Living Off Grid: Convenience vs Sustainability

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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Green living, off grid and sustainability are words that are often mentioned in a way that would make them interconnected. This isn’t a blog about semantics but rather an analysis of our own progress towards these three terms in the pursuit of our off grid adventure.

It’s not my intention to have a discussion with anyone about what is right or wrong, how far we should go to clean up our act concerning the environment, or where to draw the line between things like pipelines vs. wildlife and other hot topics that headline national and local news. Many of these issues need to be decided on a case by case basis and considerations given to both need and effect.

This blog is more about the choices Laurie and I have made between convenience vs. sustainability in our pursuit to go off grid.

I’m not sure we ever intended to become “green” but rather chose to utilize better practices in some areas of our lives that just made sense. I’m also pretty sure that if you went around asking everyone what “green” meant you would get as many different answers as the number of people you talked to.

I think anything you can do to improve the quality of the world we live in or lessen your impact should be considered green, and I would hope that most people would consider that to be just good common sense.

It makes sense to recycle and reduce waste. It makes sense to use less fossil fuel or emit less smoke, exhaust, or other unhealthy toxins into the air we breathe. How could anyone argue against that?

Laurie has managed to drag me into the recycling world at least to the extent that I now pay attention and participate. We pay attention to the things we do that would cause pollution or other harm to theenvironment and try to keep our impact to a minimum.

We’ve installed a heating system that utilizes the trees we grow on our own property and the emissions from our masonry heater are 95% efficient. We can grow more trees than we need for heat so I consider that to be a plus in the green department.

We’ve become much more efficient and less wasteful in how we purchase goods, use fossil fuels, and how far we go before we replace an item. Many things now get repaired and reused instead of throwing them away.

Over all, I would have to say we’ve made improvements in the green category.

We’ve definitely managed to go off the grid. We manufacture our own solar power, are independent in our waste management with a septic system, and we have our own water source and power to access it.

Sustainability is a whole different animal. We are not 100% sustainable but our off grid experience has put us much closer to sustainable bragging rights than before we moved in here.

We still use propane in our living system. We use it for our stove, dryer, tankless hot water heater, wall heaters (rarely), and backup generator.

We can eliminate the dryer if we want to and often do dry our clothes on a clothes rack inside or outside. Did you know you can save over $285.00 per year by drying your clothes naturally?

We could go without the backup generator if we had to. Just quit using electricity when the sun disappears for days at a time as it often does in our area. Our wall heaters don’t really count because the only reason they are there is if we want to leave the house in the winter unattended and don’t want it to freeze. They are for backup use only.

Our propane stove also doesn’t really count because we had a custom made wood burning masonry stove put in our kitchen that works quite well. So if we REALLY WANTED TO, we could be sustainable with the exception of convenient hot water. Of course we could heat water on our wood fired kitchen stove if we had to. The only reason we don’t have solar hot water is because I wasn’t convinced the current systems available would perform the way we wanted to in the really cold weather and when the sun isn’t available.

For true sustainability you also have to grow your own food. We do have a big garden in the summer and pressure can and freeze a lot of vegetables. We can grow veggies almost all year long in our attached insulated cold frame/raised beds. We pressure can much of the trout we catch in the local lakes. We have chickens for eggs and meat. We even have horses for transportation in a worst case event.

So at this point we are not sustainable but only by choice. We chose the more convenient propane stove, dryer, and hot water appliances over true sustainability.  We chose to draw that line in a different place than others might have but I can still say we are a lot closer to sustainability than we were and we could be sustainable if we truly wanted to be.

I feel good about what we’ve done because I know we have made improvements and are a lot better off than we were. We are greener, more sustainable and we definitely live off grid. I think those are all good things.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website  and