Self Sustaining Homes For Sale In Utah

If you’re looking at self sustaining homes for sale in Utah, then you’re in luck. This is a state with a deep tradition of the self-sufficient lifestyle. From the earliest rugged pioneers that traveled through the Rocky Mountains to get here, carrying on through today, folks here appreciate the independent spirit.

Here, it’s not uncommon to see folks trying their hands at gardening, urban homesteading, making clothing or trying to upcycle furniture. And when it comes to houses, this self sufficient mindset also spills over.

Here is a collection of self sustaining homesteads, and homes for sale that have features like: passive solar heating, renewable energy, independent water sources, wood stoves, food production, and more.

So what exactly is a “self sustaining home?” There can be many different aspects actually. For starters, the design of a home, it’s construction, the systems within it, and the property that it sits on are all big components.

Self Sustainable Home Design

In the last several years, “sustainable home design” has become more of a detestable buzzword than it ever has been before, but nevertheless, the concept is still rooted in really solid principles.

Some people think that sustainable home design is just getting a LEED certification, or a featured story in Dwell magazine. But it’s more than that. Essentially, the overarching goal of sustainable home design is to be efficient with resources. So if the purpose of a house is to provide comfortable shelter for the people who live there, then what is the most resource efficient way to accomplish that? How big does this house really need to be? Does the shape matter? What materials will best lend themselves to this? How affordably can we do this?

Sustainable home design is the sweet spot answer between all these questions.

Ven diagram with circles.

Vernacular Architecture

An often overlooked aspect of sustainable design is the idea of vernacular architecture. Vernacular architecture is historical, traditional architecture that is sensitive to the resources and challenges of an individual area.

Before there was zoning, permits, and design review boards, what kinds of houses were people building in your area? If you lived in the English countryside, it might’ve been a stone cottage with a sod roof. If you were in Arizona, it could’ve been a cliff dwelling. On the American frontier, it very well might’ve been a log cabin.

The point is, that before people had all the options that we do today, they ordered from a more practical, functional menu–based on what was available to them, and what was going to protect them best. We would be wise to do the same.

Passive Solar Design

How about the idea of passive solar design? This is another term that people throw around quite a bit. Essentially, it refers to the angles, aspect, layout, and materials of your home in relation to the flow of thermal energy.

If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, then the sun is coming out of the south. This means that the south side of your house will be the warmer side. If you live in a colder climate, then you want to do everything you can to embrace the passive solar heating from this. Angle your home so that it is receiving full-value sun during the coldest months of the year. This is likely the side of your home that you want lots of windows on. Perhaps you clear trees on the south side of your house that could be blocking the sun.

If you live in a hotter climate, then you will look at many of the opposite considerations. Passive solar heating is now likely not the goal, but something to be avoided. This time, how do we maximize passive solar cooling? Can we angle our house so that it receives less direct sun during the hotter months? Are their barriers we can put on the south side to absorb and deflect the sun’s rays from making our house hotter?

Air flow is also a big part of passive heating and cooling. Features such as ventilation windows along the interior ridge line of your home give you an easy way to let hot air escape during the summer months. Earth cooled air inlets along the bottom of your house lend a supply of cool air.

There are infinitely more specifics that can be applied to your home, but the upshot is that a thoughtfully designed home can work with the climate around it, and not against it.

Building Materials

Proper building materials play an important role in a self sustaining home. Building off of the ideas of passive solar heating and cooling, there are 2 specific areas where materials are especially important for self sufficiency: the insulation and the windows. 

Of all the energy your home uses, thermal applications use the most. Your air conditioner. The fridge. The heater. Things like that. If you can decrease (or eliminate) your need for energy in these areas, you are a lot closer to being completely off-grid.

By getting efficient windows and insulation, you are minimizing the extremes in thermal gain and loss. This is a corner that many builders and homeowners are tempted to cut in order to save on upfront costs. The reward for not cutting it however, is that there is a decreased cost of operation for the life of the home.

Housing Types

So what specific housing types are the most self-sustaining? There are a handful of construction types that particularly lend themselves to self sufficiency. If you are looking to purchase an existing home, you can use these home types as search terms to find these types of homes in your area. If you are thinking about purchasing homestead land and building from scratch, then these are some construction options for you.

Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF)

The secret sauce of insulated concrete form houses is that they take advantage of thermal mass walls to reduce major temperature swings in your home.

If you aren’t familiar with ICF, it’s a wall system that essentially “sandwiches” 6-12 inches of concrete between an exterior and interior covering of insulating foam. In this way, the concrete thermal mass absorbs temperatures for longer, and can slow release them later.

It’s also makes for an extremely durable structure, which is resistant to hurricane winds, fires, and other types of natural disasters.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS)

Similarly focused to insulated concrete forms, structural insulated panels also aim to decrease the thermal exchange of walls with the outside temperatures.

SIPs are made up of a thick panel of insulation that is sandwiched by OSB sheeting on either side. So unlike ICF walls, with SIPs, the insulation is actually in the middle. Contractors find the panels extremely easy to work with, and while the structure is not as disaster resistant as it would be if the walls were made of concrete, there is a big cost savings.

Tiny House

Over the last several years, the concept of a tiny house has grown in popularity. Like the name suggests… this is a really small house. Many tiny houses are under 200 square feet.

Because of it’s size alone, tiny homes are a good candidate for self-sufficiency. Less size just means less resources. This means that the tiny house cost of construction is going to be significantly less, the cost of operation will be less, maintenance costs, and everything else.

Many modern tiny houses are built on wheels, so they have the added advantage of being able to be moved around, whenever you want. If this is the case, then theoretically you don’t need to own land. You can rent space short term from any number of ranchers, farmers, or in your friend’s backyard (disclaimer: almost everything cool is illegal in some way–do your homework!).

Straw Bale Home

While it may seem a little counter-intuitive, straw bale walls provide an extremely high level of insulation. Straw is cheap, it can be covered in almost anything to give you the appearance you want, and it is grown all over the world, so it’s easy to source locally. These an other advantages make straw bales an awesome choice for a self sufficient home.

On the downside however, straw bale houses are prone to mildew and rot (particularly in wetter climates). The walls themselves are also much thicker (sometimes 2 feet!), so they take up more space. This means that you will need to increase the size, or be ok with a smaller internal footprint for your living area.

Renewable Energy Sources For Your Home

What is renewable energy? It has been defined as being “any naturally occurring, theoretically inexhaustible source of energy, as biomass, solar, wind, tidal, wave, and hydroelectric power, that is not derived from fossil or nuclear fuel.”

That definition uses some fancy words, but in general, the goal of using renewable energy in your home is to harness the “naturally occurring” resources available to you, to lessen your home’s dependence on the fragile grid.
The pros and cons of renewable energy are pretty straightforward. On the pros side, you have decreased cost of operation, you are less dependent on the grid, and you are producing electricity in a more ecologically responsible way than by fossil fuels. On the con side however, are the costs of getting set up.

Let’s take a look at a few of the best renewable energy sources for your self sufficient home. 

Solar Power System

Right off the bat, solar power is a great option for many homes in Utah. Although the repayment times in Utah are not as short as those in the Southwest or Hawaii, we get a fair amount of sun. And as prices of solar continue to drop, it makes more and more sense to consider.

So, what is solar power, and how does it work?

Basically, solar panels on your roof (or free-standing on your property) collect the sun’s rays, and convert them to electricity that can be stored in batteries. Then, the direct current in your batteries is converted to alternating current, so you can plug in your normal devices and appliances.

In addition to getting solar panels for your home, it’s also possible to get individual utilities that are specifically optimized to be run off of solar. Solar powered lights, solar powered attic fans, and even solar powered air conditioners are available on the market.

Wind Turbines

How do wind turbines work? Are they a good source of renewable energy? Like you would probably guess, wind turbines generate power by spinning a rotor, that is attached to blades that catch the wind.

Although we do see some home scale wind turbines in Utah, their cost, difficult installation, and specific site requirements make them a less favorable candidate for powering your home.

See other types of renewable energy systems here.

Water

in Utah’s desert, water plays a critical role. Your self sustaining home has the opportunity to take advantage of a few different water sources.

Water Wells

The single biggest man made feature that can impact your water self sufficiency in Utah is a well. You may be purchasing a home that already has a well, or you might be considering drilling a well on a property that doesn’t currently have it.

This is a big step, and one that comes with some hassle and headache. First, in Utah you have to obtain permits and water rights any time you want to do anything with water–culinary, commercial, agricultural, or otherwise. Then there’s the uncertainty of drilling itself. You never know until you drill how deep the water is, or even if you’ll hit it at all.

Nevertheless, a well is huge. If you can manage to find a property that already has a well, or if you can navigate the hassles and finances to drill one yourself, it will change everything for your homestead.

Rainwater harvesting

Up until just a few years ago, rainwater harvesting in Utah wasn’t allowed. Now, homeowners are allowed to harvest a small amount without any kind of permit at all (maximum of 2 containers, that are a maximum of 100 gallons each). Additionally, if you complete a registration form, you can store up to 2500 gallons of water (free to register, and automatically approved).

Although rainwater collection is a big step down from having a well, it’s still definitely worth doing. It can offset or completely remove your need for irrigation water, and in an emergency it can be filtered and drunk.

Grey Water Recycling

Grey water recycling is a process that reuses part of your home’s culinary water (usually from the laundry and shower) in irrigating and other outdoor uses.

How does it work? A grey water pump is attached to the plumbing at select locations in your home, which then diverts the water into a grey water holding tank. From there, you can manually irrigate your outdoor plants. If you want to prevent clogging in your irrigation (such as for drip irrigation lines), you can include a grey water filter that will remove solids. It’s also possible to get a grey water toilet that will actually use your grey water to flush with.

Using grey water recycling is a smart “defensive” technology to incorporate in your home. Although it doesn’t generate any new water for you, it allows you to get more use out of the water that you do have.

Heating Your Self Sustaining Home

As mentioned above, thermal applications in your home use a lot of energy! If you can find a way to minimize or eliminate the need for them, you can be much more self sustaining.

Wood Burning Stoves

Wood burning stoves are low tech, inexpensive, and make use of a renewable resource (wood!). In the case of kitchen wood burning stoves, you can actually cook on them too! Some stoves also offer the additional benefit of being able to heat your hot water too.

In this day and age, you can find some really modern wood burning stoves, so they are actually an aesthetic piece of decor, rather than an eyesore that you try to hide in the corner.

Radiant Floor Heating

Radiant floor heating operates on a series of wires or hot water tubes that sit beneath your floor. Normally the ground sucks away the heat from the rest of the house, but in the case of radiant heating, the opposite happens. As your floor heats up, it gently warms everything else that comes into contact with it.

This is mostly a decision that happens at the time of construction, so unless you are getting ready to build your home, the house you are buying either has it or doesn’t.

Geothermal Heat Pump

A geothermal heat pump is a renewable technology that many people in the world can take advantage of. It operates using a series of underground tubes, that are usually filled with water or a coolant solution.

In the summer, the temperature underground will be cooler than the ambient air temperature around you. In the winter, you have the opposite scenario. In both cases, the underground temperature is amplified by the heat pump, and then distributed throughout a home’s ducting system.

Rocket Mass Heater

Perhaps less common in mainstream conversations are rocket mass heaters. These efficient heaters use tiny bits of wood and biomass in conjunction with superior air flow to produce crazy amounts of heat.

As opposed to many other wood stoves, usually rocket heaters produce heat for much longer. The burn can last 12 hours or more, and if the rocket mass heater is constructed using some kind of masonry housing, the heat release can last for multiple days! They can be found commercially, or you find plenty of DIY plans, and create your own.

Your Surrounding Homestead Property

In setting up your homestead, the property that surrounds your home is important too. It should be noted here, that up until the last 100 years or so, property has always been an extremely important part (if not the most important) of people’s housing decisions. Only since the advent of modern transportation and heavy urbanization have people been ok with tiny non-descript yards.

So what should you look for in your homestead property? The short answer is resources. What resources? For starters, water. This means springs, streams, river access, wells, ponds, rainwater collection, and anything else. We talked above about ways that you can incorporate grid-independent water sources with your self sustaining home. Having some kind of water on your property bodes extremely well for any kind of self sufficiency goals you have.

The next thing to consider is any kind of food production. Are there fruit or nut trees? Any berries or vines? Garden boxes? What about livestock amenities? Is there a chicken coop or barn that could be useful down the road?

Depending on the property that you’re looking at, timber can be a valuable resource that might be on your property. Timber can be used to build things or to burn for heat. Utah is not the most wooded of all places however, so even if you are out in the country, there’s a good chance you might not exactly have usable timber.

In addition to those things, it’s also important to look at access, slope, outbuildings, and other prominent features. These can be either great resources, or major problems that you have to deal with down the road.

One thing that you might not have thought of in considering your property is the legal situation. This incorporates things like zoning, easements, and restrictions. It could also incorporate specific CC&Rs that an HOA has instituted. You may have all kinds of timber and water on your property, but not be able to touch any of it because of a rule–do your homework!

Completely Off-Grid Homesteading

You may be considering a completely off-grid situation. This is the apex of self sufficiency. Not in a romantic, glossy magazine type way, but out of necessity. Being off grid usually means a smaller house, more work, more inconveniences and fewer comforts. You may not be able to take a hot shower or watch TV anytime you want. When the house is cold, you chop wood and wait for a half hour while the fire gets going. Still, for people that can handle the downsides, there is an incredibly liberating life on the other side of the decision to go off grid.