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A Natural Born Home


For lovers of nature and the environmentally conscious alike, living in a completely self-sufficient countryside haven is a dream come true. But turning this fantasy into a reality requires careful forethought, planning and of course the help of a great builder. Katie Livingston seeks the sage advice of Damien Smith, managing director of Damien Smith Building, about how you can design and construct a home suitable for off-grid living, and how this lifestyle can protect our planet and move us toward a more sustainable future.


Written by Katie Livingston.

If you’re fond of your existing home, but want to make the transition towards a sustainable future, then you may not need to pack up and move out. With a bit of clever design and careful planning you could revitalise your home to support a self-sufficient future, and Smith coins orientation for passive heating and cooling, solar access for PV systems, the slope and features of the land and how that can affect the potential to harvest water from the site, as the important factors that should be considered for your design.

He continues, saying that “with intelligent design and passion for the principles, you can maximise the potential of your site, however some sites are just more constrained that others [and] the natural features and orientation may not be ideal. I believe that with creativity you can always improve how a home performs sustainably, but some sites simply do not have the potential to be [completely off-grid]. But I love being proved wrong.”

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Where you get your water and electricity from are perhaps the two most crucial considerations for your new off-grid lifestyle, and the humble rooftop is the key to establishing your own water and power supply. Smith affirms this, adding that “with enough roof area, you can harvest water sufficient to your needs [and] solar panels should not effect this.” He further adds, “the greater issue is finding enough roof space to orient your panels where they will perform most efficiently. In case of renovations, it will likely be a constraint. This might be the time to consider technological solutions to get the best efficacy out of what you have.”

He continues, explaining that “Once you’ve had your designs drawn up and engineered, you need planning and building permission from your local council. Sustainable homes can be unique and sometimes groundbreaking but all homes must be constructed in accordance with local requirements, codes and standards. Building surveyors demand that all materials used in a home be fit for use. Creative solutions can be found but not at the risk of the homeowner’s safety.”

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Living in an off-grid home may reduce your carbon footprint, but if not considered properly, the process of building that home can have a negative impact on the environment, so aspects such as which materials you use and the process involved with building should be taken into account. Opting for natural or recycled materials is a great start. “I personally love reclaimed, recycled and naturally finished materials. They bring their own character into a home, their own story. I enjoy watching that story unfold throughout the construction process,” Smith explains. “To work with a natural or reclaimed material, you have to remain open to its personality and [be] willing to tweak the application if need be.”

Smith also stresses that the carbon footprint and embodied energy are factors that need to be carefully considered when choosing you materials. “Imported quality technology can be very effective,” he says. However it’s important to be thoughtful about its use, as the environmental cost and resources of importing a material can often outweigh the benefits of using it, so opting for local or recycled materials is always your best bet in regards to the environment.

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Aside from the freedom and connection to nature that self-sufficient living affords, it’s also much kinder to our planet. If you’re entertaining the idea of an off-grid lifestyle but are put off by the factors involved, then you don’t need to go completely off the system. Simply incorporating sustainable and eco-friendly factors into your home, as much as is reasonably possible, with still help reduce your carbon footprint.

“Living off-grid is definitely a lifestyle choice, and I’ll be honest, it’s not an easy choice,” Smith advises. “Sustaining your family with the resources that you harvest from your own property takes hard work and conscious awareness. [But] if you care about how your living affects your environment, then you have to go that extra step if you’re going to make a change. When you build a beautiful off-grid home, you’ve made a decision to tread lighter on the earth, which incidentally lowers your cost of living into the future.”

Without a doubt, unless you’re building it yourself, the cost of constructing an off-grid home is much greater than your run of the mill pre-planned home, but, as Smith states, “you’ve chosen to tread lighter on the Earth and live close to it and – in my opinion – that’s a much richer lifestyle choice than the alternative.”

Images courtesy of Damien Smith Building

Photography by Loft Image