Usually when we hear of someone building a house that’s completely off the grid, it’s a cabin or small home tucked away on a mountain with not a whole lot of civilization around it. Enter the “Urban Frontier House.”
That’s what longtime Billings, Montana, resident Randy Hafer calls the 2,400-square-foot home that he and his wife are building on the city’s north side. It’s located on the corner of North 23rd Street and Seventh Avenue North, where their 23-foot high wind turbine is situated. The house will not only be disconnected from the electrical power grid, but also from the city’s water and sewer hookups.
Solar panels and the wind turbine will provide electricity. Insulation, ventilation and passive solar will provide most of the heating and cooling. All of their water will come from the sky…collected in barrels and stored in the basement. It’s a home that will use no more energy or water than it is able to generate on site.
While Hafer and his wife are free to come and go as they please, they may not need to leave home too often. They will grow fruits and vegetables in a 300-square-foot garden room. This room will also serve as a passive heat collector to warm the house. Because electricity from the solar panels and wind turbine will be stored in batteries in the basement, they may plug in electric heaters from time to time when it gets exceptionally cold.
Hafer says that the positioning of his house is nearly as important as what’s in it and on it. For example, the garden room, with solar panels above it, will face directly south. Every room in the house that is habitable will have direct high-low ventilation. With windows open both high and low, cooler air will rush in from below and warmer air will rise up and out.
Other notable features about the house are:
• A heat trap that will keep the basement at 75 degrees, which will help to heat the floor above it.
• A heavily insulated roof and walls made of structural insulated panels.
• Two sets of blinds for each window, including an insulated blind.
• Low-flow fixtures and a composting toilet that uses at least 10 times less water than a conventional toilet.
• Gray water (used for showers and laundry) that will be filtered and re-used indefinitely.
Hafer said that because Montana has a larger spread between its record low and record high temperatures than any other state, his home will be a model that can be effectively replicated anywhere in the country.
How would you like to live in this type of house? Are there some features that you’d prefer to get rid of, or others you’d like to add. Let me know what you think.