From church to solar home

Photo: www.bythebrookfilms.com

Alec Taylor explains how he did up a 100-year-old church with an off-grid solar power system bought in India, recycling it into a new dwelling.

The Bates Memorial Church was originally opened in March 1908 in a small Queensland country town called Lakeside/Mungore Creek, with the original furnishings provided by the settlers of that time.

For reasons I am unsure about, the church was moved in 1941 or 1942 by bullock dray to a small timber town called Brooweena, where it served as a Methodist church and the main place of worship. When the timber in the area began to deplete and there were only two parishioners left, the church was sold for removal and became part of Utopia Environmental Reserve, where it was used as a residence. The new owner carried out some minor alterations to the altar area which became a very basic kitchen and added a half-finished mezzanine floor above the kitchen area.

When we first looked at the church back in 2001 we realised it was going to take a lot of work, dedication and cash to get it to how we wanted it to be. One of the first hurdles we had to overcome was electricity as there was none connected and the nearest grid mains supply was about six kilometres away. As some of the other residences on the reserve had solar power, it became obvious that was the only way to go.

One of the first tasks was the installation of a dam on the three hectare site. In hindsight it was a great decision as it is now used for watering the garden and ensuring the veggie garden keeps producing, with lots of capacity to spare. Later we installed a solar pump on the dam to push the water up to a tank at the rear of the church. This was powered by a 12 volt pressure pump, the same as the ones used in yachts and other small boats. It did not deliver huge volumes of water but it was constant so long as the sun was shining. The overall setup was powered by two smaller solar panels with the use of a 12 amp maximiser kit—a great investment as it eliminated the need for batteries.

A new job meant I had to work overseas, so we closed up the place and headed off, dreaming of our new purchase and making plans for the refurbishment. On one of our annual leave return trips we decided to complete the mezzanine floor, which would eventually become our bedroom, and install a stair case which I purchased in kit form from a South Australian company.

Solar from India

We purchased our solar power system while living in India on a two-year work assignment. I wanted to purchase a system that would comfortably cover just about all the needs of a normal house, so I eventually purchased a system that was capable of a 3.6kW output. The system included fourteen 114 watt panels, a charge controller and a Latronics inverter. At the time, the Indian government had little or no sales tax on solar power equipment to encourage people to purchase systems, as their power generating infrastructure was inadequate to cope with the demand on the grid. We put our new solar system into storage for eighteen months until I came home to retire in March 2008.

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