Going off-grid: Four adjustments

Moving from a house- even a small house – into a 20’ x 20’ cabin means change. It’s unavoidable. These changes come easier to some than others, but I welcomed them – the things I learned at the cabin are things I will apply to the rest of my life.

The trapline cabin, built by Ingi’s hands, is by definition, cozy. It looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting when the snow is falls thick and heavy and smoke pours out of the chimney.

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Camp was super picturesque!

The cabin’s square frame with the covered porch sits about 25 feet from the lake, facing south, practically protected from cold north winds (but not from cold south winds, which Ingi calls “the north wind coming back again” – a saying passed down from his father). The proximity to the lake makes it possible – if not exactly easy – for a young woman with underdeveloped upper body strength to carry two five gallon buckets of water from the dock into the kitchen, which brings me to the first adjustment:

No running water

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Our water came from a hole in the lake at the end of a dock. We used an ice chisel to open it up regularly, and used two five-gallon buckets to carry the water back to camp.

The easy availability of water in my living arrangements is something I’ve taken for granted. At camp we stored water in 17-gallon rubbermaid garbage pails in both the main cabin and upper cabin where we skinned animals and dried fur, and also showered and did our laundry (more on that later). Putting the work in to retrieve, store and use water gave me a stronger appreciation for it, and while there was an entire lake full of it close by, I was constantly keeping an eye on our consumption.

Privacy

The cabin has three rooms – two back bedrooms and an open, combined living space and kitchen, containing a table by a picture window, counter space, shelving, and a camper-sized propane stove/oven combination, as well as a rocking chair, couch, end tables and a Kozi wood stove. With only one other person and occasionally the dog to share the space, it wasn’t crowded, but it also wasn’t easy to find indoor alone time, either.

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The living room – lots of shelf space, nails to hang things on, and a drying rack above the stove. Many deep conversations were had around that woodstove.

I need my quiet time, and I like a private space to have it. Most recently I’ve lived in a two-bedroom apartment with two other people, and I always had a room to retreat to when I needed to decompress. There was no door to my room at the cabin when I arrived, so I rigged up a curtain on some paracord and strung it between beams to make my own space.

Sleeping arrangements

The cabin isn’t chinked the traditional way – with sphagnum moss stuffed between cracks in the logs. Ingi said he ‘cheated’ and used pink fibreglass insulation. The insulation may be superior (I can’t say for sure as I’ve never stayed in a moss-chinked cabin), but the cabin certainly still ‘breathes’ when the wind blows on chilly nights.

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The bunks might be small, but I slept like a baby in this room!

Ingi’s room has a double bed at window level, complete with sheets and several blankets, perfect for stretching out on and watching the northern lights (Ingi loved to teasingly rub this in as he listened to me rolling over in my bunk). My room has a bed and a bunk, each measuring 24” in width. I slept inside a below-zero rated sleeping bag on the bed, and basically said a short prayer each night that I may remain on the bed, unentangled by the sleeping bag, until dawn.

Let there be light

The cabin has two solar panels connected to several car batteries that store the sun’s energy as it’s collected. There are four lightbulbs and two lamps in the cabin, as well as a radio that remains plugged in, and a freezer that is plugged in for a couple hours at a time on warm days. While we never ran out of power, we did have to start the generator a few times. We went through a three week stretch of entirely cloudy days, and charging the laptop to watch a movie or type out a post put a drain on the system. We had to keep a close eye on our electricity consumption.

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The heart of the home – the kitchen.

To me, these adjustments and several others were just that – things we adjusted to and then mostly forgot about. If you have experience living fully or partly off-grid, I’d love to hear about anything that made a difference for you!

5 thoughts on “Going off-grid: Four adjustments

    • That’s incredible, Mark! What were some of the adjustments you had to make when you first transitioned? What kind of tips would you give someone who wants to make the same change? And what do you find most rewarding about living off grid?

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      • Cynthia,
        Learning how to hook the battery bank to the inverter and solar panels to the charge controller were a challenge. I would also say the few months we had no running water was another challenge for both my wife and I. Getting hot water was a trick and our temporary fix is going on 5 years this summer.
        Tips: Research, research, and research some more. Read others’ stories and ask them questions. Never give up the dream, but be prepared to adapt it when needed. Avoid visions of grandeur and be prepared for a transition that seems unending, but take a look back each season and acknowledge the progress you are making. Lastly, I would say celebrate each accomplishment with either a dance, a song, or even shouts of joy.
        Most rewarding… The weight of the world isn’t so heavy anymore. We have a savings account for new projects always growing since we have no mortgage, car payments, or electricity bills. When a storm knocks out power for a few days, we don’t even realize it. Expect hard work, gathering firewood is the worst knowing it must be done, and yet it is satisfying to have a warm house in the winter. This lifestyle may not be for everyone, but we love it.

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  1. Great READ! I am not off grid, but working towards that goal. We are taking it in baby steps. I am glad to read this and know that these are all things we have consciously thought of and considered already.

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  2. I find we have to be careful with the solar, after a run of cloudy days. ONly takes about two days of rain, and you have to run the generator – but it’s still much cheaper than normal electricity. I’ve grown to really enjoy candlelight! And yes, your water issues strike a chord with me (though here it’s drought rather than ice we have to bother about).

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