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Living Off the Grid: Constant Adventure

4/27/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: off grid living, Vermont, solar home, solar power, hydro power, hydro home

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailThis post 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. 

Liza Fleischer grew up in suburban Ohio. When her family’s house needed painting, her parents hired painters. The family vacationed in resorts where evening turndown service included chocolate on the pillows. A blind date changed all that.

Liza moved to Vermont in 2001 and went on her first-ever blind date, with Ted Fleischer, in 2005. “I fell in love with a man who honestly was born 100 years too late,” she says. By 2006 she was living off the grid on 160 acres, in a solar-powered cabin that her new husband had built. “I had gone from a girl who thrived on Target visits, warming up food in the microwave, and turning the heat on with the switch of a thermostat, to a girl who was bringing in wood for fires seven months out of the year, making home-cooked meals on the stove, making coffee in a press, hanging clothes on the line, using the fireplace as my hair dryer, putting all food in containers so the mice won't invade, walking the almost mile-long driveway during mud season, and watching the meter on the wall telling us how much power was available for use. I had no idea what I was doing or how I was possibly going to get through living off the land.”

Liza and Ted’s two solar panels provide 600 watts of electricity. “They are great in the summertime,” she says. And they take some getting used to.

The first winter Liza, Ted and their two boys lived on the homestead, the solar panels couldn’t generate enough electricity to run the refrigerator. She and Ted stocked the outside mud room with frozen items and the inside cooler with items that needed refrigeration. In 2008 the couple bought a water turbine that provided about 100 watts continuously, but it froze. The next summer they buried the line with hay bales to prevent freezing, but they still had to supplement with a back-up generator. Last summer they added a pond, which bumped the system’s vertical to 150 feet and allows the turbine to generate 240 watts continuously. “We are now making twice the power with half the water,” Liza says. The water turbine makes up the difference when the sun can’t generate enough power, and the solar collectors automatically shut off when the battery bank is full.

“When something goes wrong with the system, it can be a very stressful time as we can't call Green Mountain Power and ask them to come and fix it,” Liza says. “It means that there are times when watching the evening news or turning on the newly purchased coffee maker isn't an option.”

The opportunity to teach their boys about gardening, raising chickens and living off the land makes such inconveniences seem minor, she adds. The family plays basketball in muck boots, hikes in the woods surrounding their home, and cuts their own firewood. “Every now and then I wish for a home in town with my car parked out front and a thermostat on the wall,” Liza adds. “But after all, what's the adventure in that?”

fleischer family 

Liza, Ted and their two sons find satisfaction in living off the grid and off the land.  

fleischer home 

Two solar panels provide 600 watts of power for the hand-built home. 

fleischer home 2 

In winter, Ted sweeps snow from the solar panels to keep the system working. 

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