Off-Grid and Independent Energy and Utilities

A lot of people seem to talk about wanting to be off-the-grid or energy-independent or otherwise secure in their basic utilities. However, most such people seem to have little idea on what they should do, and they seem to only learn things from SALESPEOPLE who are trying to sell them lots of expensive stuff! Maybe not the shrewdest move!

Here is a broad presentation of the various needs that exist and then the various available ways to try to provide those needs. Some of these discussions refer to other web-pages in this Domain.


Shelter

Not too much to comment on here, as people seem to have either already solved this or have specific ideas on what they intend to do. Most involve fairly traditional construction methods, whether stick-built (carpentry) or concrete block or poured concrete (masonry). Some people consider some more primitive forms, such as adobe (dried mud blocks) or straw-bale (where standard straw bales are stacked and then usually covered with masonry material. These last turn out to be quite thick in practical size, which gives decent thermal insulation, even though those materials are not actually very good insulating materials.

People today seem to give very little thought to how LONG a structure is likely to last before it needs extensive repair or replacement. Even 50 years ago, a stick-built home was made of lumber that would likely last 50 to 100 years. Now, most standard-grade construction lumber is the cheapest that the stores can get away with selling, with the result that the whitewood and similar can disintegrate in just 30 years, or even 10 years if it can get damp! No one seems to ever tell that to a customer!

Straw-bale construction CAN last for five to ten years, but if it ever gets any moisture, it can disintegrate in one year or less. Adobe can last for really long times in desert climates, but again can quickly erode where there are heavy rains and high humidity.

I have one basic thought regarding this subject. Given that Global Warming will get worse and worse, AND that the cost of conventional heating and air conditioning will certainly get higher and higher, I strongly recommend considering a home structure that is at least partly underground. Halfway underground is called bermed. Entirely or nearly entirely underground might sound dark and nasty, but it does not need to be! In 1978 I began building a very large structure that was to be entirely underground, but still brightly sunlight! It was near North Judson in northern Indiana. I first dug out a crater that was roughly 10 feet deep, with the removed materials piled up to increase the perimeter edges to about 14 feet above the bottom. The (conventional) concrete footer was a square of 80 feet on a side. There were also foundation footers which divided this up into four equal 40x40 spaces. One was to be a primary living area; one was to be an 8-car garage; one was to be a sports-recreation area which was to include an indoor swimming pool; and the fourth was to be a very large workshop.

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Construction proceeded fine, until a divorce ended ownership of the property! Conventional poured concrete walls made the four square spaces, with 8-foot-wide passageways connecting all four, so that vehicles and anything else could have easily moved anywhere in the entire 6,400 square foot space. The outer poured concrete was for a 10-foot ceiling, with the inner areas up to 14-feet inside height. This was to enhance the aeriness and roominess of the space.

The ceiling/roof structure were to be what are called StressCore concrete sections. Many motels are built with StressCore, as the vertical walls are erected (of masonry) and then a crane comes in to place the 24-inch-wide StressCore sections as the ceiling (and floor of the next story up) in just minutes. StressCore is available in a 40-foot span at very reasonable prices, which is why I selected the 40-foot-square dimensions, so each of the four areas would be a clear span. StressCore is made with pre-stressed steel cables inside the concrete, which makes the StressCore incredibly strong. Strong enough where a waterproof membrane can be placed on top of the StressCore top surface, and then 12 to 18 inches deep of black dirt can be placed on top of it. The result is that there would be a very nice lawn where the entire location of this large structure would be below!

Part of the reason for this is because vandals kept breaking into several conventional houses I then owned as well as the two factories I then also owned. These were in five different towns, in three different States, and all more than 30 miles apart. I discovered that I could not "defend" all those buildings! With a very large completely underground house, where entry doors and skylights all would securely seal up with structures that each weighed more than a ton apiece, I felt it was a decent way to provide security.

The living area was to have two-pairs of the StressCore sections replaced by skylights, so the house area would have had around 320 square feet of ceiling glass area, which is far more than most conventional houses have. Hydraulic cylinders would raise heavy security barriers from above the glass areas to open it up during daylight, and close it for heat preservation on cold winter nights and for security. The 8-car-garage had a ramp entryway, where part of the lawn area would raise up on hydraulic cylinders to permit entry and exit. Somewhat similar to the cartoon Batman entry to the BatCave! But different!

In addition to the security issues that this approach ensured, NO air conditioning would ever be necessary, because the deep soil temperature surrounding the entire structure was always around 52F. Heating was also greatly reduced because the building could never be exposed to 0F outside air, but at worse, 52F surrounding material. The result would be that the heating load (well known regarding underground houses) is only around 1/3 that for a conventional house. Since I was then manufacturing the JUCA Super-Fireplace woodstoves, my intention was to have a single JUCA unit fully heat the entire 6,400 square feet of space up to 72°F or whatever I might want. (Some customers in conventional houses used single JUCA units to fully heat 8,500 square foot (Indiana) and 11,000 square foot (Colorado) homes, so this heating load would be a piece of cake for a JUCA.

Heat

Certainly the BEST choice is to make one of the HG 3a units with $200 of materials, as described in the directions in this Domain. It does NOT require any fossil fuel or even firewood, but rather just leaves, cut lawn grass, hay, straw, etc.

If you insist on heating with firewood, then the JUCA Super-Fireplace is the best choice, for around $1900.

Other woodstoves are available, but decent ones are all at least $3,000, they have some problems with creosote and pollution, and they are essentially only intended to heat one or two rooms.

Solar heating with flat-plate collectors is a BAD idea, as those products were never developed sufficiently to get them to be decently efficient, no one seems to include remotely enough heat storage (except for an hour or two), and they tend to corrode or otherwise fail within a few years.

If you insist on solar, then we can only suggest considering the NorthWarm Version 1 system, which has far more capability than any other product or system sold, it is of a tolerable cost, and it TOTALLY heats even a large house in a cold climate, partly due to things like including heat storage for around 3 weeks if the Sun didn't even shine!

Conventional furnaces and heaters all use fossil fuels, and they therefore contribute to Global Warming and the other really bad consequences. We cannot recommend still using them, even though the oil, natural gas and electricity is still not as high priced as they are soon headed.

Air Conditioning


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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago