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Frequently Asked Questions

Geo-Lite Solar Electric Systems
Geo-Lite Wastewater Processing Systems

Regulations - Permits / Zoning / Building Codes
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does the Geo-Lite Ecolodge cost so much?
Why is it so cheap?

The Geo-Lite Ecolodge is a self-contained unit. Unlike conventional houses, mobile homes and RV's, the Ecolodge makes its own electricity and processes its own waste. The value of these features varies depending on the nearness of utilities to the unit's intended location. For example, the cost of running electric power lines in the US can be as much as $116,000 per mile. That's approximately twice the cost of our most expensive unit.

How many people can live in an Ecolodge?
Each Ecolodge model is designed to support a certain number of people at certain occupancy rates. As occupancy increases, more electrical generating and waste-handling capability is required. See
Ecolodge Models for recommended occupancy rates for each model.

Can Geo-Lite units be used as a temporary dwelling? . . . a permanent dwelling?
How long will it last?

Geo-Lite units can be disassembled and relocated, as desired, or left in place permanently. They are made from building materials equivalent to those used in conventional structures and, with appropriate maintenance, will last just as long. See
Regulations below for information on building codes.

Are they suitable for cold weather?
Will the fabric roof handle a snow load?
How do you heat it?

Geo-Lite units were originally designed for temperate and tropical climates. With the optional roof insulation kit in place, they have approximately the same overall R-value as a mobile home or travel trailer. However, unlike a mobile home or trailer, it is fairly easy for a Geo-Lite owner to add additional layers of insulation if desired.

Code requirements and the weight of a "foot of snow" varies in different regions. Smaller units can handle light snow loads (<10 psf) without modification. Larger units and / or larger loads require a snow load kit. (Incidentally, the fabric is capable of handling any conceivable snow load. It is the rafters which must be strengthened for heavy roof loads.)

Wood stoves, with a through-the-wall stove jack, and many types of direct-vent propane heaters are usually the best options for heat. The round shape of Geo-Lite units combined with a ceiling fan provide very efficient heat distribution from whatever heat source you choose.

How long will the fabric roof last?
What happens if something falls on it?
Is the roof fireproof?

Our standard roof carries a five year warranty and is made from a vinyl / polyester architectural-grade fabric with a rip-stop composition which is made specifically for use in roofs, canopies and awnings. (The roof of the Denver International Airport is made entirely of fabric.)

In general, because the material flexes easily, falling objects will not penetrate it. If it should be punctured, the rip-stop feature prevents the hole from enlarging and the damage can usually be repaired using commonly available vinyl repair materials such as might be used to fix an air mattress.

The roof material is rated as flame-retardant by standard testing authorities. Most building codes permit this standard in structures of this type. If exposed to a direct flame, the roof fabric will burn but will self-extinguish immediately when the flame source is removed. Fireproof fabrics are available at a considerable additional cost.

What about hurricanes --- floods --- earthquakes?
As we see it, there are three basic approaches to hurricane resistance:

One is what we call the bomb shelter approach. The fallacy here is that the design must be based on a maximum wind speed which nature can exceed at a whim. (For instance, the wind standard for construction in the coastal, southeastern United States is typically 110 mph. But many hurricanes in recent years have exceeded that speed.) Once the bomb shelter is breached, you've got a very large, hard-to-clean, bathtub.

A second approach is to build the unit in such a way that the owner can protect it.

A third method is to design in a way that minimizes damage and makes rebuilding rapid and less costly.

We have taken these latter two approaches in designing the Geo-Lite dwelling. The structure of the unit offers a unique form of protectability in that the "above-deck" portion can be disassembled in a few hours and stored in a more sheltered location. If disassembly isn't feasible, damage is minimized by the extra strength of the structure's steel skeleton and optional use of such features as unbreakable, polycarbonate windows. Quick rebuilding is facilitated by easy replacement, if necessary, of the fabric roof, plus the modular construction of all components and, in Ecolodge units, the immediate availability of built-in solar-electric power. Even if swamped, a composting toilet can be back in operation in a matter of hours.

The wisdom of this approach was highlighted in 1995 at Maho Bay Camps Resort in the US Virgin Islands which was struck by two hurricanes within a week. Maho Bay was back in operation nine days after the last storm, while other nearby, traditionally-built (bomb shelter style) resorts took as much as five months to recover. The managers of Maho Bay attributed a large portion of their speedy recovery to their solar-electric system and the quick replaceability of the fabric roofs on their locally-built units. Replacement roofs for Geo-Lite units can be installed with the same speed.

Flood: In shallow flooding conditions, Geo-Lite units, typically built on raised platforms, will usually be out of harm's way. In higher water conditions the unit can usually be disassembled and removed more rapidly than a sand bag dike could be built.

Earthquake: The mass of the building is far less than a conventional structure of equivalent square footage. The walls are proportionally stronger than a conventional building and the roof is far lighter in weight. No Geo-Lite Ecolodge has yet experienced a major earthquake, however empirical evidence suggests that the seismic resistance of the structure will exceed the revised California standards which resulted from the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Can several units be combined to make a larger complex?
Yes, units can be placed tangent to each other but they cannot overlap.

Does it have to be round?
Can the self-contained utility components be used on another building?

The Geo-Lite Ecolodge is a system. The dwelling itself is one component of that system. The dwelling we sell is round. If you wish, we can probably adapt our system's utility components (solar-electric, wastewater, etc.) to another building of your choosing.

Does it have to be on a platform?
No. Geo-Lite HomeSpace and Park units are frequently located on shallow, four-inch, wood foundations.

However, as in conventional structures, waste materials in Geo-Lite units typically move downward, by gravity, out of the unit. When conventional wastewater systems are not available or not desirable, supporting the structure on a platform, above surface-mounted waste-handling apparatus, allows excavation to be avoided and facilitates relocation of the unit without site disturbance. If you do not plan on relocating the unit and don't require the platform for other reasons, such as flood avoidance, you can construct a conventional foundation with a basement.

We can supply systems which move the waste horizontally, and therefore do not require a raised platform. However, the extra cost of this equipment is about the same as a platform.

Does it conform to building codes?
Geo-Lite units are designed in accordance with the Uniform Building Code, the basic code in the Western US, and the National Electric Code. We are working on conformation with the forthcoming International Building Code. See
Regulations below for a more detailed description.

How does the toilet system work?
The best possible solution for wastewater handling, from an environmental standpoint, is a constructed wetland which mimics the way waste is processed by natural riparian communities in the wild. In most cases this solution requires significant landform modification adjacent to the Geo-Lite unit and expert consultation.

So, for most applications we recommend composting toilets. These units separate the liquid portion of toilet waste from the solid portion, evaporate most of the liquid and, using a process like a garden composter, break down the waste into a nutrient-rich compost. This process eliminates the odor-producing components of the waste and reduces it to a much smaller volume.

In some cases, climate or lifestyle considerations make composting toilets impractical. In those cases incinerating toilets may be considered. Initially, incinerating toilets operate like the holding tanks used in recreational vehicles. When the tank is full a propane burner is activated which converts the waste into sterile ash. Incinerating toilets require no electrical power but a considerable amount of propane gas.

See
Ecolodge Wastewater Processing Systems below for a more detailed description.

How "green" is it?
Daytime space heating is augmented by the solar-thermal gain of the fabric roof. Standard steel components such as panel frames and rafters have approximately 60% recycled steel content. Wood material used in the floor is manufactured from 100% lumber mill waste. In Ecolodge units the solar-electric system generates 100% clean power with no adverse environmental effects; the water heater operates only on demand with no unnecessary energy consumption and the greywater system reuses virtually 100% of the shower and lavatory waste water.

If desired, additional environmental enhancements can be chosen at extra cost. Plastic lumber products with 100% recycled content may be substituted for some standard lumber products. Pressure-treatment of standard lumber with ACQ, an EPA-certified, advanced wood preservative that contains no environmentally hazardous metals such as arsenic or chromium, is also available.

Finally, in perhaps the ultimate example of sustainable design, when the unit has completed its useful life in one location, it can be disassembled, removed and reused in another.

Why doesn't the Ecolodge have solar hot water heating?
Water heating is a great use for solar energy. Unfortunately, in most climates, even the US Sun Belt, solar water heating is not sufficient, during every month of the year, to supply the quantity of hot water that most city-dwellers are used to. It is therefore necessary to have a propane system as a back-up. The propane system is, by itself, capable of supplying all the required hot water.

Therefore, from a strictly cost-effectiveness and maintenance standpoint, the solar-thermal system is a needless complexity. However, from an environmental consciousness standpoint it still has a lot to recommend it. So, if you want a solar-thermal system on your Geo-Lite unit, we'll be glad to supply it as an optional extra.

Is your solar-electric system big enough to run an air conditioner?
See
Geo-Lite Solar-Electric Systems below.
Geo-Lite Solar-Electric Systems
Geo-Lite Park units (except Models W and S) and Geo-Lite HomeSpace units (except Cabana) include electrical equipment and wiring for connection to existing utilities. Ecolodge and HomeMaker models are supplied with their own stand-alone, solar-electric generating capability. Some HomeMaker models also have a back-up generator.

We have designed our solar-electric package to provide sufficient power for the discretionary use of environmentally-conscious people residing in a natural setting. This includes lighting for reading and general use, outlets for small appliances and, in some models, ceiling fans for cooling. Our Deluxe system is rated at 480 watts. This would typically be enough to allow daily use of lighting and small appliances such as ceiling fans, microwave ovens and color television, but not "department store" washer-dryers and air conditioners. Specialized appliances are available however, and there is no inherent limitation in the ability of solar-electric power to run anything you might require; the limit is simply your pocket book. With solar electricity, you have no monthly bill from the power company; but you pay "up front" for the equipment that makes that possible. The additional "up front" cost for equipment to operate an air-conditioner, for example, in a 500 square foot Ecolodge would be between $8,000 and $10,000, depending on the climate and how many hours per day the compressor must run.

Our standard systems are designed in a way that makes it possible to add an additional increment of electric capacity at a later date. We suggest that you try a modest package first and see how you like it.

The Basic system is rated at 110 watts (PV). It includes a 300 watt modified sine-wave inverter and 220 amps of battery storage.

The Standard system is rated at 220 watts (PV). It includes a 1100 watt modified sine-wave inverter and 440 amps of battery storage.

The Deluxe system is rated at 480 watts (PV). It includes a 1800 watt sine-wave inverter and 880 amps of battery storage.

All systems generate both 12 volt DC and 110 volt AC electric current and include solar panels, mounting rack, batteries and pre-wired control and safety equipment. All solar-electric components, except the panels, are located in a vented storage cabinet which fastens to the exterior of the dwelling on Nihoa and Nevis models and is built into the inside of the building on Lanai and Bonaire units.
Geo-Lite Wastewater Processing Systems
Overview
Every organism on earth consumes nutrients and creates waste. The nutrient source for most of these organisms is waste from the others. In the wilderness, the waste produced by animals is deposited in or on the ground. A large portion of this waste is liquid which evaporates into the air. The remainder is processed by naturally occurring, aerobic bacteria which consume a portion of the waste and convert the remainder into nutrients, which are in turn consumed by plants growing in the earth. All human waste is also ultimately processed by other organisms. In the wilderness, an individual person's waste could, in most cases, be deposited in or on the ground and be processed by the same organisms that deal with animal waste. In cities, where human populations are dense, the ability of naturally occurring organisms to process the waste is overtaxed and engineered systems are required.

Geo-Lite Ecolodges are designed to function in environments which range from wilderness to rural suburban. That range requires a range of waste processing solutions including greywater systems, composting toilets, propane-fired incinerating toilets, and toilets connected to hybrid in-ground systems such as constructed wetlands.


Constructed Wetlands
The best possible solution for both greywater (wastewater from showers and sinks) and blackwater (toilet waste), from an environmental standpoint, is a constructed wetland which mimics the way waste is processed by a natural riparian community in the wild. In most cases this solution will require significant landform modification adjacent to the unit and expert consultation. Constructed wetlands are possible in almost any climate and are usually the best solution for permanent installations of multiple units where environmental considerations are paramount. Geo-Lite Systems does not build these facilities but we can put you in contact with an expert in your area. Constructed wetlands require no external energy input.


Composting Toilets
For most applications we recommend composting toilets. These units separate the liquid portion of toilet waste from the solid portion and, using the same natural process as in a garden composter, stimulate the natural bacteria in the solid waste to break it down into a nutrient-rich compost. This process eliminates the odor-producing components of the waste and reduces it to a much smaller volume.
A mechanism which creates a slight negative pressure within the toilet system prevents odors from moving upward into the Ecolodge during the composting process.
Composting toilets can be used in most climates where people live. However, the bacteria that process the waste in the composter slow down their activity when the temperature is below about 55°F. So, in colder climates, additional equipment such as solar heating, may be required for continued operation. In many cases, if use of the toilet in the Ecolodge is reduced during Winter months and Summer use is moderate, the composter will be able to operate as a holding tank during the cold period and then catch up during the Summer, yielding satisfactory operation over a yearly cycle.

When humidity is high and/or temperatures are moderate to low, more liquid waste will be generated than the evaporation mechanism can process. For this reason our preference is to use a hybrid type of composting toilet system which combines a urine-diverting toilet with a so-called batch-type composter for the solids. Flush-type composting toilets are available but require more attention and have a narrower range of suitable applications.

There are several possible ways to deal with urine that has been diverted to a collection tank. The best solution from an environmental standpoint, if permitted by local officials, is to dilute the urine with collected greywater and distribute it to plants in a subsurface irrigation system. A miniature version of the Constructed Wetland described above may also be used. Another method, is the construction of a small leach pit which functions in a similar manner to a miniature septic field. A final choice is to have the holding tank pumped by a local waste hauler or taken to a designated RV waste station.

Operation of residential-size composting toilets involves a few steps not required for flush toilets connected to sewers. For batch-type models, collection chambers must be rotated on a regular basis. Frequency varies from every few weeks to every few months depending on the type of unit. For flush-type composters, bulking material, usually a mixture of wood chips and peat moss, must be added to the unit daily and a small hand crank on the front of the unit must be turned a few revolutions twice a week when the unit is in use.

Finished compost is typically removed from the unit on a quarterly basis. Local regulations vary on how to properly dispose of the finished compost. In some jurisdictions it can be used as landscape fertilizer; some others require that a licensed waste hauler remove the material.

Composting toilets require a small amount of 12v/24v DC power which is provided by the Ecolodge's built-in photovoltaic system.


Incinerating Toilets
If composting toilets are not suitable due to environmental or maintenance considerations, incinerating toilets may be considered. Incinerating toilets operate as a holding tank for up to 60 uses. When the desired capacity is reached, a packet of antifoaming agent is placed in the unit and the burner is activated. The incinerating process requires approximately 4.5 hours and ten pounds of propane for a full tank of waste. The toilet cannot be used while in operation. Incinerating toilets convert the waste material into water vapor and sterile ash. The ash may be disposed of in the same manner as the compost described above.

Incinerating toilets require no electrical power but a considerable amount of propane gas. In most cases, additional propane capacity will be required for Ecolodges using incinerating toilets.

Geo-Lite Greywater Systems
Our Stage I greywater system, standard on Lanai Ecolodge models, filters water from the shower and lavatory for use in landscape irrigation utilizing a system based on the California State Greywater Standards. (California is one of the few states with published regulations for the reuse of greywater.) The Stage I system includes instructions on how to distribute the greywater outside the unit, but does not include the distribution equipment, which will vary depending on the location of the unit, the nature of the plant material and whether or not the greywater is being used to dilute collected urine (see Composting Toilet description above).

The Stage II Greywater system, included with Bonaire models, adds additional multi-layer planter-box units which use live plants and granular filtration media to transpire a large portion of the liquid and further filter the remainder. Depending on climate and occupancy level, the Stage II system may be able to consume all the greywater within the planter boxes. If this is not desired, Stage II greywater can be recycled for toilet flushing or used for irrigation as in the Stage I system.

See the System Diagram on the
Ecolodge page for a schematic drawing of Geo-Lite Wastewater Processing Systems.
Regulations
Taxes and Permits
It is the responsibility of the purchaser and/or property owner to pay any taxes and obtain and pay for any permits that may be required for the installation of Geo-Lite units.

Zoning
Geo-Lite HomeSpace models are designed to conform to typical zoning ordinances as "auxiliary structures" in suburban areas zoned for residential and/or agricultural use. Park Models are designed to conform to typical requirements for campgrounds. Because all Geo-Lite units are designed so that they may be seasonally disassembled and stored, they may also meet zoning requirements as "temporary structures."

Building Codes
Geo-Lite units are designed to conform to the Uniform Building Code (UBC) as Type V-N construction and are classified as Membrane Structures under Appendix Chapter 31, Division II of that code. They can be configured to conform to the requirements for a Group R, Division 3 Occupancy (Dwellings and Lodging Houses) or a Group C Occupancy (Organized Camps). 16 and 20-panel HomeSpace units fit well into the category the UBC calls "Efficiency Dwellings." Most codes have similar categories.

The Geo-Lite Ecolodge was designed to provide comfortable living in remote locations beyond the reach of conventional utilities. The more remote the site, the better the chance for Ecolodge approval by local authorities. The Ecolodge waste handling systems described above, for example, are considered to be alternative waste handling systems by most health departments and building officials. Many jurisdictions throughout the world do permit alternative systems. However, where conventional systems such as sewers are available, or septic systems are traditional, the authorities are likely to strongly favor the conventional approach. Geo-Lite Ecolodges may, if necessary, be modified to connect to these conventional systems.

General Approach to Regulations
The first step is to start a dialog with your local officials. Geo-Lite will be glad to work with you to facilitate approval of a Geo-Lite unit for your site. Keep in mind, however, that compliance with your local codes or other governmental requirements may require additional cost. And, ultimately, Geo-Lite cannot guarantee acceptance by local authorities or issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy or any other documents that may be required by administrative authorities in your area.

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