Modern off-the-grid homes break stereotypes of the naturalistic lifestyle

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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 to 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-grid doesn’t mean you don’t buy your groceries at a store or take your trash to the local landfill,” says Gary Collins, who has lived off-grid, or mostly off-grid, for a decade. . “It just means you’re not connected to the power grids.”

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 that took a boost after the COVID-19 pandemic: city dwellers started exploring different ways of life.

An off-grid life unique to each person

More frequent power cuts, difficulties in distribution networks and price increases to cope with severe weather phenomena caused by climate change added to the interest.

There are also those who stay connected to the grid but try to power their home independently of it. Author Sheri Koones, whose books on sustainable homes include “Prefabulous and Almost Off the Grid,” cites increased “net metering,” when your property’s renewable energy source — typically solar — produces more energy. energy than you use, and your local utility pays you 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.

Mount Jefferson looms over off-grid homes at the Three Rivers Recreation Area in Lake Billy Chinook, Oregon April 26, 2007. Everyone in this community lives

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

Sleek designs for a modern feel

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 this type of lifestyle, especially over the past two years,” says Jon Bang, marketing and public relations coordinator for Anacapa Architecture. “There is a desire to be more in tune with nature.”

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

Another image of an off-grid guesthouse in Hollister Ranch, California, designed by Anacapa Architecture.  A high level of sensitivity to environmental impacts was exercised throughout all phases of design and construction, the company says.

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 into the side of a hill and has a green roof.

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 into it now,” Collins says. “They contact me after watching something on TV or on YouTube and I tell them, ‘If you’ve learned everything you know on YouTube, you’re never going to survive.'”

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 entirely 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.

The off-the-grid guesthouse in Hollister Ranch, California, designed by architecture firm Anacapa, offers nearly 360-degree views of the Pacific Ocean.

What health and safety factors are considered in the off-grid lifestyle?

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.

“Your wood won’t cut itself. You’ll have to haul water,” he says, warning: “People die off the grid all the time, from things like chainsaw accidents. You need to be very careful and think of everything.No EMS will reach you in time.

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 using 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.

Where did the off-grid movement start?

Experimental architect Michael Reynolds pioneered the off-grid movement, which gained popularity in the early 1970s in Taos, New Mexico, according to the Taos Pueblo Tourism Department.

Reynolds has designed off-grid homes called Earthships, according to Earthship Visitor Center, using sustainable building practices, including using scrap steel and tin cans for the homes’ foundation.

Architect and experimental house builder Michael Reynolds who used a variety of recycled materials to complete his first experimental house near Taos in 1974. Owned by lawyer Steve Natelson, pictured, the house had a lawn on the roof, a common feature of sustainable development.  design today, but an unusual concept for homes back then.  This experimental lawn required daily attention due to the dry environment.
Inspired by the waste problem and the lack of affordable housing, Reynolds created the
Architect and experimental home builder Michael Reynolds, who lives near Taos, New Mexico, used tires, empty steel beer and soft drink cans as the materials used to build the structure, in the goal of building houses 20% less expensive than conventional methods.  time.
Interior view of aluminum beer and soft drink can experimental house near Taos, New Mexico.
This June 1974 photo shows a well that architect and experimental home builder Michael Reynolds built from old tires covered in plaster.

Iterations of these homes evolved over the next decade to incorporate passive solar and natural ventilation.

Reynolds’ legacy continues to be present in the area today through a completely off-grid community, using exclusively solar and wind power, northwest of Taos. The community spans over 600 acres and includes over 300 acres of shared land.

USA TODAY producer Camille Fine contributed.

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