Watching watts for off-the-grid living

Paul Boerger
Jeff and Cindy Weiss in their northern Siskiyou County home. With the look, feel and many amenities of a typical home, the house uses only 1,440 kilo-watt hours per year, compared to the 10,656 kilo-watt hours used in an average American home.

Living off the grid is a possible dream come true for some and a nightmare for those who envision a small dark unlit, unheated cabin deep in the woods. Jeff and Cindy Weiss in northern Siskiyou County live the dream without the nightmare.

Twenty years ago they bought 300 acres in the rolling hills near Montague and began their off-the-grid odyssey. Jeff and Cindy now enjoy a television, have a computer, electric lights and the home feels and looks like any neighborhood house.

Under the hood, however, there are huge differences. Solar panels and a windmill bring electricity to the house batteries, an outside passive solar shower, with the gray water going to a potato patch, keeps them clean, and a wood stove heats the house. Double walls keep the home warm in winter and cool in summer.

It is not, however, the energy production that Jeff and Cindy point to when they talk about living off the grid; it is Conservation with a capital C that the Weiss’s live by and promote whenever possible.

The average American home uses approximately 10,656 kilowatt-hours per year. The Weiss’s use just 1,440. It is not the technology they have, but what they don’t have that makes the difference.

“We look constantly at what we really need,” Jeff says. “We reduce our energy usage every way possible.”

There is no heating system that would require a circulating fan, clothes are dried on a line, dishes are washed by hand, the solar shower does not require a heater, and the small low energy refrigerator has no freezer.

“We don’t have leftovers that need refrigeration and we don’t have foods that need a freezer,” Cindy says.

Jeff and Cindy produce most of their food. Homemade bread, vegetables from both inside and outside gardens, almonds from an orchard, potatoes, jellies, special non-dairy butters and a variety of foods stored in canning jars are set on the table.

“We eliminated most foods that need refrigeration. We could be totally self-sufficient with some adjustments,” Cindy says. “It’s a lot of work though. I can spend hours in the kitchen.”

Jeff says he didn’t have an epiphany that told him to save the planet when he bought the land.

“I just wanted to get away from the barking dogs in town,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t know a thing. I was completely ignorant. We made of lot of mistakes.”

Jeff says as he came to understand and love the land, his need to preserve and conserve grew.

“We are very conscious about not fouling the nest,” Jeff says. “We think about generations coming in the future.”

He says putting in solar and wind is appropriate, but not without conservation. “That’s fine, but unplug your dryer first.”

Jeff and Cindy are well aware of climate change issues and their lifestyle reflects that concern.

“It’s the right thing to do,” says Jeff. “The bucket is only so big. How many scoops do you really need?”

Jeff and Cindy are the founders and facilitators of Watt Watchers, a group that meets once a month to explore ways of reducing personal energy use. The public is invited. Watt Watchers will have a booth during the April 25 Earth Day event at Mount Shasta City Park. For more information, call 530-459-5109.