Utilities on a Floating Home

The attraction of living on a floating home is easy to see: a life on the water, immersed in nature and the ability to enjoy both, right out the front door. The caveat for some homeowners interested in making the leap to an on-water residence may lie in the less romantic area of home utilities. At first glance it may seem that there has to be a trade-off. A house on the water must be a hassle, right? When it comes to electrical circuitry and plumbing systems…how can these possibly work seamlessly in a wet environment? 

This month our exploration of the mechanical systems and day to day operations of a floating residence helps to answer these questions and illuminate their simplicity and ease of use.

COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS

When we think of our OASys design philosophy, we like to think of creating floating residences by building modular components that make their installations more streamlined and help provide the planning of larger communities to be more feasible and efficient. In this way we can optimize the infrastructure that is needed for power, water, and waste and reduce the impact on the environment. The shore-based power grid and municipal water and waste infrastructure provide the simplest and lowest-cost solution to begin thinking about managing the community appropriately. 

Electrical conduit and water/waste piping are arranged and incorporated into floating walkways within dedicated weathertight channels. These service runs begin at shore connections and lead down an access ramp where the lines are propagated out to feed the entire community . Think of water mains and electric service running under street level and accessed via man-holes. This approach is no different, it’s just that the piping and conduit are built into the floating pathways that connect up the OASys environment. 

POWER

When tied into the grid, electricity on a floating home would work just as a land-based home– you have a meter and a transformer, all the connections we see in the neighborhood — but let’s turn our attention towards other options that provide power resources. Solar power is the most notable source — it’s viable and sustainable, and can be installed and implemented similar to onshore homes. Many environments that suit floating residences have excellent exposure to the sun, with few trees or buildings nearby to impede light getting to the panels. Well appointed awnings could also incorporate or conceal solar panels while providing shade/shelter below, and rooftops offer an abundant go-to for conventional installations of robust arrays. 

Combined with today’s modern systems, a solar system is an excellent addition to supplementing power on a floating residence. And when storage of power is provided by battery banks we can minimize reliance on the grid and optimize the management of all daily power demands. A battery-supported system can also be combined into the power grid system to take full advantage of solar while having advantage of ultimate redundancy and flexibility. 

Beyond solar power, there are a handful of renewable energy sources to take into consideration, like wind generation and tide/wave generation. Integrating these technologies would help further reduce the demand for grid-supplied power. With these systems, a property becomes more flexible in managing power supply, and therefore more potential for illustrating sustainable practices. It is with a proper site plan and feasibility study where we can best ensure good balance for the use of these resources by building projections for the performance of these systems.

The design process for a system like this uncovers many trade-offs with the realities of cost-benefit, maintenance schedules, efficiency studies, noise and impact on design. It’s not always clear or easy to determine the best fit with quick answers. But as architects and designers of complex solutions for ocean-going yachts, we’re well versed in comparing the conflicting demands of such power management and implementation of integrated systems.

PLUMBING 

Any conversation regarding the plumbing and fixtures aboard a floating home usually starts with the obvious question: Where does the poop go? We’ve thought long and hard about this most of our careers! Believe it or not, boats pose challenging conflicts for dealing with waste, both technically and physically. But, onboard a floating residence, we aim to keep some things as simple and robust as possible. Simpler, the better, in fact.  

Building the OASys community should look very much like any other community development where systems are all grid-tied to shore services, to standard municipal utilities, and we don’t see, or hear, or think about how or where all poop goes. 

No worries! All is concealed out of sight. Just like inside your home, these deeply buried systems are equipped to handle normal operations without concern. Your power, phone, and internet cable are run inside large marine-grade conduits built into the floating infrastructure and directed out to each OASys. Your potable running water simply comes out of the faucets like you expect, and, yes, the poop goes out through the wastewater system and evacuates to more suitable places. These standard systems are employed in our everyday lives without anyone stopping to think about it. They’re robust and simple. But the reality is that the idea of floating communities brings up questions. Fortunately, we have some obvious answers.

Inside the residence, what does all this look like onboard? Let’s turn to the floating foundation where one could climb down through a service hatch inside the residence under the floor.  There, we could crawl around in the ‘basement’, inside the hull of this foundation, to access all the plumbing and other system related connections. Plastic plumbing is common in homes and on boats, and would be used here with equal success aboard this floating residence. Water pressure comes from the city main-line, or an additional pressure pump is installed to supplement house pressure. Hot water is generated via multiple options, most commonly by an on-demand electric, propane or CNG water heater.  We could generate hot water from solar arrays that supplement the heating functions in the “whole-home-heating-system”, as well. The nuts and bolts of these systems will not be any different than what we see in today’s modern homes.

The one common difference between floating homes andmany  land-based homes would be found in the sewage system.  Simply put, onboard the OASys is a system capable of moving waste from a low point down in the home, up to higher ground where the main connection exists to municipal service. Though not common, this is done on land sites where changes in grade keep gravity from working with us, and these systems only require a few more components than typical. For this to work, we’ll need a sump pump and collection tank.  This means that the sinks, and garbage disposals, washing machines, dishwashers, bath tubs, showers, and toilets will all drain into a collection tank built into the floating foundation (in the basement). From there, once the collection reaches a certain level, the pump will kick on and run the wastewater directly up the system network to enter the land-based sewage system or into another collection tank that will act as a transfer station to civic sewage.  

HVAC

By far, heating and cooling demands are the largest energy consumers we deal with in most homes and office buildings. To address these demands smartly means designing systems with high efficiency that employs the most modern tech.  This has upfront costs to the bottom line, however we know that the ROI, along with sustainable practices, will far outweigh the upfront outlay over the long term. That said, the budget for heating and cooling is not just simply balancing investment versus running costs. We strive for long term efficiency while making the interior environment a comfortable space, which in turn leaves the occupants with a pleasant and enjoyable space – the ultimate components for success.

Interestingly, floating homes could benefit from the same product tech we already employ in the marine environment found aboard seafaring vessels of all types. These self-contained HVAC systems deliver strong heating and cooling, and are relatively compact and simple to install. The energy transfer is based on the largest source we have readily available and all around us: water. 

Water at temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees can offer significant advantages all year round. Water has the innate ability to carry and transfer hot and cold energy swiftly, and when run through a heat exchanger, can deliver either heating or cooling effects on a system and reduce overall energy usage.

Conventional HVAC technology relies on condenser units that provide the compression of refrigerant gas to power the system. It is the process of allowing refrigerant gas to expand that causes a condensation cycle in the heat exchanger and this cools the water that runs through the exchanger and feeds out to air handlers that will blow air over the cooled internal exchangers to treat the air. 

Many ocean or lake shorelines have reasonable access to naturally cold water. If this water can be tapped, a significant amount of power can be mitigated out of the power template and save electrical energy that typically runs large condenser units and cooling towers to process this heat transfer equation. When we reduce power demand, we save money in electrical costs and reduce our carbon footprint.

These systems do have limitations: a site will dictate the parameters and we’ll work with available resources to plan the way the system works accordingly. Most systems of this type are designed to balance practicality with capital investment. Because of readily available resources, this means when that sea/lake water is employed to help mitigate constant loads on the electrical side, we have the benefits of working with our surroundings and we won’t rely solely on a closed refrigerant system to manage all the heat transfer.   

A hybrid system will be best, as nature cannot handle it all. Inevitably during those high demand times of year, the need for additional compressing and condensing the refrigerant system will kick in.  It is the balance of these elements that we’re interested in as available natural resources are often at odds with the needs of the interior environment. The cooler the water resource; generally, the more effective this system is for cooling.  As is, the warmer the water; the more effective the system is for heating. However, at 50-60 degrees the water is capable of supplementing a good balance of heating and cooling in all seasons. For hotter regions, where sea water at the surface runs much warmer, a project might require going quite deep to get water that is 50 degrees–we see these systems getting implemented for land-based operations, nonetheless.  

A Floating Home is Not a Boat

We like the idea of making all floating communities as clean and environmentally sound as possible. If you’ve ever shopped for a boat, you may have noticed how expensive these things are. Boats are vehicles that are designed to work at sea — the harshest operating environment we can imagine, next to outer space. And because boats require self-sustaining redundant systems, a powertrain and other unique machinery — where the entire vehicle must work within the laws of physics for stability and performance — this makes boats complex and costly to build.  

Floating residences, on the other hand, eliminate many of the issues yachts are subject to and they provide a simpler, more stable footprint for living directly on the water.  If we consider the entire design of a floating residence as something similar to any other work of architecture, we have an integrated system of separate yet related micro-systems, all working together in a highly efficient manner.

This discussion was prompted by common questions many homeowners have asked about living aboard a floating home. In revealing how simple and practical it can be to create this unique housing market from products everyone can understand and one in which homeowners can service and maintain easily, we hope you can see that an OASys is an accessible and exciting option for your next home purchase. 

It All Adds Up

Check out this nifty energy calculator

A Cool System

Learn more about the efficiency of HVAC systems

Upon Further Inspection

Take a look at what the experts see: NACHI

 

As always, if you or other sustainable leaders within your personal network would like to explore possible floating home solutions, please share this content or reach out to us directly by clicking here: https://stephenswaring.com/immerst/  We’ll arrange a short consultative phone call to discuss your needs and explore partnership opportunities. 
We welcome any comments, ideas and feedback.