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Green living: Off the grid families pioneer sustainable energy lifestyles

Once on the fringe, about 750,000 off the grid American households pioneer green living by tapping sustainable energy from the wind, sun, and earth.

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Green living: A sustainable model home at the Greater World Earthship Community just west of Taos, N.M. is one of an increasing number of off-the-grid projects pioneering sustainable energy lifestyles.

John Kehe/The Christian Science Monitor

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Living "off the grid" can conjure fantasies of Swiss Family Robinson-style ingenuity in paradise. Or, for those with less love of roughing it, it can simply remind them of the hardscrabble self-reliance throughout much of the developing world, where millions cook over fires, bathe in streams, and consider the glow of a bare light bulb a luxury.

In the United States, off-the-grid living – without relying on government entities or utility companies to provide electricity, heat, gas, and water – often is associated with gritting it out on the survivalist fringe.

But an increasing range of Americans are leading a snug, even smug, lifestyle totally or mostly unhitched from public utilities. Using nature – the sun, wind, water, and the earth itself – they cheaply warm and cool their homes and power everything from a blender to a giant flat-screen TV to a raging hot tub. And with the constant concern about global warming and messy dependence on fossil fuels, it's natural that growing numbers of Americans – "the foot soldiers" of energy independence, as one expert calls them – would begin taking steps to untether themselves from the grid.

For Wayah Hall, going off the grid in a cabin 26 miles from downtown Asheville, N.C., was a way to live in harmony with nature and avoid reliance on electricity that comes from the region's coal-burning power plant that pumps smog into the famous Blue Ridge Mountains haze.

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