My wife were desperate to get out of the city. It was 2007, we were having an extremely stressful year with work. I owned a small construction company that was just about to give me a heart attack. She had a job she hated so much she would cry on the way to work sometimes. On top of all that, we lived in a duplex with noisy neighbors. And don’t even get me started on the constant, traffic, sirens, and aircraft noise of living in the city.
That’s when we decided: LETS GET OUT OF HERE – FOR GOOD! So we started looking for homes in the mountains. And, as luck would have it, we found our dream home after just one day of looking. Incredible views, astoundingly quiet, on a beautiful lake and surrounded by Aspen-draped mountains, we thought we had died and gone to heaven. There was just one thing: there was no grid power in this part of the world.
The home was powered with a solar power system and a backup generator. Heat would have to come from a wood-burning stove. It wasn’t exactly roughing it, but it was a drastic lifestyle change. And so, in the dead of winter, we moved our lives to the peace and quiet of Colorado Rockies. No more walking to sushi on Friday night. No more rowdy concerts and raucous cab rides on Saturday night. We still do those things every once in a while but we don’t miss them as much as we thought we would. And we also don’t have to deal with car break-ins, dirty air, bad water, rude drivers, and traffic jams.
Living off the grid meant we had to make other adjustments too. The only lights on in the house at night are ones we are actively using. We started listening to our iPods with headphones instead of throwing on the stereo and cranking the music. Laundry waits until a sunny day. Everything is on a power strip and gets turned off at the end of the evening. We don’t own a toaster, microwave, clothes iron, or hair dryer.
We’ve become acutely aware of the patterns of the sun and weather. We open the blinds wide to let the sun pour in and heat the house in the winter. In the warm summer evenings we close them and crack windows strategically to allow the mountains breezes to cool the house. We’ve installed a wind generator and tuned into the patterns of our breezes too. Winter mornings might mean shoveling both the driveway and solar panels clear of snow.
Don’t misunderstand, we don’t live like hermits. We have a large flat screen TV, three computers, plenty of lighting, and tons of entertainment devices. We just use them strategically to conserve power, always keeping in mind that the sun is our friend. Up here we find that we need those things less anyway, with all the hiking, skiing, biking, and boating there is to do here.
We’ve learned a lot about solar, living away from civilization, but mostly about ourselves here. And I can honestly say this is happiest I’ve ever been.
Kriss Bergethon is a writer and solar expert from Colorado. You can visit his Solar Power site for more information.