Design

House with a 100 sensors: Carleton student’s off-grid home harvests water from air

The Northern Nomad House began as a graduation project for five fourth-year Carleton University engineering students. The goal? Create a small home that can be independent of power, water, and sewer grids.

Their 230-square-foot “smart home”, called the Northern Nomad, incorporates a wide array of popular sustainable technologies, including a composting toilet, a heat pump, and a roof made of photovoltaic panels. Its twist on off-grid living — generate and store water using surplus renewable energy.

“We use surplus renewable energy from the solar panels to harvest water out of the air,” says Scott Bucking, assistant professor of civil engineering and architecture, who supervised the project. “The water side, I think, is really challenging.”

The house has more than 100 sensors to measure everything from moisture movement through the walls to power output. Bucking would like to use that data to build multiple iterations of the Northern Nomad, each better than the last.

The team members also asked for public feedback on what smart home features consumers value. Do they want to know how much money their green technologies are saving them? Do they want to be able to unlock their front door remotely?

In the end, people seemed more interested in practical details than geeky stats. “I don’t think the average home user wants to know, in kilowatt hours, what they’re generating,” Bucking says. They’d rather have the technology tell them whether there’s enough power to run various appliances.

The home is designed and wired to handle full-sized appliances including a convection oven, fridge and microwave. When the home isn’t grid-connected (i.e. running from the Tesla batteries), the homeowner can choose to run a reduced set of appliances to extend the homes grid autonomy.

The Northern Nomad project is strongly focused on creating a completely off-grid house.

“We made some compromises along the way,” Bucking says with a laugh. “I would love it if people walked through and said they could live there, but I think, ultimately, because these are so new, it’s hard to know.”

Interested in taking a peek inside? Northern Nomad will be open to the public during the last two weeks of July, 2018.