Living off-the-grid

Katherine Homan’s late husband, Richard, always believed in stretching the frontiers of knowledge. He applied this belief to the Oak Cliff home he eventually built from the ground up.

“This was his ultimate research,” Homan says.

As a neurologist, Homan’s husband was constantly forming hypotheses and testing them. Once he fell ill and retired, however, he needed a more accessible house. In 1997, the Homans decided to test a hypothesis on a house: You can actually save energy by building “off-the-grid,” meaning a home that isn’t powered by the electric grid.

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They spent a few years looking into materials and systems to best equip their home to conserve energy. In 2000, the Homans began building what is now recognized as the first green-built house in Dallas.

“We were a novelty, a case study. This house was an experiment,” Homan says.

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More than a decade of energy bills has proved their hypothesis, Homan says. The East Kessler home, which literally was glued together, utilizes both solar and geothermal energy. Homan even collects rainwater. The house also contains a number of recycled materials: carpets, counters, and floors. The only amenities in Homan’s house powered by the regular electric grid are her washer and dryer, her oven and her geothermal system. The geothermal system uses the earth as a heating and cooling system for the home.

During power outages, all of Homan’s off-the-grid amenities still work. Oncor once skipped her house during a power outage because workers saw the lights still worked. They just assumed her heater was working as well.

What Homan loves about the home is that it does not “scream green.” It is still a very traditional looking home.

“We are harnessing what is already free. We are living in consort with nature,” Homan says.

One very important resource she has saved is water. Her 550-gallon rainwater collection irrigates her lawn during drought, for example, and her instant hot water heater at the kitchen sink saves her from running the faucet waiting for warm water. She says her monthly water bill is only $10. Water usually comprises one-third of the energy expenses of traditional homes, she says, and she encourages more people to focus on conservation.

“Water is an incredibly finite resource. You can’t get energy today without water,” Homan says.

Homan says many people turn to green technology simply to save money. Homan, however, has found other, more important benefits. She says her asthmatic grandchildren never even cough while in her house.

“I only dust twice a year,” she says. “It’s healthier to be breathing the air in this house. It’s an energy-saving system that has all of these healthy byproducts.

“There are things that are priceless. Those are considerations that exceed any monetary benefits.” —Victoria Hilbert

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