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off the grid

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Majestic Bus - Front

Located in Herefordshire is a cozy 1960′s bus conversion available for overnight stays. The hosts, Rob and Layla, acquired the bus with the intention of converting it into a camper for themselves, but then decided it was just too big for that.

They live on rural property that’s completely off the grid where they raise seasonal cut flowers. The bus rental supplements their seasonal cut flower business income.  The site is private & quiet with a fire pit and a couple of spots to pitch small tents.

Inside the bus you’ll find a double bed, wood stove, comfy seating and a little kitchen. The bus sleeps up to four people, two on the bed and two on the convertible seating. The bathroom is located in a separate hut just outside the bus. The most notable feature there is the roll-top tub for two – popular with couples.

This is another wonderful example of how a tiny home can be built for alternative purposes. In this case an old bus – which would have found itself junked – was refurbished to provide these folks with an additional income source and vacationers a unique place to stay. Looks like another tiny house win-win to me and a great place to vacation with kids.

For more about the Rob and Layla’s Magestic Bus visit Canopy & Stars.

Majestic Bus - View

Majestic Bus - Wood Stove

Majestic Bus - Interior Looking Back

Majestic Bus - Interior Loooking Forward    Majestic Bus - Beep Beep Vroom Vroom

Majestic Bus - Tub

 

Majestic Bus - Tub Faucet

Majestic Bus - Bath Hut

Majestic Bus - Side

Majestic Bus - Exterior Before

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I was just reading an update on the Urban Rancher‘s blog and was happy to hear he’s getting his cabin ready to go completely off the grid. He won a wind turbine several months ago from and online drawing – and on black friday scored a great deal on a small photovoltaic solar system on Amazon.

It sounded like such a great deal I took a quick look to see if the sale was still running, and sure enough… it is (at the moment I’m writing this). The list price is $599.99 but it’s on sale for $289.99. (for a limited time?)

The panels are only 15 watts each, for a total of 60 watts for the system. So this seems like a nice place to start for a frugal little cabin like the Urban Rancher‘s. It would also be a handy little system for coping with an extended blackout. I’ve not decided to buy it myself yet, but will definitely consider it for powering my soon to be built home office.

Below is a recent photo of the Urban Rancher‘s tiny cabin located in a remote spot in the mountains outside Los Angeles.

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Imagine an enormous intentional community of 2,000 residents, all living sustainably off-the-grid. This is what Nick Rosen is noodling over since working on his book, Off the Grid.

As he traveled while researching stories for his book, he met many people making off-the-grid lives work in remote places. But he also learned how tough it can be to do it all alone. Nick found that the folks making it work well, relied a wider network of people. From this exploration the idea to create a sizable sustainable off-grid community came together.

To do it right he figures he’ll need to raise about $200 million. That seems like a lot of money but he’s of the mind that to make it successful from the start there would need to be the right mix of infrastructure and expertise in place. The cost of an average home would cost in the $150,000 range.

Nick says he is currently working to build the multi-disciplinary team, and the secure the funds that will be needed. He’s also on the lookout for land, possibly in the form of an investment in the project. In fact he told me, “I will swap my first edition of Walden for 25 acres of South facing mixed farming and woodland.”

We’ve not chatted about the possibilities of tiny houses, but I suspect Nick would be open to listening to just about any off-the-grid sustainable living strategy. Who knows… maybe this off-the-grid city dream of Nick’s could include a tiny house eco-village as one of the neighborhoods.

To learn more about living off-grid visit Nick’s website, off-grid.net.

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I’ve not read my copy of Twelve by Twelve yet, but I was happy to see that David at The Good Human has posted his review of this new book.

After spending some years abroad doing humanitarian work, William Powers came back to the U.S. and experienced a dose of culture shock. He had an opportunity to live in a tiny 12′ by 12′ off-grid tiny house in North Carolina. The book is less about living off the grid and more about questioning values, personal growth, and discovery.

Read David’s review of Twelve By Twelve – by William Powers


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Solar Burrito’s off-the-grid cabin is coming along nicely. On their most recent visit they finished up the sheathing and sealed it up tight with house wrap. Originally they had a yurt in this same location but it caved in last winter under the weight of snow; so they bought a kit from Penny Pincher Barns and have been steadily building this little dream cabin. It’s located up on shared remote property on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State and you can follow along at the Solar Burrito Blog.

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It’s easy to take flush toilets, grid-power, and fresh water on tap for granted. I can’t blame any of us for thinking that all these modern conveniences are normal… it’s the onlynormal we’ve known. Due to this most folks have a hard time imagining an off-the-grid life because it’s not clear what’s needed to make the leap.

So here’s a crash course in practical and sustainable solutions for moving yourself off-the-grid.

Photo of The Urban Rancher and his off-grid cabin.

Pee and Poop

Flush toilets are really insane when you stop to think about what they do. They begin by taking several gallons of perfectly good drinking water and mix it with a little pee and poop to produce sewage. Sewage is a mess and really hard to turn back into safe drinking water; but it is easy to transport to treatment plants through enormous networks of pipes, an infrastructure that need regular maintenance. To clean it up, chemicals are used to treat the water which in-turn keeps everyone in the chemical business very happy. Isn’t there a better way!?

Compost it! – Poop loves to decompose and if given a little time and the right conditions it breaks down into rich compost, yes even human poop. Remember we’re just critters just like the our furry friends and our poop will actually decompose into a safe compost, under the right conditions.

Humanure Handbook – A fellow by the name of Joseph Jenkins has actually written an book on the topic called the Humanure Handbook.  He’s also designed a toilet nicknamed, The Lovable Loo, which is essentially a 5 gallon plastic bucket in a plywood box. You might also hear these toilets referred to as sawdust toilets because sawdust is literally used to cover the deposits between visits.

The other component you need with this system is a dedicated compost pile out in the backyard with enough space to cook your poop for two years. The stink stays buried in the compost pile under a layer of straw. When you need to add a bucket load you simply pull back the straw, add the fresh material, and cover it back up. So there is some stinky work involved but the the chore is a simple one. This may also be the most sustainable, low-tech, and safe way to turn our waste into something useable.

Commercial Composting Toilets – If the virtually free sawdust toilet seems far too gross, consider spending around $1,000 for a commercially produced composting toilet. These units work swiftly to decompose the material making them more palatable by most folks. If you move your tiny house around a lot this kind of system would be much more practical than a Lovable Loo too, because it’s self-contained and required no backyard compost pile.

Greywater

Another somewhat tricky waste material to dispose-of is the runoff from sinks, showers, and laundry. This is referred to as greywater which will still have traces of human waste in it, so it can’t just be left to run down the street. In a normal house this water is mixed with sewage to make more sewage. Seems kind of silly doesn’t it?

The solution is to reuse and/or treat the water right there on-site instead of funneling it down a sewer line to a treatment plant miles away. There are many different high-tech and low-tech ways of dealing with greywater but if you choose to build a tiny house be sure to consider handling the plumbing for your sewage separately from your greywater. The people at Earthship Biotecture have an incredible greywater system that is built right into homes and could serve as a model for any home’s future greywater system.

Fresh Water

Instead of drilling a well or tapping into municipal water sources, consider collecting rainwater and storing it in tanks for year-round use. Rainwater harvesting is becoming more and more popular because it’s so simple and low-cost. It can also be perfectly healthy to drink with a little filtration. I wrote-up a detailed post on some ideas for rainwater harvesting which you might find useful.

Electricity

The power grid is an incredibly complex network that requires constant maintenance and monitoring. The entire system is actually incredibly inefficient. For example, line loss, literally the resistance in the wires, sucks electricity from the system before it reaches its destination in your home. To compensate the utility company has to produce more just to defeat the inefficiencies of the system.

Imagine a world where people made their own clean electricity at their point of use. For such a system to remain low-cost we’d need to learn to use less power and move way from using the energy hogging appliances that grew-up dependent on fossil fuel sourced grid power. We’d also need to invest in our own off-grid systems up-front. The good news is that alternative power options are coming down in cost.

Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Panel – Most folks these days are familiar with this technology, panels that produce electricity when exposed to direct sunlight. For a tiny house and a frugal occupant a few solar panels, batteries, and some simple electronic control equipment may be all that’s needed for an off-grid electric system.

Wind Turbine – If you tend to stay put and live in an area with ample wind, a small wind turbine can be a great addition to an off-grid system because it increases the diversity of you power sources. Many off-grid systems also include a backup generator that is used to charge up the batteries when the sun is not shining. By adding other renewable sources of electricity, like wind and hydro, you can reduce your dependency on fossil fuel burning generators.

Micro-Hydro – If your land has water running crossing it, and you have water rights to it, you may be able to tap a small portion of it and spin a small turbine. This can be one of the most reliable and steady ways to produce electricity because as long as the water flows you have water.

All that is needed is a drop in elevation between the inlet and the turbine, some pipe, and a way to get a small portion of the water out of the stream and delivered to the tiny turbine. The inlet can simply be a submerged bucket with a pipe connected that brings the debris-free water downhill to the turbine.

Heating & Cooking Fuels

In most modern homes natural gas, propane, and heating oil are the common fuels burned. But we’re really beginning to see the true cost of using these limited natural resources. If we moved from being dependent on fossil fuels to using renewable energy sources we’d significantly reduce the risk of rising energy costs and continued environmental impacts.

Wood – Burning wood is actually a carbon neutral way of heating a home. When a tree grows it absorbs carbon. When we burn it it releases that same carbon. If we use a highly efficient wood stove in a small living space we can actually get through the winters with little environmental impact and effort. The problem with burning wood for heating a large home is that it would take acres of trees to make it sustainable. Heating a small home requires less energy input which in turn reduces the cost, impact, and effort needed to stay warm in winter.

Methane – Some inventive folks have actually built systems that produce mathane gas from their waste, both human and vegetable. It’s rare to come across this kind of a setup, and they are reportedly a bit tricky to operate, but they can provide a renewable natural gas for cooking and heating.

Alcohol – I’ve not seen this done a great deal but the idea of having a small still for distilling alcohol for burning in an alcohol stove may be a viable alternative on a small scale.

Wrapping Up

In this modern world it’s hard to imagine life without fossil fuels, flush toilets, and fresh tap water. Actually I think it’s perfectly logical to say that without these things our lives would be very different.

Tiny houses are much easier to maintain in good or tough times. Every time we take-on one more square foot, we increase the effort required to maintain our living space. Living more simply and sustainably lowers risk and can increase our opportunities to prosper.

Changing the way we think about the basics is the first step in changing the way we live. Imagining downsizing to a smaller home and owning fewer possessions is a giant step. But it’s a giant leap for most to learn to live without the reliance of modern conveniences. Most of us are still on the way there too, living with a foot in both worlds, testing the water and exploring. I hope this little introduction to alternative utilities helped move you forward.

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I’ve written about this Simple Solar Homestead before but LaMar has made some improvements to his website including the addition of videos and photos of cabins built from the plans in his book. His book is called Simple Solar Homesteading and its 196 pages and costs $19.95. He also sells a $5 ebook called Off-Grid Solar Power.

The  structure of the 14′ by 14′ cabin below can be built for about $2,000 in materials. His book is packed with all sorts of ways to live off-the-grid on a low budget. Back in 2008 I bought an earlier version of this book (as an ebook) and was amazed with all the information inside. It’s exciting to see LaMar expanding his online content and offering and update to his already amazing book.

Visit Simple Solar Homesteading

Photo credit to LaMar Alexander.

Update: The day after I posted this LaMar posted this great little video slide show of how this little cabin was built.

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On Sunday mornings Julia, Katie and I listen to Breakfast with the Beatles, a weekly radio show on KOZT, and dream about moving back to Mendocino County. Julia was surfing the Mendocino County craigslist looking at real estate for fun and found this very interesting tiny house on a bridge. It’s off-the-grid and probably not exactly a legal dwelling but it does sit on 27+ acreas near Philo, California. I’ve posted tiny houses on bridges before on Tiny House Living and just had to share this lucky find with you all. Have a great Sunday!

craigslist tiny house on bridge

Since craigslist posts disappear quickly I saved a screenshot of the original ad.

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A few days ago I posted a short introduction to John’s tiny house out in the desert in Texas and was surprised at the number of other websites that picked up the story, Treehugger was probably the biggest of them all. Well that should make sense, after all I’m not the only one who can spot a great story when he see’s one.

Over the last few days I’ve been digging into John’s vast amount of online content and just at this very moment stumbled on this video of John reciting an original poem. At first you might think this post is completely off-topic but by the end of the following video I suspect John Wells might just be your newest hero too.

John is building a sustainable and self-sufficient homestead on 40-acres in the middle of nowhere in western Texas. The story is inspiring to me because he’s building so much out of so little and makes a frugal man look extravagant. Be sure to read my first post on John’s tiny house and then dig into all the great stuff he’s posted online.

john-wells

Photo and video credit to John Wells. Special thanks to Tim R., one of my regular readers, for introducing me to John’s website and work.

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the-field-lab-tiny-house

The Field Lab, also known as the Southwest Texas Alternative Energy And Sustainable Living Field Laboratory, is the 40-acre desert homestead of John Wells. John had been living in upstate New York for years but had a bit of awakening, like many of us, and decided to make his sustainable homestead dreams a reality. After purchasing his land in October 2007 he built this little house in 8 days for $1,600. It was habitable but needed a little detail work which he completed in about 5 months and for another $800.

John has created what many of us imagine, albeit in a remote and rugged territory. His energy needs are very low and all his electricity comes from a small photovoltaic solar array. His water rains down from the sky and is collected from his tiny roof and stored in a water tank. The desert gets hot and he’s designed a small swamp cooler that keeps his tiny house at 80-degrees fahrenheit even on the hottest days. His toilet is a sawdust toilet. Continue reading for more photos and a link to his website.

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