Off-Grid Home Relies on Propane Heating Systems

An L.A. architect chooses propane as an energy source in a hip pre-fab home he designed using steel shipping containers.

When Los Angeles architect Walter Scott Perry set out to design a pre-fab, energy-efficient home fashioned mainly from steel shipping containers he knew propane was the ideal energy choice for the (very) off-grid home's heating and hot water. The kit-like house—assembled in the harsh Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree, Calif.—had no access to natural gas or even water.

But it wasn't just the location that prompted Perry, a principal of ecotechdesign and founder of ecotechbuild, to go with propane. He wanted to use the most efficient systems on the market to achieve the home's target energy footprint. It features a tankless water heater as well as a gas-fired heat-pump split system. While a back-up generator is not currently used at the home, it is a viable option for the future.

The house, which cost only $150 per square foot and was permitted in record time, is composed of six repurposed steel shipping containers, a Butler pre-engineered building, a 10,000-gallon steel water tank, and a metal shade canopy with integrated steel framing that provides strength as well as earthquake and wind protection. Large window and door openings maximize daylighting, ventilation, and cooling.

While Scott initially planned to have the aboveground propane tank exposed and visible, the owner wanted it to be protected from wind-driven gravel and sand. So Scott designed a corrugated metal "fence" on two sides of the tank. "Most of the utility elements are exposed and left to express themselves as 'architecture,'" says Scott. "It works well with the 'kit-of-parts' approach where the various building, storage, and energy components create an architectural assemblage, a post-industrial sculpture garden, if you will."

A corrugated metal fence obscures and protects the aboveground propane tank.

To learn more about how propane lets you build with efficient gas systems, anywhere, be sure to check out our free online CEU courses, available at the Propane Training Academy.

Living Off-Grid: Power Generation and Storage Basics

Condensing Tankless Water Heaters: Using Propane for the Most Efficient Water Heaters on the Market

A Comparative Analysis of Residential Heating Systems

Field Report: The Propane Energy Pod at Work
How to Maximize Propane Tax Incentives
Case Study: Off-Grid Home Relies on Propane Heating Systems


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