The (nearly) off-grid lifestyle

When we moved here in 2013, we never even thought about the power & heat, water & waste and connectivity services which just naturally ‘happen’ in the city.

Ok, so we did think about the internet, and decided that a satellite connection would be ok, and it is. But the others? They’re just there, aren’t they?

1 – Water

Our introduction to the startling fact that they don’t started one Boxing Day, when the water failed. This lead to several freezing hours of searching, spread over several days, but we eventually found the supply: a set of tanks set into the Nant Mair stream, with 1000m of pipes connecting to the house. And a bit of filtering.

So this had to go, to be replaced in 2014 by a link to our very own spring. So now we have lots of pure mountain water coming from every tap. And filtered.

2 – Waste water.

Not the most glamorous side of country life, but there is no mains sewerage out here, so where does it all go? More investigations revealed that it went to hole in the ground, covered in concrete. So that had to be replaced, especially as it eventually drained into the Site of Special Scientific Interest at the bottom of the valley.

So now it goes into a state-of-the-art digester, which processes waste into what we are assured is ‘near drinking quality water’. The word ‘near’ isn’t reassuring, so we’ve never tried.

All of which explains why we ask visitors to be very careful what they flush away. There is no clever filtering, so anything large will just….well, just don’t, please. You get the idea.

3- Power

We do have mains power here, so no problem there. More like an opportunity. What we do have lots of is falling water, which explains why several of our neighbours have micro-hydro installations. So we decided to create one of our own.

After 14 months of planning and form-filling, in 2015 we started building our mini power station. An intake as far up the mountain as possible, 700+ meters of mostly buried pipe, a turbine house and a load of electronics. And a power output of a very modest 7.2kW, but remember this is 7×24 for most of the winter. But nothing at all in the summer. This is more than enough for our requirements, so we are comfortably a net exporter of energy, especially when the the solar panels on the office roof are working as well.

4 – Heat

Our first choice for heating was to use the Hydro, but that wouldn’t be powerful enough. How about a ground-source heat pump? After all, we have lots of ground? Sadly, the bits near the farm are steep, and the flatter bits are miles away, so we went for biomass. We’ve a 42kW wood-pellet boiler (pellets not chips as we were told they are more reliable) so the stacks of fuel you’ll see outside are ready to keep us warm.

5 – Connectivity

You’ve probably heard about the issue of Rural Connectivity. Well, we have it all. We get a whisper of terrestrial internet (about 1Mb/s) which BTW is the same price for 10x the capacity, and a satellite link, which is metered just like your mobile contract. So we discourage streaming Netflix. And for mobiles – forget it. You’ll have to go 2 miles along, or several hundred feet up to get a signal on any network.

So this is an opportunity. You can go out for a long walk, secure in the knowledge that your phone won’t keep interrupting your enjoyment of the sights, sounds and scents of the country. After a while, it’s really quite liberating.

 

So overall, we ARE connected to the world, just maybe not in all the ways you’re used to. And we’re also carbon-negative: we export more than we import, and that’s as green as a green thing.

The slight downside, which you might possibly encounter, is most of this infrastructure is OUR problem. No point ringing a call centre if the water fails – get some wellies and a torch. If the lights go out, then just get the torch and wait (the hydro has to disconnect from the grid when this happens, so as not to kill anyone who is repairing the fault. More polite that way). Power outages are occasional, but usually short. And the satellite internet isn’t great in heavy snow, but if that happens, then it’s a good excuse to put the wellies on again and enjoy it!