Living off the Grid, Part II: Vermont Solar Power

Despite short days and long, cold winters, Kip Tewksbury took a chance that Vermont solar power would work for the needs of his remote mountain home.

| February/March 1994

Kip Tewksbury is building his dream house in the Green Mountains of southern Vermont. The construction site, located in a small clearing on top of a 1,000-foot hill is pretty typical; table saws and planers grind away and lights illuminate the work in the upper floors during the dark afternoons of mid-November. It takes a little while, though, to notice that there are no power lines heading to his house from the street and no meter on the exterior wall recording power use. In fact, the nearest utility pole is the better part of half a mile down the road.

Kip has declared war on the waste and expense of utility power. You might think "Vermont solar power" is an oxymoron, but he is building his home with the intent of powering it using solar energy, avoiding a lifetime of electric bills and utility hassles. His 12 photovoltaic panels produce enough power to keep all their appliances running, even heavy electric tools. With no formal training in either electronics or solar power, Kip was able to bring himself up to speed and install most system components himself in a matter of days. In this second part of a continuing series on alternative energy, we'll tell you Kips story and show that providing solar energy for your new home is both an economically and environmentally beneficial alternative. —MOTHER EARTH NEWS

MOTHER: The frame is impressive. Those timbers look as if they'll last a few years.  

KT: Most of them have already been in service for 100 years or so. They're actually from a 200-year-old Amish summer kitchen that was recently taken down in Pennsylvania. The Amish build communal kitchens because they cook with wood. They don't even use solar electricity that I'm aware of. And in the summertime, rather than overheat everybody's house with a wood stove, each community has a central summer kitchen where they can do all their cooking. Then they can go back to their own homes and stay a little cooler. A friend knew I was looking for cheap timbers and offered them to me, and I traded some longer barn timbers for them. I've added some new ones as well, but for the most part it's a recycled frame.

MOTHER: And you built the foundation and frame yourself?  

KT: My stepson, who's 27, has helped a lot. We've done most of the work so tar.

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