When determining the best way to remove your house from the grid, terrain considerations will dictate the best options for your home. Alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal require certain factors in order to provide sufficient power for a house. Before searching for information on installing these various systems, first consider what your property has to offer.
Where Do You Live?
If you live in the southern United States, most particularly the southwestern United States, you will have extensive, consistent sun exposure. Solar panels will provide your home with considerable energy year-round. If you live in northern regions, your daylight hours are limited during the winter and you will have less energy when your heating bills are highest. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, your region has extensive cloud cover and receives a great deal of rain during the winter. This will also reduce the amount of power that your solar panels can provide.
If you live on the Great Plains or in a hilly or mountainous area, your property may be a good candidate for a windmill or wind turbine. The consideration here is whether the wind turbine will receive a constant breeze and generate a consistent amount of power. If you live in a valley, the turbine will not receive a consistent breeze and thus is not a good option for your home.
If you live in a mountainous area, you likely have a great deal of solid rock under your property. If so, installing a geothermal system may be a very costly process. Geothermal systems provide a constant, uninterrupted flow of heating and cooling for your home. However, if the system is too cost-prohibitive, using a combination of other alternative energy sources may be most effective for your home and budget.
Hydropower is also dependent on region, as it requires you to have running water such as a stream or river on your property. If you live in the north, the stream may freeze over during the winter and prevent your water turbine from functioning properly. If you live in an area prone to drought, your stream may dry up and deprive you of power. If you have a stream or river available and wish to use this form of alternative energy, consult with your local land use department to determine if you need special permissions to install a water turbine. You may require permissions if the stream runs across a neighbor’s property as you cannot block or reduce someone else’s water supply without them.
Along with regional factors, consider the layout of your home and your property. Does your house have a southern exposure? If so, you are already taking advantage of passive solar properties to brighten and heat your house. Solar panels on the south-facing roof surface are a good option for providing energy to your home. However, solar panels are not optimal if your home is heavily shaded by trees or nearby structures, or if the house spends an average of less than six hours per day in direct sunlight.
Does your home have a small hill or large field that receives relatively constant breezes? If this is the case, purchase or rent a device to measure the wind speed at those locations, and chart the numbers over the course of one year. You can also consult with a company that sells wind turbines to see if they can provide this service for you. A wind turbine will provide dependable power for your home if the wind speed at that location is strong enough and consistent.
Of all alternative energy sources, geothermal is the least dependent on location and terrain. Geothermal heating systems can be installed in almost any location, and they provide consistent power that greatly reduces or eliminates heating and cooling costs. Finally, as noted in the previous section, hydropower is solely dependent on whether you have a constant flow of running water on your property.
If you already own a home, you can adapt it to run off alternative energy sources rather than on the grid. Your best option may be to combine several forms of alternative energy, such as using solar panels and a wind turbine, to provide sufficient power for your home and appliances on a 24-hour basis. Consult with an alternative energy professional to determine the power output you need and the best system configuration to achieve it.
A further consideration is whether you can perform any remodeling to improve your home’s energy efficiency. Upgrading insulation can reduce the amount of energy required to heat and cool your home. Utilizing energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs will also reduce your electricity needs, as will properly insulating your hot water heater. Reducing your electrical requirements may allow you to use a smaller energy array to provide power for your home.
If you are considering purchasing a house, investigate whether building a new home might best meet your need to get off the grid. A custom-built home can include alternative energy sources from the start and will not require retrofitting to improve energy efficiency. Newer construction materials and insulation will provide you with a sound structure that can maintain your preferred indoor temperature using less energy. Building your own home also allows you to determine the most suitable placement rather than accepting the shortcomings of a house not properly placed to take full advantage of solar power.