For the past twelve years, we have lived off the grid. When we began our adventure, we lived with no electricity, no running water and no indoor plumbing. Little by little we added a generator, inverter and batteries. We wired the shouse for electricity and added plumbing. We put up a wind turbine, added a couple of solar panels and invested in a second inverter. We upgraded from an antique propane refrigerator to an off-grid specific electric refrigerator. Then we went for broke and installed a large solar array in the hopes that it would provide us with more electricity than we could possibly need. But, regardless of the upgrades, improvements and advances we have made, we are still, unequivocally off-grid.
Being off-grid requires a complete and total change in lifestyle. Our family made the change cold-turkey. In a matter of days, we went from being a simple, suburban family, living the typical American Dream to modern day pioneers practicing the skills perfected by our great-grandparents. Our home became a living, working museum. Not a day went by when folks didn't drop by, just to see how we were living. Everyone had an opinion. Everyone had a suggestion. Everyone said we were "Living the Dream". But, not everyone was living the dream. They went home to their comfortable houses, hot running water and flushing toilets. They flipped a switch and the lights came on and they didn't give a thought to how much electricity they had generated that day.
The years have come and gone. We have gotten used to being off-grid. We hardly blink when we have to start the generator to take a bath or do the laundry. We check the Tri-metric as a matter of course, without consciously noticing. Even our youngest children can tell when the pressure tank is full and run out to shut off the gen-set. Living off-grid has become second nature. But, once in a while, we take stock, and then we realize how much work living off the grid truly requires.
Back in the day, when I wanted to do laundry, I simply walked into the laundry room, tossed some clothes into the washer, pushed the button and let the washing machine do the rest. After the washing machine was done with it's magic, I would put the clothes into the dryer, let them spin and fold wonderfully soft, warm, clean laundry. Simple, yes? Not so much now that we are living the "simple" life. When I did laundry this morning, I had to go outside to start the generator. When I got to the shed, I realized that the generator was empty and I needed to fill it with fuel. Grabbing the funnel, I filled the generator, pulled the choke, switched the breakers off and pulled the cord. The generator hummed to life. I turned off the choke, flipped on the breakers and headed back into the shouse. Before I started the laundry, I took a few minutes to flush and plunge the toilet. Because we don't flush every time (limited water, you know), I have to flush and plunge every time the generator is on - every time - for twelve years. The plunger and I are on a first name basis! After flushing, I started the laundry. I do have a washing machine (with hot water!), so washing clothes is really pretty simple. Once the clothes have been washed, I plop them into a laundry basket, cart it out to the kitchen and proceed to shake out each article and hang it on the clothes horse. After the clothes horse is full, I heft it up (on the pulley) to get it out of the way. Once the clothes have been hung, I take the towels and sheets and any other large items to the stairs and hang them to dry. This is living the REAL off-grid dream.
|Getting ready to start the generator|
|Laundry on the Clothes Horse|
Continuing on with my day, I check our Tri-metric, which is a meter telling us how much electricity we are using or making. If we get low on power (22.5 volts or lower) I start the generator and charge our batteries. If the batteries are low, I turn off non-essential electronics and make sure the electric kettle and microwave are not used. If the batteries are particularly bad, I start the generator and plug in our industrial battery charger and really put the current to the battery bank. This is living the REAL off-grid dream.
|The Tri-metric (using 17.3 amps)|
|The battery bank|
Cooking and baking used to consist of turning on the electric oven, setting a timer and going about my other business. Now, my culinary skills have been honed by the heat of a wood cookstove. In order to get my oven ready for baking, I split kindling and small wood, open the drafts and put my arm in the oven to determine proper baking temperatures. Once in the oven, I rotate food regularly, put heat shields over the tops and sides of pans to keep things from burning and measure baking time with my nose. This is living the REAL off-grid dream.
|Getting the fire good and hot|
|An oven full of goodness!|
I don't regret moving to a shouse in the middle of a prairie and leaving power lines far behind. I love the way that we live. But our lives are full of hard work and sacrifice. The romantic notions of oil lamps and cozy quilts have been tempered by the realities of noisy generators, heavy clothes horses and fussy wood cookstoves.
Had I known before going off-grid how much work it would be, I think I would have balked. I am so glad I didn't know - I would have missed so much. I would have missed learning what I couldn't live without - and what I could live without. I would have missed learning how to keep going when things got tough. I would have missed learning how to make do with little. I would have missed living the REAL dream.