A few years ago when the tiny house movement was heating up, we connected with LaMar Alexander, an off-the-grid, tiny-home dweller to share about his lifestyle and experiences. We thought it would be fun to connect with him again and see how things have been going. He has over 84,000 YouTube subscribers now, sells architectural plans for tiny homes and even wonderful folk songs for sale. Check out his site and videos (and don't miss his educational video on the fine art of dumpster diving).
Would you mind giving us an update on your life since we last connected, 3 years ago? Any new projects, etc?
Well lets see, in that 3 years I revamped my solar system and actually reduced it to just 400 watts from 580 but using all the same brand panels and AGM batteries that are stored inside the cabin. That greatly increased my storage capacity in winter as cold weather zaps 50% of your battery juice. I built a hoop greenhouse for starting plants and getting a head start in the spring and I use one end of that for my solar heated hot tub which is also a new project. I use a black hose and a solar pump to circulate the water and can get it up to over a 100 degrees on a good sunny day. I built a new chicken tractor so I can move my birds around to fresh areas and they keep the bugs under control and fertilize the pasture.
Did a pretty major face lift on the inside of the cabin and covered the drywall with pine slat boards and put in new cabinets, counter top, stove hood and LED light to replace some incandescent lights. The cabin will always be a work in progress.
I retired from doing pest control a few years back and I created several new cabin and tiny house and teardrop camper plans and I started doing some freelance game design which is something I did when I was younger and using that as another source of income. It is something I can do in any weather and doesn't cost anything so no overhead.
Have there been any new challenges to off-grid living since then OR is all this old-hat to you?
After the first couple of years off grid I pretty much figured out most of the issues. Refrigeration was a hassle and I tried all kinds of fridges and finally settled on a small 12 volt fridge freezer for daily use and a chest freezer with a temp control and bth run fine off my small solar power system. I still use a solar composting toilet system and sometimes in winter it is a hassle to empty but you get used to the routine and my plants and trees are thriving in the free fertilizer.
You have mentioned that one of your biggest challenges is the government / outsiders infringing upon your lifestyle. Have you seen a greater increase in the government trying to crack-down on living off-grid?
The government is owned by corporations in my opinion and there is an ongoing war between big oil and coal and clean solar and wind. Up until recently green energy has been winning that war I think, and more people everyday are either going to a grid tied system or off grid and that is creating a lot of jobs but some states are taking a hard stance against off grid living so you have to be aware of the regulations before you decide to go off grid.
So far I have been lucky and the county has not hassled me about being off grid but all my kids are grown and if you have kids living off grid that seems to be when the government tries to get involved.
From your viewpoint, have you seen the off-grid, tiny home movement continuing expanding OR do you feel like it could be more of a fad to some folks?
I see solar panels going up on houses everyday but those are probably grid tied systems and until battery storage can provide the same power the average grid house uses people will probably stay connected to that umbilical cord. Out in the rural areas especially where grid is too expensive to bring in you are seeing a lot of off grid houses and people are learning to reduce their power use to make off grid living affordable without a huge system.
I don't think solar and wind and clean energy is a fad but the battery technology has not yet caught up to the other products. It will and when it does I think most people in the world will be off grid. Already happening in other countries faster than in the US.
Ever been asked to be on one of those reality tiny home shows? :)
LOL- I get contacted at least every few months by some show looking for people to do a series on survival and off grid living but most are just small production companies trying to sell a script. I have consulted and even wrote some scripts for a few shows and they contact me looking for names of people that might want to be participants, but most real off gridders like me don't want publicity and we live off grid to avoid that public lifestyle.
Have your expenses changed much since we last spoke? Can you give us a brief rundown of your living expenses?
[creativ_pullright colour=”custom” colour_custom=”#999999″ text=”I live on about $6K a year”]Since I retired from doing pest control my expenses have went down a lot. I was making real good money but the cost of chemicals, gas, wear and tear on a truck, sprayers, licenses and everything else was eating up a lot of that money. I actually spend so much less without that business that I can live on much less. So when my books and videos got real popular I decided to retire and just live off that revenue and by reducing my expenses due to work I actually have more money and have been able to put enough away to take care of myself for the foreseeable future.
I mostly stay at the cabin and work around my homestead but I take occasional trips and I like to eat out maybe once a week and I have my internet and cell phone and property taxes and vehicle expenses like everyone else but without a house payment and no power, sewer and water bill I can cover all my expenses quite easily and I live on about $6K a year unless I make some major purchase like a vehicle or do some remodeling on the homestead.
Would you encourage others to live like you? What would you say to encourage someone who may be on the fence about it – but has an interest in living in a tiny home / off-grid?
I don't think people have to live in a small cabin with a composting toilet like I do and today with the technology out there you can go off grid or grid tied and use some of the recycling water products and harvest rainwater, grow a garden and raise a few chickens just about anywhere and that is what I recommend for most people. If you want to go all survivalist and build a log cabin in the Alaska tundra I wish people the best, but it is the rare few that will make it doing that.
Many people reach their 40's and 50's and start thinking about retirement and how will they afford to live without that job income and those are the people most interested in a smaller retirement home with no utility bills and no house payments and those people can see the sense in what I have been preaching. It doesn't take any special skills and you don't have to be a survivalist to live a very comfortable life off grid so don't believe all those reality shows out there. I live off grid pretty much the same way most people live on grid.