Wednesday, March 24, 2010

unconventional living

When it comes to finding ways to make your living situation more efficient, there are many options worth considering. Where the winters are long and cold, most of the year’s energy use may go almost entirely into heating. In hot areas much money is spent on cooling using air-conditioners. Either way, a well insulated small space is the most economical and efficient way to go.

You can retrofit an existing structure with better insulation/windows/doors, and possibly solar panels. Unfortunately many homes are so large that heating and cooling the whole building is very costly and wasteful. This is where the notion of the need for a $30,000 solar system comes from - it's true that a large system would be needed to support an inefficient lifestyle. One way to save on a large place is to heat or cool only the rooms in use.

Another option is to build an energy efficient house from scratch, using techniques such as passive solar (maximize winter sun use  and minimize summer’s sun), and using materials such as adobe, cob, papercrete, and other affordable high insulation materials. In this case the best place to start is to tune into the landscape, weather, and path of the sun. For instance, knowing where the dominant wind comes from enables you to incorporate this information into the plans. There are many good ideas like this in books on Permaculture.

Although there seems to be a certain stigma against mobile homes, an excellent option is to find a small, used, 16-30ft  travel trailer. Like the cabin of a boat, most travel trailers have been meticulously designed to utilize the small space wisely. They usually have a small refrigerator, oven, sink, and even a small toilet/shower. As for alt energy, many are already wired for 12V systems, with lights, water pump, etc., so hooking up a small solar array is not much of a leap.

These trailers can be functional in an RV park, as a guest house, or as a completely off the grid, compact, living arrangement. Add a roof for shade and rain catchment, and a porch to spread out a bit, a composting toilet,  and you have a cozy, inexpensive, very low energy home anywhere you want...

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