Green Living: Off-the-Grid Families Pioneer Sustainable Energy Lifestyles

Asheville, N.C....

August 7, 2010 | Source: The Christian Science Monitor | by Kari Lydersen

Asheville, N.C.

Living “off the grid” can conjure fantasies of Swiss Family Robinson-style ingenuity in paradise. Or, for those with less love of roughing it, it can simply remind them of the hardscrabble”self-reliance throughout much of the developing world, where millions cook over fires, bathe in streams, and consider the glow of a bare light bulb a luxury.

In the United States, off-the-grid living – without relying on government entities or utility companies to provide electricity, heat, gas, and water – often is associated with gritting it out on the survivalist fringe.

But an increasing range of Americans are leading a snug, even smug, lifestyle totally or mostly unhitched from public utilities. Using nature – the sun, wind, water, and the earth itself – they cheaply warm and cool their homes and power everything from a blender to a giant flat-screen TV to a raging hot tub. And with the constant concern about global warming and messy dependence on fossil fuels, it’s natural that growing numbers of Americans – “the foot soldiers” of energy independence, as one expert calls them – would begin taking steps to untether themselves from the grid.

For Wayah Hall, going off the grid in a cabin 26 miles from downtown Asheville, N.C., was a way to live in harmony with nature and avoid reliance on electricity that comes from the region’s coal-burning power plant that pumps smog into the famous Blue Ridge Mountains haze.

Mr. Hall, an outdoor-skills instructor, and his wife, Alicia Bliss Hall, a natural healer, live in a kind of off-the-grid neighborhood with another young couple: Jason Brake, a professional muralist, and his wife, Diana Styffeler, a mountain bike excursion leader. Their two cabins, nestled in temperate rain forest, are powered with electricity that comes exclusively from solar panels mounted on a wagon that they wheel around the property to catch the best rays. Their water comes from a swiftly flowing stream; wood-burning stoves heat the cabins and even an outdoor hot tub; and indoor, waterless composting toilets built decoratively out of tree stumps mean they don’t need a sewer system. They’re installing a hydropower system in the stream that will add to the solar power.