Although I have always had a deep love of nature and strong awareness of fairness/equity for other people, embedded from growing up in the incredible natural beauty of the South African “Veldt” and experiencing Apartheid first hand- I would say that last year (2013) was the first time that I truly experienced the joys and challenges of a sustainable lifestyle. The whole “crazy” experiment of living green started to take root eight years ago. My wife Tammy and I purchased 7 ½ acres in the Mojave Desert, and began to put the principles of sustainability into practice – definitely easier said than done, lots of fun, heart and back ache.

Building our shelter/house was a pretty basic need and implementing the principles of Natural Design like leaving a minimal Eco-Footprint, mimicking nature, using the sun’s energy and designing with nature have been the focus.

Looking back on our efforts to be “off the grid”, I think we have done a good job in working with the sun to heat, cool and provide electricity. I definitely missed the boat in providing my wife and family, reliable  electricity, a stove, hot water and heat  as we were process

All come to head on the coldest night of the year, with in the 20’s our mama Boer goat decided to give birth to triplets and we were without those basic needs of hot water, electricity, and a heated house. Well suffice to say the heroine Tammy (who had already endured plenty) finally lost her sense of humor and had a minor melt-down-fortunately friends, family and some awesome interns came to our rescue. Those basic need are now somewhat operational and I am happy to report that I have recently been able to move back inside and out of the goat pen!!.

One of the key principles of sustainability is using Nature as a Model and Teacher- obvious practices in this arena are those that use natures energy source the sun, in simple and appropriate way (going Off the Grid). 2013 was the year to design and install our Photo Voltaic (PV) system on the main structure. Our initial goal was to make it as small, frugal and simple as possible. After living with no amenities we discovered that pioneer living hurts a bit, (maybe in our 20’s but in our 50’s a bit more of a stretch). After many trips to the laundry decided that hot water was a necessity for us so made some concessions towards a gas stove and water heater. Also wiring a house for solar is tough to do when you are basically terrified of electricity as I am (my older brother’s fault for wiring a cattle shocker to their bedroom doors back in SA). First needed to decide what Renewable Energy (RE) technology or combination of technologies worked best in our corner of the Mojave. We are blessed with the best Solarization Index in the USA- this set of big words simply means that anything that depends on direct sunlight works really well here. Decided to use PV as our main electricity source and solar to preheat water for heating our house (we have radiant heat installed in the floors) and minimize the use of propane to heat domestic/shower water. Wind although a definite player in the windy High Desert will be added as a booster- our winds generally blow from midday into evening-time-perfect for that evening meal and TV watching time when we use more power. The next trick was to minimize the size of our battery bank by rethinking how we live and making sure we had very efficient appliances and plenty of LED lighting. Batteries are expensive, environmentally a nightmare (lead-acid is just not friendly stuff) and they have a short life, 10 Years if you baby them.

In the end Off the Grid living is all about how you conserve power and live a smarter life-using electricity while it is being generated. Practices like doing your laundry during the day and hanging the stuff out to dry, simple but forgotten practices! Maybe it is that it takes more work to live like this and that discourages most folks-but wow! It does reconnect you with the world around you and that is the greatest pleasure.
Video of the Solar system
See our How to video on “Simple Home Solar Design” for some of our hard earned tips.