pleasant enough (if you could get them on the phone), we sent our “Big Buddy” back and once it arrived at their address, they promptly sent a replacement. The current replacement works flawlessly for the last two months, very reliable and pretty darn handy with our rather harsh winter this year. So far we have zero complaints with the replacement (same model).

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Sheep Manure in the Garden

At various times the subject of garden fertilization using sheep manure comes our way; naturally, we are great advocates of the practice! Using sheep manure has many advantages over other alternatives and a relative few disadvantages. Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of sheep manure is its compact and clean nature; it is easily the cleanest, least revolting “natural” manure available. Not only do sheep shed their nasty smelling sulfides in the production of wool, it comes in a clean utilitarian form, quick-drying compact pellets that are easy to dry, transport and utilize in the garden.

If that isn’t enough, sheep manure generally doesn’t need much aging or special preparation; it comes ready-made for application. Generally, sheep manure takes about a week or two to thoroughly dry in Arizona’s sunny and arid environment. Properly raised sheep, meaning largely pen fed with alfalfa as ours are, which have no exposure to other animals or toxic chemicals (fertilizers, tainted water or medications) do not even require drying, though we do in all cases dry our manure for two weeks because of the need to store large quantities and for shipping purposes. Manure will mold if it is not thoroughly dried, – if properly dried manure will store for many months, but great care needs to be taken to monitor inventory. Even a small introduction of “moist” manure can contaminate the driest manure, ruining an entire batch.

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Good and Bad Batteries

Good and Bad Batteries

One of the most difficult decisions a family of limited means has to face when dealing with batteries is the decision to reduce a battery bank. When batteries begin to fail it forces owners to make difficult decisions, namely to cut out the bad batteries from the battery bank (and reducing bank capacity) or buying new batteries. While it is natural to resist taking the decision to remove bad batteries, it is vital that you do this earlier rather than later, the longer you keep even one bad battery in a battery bank, the more the harm will spread, – bad batteries make weak batteries worse and eventually you find yourself with several bad batteries and a next to worthless system.

Obviously in an ideal situation you buy new batteries, even fewer new batteries are better than a larger battery bank of weak batteries, but resist the urge to just replace one or two batteries with new batteries, as while this is an option the new batteries will have shorter lives and in the long run is generally counter-productive. The weaker batteries will “lean” on the new batteries and it will shorten the useful life of the good batteries.

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Watering & Testing Batteries

Perhaps the most routine task servicing batteries is the most important, – the watering and testing of batteries is absolutely critical to long life and problem free service. It is imperative to monitor and maintain water levels; nearly as important is routinely testing batteries, watching for signs of poor performance. One bad battery can drag down entire battery bank, if ignored long enough a few bad batteries can leave you with a next to worthless system.

The first sign of a problem is typically the batteries not holding power like they use to, they cannot handle loads for very long and they quickly shed voltage at a certain point, – typically they hold a moderate load until a certain point and then the bottom falls out rapidly. Say your 24-volt system will hold well until sundown, and then remain stable until 23.4 volts, and then the bottom will fall out within 30 minutes; this is a sign one or more batteries are bad or underperforming, dragging your good batteries down. This pattern can be subtle at first, but over time it will worsen and become very noticeable, but it is better to catch this early as the harm can become cumulative.

The general outline of general service follows, it is very basic and takes only half an hour, but it must be done religiously once a month, possibly more often if your batteries are older or weak, some failing batteries will consume more water and even feel warm (a bad sign usually).

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Living with Deep-Cycle Batteries

Living on your own terms can be both rewarding and challenging and this is never truer than when it comes to living with batteries. Taking the decision to live remotely, for whatever reason, whether due to the love of solitude or whether to escape the rules and regulation of society the same dependency for power is ever-present. Batteries and inverters are often the most practical means to achieving this goal of taking the best society offers without all the conformity that goes along with it.

A power system designed around batteries offers many advantages, for one if taken care of they can last for a decade or more, they are reliable under most conditions, in this age of high energy costs they can be economical over the long-term; lastly they provide a family with power in a wide array of options and most people can adapt to their use and maintenance with a minimal commitment of time. The only real disadvantages are the upfront cost and the fact you are the utility company, – there is no one to call when there is a power outage!

Here we will go over the basics, what you will have to deal with eventually if you buy and maintain your own battery bank. We will not pretend to know all there is about batteries and inverters, only our personal experience of actually living off-grid for over 15 years, – there are literally hundreds or thousands of websites dedicated to batteries, PV, wind and inverters, here we will only cover the raw basics drawn from actual trial and error.

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