I believe living off the grid is not just ticking off a few boxes and implementing the latest technology but has to do with so much more. When people ask me what the biggest tip is on living off the grid, my answer is this…your home is too big, and not designed according to passive design principles. Passive what? …let me explain. A good passive design will reduce the amount of energy your home use on a massive scale, making it more affordable and doable to start implementing off-the-grid principles.
I believe that most homes today are too big; containing rooms and spaces rarely used & built from outdated construction materials with a carbon footprint that is slowly killing our planet. A long narrow building where the longer axis is facing north will increase the effectiveness of passive design. If the right rooms are facing north side (south in the northern hemisphere), a house is bright, sunny & cheerful; if the wrong rooms are facing north, the house is dark and gloomy – therefore place the most important rooms along the northern edge of the house with the building spread out along the east-west axis. Rooms without a view are prisons for the people who stay in them. Provide big openable doors and windows towards the best views over life.
Your home should have a high window to wall ratio on the northern – even on the eastern side. The ‘problem’ façade in terms of solar heat gain is the western facade, where the slow setting sun can make a home unbearably hot. Keep the western windows as small as possible. South facing walls are mostly shaded and big windows will increase heat-loss during the winter.
Insulation is the most effective way to improve the energy efficiency of a home or a building. Good insulation helps to keep heat in during the winter and out in summer to improve comfort and save energy. Insulation could add additional benefits such as acoustics and waterproofing. Effective draught proofing, moisture control and ventilation are important at design stage. The appropriate level of insulation intervention will depend on climate, building construction type, and whether auxiliary heating and/or cooling is used.
The term ‘insulation’ refers to materials or a combination thereof which provide resistance to heat flow. When these materials are installed in the roofs, ceilings, walls, and floors of a building, heat flow into and out of the building is reduced, and the need for heating and cooling is minimized. Although ceilings and walls may be insulated, heat loss will still occur in winter if there are large areas of unprotected glass or through fixed wall vents, gaps electric light entry points and cracks around external doors and windows.
Start harvesting your Grey Water. Grey water is made up of bath, shower, bathroom sink and washing machine water, it is not advisable to use your kitchen water as this is damaging to plant life because of the fat content. An average household (family of 4) will use between 300l-400l of reusable water daily. The residues, soaps etc of grey water in the water in diluted quantities can provide useful sulphates and nitrates which some experts say is more beneficial to the garden than clean tap water. It is advisable to use biodegradable products in the washing machine. The average suburban garden accounts for about 35% of domestic water consumption. Most of the concerns about grey water are to do with the hygiene aspect and odours of the water, but both these aspects are eliminated if the water is re-used as soon as possible and bacteria has not been given the opportunity to produce.
A greywater system can be as simple as using a bucket to carry the waste water outside, or as complicated as having the greywater piped directly outside using a tank and pump. Homeowners can also make one themselves by connecting a pipe from the outlet of their bathroom to a hose pipe. Alternatively, homeowners can invest in a system that connects the greywater to the outlet pipes of the bathroom where the greywater will be collected or stored in a tank. The water will run through a hair and lint filter first before it is pumped out through irrigation pipes to the garden. With any greywater system, it is important that you use “garden friendly” products and detergents that do not contain any salts, boron or bleach. If you intend on using the water to feed a vegetable garden, it is important that the system has a filter. How much does a grey water system cost?
Make use of gas water heating. Depending on your local utility costs, gas water heaters are typically cheaper to operate than electric. They also cost more upfront than an electric. However, based on energy savings, gas heaters generally make up the difference in price in about one year. Gas Geysers are not an ‘off-the-shelf’ type product. There are several factors which will influence the type & size of geyser which will best suit your need. There are two types of gas geysers available in South Africa; Standard Gas Geysers & Advanced Gas Geysers. Brands of Standard Gas Geysers on the South African market include Atlas, Bosch and Kexin. Atlas and Kexin Gas Geysers are manufactured in China, while Bosch Gas Geysers are manufactured in Europe.
How does solar panels work? Each solar cell constitutes 2 sheets of silicone (N type and P type). The P type has fewer electrons and more capacity to accept electrons. As a result, an electric field is formed internally due to the opposite charged layers. Silicone atoms in solar cells are strongly bonded to one another. In this natural state there is no flow of current. However, when sunlight radiates a cell with enough energy, electrons in silicone atoms become energised and move out of their natural state. Through metal contact points on the surface of the cell, the displaced electrons are collected and conveyed to the wires. If a circuit is connected to the panel, then electricity can be generated. For a more comprehensive description of the process please visit www.pvgreencard.co.za.
Start harvesting your rainwater. Rainwater harvesting can be described as the collecting of water that originates from rainfall. Every time the rain falls, you have a chance to harvest it. If harvested and stored correctly, the water can be of great use on commercial, residential or agricultural properties in South Africa. The rainwater itself is normally relatively pure. This is since it is formed after vapour evaporates from the ground and condenses in the atmosphere without particles or chemicals. Unless it is in places where the air is polluted badly. The water is therefore relatively clean up until this point. The benefits of harvesting your rainwater are tremendous; helps with controlling flooding, Reduces soil erosion in some areas, gives people water living in areas which have no access to natural water sources, an adequate source of water for irrigating crops, relatively cheap to install, ends up reducing water bills, helps solve drainage problems in towns and cities, environmentally friendly.
How much rainwater can you capture? A very simple and uncomplicated method is to take the area of your roof (let’s say 200 square meters) x the rainfall (let’s say you had 15mm rain on Sunday); 200 x 15 = 3000L. For a more accurate calculation the ‘filter efficiency’ and roof material coefficient should also be worked into the calculation.
These are just some of the basic principles on Off Grid Living. The ‘minefield’ of architecture is such vast field with ever changing methods, materials and technology. Make sure that you consult a reliable and trustworthy architect who will help guide you through the various pitfalls and obstacles. Remember, not everyone who calls himself an architect can do the work and ‘cheaper is NOT better’.
Want to go off the grid?
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