I'm researching building a home on a property I just bought. Water is plentiful but there is little or no chance of getting municipal services such as natural gas or electricity. However I have open southern exposure on a hill. As I understand it, pretty good conditions for solar. From my research, heating and a well pump are probably going to be the largest consumers of energy. I'll supplement with wood or pellet heating, but I'm not going to rely on it. I would prefer a hydronic heated floor, but will probably opt for the most efficient. Any suggestions? Let's just assume for now, that initial capital isn't a concern.

Following up on comments, the location is northern Pennsylvania along the Allegheny mountains. I am hoping I can get propane but I'm not sure how readily available it is in that area. Most people use fuel oil out there, which I do not want. I'm initially planning for all electrical.

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    If hill is a good size, can build inside it, a bit different but is very good insulation value. Solar water heating also something to look into. propane might be used instead of natural gas, unless you are really out in the boonies.
    – crip659
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 17:17
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    Weather at the same latitude can vary quite a bit depending on elevation, distance from the coast and other factors. Rough area (nearest big city) would help. Alternatively: average low in the winter, average high in the summer, degree days, etc. Solar + big battery + very well insulated house plus heat pump could do great, based on "initial capital isn't a concern". But there are a lot of variables. Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 17:17
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    Our first step was to think about insulation - the "standard regs required a minimum of 4" so we trebled that and used 12" and that included under the floor. Made so much difference to the heating load, and cooling load.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 18:12
  • We also used large south facing windows to let winter sun in but shaded to exclude summer sun. The solar water heating with underfloor heating - the low T required for underfloor heating matches well with solar...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 18:24
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    You can't go by latitude. 41° is Eureka CA (which never freezes), Cheyenne WY (which definitely does), Cape Cod, Porto, Barcelona, Naples, or Istanbul. Any climate you want lol. Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 18:36

2 Answers 2


The simple cheap solution is to hyper-insulate, but still build a "stick house" with exactly the same designs and sensibilities of any run-of-the-mill home.

passive solar design

That is not "stick house with a bunch of solar panels", not at all!

Passive solar design means using the structure and thermal mass of the home to passively (naturally) maintain HVAC largely on its own, without mechanical assistance.

An example is large south-facing windows which gulp up the winter sun... but the summer sun is blocked by smartly placed shades, avoiding the solar gain which makes normal non-air-conditioned homes so miserable.

Another example is massive concrete work inside the considerable insulation envelope... whose thermal mass resists changes in temperature.

By the way, thermal mass is a misnomer - mass doesn't store heat, atoms do (as states of electron excitement). By volume, water is a much better thermal mass than concrete, because it has more atoms per cubic foot.

At extremes you have "earthships", which are all about using cheap materials to practice passive design. You do not need to follow their "cheap" credo, in fact, the permitting process will be easier if you use more recognizable building materials.

But this subject is too large for an answer... there are whole books on it. I encourage you to inform yourself about this area.

Active equipment

It's better to "build it in" than use equipment to make up for lack of it. But yes, there are a variety of solar and wind power options on the table, and run-of-river hydro if you got it.

Any way you slice it, batteries are a huge deal. Note that the popular Youtube videos have a huge bias toward new retail product such as Battle Born batteries, because the companies give them the equipment in exchange for being featured on the show. In theory, that does not bias them. But in practice, the hosts get 5-star concierge-tier customer support, and they use it because they are afraid if they blunder the installation and then show a failure, they'll get sued for defamation. Normal people use used or scrounged batteries, a popular option being modules out of wrecked Tesla Model S's, which have about 5 KWH usable for about $1000. That's pretty good.

I agree with George that a generator is worthwhile to have as an emergency backup. I suggest a diesel generator like a Kubota, or for a true craftsman, a Lister. Why? Because everyone else uses heating oil. Diesels run on heating oil and they'll bring it to you. You could also borrow/buy heating oil from neighbors. 10 gallons is a lot for a diesel generator, but for someone using oil to heat their homes, it's a trifle. I would design the generator so it recharges the battery system, and does not run the house directly. I.E. you don't have a transfer switch from battery to generator... you have the generator run a battery charger while you continue to run the house on battery. Thus you only need a small generator which runs wide-open when it runs, which is at a time of your choosing.

I also advise a liquid-cooled generator so you can recover most of the engine's waste heat. Bring it into your home into a radiator there.

Also consider heat pumps with ground sourcing. Ground source gives you an all year 55 degree F supply. For a given amount of heating oil, you actually get more net heat running a generator to run an efficient heat pump using that ground source, than you would get burning the heating oil directly.


Most likely, the best ROI would be insulation, as mentioned already in the comments. While very expensive or impossible in many existing houses, basement/foundation/wall/roof insulation is quite easy and inexpensive to add in a house that is going to be built.

The south side is a gift and would enable to build a passive or zero- energy house, where a dedicated room heating system is not necessary, since the ventilation/AC system could recover much of the otherwise lost energy.

In many places, subsidies are offered for low energy houses.

An overview of the planning aspects is here: https://www-bosy--online-de.translate.goog/Passivhaus.htm?_x_tr_sch=http&_x_tr_sl=de&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en-US

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