Living off Grid – Home Design Features Part 2

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. 

This is the second installment of features. Part 1 was published last week. See Part 1

Insulated cold frames – on the south side of the house we put in raised bed insulated cold frames. We have grown fresh cold weather type vegetables as cold as 18F with nothing to heat them but the sun. They are attached to the side of the house which never freezes.

Plug in switches – we have more wall switches than most homes. The extra switches turn our phantom power off when an appliance isn’t being used. Phantom power consists of things like the stereo and microwave clocks or anything else that shows lit up on a screen even though the appliance is turned off.

HRV – we have a whole house fan for fresh air that is configured to warm up the incoming cold air with the outgoing heated air. The result is semi heated fresh air which becomes pretty important in the winter months when we have to keep our house warm.

Tankless hot water heater – our hot water heater has a little generator in the supply line that lights the propane pilot light when the water is turned on.

Outdoor sink – we have a commercial food prep sink outside we can use during the months that aren’t freezing. It is great for cleaning the garden veggies, and cleaning fish and the chickens at butcher time. This sink helps keep all the mess outside. In the winter month we just drain the lines.

Outside generator/ pump switch. We added another switch and plug-in for pumping water from the carport. If I don’t want to use my solar power to run the 220V deep well pump I can hook my little portable generator to an outside plug in and flip the bypass switch and pump water from the carport. This comes in handy during the cloudy months. This won’t be such a big deal when we get our new pump which only uses 1/3 of the amperage to run as our existing pump but I will still have the option.

Cell phone system – there is no cell coverage here but we have managed to acquire a signal via a system of cell phone amplifiers and antennas.

Insulated curtains – Laurie made all new curtains for the house that are insulated to an R value of 5. That doesn’t seem like much until you close them during the cold months. You can feel the difference immediately. I believe they save us about two cords of wood each year.

Sun Frost refrigerator – these refers are expensive but well worth the money if you are off grid. They don’t run near as often as a traditional refer. The reason is that they are well insulated and the compressor is located at the top of the refer instead of the bottom like all other conventional refers. Compressors put out heat. When they are located at the bottom of the appliance they warm it up which causes it to run in order to cool it back down. This is a ridiculously simple concept.

Energy Star appliances – the Energy Star label is almost worthless. Look at the electrical use in terms of watts or amperage to compare appliances when choosing which ones to buy. Even then it is tricky. Our dishwasher, vacuum, and chest freezer are the biggest electrical hogs.

Garage Temperature – we even have an unintended design feature in the garage. One side is underground 6′ and the other side is a heated wall from the house. The result is that it never freezes and is the perfect temperature for food storage I the winter. It’s just like a root cellar!

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

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