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Sustainable Energy Solutions for Sustainable Homes

by Chris - October 7th, 2011.
Filed under: Miscellaneous. Tagged as: , , , .

My brother and I were brainstorming the other night on how a person could go about building a home that is powered by sustainable energy sources. It doesn’t necessarily need to be off grid, but it should be self sustainable, i.e. have a zero carbon footprint. The diagram below is a quick sketch of one of the versions of sustainable house plans that we came up with. You can click on the picture to bring up a bigger image.

The key to powering a home is to use several different sustainable resources. This takes a lot of money and a lot of time, but the end result is simple living and self sufficiency – a goal sought by many people today. None of these sustainable power sources are outside the reach of the typical do it yourselfer. Sustainability starts with a change in mentality. A shift of desire to create your own energy and sustain your own life, rather than relying on society and ‘the grid’ to do it for you. It’s a noble goal and one that is not easily reached today.


Sustainable Living

The middle of the diagram is really the best place to start. Sustainable homes (and conventional homes for that matter) need heat, electricity, and cooling. Cooling may not be a requirement, but it is highly desired and is easily achieved in a sustainable green way.



Sustainable House Plans

Sustainable House Plans Using Sustainable Resources




Heat

Heat is simultaneously the most required and the easiest energy source to obtain as there are so many sources to generate it. You can generate home heating from electricity, propane, natural gas, and biomass. However, the least expensive and most sustainable renewable energy source is biomass. Biomass is just that: ‘mass’ from anything ‘biological’. Most people think of wood, but it can be many other things: bark dust, corn cobs, yard debris, nut shells, etc.

Some of the best fuels to burn in a gasifier are actually byproducts (read ‘garbage’) of industrial processes. A good example of this is nut shells from a food processing plant or wood chips from an arbor company. I even read about a truck in Mother Earth news that ran off of wood chunks that were a byproduct of a local truss manufacturer.

The point is that local biomass is easy and inexpensive to obtain, is locally supplied, and is a sustainable green part of the carbon cycle. With the renewed interest in gasifier generators, it’s possible to turn biomass into both electricity and heat for your home. In fact, you could heat your home with a combination of hot water and electricity from the grid for convenience. Then, just fire up the gasifier generator when it’s convenient to upload an equivalent amount of energy to the grid. You get all the convenience of unsustainable living without the bill. This is one of the most practical and sustainable energy solutions I can think of.


Electricity

Alternative sources of electricity have been the main focus of the media when talking about sustainable energy solutions. Most people associate ‘how to be sustainable’ with installing solar panels or wind turbines. These are the easiest sustainable resources for DIY enthusiasts to tackle and make a great start for the person focusing on sustainable living. As mentioned above, sustainable electricity can come from many different sources. And you don’t have to pick just one. If you have a wind turbine, a solar panel, and biomass gasification generator, you can use all three sustainable power sources to fulfill your electricity needs. Power controllers such as automatic transfer switches and charge controllers are readily available on the consumer market to help the do it yourselfer get up and running.



Cooling

While it is very hard to live without heat in a cold environment, it is quite possible (though uncomfortable) to live without cooling in a hot environment. When most people think of cooling, they think of unsustainable, power hungry air conditioners. The fact is that there is a much better and cheaper way to cool your home: geothermal cooling. In a nutshell, this method involves burying a couple hundred feet of hose under the ground (typically 3 to 5 feet). Then you blow air from inside your home through this hose. The hot air from your home is cooled by the earth and returned back into the house. Simple! And very efficient.

The key to using this setup in sustainable homes is having enough land to dig trenches to lay the hose. Most suburban lots have plenty of room, but crowded urban environments do not. However, sustainable house plans of duplexes and apartment buildings are beginning to incorporate very similar methods of passive geothermal cooling.


Sustainable House Plans

If you have a standard 0.25 acre urban lot or bigger, you shouldn’t have any problem installing some of these sustainable energy solutions. It will take money and time, however. These new types of energy generation are not standardized or fully commercialized yet. However, all these technologies are well within the budget and reach of a motivated do it yourselfer. Gasifier generators in particular represent an innovative and practical method of sustainable power from local, sustainable resources. In little more than a weekend, a home owner could install a geothermal cooling system. Finally, this website will help get you familiar with solar, wind, and micro-hydro generation of electrical power.




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