Camping & Survival

Michael Bane Builds an Off-Grid House

Michael Bane

I got up this morning, turned on the coffeemaker, walked the puppy, watched a little television news, booted up my computer and went to work.

Michael Bane
Michael Bane made his dream of an off-the-grid house a reality.
I bring this up not because it’s particularly remarkable—quite the opposite—but because the New Improved Secret Hidden Bunker in the Rocky Mountains connects to no power lines. There’s no cable for cable television, no phone lines, no sewer or water connection. In fact, it is untethered from what we’ve come to call “the grid.” And, at least for the moment, it’s working.

The journey began as so many epic adventures do—with a simple question. My Sweetie and I were living in the little Colorado town of Nederland at 9000 feet, where to quote actor Will Geer’s Bear Claw in Jeremiah Johnson, “Winter’s a long time going … stays long this high.” After 13 winters, it was time to Go Down.

When we moved to Ned 13 years ago, it was a quirky place whose only real source of income was the Frozen Dead Guy, a Norwegian grandfather kept on dry ice in a Tuff Shed—Google it, even I can’t make stuff like that up — and the eponymous Frozen Dead Guy Days each bitterly cold March. We even marched one year in the Frozen Dead Guy parade through the one-block-long town. As newcomers, we got the ideal position between the herd of alpacas and the bondage sluts riding on the hoods of hearses. Really.

When we decided to leave Ned, it had become the epicenter of the “marijuana revolution” in the United States. The little mountain town of 1200 people and some dogs sported five medicinal marijuana outlets, one retail marijuana outlet, a “smoking room,” three hydroponic gardening centers, a pipe store, 30 grow rooms blossoming with designer ganja and a startling number of vintage Volkswagen buses and tie-dyed T-shirts, as if the Grateful Dead tour had just trucked in from 1968. My Sweetie and I were the only two people in town with reliable short-term memories.

After a year of searching, we found a stunning 34 acres with breathtaking views, close enough to go into the northern Colorado cites of Ft. Collins and Loveland for a good dinner and upwind enough from Denver to miss most of the fallout — joke, JOKE! After all, I was the producer of the first “survival” show, “The Best Defense/Survival,” which laid the groundwork for those that followed. One London newspaper reporter referred to me as “the most depressing man in America” after my guest appearance on the History Channel’s special, “After Armageddon.” I told her I thought I was upbeat and perky as well as heavily armed. You’ve got to expect a certain level of paranoia.

As we looked out over this amazing property, which equally amazingly we could afford, we both noticed an absence of power lines, telephone poles and the other accoutrements of the 21st century.

“What would you think,” asked my Sweetie, “about building an off-grid house?” “Yippie!” my Internal Survivalist shouted. “Hmmmmmmmm,” I said out loud. But the die was cast.

Do you dream of living off the grid? If so, let us hear your motivations and challenges in the comment section.


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Comments (35)

  1. I think location, location, location may be a key element for what a lot of us would like to do. My ex boss, (the guy with the mountain top) went into the alternative energy business and when he visited my ‘casita’ on the beach at Baja he noted that I had a constant sea breeze. He judged that I was an excellent candidate for wind generated power.

    It took seven years for them to get electricity into our area and then they wanted $1,000 to hook up for something I only used for a few hours at night on weekends. I opted for a gas powered generator. It was noisy but it only cost me about $300 and did a good job for electricity on demand.

    The unit he suggested looked like a miniature oil derrick about eighteen feet high with about a six foot fan driven by the breeze. He claimed it would be so quiet I wouldn’t even notice it. He said he could install it for about $1,800 and with the battery back up and an inverter it would give me all the electricity I could use all the time. Frankly I was afraid that only being there on weekends, the way things were changing south of the border, I’d come home to four studs in the concrete post and darkness.

    When we do relocate north, it’s an undeveloped area. I’m seriously thinking of solar power for electricity, a back up generator which we already have for emergencies, wood and propane for heat and a well up hill from a septic system. Am I missing something?

    I’d really appreciate some comments from those of you living in the colder northern states in rural areas as I’ve always been a city slicker in sunny southern California . I see that the folks up there have their big propane tanks out back, but few have fireplaces and that last time I was up there I didn’t see solar anywhere.

  2. The best advice I was ever given was that when you go off grid, you need to adjust to your new lifestyle, it won,t adjust to you.The biggest thing to overcome is adjusting to the limits of water, solar,etc.Check into Home Power magazine and all of the backwoods, and other magazines….they are a goldmine of help….rsbhunter

  3. Michael – Enjoyable article! Thanks…

    Off the grid is not only possible, but doable if you combine today’s tech with old fashion hard work and the basic engineering that pioneers and farmers employed (like gravity feed pressure).

    We have lived completely off grid for over seven years on a 522 acre ranch, surrounded by National Forest at 8,800 feet between Vail and Steamboat. We built and installed most of what is there now, including 2 fire hydrants, underground water system and sewage systems! We power two luxury homes, a 40’x100′ insulated metal shop (complete with welder and other 220volt power equipment), and a yurt with a combination of a Capstone micro-turbine (over 120,000 hours and runs on propane from underground tanks) and solar. Voice and internet communications is handled by a combination of a cell tower 30+ miles away and satellite. In fact, I’m writing this blog from our Ranch. To see pictures, check out:

    Most people don’t realize the joy of the quiet and a milky way filled sky.
    Keep up the great work!

  4. Mike we have met a couple times at EOT and WR and spoke.

    As a full time RVer now a 40′ toy hauler that has a 10′ shop for storage , reloading, and laundry room when parked, Use to house a beautiful HD ultra classic bike before the accident.

    But how sure you generating power solar, wind, or hydro?
    Satellites will give you tv, and intranet if you can power the recvd/transcvr
    Cell will give you phone and or internet for small stuff.

    A good creek or larger will give you water even pressurized water lines if it is pumped using a battery and solar recharger like a 45 wt kit from harbor freight for less than $100. You will need a barrel for accumulator iirc other than that you got good clean water with less chance of getting an illness than from city water if you filter it correctly.
    Sewage is easily handled by a septic tank .

    So if enough money wisely thrown at the right places can make an off grid home as comfortable as an on grid home. The problem is having the money up front for all the different systems. I forgot the easiest source of power a generator big enough for the house, and it’s appliances but I would have it set up as a backup to the renewable energy producers.

    Because you can still have one of those big propane/gas tanks attached and be off grid so to speak.

    Now that I threw out several ways it could be done please tell us how it was done and why you chose your methods. Tia.

  5. On the same line of thinking..I am just finishing a 20×12 foot “solar” shed.Property is at 10’000 ft, totally off grid…cabin will be 20×30 ft …a lot of work by myself, do this while you’re young! Located near San Luis, Colorado….

  6. Carroll the Irishman: Is there anyway you could plug in some pictures and tell us more about this type of construction? I had a vacation home in the 80’s right off the beach at Baja. It was a low budget addition to a trailer but it was very comfortable until we got neighbors.

    An ex boss had one built in an exclusive area off a golf course at San Felipe. It was built out of straw. It was beautiful. The walls were about two feet thick bales of straw wired together then plastered. They were cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter but field mice eventually wore their way through the plaster and then you had visitors. His had all the amenities but cost him about $150,000. My beach hose was only about $3,000.

    The wife and I are considering building on some beautiful wilderness property we own in Michigan but I’m paranoid of some careless SOB with a match setting the forest on fire. I’d like to know more about this earth bag construction.

  7. I know Nederland, Loveland, Ft. Collins and about the dead dude. Colorado is a great state for survival/off grid living. Keep us all posted and up to date on your new free open space. By the way, you forgot Boulder but, that’s a different story. Good luck on building your security and privacy. You might consider building with earthbags. Cheaper and is pretty close to being bullet proof. You’ve got all the elements to build all around you. What you’ll need can be bought cheap with the exception of the air compressor. It’s about $1,500 and the sprayer is about $250. I’m building with it but, I’m using scoria to fill the bags. That would be real good there because of the winters. Check it out. It might be a great alternative to a regular box wooden house.

  8. I would really like to hear how you were able to get this done from start to finish.

    It would seem that being in that location, close enough for a good dinner in town, would also have some city/county building code enforcement.

    Were they knowledgeable enough to understand what you were doing?

    Ready for the next read!

  9. Michael, please keep chronicling your journey into off the grid, I’m really interested. I live very close to you, perhaps we could discuss it over coffee. omicron dot forums at gmail dot com.

  10. Michael:
    I’d really like to learn more about this and I’ hopeful you and others like you will be our guides. About 30 plus years ago an ex boss of mine bought a secluded mountain top in a remote region of Orange County in Southern California. After bulldozing off the top he built a pre-fab’d compound that was truly off the grid. It was about a half mile off an unmarked exit from the highway. With the exception of propane everything else was self sufficient. If I could find it again I’d like to take another look at it. He had: water from his own well, his own sewage system, solar and wind generated electrical power plus a small diesel powered backup emergency generator. There was nothing primitive about it. My wife and I are looking forward to something like that to retire to.

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