Survivalists say if you’re ever lost in the wilderness the first thing you need to do is ensure you have enough heat to last the night. So maybe this should have been part 1!
There are many heating options but based on my personal experience and learning, while creating off-grid geodesic dome living there are three sustainable “goto” technologies to this date.
First is propane. Technically this is not off-grid since it’s a fossil fuel that is very much like centralized distribution. But here you are strictly paying for the fuel you use, not infrastructure and not 3rd party delivery (if you pick it up yourself). With propane you can provide heat and it’s a cooking fuel and you can make hot-water. It’s hard to beat for convenience. And it’s proven to be mobile as you find it on most RV’s.
Second on my list is wood heat. Wood fuel is everywhere so heating would be next to nothing. But there are a couple big disadvantages. You have to deal with smoke which requires a stovepipe and because of the heat you need wall clearances. There are a few wood heaters on the market which are relatively portable but the issues are the same. And as with standard wood stoves you can’t thermostatically control the heat level in your space. Finally, most users end up losing their heat at 3am. This makes mornings a bit of a task if you have to restart the fire.
The best heat source in my books (and most ecofriendly and cheapest) is passive solar used with thermal mass. The technology on how this works is slowly seeping into the general population and the terms thermal mass, annualized solar heat gain and passive design are becoming better understood amongst designers and builders alike.
In the GeoStudio tiny dome of the future, the structure will be in-place and it will be designed with solar gain in mind by placing the right amount of glazing at specific angles to let the sunshine in. The floor will have thermal mass built in (adobe, concrete, masonry, almost any rock and yes even hemp crete) and the heat will be sequestered well below ground in July for wintertime use. For sustainability, costs and maintenance passive solar wins hands down.
In part 1 of Critical Living Issues I discussed a solution to water consumption - specifically how to reduce our water use to 70 litres per week/person. In this part I would like to address how we can completely eliminate water consumption from the human waste equation.
Because we’ve been conditioned to believe that a composting toilet is unsafe and unhealthy people will raise an eyebrow when suggesting that we simply compost our waste rather than use the 10 to 40 litres of water per use each time we use the latrine.
The fact is, managing our s**t is not hardly as difficult as we collectively think. And as I mentioned to visitors at the TH competition, odors can be controlled with minor modifications such as a fan and some sawdust and like any other compost, human waste can completely break down in a short time. With the right setup most of the breakdown would occur outside your living space. And pee, when handled separately is easily dispersed into nearby trees or flower beds. Some would recommend ‘watering it down’ but that probably depends more on the ‘type’ of pee it is. I will spare you the details on that one. My favourite line on this is, “a million dogs can’t be wrong”. So while disconnecting completely from the water ‘grid’ has its challenges it is definitely not impossible.
There are other ‘grids’ from which we could disconnect since the tech is already in place.
The most common disconnect is from electricity. Solar power is not only easily available but once the upfront costs are taken care of it is much cheaper than the long term on-grid costs. I won’t address this since the info is out there and easily obtained. Ditto for the telecommunications grid.
The 3rd grid, the natural gas grid, deals mainly with heat, cooking and hot water. That’s discussion is worth an independent look.
Next blog: Alternate means of getting heat and hot water.
When it comes to tiny house placement buyers are on their own. Without legal jurisdiction in most areas it's up to TH owners to meet their needs. Therefore a builder might assume electrical access, water access, gas hook-ups, etc... but this is a steep assumption given that tiny houses don't yet have a place in cities and towns. Therefore, no access to sewer lines, etc...
The fact is, before tiny houses are accepted by large numbers of people there are critical issues to resolve and two clear options in building.
First option is to build your TH with all service hookups. All the while fighting for change at the administrative level. This could take a few years especially with regards to building code changes which are dealt with at the provincial level. So your best bet is a rural area where no one notices or cares too much.
Second option is to build without services in mind. The purpose of the GrowCalgary Microhome Competition was largely about offering tiny houses as an affordable, sustainable and simple alternative to the existing. Offering a sustainable type of housing means also promoting a sustainable way of living. At the competition I addressed the 3 main issues of off-grid water, heat and power.
Here’s a rundown of those issues.
First, water. From drinking to cooking to washing dishes to personal hygiene to toilets we all know the importance of H2O. If we are to live simply and off the “water grid” we need to use sparingly it’s that simple. My solution included bringing in 4 jugs of water every week. I estimate that one person could get by with about 70 litres per week (10 L/day). Here’s the breakdown; 2 L per day for drinking, 1 L for cooking, 2 L for washing dishes, 4 L for personal hygiene, 1 L for miscellaneous uses and NO water for your composting toilet.
While the breakdown will not be exact for everyone the total should be ample for most of us. The biggest water usage comes from personal hygiene and toilets. We know over 20 L are easily used up in a shower so rather than including that in the GeoStudios TH I simply made a space to sit with a 4 L water pan and a sponge. Fact is personal hygiene needn't be complicated, nor water intensive. I will elaborate on the composting toilet in part 2.
If you are contemplating living in a tiny house it will be worth your time experimenting with these numbers. Remember the last time you went camping without a campsite water hookup. How much water did you use? Was that holding tank empty when you returned?
Do give your water use some thought. It will become very critical in the near future. And don't let the fear stop you from making a huge difference to the planet.
Feel free to leave your comments.
In the previous blog I stated my first reason that the GeoStudio won the People’s Choice Award was because of the feeling of spaciousness. The shape of this structure allows enough space to have several friends over, to do yoga and if one is inclined to jump on a mini-trampoline.
The second reason it was People’s Choice is I believe, simply because it was heated. It was a cool damp day and on those days few things feel better than to come inside a space that is not only occupied but offers a relief from the dampness. The atmosphere of warmth, music from a laptop and enough comfort to keep a half dozen people in conversation made the dome a “totally habitable space that I could invite my friends right now” experience.
Third reason, “this is cute!”. These were probably the most common words spoken as people entered. (Guys were more likely to say “cool”.) Personal admission here, it helps to have someone with an artistic flare help with the decor. The dome had a lot of finishing touches for which I alone cannot take credit. Also, her recommended colours created an eye catching exterior that couldn’t go unnoticed. And my friend Dan, a pretty technical kind of guy himself, insisted “it needs to be purrdy”. I listened.
Fourth, unique appearance. While most geodesic domes occupy the greenhouse realm fewer become houses and fewer yet become tiny houses. This is totally a one-of-a-kind.
Next blog: Critical Tiny Living Issues that need to be addressed.
The GrowCalgary Tiny House competition has come and gone. GeoStudios is proud to announce the ‘tiny dome house’ got People’s Choice Award. It was an honour to be chosen by the people!
To my competitors; excellent work in stepping forward and pushing the envelope. We need more pioneers in this area. More innovators. More people willing to raise awareness about the importance of affordable and sustainable housing.
While full marks go to the Hempshire team for putting out a really cool and progressive tiny house featuring cutting edge technologies such as hemp insulation and hemp exterior, pv power, rubber roof shingles, passive solar design and thermal mass not to mention excellent craftsmanship and Van Gogh inspired artwork - it missed out on a few key features that prevented a clean sweep in the competition on Sept 15th.
Turns out, people felt the GeoStudio hit it out of the park so to speak. Here’s the reasons I think that happened.
First off, spaciousness. People regularly said the dome looks bigger on the inside than it does on the outside. There were times when 10 people stood or sat inside without discomfort. Fact is, on shape alone any round structure has ‘the stuff’ around the perimeter walls while the open centre allows for more free-standing space. And if some of the stuff is fold down seats or benches then yeah it feels like there’s plenty of room. Throw in an high arched ceiling and that feeling of claustrophobia is eliminated. It suddenly becomes a space that people could envision living in.
Next blog: two more reasons why the GeoStudio earned high marks.
Gilles Leclair is the founder of GeoStudios. Somewhat eccentric, fairly environmentalist, politically aware, he believes the world should have more off-grid communities... many more.