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.
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.
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.
OFFER: The use of one GeoStudios dome for one night in a campsite in an off grid area with a natural spring and 50 steps to a river. The campsite is close to a newly built outhouse, there is a fire pit and a propane barbecue available. Plenty of firewood. It's a little rustic. Stay here for $35/night. OR offer your help and you stay for no charge.
REQUEST: We're building an ecovillage in a campground! We seek people who want to help us create a year round off grid getaway. We're looking for people wanting to spend time here and help us create that by sharing their talents. As long as you can share your skills, you can stay at no charge. We’re looking for people who are not only interested in alternate off-grid living but people who are willing to do something to make it a reality.
There is a long list of things to do. Some projects will be broken down into simpler tasks so you can enjoy some free time at the campsite. There may be other people around helping out - extra hands make lighter work! Here is only a beginning list of what we want to make; rock garden, solar shower, outdoor quiet space, compost areas, tree care, deck building for riverfront viewing, creating a beautiful garden space, finding a means of keeping the deer from eating the vegetables, a food forest, a “water ram” to irrigate those gardens, organizing future events and more.
As these sustainable permaculture projects get completed you will get to know the others involved and hopefully want to spend still more time there. There will be "work records" kept and those acquiring “seniority” will get first dibs on time blocks. That’s why it’s wise to get involved now - and really, little to lose if you decide to not to continue. BTW, if you just need quiet time let me know - the rate is presently at $35/night. Presently there is room for two adults and in a pinch, two adults and a child.
By now you may see that the bigger picture is about creating an ecovillage in a campground. And we’re doing it by exchanging people’s efforts for stays in the dome. Lots of work to do!
TO LEARN MORE: I need to know/meet anyone who wants to contribute their special skills to move this to the next level. My philosophy is that we all have something to contribute so if you tell me you don’t have a skill to share I will probably disagree. :)
Call me, we'll have coffee. 403.593.2030.
One life, live it well.
OK so GeoStudios has entered the Microhome competition at the Grow Calgary site. This is both exciting and nerve wracking!
It’s exciting because I get to showcase the GeoStudio ‘DomeHome’ which offers an excellent solution to housing issues today (as does the entire tiny house movement). And nerve wracking because the timeline to build one of these is much more than what I had previously thought, given the added features needed ie, toilet and washing facility, basic cooking appliances, sleeping space for two.
So why embark on such a crazy and risky venture? Answer: The personal belief that change in how we live needs to happen asap. We are on the brink (I'm talking less than 5 years) of ecological stress that will disrupt everyone's lives in one way or another. Sounds negative but it needs to be said and needs to be acted on. I want to be part of the solution.
The competition goes through the summer as tiny house builders will put together their structures. Some teams will build in place at the Grow Calgary site here. The awards weekend will be September 15 & 16. The poster on the website describes the 3 categories of the contest. GeoStudios has entered the 100 sq ft category. The reason for creating such a category is no accident. In Lethbridge and Calgary a 100 sq ft accessory building doesn’t need a building permit. As you can imagine this has huge implications.
In the next few weeks I’ll be putting together something very unique that will be adaptable to people’s backyards without worry of red tape or interventions of any kind.
Anyone interested in participating or just checking out the build or just lending encouragement is welcome to come by my place in Lethbridge. Call/txt ahead of course, 403.593.2030.
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.