Living off the grid: renovating for sustainable living

Written by in Renovating

A series of solar panels

Living off the grid doesn’t mean you have to sell up and move 100km away from the city. Due to a range of factors, including rising utility costs and a growing awareness of sustainable living as an achievable lifestyle, more and more homeowners are making the renovations to create sustainable homes.

What often stops people from living off the grid is just that: living off the grid! It seems an overwhelming prospect to uphaul the way you have been consuming energy your entire life and separate yourself from the rest of society.

But making baby steps in your renovations means that you may not have to create an entirely self-sufficient home from the start. Instead, choose where your passions lie among the three main areas of sustainable living: energy production, water collection and waste disposal.

Living off the grid with a solar panel system

There are significant advantages of solar energy, most of which are the effects it has on the average electric bill. However, as an alternative energy source, there are still some disadvantages of solar energy (namely the cost) that put lower-income earners off the idea.

The initial installation of a solar power system can mean quite a large cost for homeowners. The reason for this is that if you are in favour of really living off the grid this means you don’t want to be connected to the grid, right? You will need battery storage for the energy you collect from the sun. A typical household of four uses on average between 22 and 24 kilowatt hours each day, while most battery storage units hold 2 kilowatt hours for each battery. Because of this, a solar power system can cost up to $20,000.

However, solar power continues to show exponential growth as far as the reduction of costs and energy efficiency are concerned. A solution for those who are worried about the cost is to invest in solar power, which remain consistent in their technology makeup, and remain on the grid until you can afford to invest in battery storage.

Your energy use can be dramatically reduced, however, through other renovation ideas such as the ethos of passive design. This is always best applied when designing new homes, but renovations, including the installation of light wells in your home, double glazed windows, effective window and door seals, insulation, material choice in renovations, adjustable shading and a knowledge of how your home works in your own climate can all lower your energy consumption.

How to save water with water storage

Water tanks are some of the least expensive ways to move you towards living off the grid and address the issue of how you get water. Even though rainwater may be completely fine for drinking, councils may insist that you use some form of filtration for your drinking water (water tanks can be susceptible to bacteria growth if rainfall is inconsistent).

The other aspect of water storage is your wastewater usage.

Drinking water is used throughout your home, including flushing your toilet (older toilets use an average of 13-14 litres of water per flush). This is why compostable toilets are an increasingly popular option for those who want to begin the move off the grid. A septic tank will cost between $7,000 and $10,000 and have low ongoing costs (although they are highly sensitive to various liquids, such as milk, that people pour down the sink). A composting toilet that uses grey water treatment can cost half this for installation and has very little long-term costs associated.

Renovating for waste disposal

The most effective thing you can do when renovating to keep sustainability at mind is to use recycled materials throughout. Marrying this with a principle of passive design in your renovations is fundamental towards producing eco-friendly renovations but has little bearing on your desire for living off the grid.

Reducing your waste comes down to the trendy but true ideal of ‘clean eating’ and ‘clean living’.

A septic tank and composting toilet are fantastic ways to recycle and reduce your water usage, but your use of plastics has the most impact on your waste usage. Within your renovations, accommodate for a change in your lifestyle, including creating space for vegetable gardens and chicken coops if you wish to go down that path, while engaging a landscape designers who promotes the smart usage of water.

An architect with a background in sustainable designs can work towards producing the sorts of plans for your renovation that promote a more seamless experience of the home and influence how you produce and recycle waste.

Find out more about using solar in your home