Off-Grid Desert Dome RetreatA desert paradise near Joshua Tree, California with two dome homes and a swimming pool. With the global population increasing and land available for housing decreasing many designers are starting to look for alternatives methods of construction, or rethinking traditional concepts of space and how it’s allocated. One such designer is Jeffrey Greger, who, along with engineers and designers at San Jose State University, have produced a concept tiny house called the ZEM (Zero Emission House). ZEM has a footprint under of 100 square feet and features a green roof on one side with an array of solar panels on the other. The roof pitch and slanted walls have been designed to take full advantage of natural daylight and solar gain, reducing the homes dependence on artificial lights and ventilation.
This 440 SF prefab home serves as a simple retreat space on the beautiful remote area outside an arts colony in Texas. We’ve all heard of changing our lightbulbs to the new and improved warm fluorescents (no, they no longer turn your skin green). Even if you think you’re rich enough to waste your money on electricity, you still need to be concerned about emergency situations when the power companies stop giving you what you need.
To the surprise of many, the world’s cheapest refrigerator costs less than $2 dollars to make, uses minimal resources to produce and runs completely without electricity. Although many people are excited about promoting this technology in developing countries, I see greater potential for this technology in the developed western cities, suburbs and countryside. Instead of having humming, heat producing, electrical, bank-sapping refrigerators and freezers, we could have zeer pots stashed away in cabinets or under sinks (for convenient kitchen access).
There are techniques for the rest of us – passive cooling techniques – that we can use to beat the heat. The cupboard itself would be a fully insulated space within the home with the same magnetic seal on the doors that refrigerators have. One variation on this is the have one end open to the surface and draw the air out through a vent pipe as is done in the cold cupboard described above. If you are living in a tropical or sub-tropical region and building a new home, you can increase airflow through the home by substituting the simple “box” design for one with more corners in it (see diagram).
In tropical regions, it is beneficial to design a traditional tropical home with wall vents and a vaulted roof of permeable material to draw cool air in and push hot air out.
These strategies are not only sustainable cooling solutions, they also save money by using available cold as a resource.
These strategies outlined by Douglas and Scott show how we can radically reduce that while still living in relative comfort.
An off-grid experimenter in Australia, Tom Chalko, has retrofitted a chest freezer to create a fridge that uses only 100 watt-hours (0.1 kWh) per day! A must-read collection by some of the world’s most provocative thinkers on the key issues shaping our new century.
Using a word dating back from the 1860’s, the casita might just be the original tiny house. These types of Baja casitas are typically made out of cement blocks and are coated with a few layers of cement, which is rounded over the corners of the blocks.
Some will have flat roofs that can be used for summer sleeping, storage of a water catchment system or solar panels.
Usually some sort of deck or veranda will extend the casita’s space and will be used for cooking, eating and sleeping. Due to a casita’s open relationship with the elements, a low wall is sometimes built around the house to keep out unwanted critters, but occasionally you might find yourself sharing a casita with a happy cricket and a lizard or two.

The Arado weeHouse is a small cheap prefab house built of wood and steel framed with oxidized steel facade.
Micro-homes are fast becoming an ideal sustainable solution to meeting the needs of our future generations. The Zem is a sustainably built tiny house that attempts to deliver all the mod-cons of a modern home on a drastically reduced footprint. Of course, we can shut off our lights when we’re not in a room, shut off all electrical appliances we aren’t actually using. Please note that we are not talking about the use of photovoltaic solar panels, those are active solar devices. Solar chimneys, underground cool rooms (the old fashioned cellar), and the zeer pot, are just a few ways that use this to our advantage to help us cut your power needs forever, and for free. It’s called a zeer pot, or the pot-in-pot and was developed by Mohammed Bah Abba, who realized that he could put the second law of thermodynamics and transpiration to work for him. Fresh produce is kept inside, with just a couple fresh items displayed on the damp towel resting on top.
Much money is spent battling the cold in places like Canada, Scandinavia, Scotland, Tasmania, Russia, Argentina, and so on.
Cool air is drawn in to the bottom of the cupboard through a pipe running under the house with the pipe itself 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to approx. In the direction of the prevailing cool winds, a scoop-like vent is placed and a pipe is laid under the ground from it to the house. A shade house is simple an area on the shaded side of a home with a vine-covered trellis to create a shaded sanctuary. The Spanish diminutive of casa or house is used to describe a small Latino style home, usually sharing space with other homes its size. Simple overhangs of vigas and latillas or branches and twigs will be used for blocking the sun, but still letting in light. The module installed complete with an outdoor shed and a fully finished exterior and interior, leaving only sun-shielding canopies, decks and utility hookups to be assembled on-site. After all, there’s really no need to have all the lights on in the house, the stereo blazing and the TV on with no sound while we browse the internet.
The zeer pot, is actually two earthenware pots (I’m assuming they are both unglazed), one pot smaller than the other. But if one has the means, it is possible to design a passive cold cupboard that doesn’t require energy to operate.
Often these shade houses will contain an outside kitchen to prevent the heat of cooking from entering the home. The most significant end uses were central air-conditioning and refrigerators, each of which accounted for about 14 percent of the U.S.
My husband and I spent a portion of the holidays in Baja, Mexico, and stayed in a casita near the marine sanctuary of Cabo Pulmo. The cement blocks help to keep out the desert heat and block El Norte, or the heavy winter winds that come from the north. There is a wood burning stove in the house for heating and cosiness during cold winter evenings. A lot of people have trouble imagining that the hot summer sun, can actually cool your house, but it can. Why should we slave away at work all day and then spend our hard earned money on things that we can get for free?

The smaller pot is put inside the bigger pot, and the space in-between them is filled with sand.
In the past, all produce was displayed in the open air, attracting flies resulting in stomach disease such as dysentery. We no longer have to make choices about freshness based on expensive camping coolers, refrigerated trucks, ice machines and electrical outlets. In almost any region of the Earth, the ground is going to be cooler than the surrounding air in the summer season (areas of geothermal activity are an exception to this and offer heating potential instead of cooling potential). Subtropical areas would have two kitchens, one inside for the winter, and one outside for the summer. If a hurricane hits the area, the owner of a house with a palapa will only lose a fairly inexpensive roof rather than having to replace the tiles or shingles of a more expensive roof.
It takes a while to get up there from San Jose del Cabo, but it is a small, safe, laid back little village. But a large portion of the energy going into a household is actually used for heating and cooling rooms, food and beverages.
The second law of thermodynamics is our best friend, and it works endlessly for free (or at least as long as the sun exists). The sand is made wet with water (twice a day) and a wet towel is put on top of the two pots to keep warm air from entering the interior. A cold cupboard makes it possible to replace a large part of one’s cooling needs with a system requiring no outside energy inputs. Charcoal is used both as a sponge to hold the water and as a means of keeping the water fresh.
Urban temperate areas suffering from the thermal island effect would also benefit greatly by the shade house strategy. As water in the sand evaporates through the surface of the outer pot, it carries heat, drawing it away from the inner core, thus cooling the inside of the inner pot which can be filled with soft-drinks, water, fresh fruit, vegetables or even meat. For example, many office towers in Toronto, Canada are now cooled using a deep water cooling system that draws frigid water from Lake Ontario. While the buildings themselves are not sustainable, this method is less energy intensive than powering large air conditioning units to cool each building. This will cause the air inside it to heat and rise, which in turn causes cool air to be sucked in through the bottom pipe. In this way, fresh produce can be kept for long periods of time without the need for electricity, or camping coolers made high embodied energy. Tomatoes and peppers will last for up to three weeks, and African spinach, or rocket, which normally would spoil after just a day in the intense African heat, can and will remain edible for up to twelve days. It can even be used for storing sorghum and millets for a long time since it protects from humidity, thus preventing fungi from developing. The zeer will keep water (and other liquid beverages) at about 15 degrees Celsius, and even meat can be kept fresh for long periods.

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