I live in Taos, NM, birthplace of the Earthship, a completely self-sufficient building system. North walls are built with mud-packed tires for thermal mass that collects sun from the south facing wall of glass. Planting beds below the sunny windows provide food.
Building materials are recycled if they are not the mud of the walls. Solar and wind provide electricity, which is stored in batteries. Solar also heats rainwater, which is collected and filtered. Wastewater is cleaned and used for irrigation.
I have had my eye on an off-grid strawbale home I want to buy just north of here. Solar panels provide electricity, but the home is heated with wood and a small gas heater. I think the gas heater was installed to get a mortgage, though. It isn’t really necessary.
Water comes from a well, and there is a septic system. It has utility systems, but they are not tied to municipal infrastructure, so the house is pretty independent. It’s on 10 acres for food production, which would keep me out of the supermarket.
Off-grid living does not have to be so extreme, though. It can be a net-zero home that produces its own electricity with wind and solar – off the power grid. Anything in between these two examples is fair game.
Is off-grid living for you?
Reasons to live off-grid
First you have to decide why you want to go off-grid.
- Were you plugged in during the ’60s and now want to rebel against society?
- Are you a modern homeowner wanting to reduce your carbon footprint?
- Do you want to have lower or no utility bills?
- Do you want to leave behind your job, the bank and the supermarket to be an adventurer and pioneer?
- Do you have land located where it is cost-prohibitive to bring in utilities? Are you looking for simplicity? Whatever your reason, there is an off-grid solution for you!
The original idea for the Earthship came from a ’60s ideal to live far enough out from civilization for privacy, open space and independence. It was a political breaking away from society, but it was also about being able to live in inaccessible areas where developers wouldn’t dare tread. If you want to get away from society, you might want to consider something like an Earthship or a BioHome. Both can be erected in far-out places. Both create power, collect and filter water, offer energy efficiency for low heating and cooling bills.
Off-grid living realities
Some friends of mine have a strawbale home and a large woodshop that are powered by solar PV. Some people say you can’t run large tools off PV. They are wrong! My friends also catch water off the pitched roof. It collects into an underground cistern and is pumped through a filtration system and into the kitchen for consumption. It is tested regularly to be sure it is safe to drink, and they’ve never had a problem. Greywater is directed outside the building to water trees. Toilets are connected to a septic system. The house and shop are not connected to municipal infrastructure. They are located about 15 miles from town for jobs. They homeschool their children.
Ed Essex’s blog is about getting and living off-grid and growing food for a healthier lifestyle more in touch with our natural resources. He also writes about off-grid living for Mother Earth News.
If you are afraid to go the off-grid route by yourself, consider a community. They are scattered around the world and defray the costs and work of taking an individual home off-grid. More on that in another post next week!