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Living Off the Grid: “A Process, Not a Microwave Dinner”

5/12/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: off grid living, solar power, Oklahoma

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailThis is part of a series on Living Off the Grid. If you're off the grid, send us your story. If you dream about living off the grid, read on. 

The way Deb sees it, there are two ways to live off the grid. You could spend a lot of money on a full-blown solar system with a backup generator and all the modern comforts, or you could get by with very little money and focus on living off the land. Deb and her husband, Tommy, are of the second type.

“We left behind a successful business, nice home and all the city sirens in the ever-growing concrete jungle called the Metroplex,” Deb says. “Feeling like the Beverly Hillbillies, we loaded up and moved to the Kiamichi Mountains [in Oklahoma]. Our little 160-acre ranch is right dab center in the Ouachita National Forest with a view of Winding Stair Mountain that is truly soul-inspiring. … It is incredibly beautiful and peaceful.”

Deb and Tommy launched their off-the-grid life with the bare necessities to power their small cabin: one 80-watt solar panel, two 12-volt car batteries and a 1,500-watt inverter. Understanding that everyone they consulted would have a different recommendation for meeting their power needs—and that most of those suggestions were expensive—Deb and Tommy chose to just get started and grow from there. “We are ‘seeders,’” Deb says.

Deb and Tommy’s solar panel powers two lamps, a portable TV with a DVD player, a radio, a water pump for the toilet and a small heat lamp for their baby chicks. Antique oil-burning lamps—which Deb says are “very romantic and even generate a little heat”—provide backup lighting. The couple uses their computer—“an amp hog”—only during peak sunlight hours. Heat, stove and refrigeration run on propane. Because Deb and Tommy don’t have a generator, when the batteries get low, they connect jumper cables to the car for 15 to 20 minutes.

“Water conservation is a given,” Deb says. A 275-gallon tank catches rain water from the cabin roof and supplies all the couple’s water needs except drinking water, which they bring in. They’re in the process of running a line from the well to the cabin.

“With everything we’ve done so far, including building a greenhouse on the side of the cabin, we’ve spent approximately $7,500,” Deb says. The couple has cut more than 200 cedar trees into logs to build a house, and fallen oak trees from the property will be used for flooring. They’ll use recycled trusses and tin roofing from old chicken houses to build a storage shed and workshop. 

“After eight months, we have lots of funny and embarrassing stories to tell, and our marriage couldn’t be better,” Deb says. “We have learned a lot!” Deb advises anyone who’s considering living off the grid to understand that “it’s a process, not a microwave dinner” and that having a Plan A is great, but you should be prepared through Plan Z.

At the end of the day, the minor inconveniences living off the grid are more than worth it. “Sitting on top of our mountain and watching the sunset is the only place we want to be at 5:30,” Deb says. “We can’t wait to explore tomorrow!”

deb cabin 

Deb and Tommy’s small cabin on 160 acres in southeastern Oklahoma is powered by one 80-watt solar panel. 

 deb on porch 

Deb and her dogs love living off the grid. 

deb landscape 

“When I’m heating water over a propane burner to hand wash clothes, this is what I see,” Deb says. 

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