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Off-The-Grid Gadgets For Your Net Zero Home

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You can't get more off the grid than on Tatooine.
Water tanks need not be unattractive. This one is from Tankworks, Australia.
Water tanks need not be unattractive. This one is from Tankworks, Australia.

Unabashed gadget hounds and counterculturists that we are, we admit to finding some elements of the Star Wars series more interesting than others – largely for their vision of life in a distant and harsh future environment. The Lars homestead on Tatooine, for instance, was cooler to us for its cinematic net-zero efficiencies than its characters’ place in the Skywalker saga.

The above-ground “igloo” and below-ground living cavern was all a bit of movie magic, we knew, but it was the concept of low-footprint living that intrigued us even then.

On the lookout for our own earthbound igloo, we’ve come across some interesting new innovations we feel may someday become as common, and as in demand by homeowners, as yesterday’s stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

Of special interest to us here in drought-stricken California were rainwater recovery systems, not the unsightly above-ground bladders and plastic tubs which were first to emerge on the market, but colorfully painted, well-designed galvanized cisterns we would add to our Tatooine ‘gloo without hesitation.

The look, as far as we can see, may have been pioneered in Australia – a land with water problems of its own and designers who made the cisterns attractive and integral to modular beach homes where water is precious.

Also of interest to us, especially after the beating we took from musclebound utility companies during the openly contrived “energy crisis” of 2001, was a means to get off their grid, to make our own power, if possible, and power our own espresso machine without having to pay someone $500 for the privilege.

This has proven a little more difficult to solve than simple rainwater collection, but there are possibilities despite the failure of much-ballyhooed firms who promised to power our homes with silicate wafers the size of a Rubik’s cube.  We’re currently experimenting with an amalgam of solar and wind-generated power – a solution we hope will enable us to generate all our own power and sell some back to the really rude people who threatened to jail us for non-payment of impossible bills back in 2001. Fantasy, maybe, but fun to contemplate.

We’ve also been in contact with architectural firms specializing in the siting and construction of highly efficient and self-sustaining modular homes, built for a fraction of the cost of standard construction and easily customized to meet the needs of individual owners.

Many of these firms are using wildly different, non-traditional building methods to construct homes sheathed in concrete, sustainable wood, and glass.

We liked that windows and doors manufacturers have turned out product lines that are virtually seamless as well as energy efficient, allowing for unparalleled views and an “indoor/outdoor” feel we value in our own residence.

Speaking of that blend between indoor and outdoor, we’re experimenting with raised garden beds in an exposed, sun blessed interior courtyard; Energy Star rated appliances; a “learning” thermostat that turns off the heat when we leave the house; and key-less, biometric entry and security systems.

As in most projects of this type the research is half the fun, knowing that if we get it wrong we’ll be living with the error of our thinking for some time – until a newer, better, more efficient innovation comes along, that is.

NOTE: We’d be interested in hearing what innovations our neighbors in The Numbers have incorporated into their own homes. Come up with an idea we can borrow? Do let us know…

 

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