To take green building to a higher level, consider building off the grid. Design a home which functions without support from remote infrastructure, eliminating all public utilities including water and sewage. An off-the-grid (OTG) house means living self-sufficiently and not relying on, or paying for, one or more of the public utilities available. Note that this may not be allowed in some areas by codes and ordinances.
A true off-grid house is autonomous not needing a municipal water supply, sewer, natural gas, electrical power grid, or other such services. It is estimated that about two billion people globally live off-grid, in many areas of Third World countries because there is no grid. Within a decade since the turn of the century, the number of OTG houses in the United States was increasing by about 33 percent.
There are several reasons for wanting to go off the grid. Famous environmentalists, like Ed Begley Jr., Darryl Hannah, and Cody Lunden, have done it to reduce their carbon footprints and environmental impact. A more predominant reason among common people is to reduce the cost of utilities. Some prefer a simpler lifestyle and do it to escape the hamster wheel of enduring jobs to pay on debts and large mortgages. Survivalists do it to prepare for the fossil fuel economic collapse.
In remote locations, connecting to a grid over long distances can be prohibitively expensive, such that the cost of self-supplied power is cheaper. For others, a grid connection is not even a possibility. Owners of occasionally occupied dwellings, like vacation cabins, may go off-grid to avoid traditional utility connections’ high initial cost.
One of the energy alternatives is placing photovoltaic (PV) solar panels on the roof or in a yard. Cells of silicon semiconductors in the panels collect energy from sunlight and turn electrons loose. An electric field forces the electrons to flow in one direction which creates direct current (DC). The direct current flows through an inverter and is converted into alternating current (AC) used to power the home.
Another choice is wind power. A wind turbine again on the roof or in the yard has blades which spin in the wind, turning a shaft from the rotor hub to a generator. The generator turns the energy into electricity and an inverter converts it into AC power.
Some dwellings located near falling water with enough drop use that to create hydroelectric power. Visit the Earthaven ecovillage in nearby Black Rock, North Carolina to see this in action. Battery banks store the energy created by the water drop.
There are a couple different ways to supply water to the home. A well can be drilled into the ground to reach groundwater and a pump used to draw the water up to the house for about $3,000 to $15,000 depending on how deep the water table is. Some homes are located in wet areas with natural springs which can be pumped to the house much more cheaply. Care must be taken to avoid leaching of contaminants into the water supply and periodic water testing is important.
A more common method in the past, and currently used in places like Bermuda which have enough rainfall, is collecting rainwater into a large cistern either above ground or in underground tanks made of steel, concrete, or fiberglass. Roof gutters channel the water into the cistern and a pump supplies it to the house.
Septic systems instead of a grid sewer line are very common for handling wastewater. Waste is collected in a large tank, either metal or fiberglass, where bacteria breaks the waste and separates it. Wastewater is pushed out of the tank into perforated pipes buried in the drain field as new wastewater enters the tank. Soil in the drain field holds harmful bacteria until it gets absorbed as nutrients. Depending on amount of use, a septic tank should be emptied by a professional yearly.
Another waste disposal method is composting toilets. Read the article below “Sun-Mar compost toilets–no plumbing, no odor, no sewage.”
Propane gas tanks can supply energy to the water heater and kitchen gas stove instead of all electric. Pipes feed the gas into the house and a propane service refills the tank as needed. Tankless water heaters take less energy, heating water only as needed. Solar water heaters are common in Europe on roofs of buildings. They use energy from the sun to heat water.
Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves can help heat the home, although carbon dioxide emissions and particulates are a concern for clean air and climate change. A passive solar home stores energy from the sun in rock, brick and concrete walls using correctly placed windows to heat the collector. Tour the Nauhaus in Asheville and Earthaven in North Carolina for examples. View an off-grid home for sale in Clyde, North Carolina.
Geothermal heat using the natural heat stored in the earth a few feet down by running pipes through trenches is the best. Building the house into a bank of soil at least on one side also keeps the interior temperature more uniform.
There are off-grid communities where members pool resources. Check out one in Belize where homes are for sale for $49,900. Some environmental concerns can be emissions from diesel generators affecting both climate change and health of the residents, the disruptive noise from generators, fuel transported distances which increases risk of fuel spills and uses more fossil fuel creating more greenhouse gases.