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Norcal veteran coder customizes off-grid home with sensors

Loren Amelang once helped code for Silicon Valley companies, but he’d always been sensitive to environment so when his employer installed fluorescent lighting and wouldn’t let employees use their own lights, he decided to move to the country and craft his off-grid dream home.

(This is a follow-up story with Amelang. The original stories from 2011: C++ programming pioneer hacks off-grid, DIY, smart home and 96-square-foot tiny home handbuilt inside century-old barn).

Today he lives with “clean air, a great view, free hot water and free power, and a decent chunk of free heat”. The entire south side of his home is covered in solar capture devices: 1600 watts of photovoltaic power, solar hot water panels, a sunroom/greenhouse and a solar hot air collector.

“The sunroom/greenhouse provides most of the free heat,” explains Amelang ,”the ‘solar flue’ that moderates it in warmer weather or circulates some of it into the house when needed, and the concrete walls that stabilize the temperature over time”.

Putting his technical skills to use (he’s a pioneer in C++ programming), Amelang wrote over 10,000 lines of code so that his home’s water and electric systems could be operated remotely, by even just an iPhone.

Since he built most of the home himself (the person he hired to do it decades ago, spent all the money and built half the house), Amelang has made it very custom. He avoided using aluminum and plastic (except for the insulation on the wiring) and he wired it for pure DC lighting (which makes sense with solar, but Amelang also likes how “peaceful” DC lighting feels).

Building on his own terms means that Amelang created a home that doesn’t look or feel like anyone else’s, but it works well and makes sense. For instance, he designed a central locking system for all exterior doors so that when he leaves the house he doesn’t have to lock 12 different doors, but just turns one key and they all lock. “I’m totally amazed that that hasn’t been developed for houses. Nobody would think of buying a car that didn’t have central locking.

Amelang has tinkered with just about every part of his home, even his audio system is tailored just for him.

“This is probably the most bizarre audio amplifier anybody’s has ever seen. It is totally DC-coupled and it is not self-balancing… My criteria for developing this sound equipment was, ‘Can I walk around in this sound space and feel where I am. To me the idea that you sit in the magic seat in the middle of the space with the 2 speakers is absolutely limiting and wrong.”

“I don’t know anyone else who’s goal is to create a sound field that you can walk around in and feel that you’re moving through something real. Most people I think believe that a whole lot of their life is predetermined and not subject to change and doesn’t have to be considered, this is just how it is. And somehow for me, everything is something that has to be considered.”

* Note: Loren has always seen the world differently, in a literal sense and he is hoping to hear from anyone who might experience the same phenomenon. He explains they are “issues are with brain-level perception and my expectations of how the visual world should work”. He writes about it more in detail in his blog post “Consumed by the light“.