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Sustainable Living is a State of Mind


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Note: This house is on the 2013 Solar & Green Building Tour. See Tour Details...

Most people think living off-grid requires a big investment, but that is not the case. It does require some investment, but so does acquiring any house. It is a matter of understanding your priorities, making good choices, and working within your budget. And that is the key – make conscious decisions.

When people come and visit our home they often forget that we are not connected to the grid. The house could be any suburban home. We have all the necessary conveniences. The major difference to the observant visitor is that we haven’t centered our lives around a TV, physically or mentally; as a matter of fact, we don’t have a TV. “Get rid of the TV” is one of the recommendations I make to people looking to start. Besides sucking up electricity and time, it serves no useful purpose – it doesn’t cook your food, keep you warm or wash your clothes. Worse yet perhaps is that it is a constant stream of marketing for things you really don’t need. Any news you might get from the TV can be gotten more reliably from the radio or internet – and  we do have those modern conveniences!

Living sustainably is to consciously and consistently volunteer to live simply. One key area is to eat simply – a lot less processed foods. Don’t just shop around the outside of the supermarket, I recommend you get out of the supermarket. There are simply too many distractions in a supermarket. Our preference is to do most of our shopping in our garden, at the CSA, at the Farmer’s Market and Co-op. Beyond those two strong recommendations,(no TV, no supermarket) the next step is to start.

While I did buy our property long ago (1970) with the vague idea of building a solar home, we procrastinated too. Finally in 1998, it was Sarah who said, “Why don’t we just do it?” We started serious planning and acting on our plans by first renting a home just a mile away from the property in 1999.

In 2001 we met with Keith Cramer, a local architect and friend, to discuss our ideas and rough sketches. He took that meager beginning and drafted a set of working plans. A few changes and we were ready to start building this modest, low-energy home. To use less energy, the plans included an insulated slab on grade, 2x6 walls packed with cellulose and an inch of polyisocyanurate on the inside, and 12”of cellulose in the ceiling with 2” of polyisocyanurate. We started construction in May 2002 and with minor delays we were finished in November the same year! With the solar gains from the south facing windows, the insulation and air sealing, and the thermal mass of the floor, the house will not freeze when left without a fire even in the coldest of times.

For electricity, we started with just ½ kW of photovoltaics (PV) that would produce less than 600 kWh per year (50 kWh per month). This seemed sufficient until we realized that the shorter, grayer days of winter meant even less power and soon added another ½ kW. We lived very comfortably on about 1100 kWh per year (less than 100 kWh per month – on average) for three years. Take a minute and check you electric bills to appreciate how little you really need! We had a gas generator (since given away) to run when necessary, but that amounted to less than 10 – 15 hours a years to keep our batteries at a safe level of charge. And yes, we had the modern convenience – lights, refrigerator, freezer and clothes washer. We even ran a small business from home with a computer and internet. No, we didn’t have a clothes dryer, but rather a linear tensile dehydrator (aka clothes line) met that need with nary a watt consumed!

We have added stuff over the years. Another kilowatt of PV and a small windmill but still maintain that if you want to live simply, start by moving off the grid. No concerns about increasing power rates and only the folks in the mirror to be accountable .

Come visit, there is a lot more to talk about, like making a small home bigger with space saving design and features. A whole bunch of gardening and chicken farming. Electric tractors  and solar hot water. Bucket toilet and composting. Energy saving mini Cuisinart convection oven and a two cup espresso maker!


Dave Smalley and Sarah Johnston have lived simply and well for nearly 10 years without the Grid – who needs it! You can read more about the house and other projects on their website: www.balancepointhomestead.com  Dave can be reached by comments to this blog or through member email.


Comments on "Sustainable Living is a State of Mind"

  1. OEIC default avatar maplesyrup September 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Great article(as usual)!  These are the couple who we met by fate and gave us the courage to take the jump to alternative energy!  See our story of our journey to the land of energy independence!  Jan and Ron Bever

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