UPDATED: 1/3/11 with expert opinions from Mark Sevier and Peter Yost
Chris Koehn will be building a 1,600-sq.-ft. home in British Columbia for owners who want to heat primarily with wood. They envision a wood-burning cookstove and a fireplace, and they’d also like to incorporate some solar capability.
Because of its island location, the house will be off the electricity grid.
Among their concerns is that some parts of their house, including the bathroom and an upstairs bedroom, may be too far from a heat source to be comfortable. Koehn is considering heating the tile floors in the bathroom, but he’s concerned with how much electricity it would take to run the pumps.
There’s also the question of what to use as a source of backup heat to keep the house from freezing in winter, as well as help it meet local building codes.
“I’m looking for potential solutions from folks who have faced similar challenges,” he says in a Q&A post. The replies are the subject of this week’s Q&A Spotlight.
Keep it simple
Simple mechanical systems are best, suggests GBA senior editor Martin Holladay, who has lived off-grid for 35 years.
“Anyone who chooses to live off-grid should be willing to be flexible about indoor air temperatures in remote rooms on the coldest days of the year,” he says. “You can minimize these temperature differences, however, by paying scrupulous attention to air sealing and by providing very high levels of insulation in your floors, walls, and ceilings.”
Unlike grid-connected homes, which can always draw on utility electricity as required, an off-grid house must be completely self-sufficient. Electricity, whether it’s generated by a wind turbine, a photovoltaic array, or a fuel-fired generator, is precious.
“Whatever you do,” Holladay tells him,…
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