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Living Off the Grid: It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This

5/27/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: off grid living, Canada, Ontario, solar power, wind power, residential wind power,

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailLisa and Ray Racicot’s goal at Cradlerock Homestead in Desboro, Ontario, is to reduce their personal impact on the Earth. “We wish to stimulate the ‘back to the earth’ attitude that is missing today in our society,” Ray says. “We recognize the problems that we have created and realize that we cannot undo what has been done, but we hope to reduce further impact through ourselves, our children and our community.”

About five years ago, Lisa and Ray built a cordwood (or stackwall) home for themselves and their three children, equipped with a small solar system that they added onto piecemeal. A 940-watt solar array and a 1,000-watt wind turbine power an energy-efficient washer and refrigerator with a DC freezer. A propane stove cooks food, heats water and provides winter heat. “Cordwood houses combine high insulation value with high thermal mass to create a living space that is not susceptible to wild temperature fluctuations,” Ray says. “The thermal mass is slow to heat, but once all that mass heats up, it holds any extra heat in until the house starts to cool, and then it slowly releases it like a radiant heat source to keep the temperature from dropping as quickly. This storage capability makes home heating more efficient. The same concept holds true in the summer. Once you get that mass nice and cool, it takes a lot of heat to make the temperature rise.”

Lisa and Ray ordered plans for their cordwood home via Rob Roy's Complete Book of Cordwood Masonry Housebuilding (check out the updated version, Earth-Sheltered Houses). Kris Dick, who co-authored Cordwood and the Code: A Building Permit Guide, helped them engineer and tailor their drawings to Ontario’s climate. “The biggest change—and the one we are very grateful for—is the length of cordwood,” Lisa explains. “Here in southwestern Ontario, where temperatures can get very cold, the suggested length was 24 inches. At first we weren't keen on the idea because it meant more cedar to be cut. Now that we have built our home, we can see the advantages of this length. The draft that so many complain about with this building method is a non-issue. Because of the length, even cracks in the wood twist and turn so there is very little draft, but at the same time the house breathes, which is something most energy efficient houses do not do.”

Now in the process of selling this home so they can move closer to family, Lisa and Ray look forward to starting all over again. This time, they’ll install their solar and wind systems before they build their house. “We used a ton of money on gas for our generator to run all the equipment” to build the first cordwood house, Lisa says. “We didn't realize that most of the tools that we use can be run off a small solar system, so this time, it will be the first thing we install.”

The family never questioned whether their next home would be off the grid. “Living off the grid is the best thing that we have ever done,” Lisa concludes. “It has reduced our carbon footprint as well as our monthly expenses. It just doesn't get any better than that!”

cradlerock homestead 

Lisa and Ray Racicot's cordwood home is powered by solar and wind. 

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