How to get off your electric grid

It is far easier to make your house sustainable by reducing energy needs than it is to get off the grid. For example, if you can reduce your home’s energy requirements by 75 percent, then using alternative energy sources to fully meet your electrical needs becomes far more feasible than generating your own electricity. Therefore, the first step to taking a pre-existing home off the grid is to reduce your use of electricity. After that, most successful off-grid homes use multiple alternative energy sources.

Building a New Home

Install a residential geothermal pipe and pump system under where the house will be. In most places, underground temperatures stay between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Wise Home Design places the range in the U.S. between 45 and 60 degrees. A residential geothermal system would spread water pipes underground and then thread back and forth within your outside walls. The water pumping through the pipes would then cool the walls in summer and warm them in winter, effectively working as an insulation layer. During temperate seasons, you can leave the pump off.

Use concrete foam forms (ICF) to build the walls, according to wisehomedesign.com. This provides insulation, fireproofing and even hurricane proofing if used with rebar and roof ties.

Use passive solar energy. Design the house so that most windows face south so the low winter sun heats the house and the high summer sun is blocked by awnings or large overhangs. What this means is placing one of the house’s two long side facing south. This allows the low winter sun to heat the inside. Some homes can be built into south-facing hillsides, which adds to the passive solar benefits.

Install a greenhouse or sunroom on the south side of the house. Install ductwork leading from the greenhouse into the hot air ductwork in the rest of the house. A greenhouse can capture solar heat in the winter. Warm air in the greenhouse can’t escape, and the ductwork connecting the greenhouse to the main house allows the heat to flow into the house’s heating system. You can install louvres to be closed so the greenhouse doesn’t heat the house in temperate or hot seasons.

As with most construction, the more you incorporate into the home during the construction phase, the less the project will cost in the end. Installing wiring for alternative energy sources, for example, is much easier and less expensive during the building process than to retrofit and existing home.

Plan for some form of backup energy, in case you underestimate your load. You may find that wind, solar and geothermal are inadequate in your area to meet your electrical needs through all seasons. If you’re genuinely not hooked up to the local power grid, this is an important consideration in case you either underestimate your needs, overestimate the solar and wind energy available, or decide to expand the home in the future. You may want to look into a diesel generator that can take used vegetable oil that you accumulate over the warmer months. Restaurants often will let you take used vegetable oil off their hands for free.

Reduction of Energy Requirements in Existing House

Install dark-colored stone or concrete flooring where the sun enters your home. This can serve as a heat reservoir, storing heat from sunlight during the day and releasing it at night to help keep the house warm.

Install high-efficiency, multi-paned, gas-filled windows. Vary the type from one side of the house to the other, as such so-called “superwindows” have different glazings, coatings and gas fills, depending on their function and location, according to starlinewindows.com. East- and west-facing windows are tinted to reduce morning and evening sun. South-facing windows block the sun from getting in without compromising the view. North-facing windows keep thermal frequencies of radiation from escaping the house, according to the book, “Primer on Sustainable Building.”

Install a white roof to reflect sunlight to help keep your house cool. Dark roofs absorb heat, increasing air-conditioning costs. This step is not as necessary if you plan to cover the roof with solar panels. White and silver roofs have even become part of the building code in Chicago to reduce the city’s summer energy grid burden, as discussed in the Rocky Mountain Institute’s “Primer on Sustainable Building.”

Alternative Energy Sources

Install a white roof to reflect sunlight to help keep your house cool. Dark roofs absorb heat, increasing air-conditioning costs. This step is not as necessary if you plan to cover the roof with solar panels. White and silver roofs have even become part of the building code in Chicago to reduce the city’s summer energy grid burden, as discussed in the Rocky Mountain Institute’s “Primer on Sustainable Building.”

Research the subsidies available to you for solar panel installation. Consider installing a Sterling engine solar reflector that tracks with the sun as a possibly more efficient alternative.

Install passive heating vacuum tubes for your hot water on the south side of the house. Glass coatings and vacuum technology have gotten efficient enough that vacuum tubes can heat a tank of water to 120 degrees Fahrenheit using ambient sunlight in the winter. See examples at solarthermal.com or coolenergyinc.com

You may want to consult with an alternative energy consultant on how to structure the electrical system both to integrate the various sources of alternative energy and to provide AC to your appliance from DC power converters.

Source: www.ehow.com
By Paul Dohrman
April 30, 2010

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