Truly Unplugged? Realistic Ways of Living Off the Grid by the webmaster

Oct 21, 2013 3:14 A.M.

by the webmaster Lee Gregory

We all heard the slogan; there is no such thing as a free lunch. There is a lot of truth in that axiom especially in a system where money is needed for purchasing the basic necessities for fulfill one’s ability to survival. Food, water, and shelter have always been humanity’s needs and there are two that are responsible for the highest costs of living; water and housing. Homes require separate payments to keep certain utilities running. Electricity needs to remain charged to keep the lights brightened and other appliances active. Natural gases are what is used to heat the home during the chilly seasons of fall and winter or form the coldest breeze during the scorching temperatures of summer. Depending on the region of the earth where one lives water can be an expensive resource to obtain and at times one shouldn’t expect to get the best quality.

These additional costs recommended to be sure there is enough money to keep anyone’s personal security and comfort from sinking at a premium becomes too much. This is what motivates some people into buying their own personal electric generation systems to save money on electricity or use their front and backyard as a space to grow their own vegetables and fruits. It is an idea that would involve completely freeing themselves from the idea of spending all of their money to keep the lights running, food in their stomach, water circulating through the pipes, and maintain a comfortable humidity inside the home.

It is the concept of living off the grid and to truly be unplugged there are special techniques rarely acknowledged. Before elaborating on the idea there are some points to be made. In the age of semiconductors, the electrical power stations are what people commonly refer to as the “grid.” Giant electric charging centers aren’t the only thing that makes up the matrix of human civilization. Large rivers are a huge significance being the staple of the best hunting and fishing areas during man’s early migratory settlements. Lakes, river, and other water routes are another example of a resource that will bond someone to be close to areas with high human inhabitance.

Food and water is what comes first but people think of the supermarket as the source to feed themselves. People who live in the suburbs seem to forget that they can save money by growing the fruits and vegetables they eat in their backyards. Others do not realize that they can supply themselves with water by capturing the raindrops that fall out of the sky. But there are boundaries which would eventually force one to remain plugged into the grid. If one doesn’t understand the geographical and geological environment they’re in then living off the land would be a matter of life and death. A person who is isolating themselves away from these huge rivers may not be near a lake, stream or waterfall. Anyone can dig a well for water but desert environments do not hold that much groundwater. Areas that get either plenty of sunlight or hardly any in conjunction with the lack of potable water has an affect on cultivating crops.

The, sun, wind, and any moving stream of water can be harnessed to produce enough electricity using smaller versions of solar panels, wind turbines (windmills), and hydroelectric generators. But these reduced sized power plants do not have as much generating capabilities unlike their larger counterparts. To avoid paying money to compensate for all of the natural gases used to heat or cool a home one has to completely redesign the building’s structure and foundation. The preservation and cooking of foods without using any modern hardware has been done for centuries; the same goes for keeping adequate lighting inside any shelter. Hygiene is an often overlooked factor when remaining away from civilization because in our cities there are special places that clean sewage and other waste water.

The article is suppose to explain that there are special methods and technologies out there that can enable anyone to truly disconnect themselves. But I warn my readers I compare the unique experiences of actual people who’ve done it and with their true accounts, it is obvious as to why sustainable off-the-grid homes cost a lot in money as well as maintenance. One must know how to produce food all year round even in the hottest or coldest of climates. If one is able to grow their food in all four seasons they demonstrated one example of living off the grid. Growing plants during the winter time is usually done with the use of a greenhouse.

Greenhouses are built using glass or transparent clear plastic as plants can absorb the sunlight from the visible solar radiation as beams hit the building’s see-through material. Heating system are added as the glass or plastic traps the heated airflow but the humidity created eventually sifts out from the greenhouse; a common drawback to this gardening technique. Much of the energy consumption comes from reheating the greenhouse and that will require electricity. Greenhouses that don’t require any electrical ventilation and external heating systems demonstrate the idea of sustainability.  Biodomes are a passive solar greenhouse that can absorb and store radiating heat. They are naturally humidified and have a wind-powered ventilation system. Vegetables and fruits can not only be produced but fish can be grown in the Biodome as well.

Before the invention of the Biodome, gardeners built cold frames, box-sized containers with a glass or plastic top that protects small plants. The transparent tops made from glass captures sunlight and prevents heat from leaking out. Agriculturalist have kept plants from dying due to frost and cold frames maintain humidity levels without any artificial heating system. If manure is placed inside a cold frame, the decomposition of microorganisms and organic matter can produce heat. They are called “hotboxes” and are considered to be miniature greenhouses. The insulation of these grow boxes are heated through the decomposing manure combined with effective insulation to trap all remaining heat. There is no electricity required to warm up the soil bed inside although this feature can be included.

There are two books that address different techniques for growing vegetables even in the snowiest of  winters. The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses by Eliot Coleman and photographer Barbara Damrosch. Coleman has increased the yield of winter-suitable vegetables in unheated greenhouses known as “cold houses.” He just covered up the crops inside with UV (ultraviolet) resistant plastic to retain the heat and humidity thus preventing them from freezing; the soil in the cold house is what’s storing the heat. His strategies and techniques of cold climate gardening are from 19th century written French manuscripts on agriculture; Coleman also was acquainted with practitioners of this Parisian method. He noted on the use of straw and horse manure mixture filled inside boxes called “hotbeds.”

Vegetables grew a lot better in composted horse manure compared to chemical fertilizers. The decomposing manure inside the hotbeds and additional insulation was provided by one-inch-thick mats made of rye straw, which can be rolled during cold nights to further envelope its warmth. Decomposing manure was used to heat not only the bottom of the hotbeds but also walkways between glass-covered frames that are on top of the hotbeds which added extra heat. Crops that aren’t protected by cold frames are covered with 18-inch-diameter glass bell jars called “cloches.” They can be covered with straw mats during colder periods and in summer months ventilation of crops was done using a small notched stick that propped up one edge of the cloche.

Coleman, Eliot. The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-round Vegetable Production Using Deep-organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Pub., 2009. Print.

If one wants to begin mastering agriculture in Artic regions they should read books and guides on gardening in Alaska. Ann D. Robert’s Alaska Gardening Guide notes all of the challenges growers have faced and solutions they came up with to overcome them. In the Artic zones there are plants that thrive a lot better in the cold and can survive unbearable winters. Other books about gardening in Alaska and other cold regions i.e. Canada will teach readers other methods. Some polar regions of the world can have heat that is stored in the Earth extracted for both electricity and heat energy. The heat is more than enough if one wants to operate a greenhouse without any fossil fuels, solar panels, and wind turbines.

Roberts, Ann D. Alaska Gardening Guide. Anchorage, AK: Publication Consultants, 2000. Print.

The Chena Hot Springs of Alaska has been able to maintain greenhouse temperatures of 78 Degrees Fahrenheit while outside temperatures dropped to -56 degrees Fahrenheit, which is common for interior Alaskan winters. The 134 Degree Fahrenheit temperature differential was the largest recorded for any controlled environment production facility in the US (United States). Chena has constructed a 4320 ft squared greenhouse to provide their restaurant with a huge variety of crops annually including tomatoes, lettuce, green beans, peppers, cucumbers, and numerous greens and herbs.

Iceland has been using geothermal energy to heat its greenhouses thus being one of its oldest uses for geothermal energy. The use starting in 1924 and it has been validated to be a sustainable method of growing food in frost ridden climates. The soil is disinfected with the boiling geothermal steam and the soil is thawed which allows an early start on many plants. The plastic sheets that are laid on top of plants. The country grows its own bananas rather than imports them from tropical countries.

About Bananas at Iceland

In 1878, farmers in the sparsely populated Reykjahverfi region discovered that the geothermal heat can be used to grow potatoes– a food that was imported 4,000 miles in the Southern part of Iceland.  There are holes that are as hot as 100 degrees Celsius that bread can be baked. The Myvatn Nature Baths are natural ovens where food can be cooked without lighting a fire or using any flammable gases. Plants like tomatoes, cucumber and peppers are growing in the Hveravellir greenhouses all year long.

Jarosz, Andy. “A Local Food Scene Burns in Iceland.” BBC Travel News. British Broadcasting Corporation, 1 June 2012. Web.


Iceland is positioned atop the mid-Atlantic ridge, a suboceanic mountainous area and crack in Earth’s crust marking the boundary between the European and North American tectonic plates. The country is on one of Earth’s hot spots and can prolong its heating durations due to the steam vents that greenhouses are sitting on. The greenhouses are built over these steam vents, harnessing the free heating elements to allow the propagation of these otherwise impossible crops. That is why bananas are effortlessly growing inside Iceland’s greenhouses.

Klose, Robert. “Wait, Bananas Grow in Iceland?! Natural Steam Vents Turn a What Would Otherwise Be a Bleak Subarctic Island into a Land of Bananas. Too Many Bananas, in Fact.” Christian Science Monitor. The First Church of Christ, Scientist, 8 June 2010. Web.


Greenhouses that are combined with Geothermal dynamics can be a profitable method of getting enough heat to grow any food plant all year long. Powerful extractions of heat from underground seem to be sustainable if close to volcanoes which is why Iceland’s Greenhouses are renewable. In lesser volcanic spots there is always some backup that is needed to keep crops flourishing. The 8 acre Whitewater Farms in Altura, Minnesota received a $4,000 grant and used it to incorporate geothermal energy by the way of ground source heat pumps for warming up the soil within the greenhouse and to cool the cold storage area. During winter seasons it is hard to heat the ambient air but not the soil because ground temperature is always warmer than the air temperature around, and colder than the air temperature in the summer. Propane tanks are a backup source for heat and the owners of the farm are able to regulate and guide the fluctuations of temperatures with a ground source heat pump.

One other resort that has a geothermal greenhouse is located about 30 miles north of Yellowstone National Park in the Paradise Valley. The Chico Hot Springs resort uses hot water piped from the nearby hot springs to heat the greenhouse. A propane gas heater supplies backup humidity and although the greenhouse runs 365 days a year it can’t provide all of the heat it needs. The resort’s greenhouse grows organic produce for its onsite restaurants. The greenhouse is heated by hot water sucking in metal pipes from nearby hot springs. The pipes are framed along the walls of the greenhouse and some of them are in the soil. Despite the hot springs allowing the greenhouse to soak in a good amount of heat, the extra heating unit is used when needed. Hot water distributes pipes along the walls and smaller tubes warm the benches inside the greenhouse.

These strategies and tools make cold weather gardening easier but deserts on the other hand can be the most challenging places to maintain a functioning garden. Those arid hot regions of the earth have sandy or clay soils that do not have the required nutrients to keep fruits and vegetable plants alive. The information in the book Growing Food In the High Desert Country by Julie Behrend Weinberg  emphasizes the restoration of nutrients in harsher soils that are common in desert environments. Soil with heavy or clay content lack organic matter and Weinberg noted on the importance of humus (decomposing organic matter), minerals, and chemical elements. Animal manure and decaying plant residues (roots, leaves and stems), straw (dried grass), vegetable and fruit scraps, and other dry vegetation enriches the soil with carbon. She also advised readers to use earthworms as a source for manure.

The manure of earthworm’s is called casting and is very rich in nitrogen, calcium, potassium, phosphorous and other trace minerals. According to her, earthworms produce 50 tons of fertilizer per acre and when slithering inside the ground and they introduce air into the soil. Nutrient rich soil has superior water retention compared to soils with high sand or clay. Also these soils do not hold the roots of vegetables really well and are susceptible to being blown away from desert winds. Weinberg mentioned the dangers of winds with a root temperature as it can affect the ripening of vegetables. Her book has amazing instructions on gardening in the desert and adding missing nutrients is the key for a thriving garden in the hotter regions of the southwestern United States.

Weinberg, Julie Behrend. Growing food in the high desert country. Santa Fe, NM: Sunstone Press, 1985. Print.

One other book authored by David Owens also encouraged the use of composition and worms to add nutrients to the soil. Jeff Schalau, County Director and Agent of the Agriculture & Natural Resources Cooperative Extension of Yavapai County, Arizona who reviewed Owen’s book stated that the author seemed to stress accurate timing when growing vegetables. Owen’s is against using chemical fertilizers and insectides. He recommended garlic and other herbs listed in the books as non-chemically alternatives for toxic insectides. Techniques for companion planting, where the diversity of vegetation growing can compliment each others survival in one or multiple ways was laid out.

For instance, the leaves of corn planted with squash, melons, or cucumbers can partially block the sun thereby relieving plants from the intense heat; the use for seeding plants that are organized to be compatible with each other is called polycultures and ideas about it are in his book. David Owens also advises that his readers use sunflowers to attract caterpillar feeding birds. He must have assumed that his readers can already identify many species of insects as Schalau claimed according to his review.

Extreme Gardening: How to Grow Organic in the Hostile Deserts by David Owens

Schalau, Jeff. “Book Review: Extreme Gardening by Dave Owens.” Rev. of Backyard Gardener. Sedona Red Rock News, Camp Verde Journal, and Cottonwood Journal Extra [Prescott, AZ] 26 Sept. 2001: n. pag. Arizona Cooperative Extension. University of Arizona. Web.


The website to the review about Extreme Gardening: How to Grow Organic in the Hostile Deserts by David Owens.

Owens is using a little known method of pest control called bio-control (biological control), which is a natural means of controlling pests that exploit the innate tendencies of particular living organisms (mainly insects) to regulate the population of another living organism or organisms (plants and insect pests). It is an agricultural technique to minimize or completely stop the use of chemicals by using beneficial insects such as predators who would eat prey that is feasting on crops.

George Brookbank a professional landscaper has a few books on growing plants in the Southwest desert. The Desert Gardener’s Calender: Your Month-by-Month Guide is a schedule on growing the type of flora listed during a 12 month period in that part of the United States.  Brookbank’s second book Desert Landscaping: How to Start and Maintain a Healthy Landscape in the Southwest is filled with knowledge on taking care of non-native plants that are introduced to the desert by the grower. It is a manual for maintenance practices that teach readers how to identify problems when plants aren’t sprouting properly and how to fix it. I got the information about the book from reviews by shopper’s of the famous online book store Amazon and one of them listed these plants not native to the desert: bermuda grass, citrus, grapes, tomatoes, mums, et cetera.

George Brookbank’s Desert Gardening is a comprehensive guide strictly dedicated to growing edible and fruits in the sizzling parts of the United States. If one is to browse through bookstores they can find other material that teaches and shares tips, strategies, and different methods on spawning plant life in the driest atmospheres. One notorious reason that makes planting a garden in a desert or dry part of the world difficult is the scarcity of water. Sometimes deserts in certain periods of the year get rainfall and that should compel one to collect as much water from fallen droplets as they can and then store it in containers.

Those who are practicing rainwater harvesting in parched areas must realize that at some point the rain will stop. Major metropolitan cities on the planet are usually connected to large rivers or other abundant water sources. Harsh deserts exceed the amount of heat and sun a garden needs making water a very precious resource. In hot deserts and dry arid environments, rainwater collection and methods of storage in temperatures that would prevent its evaporation are crucial aspects in desert agriculture. Brad Lancaster’s book Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands, published by Rainsource Press teaches readers about the principles, both old and new of capturing fallen water out of the sky. It comes in three volumes according to the review written by Gary Paul Nabhan.

Being able to farm using limited amount of water that’s acquired from rainwater harvesting in deserts was practiced by senior farmers.  Procedures for growing crops that require little or no water has been done for thousands of years; it is called dry farming. Dry farming is a strategy of storing water in the soil during rainy periods until the warmer seasons arrive. David Little of Little Organic Farm has grown potatoes and squash without resorting to irrigation. Little learned these techniques when venturing into local bars asking older farmers about their accounts. He picked up tidbits of information from their stories and began his episodes of trial and error until its mastery. Little uses a wet sponge covered with cellophane. When rainfall hits the ground during the season of winter and spring, the cultivation of soil breaks it up to create a “moist” sponge. Water is collected and preserved in the soil as this three- to four-inch layer of cellophane becomes dust mulch, sealing the water and preventing evaporation.

Pieter Hoff, a Dutch Inventor made a polypropylene-based cardboard water storage box. It uses principles that are similar to the “moist sponge” technique but this new device can even capture water from the atmosphere. The Groasis Waterboxx collects condensation and rare rainwater in a smart way and distributes it to the young tree roots in minimal but accurate quantities. An New York Times article written by Jim Witkins reported on Pieter Hoff Developing a ‘Water Battery’ for Trees. Hoff conducted a three-year test of the Groasis Waterboxx in the Sahara desert, an area that gets only a few inches of rainfall each year. Almost 90 percent of the trees planted using the Groasis Waterboxx survived even after the unit was removed. A test group of trees planted without the box, but watered once a week, produced the opposite result: only 10 percent survived.

Witkins, Jim. “Developing a ‘Water Battery’ for Trees.” New York Times. New York Times Company, 9 Apr. 2010. Web.


Ron Lewis Naughton of Northern Ontario, Canada grew raspberries using no water. The nutrients in the soil is heavily concentrated to where plants can last a long time without any water being reintroduced back into the dirt. In the video he had corn and squash growing in an almost complete waterless garden. Naughton’s innovative work in permaculture (Permanent Agriculture) proves that the right minerals and vitamins stored in the soil really do make a difference. If one uses these techniques of water management they could grow enough fruits and vegetables in those barren zones.

Waterless Gardening, Ron Lewis Naughton, Northern Ontario, Canada

No Cost Lighting Systems:

There are in existence electronic lighting systems that can be powered without electricity. The most common are solar powered lights which could be left outside during a sunny day to charge up the battery in devices and then be used during nighttime. A tiny group of British electronic engineers designed an electronic light that charges with the use of kinetic downward momentum. A person or even just a bag of weights can create the energy it needs run for up to 30 minutes, plus the device is configured to run other small electronic devices.

Lights powered by the sun and kinetic force are the only readily available methods of shining the inside and outside of a building without electricity. Candles are the oldest method of lighting but one must obtain and know how to manage the use of wax material if they do not plan to be reconnected to onsite power sources. Oil lanterns and open flame gas lamps are the earliest examples of advancements in lighting systems right after the classic wax candle. Candles, lanterns, and gas lamps have illuminated buildings and city streets before the creation of artificial light. Electronic hand crank lanterns are the most recent development of plugged-in free kinetic irradiation.

Ways of capturing a focused point of sunlight and redirecting the beams inside a building has been demonstrated. There are no wires needed only the sun and it can be done with not only just specially designed fiber optic systems, a plastic bottle can also create this effect. Solatube transfers sunlight from the sky and spreads excess light rays internally when connected to the top of the roof. It has been made with Raybender 3000 technology which allows devices made of acrylic material that absorb light from any direction while controlling the amount of light entering it. Once the rays of light enter the pipe it will refract light inside and brighten a room.

Alfredo Moser, a Brazilian mechanic, invented a more crude version of the Solatube made out of a plastic bottle filled with 10 milliliters of chlorine and the rest with filtered water. Following 10 years since the creation of Moser’s Solar Bottle Bulb 2.0, the idea has spread to developing countries. There is a youtube video of the inventor teaching viewers how to build and install Solar Bottle Bulbs on metal roofs. The Send-A-Cow foundation reported about a woman named Helen living in a remote village in Uganda.  She mounted three water filled plastic bottles to provide light inside the roof of her hut.—an-inexpensive-solution.html

How to Build a Solar Bottle Bulb 2.0 ( Updated English Version)

Solar bottle lights in a Ugandan kitchen | “Plastic bottle light”

Myshelter Foundation, a grassroots organization dedicated to sustainable building practices are working on handing out Solar Bottle Bulbs to places with no electricity. On their website there is instructions on making these bottles and they offer individuals opportunities to volunteer and install them in these remote places. There is a online (internet) application form people can sign up to join and others who have specific skills that can help Myshelter’s cause are also encouraged to apply. News and other information about their campaign is updated and sometimes they announce events they are holding.

Sunlight Reflecting light indoors: Light shelves are an architecture feature that use mirrors to direct the sun’s rays and radiate deeply into the room of a building. Bristolite Daylighting Systems, are one of many companies who build and market light shelves. Their business website has pictures of both the London Parliament and Greenpeace headquarters in the city. Some people do not have to buy expensive sets to have a light shelf. The bloggers of Actual-Size Architecture used IKEA mirrors positioned upward about 9 inches from the top glass of the window, above eye level.

Solar Lights are currently the only way to have running lights without being wired to a hydroelectric dam or gas-powered generator. Solar lights can be charged during the day and used only at night if one wants to be efficient in saving their energy. Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory made a solar light unit using advanced wireless LED bulb, a small solar panel, rechargeable batteries that require very little energy to work. The Sun King is a solar-powered lantern made by the India-based company Greenlight Planet that can provide up to 16 hours of light in 24 hour charging cycle. The Nokero, short for “No Kerosene,” is a solar light built by mechanical engineer Steve Katsaros in 2010. The light has been dispatched worldwide with international NGOs (non-governmental organization); the 2011 earthquake in Turkey, the bulbs provided light for millions without power. The article by Discovery News reported on more interesting types of solar lights. One of them is the Nomad Portable solar lamp system designed by Alain Gilles for company, O’sun. It is not only shock resistant and waterproof but can charge cellular phones. The D.light made by two Stanford Design School classmates Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun has a circular shape and tilted LED mounted on a simple metal stand;  it is a perfect solar desk light.

Danigelis, Alyssa. “Solar-Powered Bulbs Brighten Off-Grid Homes.” Discovery News. Discovery Communications, LLC, 17 Jan. 2013. Web.


A perfect combination is that the sunlight capturing plastic bottles that will be definitely operating in the mid-morning and afternoon all of the way up until evening hours. Mirrors that reflect sunlight can have further advancements for increasing its maximum capacity to bring forth lighting without using any oil, gas, and electricity. That can reduce a household and even company’s light bills since  these two devices are the only inexpensive way to keep the lights on.


No Cost Cooling/Heating:

Many of the ancient structures and temples of the world are built out of materials that can fully insulate and filter out excess hot or cold temperatures. The architectural features of these structures can keep occupants warm in the winter and cool during the summer. The heating and cooling without fossil fuels and other gases can eliminate the use of external devices like air conditioners and heater systems. One has truly freed themselves from the bondage of being connected to civilization if they are familiar with building these type of homes. Obos and Beehives are structures made out of clay with the roof design based on the Catenary arch. The reason for the steep arch is that there are vents at the top of the building, and small entrances with few, if any, windows. The high domes capture the hot air, separating it away from people who are resting at the bottom of the house keeping the interior around 75F (Fahrenheit) and 24C (Celsius).

To avoid the intense heat and strong desert winds of the Sahara, Berber tribes people made homes by digging large 7 meter (23 feet) deep and 10 meter (33 feet) wide and then carving into the sides of the pitwalls, tunneling a few meters deep forming artificial caves. Matmata, and some other similar towns across Tunisia, sits on a shelf of sandstone that is soft enough to excavate with hand tools, yet durable enough to provide homes for centuries. Homes ground around a central courtyard and connect to other courtyards from an underground maze. Burrowing below ground is a way to allow growing populations to spread while avoiding the scorching weather and blistering heat from the sun.

The Cave homes of Ortahisar in Cappadocia, Turkey have thick cave walls that can keep the house cool in the summer, while the temperature outside is more than 40 Celsius, and warm in the winter when it can be as low as -25 Celsius. On both sides of the road into Ortahisar there are doors in the rocks. Villagers store lemons, oranges, apples, potatoes, quinces and onions as those cavities became air-cooled caves.

Understanding your limits in the environment that’s being occupied is how early man was able to build shelters that can provide sufficient heat or air conditioning without any technologically driven sources.  Igloos are warm inside because snow insulates and the dome shape offers little resistance to the wind. Inside an igloo, the temperature is usually around 32 degrees Celsius but it can raised by using candles or having more people huddled together.

“Though Igloos Are Made of Snow, It Is Warm Inside. Why?” The Times of India. Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd, 7 Nov. 2004. Web.


Many of these homes that are made out of natural materials such as: earth, mud, snow (polar regions) and sod can create a thermal mass, absorbing heat during the day and release it at night. Rammed Earth has a high density and high specific heat capacity of the soil used in its construction. Concrete with stones blended in are more thermally conductive than concrete with ash, perlite, fibers, and other insulating aggregates. Passive annual heat storage (pahs) can be accomplished if enough mass is developed; heat would be released inside during the winter and cool in the summer.

Impenetrable types of insulation is what needs to be considered when building a more contemporary version of these homes. Cordwood building use mortar made out of cement, lime, sand, and water to hold thick log-ends. The insulation properties of Cordwood walls are determined by the length of log ends, the longer they are the more heat is trapped inside. Materials like sawdust and spray foam are mixed with the mortar.  The masonry mortar that is used to cement the logs together can absorb heat during the day and release as cooler temperatures of the night time arrive. The wood itself and the central cavity between the inside and outside mortars insulates the Cordwood made foundation.

Adobe homes are constructed from bricks made of mud, clay, and straw (grasses) and are a common building method in dry hot climates. They induce a passive annual heat storage (pahs) thereby do not need any extra energy for heating or cooling. The Anasazi, a indigenous tribe native to the southwest United States constructed condominium-style communities of stone and mud adobe bricks, three and four stories high. Traditional New Mexican homes today are built of adobe-sun dried clay bricks mixed with grasses for durability, mortared with simple mud, and then covered with additional protective layers of mud. Both Mexican and Spanish settlers continued building with adobe since air conditioning didn’t exist before the 20th century.

These two websites offer a lot more information about constructing houses using adobe. The Adobe Building Systems offer different shapes of bricks for one to formulate their own building design. Blueprints and how-to adobe construction manuals that teach readers step-by-step instructions on the process of erecting a complete house using bricks. Plastic molds that sculpt the shape of adobe bricks are sold on the site range from $250 to $675 dollars. You can even burrow their plastic adobe molders instead of designing them.

Adobe Builder is the web domain for the Southwest Solar Adobe School (SWSA). They offer classes every year around the Southwest and in Latin America on home construction using adobe. Copies of detailed plans and blueprints are sold on the webpage. They sell the EarthBuilder’s Encyclopedia, a reference guide for adobe, rammed earth, pressed block, passive solar design, and other information on natural building.

Straw Bales are another method of insulating a house using natural materials. Straw Building techniques originated in the 1890s on the arid plains of Nebraska where the ground was too dry for settlers to build from sod. Inch for inch, straw bales insulate about the same as fiberglass, but because they are so much thicker than typical rolls of insulation, they provide a stronger shield against the heat and cold. Strawbales are thick so they slow down the transfer of heat from one side of the wall to the other. Keeping the temperature exchange to a minimum is how strawbales work and the writer of the blog Building Naturally combines both Strawbales and Cob, a clay-mud mixture similar to adobe.

Frangos, Alex. “Will Insulating With Straw Catch Fire?” Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc, 9 Aug. 2006. Web.


Adobe and Mudbrick are good materials but there are some areas are very wet and rainwater makes this type of architecture vulnerable to structural degradation. There are other ways of heating a home without using natural gas, propane, and other expensive gases. People have always used wooden logs or 40 pounds of wood pallets to heat homes. Wood Pallets are a lot cleaner and burn better than firewood. Many American households are using their fireplace instead of heating oils and natural gases because it saves them money. In rural areas people are likely to cut down wood themselves or gather wooden scraps to throw in their fireplace. Pellets are produced from waste products such as lumber mill sawdust and chips or scraps left over from lumbering or free thinning. Branches of timber that fell due to rough weather is where a lot of people gather their firewood; dead timber works just as well thus making it such an affordable way to heat any home.

Werks, Brian Hand. “High Fuel Costs Spark Increased Use of Wood for Heating, According to Winter Fuels Outlook.” National Geographic News. National Geographic Society, 22 Oct. 2012. Web.


If one is wary about stripping the forest of trees, there are still more options. There are ways to collect heat from the sunlight and Mitch Thornton of Mountain Electric made a large hot-box for under $1000. Heat is exchanged by a mirror reflecting towards a cool air vent that is connected to a fan and a heat sensor. When warmer than usual air is detected the fan is switched on. The inventor of this Hot Box heater lives in a part of Canada where although the winters are cold, they get plenty of clear sunny days.

If a person is able to heat their own bodies using electronic plug-in heaters rather than warm the whole house there is no need to burn wood or further insulate their homes. Paul Wheaton has experimented with what he considers micro heaters. He turned down the thermostat to 50 degrees Fahrenheit and use a personal electric heater, heating only his legs rather than the rest of his whole body. A dog bed warmer (15 watts), heated keyboard (25 Watts), heated mouse ( 2.5 watts), and a 40 watt incandescent light bulb were all grouped together to warm Rich’s whole body. He switches on his heated mattress pad that uses 200 watts of electricity for 30 minutes before the timer shuts it off. A 300 watt radiant electric heater has its uses for Wheaton whenever he is working in the kitchen and the butt warmer was used for a month until it malfunctioned. Wheaton just wrapped his chair in a blanket and it worked just as good if not better. He reduced his heating bill by 87% using all of these electronic gizmos. This may be a good method to heat a person’s body but its also a great way to loose backup battery power.

Being able to insulate the human body first before the home is the priceless way to avoid using any heating implement. Icebreaker Merino, a New Zealand company, knit sheep’s wool, synthetics, and cotton to create a fabric that can keep one’s body warm in the cold and chilled in the heat. Traditional wool warms the body but it can induce itching of the body explaining why cotton and synthetic fibers were also blended into the sewing process.,en,pg.html

Caribou hides (skins) have helped Eskimo people stay warm in Artic regions even in temperatures 55 below zero or colder. Its lightweight, repels water, durable, and has superior insulation properties that rival modern fabrics. Caribou hair is hollow, so it traps air inside and in between hair strands. Clothing such as mittens, boots, pants, and socks were all made with the skins of Caribou. Ancestral Nunamiut Eskimos invented the itchalik, or caribou skin tent to shelter their families from the harsh artic weather.

Low Tech Magazine, an online periodical zine did a good article on one of the oldest but most effective methods of gas-free heating. Made out of stone they were used by Europeans for one thousand years and have many advantages over metal heating systems. The metal rises too quick when heated and once the fuel runs out the temperature of the stove equally in speed sinks to a low. Stone heaters have a longer retention and absorption of warm gases that keeps heat from leaving the chimney. All of the rising temperatures are radiated back towards everything in the house; the floors, walls, and other objects. Modern heating systems heat the air inside whereas stone-built oven stones spread heat radiation around the structure of the building. These conventional heaters offer instant heating properties but oven stones may take a couple of hours before it starts radiating heat. Metal cools just as fast as it rapidly heats whereas stone requires more time to heat but it retains its hotter temperatures much longer. The air does not rise so heat is even distributed across the room instead of rising to the ceiling. Oven stones can radiate heat for at least 12 hours on the same thermal reactions as a city’s heat island effect. Heat Island effects are where the concrete from concrete-made buildings and pavement absorbs the sun’s heat and releases it. The author of the article also added other uses for these stone-made ovens. The author noted on how one can install plastic hoses inside the walls of their homes and connect a stove to a water boiler system. The result is a simple water heating system for the house. The exterior of oven stoves can keep pots and pans warm or dry clothing after laundry cycles. Ceramic stoves can also be a non-electric cooking appliance equipped with hot plates and an oven for baking foods.

Cities are made out of concrete and asphalt will soak in the summer heat only to release it.  The Arbor Day Foundation has noted that planting trees in the right places can reduce heating and cooling costs. If trees are planted in the correct sections they can block cold winter winds and provide summer shade. They made an animated picture diagram showing large deciduous trees on the east, west, and northwest sides of a house creating shade from the sun. Trees will also shade patios, sidewalks, and driveways thus cooling the concrete, entire yard, and even the neighborhood. Planting rows of conifer trees on the north and northwest sides of your property creates a wall against cold winter winds. That saves heating costs by up to 30% and the best protection from wind occurs when the windbreak is no more than the distance of one or two tree heights from the house as advised by the Arbor Foundation. To create winter warmth deciduous trees that are already bare from fallen leaves will allow sun to pour through tree branches to penetrate the home in winter. The sun travels lower on the southern horizon in winter which is why wind blocking conifer trees needs are planted on the north and northwest sides of the house; trees planted in the south will block the sun.

Geothermal short for “Geological Thermal” is a type of energy that is stored inside the earth. Geothermal heat comes from a layer of hot and molten rock called magma. Heat is continually produced beneath the surface of the Earth mostly from the decay of naturally radioactive materials such as uranium and potassium. There is so much heat within 10,000 meters (about 33,000 feet) of Earth’s surface contains 50,000 times more energy than all the oil and natural gas resources in the world. Geothermal energy is tapped inside the earth’s crust using metal pipes to suck in hot steam and water. They are ground source heat pumps and they can provide both heat and coolness in a building. A tube runs from the outside air, underneath, and into a house’s ventilation system. In the summer the liquid moves heat from the building to the ground; that cools a house or large building. During winter, heat is pump and transferred to the ventilation unit.

People can make their own geothermal heating/cooling system using the groundwater from a well. Ground Water Heat Pumps that were described in the February 1978 issue of Popular Science Magazine and they referred to them as air conditions in reverse. They warm the house by extracting heat from the outside air and the magazine did not note but I am assuming that the house is cooled in the summer by transferring humid heat back outdoors. A heat pump not only produces heat, but moves it from one place to another. Unlike an air conditioning unit heat is absorbed from water and is released inside the house. The refrigerant or substance used in a heat cycle that transits from a liquid to a gas travels through a capillary tube that lowers its pressure and boiling point.

Passing through the ground-water, the refrigerant extracts heat from the circulating water, boils and vaporizes. The chilled water returns to the ground while the warm, low-pressured gas shoots up to the compressor. Then it is compressed or squeezed to form a high pressure hot gas. A reverse valve in the heat pump that changes the direction of the refrigerant flow pumps the gas to the air heat exchanger, condensing it, releasing heat to the circulating air. The warm air is spread inside the house through a ventilation that must be ducted through the wall and the liquid refrigerant flows back through the capillary tube to repeat the cycle. When cooling the house, the process reverses by the hot gases being sent to the water heat exchanger to release heat collected from the house.

The warmed water returns to the ground the while the chilled, liquified refrigerant goes through the capillary tube to the air heat exchanger. Its absorbing heat from the house and vaporizing it, then the gas returns to the compressor, which pumps it back to the water heat exchanger to renew the cycle. Carl Nielsen, a physicist and former professor at Ohio State University drilled an 80 foot well in his backyard and connected its outflow to a pound alongside the house. Nielsen fabricated his own one-ton unit, using standard refrigeration-plant parts, except for the actual heat exchanger.

Nielsen took two lengths of pipe-a one-inch-o.d.(outer diameter) piece and a 5/8-inch o.d. piece of piping. One pipe was pushed inside the other, then wrapped with coils. Nielsen actually demonstrate one of the first examples of a single family version of these ground water heat pumps. Battelle Institute, a scientific think tank is amongst one of the facilities who has an effective ground water heat pumping system made for large buildings. The 317,000-square-foot building is heated and cooled entirely by heat pumps. The setup is very similar to Nielsen’s designs as they use five 16-inch wells drilled to 50 feet in a sand-and-gravel aquifer, and each month some 40 million gallons of water is pumped through the exchanger and out into Ohio’s Olentangy River that supplies the aquifer.

Gannon, Robert. “Ground-water Heat Pumps- Home Heating and Cooling from Your Own Well.” Popular Science Feb. 1978: 78-82. Print.

Geothermal Energy

Refrigeration without Electricity:

Keeping food stored at the right temperature also entraps people to remain closer to civilization. Refrigerators are designed to use electricity or gases like propane that are usually processed before their use. There are many ways of cooling perishables free of any electricity or propane. The root cellar is an underground storage technique that can balance the humidity levels to prevent food from freezing during the winter and can maintain a cool temperature in the summer months. Some basements of modern day houses have the coolest temperature and during the winter periods food can be stored without using a refrigerating unit. Traditional root cellars are constructed from hillside caves to garden trenches; the underground basement is an example of a trench. Cellars are made by digging into a hill and then lining the structure with brick, stone, or concentrate block; dirt-floored insulated basements are also authentic root cellars.

Bubel, Mike, and Nancy Bubel. “The Fundamentals of Root Cellaring: Root Cellaring Can Help You Enjoy Fresh Produce All Year Long.” Mother Earth News Aug.-Sept. 1991: n. pag. Print.

Canning is where perishable foods are stored in jars before the lid is vacuum sealing to prevent spoilage. Its the most common technique of food storage without refrigeration but one needs to be careful and make sure all glass or metal jars remain in the right temperature. There are more natural ways of keeping food from rotting and these techniques do not require any canning or freezing. The book Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation The Gardeners and Farmers of Centre Terre Vivante by Deborah Madison and Eliot Coleman lists many recipes and preparation techniques for food preservation. Each type of food has its own special ingredients added to protect the nutritional value and its flavor. The authors provided plans for building underground food storage units called “Silos” where a rectangular trench is dug in before being fitted with bricks, wire mesh, and even an old steam-washer. Rye Straw (dried grass) is used as an insulator when caching root vegetables.

Madison, Deborah. Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Pub., 2007. Print.

Before the powered refrigerator, people used a wooden shelf called an “icebox” to chill perishable foods. Insulation prevents blocks of ice from melting and sometimes it can last months and even years without thawing. The winter temperatures would keep the ice blocks frozen for a long time until it finally melts. There are even some iceboxes that use a non ozone-depleting type of refrigerant fluid just so the liquid condenses once it reacts to the outside temperature. For more information about this type of icebox which is made out of sheet metal and copper tubing to allow the siphoning of refrigerant fluid.

Blogger Angela aka Farmer Jane brought up another great idea and it was inspired by her research on ancient Iranian ice houses. Her version was built using earth bags, an insulation method where bags of dirt are filled and stacked to form walls. She filled up 2 liter bottles with water and during the evening winter months, the bottles will be left out on the concrete to freeze, and then stored in the ice house the following morning. Her process continued until the ice house was adequately filled with enough bottles to keep the vaulted area frozen through the spring, summer and fall months. Only filling up the bottles once in a lifetime has saved her 100’s of gallons of water because as the ice inside the bottles finally melts she doesn’t have to refill the bottles and throw them away. Farmer Jane’s ice house has made using a icebox more sustainable since when bottles of ice melt they can go back and get more solid bottles of ice to replace the thawed bottles.

Angela or Farmer Jane enlightened readers on preserving meat without freezing and refrigeration. Farmer Jane’s blog has a photo of an old French confit (con-fee) pot that was used to keep meats such as duck, goose, and pork from rotting by soaking in fat unrefrigerated. That preservation technique is from Charcuterie which is a branch or style of cooking where flavors in meat products such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, pates, and confit are immersed in fats to retain its flavors.

Some houses in the northern coast of California have a unique feature; cabinets with ventilation shafts. The cool breeze that blows through during autumn, spring, and winter months is capable of keeping foods fresh. The author has made a journal about his experiences and noted on how it was useless during hot summers. Readers wrote interesting comments that may be future ideas derived from these ventilated cabinets.  One reader made points about how ventilation inside a cupboard isn’t enough to prevent any heat build-up.

According to him, California coolers are originally meant to be used in very dry climates. The wind blowing inside hits a damp cloth to keep the temperature low in blistering conditions.  He recommended the book Hardtimes Handbook by Sarah Autry to learn more about that is about this particular technique of food storage. The author recalled a time when he was studying law school witnessing his peers altering a refrigerator just so it exchanges air from outside a building. It had a set of valves that would used a fan to capture the cooler air, the freezer did not turn on unless it detects warmer winds.

The Berber tribe of North Africa built rows and columns of vaulted rooms called “ghorfas.” A traditional Ksar, Berber term meaning “fort” originally were used to store large amounts of grain. Constructed from adobe these storage units can keep food cool in the summer months.  Man-made structures built from concrete and metal will conduct and raise temperatures much faster than adobe; that is why refrigerating systems are necessary inside those type of structures.

Water seems to be required to keep food fresh in a hot environment. These ingenious methods of preventing any rotting of food spurred some inventors to invent non-electric refrigerators out of clay. Mansukhbhai came up with Mitticool, a clay-made fridge that works on the same principles of evaporation. The top upper chamber stores the water to allow its refrigerating capabilities. Food, vegetables, and milk are stored in the two shelves of the lower chambers. The Mitticool has kept food, vegetables, and even milk naturally fresh for days.

Jihyun Ryou introduced methods of storing food without a conventional refrigerator and has written a blog dedicated to educating others about these simple. Ryou researched and interviewed senior farmers on traditional techniques they did to preserve vegetables, fruits, and spices without modern refrigeration equipment. The method is called “chilling injury” and that is where vegetables become frozen at a certain temperature. For instance, cucumbers will freeze at 7 degrees and eggplant do the same at 8 degrees. Ryou made these shelves that have containers filled with water and in one day the right dosage of it (water) will evaporate. If placed above a water tray fruit vegetables such as zucchini, aubergines, peppers and cucumbers will last longer than without it. Root vegetables like carrots are stood vegetables upright in wet sand since it mimics their growth conditions. Ryou advised that storing ethylene producing fruits and vegetables separately but if combined with potatoes ethylene gas prevents the potatoes from sprouting. Rice absorbs the humidity through the hole in a jar that Ms. Ryou uses to store spices, garlic, onions, and sweet potatoes. The rice on top helps keep spices dry without it forming lumps.

There people from all over the world share their recipes for preserving butter, apples, peaches, et cetera without using refrigeration equipment. These techniques are just simple old home remedies to keep certain foods from rotting. What was included is the water well storage technique which involves putting food in a bucket and lowering it just over the water level. The depth was enough to keep the chilling air inside from the cold water. Placing bananas in a paper or plastic bag will speed up their ripening process. Bananas can also give other fruit a boost when ripening since bananas emit a lot of ethylene gas if they are placed in a container with other fruits. Apples, tomatoes, avocados, bananas, muskmelons, pears, plums, and peaches emit ethylene gas and it speeds up the ripening process of fruits and vegetables if kept together.

Tina, a woman who grew up on a boat in Finland advised readers to coat eggs in Vaseline to plug up the pores and store them in large egg cartons. Jacek of Poland also claimed that bread placed in unvarnished wood would stay fresh for a month. Keeping food at a low temperature half of the time requires water and a way to trap it is the use of dampened sand; which keeps vegetables vertical and at the right humidity. It works for citrus fruits by plugging in the pores according to Lynn from Louisiana. Please go to the website and read more about these homemade concoctions because that blog is proof that preserving food without using gas or electricity has already been here.

Provident-living-today an online zine has gave its readers a few methods of powerless refrigeration. The writers have provided detailed instructions on building these units such as an Evaporative Cooler Fridge, consisting of water soaked burlap bags surrounding a PVC pipe assembled shelf. The Evaporative Cooler was tested by the authors at a family reunion in Pinedale, Arizona during the summer and worked very well.

Hygiene Products:

Hygiene is very important when living off the grid and soaps containing petrochemicals can pollute the water supply. Before the use of petrochemicals, natural biodegradable soaps were created with plants rich in saponin. Saponins are enzymes that are part of a plant’s immune system to deter insect attack and to act as natural anti-microbial that protect their life bearing seeds. Hunter gathers harvest the soap-bearing plants for their medicinal properties and for cleaning. Soapwort is a well known soap plant where all parts can be used as a cleaning agent. Soapnuts are a wild gathered tree fruit from the Himalayan foothills where the fruit’s acids can be used to clean clothing. The article by Permaculture Magazine instructs readers to tie soap nuts in an old sock and place it in the drum with the laundry. It can be reuse a few times depending on the water hardness, wash temperatures and load size. Soapnuts can also be used in a dishwasher with two at a time in the cutlery tray. Both nuts have to be replaced once the cleaning cycle is done and clear vinegar can be used as a rinse aid if needed. There is even a recipe for making an all-purpose liquid soapnut cleaning solution. It involves boiling soapnuts in water to extract the nutrients and recover the juices using a metal or plastic strainer.

Mittuch, Sally. “A Short History of Soap in the Pre-Petroleum Age & How to Make Your Own Biodegradable Plant Soaps.” Permaculture Magazine. Hyden House Ltd, 8 Jan. 2013. Web.


The sanitation of human and animal waste from septic tanks must be done safely to avoid catching diseases. Water is commonly used to rid their households of excrement and urine and many residing in rural areas use large septic tanks that require special machinery to suck wastes out once it gets too full. There may be a little recognized ways of disposing wastes without the use of water. Leaving it out in the hot desert for it to dry and turn into dust rather than use water is possible. Perhaps a solar furnace, where parabolic mirrors direct enough sun rays to where it can actually melt metal and burn newspapers would work. There are also very few volcanic lava lakes in the world, the video clip shows two people throwing a box of garbage in a lake of lava in Ethiopia. Eruption after person falls in lava lake of volcano (test with organic)

Cooking Without Electricity:

To be able to heat foods without electricity or gas is an excellent way to conserve the juice in any backup battery. Even if one returns back to civilization to obtain any cooking oils; they are still married to the grid. Open fire cooking techniques and ovens made out of clay are brilliant technique although wood is the power source. Wood fired clay ovens are great non-electric appliance to cook food in more cooler environments like forests since there are tons of trees, branches, leaves and fallen twigs around. In Deserts, the lack of vegetation have made the sunlight and parabolic metal reflectors a necessity but most people want to cook in the morning or nighttime.

Earth Ovens

Kiko Densor drew up plans for constructing a Wood-fired Earth Oven in the October/November 2002 issue of Mother Earth News. Please read the diagrams and written information to build your own:

Denzer, Kiko. “Build Your Own Wood-Fired Earth OvenBuild Your Own Wood-fired Earth Oven with This Easy-to-make Oven and Bake Crusty Breads, Tasty Pizzas and Roasted Meats. Includes Diagrams, Creating the Oven Floor and Mixing Mud.” Mother Earth News n.d.: n. pag. Print.

Solar Cookers:

Recently, there are those who wanted to actually design solar cookers that can retain its heat to where it can function even at nighttime. Climate Healers, an international development technology organization, issued a design challenge after their traditional solar cookers failed to catch on in mountain villages in Rajasthan, India. These 10 designs of heat retention solar ovens use materials such as sand, aluminum cans, rice husks, water, salt, straw, or olive oil to store solar heat.

Goodier, Rob. “Ten Solar Cookers That Work at Night.” Web log post. Engineering For Change. Engineering for Change (E4C) LLC, 4 Feb. 2012. Web.


Plans for Heat Retention Solar Oven:

These old blueprints devised in 2004 of this version of Solar Retention uses non-flammable insulation such as spun clay and rock wool. According to the author of these plans/blueprints bricks, concrete, and sand are each poor insulators. The picture shows that a thick layer of heat retention material, such as bricks, or cinder blocks, or salt ( NaC1), or ceramic tiles. The insulated block that is removable is the entrance for raw food to be cooked inside. A transparent mirror is used to absorb the heat that is shining on the reflector. The reflector folds inward and another larger piece of removal brick is covered it to further trap the heat.

Many of the techniques I described are fairly new but there are other people who used a few of the technologies described to built their own sustainable homes and conserve battery power. These experienced off-grid dwellers implemented the most unique strategies to survive away from the city. People who are reading this article can learn a lot of their experiences. Some of these homes have the same kitchen appliances as the houses in many suburban and and urban residential areas. Alex Porter, a woman who built a cabin with a 90 degree right triangular shaped roof for her father on a coastal island of Maine. The cabin has a series of rolling storm Porter built has that triangular shape for a reason, they may be rolling storm panels that ward off the elements. The sun charges a small solar-electric panel mounted to the southern facing roof feeds 12 volts Direct Charge to the batteries that power the lights, a Sunfrost refrigerator, and a small water pump. She uses rainwater catchment tank that has been supplying more than enough water for the home, and a small on-demand water heater that supports an outdoor shower and a sink.

Michler, Andrew. “Tiny Off-Grid Cabin in Maine Is Completely Self-Sustaining.” Web log post. Inhabitat, LLC, 25 Jan. 2013. Web.


Rich Scheben, a former highly respected sales associate who was originally from New York found a sizable plot of land in Northwest Montana. Scheben’s farm has hills, valleys, gorges, and even a river. He recommends a diverse landscape preferably with rougher terrain instead of flat over a greater access to resources. The land he lives on has a lot of wild game (Elk, Deer, Pheasant) which is one of the reasons why he suggests people to live in rugged terrain that is connected to a water source where fish can be caught. Rich also keeps bulk foods from a nearby town while farming and maintaining live stock including chickens for meat and eggs, goats for milk and cheese, turkeys, etc. His  greenhouse and small garden sprouts enough food to feed a family. His selection of land proves that his costs for supplying food costs little to almost nothing.

LEDs are used for lighting not hurricane lanterns and he can surf the internet; all done using electricity generated by a small solar array and four deep-cycle batteries that are charged on the minimal array. The timber (trees) that grows on Scheben’s land is the only wood that is used in his wood stove for heating his cabin. Being close to a river enables him to dig a well and pump water which is hoisted to a large tank on the second floor. Water is leaked downward in the faucets on the first floor below. Scheben’s shower heats the water using a solar shower filled and placed near the Solar Shower. Scheben heats his water using the wood stove and pours it in the bathtub. Solar Shower he is using is sold at Walmart’s online or internet storefront. IT is a plastic bag that can be filled with water It can hold up to five gallons of water and the bag can be heated in three hours without batteries. A cord is used to hang it down and the bag is made from non-toxic PVC (polyvinyl chloride) material. The shower can hold up to five gallons of water. The bag stores enough water to shower 3 or 4 individuals one at a time. Scheben must have positioned the bag above the wood stove to heat up the bag according to the article by (alt market).

Smith, Brandon. “Going Off Grid – Montana Style!” Web log post. N.p., 14 Feb. 2012. Web.


Dante DiPirro’s version of his off-grid East Amwell New Jersey home saves $4,000 per year in energy costs by selecting the right appliances that can be simultaneously powered by the 16 solar panels in his backyard. His LED television uses 30 watts of power, far less than an LCD or plasma television and he obtained light fixtures, a water pump and a refrigerator that could be powered by his solar equipment.  Taking seven years to build his 2,700 square-foot home in the hills near Sourland Mountain in Hunterdon County, DiPirro is able to provide adequate temperatures with the right placements of building materials. An overhang shields DiPirro’s high-ceilinged living room from direct sunlight in the summer, keeping the house at a room temperature between 60 and 70 degrees most of the year. A combination of lightweight concrete and black tiles created a thermal mass in which DiPirro says “It’s similar to a slab that warms pizza.” A radiant floor system and propane heater is his backup system for heating.

Brill, Emily. “East Amwell Man Lives off the Grid in Solar-powered Home.” True Jersey. New Jersey On-Line LLC, 17 Jan. 2013. Web.


Another East Amwell New Jersey man Mike Strizki spent $500,000 to construct a device that combines the use of photovoltaic (PV) panels to turn sunlight into electricity that is harnessed for extracting hydrogen from tap water.  Strizki’s two-story colonial on an 11-acre (4.5 hectare) plot 12 miles (19 kilometers) north of Trenton is America’s first private hydrogen-powered house, which he currently shares with his wife, two dogs, and a cat. The house runs on electricity generated from the sun and stored hydrogen since October 2006, obtaining $400,000 dollars in grants from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, along with technology from companies such as Sharp, Swagelok and Proton Energy Systems. It took 56 solar panels on his garage roof and a small electrolyzer (a device, about the size of a washing machine, that uses electricity to break down water into its component; hydrogen and oxygen).

100 Batteries inside the garage’s walls are needed for nighttime power and the ten propane tanks outside the home can store 19,000 cubic feet, or 538 cubic meters, of hydrogen and the Plug Power fuel cell stack (an electrochemical device that mixes hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and water) and a hydrogen refueling kit for the car.  Its a convenient combination for Strizki as solar panels take in and convert sunlight to at least 90 kilowatt-hours of electricity and the remaining 80 kilowatt-hours recharges the batteries supplying evening power which operates the electrolyzer. The electrolyzer splits molecules of purified tap water into hydrogen. The oxygen and the hydrogen is separated into the tanks where it is stored for use in the cold, dark winter months.

To heat or cool the home Strizki uses a hydrogen-powered clothes dryer and geothermal system, pumping Freon gas underground to harvest heat in winter and cool in the summer. He dug eight feet (2.4 meters) down into the granite under his home to utilize the constant 56-degree Fahrenheit (13-degree Celsius) temperature underground. His heat pump is powered by electricity from hydrogen and capture those warmer temperatures in the winter while summer time yield enough chilly air to cool the house. Strizki also owns a collection of hydrogen-powered and electric vehicles, including a hydrogen-run lawn mover and car (the Sable, which he redesigned and named the “Genesis”). An electric racing boat and motorcycle and the technology is off-the-shelf. Despite the fact that there is an abundance of hydrogen to keep his home fully charged, the hydrogen battery fuel cells that run his hydrogen-powered car can be a backup energy source for the home.

Biello, David. “Se: No More Power Bills–EverA New Jersey Resident Generates and Stores All the Power He Needs with Solar Panels and Hydrogen.” Scientific American. Scientific American, Inc, 19 June 2008. Web.


Electronic household appliances are a drain on power sources and the more solar panels one uses for electricity they are able to power multiple devices in their home. Ethan Niederer’s and Rowan Gorman’s tiny cabin on 58 acres in East Fairfield, Vermont uses three small solar panels perched above the front door. Gorman and Niederer pay no utility bills every month and 190 watts is all they need for the 12-volt system that includes two compact fluorescent and two LED lights, a laptop computer, stereo and small appliances. According to him the biggest use is his computer and high speed internet and in the winter time they have to be careful about how many movies they stream on the computer. The couple receives their high speed internet from Niederer’s mother who has a repeater set up in her barn. Water is also received from Niederer’s mother, transported in five-gallon containers every few days.

The water is pumped into a cistern in the loft, and then gravity-fed to the sink. The 12-by-16 feet cabin is made out of straw bale so they do not have to worry about costs for heating. Generators that can run on gas or other means are a common backup if in case solar panels, wind turbines, and micro-hydroelectric systems fail. The Three Rivers Recreational Area-Lake Chinook development in central Oregon, a gated community that rests on 4,000 acres of land and includes 625 properties has every resident living away from a commercial power source and these homes sell for several million dollars. There is a good reason why gas generators are a necessary component, these houses have all of the amenities of modern life, including air conditioning. Elaine Budden, who has lived in a 1,600-square-foot home in Three Rivers for 33 years has a propane-powered generator. It only comes in the winter and spring because during the summer and fall there is constant sunshine in the inland part of Oregon state.

D’Ambrosio, Dan. “Couple Finds Peace Living off the Grid Vermonters Happy with Lilliputian Space, Utility Bills.” Delaware Online. Gannett Company, 27 Aug. 2012. Web.


Many of these sustainable can be modernized but it requires a certain architectural design to be able to capture enough heat and daily light from the sun and there are certain rooms that are much colder than other parts of the house. Many of these sustainable homes can be modernized without natural building materials but it requires a certain architectural design to be able to capture enough heat and daily light from the sun. The foundation of the house has allowed certain rooms to be much cooler than other parts of the house. I described how building materials like adobe, codwood, straw bales, and mud bricks create a passive annual heat storage effect. The house made by Eric Billingsley and his wife have a different structural design. Conventional stick-frame building techniques were applied in the house’s formation. Their twelve windows upstairs plus the clerestory windows capture breezes during the summer thus cooling the upstairs. Clerestories are an outside wall of a room or building that rises above an adjoining that contains windows.

The couple has no air conditioning and it has not been a necessity for them. In the refrigeration section of my article I described how basements can be used as a root cellar which is why it was convenient for Billingsley and his wife to place the bedrooms downstairs; their sleeping quarters are always cool during the summer. All of the interior walls and ceilings are insulated. Downstairs bedrooms maintain a constant 65 degrees during the summer. The bedrooms also retain heat very well during winter periods. Their radiant floor heating system allows a person to only make temperatures rise in specific areas versus hallways and other spaces rarely used.

Before incorporating a passive solar design on their house Billingsley paid an average of $200 per month to their conventional, non-solar home in another section of Albuquerque, NM (New Mexico). Their electric bill was the same to run the air conditioner in the summer adding up to $2,000 per year in utility costs. Their 1,440-watt solar system provides most of the power they need and homes with passive solar architecture also contribute to savings in utility costs. Living off the grid since 1979, the Billingsley’s still rely on a back up generator despite living in the Southwestern United States where that part of America gets more than enough sunlight to run their solar system.

Billingsley, Eric. “Living Off the Grid.” Innovation: America’s Journal of Technology Commercialization 3rd ser. 2 (2004): n. pag. Innovation America. Innovation America, June-July 2004. Web.


There are places where the use of solar power doesn’t seem sustainable to maintain enough electricity but others have found a way to cope with lesser distribution of jolts that would power needed appliances to keep their food cool and electronics running. The story of Bob Pryor and his wife Cynthia Pryor were told by the utility company that their southwest Michigan home would not receive that much power. They could not extend for a line to the cabin they owned off a tiny dirt road making them resort to using solar and wind power. Bob being a construction manager at the exclusive Huron Mountain Club helped design and build a solar-powered home in southwest Michigan in the 1980s giving him experience but the challenge was doing it on the dark shores of Lake Superior.

It took a 16 foot wooden tower to capture the sunlight penetrating the woods to store enough energy in 12-volt batteries that power their cellphones, lights, computer, and small appliances. Adding panels over the years has totaled to about 450 watts. A gas generator was used to power electric tools and a vacuum and the 60-foot-tall wind turbine didn’t work out because the jack pines grew tall enough to block the force of wind required to make it operate efficiently. Their water supply came from a nearby spring (waterfall) and the downhill water of flow is funneled into a PVC pipe where compressed air pushes the water uphill about 100 feet to their home. A wood stove and passive solar will take in the warmth of the sun that is slowly released by a thick concrete wall on the northside of the cabin. The wood stove heats water and burning wood heats up the bathroom’s sauna faced by curtainless full-length south-facing windows since and not only the warmth but the view of the sunshine is an example of modesty according to their ideas. Solar Power and Wind Power is a great combination to make sure there is enough electricity in one’s remote home.

Bob and Cynthia designed and helped a solar-wind hybrid home in southwest Michigan in the 1980s. The 16-foot wooden tower was able to capture enough solar radiation to store power in 12-volt batteries that provide enough electrical wattage to run their computer, light, small appliances, and charge their cellphones. A few panels were added over the years where now 450 watts is generated. A 60-foot-tall wind turbine was installed but they took down because the jack pine trees grew tall enough to block the wind. That is why they use a gas generator to run electric power tools and a vacuum. There is a stream of water down the hill of their house and with a PVC pipe they can use compressed air to pump water about 100 feet to the home. The heating of their home including their water is done with a wood stove and the technique of passive solar. The sun shines through windows facing the southern wall and the sun’s heat is slowly released by a thick concrete wall on the cabin’s northern wall.

Lydersen, Kari. “Green Living: This Solar Home Is Completely off the Grid.” Christian Science Monitor. The First Church of Christ, Scientist, 7 Aug. 2010. Web.


People have attempted to survive off the grid without the basic resources and tools they need but this story confirms my point about having no choice to relocate back to the cities. Joe Angio who has a nickname “Chicago” and his wife Anna had to leave the house, a small, and a pair of cars over the sagging economy forced them to buy a used RV. Barely paying their mortgage as they hopped around different to shortchange at the end of month and the best way to live without too much expenses is by moving to Slab City. It is a squatters camp way out in the badlands of California’s poorest county located about 190 miles southeast of Los Angeles and hour’s drive from the Mexican Border. It has its past as the last remnants of a World War II era military base. A thousand of people consists of society’s dropouts and fugitives of all stripes moved in during the winter of 2011-2012. But the recession prompted others to migrate to living quarters where there is no electricity, running water and laws yet in the Slab as one as one respects their neighbor who needs laws?

The inhabitants do not own any weapons and know how to solve the problems they have within their community according to Ray who is 56 years old and was a former drug addict turned born-again Christian. 30 year old Katie Ray form Oakland California views Slab City as a “postapocalyptic vacation zone.” That remote part of California has visitors from as far as Canada arriving in their RVs and pensions checking Slab City out. Gypsy Kids riding trains and youths who love throwing parties in the outdoors have been reported to spend time in Slab City. That remote part of California has visitors from as far as Canada arriving in their RVs and pensions checking Slab City out.

Gypsy Kids riding trains and youths who love throwing parties in the outdoors have been reported to spend time in Slab City. The Navy Seals who are rumored to use the area to prepare for the Osama Bin Laden raid as they train in that region all year long is an area where not only rowdy bikers slide through but one could be face an exciting loner who feels its their right to shoot a loner on sight. It is called “The Last Free Place in America” and one has the common luxuries of golfing on a field void of grass courses, wallowing nude in thermal mud baths, and skateboard stones in the bowl of an Olympic-sized pool; it is allowed.

The 2007 Film Into the Wild, is a documentary that captivates what happens in Slab City. The people in Slab City use CB (Citizen Band) radios to communicate with each other. They attended local swap meets to sell goods and exchanged services for income. Sandra “Sandi” Andrews, 61, a mother of eight living on less than $100 a month, is an artist who sells her paintings to tourists that stop by her studio, a converted school bus.  The lack of skills has been linked to petty theft at the camp and that marked the beginnings of segregation between youth and senior citizens. The influence of crystal-meth has been a growing as crime worsens and all these stories of disappearances, suspicious drownings in mud baths, and a man with a missing finger who claimed to have been attacked by a cannibal. Michael Aleksick, 63, the recently retired fire marshal, says he’s been repeatedly shot at, stabbed and gotten in too many fistfights to remember, often with people he knows.

The only authority that is present is the border patrol keeping a watchful eye on illegal immigrants that pass through the area. The nearest town neighboring Slab City is Niland it is five miles to the west and it has the closest grocery store and post office. The area is an example of what happens when people are ignorant of the technologies that allows one to survive off the grid. A dweller nicknamed “Shotgun” who stopped a man from stealing his friend’s solar panels has to go to Los Angeles to find a job to support his children. The kids are taught Math and English lessons when they catch rattlesnakes and scorpions. The crime is like any other major city which is why the man is concerned about the safety of his family. The stories in the article by Time magazine make it seem like Slab City is more of a pit stop where people do not have to pay any property taxes or pay any rent to reside in the area. Chicago Joe and his spouse Anna parked their trailer in a spot named East Jesus. Chicago Joe occupies himself with solar projects and other odd jobs. The living expenses he previously faced were $4,000 to $200 a month and is less than their electricity bill when they owned a house.

Motlagh, Jason. “Slab City, Here We Come: Living Life Off the Grid in California’s Badlands.” Time Magazine. Time Inc, 3 Feb. 2012. Web.


To truly live off the grid without relying on the necessary utilities that one needs to survive it is probably best to study the skills and techniques of early mankind. These stone age techniques are found in tribal cultures and are still used to this day. John and Victoria Jungwirth live in 80 acres of wilderness in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. They build birch bark canoes, make maple syrup every spring, and harvest wild plants for sale and trade. They make blankets, boots, and coats from the tanned hides of animals they hunt. The Jungwirths are influenced by the local Native Ojibwa culture and take advice from members of the Ojibwa tribe. Victoria earns her living by working at a food co-op where she drives 30 miles to get there and has a mail order medicinal botanical business. She has no website, just a handwritten catalogue and a post office box. They do not own a computer and a microwave their home’s solar panels only power a small television.

Medical care and insurance is an unspoken necessity when one is trying to survive away from any city. The Jungwirths have a friend who is a doctor in a nearby town and is trained in wound suturation. Victoria prepares homemade healing slaves and the family are experts with infections and skin abrasions, tinctures for colds. Befriending others is the real insurance according to John and once it is available those out there (away from civilization) will pay off in the long run. Strizki is currently working to reduce the price down enough to make home powered with the hydrogen-solar combination affordable for average consumers. Ever since solar panels are lowering in costs plus the lessons he learned in building this type of home Strizki can now build a solar-hydrogen system for as little as $90,000 dollars. It is an expensive option compared with New Jersey’s annual electric bills that average $1,500 but the costs have been increasing.

“Making a Living Out of Living (Off-Grid in the Wilderness)A Glimpse into Two Households Living off the Grid in the American Wilderness.” Web log post. Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 16 Apr. 2013. Web.


A place that John Wells named the “Field Lab” is a homestead two and a half miles off Highway 118 in the deserts of West Texas and at least around 30 miles from the Mexican border. Well’s home made out of shipping containers sits on terrain that’s surrounded by mesas and buttes as well as mesquite and desert juniper. This inexpensive land costing $86 a year in property taxes is void of paved roads, electricity, and water and the Milky Way is way more transparent in that desert than at Hayden Planetarium. He pays $80 dollars a month for DSL and phone service that takes only $10 to bury the cables for the landline and run them out to his property. Health insurance is $280 a month; truck insurance, $750 dollars a year. A medevac helicopter service costs $50 dollars a year. He also has a webcam that anyone online can access to see if how Mr. Wells is doing.

Green, Penelope. “A Glow in the West Texas Desert.” The News York Times 10 Mar. 2011: D1. The New York Times. New York Times Company, 17 Mar. 2011. Web.


The year 2008 is when an online journal of John wells documents the struggles of living off the grid, Wells has been writing a blog recording his daily life surviving in an area that doesn’t have a running river and no streetlights. He ha Individual posts I link to will serve as citations as to which tools he used to actually function in an area where important resources are hard to get. He has been using the most up to date technique to fulfill expected necessities. Wells cooks his food using a solar cooker to bake 6 loaves of bread and a cornish game hen. He grows his vegetables in a greenhouse he built. Wells has grown chard, spinach, tomatoes, and jalapenos even during the winter. For more information check out his blog and a link to his webcam.

Southwest Texas Alternative Energy And Sustainable Living Field Laboratory

All of these techniques that are meant to heat a home could actually stimulate the growth of plants during winter seasons. Living off the grid would require one to acquire free energy to grow useful plants, provide cleanliness, and, heat and cool homes but there hasn’t been a person recorded in history who has lived that way without paying a bill to any company. The wiring of a house is layout to where numerous household appliances could be connected to different sockets. Batteries can be quickly drained if multiple items are connected. Objects that are fabricated from circuit broads need an electrical charge to function and most are made to strictly be plugged into an electric outlet or use disposable batteries. All generators will need a battery at some point it is a substitute if in case the loss of power occurs but it doesn’t sustain any leftover electricity for personal use.

Battery banks are a common unit for energy storage and highest quality of batteries is extremely necessary to maintain sufficient power. The home owners of Punta Chivato, a small town in the region of Baja California, Sur (South) Mexico, that’s sitting on a peninsula extending out in the Sea of Cortez rely on deep cycle batteries to run electronics and other appliances. Most of the homeowners of Punta Chivato use U.S. Battery products. One of the residents Pam and Harry Oxley use the U.S. Battery RE L16 XC deep-cycle units and their 16 U.S. Battery 2200 system has dispensed enough dependable power since 2007 and there is a good reason. Don Wallace, CMO/Executive VP Sales and Marketing at U.S. Battery manufacturing stated that their RE series of batteries have a enhanced recharge-ability with improved cycle life that solar powered homes like those in Punta Chivato depend on every day. According to Don Wallace,  the batteries made by U.S. Battery use a Diamond Plate Xtreme Capacity technology that provide a higher peak capacity, improved watt-hours per liter and watt-hours per kilogram. When batteries remain still for long periods of time it causes short circuits in particularly deep-cycle batteries, a reason why the majority of residents in Punta Chivato prefer U.S. Battery products.

Wittrock, Candace. “Paradise Off the Grid.” Alternative Energy EMagazine. AltEnergyMag LJB Management Inc, Aug.-Sept. 2013. Web.


The Battery company’s RE-Series deep-cycle batteries have a unique component that prevents short circuiting, it is called Defender™ ( note~ Trademark symbol) moss shield.  The removal of the battery’s negative plate from a conventional or common design results in an Outside Positive (OSP) cell versus the standard Outside Negative (OSN) cell design. This design has boosted the protection of the positive plate from deterioration and increased the capacity forming a more stable performance over the life of the battery. That makes the battery last longer. The moss shields are insulated to prevent build-up of moss material. These type of batteries rely on vibration and shock to prevent build up but through insulation that can prevent formation of these mossing shorts.

It seems like that tiny homes with sustainable technology and fewer people are much more easy to manage than a larger house equipment. Renzo Piano, a man from Germany built a wooden hut, the Diogene, that is designed to be occupied by one person. The floor plan measuring about 8×10 feet across is enough room for a bed, chair, and small table. The Photovoltaic solar cells, a rainwater tank, composting toilets, and an all-natural ventilation system enables the house to remain entirely off the grid. A solar-powered home in a temperate rainforest has been built in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Canada, an area that receives more rainfall and sunshine. Xantrax Technology Inc. employees Rob and Charlene Baumgartner constructed the house and solar energy powers much of their household needs. Generators are supplemented for the limited amount of sunlight during the fall and winter months. The Baumgartner’s became more conscious such as turning off-lights and appliances when they are not being used and carefully monitoring phantom loads of electricity. It seems that the lack of sunlight has forced rob to find another source of power generation.

Rob Baumgartner is designing a micro-hydro system to take advantage of all the rainfall they receive. He can produce electricity by re-directing rain water run-off through a pipe that follows the slope of the driveway and installing a small turbine at the base. The image of being able to run your television, internet, and other circuity-made items is very possible with any modern up to date house without paying an electric company is practical. A row or column of rechargeable batteries a person can sustain enough power for a whole house. Hand crank generators are the earliest readily available independent system and if one has a method of turning the axis without any human movement has improvised an independently manageable production of personal energy.

MacFarlane, Scott. “Off-Grid Habitat.” Alternative Energy EMagazine. AltEnergyMag LJB Management Inc, June 2004. Web.


The downward pressure from raindrops can spin the axis of a handcrank generator and has been demonstrated. Kettner Griswold invented a rain-powered waterwheel using recycled water bottles, small motors, a metal chain linkage, and a battery. Water from the rain is diverted from the gutter into a pipe where it flows downward hitting the bottles. The rotation of the wheel caused by pouring water cranks the attached chain linkage that is connected to a small motor. Electricity is produced which can be stored in the battery.

Amazing Hydro-Electric Power Collector by AirForceTheCircuit

There are times where one has to ration electrical power to avoid draining their backup batteries. Jennifer Barker of southwestern Oregon stresses that monitoring your electrical usage is how a true renewable-powered off-grid system is created. Jennifer and her husband Lance do not use a generator and during their first years of living in their solar-powered home they had to limit their power usage. During cloudy periods recreational uses (videos, long hours on the computer, extra lights at night), and use the rest of the money they saved to buy more solar panels. Currently they have enough power although in early there are still days where they cannot use their lights at night because of curtailing their power to conserve their batteries.

Barker, Jennifer. “EarthToys Interview – Living Off The Grid.” Alternative Energy EMagazine. AltEnergyMag LJB Management Inc, June 2008. Web.


Electronic household appliances are a huge drain on the batteries. One way to retain enough charge is to use less powerful versions of these gizmos. The Spice Village Resort located in the Kerala province of Southern India decided to turn their hospitality business into a low carbon emissions resort. In late 2011, Spice Village hired solar company TeamSustain to install the off-grid photovoltaic system for the resort. Team Sustain is a provider for clean, green technological solutions offering cost-effective logistics and infrastructure solutions for sustainable resource utilization to markets worldwide. Until June 2012, Spice Village was connected to the electrical grid and a diesel generator for backup power was recommended because of poor grid quality. The generator running eight hours a day was noisy and the consistent purchase and transportation of diesel fuel afar made it expensive to use. Team Sustain analyzed a compilation of energy audit data or information from inspections, surveys, that analyzed the energy input and output from Spice Village.

They were able to reduce the electrical load without altering its necessary facilities or comforts. Incandescent and Florescent lighting was replaced with LED lighting, desktop computers were replaced with laptop computers, unnecessary items such as hair dryers and kettles were removed from all guest rooms, and electrical appliances including ceiling fans, TVs and refrigerators were upgraded to more efficient models. Team Sustain improved the resort’s energy efficiency, reducing the daily consumption from 750kWh to 200kWh.

After these energy efficiency upgrades were made, TeamSustain designed a 65kW battery-based PV system for Spice Village that is generating enough solar electricity to meet 100% of its power needs. Their solar panels are made with thin Photovoltaic panels because of the regular overcast skies and high temperatures over the resort. The energy produced by the thin film versions of these solar panels is stored in 72 Trojan deep-cycle flooded IND29-4V Industrial batteries. Trojan batteries were ideal for the resort over their ability to function even in a partial state of charge (not fully charged or discharged every day). That is a common occurrence in renewable energy applications due to the varying levels of irradiance, temperature, and available sun hours. The batteries can handle the harsh conditions of renewable energy applications including extreme temperatures, remote locations and the irregular sun occurrences that undermine solar power generation in that area.

Trojan Battery Company. “Off-Grid Spice Village Resort, India.” Alternative Energy EMagazine. AltEnergyMag LJB Management Inc, Oct.-Nov. 2012. Web.


Those real life accounts of people who actually live outside the city and do not have to fork up a lot of money to pay for their necessities still have to take major precautions. One has to use their appliances made out of electronic circuit boards for a limited amount of time or it will drain the batteries. That is where major advancements in battery technology were considered. Batteries that can fully function even when they are at their weakest peak is what enhanced the sustainability of the whole town of Punta Chivato and the Spice Village resort. Those who didn’t have those type of batteries developed by companies US battery and Trojan had to limit their use of running their electrical appliances to avoid draining their batteries. Reading through the true accounts of real life off the grid living the people who have the same appliances as a conventional standard home and did not use all of the non-electrical appliances at once. The limitations of renewable energy systems make them somewhat impractical.

Solar Panels will  require consistent beam of sunlight to keep electric batteries charged until nighttime. Micro-Hydro Turbines may only be most efficient forms of personal power generation if one has access to any small moving stream of water. In the age of the microchip electronics and the power needed to keep them charge has been an important integral of the contemporary world. Household appliances need electricity to cook food, heat the home, and refrigerate perishable items. Being able to heat a small home or large skyscraper without any fossil fuels is another step of escaping being dependent on burning wood or gases. Proper insulation methods and techniques help an individual or family avoid using gaseous elements or other methods of heating their homes. But a home that needs to function without using additional virtually requires the house and its foundation to have a special design. That is why I included the use of solar hot air collectors that capture sunlight to heat a home or obtain these tile made stone heaters that prolong their heating properties even after its shut off.

New products like the Solatube and Light Shelves mounted into new or existing buildings saves power by providing adequate lighting without switching on the glass bulbs. Solar lights further reduce the likelihood of loosing electrical power if one occasionally substitutes their use during dusk hours. Iceboxes and other refrigerating units that require no electricity or gas will conserve energy from batteries. However, it doesn’t mean that those devices are completely renewable on their own. Certain techniques from the classic Icebox and California Cooler to Mansukhbhai’s Mitticool and Jihyun Ryou’s method all have one thing in common; they need to be supplied with water to allow proper refrigerating capabilities. Mike Strizki’s Solar powered hydrogen house needs water to extract hydrogen and if they used these atmospheric water generators that would make the whole house truly sustainable. Water is what created all of the power he needed to produce enough hydrogen. As stated by or in the article by Scientific American there were no references of Strizki using rainwater capturing devices or digging his own well to suck up groundwater.

Beside the reliance on occasional rainfall to get water for drinking and growing edible crops there are new devices that can completely capture water from the atmosphere. Element Four, a Canadian technology company invented the WaterMilll WM-200 an electronic appliance that siphons water in proper humidified conditions. The outside temperature should be between 25 and 40 degrees celsius (77 and 104 degrees fahrenheit); the outside humidity is suppose to above 60% and anything outside that range will reduce the performance of the atmospheric water generator. EcoloBlue of California (United States of America) built units that provide up to 8 Gallons or 30 Liters of water per day. There is an option of selecting both hot and cold water. The EcoloBlue units can even be powered using solar energy. Just remember the UV bulbs, the reverse osmosis,and filter will need to be replaced at some point. The Skywater 300 Atmospheric Water Generator has a modular feature meaning the units can be bundled together to produce more water and even promote land use in impossible-to-adapt areas.

EcoloBlue 28 Atmospheric Water Generator – Interview – NBC6

Skywater 300 Atmospheric Water Generator

The Solar Thermal Air to Water AWG (Atmospheric Water Generator) is a special unit because it is designed to work in more hotter climates. This unit will not operate correctly in more cooler temperatures thereby areas with too much sunshine are the purely ideal environments. The company can built large versions of this unit to extract thousands of gallons of water per day and it doesn’t need any fuel or external electrical systems to run. There is an application process when attempting to buy this version of the Atmospheric Water Generator and one has to sign an agreement not to export this device without the permission of the inventors.

Poor soil with little or even no nutrients discourages planting any type of food, herbs, and spices. Being able to grow foods inexpensively without using dirt has finally been made possible. Joel Karsten, developed a new technique where one can grow plants without soil. All it takes is a strawbale that can permit the growth of vegetation once it begins to decompose. As long as one has access to water and sunlight vegetables, herbs, and other plants this technique can work anywhere in the world in the spring/summer and for fall and winter gardens. Karsten has written a book on his technique and more information is on his website.

Although Straw Bales are the biggest breakthrough in producing crops  if one lives on nutrient-free land but what if one doesn’t have access to water? That is where the Atmosphere Water Generating devices come in handy. What people do not notice about many of the conventional tools to enable one to remain away from the grid is that they are not always reliable. Eventually people are going to have to return back to the cities for some type of special product or assistance. Medical care and insurance is why people do not completely isolate themselves from the nearest city or town. John and Victoria Jungwirth saw the value of their friend who has some expertise in surgery and suturing techniques. If they suffer physical bodily injuries then they know who to go for help. John Wells of the Southwest Field Laboratory pays $280 in health insurance plus a $50 per year for a medevac helicopter to take him to any hospital.

Solar Panels, Windmills, and Micro-hydroelectric power generation systems can be damaged in stormy weather. Wind storms can knock large branches or even decaying trees over that would collapse down on the mini-hydro electric unit. Pieces of golf ball size hail can puncture the solar panels and gusts of wind can pick up speeds to where the blades of winds can be pulled apart. Once that happens there is a unrecognized but temporary solution to obtain electrical power. Plants can generate their own electricity if conductive metals like copper and zinc are joined to the organic matter. A famous experiment of indicating the electricity in biological organisms is the potato and lemon battery. Zinc and Copper electrodes are poked and a chemical reaction is created by the electrolyte (potato or lemon). An IPOD, an electronic device that plays digital music can be charged using the same technique. Charging an IPOD with Fruit

Plant-e is a company that develops products that can generate electricity from living plants. Based on natural processes electrons are harvested from the soil and electricity is produced while plants continue to grow. There is another video someone on media hosting site Metacafe demonstrated another principle of receiving electrical charges from plants; A light bulb was successfully powered.  The last Youtube video features a man using these pot plants as an organic battery to turn on a calculator; an ohm meter was used to indicate electrical power.

K.D. Jayasuriya, Ruwan Wijesundara, and Nandan Jayashantha, of Sri Lanka’s Kelaniya University’s physics department inserted copper and zinc electrodes into plaintain tree stems to make a battery. They were inspired by a story of Israeli scientists who figured out a way to boost the power of potato batteries. Phosphoric acid reacts to the electrodes and creates an electrical charge that can light up small LEDs.

Chatterjee, Rhitu. “How Plantain Trees Could Become an Energy Source.” Web log post. PRI’s The World. Public Radio International, 22 Aug. 2012. Web.


On February 2006, physicists Andreas Mershin witnessed a similar version of a metal rod wired to the ground connected to a nail in the tree’s trunk. A lamp was powered and in 2008, Mershin and MIT undergraduate Christopher Love joined the new company, Voltree Power, who want to use that energy to power the wireless networks of environmental sensors. The electricity stems from a difference in acids between trees and soil. The area that is more acidic contains a higher concentration of positively charged hydrogen ions. Those ions attract electrons, generating a tiny current that travels between the tree and the ground.

“A Light in the Forest.” Conservation Magazine. University of Washington, 6 Jan. 2009. Web.


A tree can even make 130 Volts of electricity according to this experiment by a user who uploaded his results on Metacafe.

Electric eels are the easiest natural open source of electricity to find if near the ocean. The Japanese were assisted by one electric eel when powering the lights of a Christmas tree. All of those generators require some fuel source and a backup battery which forces one to relocate back on-the-grid. Those little organic techniques can have potential although it would take a huge bulk of plants, electric eels, and tons of wires to power a house.

Generator systems have always been a main source of electricity but the requirements for gases like petroleum (gasoline) or propane make these tools unsustainable. However, there are more renewable versions currently available that anyone can buy. The gasifier produces electricity by converting plant material, vegetation, or agricultural waste into a fuel or energy source. The company, All Power Labs has made an open source Gasifier Experimenter’s Kit (the GEK); it is a personal biomass power generation unit. The woody biomass is strictly converted into electricity, heat, or PTO (Power Take Off) shaft power. Husk Power Systems is another gasifier that can power small villages in India. Rice Husks are used to produce the electricity in the local communities and rice planters make money by selling their rice husks to Husk Power Systems, the utility company who operate the gasifier. 

Husk Power Systems, electricity from crop waste – Ashden Award winner

Geothermal energy is the most relevant form of renewable power that facilitates the possibilities of being truly unplugged. Being able to withdraw and select the right temperature from the interiors of earth gives anyone the ability to heat or cool their homes. Geothermic properties can produce instant micro-climates or zones where the climate differs from the surrounding area. Iceland is the first modern country to use this form of energy to grow any edible plants. The greenhouse in Chico Hot Springs resort located in Montana’s Paradise Valley could sprout any seedlings regardless of yearly seasons. Electrical power can be generated with geothermal energy but that has only been implemented by commercial companies. There are no household units of geothermal generators available; although dedicated engineers could fashion their own. There are many people who advocate getting off-the-grid, but no matter what, sooner or later that piece of equipment may not be available. That is where once again one must head back to civilization to retrieve all of the items they need.

The financial burdens that people risk when residing in the city is what makes them curious about learning how to lower their utility bills. Others feel they should prepare themselves if they face a natural disaster or economic depression. The high costs of different products and services to support the basic needs of individuals or whole families has been steadily rising since the 1970’s. Periodicals such as BackHome, Backwoodsman, Mother Earth News, and Backwoods Home have provided their readers with articles of do-it-yourself projects that teach examples of unplugged self reliant living. Small articles about planting gardens, canning perishable foods (fruits, vegetables, herbs), techniques for heating homes without any non-renewable gases, personal water supplying methods, bushcraft-fieldcraft (primitive survival techniques), and more are recorded in these periodicals. Sections of these magazines also have advertisements from many mail order vendors who are selling items that help one become more self-reliant.

Homepower magazine presents a lot of information about small scale power generation systems, in particular wind turbines (windmills), solar panels, and micro-hydroelectric systems. Contrary to all of the articles reported in many books and other publications, wind turbines, and solar panels are not too practical. Installing these systems to generate enough electricity to charge some batteries will face obstacles. There are cities that receive random weather patterns to where some days will get more than enough sunlight and others will get stuck with overcast days. That is why many people have simultaneously used both solar and wind turbines to be sure that electricity is constantly running. The durability and longevity of power in batteries is also a big factor; that is what enhanced the sustainability of Punta Chivato and the Spice Village resort those places succeeded in unplugging themselves.

The various methods of refrigeration and cooking without electricity followed by lighting systems that do not need to be connected to an electrical source are ways to avoid using battery power. Unoccupied territory on the most isolated places on earth that are not connected to a large water source are often lands too harsh for human survival. That is why if one is able to learn the right methods of obtaining adequate water, food, and heat to function without returning to the city for supplies then they have mastered the concepts of living “off the grid.” Living in the cities and being taught to go to school and seek out the highest paying job or career is the best way to survive anywhere. The sad thing is that its very true because it required money to buy all of that hi-tech power generation equipment, seeds to plant all types of edible foods along with the manuals, and sustainable houses are extremely expensive to build.

Clothing, transportation, shelter, and most importantly food and water require money. John Wells of the Southwest Field Laboratory pays insurance for his truck. Clothing was also brought up over John and Victoria Jungwirth fabricating their own apparel out of the animals they hunt. There are people who have enough space in their backyards to grow abundant supply of vegetables and even some fruits. One or a half an acre is suitable to feed a family if variety is concerned. The lack of space in urban environments forces others to innovate ways to spread a smaller garden. In areas where more buildings are resting on ground that was once fertile farmland gardening is not practical. The strawbale growing method is the easiest way to assemble a vertical or upward garden if one lives in the city where backyards are much smaller.

The energy input required to power your light bulbs needs electricity generating from power grids that are linked to large dams and reservoirs in which electrical current is shared with power lines spreading all the way to cities and towns. That much power is needed to turn not only the lights but all other electrical household appliances. Houses that are connected to these mainstream power systems do not include generators and batteries; those accessories are optional. The whole point of this article is to clarify that although living off the grid is possible all it takes is strategies and the use of special knowledge and technologies that are both old and new.


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