Front-facing view of an energy-efficient off-grid home in winter

According to Home Power Magazine, more than 180,000 families have been living in energy-efficient off-grid homes since 2017. And that’s just in the US.

Off-grid homes are on an uptrend because there are more options available for self-sufficiency than ever before. In this article, our aim is to guide you on making your off-grid house energy efficient.  

What is an Off-Grid Home?

An off-grid home simply means that it’s not connected to the rest of civilization as most homes are. Off-grid homes are self-sufficient in one or more utilities like water and power, unlike most suburban homes and city apartments.

However, it doesn’t have to be a cozy cabin atop a hill like you see in most slasher movies to make it off-grid, but it does have to be a home that is not usually found in areas connected to major cities or towns.

People can opt to live in such places because they want to live away from modern society. They can also do it if they wish to pursue a simpler lifestyle without the distractions of the contemporary world. 

Some off-grid homes even have their own sources of food and farming in place. 

Are Homesteading and Off-Grid Living the Same? 

Off-grid living and homesteading are two different principles. Homesteading means self-sufficient living. However, a person can live within city limits or towns and be homesteading. Homesteads can even be connected to the public electric grid. That’s not the case with off-grid living.

Homesteading is more about self-sufficiency than leaving some form of civilization behind. However, the end result may be the same.

Homesteaders also disconnect from public utilities and may grow their food or make their own clothes. Thus, both off-grid living and homesteading often have some sustainability features, including opting for low waste living or net-zero carbon emissions. It can even mean using energy-efficient appliances or living a low-energy lifestyle, which is what energy-efficient off-grid homes are known for. 

Types of Off-Grid Homes

An off-grid home can look very different depending on the area or region. For example, it can look like a cabin or a mobile home, or even a giant tent. 

Cob House

A cob house will remind you of the cabins that the Grimm Brothers fairy tales usually featured. However, this one probably won’t contain a hungry witch. A cob house can be as big or as small as you need it to be. However, it does require maintenance, but it can last for many generations with the proper work. 

An exterior front-facing view of a cob house
Courtesy of Airbnb

Cob houses are generally fireproof but must be manually waterproofed using materials like linseed oil. Very safe and steady, they can stand earthquakes if appropriately built.  

Bamboo House

Bamboo houses are usually seen near the beach or at holiday resorts. They have great strength due to the material and are the perfect type of home for an energy-efficient off-grid home. 

Earthship House

An earthship home is named such because it looks like a ship from outer space or a biosphere experiment. This type of house is built from recycled materials like glass bottles, used rubber tires, and aluminum cans. 

Earth ships also often use thermal mass as a natural air conditioner. Hence, you stay nice and toasty in the winter and cool in the summer. You can build these just about anywhere on the planet in any climate. 

Shipping Container Home

A shipping container home is extremely minimalist. It almost looks like a piece of modern art. It provides vast spaces and can be placed and moved anywhere you need it to be. 

Exterior view of a luxury shipping container home at night
Courtesy of Arch2o

Cabin

A log cabin that you usually think of as a sustainable, off-grid home is a cliché by now. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good option, even if you’re not a retired navy seal or green beret waiting to be recalled for a top-secret mission. There’s something so classic about a log cabin that makes a tremendous off-grid home. 

Now, let’s get to creating your perfect energy-efficient off-grid home. 

Common Water and Power Solutions for an Energy-Efficient Off-Grid Home

Typical water and power solutions for off-grid houses primarily include renewables and sustainable low-energy solutions. 

The fundamental goal is to provide for yourself without affecting the environment negatively. After all, you require the environment and the land out there to sustain yourself. Otherwise, you’ll constantly have to move, and that’s hardly sustainable. 

So, here are some common ways to provide yourself with utilities when off the grid.

Renewable Power 

Renewable power is often the most opted-for solution. Even people living within city limits have begun opting for solar and wind energy if sustainable in their areas. Solar panels are often the most common choice. They’ve become much cheaper due to consistent updates and improvements. 

The solar cells are more efficient, and they can run pretty much anything you need. Of course, high-powered air conditioners and heaters are another story. However, with solar panels, you also have the option to store energy for use on a rainy day, quite literally. 

There is also the option of micro-hydro energy. If you live near a stream or any body of water, you can generate power through it. If you live in areas with no flowing water, it’s not a viable option.

Micro-hydro systems can be an expensive operation, however. That being said, they’re also very responsive and last for very long. The setup works best for homes that sit on a hilly site. 

Non-Renewable Power

Some people who choose to live off the grid elect non-renewable power. While this is hardly sustainable, it can be energy efficient. You can have a small generator powering your home with limited pollution and can use propane or methane for cooking and heating water as well. 

Water Sourcing

The second most common thing people usually plan for when living off the grid is water. There are a variety of techniques that homeowners utilize here, including wells and harvesting rain.

Wells are the most common since they provide a near-endless supply of naturally-replenished water. Thus, saving on costs year-round. Wells can offer clean, clear water for a few decades, and if you use the water responsibly, you can even make the well last much longer. 

Other options include water tanks or rainwater collection. The former is only viable if you have a continuous water delivery service. The latter is only feasible if you live in an area where it rains very frequently.

A homemade harvest rainwater collector in use at an energy-efficient off-grid home.

You can only sustain rainwater harvesting if it rains almost every two or three days in your region. Otherwise, it’s not a wise choice for a primary water source. 

What You Should Do to Build an Energy-Efficient Off-Grid House

Finally, here are the eight best ways you can build your very own energy-efficient off-grid home. 

Invest in Insulation and Wiring

Insulation is a must for an energy-efficient home because insulation prevents heat energy from leaving your home. Heating and cooling are some of the primary applications of power. If you can solve that, then you can significantly reduce your energy costs.

The other thing you should invest in is efficient wiring. Efficient wiring reduces electricity losses within your home. That way, the power you will generate can end up lasting longer. 

Solar Power

Going to solar power without insulating your home and investing in wiring is a bad idea. Although you will generate a lot of energy, inefficient transmission means a lot of it will be lost.

Also, you will have to regularly clean the solar panels so that dust doesn’t accumulate on them. If it does, the power generation capacity will decrease.

You will have to choose suitable batteries to store energy for as long as possible. Finally, remember that solar panels aren’t the right fit for every region. For example, if it frequently rains where you live, you won’t get much use from the panels. 

Two solar panels together on an off-grid home with light snow covering them. Written in the snow is "clean me", indicating the need to brush off the snow.

Water Heating

Intelligently building an energy-efficient off-grid home doesn’t just mean getting the right appliances. It also means being smart about efficiency.

For example, most older houses have a water heater in the column outside. The tank is insulated and has a significant heating element. If you hook this up in your off-grid home with a gas connection, you can efficiently heat a lot of water. What’s more, you can keep it warm for a longer time. 

Air Conditioning/Heating 

Central heating and air conditioning are two of the most power-consuming processes. And they are essential. It would help to consider replacing an AC system with an evaporative cooler unit instead. It works just as well and can be mounted on a wall or roof. Additionally, they use up to 80% less electricity than an AC unit. You can also shift to ordinary household fans if you live in a very humid area. 

For heating, you should consider shifting to a gas or solid fuel-based heater. These can work well with your water heater. 

Kitchen Appliances 

There’s no one way to choose energy-efficient appliances. It would be best if you went with what’s most convenient for your situation. For example, if you have a gas installation in your home, you should go with a stove and oven.

It would help if you also considered getting a modern, low-power fridge, which will keep your food fresh for a long time and require much less power than fridges even just ten years old. 

Energy Efficient Lighting 

Using LED bulbs for energy efficiency is practically a cliché now. But it’s a proven energy efficiency solution. Consider replacing your 110 VAC or 220 VAC lights with a 12 V lighting circuit. LED bulbs will use orders of magnitude less power than standard lighting. 

Lighting Placement 

Also, consider placing lights strategically. That way, you’ll need much less lighting in the home at one time. Strategic light placement is a great way to save on costs in general. 

Window Placement

Similar to light placement, window placement is paramount to consider when building your off-grid home. Window placements should align with where the sun is at most times during the day. That way, you won’t need to switch on lights for most of the day. 

An energy-efficient off-grid home with optimal natural lighting

Try placing windows near side walls to generate less glare than putting them in the center of the room. Also, remember to use double-glazed windows so as not to disturb the insulation. 

Conclusion

With these tips and a little effort, you can build your own perfect energy-efficient home off the grid. Not only will it be a sustainable haven for you, but it will also contribute to the environment. 

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