With a permanent population
of approximately 1,000 people, Great Barrier Island has no municipal water or electricity supplies and no sewage treatment facilities, meaning every home there has to be self-sufficient. Some people would be daunted by the challenge, but South African–born architects Lance and Nicola Herbst relished an opportunity to design their home completely off the grid.
The fair climate allowed for natural green features, such as passive heating and cooling, in this Stinson Beach house. With the windows open, cross breezes off the ocean keep the rooms comfortable on warm days. When the temperature drops and the windows are shut, solar heat warms the interior. The exterior rain screen creates an air chamber around the building that adds extra insulation.
On an island 20 miles off the coast of Maine, a writer, with the help of his daughter, built not only a room but an entire green getaway of his own. On Criehaven, a 0.7-square-mile island, personal generators are the norm, but Bruce Porter and his architect daughter have challenged this by installing solar panels and an on-demand water heater. In addition to this, the small cottage boasts a rainwater catchment system and a self-contained composting toilet.
From the deck of this waterfront house in Stinson Beach, the scenery is abuzz with Northern California wildlife—but there's not a utility bill in sight. Photovoltaic panels generate all of the electricity—powering the HVAC and radiant-heating systems—and provide backup on cloudy days for the solar hot-water system, which is powered by two thermal panels.
Inside this 1,900-square-foot house, carved into a hill in Big Sur, a wall of windows opens the home to the ocean. Solar gain through the glass keeps the residents warm, and additional heat gain is garnered through limestone flooring. When the house becomes stuffy, windows oriented to the east and west take advantage of strong winds and open to allow air to circulate. Concrete countertops also maintain an even temperature, and the reclaimed-wood fireplace provides an additional source of heat.
Dubbed the Casa Cuatro, this house floats atop a 180-foot cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a 90-minute drive from Santiago, Chile. A set of solar panels, a wind-powered well, and passive sustainable strategies make living miles from municipal utilities a non-issue for this beachgoer.
Located on the coast of Tasmania, this home observes passive solar design principles, and most of its power comes from six photovoltaic cells mounted on a disused shipping container parked in a sunny clearing about 100 feet from the house. The solar panels are angled on a tilted roof to make the most of the intense sun in this somewhat ozone-depleted region.
The cabin perched on a postglacial archipelago in Georgian Bay is powered only by solar panels; it uses a graywater system, attached to the home’s only sink; and there is a composting toilet. At night, the residents heat their bed with rocks warmed beside the wood-burning stove and fireplace—and the ambient heat that these generate keeps the home’s temperature within a comfortable range.