March 25, 2011

Beginning thoughts on home design

To create a functional home you need to design the home around your basic needs. As we go off grid we need to look at these basic needs and how we are going to fulfill them in the most simple manner.  It definitely will take a lot of ingenuity, research, and creativity.We also need to seriously consider the things we are willing to give up for the sake of saving energy for other things.

Top priority needs:

Water - Well - Still considering plumbing options, but we would like to do something less conventional when it comes to water pressure. Jake has some unique ideas that just might work that have to do with a raised buried water tank.
Hot water - Trying to figure out the best route for a hot shower/clean dishes that doesn't take a lot of energy. It is interesting to look back in the past to see how it was done.It helps us to really reconsider the way it is done and think about different options.  It's not that we are looking to recreated the wheel, but to find the avenue that works best for us.

Clean Clothes - Energy efficient washer, perhaps a less conventional route.
Clothes Drying - Unsure of  how to do this without making our home one large clothes line in the winter.
Heat- Wood stove (we plan to center the home design around the wood stove to create even distribution of the heat.)
Photo courtesy of Good Time Stove Co.

Cooking - We agreed that we need to do natural gas, but will do a lot of water warming on the wood stove. Whether to go cookstove or not or just have burners on our heat stove is still up in the air.
Food storage -Considering having a freezer and doing an old fashioned ice box with 2 liter pop bottles replaced every day. Also considering a solar fridge for summer and utilizing the outside cold some how in the winter. Perhaps something like this:
Photo Courtesy of

Toilet - Incinerating Propane Toilet - We have our eye on this one in particular at Popane Products 

Electricity for lights/appliances - Solar/Wind/Bike ;)

All of this is subject to change as we research and what the township will approve of, but it will give you and idea of the route we are taking.  We are somewhat conventional with a few tweaks to conserve energy.

If you have any ideas for us to consider, please do tell!

March 22, 2011

The Toy Challenge

I did not realize that going through toys to get rid of while my son is in the same building is useless.  Somehow he knew, with no hints from me whatsoever, that the laundry basket full of toys were going to be given away or sold. Must be some special child's instinct or connection to his toys!

Yes, I'm doing this to declutter and clear out for selling the house and moving, but also to try to transition from plastic toys, which feels really impossible.  At least I will reduce the amount and if we can commit to buying healthy toys from here on out we'll be in a better case scenario long term at some point.  And hopefully family members will catch on and start getting wooden, cloth, etc... toys for presents.

Some plastic toys that we can't say good bye to are:

-Anything G.I. Joe or army men (unless they have wooden army men I am not aware of.)
-Legos (although right now they are an object of training and are put up until someone decides to start listening to mom and dad on a regular basis.)
-Anything Toy Story
-Matchbox cars
-Outdoor toys like bats, balls, etc...
-Some bath toys (everyone needs a wind up bath toy!)

Most everything else really could be replaced with a better/healthier version of the same concept.

Considering Types of Homes - The Tree House

Perhaps a Tree House would be fun.  It doesn't have to be high up and we can always have stairs if necessary (instead of a ladder) Here are some inspirations:

Tiny House Blog's 3-33-11 post's Top 8 Most Amazing Treehouses - unrealistic for us, but feeds our creative minds!


Realistically the township would probably not like us with this one.  This is an interesting option and while I wouldn't rule it out, I also would not be quick to rule it in.  Plus, my mom doesn't do well with stairs and I think there would be some folks who would not fair well with any form of heights. This is really fun to consider though, and perhaps someday we could build a sweet kids tree house if we have enough mature trees on our land.  Perhaps it could second as a guest house. ;-)

March 18, 2011

It has begun

The sign is in the yard.  It's official. 

This could take 3 weeks to 6 months so now its all about organizing and prepping the house for the sale and the move.  We have decided that we need to have a transitional renting situation before buying land.

4 options for renting
-Mobile Home

All of these things will be considered as we look for a place.

Land Examination Priorities

I've done enough reading about land buying to know that you pretty much need to know the property upside down before you buy it.  Here is a list of things I have compiled of what we need to do before deciding to buy any land. Some are obvious and simple, but we don't want to forget to check them. Others require a little more effort.

1) Zoning
2) Township requirements and restrictions (including building ordinances)
3) Mineral rights or other obligations
4) Well test/water level/flood zone?
5) Soil test
6) Radon test
7) Check with any nearby farmers on what kinds of pesticides they use (air quality)
8) Research Bugs or Pests in the area. Ask neighbors, look at local nature center, go to the library.
9) Educate yourself on easements and road taxation. And if we are serious about a particular property have a new survey done if it has not been done recently.

Here's a fun thing I just haphazardly figured out (This is just for kicks and giggles. Please don't take it seriously)

I was just thinking "I wonder how many acres of land there are in the world compared to people and how many acres we could each have if we spread out a bit." (especially thinking about crowded cities like Hong Kong and New York.) Here is the general numbers I have found:

There are 36,794,240,000 acres of land on earth and 6,905,913,252 people in the world
That leaves 5.3 acres per person

Mind you much of this land is either a frozen tundra or a swamped marshland, still.. you could probably build some sort of structure depending how much money you had.  So, my conclusion is this. The rich people can move to the tundras and rain forests to build their extravagant structures to deal with the climate, buying all their needs on the internet and have them shipped. Then as you get lower in income you are in the more lush bountiful land.  The rich can pay us to send food out to them.  I totally have this all figured out. Why am I not a dictator, I mean, politician?  Or maybe this is the reason I'm not a politician.

So their we have it.  Our little family of three are entitled to about 16 acres. If we have more children, we can have more, but by that time we might only be entitled to less due to population growth so maybe we should be satisfied with 5-10. Oh don't you love my analytical brain?


March 17, 2011

The push we needed

Going off grid is not a new dream for Jake and I.  Solar and wind energy have often been the topic of many discussions for a few years.    Just before our 6th anniversary this year Jake watched a documentary by Les Stroud (survivor man). You will laugh when I say we actually watched it together on my laptop in the hotel room on our anniversary getaway. It was a very exciting time for us. This documentary gave us that push that we can do this and we are not crazy.

Click here to view the documentary yourself. There are 7 parts and each part is about 10 minutes long.

We began to discuss the steps we would need to take, talked about what it would be like,  discussed how far we would go away from family and friends. We crunched a lot of numbers and searched out available land in the area(just to get an idea of prices and such). Most importantly for us, we took time to pray.  If we do all this and in the end find that we did it all for our own whims and desires this whole thing would be useless. After that weekend we still kept praying, talking, figuring, researching, and planning.  We will keep doing this the whole time. If a question or idea comes up we write it in our notebook.

So much depends on the sale of our home so there really are not a lot of decisions to make until we sell the house.  In the mean time we will focus our efforts on prepping the house for sale.

March 15, 2011

Summer Money Savings

This summer, through some extra work, we are hoping to save a few bucks by cutting out certain conveniences.  Not only that but it will prep us for being off grid and finding alternative ways to deal with every day necessities.

No Vacuuming - This one I've already started (except for yesterday when I was cleaning house like a mad woman for the real estate guy to come.)  I've already taken up all but two rugs in the house. One still protects my floor from my desk chair and the other is in the breezeway to catch dirt.  Anyway, I plan to sweep every day and mop once a week.

No Dryer - My arms will be buff after putting clothes up on the clothesline all summer - I know this will be hard for me to get a handle on.  I will need to take advantage of the sunny dry days. It might be okay to do loads in the dryer of socks and underwear because who wants stiff undies? Don't go there...

No Air Conditioning - After fixing our attic we think we might be able to better endure the summer without A/C. It will help that now our attic actually vents (long story that would be nice to keep in the past).  With a few fans, well positioned windows, and lots of popsicles we'll be golden.  We might need to turn the A/C on if we have a showing on a really hot day, but then again maybe we need to show off our awesomely vented attic!

No Dishwasher - This one is up there on the list of me whining about it, but I need to get used to it. The dishwasher, the dryer, and the vacuum are some of the highest energy consumers in the house.  We have come to love Mr. Electricity's Website . He thinks against the norm and promotes alternatives to energy consumption.  We love that kind of thinking. 

New phone system - We have been considering getting something like the Ooma Telo Free Home Phone Service.  The idea stems from us having to have our PC on all day long so that our Magic Jack phone would be on.  The Ooma system is connected into your network, but does not have to go through the computer.  This would save us a few bucks by not having the PC on all day. I think we can transfer our current magic jack number somehow too. This is definitely an option that we are looking into.

- I'm not sure how much this is a money saver as much as it's just a non-lazy approach to food. We've already begun this, but hopefully we can continue to make good choices regarding our food intake.  Not that we have to only get beans and rice, but to be thoughtful in our calorie/fat consumption and try to put veggies into our bodies that are full of great nutrients.  I'm not a minimalist when it comes to food. If we eat a lot of the right stuff, we gain energy to keep our bodies going, which I believe is a natural motivator for the rest of life's activities.

There it is.  Don't expect me to keep it perfectly now, although I would like to go a whole month without those conveniences just to say that I did it.  I will give it the good ole college try.

You people have yet to find out how badly I have princess syndrome. Going off grid will be gruesomely good for me! :)

March 14, 2011

Prepping house for sale

Here are the things we have to do to prep our house for the market.  We haven't even decided on listing with a realtor yet, but we figure we need to get things cleaned up really well to make things easier later on.

- Declutter
- Fix exterior plumbing issues
- Keep selling stuff on craigslist, have a garage sale, or bring to a consignment store.
- Organize storage
- Clean up garage
- Paint a few things/rooms
- Plant a few annuals

Today we had a meeting with a short sale negotiator with a local Realtor.  They are very good at what they do and it may be the route we take in selling our home. We've already listed it on some FSBO sites. I think we should maybe wait a week or two before starting the short sale process, which usually takes 4-6 months anyway. We just hope to not have to pay the bank too much after selling the house. We'll just be happy to almost be out of that silly mortgage situation.

As far as temporary housing we have discussed some options, but will cross that bridge when we get to it. Hopefully my future posts will focus a little more on ideas for our dream home/land.

March 13, 2011

De-cluttering Checklist for Home sale

We have watched enough home improvement and real estate shows.  When selling your home the first thing to do is de-clutter.  We' have already done a lot of our de-cluttering and have sold a lot on craigslist.  I still plan to go through the checklist I created to make the house look spotless. I may need to do it a couple times while our home is listed so it will be handy to have.

Here is my checklist in case you find yourself surrounded by clutter.  You can do it, too, one step at a time!

Home de-cluttering and simple deep cleaning checklist room by room
Prior to beginning your de-cluttering choose a place in the house where you will bring items to sell or giveaway.

Dump all clothes on bed
Sort in two piles “keep” and “give away/sell”
Neatly put away clothes/accessories, perhaps even color coding your closet.
Take all things off closet shelves and put on bed
Sort in two piles “keep” and “giveaway/sell”
Place “keep” pile back into closet
Take all decorations and picture frames off dressers/shelves and place on bed
Sort items by “keep” and “giveaway/sell” again
Place “keep” items back on dressers or find another place in the house
Remove any items that do not belong in the bedroom (i.e.  giveaway/sell piles)
Dust the room
Sweep ceiling and walls for cobwebs
Clean floor
Put on clean sheets and fluff up the pillows
Light a candle or spray some air freshener
Additional suggestions for children’s bedrooms:
Use plastic bins to sort kid’s clothes by size
Sort (keep/sell) and organize by size/seasonal clothes in drawers and closet
Store any unseasonal toys or clothes in plastic bins
Store unneeded clothes and take giveaway/sell pile to determined spot
Arrange toys and furniture on outside walls

Take out all items out of bathroom and place on table or kitchen/living floor(caution with kids or pets)
Sort in “keep” or “give away/sell” piles
Take giveaway/sell pile to determined spot
Open window and steam/spray whole bathroom
Clean Toilet
Sanitize whole bathroom and polish faucets
Wash/replace shower curtain
Place “keep” pile neatly back into drawer and cabinets
Fold towels neatly

Determine which cupboards need reorganization or sorting
Empty and sort each cabinet one at a time into “keep” and “giveaway/sell” piles
Wipe down shelves if needed
Place items back in cupboards neatly
Take all items off counters and question which is necessary to keep on (less is best for de-cluttering, especially for sale of a home.) Perhaps you will only keep out appliances you use on a daily basis such as coffee maker and toaster.
Wipe down the outsides of all cabinets
Clean and polish sink, stove, and other appliances exterior
Clean interior of microwave
Take old food out of fridge and make some sort of rhyme or reason of the food (produce in drawers, cheese/dairy on bottom shelf, leftovers on top shelf, etc…)

Kitchen (cont’d)
To deep clean the fridge take all items off first shelf, take the shelf out, shut fridge, clean shelf in sink, dry well, and return to fridge along with the food. Repeat with other shelves.
Sanitize counters, faucets, appliance handles, and table/chairs
Sweep and mop kitchen floor
If there are any decorations/pictures dust and sort as you did in the other rooms.
Light a candle or spray Air freshner

Living Room
Place on the couch all decorations, pictures, movies, cds, etc… that are not on the walls.  Choose some to store or giveaway/sell.
Dust and put “keep” pile back on shelves
Place giveaway/sell pile in designated spot in the house.
Clean couch and chairs
Dust lamps, electronics, furniture, etc…
Clean the floor
Light a candle or spray air freshener

Pull out all items into one pile (papers, magazines, catalogs, bills that need filing)
Organize papers into piles (i.e. recycle, good coupons, “to file”, magazines to keep)
Place sorted papers where they belong on the desk
Any items that are not used on a daily basis should be placed in drawers or box nearby
Dust Computer and Desk and clean the monitor
For bookshelves, choose books you would like to read in the next year. Store all other books in plastic bins.  Use extra space for small decorations or pictures
Sort any other items in “keep” or “giveaway/sell” piles and remove any items from room that do not belong

March 12, 2011

Considering Types of Homes - The Earthbag house

Rather than try to explain the ins and outs of an earthbag house I'll just send you do an informative link.  Then we can share why an earthbag house is one of our top preferences.

The Sandbag House

Our favorite things about the sandbag house:
1) We could do it ourselves.
2) Extremely Energy Efficient
3) Healthy
4) Inexpensive

The reason I call it an "earthbag" house is because the bags can be filled with the right material for your climate.  If we consider this type of home more seriously we can discuss the type of medium we would choose to fill our bags with in more detail.

When Jake first presented this idea to me he asked what I thought about living in a round house. I said I would go crazy because rooms are supposed to be square, not irregularly half moon shaped or something. He then made a good point about how much more efficient it is in terms of heating the home. Although I'm not sold on it, I'm not completely against it because he does have a good point. It's nice to know that Sandbag houses don't have to be round.

This is just one option, but seems to be our favorite at this point.

March 10, 2011

Considering Types of Homes - The Yurt

What is a Yurt?  Take a look at these links with photos:

Spirit Mountain Yurts
Living in the Round
Colorado Yurt Company

 Jake is much more sold on a yurt as a permanent dwelling than I am.  To me it seems like a really big comfortable tent for camping.  It just doesn't fit the efficient home idea I envision, but it's an option, no doubt. There is also no question that the cost of yurts are extremely affordable and would leave room for us to save save save.  We could potentially live in a yurt while building a more permanent structure. We could then have the yurt as a guest house for family when they visit, pending whatever municipal codes we'd have to work with.

March 9, 2011

How to clear our debt/sell our house.

After looking at comparable houses on the market in our area it brought us to a place of  "whoa, we are not going to sell our house for what we listed it for."  Long story short, we are considering a short sale.

A few pros to doing a short sale:
1) Quicker sale of house
2) Better chance to clear debt completely
3) Less consequences than a foreclosure

A few cons of a short sale:
1) Credit loss - which leads to
2) Lack of loan possibilities for about 2 years
3) Affects the value of neighbors homes (but would lower their property taxes)

At this point in the planning stage we are excited to see some available land and need to keep in mind all variables when it comes to a land purchase.  It would be wise for us to have a transitional dwelling in order to save up for the right land. 

We have written up a couple plans for transitioning comfortably before we build our home.  This will help to ease any rush in picking land or having to live in rustic condition with our toddler.

We don't think that "going off grid"  means giving up certain necessities of life that we are accustomed to.  Certain conveniences may need to be done without for a time, but after the transition we believe we will have a quite comfortable lifestyle to enjoy and be grateful for. Not to mention, completely free of debt!  This is the end goal we desire most. 

March 8, 2011

Why leave the neighborhood?

Why not go off the grid in the home we currently own?

1) Financial walls that can not be taken down.  With the current debt we owe on our home we would not be able to afford solar/wind that we desire to have in our new home. At this point we are pouring about $800/month just into interest.  We might as well be renting a 3 bedroom apartment!  I do think, on the contrary, that those who can go off grid in the city or town they live in is much more beneficial to everyone.

2) Old home=poor insulation=inefficient=Loss of energy.  It's not that we are seeking to redefine everything for everyone.  It's just that we are not satisfied with status quo.  We want the best for our children and a drafty bedroom is not healthy, among other things. Fixing the efficiency of our home is not really a financial step we can take among the many other repairs we need to keep up with on the house.  This is just one factor of many that make us desire to move to the country.

3) "If we lived in the country we could ___"  I can't say how many times we've said or thought this.  Yes, there are so many conveniences we may live with out in the country but the things we desire to do in the country are worthwhile beneficial things, not conveniences. Such as, but not limited to, bonfires to burn paper waste and resourceful animals (out door animals-I'm not a fan of animals inside our home.)  My 2 year old son agrees with me that we should have bunnies and goats. (We did have to clarify that the word was "goats" because it sounded like he wanted to milk "ghosts"!)

4)  We have striven in the last few years to eat less processed foods and more fresh produce.  The best organic produce we have found is in the country markets. Not only would we be able to grow some of our own, but we'd be able to more readily find the local farmers and friends who grow what we need.

5) Woods!  In the woods you have a) privacy b) cleaner air c) privacy.

It's not that we don't see the need for certain regulations to be in affect when there are many people living in close proximity to each other, we just see a need in doing the above things to enhance the quality of life and financial freedom. Which brings me to my next point.

6)  We find in the country the availablility and possiblity to make the financial decisions we need to without worry as much about "building code" or whether we can work on our own car in our driveway. Yes, our current city ordinances do not allow homeowners to work on their own vehicles in their driveway. This is just and example of how some people are not able to effectively use their money the best way they see possible.

Are there other reason you can think to move to the country?  I'm sure I could think of more if I thought more about it.

March 7, 2011

The Big Picture

Each of these big picture steps deserves its own post, but for now here is the time line we have come to agree on at this point. Of course this is all subject to change as life comes at us.

Sell house-saving money while waiting for sale
Continue to simplify our living
Move to mobile home community
Save for Land and future home approx 2-5 years
Purchase Land
Work weekends and camping on land

Save like crazy
Build permanent home
Work hard on land and find a few animals to care for and use as a resource.
Build our retirement and inheritance savings for our children.

I have to say how good this is for our marriage.  We are really learning more about how to communicate respectfully and lovingly with each other and care for each others desires, ideas, and convictions. Mind you I'm sure we will have struggles and frustrations, but it will be worth it.

Going off the Grid is not Social Independance

I am a great example of a person who loves to be with people and have social interaction. It is actually one of my biggest concerns as I consider moving out into the country.

Some would go so far as to say that going off grid is not wise because you are separating yourself from society. This type of thought is one I tend to have, but I have come to disagree with this.  The very essence of what we are trying to do is to contribute to the solution of society issues.  Our very motivation is the saying "Be a fountain, not a well"  illudes to the idea of generosity and giving of our abundance instead of squandering it for our own convenient living.

Jake made a really good point this morning when we were discussing how far to move and my social concern for not seeing friends.  He said "how often do you see 'so and so' anyway?" To which I replied "once a week if that."  I realized that most of my exchanges with this friend were via email and sometimes to plan the monthly playdate with the kids. We also discussed our weekly or biweekly visit to come to town to see family and close friends.  Another note is we would be the people who live out on some land who would be able to offer a fun camping weekend for our friends and family. That is also not mentioning the new local friends we would make when we search out local farm raised meat and fresh local produce or to offer our own crop as well.

So let's look practically at how an off grid lifestyle can be socially rewarding and fulfilling.

1) Financially debt free you are able to give abundantly for the things you believe in or desire to support.
2) If you are a DIY off grid person you learn a lot of important skills for taking care of your home. You'd be able to help neighbors with housing difficulties and offer alternatives that are reusable and sustaining
3) The trend is typically one that looks to local produce and livestock for food sources.  This contributes to our social experience by doing local trade with opportunities such as co op and exchanges for commodities.
4) A lack of conveniences bring communities together. Beyond food there are many ways to support local businesses.  The idea of supporting certain individuals rather than the certain big corporation is much more socially rewarding.

5) We would be together as a family, which I believe is the most important social network anyone will ever have.  As we build our family on this land we are a small community of people working together and interacting with each other. My husband works from home which would make life a lot more bearable to me.

Can you think of other ways off the grid living can be socially beneficial?  Please share!

March 5, 2011

Why We Are Transitioning Off the Grid

If this blog ever hits any number of readers I think one of the first questions people would ask us would be why on earth we have decided to do such a drastic lifestyle change.  Here are our reasons.

1)  Getting out of Debt a.k.a Living Within our Means - this is the main reason and top priority for us going off grid. Being independent financially is a) the responsible thing to do, and b) it's the real solution to America's issues on a minuscule scale. Apparantly many people have justified and explained away their debt. People started doing this so much that at some point getting into debt even over 100k became the norm that was not frowned upon at all. After the research and figuring we have done we've decided this trend of thought is completely appalling and irrational.
      You may say "but you have to wait it out. In "X" number of years the value will go up and you'll get your money back eventually." The most common one we heard was "A home is an investment." Let me explain why this advice was not productive for us. Last year we considered refinancing (which we could not do because we didn't own 10% of the home). After doing some math we found we would eventually pay extremely more, almost double, than the actual value of the home.  If we completed our mortgage schedule as planned we would be spending over $250,000 over the 30 year life of the mortgage.  A home valued at $136,000 in 2007 is not going to reach more than $250,000 in 30 years, especially not in this economy.  There are times that I have truly felt had.  Not by the bank, but by the common idea spread throughout our society that "living above your means is not wrong".

This point was long, but it is our main motivation and reason to be different and go off the beaten path, not to prove a point, but to do what we think is right for our family's long term goals.

2) The Healthful Lifestyle - There are many ways in which this simple life/self sustaining life is good for a person. I think most people would agree when I say that going off grid could be morally beneficial to anyone.   In our journey we do wish to garden, have a few farm animals, and become somewhat self sustaining with food. This, to me is really the most exciting part of going off the grid.  The other day I got excited when I saw a cheese vat on sale on craigslist. I became a giddy school girl with all the possibilities of my homemade goat cheese and having my own chicken eggs. Also the hard work that goes into being "eco-friendly"  is good for a person.  Working hard builds character and gets you off your rear end to make yourself beneficial to your family and the community.

3) The Joy and Learning of living in Nature - If you can stand to live a little out of the way from family and friends you can usually find some good priced pieces of land.  We are excited to look for a wooded lot around 5 acres to live, garden, tend to, and play. Jake grew up on 11 acres of wooded land.  He has many fond childhood memories of being in the woods and wouldn't trade it for anything. As we see our family growing it is something we desire to see our kids have. There are many opportunities to teach our children about life and living.

4) Be a Fountain, Not a Well -  I heard this saying a while ago in the car and it hit me like a ton of bricks.  It really is the ultimate selfless motivation for becoming self-sufficient.  Being "self-sufficient" does not have to  mean never asking for help or never letting anyone in your life.  It means taking care of yourself so you can help others.  If we constantly take take take and never give of our abundance what good will that ever do for anyone?  Jesus said "It is better to give than to receive." This is really the spiritual foundation of the top three reasons."  You could also say it is better to serve than to be served.  Helping others is rewarding, is it not?  So we as Americans need to stop saying "I need help" and start saying "I can do it, you can to, and we can help each other."

There is our vision in a nutshell.  We look forward to sharing our journey with whoever is interested in this "off the grid" lifestyle.