By Paul Chambers
Guest Writer for Wake Up World
My wife Sarah mentioned in passing “I have put the house on the market”. She was not happy living in suburbia in a 4 bedroom house with a swimming pool. She wanted to live in a more rural area where the houses do not touch at the roofline. I had already started a project, building a totally sustainable living accommodation from 2 shipping containers, so Sarah’s urgency to move pushed me to get on with it quicker than I had anticipated. Happy wife, happy life!
We placed them on the top of a small mountain in the Australian bush with a lovely outlook on a vista of gum trees. Our objective is to prove you can live in “sustainable luxury”, even living outside the system. We began at glorified camping, and it was hard to begin with. We have worked steadily through the challenges of living without access to the grid for electricity, and mains water supply. We are by no means the first to do this, but our solutions are creative and fun.
Starting life outside the system
Power in the bush was provided in the beginning with a quiet 3kw Honda generator, which powered everything. As we are aiming for 100% sustainable living the generator has been phased out and replaced with a self-built solar power system. 2Kw of photovoltaic solar panels supply a bank of batteries, and these provide all our electricity. These generate enough power to support a conventional fridge freezer and the appliances that most homes have.
We have downsized, and said good-bye to microwave oven, and electrically heated hot water and an electric kettle. For the most part, we simply use devices that require electricity when the sun is shining. We have arrived at the point where we successfully run a modest air-conditioning unit to cool ourselves during the really hot days, all powered from the solar panels. I think that solar powered air conditioning is a really “cool” idea and is totally achievable and sustainable.
Water supply in the bush is critical. For the first 6 months, all our water had to be carried up the mountain. We had a 150-litre (40 gallon) water barrel strapped onto the back of our Toyota Hilux, and we filled it whenever the opportunity arose. This activity has now been replaced with the construction of a sunshade roof and carport/wood shed. These provide 65 square metres of rain water collection in 10,000 litres of storage. We are now self sufficient for our water needs. The sound of rain on the roof is very reassuring as it tops up our water supply.
I have built a lovely inside shower room but wanted an outside bath, so creativity is the signature of my own outdoor bathroom, made almost completely of recycled materials. I have built a wonderful outdoor bath space, where we can sit under the stars at night, in a piping hot tub of water and gaze at the stars. It is entirely gravity fed, solar heated, and the bi product is a bath of cool water to cool down, during a really hot summer day. The water is reused, and is piped to the garden and plants.
Living with the wildlife in the Australian bush has become a really pleasant reality. The wallabies come to our dam to drink, the ducks share their pool with a loud chorus of frogs. The chickens patrol the house grounds looking for tasty insects, and our neighbours are kookaburras and a possum that comes for an occasional bowl of fruit. We have seen our share of lizards and goannas, and even an occasional snake, but on the whole the wildlife is friendly. Sarah is much happier living with nature and we are enjoying the adventure.
To keep warm I built a wood-burning stove from an old Chubb safe. We take pride in the fact that we have not cut down a single tree. The wind and nature provides sufficient firewood to meet our needs. I just engage 4 wheel drive and head into the bush to collect the fallen timber.
We live in the bush and not in a cave. We enjoy all the conveniences of modern technology and have high-speed connection to the internet. Sarah runs her online business from the mountain top very successfully.
Why are we doing this?
We are not “hippies” opting out. We are a hard working couple who believe that the current economic model is not sustainable. Scientist, David Suzuki, as far back as 1997, stated that if mankind does not stop abusing this planet’s resources, and polluting the atmosphere, we were on a course of global destruction within 20 years.
We all have spiritual needs and we believe the connection with nature, for us personally is the answer to fulfilling those needs. Balance has to be found between man and his environment. We are not separate but connected. We decided to see for ourselves if living was possible with less dependence on the system…. and yes by golly it is!
We share our knowledge and our adventures with others so that they can learn how to build a sustainable home. I am not saying that it has been easy. It has taken money, time and effort. But what I will say is how good it feels stepping off the ferris wheel and living more lightly. For us it has provided joy, happiness, peace of mind and satisfaction. We had forgotten the real things that matter in life, and getting back to grass roots is an amazing experience.
You can watch our video diary, which chronicles the building and development of the off-grid house, on our YouTube channel.
Learn more at: BuildShippingContainerHouse.com
About the author:
Paul Chambers is a 48 year old technician, blessed with good engineering skills and a strong belief in himself. Paul was born in England and moved to Australia in 2005, where he has now settled with his wife Sarah, and has started a project building an off-grid, eco-house out of two shipping containers on the top of a small mountain in the Australian bush.