Sustainability and reducing environmental impact are hot topics these days. Still, many of us aren’t sure what to do to impact positively or whether we as individual people can make a difference. The good news is that, yes, you can make a difference! On this topic, there really isn’t bad news — anything you do to go off the grid and be more sustainable is helping to reduce the impact that the human population has on the earth, and will save you a ton of money in the long run.
You can absolutely take steps towards making your home self-sufficient without going all-in right away. The steps we’ll outline in this article can be done together or independently, allowing you to make your life more off-grid and energy-friendly without committing too much time and money right away.
Energy Production and Water Supply
Solar energy system
Solar energy is rising in popularity due to the many environmental benefits it brings; solar energy production requires fewer resources than the traditional methods used that require thousands of liters of water for production. Also, the energy generation through fossil fuels can create harmful gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide, which contribute to the greenhouse effect; the greenhouse effect is a natural process for warming the earth to a livable temperature, but when the burning of fossil fuels enhances it, these toxic emissions contribute to fasten the process, which in turn leads to global warming. Global warming has been linked to negative repercussions for the environment, it has been linked to the causes of catastrophic weather events like cyclones, storms, extreme heat, or drought. On the other hand, the electricity generated by solar systems produces no greenhouse gases, and no harmful emissions are released into the atmosphere, which in turn can help reduce climate change when used wisely.
Solar energy can also help decrease the carbon footprint generated by a household. Each kilowatt-hour (KWh) that your solar system produces reduces the amount of CO2 emissions caused by your local energy supplier with the production of electricity through fossil fuels. On average, 1 kWh of electricity produced by a fossil fuel accounts for 0.846 lbs of carbon dioxide (CO2). A solar energy system that receives an ample amount of sunshine throughout the year produces around 10,000 kWh in a year; if you do the math, and multiply those 10,000 carbon-free kWhs per 0.846 lbs of CO2, you get a total reduction of 8,460 lbs of CO2 per year, which is equivalent to removing one vehicle off the road for one entire year, that is something!
Because of all these benefits, there are some significant innovations to consider, while the traditional solar panels you see dominate rooftops of homes that use solar energy, some slick new options offer a more aesthetically pleasing picture. Solar shingles are made to mimic the look of asphalt shingles, but with the added benefit of making your entire roof a part of your solar energy to capture system. Traditional solar panels are still a great way to go, providing an option that is less costly than solar shingles, allowing you to gradually add on to your solar system as your budget allows.
The average electric bill of a home in the U.S. is around $115 per month; installing a solar system will reduce the electricity bill by 90%, which will leave you paying only $11 per month, that in turn will save you around $1,300 per year which translates in about $32,500 of money savings over 25 years depending on the amount of energy produced and consumed by the household.
Also, having a solar generator can be handy for powering your home appliances as a backup energy source. It can also be very helpful when camping, RVing, or traveling to places without electricity. Solar generators work with portable solar panels that you can take pretty much anywhere, from a picnic in the park or a BBQ grill in your friend’s backyard to an off-grid glamping experience in the woods or by the sea. Sun generators basically do the same job fuel generators do, but without producing any emissions or noise; plus, some of them are smaller in size, so transportation is not much of an issue. If you’re considering a solar generator for your home, you can be happy knowing you will keep your carbon footprint low.
Passive solar water heater
Passive solar water heaters involve a water tank that sits outside in a spot that gets direct sunlight for as much of the day as possible. The sun heats your water through the transparent material of the tank and is backed up by an electric or gas heater for when the temps drop.
Electric stove and energy-efficient bulbs and appliances
By far, your best option for a self-sufficient and sustainable home is ENERGYSTAR-rated electric appliances instead of gas appliances. Newer appliances with this rating consume less energy and draw less from your solar system, as well as switching all your home’s regular incandescent light bulbs to energy-saving LED bulbs, which can save up to 90% of energy consumption and last up to 50,000 hours, which is about 11.4 years of regular use, this will help make your solar system more efficient.
If you are keen on the new trend of electric cars and are thinking of investing in this new green technology. In that case, you could even install an electric vehicle (EV) charging station at home and power it with your solar system; this way, you would never have to worry about spending money on the gas ever again.
Domestic wind turbine
A small wind electric system might be the perfect option to support and augment the efficiency of a solar power system for your self-sufficient home. You’re probably familiar with seeing massive turbines and wind farms, but don’t worry, you won’t have to have something quite imposing in your backyard!
Domestic wind electric systems have a small turbine, similar to the size of a flag pole you might put in your yard. This is connected to a generator and inverter, among other components, that converts the kinetic energy created when the wind moves the turbine’s blades into clean electricity. The electricity then passes through an inverter, which converts it from DC to AC electricity to be used in your home.
Rainwater harvesting system
A rainwater harvesting system can be as simple or complex as you want to make it because, at its core, it’s just catching rainwater. Technically, a bucket sitting under a downspout is a rainwater catch system! But we can do a bit better than that, though.
A great way to get started harvesting rainwater is by getting a 50-gallon barrel. These can normally be found used on online marketplaces, and the price will vary depending on your location. If you build a small riser for a rain barrel and place it under a downspout close to your garden, you’ll be able to hook a hose up to the bottom of the barrel and water your garden with rainwater during dry days.
Build a private well
Digging a well on your property is a key way to get off the grid and separate yourself from municipal water and the chemical treatment it involves. However, before you get invested in this idea, know that it can be expensive to have a well dug, depending on your location. You may even need to have a well drilled. If you live in an area with a very deep water table or hard bedrock close to the surface, you’ll be looking at a drilled well.
All municipalities have regulations for wells involving how deep they need to be, how far from a septic or waste disposal system, and how far from your home they need to be. Make sure you talk with a qualified well installer, get a few quotes, and be certain of the requirements of your area.
Integrate a water filtration system
Once you have a well or a cistern to collect potable water, chances are you’ll need to filter it for safety purposes. There are places where the water is so clean that testing might show that filtration isn’t required, but for the most part, you’ll need to treat your water to make it potable and to prevent waterborne illnesses from bacteria and viruses.
There are many different options for water filtration systems, from intricate built-in systems to simpler, manual methods of filtering water, like installing an under-sink water filter or faucet water filters. Your best bet will be to talk to people in your area and check your local stores, find out what’s available and popular in your region, and then reach out to a local water safety expert to get the best advice.
Eco-Friendly Methods For Heating And Cooling A Home
Effective Insulation and/or heat barrier
Insulating a home when building can pay off in spades when you save tons on your heating and cooling bill and reduce your environmental impact by using less energy. When you’re building a new home, you’ll want to insulate not only your walls but your floors, any empty cavities, and your ceiling or attic. The goal is no empty space wherever possible.
High-performance thermal windows and doors
Windows and doors are the number one place where heat loss happens in a home. Windows can be especially tough in the winter if you’re in a cooler climate, so it’s especially important to invest in high-quality double or triple-paned windows. If you have an upgrade budget to put towards boosting your energy efficiency, windows are a great place to put those funds.
Passive solar design
Passive solar design is all about gathering heat from the sun in a way that the walls, floors, and windows can store solar energy and distribute it throughout the house during winter and rejecting solar heat during the summer; it’s worth it to ask your home designer if you’re building a new home with this in mind.
A windcatcher is a type of air funnel, essentially. It catches wind from the air and funnels it underground, where the earth cools it before venting it into your home. This is a stellar way of cooling your home in the summer months without running an electric air conditioner.
Installing a Geothermal HVAC for heating and cooling a home is a great way to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, works the same way as in-floor heating does, but the earth heats the water instead of a system that uses electricity. Temperature conducting liquid is run in pipes through the ground, picking up the temperature as it goes. Depending on how deep your pipes run, you can both cool and heat the liquid. It’s then used to warm or cool the air that gets vented into your home.
The emissions reduced by a Geothermal HVAC system can be compared to planting 750 new trees or removing two vehicles from the road.
Putting in a fireplace or a hobbit stove can be the perfect way to provide heat during the winter. If you’re diligent, you can use deadfall collected through the year to warm your home so that you don’t need to burn trees that were mainly cut for firewood. Or use sustainable heat logs; these are made from compressed wood sourced from sustainable forests, making them a great eco-efficient option since it’s clean wood that doesn’t affect the environment, since they have no added chemicals that can have a negative impact. They can also burn for hours and produce powerful heat.
Planting a veggie garden is probably one of the first things that come to mind when you think of building a self–sufficient and sustainable home. It’s a great way to get in tune with your environment, relax and connect while growing food for yourself and your family that hasn’t been shipped across the world, and you can be sure that no toxic pesticides were used in the growing process, you can even grow organic fruits and vegetables choosing organic fertilizers and pesticides.
Growing some garden staples in pots instead of digging a garden plot is a great way to get started with veggie gardening if you live in a city. Veggies like lettuce, kale, potatoes, onions, and tomatoes thrive in pots. A small average garden plot can produce around 300 pounds of fresh vegetables worth around $600, a pretty impressive amount and a great way to save you some dollars.
When you’re ready to plant a full garden, including fruit trees, there are a few great options to get you started. For veggies, root vegetables grow well and don’t require a ton of babying, and they store wonderfully over the winter. If you grow a crop of carrots, potatoes, and onions, you’ll be well-stocked into the winter.
Apple, pear, lemons, oranges, and peach trees are a wonderful start to an orchard, and raspberries are notoriously easy to grow.
Herbs, are also easy to grow and can be stored easily by drying or freezing. You can use herbs for cooking or to make your own herbal remedies at home for curing common ailments.
Greenhouse and hydroponics
You can keep growing during colder months with a greenhouse and a hydroponic system that uses water instead of soil to grow plants. You can design and build your own greenhouse or head online and find a greenhouse kit that’s easy to install if you have a sunny location and a flat place to put it.
Homesteading is the process of taking a plot of land and creating a self-sufficient home on it. This includes anything you might want to eat like fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy. Homesteading was how most of the US was settled, and while it went out of style for a hundred years or so, it is making a comeback as the desire for sustainable living rises.
Raising chickens is a fun, not to mention a productive and beneficial, activity that will ensure your egg supply all over the year. Installing a chicken coop is easy and uncomplicated. Most people who raise chickens allow them to roam free during the day and let them into the chicken coop to roost and protect them from predators overnight.
If you have enough space for a couple of dairy cows and decide to get into creating your own dairy products, you’ll need to take some steps to make your own milk, cheese, and products like yogurt. Dairy cows need special attention and care to stay healthy, including being milked twice a day, every day, but raising dairy cows can help make your homestead feel extra homey and assure you the dairy supply for the whole family; you can even think of selling these products and making a profit out of it.
Also if you switched to plant-based milk, you have already significantly decreased your carbon footprint compared to consuming dairy milk, and you should be happy about that!
Stocking your fridge and pantry with the food you harvested and grew at home is a very rewarding and fun way to be self-sufficient, but to be truly independent of the industrial system, preserving this food to last all over the year and avoid spoilage is essential. Learn some of the most common ways to preserve and store food to keep it in good condition to eat anytime.
Some commonly used food preservation techniques are canning, smoking/salting/drying, pickling and fermentation. You will need a root cellar where root vegetables can be stored, which is a cold, damp room where these preserve well; some vegetables that hold well in this type of environment are apples, pears, broccoli, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, artichokes, leeks, parsnips, potatoes, and radishes.
Any pantry would work well for dry storage since all you need is a dry room that stays relatively cool throughout the year. Any grains, dried beans, garlic, onions, pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes will do well in dry storage.
Greywater is a term used to describe any water that gets used in your home, aside from when you flush the toilet. Water from showers, washing machine, dishwasher, kitchen sink, etc., all count as greywater. The secret to getting the most from your water is to use natural biodegradable soaps and cleaning products so that your greywater can be used for things like watering your garden.
Please check out more information about greywater system on Planet Care.
Also called composting toilets, these ingenious products are installed mainly in homes that are not connected to a septic system. For this reason, composting toilets use a holding tank and additives to compost waste in a sanitary way.
Compost renews your food scraps and creates nutrient-rich dirt for you to replenish your veggie garden with. While it can be as simple as a pile in the corner of your yard, that’s likely to attract unwanted critters and pests. The best solution is to use a barrel composter that locks closed and rotates so that you can mix your compost and create the best quality soil.
Understanding climate change and its effects is the first step to making a change.Creating a self-sufficient, sustainable home can be done in small steps. Small moves towards sustainability add up to big results, and by choosing which changes are the most approachable for you, you’ll be able to stay consistent and keep improving your new self-sufficient home journey.