Posts Tagged With: Solar

Another Approach to Underground Construction

Another friend of mine sent this link on to me thinking I might be interested since I already live underground. This concept looks really interesting – I might even try it sometime. I have not seen it done yet so I am not familiar with all the pros and cons, but it looks interesting and viable, so I thought I would post it for your consideration. Enjoy!

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Another Use for Containers

A friend of mine posted this article to my FaceBook page and I thought I would pass it along to those of you who I know are interested in using containers for structural components. Enjoy!

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Shipping Container Homes

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Thoughts on Property Location

I wanted to take a few minutes to share some of my thoughts on what to look for when you decide to start looking for a piece of land on which to start your homestead. There are several things that will either make or break your success.

One thing I would pay more attention to the next time we start a project is to determine which government I would be under. I have found that there are some local, regional and national government systems that are very overbearing in regards to what they will let you do with YOUR land and others that are much more easy going and less restrictive. I would want to find an area that is less restrictive. Lower taxes would be nice too. It would be even better if the property prices were low too. A bit of research can help identify places where these conditions exist.

Personally, I would also look into the weather patterns of an area that I was interested in. I believe that agriculture is important in a sustainable homestead, so you want to make sure the weather is going to be favorable to facilitate a reasonable growing season. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have the perfect climate, just one that works. Also make sure it’s a climate that works for you. If you don’t like humidity, don’t settle for an area that is humid. If you don’t like snow, don’t go there. Really do your homework in this area, because once you are invested and building, it’s going to be hard to change course.

I think that another very important consideration is the availability of water. Water can come from several sources. A good well is great, all the better if the property that you are considering has a well in place so you don’t have to roll the dice. At least be in an area that has good wells around. A river or stream can also serve as a good source of water, as long as they are year around. You may have to filter this water for drinking purposes to ensure health safety. A spring can also give you a good source; just check to make sure of the quality and quantity.

While we are talking about water, another aspect of water supply is the presence of various minerals within the water as well as the hardness or softness of the water. Some water sources we have seen have so much iron present that it actually turns white clothing brown. Talking to the local people and well drillers will help you uncover any problems and their possible solutions – or at least help make up your mind that the area is not for you.

Some people buy land that they have to haul water to, but I think this makes things much more expensive in the long run and takes a lot of time to keep things going. I would strongly discourage this as an option. I have a friend that has information on collecting water out of the air through a device you can buy, but this again seems to be expensive and brings one more uncertainty into the equation.

Since I am partial to staying off grid, I would recommend that the land you are considering has some good southern exposure for solar panels. Make sure that you have shading from trees accounted for. Recently while I was in Australia, I learned that you want northern exposure when you are south of the equator. Since some of you are reading this from other countries than the USA, I thought I’d better throw that information in.

It is good to have land that is not in a flood plain where high water becomes a problem if not outright threat to life and property. Our property is sloped and has enough elevation above the valley floor that any flood will not be a problem. The slope on our property also gave us the advantage of building our underground home by digging into the side of the hill. At times I wish we had a little less slope for some of our visitors that have walking issues. You will need to balance out the slope so that it fits your situation. At least make sure you consider the slope before you make your final decision. Even if you have a flat piece of land, you can still do an underground home by bringing the surrounding earth up over the containers. I mention this in the book : Off Grid and Underground – Book Order       Just make sure you maintain good drainage.

The price is also going to affect where you buy your land. It’s amazing how the same piece of land is going to cost vastly different depending on the location. This is another area where research will help you out. A couple of good realtors in different areas could also assist you in making a good find.

Soil conditions and varmints are also something you want to consider but are not necessarily a deal breaker. The use of technologies such as aquaponics or hydroponics can neutralize many of these issues. I give some links to some of these sources in the book as well.  The stability of the soil is another part of the soil condition. The amount of rocks and rock layers should also be a part of the soil considerations. Some rocks can be good and the right depth of rock layer can be good, but some of these conditions can be deal breakers as well. Talk to some of the local people and find out what the challenges are.

If you are going to be off grid but still want to have some form of communication, one idea is to be within a cell phone tower range. We are in range (barely) and so we are able to have phone and computer access while remaining fairly remote. Sometimes we have to go to that certain spot on the property to make a call, but at least we have the communication. Other people have regular days they go into town to do their communication stuff. You just need to decide what level you want and keep that under consideration as you search for your homestead.

I hope this gives you some ideas to work with and consider as you begin your search for that little bit of heaven you can call home.

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The Essentials

 The Essentials


I wanted to spend the time in this blog talking about what I consider to be the most important areas to address for different levels of existence. You can take care of basic needs and survive, but that’s not much fun or comfortable. You can add in some comforts that make life a whole lot more enjoyable, but even these need to be prioritized. Some are very expensive and others are modest in cost, so I want to go through some of these to help give proper consideration to each aspect.

Shelter is in my opinion the most important need to address. Of course, there are different levels of shelter that provide varying degrees of comfort, but it is important to at least be able to protect yourself from the elements. If you can’t maintain your body heat in cold conditions or keep cool in excessive heat conditions, your ability to stay alive will deteriorate rapidly. In our situation, we started out by camping with a tent in the summer months and by fall when colder weather started to move in, we had progressed to a 5th wheel trailer that offered insulation and a small heater to offer warmth and comfort. Eventually, we built our underground home that works very well at keeping cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

In keeping debt free on our homestead, we started out simple with what we could afford, and progressed as we could pay for it. It took about 10 years to finally get to the point where we had our situation permanently set to our liking, but we maintained livable conditions as we went along, gaining in complexity as we could pay for it. Even now, our situation is much simpler than the standard household in the US, but it is very sustainable for our lifestyle. You can read more about the home we built in our book, “Off Grid and Underground”.

Water came into our consideration fairly early on – you can only live without water for about 5 days before serious problems hit. We started by hauling barrels of water from a community filling station, but knew that we didn’t want to settle for that as a permanent answer for our situation. I do know people who have no better choice than this and learn to live with it, but we decided to see if we could get a good well in place. If you want to have a good agriculture program, I believe that you will need a well in place.

We were blessed to have an excellent well and began to place an irrigation system in place. An advantage to our property is that we are on a slope so we designed our system to pump from the well up to a holding tank at the top of the property. From there, we used gravity to carry the water throughout the irrigation system and home water supply. We are lower in pressure than the standard city water supplies, but it is sufficient and we use low pressure fittings and valves for most of the system that work just fine. Our home water supply has a small 12 volt booster pump in line so that we can increase the pressure where needed for home applications.

This gravity design allows us to operate our irrigation and water supply most of the time without the use of pumps and pressure tanks. The only pumping we have to do is from the well up to the holding tank as the holding tank empties. Running the well pump for about 2 hours fills the tank. This is better on the well pump since they last longer if they are not off and on for short intervals all the time. They like to run for extended periods.

We have finally installed a solar pump in for our well and I recommend the Grundfos pumps. Our pump is able to operate on 40 – 400 volts either AC or DC at any time. We run on the sun’s DC power from solar panels most of the time, but if it’s cloudy or we need an extra tank full at night during the hot spells, we can pump with our little generator on AC power. It’s a great combination!

Food is the next level to consider. You can live without food for about 40 days, but somewhere along the way, you are going to need to bring it into the picture for sustainable living. There are two aspects of food to consider. First, you need to be able to produce food on your homestead for sustainable living. This will necessarily involve establishing an orchard and garden area – and I might suggest getting involved with an aquaponic program for your food production. In any case, you will need to be able to produce what you want to eat in order to be self-sustaining.

Preparation of your food is going to be another consideration for your design. You will need some kind of kitchen type facility to prepare your food in. Eventually you will most likely have this in your home, but up till that is in place you may need to build something else. We actually built a structure that combined as our laundry, bathroom and Kitchen. This gave us the ability to prepare our food comfortably while we were still in the “camping” phase of our building project. It still is very useful to use on hot days or if we have friends come over to visit. It also would work well if you had several friends over for a special occasion or campout.

Sanitation is another consideration for sustainable living. Early on, we placed a small septic system for our trailer, but within a short time, we had a large system placed fairly low on the property so we could bring several bathrooms into it. Once that system was in place, we did the building that had the kitchen, laundry and bathroom so that our sanitation was taken care of. We have since brought a couple other bathrooms into the system and there is room for several more as time goes on. I recommend building a large system so you can add to it as the need arises without having to expand the system at additional cost.

Energy is an important consideration as well. Energy takes in several systems. You need some type of energy for cooking, heating, lighting and appliances. We chose to use solar energy for the bulk of our needs. Our lighting is all solar. Our refrigerator is on solar, and our computers run off solar. We don’t have TV, so we don’t have to worry about bringing in any cable service. Our internet access is by mini-fi from our local cell phone carrier – wherever we have a phone signal, we have internet access.

Anything that requires heating elements is usually not good to try to run on solar so our cooking is done with propane. Our water heater is propane also. We use an on-demand water heater so we don’t use extra gas for a pilot. We also have a small propane catalytic heater for cool winter days, and in the barn we have a large wood stove to provide heat. All of our heating and cooking sources are non-electric. The propane is provided by using 90# bottles that we can take into town and fill when needed.

The propane we use and the gas we need for the generator are the two weak points we have in being totally self-sustaining, but we are a whole lot closer than most – especially those who live in the suburbs and are totally dependent on being plugged into the grid. At least we can have spare tanks and cans available that allow us to ride out a supply problem for longer than most.

This brings us to the last category we will look at in this blog – Storage. I believe it is important to have storage in place so that you can have extra food supplies, extra fuel supplies, extra parts for your system repairs, needed equipment, extra household items (otherwise known as junk!), tools and assorted other items. We built a barn for this purpose and it has served nicely. In the beginning of our project it allowed us to store our household items without having to pay for storage and now it houses the above mentioned items. It could even be built out into livable space if the need should arise.

Another type of storage that works out well and is inexpensive is either 20 or 40 foot containers. They are water/weather proof and may have a secondary use being used in an underground home like we built later on. Other types of structures to consider could be: yurts, concrete preformed structures, semi-permanent canvas “barns”, pre-fab structures – I’m sure you could put several more options in here.

I hope by now you are starting to think about how you would like to establish your homestead and be able to sustain a comfortable lifestyle with what is truly essential, but absent of many of the things we don’t really need. The way we did things is not necessarily the only way to do it, but maybe it will help to stimulate thoughts on how you might want to approach your particular situation. If you have any questions, be sure and send them in. In the meantime, HAPPY HUNTING!

Categories: Planning an Off Grid Homestead | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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