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Off the Grid is on the Rise

by Jon Nunan

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    Most of us are well aware of how dependent on technology we've become. While a power outage 50 years ago might have meant a night of board games and candles, a modern blackout can truly be a life or death situation. Because of this, the idea of having a home that can function independently is very appealing. Just how appealing is getting off the grid? To answer that question, HomeAdvisor.com (a nationwide resource connecting homeowners to contractors in their area) compared the types and frequency of "off-grid" improvements made in 2008 to those made in the past.

    Off Grid Heating
    Nowhere is the distinction between the modern house and a cave more pronounced than in temperature control. The problem is that few of us know how to produce electricity or refine oil well enough to heat our homes unassisted. One thing we understand well enough, however, is that fire is hot. And when that fire is contained in a stove, you're well on your way to a heating system that relies on far fewer middle men.

    HomeAdvisor saw plenty of action this year where fire-based, stove heating was concerned. While they processed a paltry 1,263 requests for wood, pellet, and gas stove installation in 2003, the numbers in 2008 came in at a whopping 28,507!

    Independent Electricity
    Of course, even if your home is hot enough, the whistles and bells that come with electricity are numerous (and increasingly important). While most of us still get our power from a utility company, the numbers show that more of us are looking to produce our own. Though solar panels aren't always able to power an entire house, they are certainly a significant step in that direction. Service Magic requests for solar panel installation skyrocketed from 4,269 in 2006 to 67,062 in 2008 (when you do the math that's an increase of 1471% in just 2 years)!

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    Off the Grid Durability
    Durability is another important factor in living off the grid; on a home's path to self-sufficiency, bi-monthly repair calls are a bit of a detour. Off-grid living requires not only energy independence, but building materials that are not going to break or rapidly wear out; it's not surprising that the number of requests for high-quality building materials has also seen an increase.

    Requests for stone or brick siding increased from 1,400 to 4,380 from 2003 to 2008. Tile and slate roofing (two of the most durable roofing materials around) requests each rose by about 100% in the same time period. Wood flooring, which can last a lifetime if properly maintained, has also seen a marked increase in popularity over the last few years.

    Cabins in the Woods?
    While many facets of off grid living seem to be seeing some pretty dramatic increases in popularity, requests for log homes (perhaps the poster boy of off grid living) have decreased in recent years. Does this mean that Americans are less enamored with the Walden-esque idea of rustic existence? Probably not. We're inclined to believe that, though more of us are concerned with the things log homes represent, our economic era finds few of us willing to part with the tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars it can cost to get THAT back to nature!

    Jon Nunan is a freelance writer who draws on his experience in construction, ranging from landscaping to log home building, for his articles on home improvement.
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