Monday, 12 November 2012 00:00

Our Home Design Features Part 2

Our off grid home has many design features you don’t normally find in most houses. Many people come here to see what some of these features look like or how they operate.

This is the second installment of features. Part 1 was published last week. See Part 1

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableInsulated cold frames – on the south side of the house we put in raised bed insulated cold frames. We have grown fresh cold weather type vegetables as cold as 18F with nothing to heat them but the sun. They are attached to the side of the house which never freezes.

Plug in switches – we have more wall switches than most homes. The extra switches turn our phantom power off when an appliance isn’t being used. Phantom power consists of things like the stereo and microwave clocks or anything else that shows lit up on a screen even though the appliance is turned off.

HRV – we have a whole house fan for fresh air that is configured to warm up the incoming cold air with the outgoing heated air. The result is semi heated fresh air which becomes pretty important in the winter months when we have to keep our house warm.

Tankless hot water heater – our hot water heater has a little generator in the supply line that lights the propane pilot light when the water is turned on.

Outdoor sink – we have a commercial food prep sink outside we can use during the months that aren’t freezing. It is great for cleaning the garden veggies, and cleaning fish and the chickens at butcher time. This sink helps keep all the mess outside. In the winter month we just drain the lines.

Outside generator/ pump switch - We added another switch and plug-in for pumping water from the carport. If I don’t want to use my solar power to run the 220V deep well pump I can hook my little portable generator to an outside plug in and flip the bypass switch and pump water from the carport. This comes in handy during the cloudy months. This won’t be such a big deal when we get our new pump which only uses 1/3 of the amperage to run as our existing pump but I will still have the option.

Cell phone system – there is no cell coverage here but we have managed to acquire a signal via a system of cell phone amplifiers and antennas.

Insulated curtains – Laurie made all new curtains for the house that are insulated to an R value of 5. That doesn’t seem like much until you close them during the cold months. You can feel the difference immediately. I believe they save us about two cords of wood each year.Sun Frost refrigerator – these refers are expensive but well worth the money if you are off grid. They don’t run near as often as a traditional refer. The reason is that they are well insulated and the compressor is located at the top of the refer instead of the bottom like all other conventional refers. Compressors put out heat. When they are located at the bottom of the appliance they warm it up which causes it to run in order to cool it back down. This is a ridiculously simple concept.

Energy Star appliances – the Energy Star label is almost worthless. Look at the electrical use in terms of watts or amperage to compare appliances when choosing which ones to buy. Even then it is tricky. Our dishwasher, vacuum, and chest freezer are the biggest electrical hogs.

Garage Temperature – we even have an unintended design feature in the garage. One side is underground 6’ and the other side is a heated wall from the house. The result is that it never freezes and is the perfect temperature for food storage I the winter. It’s just like a root cellar!

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

 
 
 
 
Published in Building Tips
Tuesday, 06 November 2012 00:00

Our Home Design Features Part 1

Our off grid home has many design features you don’t normally find in most houses. Many people come here to see what some of these features look like or how they operate. Since I seem to struggle with my memory more and more I thought it would be nice to list them out along with a little explanation of them. Most of them are explained in detail on prior Blogs.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableRoof overhangs – our eave length is calculated to keep the sun out of the windows in the summer which helps with natural cooling, and let the sun in during the colder winter months which helps with passive heating. Anyone can do the calculation. It is most important for the south side of the house.
 
off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableICF’S – the exterior walls are made out of Styrofoam concrete forms filled with concrete. The concrete is 8” thick. I personally recommend that if you go this route you need to use the icf’s that have more insulation on the outside form than on the inside, especially in colder climates.
 
Earthquake proof – because we chose to have a concrete slab and concrete walls it was relatively inexpensive to add enough rebar to make it possible to withstand a pretty good size earthquake. We’ve already had a 5+ on the Richter scale.
 
Fireproof – our exterior walls are layered with Hardiplank siding, then 2” of 3 hour fire treated icf, then 8” concrete and then 2” more 3 hour treated icf. Our roof is metal. Our soffits are also metal with tiny slots for venting. We also put metal ceilings on the exposed wood framing in the carport and front porch roofs. This makes our house virtually immune to forest fires. We got tested the very first year we moved in. We had zero repercussions.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableSolar tubes – these allow natural light where you wouldn’t normally have any. They greatly reduce the need for electrical lighting.

Water cisterns – we have three of them. They capture water off the roof of the house and barn and store it. We use the stored water for our garden (low pressure gravity flow) and to water the horses. We have been able to do both of those tasks for 11 months of the year without using our solar power to run the well pump for either of those tasks.

We have a three sided attached wood shed and a carport with two open sides and a garage with a large door. We put regular wall footings in the ground along the open sides of those two structures and at the garage door opening. In the future, if we want to, we can install a framed insulated wall in those openings and double the size of our house.

Masonry heater – our custom masonry heater only burns about five cords of wood each year to heat our home and we live at an elevation of 4200’. The winter temperatures get down below zero. It is extremely efficient at over 95%.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWood burning kitchen stove – we also have a custom built masonry kitchen stove with a 42” cook top that burns wood. We also use it to heat the house in the spring and fall when it is only mildly cold. When the stove isn’t already going we just use the regular propane stove to cook with and use the 42” cast iron top as counter space.

Solar power – we produce all of our own electricity with a photovoltaic solar power system with batteries and inverter. We also have a backup generator that runs about 100 hours per year when it clouds up for a period of time.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

 
 
 
Published in Building Tips

Featured

  • Our Home Design Features Part 1

    Our off grid home has many design features you don’t normally find in most houses. Many people come here to see what some of these features look like or how they operate. Since I seem to struggle with my memory more and more I thought it would be nice to list them out along with a little explanation of them. Most of them are explained in detail on prior Blogs. Roof overhangs – our eave length is calculated to keep the sun out of the windows in the summer which helps with natural cooling, and let the sun in during Read More
  • Our Home Design Features Part 2

    Our off grid home has many design features you don’t normally find in most houses. Many people come here to see what some of these features look like or how they operate. This is the second installment of features. Part 1 was published last week. See Part 1 Insulated cold frames – on the south side of the house we put in raised bed insulated cold frames. We have grown fresh cold weather type vegetables as cold as 18F with nothing to heat them but the sun. They are attached to the side of the house which never freezes. Plug Read More
  • I Built My House for Extreme Weather

    I went to work in the family commercial construction company in the early 1980's and by the end of the decade had worked my way into the office as a project manager. Commercial construction is entirely different than residential construction. For one thing, everything is engineered - structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers all take a part in the design of commercial buildings. It wasn't long before I discovered the term "100 year storm". Many structural designs and mechanical designs were based on the 100 year storm (I'm over simplifying for the purpose of this article). Things like concrete foundation design and Read More
  • 1