The economy and political climate these days have may people thinking about an off-the-grid lifestyle. The idea of self-sufficiency on a remote piece of dirt far from the reaches of civilization somehow appeals to my ‘inner-survivor’. So how exactly is an off-grid abode different from any other house? I set out to address lifestyle challenges that could be supported by a house in the boonies. This is my list of necessary off-grid house features.
1. Fire resistance
Living away from civilization often means living without a nearby fire department. Wild fires can quickly engulf a wooden structure. Therefore off-grid and remote structures should be constructed from fire-resistant materials. Glass windows should be protected with fireproof metal shields and all exposed beams, trim and roofing should be steel or some other fire resistant material.
2. Vandal resistance
Don’t let a remote location lull you into thinking vandals or thieves won’t find your property. An unguarded property with exposed windows is tempting for mischievous rock throwing or gun target practice. Opportunist will break into property in search of high value contents. Unprotected property can also be vulnerable to storm blown debris
3. Intrusion resistance
Nothing can be more terrifying alone in the wilderness that the sound of someone breaking into your home late at night. Off-grid means law enforcement response will be slow – or nonexistent. While a gun offers some protection a better strategy is a home that locks up tight and securely without vulnerable windows, scalable balconies and doors that can be kicked in.
4. Passive heating and cooling
Living away from the power grid and piped gas doesn’t mean living with discomfort during weather extremes. Off-grid homes should be constructed with energy conservation in mind. This means houses should be well-insulated, take advantage of solar warmth in winter and breezes in the summer. Below grade or partial earth insulation can provide a comfortable space during hot or cold weather.
5. Secure elevated water storage
For off-gridders not living near a river, lake or stream water is often a limited commodity. A solar or wind powered water well may provide only a few gallons of water every hour. Some off-grid property owners make due with hauled water. Therefore an elevated water holding tank provides necessary water pressure; A water tank integrated into the roof design of a house assures security and relatively easy access for maintenance.
6. Solar electricity
Off-gridding doesn’t mean doing without electricity. A roof mounted solar panel array and deep cycle storage batteries can provide much of the electricity needed for a house hold. You might have to do without air-conditioning and an electric washing machine, but low voltage lights, computer equipment – and even a microwave oven can be powered by renewable solar and wind energy sources.
7. Solar water heating
For many areas a solar water heating grid takes the chill out of a shower while preserving propane for cooking and heating. A solar water heating system can be mounted just under a solar electric panel array on the roof to absorb excess heat from the solar panels to make them more operate more efficiently.
8. Temperate long term food, material and battery storage
Excess heat or excess cold can reduce shelf life of many foods and impact the efficiency of storage batteries. If possible, the off-grid home should incorporate a root cellar, basement or some other earth sheltered area to take advantage of the reduced temperature changes.
9. Secure equipment storage
An off-grid house should provide adequate secure storage for vehicles and valuable equipment that must be left when the premises is not occupied. It is maddening to return to an off-grid house to fish after the snow melts and discover the boat and expensive outboard motor has been stolen. Tractors and outdoor equipment will also operate more reliably when stored indoors during harsh weather.
10. Secure shop space
An off-grid homeowner by nature is self-reliant. Having a secure, well organized indoor shop space supports the myriad of mechanical and craft projects inherent to this lifestyle. It is particularly convenient to have the shop attached or integrated into the house to increase productivity during the night or inclement weather.
11. Flexible space
Living far from the convenience of the corner grocery or hardware store means that there is often a rather large ebb and flow of goods coming into the off-grid household. Projects sometimes need to be spread out. Guests also need a place to stay since there often isn’t a convenient local hotel. There are any number of reasons it is valuable to have just a little extra flexible space in a self-contained abode.
12. Low maintenance construction
Plumbing, painting, electrical repair etc. are the banes of many homeowners’ existence. While a city dweller can simply shell out bucks to a local service company, the off-grider must often make due with his/her own skills. Therefore home construction should be designed for do-it-yourself repair. Construction materials must be as close to maintenance free as practical. Simplicity should be chosen over complexity in design of the all systems and construction.
13. Long lasting construction materials
An off-grid home is more than simple shelter; it can be a survival tool. Basic construction materials used for the home should not be prone to rot, decay, erosion, infestation, fire and be resistant to weather. Quality materials and durable construction techniques reduce the need for ‘routine maintained’ and more importantly deter gross system failure at the most in opportune moment. Cement block construction meets many of these requirements with the added benefit of supporting small load progressive construction in areas that aren’t accessible by cement trucks.
The author of this article developed the Armadillo Tower House plans based on this list of requirements. Details of this plan can be seen on eBay..