No place like home
By CHRISTINE TAILER
We just returned home from a wonderful trip west to visit two of our young’uns, one who lives in the middle of the desert and the other on the West Coast.
The trip was perfect and the time spent with our children could not have been more special, but as I fell into bed after a long day of traveling, I could not help but think how good it felt to be back home.
As I drifted off to sleep, I recounted the adventure that led us to live in a 388-square-foot cabin that was two miles down a dead-end, one-lane, country road, with solar- generated electricity. This was not something that we had planned from the outset.
It was rather an idea that formed over time as we lived in the city and fell more and more in love with the land that we had bought as a weekend getaway. I was working long hours as a city trial attorney, and Greg worked as a mechanical designer. We lived in a large three-story house where we had raised our seven children, but as the children moved off into their own lives, it began to occur to us that we could also move off into a life of our own.
We waited until our youngest, now west coast child, had moved away, and we decided to leave the city life behind. We had the choice of either going solar or forgoing the beautiful creek valley land. We decided to go solar and go small.
There were no utility lines leading to the 63-acre property, and the only water was the water that flowed down the creek. We did have access, however, to the county water line that ran along the road, but in order to tap into the water line we needed to have an address, and in order to have
an address, we needed to have a driveway.
So, we spent our first few weekend visits camping on the back of our 16-foot drag, parked behind the only structure on the property, an old tobacco barn. We immediately set to clearing the wildly overgrown fence rows that bordered the road. We bush hogged the 15 acres of fields that the woods had begun to reclaim, and in the evening we bathed in the creek and waved at the neighboring farmers who occasionally drove by.
The first few years passed quickly. The fields began to look like fields again, and that first fall, we called in a gravel truck to lay down about 100 feet of driveway just in front of the old barn.
It was a driveway to nowhere, but we could then apply for an address, and once armed with an address we were able to get a water tap. Greg set a frost-free spigot by the corner of the barn and we began to feel quite civilized, drinking tap water and showering under a garden hose hooked up to the side of the barn. The sun even warmed the 200 feet of water-filled hose,
so that at the end of a long day’s work we could have warm barn side showers.
The closest electric line to the barn was almost one mile up the road. I called the utility company, and after a cursory, no-cost survey, we were advised that underground cables were not an option due to the rocky geology of the creek valley, and that it would cost close to $30,000 to run above-ground lines.
Greg began to research solar power and design a small off-grid cabin.
The first step was to chose a house site, with good access to a sunlight. The upper field seemed perfect. It sits at a elevation of about 40 feet over the creek, which neighbor folk had advised us had flooded the tobacco barn several feet deep during the 1997 flood.
The upper five-acre field runs parallel to the creek, and with the edges cleared of deadfall and new saplings, it had ample southern exposure. We staked out our cabin site and began to build.
We initially thought that the cabin would eventually serve as our guest house, and that we would build a larger house for ourselves, but after living in the cabin for the past several years, we now know that we have no need for a larger home. Small and simple are very good ways to live, and visiting friends and family are welcome to stay in either tents or the sugar shed, which also serves as a guest house.
Greg designed the cabin, with a large front porch, and an even larger side deck, that can be covered with a crank down awning. The cabin is wired with both 12 volt and 110 electric systems.
We live with the 12-volt all of the time. This includes our lights, refrigerator and deep freeze, our cell phones and the ceiling fan. We switch on our inverter to run the 110 appliances, including the washing machine, our computers and wireless printer, the Internet, and satellite television, as well as all of our power tools. Our entire energy system, including batteries, solar panels, appliances, wire and outlets, cost approximately $10,000, and we pay no utility bills! And so, with our city hands, never having done it before, we have built our world from scratch.
At the outset, I nervously feared that we were heading off on an extremely complicated adventure that I would never fully understand, but my fears have proven unfounded. The creek, with all of its wonder, has become our home. No doubt about it, it was a wonderful trip west to visit our young’uns, but I also know that we are ever so fortunate to return home to the creek.
Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.