Joshua & Angela Miles
Almost 15 years ago we bought an empty plot in Baardskeerdersbos. We wanted to live as self-sufficient as possible and get away from the rat race, which also included not getting bills from the municipality. We built our house ourselves and had to learn how to do our own plumbing and electricity to the best of our abilities as at that stage there was no one in our rural area with any knowledge of solar power. Over the years we have added on to our system, today it’s much easier and user-friendly as there are skilled people around now.
We learned about just how little power a family can consume if they are willing to change their mind-set and not just take energy or running water for granted, but we also learned how hard it is to convince other people that it is ok to live without hair dryer or under-floor heating. Everyone could do it, it’s a matter of changing your mind-set!
We moved to Baardskeerdersbos for the quite location in the countryside, it was affordable and the soil is great for gardening. However, life of the grid is not simple, we strive towards keeping it simple, but it is hard work to avoid clogging up life with complications of all sorts.
Living off the grid became a permanent life style for us, we wouldn’t want to change it!
We have used solar power for more than 10 years now and added on to suit our needs as we could afford it. We now have 3 x large 210 panels and 6x batteries which are more than enough to run our household including a 12volt fridge freezer. We also have a solar hot water system
Joshua is an artist and Angela a cabinet maker
Melissa & Francois Krige
Our family of four has lived off-grid (no ESKOM, municipal water etc) since we fell in love with Platbos Forest and moved to live there in in 2005. Being off the grid was both due to the practicalities of living in the midst of an indigenous forest that would be damaged by the installation of power lines and by personal choice. We like not being consumers of the national grid that uses non-renewable energy sources!
Living off-grid taught us how much electricity is carelessly wasted if you leave appliances and lights on unnecessarily. We learnt that anything which requires heat to run consume large amounts of power. We use gas for cooking and have an energy-efficient fridge. We live very comfortably on our solar-powered system and only occasionally have to use a generator to boost the power (eg when using the washing machine). The only way we are affected by the Eskom power-outages is when the internet connection goes off.
It felt liberating to create our own power and to be self-sufficient in this regard.
It was quite a bit of trial and error in the beginning as in 2005 not many companies were sussed about solar energy but things have changed hugely today so those looking to go off-grid have a wealth of contractors and information to benefit from.
Its much easier now to live off the grid than the average family thinks – we are an ‘average’ family. So many modern ‘necessities’ are really not necessary for a good quality of life.
Melissa is a horticulturist, Francois a tree-surgeon
Jan & Sue Vingerhoets
While living in Jhb in 2005, with severe power outages and trying to run a power-hungry business and sub-urban house, we knew things would not get any better and decided to make a change. We wanted a simple life near a small community so we moved to Baardskeerdersbos. We like the art community here. Also we felt we need to be responsible for ourselves as much as we can – our food, waste etc.
We are in the process of building a house so our off the grid set-up is not permanent yet, but it works well for the building period. Any such system requires maintenance, which we are diligent about. The grid relies on Eskom to maintain their systems and we can see where that has got us.
Being off the grid is about teaching yourself new habits. The transition is not that difficult, you just have to realize the difference between ‘need’ and ‘habit’ in terms of your living situation and to learn to solve problems as they arise. Being organised will make your life easier.
Going off the grid may however be a bit more difficult in the urban or sub-urban environment due to regulations. Set-up can be costly if you are not wiling to cut back on power-hungry appliances. Water and sewerage would there be the most difficult part.
As I said, our set-up is temporary until we move into our house. So far, we have 4x70w solar panels and 2 batteries. We only run a fridge constantly. It’s ok for occasional use of laptops, coffee grinder, sewing machine.
We have a small separate solar panel on its own battery which we move around to ensure full sun. It runs 4 lights and can charge cellphones.
We use gas and a fire to cook and bake and have a small gas geyser for showers. We run a small generator to pump from the borehole, to irrigate, and for workshop tools.
Our daily water comes from a borehole and we drink rain water.
We recycle whatever waste we can but don’t have an answer for the tiny amount of non-recyclables so this goes to landfill for now. In future it will go into the gasifier which Jan is building and this will be converted to power.
Michael & Justine Raimondo
After making so many films for Green Renaissance about treading lightly on the planet we really wanted to walk the walk, so in 2013 we started planning to live off the grid and in 2014 it became a reality. We have not found it such an adjustment, you just appreciate your resources much more, where your water comes from, your power …
Along the way we learned that less is more and the importance of being more mindful of your actions on the planet, however it was harder than expected to getting our friends to think the same way.
We live at the Hoek Van de Berg Nature Reserve, Overstrand, for the tranquility and being able to be surrounded by nature. We live in balance with nature, we work within the seasons, like not using too much water in the dry months.
Everybody could go off the grid, it really is possible and not that difficult, it might take a bit of money upfront as an investment but it is the right thing to do. We want to live off the grid permanently – we dreamed for a few years and took a year to action.
We collect rainwater in JoJo water tanks, we have 6 x 5000 liter tanks.
We use two small wind turbines and 16 solar panels, with a battery and inverter system.
All lights, fridges and freezer are on 12V
We use a wood stove (burning invasive plants) to cook on and heat our water and we also make use of a solar panel in summer to heat our water.
Michael & Justine Raimondo run Green Renaissance Film, a production company focusing on environmental issues
I’ve carried this idea of living off the grid most of my adult life actually. If you want to live like this you must actively “walk the talk” and change your life and the way you think and see things.
I find it very attractive to live in this way, to take responsibility for your actions in life, what you do, how you think and what impact we have on everything around us. I have been an activist/ambassador to “living in balance with respect for everything” promoting it as much as I can, knowing that one day I would like to own a really beautiful piece of land in a rural area away from it all, not too isolated but a place I can enjoy nature, space and be as self sufficient/sustainable as possible.
For me, this really came into play about 10 years ago walking across a sports field in Australia coming back from the gym. A very powerful emotion came over me at that moment and I stopped, looked and challenged everything around me at that point, from the busy freeway in front of me, cars, bikes, trucks, buses, to the plane flying overhead, to distant police sirens, to the houses around me that we live in, thoughts went out to the banks, real estate, governments, medical profession, law enforcement, the food we eat, the air we breath, the water we drink, the quality of services we get, to our work and our daily products in life. Nothing, but nothing had quality anymore, what seemed like a few minutes became almost an hour later, still standing there and deciding that “this was it” for me, no more. I didn’t want to be part of this system anymore. I wanted to actively remove myself from this plastic, material driven mainstream life and “get off the bus” right now. I wanted to learn to appreciate all things in life again from grass-roots, make my own soap and toothpaste, tap my own water from the sky, grow my own food, recycle as much as I can, get off the medical aids, insurances, modern medicines, not listen to the news or read the paper with all its “fear based” incentives.
So I did it, and this is me now:
Off-grid life is simple, but not uncomplicated, for me it’s a lifestyle you have to believe in, not a fashion statement. You have to live and breath it into everything you do and at the same time be a “model/example to others and show them that you can live a free and easy life in this way. In the beginning it’s the breaking away from the mainstream stuff that you are used to, that makes your life so easy and that perhaps that you have taken for granted, (i.e. coffee at my place is not a 2min affair, it is what it’s meant to be, “time out”, it will take a while, heat the water on the wood burning Dover stove, grind beans, no sugar but home grown honey as a sweetener and if your lucky you may get something we baked that morning in the wood oven). This is how it’s meant to be. Take the time to enjoy those little things in life and slow down a bit.
My land is 140 ha of virgin fynbos with rock and pine trees on top of a mountain. I had this thing about living on the top of the world as opposed to a valley. So I had to cut my own roads by bundu bashing ( 4×4 track ) to the top and cut trees (sorry), clear sites and get building materials up to the top. That was a huge challenge. I built my home from natural materials on the land, stone and gum trees that had to be felled. We then shaped beams and cut planks from the gum trees on 3 phase solar power. Sand, rock, water all comes from the land. I bought a 3 ton trailer with which I towed other building materials up with my Land Rover like corrugated iron roof sheets, cement, piping, beams, bricks etc.
Water was the biggest challenge as there is none up there in summer, only rain. In winter I have 5 springs that flow. Roads had to be built with water runoff and drainage in mind, piping was laid, an excavator and grader helped do the job, but most of the time they got bogged down themselves trying to get up in the wet season.
I bought a 1000L transport water tank for my trailer and ran sometimes 3 times a day to the bottom of the property or the neighbour’s farm to pump water from a petrol pump from the river.
I fly for a living and have my own aircraft, so a 560 meter runway had to be cut and built on the flattest part on top of the mountain and a hangar had to be built.
I wanted a fairly large hangar that could be my main “power house” and has water tanks and a cottage to fall back on in the event of a disaster.
I have never built a home or done anything on this scale before, I have done it mostly myself with expert help here and there from friends with the trades or the knowledge. I have asked questions and opinions of people/farmers with the know-how and looked up online how to make things and building.
I am a very practical person and have said all my life that there is nothing I can’t do.
I learned patience. My personality wants to do things and get them finished quickly and efficiently, but building to live off the grid teaches you to slow down and think it through and really reminds you to enjoy the moment. You are creating something here that is not mainstream. My home is “organic” and self sustainable, it is arty and a quirky cabin in the woods, it is not standard in that that you can give a builder plans and say “check you later”. It’s a very different creation and demands your full attention to be “hands on” all the time.
Most in the building industry don’t understand your dream, to most builders in that trade, its a pay check, to me this is my home that I plan to spend the rest of my life, so it has to sustain me and at the same time be that “space” and sanctuary I enjoy coming home to.
So it’s taking it’s time to finish, it’s been a year now of building/creating and it will probably take the next 5 months to finish, but then, with a property that size and what I want to achieve, is it ever finished?
Everything was done with the minimum of carbon foot prints and it was cheap to build compared to a standard home. I am fortunate enough to have earned overseas currency, which has helped me achieve my goal without owing any bank anything. All I have was bought from cash, we have no debt and by setting up the way we have to be self sustainable, we have freed ourselves from the mainstream “grid and system”.
It was hard and humbling though, doing it myself, I learned as I went, eyes wide open and keeping up the mental and physical strength to go on, it’s so hard to be creative when you are tired. It’s important to honour yourself and step back and take a bow every now and then on what you have achieved, you don’t see it but others do. Also to get away and do something else from time to time as this building consumes you and you become boring. Switching off your mind at night in bed with your partner and thinking of sex and not your project is a huge practice.
I am originally a KZN boy and after army worked there most of my adult life, but really fell in love with the Cape. I needed some wide open space where I could live off the grid and be self sustainable with an airstrip. I hunted and exhausted all the estate agents for a year, there was always something not fitting, price, location, size etc.
The only place was by “chance” Stanford, I liked the feel of the area, looked online at properties and found my place, it is the highest farm in the area on top of a mountain in Sandies Glen, with amazing views and lots of wildlife, the top of the food chain being leopard.
Everybody could do this (living off the grid, at least partially) in their own way, it’s about changing your perspective of how you are supposed to live life and how badly you want to change it. Everyone can start somewhere small and work towards a bigger picture even if you live in a flat. I believe you create from the energy you put out for your need, thought is creation, our very survival depends on it. The biggest investment you can make is in yourself, forget about policies and all that fear based insurance stuff. Invest in yourself by setting yourself up to be fully self sufficient, sustainable and independent of all the services and systems as much as you can, bring quality back into your life.
My partner and I plan to combine our qualifications, experience and talents and make our property earn money for us in many different ways, one being an “eco adventure retreat” a destination with a camp site and rustic bush camp for like minded people to come enjoy, fly in, ride in, drive in. “The Wild Edge Experience” will become a model on how you can live and will stand as an ambassador to the cause. We will hold courses on living and maintaining the “balance” in an eco friendly way, conservation awareness, well being, music, health and adventure, in fact our motto is “Living the balance” adventure through conservation awareness.
- We have two composting loos from JoJo tanks, these systems are a complete unit with wind turbine extraction and recycling system, it uses no water and once composted goes back into the environment.
- Gas geyser for my main shower and will later fit an attachment to the composting loo to run this on methane gas.
- An outside shower with a hot water “donkey” system
- We cook and bake on a Dover stove , as a back-up there is a 3 plate gas burner on the side.
- Hot water for the kitchen runs through copper piping heated by the Dover stove.
- We don’t have microwaves, toasters, kettles or most electrical appliances, everything is done the “old way” even soap, toothpaste, meds from natural remedies and alternative therapies. We have 6 active bee hives and practice bee keeping.
- Fresh free rang chickens and eggs from neighbouring farms as well as milk, cheese and trout.
- Recycling food waist to compost and worm farms to feed permaculture principals.
- Main power comes from solar panels, backed up by a 5.5 KVA silent diesel generator which runs my power tools and washing machine and backs up the system if I have used a lot of power on a week of rain. This solar system is more than adequate to run everything. Lighting is 12 volt LED x 1 light per room, kitchen and lounge has 2, this draws very little power and x2 power points for charging appliances like lap tops, phones, aircraft radio’s equipment. There is a fire place in every room for heating. I have a flat screen tv screen, but no TV or DSTV, it’s only used for movies and series, too much time is spent these days watching absolute rubbish on tv instead of enjoying what you have.
- My fridge/freezer runs on gas but my deep freezer is still electric. I am looking for a paraffin deep freeze to replace it.
- I have 30 000L of rain-water storage in tanks that is tapped off my hangar roof 15×8 meters and a further 10 000 litters off the cabin roof.
- Water is pressurized by solar driven water pump for the water system.
Tzulu Dowsett, Stanford