I published this article first in Finnish on iso-orvokkiniitty.fi on 4.1.2021. Here I used Google Translate for translation which worked surprisingly well (you could actually use Google translate to read our Finnish articles and mostly make sense of them). I have corrected obvious translation errors and done small updates but basically the text is as the original text.
In the summer and autumn of 2013, the decision matured for us to find a house in the countryside where we would move from Espoo. We were already enthusiastic about permaculture then and Marja completed a PDC course (2 weeks Permaculture Design Course) in Koli (eastern parti of Finland) in the summer of 2013. We felt that we in the city could not develop a sustainable lifestyle that suited us.
At first we didn’t really know what we were looking for and especially what the other was looking for. We decided right from the start that we had to go see at least a dozen places before we seriously consider buying anything. There were different kinds of places starting from small farms, but most were houses, log houses or typical “rintamamiestalo” built after the war. Looking at different places helped us understand what we wanted and at least what we didn’t want. We headed mainly to Western Uusimaa, because it was the most familiar region especially for me. The decisive turn took place when we found a small farm on the top of a hill in Pohja, which had a nice log house and other older buildings. The log house was built in the 1980s on a concrete slab and had a plastic vapor barrier in the walls. It was quite disappointing, that the house was “fake” —that is, neither with a traditional ventilated floor structure (rossipohja) nor breathing walls. We had also seen old log houses that had been ruined by renovation or where the renovation was not done at all and it felt like the construction would be too demanding for us. So followed the understanding that we only get what we want by doing it ourselves – that is, by building.
Pretty soon after this decision, I noticed a sale announcement for an unbuilt small farm in Karjalohja. We went to see it at the beginning of February 2014 – one of those snow-free winters in Southern Finland. Field and almost south-facing forest, partly young birch and partly older spruce and mixed forest. One crucial factor was the hazelnut grove behind the spruce forest. In March, we visited the place again with architect Kati Juola and our son Jaakko, who was studying architecture in Oulu at the time. In June, we made the deal when it was confirmed that the plot had a valid building permit.
That same winter and spring, we considered what kind of house we would build. The starting point was, of course, ecology, but not just energy efficiency, but at least equal breathing dynamic structures, indoor air and the naturalness of the materials. So no high-tech passive house where one lives in a plastic bag with machines and automation adjusting everything possible but an “organic house”.
The questions we considered were at least:
- Where the house would come and access to the road
- How big the house would be
- The floor plan / who lives in the house and what is done in the house
- The basic solution for construction: a log house or something else
- Other materials
- Heating method
- What toilet
We weren’t in a terrible hurry, we parked our caravan in the field next to the forest patch. Permacultural planning starts with observation and we decided not to do much on the spot for the first year. On the sheltered southeast side of the forest island we made a couple of raised beds (Hügelkultur) and beehives were brought there. A living space was formed inside the forest patch when we brought garden furniture there and later an summer kitchen was built there. The first building on the site, however, was a dry toilet built of old logs. Basic needs must be taken care of!
We outlined the first permaculture plan for the site in its entirety in 2015. That year I took a PDC course in Ferm du Bec Hellouin, France,
The house is, of course, part of the whole in which it is located, in which case its location in relation to the other elements and functions of the place must be considered. The main elements were the slope forest and the field. The location of the house was, of course, determined by the zoning area (kaava-alue), but it probably would have come there anyway. The place was defined by a sector analysis, actually the same analysis that led us to buy the place. The forest slope to the southwest protects the north from the cold winds and gives the south to the sun, or energy. The forest patch, which extends from the forest into the field, provides protection from north and west winds. To the southeast of the same patch was a natural garden, putting it directly in front of the house. The place we bought consisted of two building plots as well as fields and a forest as separate properties. Only the top of the building plots was in the municipal planning area. We wanted the house on the slope below the steepest part of the slope. Actually, the planning area didn’t go that far, but luckily we got to build on the border of the planning area, which got the house low enough on the slope. The large windows on the long side of the house would give approximately south.
When we bought the place, the properties had no buildings or roads. We pulled the caravan across the shallow ditch to the field and to the edge of the forest patch, which was successful when the grass was dry. The shortest distance from the house to the road would have been through a neighbor from the eastern edge of the plot, which would have become a direct connection to the main road in Karjalohja. However, we ended up building a 250 meters long road across the field to Varkalahdentie in an S-shaped curve, roughly following the countour lines of the field. The layer of topsoil was moved beside the road, creating a planting area along the road for a forest garden. The road connected the field to the house. The main route on foot and by car now is this road to Varkalahdentie. There is a shortcut track through the forest to Karjalohjantie, which we use if we walk to the village.
We are a family of six children, but by the time we designed the house, all the children had already moved out or were moving out of the home. So only two adults would live in the house, but we thought the house should accommodate more people so that even the children with their spouses or my brother and his wife could stay the night. We are also entrepreneurs, so the house had to have a decent space for a home office. On the other hand, we didn’t want to build an unnecessarily big house and of course the budget had to fit our wallet. We set the floor size of the house round to 100 square meters. At times, the house was even bigger at the design stage, but when cost accounting began to be refined, it returned to 100 square meters. I went to Denmark during the construction phase and visited a 50-square-meter clay-straw bale house built by a couple working in the permaculture movement there. The house was compact, but there seemed to be enough space for the couple and even an occasional guest could be accommodated in the living room. Compared to that, our house is big for a couple, and yet there is not a lot of decent accommodation for guests and the home office eventually became so small that we could not both fit in it, so Marja now rents a study room for herself elsewhere. There should be some extra accommodation for guests or woofers. Of course, the study and the loft have guest beds and the living room can also accommodate.
The floor plan of the house is related not only to the needs of the residents, but also to the chosen heating solution, the fireplaces. The heat is transferred mainly by infrared radiation, so there must be a visual connection to the oven from every point in the house. The long side of the house, with a large window and an outside terrace the entire length of the house, faces south. Inside, the south side of the house is an approximately uniform full-height space that is only interrupted by a baking oven. The space forms an integrated living room / kitchen or kitchen-dining room-living room combination. There is a study room behind the baking oven at the east end and a bedroom at the west end behind the fireplace, but the rooms are not separated by doors. To the north of the house is a loft almost the length of the house, which is official living space only at the edge (otherwise it is too low).
Our house is heated by fireplaces. The solution is related to our idea of self-sufficiency. We have about 6 hectares of forest, so there is plenty of firewood from the annual forest growth (calculated at least 30 m3 per year ) We should need some 6-10 m3 /year for heating the house. When the heating is based on traditional fireplaces, the wood itself can be felled from the forest and cut with a chainsaw, chopped with an ax and carried inside. The biggest sin in the chain is that a chainsaw is an internal combustion engine (cordless chainsaws are just getting efficient enough). An exact number for the need for firewood has not yet been established, as there has been a lot of construction wood waste to be burnt and, on the other hand, the winter of 2019-20 in particular was mild. Last spring I made about 6m 3 for the coming winter firewood; in previous winters, part of the firewood has been purchased. The biggest challenge in a tractor-free and horse-free house is getting firewood out of the forest. This winter (2020-21) I cut the tree trunks in the forest and also chopped them with an ax there. Transportation was handled by a battery driven wheelbarrow. The farthest felled trees were about 70 meters away, which is quite a long distance for a wheelbarrow. I thinned young mixed forest, where I planted 10 European beeches in the spring. I also made room for a few oaks growing in our forest by felling birches and spruces around them. Quite a lot of firewood also came from the thinning of alder growing at the edges of the field. This winter (2020-21), some of the tallest trees that cause turbulence need to be felled in the vicinity of our windmill.
As a basic solution for construction, we ended up in a clay strawbale house, which was presented to us through the Natural Building Company (NBC) in Karjaa. A log house was also considered, but a clay strawbale house allows for more of your own work – at least if you are not a carpenter yourself. There was a huge amount of work involved in making the strawbale clay walls in various workshops, courses, with volunteers and our own family. In the log house, we also found it disturbing that unless the logs are really massive, the walls still need to be insulated with cellulose and the interior walls are made of planks or building board. We also didn’t want the borax that came with the cellulose insulation. Of course, the same question came to us with regard to the insulation of the lower and upper bottoms, and as a solution I suggested mixing clay powder with cellulose instead of borax. This product was then launched as Termex’s GreenPlus.
In any case, there are a lot of different materials in the house and you have to be careful about them. What does an OSB board contain? What about the windshield or plasters? The manufacturer is not required to provide a list of ingredients for his products, as in the case of foodstuffs, so all industrial building materials are, in principle, dubious. The windproof paper – even though permeable – has plastic reinforcement, so we used as much traditional tar paper as possible, but it doesn’t fit anywhere either. During the construction period, the purpose was to gather the information gathered in the “iso-orvokkiniitty Material Bank” but unfortunately it has not been done. In any case, it is still the case that if you want a healthy house that does not contain industrial chemicals, you cannot rely on construction professionals (not even the “natural builders”). In any case, compromises have to be made, but it is better to make them yourself.
We did not connect the house to any grid (except the Internet wirelessly). Of course, energy solutions are crucial in Finland’s climatic conditions and in terms of living comfort, but above all from the point of view of the house’s ecology and sustainable lifestyle. The situation is quite concrete if electricity and heat do not enter the building along any cable or pipe but the energy must be produced on site. During our construction, we lived in a 1950’s wooden house (rintamamiestalo) with direct electric heating and, of course, an electric stove in the kitchen. The wood stove was in place, but we didn’t seem to use it once, it became a landing place for goods. The living room had a typical high oven (pönttöuuni), which we regularly heated in the winter. Still, the basic heat was electricity, and it is so cheap that you just don’t have to think about it. If you’re not extremely disciplined (we’re not), the only way to really limit your electricity usage is to cut the cable. More about our energy solutions below.
What would a house with permacultural principles look like? It is no longer possible to completely reconstruct our own thinking and design process in 2014-15, but I have taken inspiration from an article by Paul Jennings (1). In part, this can also be seen as a post evaluation of how the design was successful.
(1) What might buildings, settlements and even regions look like through the lens of Permaculture design?
The planned object, in this case our house, should follow the three ethical principles of permaculture:
- Caring for the earth – taking care of the earth, the forest, the water, the air and living things
- Caring for people – caring for ourselves, loved ones and communities locally and globally
- Fair distribution – fair consumption in relation to production and resources and return of surplus to circulation.
In short, we think that caring for the earth comes through our energy and material solutions and how our house melts into its environment; caring for people is realized by creating a healthy and meaningful living environment for ourselves that we can share with those around us and beyond; and fair sharing is achieved by sharing information and experience about what we do, including through workshops, courses, articles, and our websites. So we don’t want to have our own closed birdhouse but also inspire others to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. This is one example that could give food for thought to others.
In his article, Paul Jennings lists several things this could mean; a kind of permaculture construction checklist. I present them here in free translation (I translated to Finnish – Google translated back to English) and comment on how this matter has been – or is not – implemented by us.
|Paul Jennings principle||Our thoughts||–||Comments|
|Construction should be based on available technology.||We considered both a log house and a clay strawbale house as natural building materials.||We let professionals build the more demanding structures of the house, including foundations, wooden frame, roof structures, electricity and plumbing.|
|– easy to learn||We ended up in a clay strawbale house in part because the construction technology used in it is easier to learn and apply to workshops as well.||We held hands-on workshops on strawbale and clay techniques. We didn’t have much hands-on experience of building at the beginning either.|
|– safe||Erection and plastering of strawbale walls are easy and safe work and materials are safe to handle. However, an electric chainsaw is used to shape the straw bales.||Appropriate scaffolding is needed as in all construction.|
|doable by people of different ages and abilities||At the construction site, of course, someone needs to know what is being done, but there is something to do for people of all levels and ages.||The workshops were attended by people of different skills: the working methods are easy to adopt|
|Buildings should be non-toxic during construction and housing.||We wanted to build an “organic house”. We thought heavily about the ecology of the house through the naturalness of the materials. Even the kitchen was built by ourself, as kitchens made from natural materials are not available (50s wooden kitchen furniture can be obtained used).||In this respect, the biggest challenges were related to foundations, top and bottom insulation, bathroom floor waterproofing (we ended up using bitumen felt under the floor), building boards, wind protection papers, filter fabrics and roofing material (bitumen, sheet metal). We got a supplier to develop boron-free cellulose insulation for us as insulation. Strawbales came from an organic farm and clay from our own organic field.|
|Buildings should be durable and adaptable||Materials and solutions are durable and repairable. If necessary, open spaces can be divided by partitions and doors.|
|Compostable in the final stage||The foundations are concrete and their ecology is problematic. As for the insulation of the foundations, we ended up with leca gravel, which had to be separated from the ground with a filter cloth. Bitumen felt and roofing sheet metal also do not compost.||The standard frost insulation for foundations in Finland is Finnfoam styrofoam. From a purely carbon perspective, it is more ecological than leca gravel, but we consider the naturalness of the material to be more significant. Since then, Glassfoam (Foamit, recycled foam glass) has entered the market, which is significantly less energy-intensive than lecasora.|
|Buildings should have the potential for self-sufficiency.|
|– food||We made a traditional externally ventilated pantry for the kitchen, which allows us to store quite a large amount of food. The kitchen has a standard energy-saving fridge-freezer combination. Due to the lack of electricity, for example, there is no chest freezer. There are quite a lot of worktops and the dining table serves as a baking level. The sink is big.||On the cold porch, an energy efficient chest freezer for storing berries, game, etc. could still be considered. In the spring-summer-autumn season there is no shortage of electricity and in winter the electricity consumption in the cold porch would be very low. Self-sufficiency thinking would have required a greater investment in the kitchen space, thinking about handling, preserving and preparing food.|
|– water||A separate ring well was made on the plot, which provides water for the house. The most concrete consequence of the power outages in the winter season, in addition to the darkness, is that no water comes out of the tap. The well has a hand pump, which means carrying water is possible. The collection of rainwater for gray water use was not finally carried out, but rainwater is collected in tanks outside the house.||Electricity scarcity in winter and a water closet toilet may not be a good combination, as an 800 W water pump is a relatively large consumer of electricity and flushing the toilet is a big part of the water consumption inside a house. In addition, there is a pump well in the willow treatment plant which has a 1200 W pump with which the well is periodically emptied into the treatment area. So pulling a toilet can cause a 2 kW electricity consumption peak. In the winter, we have partly used rainwater to flush the toilet, but that is not possible in the cold. The use of the outdoor dry toilet can also reduce water and electricity consumption in the house.|
|-energy||We did not join the electricity grid. The energy system is described separately below.|
|The buildings should be beautiful||The straw bale clay house, with Siberian larch cladding, blends well with the surrounding young deciduous forest.||The house was designed by our son Jaakko Pöytäniemi as his master’s thesis in architecture.|
|– customizable for different needs||The open architecture of the house allows for a wide range of functions in the house. If desired, the study and bedroom could be made into separate rooms by building partitions.|
|– can be developed over the centuries||The house is built sustainably from natural materials, allowing for various repairs over time.|
|– must be financially affordable||The house has both more expensive and cheaper solutions than usual. The total cost is quite normal for a house of this size. Housing costs are low. Relatively much has been invested in the energy system.||The need for firewood has not yet been fully understood, but it is likely to be less than 10 m3, in which case less than € 500 / year if purchased (in practice, firewood is obtained from our forest). There are no electricity or water charges. Depending on the winter wind conditions, the generator uses 100-200 liters of petrol, ie 150-400 €. The generator is serviceable and a spare generator is required.|
|– must support equality||In the planning phase, one should think about what the residents of the house will do in it and how to create the conditions for these activities. It becomes an issue of equality if one resident has better or worse conditions for doing it than another.||The kitchen is the heart of our house and it is important to both of us. On the other hand, the bathroom is quite traditional and is not a utility room in a modern sense. Storage space for less used clothes and textiles is in the loft.|
|– provides protection and security for young and old||There is a bridge from the upper yard to the terrace, along which the house can also be wheelchair accessible, at least with assistance (threshold). On the other hand, the stairs leading to the loft are steep and challenging for the youngest and oldest.||The house is designed for the two of us and the assumption is that we are more or less healthy to cope with the heating of the house, for example.|
|– should support the vision of what we want society to be like||In terms of the sustainability of society, people should have the opportunity to become partially self-sufficient and, if necessary, to increase self-sufficiency.||Our potential self-sufficiency is quite high, but in practice it is limited by lack of time (work outside the home) and the time required to start self-sufficient production processes (learning and developing a self-sufficient lifestyle), the greater work involved and the need for investment.|
|– must fit the landscape, be suitable in every way||Construction and the associated civil engineering will inevitably reshape and change the landscape. However, by using natural materials and traditional and organic design language, the end result fits into the landscape and enriches and diversifies it by bringing in it the features of a cultural landscape.||In our case, the starting point was completely undeveloped agricultural and forestry land, but the human impact was already decisive (field, logged forest). The construction site was a young deciduous forest (an old spruce forest felled in the 1990s) and there is a field in front of it. For example, green roofs and forest gardens can create a biotope that the plot does not otherwise have.|
|– Built from local materials and adapted to the local culture||The closest of all was clay, which was dug from our own field. Procurement of organic bales locally was not successful, so they came from Hollola organic farm. Timber has been purchased, even if it could have been obtained from our own forest over a longer period of time and with planning (hurry and self-sufficiency often do not match). The farthest came the Siberian larch spruce used for the outer cladding – we emphasized more that the outer cladding did not need to be treated but could turn gray on its own.||In this respect, “performance” could have been better. The timber could have been felled and sawed on site with a field saw. We should have started at least two years earlier. Pine heartwood could also be used for untreated exterior cladding or traditional red soil painting.|
|– should not strain our planetary boundaries||Naturalness was more important in the choice of building materials than, for example, energy efficiency. We imagined what would be here hundreds of years later, when the house has already collapsed back into nature. Pile of concrete, styrofoam and plastics or already decayed building materials? Of course, HVAC and electrical wiring and the concrete of the foundations will remain behind us, but Finnfoam and others will not be piled up.||The house is not the best in terms of insulation today, but it would be problematic when fireplaces have other essential functions than heating (cooking food and boiling water, hot water, baking).|
|– it helps to fix the planetary boundaries we have already crossed||The wood and straw in the house sequester more carbon than the concrete foundations caused, for example, and probably more than the construction of the house as a whole caused. However, calculating this is challenging.||Green roofs and plantings around the house increase the biodiversity of the house environment. In addition, there is plenty of bird nests and feeding, insect hotels and beekeeping.|
For design, it is also advisable to perform an analysis of the functions-elements. In this list, I have once again taken inspiration from Paul Jennings ’article mentioned above. I am doing this analysis now that we have already lived here for the third year. Of course, we thought about most of these topics, but maybe not everything as carefully as we should have. When building a house involves not only the usual move from one place to another in the city but also a change in lifestyle, it is especially difficult to predict everything. In practice, we were probably to some extent a prisoner of the ordinary detached house concept, although it is worth trying to expand the thinking beyond it and think about the life you want to live in a new place. The threshold for making not normal solutions is surprisingly high (of course, a few we have done).
|Function||The primary element||–||Secondary elements||–||Winter|
|Living space * Kitchen Bathroom Living room Bedroom||A dwelling house whose primary function is “living”.||In summer, the activities related to “living” extend to the outside, the terrace, the yard, the summer kitchen, the dry toilet, etc.||In winter, “living” is concentrated indoors. However, due to the offgrid energy solution, the dry toilet is also in use.|
|Guest accommodation||Guest beds in the study and loft.||Camping, guest beds in the sauna changing room||There is no winter living space outside the residential building|
|Washing, hygiene||Bathroom,||A separate log sauna is being completed in 2020-21||Sauna|
|Animal protection *||So far, we only have dogs living with us in the apartment building.||For example, when considering the heating of a possible henhouse, the challenge is energy scarcity in winter. It is not possible to heat the henhouse with an electric coil.|
|Food storage *||Kitchen with refrigerator, large externally cooled pantry, porch||Ground cellar completed in 2020-21||The electricity consumption of a chest freezer on the cold porch would probably be quite low.|
|Cooking*||Kitchen, living room||Summer kitchen, barbecue, in the future a small outdoor baking oven.||Campfire place|
|Storage of tools and equipment *||Separate warehouse building completed 2020-21||Basements and open space under the house||The basement under the fireplace is kept on the plus side (hot water circulation inside)|
|Work and workshop facilities *||There are no decent facilities.||Under the house.||Too cold|
|Outdoor weather protection *||There is a rain shelter under the house, partly protected from the wind.||The upper yard is sheltered from the north wind.|
|Firewood storage||Wooden shed outdoors, 2nd shed built 2021-22||Intermediate storage planned for porch but not yet implemented|
|Rainwater collection *||IBC tanks in the corners of a residential building||A pond designed for the garden below the house||Use in the vegetable garden and in the greenhouse, during the winter season as toilet flushing water.|
|Security (people, valuables) *||Dwelling house, cellars and storage building: lockable doors||surveillance camera||Neighbors, for example, are outside the shouting distance.|
|Cultivation (seedlings) *||Start of seedling cultivation in the spring in the living room: temporary seedling shelves in front of large windows||Greenhouse when the night frosts are over||Storage of some plants and tubers in the cellar.|
|Wild areas, biodiversity *||Designed green roofs for house, warehouse, sauna||Areas to be left “wild” around the house||Birdhouses, bird feeding, bat sheds, insect hotels, nesting places made for swallows under eaves.|
|Social events *||Living room, summer kitchen, sauna||garden||Living room, sauna|
|Beauty, creativity, expression *, spirituality||Living room+kitchen as a studio||Creativity is not about the place, the beauty of the environment||Sauna as a meditation space|
|Learning*||Reference library in the living room and loft.||Teaching sessions in the living room, summer kitchen and garden||Sauna as a reading place during heating|
|Playing *||Living room, playground for grandchildren||yard||Snow, if there were any|
|Business*||Study in the house||In connection with production, a warehouse building, a cellar|
Elements and Functions analysis of the Energy system
The energy system of a house is such an integral part of the whole that it is worth analyzing separately. Many other things are affected by different choices, and subsystem vendors are often unable to help conceive the whole. The functions and systems of the energy system are at least the following:
|Function||Main system in mid-winter||–||System in summer||–||Other system||–||Comments|
|Electricity generation||Windmill (Skystream, rated power 2.6 kW), backup system 3kW petrol generator||Solar panels 12 x 260W||About 1000 kg of Rolls lead-acid batteries allow for the storage of about 16 kWh of electricity, which is enough for 2-4 days.||There is a shortage of electricity in November-December-January, when the generator has to be used on windless days and part of the day can be operated without mains power. In June-August, the windmill will be switched off completely.|
|House heating||The house has three fireplaces: a wood stove, a fireplace (with hot-water circulation) and a baking oven||– For passive houses, the house typically has a large uniform window on the long side to the south and a long roof flag, in which the sun shines in during the autumn-winter-spring season, but the flag cuts the summer sun.||Solar collectors – underfloor heating||All fireplaces have a function other than heating.|
|Water heating||Fireplace hot water circulation to 1500 liter hot water tank.||Solar collectors for hot water tank. During a long warm period, the temperature of the water heater can rise above 90 °.||Dumping of electricity into hot water tank||The fireplace makes the water 40 ° in winter, so you can take a shower.|
|– water for the kitchen (coffee and tea water, cooking)||The wood stove is lit a couple of times a day.||Solar collectors||Fireplace hot water circulation||In winter, dishwashing manually; the water heats up on the stove. In summer, abundance of hot water.|
|– water in the bathroom (hygiene)||Fireplace hot water circulation||Solar collectors||Separate sauna||The only awkward situation is in the autumn when there is no need for heating yet, but the solar collectors are no longer producing enough.|
|Cooking (stove)||Wood stove||removable induction stove||Gas stove in the summer kitchen|
|Baking||Baking oven||Should build a small baking oven out||Stove oven||So far, bread has been bought from the store only in the summer.|
|Food storage (fridge)||refrigerator (electricity), cold pantry||Fridge||Earth cellar||During the windless seasons of winter, we are mostly without electricity from evening to morning. The fridge heats up a few degrees by morning.|
|Water movement (clean water, wastewater)||Pump (electric)||Pump (electric)||Hand pump in the well||During the winter season, moving water is probably the biggest consumer of electricity. A dry toilet in the house would make more sense in an off-grid situation than a water closet.|
|Lighting||Electric lights, rechargeable led lights, candles||Electric lights||Lantern with a small solar panel.||Laptops and cell phones have batteries. With a good headlamp you can read.|
|Laundry||Washing machine, generator on if necessary||Washing machine, abundance of electricity||Hand wash hand laundry.||There is no talk of a tumble dryer, although there would be enough electricity for it in the summer.|
|Dishwashing||The dishes are washed by hand; the water is heated on the stove||Dishwasher||During a manual dishwashing, you can listen to some good podcast or book.|
|Electrical equipment that should remain on||Spare batteries that are charged with battery chargers are used with small inverters.||A 100 Ah battery keeps the underfloor heating circulation pump running; otherwise in frosty periods the water pipe freezes in the basement. The second battery keeps the internet modem and weather station running.|
|Other household appliances||Electricity, generator on if necessary||Electricity||Many devices have their own batteries; including laptops, cell phones, led bulbs, headlamps, cordless tools and robot vacuum cleaners. The use of larger equipment (washing machine, woodworking machines) in winter usually requires a generator).|
People living in cities notice the winter because it is colder, wetter and darker outside. On the other hand, winter hardly extends inside the apartment. In a self-sufficient economy – especially if the house is off-grid – the difference between summer and winter is very concrete. One would think that living has to be planned for two different planets. Living on a summer planet would be pretty easy. On the other hand, the winter planet is quite much more challenging if, for example, hydropower does not happen to be available (and small hydropower is by no means problem-free).
The impact of the seasons on energy systems could not be fully predicted in advance.
With regard to heating, there is a situation in the autumn and spring where the production of solar energy is already insufficient for the use of a water boiler or electric stove or dishwasher (2 kW each), so the wood stove has to be used to boil water and cook even when there is no need for heating the house yet. Similarly, solar collectors do not produce enough hot water, so the fireplace must be heated to get warm water. In the autumn, fireplaces must be used even if there is no need for heating yet. The situation is partly the same in the spring, but is accentuated in the autumn when the house structures (clay walls, clay floors) are still warm and the house does not cool down very quickly. In the spring, the house structures are cold and there is a need for heating until the sun already produces enough electricity. During the summer season, the bread is shopped, because a baking oven would overheat the house in the summer. Maybe we’ll build a baking oven outside as well.
There will be dramatically less solar energy available from November to the end of January. In this case, the main electricity producer is a windmill, but in Finland there may be long windless periods inland in winter, and there is seldom a long continuous wind so long that our batteries would be filled. There is wind power when it is windy and maybe for the next day, but otherwise we have to use the generator for 2-3 of hours a day. In the winter of 2018-19, we used 160 liters of gasoline and in the winter of 2019-20, 100 liters. In the winter of 2020-21, 100 liters will apparently not be enough (it was 200 litres). So far (winters 2019, 2020, 2021), the generator did not need to be operated after the beginning of February. In the summer, there will be an abundance of solar power and the windmill can be switched off. In summer, the limiting factor is the inverter’s power of 3.5 kW. In a way, it is undersized,when 5.5 kW of electricity can enter on a windy sunny summer day. Rarely, however, is so much electricity needed. On the other hand, if the washing machine just heats the water (2 kW) and at the same time one puts the kettle on (2 kW), an overload will occur and the inverter will switch off. The electrical appliance, which requires the most power, is a wood chipper (2.5 kW).
Undoubtedly the most annoying feature of our energy system is the need to use a gasoline generator in the winter. The amount of petrol needed is quite small, but of course the issue is also about principles. How could the problem be solved? A review of this would require a much broader separate article, but the solution could be found in a few directions (considering the scale of an individual detached house):
- Energy transfer from summer abundance to winter, i.e. energy storage. Perhaps hydrogen would be the solution to this in the future, but there seems to be no sensible solution at the moment.
- Use of a generator with a biofuel such as biogas or bioethanol. Biodiesel would probably be a better option than petrol.
- Making electricity from wood would be an ideal solution. Wood is common in Finland and we also have it in abundance. Wood gas engine or Stirling engine or even steam engine. All of these produce more heat than electricity, so it’s worth integrating them into your home’s heating system right from the design stage. There are hardly any commercial products available for a single house scale.
There is plenty of wood in Finland, and many people living on land have enough forest to meet their own energy needs. A suitable affordable solution with a reasonable ratio of electricity to heat production is to be expected.
Our dry toilet was the first building we built; it has such a central function in the life of modern man. When designing the residential building, it was also clear that our waste would not be pumped 30 km to the Lohja wastewater treatment plant, even though the preliminary building permit read “to be connected to the sewage network”. We would like our resources ourselves! That’s why we originally planned the dry toilet, but gave up when we heard about the possibility of making a wastewater treatment plant. It was also influenced by the fact that at that time (2014-15) a very strict new wastewater legislation was expected in Finland for sparsely populated areas, which finally did not enter into force. Even if the house had a dry toilet, a rather expensive sewage treatment system should have been made for the gray water. On the other hand, the willow treatment plant needs the nutrients in the toilet, ie the water toilet.
The advantages and disadvantages of both systems: the water-to-willow treatment plant combination and the dry toilet inside the house in an off-grid house could be compared as follows:
|Water closet – Willow treatment plant||–||Dry toilet indoors|
|Good sides||easy to use: the normal ‘modern solution’ ‘Resources’, ie nutrients remain on the site Willow can be harvested for various purposes||Today, really clean solutions are available “Resources”, ie nutrients remain on the plot Does not require connection to water DOES NOT consume electricity|
|Cons||Water use Energy required to move water Requires a fairly large space (we have 8m x 30m) Solids (septic tank) to be emptied every 1-2 years. Fairly expensive||Need for emptying Requires a large basement space under the toilet. Needs litter. Post-composting should be arranged. Some guests may feel uncomfortable with a dry toilet. Gray water treatment still necessary|
As said, we bought a completely undeveloped site. Of course, that means everything can be made to your liking, but undeniably, an old barn or stall could make life easier, especially during construction. Instead, we bought a used 20-foot sea container in which we were able to store some of our goods. For the construction supplies, we set up a large storage tent, which, however, collapsed under a snow load the second winter, and which we finally demolished. When the house was erected, an open storage space was formed under it, which is still largely a warehouse for goods accumulated during construction and a work space. Foundations built from blocks under large fireplaces form small lockable basements, one of which is kept on the shelter side even in winter to prevent water pipes from freezing. Even the summer kitchen turned into a warehouse – after all, it provided some kind of rain protection for the goods. In 2020, construction began on a storage building for the generator, beekeeping supplies, gardening tools, etc., which is still a bit in progress at the time of writing. Similarly, a cellar was built in 2020 (now completed), which is an important element in the development of self-sufficiency. After the corona spring 2020, the construction of a log sauna was also started in the summer – a project that would certainly not have started yet without the corona restrictions. We enjoyed the sauna the first time for New Year’s Eve 2020-21 (the sauna is still not 100% ready but we enjoy it every Saturday and it is a great sauna.) The 2021 program includes the completion of all of these unfinished projects.
All in all, housing and outbuildings are, of course, an essential part of our space, our permaculture plan and the more self-sufficient lifestyle we want to develop. But they are not the whole picture. I am currently working – for some time now – on the permaculture plan for Iso-orvokkiniitty as my Diploma in permaculture. I will also look at our house and buildings as one or more sub-plans. This writing serves as a good foundation for it. I will then further deepen this review, so comments and questions are welcome.
We wrote several articles in Finnish about construction on our blog during construction: https://iso-orvokkiniitty.fi/blog/category/luomurakentaminen/ Copy-paste the web-address into Google Translator and you can read them in English. You can directly access the google translated articles here. Mostly the translations are understandable but unfortunately you’ll still find some sentences that are incomprehensible. Finnish is a little difficult.. When Google rights “Great Pansy Meadow” it means Iso-orvokkiniitty, the name of our place (direct translation, although orvokki means Viola in general, not specifically Pansy). For Natural Building we use in Finnish “luomurakentaminen”. Luomu is the word for Organic so Google gives “Organic Construction”. The Finnish word Luomu is derived from naturalness so when you see the word Organic in the text imagine Natural (unless it’s about cultivation or food – then probably Organic is correct).
- CONSTRUCTION NOVEMBER 2016 – APRIL 2017
- WORKSHOP ON CLAY FLOORING ON SUNDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2017
- ABOUT PLASTERING
- HEALTHY BUILDING DESIGN: CASE STUDY, HEALTHY DETACHED HOUSE IN ISO-ORVOKKINIITTY
- STORAGE FIREPLACES AS THE MAIN SOURCE OF HEAT AND HOW THEY WERE BUILT (should be Massive fireplaces)
- BUILDING CONSTRUCTION PROGRESSED IN LATE 2017
- ERKKI BECOMES A CARPENTER: WINTER AND SPRING 2018
- THE OFF-GRID WINTER TURNED TO SUMMER
- SIXTH YEAR ON THE GREAT PANSY MEADOW (= Iso-orvokkiniitty)
- GEODETIC GREENHOUSE AND OTHER OUTBUILDINGS
The images in this article were taken with the best technology of the 1950s: square images with a Rolleiflex 2.8D camera and rectangular images with a Nikon F camera.