1800 Watts Of Freedom - The Story part 1
Categories: Life Stories, Energy, Homesteading
After my recent posting of a picture of my solar panels and woodshed, it seems that there is at least some interest in a "write-up" on our system. While I love to talk about our "off grid" home, I feel it's just as important, if not more important to provide some idea/backstory about how we arrived at the point we're at now. Without knowing the whole story, folks might get the idea that this lifestyle could be purchased by anyone. That being said, I do think someone with unlimited resources could make it work, but the cost would be ridiculous.
We started out just like most couples here in western Maine. We've been married for 27 years now, and our two children are now grown, and living their own "adult" lives.
Somewhere along there, my wife and I became more or less disillusioned with "the system" and widely accepted idea of the "American dream". At some point it became clear that although we owned our own home, we would be making mortgage payments until I was in my early 70s. Don't get me wrong, our home was very nice, situated on a beautiful 4 acre lot, with a long section of river frontage on the bank of the Androscoggin river. We had a driveway that was about 300' long, a nice garden, and a big green lawn where we had watched our kids play, and grow. The house payments were pretty affordable too, mostly because the land had been in my family for generations. We started out with an old aluminum house trailer on the same lot, and lived in that for nearly 10 years while we paid off our original bank loan for the trailer, well, and septic system. If i remember correctly, our original loan was around $15,000.
Our kids were steadily growing, and after we got the loan paid off, we decided it was time for a upgrade.
In 1998 we bought a new double-wide, and put it on a full basement on the knoll just behind our old house trailer, which we had removed from what was to be our new front yard. We lived in that house right up until just over a year ago.
In a lot of ways, that house would have been the perfect small homestead for most people. The payments were low, but with the low interest rates, and the loan being a variable interest rate, we knew things could change fast.
I had a friend who had been living off grid for many years, and the idea really appealed to me. Not so much on a "save the planet" level, but more of the independent living side of things. I also had another close friend who built a hunting/fishing camp up in northern Maine about that time. We went up there on our own a few times, and neither of us could believe how much more relaxed we were whenever we were there. The camp was pretty primitive, with a outhouse, gas stove, gas lights, etc. But the camp did get us thinking about going off grid.
I did a lot of research, and asked a lot of questions. We knew what we wanted, but it just didn't seem like we could ever afford the stuff we'd need to make it work. We did however make the decision to sell our house, and land, and find someplace further out of town and probably smaller, that we could buy outright with the money we got from our other house, and woodlot. We found a good realtor, and the signs went up.
About the time the woodlot sold, our house went under contract, and all of a sudden we needed to go house shopping. The idea was to get out of town, but still be within around 30 miles from my workplace. At this point I should probably point out that I am a Millwright/ Maintenance Mechanic. This means that I work on, and maintain large industrial equipment, in my case in a sawmill. So I have a pretty wide set of skills. This isn't, or wasn't anything uncommon in this area. My hometown of Bethel used to be mostly supported by the forest products industry, but now things have turned more toward skiing, and tourism.
The tourism thing has driven up the taxes, and home prices right along with them.
We looked at a LOT of homes, and it was pretty consuming for a while. One of us was always on the laptop, or talking to our realtor, sometimes both at once. We'd spend our weekends driving around, looking at places, taking notes, doing research, all the stuff you'd expect. We had closing dates on our house and land, and we rented some storage units to hold all of our stuff. We were looking at everything selling, all of our bills being paid, but being homeless with a big checking account. That might seem cool, but this was in December, in the middle of ski country. They call Maine "Vacationland" for a reason. So we were looking at weeks in a hotel, during peak season, not to mention that we had to find a place that allowed dogs. There was no way we could leave our beagle/basset behind. We spent Christmas that year with a mostly empty house. We had put nearly everything in storage except a couple of camp chairs, our bed, and the coffee maker.
About that time, my wife stumbled on a real-estate listing for the house that we ended up buying. It seemed to good to be true, and in some ways, it was.
The house itself was a full two story colonial, with 2,000 sq feet of living space, plus a full basement. Three bedrooms, 2.5 baths. All this, and it was off grid too. The house had been built in 2008, and had been designed with off grid living in mind. The place was overbuilt, and insulated to the max. The previous owners had spared no expense on materials.
Now the sad part, the previous owners had turned the place back over to the bank because the couldn't make a go of it. They suffered several setbacks, that left them with more than one mortgage, a ruined battery bank, a ruined generator, and no way forward.
The property was "bank owned" and had been vacant for 4 years. The bank had sent in a crew to