Sunday, 22 February 2015

Off Grid House - Open Day in Little River

At last, something for me to write about.  Last weekend Rob and I went to visit the home of Emma & Mark Sutcliffe and their two teenage children, in Little River.  This small settlement between Melbourne & Geelong includes many small acreage holdings.  The Sutcliffe's  inspired choice of  finding an alternative for bringing power to their 17 acre property has resulted in the creation of their very own personal power station.  I'm not suggesting they are unique but it is a great example of how with good design and planning, it is possible to live off grid.  Imagine never having a power bill and being self reliant.

During the day they use the free power generated by 30 panels on their garage roof and in the evenings they rely on the stored power contained in their bank of single cell batteries.   These batteries are stored in a purpose built ventilated box in the garage.

Inside their beautiful home is a small panel on the wall which indicates the capacity of stored power.
At 2pm on a sunny summer afternoon, it showed 100% which i guess is what you would expect.  Emma explained that the previous evening after a regular night of usage (with two teenagers at home) it dropped to 97%.  In two years they have not used their generator once.  It seems to me that the size of their system can more than meet their power requirements.

This kind of fully off grid system is not economically viable for those that live in suburbia where there is a power pole/pit outside the house.  Emma and Mark had a choice of spending $35,000+  on bringing grid power to the house or spending more and never having a power bill again.  The batteries are by far the greatest single expense at this time.  As we were recently told, great advances in this field are under way and we are all hoping that in the next 5-10 years they become more affordable for domestic users.

OK, at this time, i should point you in the direction of the TOGSH blog and Facebook page.  In there you will find tabs for costs, specifications and frequently asked questions.  Emma would be most helpful if this was something you were looking at so pop onto the Contact tab.   Though Emma is a "Climate Reality Leader" she is careful to distinguish between off grid living and climate action. Of course these go hand in hand but she is focused on this being a economic and lifestyle choice rather than environmental.

Emma asked me if i knew Gavin Webber from Melton and i had to laugh, I'm practically his disciple.  She also knew my good friends Jessie from rabidlittlehippy and Bronwyn from Shoestring.  Funny how its such a small world.  
I did have some indication of what the house looked like on the outside.  There was a photo on the invitation i received from our Wyndham City's Department of Environment and Sustainability.  The open day was part of their Green Living Series.    You can sign on to receive the Experience Wyndham's monthly enewsletter here.

I noted from the photo the very traditional homestead architecture with wide verandas that provide shade and living space. What wasn't obvious was the number of environmental design features that were included internally and externally.  All the windows are double glazed.  This might be quite common in the Northern Hemisphere but for some crazy reason it is not that common down South.  Why?  I guess cost but you would have thought that this very effective method of insulating from the cold used by our European fore-bearers would have also been used here to keep out the heat and the cold.  I would suggest that 99% of all windows in Oz are not double glazed.   Gavin from Greening of Gavin has recently installed them and you can read about it here.

Click here to enlarge
Other features included breeze-ways, overhead ceiling fans (no air conditioning needed), polished concrete floors (so cool on a hot day),  two wood fireplaces.  One fireplace is in the open kitchen, dining and living area at the rear of the house and the other is central.  The warm air flows throughout the house.

Though Emma kindly gave me permission, it seemed invasive to take photos inside someones house.  So this is it.  
Isn't this kitchen beautiful.  I love how the gas hob stove is mounted into a fireplace with mantle and the range hood is (i think) up the chimney.  This is a two and half year old house so you know this was designed. It all looks like a remodelled old homestead.  Well done guy's.   You cant see it but there is a massive walk in pantry behind those two sliding doors on right.  It all looks like it came out of a "Country Living" magazine.

OK, so we are all goggle eyed at the solar system but i bet i can do (or perhaps they can) one better. They have a gravity fed worm septic system.

This is so cool.  I don't know the actually distances but it looked like the pit with the wormies was about 50m from the house.  It did not smell at all and i had my head over the top of it looking inside.  It just looked like a small chimney with a little whirly gig  on top sticking up out of the ground and on inspection of what looked like a domestic compost bin a large pit with some sort of tank inside.  A a gravity fed pipe entered on one side from the house.  Down in the bottom were lots of wormy (Emma told me she just started with a box of 2000 from Bunnings) which number roughly around 20,000 (no one is going down to count them).  On the other side there is another pipe that runs out about another 80m via a filtered agi pipe and into long pit full of gravel for further filtration. The fertilising was evidenced by the lush patch of canola growing above the pit. I'm sorry Emma, if my measurements are all out.  Feel free to jump in on the comments and correct my mistakes and I'll edit.  

So that's it.  A great few hours with hubby giving him inspiration and motivation to build his own off grid system for use in the garage.  It would certainly be handy to have an alternative when there is a blackout.  I am certainly looking forward to watching the Sutcliffe's develop their veggie garden, water tanks (i think one will come before the other).  If you look at the soil in the above photos you will see it is very rocky.  There are piles of massive rocks left over from building the house. Emma is interested in aquaculture so keeping it local I'm sending her across to Western Aquaponics in Melton.   I've seen a presentation and experienced their system for domestic use at Shoestring Gardening.  See Gav's post here, we both went.  They have now eaten their first batch of trout and the second lot are growing, and pooping and doing their bit for the Shoestring veggie garden.

Don't forget to click on links and go say Hi to Emma.  I am but a conduit.  LOL.

Thanks for visiting Living In The Land of Oz


  1. That is amazing, Lynda. How great not to be on the grid anymore. It will be interesting to see what the garden looks like in a few years once they get started.

    1. It will be very very rocky. I don't think they have any choice but to go raised or as suggested aquaponics. I have visions of using all those rocks in a walled garden. What do you think? We have many examples around here locally where a framework of wire is filled with rocks until it formed a very solid tall wall. They look great. Out there, im guessing it would have to be vermin proof.

  2. Great post, Lynda with fantastic picture. They must get a lot of sun. We have so many cloudy and sunless days that we can't help but think solar would be too costly for the actual energy it would generate. I can only look on wistfully as others are able to achieve!

  3. is there somewhere I can go to see technical information on these worm based septic systems?


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