Tag Archives: off-grid

Off-Grid: Spring

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At the beginning of the year, I made a list of goals that I hoped we would accomplish throughout 2014. One of those goals was to live off-grid for one week each season (read about winter here).

We enjoyed being off-grid quite a bit (we did it for 6 weeks), but decided that we do like some aspects to electricity (of course): namely, the fridge. Until we find a better option, we will continue to plug in the fridge; we will also use the vacuum-cleaner. It isn’t difficult to live without it, but it certainly makes cleaning a much quicker process. We brought in a small radio but have yet to bring in any electrical lighting. We have two solar-powered lamps for reading and knitting, and a few oil lamps for ambient lighting.

Evenings: Our evenings were spent working on projects for the most part (Mike improved little things in the yurt that made a big difference to our day-to-day tasks; I worked on a sweater for Alma, along with a quilt for her bed).

Days: Aside from the lack of music, not much was different from regular days.

What We Liked: Again, the quiet was nice. I enjoyed not listening to the news every hour and was happy to keep my head in the sand for a few weeks.

What We Missed: The fridge and the freezer. Once the weather warmed up, it became a real challenge to keep food from spoiling.

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Off-Grid: Winter

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At the beginning of the year, I made a list of goals that I hoped we would accomplish throughout 2014. One of those goals was to live off-grid for one week each season.

It is quite easy to be off-grid in the winter, we found out. The warmth of the stove along with the soft glow of oil lamps made for calm, quiet evenings spent with tea and good books. We didn’t miss the fridge as it was cold enough on our porch to keep our food fresh (and cold enough outside to keep things frozen).

Evenings: After Alma fell asleep in the evenings, we read books, worked on projects (knitting, sewing, house), or just hung out. Evenings were much quieter than usual without the temptation to watch a movie. We went to bed a couple hours earlier than usual.

Days: Not much changed. We sang a lot while working and playing since there was no background music with which to hum along.

What We Liked: I loved knowing that my options for entertainment were limited; it was easier to focus on books or projects when there were only a few choices.

What We Missed: I missed the vacuum-cleaner the most. Sweeping the carpet just doesn’t give you the same satisfaction as vacuuming. I also missed listening to Tonic (jazz) in the evenings.

Thoughts from a Pregnant Woman in a Tiny Cabin

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Journal from September 27, 2012 [33 weeks pregnant; living in a small cabin with electricity]

Growing up in Canada resulted in my having a fairly privileged upbringing. I was the only child of divorced parents (one of whom lived in Europe for a chunk of my childhood) and therefore I was pretty spoiled. I spent my summers travelling around Europe; I watched a lot of television and was fairly “plugged in” to technology. Perhaps this is why many people question my sincerity when I say things like “I’m excited to live off-grid in a yurt,”.

True, I have morphed from a MuchMusic-watching teenager to a strong CBC Radio supporter, and my tastes have changed from store-bought cannelloni to homemade curries. I no longer have a television, internet, or running water. My bathroom is an uncovered outhouse (perfect during the dry summer, slightly less convenient during a rainy autumn). I shower at the gym, at friends’ houses, or at my in-laws’ once or twice a week rather than in my own bathroom each morning. I write emails offline and save them for when I am in a wifi area.

Why the change? Why did I go from a climate-controlled home in the city to a 120 sq. ft. cabin next door to my in-laws? The expected and assumed answer is that I followed my husband, which is, of course, true. However, I love our lifestyle and I prefer the woods to  a flushing toilet. I love the ease of being able to pee whenever I need to (which is terribly often now that I am nearly 8 months pregnant). I like that when I wake up in the night I have a view of the stars that one rarely gets to see. I like that our cabin gets cold at night and warm during the day. I like that, because our space is limited, we have only our favourite things displayed. I like that we have an old radio that fills our cozy home with jazz each night, and I love that I am learning to live without a tap.

Living humbly allows us to work less and travel more. Although my husband never stops working (whether he is building a Land Rover, making pottery, or harvesting vegetables), he enjoys his work and does not feel it is a job. Luckily, when I am teaching, I also enjoy my work. At the moment I am not teaching; rather, I am preparing for the baby (which means sleeping a lot more during the day than ever before). So despite making a fraction of what our friends make in a year, we feel extremely rich and don’t feel deprived in any way. We have spent the past few months working and travelling together, which is more than I could ever ask for.

We are building the yurt ourselves and in such a way that it is costing approximately one year’s worth of rent. So far, all of the wood is our own (cut down from my in-laws’ woods) and we have only had to buy a few supplies (canvas, wool felt, nylon cord). The yurt has cost about $5000 so far, so I am estimating that when all is said and done it will cost between six and seven thousand (this includes flooring, plumbing, etc.).

Update: The yurt ended up costing around $7000 total. 

Farewell, Winter

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Winter seemingly flew by this year despite having lasted a solid 6 months. Always armed with an extra pair of leggings and a wool sweater, I felt confident staring down the cold winter days. The weather outside was pretty frightful sometimes, but the fire inside was indeed delightful.

February brought a lot of pancake breakfasts, for no apparent reason, which made the month more exciting. Alma discovered that she enjoys stirring pancake batter.

oops

I spent most winter evenings reading or working on a knitting or sewing project. I read a few great books, as well as a few not-so-great ones. On the craft front, I didn’t accomplish anything remarkable, but I enjoyed my time.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

I spent a good deal of time researching and planning our vegetable garden. We ordered our seeds early and were raring to go at the beginning of March; however, due to the three feet of snow and the -20 nights, the season has been pushed back a few weeks so we didn’t plant until near the end of March. We have a quite a few little plants in the yurt now and our home has become a glorified greenhouse.

Last day of March

Last day of March

Happy New Year!

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Happy 2014!

In 2014 we are hoping to:

Yurt

  • finish our bathroom (install a tub so that we don’t have to shower at the in-laws’ in the winter)
  • build a new front door for the yurt (one with a window that doesn’t let the frost in)
  • build a bed/room for the wee one

Farm

  • plant things on-time and stagger certain vegetables (lettuce, carrots) so we can enjoy eating them all summer and don’t have to harvest everything at once
  • join a farmers’ market and sell our produce
  • take a permaculture course

Life

  • stop being such hoarders and learn to live with less
  • become an organized person (develop a semblance of a regular schedule; keep house clean at all times (ha); dazzle husband with array of home-cooked meals)
  • succeed at random challenges (e.g. have nice hair without shampoo; bake gluten-free sourdough bread that actually tastes good; live completely off-grid for one week each season) – we are open to suggestions if you have a crazy idea that you’d like to see come to fruition!

Bathtub

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Journal from January 2, 2013

We have been slowly improving in our ability to keep the yurt at a decent temperature. Even when it is quite cold outside we can keep it warm if it isn’t windy. The stove accumulates ashes fairly quickly, though, so we have to empty them often in order to keep the heat pumping. Since Christmas, the temperature has been between 15 and 21 degrees celsius, for the most part, even when it is -20 outside.

I gave Alma her first yurt bath today. I warmed up water on the stove and bathed her nearby so that she wouldn’t get chilled. I also hung her towel on the stove so that she’d feel cozy when she was done. It is surprisingly easy to bathe her in here. I usually bathe her in the big tub at my in-laws, but from now on I think I will bathe her in her little tub in the yurt.

First bath in the yurt.

First bath in the yurt.

We haven’t hooked our tub up to any plumbing, so I have yet to bathe in the yurt. I am really looking forward to being able to have a bath/shower in here. For the past 6 months I have been showering in a myriad of places: outside (Mike set up an outdoor shower for the summer), at the gym, at friends’ places, and at my in-laws.

I am excited for when I won’t have to rely on other people for my own cleanliness.

All in good time.

A Visit from the Midwife

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Journal from December 19th, 2012

They say that you forget about your own general cleanliness after you have a baby, and I am no exception. Alma smelled of milk and I looked like filth, so when the midwife called to say she could visit us tonight, I felt that bathing was necessary. We packed our bath things and went to visit the grandparents and use their tub. It will be an exciting day when I can take a bath in the yurt.

When we got back, we had about an hour before the midwife arrived so I cleaned the yurt while feeding the wee one. Itwas a bit of a challenge, but not too bad. I have to say, nothing motivates me to clean more than the threat of company.

When she arrived, the midwife weighed the baby, checked her heart, and measured her head. She said that everything looked great and wished us a merry Christmas. I’m so glad that Alma is healthy and doing well. I also love hearing confirmation from medical professionals that she is healthy and doing well. I swore I wouldn’t worry about my kids the way my Mom worried (worries – present tense) about me, but I can already see that I am just like her. From what I hear, lots of mothers feel this way, so I am in good company.

The Yurt’s First Overnight Guests

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Journal from December 17th, 2012

Nate and Hannah came to visit this weekend. We pulled out lots of extra blankets and set up the futon so they could sleep in the yurt with us. Thankfully, they are both really laid back and didn’t mind the lack of running water.

Nate has been entertaining us with Christmas songs on his fiddle, and they have both been helping with food, dishes, wood, and holding Alma. One couldn’t ask for better guests.

Mike cooking; Hannah napping; Nate making music

Mike cooking; Hannah napping; Nate making music

I hope that they weren’t awoken too many times last night by Alma’s grunting and slurping. She was really hungry and kept making really loud noises.

It snowed yesterday and is still snowing now, so it is really beautiful outside. Maybe we will cut down our Christmas tree soon.

The yurt has been a really nice temperature since yesterday. I feel so much happier about life when I’m not cold.

I should probably go stoke the fire now.

Pros and Cons of Yurt Life

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Pros

  • peaceful and quiet in a way similar to a cottage
  • makes one appreciate simple things
  • free heat (if you don’t count the man hours)
  • we can hear the birds
  • nice and sunny inside because of skylight
  • we can look at the stars at night from the coziness of our bed
  • it is much cheaper than living in an apartment
  • we use less water and electricity than we normally would
  • great for having friends over
  • there is always something to do

Cons

  • can’t leave for more than four hours without the yurt becoming an ice box in the winter
  • we have to get up multiple times in the night to stoke fire in the winter
  • dishes and laundry take a lot longer than usual
  • it takes a lot of effort to heat the place
  • it is too hot to keep fire going on warm days, so we must do all cooking/baking/washing early in the morning or late in the evening when the stove is hot
  • hornets are interested in our home and continue to find their way in but not out
  • we have a resident vole who lives with us; he is polite and discrete, however I’d still rather he stay outdoors
  • wind has been a big issue multiple times (it tried to blow our roof off a few times)
  • after two weeks of nearly constant rain, the roof started to leak and the yurt smelled like a wet sheep for a couple days
  • there is always something to do

The Yurt Life

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Yurt in the Winter

yurt |yoŏrt; yərt|
noun
a circular tent of felt or skins on a collapsible framework, used by nomads in Mongolia, Siberia, and Turkey

Mike and I have been discussing the possibility of building a yurt for about a year. Our intention is to build as much of it ourselves as we can, set it up before next winter, and live off-grid for a while. As you can imagine, we have received a very mixed bag of reactions from our friends and family. When we mention that we plan to live in a yurt, some people light up excitedly and express sincere happiness for us while others suddenly transform into broody teenagers who disagree with anything abnormal and hit us with “the look”. You know the look: think back to high school and imagine that one guy or girl who refused to accept anyone or anything new – the judgemental stare down that you received from them as a teen when you tried to do something out of the box is the same look we have received from a few of our friends. Thankfully, the most common reaction is not “the look” but is both well-intentioned and humourous: an awkward, high-pitched, if not flustered “Oh…that’s interesting.” This is perhaps the best reaction one could give because it is painfully obvious to us that this person can imagine nothing worse than living in a yurt, yet they still try to encourage us in our endeavours. Regardless of the reaction, people have a lot of questions that I have tried to answer the best I can.

Yurta Interior

What will you do in the winter?
The yurt will be very well insulated (well insulated for a tent, at least) with layers of wool felt and canvas. It will protect us from the elements while [hopefully] keeping the heat in. We bought a Rayburn wood stove a while ago that we will use as our cooking stove, hot water heater and boiler (for radiators). Evidently, when the fire has not been stoked for a while the yurt will feel like a round ice box, so wool sweaters and socks will abound, but we should be able to live comfortably the rest of the time.

What about electricity?
We are looking into a few options – solar panels, stationary bikes, and using our truck to charge deep-cycle batteries and we have a few oil lamps that will provide us with light sans electricity. We will have to cut back on our electricity usage – a lot – in order to live in the yurt, but this feels like an adventure so it seems fun. We have a gramophone and a pile of records, so even on the days when we have absolutely no power stored up, we can listen to music. My laptop can be charged at work or the library, and our cell phone can be charged in the car.

What will you do about a bathroom?
This has been one of my questions as well, and is perhaps the most difficult to answer because I only know theoretically what we plan to do – Mike is the mastermind and has a plan. He intends to build a cistern or water tank to hold rain water that will be heated by the Rayburn; this water will be used for dishes and showers. A composting toilet seems is the favoured option, as far as toilets go, as it uses no water, is practical in a yurt, and apparently does not smell. The bathroom is the part that most people will get hung up on, and that is completely understandable.

Yurt Interior

What will you do for potable water?
Eventually, it would be nice to filter our own rain water, however, for the time being, we will fill up jugs of water in town.

Obviously, the yurt life is not for everyone. Maybe it isn’t even for us. We might get into our yurt and decide after a year that we don’t like the lifestyle. For now, however, the benefits of a nomadic, off-grid home far outweigh the disadvantages and we are really excited about the whole process.