Off-the-grid mansions

Morgan Brennan

After Superstorm Sandy left more than 8 million people in the dark, it took utility companies weeks to get the power back on again in some of the hardest-hit areas. The shock has propelled some moneyed buyers to consider a new, high-tech type of residence: the self-sufficient safe house that can withstand storms and power outages.

Nancy Horowitz, a broker with Halstead Property in the Hudson Valley region of New York, says since Sandy she's seen a flurry of interest from downstaters looking for homes that are more robust and well away from the water. "In the past several weeks, they are emailing about this," she says.

One option she offers is a new 12-lot subdivision in Copake that's being developed by green prefab homebuilder Blu Homes. The company has erected a fold-out $1.6 million model home with a heavy-gauge steel frame similar to those in skyscrapers that boasts hurricane-resistant Simpson Strong-Tie straps and a metal roof capable of holding solar panels. Each of the available lots, starting at $125,000, will also have off-the-grid energy capabilities.

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"The most green thing you can do is build a house that will last 100 years with renewable energy that is protected from the types of infrastructure challenges we have seen with storms like Sandy," says Maura McCarthy, co-founder and vice president of Blu Homes. The appeal seems to be broad. Horowitz says the Blu Homes development is drawing prospective buyers ranging from Baby Boomers to Brooklyn artists to Bard College students to Europeans.

With the help of, Sotheby's International Realty, Coldwell Banker Previews International and Prudential Douglas Elliman, we combed through the Multiple Listing Services to find homes for sale that can generate their own power from solar, wind and geothermal sources, and boast durable construction. These homes, capable of riding out a disaster, range in price from $799,000 to $13 million.

The rise of the self-sufficient home comes amid an expansion in green homebuilding that is projected to swell to between 29% and 38% of the U.S. residential market by 2016, according to a study by McGraw-Hill Construction and the National Association of Home Builders, up from 17% in 2011. Over the same period, the study projects that spending on green home technologies (everything from energy-efficient windows to foam insulation to on-site renewable energy generation) will rise from $17 billion to a range of $87 billion to $114 billion.

"The-off-grid houses are still pretty rare so typically renewable energies are being used to augment existing energies," says Kevin Morrow, senior program manager for green building at the National Association of Home Builders. Energy and durability are the two main focuses of the green building boom. "They are the easiest to communicate to buyers," says Morrow. "If you are talking about durability, you are talking about less maintenance, and energy efficiency means lower utility bills." They also represent added security, an increasingly prized feature in the wake of storms like Sandy.

Besides disaster preparedness, these homes have another perk, says Horowitz, the New York broker: "A green home with a smaller footprint and alternative energy options has very good resale value." If natural disasters keep pummeling the U.S., it might even get better.

Check out these Off-the-Grid Mansions:

38 Gorge View, Greater World, NM
List Price: $1.5 million

This 5,400-square foot "earthship" boasts an interior waterfall in the living room and a "jungle" in which you can catch fresh fish for dinner.

581 Lake Drive, Princeton, NJ
List Price: $3.95 million

This Carnegie Lake-front manse touts a geothermal heating and cooling system in addition to host of amenities like a gym, a hidden service corridor, and his-and-hers offices.

355 Naturescape Drive, Grants Pass, OR
List Price: $850,000

This 20-acre compound comes with a $11,000 back-up generator with an in-ground tank capable of powering the property for up to one month. Other features include a pond, horse stables, gardens and fruit trees, a tree house, even a chicken coop.

39735 Desert Sun Drive, Rancho Mirage, CA
List Price: $1.2 million

This four-bedroom desert bungalow boasts a "smart electrical" system, 60 solar panels and a Life Source water filtration system.

The Cave House, 3204 W Highway 80, Bisbee, AZ
List Price: $1.5 million

This man-made home carved from the side of a boulder comes with 37 acres of secluded desert land peddling natural pools and potable water that seeps from a natural spring. In total there are five buildings including a standalone library that doubles as a safe house, with a back room accessible through a roll-down metal security door hidden behind a sliding glass door. It's equipped with a Murphy bed, an air conditioner, an antique vault and a climate-controlled gun safe.

8201 Capitol Creek Road, Snowmass, CO
List Price: $5.25 million

This Elk Mountain estate was constructed with 18-foot-thick straw bale walls and solar panels for electricity and heat. The 40-acre property also boasts a green house for growing herbs and vegetables.

125 E. Sylvestris Drive, San Geronimo, CA
List Price: $1.549 million

Tucked behind gates, this Marin County retreat encompasses 10 acres touting green features and "off-the-grid" energy options like solar and propane.

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