Is "off the grid" living possible while still having modern comforts like heating? Sure! Here's how to do it in North Alabama.
The frequency and severity of natural disasters have been on the rise in recent years across the United States. While Northern Alabama has been spared the worst of them, the area has still seen its fair share of serious storms and resulting power outages. As a result, more homeowners than ever are trying to find ways to embrace "off-grid" living that don't require giving up creature comforts.
What Does It Mean to Live "Off Grid?"
Before discussing whether it's possible to live off-grid in Northern Alabama, it's worth taking a moment to define exactly what that means. The problem is that off-grid living looks different for just about everyone. Technically, going off-grid simply means living in a home that doesn't rely on municipal electricity, gas, and water.
Some people think the only way to accomplish this goal and start embracing true energy independence is to move to the middle of nowhere, chop down trees for firewood in the winter, and resign themselves to sweltering in the summer heat. Thankfully, that's not usually the case. Even suburban families can increase their energy independence and go off-grid with adequate solar power and a qualified HVAC contractor.
Off-Grid Power Generation
The first thing most people do when they want to take their homes off-grid is to start looking into alternative means of generating power. Solar panels are a popular option, as are wind turbines. Both of these types of systems can be expensive but provided the source of power is combined with a sufficiently large battery bank, they also eliminate monthly power bills.
When sized correctly, solar- and wind-powered systems can provide for 100% of a modern family's electrical needs. Remember, though, that the more electricity a household uses, the more homeowners will need to spend on power generation and storage. Investing in energy-efficient appliances is a must, as is considering alternatives to conventional electric heaters and air conditioners.
How to Heat a Home Off-Grid
Most American homes are heated by either electricity or natural gas, specifically because these grid-tied utilities can be provided easily by power companies. Thankfully, they can both be used off-grid, as well. The key is to maximize the energy efficiency of the home's heating system. You can do that by:
Sealing Air Leaks
Air leaks will leave homes losing heat fast, whether they're tied to the grid or not. It requires a small up-front investment to weatherize a modern home and get it ready for winter, but the long-term payoff will be worth it. Plus, there may be government programs available to help pay for weatherizing Alabama homes.
Upgrading Heating Systems
If a home's furnace or electric heater is more than ten years old, the chances are good that it's no longer operating at peak efficiency. Upgrading to a modern unit that is Energy Star certified can substantially reduce the household's power requirements. In some cases, the right electric heater combined with effective weatherization can reduce a household's energy requirements enough to run everything off of a sufficiently large solar array.
Switching to Heat Pumps
Modern gas furnaces and electric heaters are far more energy-efficient than their predecessors, but they still use more power than heat pumps. Unlike traditional systems, heat pumps provide hot air in the winter and cool air in the summer using the same equipment. They do this by drawing heat directly from the surrounding air, water, or the ground and moving it into or out of the home as the situation requires.
How to Cool Down Off-Grid
In Alabama, it's just as important to stay cool in the summer as it is to have heat in the winter. For most people, that means using air conditioning. While it's true that home cooling tends to require more energy than home heating, there are still plenty of ways to maintain comfortable indoor temperatures, even in the dog days of summer.
Upgrade to a More Energy-Efficient Air Conditioner
As with home heating systems, air conditioners vary significantly in terms of energy efficiency. Homeowners planning to make the switch to 100% off-grid power will need to prioritize efficiency when they purchase new AC systems. As a general rule, central air systems are far more efficient than individual window air conditioners. There are also low-voltage models available.
Install Ceiling Fans
Some people think of ceiling fans as being outdated because air conditioners are so much more effective at keeping indoor spaces cool. In fact, the two work perfectly together. Ceiling fans create a draft, moving hot water away from people's skin to facilitate natural evaporative cooling. Just remember to turn the fans off when no one's in the room. They enhance comfort and make people feel cooler, but that isn't much help when the room is empty.
Install a Heat Pump
We've already mentioned heat pumps once, but it's worth reiterating: these highly efficient devices can both heat and cool a home using much less energy than an air conditioner or an electric heater. Heat pumps are more efficient than air conditioners, as well, because they remove the heat instead of actively cooling the air. When the temperatures start to rise, homeowners can simply reverse the flow of the refrigerant in their heat pumps' loops so that it pulls the warmth out of the indoor air instead of introducing it from outside.
Be Prepared to Make the Switch
If you're planning on going completely off-grid, it doesn't matter whether the home is located in the woods or the suburbs. It's important to be prepared. Most homeowners start by installing grid-tied solar power, so they have a backup plan in place, and some even install multiple heating and cooling systems.
Anyone curious about what the best options are for off-grid HVAC systems can explore options on our website or call (256) 474-7550 to speak with a dedicated representative. We'll be happy to explain the options available to those who want to make the move off the grid and help you choose the right HVAC system to suit your family's needs.