We are your ev­ery­day, run of the

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Best Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - LISA AND STEVE BOOTH

or years the idea of the sea change reigned supreme, with Aussies from all walks of life opt­ing for life by the ocean away from the rat race. It was the “we’d love to do that” idea wist­fully dis­cussed at din­ner par­ties and the school gate. Now the sea change ideal has given way to a new seem­ingly idyl­lic so­lar­pow­ered ex­is­tence, with­out jaw­drop­ping bills to pay. It’s liv­ing “off the grid” — and for an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple, it’s be­com­ing a re­al­ity. Re­searcher Dy­lan McCon­nell says go­ing off the grid — de­fined as “liv­ing in a self-suf­fi­cient man­ner, with­out re­liance on pub­lic util­i­ties” — is a hot topic now. He says a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple across city and re­gional ar­eas are in­ter­ested in the con­cept. McCon­nell — who stud­ies the cost struc­ture of en­ergy tech­nolo­gies and the elec­tric­ity mar­ket at the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne’s Aus­tralian-Ger­man Cli­mate and En­ergy Col­lege — says it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to get re­li­able data about how many prop­er­ties are not hooked up to the elec­tric­ity grid across the coun­try, but anec­do­tally, the num­ber is head­ing north. “In my work, it is, with­out a doubt, the most pop­u­lar ques­tion we get asked, in pub­lic fo­rums and the like,” he says. “There is a very large amount of in­ter­est. Specif­i­cally, peo­ple are Lisa Booth says she and her hus­band Steve are “very se­ri­ous about leav­ing the planet in bet­ter shape”.

The sleek four-bed­room, so­lar­pow­ered house they built for their blended fam­ily of six near Kyabram, near the NSW-Vic­to­ria bor­der, is the bricks-and-mor­tar proof.

Set on 8ha pre­vi­ously used as a sand mine, the Booths’ self-de­signed, shear­ing shed-in­spired house took just six months to build — us­ing lots of re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als and end­less buck­ets of el­bow grease — but was nearly five years in the plan­ning.

The house isn’t con­nected to coal­fired elec­tric­ity, re­ly­ing in­stead on 8kW of so­lar pan­els mounted on a keen to know when it will to be cost­ef­fec­tive to go com­pletely off the grid, from an elec­tric­ity per­spec­tive.” The PhD can­di­date says sev­eral re­gional ar­eas across the coun­try have be­come off-the-grid hot spots — in­clud­ing the small town of Dayles­ford in Vic­to­ria. It’s also proved pop­u­lar in some sub­ur­ban ar­eas, such as More­land City Coun­cil, in Mel­bourne’s in­ner north — dubbed by some “The Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of More­land”. “You do hear about clus­ters. Ecov­il­lages (res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ments with a strong eco fo­cus) are pop­ping up in dif­fer­ent ar­eas, too,” McCon­nell says. “More­land has been proac­tive, but given the way our grid is struc­tured, it mod­est shed and 26 kWh of salt­wa­ter bat­ter­ies, which store power for when the sun doesn’t shine. A gen­er­a­tor for “ab­so­lute back-up” is planned, but the fam­ily hasn’t needed it since mov­ing in a few months ago.

The 28sq pav­il­ion-style home in­cor­po­rates the best of pas­sive, sus­tain­able de­sign, clever ori­en­ta­tion, dou­ble glaz­ing, cross-ven­ti­la­tion, strate­gic shad­ing and even a bio­fuel heater. The small heater (pic­tured, right) burns a bucket of corn or wheat a day to de­liver a “slow, con­stant heat”. There are rain­wa­ter tanks for wa­ter.

The fam­ily — which in­cludes Lisa’s kids Bodhi, 14, and Charlee, 13, Steve’s son Xan, 12, and “blended baby” Jedda, 5 — has bot­tled gas for cook­ing, a back-up gas heater and hot wa­ter sys­tem, though they hope to use so­lar for hot wa­ter in the fu­ture.

It’s ev­ery bit the “su­per-sus­tain­able home that re­flects the sim­ple, hon­est life­style” the fam­ily craves, Booth says.

Booth, who has agri­cul­tural sci­ence and ed­u­ca­tion qual­i­fi­ca­tions, says the fam­ily cer­tainly aren’t “tree-hug­ging, tie-dye-wear­ing hip­pies who have given up main­stream com­forts. They have ceil­ing fans, a dish­washer, TV, evap­o­ra­tive cool­ing — all the mod-cons.

“We love sus­tain­abil­ity, but we also love liv­ing our comfy, mod­ern ex­is­tence. We don’t be­lieve you have to trade one for the other,” she says.

“What we are is your ev­ery­day, runof-the-mill, gar­den-va­ri­ety fam­ily of six who made the fi­nan­cial and eth­i­cal de­ci­sion to build our home off grid. Yes, it fits nicely with our val­ues, but let’s be real: we have not changed our way of liv­ing one cracker.

“An im­por­tant rea­son for build­ing

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