Now that the farm has been sold we are very busy planning and discussing what we are going to build. There appears to be two different camps that have opposing views of what we are doing with our lives...one is saying "hey, that is wonderful go for it!". The other camp is saying "are freaking crazy?". Well, we are choosing to look at it from the first point of view...a chance to have a 'do-over' in life, to build whatever the heck kind of farm that we want from a blank canvass of land here in central Alberta.
The most important thing for us to consider is the house of course. We have had our hearts set on a straw bale house for almost half a decade now. We also want that house to be off-grid. Over the past week we have been focusing on those two aspects more than any other. How do we build our house if we have no place to live? What kind of infrastructure will exist in the house now that we are off-grid? No more electric stove/oven for instance. Another aspect of our house that is extremely important to Mrs. Schneider is the term "Healthy House". What this means is that no aspect of construction can create off-gassing...no foams, no particle board, no anything that will make our air sick. We are focusing on all-natural materials for our house or at least as natural as practical for our environment. We won't be able to construct a compacted dirt floor or go with a clay plaster for instance due to code and environmental conditions.
One of the problems we are facing now is how to heat and cook within our new home. We can easily go with propane stove/oven and a propane boiler for the in-floor heating but the fumes from combustion aren't exactly healthy are they? What about a wood cook stove? Actually, Cindy is surprisingly on-board with this solution but we are still a little aprehensive about going back in time that far! The propane fired boiler is alright because we can simply put it in the mechanical room which is sealed off from the living space of the house and it will be vented directly outdoors. But getting back to cooking with wood...we would sure like to hear more from folks who have done this or are currently doing it. What are the drawbacks...obviously it is more effort to start a fire and gather wood etc. but is there anyone out there who wishes they could get rid of their wood cookstove and replace it with something more modern? Here is a good post by Shirley on the subject.
To heat our home, as I mentioned earlier, we will stick with a propane boiler and in-floor heating. This will be only one of three methods used to heat our new home. The other two will be a passive solar design along with a small free-standing wood stove in the living room. Of course, we will forgo that stove if we already have a wood cookstove in the kitchen. The passive solar design along with the woodstove will mean that the in-floor heating doesn't work very hard, if at all. This will be a convenience for us in times when we are away from the house for the day or even on a tropical holiday.
Electrical systems will of course be solar powered and we will look into the practicality of a wind turbine. We will have to adapt our livestyle to follow along with the weather. On cloudy days with no wind, we will be somewhat relegated to what we can achieve electrically. On sunny, windy days we can do what we want. This seems to be the way of off-grid families. Actually it isn't much different than farming is it? You can't perform many farming operations when its raining and what you can achieve is almost always directly related to the weather. We will probably have a small diesel generator somewhere in the yard that can be fired up in times when we absolutely need the power and the weather isn't cooperating.
Well, that's about it for our house discussion today. The one thing I forgot to mention is that we are planning to build rather small and as efficient as possible. We are still struggling somewhat with actual construction design, but I suspect that we are going to focus on a load-bearing straw bale wall and simple hip roof design. I'll post our plans in a few days when we are a little more committed.