Old mountain retreat renovated into sublime off-grid refuge

April 28, 2017 by  
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The challenges of renovating older buildings are already numerous, but when working deep in 8,100-foot-high mountainous topography and extreme climate conditions, it can be downright perilous. Meeting the challenge head-on, architecture firms Arteks Arquitectura and Ginjaume Arquitectura i Paissatge partnered up to convert a 1930s mountain retreat in the Andorran Pyrenees into the modern, off-grid Illa Mountain Hut that can generate up to four days of self-sufficient energy . Working within the confines of such harsh conditions, reforming the mountain refuge proved to be an uphill battle at every turn. The first hurdle was working under the restrictions imposed by the area’s protected UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status. Additionally, the extreme weather conditions meant that the project team could only access the site – the 4th highest shelter in the Pyrenees – during the summer months. Related: Modern lodge in the Rocky Mountains produces as much energy as it consumes Although the conditions were not optimal for building, it did have its advantages. Working around so many environmental barriers enabled the building team to use the restrictions to their advantage by using eco-friendly materials that were purpose-built for the project. Due to the harsh conditions and topography, for example, the architectural team chose to use light and prefabricated materials that could be flown in by helicopter. With most of the elements prefabricated in workshops and assembled on site, the building now weighs about a third of a similarly-sized conventional building and the execution time of the project was cut down to a surprising six months. Using the existing building as a structural base helped the team to further minimize the cost of the project as well as reduce the waste associated with the project. The wooden frame was reinforced with an extended gabled roof which helps discharge large snow loads during winter. This feature was also strategic to optimize solar energy gain . Thanks to a large array of photovoltaic panels installed on the roof, the refuge can generate up to four days of energy self sufficiency , making the project 100% off-grid. In addition to its solar power, the structure uses an independent water treatment system equipped with coconut filters . Additionally, an efficient ventilation system and ultra-thick insulation keeps the interior spaces warm and cozy, free from the extreme exterior cold. + Arteks Arquitectura + Ginjaume Arquitectura i Paissatge Photography via Pol Viladoms

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Old mountain retreat renovated into sublime off-grid refuge

Tiny Scottish island powers itself with community-owned off-grid energy system

March 31, 2017 by  
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When you think of the future of electricity in the world, you probably don’t envision a small island off the coast of Scotland leading the way. But the 12-square-mile Scottish island of Eigg has become a shining example of how communities that aren’t connected to larger grids can do it themselves with clean energy . As the BBC reports, Eigg made the revolutionary move in 2008 to shed its noisy diesel-generated power in favor of an off-grid electric system that uses only wind, water and solar power . It was the first community in the world to make this bold move, and what’s more, the clearly self-reliant residents pretty much taught themselves how to build and run the system. Since the diesel generators they previously used only ran for a small part of each day, getting rid of them in favor of clean energy also meant the community had power available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the first time. The community-owned system, Eigg Electric , keeps energy flowing on a regular basis by integrating three power sources from wind, solar and hydroelectric. A set of four wind turbines feed up to 24 kilowatts into the grid, while a set of solar panels contribute an annual average of 9.5 percent of their rated output of 50 kilowatts. Shoring up the rather unreliable wind and solar power components are three hydroelectric generating stations spread throughout the island. One puts out up to 100 kilowatts, while the others generate 5 to 6 kilowatts each. Related: Australia announces massive $1B solar farm with the world’s largest battery Working together, these three power sources provide 90 to 95 percent of the island’s electricity. Occasionally they have to fire up their two backup generators when the weather doesn’t cooperate, and sometimes they produce more power than they need. In the latter case, the excess power benefits the community by automatically turning on heating systems in shared spaces like the community hall—so everyone benefits. Their system and public ownership model has already reached other communities around the world that a face the same challenge of not being connected to the grid. Community Energy Malawi , a sister organization to Community Energy Scotland , sent representatives to Eigg last year to study the system. They were encouraged by the fact that people with a non-technical background could learn to build and operate a reliable renewable energy system. Via BBC Images via W. L. Tarbert , Wikimedia Commons and isleofeigg , Flickr Creative Commons

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Tiny Scottish island powers itself with community-owned off-grid energy system

Couple converts 16-year-old van into a compact solar home on wheels

February 24, 2017 by  
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An increasing number of digital nomads are replacing their conventional houses with practical, mobile homes powered by renewable energy technologies . Freelancer photographer Norbert Juhász and his fiancée Dora, a writer, have joined the fray with a 16-year-old van they transformed into a solar-powered home on wheels, and they’re driving it from Budapest to Morocco. While the exterior of the van is unremarkable, its interior packs all the amenities the couple needs on their journey. A multifunctional seat turns into a bed for two and includes a storage space and electrical system underneath. Opposite the bed is a small kitchen unit with a gas cooktop, gas cylinder, sink and a large water tank with a pressure-sensing pump. The tank is connected to an extra hook-up that leads to the rear of the van, where the water is used for quick showers. An L-shaped cabinet accommodates a refrigerator and more storage spaces, and features another section that doubles as a seating structure. Related: How this photographer escaped the grid with her tiny Teardrop Trailer The vehicle is powered by a 12-volt electrical system charged by either the 250-watt solar panels mounted on the roof, or the engine’s generator. Excess energy can be stored in 200-Ah batteries attached to an inverter. The couple spent around $7,200 for the van’s transformation, including its custom-made furniture. They will travel through Southern Europe all the way to Morocco, and document their journey on the Rundabella website and Facebook page . + Norbert Juhász + Rundabella Via Treehugger Photos by Norbert Juhász

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Couple converts 16-year-old van into a compact solar home on wheels

7 charming off-grid homes for a rent-free life

February 15, 2017 by  
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Want to make rent and utility bills a thing of the past? We’ve rounded up seven off-grid homes that could be the answer to making your dreams a reality. Stylish and self-sufficient, these eco-friendly dwellings promise freedom from the grid. Many are even set atop wheels to let you move with your home to almost anywhere you desire. Keep reading to see seven charming homes that offer homeowners the chance to live off the grid and rent-free. WOHNWAGON Powered by solar energy and made from recycled materials, the WOHNWAGON is a beautiful mobile and modern home with a housing footprint so small it fits within the size of a standard parking lot. This larch-clad caravan was designed for homeowners who wish to travel the world and enjoy comfortable off-grid living thanks to energy-efficient features including a green roof , triple-glazed windows, graywater recycling, solar panels, highly efficient insulation and more. Developed for mass production, the WOHNWAGON starts at 40,000 Euros and can be individually customized. EcoCapsule For those who want a little off-grid place of their own with more of a futuristic edge, look no farther than the EcoCapsule . Now available for pre-orders, the tiny egg-shaped home that went viral in 2015 has been displayed around the world wowing visitors with its ability to produce all of its energy onsite with rooftop solar panels and a low-noise wind turbine that feed into a 10kWh battery. Developed by Nice Architects , the mobile home can be moved or dropped in place with a crane or helicopter, giving owners the freedom to live almost anywhere they please. POD-Idladla South Africa-based architect Clara da Cruz Almeida collaborated with local design firm Dokter+Misses to create POD-Idladla , an adorable flat-pack home with off-grid capabilities. Targeted at young adults, the tiny solar-powered was conceived as a customizable eco-friendly home at an affordable price. The modular design can also be expanded upon with additional pods to make multi-unit configurations that house up to 12 people. Moon Dragon If homes inspired by fantasy and fairytale are more your style, you’ll love Moon Dragon. Tiny house builder Abel Zimmerman Zyl of Zyl Vardos designed and built this tiny timber off-grid home that looks like it’d be right at home in Middle-Earth. Outfitted with a solar kit for off-grid living, the beautifully detailed mobile home boasts masterful craftsmanship as well as impressive an impressive suite of features, from a five-burner Range cooker with two ovens to a loft bedroom large enough for a queen-sized bed. KODA Lovers of travel and modern, minimalist house designs will feel right at home in KODA, a tiny prefabricated home created by Estonian design collective Kodasema . Designed with off-grid capabilities, KODA can be assembled on a variety of surfaces without the need for foundations or disassembled and prepped for relocation in as little as four hours. Fronted with large quadruple-glazed windows, the light-filled modular house can also be expanded with multiple units. Ark Shelter Designed as an escape from city life, the Ark Shelter was created to reconnect people with nature. The self-sufficient modular cabin is prefabricated from durable timber and placed on site atop raised, mobile foundations. Wind turbines, solar power, and rainwater collection allow the home to go off-grid . Walden Studio home Dutch design agency Walden Studio teamed up with carpenter Dimka Wentzel to design a tiny home that’s big on luxury and freedom. Equipped with all the systems needed for off-grid living, the contemporary mobile home is filled with natural light and natural materials like the cork floors and birch plywood paneling. The 17-square-meter home also contains plenty of multifunctional furniture to maximize its small footprint.

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7 charming off-grid homes for a rent-free life

Colorado man builds state’s most energy efficient house

January 17, 2017 by  
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Passive House is a globally-recognized building design technique that promises huge cuts in energy use for any kind of building in any climate. In a nutshell, the Passive House Design strategy relies on airtight buildings, super insulation, thermal mass and passive solar design. As a former Inhabitat contributor, I was keen to put Passive House design to the test in the Colorado Rockies, where the winters can be brutal and living off-grid comes with a tiny energy budget. The house I ended up building definitely lives up to its promises in terms of energy conservation, but the biggest surprise is how comfortable it is. Read on as I tell my story about how I came to build Colorado’s most energy-efficient house. After years of building, research, and writing about green design, I became fascinated with the concept of Passive House design, which was originally pioneered in Germany. In Europe, hundreds of buildings have been built to consume 90 percent less energy than their neighbors, using super tight insulation and passive solar design, and the trend is gradually picking up in the US as well. Reporting for Inhabitat, I visited a Passive House by NEEDBASED in New Mexico, and was amazed how well adapted it is to a climate that is both very cold and full of sunshine. The visit convinced me Passive House design is the state-of-the-art tool for building design, and that I wanted to apply it for my own home. Passive House has been both celebrated and spurned for its radical departure from normal building techniques. While in Europe it is catching on quickly , and is even being incorporated into the code from New York City to Vancouver BC, it is still considered exotic to many designers and builders. From the thick walls, triple pane windows, and sophisticated fresh air system, to the extensive energy calculations, Passive House design leaves little to chance and the certification process can be arduous. Related: How to design a passive house off-grid, and without foam After having an erratic and disappointing experience trying to certify with the US based group Passive House Institute US (PHIUS), I ultimately chose to certify with the Passive House Institute (PHI) in Germany. One of the main issues when doing energy modeling is avoiding bad inputs. As I looked closely at the critical climate data that we were building, it turned out to be way out of whack. PHIUS was in the process of introducing a more climate dependent certification scheme, and building to such a careful system using bad data left a sour taste in my mouth. Other issues kept coming up and it was time to change the approach. The process of certification with PHI though the Passive House Academy took some time but went relatively smoothly. To my surprise, we beat the energy threshold by almost two times. This turned out to be great news as the home is only powered by solar electricity and has a small propane hydronic heating system. The home’s main heating source is the sun, followed by the “waste” heat of the occupants and appliances, and then finally a small hydronic heating loop in the wall and at the Heat Recovery Ventilation system. The home has been occupied for a year, and while it uses practically no energy for heating, the real take away is how comfortable it is. The house tends to naturally hover between 67 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit without heating or cooling. I use the heating system sparingly, so during a recent cold spell, when exterior temperatures reached -10 degrees, I let the house get down to 62 degrees. After taking a shower, I was surprised that it did not feel chilly like in most houses. Why? What I learned in high school physics class paid off. The heavily insulated building envelope reduces heat loss through conduction, but it turns out that ambient air temperature is not the only reason we feel comfortable or not. With such a tight and well-insulated envelope there is neither cold air coming in nor interior air circulating by cooling convection. But what really makes the difference is the radiantly neutral surfaces, especially the triple pane glass. My bare (and damp) skin does not bleed heat via radiation to cold surfaces, which in turn reduces the need for extra layers. The other discovery was learning the difference between passive solar design and passive house. A typical passive solar building will utilize up to 50 percent of a home’s south side for glass. This works well in some conditions, but in very cold weather there is significant heat loss, or things can get too toasty, especially in spring and fall when the sun sits lower on the horizon. My house comprises about 20 percent glass on the south side, which means it neither heats up dramatically, nor loses heat. That balance pays off in simplifying heating and cooling needs. Even so, the house can still get a little too warm in fall, so I have to be active in opening and closing windows and plan to add some movable external shading. Much is said about health and indoor air quality, but little is known about how Passive Houses keep occupants healthy. I tried to minimize potential risks by building with low-processed materials like plywood, timber, tile, and cellulose and mineral wool insulations. But activities like cooking can still be problematic, so the University of Colorado Boulder is measuring my home’s indoor air quality to see how a passive house compares to a typical house in terms of indoor air quality. I’ll keep you posted! All images by Andrew Michler for Inhabitat

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Colorado man builds state’s most energy efficient house

Off-grid Utah home nestled inside a natural cave-like opening

January 4, 2017 by  
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The word ‘incredible’ does not begin to encompass the awesomeness of this Utah abode, hidden in the side of a cliff. Built in 1986, Cliff Haven is an off-grid dream come true , and it’s for sale. A closed auction invites bidders to imagine living right in the heart of one of America’s most dramatic canyons, amid orange-hued bluffs and tumbleweeds aplenty. With all the amenities needed to thrive (not just survive) off the grid , the Cliff Haven will make a perfect home for someone looking to escape America’s recent chaos without actually having to leave the country. The unique home sits on 12 acres of land, situated 20 minutes outside of Monticello, Utah, in the scenic Montezuma Canyon, and the home is entirely self-sufficient . Cliff Haven spans 2,100 square feet of indoor living space within its rectangular footprint, including three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a three-car garage. From the outside, the home appears to sink into the cliffside itself, as it was constructed within an existing natural cave-like opening. Behind the home, a tunnel has been dug out to provide natural air circulation and an outlet for rainwater to run off. The tunnel doubles as a fire escape as well. Related: These 6 extraordinary cliffside homes will give you chills In addition to just looking downright cool, Cliff Haven features all the technical amenities necessary for supporting life off the grid. A solar power system with 120-volt current charges a battery system, and the home is also equipped with a backup generator for emergencies. A private well supplies water for use inside the home while two 2,000-gallon water tanks collect and store rainwater for other uses. The property has a mature orchard, vineyard, and garden – so the potential irrigation applications are plentiful. If you’re tempted to bid on Cliff Haven and finally getting away from it all, head to the property’s website to check out the full video tour. Then, mark your calendar for January 21, when the closed auction will take place. + Utah Cliff House Via New Atlas Images via Utah Cliff House

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Off-grid Utah home nestled inside a natural cave-like opening

Irish scientists identify new human organ

January 4, 2017 by  
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You’ve been walking around with an unknown organ without even realizing it. The mesentery, which connects the abdomen and intestine, isn’t exactly a new find, but doctors previously thought it was fragmented, instead of continuous. Now University of Limerick scientists are seeking to reverse the centuries-old viewpoint in an article explaining why this piece of the body deserves to be classified as an organ. For more than 100 years, scientists thought the mesentery was comprised of several different, complex segments. Not so, say J. Calvin Coffey and D. Peter O’Leary. They found the mesentery was in fact “one continuous structure,” according to Coffey, and worthy of classification as an organ. The mesentery serves to help organs like the colon and small intestine maintain their shape, wrapping around them in one ribbon of tissue. Coffey told Discover Magazine, “Without it you can’t live. There are no reported instances of a Homo sapien living without a mesentery.” He and his team established the continuous structure of the mesentery back in 2012, and have been building up evidence since then. Related: Scientists grow test tube human brains with potential to think and feel A better understanding of the mesentery could help doctors as they operate on the body, even resulting in less invasive surgeries and complications, according to the University of Limerick. Patients could recover faster and pay less if the medical community had further knowledge of the mesentery. Coffey said in a statement, “When we approach it like every other organ…we can categorize abdominal disease in terms of this organ.” So who gives the final word on whether the mesentery is officially an organ? Coffey told Discover Magazine he doesn’t actually know. For now his article can be read in the journal The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology , who published the research in late 2016. Via Discover Magazine and University of Limerick Images via Alan Place and J. Calvin Coffey/D. Peter O’Leary/Henry Vandyke Carter

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Irish scientists identify new human organ

Faraday Future’s FF91 smashes speed record of Tesla Model S in ludicrous mode

January 4, 2017 by  
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Faraday Future made a bold claim Tuesday when the California-based automotive startup unveiled its 1,050-horsepower FF91, which they say will be the world’s fastest electric car . The production model was featured in a video at CES in Las Vegas, where it can be seen besting a Tesla Model S . Since its inception in 2014, Faraday Future has chased Tesla’s shadow—consistently promising to release a better electric car with a better battery—and the company has even started building a $1 billion factory near Las Vegas. While Faraday Future is already taking pre-orders for the supposedly lightning fast FF91 model, the company can’t pay for production without hefty support from investors, which have yet to be found. Does Faraday really have a future? While Faraday Future is an American company, it is backed in large part by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting. Since 2014, the company has been teasing the automotive world with promises of bigger, better, faster electric cars, and the unveiling of the FF91, which Faraday calls “the first of the species”, marks the first time we’ve seen an actual car to back up the wild ambition, as the previous teasers have all been mere concepts. Faraday Future’s FF91 can reportedly accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 2.39 seconds, shaving precious time off the record 2.5 seconds for a Tesla Model S P100D with “Ludicrous Mode” engaged . Related: Faraday Future breaks ground on $1B electric car factory outside Las Vegas In addition to its speed, the FF91 (that’s FF “nine-one,” the company clarifies in its press release) also boasts a longer range than any other commercially available electric car , with an estimated 378 miles of travel on a single charge of its 130 kWh battery. Faraday Future also claims to have achieved the fastest charging time with a home battery charger capable of juicing from 50 percent to full charge in under 4.5 hours. Faraday says deliveries of its super fast FF91 will begin in 2018, but there are a lot of “ifs” involved. The company is still working hard to raise capital for production of the FF91 (which is strikingly similar to where Faraday was a year ago at this time, with a different concept car) but they are already taking reservations toward purchases (much like Tesla) at $5,000 (which is refundable). There’s no word on what the FF91’s final price tag will look like, and Faraday Future’s reputation for big ideas without the actual technology to back them up may prevent the speedy electric car from ever hitting the road. Via Bloomberg Images via Faraday Future

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California valley cabin is a dreamy weekend escape unplugged from the grid

December 1, 2016 by  
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When the Baird family sought a weekend escape from the city, they asked Malcolm Davis Architecture to design a second home that would immerse them in a remote and sunny valley of Sonoma County, California. The San Francisco-based architects, who also designed the Bairds’ home in Berkeley, delivered a stunning off-grid cabin that focuses on the outdoors. The solar-powered retreat, named Camp Baird, is a modern interpretation of the traditional dogtrot home and is naturally cooled with no need for air conditioning. Set within 165 wooded acres west of Healdsburg, Camp Baird offers indoor and outdoor living within two structures—a prefabricated car-and-barn-equipment metal shed and a main custom cabin—placed in an L-shaped formation. The buildings are clad in Corten metal to minimize fire threat and topped with galvanized metal roofs that reduce heat build up. Full-height glazing opens the home to the south where the living footprint is extended to an expansive ipe wood porch and an 82-foot-long solar-heated lap pool. The south-facing backyard also features a concrete outdoor fireplace for grilling and cooking, a partially screened outdoor shower, and a variety of recreational features including a treehouse, rope swing, and archery area. Related: Rugged eco-friendly cabins offer off-grid lodging in Norway’s wilderness The off-grid and energy-efficient Camp Baird houses three rooms that can be fully heated by Rais wood stoves. Heavy insulation keeps the interior cool on hot summer days. Landscape architect Cary Bush of Merge Studio designed the landscaping made up of drought-resistant native plantings. The rooms are set on a concrete slab floor and are divided into two halves by a breezeway that allows for cross ventilation. + Malcolm Davis Architecture Via Dwell Images © Joe Fletcher

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California valley cabin is a dreamy weekend escape unplugged from the grid

Tiny new flat-packed off-grid homes offer affordable housing breakthrough

September 21, 2016 by  
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For 11 years, Australia ‘s five major cities have been listed as “severely unaffordable” – making home ownership just a dream for many. Architect Alex Symes realized home ownership is typically tied to land ownership, but land prices are now so high, most people can’t afford to buy. As a result, Alex started Big World Homes . The goal is to disrupt expensive city housing with tiny , flat-packed, off-grid homes that sell for between $60K and $80K in Australian dollars, or around $45K to $60K. https://vimeo.com/180534968 A Big World Home is created with 39 flat-pack panels, which are comprised of ” low environmental impact materials “, including plywood, thermal insulation, and lightweight cladding. Even people without building experience can erect a Build World Home using a drill and a hammer, with access to online support. Related: Solar-powered POD-Idladla is a tiny flat-pack home for two that lets you live almost anywhere A basic home is equipped with a bed, living room, and bathroom complete with plumbing. The home is powered by solar panels and receives running water via rainwater tanks. The whole home, built atop a trailer, is portable. A Big World Home can even grow with a family; owners can add more modules to add more space to their home. Land is still a factor, but Big World Homes partners with ” developers, councils, community groups, and individual landowners ” to find land spaces from unused plots to backyards where one Big World Home or a pop-up community can be erected. On September 29 in Waterloo, Australia, a group of “non-skilled volunteers” will build a Big World House in a few hours using solely a drill and a hammer. That home will be displayed at the Sydney Architecture Festival from September 30 to October 3, 2016. Big World Homes is also crowdsourcing via Chuffed to build that first home and a pioneer community. You can donate here . + Big World Homes + Big World Homes Chuffed Campaign Images courtesy of Big World Homes

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