Mother Earth Living

The Good Life

All things Mother Earth Living

Add to My MSN

Off the Grid and Constantly Aware

4/20/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: off grid living, Vermont, solar panels, solar power, soalr homes

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailThis is the first in 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.  

When Paula and Matt built their home on a rural Vermont back road 11 years ago, the cost of running a utility line was about the same as buying a minimal amount of solar panels (enough for a couple without kids to get by): $10,000. The couple chose solar. “We have never regretted that decision,” Paula says. “We now have 1.5 kW in solar power, and this is perfect for our needs--most months, anyway!”

Paula and Matt started out with a 600-watt system, which forced them to think wisely when they designed their home and purchased appliances. “We built a house with plenty of natural light!” Paula says. As the family grew to four, Paula and Matt installed more panels to support a dishwasher, a front-loading washer, a (rarely used) gas dryer, a Sunfrost refrigerator, an efficient DC freezer and a computer. In winter, the family cooks and heats water on a wood cookstove, which Paula also fires up on summer mornings to prep veggies for quiche (baked in the toaster oven) later in the day.

Paula says the family has enough power to do everything it wants and needs to do. The only drawback she sees to off-the-grid living is that when parts break, wear out or get hit by lightning, the power’s off until that part is fixed. In 11 years, the system’s batteries have worn out and the inverter inexplicably burned up. “My advice is that families plan ahead for expenses like these, which can run a few thousand dollars,” Paula says.

She doesn’t miss monthly utility bills, power outages, coal or imported oil. “What I like most is that we have a constant awareness of what electrical power is, where it comes from, and how much we are using,” Paula says. “Our sons have grown up living off-grid, and their simple acceptance of this lifestyle is also one of the best things about it. I think many people on the grid view going off-grid as a sacrifice. But it doesn't have to be!”

 house 2 

Paula and Matt designed their home to get lots of natural light. 

homestead overall 

Solar panels feed the family's electricity needs, and gardens feed the family. 

paula in garden 

Paula is living the good life. 

wood pile 

Cooking and cleaning up for a family of four takes a lot of wood. 


These kids dig living off the grid. 

Related Content

Gold in the Hills: A Solar-Powered California Retreat

A handcrafted, solar-powered home in the Sierra Nevada foothills serves many purposes. Enchanting an...

Tiny House: Off-Grid Cabin on Flathead Lake in Montana

Perched atop a cliff overlooking Montana’s Flathead Lake, this 830-square-foot off-grid cabin steps ...

A Greener Earth Day

Editorial intern Amanda Thompson takes a step-by-step look at her daily activities to see just how e...

Sustainable Tennessee Farmhouse Takes Advantage of Solar Power and Renewable Energy

Natural Home guest blogger John Patrick explains why he and his wife, guest blogger Rebecca Selove, ...

Content Tools

Post a comment below.


Subscribe today and save 58%

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living!

Welcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $14.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $19.95.