If you live in an urban condominium or single-family home, you may enjoy and take advantage of many of the benefits of living in a densely populated area, from easy access to world-class entertainment and award-winning medical centers to a richly diverse culture that discourages knee-jerk assumptions about others. However, one noted disadvantage of living in such tight quarters is the degree to which your choices and actions are dictated by those around you. If you've ever had to vacate your home because a neighbor with whom you share walls set off the fire alarm while cooking dinner, you understand this well. Given these physical and logistical constraints, is it feasible to think you can go "off the grid" and reduce (or eliminate) your reliance on public utilities without moving to a more rural area? Read on to learn more about what you can do to achieve energy independence even in an urban center.
Should energy independence be a goal for urban dwellers?
Reducing energy consumption can be accomplished by just about any household, and doing so in a large city (where blackouts or brown-outs can put a major crimp in public transportation, phone and utility service, and other near-necessities) can sometimes pose even more advantages for both you and your fellow citizens.
In addition to saving you money on your monthly utility bills, becoming more energy independent can provide you with peace of mind in an increasingly polarized world. The ability to generate enough electricity to power your home's appliances without relying on public utilities can give you much more comfort and flexibility during a natural disaster or terrorist attack that leaves services spotty for some time.
What can you do to increase your energy independence without moving to the outskirts?
You may assume that becoming energy independent will require you to have enough land to erect a well, windmill, set of solar panels, or other structure to assist you in generating electricity or providing a source of clean (and free) water. However, there's much you can do without changing your home or condo's footprint or adding any additional structures to your backyard.
The first is to investigate alternative sources of heat and cooling. Both chilled beams and geothermal heat pumps provide good ways to generate climate-controlled air while minimizing electricity consumption. These HVAC options work by passing air through a pipe or tube containing water. For geothermal heat pumps, these pipes are buried underground to take advantage of the earth's own constant cool temperature, and chilled beams are kept aboveground in a room or closet with enough air circulation to provide your entire home with warmed or cooled air.
Another way to improve your energy independence is to focus on water conservation. Even if you already have low-flow showerheads and flush toilets, you can conserve even more water by investing in a grey-water recycling system that can help you reuse your sink, bath, and laundry wastewater to water plants, irrigate your lawn, or even wash your car. These systems can be designed to deposit grey water into a separate outdoor barrel or receptacle for easy access.
Finally, you'll want to consider your ability and desire to generate electricity of your own. While having an ultra-efficient HVAC system and a grey-water recycling system can do wonders to cut your consumption of electricity and water, being able to generate your own energy can keep your home humming along for weeks after a loss of power.
For homes in sunny areas, this can often be accomplished through the placement of solar panels on your roof or your home's southern-facing exterior wall. Homes in greyer climates may have more luck with wind generation while those living in large condominium complexes may want to band together with some neighbors to investigate the possibility of a large-scale waste-heat recycling program that can help all residents lower their utility bills by taking advantage of the waste heat each unit generates.
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