Featured Stories

Oregonians live creatively to get off the power grid

This couple has opted to leave behind some luxuries in order to be more self-sufficient
By Susan Denzer DeBonis
   Kristin Reese and her husband, Stan Loop, are unplugged. They have no utility bills. They communicate with friends and family by cell phone. And when it's really cold at night, Reese puts her grandmother's chamber pot to use to avoid a trip to the outhouse. They wouldn't dream of living any other way.
   "We wanted to be self-reliant, and free of having to worry about what's happening with the nation's power supply," Reese, age 37, who works for the Hood River Chamber of Commerce, explained. "The global climate situation isn't getting any better, and if we can live in a way that's sustainable for the long term, why not?"
   Even before they bought their two bedroom house in Portland, they dreamed of one day selling their house in order to buy land and build a home that was completely "off the grid". But their house didn't appreciate in value as much as they'd hoped; at the same time land prices soared out of affordable sight.
   So when a friend in Hood River, Karey Shawe, mentioned that she and her husband, Don, had extra space in their earth-sheltered house, the couple jumped at the chance to move to the Hood River Valley.
   "We were elated to find this place," said Reese. "Don and Karey have a strong vision of using the resources around them to create what they need to live well, and we share that vision."
   The large room they live in has a south-facing wall of tall windows that provides passive solar heat, not to mention a spectacular view of Mt. Hood.
   The small wood burning stove keeps their home warm when the sun doesn't shine, and a propane water heater ensures hot water and hot showers.
   Electricity comes from a combination of one three-foot square solar panel and a simple hydropower system, thanks to a natural spring located about 700 feet above the property.
   "Moving from a 2,000 square foot house, we really had to downsize," said Reese. They let go of a lot of things, but one thing Loop insisted on was bringing the stereo surround system. "He said, `We own it. It's paid for. We're going to use it till it won't work anymore.'"
   Loop, who once had a spa repair business and has a strong electrical and plumbing background, has helped the Shawes improve the efficiency of the micro hydropower system. He feels strongly that being off the grid doesn't mean you can't watch television or play the stereo. He is confident that there are systems that will give adequate power to do whatever it is that you want to do.
   "We've simplified our lives, but there's a lot that has not changed," Reese said. "I still use my hair dryer, and we use a high powered juicer in the kitchen. It's more a question of coordinating so that we don't overtax the system."
   But there have been times, like this winter when there was so little rain, that the hydropower system didn't produce enough power for everyone's needs.
   "We realized that if we do have to change our lifestyle for awhile, it's ok," Reese explained. "It's all for the greater good, for the good of the planet."
   Reese and Loop agree that dealing with the limitations has actually strengthened their marriage. "A lot of couples spend most of their time together with the television on, and there's little real dialogue," said Reese. "When you have to sit in a quiet room with the lights down low, or even by candlelight, it gives you the opportunity to talk about stuff - you figure out where you are with each other."
   Probably the biggest adjustment Reese has had to make since her move to the woods and off the grid is how she feels about dirt.
   She washes her clothes less, because she goes to a laundromat. Instead of a shower every morning, she takes no more than two or three a week. And because there's no way to keep out the dirt and dust when you live in the woods, she's relaxed a lot about the need to mop and keep everything super clean.
   "I was raised by a mother who cleaned the house before the cleaning lady got there, so I had a very high standard for cleanliness," Reese offers. "But I'm learning that it's really all about attitude. It's nice to let go and say, ok, it's not necessary to be squeaky clean, it's just a little dirt."
   When people ask her why she wants to live this way, Reese always points them in the direction of the bigger picture.
   "Stan and I are of the mind that we're all connected and that what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves," she said. "You can look at things we do as inconveniences, or you can look at them as choices we make. Sure, we have to get outside and chop our wood. But really, how hard is that? And yes, the outhouse is a little cold. But toughen up!"
   "We like it here, and I don't miss anything," she adds. "All of our needs are being met, we're living lightly, and we're living more simply. We have great neighbors; we have a beautiful view of Mt. Hood. You know, it just doesn't get any better than this."