Sometimes you just want to get away from it all. And that doesnt mean simply turning the phone off. For some second-home owners it means escaping everyday stress by going off-grid living life more or less unplugged.
The term off-grid means away from the utilities not being connected to an electricity company and such, said Alan Bridgewater, author of The Self-Sufficiency Specialist: The Essential Guide to Designing and Planning for Off-Grid Self-Reliance (New Holland). But it has also to do with a state of mind. While the term was originally used to describe a house in the developed world that by necessity or choice sourced its own energy, the term is also now more and more being used more to describe an independent way of life.
Nick Rosen, editor of Off-grid.net, bought his retirement home this way. I wish I could claim great ideological purity or trend-spotting brilliance, but I stumbled across the off-grid life because it was all I could afford, he said in an e-mail message. I bought a mountaintop shepherds hut in Majorca, home to Michael Douglas and Claudia Schiffer. I did not see why I should wait until I was 50 to afford my retirement home. Mr. Rosen bought his getaway a hut and five acres for $10,000.
So how to do it yourself? Location is everything, Mr. Bridgewater said. Mr. Rosen agreed; he suggested a south- or southwest-facing structure away from a main road.
Practically speaking, youll need to do some research before building your backwoods getaway. Homepower magazine and Mother Earth News are two recommendations from Steve Spence, director of Green-Trust.org, a nonprofit renewable-energy advocate. But then when it comes to actually getting into it to see if its something you want to do for your whole home, he said, I recommend taking a travel trailer or an R.V. or a boat or even one room in your house and move that off-grid. Install some solar panels, put in a battery, put in a generator and plug some loads into it and see how it works.
Thats because energy is usually the first element in disconnecting from the mainstream. Most people who try to move off-grid tackle their electricity needs first, and solar is by far the most popular source of home-produced electricity, said Dave Black, author of Living Off the Grid: A Simple Guide to Creating and Maintaining a Self-Reliant Supply of Energy, Water, Shelter and More (Skyhorse Publishing), scheduled to be published in October. But, as Mr. Spence noted, every situation is different. Some regions are sunny and work better with solar power; others are overcast and blustery and lend themselves to wind power.
Keep in mind that completely do-it-yourself power systems are expensive. But Mr. Spence added, If you go grid-tie, which means connecting your system to the power companys existing services, there are federal and state rebates that can pay for up to half your system. To find out more about these incentives, go to www.dsireusa.org.
The other challenge of completely disconnecting is that you have to be your own power company and do your own maintenance.
The upside, as Mr. Spence sees it, is that the experience will educate you about your energy consumption and how to manage your usage.
If its a nice, bright sunny day and youre doing the laundry, instead of throwing the stuff in the dryer, you might decide to throw it on the line for a few hours, he said. You start adjusting your way of life around some of the natural rhythms of nature.
But that doesnt mean giving up the modern world completely. We have all the goodies, Mr. Spence said of his own home in upstate New York. Weve got the large-screen L.C.D. TVs, high-speed Internet, microwave and the standard stuff you would find in a normal home. We just have to run it off the sun.