Modern off-grid homes break stereotypes of the naturalistic lifestyle

Living off the grid conjures up images of survivors in remote locations and a rustic “little house on the prairie” lifestyle with chores from morning till night.

However, only a small fraction of people who live off the grid do so, and even fewer live more than an hour from any city.

“Living off the grid doesn’t mean you don’t buy your groceries at a store or take your waste to the local dump,” says Gary Collins, who has lived off the grid, or nearly so, for a decade. “It just means it’s not connected to utility networks.”

He has published books on the subject and leads online classes.

Although accurate numbers of off-grid households are hard to come by, Collins estimates that only 1% of those living off-grid are in truly remote areas. In general, the movement outside the network remains small. But it got a boost after the COVID-19 pandemic hit: city dwellers began to explore different ways of life.

Off-grid life unique to each person

More frequent power outages, struggling utility networks and price increases to handle severe weather events brought on by climate change have added to the interest.

The view from an off-grid guesthouse in Hollister Ranch, California, one of the last remaining undeveloped coastal areas in California, located in a wildlife preserve.  The Anacapa architecture firm, in Santa Barbara, California, and Portland, Oregon, has designed several unique off-the-grid homes in recent years and has several more off-the-grid projects in the works.

There are also those who remain connected to the grid but try to power their homes independently of it. Author Sheri Koones, whose books on sustainable homes include “Prefabulous and Almost Off the Grid,” cites the rise of “net metering,” when your property’s renewable energy source, usually solar, produces more energy than it uses , and your local utility company pays you the excess.

Today, off-grid living encompasses everything from “dry camping” in RVs (no power or water hookups) to luxurious Santa Barbara estates, from modest housing tucked away on the outskirts of cities to, yes remote, rustic cabins.

Mount Jefferson looms over off-grid homes at the Three Rivers Recreation Area in Lake Billy Chinook, Oregon, on April 26, 2007. Everyone in this community lives "off the grid"part of a growing number of homeowners who now get all of their power from solar, wind, propane, and other sources.

“Everyone does it differently and everyone does it their own way, because it’s their own adventure,” says Collins.

Sleek designs for a modern feel.

The Anacapa architecture firm, in Santa Barbara, California, and Portland, Oregon, has built several unique off-the-grid homes in recent years and has several more off-the-grid projects in the works.

“There’s definitely an increase in traction for this type of lifestyle, especially in the last couple of years,” says Jon Bang, Anacapa Architecture’s marketing and public relations coordinator. “There is a desire to be more in tune with nature.”

The lifestyle that Anacapa homes aim for is one of modernist elegance, not ruggedness. Bang says that new technologies can ensure comfortable self-sufficiency.

Another image of an off-grid guest house in Hollister Ranch, California, designed by the Anacapa architecture firm.  A high level of sensitivity to environmental impacts was exercised in all phases of design and construction, says the firm.

These houses are also carefully designed to take advantage of the landscape features of the site with an eye to sustainability. For example, one of the company’s houses is built on a hillside and has a green roof.

For those who do not have the means to hire architects, there are numerous recent books, blogs, YouTube videos and more dedicated to the subject.

“A lot of people are interested in it now,” says Collins. “They contact me after they see something on TV or YouTube and I’m like, ‘If you learned everything you know on YouTube, you’re never going to survive.'”

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