Posted 10 months ago on April 12, 2014, 4:42 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Tiny House Living, Off the Grid? Here's How to Do it in Style
Saturday, 12 April 2014 00:00
By Cat Johnson, Yes! Magazine | Op-Ed
LaMar Alexander grew up in a homesteading family. For him, self-sufficiency, including gardening, raising animals and "doing for ourselves" was normal and necessary. He tried city life after college, but says he felt like a slave to a house, bills and employers. At 35, he made a change.
"I had a wake up call," he explains, "that made me realize that what I really wanted was a simple homestead cabin and to eliminate my dependence on the system, so I could live sustainably while I pursued my dreams."
So Alexander built a house. A very small, 14 ft. x 14 ft. house. A solar and wind powered off-the-grid cabin with a kitchen, bathroom and living room downstairs and a bedroom and office upstairs. It cost him $2,000 to build not including the recycled doors and windows, the front porch, and the solar system.
Being an avid outdoorsman, Alexander didn't need a lot of indoor space, but as an author, videographer, and off-the-grid builder, he did need modern amenities including a cell phone, Internet access, electric lights, indoor toilet, and shower etc., and he has them. Alexander says his tiny house is easy to clean, cheap to heat and cool, and he has no house payments or monthly utility bills.
"I now have the freedom to pursue my dreams," he says, "and the money I make stays in my pocket and can be used for vacations or to help my family and for a secure retirement. That is the freedom that an off-grid lifestyle makes possible."
Alexander is part of a growing movement of tiny housers. The options for going tiny are growing. In fact, tiny house villages are even being tested as solutions to homelessness. Within the tiny house movement, there's a contingent who are taking the simplicity, sustainability and freedom of tiny houses to the next level by building their tiny homes off the power grid.
Shareable connected with four experienced, off-the-grid tiny housers to find out how they made the move to living off-the-grid in a tiny house; what challenges they face; how they handle practical matters like electrical, sewage and water; what someone considering off-the-grid living should know; and the benefits of living tiny and off-the-grid.
Contributing to the conversation are Laura LaVoie, who, along with her partner Matt, built an off-the-grid tiny house in the mountains of North Carolina. She also authored the book 120 Ideas for Tiny Living and blogs about tiny house living at Life in 120 Square Feet; Merete Mueller who, along with her partner Christopher, built a 130 square foot, off-the-grid tiny house and documented the experience in the film Tiny: a Story About Living Small; and Alexander, who has produced several books and videos about going off-the-grid, and writes about off-the-grid living at Simple Solar Homesteading.
Benefits, challenges, and legalities
Tiny house, off-the-grid living is a good way to reduce your ecological footprint, save money—"Our bills for energy and water are zero dollars," explains LaVoie—and simplify life down to the things that truly matter.
"One benefit to tiny house living," says Mueller, "is that it frees up the money, time and energy that would otherwise be spent on maintaining a house and rent or a mortgage, to be used on other things, like working on creative projects, starting a business, spending time with friends and family, or on other hobbies that bring a lot of satisfaction to one's life."
She points out that with tiny house, off-the-grid living, the drawbacks can be the same as the benefits.
"One obvious challenge is a minimal amount of space inside," she says, "But one benefit related to that is being forced to spend more time outside, and being forced to simplify possessions and think about which things matter most."
Emptying the composting toilet, hauling water and the other "challenges" that come with tiny, off-the-grid living were, for Mueller, part of the allure. "We wanted to know and understand," she says, "exactly how much water we were consuming."
Alexander says that the biggest challenges involve government regulations and "burdensome codes." He also mentions outside interference from neighbors and businesses in the area, securing an adequate water supply, and, if you live in a rural area, isolation and making money in a rural economy.
Regarding zoning issues, all three recommend talking with local authorities as regulations are different in different counties, towns, and even neighborhoods. Mueller suggests calling your local town office to ask questions before making any long-term plans. She also advises getting to know your neighbors.
"In many places with restrictions, those rules will only apply if the neighbors choose to report you or are somehow offended by your situation," she explains. "So getting to know your neighbors early on, explaining to them your motivations for choosing this lifestyle, and how all of your utilities work, can help to avoid that from happening." She adds, "It's good to develop allies early on."
Generally, the closer you are to a city the more rules there are to follow. Because of this, off-the-gridders often choose to live in rural areas in counties that want to increase their tax base and may be more open to alternative structures. Alexander lists Colorado, Oklahoma, Alaska, Wyoming, Arkansas, and Missouri as some of the states that promote off-the-grid living.