Anybody into self reliance at home?

Jul 11, 2001
I am not talking about "the world is going to end any day" type stuff. I am talking about homes that use different construction methods (like earth bermed or monolithic domes), energy efficiency, energy production, small scale food production. Just stuff like people did less than century ago.

As a engineering student in college I became interested in building a home that could produce all its own energy, and produce enough food to feed a family. I have become interested in it again.

Would like info that anybody has here on power generation, building methods, food production (especially hydroponics), and the like.
The father of a friend built a home in northern Montana with thermal considerations in mind. If you've never spent a winter on the high plains, we're talking many days of sub-zero, bitterly cold weather when it is very clear out because all the water vapor has been frozen out of the air. And along the Highline, the wind never really stops blowing. Or so he says. :)

The house's features are:
  1. A "basement" filled with boulders (thermal mass) large enough to allow air flow around them. The boulders radiate heat during the night to warm the house above them.
  2. Dark solar collector roof with clear glass/plastic outer layer to warm air that comes up from the outer walls of the house.
  3. Hollow central wall the length of the house to channel the warmed air down to the basement.
  4. Electric fans in that central wall to pull warm air from the roof down through the core of the house (warming it) down into the thermal mass basement to warm the boulders during the day. They serve to push air (now depleted of much of its warmth) from the basement up through the outer walls to the solar collector on the roof to be warmed again, thus completing the cycle.
My friend said that the electric bill ran well under $50 per month, since they only needed to run the fans during the day and power lights & other electric appliances. While they had auxiliary heat available in the house, he said they used it extremely rarely. Virtually never.

There are also dark thermal mass floors used in the Midwest on glassed-in southern exposures of houses with louvered pergolas roofing the area immediately outside the windows. The angle of the louvers is such that in summer the sun's rays don't pass through the louvers and the pergolas shade the house. In winter when the sun is not rising as high in the sky during midday and afternoon, the sun shines through the louvers onto the dark floor inside the house & the floor gets nice & warm. Since the floor is tile or stone, it stores the radiant heat during the day, then releases it during the night.
I've been researching straw-bale construction. It is ecologically sustainable, exceeds coding for fire, seismic and wind resistance, has high R-value ratings, and many, many more benefits. Check out the book "The Straw Bale House" by Steen, Steen & Bainbridge.

Also check out the magazines "Backwoods Home" and "Countryside". They both deal with alternative construction & power sources, as well as great info on agricultural topics like you mentioned.
Another magazine I've heard of is Sunset Magazine. It sometimes has good articles, might be worth checking out.

I like the straw bales concept also. My goal is to someday live off the grid, but I am still doing a lot more research...