...we closed the loan yesterday, ending a year-long forced march ulcer-inducing process to build an off-grid house. The most amazing thing to me is that the New Improved Secret Hidden Bunker actually works. The solar system is easily generating enough electricity to keep things moving along pretty well. The key point is that my Sweetie and I began paring down our lifestyle a couple of years ago, which, because we are a childless couple, wasn't that large to begin with.
As I made clear to subcontractors again and again, our intent was never to move back to the 19th Century, and I figure Mother Gaia can't get along pretty well without our help. Instead, we wanted to maintain a pared down modern lifestyle...that means television (my profession, as it happens), a coffeemaker, computers, the Internet and, yes, even a phone! And a shooting range.
As I've outlined before, electricity is from PV panels and a bank of sealed batteries, backed up with a Generac propane generator designed specifically for off-grid operation. The generator is designed to kick on when the battery level reaches a certain point. All household appliances were chosen specifically for off-grid. We went with a conventional, extremely energy efficient refrigerator — no ice-maker, no water dispenser, with the freezer on top to allow the cold to "trickle down." It's about half the size of our previous 2-door stainless steel model.
The stove is a Unique, propane-driven and with no connection to the grid. The stove "fires" thanks to a 9-volt battery. No clock; no timer. Washer and dryer are conventional super-high efficiency front loaders. The dryer is propane. There's a dishwasher, again, chosen for its frugal use of electricity.
Computers are Apple and all on power strips to eliminate "phantom" use. All of the light in the house have been converted to LED bulbs (expensive little buggers!) augmented with Solartube-type skylights in the darker area. Water is from an 800-foot well feeding 2 1275-gallon cisterns build into the crawlspace under the house. Heat/hot water is from a dual-tier propane system I designed. The systems are totally separate to avoid a "cascading" failure. System 1 is a propane tank feeding the home heating system — underfloor radiant heat — and a conventional propane hot water heater for the kitchen and guest bathroom. That system also provides prom=pane for the generator. The second system provides propane for a 3-sided fireplace/heater and the super-efficient on-demand hot water heater for the master bath.
The new Bunker is south-facing with tile floors for thermal mass in the winter and cool in the summer. House is built with appropriate overhangs to shield the south-facing windows in the summer. There are high ceilings with clerestory windows for air circulation. For summer cooling, in addition to the design of the house, we have ceiling fans. In the bedroom, we popped for a Big Ass Fan, the most energy efficient fan on earth. There are energy star fans in the great room and my office.
My Sweetie designed the house specifically for the property...there is only one window on the side facing the prevailing winter winds, and that is a small, high window in the laundry room. The bedroom/master bath is position the farthest from the prevailing winds. Internet is through line-of-sight to a towner about 5 miles away. We have pretty good cell service, but I'm putting in a booster/repeater next week.
Yet to be done (read, we ran out of money) are a wind turbine, which will hopefully be in place before winter; solar hot water heating on both water systems, which I'm hoping we can hammer into place next summer, and gray water capture for the presently non-existant landscaping.
I'd love to show you guys pictures, but...OPSEC. I was appalled a couple of years ago when I found an Internet site with "directions to Michael Bane's Secret Hidden Bunker." Cute. There is no public access to the new Bunker, and I have overview of the only road from my new office.
BTW, I will be writing a series of articles on the off-grid experiment/experience for the Cheaper Than Dirt newsletter...I'll post the links when I have them!