The process of building an off-grid house takes place through all the stages that are implied during the construction of an ordinary house, but it is specific that certain restrictions must be overcome due to the place and method of construction, living habits and access to water and electricity.
In this article, we will not talk in detail about all aspects of building a house, but only about those specifics that have off-grid construction. Here, we mean both the specifics of the construction process and the specifics of the house design
Which challenges must be overcome when building an off grid house?
There are five main questions that must be taken into consideration in this type of construction, and decisions concerning them must be made at the very beginning. Answering these questions will make a step-by-step guide on how to properly plan construction and avoid major mistakes.
- What lifestyle do you strive for?
- Where will you build, and what are the features of that location?
- Which construction methods will you use?
- How to power an off-grid house?
- How to get drinking and technical water?
Off-the-grid house can be your primary home, i.e., a permanent place of residence or a place where you occasionally come. In any case, one may wonder when is the best moment in life to start construction.
Does living off grid mean compromising your comfort?
As a general rule, we must say YES! In most cases, people who build off the grid, to some extent, give up some benefits, which are otherwise implied. The good thing is that they choose for themselves what it will be.
Is it possible to build an off grid house that provides all the comforts of a classic suburban house?
This will significantly increase the cost of construction and most likely the price will be higher than the cost of building a classic house in the suburbs (the plot is cheaper, but the transport of materials, labor and installation of energy sources are more expensive) but it is doable!
On the other hand, the question is, if you want the comfort provided by a suburban house, then why build off the grid? Do you want to leave the consumer society behind? Do you want to live in harmony with nature? Sustainable? Environmentally friendly?
Going to live in nature, most usually, implies certain changes in lifestyle, because people realize that many of the things that are taken for granted in urban areas are not really necessary. These waivers greatly facilitate the construction itself. A change in lifestyle does not necessarily mean a rejection of comfort but only a reduction.
For example, if you decide to have one combined device in the house instead of a separate refrigerator and freezer, you will reduce your own comfort a little bit, but the electricity consumption will be halved. You can reduce the number of light bulbs and still have enough light.
If you heat the rooms with a wood stove, you can also use it for cooking and heating water. If you have good thermal insulation and cleverly installed windows with shutters, you will not need air conditioning. When buying home appliances, you should take into account their energy efficiency…
The most important strategy would be to minimize your demand for energy in the first place!
What to look for when choosing a plot for an off grid house?
Location, location, location!!! This applies to building a house in a city or suburb, and it also applies here because everything can be changed and improved, but the house stays in that place forever. So, what to look for?
First, check the legal aspects! You will probably, need to pay council tax that correlates to the size of your purchased lot. You will need planning permission also, especially if you are planning to build a permanent house.
Check the local laws to avoid accidentally breaking them! Here is an article with more information about it.
Second, check accessibility! On the one hand, good access will make it easier to deliver construction materials, machinery, and workers to the site, but on the other, it will make your life easier later.
Finally, check the features of that location! Water is the most important thing to consider! Make sure you have a clean, natural water source, whether that is a well, a lake, river, stream, or natural spring. The water does not have to be drinkable, but it must be abundant throughout the year to be used for technical purposes. We strongly recommend that you do not put yourself in a situation where you depend on the collected rainwater or stocks in the tanks, as this can endanger the lives of you and your family.
Wood, rock, stone, clay and mud are all natural materials you will need in some form or another. It makes sense to make sure you can provide materials for every aspect of living that you can. These materials save you money in the long run and they are sustainable. The quality of the soil should also be checked, as the production of healthy food is most often accompanied by an off-grid lifestyle.
Also, manure is a building material. It’s added to the mix when building cob houses and provides insulative and adhesive factors that mud and clay don’t.
Which construction methods for off grid houses are most commonly used?
| type of construction
| predominant material
| Cob House
| soil, clay
| can be built anywhere no toxins in the air you breath every possible shape free renewable and recyclable
|it is difficult to meet legal requirements they require a lot of work
| Log Cabin
| Durable fast to build low cost (especially if you have your own wood on plot) relatively simple and low amount of work (compering to wood frame)
|demanding in terms of insulation it is not environmentally sustainable (if wood is bought and transported)
| Timber or Stick Frame Cabin
| can look the same as a “normal” house formed skeleton of the house increases flexibility in design built entirely within the code (regulations)
|requires skilled workers and special tools higher price
| Straw Bale Home
| can be built with or without wood frame cheap faster construction higher insulation value
|since it is in the International Residential Code (IRC), it makes it possible to get a building permit, but not for constructions without frame and not in all countries
| Mobile or Portable Houses (yurt, shipping container, RV or Trailer...)
| cheap live to travel lifestyle you always have the option of just going back in to the city
|small living area it is meant for living but still it is not a house requires the most compromise
| Stone House
| live in a natural environment the house have a typical look relatively low cost (if you have your own stone on plot) the most durable longlasting very good insolated
|create a ”cooler” atmosphere need special building skills the longest construction time can be expencive
It should be noted that, in different areas, the frequency of a particular type of construction varies depending on the characteristics of the area itself. Most of the off grid houses, however, are wooden frame constructions. This is because they look most like ordinary ones.
It should be borne in mind that the best principle is to build from materials that are available on the ground. In forests – wood, on rocky terrain – stone , on meadows and pastures – mud or straw … in accordance with the selected type of material, the type of construction should be chosen!
Living off the grid is one thing but building off the grid is another. One does not imply the other! If you have enough money and good access to the terrain you can build the usual way, using the usual materials. Stil, if you want to live environmentally conscious and in a sustainable way, you most likely want to build that way too! With more effort and manual work, the use of alternative building methods and renewable materials can also significantly save money.
How to power an off grid house?
| type of solution
| energy source
| photovoltaic (PV) panels
| ccan be applied anywhere no maintenence relativly efficiant state and local incentives
|unreliable (production is limited by direct insolation) limited durability (after 20 years less than 50% efficiency)
| wind turbine (windmill)
| durable, low maintenence, in some areas more efficient than other sources
|visually striking, unreliable, (a narrow range of useful wind speeds) produces sound
| Micro-hydro plant
| durable, reliable (if the river is of constant flow), low maintenence, cost effective (price per kw)
|not applicable everywhere eco threat if not installed properly
| hybrid sistems
| combines everything
| the best and most reliable
|the most expensive
The power supply of the house must be planned in advance, before construction. You should first focus on the energy needs that emerge from life habits. You need to see what is absolutely needed, where savings can be made, and what can be eliminated. There are two possible approaches to this topic.
One is how to save energy or eliminate the need for it by changing life habits and routines. The second is how to do it by applying more efficient technology. This can be achieved by using devices that consume less energy (LED lighting…), by using devices which provide energy themselves (solar water heater…), by using devices that use an alternative power supply (wood stove…) and by using devices that increase the overall efficiency of basic energy sources (geothermal pump…).
Then, a calculation of the average amount of energy engaged during the day and the maximum required in the consumption peaks, should be made. This way you will make the compromises you are willing to make, not the ones you are forced to.
In the next step, the appropriate energy source should be selected. We have summarized their specifics in the table. At the end of the calculation it should be realized that the part of the energy generated will not be used. In order not to be wasted you should consider energy storage systems as a useful ally to your energy balance.
After we have made all the calculations about consumption and selected energy sources, financially and technically available to as, it can happen that we are in deficit! Now what?
Well, there is only one more, environmentally unsuitable, old-fashioned, energy inefficient, but certainly applicable solution. Generator! In any case they should be considered as a fallback option.
How to get drinking and technical water?
The easiest way to solve the water issue is to use some natural water flow on the plot. When choosing a plot for building off grid houses, it is necessary that in addition to the beautiful view and the sound of silence, there is also a water source on it, if possible.
The easiest way to get to the water. just a few pipes and a free fall system and the water is already on its way to you. Often the water, before coming to the surface, is already filtered and clean and even enriched with various minerals because it passes through the rocks. Yet, this possibility is not without its drawbacks. Firstly, it is very difficult to find a plot with a spring, secondly, the question is whether the water quality is constantly satisfying and how abundant it is and whether there are variations during the year and how big they are? The price of the plot with the spring is certainly significantly higher than the price of the neighboring ones.
River or Pond
If you find a plot by or near a river or pond, you won’t have much technical trouble getting water. You will have some legal issues therefore. Most property owners in the west do not have the right to water from their land.
A well is a little bit like an artificial spring. The basic problem is that drilling is expensive and it is uncertain at what depth you will find water, and whether you will find it at all. What is the quality of the water, is it in sufficient quantity throughout the year and can or cannot it come into contact with atmospheric and wastewater? On the other hand, with a little luck and a little more money, you will come up with a solution that provides comfort at the level that users with a connection to the public water supply have.
In those climatic areas characterized by relatively frequent precipitation, collecting rainwater from the roof and storing it in plastic barrels is a simple, sustainable and inexpensive solution. However, it should be borne in mind that the frequency of precipitation varies during the year, so the question is, whether enough water can be stored to overcome the dry season?
Buying and Storing
While not necessarily in the spirit of off-grid life, when all other possibilities are exhausted, it is possible to purchase water and bring it back to your home. The most common way to do this is with a water tank that you load into your car or tow behind it.