Texas Off-Grid House Requires no Air Conditioning
Photography by Jud Haggard Photography
It’s not the usual request you’d get from a home buyer: “Design me a building that doesn’t use the grid for power, water, or wastewater handling.” But that’s just what Teresa Fransik of Sierra was tasked with when she agreed to work with a couple who didn’t want to see an electric pole for as far as the eye could see.“We were fortunate with this job because we had some incredible homeowners that drove the process,” Fransik claims right off the bat. It’s clear she thinks the four years of planning on this house played an enormous role in her being able to provide the no-grid product requested.
Next, it was the location. “It is a perfectly sited passive solar designed home,” Fransik explains. “It’s the home’s placement on the earth and the piece of property it is on, and the trees surrounding it that makes it work.” They opted to put the XX PV on the carport to preserve the trees shading the house.
The 2,046-square-foot home has 12” ICF walls for mass. “And we included a rock wall in the southern part of the house,” adds Fresnik. “That wall is one feature that keeps the home acclimating perfectly. We calculated to the degree the solar angle and louvers on the windows are placed so not a sliver of sunlight through the windows in the summer but in the winter it beams through, hits the rock wall, and warms the house.”
During one of the hottest summers on Texas’ records (20 days of above 100 F temperatures) the house never rose above 82 F. The home does not have air-conditioning. Fresnik does not think this would have been possible without the concrete walls and floor. In addition, the owners are dedicated to opening and shutting windows and hallways as it makes sense to vent the hot air at different times throughout the day.
Because the house runs on a limited 3kW PV system, the couple is strict about what electronics they will have in their home. They chose the lowest amp TV and shop for electronics that use the smallest amount of energy.
To handle wastewater, the home employs a rainwater catchment plumbed to a graywater tank and composting toilets. Fresnik says the toilets work well (but were not cheap at $1,700 a piece) and do require some maintenance. To future-proof the house for new owners, she included a drain under the slab. “If someone wants to ‘flush’ one day, they can take the toilet off, break the concrete, and add a toilet.”
Another area where they saved precious energy is the kitchen. They don’t have any electrical cooking. Instead, they installed a cookstove. “It’s quite amazing,” Fresnik says of the contemporary-styled unit called The Diva by Hearthstone. “You use three or four small sticks of wood in the fireplace and you can cook up breakfast. And it doesn’t heat the house at all.” The home also boasts an outdoor kitchen and shower for use when the weather dictates.
Fresnik clearly loves this project, even as she admits, it’s not necessarily what many people who ask for a green house are looking for, especially those willing to pay for $288 a square foot custom home. “This home functions perfectly for the owners. People think of off-grid homes and picture cabins and caves, but this is a luxurious home and functions withouth electric, water, and sewer, and functions perfectly for the two of them.”