Self-Sufficient Homes: Welcome to the Self-Sufficient Home. Its Inhabitants Make Their Own Energy, Produce Their Own Food, and Do Their Part to Save the World's Environment

By Moench, Mel | The Futurist, May-June 2004 | Go to article overview

Self-Sufficient Homes: Welcome to the Self-Sufficient Home. Its Inhabitants Make Their Own Energy, Produce Their Own Food, and Do Their Part to Save the World's Environment


Moench, Mel, The Futurist


Get ready to live in a totally self-sufficient home, one that is specially constructed and equipped to generate all its power and raise all your food.

A home that is self-sufficient should not be confused with an "independent home," which typically refers only to its energy use. Most so-called independent homes are still dependent on food distribution systems to sustain their occupants.

Modern self-sufficient homes--also known as autonomous homes, bioshelters, or independent living systems--use an immense number of appropriate technologies. They generate and store their own power using solar energy, wind generators, photovoltaic panels, and renewable energy. They maximize usable power by using battery electrical storage, direct current controls, high-efficiency lighting, energy-efficient appliances, super-insulation, natural lighting, passive ventilation, thermal mass, heat recovery ventilation, and high-efficiency woodstoves. They minimize negative impact on their surroundings because they can be built with green or alternative construction. They employ low-water toilets, wastewater treatment, water reuse, graywater systems, smoke scrubbers, and recycling to reduce pollution and conserve water. And, after ensuring the land stays healthy, they provide the best possible conditions for food production, including intensive organic agriculture, undersoil irrigation, aquaculture, greenhouse food production, and composting. A basic and reliable home-control system saves effort, eliminates mistakes, and helps coordinate all activities and functions in the home.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

So why don't we all live in self-sufficient homes right now? Because there aren't any. The fact is that a completely self-sufficient home system supporting twenty-first-century lifestyles has yet to be built and tested in its final form. So far, I have built a prototype, and a second prototype is in the works. My first prototype Earth Home tested many aspects of the design and showed that the concept could indeed be realized. The second prototype will become the first modern home in history to sustain human occupants indefinitely using concepts, technology, products, diets, and systems from all over the world.

Complete Self-Sufficient Technologies

Space program research was probably the first place where complete self-sustaining technology was sought that incorporated both food production and energy-independence in a limited enclosure. NASA's early Closed Environmental Life Support System looked into intensive plant growing, carbon dioxide enrichment, soap filtering, and extreme water conservation for extended space travel and/or colonization.

The Russians also researched closed systems, and at one time they may have been the world leader in this technology. At the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, Yevgeny Shepelev became the first human being to live with biological life support. In 1961, he spent 24 hours in a chamber where chlorella algae regenerated his air and purified his water. Siberia's Institute of Biophysics in Krasnoyarsk further developed algae-based systems with the Bios-3 experiments in the 1970s and 1980s. These experiments enclosed crews of two or three people for six months with about a dozen food crops supplying half the food and providing nearly all the air and water regeneration.

In the United States, John Todd and his group at the New Alchemy Institute did pioneering work with their experimental self-sufficient home, The Ark, in the early 1970s. This group was one of the first to emphasize aquaculture in self-sufficient home designs. Arguably the best-known self-sustaining project was the huge Biosphere II structure in Arizona that completely sealed eight people for two years beginning in 1991. It cost millions of dollars to enclose approximately three acres under glass, about half an acre of which was dedicated to food production using 156 edible plant species.

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