No more utility bills, no power outages, less contribution to global warming, clean, pure rain water and an overwhelming feeling that you are in charge and not dependent on large utilities. Living on-the-grid is a “no-brainer” and cheaper to set up. But if you have property that is far from utilities you may have no choice but to use alternatives, possibly saving money on the initial set up and definitely saving money in the long run.
Some things just can’t be replaced easily without fossil fuels yet. A hot water heater works best if you help it along with solar pre-heaters, but the best heavy-hitting energy source to get it hot, is propane or gas.
“…no more utility bills, no power outages, less contribution to global warming, clean, pure rain water and an overwhelming feeling that you are in charge.”
$1,500 to $3,000
There is nothing better than taking a shower in the soft rain water that you have captured in your system, or drinking fresh, clean water that has nothing added. The benefits, however, come with some inconveniences. A metal roof is the best to collect the water. Water should be screened and filtered before it goes into the holding tank (cistern), and you need to find a way to get it up (hand pump, DC or AC pump), into an elevated tank, which needs to be protected from freezing, so that you have a minimal amount of water pressure. It’s best to have the holding tank buried so that it doesn’t freeze, with an access hatch so you can clean it out, and it usually needs to be quite large (500 gallons or larger). If you live in an area that has lots of rain, you won’t need to worry about always having enough water. Besides for $50 or so, you can get a tanker to fill up your tank if it goes empty.
Gray water is waste water from sinks and bathing (showers & tubs). All our Small Houses are plumbed so that gray water is kept separate from black water (from a toilet) until just before the two pipes are hooked up to a sewer. This arrangement makes it easy if you want to harvest the gray water for on site disposal or irrigation.
There are three basic types of off-the-grid toilet systems.
($20 to $1,800)
This method simply collects human waste and slowly, naturally, with a little bacteria starter added once in a while, turns human waste into a dry, coffee ground-like material that doesn’t stink and can be used to fertilize the garden. The only problem with the system is that during cold, damp weather the systems work very slow. They need to be warmed and the air needs to be circulated so if you live most of the time in your Small Home, or if you install a small heater and circulation fan, it’s not a problem. Prices vary dramatically depending on how primitive you want to get….Do it yourself like the Lovable Loo or the Cadillac, the Envirolet.
($1,600 to $2,400)
This uses an electric heater with a small blower to slowly oxidize (burn) the waste material so that it eventually ends up as dust. If you have city electrical power available, these systems work great. There are some that use propane to incinerate the waste but they are usually very expensive.
Ah, the old standby–the outhouse, or it’s modern city counterpart–the PortaPotty. Both work well if you don’t mind a short journey out to the facilities and, occasionally, a very coooooold seat.
$900 (including pipe)
Nothing beats the warm dry heat of a wood stove. The newer units produce very few pollutants, and, if you have a ready source of dry wood, they can heat your little house in a flash. Wood stoves can be a fire hazard so they need to be installed correctly and you need to learn how to use them safely.
I know it doesn’t sound likely but this is a great alternative. Radiant floor heating systems work off the potable hot water in your small house. All they require is a rheostat and a small DC pump to keep the warm water circulating under your floor boards. They are very efficient and provide a constant warm temperature everywhere in you new home.
$600 (2ea. at $300ea.)
I’m not a great fan of these but some people like them, mostly in RV’s and motor homes. They are inexpensive, easy to install, and, if you are already using a propane tank, they will probably work fine.
Personally, I like kerosene lanterns, candles, and oil lamps. Sometimes though, it’s nice to just hit the switch and have lots of bright light. If you have DC, the best lighting is fluorescent. There are warm white bulbs now so the light isn’t quite so cold and blaring. LEDs are becoming more available, but they are usually quite expensive. They do, however, produce lots of light with almost no electricity and they never burn out.
You can put a water jacket in your wood stove or heat a big pot of water on the stove for your bath, but it’s easier to use a propane or gas hot water heater. Wood stoves are great for cooking, but a gas stove is easier. You choose how rustic you want to be and how much inconvenience you are willing to endure to decrease your footprint on the environment. For me, filling a propane bottle every once in a while is a minor sin. Small Home Oregon is always available to help you through this decision making process. Each individual case is unique and we encourage every prospective home buyer to call or email and let us be part of that process.
The prices listed are estimates (as of November 2007) and include materials only. They do not include the cost of installation. They are the cost for new materials so don’t forget that if you want to hunt for used materials they are often abundantly available on web sites such as Craigslist. Your efforts can save you a bunch of money. Because there are so many options for off the grid accessories and because of the fluctuation of labor costs and materials, please call Small Home Oregon for an up to the minute cost on all materials and installation.