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Living Off-Grid: Not Just for Hippies

There are many things I do intentionally in life, such as quitting a job I love in NYC to travel the world with Francois and relocate to Portugal to build a life I love even more. Or opening a bottle of wine on a Tuesday night, just because. Living off-grid? Not so much.

It happened anyway.

The other day, I was standing in our outdoor shower, enjoying the contrast of hot water and a slight breeze under a clear blue sky, when it struck me that we were doing this crazy thing, all in, and that it included living fully off-grid.

In case you’re curious about what that means or how it happened (which I guess you are or you wouldn’t be reading this in the first place)…

We live in a tiny house (not a fancy one, but a kickass one that measures 15m2) in rural Portugal. The closest village is a 7min drive up a dirt track, and there, they are connected to the mains for electricity and water. We’re not.

Once the romanticism of going without everyday comforts most of us take for granted – here, specifically electricity and running water – got overshadowed by practical considerations (getting water from the nearby village fountain is ok, but if you forget, you can’t drink or do the dishes #oops), we started making a few changes.

To be clear, by “we”, I mean Francois. (Though I cheered him on.)

He Googled and YouTubed his way to understanding how to set up a temporary 1m3 water tank at a water point uphill from the tiny house, and connected it to pipes and to the tiny house. PRONTO! RUNNING WATER!

Then he added to his research by going to Greece for a Free and Real course on renewable energies, and when he got back he set up our photovoltaic system. Not just that, but Francois’ calculations cover up to three consecutive days of no sun (which almost never happens in Portugal, reason #2382 why I love this country). THEN THERE WAS LIGHT!


Though if I am being completely honest, I do miss the candlelit nights – even if they did make reading difficult. They felt so… real.

To complete our off-grid setup are the compost toilet and the outdoor shower. They were built – wait for it – by Francois (surprise!), and sort of out of “laziness” because the tiny house bathroom is currently being used as storage. Oh, and we don’t have a sewage system yet.

The toilet is in the woods, has a cover in case of inclement weather, and a mosquito net against excessive flies (we call it the Princess toilet). The view from that throne is breathtaking.

As for the shower, the water heats up thanks to a black pipe coiled up in the sun, and it’s one of my favorite showers of all time. Decent pressure, the constant hum of nature, birds singing, butterflies visiting (ok so there are sometimes a few flies or gnats in the mix too), blue skies or dramatic clouds overhead, a slight breeze…

Just the other day, a friend of mine tried to call me a hippie. I vetoed. Does this sound like me?

noun: hippie: (especially in the 1960s) a person of unconventional appearance, typically having long hair and wearing beads, associated with a subculture involving a rejection of conventional values and the taking of hallucinogenic drugs.

synonyms: flower child/people, bohemian, dropout, free spirit

If anything, I’d be a champagne hippie, which sounds like a more balanced approach to life. Also, I don’t wear beads (or do hallucinogenic drugs). But I do live an unconventional life apparently, off-grid and everything. And I love it.

But, if it was it up to me, I’d stick with either no labels (because let’s be honest, they are so over-rated) or something along the lines of “farmtrepreneur” or “visionary”. Just saying.

As our project moves forward, we aspire to be as environmentally friendly as possible, and will use renewable energy as much as we can without compromising on comfort. This aligns with our values, true, but it’s also a financial decision: to get connected to the electric grid, the best estimate we have received is in the ballpark of 20,000 euros.

As for living off-grid, it’s really not as crazy as it sounds (we have wifi, after all). If you don’t believe me, come see for yourself!


[Feature photo credit: MyRustyTrailer]


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