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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. 

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