Living off the grid is becoming increasingly popular for a variety of reasons - people seeking to reduce their carbon footprint, people who are simply looking for independence from modern society, and those who want to be prepared in case the grid ever does go down.
Living off the grid can not only reduce your expenditures – life is significantly cheaper without paying for utility bills – but can also transform your way of life by forcing you and your family to become more self-reliant.
There are a huge number of considerations that go into the decision to move off the grid, but one of the most important is the structure you’ll be moving into – your off-grid home.
Homes disconnected from the grid must be more robust to stand up to severe weather than traditional homes as well as more efficient in using everything from energy to heat to water. For many people considering moving off the grid, constructing a viable home is one of the most daunting tasks.
Thankfully, there are many examples of off-grid house plans and off-grid cabin plans that you can use to envision and construct your own off-grid home.
These plans range from pre-fabricated homes to homes that you can build yourself or hire a contractor to construct for you and allow plenty of customization based on your needs.
Check out below the most important features to consider when planning and building an off-grid home as well as examples of off-grid house plans that might work well for you.
Off Grid House Plan Resources
- Hardcover Book
- Editors of Cool Springs Press (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- Gary Collins (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 165 Pages - 01/15/2017 (Publication Date) - Second Nature Publishing (Publisher)
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Press, Barton (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
Key Features of Off-Grid Homes
Homes off the grid must be extraordinarily conservative with energy and water, and so many of the unique designs found in off-grid homes compared to traditional homes relate to heating and cooling, water collection, and power efficiency. Here are a few of the key features to consider:
Homes built off the grid should have incredibly thick (and/or efficient) insulation, above and beyond what nearly any traditional home is constructed with. This helps conserve heat from the sun in winter – which your eaves help your home collect – during the cold nights as well as prevents your house from gaining heat too quickly in the summer.
Eaves – Collect Winter Sun, Block Summer Sun
An easy yet effective way to help heat your house in the winter and keep it cool in the summer is to overhang your roof such that the low-angle winter sun penetrates your windows, while the high-angle summer sun does not. This will reduce your overall energy consumption on heating and cooling and applies to the south side of the house for those living in the Northern Hemisphere.
Solar Lighting for Free Lighting
Having clear tubes that extend from your roof into the ceiling of your home allows you to harness the energy of the sun directly as light within your home during the daytime.
Although these solar tubes won’t be much help at night, they can dramatically reduce the need for electric lighting during the daytime. See an example here.
Cisterns to Collect Water
Your home needs to be efficient at helping you collect water from your roof any time it rains.
Most off-grid home plans include multiple cisterns placed at different locations around the house, while the roof itself is shaped to maximally direct water into these cisterns and let very little go to waste.
Solar Panels – South Facing Roof to Collect More
Many off-grid properties feature panels of solar cells off the home. Adding solar panels to your roof is the first step in collecting energy.
Purposefully angling a large portion of the roof towards the south can help you collect the maximum amount of sunlight throughout the year.
Tankless Hot Water Heater (or Solar Water Heater as an alternative)
In contrast to traditional hot water heaters, which are heating a tank full of hot water all the time, tankless heaters only turn on the heat when the water is running.
The energy savings can be huge while still allowing you to take hot showers. If you want to go ultra green, then consider adding a solar water heater to heat your water during the day for free!
Your wood stove will likely be the centerpiece of your home, since wood is one of the most efficient ways to heat your home through the cold winter months.
The stove should be heavily insulated, typically made from stone, in order to provide the most efficiency when burning limited wood supplies.
Heat Recovery Ventilator (MVHR)
You can also save some more energy on heating by transferring the heat from your outgoing hot air into your incoming cold air during the winter months.
A heat recovery ventilator facilitates this by capturing residual heat before it leaves your home.
Off-grid House Plans To Get You Started
For those with a more modest budget, or just looking to get started, check out the 5 off-grid house plans to get the ball rolling. Of course, there are bigger and more expensive options.
Use this list to see key features in action and help envision your own dream off-grid home!
ARK Shelter (pre-fabricated)
Many homesteaders are on a budget, yet don’t have the expertise or time to build a home of their own. Incredibly, the ARK Shelter starts around $50,000 – including transportation to your homestead and installation – so it is a viable option for nearly anyone looking to set up a new lifestyle off the grid.
While ARK offers multiple configurations in a variety of sizes, it is worth noting that these shelters are extremely cozy for two people and the standard cabin is about the size of a shipping container. The design features a central living room, which has room for just a small table and the wood-burning stove for heating, plus a small bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom.
A major advantage to this design, however, is the large panel windows that allow you to feel connected to the land outside your homestead and allow plenty of sunlight in for added heat.
The cabin comes with pre-installed solar panels on the roof, plus it can use wind power for added energy production. The roof is also optimized for collecting rainwater into cisterns, although how well this will satisfy the water needs of the house will depend on your location.
ARK also offers multiple options for sanitation, ranging from installing a septic system to chemically treating waste outside of the shelter.
The Minim House was designed in the vein of the tiny home movement and can be used either on or off the grid. The home is small, at only 264 square feet, but provides enough space for two people with few possessions to live comfortably.
The interior design has no walls, such that the space feels similar to a studio apartment, except that you may need to move things around every night since the bed pulls out of the wall into the living room space. However, the house doesn’t compromise much in the kitchen, which features a full 10 feet of space – generous compared to the rest of the house.
The roof houses a series of solar panels totaling 960 watts for collecting energy, as well as a series of batteries that allow the house to be run off-grid. Most homesteaders living off the grid full-time will likely want to supplement this with additional panels and generators.
Note that the house does not plan for water collection into cisterns, although there is a 40-gallon tank hidden out of sight underneath the couch along with a water filtration system. Heating is aided by the large glass windows and doors throughout the house, although there is no central wood stove as on burlier off-grid homes.
Not feeling confident in building your own off-grid home from a set of plans, but also not willing to settle for a prefabricated home that doesn’t meet all of your design desires? Consider hiring an architectural or building firm such as Off Grid Shelters that specializes in building off-grid homes.
This firm in particular offers a free book of plans to help inspire your design and will work with you to iron out the architecture of your dream home with particular focus on the details that make it resilient to life off the grid.
This small A-frame was inspired by renowned tiny home and treehouse builder Derek Diedrickson and, while it is perhaps too uncomfortably cozy for many people, costs less than $1,000 to construct when using as many recycle materials as possible and can be constructed from start to finish in just a few weeks.
The cabin is just 80 square feet and includes space only for a bed and a few amenities rather than a full living space complete with kitchen and bathroom. However, this same smallness makes it perfect for trying out off-grid life on your existing property in the form of a guest house out back.
The roof of the cabin is covered in solar panels to provide a small amount of energy, although the limited space of the roof also limits the wattage that can be supplied from panels mounted directly on the home. Heat is added by the large, clear glass or plastic windows that also flip up easily to provide cooling during the summer.
However, considering the other limitations in this small structure, the lack of a space for a wood-burning stove and limited energy to power an electric heater means that you likely won’t want to occupy this cabin deep into the winter.
Penobscot Cabin (plans)
The cabin is 12’ x 20’ in size, although three of the four sides can be added onto if you decide to expand on the original plans. Although the cabin does not include much in the way of solar panels or cisterns in the designs, there are obvious places where these can be added on to increase the efficiency and usability of the home.
Compared to other off-grid home plans, you won’t find large glass windows surrounding this house – in part to reduce the cost and keep the design simple, and in part of allow for expansion.
However, the 2” x 6” wooden boards used in the construction add to the insulation of the structure, while the front porch gives you a place to escape outside in the summer heat.
Depending on your skill as an architect and builder, it is also relatively straightforward to modify the plans to increase the size of the windows and to add a wood-burning stove in the middle of the lower floor.
Off Grid Houses to Make You Drool!
If you have a larger budget, or simply wish to dream a little bit – check out these homes that make off the grid living look luxurious!
Off the Grid in Litchfield County by Trillium Architects
This two-story, 1,000 square-foot home in Maui was to produce more energy than it consumes. The home converts to 3 bedrooms at night with the functionality of an office, dinning space, and media room during the day. With movable walls, the open space concept in this house to very desirable.
Sarah Off the Grid on HGTV Canada
SaLo House in Panama
For those with a more simplistic vision, look no further than Patrick Dillon’s home in Panama. Constructed using salvaged materials brought to the cite by boat and horseback, Patrick certainly takes the term up-cycle to a whole new level!
- Alexander, Lamar (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 356 Pages - 12/16/2011 (Publication Date) - lulu.com (Publisher)
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