All Together: An Off-Grid Family Home in Rural New Hampshire

An off-the-grid New Hampshire home reunites a far-flung family.

| September/October 2011

  • Anna and Chris preserved healthy indoor air quality with zero-VOC paints and nontoxic finishes.
    Photo By Eric Roth
  • The home’s solar system has 24 Surrette backup batteries (surrette.com), which can run for three full days without a recharge.
    Photo By Eric Roth
  • Bright graphic chairs and a checkered rug lend vibrancy to the great room’s natural wood and industrial concrete.
    Photo By Eric Roth
  • The family’s seven hens produce more eggs than they can eat each week.
    Photo By Eric Roth
  • Polished concrete floors (made with recycled slag, a byproduct of steelmaking) with in-floor radiant heat bring warmth to the family room—and perfectly accommodate toy racecar-driving.
    Photo By Eric Roth
  • Anna Von Mertens and Chris Anderson built their solar home in the New Hampshire woods with the help of family and friends.
    Photo By Eric Roth
  • The home helped Chris and Anna provide their children, Hayden (pictured), now 4, and Rhys, 1, with a connection to nature.
    Photo By Eric Roth
  • Anna and Chris left their home’s cedar shingles unfinished so they will weather naturally over time.
    Photo By Eric Roth
  • Anna Von Mertens and Chris Anderson built their solar home in the New Hampshire woods with the help of family and friends.
  • Concrete countertops, a soapstone sink and handmade wood bar stools give the kitchen a rustic charm that complements the woody scenery outside the walk-out deck door. Choosing efficient appliances and fluorescent lighting helps the family reduce the demands on their solar array.
    Photo By Eric Roth
  • Chris and Anna’s home stays cozy thanks to photovoltaic and solar thermal panels, triple-pane Loewen windows (loewen.com), blown-in cellulose insulation and a Harman pellet boiler.
    Photo By Eric Roth
  • The wide-open floor plan and many windows offer expansive views across the home’s main floor and beyond.
    Photo By Eric Roth
  • Anna Von Mertens and Chris Anderson built their solar home in the New Hampshire woods with the help of family and friends.

From the beginning, they had a plan. “Almost from when we met, the plan was always, we’ll move back to Peterborough when we want to start a family, and we’ll build a house with my dad,” says Anna Von Mertens.

Anna, a textile artist, and her husband, Chris Anderson, had both moved to San Francisco in the summer of 1995, shortly after graduating from separate East Coast colleges. They met in the Bay Area playing ultimate Frisbee and started dating two years later.

“Six years went by,” Anna continues. Though they both knew they wanted to return to the East Coast, they weren’t in a rush to make the move back to Anna’s hometown of Peterborough, New Hampshire. “We had a lot of friends in California, so it was hard to tear ourselves away. It wasn’t until we said, ‘OK, we really are ready for kids. We really are ready for a change,’ that we finally decided to do it.”

Once they made the decision, they went all out, creating a family home that would provide their future children a sense of place and a connection with nature. The couple wanted to complete the house before they relocated, so they traveled to New Hampshire and chose a lot with a view on 187 acres Anna’s mother owns in southern New Hampshire. Then they got started on their off-the-grid dream house.



An Inside Job 

Designing and building the home was a project that eventually involved Chris and Anna’s entire family, plus a lot of good friends. First, Chris and Anna spent two years planning their future home in collaboration with Chris’ longtime best friend, architect Peter Larsen. Next, Anna’s father, Carl Von Mertens, a high school teacher with building experience, oversaw the pouring of the foundation and preparation of the site. A family-owned Peterborough company felled and milled about two dozen pine trees on site, which were dried for a year before construction. The home is constructed using those pines, which make up the stairs, the upstairs flooring and much of the furniture, most of which Anna’s father and brother made.



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