Off-grid Living: Architectural and Environmental Considerations

Emma
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As more and more people become aware of the impact that we are having on the environment, we are finding an increase in people looking for a 'greener' way to live their lives. Although the energy companies and governments seem to be slowly making changes to reduce our energy use and CO2 emissions as well as use renewable energy, for many people this isn't fast enough.

Living off-grid is one solution that many people are turning to. It allows them to live self-sufficiently in terms of energy and water and - for many people - food as well.

The UK has always had properties which are set in rural areas and without access to energy and water. Now with the current housing crisis meaning that more properties are needed all over the country, we are generally seeing more and more people looking towards off-grid living.

With an increased demand for off-grid properties - whether by choice or by necessity -there are some important factors which need to be taken into consideration.


Oil Heating

One of the main considerations that needs to be thought about is the heating of the building. Without being connected to mains gas, many people choose to use a bunded oil tank in the garden, which can store oil that can then be used to heat the house. (It can also be used to heat up water).

There are rules about how far away from the property an oil tank must be kept, and the security of the tank should also be taken into consideration, as it can sometimes be easy for thieves to siphon off the oil.

As long as there is enough space in the land area to house an oil tank, this is an effective way to heat the home and water, without causing much disruption.


Other Heating Alternatives

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Off-grid Living: Architectural and Environmental Considerations

Chalk Bluff Cabin by Arkin Tilt Architects

Energy alternatives such as solar, wind, biomass or hydropower might also be options depending on where the property is based and whether there is enough room for all of the equipment that is needed. Of course, those who want to live off-grid for environmental reasons prefer these renewable energy options.

With these options, the energy from the sun, wind, natural materials or water is converted into energy, which can be used in the home. Although many people don't use all three energy sources, it is important to have a back-up source in case there is a shortage.

This off-grid property in California uses solar power to heat both the property and the water supply.


Insulation

When you are thinking about heating the building it is also important to consider how it will be insulated. A well-insulated property can significantly cut down on the amount of energy that is needed to power it.

Some people choose to use conventional insulation materials, but others have decided to use something different. This off-grid home in East Yorkshire is made from straw bales, which gives it super-insulating qualities.


Off-Grid, Pre-Fab

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Off-grid Living: Architectural and Environmental Considerations

Image sourced through Treehugger.com

One idea that we are seeing more and more of (especially in the USA) is a downloadable, pre-fab off-grid home. New technology allows architects to literally print out the drawings for the pre-fab house and then build it straight away. Having a prefab house means that you can take advantage of tried and tested techniques and materials, with less waste.

In fact, off-grid properties actually lend themselves very well to the downloadable, pre-fab model as they are generally compact and self-contained, meaning that you don’t need to worry about connecting it to mains energy or water. They are also replicable as long as the terrain isn't too different.


Water

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Off-grid Living: Architectural and Environmental Considerations

Many off-grid properties don’t have access to mains water. The solution is usually in the collection of rainwater into tanks or the installation of a well where water can be drawn from underground.

Collecting rainwater is an eco-friendly way of getting water into the home, but there are a couple of downsides. Firstly, it will require a number of large tanks to store it in. Secondly, if you are planning on drinking it you might need to treat it (or at least check that it’s clean). And thirdly, you run the risk of running out. Rainwater harvesting systems involve drains and gutters, which direct the rainwater into a tank that can then be pumped into the house.

Wells can be a good option as they are a solid and clean water supply. Although they can be expensive to dig, they can give occupants water whenever it is needed and don’t rely on rainfall. 

For anyone who is living off-grid, ensuring that they conserve their energy and water is vitally important. Even for those who are living off-grid due to being in a rural environment, they are having to find their energy and water from sources other than the mains and this requires careful planning and attention to conservation.


New technology is helping architects and designers find new and innovative ways to get energy and water to these houses in an economical and efficient way, which means that off-grid living is becoming more comfortable and therefore a more viable option for many people.

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