How much energy does one person need to live comfortably off the grid? Researchers at Penn State are pursuing ways to increase energy efficiency through the design of affordable, durable homes.
To study an off-grid residence on campus, in 2005 a grad student lived through the winter on 8.5 acres researchers called the Hybrid Homestead in the shadow of the football stadium. His house? A small circular wooden structure called a yurt, modeled after the circular tents used by nomadic people in Central Asia. This yurt, however, had a green roof, a warm floor, and enough energy coming in to power a computer and a cell phone. After grinding beans for his coffee and gathering fresh vegetables from a greenhouse, the student hopped on his bicycle and headed for class. As he pedaled off, his energy sources continued to work for him. Researchers monitored how a small windmill, a photovoltaic array, and a solar collector powered his needs.
Besides green roofing and solar and wind energy production, the Hybrid Homestead contains other innovative features built by students and volunteers: straw bale construction, LED lighting, and natural wastewater treatment systems. In 2007 students designed another solar-powered home, MorningStar as a model for durable, affordable housing. Conceptually the house design includes a heart (living space), a brain (the technical core of the mechanical, kitchen and bath systems) and lungs (a breezeway).
The yurt at the Hybrid Homestead is a modern adaptation of a design borrowed from Central Asian nomadic peoples. For these people, a yurt is a collapsible circular tent of skins stretched over a pole frame (Source: Encarta World English dictionary). Trace the origin of buildings with unusual designs in your own community. For example, what buildings have domes or boxes or elaborate gingerbread? Are these designs just decorative or do they have a function?
Brainstorm how living off the grid might affect your lifestyle.
A green roof is the roof of a building partially or completely covered with vegetation over a waterproof membrane (Source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_roof). What would you plant on a green roof, and why?