Living Off the Grid, Forever

The Hanron homesteading family learned how to live off the grid, cutting their connection to commercial energy sources and utility bills forever.

| June/July 2001

When night falls, John Hanron enjoys the inner peace that comes from switching the inverter in his utility room to search mode; the buzzing transformer goes quiet and is replaced by a faint but perceptible click ... click ... click. Hanron is one of a growing number of middle-class Americans making the financial investment and lifestyle commitment to living off the grid. The ticking is a tiny electrical pulse the inverter uses to seek a load; the moment an electrical circuit is turned on, the inverter powers up, supplying electricity throughout the house. But this ticking tells Hanron nothing has been left on anywhere in his house and that the power harnessed by his solar panels and stored away in the battery bank is safely resting, along with his two kids.

Hanron his wife Elizabeth Russell, and children Amelia, 9, and Duncan, 6, live in a passive solar house designed and largely built by him. The homestead is situated on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains in Twisp, Washington. The home is designed to function off-grid with a modest photovoltaic system in an area that Hanron describes as "the sunny side of the state." Twisp, however, is not without its bad winters.

Even though initial costs for some renewable energy systems may outweigh the short term costs of going with grid power, many middle-income folks, like the Hanrons, are making the investment anyway. For many, the up-front expense of living off the grid is compensated by the knowledge that the electricity powering their lives has been generated by a non-polluting power source. Also, with the grid being subject to the financial and environmental costs of fossil and nuclear fuels, government regulation, outages and shortages, the initial expense of owning a local power source, free from the point of purchase forward, can spare the owner the grave inconveniences and severe economic strains down the road.

Hanron and his family settled in the Twisp area for many reasons. It provides great opportunities for the outdoor activities they enjoy, like cross-country skiing, biking and hiking. The homestead is within biking distance of the nearest town, which again cuts the Hanron's dependence on fossil fuels. John works in town as an editor for the Methow Valley News, a local newspaper, four days a week. Elizabeth is a physician's assistant and treks to town three days a week. Once a week she drives to another town farther away to work in a clinic for migrant laborers.

The family gardens organically and has been fortifying the soil in their half-acre garden while building the house. Though time has been limited for growing and putting up food, they have made a start at preserving some food in jars and in the root cellar connected to the back of the house.

The Hanrons have lived in both mainstream houses and in off-grid, alternative homes, so the transition to their own homestead hasn't been extreme. While they have not yet installed a washer and dryer, the family uses many regular household appliances like a computer, TV, VCR, food processor and stereo.

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