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Green living: Off the grid families pioneer sustainable energy lifestyles

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Mr. Hall, an outdoor-skills instructor, and his wife, Alicia Bliss Hall, a natural healer, live in a kind of off-the-grid neighborhood with another young couple: Jason Brake, a professional muralist, and his wife, Diana Styffeler, a mountain bike excursion leader. Their two cabins, nestled in temperate rain forest, are powered with electricity that comes exclusively from solar panels mounted on a wagon that they wheel around the property to catch the best rays. Their water comes from a swiftly flowing stream; wood-burning stoves heat the cabins and even an outdoor hot tub; and indoor, waterless composting toilets built decoratively out of tree stumps mean they don't need a sewer system. They're installing a hydropower system in the stream that will add to the solar power.

Their existence appears quite rustic – and the "sustainable" lifestyle depends a whole lot on them to sustain it with such work as wood chopping and wagon pulling. But they say they have all the creature comforts they need, and – if February's record snowstorm is any gauge – some their neighbors need, too. When public power outages left on-the-grid neighbors in dark and chilly homes, a dozen of them congregated in the Halls' self-sufficient glow: a lighted cabin, where they cozied up to the wood stove, recharged their cellphones, and even enjoyed a soak in the hot tub.

"We didn't even realize the power had gone out until our friends started coming over looking for refuge," says Ms. Hall.

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Off-the-grid living for Paula and William Cirone has a more suburban look and feel, as well as a different motive. In 2001, the Texas natives moved to central Illinois, where Mr. Cirone was taking over a family company. Their hearts were set on buying and building on woodland near Farmington that he had hunted and fished two decades before. But an issue over easements meant the utility company could not extend lines to connect to their new home. Going off the grid was the only way to realize their dream.

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