Power tips for off-grid living

green building, hassan fathy, nader khalili, earth architecture, green building, eco-building, sustainable building, eco design, akil sami house, egypt, earth architecture, sustainable architecture

Hassan Fathy’s off-grid living and architecture inspired generations of architects in the Middle East and beyond.

There is something romantic about living off the grid and off our own devices. Every summer I go to Northern Canada with my kids and experiment with off-grid living ideas and applications. While we own 200 acres and the last home on the grid for miles and miles, it is tempting to cut off from the polluting power industry and power our own needs from the sun and Mother Earth. 

Maybe you have been reading the books about Hassan Fathy (and his vision for vernacular architecture in the Middle East – the opposite of what we see in Abu Dhabi and Dubai today)or are following people who want independence from the rat race, like this English woman who built an off-grid home in Turkey for less than $4000. 

kharga market  hassan fathy.

Some of my off-grid friends use solar panels. Some have been too ambitious and too inexperienced and ended up wasting $20,000 on solar energy systems when they didn’t drain the batteries correctly in the winter when they weren’t using them. If you are planning on generating clean energy and then selling it back to the grid because you are still on it and want to make the system better, make sure you do a lot of research first. Look for companies like this Texas-based First Choice Power. Not all electric companies are transparent and not all will agree to buy back your power. This is important to know if storing it is a limitation for you. 

Nashtifan or nashtifun windmills in Iran, world's oldest windmills

Ancient windmills in Nashtifan, Iran.

Using Off-grid Wind Power

If you live in area that is close to a large lake, sea or open space, home wind turbines might be an option for you. I have seen small installations on rooftops in cities like Tel Aviv, and even in dense urban areas there is still energy worth collecting. Maybe it’s enough to power a lightbulb, but like turning off the tap when you are not brushing your teeth, every drop counts. 

wind tree turbine

Wind turbines can be pretty and when collected in little bits the wind energy can be meaningful.

Using Off-Grid Solar Energy

As much as I’ve learned up until now, home solar panels require quite a bit of electrical know how. So try to find a local handyman or woman who can help you if you can’t install or operate the system yourself. Running home solar panels (systems running as low as a few hundred dollars to several thousand) does require a constant state of awareness especially if you have a small system and can expect cloudy or rainy days in your future. A friend of mine was stumped as to why her battery kept draining. By the end of the day she didn’t have enough power to light lights in her living room. By chance we stumbled on a light left on in one of her cottages! That was after she did a thorough electrical overview with her specialist friend. 

Peter steele, grampa gnome

Grampa Gnome taught people about the “good energy” that comes from going solar. In the beginning he taped down the light switches before he switched over to solar.

But as much as work as it might be and the hassles that come with it, even when you make mistakes, you learn something from it. A friend of mine once said that energy from the sun and energy we collect from nature is the best vibrational energy out there we can collect. Why not? It’s made just for us. To think about us damming rivers, burning coal, burning oil and even natural gas — all limited resources, it just doesn’t make sense. A small leap and investment can take you to a new way of life and will certainly make your neighbors very curious. 

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