Rob and Louisa's Off Grid Office and Bach

Rob and Louisa's Off Grid Office and Bach

If you're thinking about doing an off grid office or cabin, what you probably don't appreciate at the time, is the freedom that comes with it that at any time it just simply doesn't matter what's going on with the world. You can go over and you know that you've got power. That's pretty cool.
Nicola's Honey House Reading Rob and Louisa's Off Grid Office and Bach 17 minutes Next Wendy and Brett's Cabin


I think the impact on my mental health with getting solar was massive because I can keep working. So while the world is blowing up and the weather has turned to crap, I could go over and I could touch base with my clients and we always had somewhere where we could go and be able to communicate with people.

We don't have mobile signal out here either, so it's really important that we actually have phones that were charged and that we could use, you know,
wi-fi type of things to communicate with. So it's a big relief. It's a lot of peace of mind.

"G'day Rob."

G'day Craig.

"Bit of a drive out here."

Ah yeah it is a bit. Good spot though. It's a beautiful out here, absolutely beautiful. We came out here about 2014 and we just fell in love with the view. We've built a beautiful cabin here. Would you like to see it?

"I'm keen."

Come on.

Hi, I'm Rob, and I'm Louisa. And we're sitting outside my Off-Grid office in South Head. About nine years ago, Louisa and I were living in Kingsland, and we had a young family, and being very central city it had its advantages. But we had close neighbours and no rural outlook. The opportunity came came up to live out here in South Head, it's our main family home. About 50 meters away we have a cabin that we've installed for Louisa, where she operates a digital website
marketing business from.

So the cabin idea had been around for a wee while. We'd always had this, this piece of land and putting something up there, but it really started to get legs during COVID. The teenagers were home, Rob was at home, and we were all in this one space. The kids were trying to do schoolwork. Rob was trying to work on phone a lot.

I was trying to work, do zoom calls like everyone probably dealt with it, but it was just chaotic and I felt, I've got misophonia, so I've got some issues where little noises make me quite - go crazy. So particularly chewing noises. So every time Rob ate I'd just be staring at him like, 'I'm going to kill you', which is what the condition is.

Very quickly, Rob found GridFree and really enjoyed your videos. Could identify with the stories and started looking at what kits that we would want. You made it very easy for us to work out what we needed. At the same time, we were trying to power a Bach that we bought on Great Barrier and the thought was - it's a boat only access. So trying to work out how to get a GridFree system over there and get it installed. It was like a test run for Barrier and that's exactly what happened. It worked out absolutely brilliantly.

"So your house here is on the grid?

That's right.

"You built the cabin out here and it's off the grid."

The considerations were how to get power out here, because what is that? It's about 80 meters from the main property up to the cabin. And that's where we started investigating the solar option. And then with the acquisition of the Barrier property happening, at the same time, there is no mains power on Barrier, so our only choice out there would be solar. So it made sense for us to go solar here if we could. It would be a great exercise in me learning how to do it. And Bunnings and Mitre 10 are just down the road.

"Wow, what a view."

It's spectacular.

"Good spot to put a cabin."

So we had a bit of debate as to exactly how far back to position it. But Louisa ultimately won because this was her workspace after all, and she described it
as wanting to be nestled on the land and be protected by the bush that you have around here in this shape and protected it from the westerly and just be able to look out and enjoy this view while she did all her digital marketing and all those other things.

And I, by comparison, work over there in the main property, which works pretty good for me.

"Yeah. Wow, what a view."

I know it's spectacular. So it's just really good for the soul.

"I agree."

And there's the cabin, there's Louisa working away.

So I put my school bag on and I walk through the the little path that we've got from the main house to the office and open the office, get a coffee, sit down and basically open my laptop, start work for the day. Every now and then when it's terrible weather, I'll turn the lights on. I really want to be able to go back to the house. That's. That's the break. I'll just. I'll just sit there forever. I have to be forced to stop working once I'm actually in it. I've really got to stop, be forced to stop. So that's why I don't want the bathroom here or a fridge.

What inspired us to look for another property was being stuck in New Zealand
in COVID like a lot of people. I think the real estate at that time people were really worried what was going to happen. But in fact people went and they started to look for places that were a little bit further afield and they were looking for places that they were going to spend time. If we were going to spend time in New Zealand, let's make the most of what we can do in New Zealand.

So we looked at all of the other Hauraki Gulf Islands and this property came up on Barrier and we went, oh well maybe. I mean, we could possibly afford it
because there's so much wrong with it at the time. So The Glasshouse is a beautiful old bach on Barrier. It's on ten acres in North facing land and it's got an accompanying A-frame about 100 meters away. So two properties looking directly into the harbour and Tryphena.

And it's called the Glasshouse because it's 90% glass and all my life I've wanted to live close to the sea. The driving force for me was to have a sea view. I actually ended up going over there and looking at the glasshouse and I was amazed and I thought, wow, we could just do something that we're doing with the cabin. We could transpose that here.

We'd actually have a place that we could end up retiring. Looking at the whales and the dolphins, this might be everything I've ever dreamed about.

The biggest change has actually been on Barrier because before I installed the Freedom Kit and we had 24 hours power, we had to run a generator. So you'd do a 75 minute walk in 20 kilo pack, you'd get there. The first thing you'd have to do is start up the generator, put the beers in the freezer go down, have
a swim, come back and have a cold beer.

But now we walk in. You see that blinking light on the microwave indicating power has been continuous since you were last there, four or five, six weeks ago. And the beers are cold already. I just, it's a massive piece of mind
knowing and a complete change of the way you think about going to Barrier
knowing that there's power there. It's it's massive. You've also been able to take your friends there. Yeah, it was nice to have that little luxury. You know, they were going, what do we need to take? Do we need to take chilly bins, and I'm
like, no, we'll stick it in the fridge.

"Okay, so my first question, why are they on the side?"

Yeah, well, we're facing East and because looking at all the literature as you're supposed to have them facing north. So I considered how I could do that on the, putting them on the roof using some of the different roof mounts. But ultimately, I decided to stagger them this way and have them facing directly north. So it's actually worked out really well.

Speaking to you earlier, you've mentioned about the way they're wired and I found it very interesting. There was a little bit of overhang creating a shadow
even on just a small part of the panel could actually reduce the performance
of the panel significantly. I wasn't aware of that at all. So ultimately I may remove them from this and mount them angled on the roof facing north. I think that would be ideal, using a different set of mounts.

"You're not using a lot of power now, so they would be working fine now. But if you're trying to maximize their potential, this is not the ideal spot, I don't think."

Well, at the moment, there's so little power consumption here anyway. And this little Weekend Warrior Kit, I mean, it's ideal. It gives us more than the power
that Louisa will ever need for the stuff that she's doing computer, phone, coffee maker sometimes. She's talked about a small fridge, maybe a fan in summer.

"Where have you got the inverter and the batteries?"

"I've mounted two trapdoors underneath. One gives access the solar kit, it's fully dry and solid. We've got the batteries are slotted in behind. It's top vented. So we've got different vents, different airstreams coming through it, hopefully without the moisture, but it's actually keeping it cool and dry and it hums along. It's very quiet. And that little pipe you've got just by your arm there that goes up to the little meter that shows us the performance of the kit from inside, conveniently positioned. And it hasn't missed a beat. It's just been a delight.

"So how did you find the installation?"

I found the process really interesting. I love DIY, like a lot of New Zealand males. My background's all telecommunications engineering. So I'm reasonably familiar with the principles around I'm not a qualified electrician or plumber or anything like that, but I put it all together here following the guides that you guys put together, and it was just perfect for me. Ultimately, I've learned a lot.

"Ah, right. I’m keen to have a look."

Rob spent quite a lot of time with researching online about the whole process of sort of off grid rather than than systems and that. He'd report back to me, I think he had quite a lot of fun doing the research. I loved it. He'd report back to me and say, okay, people are saying the biggest mistake you can make is to under-power your kit. So we've got to get this kit because it's going to be more than what we needed.

And I was quite focused on the cost side of it, but it quickly became apparent that going more than what we needed right now was a good way of going
so that we could expand relatively easily without the costs, without additional cost.

I think from a lifestyle perspective, if you're thinking about doing an off grid office or cabin, what you probably don't appreciate at the time, it's only once you've done it is the freedom that comes with it that at any time it just simply doesn't matter what's going on with the world. You can go over and you know that you've got power. That's pretty cool.

Stop just thinking about it because I spent a lot of time to the point where I was over thinking it make a decision, move on, get it done. Because once it's done,
it's actually life changing. Even in a small operation like the cabin, it's the life changing for Louisa and I.

"I'm keen to learn more about this cabin."

It's just a, one of those little Nordic pine kit sets and we had a building team and they actually did the groundwork and put the cabin up. And then once it the framing was up, Louisa and I did the guttering, the solar panels, the plumbing. Yeah, so it’s completely weatherproof. And it's been a lovely little spot ever since.

I was on Barrier during Cyclone Gabrielle when I came back. Louisa says, ah the cabin got damaged and I came here and this guttering had been torn off and it was so powerful and rotated the plastic so much it actually ripped it into shreds
and it was completely shattered.

Yeah, yeah, it's PVC. So you imagine trying to bend that and get it to break, but it managed to do it. So I ultimately managed to retrofit a brand new section there and you can actually see the damage. There's a tiny little break, just that I’ve left, just in the drain there, as a reminder of actually what can happen if you're not careful.

"It’s weird that the wind caught the edge of that."

Yeah. I mean, how did it do that? It was as firmly held in as it is as it is today.

"I tell you what, it's good test for these cabins that it withstood a cyclone on top of a hill here ay?"

And the wind was coming directly in as well. So it was coming in from the east
and from the north east. So you couldn't get a more powerful, more powerful winds coming in at that time than Cyclone Gabrielle.

Well, I was kicking myself when I got back from from Barrier after Cyclone Gabrielle to find we'd been without power. We ultimately were without power for over two weeks. I was kicking myself that we hadn't gone ahead and installed a solar power kit on the main house because then we would have been fully independent and instead of me gallivanting away to Barrier, and leaving Louisa here to deal with the issue of a broken generator, the whole main house would have been fully operational and she still would have been able to come here to her workspace and enjoy that as well.

And the other thing that's that's worth mentioning that people on town water don't realize, but we need power to run our water, as most rural people do. It's a pump system. So power is critical. You know, it's not it's not so much all we can't charge our phones, I can't have a coffee. We actually didn't have any water either. It was already a quite an unsettling time. We couldn't even get out of South Head at one point.

Obviously Muriwai had all this horrible landslips. Where we weren't affected in that way, but the road was shut for days and days. It was just an unsettling time
and having been able to go over and charge phones, be able to- the kids could message their friends. It made a massive difference.

"Wow, It's nice in here."

Yeah, it's lovely. Once we'd done the construction, the first thing we needed to do was waterproof it. So the builders advised me to get a spray gun, which was a great idea. I then did a full spray, two coatings on the inside just to clear sealant. And it's actually I haven't had an issue with the cabin at all. I mean, considering it's just the wooden boards sitting on top of each other, no insulation or anything like that, it's been really quite amazing.

And Louisa then got busy with the fit out. I completed the lighting using vintage lights and so on, hook them into the 12 volt system. So I’m a huge 12 volt and vintage lighting fan. Down in the corner there, we've got all everything set up for the router. And that was the one of the critical things that for Louisa, I had to give her Internet access, otherwise the whole deal was off. So that's what we did.

And then we installed that beautiful little Spiroloc fire which puts out about four kilowatts of heat, which is perfect in the space. And it's a gorgeous little fire.

"So I notice you've got the remote monitor here on the wall."

Yeah, that's a handy gizmo because of the inconvenient place. I installed the batteries, which is directly below this corner and decided to install this just here. So whenever we're sitting here, we've got a perfect view of all the relevant information that's coming out of the system. How much power is going in, what our draw is and the state of the batteries.

"And do you check it often?"

Well, every time I come in, I see it straight away. And I just can't help but glance here just to see we were right. I mean, I notice at the moment we've got zero current zero current draw because there's literally next to nothing that's actually operating in the cabin. Aside from a wi-fi router at the moment.

It's had a very positive effect on me. I've always been pretty ebullient anyway, I’ve always had a reasonably positive outlook on life, but particularly the Barrier one having 24 hour solar power there as to for me personally has been life changing. 

Well there's no surprise my favourite place is on Barrier. If there's a little deck there and you get to sit on that and look down to the water and you see all the marine life coming by, I mean, I could sit there all day, every day watching the parade, you know.

I love going to work. I just absolutely love being able to walk out the door, walk my little 50 meters, maybe to the cabin. It's quiet. I can turn the music up loud. I was dancing around like an idiot the other morning. And I was thinking, I hope Rob doesn't come round because he's going to see me. Aren’t you supposed to be working? I was a creative zone. It's a beautiful, beautiful space to get my work done. It's away from any distractions and I'm so much more productive.

My favourite spot in the office is probably at my desk would be a good one. I look up and I see the view and I have a look at the weather approaching or moving away. And it's just a beautiful place to be. It's such a beautiful spot. And sitting out here after the day's done, Rob will come over and he might bring
he might bring some beers. We sit on the deck and we look at the view.

It's just absolutely stunning.