Since the existence of humans living at home it has been proven that cold homes are bad for health. Problems and diseases linked to the cold range from blood pressure increases and common colds, to heart attacks and pneumonia. Besides poor health, cold-related illness causes absence from work, social isolation, and sleep deprivation. Unless you live in a year-round mild climate like San Diego or Miami, then you’ll need to generate heat in the cooler months. In this article you will be informed on three main non-electrical heating options to heat your off-grid home.
But what is a cold home or not? If your home is below 55 °F, it may increase your blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease. At 57-59 °F home temperature, you may be diminishing your resistance to respiratory diseases. The recommended nighttime bedroom temperature is 64 °F. The recommended daytime temperature range for occupied rooms is 66-70 °F.
There are several options to heat your off grid home but using traditional electric heaters is not a viable one. At first glance it would seem like using your own off grid electrical power would make the most sense, right? So why not just use this electrical power to warm your home?
The reason is that it takes a massive amount of electrical energy to convert enough of it into heat. You’ll likely need way more electrical power than you’re willing to invest in these systems to heat your home this way.
For the lucky few, you might be able to get away with this setup if you have a fantastic water turbine configuration generating copious amounts of constant energy. Paired with a small well-insulated home it’s possible to make a setup like that work, but that’s exceedingly rare.
Rocket Firewood Stove
If firewood is abundant at your off-grid property, then you should take advantage of that. But chopping firewood for a traditional fireplace is a brutal never-ending chore. You’ll need to chop down trees and split wood all summer long to prepare for the winter.
And you’ll need to stay a season ahead of the game. Green, freshly chopped, wood doesn’t burn effectively or efficiently. It needs a season to dry out before it’s ready to heat your home. So you need to chop this year’s stockpile for next year’s winter. For our forefathers, it was a continuous, grueling, but essential chore for their very survival.
For the time being, you can pay someone else to do the work. Find a local landscaper selling firewood and get a several cords each year for winter. You’ll just need to haul it and not worry about slipping and chopping.
But in this situation, you’re relying on others which goes against our central premise of getting off the grid systems. So you’ll want to know how to do this chore yourself. You can use a chainsaw as long as there’s fuel available to run it. But if you cannot longer get fuel, then what? Time to get your manual ax out and learn what callouses are all about.
So that’s the trade off with firewood. The more self-reliant you want to be, the more work it is. It’s not like electricity where once you set it up all you need to do is maintain it. With a firewood based heat source, it’s always going to be a constant job if you want to be 100% self-reliant.
But even with all that said, firewood systems are still a great option for generating heat for small off grid homes. Why? Because of the latest iteration of fireplace technology called rocket stoves.
Rocket stoves use firewood much more efficiently. You will get more BTU’s out of each log than a traditional fireplace. This means you need less firewood for the winter. Less wood means less work.
Geothermal Heating Systems
One option that seems to be getting more and more attractive is using geothermal. A geothermal heating unit uses about a third of the energy of an all-electric based heating unit. And the trend is only getting better from an energy efficiency standpoint.
So why does a geothermal system use so much less energy? Because it’s not converting electricity directly into heat, the electrical is only pumping water and moving air via fans.
The basic concept is utilizing the constant temperature of the earth (vs. the air) to exchange heat.
This difference between the ground temperature and air temperature (in combination with using a refrigerant) turns the heat differential into heat for your off grid homes. But how does it work? The temperature of the earth 10 feet below surface level is a constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit year round.
When the air outside your home is below freezing, just 10 feet below the snow-covered ground it’s still 55 degrees. Or when summer brings 96-degree weather, the earth beneath your house keeps steady at 55 degrees.
In the winter, even an unheated basement stays relatively warm because of that consistent 55-degree insulation from the surrounding earth. Geothermal systems take advantage of this naturally occurring constant. They harness the steady temperature surrounding any home to heat or cool it as needed.
So even thou geothermal systems can cost between $5,000 to $25,000 they are still moving more from the fringes to a real off grid option to seriously consider.
Compost Water Heater
This option is powerful and works well with the right setups. What we love about this heat source is that you should compost on your off grid property anyhow.
The idea behind using compost for heat is the energy released in the breakdown of organic materials. When organic materials break down, they release large amounts of excess heat in the process. You can then capture some of this heat using water tubes and the principles of heat transfer.
The best example of this process in action is a regular garden compost. When done right, you can see, feel, and smell this heat when someone “turns over” a full functioning compost pile.
Fantastic, so what’s the catch? The catch is that you must continuously supply this setup with fresh organic material to break down. The good news is you can often find free bulk amounts of wood chips which they are a good organic compost material. You can also use grass clippings, leaves, or anything else that naturally decays. And if you’re raising livestock you can add their manure to the compost heat as well.
Livestock continuously emits a waste stream called manure. This manure is an excellent organic compound for composting.
Here are several videos covering many more aspects and options related to setting up a compost heat energy source.