Living Off-Grid (part 1)

With everyone jumping on the eco-bandwagon these days, people ask me why I’m qualified to be a local Green Irene Eco-Consultant and an expert in this field. I tell them that living lightly on Earth is not just a job or business for me. Living sustainably is truly my passion, and my life.

I majored in Environmental Studies in college, and have worked for several environmental companies – most recently Southwest Windpower, a major manufacturer of small wind turbines (residential sized and smaller). The home I bought 3 years ago just outside Flagstaff, Arizona, is entirely off-grid (solar power). My family (consisting of my husband, 3 dogs, 3 cats, and me) lives by the sun and hope to soon add a wind generator to supplement our system during the winter when the days are shorter. We cook outside most of the time, using our solar oven whenever possible.

This is the solar oven we use to cook on in the summer.

Buying a Solar Home

Life in Flagstaff, AZ isn’t easy. Wages are low, jobs are scarce, and products and services (particularly housing) are overpriced. When my husband and I moved to Flagstaff four years ago, we felt lucky to find an apartment complex that would accept us with our two cats and one large dog. After a year of being badly cramped and crowded, our dog, Houdini, couldn’t take it any more… he is the one who convinced us to look for a house. An actual house. With a yard.

The house search was challenging. We looked at a dozen homes, and the only ones even remotely close to what we could afford were complete dumps. One night I was online doing yet another home search and by chance I checked the “other area” box instead of just in-Flagstaff areas. We were excited to see that the one home that came up that we hadn’t already seen, was off-grid. No power lines, all solar power, more than an acre of land. I immediately called up our realtor and asked her to get us an appointment to see this house.

It was perfect for us – with my education in Environmental Studies, I had always wanted to have solar power. This place had it already, and remarkably, was within our price range. There was even a kennel for Houdini and a spare room for the office! It was very clean with new white carpet in the living room and bedrooms. There were neighbors, but not so close everyone knows everyone else’s business. These private properties were completely surrounded by the Coconino National Forest, very secluded and quiet, yet only 5 miles to the grocery store and gas station. It wasn’t that large, and it was a manufactured home, but we decided that was okay. The power system was old and outdated, with only four 80-watt solar panels, four deep cycle batteries, and an old inverter. We had no clue what we were getting ourselves into, but the dream of living off-grid convinced us we could handle anything.

Just when we were getting ready to make an offer on the house, the seller dropped the price by $30,000, making it a more comfortable buy for us. We made our offer a bit lower than originally planned, and were thrilled when we were told that the seller had accepted.

Closing was difficult as the seller was out of state and traveling. Getting the paperwork back and forth was a nightmare. We finally got to move in on Christmas Day, 2006. This was also the day it started snowing. It snowed. And snowed. And snowed….. Our first taste of living a secluded life on an unmaintained, 4-wheel drive Forest Service Road.


There's a road here somewhere!

Keeping that new white carpet clean and white while we moved in … well, that was another challenge. What were they thinking when they put in WHITE carpet? We actually began to wonder why we started our house search so late in the year, but realized we would not have gotten the deal we got if we had started in the spring or summer. We survived our first challenge – the road – next came learning how to live off-grid! Stay tuned to learn how two folks relatively new to renewable energy survived our first year in our home!

(Part 2 coming soon)


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