Getting Off-Grid

Off-grid living has been on my mind for quite some time. Earlier this year I published Ron Melchiore’s Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness, which is one the most successful books to date at my small publishing company, Moon Willow Press. After Morgan and I went on a long hike and run at Sasamat Lake over the weekend, Ron and I brainstormed for two hours on Skype for further marketing ideas. This conversation is one reason I so like publishing books and working with authors. It was very inspiring to look at how his life and work have influenced so many people. Just since the book came out, he has become a regular blogger for Mother Earth News and has gotten some great press.

The subtitle, “My Path to the Wilderness,” is there because the decision to live off-grid wasn’t an overnight one. It was a process, beginning with his studying in electrical engineering and getting the how-to part in his head, along with his general love of the outdoors, which led him down this path and included hiking the entire Appalachian Trail in the winter and bicycling coast to coast.

I’ve talked about this book before. The idea of living off-grid, for me, was also never made overnight but a process, one that I am sure is still in the dreaming stages and may never come true. I first perceived of it many years ago, but it wasn’t until meeting Ron that I understood all the hard work involved. Also, I have interviewed his wife Johanna, who remarked:

Without a doubt there are many reason why someone would want to set up a sustainable homestead–the desire to be as independent and self-sufficient as possible; to not rely on the gas company, oil company or electric company for heating, cooking, lighting and so forth; to not be a slave to ever-increasing energy costs; to grow as much of your own food as possible; to be your own boss and determine your own destiny. I think it is possible to do all these things without moving to the wilderness, but, for me, doing all these things in a wilderness setting is the capstone of a life spent pursuing the self-sufficient dream. Being able to live in such a remote location says I have fully embraced and come to terms with all the aspects that such a remote existence entails.

This point is a really good one. Ron and his wife live in the wilds of Saskatchewan. They live on Hockley Lake and need to go to the nearest trading post twice a year for supplies. I have joked that is too far for me. I am not a big social or city person; my goal is to live simply in the country but not in Middle Earth! Like Johanna pointed out, living off-grid can be done anywhere, however.

For us it would be a huge transition. Morgan and I talked about it recently–not just the off-grid part but the getting away from the city part. The first part of this conversation is about our savings account, which we are slowly building. Simply finding affordable property nearby would be difficult currently due to the housing crisis in the lower mainland. Trying to set up that property for off-grid living would also be expensive.

One of my friends and her husband bought some land just over the border last year. Over the weekend they went down there to clear it out. They didn’t want to cut down the beautiful cedar trees on the land so just cleared the bush. Their goal is to first build a wooden deck as a camping area and then some kind of simple cabin for camping. I think it’s a wonderful idea, and the property was pretty cheap (17K). When you look at housing around Vancouver, that is nothing. My friend did say that putting in septic is kind of expensive, so they would just have a compost toilet.

My dreams seem to be shaping up and becoming more precise the more I look into things. My husband isn’t against the idea, but he is not sure it’s a practical idea while we’re also renting a house, meaning paying rent plus maintaining another house (taxes, etc.) isn’t very logical. I agree and want to just save up until we can afford something and then look into a complete lifestyle change.

There’s a few options. Our housing costs in Vancouver will probably crash at some point. They are at a very unsustainable rate now. There’s also several outlying communities that are “country” enough for me. I have been looking at BC’s interior or sunshine coast, but we don’t have to go that far. The area near the Pitt River, for instance, where we star-gazed this past New Year’s Eve, would be ideal. As the skytrains are slowly branching out, we will get to the point we no longer need a car at all. Currently we have my husband’s dad’s old one, which is now 15 years old and has almost 300,000 kilometers on it. And a skytrain is coming next year where the bus loop is (easily walkable to). As is, we carpool and do partial public transit.

Anyway, living off-grid is also expensive to set up. Solar is 40,000, and a wind turbine is 11,000. (These are just standard prices.) A backup generator could be 4,000. And many who live off-grid still use wood for cooking and heating. Then there is access to water. A well and septic tank is about 12,000. Prices for a wood stove, compost toilet, wood, etc. can also add up. However, sometimes you can find properties for sale with rudimentary structures that already are set up to be off-grid, and the savings and independence in the long run would be worth it.

I talk about climate change a lot in this blog and have written a speculative novel (Back to the Garden, pen name Clara Hume), and it is concerning to me because governments are not preparing for it and many people are still in denial. I try not to be an alarmist about it. But common sense says we should be prepared for what may happen. I believe that the science around climate change is concrete enough that there’s no reason to doubt it is happening. Getting off-grid would be just one way to prepare.

It’s just a dream to me. For now we both really love our jobs and where we’re at. We like to be around people, but are also more isolated than most.  Like Johanna pointed out, you can do the off-grid lifestyle anywhere. You can also go big or small. I don’t envision running a multi-acre organic farm, but it would be nice to grow our own vegetables, as we do now. I also would never be into a huge house with too many fancy things, also doable off-grid. I am more into having a lot of land around to run in instead of a lot of house to run in. And never once in my life did I agree with the “climb the ladder of success” model. Even when I was a kid, I never wanted much. Give me a book, a tree. I’m good for hours on end. I feel the same about housing and “things” in general. We’ve downsized so much in the past year and continue to do so, just stuff we have carried around with us for years. I’ve gotten to the point of asking people not to give us more things at holidays and birthdays. We end up just donating them to others. I think Morgan really appreciates some space though, especially for his woodworking. And I would like to start doing book-binding again this year. I can do without that space, but often when you buy in the country there are out-buildings to use.

I’ve piddled around drawing my dream house. I didn’t include such detail as closets and inner doorways, but below is my idea. Or if we lived in an area that got too much rain I might make the basement a loft area.


Also, I really loved the look of stone cottages in Ireland, and though I like hardwood flooring, the idea of a log cabin is a little too much wood for me. I know for two of us it’s not even necessary to have more than one bedroom, but we often have company visiting, mostly my husband’s family and occasionally mine, if they can make it up from the states. There is nothing I enjoy more than being around family and friends and having a houseful! In the above scenario, we could do without the second basement floor and have an outdoor shop area for woodworking and book-binding on the first floor and a bunkhouse area on the top with a bathroom and a kitchenette.

Well, it’s a dream, and this house is a restructuring of something I have had in mind for a very long time, since I was a teenager. I like the idea of a cozy living room with a fireplace, bay window, and a wrap-around porch out front. This is what I get for having had so many southern relatives and loving porches as a social gathering type of place–as they seemed to be when I was little. I still get excited when we go to Vancouver and see the older houses with front porches.

I am not sure we could ever truly build our own house. I’d be happy with an already existent cottage in the woods near a river or a lake, something we could own fairly reasonably and eventually transition to solar.  I want to have neighbors fairly nearby, just not rubbed up against our house. I want to be near a community too.

I thought of this again when hiking and running on Saturday. We did a 600 foot climb at Sasamat on what I believe was Sugarloaf Mountain Trail. I was a little frustrated because we couldn’t run much of it due to wet, slippery rocks. I had really wanted to run that day. But in the end, after passing up the rougher parts of the trail, we did run partially down it and ran more on Lake Loop trail. It was a beautiful, beautiful time because we ran high enough to reach the lingering mist from an earlier rain. (See the featured image.) I was thinking that this is not what I wish to escape to, but this is what I would love to make a lifestyle–to be able to look out and see this view every single day!

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