Off-the-grid life doesn’t just appeal to hardy pioneer types

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FILE – An off-grid home with a panoramic view showing Mount Jefferson appears in Three Rivers Recreation Area, a 4,000-acre off-grid community in Lake Billy Chinook, Oregon April 26, 2007. Off-grid living just means that you are not connected to distribution networks. This could mean living in a cabin or in a luxury house. This has become more possible with the improvement of alternative energy sources like solar power and batteries to store this energy. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, file)

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Living off the grid conjures up images of survivalists in remote places and a rustic “little house on the prairie” lifestyle with chores from dawn till dusk. Yet only a tiny fraction of people living off-grid do so, and even fewer live more than an hour from any city.

“Living off the grid doesn’t mean you don’t buy your groceries from a store or take your trash to the local dump. It just means you’re not connected to the power grids,” says Gary Collins, who has lived off-grid, or mostly off-grid, for a decade. He has published books on the subject and hosts online courses.

While getting an accurate number of off-grid households is difficult, Collins estimates that only 1% of those living off-grid are in truly remote areas.

Overall, off-grid movement remains weak. But this took a boost after the COVID pandemic: city dwellers began to explore different lifestyles, facilitated by improvements in alternative energy sources like solar power and batteries to store that energy.

More frequent power cuts and the difficulties of distribution networks to deal with severe weather events caused by climate change have increased interest in disconnecting the network. So have utility bill hikes.

“There’s a lot more value in living off-grid now because energy is so expensive and there are so many problems with grids,” says author Sheri Koones, whose books on sustainable homes include “Prefabulous and Almost Off the Grid” (Abrams, 2012).

There are also those who stay connected to the grid but try to power their home independently of it. Koones cites increased “net metering,” when your property’s renewable energy source — usually solar — produces more power than you use, and your local utility pays you for the excess.

Today, off-grid living encompasses everything from “dry camping” in RVs (with no electric or water hookups) to swanky estates in Santa Barbara, from modest dwellings tucked away just outside cities to – yes – secluded rustic cabins.

“Everyone does it differently and everyone does it in their own way, because it’s their own adventure,” says Collins.

For him, living off the grid is part of finding a life that’s simpler, less cluttered and more in tune with nature.

Anacapa Architecture, in Santa Barbara, California, and Portland, Oregon, has built several high-end off-grid homes in recent years and has several other off-grid projects underway.

“There’s definitely been an increase in traction for that kind of lifestyle, especially over the last two years. There is a desire to be more in tune with nature,” says Jon Bang, marketing and public relations coordinator for Anacapa Architecture.

The lifestyle that Anacapa homes aim for is one of modernist elegance, not roughness. Bang says new technologies can ensure comfortable self-sufficiency.

One of the reasons for the high cost of houses like this is that it is expensive to transport equipment to a remote site. Additionally, they can be fitted with features such as solar power, an on-site battery bank, a septic tank that treats waste water on-site, a water well and a dry well to treat and reuse waste water. water, not to mention a plumbing system designed to use as little water as possible.

These homes are also carefully designed to take advantage of the landscape features of the site with sustainability in mind. For example, one of the company’s houses is built on a hillside and has a green roof (with plants). Strategic landscaping can minimize the need for watering.

“For those with the means, it opens up sites that cannot be connected to local networks and allows for a quieter life, rooted in nature without nearby neighbors,” says Bang.

For those who can’t afford to hire architects, there are plenty of recent books, blogs, YouTube videos and more devoted to the subject.

“A lot of people are interested in it now. They contact me after watching something on TV or YouTube and I tell them, “If you’ve learned everything you know on YouTube, you’re never going to survive,” Collins says.

Growing up poor in a rural area, he says, helped him succeed in his off-grid life, first in Washington state and now in Arizona. He regularly does grocery shopping, but also grows some of his own food and hunts wild game. It has its own septic tank and well. While his previous home was completely off-grid, with solar panels and a wind turbine for electricity, his current home is connected to a power grid, mainly, he says, because the bills are too low to justify the cost of utilities. solar panels.

If you want to be fully independent, he says, it takes a lot of time and physical effort. You won’t have time to hold down a job. If you live in a remote location, you need to consider access to medical care and whether you are mentally prepared for such isolation.

“People confuse homesteading with off-grid living. You can be homesteading while connected to a network. But if you live off the grid and do that, that’s your life,” Collins says. “Your wood will not cut. You will need to carry water. Successful people tend to be those who grew up on ranches, people who grew up doing demanding tasks.

He warns: “People die off-grid all the time, from things like chainsaw accidents. You have to be very careful and think about everything. No EMS will reach you in time.

Anyone interested in living off-grid should first try dry camping in an RV or living in a remote area to see if the lifestyle is suitable, he says.

And depending on how it’s done, he says, off-grid living isn’t necessarily environmentally sustainable — not if you’re driving a fuel-guzzling truck and relying on a gas-powered generator, for example. .

Yet improved alternative energy sources and building techniques are making off-grid living more feasible for more people, including those who don’t want to pull buckets of water from a well or live by candlelight.


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Sandy A. Greer