Real Estate News

Couple builds solar-powered home just off Hilton Head Island

Living off the grid means living independently without supportfrom public utilities. It's a lifestyle that's growing for severalreasons, but primarily among homeowners who want to savemoney and to become better stewards of the earth's resources,according to Nick Rosen in his 2007 book "How to Live Off-Grid."But sometimes, there's no choice and living off the grid is born ofnecessity. That is exactly what happened when Tom and Mary Donaldset out to build their home on Old House Cay Island, which is approximatelyone mile off of Hilton Head Island.

They were looking for a water-oriented property in the area and sooncame across this little island for sale. It was water-oriented for sure, butthere wasn't a dock, a house or any power on the island.

As a matter of fact, when Tom firstvisited the island, he had to swim fromthe boat to get on shore. He says it'sbeen an adventure to build a houseon his own island, but adds: "I'm nowready for a little less adventure andready to enjoy it."

Relaxation should be easy now, sincethe house was completed last summerTheir 1,800 square foot, two-bedroom,2.5-bathroom home is outfitted withall the modern amenities, thanks tothe power of the sun.

Photovoltaic energy generated bythe sun provides energy for all thelights and appliances, for the flatscreenTV which plays movies (no cableservice is available on the island),and to run the air conditioner duringthe hottest days of the summer. Thereis a solar thermal water collector onthe roof which provides hot water fordomestic use.

A well provides water to the house- it was one of the couple's first projectsto test the feasibility of living onthe island.

The sun's energy is captured by anarray of solar panels on the south sideof the roof. The power is collected andstored in 4 DC batteries in a bin underthe house.

When the power is needed, it isconverted into AC power for regularhousehold use. The power collectedand generated is more than sufficientfor the needs of their home, whichTom Donald attributes to "highlyenergy-efficient appliances" in thehouse.

There is a backup generator if theneed should arise but thus far, it hasn't."We made it through the peak demandof the summer, so I think we areokay," Tom Donald said.

He said his experience in the contractingbusiness (he's the owner ofCarolina Contractors) helped himbuild and outfit his island weekendget away home.

The couple lives in Hilton HeadPlantation.

"Initially, we built a three-story deckstructure to test out solar and windpower sources," he said. "The windpower in our case was not as beneficialas solar power."

Also, the town's zoning boardwouldn't allow the windmill to be putup."

Tom Donald and local architectMerrill Pasco designed the house together.Now looking back at the designand function of the sustainable energysources, Donald says "I wouldn't do itany differently."

Donald says, "If you have the optionto be on the grid, it is definitelycheaper."

It can cost anywhere from five to 10times more in start-up costs to live offgrid,he said.

There are federal tax rebates and insome states, incentives for creating renewableenergy sources. In Californiaand New York, residents can