In past articles, we’ve shown you what habits to pick up and which to break in order to make yourself more self-sufficient – now it’s your home’s turn. Making your home self-sufficient will not only increase your preparedness and chance of survival in times of crisis, but also will help you save on household costs such as electricity and water – win/win!
In a survival situation, your ability to power your home without reliance on a power grid, municipal water, or other external resource will greatly increase your chance of survival as many of these resources will no doubt be unavailable. While most people will have to learn to do without, you’ll be able to keep powering essential home elements (such as your lights and water supply) with your self-sufficient homestead, giving you a substantial advantage in the race for survival.
In addition to being prepared for the chaos of a survival situation, having a self-sufficient home can save you money over the long-term by cutting down on your energy and water costs. Additionally, the experience and knowledge gained while installing self-sufficient systems in your home will stay with you and could be of great value in a future scenario that may involve starting from scratch, i.e. a bug-out scenario.
With a plethora of technology options emerging everyday as well as myriad age-old methods, taking the first step towards making your home self-sufficient can be daunting and overwhelming, especially for beginners. Not to worry – we’ve gone ahead and done the hard part for you! We researched the most popular solutions available and provide analysis to help you choose the best for you in the areas of energy, heat, water and composting – key elements in developing a truly self-sustaining homestead.
Self-Sufficient Energy Sources
When looking for self-sustaining sources for energy, solar and wind options offer great, renewable choices; however, these options may not be feasible for some preppers and as such, we’ve provided information on popular backup power options.
Solar power has seen its popularity soar as it has become more affordable and accessible to homeowners over the years. Provided the right conditions exist for capturing enough sunlight, solar is an incredibly viable system for powering your entire home. Solar power works by using solar panels to capture the sun’s rays to harness energy.
Generally, there are two ways to install solar panels: rooftop and standalone.
With rooftop panels, positioning is everything. You want your panels facing within 90 degrees of direct sunlight and, ideally, have full access throughout the day. This ‘perfect’ location will of course change seasonally (with the movement of the sun) and therefore it is best to calculate where the ideal location is for each month of the year and average out the results. (For a hand with this calculation, use a solar angle calculator, such as this one or this one.)
Another consideration when installing rooftop panels is the amount of shade your roof receives and the angle of the pitch. If a portion of your roof is shady, this will decrease the amount of energy that can be harvested; as well, the angle of the pitch on the panels must be between 30 and 50 degrees, therefore necessitating an incline frame if you have a flat roof.
Before installing any panels, ensure the structure is sound enough to support the weight of the solar panel system and that roughly 300-500 square feet of unobstructed roof space is available.
If rooftop panels won’t work for your particular situation, perhaps your property is better suited for the installation of a standalone structure. The standalone panels can be stationary or fitted with a solar tracker that follows the movement of the sun for maximum power absorption.
Standalone panels can also be fitted with either single or dual axis trackers: single axis trackers tilt to improve the angle of incidence of the panels, while dual axis trackers can both tilt and pivot, increasing the amount of captured energy by up to 25%.
Professional vs. DIY
Professionally installed solar systems are an excellent option for providing your home with a self-sustaining energy source; however, they are expensive. It can take many years before a homeowner recoups their investment in solar power through energy bill savings.
If the investment in solar panels to power your entire home is beyond your financial means, consider trying out some smaller scale systems, as solar panels can also be used to charge batteries, light your walkway, or power a garden irrigation system.
If you’re handy with a soldering iron, there is even a DIY solar panel you can try out.
Wind energy can be harnessed through turbines, which offer an emission-free power source and can generate sufficient energy to power a moderately-sized home when ideal conditions are met.
Before installing a wind turbine, the first thing you need to do is check your local zoning regulations to see if you can legally install one. Next, ensure your property is situated in an area that receives enough wind to be able to produce sufficient energy to power your home. A qualified manufacturer can help you determine the exact output needed, but most homes require anywhere from 2-10 kW; typically, a property as small as one acre can be powered by a small turbine.
In general, the average height of a wind turbine is 80 feet, with towers ranging anywhere from 30-140 feet in height. The height of your turbine will impact its productivity, especially in wooded areas where the treeline can cause an obstruction. The diameter will usually be somewhere in the 12-25 foot range.
At a cost of $10,000-$70,000, wind turbines are a steep investment and can take up to 30 years to pay off through energy bill savings. Additionally, on a day without any wind, you won’t have any power and will need a backup system. In order to deal with this deficiency, some wind turbine owners choose to remain connected to the grid.
For those who prefer to remain completely off the grid, excess energy captured on productive days can be stored in batteries for use later. Solar panels also act as a complementary energy source for off-grid wind turbines.
If you’re not quite ready to make the investment but like the advantages of wind turbines, you can build one yourself at a much lower cost.
Alternative Power Sources
If neither solar nor wind energy will work for your home, you can purchase a backup power system as a means of making your home more self-sufficient in the case of a power outage or disaster scenario.
In the aftermath of recent storms and power grid failures, backup generators have proven to be a reliable means for keeping households running.
When choosing a generator, there are two numbers to keep in mind: the steady-state wattage (the amount of energy required to keep an appliance running) and the surge wattage (the amount of energy required to start up an appliance).
In terms of lights, these numbers are generally the same, but in the case of something like a refrigerator, the surge wattage is nearly twice the steady-state wattage. Take both these numbers into account when deciding which appliances you want to backup in the case of a power outage.
While not available just yet, the Tesla Powerwall has the potential to drastically change world energy consumption; currently, interested buyers can reserve a Powerwall online with the earliest expected delivery date in late 2015.
The Tesla Powerwall is a rechargeable, lithium battery that is powerful enough to provide energy for your entire home. The battery charges itself while energy costs are low (typically overnight) and then takes over as the main power source when costs are high, substantially lowering your energy costs. As such, the Tesla Powerwall can serve as a backup power source as well as be used in conjunction with solar panels to store captured energy for future use.
Self-Sufficient Water Systems
Securing an independent water supply can typically be very tricky, especially if you are hooked into your municipal water system. Drilling a well is one of the more obvious choices, but is not always an option. If you are able to drill a well, consider having the pump powered by solar or wind energy in order to have a 100% self-sustaining water system.
If drilling a well isn’t an option for you, here are two alternatives you can try:
Rain is a renewable resources and can easily be collected using free-standing barrels or by linking directly to the gutter system of your home. Unfortunately, the water collected is not safe for drinking, but it can be used for other purposes such as watering your lawn, helping keep your water bill down.
Water Storage Tank
A water storage tank can hold enough drinking water to sustain a short-term bug-in; however, you need space for it. If you are planning to bug-in in an apartment without room for a storage tank, you can opt for a sealed bathtub liner that can be filled during an emergency.
Self-Sufficient Heat Sources
Depending on the climate in which you live, having the ability to heat your home during a power outage or crisis scenario can very literally be a life-saving modification.
The simplest and easiest way to install a self-sustaining heat source in your home is through a wood-burning stove, but geothermal energy systems are also an option.
If you’ve never owned or operated a wood-burning stove system before, start out small by only installing one stove until you’ve had a chance to master it and work out the kinks; after you’ve got a solid handle on how it works, start expanding by adding additional stoves to other rooms in your home.
Modern stoves can be quite efficient and offer features that make it easy to regulate temperature and air intake. As it is a closed system, many models can even be left safely overnight to burn without causing worry.
Maintaining your wood-burning stove as a heat source requires keeping a constant stockpile of fuel stored in a dry and accessible area. Additionally, keeping your chimney clean is imperative to ensure proper functioning and safety.
Geothermal Energy Systems
Geothermal energy systems use the existing heat energy given off by the earth below the frost line, making these systems very effective at heating or cooling homes in any climate. It works as a closed loop system, piping water from your home deep down into the ground, then back up again to your home.
As the earth’s temperature is a steady 50 degrees F, cold winter air can be heated up and hot summer air can be cooled down: air circulates through ductwork and passes over water coils, where it is heated or cooled before being circulated through the home. This system includes a compressor to enhance the heating or cooling effects by compressing or expanding the refrigerant.
While the system is effective, it is also expensive, with a return on investment time frame similar to that of solar panels (10-15 years).
Granted, composting is not a direct energy producer, but it is a great way to conserve resources by turning lawn debris and food scraps into rich soil that can be used in your garden. In turn, your garden can then become a source of healthy food that fuels your body. Composting is inexpensive and easy to do, whether you’re working with hundreds of acres or only a couple square feet – there’s really no reason not to compost!
The most basic composting structure can be made using a single sheet of wire mesh by wrapping it in a cylindrical shape and supporting it with wooden stakes. This simple yet effective design provides easy access to the soil at the base of the composter, as you need only remove the stake and open the structure at its side. It’s also very easy to relocate should you change your mind, and inexpensive to expand if you’d like to increase your compostable output.
The next step up from a mesh structure is to build a composting box, which isn’t terribly more complicated. The frame can be constructed from wood and then lined with mesh wire at the side. Pallets lend themselves well to the job as they are a good size already and have slats that will provide ventilation while keeping in your waste material. Additionally, some designs will include a hinged gate on the upper half of the front panel to allow for easier access to the soil.
Vermicomposting – or adding worms to the process – is a great way to increase the decomposition rate while also reducing odour; this makes it a convenient option for composting kitchen scraps and apartment composting.
To set up a vermicomposting system, use two plastic bins of the same size to create the perfect environment for the worms. Drill holes in the recessed areas of the inner bin to provide for aeration and drainage, making sure the holes are small enough so that the worms won’t fall through.
For the lid, cut out a square and line it with window screen to allow oxygen as well as light to enter, which will help to orient the worms (who are photosensitive) by driving them down into the decaying material. Placing a few rocks or wooden spacers in the bottom bin keeps the bins from getting stuck together and permits further aeration.
The next step is to place the bin with the drilled holes inside the other bin. Placing a layer of peat, newspaper scraps, and wet cardboard makes a nice, healthy base for the worms by keeping their skin moist. Each day, add your scraps by burying them amongst this bedding. Ensure you rotate the location so that each day you are burying the scraps in a new area. Additionally, cutting up large pieces into smaller chunks will help them to break down quicker.
As the worms process food, they will produce castings (aka droppings), which will collect in the bottom of the bin. The castings are similar to dark coffee grinds in appearance and packed with nutrients in a form that can easily be taken up by plants. This concentrated fertilizer will help you to grow healthy, productive plants at least as well, if not better than, with chemical fertilizers and without all the negative drawbacks.
Final Thoughts On Making Your Home Self-Sufficient
With a little effort, you can make your home self-sufficient by developing self-sustaining systems for power, water, heat and composting. The investment you make in making your home self-sufficient will not only pay off in a disaster scenario, but also in the more likely event of a power grid failure and through savings in energy costs.
The best part about developing a self-sufficient system for your home is that once you have the knowledge and expertise in building such systems, you will always have it. This could turn out to be a life-saving skill should you find yourself in a bug-out or INCH (I’m Never Coming Home) scenario, and you will be better equipped than most to rebuild or start over in the aftermath.
Have you taken steps towards making your home self-sufficient? If so, what obstacles did you face, i.e. land, financial, etc., that made self-sufficiency a challenge?