We are your everyday, run of the
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