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.
Naively, I thought this meeting would be an opportunity to share ideas on how tiny houses could be built and how new technologies could make this a practical and viable housing option. Instead, this meeting was about what we CAN'T do.
First, in Calgary tiny houses in a backyard will be under the same provisions as ‘secondary suites’ which are under the regular rules of the Alberta Building Code part 9. Which also apply to regular housing. Which then means our tiny houses must follow the same rules as that of a 5000 sq ft 'McMansion'.
This is unrealistic and unworkable in so many cases. From ceiling height to door size to window egress - the rules completely alter the whole reason for building tiny - to make life more affordable. What we need is a separate category in the ABC for tiny houses just as there are separate guidelines for RV’s and for mobiles and for condominiums.
So after listening to a litany of restrictions and conditions with regards to windows, egress, engineering, etc, I finally chimed in, "You know this will cut the tiny house movement at the knees right? The cost of a tiny house will go from $10-15 thousand to over $40,000 dollars. For those who are driving this engine, people who want to live sustainably, simply and affordably such as millennials and seniors, they are prevented from buying a tiny house."
Fact is folks, real change does not come from those who follow the rules. Innovation comes about by people who are not afraid to ruffle a few feathers and go against the grain. The tiny house movement will not go away just because some want them to be more like houses. But the movement will grow because people want affordability, do not want to be locked into a lifetime of debt, want to live simply and want a more sustainable solution to housing ourselves. There is a purpose and a reason for why this is happening today.
This summer something very special is going on at the Grow Calgary site. They are hosting a Micro-home building competition. Throughout the summer 15-20 groups will be building their tiny houses and micro-houses at the Grow Calgary site. Check out the details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/165800534149911/
The organizers see how micro-homes and tiny houses could be solutions to homelessness and an array of other social issues. This competition will shed light of what is up and coming and how people should start to take a serious look at this option to house ourselves. GeoStudios is on the same page with a view towards creating entire communities of tiny & micro homes.
But the homeless will not be the driver behind this movement. There is a growing population of interested future (tiny house and micro-home) residents out there who want the benefits of off-grid, lower cost housing. GeoStudios is working towards our own solution for off grid living/camping with it’s 100 sq ft model “GS3” at Good Spirit Acres. After placement at their riverside campsite, the GS3 model will have the comforts of an RV without the expense. This unit will be rentable by the day or week. Schedule of prices and availability will be created in April Stay tuned to this FB page for more developments or go to www.geostudios.ca
It’s gonna be an interesting summer!
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.