Modern off-grid homes break stereotypes of the naturalistic lifestyle

Living off the grid conjures up images of survivors in remote locations and a rustic “little house on the prairie” lifestyle with chores from morning till night.

However, only a small fraction of people who live off the grid do so, and even fewer live more than an hour from any city.

“Living off the grid doesn’t mean you don’t buy your groceries at a store or take your waste to the local dump,” says Gary Collins, who has lived off the grid, or nearly so, for a decade. “It just means it’s not connected to utility networks.”

He has published books on the subject and leads online classes.

Although accurate numbers of off-grid households are hard to come by, Collins estimates that only 1% of those living off-grid are in truly remote areas. In general, the movement outside the network remains small. But it got a boost after the COVID-19 pandemic hit: city dwellers began to explore different ways of life.

Unique off-grid life for each person

More frequent power outages, struggling utility networks, and price increases to handle severe weather events brought on by climate change have increased interest.

There are also those who remain connected to the grid but try to power their homes independently of it. Author Sheri Koones, whose books on sustainable homes include “Prefabulous and Almost Off the Grid,” cites the rise of “net metering,” when your property’s renewable energy source, usually solar, produces more energy than it uses , and your local utility company pays you the excess.

Today, off-grid living encompasses everything from “dry camping” in RVs (no power or water hookups) to luxurious Santa Barbara estates, from modest housing tucked away on the outskirts of cities to, yes remote, rustic cabins.

“Everyone does it differently and everyone does it their own way, because it’s their own adventure,” says Collins.

Sleek designs for a modern feel.

Architectural firm Anacapa, in Santa Barbara, California, and Portland, Oregon, has built several unique off-grid homes in recent years and has several more off-grid projects in the works.

“There’s definitely an increase in traction for this type of lifestyle, especially in the last couple of years,” says Jon Bang, Anacapa Architecture’s marketing and public relations coordinator. “There is a desire to be more in tune with nature.”

The lifestyle that Anacapa homes aim for is one of modernist elegance, not ruggedness. Bang says that new technologies can ensure comfortable self-sufficiency.

These houses are also carefully designed to take advantage of the landscape features of the site with an eye to sustainability. For example, one of the company’s houses is built on a hillside and has a green roof.

For those who do not have the means to hire architects, there are numerous recent books, blogs, YouTube videos and more dedicated to the subject.

“A lot of people are interested in it now,” says Collins. “They contact me after they see something on TV or YouTube and I’m like, ‘If you learned everything you know on YouTube, you’ll never survive.'”

He does regular grocery shopping, but also grows some of his own food and hunts wild animals. It has its own septic system and well. While his previous house was completely off the grid, with solar panels and a wind turbine to generate power, his current house is connected to an electrical grid, mainly, he says, because the bills are too low to justify the cost of the panels. solar.

What health and safety considerations influence the off-grid lifestyle?

If you want to be fully self-sufficient, he says, it takes a lot of time and physical effort. You won’t have time to keep a job. If you live in a remote location, you need to consider access to healthcare and whether you are mentally prepared for so much isolation.

“Your wood won’t cut itself. You’ll have to carry water,” he says, warning: “People die off the grid all the time, from things like chainsaw accidents. You have to be very careful and think about everything.” through. No EMS will reach you on time.”

And depending on how it’s done, he says, off-grid living isn’t necessarily environmentally sustainable — not if you drive a fuel-guzzling truck and rely on a gasoline-powered generator, for example.

Still, improved alternative energy sources and construction techniques are making off-grid living more thinkable for more people, including those who don’t want to haul buckets of water from a well or live by candlelight. .

Where did the off-grid movement start?

Experimental architect Michael Reynolds pioneered the off-grid movement, which gained popularity in the early 1970s in Taos, New Mexico, according to the Taos Pueblo Tourism Department.

Reynolds designed off-the-grid homes called Earthships, according to the Earthship Visitor Center, using sustainable building practices, including using discarded tin cans and steel for the homes’ foundations.

Iterations of these houses evolved over the next decade to incorporate passive solar and natural ventilation.

Reynolds’ legacy continues to be a presence in the region today through a completely isolated community, using only solar and wind energy, northwest of Taos. The community sits on more than 600 acres and includes more than 300 acres of shared land.

USA TODAY producer Camille Fine contributed.