For the last several years, off-the-grid and green housing has been politicized by the political parties as some type of litmus value test pitting generations against each other. This is a shame as much of the world is turning toward green and renewable building and energy to secure economic futures and break the shackles of Mideast oil. Like it or not, America is moving to green energy and renewables because it makes sense, and as the technology evolves the affordability makes these new technologies enticing. There is an abundance of wind, solar, and hydro renewable energy sources in America, and all that is needed is enhanced technology to harness it.
Current estimates in America for off-the-grid housing are around 200,000 housing units which is a literal drop in the country’s total housing bucket. Off-the-grid homes rely on no utility for electricity, water or sewer, and the homes are generally designed in the same principles of homes in the 1800s but with the advantage of new technology. Instead of candles, these homes will have solar panels and conventional lights. Rain collection systems and wells provide the home’s water, and many use conventional septic or composting systems for sewer. There is a growing trend in the Millennial generation toward minimalism, using only the essentials to get through life - not a bad idea.
One of the biggest challenges to an off-the-grid home is electricity when the sun is not shining. Solar panel technology has evolved to a point where installing them does make sense. For an average 2,000 square foot home, an owner will spend approximately $12,000 to have solar panels installed with the Federal Government offering a 26 percent tax credit. However, the upfront cost is still more expensive than a quick hookup to the local utility. The other issue with solar energy is the battery technology for storing electricity created during the day is not perfected, but it is improving daily. Once a total energy storage unit is mastered, expect to see solar take off more in very sunny areas, and at that point, states and municipalities will be pressured to allow homes off the grid. Currently, in many locations, in order to get a certificate of occupancy, the home must be hooked up to utilities, and this will be slow to change because big utility companies do not want to give up revenue.
Water and septic systems could be more challenging, especially in a state like Florida or in a state in which there is a much dryer climate. Due to the natural springs and waterways in Florida, the state highly regulates well and septic systems., And for obvious reasons, these systems are challenged in a dryer, hot climates like Arizona.
Composting toilet units and water collection systems from rain, humidity, and wells is evolving, and as this new technology progresses, homeowners should expect more calls to take their home off the grid. It appears big utility companies are at an inflection point of change as more look to go off-the-grid, and this will force changes to hookup requirements and cost. The more the country uses renewables, the more we can expect downward pressure on utility companies to drop rates.
Green and renewable building and energy are not political issues but rather the wave of the future. Failure to recognize these new technologies will cost Americans more to build and live, and even worse, limit the country’s ability to be the market leader in green technology. Within 5 years, off-the-grid housing will be surging in production around the world and many desolate areas of the world will be open for housing development.
A great spot to invest and try an off-the-grid development is right here in Lake or Sumter County. The people here are independent, the area is good for well and septic, and not to mention, the beautiful Florida sunshine. The upfront cost to build this type of home will be a little more but imagine a home where you do not pay for any utility bills. That can easily cover a lot of extra household expenses.
Four things must happen to see a surge in off-the-grid housing. First, local government must allow it. Secondly, home storage battery technology must evolve for greater dependability. Third, utility companies must embrace the change despite the potential loss of customers. And finally, new enhanced technology must be affordable. Chatter about renewable energy and green building is intensifying as the political winds have shifted. New green technology is about to change how everyone looks at housing, and you can expect substantial growth in off-the-grid housing in the next 5 years.
Don Magruder is the CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply, Inc., and he is also the host of the “Around the House” Show which can be seen at AroundtheHouse.TV.