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Go “Cordless” with Self-Sufficient Homes

Posted Mar 03 2009 2:48pm


 

There’s a reason why electric trolley buses fell out of favor through the early half of the 20 th century. It’s the same reason most homes have cordless phones and wireless remotes for the family entertainment system. Visit any college-town coffee house, and you’ll see it in the bevy of caffeine-glazed eyes staring at laptops connected wirelessly to a global computer network. Why suffer the inconvenient limitations of being physically connected to a power source when you can go cordless?

“Hogwash,” you say. Homes aren’t mobile like laptops or automobiles, so how can a cordless home possibly offer more convenience? The best time to ask yourself this question is when you’re sitting in the kitchen on a windy day, illuminated by candlelight because someone thirty miles away couldn’t be bothered to trim the branches from their oak tree, which has now split in two and taken down the wires that bring you power. You may also reflect on that question when you find your monthly electric bill suddenly much higher, thanks to millions of dollars the utility company had to spend cleaning up the aftermath of a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tornado. The vast network of power lines that create our electric grid is truly an amazing, impressive feat, but the more time you spend looking around you, the more you realize just how hopelessly complicated and extraordinarily inefficient the current method of power delivery really is. Sporadic power outages occur every day, with widespread outages occurring daily. Imagine the time and the resources—not to mention the carbon emissions—which could be saved by transitioning to a self-sustaining, “cordless” community.

Technology is finally reaching the point where the notion of disconnecting from the grid isn’t just possible, but within reach for many homeowners. Here are a couple examples of modern, cordless homes which may become the norm within the coming years, starting with the most economical—and radical—approach to clean living: The “Earthship” by Earthship Biotecture.

Earthship exterior

Based out of New Mexico, the Earthship concept began back in the 1970’s, but experienced a recent resurgence thanks to spiking energy costs. Earthships use recycled materials such as car tires and tin cans mixed with earth, concrete and stucco to create a structure that is said to be extremely efficient in regulating temperatures. Home designs make the best use of natural sunlight as well as geothermal energy to both heat and cool the homes, while solar and wind energy are captured for electricity. Rain/snow melt are the primary sources of water, and no green home would be complete without a system of water recycling. Earthships can be built as a pre-packaged modular design or custom-built to suit individual needs, they can utilize normal power methods in conjunction with on-site generation or be completely self-sufficient, and according to the Earthship Biotecture web site, construction costs are comparable to building a regular home.

Warm living space inside the Earthship

On the other end of the scale is the rather normal looking home of Mike Strizki, a civil engineer living in East Amwell, New Jersey. What makes Mike’s home unique is that it’s completely self-sufficient, relying on a combination of solar and hydrogen power to generate electricity. Electricity from the solar panels charges a stack of batteries and powers an electrolysis machine that separates water into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is released, while the hydrogen is sent into one of ten large storage tanks. When the sun isn’t shining, the stored hydrogen is used in a fuel cell to generate electricity for the home. Mike’s system has been operating without fail since 2006, and he says he makes more electricity than he can use. The only downside is cost; Mike’s self-sufficient home power supply cost a whopping $500,000 to create, but it does use off-the-shelf technology available to anyone. Mike estimates the cost could drop by a factor of 10 once the technology becomes more commonplace with mass-produced parts and equipment, and it could be adopted to just about any existing home. Mike is spearheading this movement through Renewable Energy International, a company he co-founded to help develop and implement alternative energy resources.

Cordless living may be in its infancy, but there’s no denying the appeal of being truly self-sufficient. Being able to live pollution-free in the process? That’s just a self-sufficient bonus.

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