Most houses are totally dependent on municipal utilities for power and water, what a friend of mine calls “life support.” Cut the utilities, and the occupants are left to freeze in the dark while their food rots.
A major goal for Harvest House’s owners is to be able to withstand all nature’s calamities in their house. In the Seattle area these include earthquakes, floods, and wind. In December 2006, a wind storm left over 1 million without power, some for as long as 5 days.
This house was designed by the structural engineer, Harriott Smith Valentine, to the strength of a critical facility, like a hospital or an airport control tower. The building is superinsulated, has a root cellar to store food, and has four huge tanks in the basement to store rainwater. Without any operating equipment, the occupants will have shelter, warmth, food, and water.
Factor in its solar energy systems, and this house can enable its occupants to live in complete comfort for at least 3 weeks. With both photovoltaic (solar electric) panels and solar hot water tubes, which are backed up by batteries and a propane generator, the lights will glow, the refrigerator will stay cold, the oven can warm, the heat will flow, and the water will be potable. By rationing their usage of electricity, they could live independently for many months.
With climate change ratcheting up the frequency and intensity of storms and droughts, there is a growing interest in what Alex Wilson calls Resilient Homes. Alex and Jerelyn Wilson of Building Green visited Eastside Harvest House in October 2011.