Some people may not know what off-the-grid or off-grid means, so here it is --- The term off-the-grid or off-grid refers to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities.

Off-grid living is no longer a one room log cabin in the woods. It's energy independency. You don't have to rely on utility companies, you create your own power. Today, there are more than 180,000 off-grid homes in the US.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Laying Conduit…

44 degrees outside - 9:22 pm - calm, cloudy evening

Part of putting together an off-grid home is incorporating the power, gas, water and communications design into a manageable product.  This takes a bit of ingenuity, craftiness, lots of research and tons of planning!

One lesson we have learned is you can never plan enough.  In addition to finding the best location for our off-grid home, we have to find the best locations to put our propane tanks (two five hundred gallon tanks), battery bank, back-up generator, well and water storage.  The top four things we took into consideration were accessibility, drainage, elevation and visibility.

One of the many projects we are currently working on is laying out all the PVC conduit and water lines in a trench, that runs from the home out to the propane tanks, battery bank, back-up generator and water storage.  We have chosen a location that is around 200-300 feet away from our home that is still accessible but not visible from our home.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

First Snow of the Season...

46 degrees outside - 1:50 pm - beautiful fall day, chilly with a slight breeze...

The view from the master bedroom of the first snow of the season - white mountain peaks.

Monday, October 25, 2010

La Niña Winter and What it Means to Us...

39 degrees outside - 9:13 pm - raining with wet snowflakes mixed in...

You cannot predict the weather, but it doesn’t mean that people aren’t going to try.

Short-range weather predictions can even be flawed, let alone long-term predictions about such variable conditions as temperature and precipitation.  It is even harder to try and predict the weather here in the Pacific Northwest, which sits between a mountain range and a costal range.

The La Niña weather pattern this coming winter means one thing for sure – there will be unusually low sea surface temperatures across the Equator in the Pacific Ocean, disrupting the jet stream.  This tends to bring wetter and colder than normal conditions across the Pacific Northwest and dryer and warmer than normal conditions across much of the southern tier of the United States.

According to weather forecasts released this week, winter will hit the Pacific Northwest earlier and harder with colder temperatures, above-average precipitation, higher-than-average snowfall in the mountain ranges, and more winter storms.

To us, this means that it is going to be a cold winter on the mountain!

We live up around 2,200 feet in elevation.  So in our case, it is not a question of if, but when the snow will come.  We are at the very end of a gravel county road, that is one of the last roads in the county to get plowed, so we need to be prepared incase we get snowed in.  In the past years, the county has done a good job keeping our road passable.  Beyond the county road, there is just less than three quarters of a mile of gravel driveway, up the mountain to our house, which we have to keep plowed.  Thankfully we have neighbors who have a snow blower!

In the event that we do get snowed in, we have already started to stock up on winter clothing for the kids, extra blankets, canned food and bottled water.  Today I refilled the flashlights with new batteries and went on the almighty hunt in our storage unit and found the snowshoes.

The La Niña winter is certainly here and looking outside today you can tell that we are rounding out the month of October on a very wet note.

P.S. – Did you know that there have only been 18 La Niña events since 1950?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cold, Wet and Windy…

37 degrees outside - 8:09pm - windy and raining with a bit of lightening and thunder...

Last night and today have been very cold, very wet and very windy.  We have had heavy rains with the occasional snowflakes and hail mixed in; some scattered thunderstorms with the occasional lightening; and it was extremely windy last night blowing over several trees.

It looks like it is going to be another stormy night on the mountain…

Saturday, October 23, 2010


49 degrees outside - 11:45 am - it has temporarily stopped raining and the sun is trying to break thru the cloud cover...

Generally, appreciation means some blend of thankfulness, admiration, approval, and gratitude. In the financial world, something that "appreciates" grows in value. With the power tool of appreciation, you get the benefit of both perspectives: as you learn to be consistently thankful and approving, your life will grow in value. ~ Doc Childre

Off-grid living means many things to many people.  Some think that living off-grid means to live a minimalist life style; while others that live off-grid will tell you that you don’t have to give up anything.

During the construction phase of our home, we are living a minimalist lifestyle.  We don’t have a television but we do have a computer with internet; we have to wash the dishes by hand; go into town to do laundry; air dry the wet hair instead of using a blow-dryer; if we want electricity for anything, we have to go outside and turn on the generator; and we sometimes have to go on the almighty treasure hunt in the storage unit where the rest of our non-minimalist lifestyle is kept.  This may not sound like much fun, but it really puts things into perspective and makes you appreciate the little things in life that normally you take for granted.

Living off-grid doesn’t have to mean living poorly, or going back to the Stone Age.  We are looking at achieving self-sufficiency by doing many of the same things our great-great-great grandparent used to do, but we can use modern technology to do them much more quickly, easily, and effectively than they ever could have.  We now have a huge appreciate for those who came before us with the hardships they had to endure on a daily basis along with a huge appreciation for modern technology.

Once construction is completed and our off-grid power system is up and running, we will have the microwave, dishwasher, washer and dryer, and television, all of the things that we have been missing and will appreciate so much more when we get them!  Normally people seriously dislike moving due to the packing and unpacking, but for us, when it is time to empty and get rid of the storage unit and unpack all our stuff into our completed off-grid home, it will be like Christmas!

Appreciation is a powerful tool to shift perspective.  Finding something to appreciate during a difficult situation quickly moves the perspective to the big picture from the little picture. ~ Doc Childre

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Water Storage…

1:06 pm - 50 degrees outside - calm with an increase in clouds...

The need for water storage has been around forever.  A water tank provides for the storage of drinking water, irrigation agriculture, fire suppression as well as many other possible solutions.  Most often water tanks store water for human consumption.

In the US, estimates vary, but each person uses about 80-100 gallons of water per day.  Which means, the average family of four can use anywhere from 320 to 400 gallons of water per day.  This is where the water storage tank comes into play.  Our water storage tank system will allow a large volume of water to be placed into inventory or storage and during peak demand times we will be less likely to run low or out of water as the tank is constantly be replenished by the well.

We have a well with a pump (our water source), that pumps water up into the cold-water storage tanks that are buried up on a hill that is higher in elevation than our house.  The water that is stored there will then be pumped to the house when needed.

A cold-water storage tank is simply a tank designed to hold water at the current temperature and pressure in the atmosphere.  This water is generally used to feed cold water to the home or to the hot water heater and the taps in the home.  The reason for putting the tanks higher than the house is to have a constant feed of water.  If the pump at the water storage tanks should happen to fail, we would still have some water coming to the house from gravity.  The pump at the tanks is just to give added water pressure.

We are custom building our own water storage tank system.  We went and picked up two, used food grade, 275 gallon IBC Totes.  Being used food-grade totes, they previously held potato starch and have since gone thru a triple wash and are ready for us to use.  We eventually would like to have 8 of these, which will give us 2,200 gallons of stored water.

The two IBC Totes we just picked up.
IBC stands for Intermediate Bulk Container.  IBC Totes are large tanks, which are used to store and transport fluids and other bulk materials.  IBC Totes are composed of 3 primary components – the plastic container bottle, the galvanized steel tubular cage, and the container’s galvanized steel pallet.  Measurements are approximately 45-1/2” tall x 39-1/2” wide x 47-1/2” deep and they weigh approximately 125lbs empty.  They have a 6” screw on cap center top; 2” NPT male connector with cap, controlled by a lever actuated butterfly valve.  These are excellent for potable water storage containers, hydroponics reservoirs, rain catchment tanks, etc.

To Be Continued (once everything is in)…

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Disappointments and Frustrations…

9:30 am - 57 degrees outside - very windy with a clear blue sky

No we are not rich, we do not have a boatload of cash, and we are not able to buy everything brand new.  We are an average single income family.  My husband works while I stay home with our two young children.  All of the work put into clearing the build site and building our home, is done mainly at night and on weekends.  The majority of the funding for this project is coming out of our pockets a little bit at a time; we do however have a small mortgage on the land.

A major disappointment came early on when we started to look for contractors to build our home.  We had just spent over $1400 dollars having blueprints drawn up and engineered.  We found a contractor that we really liked and he gave us a quote that was in our budget and our home would be completed in about a year.  We were so excited to be starting this new adventure.  To save a little money, we wanted to clear the build site of all the trees, brush, stumps and rocks ourselves.  When we went back to the contractor to tell him we were ready for him, we found out that his original quote had somehow tripled.  This put everything way out of our budget and we were forced back to square one.  Our blueprints still remain in the box they were mailed in, unused.

We are fairly handy people and thought that we would be able to build our home ourselves.  This would save a considerable amount of money by not having to pay a contractor and being able to shop around for the best price on building materials.

Since we decided to build our home ourselves we also decided to downsize our home plans.  Not wanting to pay for another set of blueprints, we instead bought some graph paper and drew our own floor plan.  We talked to our new neighbors, who had been living off-grid for several years, to find out what was essential to have and what we really need to fit into our new down sized floor plan.  Their response was storage, lots of storage.

We did have some construction know-how but not enough to build a home start to finish.  So we researched tons of books, magazines and online articles.  After finally settling on a floor plan we started building. 

Building our home out-of-pocket will be great in the end, because we will not be up to our eyeballs in debt, but it was not our first choice.  Being an owner-builder on a remote off-grid home makes finding anyone to lend on the project nearly impossible.  You find yourself constantly looking for that next $500 or the next great deal on materials.  The frustration comes from the fact that the project is taking considerably longer than we thought it would.

Even though we have our disappointments and frustrations (too many to list), it has been and still is a great adventure.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wildflowers on the Mountain…

4:28 pm - 60 degrees outside - another gorgeous fall day, have to enjoy them while we have them...

Living up around 2,200 feet in elevation puts us just above the smog layer.  This is just another perk of living off-grid on a mountain. 

Caitlyn with a Foxglove
Every time we step outside, it is almost a habit now to take a deep breath and inhale the clean, fresh, pure smelling mountain air.  Just looking around at all of the different plant life surrounding us, as you take that deep breath you realize that you are probably breathing in some of the cleanest air possible.  As that clean mountain air passes you by, you smell an evergreen fragrance in the air, along with the fresh smell of wildflowers and you think to yourself “This is definitely a moment to remember!”

Caitlyn and Jack
out for a nature walk
At nearly any time of the year you can step outside, look around, and you notice all of the native plants and wildflowers.  On one such occasion we happened by a single Western White Trillium.  Our young daughter was amazed at how this single delicate looking flower managed to come up thru the forest floor and had to have it.  So instead of having her pick every single wildflower in sight, we started a Nature Book for her.  We now go on nature walks and take pictures of all the beautiful wildflowers and wildlife to put into her nature book. 

There is still a thrill of discovery when we chance for the first time to find a floral gem in a forest clearing or high on a mountain side.

Western White Trillium

Miners Lettuce

Pacific Bleeding Heart

Bunchberry aka Dwarf Dogwood

Western Blue Iris

Bog Paintbrush

Oxeye Daisy

Great Hedge Nettle

Harsh Paintbrush

Queen Anne's Lace aka Wild Carrot

Sunday, October 17, 2010


9:04 pm - 49 degrees outside - today was another gorgeous fall day on the mountian, not to hot and not to cold...

This morning as we were eating breakfast, we watched five deer feeding in the backyard.  The afternoon was made even better when we had a visit from my parents, grandmother, aunt, sister, brother-in-law and niece.  After lunch the afternoon was spent cutting firewood... LOTS of firewood.

We borrowed our neighbors log splitter,
it makes splitting firewood much quicker and easier.

Wildlife on the Mountain…

10:10 am - 49 degress outside - bright clear sunny sky, another beautiful fall day...

Western Screech Owl
We can still remember the first time we heard the eerie, unknown sounds from unknown animals after we first moved off-grid.  It was something we will never forget.  Lying in bed at night, hearing strange sounds, and wondering what was that.  Knowing that our home is in the forest, on top of a mountain, where there are cougars, bobcats, black bears, coyotes, elk, deer and many, many more wild animals running around. 
Ruffed Grouse
After a little while we started to realize what all those strange sounds were.  The footsteps you just heard in the trees and brush were actually chipmunks throwing pinecones down from the fir tress.  That eerie screeching yip was actually a coyote on the other side of the canyon.  That drumming sound that is such a deep sound that you feel it more than hear it was actually a grouse beating the air with his wings.  Even though we are now able to recognize most of the wildlife sound, there is the occasional sound that will stop you dead in your tracks, wondering what was that…

Black Bear
Yes, we have been spooked a few times.  Like coming face to face with a black bear while clearing the build site.  Or standing outside, staring up at the bright star filled night sky as a deer comes running out of the dark and nearly knocks you over.  Even with those rare moments of fear, we still wouldn’t trade what we have for the safety of the suburbs.

If you embrace nature, sometimes you will be granted with the greatest gifts - like watching a mother doe with her two new born fawns or chipmunks, squirrels and Stellar Jays fighting over the birdfeeder or a heard of elk run through the backyard.

Doe with her twin fawns
You must remember that wilderness or wildlife or seclusion, some of the few things that pop into your head when you think off-grid, do not necessarily go hand in hand with living off-grid.  Technically you can live off-grid right in the middle of the city, but where is the adventure in that? 
Stellar Jay

Friday, October 15, 2010

Got That Off-Grid Loving Feeling…

8:28 pm - 48 degress outside - breezy...

People ask us why we have chosen to live off-grid?  Why not live off-grid?

Though sometimes a challenge, the many benefits of living off-grid make it all worthwhile.  How can one describe the feeling of running your home off of clean energy sources like natural gas and propane, or renewable energy sources like hydro, solar and wind?  Who could explain the effect being out of the city and suburbs has on your sense of well-being?  How many of us would enjoy more fresh produce grown organically on our own property?

For us, it is about living closer to the land; being responsible for the culture, values and environment we leave behind to our two young children; and knowing that life was meant to be enjoyed.  Yes, there is the energy savings (yeah, no utility bills!) from using renewable energy sources, wind and hydro generators that we will be building ourselves.  There is the garden that we will be planting, tending to and harvesting as a family.  Must not forget the chicken coop that our young daughter is obsessed with getting (not until next spring though) because she wants to supply her mommy with fresh eggs.  And of course, the adventure and uniqueness of living in an off-grid home. 

People think that when you live off-grid you have to make some serious lifestyle changes.  Yes and no.  We have had a few lifestyle changes, which were surprisingly easy to make.  A few extra minutes have been added to the commute time to work; we are a little more conscious about turning lights off when they are not needed, which everyone should be doing anyways; we are a little more conservative with water use, and yes, we do plan on having a dishwasher when the house is completed!  Currently, until the full power system is up and running, the largest lifestyle changes we have made is no television, and going into town to do laundry.  Everyone has dealt surprisingly well with no TV, instead we now have a movie night were we pop the popcorn and watch a movie on the computer.  Going into town to do laundry is a bit of an inconvenience, hopfully in another month or two we wont have to do that anymore. Never thought we would be so excited to do laundry but cannot wait for that first load of laundry in our own home!
That’s what living off-grid has been like for us at least and we are loving it!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lay of the Land...

9:38 pm - 47 degrees outside - nice quiet stary night on the mountain...

Technically we have more than 22 acres.  When surveyors plot out the property borders, it is all drawn out according to longitude and latitude on a flat map.  When you actually go out and look and walk the property, with the canyons, hills, plateaus and valleys, you have considerably more land than you thought. 
Our property has those hills and canyons, so a large portion of it is inaccessible.  There is a large five acre plateau (which is where we are building our home) that drops steeply down into the canyon to the river and then back up the other side to another plateau.

When we first went to look at the property it had no view.  You could not see 10 feet in front of you thru the thick Vine Maple, Salmonberries and Alder trees.  There was a little overgrown tail that led down into the lot and you could see the very top of the mountain across the valley and that was the only view to speak of.

Some people have a hard time visualizing the end results.  We must have huge imaginations because we were somehow able to visualize all the wonderful possibilities the property possessed.

After we signed the papers, the first thing we did was review topographical maps and satellite photos of our new property to find out where the best build site would be and that was where we started the clearing.

We concentrated on clearing a few acres and after a year and a half we decided to camp on our property for the summer.  We wanted to see where the best location would be to put our new home and see how the weather affected that location so we could build our home accordingly.

One of the biggest things we discovered was that we had far more drainage issues than we ever imagined for living on top of a mountain.  Now the question was how to use that to our advantage?

Winter Readiness ~ Firewood…

9:53 am - 53 degrees outside - sunny with no wind, another gorgeous fall day...

As the summer season winds down many of us look forward to the cooler temperatures and fall colors.  But we must not forget what is lurking behind those crisp fall days – old man winter.

It is hard to determine what type of winter will be in store for us.  Since we purchased our property five years ago, every winter has been different.  We have had everything from little to no snow up to over 10’ deep snow with 14’ deep snow drifts.  Regardless of what Mother Nature brings our way, it is best to prepare for the worst.

For us, our major heat source comes from firewood.  So when the snow flies and the east winds howl, with just a little planning, we can stay nice and toasty warm.  This will be the first year we have wintered up on the mountain.  We can only guesstimate how much firewood we will need to get us thru the winter and that guesstimation is around 5 cords of seasoned firewood. 
For those of you who thought firewood was firewood and don’t know what seasoned firewood is…  Seasoned firewood contains about 20 percent to 25 percent moisture content, compared to freshly cut or “green” wood, which can contain about 45 percent water.  Softwood (like fir or hemlock) reaches good seasoning in six to twelve months, while hardwood (like cherry and maple) takes a bit longer.  During this time, whether the wood rests on the forest floor or sits stacked and properly stored at your home, wind and sun work to evaporate excess moisture.
When compared to green wood, seasoned wood is lighter given that it contains less moisture.  Due to the lack of moisture, seasoned wood ignites quickly, lasts longer, burns efficiently and allows for minimal creosote buildup.

So needless to say, we have been cutting, splitting and stacking a LOT of firewood.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


7:10 am - 54 degrees outside - clear blue morning sky, still windy...

The wind howled all night long.  Need to get a wind gauge so we can see just how strong the wind really is.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In the Beginning...

7:46 pm - 50 degrees outside - clear night sky, stars are coming out, wind has picked up...

People ask us why we chose to live off-grid.  We actually didn’t go looking to live off-grid it just sort of happened.

Five years ago we decided to look for some property where we could build a home.  Our property search criteria was - acreage that was somewhat close to town.  We figured we would know it when we saw it.  No, we did not search out off-grid property!  One weekend we went out for a drive in the mountains and saw a ‘Land for Sale’ sign.  We called on it, went out and looked at, went home and talked about, went out and looked at it again, went home and talked about it again and put our home up for sale.  We sold our home and purchased 22 acres, off-grid, up in the mountains.  It was only 31 miles to a major airport, half-hour drive to town, had a phenomenal view of mountains and valleys, no man made structures in sight other than two radio towers way off in the distance, nice flat to semi-rolling build site for our new home, great new neighbors… we were sold.  The whole off-grid thing was not something that we had been looking for but would be kind of fun and different, so why not.

In the beginning we thought we were pretty prepared.  We had just built a house two years ago and thought we could figure it out and do it again, but build it ourselves this time.  It didn’t take long for us to realize that we weren’t as prepared as we thought.  Everything took longer than planned and cost two to three times more than planned.  We also had to work around the weather.  So need less to say, our home that we thought would take 12 to 18 months to build, is taking considerably longer to build.

But it is all part of the adventure, right?

Some Pictures of the Progess So Far...

11:41 am - 55 degrees outside - clear blue sky, sligtly windy...

We have been building our home ourselves with the occasional help from family and friends.

So far it has been a slow process.  We have learned a lot along the way with a lot of shoulda', coulda', woulda's.  As you can see by the pictures we sometimes do things a little backwards.  Although our home is not finished yet, we are still having fun and enjoying this phase of our off-grid adventure, even though we do hit the occasional speed bump.

Some Speed Bumps:  monster size stumps, boulders and weather. 

Winter of 07/08 - we had quite a bit of snow that winter.

Working on the garage build site and back yard grade work.

Our First Blog Post...

9:49 am - 51 degrees outside - clear blue sky, slightly windy... fall is here.

When we tell people that we are building a house off-grid, people don't seem to know what exactly that means... so here it is:

The term off-the-grid or off-grid refers to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities.

In our case we have no public utilites whatsoever!  A few years ago, we purchased 22 acres in the mountains (we are at about 2,200 feet elevation) in Southwest Washington and have already started to build our home.  We will be creating our own energy with mostly hydro and wind power.  The energy that is created is stored in a battery bank, then it goes into an inverter that converts the electricity back to 110V that powers our home just like any other home.  Water will come from a well and propane will power the gas appliances and a back-up generator.

With this blog we will let you know how the progress of building a home off-grid is going and what off-grid living is like.  Enjoy!


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