14 Off-Grid Projects to Cut Your Energy and Water Usage
Simple Greywater Treatment
Want to skip the sewer or septic system? You can recycle the ‘greywater’ from your home, which is waste water from the sinks, showers, tubs and washing machines. A backyard greywater system typically involves routing this waste water, which may contain traces of dirt, food, grease, hair and household cleaning products, out to the yard to irrigate non-food-producing plants. Gravity-based systems that don’t rely on pumps or filters last the longest and are the easiest to maintain. If you produce more wastewater than you need for irrigation, you can create ‘constructed wetlands’, which filter and absorb the water naturally. If you don’t produce much wastewater at all, you can even set up a system of planters that will filter the water, as pictured above. Learn more about all of your options, and what not to do, at OasisDesign.net and GreywaterAction.org.
The Art of Composting Toilets
Every day, we’re collectively flushing billions of gallons of perfectly drinkable water down the toilet, while clean water grows ever more scarce and millions of people in developing nations die without it. When properly maintained, composting toilets turn human waste into harmless soil, and they’re easier to take care of than you might imagine. You can buy a commercial composting toilet, or make a really simple one yourself out of little more than a bucket, a toilet seat and some carbon-rich composting materials like sawdust, cedar chips or shredded oak leaves. They’re emptied regularly into a specially-prepared outdoor compost bin that’s kept separate from the compost you use for vegetable and herb gardens. Get more info at Mother Earth News and the Humanure Handbook.
Solar-Powered Appliances & Gadgets
There are so many small opportunities to disconnect from the grid, and while some of them involve somewhat pricey, high-tech solar gadget chargers, others are decidedly simple. There are solar-powered versions of all sorts of electronic devices available, including laptop chargers, phone chargers, stereos and even refrigerators; you can also build your own DIY solar charger for about $150. Don’t forget hand-crank gadgets, too, which include coffee grinders, blenders, gadget chargers and more.
Manual Laundry Machine
(image via: tiny house blog)
Laundry machines are some of the hardest electrical appliances to part with when you’re trying to go partially or completely off-grid. Most of us have an idea of manual clothes washing as being a rather arduous task, requiring a whole lot of elbow grease and time. But there are some simple manual washing machines that require no power at all. The Wonder Wash is a small drum with a hand-crank that can wash up to 5 pounds of clothing at a time and only takes about two to five minutes of ‘churning’ to get the laundry clean. It also requires less detergent and water than a standard washing machine or even doing hand-wash in a bucket. The Wonder Wash sells for about $50. Want to go even simpler? You can DIY your own off-grid laundry machine. Get the instructions at MAKE.
Once the clothes are clean, wring them out and hang them up to dry. You can get wringers to make the process easier, as well as a variety of clothesline solutions, at Lehmans.com.