Off-The-Grid Communities: 5 Places Carving a Sustainable Path

The main lodge of Breitenbush Hot Springs. Geothermal wells provide heat for the lodge. Mark Allyn [CC by 1.0]/Wikimedia Commons

Phones are wireless. Laptop computers are wireless. Why can’t an entire neighborhood be wireless? No power lines, no telephone lines, no sewer lines?

While not everyone wants to embrace the challenges that come with living independent of any utility connections, a number of communities across the globe are experimenting with living off the grid as part of being a sustainable, self-sufficient village.

An article in USA Today stated that according to Richard Perez, publisher of Home Power magazine, about 180,000 American households were living off the grid.

British journalist and documentary filmmaker Nick Rosen interviewed some of them for his book, "Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America." People living off-grid range from environmentalists looking to lessen their impact on the planet to survivalists striving for self-sufficiency is advance of the collapse of civilization.

Some off-the-grid communities are little more than subdivisions beyond the reach of any power company, where homeowners fend for themselves. Some off-the-grid communities take the intentional community approach, a gathering of like-minded residents living in a cooperative manner (and if you think that sounds like a commune, well, you’d be right).

Here’s a look at some of them:

1. Three Rivers Recreation Area

More than 500 homes are scattered across 4,000 acres about an hour drive from Bend, Ore. None of them is connected to the power grid. The homes in this subdivision — a mix of multimillion dollar homes and shacks — use solar panels, wind turbines and back-up generators to provide electricity. Some have wells, others have water hauled in by a service. The development of mostly vacation homes — there are fewer than 100 permanent residents — started in the 1960s.

2. Greater World Community

This 634-acres development near Taos, N.M., claims to be the world's first Earthship subdivision — an Earthship being a passive solar house made of natural materials such as adobe and recycled tires, cans and other materials. The homes here are on large lots of two acres or more. A two-bedroom, one-bath Earthship with solar hot water system and six solar photovoltaic panels is on the market for $295,000. Residents of the Greater World have access to 347 acres of community land, open green space with hiking, biking and parks.

3. Breitenbush

Breitenbush is an intentional community set on 154 acres near Detroit, Oregon, that operates the Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center. About 60 people live here permanently. An onsite hydropower plant supplies electricity for the complex of 100 buildings. Geothermal wells provide heat.

4. Earthaven

The 35 buildings in this community of about 60 people living and working in Black Mountain, N.C., are powered by solar panels and hydropower generated by a micro-hydro system in Rosy Branch Creek. Residents catch water off of roofs for use in irrigation. The community is 320 acres of homes and farms with plans to become a village of at least 150 people on 56 home sites.

5. Emerald Earth

This intentional community on 189 acres Mendocino County near Boonville, Calif., was founded in 1989. The dozen or so people living here share a common house with a main kitchen, eating and meeting areas and shower. There is also a bathhouse/greenhouse with a sauna, showers and garden greenhouse. There are four small cabins heated by passive solar and wood stoves. Solar panels and a gas generator provide electricity. Use of composting outhouses means there is no need for a septic system.