Off Grid Kit Home building and Organic Design. In this episode we talk about how organic design and off the grid design can merge. We can help people with the orientation of the house, the energy calculations to make sure the house is efficient in keeping heat or cool that it creates. We work with you on solar design to make sure the solar capabilities are taken advantage of and we’ve had customers that have worked with wind power as well.
Interviewer: Hey everybody. And welcome to Episode 29 of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. With me in the studio as is always the case is President and Founder of Landmark Home and Land Company, a company which has been helping people build their new homes where they want and exactly as they want across the nation and worldwide since 1993, Steve Tuma. Steve, how are you doing today, buddy?
Steve Tuma: It’s an excellent day. It’s a good day. We’ve helped a lot of people with some interesting projects this week, people all over the country doing different types of designs, building in different areas, below sea level, at 10,000 feet up in mountains in Colorado and then ocean front projects. So it has been an interesting week.
Interviewer: Good. Having a good week is always a good thing. I thought today we might hit upon off the grid home design. And while we are at it, some – talk about some architectural design and design features. And I would also like to ask you about something called organic design and can you run these specific design terminologies by us?
Steve Tuma: Yeah. What’s interesting – our architectural design is basically just the process of designing the home to make it look, the exterior, the roof, the floor plans, some foundation details, so that you know what your house looks like. Is it a 1000-square foot simple ranch? Is it a 5000-square foot Mack Mansion? Is it more of a modernistic design? So that’s the concept of architectural design.
Now, you wrapped a couple of things in here, architectural design, off the grid, and organic design. So off the grid building is basically where people are building off the electric grid. So it’s not necessarily in a subdivision. It’s not necessarily in a city. It might be in a raw piece of land far from civilization as a lot of people would think of it. So you’re just out in raw land. Off the grid meaning, you’re not going to be using electric from your power company. You’re not going to be using gas from your power company. You’re not going to be getting water from your water department or use a sewage department. You are literally going to be building, to make it easy, out in the middle of nowhere, to take advantage of nature and maybe use some of the natural resources to power your home. So how that comes along with organic design, organic design was kind of thought up by Frank Lloyd Wright and that the concept being of let’s take advantage of the natural breezes, let’s take advantage of shade, let’s take advantage of sun, let’s make the house blend into nature instead of making it look like a sore thumb on the side of a hill.
So the concept of the off the grid is kind of like, “Hey, how do we generate our own electric to power our own house? How do we get our own water? How do we not rely on other utility resources to power the home?” So within that, you might have different design elements. The picture of your roof might be oriented in a southern direction so that your solar panels can gather the most sun. The overhangs may be designed in certain ways. I shouldn’t say maybe. They will be designed in certain ways so that they let the sun in in winter and possibly when you need to heat your home but then they shade it in summer when you don’t want the sun to go through the glass and then heat your house up.
So a lot of the concepts are in the orientation of the house in relation to the sun, where it is on the land, are you on slop land, on the side of a hill, natural overall wind currents, what type of climate you’re in, is it really snowy, is it hotter, or whatever type of situation it is.
So basically, the concept of organic design and off the grid design can merge because you are trying to not impact the world by using any utility companies. So that’s a pretty interesting process. We can help people with the orientation of the house, the energy calculations to make sure that the house is efficient in keeping the heat or cool that it creates. And then also work with you on the solar design to make sure that the solar capabilities are taken advantage of and we’ve had customers work with a wind power as well.
So it gets pretty interesting. A lot of people think, “Well, I just get my solar panels and put it on a house.” Well, that’s not always the case. I was driving on the road. This was just a couple of weeks ago and someone had a very nicely oriented solar panel directly south with huge trees in front of it. And the interesting thing about it is they were pine trees. So they keep their needles here around creating shade here around.
So it was kind of one of these situations of whoever put the solar panels and didn’t look at the situation to say, “Hey, wait. We are putting solar panels on but are they capable of doing the job. Where they located, they couldn’t possibly do the job.” So you got to look at the overall project. What’s the land like? What’s the sun like, the wind currents, things like that? And we could help with that design and it can affect your roof structure, the orientation of the roof structure, the venting of your roof system, the types of materials that you put in that home, thermal masses.
I’m sure everyone is kind of bitten by a brick wall or a cement slab after a hot day at a cool night that you could feel the heat radiates off of a thermal mass. So it collects the heat during the day when the sun is out and then it releases it at night when the sun is down and you need a little heat to get through the night. So it’s very interesting. It’s a science. It’s very, very cool.
Interviewer: I like that whole idea of sort of back to the earth thing and designing your home around your environment. It’s just pretty cool. But when I think of – we are talking about off the grid and it seems like whoa, this is such a radical concept. And this was the vast majority of the way homes were built for thousands for years.
Steve Tuma: That’s exactly the case. I know you’re a history buff. And the interesting thing about this is we are going back to what your great, great grandfather probably did assuming he came to the US and became – in the agriculture business which at that time 95% of America was in agriculture. They knew to put an overhang to keep the sun out, face it south to keep the heat coming in. You will see some places in the plains where they put big trees around the house because of prevailing winds are so strong that blows through the house. So we are kind of going back 120 years to what made sense then. What happened with the progress, if we want to call it progress, is everyone wanted a button and say, “Hey, let me push a button for heat. Let me push a button for air.” And suddenly, we’ve got all these energy needs and the homes aren’t necessarily better because of it. It’s more convenient but it may not be more comfortable.
Interviewer: Yeah. I think it’s – you look at the old pictures of the pioneers on the plains and we saw the houses they lived in and people thought, “Oh, they lived in these really rude, crude houses made of sod.” Well, that was only temporary. You have the guys who would bring their family out and they would get these land grants. They didn’t know which side their main window should be on until they lived in the place for a year and then they would design around it. And I’ve always found that pretty fascinating.
Steve Tuma: But you will also see a lot of those old farm houses or ranch houses, they always have porches.
Interviewer: Yup. Yeah.
Steve Tuma: To keep the elements out. That’s also a social thing. You get together with the family and friends and hang out.
Interviewer: Yeah. You hit on solar energy a bit and let’s talk about solar energy and off the grid homes. I’m curious about what you were saying about roofs design and designing a roof specifically for solar energy. And tell us a little bit like you said when you drove by and you saw the guy had his solar panels in the shade of the trees. It just seems kind of awkward. But how much does Landmark get involved in the design and helping people decide where that solar panel should go?
Steve Tuma: Well, that’s an interesting thing. A lot of the customers that are involved with solar, it’s a personal thing that they really get involved with and they’ve actually learned how to design or they have a local solar company that sorted out the best way to put solar panels on the roof. There are also systems that don’t need to go on a roof.
But if it is something where it goes on a roof, what we have to do is be understanding of – that the design of the roof will affect the solar effectiveness. And building departments are catching on to this. We’ve had a lot of them specifically in California where they’re not saying you just have to put solar panels on, they got to be effective.
So I’ve seen situations where you’ve got a typical gable end house, 612 roof pitch, the gable faces south. So the planes of the roof face east and west. They will get some solar but it’s not optimal. So when we understand that someone is going to work with solar design, we might do something in the roof design or the orientation of the house to make sure that there’s enough space for the solar panels so the solar panels can do their job, not just in collecting solar power but also in having enough of the panels there so that it creates situation. There’s a difference of a salesman telling you, “Oh yeah, you got solar. You’re doing a great thing, Mr. Homebuilder.” And knowing that the solar panels work and they are oriented properly and they can take care of it.
California is leading the nation in that and they are pretty much demanding that you have solar on the roof alternative power. And they are also understanding that you can’t just put panels on the roof, they have to be oriented in a way to maximize the collection of the solar rays.
Steve Tuma: So the example that I brought up is that if you have a simple gable end roof, just a regular house, 24×40, and that gable is facing south, that’s not optimal. So we might have to do something with different roof designs so that you’ve got flat surfaces on the roof that face south or have the collectors being on the ground. So it does get into the selection of the lot as well. So if you are building in a subdivision where everything is just 100-foot lot stuck next to each other and kind of limited, but there are still ways to make it work. And then there are also situations of if you’re working on raw land, a couple acres in the country, there might be a better place to put the solar or to put the house for the collection of the solar for the type of design that you want. But let me bring something else up and this is kind of a curve ball. A lot of people think of solar of being the solar collection collect the sun’s rays to turn them into electricity or to heat water. There’s also the effectiveness of sunlight on people. You need to have the right size window so that there’s enough light and ventilation coming in the room and then more and more communities are getting into the effectiveness of not blocking the sun.
So let’s just say, you and I live in a sunny neighborhood and then some third person shows up and builds this house that blocks your backyard. So suddenly, you no longer have sun. That affects the community and the way people live. So it’s not just solar as far as solar ray collection. It’s also solar as far as sunlight getting into the neighborhood and then winds being able to circulate. So it can get pretty interesting and the actual design of a house so that sun can get in your yard, in your neighbor’s yard, your neighbor doesn’t block your house.
Interviewer: I think it’s funny how – well, not funny. But I mean I think it’s interesting how much knowledge you and Landmark have just regarding things like shade efficiency. I had never even thought of a phrase like that. And the fact that you and Landmark can help people understand what that means. Should I design my roof structure with a certain overhang? These are sort of questions that people, “Oh, I’m going to build the house.” They never think about these little details. And it’s great to have somebody like Landmark around to kind of fill us in.
Steve Tuma: Right. That’s a key thing because you can get a house anywhere. Getting a comfortable house that you’re proud of that makes sense, that’s the additional details. I kind of call it the icing on the cake. You can get anywhere but where is our nicely decorated one with icing, with – that you just really want? It’s the same thing with the house. It’s those other details. And what I want to point out, a lot of these things don’t necessarily add a big expense to the house. It’s just a thought process to make things work for you. And we have the knowledge to do that. And if you want to go down those routes, we are more than happy to help to make sure that everything gets put together so that the house makes sense for you, your budget, your lot, your family, and it just makes for a better project.
Interviewer: Now, do all – getting back to the off the grid homes, do all building departments across the nation, do they allow off the grid homes?
Steve Tuma: Some of them have resisted to it and the zoning issues are basically the reason why. A lot of areas if – let’s just say, a typical city lot with water and sewer connections and gas and electric, it’s kind of in the code. And then there are guidelines that if you are going to build there, you have to connect into electric and gas, which incurs expenses and maybe some materials and labor that you don’t need. So there are some communities that understand it and are flexible but generally, off the grid is going to be in a relatively or very rural area where the building departments are understanding of it or power is not available. So you really need to check into it. The chances of you going into downtown center, in the city of San Francisco and building and off the grid home are probably not going to happen.
Steve Tuma: But if you went out and there are a lot of communities on the West Coast and some popping up in the East Coast where the zoning and building departments are actually understanding of it. And actually heard some government officials talking about it saying, “Hey wait, here we are telling people to be energy-efficient but we are also telling them, ‘You have to buy our power,’” which is created by coal or whatever it maybe that hurts the atmosphere. So I think there’s a little bit of political change coming along and it might take them a little while but pretty soon I think they will have understandings in more communities. I don’t know that it’s ever going to be allowed in every single community but the point is, generally, people are building off the grid don’t want to be on the middle of town anyway.
Steve Tuma: They want to be in an area where they’ve got some land. They can grow their food, have a self-maintaining and healthy lifestyles.
Interviewer: Do you run into many people who are asking for designs that they can specifically build where there is no electricity going on to the property at all? I mean more than just, “I’ve decided I don’t want to deal with the electric company. I’m just going to shut it down.” Where if you got a lot, you got to dig a well and there’s no electricity out there.
Steve Tuma: More and more people are asking about it and we’ve got a few that are beginning the process. I think with different shows and understanding of power, a lot of people being able to telecommute so they don’t have to be in a big building in a big downtown area. They are able to take advantage of the technology and choose to have the lifestyle. So yes, it is. And what’s interesting about it is sometimes there’s this little blending where people might be in the city connected to electric but they still have solar. In fact, that’s being mandated in a lot of places. So that’s kind of where the old codes and methods are meeting the new ones because they want houses to be kind of self-sustaining as much as possible.
Interviewer: Sure. Well, I would imagine then that Landmark has a lot to say about designing a home just simpler. I mean to make it easier to build when your property is in a more remote area. I mean it seemed like that the planning phase would have to be very well-thought out because when you are in a remote location, it’s just the simple things such as getting down to the local Home Depot may not be all that easy or getting a cement truck in may not be that easy. So …
Steve Tuma: Right. That’s basically the situation which is happening. And what’s really interesting is sometimes this is lifestyle decision. Sometimes you think of people building off the grid as being some Grizzly Adam’s type guy, “I’m just going to go out there and kind of wild cat it and build the house together.” But what’s really happening is a lot of these people have sophisticated lives and what they are realizing is they don’t always want to live in the middle of a big city. They’ve done it. It’s not exactly what they think is the best type of lifestyle for their family so they want to live off the grid so that they can still keep their sophisticated job as long as they have a strong internet and then they also want to know that they are doing something good. So you have an executive of a big company or someone that’s well-off or in different entertainment industries, whatever it may be to say, “Hey, I can still do my job but I want my kid to eat healthy food and so do I.” And why not? Why not be a little on the leading edge of get rid of an electric bill, get rid of a gas bill and figure these things out so that their kids and grandkids have homes that are more solar capable than are available today?
So a lot of these people are doing it because it makes sense and maybe kind of first adaptor situations where it’s becoming more mainstream. So when you talk about it, imagine building a house in the middle of town, the plumbing supply store is a mile away. It’s no big deal. Well, imagine being 50 miles from there and your driveway is 3 miles long to get off your land. Suddenly it’s like, “Hey, not only are you trying to build off the grid, you are off the grid.” So you’ve got to figure out different ways of doing it. You might not have access or easy access to different equipment or different materials. So we can get into different foundation designs, pure type systems.
Now, we can get in a panelization that’s easier to manhandle instead of needing equipment. And then designs that you get a couple of guys or a couple ladies, you can put the house together. And that is the key element to it because a lot of the people building off the grid it’s not to just to say, “Hey, I’m using solar power. I’m getting rid of the electric company.” It’s to say, “Look at what I did to make the process green and I did it myself.”
Steve Tuma: There’s an enjoyment, a pride, and an education process they want to go through just to know that what they did is good. And we are able to work with them to make sure that the design is put together so it doesn’t take teams of a hundred people to do things. It doesn’t take equipment that may not be available in extremely remote locations. So that’s something.
Amazingly, it was kind of funny. Some of these ideas we got by shipping homes internationally because you go ship something internationally, you are putting it in a container and then you are dealing with people that aren’t likely to be familiar with our – the American building systems or metric or not, just different methods. So you have people that are used to building a masonry is suddenly using wood. So we got an understanding of hey, keep it simple. Like here’s the thing, keep it simple. So we have an understanding of what it can take for a couple of people to literally build a house with their own hands.
Interviewer: Right. I would say I mean I just was getting the visual in my head as you were saying. I mean people aren’t out there building a sod house. They are actually building pretty nice houses. It just happened to be off the grid. I think that’s kind of – I think the visualization of how we look at people living off the grid will probably change over the years because more and more people will be doing.
Steve Tuma: Hey, one thing. You bring up a sod house?
Steve Tuma: In the late ‘90s, we actually helped a customer build a house underground on the side of a hill.
Interviewer: Oh wow!
Steve Tuma: Well, theoretically, ground is always 50 degrees, 4 feet underground. They wanted that. It was just one of these things they don’t impact the view across the plains. But there’s a lot of structural work that has to go into that and make sure the back walls are strong enough to hold the house, any water activity, design activity, and getting light and air into the house. So it’s pretty cool. There are people building with ulterior – or different types of materials. They all have different motivations. The key to it is we are more than happy to deal with unique off the grid projects or even unique designs so that people do it in a sense even though these people are going back in history in the way people used to live, 100, 200 years ago, they are again becoming first adaptors. It’s kind of interesting. History is repeating itself.
Interviewer: Interesting. So going real old school and using that push mower to mow your roof.
Steve Tuma: Well, real old school is having a go do it.
Interviewer: There you go. That’s right.
Steve Tuma: That’s happening.
Interviewer: I’m getting these flashbacks of people building. I mean not flashbacks, but getting these visuals of people building these houses, very old school as you said like pouring their foundations with the old crank cement thing and then shoveling it in there and building your slab.
Steve Tuma: That’s about what it is. And you know what? They love it. They enjoy it. It’s the pride. They are doing it. It’s kind of like making a cake from scratch for someone’s birthday party compared to going in a store and spending 30 bucks and buying one. There’s a certain pride in knowing that what you’ve done is good.
Steve Tuma: And the money savings can be huge.
Interviewer: That’s a big deal. But there’s always one thing, there’s always the devil that kind of sits there and watches you for a while. But I would imagine even if you are building off the grid, you’re going to have to deal with permits at some point. So how is off the grid permitting even done?
Steve Tuma: It really depends then where you are at because a lot of people are building in rural areas. Some of these rural areas amazingly do not have building departments. If they do or don’t, we can develop the plans properly. We suggest even if you are building in an area without building departments, you still do your house right. A lot of these issues are safety issues and structural issues and we are fully capable of helping and want to help. But then there are other areas where there are limited permitting requirements and others that are more sophisticated. Either way, if we can go through and design an off the grid home and even if it needs to be connected to the grid for whatever purposes, we can do that. But let’s just say you’re building in a rural area where a building department just says, “Hey, we need plans. We just need to know this.” And they have a small fee just to register it, we can go through and develop the complete plans so the customer understands what they are building and still know that safety issues are addressed and everything is put together properly.
So whether they have an extremely sophisticated building department or a nonexistent building department, we can go through and get the details for structural design, green situations, energy calculations, any type of heating design requirements, plumbing, electric, we can help them with the process, site planning, organic design. So it works out. Like I mentioned before, even though you might consider solar kind of off the grid, it’s extremely popular on the grid and being mandated in a lot of places where you have to have it. So the paths are crossing. The laws just have to catch up.
Interviewer: Got it. So that’s going to about do it for us today on the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. But this was a really fun episode. I enjoyed this. We got into some history and we talked about building off the grid. I think that’s amazing. Before we go though, I’d like to give Steve a chance to let people know how to contact Landmark Home and Land Company.
Steve Tuma: The best way is to check our website out. The company is Landmark Home and Land Company. The website is LHLC.com, kind of like L as in Landmark, H as in Home, L as in Land, C as in Company dot com.
You can email me at Landmark@LHLC.com. You can call us at 800-830-9788. Mike can work through the process and get you going, get your preliminary questions answered. And once you are moving along, I would jump in and help you to finalize plans, get things going. And then we are also available on YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and other social platforms so people can check us out and see what it looks like. But the most important thing is we are here to talk on the phone, to help you through your process, to get a relationship going so that you can see exactly how we can help you and how we can make your process easier and more affordable.
Interviewer: And Landmark Home and Land Company is definitely not off the grid when it comes to being able to find them. They are out there. Get on the internet. And I would advise everybody to check out the website LHLC.com. There’s a lot of information and great videos and all kinds of stuff on there.
So for Steve Tuma and myself, I want to thank everybody once again for listening and we will see you next time.
Steve Tuma: Have a great day.