Saturday, 19 January 2013

Off Grid Living

Recently a little house (read: shack!) came on to the market that has, once again, piqued my interest in off-grid living. The property is very remote - accessible only by air or water - the small community uses mostly solar and wind to power their homes, and water catchment systems for their plumbing needs. Some also using additional generators, and wood burning stoves to heat home and water.

The seasons are split into two main types: warm and sunny summers, very wet and windy winters.

I'm currently researching as much as possible about options for the various 'services' that I consider must have requirements/desires (please suggest other areas if I have missed any) and will share what I discover here, for others on a similar path!
  • Heating
  • Generating a sustainable supply of wood
  • Sufficient hot water generation
  • Food growth and storage
  • Soil care
  • Water capture
  • Lighting
  • Transport
I would like to mention that I am not an expert, I'm just a regular kind of person looking for an alternative way of living - one that is mindful of available resources, and one that respects, and understands the difference between 'needs' and 'wants'.

I have lived semi off grid before, with stream fed water and a septic tank waste system, but we enjoyed the luxury of mains electricity. Solar only, will raise extra challenges and concerns and I'm also interested in learning about what those might be.

If others are doing/learning/experimenting with similar issues, please leave a comment and links, or just say 'hello'. I'm a sponge for knowledge at the moment!


Before considering the heat source - insulate, insulate, insulate!

One consideration is the solid fuel/oil/gas Rayburn/Aga option for space heating and water heating. One downside is that to generate hot water, one must keep the Aga/Rayburn working all the time! And once the water tank has been drained - that luxurious bath - then it might take a while to create another tankful. Another consideration is the potential for the space heater to provide too much heat during summer months, just to maintain hot water.

Reading the Green Living Forum, one person suggests an outdoor wood burning/hot water option - which does seem like a feasible option:
Perhaps these haven't appeared in the UK yet but here in the states there are outdoor wood furnaces. Looks like a little shed with a chimney and heats water which goes via insulated pipes to heat storage and house heating. I believe these mainly used because sometimes hard to retrofit wood burning (and here we often have a lot more grounds than you do; example, in this township houses may be close together in the areas zoned "village" but otherwise minimum housel ot is two acres).
If you have good chimneys and a basement how about a wood fired boiler down below? Might make the basement hot and dry but hey, could string clothes lines 
A hybrid option of this gets me thinking... would an outdoor version hooked up to a DIY underfloor heating system work?

Another person, also in the GLF touched upon wood burner underfloor heating:
I have under floor heating and pump solar heated water in the day and turn over to wood burner back boiler for night
But I am in Spain, so you would probably require a larger collector for the UK
Heat pipe vacuum tubes work very well and I am sure they would ok for the Uk
I've looked into various alternative DIY solutions for generating heat - preferably using wood (managed, grown and harvested at the property) - and will gradually post findings here.

The DIY solid fuel heaters made out of gas bottles are an interesting consideration.

The need to consider some form of coppicing - as I do not want to de-nude the property of wood! I cam across this site that discusses various options for coppicing varieties and their burn, growing and coppicing properties. Included are Eucalypts, Acacia, Casuarina, Cypress, Poplar, Alder and Pine.

Some helpful info from their site (

Eucalypts – very fast-growing firewood which burns hot and long. Eucalyptus nitens, E. botryoides and E. ovata, are all good coppicing varieties, and will grow in a variety of soils, from dry to wet.
Acacia (wattle) – very hot and very long burning. Acacia melanoxylon (blackwood) is readily available and will usually coppice. Grows in dry to damp soils.
Casuarina – (sheoke), hot and long burning. Grows in dry to damp soils.
Cypress – Cupressus lusitanica (Mexican cypress), a great shelter or timber tree, but also makes good hot burning firewood. It needs a reasonably well-drained site and is non-coppicing.
Poplar – not as hot or as long burning as the others listed here, but light to handle and worthwhile as fire-starters, or for earlier in the season, when you don’t need as much heat. Great coppicers, and excellent for damp or wet spots.
Alders – similar to the poplars for growth, habitat and performance.
Pines – medium hot and short burning.

Another option might be the DIY 'fire bricks' that some are making using recycled paper.

[ongoing as I discover more info - I'm posting this 'unfinished' as others may find this useful in its current form, or have interesting observations and contributions]

Other pretty neat 'wish list' items that I'll write/research about a little later include an outdoor sauna, outdoor hot water shower, outdoor bath tub, making cheese,

Further reading


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