Solar Energy and Alternative Technology
In a region so saturated with sunlight it makes sense to use systems that are able to make use of all that free energy. Solar hot water systems can be designed and installed quite inexpensively - just make sure they are placed in a site where you receive maximum sunlight energy. Decide if you need a back up for rainy days - do you require an additional electrical system or will you be comfortable to make a bath with a few kettles of boiling water when the weather is cloudy?
In small Caribbean nations there are not really any opportunities to sell excess energy back to the grid so you will need to store the excess energy in batteries. A good energy assessment at the outset will give you a good idea of how much power you will need to generate. Get a climate assessment done to find out how much sunlight and rainfall you get and the variables in temperatures.
Other possibilities are wind turbines and hydro systems if there is a river on the site. These can be done on a small scale so don't get put off thinking you have to have an entire wind farm or a huge dam for your needs! Do some research into alternative technologies and find out what others in the same area are using. There are many innovative projects happening in the Caribbean that are a rich resource for learning so find out more!
Water is a vital necessity and also an increasingly scarce resource so you need to find out where your source of water is. You may be connected to a mainstream supply or be lucky enough to have your own source of water on the property. If the latter is the case assess how you can utilize that resource sustainably and what filtration systems will need to be put in place to make it suitable for drinking.
It may be possible to supply all your water needs by collecting rainfall. In this case the roof will need to be designed in such a way that all water is channeled through guttering into large volume barrels with sealed tops (to prevent mosquitoes) Installing low flow showerheads and taps can save large amounts of water.
Reusing water is a great eco-option and installing a simple grey water system can dramatically reduce water consumption. Grey water refers to water that has been used for washing dishes or bathing and is not the same as toilet water which is known as black water and must be properly channeled into a system designed to deal with sewage (see waste management). A grey water system can be fitted from your sinks to irrigate your plants or used to flush the toilet. There are many different systems and it's worth investigating a variety of options.
Waste Management Systems
Most homes in the Caribbean have their own individual septic tanks rather than having waste channeled in to a mainstream sewage system. This will need to be a carefully designed part of your project.
Installing a low flush toilet will assist in saving water and filling up your tank less. If you are unable to obtain one of the newer designed toilets put a brick in the cistern of your toilet to reduce the amount of water consumed for each flush.
A more radical alternative is to construct a completely no-flush toilet. This was common in recent Caribbean history with most people having a pit latrine and many who remember these are highly skeptical of anything similar. However a modern designed no-flush or compost toilet does not need to be a smelly, fly infested affair. A carefully constructed deep pit can hold waste and be sprinkled with sawdust to absorb the smell. There are many options so be open-minded and take a look. You will of course need to comply with local planning regulations and most times these types of installations are prohibited from being installed near any source of fresh water.
Plant an Organic Garden
Growing your own food is a smart and sustainable option - even a few herbs in pots are a good start. Plan your vegetable gardens according to what you will grow, climate and space. The common-sense approach of Permaculture zoning techniques recommend planting foods that require the most attention closer to the house and hardier crops and trees further away. This will save your own personal energy and allow you to keep a close eye on fragile crops such as lettuce and other salad vegetables that may be prone to pest attacks!
Companion planting reduces the risk of plant diseases and infestations so research what plants work well with each other. A range of natural botanical sprays can be made with locally sourced spices, garlic and peppers to ward off anything that threatens your precious plants.
Designate a space for compost that is not too close to the house but not so far away that it is an inconvenient chore to empty it.
Research native varieties of non-food plants and make sure you use them. There are many exotic species now prevalent in the Caribbean which may look lovely but can have a potentially devastating effect on local flora and fauna.
Chickens and goats are common as livestock animals in a Caribbean garden. Sometimes they are there to use for eggs and milk but others keep animals simply to provide nutrient rich manure! If you do choose to keep them make sure you have enough space and make the necessary plans for building them a cover, tying them or letting them roam free.
Furniture and Indoor Décor
There are many very talented craftspeople in the Caribbean islands and sourcing from local artisans provides support for these skills to continue and boosts the local economy. It also ensures that your Caribbean eco home will have a unique feel to it rather than the cookie-cutter look of buying everything from a store. Ask questions about what materials the person uses to bond and varnish and find alternatives when necessary.
If you need to paint the walls check to see if you can get a paint that is low in VOC's (volatile organic compounds). Likely these will need to be imported as most islands only have traditional paint supplies which are quite toxic.
Your Choices for Life...
Even after you have the most eco-home possible your habits within the home are important for continued sustainability. Look at the products you use and avoid harsh chemicals, switch off lights and appliances when not in use, monitor water consumption, eat local produce and most of all enjoy living a life that is healthy and in harmony with the Earth.