The moment when I realised that a better way of living was possible, was maybe 3 years ago when, like so many others, I stumbled across Simon Dale’s iconic ‘Hobbit House’, on the internet. Just the possibility that someone could create their own home, using low tech materials, and for such a tiny budget, struck a chord with me. From there I found Lammas, and their eco village, and so the journey began.
From that day I knew that nothing could be the same, and in some way the knowledge that this other world existed, meant that my life had to change, and radically.
Within the year I left the old life behind – my partner of 10 years, the home in which I had invested so much time and effort and my friends the dogs. One of the hardest things I will ever do, but possible because I knew that it was the right thing to do.
I left to work as a WWoofer on a friends farm, where I indulged my passion for natural building, and worked as part of the a fledgling care farm, and it was here that I met my (now) wife, Claire. Together we travelled, visiting different communities, and got our first glimpse of Tir Y Gafel, the ecovillage formed by Lammas.  We stayed in a remote tipi, visited the Centre for Alternative Technology, and any doubts that we might have had about a different way of life were gone for good.

The Community Hub Building at Lammas

A few months later I returned to Lammas, to help work on their Community Hub building, and to learn more about low impact building, and how the community was living off-grid.
One of my favourite blogs has always been that of Rima Staines, whose artwork hangs here on our walls. When I first encountered Rima, she was travelling Britain in a converted horsebox, and so was the inspiration for our first off grid home.

The truck during conversion

The truck we live in is 30 foot long, by 7 foot wide, and its a now a fabulous home, saved from the scrapyard.
The front half is where we sleep above the cab, and is home to the kitchen, and our ‘office’. In the middle is a tiny shower room, and down the back is the living room.
Heating comes courtesy of a home made woodburning stove formed from an old propane bottle. A computer fan then circulates the heat around the truck.

When it comes to energy consumption, our mantra is ‘use less’. All our lights are LED, so use minimal power, and an inverter provides us with 240volt for the laptops, and other devices.
The system is powered by a couple of 80W monocrystalline panels, and a 400W wind turbine that was a wedding present from our friends.
A DIY approach to creating your own off grid supply certainly comes with a steep learning curve, and its taken a year to get things right. Along the way we cooked a couple of controllers, a wind generator and its brushes, but its been great experience.
We’re fortunate that we can grow a lot of our own produce here on the farm, and keep a few chickens for eggs.
Fuel comes from the woods on the farm, almost exclusively from wind blown fallen timber.
People always enquire about our toilet, and we’re really proud of this, made as it is from sawmill waste.

The composting loo. 

Our veg plot in its first year of production!
Wind blown timber has kept the truck warm all winter.

Although there is ample mains water on the farm, we were keen to ensure that it was used minimally, and so we have a 1000 litre IBC rigged to collect rainwater off the nearby barn roof, which provides all non-drinking needs after being filtered.

The more immersed we became in the off grid, and low impact community, the more we realised that our truck was a stepping stone on the way to something more permanent, and we became involved with a group known as Lammas 2, with the intention of settling in Wales. Here is what we planned to build – 

A timber frame, straw bale house, with green roof, heated entirely by renewable sources and powered by electricity generated on site.  Of course we decided that the best way to prepare for this next step was to practise, and so began a project here on the farm to create a roundhouse entirely from materials that were to hand, or entirely recycled. Here’s the result – 
a low impact, well insulated roundhouse, that will vanish into the landscape in a year or so. We were able to experiment with great natural materials – strawbale, cob, cordwood, lime plaster, earth plaster, slate flooring (the farm sits on a slate quarry). Here’s the interior – 
A year on, we are married, expecting our first child, and preparing for the next step on this amazing off grid journey. In the end, the move to Wales was a step too far with a baby on the way, so we’re staying here in Northern Ireland – moving to a property in the magical Mourne Mountains, where we are going to take an old cottage and breathe new, low impact life into it.  Our own solar and wind will continue to power things, and we have a well for our water supply.  Fuel will come from the 2 acre wood that sits on the land, and our cooking and heating will be done using our home grown timber.
Our fuel supply will be nearby.
So the journey continues – we have learned so much from our experiences so far, and we’ll be able to share them with others when in 2013 we offer what we reckon is Ireland’s first off grid self catering, experience. In the meantime we’ll be blogging about transforming our new home at www.offgridsteve.co.uk

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