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Cutting the cord: Gizmag's Top 10 off-grid homes

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December 19, 2013

Gizmag's Top 10 off-grid homes

Gizmag's Top 10 off-grid homes

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We're big fans of off-grid homes here at Gizmag – and for good reason: an off-grid home frees the owner from the vagaries of unscrupulous energy giants, can potentially help reduce impact on the environment, and offers a greater self-sufficiency. Join us as we shine a light on 10 of our favorites.

Big, small, expensive, and affordable; the only common trait that the following homes share is their ability to operate without grid-based electricity, water, and gas. So whether you're looking to cut your carbon footprint, or the thought of living more independently appeals, you should hopefully find something to like below.

Soleta zeroEnergy homes

The range starts at a small unit measuring 48 sq m (516 sq ft), and moves all the way up t...

The Soleta zeroEnergy home range, by Romanian non-profit green-tech firm Justin Capra Foundation, comprises a very flexible and affordable series of off-grid homes which offer plenty in the way of sustainable tech – not to mention some home comforts too.

The range starts at a small unit measuring 48 sq m (516 sq ft), and moves all the way up to a family-friendly model of 100 sq m (1070 sq ft), with the cost of each reflecting its size and features. Each of the houses can be customized to suit need and budget, and options include a geothermal water heating system, wind power, solar power, and water collection.

Exbury Egg

Admittedly, not everyone would wish to live in an egg-shaped floating home (Photo: Nigel R...

Admittedly, not everyone would wish to live in an egg-shaped floating home, but don't write off the Exbury Egg just yet. It was created by artist Stephen Turner with the help of Perring Architecture and Design, along with SPUD design studio, to support the artist as he carries out observations on the environment in England, and produces his art.

The buoyant waterproof structure sports a desk, hammock and kitchen, plus paraffin stove and sink. Though there's no running water, Turner makes use of a nearby hosepipe back on land, plus solar power for all electricity needs. Needless to say, we think the idea is egg-cellent (sorry).

Minim House

The Minim House (Photo: Paul Burk Photography)

The Minim House by Foundry Architects and Brian Levy is a particularly nice example of the burgeoning tiny house movement, and is able to operate off-grid or fully plugged-in, depending on your preference.

The snug 19.5 sq m (210 sq ft) space sports an open-plan interior with multi-use surfaces, refrigerator, and ample storage space. Off-grid technology such as an optional composting toilet and 960 W roof solar array with integrated battery storage system feature in the home. To further cut the need for grid-based services, LED lighting, rainwater collection and filtration are also optional additions.

Oh, did we mention it also has an integrated LED projector cinema screen?

House Arc

Optional extras for the House Arc include photovoltaic panels

The House Arc, by Bellomo Architects, was created with ease of construction firmly in mind, and the designers harnessed IKEA as a source of inspiration in aiming to make affordable, easily-assembled housing that's attractive too.

Don't expect to be able to swing a cat, as the diminutive dwelling measures just 14 sq m (150 sq ft), and is perhaps therefore better suited as a shelter, backyard retreat or office. Raised slightly on "feet," the House Arc facilitates air flow underneath to aid cooling, or for those in colder climes, additional insulation can be added. Optional extras for the House Arc include photovoltaic panels.

JF-Kit House

The JF-Kit House is a modular “parasitic” structure that's affixed onto existing walls and...

Easily the least practical of our pick of 10 off-grid homes, the JF-Kit House, by Spanish-based Elii Architecture, nonetheless demands our attention. Beneath the amusing premise of a Jane Fonda-inspired home, it offers much food for thought concerning a future without fossil fuel resources.

The JF-Kit House is a modular “parasitic” structure that's affixed onto existing walls and rooftops, leeching any available heat off the host structure. Additionally, the house boasts “domestic fitness furniture,” including a hand-crank operated kitchen, an email station and a dance floor which produces energy when danced upon.

Sounds crazy? Perhaps, but its ideas aren't too far off the mark ...

Freedomky House

Other options include a solar thermal system for hot water and a waste-treatment unit (but...

Who says off-grid living can't be stylish? Well, probably very few people. But if someone does spout such nonsense in your presence, be sure to point them in the direction of the prefabricated Freedomky House.

The work of Czech architect Marek Štěpán and his studio Atelier Štěpán, Freedomky House comes in two different versions, measuring 23 sq m (248 sq ft) and 38 sq m (409 sq ft), respectively. According to the designers, both homes can be installed in four hours, and can also be outfitted with a photovoltaics system and back-up diesel generator for electricity, plus a solar thermal system for hot water and a waste-treatment unit.

The Ekinoid project

Though still in development, the spherical Ekinoids are likely to be made from steel or gl...

Another off-grid home which breaks the mold, the Ekinoid project envisions homing Earth's rapidly growing population amid pop-up off-grid towns in some of the planet's least hospitable (and under-populated) regions, such as the Australian outback and Siberia.

Though still in development, the spherical Ekinoids are likely to be made from steel or glued laminated timber, and will contain wind and solar power for energy needs, rainwater harvesting and gray water treatment, plus sewage treatment and composting.

Pump House

Plywood, corrugated sheeting, and rough-sawn timber were used to help maintain a modest bu...

The Pump House, by Australian firm Branch Studio Architects (BSA), is a rustic weekend retreat built from inexpensive non-prefabricated parts like plywood, corrugated sheeting, and rough-sawn timber to help maintain a modest budget.

Operating completely off-grid, the second home is well-stocked for a weekend away and contains bed, dining table and chairs, plus ample storage space. Solar power, rainwater tanks, and a wood-burning stove serve the occupant's energy and fuel needs, and a large horizontal window runs along the western facade.

Mamelodi Pod

Johannesburg design studio, Architecture For A Change has completed its off-grid prefab Ma...

Off-grid homes can offer a lifeline to those living in areas where grid-based amenities are either nonexistent or simply too expensive for vast numbers of the poorer population. With this in mind, Johannesburg design studio Architecture For A Change has completed its off-grid prefab Mamelodi Pod prototype.

The small unit basically consists of a simple space with two bunk beds (sleeping four), and a window. It also has a simple exterior toilet and a solar cooker outside, while a roof-based solar panel powers the interior lighting, two external LED strip lights, and a 12-volt charger.

The Stamp House

All the indestructibility in the world is somewhat wasted if you've got no power or water,...

For those who prefer their off-grid homes to be apocalypse-proof, The Stamp House by Charles Wright Architects should fit the bill. Located in Far North Queensland, Australia, the building is rated as a cyclone shelter and can withstand a Category 5 cyclone.

All the indestructibility in the world is somewhat wasted if you've got no power or water, so the Stamp House was also imparted with a bevvy of sustainable technology to keep its occupants going should the worst happen. Power is provided by a large roof-bound solar array and backed up by a solar-powered generator, while an impressive water harvesting system can harvest up to 250,000 liters (66,043 US gal) of water for home use and irrigation.

What do you think?

That rounds out our Top 10 pick of off-grid homes. We'd love to hear your own favorite lesser-known off-grid homes or – better yet – any off-grid homes of your own.

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam is a tech and music writer based in North Wales. When not working, you’ll usually find Adam tinkering with old Macintosh computers, reading history books, or exploring the countryside with his dog Finley.   All articles by Adam Williams
11 Comments

I can think of a lot nicer places to live off grid than these examples. Why do we promote these ugly, tiny 'homes' when there are many, maybe less exciting real world examples. I guess not in Wales.... ;-)

Martin Hone
19th December, 2013 @ 04:42 pm PST

While appreciate the design bonafides of the architects who build these homes, and can certainly see interesting themes raised by many of them, this niche is becoming a boutique second home arena for the wealthy rather than the value proposition it COULD be for the masses.

If we are to get serious about off-grid/small home concept, then it needs to be at a price point that is considerably less than the $200 per sq foot for which I can build/purchase a home of almost ANY size in ANY location.

As a current 3,000 sqft, suburban, middle class family man looking for the empty nest home that will be far more desirable in a few years (when the kids have flown away), I see many interesting concepts, but far, far fewer realistic choices with any type of reasonable value. I certainly don't want to trade a monthly utility bill for an upfront additional cost to build, especially when it is totally unnecessary.

I guess I will keep on looking, trying to soak up ideas I see as good value with longer term livability for a vibrant, but aging, couple. Or, am I supposed to be wealthy enough to keep the 3,000 sqft anchor and use my "nest egg" on a second nest?

ChicagoBlue
19th December, 2013 @ 08:12 pm PST

Keep hoping - ChicagoBlue - At present most of these are single-version creations from architects or ivory tower designers with little thought for being practical or cost-effective at present. If an idea takes off, production costs may drop, but get a CAD computer program and work out your own, cheaper model that 'might' work.

The Skud
19th December, 2013 @ 10:30 pm PST

Adam Williams should be thanked for highlighting these unique homes.

Some look crazy but the ideas are worth following.

Living in houses which are off-grid have many advantages.

We have to make use of many natural resources like solar-powered and wind powered, but the cost has to be affordable.

A. S. Bhasker Raj

Bangalore

india

Bhasker Raj
20th December, 2013 @ 03:03 am PST

Affordable, sustainable, practical and liveable: In a real world, most of these designs would get stale for the occupants. Would people with money want to go off-grid for a considerable time? These designs are picture-perfect photo ops. Why on earth would someone want to live off-grid in the city?

Costly, extravagant, impractical and short-term, describes most of these ideas that seem to come from the minds of ambitious architects.

I have thought about building a spherical cabin as a guest-room on my land, and i could appropriate an idea here or there, but none of these concepts encapsulates a realistic living experience.

The concrete monstrosity shown last takes the cake for outrageous over-indulgence.

owlbeyou
20th December, 2013 @ 07:16 am PST

I have lived off grid for over 10 years in northern Saskatchewan. Chicago Blue: it doesn't have to be expensive. We built an 800sq foot log house for under $6000. A big chunk of that cost was for a metal roof (because it lasts for 50 years and I know it won't be me who changes it)

To build an off grid home inexpensively requires the use of local materials. My wife and I had the benefit of a black spruce forest handy. Pine or Cedar might have more popular appeal but to import them costs. If you are not blessed with a handy forest to build with, there are always materials at hand. People on the prairie are building with straw bales, others are using discarded auto tires packed with sand. In Sweden they build an entire hotel every winter out of ice blocks.

A few things to keep in mind: Cardboard has excellent insulating qualities, a house dug into the earth will be warmer than one above ground. Solar panels are cheap! I purchased new panels this spring to upgrade my system and they are available at about one dollar per watt. It wasn't that long ago that we were being told that when solar power panels came down to three dollars per watt that they would be competitive with fossil fuels. It takes work. Living off grid is constant learning and doing and being and experiencing, and redesigning, and trying new ways.

I've been paying attention to what's out there and appreciate gizmag's articles on off grid living. There are a wealth of ideas. I only wish there were more about how to do it at minus 40 degrees when water systems are fragile.

Harold Johnson
20th December, 2013 @ 08:36 am PST

Since 99.9% want a grid tie, land where none exists or it is too expensive will be cheap. And it will be secluded from widespread social turmoil. This is comforting to the survivalist.

We can be "connected" for communications/internet and independent without paying a fortune or giving up conveniences. None of the houses shown above meet these needs. But they exist. The technology is here. Think tank Rocky Mountain Institute can advise, as can others.

Don Duncan
20th December, 2013 @ 09:27 am PST

The best proof of a concept is that the designer lives on the house they have designed.

Looks like msny off these concept houses are like the chairs in a expensive restaurant, pleasing for the eye but very uncomfortable to sit for longer periods?

I have lived in my current, about 10 square meter, off grid home on wheels for over 3 years now.

It is not finished yet but practical and unconventional. It suits my needs and takes me to places as it is a Mercedes Benz Sprinter van.

I wish to build a proper off grid home some day once I get some savings together and have a better idea where I am going to settle down.

Gizmag could do a story on people living off grid on their mobile homes. ( I would not raise my hand as my van is not ready to show off yet. )

Kääriäinen Heikki Haykey
20th December, 2013 @ 10:37 am PST

I think those are really nice. I would not mind living in most of them.

The JF-Kit house is more of a gym than a house but perhaps it could recharge batteries and/or power a house? (in addition to other ways to get power).

BigWarpGuy
20th December, 2013 @ 12:59 pm PST

So, off grid bedrooms? This is what you call the "Top ten" off grid homes? More like the bottom ten. Why not show REAL, full size, off grid homes?

maak
20th December, 2013 @ 11:44 pm PST

Happy to say my wife and I are very comfortable living in our 81 sq meter "Humpy" in the middle of the Daintree Rainforest, right beside the "Great Barrier Reef " With a full sized electric fridge, and freezer, a 40 inch TV with surround sound, pressurised hot and cold water in sink and shower and Gas cooking. We run a Diesel Generator 8-10 hrs a day, powering my 3 phase mechanical work shop { my job keeping tourists cars mobile} our Humpy and charging our 2000 amp hr deep cycle batteries that through an inverter power our home silently all night. Because we make our own Bio Diesel at 28.5 cents per litre and the little Lister genny uses only 1.7 liters per hour, it works out to about $4.50 per day for work shop and house. Humpy's got a wooden floor and tarp roof that has to be replaced every 5 years at a cost of $305 and a carton of beer for the fellas at Pub to install it for us. Because we live in a high risk cyclone area, and the roof may blow away, we keep a spare roof in the shed, no arguing with some mongrel insurance company. Thats being self sufficient!!!!!!!

Bob

Bob Perry
23rd December, 2013 @ 02:21 am PST
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