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Beautiful Off-Grid Energy-Efficient Dream Homes
If your image of off-grid living is a ramshackle cabin with a bunch of aging hippies huddled around a wood stove, then you haven't kept up with the changes new technology has brought to architecture and building systems.
While people in rural areas have always lived off-grid to some degree because they don't have access to sewer systems or public water sources, today, it's easier than ever to build a beautiful, highly efficient home that's not connected to public utilities, even in urban areas.
What Is Off-Grid?
Generally, a house is considered to be off the grid when it doesn't connect to any public utilities, including electricity, natural gas, sewage systems and water supply. All of these must be available on site, but this isn't as difficult as it sounds.
Choices for off-grid power abound. Improved solar, wind and geothermal technology have joined the more traditional propane gas and diesel-powered generators as power sources. Not only are these power sources quieter and cleaner, they're much easier on the environment.
Off-grid water sources include wells and freshwater lakes and rivers, but rainwater collection has made it possible to provide water in the remotest locations. Sewage is usually handled by septic systems, but composting toilets and gray-water systems have even less environmental impact.
See how others have embraced off-grid, energy-efficient technology to build their dream homes.
Solar power is the electricity source of choice for most new off-grid installations. This is because solar technology has advanced so much that relatively small solar panel arrays can provide enough electricity for an entire home.
Two examples of beautiful homes run almost completely on solar power are this 1,900-square-foot reno in Venice, California, and this 1,157-square-foot country retreat in Arkansas. Also, solar panels don't have to be landscape eyesores, either, as these seven houses display. As architects Pugh + Scarpa state, "solar panels can be treated as art objects -- exciting new elements to be integrated into the overall architectural design."
Built-In Energy Efficiency
While building practices have improved immensely in the last decade or two, buildings are not naturally energy efficient. It takes careful consideration of where to place the home on the site to get the most heating and cooling directly from the natural environment. The choice of building materials, insulation, ventilation and natural lighting also contributes to passively reducing energy consumption.
This house in rural Colorado embodies these choices. The builders analyzed the sun's path to determine heat gains before siting the home, and they chose window designs and exterior cladding to reduce solar heating. In a cold climate, south-facing windows can let in the sun's heat but keep out the cold.
Even more than access to power, access to water is probably the most important consideration when building an off-grid home. When groundwater isn't available, rain could provide all the water a home needs. The Stamp House in Queensland, Australia, won numerous awards in 2014 for its sustainable design, including a water-harvesting system that collects rain from the entire roof area and stores it in a 250,000-liter in-ground tank. The site also has an advanced sewage treatment system to handle waste.
As you can see from these beautiful houses, it is indeed possible to have your dream home in an environmentally sustainable way. Tap into the sustainable builders and utilities providers in your area to find out how to build your own off-grid dream home.