9 Stellar Homes That Venture Off-Grid

Celebrate Earth Day with these off-grid homes that put sustainability first.
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Once upon a time, the idea of an off-grid home might’ve conjured visions of Little House on the Prairie, but no longer. The interest in living off-grid—i.e. in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on public utilities like municipal water supplies, the electrical power grid, or the local sewer and gas systems—has only risen as a cheaper, more eco-friendly, and more independent way of living.  

Homes that are off-the-grid usually allow for a lower carbon footprint, lower (or even nonexistent) utility bills, and a sense of freedom and self-reliance. In celebration of Earth Day, we’ve gathered up some of our favorite modern homes that are partially, if not completely, off the grid.

A Writer’s Island Cabin Off the Coast of Maine

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 an island off the coast of Maine in a small town where personal generators are the norm, the Porters instead sought out more eco-friendly heating and electrical sources with solar panels and an on-demand water heater. The home, designed by the client’s daughter, Alex Scott Porter, featured an unobtrusive exterior that sought to blend in with the local vernacular in color and form but was still distinctly modern and not the traditional Maine farmhouse or barn.

A Tasmanian Prefab With Rain Water Harvesting and Solar Water Heaters

Upon his first visit to Tasmania, an island south of the Australian mainland, resident David Burns was immediately smitten with its varied, pristine landscape. Working with architecture firm Misho+Associates, he built a self-sustaining, 818-square-foot retreat that would allow him to completely unplug from urban life.

With clients working in environmental science and sustainability, an eco-friendly house seemed like a natural fit to architect Misho Vasiljevich of Misho+Associates. In fact, the Sydney–based firm specializes in energy conservation, and designed the orange home in Tasmania as a "box within a box," with a protective outer layer system of screens and an extremely high r-value of insulation for the inner box. The home is connected to the electrical grid, but it uses an evacuated solar-tube system to minimize its energy consumption for water heating; it also harvests rain water and uses a gray and black water system, as well as recyclable materials like timber and zinc for the exterior.

A Rural Vacation Home Clad in Weathered Steel Panels

Architect Jesse Garlick’s rural Washington vacation home references its rugged surroundings. The steel cladding has developed a patina similar to the ochre-red color of bedrock found in the area.

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Envisioned as a place to recharge and embrace the outdoors, Vancouver–based architect Jesse Garlick designed a vacation home for himself, his wife, and their infant son in Eastern Washington’s high desert. Through a combination of passive design strategies, solar power for electricity, propane for cooking, and a well for water, the prefabricated, 820-square foot home is entirely off the grid. Inspired by Garlick’s love of sailing, the interiors utilize similar space-saving strategies and walls and ceilings are often clad in wood.

A Rustic, Off-Grid Retreat on an Appalachian Farm

The father of architect Greg Dutton wished to build a cabin on the family farm, located within Appalachian Ohio and home to 400 heads of cattle. Dutton, of Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio-based Midland Architecture, presented this design as his father’s birthday present in 2012. Finished in 2014, the 900-square-foot cabin operates entirely off-the-grid.

With a remote site in Appalachian Ohio, connecting to the local water and electrical grid wasn’t even an option for architect Greg Dutton when he was designing a weekend house and guest residence for his father. Located on the family farm with 400 heads of cattle, the 900-square foot home overlooks a valley and a 13-acre lake, and operates off of a cistern providing fresh water from a nearby natural spring and an array of solar panels for electricity. The materials were selected because of their durability, natural shades and tones, and ability to blend into the landscape.

A Getaway Home in Two Brick, Wood, and Metal Sheds in Australia

The exterior combines recycled brick, radial sawn timber, and galvanized roof sheeting. "Materials were selected to meet the clients’ brief that the house fit within the cognitive idea of an old shed," explain the architects.

Resembling two simple sheds sitting on 300 acres of land in Victoria, Australia, this retreat by MRTN Architects combines recycled brick, radial sawn timber, and galvanized roof sheeting at the exterior to give a sense of age and texture to the buildings. The 500-square-foot cabin and adjacent shed are 100-percent off-grid, with water, sewer, and electrical systems in place to support these buildings and any future development.

Traditional Methods Meet Modern Design on the Colorado Plateau

Entirely off the grid, the house is powered by four photovoltaic panels that supply electricity to lights, small appliances, and water pumps.

Designed and constructed by first-year graduation students at DesignBuildBLUFF, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the University of Utah’s College of Architecture + Planning, this off-grid home is located in Navajo Country for a local Navajo family. The home was designed with a budget of $30,000 and the requirement that it be completely off the grid. As a result, the home employed traditional heating and cooling techniques and materials: rammed earth construction serves as a central heating device that soaks up heat from the sun during the day and slowly releases it at night throughout the house; a wood-burning stove provides additional heat as necessary. 

An Off-Grid Rural House in Ontario Fits Into The Landscape

"There’s a presence to that place—it’s vast, and constantly shifting," designer Lisa Moffitt says. "It was clear that this house should be an observation shed for the changing landscape beyond."

In a rural area of Huron County, Ontario, sits this 925-square-foot home on 25 acres of land. Blending into the local vernacular of barns and equipped with a 1.4-kW solar array, triple-glazed windows, a gabled roof, a covered southern porch, and a radiant heating system, the home is both efficient and off the local power grid.

Element House in New Mexico by MOS Architects

Each prefabricated unit is covered in aluminum but built from SIPS (Structurally Insulated Panels) that consist of thick insulation sandwiched between plywood panels. These high-performance panels keep the interior protected from the desert's ambient heat.

Designed as a prefabricated, sustainably minded guest house by New York–based MOS Architects, this residence is sited 120 miles east of Albuquerque and was commissioned by the Museum of Outdoor Arts. The aluminum-clad structure comprises 1,543 square feet and was built to Passive House standards that allowed it to take advantage of the desert’s hot, sunny days and cool, dark nights through thick insulation in the SIPS (structurally insulated panels.) The three-bedroom guesthouse is powered by solar panels and utilizes nine thermal chimneys to channel hot air out of the interior living spaces.

An Off-Grid Home With a Pulley System in Turkey

The home was prefabricated in Turkey and delivered to the site on the back of a flatbed truck. Thanks to the small size, simple design, and carefully selected palette, the project cost just under €10,000.

Istanbul–based architecture firm SO? designed an off-grid prefab cabin to serve as a family retreat for a couple with a young child. Nestled between the border of Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece, the plywood-clad structure is sited in a small village near the Turkish city of Edirne and measures less than 200 square feet. To accommodate for the various weather conditions across all seasons, the architects have designed the windows and walls to be pulley-operated, allowing them to be raised and lowered depending on the climate. Because the tiny house can be used off-grid, the inside is heated with a wood-burning stove, and many elements are flexible and can be used in multiple ways.

Related Reading: These 10 Green Roofs Bring Life—and So Much More—to These Modern Structures


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