Guest post by Maggie Potter
The coronavirus has made one thing clear — people in society don’t keep a safe enough distance from each other. The fast spread of the virus has governments ordering people to stay home and avoid contact with groups and others. The hardest-hit areas are large metropolitan cities such as New York City and Seattle. Social distancing and quarantining at home may be an impossible concept to follow for some, but for others, an ideal way of life.
It’s hard to say what will happen in the future, but it’s likely we’ll see more issues from this pandemic, especially in terms of stress and strife in urban areas. We may even see another pandemic, as we get novel viruses out of China every year. Given the existing issues and the potential for financial fallout from this pandemic, many are thinking about getting out of the city and simplifying lifestyles.
If you’ve been dreaming of living off the grid full-time, the current pandemic may provide the push you need to start making plans to become self-sustainable. When we talk about living sustainably, our carbon footprints are often a topic of discussion. A small carbon footprint is the key to needing less energy, and also a cleaner environment.
Think Tiny House
The popularity of tiny houses has grown in opposing proportion to their sizes. In 2017, there were an estimated 10,000 tiny homes. Tiny homeowners also carry an average of 50% less debt than traditional homeowners. Their largest expense is often the land purchased for their home. Buying land to live off the grid can cost from $1500 per acre to tens of thousands an acre depending on location.
Squeezing your life and your possessions into a footprint that’s less than 500 square feet can lead to changes greater than just how you choose which dishes stay with the family and which ones get donated to save space. Doctoral student Maria Saxton studied 80 tiny home families for her dissertation and found that just one year of tiny house living reduced environmental footprints by an average of 45%.
Look to experienced tiny homeowners for inspiration for your build. There are a number of great and affordable ideas, like concrete domes built by a professional builder or plans you can purchase to create your own custom build. Use materials like Low-E glazed windows and Energy Star rated appliances to increase your returns. The key is to work out the minimum square footage your family will need without building excess.
Explore the Earth
One of the most energy-efficient home designs in the history of home design is the earth-sheltered home. While many of these homes are the epitome of luxury, hunters were using earth to shelter their homes in pre-historic times, and the design saw its heyday of cool in the 1970s when the 1973 Oil Crisis precipitated the back-to-the-land movement of environmentalism. For true off-the-grid design, it’s a shame more people aren’t using this design today.
There are two main types of earth-sheltered home: underground and bermed. Because both types involve a heavy amount of excavation, the upfront cost of construction is considerably higher than — say — a tiny home. However, that is likely the greatest barrier to construction of an earth-sheltered home.
Jack Eidt noted for Wilder Utopia that earth sheltering a home can reduce energy consumption by 50-90%depending on the type of sheltering that is used. The earth surrounding the homes provides one of the most natural forms of insulation for a home, contributing to the rise in energy efficiency. If earth roofs are greened or covered with solar panels — or both, the sustainability of the home increases. In order to increase your ability to move your family off the grid, use an earth roof to plant herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers.
Zero Waste Means High Return
Living off the grid requires the most minimalistic lifestyle possible. Use the concept of zero-waste living to ensure that everything you own can be reused, recycled, repurposed, or composted to avoid the need for trash or new purchases. You’ll learn quickly how well you can live without many of the comforts city dwellers are accustomed to. And you’ll be contributing to the environment by reducing waste that ends up in landfills.
Solar panels can power the few appliances or devices you choose to include in your off-the-grid home. You can forego electricity altogether but may appreciate being able to charge your tech equipment such as a GPS, mobile devices to connect to the internet, plug in a freezer for your summer catches from hunting or fishing, or provide lighting for your family to read or study at night. Another concept to explore is the passive solar home. This means taking that tiny home or that earth-sheltered dome and pointing it in the direction that best captures the power of the sun at all times to heat and cool your home. Thus, any electricity you generate off the grid goes to work for what it really needs to do, and the solar system does its natural work for you.
Off-the-Grid and Prepared for Anything
Living off-the-grid is critical when facing nationwide or global crises, such as the current coronavirus pandemic, political unrest, or natural disasters. Make your home energy-efficient and sustainable so you can comfortably survive extended periods of time with your loved ones, away from all the chaos.