The realities of off-grid living are often not as glamorous as we make them out to be on video, so today we're going to dig a little deeper into those realities - the challenges the rewards and the daily maintenance. So join me while I meet Scott and Sharon and we learn a little more about the nitty-gritty of off-grid living.
"Hey Sharron." "Hi Craig, nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you! Nice view!
"It's a great view, would you like to come and have a look around?"
"I'd love to."
"I'm Scott, we live in Maungaturoto." "I'm Sharron, welcome to our off-grid Paradise!"
Sharron: "Here we are, the mountain over there it goes right across to the Brynderwyns in the background, so that's north facing, we were really fortunate when we bought this property that we got the north facing aspect, which makes it perfect for solar."
Craig: "Yeah good for solar! So how far does it go this way?"
"It just goes to that ridge line there, just over the back of this Ridge line with the pine trees on it. You can see up the side here the fence line and up the other side you can just see it behind the trees."
"Over there I notice it's an old piece of forestry block."
"Oh yeah, lots of work. The place has been quite damaged in the past so it's getting that regenerating back again."
"It's going to be a bit of a job, I've seen places that have just had all the pine trees felled and they're just a mess, you normally can't walk in it."
"No, this had been a couple of years, so um the grass and the rubble and the trees had just been left there. It was all about a meter high so we put some cows in there and portable electric fences so that we could break it in a little bit at a time so that we could actually get around the place. It was actually quite dangerous for us to try and we couldn't walk through a paddock. It was slash a track and put electric fence through and then put the animals in there. It was really daunting and it was quite disheartening at times when you sort of felt like you were taking three steps forward and 10 back.
So why Northland? Two reasons - it's affordable at the time and beautiful and also Scott has family roots here so it was quite a nice way for him to reconnect, so that was the main draw as well. Why this piece of land here? We could afford it and it's also it's quite close to his marae which is about 10-15 minutes down the road, so at some stage he'll be able to get really connected with what's going on with this community."
Craig: "I like the fact too that it's on a slope like that, because gravity works well for you when you're off grid. It's good for water and everything
Sharron: "Hey yeah sure does! A lot of our water is gravity fed out of what we catch up the roof. We've used old 10 gallon drums and put ballcocks in for troughs. Yeah it works well and cost nothing apart from the ballcocks. We've got IPC tanks around the place that we pump water to, we just bought a little pump pretty cheap and we just hooked that up when we get a lot of rain.
One of our most exciting moments was having boundaries for our property, as when we bought it there was no boundary fences because it's a forestry cutover block and they've destroyed the fences when they were harvesting. And having power, once we had our solar installed, because we were living off a generator basically and the silence of the solar - unbelievable. It was a really big moment that first night when we flicked the switch and the lights popped on and we went 'oh look at that!'. It was actually it was a really big deal it was just like oh I could turn the lights on.
"So when we first came here it was just the skyline and over time we've sort of evolved. We've built the studio recently as you can see over here, the skyline's having a few modifications, we're putting a veranda around the outside which will give us a bit more living space in the summer as well."
Craig: "And you've got the solar in the cabinet there on the outside?"
"Yes we do. So we bought this Bach Kit and the hybrid inverter a few years ago now so it's probably got a more updated version now than when we bought this. This has been perfect it's been really easy to use and to see what's going on with our electricity, it's able to be connected to our generator to top it up if there's low sun-days and it runs what we need it to run, which is the most important thing!"
"So what's life like living off-grid here with this Bach kit, as opposed to when you had power in a Suburban House?"
"You've got to be much more mindful of what you do and what you use. I find that when we were on the grid in the suburban house we took a lot for granted. Now it's the Bach kit it's perfect for what we need at this time, we've had to be really aware of how we use electricity, like we can't leave the TV running all night, I don't iron, which I used to. It's a more of a mindset and just changing the way you think about how you live and rather than just going 'oh yeah I'll just flick a switch'. You have to think about what the batteries are doing today, what the day is like outside and do I need to use that or can I use something else. We do a lot of battery charging for our electric fences which is great, they usually recharge off their own little solar panels but we can recharge the batteries through this setup which is great."
"That's the interesting thing with solar is you've got more power than you can use in summer and then in winter you've got to think about all the power you use and use it sparingly."
"Yeah absolutely and it's just being mindful about things you know, do you really need to have the TV going all day?"
"Yeah it's not a bad thing to turn the TV off, it's also not a bad thing to not have to do ironing I guess as well."
"Some of the big challenges that we faced when we first came here were 'okay now we've got to get our solar installed' so finding an electrician that was willing to do that and sign it off so that was compliant with the local authorities, that was a big deal and also for our insurance policy we needed something that was up to standard. So finding a really decent electrician, we were really lucky we found Ashton and the guys at Astech, they just came and did a stellar job, they told us what we needed to do and they just installed it for us and and it's compliant and the gear itself is fantastic.
"In here it's pretty basic. It will be changing as we can afford to and as we have time. The fireplace is brilliant in the winter time, it just takes that dampness out. And you know, always makes you feel good."
"Yeah, yeah, they're quite romantic eh? Yeah, I'm the same, woodfire - it's great!"
"Eventually what we'll do is we'll put a hot water cupboard in, and we'll have a wetback. So we can heat the water in the summer from the solar and turn it off at night and then have that working in the winter time when there's less sunlight. LED lights because they use less power."
"And you're cooking on the barbecue?"
"We are cooking on a barbecue!"
"I notice no insulation in here?"
"No, that's going to be part of the work in progress. So as you can see what we bought when we bought this place, it was just like this. There was no fireplace in here. It was basically a sink with one cold tap. It was quite daunting when you come from town and you've got all the hot water and, and everything and you've got one tap."
"Yeah. And I noticed these fridges, they're quite big, tall fridges."
"Yep. Scott, he put them on a timer so, we don't open the fridge door or the freezer door unnecessarily so it keeps it cold, and the timer means that it runs in the hours that we have the most power available.
Scott: "Well, when it came to choosing the solar system, we spoke to a lot of suppliers. And to be honest, a lot of them are daylight robbers as far as I'm concerned. And I stumbled on GridFree, and I still don't know how, but it was affordable and it's proving itself with us. It's providing everything we need. And, we didn't have to pay an arm and a leg to pay for it."
Sharron: "Looking at what was available, which was really difficult, especially for us, because we knew diddly squat about how solar works or anything like that. We wanted something that was user friendly, easy to understand, and people that would give us confidence in what was happening and what the product was, and how we could understand it in layman's terms rather than technicalities, because we don't get that, it's not the way we run and having found GridFree and then talking with Ethan and finding out what would suit our lifestyle best, and for our needs at the time, that was really, really lucky. And I think that we struck gold the day that Scott found their website. That was just brilliant.
"So this is our bedroom. It's pretty basic. It looks like a hoarder's paradise at the moment, but it's coming from a bigger home and trying to find storage for what
we've got in a much smaller place. Part of the reason why we're doing the extension and the verandas outside. But it's also giving us a reason to think about where we're going to put storage in here and what we're going to need
and what we can use and what we can keep and other things what we can get rid of. So it does make you think about all aspects of your life being off grid and downsizing so dramatically."
Craig: "Were you surprised at how much stuff you had in your three bedroom home?"
"And I notice this room's insulated?"
"Yep, so this one's insulated and lined. You can really see the benefits.
"If I were to give advice to anybody starting out, it's believe in yourself and do your homework."
Scott "And be prepared for a little bit of hard work, but it pays off in the end."
Sharron: "Yeah, and I think you need to work local and get people that are reputable that you feel comfortable with, and back yourself.
"So in here we're going to be enclosing this underneath the new verandah, as our bathroom. At present our bathroom is pretty basic. A camping shower that blows out when the wind blows the wrong way. And it's not much fun sort of like having to dash down a slippery slope into the toilet in the middle of the night."
Craig: "So this will be luxury!"
"This will be brand new luxury, we’ll be happy with this. So, yeah, new shower, toilet, wash house sort of area here. Here's our water pump, which we used to pump all of our water around, and filters. Really important to have filters and to treat the water and your water tanks especially in the summertime, get lots of greebies coming off the roof."
"So you've got your own power, you've got your own water, you've got your own stock, you’d have your own veggies.
"You just about don't need anything else?"
"Just about. And we can be happy, keep it simple."
Scott: "We had the land blessed from a local Kaumātua, because of the damage
that's been done from the forestry. I love nature and it's good to be back here with nature. That's why, a lot of the reason for this lifestyle. Beats living in the city and putting up with people and traffic."
Sharron: "And I think what's important to us is our home and having a good quality of life and being able to be around the things, like we love our dogs, we love our cows, we want to do our gardens we want to plant trees. We might be born again hippies in our old age, but I don't care. I mean, this is what's important to us and it makes us feel good."
"And it leaves a small footprint that we leave behind."
"We try to do as much recycling as we possibly can. But then again, it's also
we don't need as much as we used to, which is kind of interesting finding out about needs and wants, as is making that differentiation with things. It's been really intriguing and quite awesome to explore that further."
"Well, living off-grid's changed my life and Sharron's life. As in we spend a lot more time outside. Yeah, it's challenging, but yeah, I wouldn't change it for the world. Many a job here has been accomplished with a bottle of Jack Daniel's. (laughter)."
"What I love most about this lifestyle is that it enables me to live a life in a way that I think is more about being a protector of the land and valuing what we have, making it the best land that it can be. Because as you've seen, it's
been pretty brutalized over the years with the forestry and the way that it's been left. So this gives us an opportunity to bring this land back to being fruitful, to be treated in a manner that's more respectful than what has been in the past. And that makes us feel a lot better about ourselves, as well as giving us a much healthier, more enriching lifestyle. For us, we feel like we've we've won the lottery. You know, it's had a quite a few tears, a few tantrums, I’ve thrown my toys more than once, and I wouldn't want it to be any other way.
Honestly, this is just the best being here and doing this. And, you know, we might not have a mansion, but I don't want to do all that housework all the time. And I'd rather actually be living a lifestyle that's meaningful. And that I can say here, we did this ourselves.
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