August 29, 2012

Off Grid Housing

Romania's entry to the 2012 European Solar Decathlon
produces 20% more power than it uses
My dad once accused me of being "so damn independent", and I guess it's true - I do enjoy the challenge of taking care of my own needs.

I would rather grow a garden than go to work to make money so I can pay someone else to provide my food. I don't mind being dependent on other people, because we are all dependent on each other, but I don't want to be dependent on corporations which, despite laws to the contrary, are not people.

I also don't like being dependent on a large, centralized power generation and distribution system run by number crunchers in expensive suits. When this system is the only game in town, and there are few to no alternatives to turn to when rates jump by 50% or more, I feel less like a valued customer, and more like a vassal.

It is time to break out of the Middle Ages, and quit paying tribute to the feudal corporate conglomerates that currently control power distribution in most parts of the world. Corporations are not people, and we therefore can not depend on them to provide our basic needs - they only care about profit, and not us or the best interests of the planet.

What we certainly can depend on, is our nearest star, the Sun. This massive, flaming ball of gas constantly washes the globe in enough free and abundant energy to meet all our needs. Our sustainable future will take advantage of this fact to bypass damaging private power production using coal, gas, and nuclear. It will enable each of us to become our own power producers.

The first U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon took place in 2002, and takes place biennially (the next one is Oct. 2013). The free-to-the-public event "challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency."

The purpose of the Solar Decathlon is to:
  • Educate students and the public about money-saving opportunities and environmental benefits presented by clean-energy products and design solutions.
  • Demonstrate to the public the comfort and affordability of homes that combine energy-efficient construction and appliances with renewable energy systems available today.
The first European Solar Decathlon (modeled after the US event) was in 2010, and another is taking place this year. One entry for this year's competition is generating more than electricity - it is also producing a lot of interest in small, simple, energy self-sufficient homes.

Romania's entry (shown above) is so efficient that it creates 20% more power than is required by the house. The student team wanted to keep a simple, traditional design in mind for their prefabricated high-tech house. Building materials include engineered wood, along with regular timber and steel. The outside walls are pre-built including insulation, and are load-bearing, allowing the inside space to be free of supports.

To further increase efficiency, all of the technical infrastructure such as the heating and cooling systems, and the energy converters, are in one tech room. In Romania, the house produces 9501kWh/yr and consumes 7508.11kWh/yr.

The building decisions allowed the Romanian team to keep the home's interior simple, open, and bright, while maintaining a small environmental footprint. The prototype cost $149,000 to build, but in time the team hopes that their sun-powered homes can be made for about $86,000.

My dad would have liked it if I had leaned on him more, for that support is what good fathers provide their children. But he would have agreed that leaning on large, profit-hungry, non-human entities for basic needs is probably not a good idea.

He would have also agreed that it is time to take advantage of the freedom and independence of off-grid housing  using the free and abundant energy that the Sun provides as nature's gift to all life on earth.


  1. That is really cool! I am hoping and looking forward to the time when smaller homes become the norm, and when solar energy (and other renewable sources) go mainstream. This house looks lovely.

  2. e.a.f.8/31/2012

    The article is very interesting & I love the look of the house. Are there more pictures availableof the interior of the house? Will the house be in production & if so will it be sold in North america. I think I just found the perfect vacation off grid home.

    1. I really like this house, too. I did another post with more photos that can be found here at:

      I would not be surprised if the Romanian student team that designed and built the home has plans to produce it. The home could be prefabricated, then shipped out to the building site.

      For the competition, the team needs to be able to build the house within the 10 days of the Solar Decathlon event. I would love to be able to order one, have it delivered, then have it be ready to move into 10 days later.


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