Local weather change creates demand for off-the-grid houses
Atlantic hurricane season has not even started (it officially starts June 1), but excessive spring flooding has already displaced thousands of Louisiana residents.
A freaky ice storm in Texas in February destroyed much of the state’s electrical grid, plunging nearly 10 million people into a cold, dark disaster. More than 150 people died, and at an estimated $ 200 billion, it was the costliest natural disaster in the state’s history.
And the last California wildfire season set the record for the largest amount of land burned in modern history, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety. The fires destroyed over 10,000 buildings and cost over $ 10 billion in property damage.
The growing effects of climate change are no longer seasonal. Increasingly extreme weather due to climate change is now a year-round phenomenon. This makes home builders rethink how to design and operate new homes and how to take them offline so they are greener and operational when a disaster strikes. There are also traditional homebuyers who think more like survivors.
“Severe storms are becoming increasingly apparent the need for resilient development each year,” said Ben Keys, associate professor of real estate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
Keys examines the effects of climate change on real estate and the growing need for off-grid living space. This goes way beyond solar panels.
“These homes can be built much more efficiently, not just solar, but they can have their own water filters, other power generation sources, and a number of other efficient ways to manage their utilities,” Keys said.
A growing number of small construction companies like Dvele from California are now strengthening.
Power failures spur change
“The whole self-powered home idea actually came from the California forest fires that shut down the grid,” said Matt Howland, president of Dvele.
Dvele was founded in 2017 and builds its houses in a factory. They are sleek, modern designs with high quality fittings and finishes. The average size is around 2,600 square feet, although it can be larger, and the cost is around $ 1.2 million. That’s roughly 20% more than the cost of a comparable sized luxury home without the resilient efficiency and technology.
Dvele houses have solar, battery and other construction and insulation elements as well as intelligent technology that allows them to use far less energy and work longer off the grid. The house constantly monitors its own energy input and output and then optimizes the systems to save more. If the local power goes out, the house shouldn’t see any difference.
“We’re seeing things we’ve never seen before and the grids just aren’t made to manage. Since all that happening in Texas, we really lost interest in the self-powered concept,” he told Howland.
Most of Dvele’s projects are on the west coast, but they forecast a large expansion of individual homes and brand new communities in other states. The houses with the highest risk are located in California, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, along the Mississippi, and along large stretches of the Gulf and Atlantic coast, according to CoreLogic’s annual disaster report.
According to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, major power outages or “blackout” events have occurred in the US since 2015, affecting 50,000 or more people.
Homeowners have become much more aware of their risk and are much more inclined to do something about it. Consumers looking for new strategies to protect themselves and their families from climate events are more interested today than ever.
Increase in inquiries
Rise, a home improvement website dedicated to sustainable projects, saw a sharp increase in off-the-grid inquiries from its followers.
“It’s the independence of homeowners in general. A new way of thinking where you don’t rely on others and realize that they can do a lot of things,” said Matthew Daigle, CEO of Rise. “Solar is only part of the cake. You’re taking a side from rural areas.”
You may include a page, but it’s not about people living in a cabin in the woods, away from society, as off-the-grid has long been considered.
“It’s not just for extremists. I think you will see more and more people looking for ways to protect themselves as the risk of storms, more business disruptions and a greater need for resilience increases,” said Keys.
The growth of off-grid technology is not only expected for individual households. Dvele is currently investigating the common storage in microgrids for entire communities of his houses.
“We didn’t expect it to be this quick at the national level, but we look forward to growth,” Howland said.
The biggest hurdle for the further expansion of off-grid apartments is the cost. At the moment it is expensive to retrofit especially houses. Most of the demand comes from wealthier homeowners and home buyers.
“I think funding is a huge challenge because the payouts for many of these investments don’t immediately pay off,” said Keys.
Incremental changes at the high end can filter down, which is common with today’s technology in our appliances and in our heating and cooling systems. The more that is invested in off-grid technology, the cheaper it becomes.
“So you need investors, or you need homeowners who have this long term and realize that these benefits will accrue over time,” added Keys.