Living off Grid – Home Design Features Part 1

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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Our off grid home has many design features you don’t normally find in most houses. Many people come here to see what some of these features look like or how they operate. Since I seem to struggle with my memory more and more I thought it would be nice to list them out along with a little explanation of them. Most of them are explained in detail on prior Blogs.

  • Roof overhangs – our eave length is calculated to keep the sun out of the windows in the summer which helps with natural cooling, and let the sun in during the colder winter months which helps with passive heating. Anyone can do the calculation. It is most important for the south side of the house.

ICF’S – the exterior walls are made out of Styrofoam concrete forms filled with concrete. The concrete is 8″ thick. I personally recommend that if you go this route you need to use the icf’s that have more insulation on the outside form than on the inside, especially in colder climates.

Earthquake proof – because we chose to have a concrete slab and concrete walls it was relatively inexpensive to add enough rebar to make it possible to withstand
a pretty good size earthquake. We’ve already had a 5+ on the Richter scale.

Fireproof – our exterior walls are layered with Hardiplank siding, then 2″ of 3 hour fire treated icf, then 8″ concrete and then 2″ more 3 hour treated icf. Our roof is metal. Our soffits are also metal with tiny slots for venting. We also put metal ceilings on the exposed wood framing in the carport and front porch roofs. This makes our house virtually immune to forest fires. We got tested the very first year we moved in. We had zero repercussions.

Solar tubes – these allow natural light where you wouldn’t normally have any. They greatly reduce the need for electrical lighting.

Water cisterns – we have three of them. They capture water off the roof of the house and barn and store it. We use the stored water for our garden (low pressure gravity flow) and to water the horses. We have been able to do both of those tasks for 11 months of the year without using our solar power to run the well pump for either of those tasks.

We have a three sided attached wood shed and a carport with two open sides and a garage with a large door. We put regular wall footings in the ground along the open sides of those two structures and at the garage door opening. In the future, if we want to, we can install a framed insulated wall in those openings and double the size of our house.

Masonry heater – our custom masonry heater only burns about five cords of wood each year to heat our home and we live at an elevation of 4200′. The winter temperatures get down below zero. It is extremely efficient at over 95%.
Wood burning kitchen stove – we also have a custom built masonry kitchen stove with a 42″ cook top that burns wood. We also use it to heat the house in the spring and fall when it is only mildly cold. When the stove isn’t already going we just use the regular propane stove to cook with and use the 42″ cast iron top as counter space.

Solar power – we  produce all of our own electricity with a photovoltaic solar power system with batteries and inverter. We also have a backup generator that runs about 100 hours per year when it clouds up for a period of time.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their websites  and

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