Most of us are, to say the least, highly dependent on the amenities of modern living. In the age of smart phones, high-speed Internet, social media, countless appliances, and sleek new gadgets around every corner, technology (and therefore electricity) is a necessity of modern life. We like to surf the web, cook a hot meal, watch a little TV, take a hot bath, and climb into a warm bed at night. And who can blame us? We work hard, and we deserve a little comfort and entertainment after a long, tiresome day. Many of us have accepted, however, that living a modest, modern life just has to come at the cost of being dependent on the utility grid and purchasing a little coal-fired electricity.
Contrary to popular opinion, living off-the-grid and living sustainably do not need to conflict with our desire to live life in the 21st Century. Many off-grid living enthusiasts, in fact, are already proving that it is more possible than ever to power our appliances and heat our free shower water without paying a single cent to a utility company. Fully autonomous houses that power themselves, collect all their own water, passively heat and cool themselves, and even grow their own food are popping up all over the world. People everywhere are saving thousands every year by simply investing in houses and off-grid living equipment that are designed to take care of them. Others are cutting their utility bills and gaining self-sufficiency by simply retrofitting their current home with some of the many off-grid systems that exist on the market today.
Earthships: The Off-Grid Living Answer to Keeping Your 21st Century Lifestyle
The Earthship is the ultimate off-grid-living home. Its design has been honed and nearly perfected over the past four decades by architect Michael Reynolds, who originally pioneered the concept. Acknowledging the failure of traditional housing architecture to operate in a sustainable and self-sufficient manner, Reynolds has coined the term “biotecture” to describe design techniques that consider efficiency, ecology, life-systems, and the basic needs that humans require for living.
All Earthship systems are based upon traditional home utility systems with respect to building codes and regulations, but with one major exception: they all operate autonomously and sustainably without reliance on any utility grid.
The Earthship collects rainwater from its rooftop, houses it in a large underground cistern, and then filters and pumps the water to sinks and showers. The water that drains from sinks and showers, called “grey water”, is filtered again and pumped to an indoor greenhouse planter where fruits and vegetables can be grown. The leftover grey water from the indoor planters is sent to the toilets, where it is (now termed “black water”) flushed into an outdoor landscaping botanical cell that operates as a traditional septic system. The disintegration of septic waste is aided and expedited by outdoor landscaping plants, which feed on the waste to grow. This simple process results in a domestic plumbing system that uses water four times more efficiently than a traditional home.
Of course, all other Earthship systems are fully sustainable as well, and are more than equipped to handle the demands of any modern family. The Earthship is structurally based upon an earth-sheltered home design. Earth-sheltered homes utilize an earth-berm, a mound of earth which surrounds ½ to ¾ of the home in order to regulate indoor temperatures year-round. Electricity is supplied by a combination of solar panels and wind turbines, a configuration that allows for indefinite expansion depending on the needs of the family. Fruits and vegetables can even be grown year-round in the Earthship’s trademark indoor greenhouse.
Earthships can be built in all sizes and for almost any budget. Small, two-room Earthships called ‘Simple Survival’ models can be constructed for as little as $20,000 to $25,000. For more affluent off-grid living enthusiasts, mansion-sized Earthships can be constructed for costs as extravagant as the imagination of the dweller.
Off-Grid Living for the Suburbs
Not ready to spring for new property and months of planning and construction? No problem. There are a number of ways to retrofit your current home to get you a step closer to an off-grid life.
Before investing hundreds or even thousands in a new wind and solar electricity generation system for your home, a great place to start is getting to know your electricity consumption needs and habits. Several electricity monitoring devices and systems exist for all budgets, and allow you to monitor the electricity consumption trends of specific time periods, rooms in your house, and even for individual devices or appliances. Check out some of the best electricity monitoring systems on the market.
Solar Panels & Wind Turbines
In most situations, solar panels are the most cost-efficient way to generate off-grid and sustainable electricity. For many homeowners, the safest and most hassle-free option for solar-panel installation is to hire a local contractor or specialist company such as Solar City. For the hands-on, DIY types, there are several affordable solar panel kits with detailed instructions on installation and safe integration with your home electrical system.
Depending on where you live, wind turbines may or may not be the most cost-effective electricity generation option for your needs. Wind speeds can vary dramatically from region to region, and can often be too low in wooded areas. Utilize books, wind-speed measuring devices, and research various wind turbine models before making the leap into a home wind energy system.
Rain Catchment Systems
One great way to get off-the-grid, cut your bills, and live more sustainably without giving up your lifestyle is to collect rainwater. Because existing rooftops and gutter systems are already built for collecting and diverting rainwater, setting up a catchment system can be surprisingly cheap and cost-effective, and can pay for itself relatively quickly. Houses that already have gutters and downspouts work perfectly for rainwater catchment. For most standard setups, rainwater diverters, Flex-Drains, and other adapters can be easily attached to downspouts to direct water into a barrel, tank or cistern.
Check your local laws and regulations on rainwater catchment. Some counties and municipalities have already enacted laws against rainwater catchment. Off-Grid Gorilla advises against breaking any rainwater catchment law or regulation. However, we also encourage you to investigate your local rainwater catchment laws for yourself, and to contact your local representative if you believe that these laws infringe on your individual rights.
Study-Up on Off-Grid Options
If you are serious about investing in a new off-grid system for your home, it’s important to do your research before dropping loads of cash. Get to know your family’s needs and wants in terms of utilities and amenities. How much water does your family consume on a daily basis? How much electricity does that flat-screen plasma require?
There are countless books and e-books available on almost every subject off-grid. Take a look and get to know your priority systems before making an investment, and as always, remember that Off-Grid Gorilla is here to help you along your journey!