Modern Convenience Living off the Grid
Living off the grid is a dream for many of us in America these days. The reason for this are many, some fear the collapse of modern society, others want a life closer to nature and its ebbs and flows and still others simply want a life that has a minimal impact on the environment. Whatever your reasons are many people believe that you have to give up on a modern lifestyle when you you choose to go off the grid.
Thanks to modern technology in power generation, home building and heating and cooling methods of modern life you really don’t have to give up anything at all if its done right.
Now each person's definition of what a truly modern life is will vary depending on your needs and desires so to start this off I will list what I feel like I need for a modern lifestyle.
Doesn’t seem like to much a list (big Smiley Face) and I would bet that when you get right down to it most people would agree with me that what I have listed would be a modern life in the western world. The surprising thing is that all of these conveniences can be had by people that live off grid simply by using good design and a little thought about how much you really need in order to live comfortably. To lay this out for you I am going to go over each one of the bullets above and offer solutions that can give the same results but with a fraction of the power needs and nearly always will save you money in the long run.
Home- Heating and Cooling
The chances are good that anyone reading this has some sort of forced air furnace that runs on electricity, propane or natural gas. Those systems are by far some of the most common heating systems in the developed world. Even though they are common they are not the best systems out there for a number of reasons. I am not going to get into that in this article because that would be an article all by itself. Instead I want to talk about a couple other options that can provide more comfort for less cost overall and a longer useful operating life.
Design of the building is by far the most important aspect of the whole thing. With a good design that is oriented properly with the sun, insulated heavily and sheltered by the earth you will get a home that cool in the summer and needs little if any supplemental heat in the winter. How would like a home that stayed around 72 all summer long no matter how hot it was outside and that you could heat with a small wood stove. The sad thing is is that these aren’t a new techniques, builders have understood these principles for hundreds if not thousands of years and they applied them everywhere right up until the modern age. With the advent of cheap energy and mass housing a shift occurred in building from good design to bad design that used energy to compensate for its shortcomings.
The modern incarnation of these time honored building techniques can be found in in the Passivehouse building standard and LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficient Design) building standard. Both of those standards have been proven despite costing more at construction to be more comfortable and money saving in the long run. You can see in the image on the right that the heat efficiency of these standards is much greater than traditional building.
So assuming that you can optimize the design of the home that should be your first step. If you still need more heating after that you still have cost effective options at your disposal. If you need additional heat consider something like a masonry stove for you home. A masonry stove is a style of that has been around for around for a few centuries. This stove is highly efficient at turning wood into heat and can boast around a 90% efficiency rating at converting wood to heat. After each burn the heat is trapped in the masonry of the stove and is slowly radiated into the space over most of a day.
More a more modern technology you should look no further than a geothermal heat loop system. In most locations in the world the ground maintains a temperature of 50-70 degrees. You can tap into this passively with earth sheltering techniques or more actively with a geothermal system. These systems can be used to both heat and cool your home.
Just to give us a number to work with the EIA or Energy Information Administration says that the average US household uses 901 kWh of electricity per month. If you take into account average sunlight that hits the US in a year and panels that can produce 200 watts per panel you will need 38 panels to produce all the power you use in an average year. If that seems like a lot it is and without enough space to put them out on your roof or property you won’t have enough for your needs.
But keep in mind that all the other steps you will take by going off grid will greatly reduce your power needs. Like not needing air conditioning or central heating will take a nice bite out of your electric needs. In 2013 the EIA found that heating and cooling was 41% of a home's energy usage. If you could remove heating and cooling from the equation then you only need 23 200 watt solar panels.
Water- Hot and Cold
The pleasure of having on demand hot water is one of the essentials of a modern lifestyle and there are ways to get it without depending on energy hogging appliances.
On Demand Water Heaters
Tankless water heaters are a good option for those that use less than 41 gallons of hot water per day. This can lead to a energy saving of 24-36% in most houses and even if you used more than that say 86 gallons you will still be more efficient than a traditional water heater. They will also typically last twice as long as a tanked water heater and they have parts that can be more easily replaced to extend the lifespan.
Solar Hot Water
On average adding a solar water heater to your system will save you 50-80% a month on water heating costs. They can be added to existing homes or better yet built into home as they are being constructed. These systems can be combined with a tankless water heater system to provide you with round the clock hot water.
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