Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Building a House Off-Grid

You want to talk about adventure on the Byway? We are building a house in the desert. Completely off-grid.

That means we will have no utility services. We will pay fees and taxes for services, but we won't get any of them. Instead we will drag and maintain our own dirt roads around and into our property. We will drill a well and set up storage tanks for our water supply and we will dig and set up a septic system for our sewage. We will install a large solar system for our power (plus gas that we will have delivered to the house regularly). We will have to set up a really good satellite system for telephone, internet and television. There is no cell phone service anywhere on our land. No one will collect our garbage; instead we will have to drive it out to a dump and recycling site, which means more careful use and planning than most households probably do. We will have to install a sprinkler system and emergency water tank for fire protection because it is unlikely that the local fire department would make it there in time to save the house or the land around us. Building codes require this fire protection set-up. It is a good idea to protect ourselves, our house and the land, but it comes at a price. I feel a twinge of bitterness about the amount of local fees we will have to pay compared to the services we will receive...but it is what it is. That is the price you pay if you choose to live in this country and choose to live off the grid.

All of this stuff is so freaky and new to me...and exciting. To build a new house? Off grid? Really? Lots of people think about living off-grid, but most people don't ever do it. I never thought I would be involved with building a new house from the ground up or that it would end up being off grid. I certainly never thought I would be learning about surveying and county building laws and permits and construction phases and well drilling and septic systems. I work with solar, but I never thought I'd be spending time figuring out what kind and size of system we will need to run a modern home. We aren't building a little cabin with hardly any power. We are building a proper, "live in all year round" house that will need solar power (and gas) to run most modern appliances. 

I never gave much thought to building materials for ceilings and walls and floors and wrap around porches; or to the many sizes, shapes, styles and placement of doors and windows; or to how wide should the outside porch area be; what kinds and colors of cement will we want to use for the flooring indoor and out; will we dye or stain the concrete and what kinds of materials and how much grinding; how will we mix wood and stone and metal on the outside to look attractive and blend into the landscape? I sure think about it a lot now! Staring at ceilings and floors everywhere I go. Visiting home shows and cement trade shows. And the number and complexity of questions that require serious contemplation and committed answers is growing.

Last Friday we started the process that will lead to the drilling of our water well. We had a water dowsing or "witching" session to find the most likely spots for water and thus the best place to drill. Drilling is not cheap, so you want to do everything possible to find the right spot the first time. Dowsing works. It was  my first time seeing someone dowse for water. It was very, very cool and I got to try it. Stay tuned for a blog entry all about the water witching...

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait to hear more! This is going to be such an exciting journey... keep us posted.