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No mortgage and no utility bills? Meet one couple living off the grid


By Theo Thimou,

Andy Hickman and his wife Rosemary Kimble live entirely debt free in an off-the-grid home that he built with his own two hands. That means no mortgage, no utility bills and no compromises!

From an office cubicle to the off-the-grid lifestyle

Before you judge him, Andy wants to set the record straight on one thing…

“I’m not a crazy guy. I’m just a guy who likes to work the numbers…and the numbers on living this kind of lifestyle made sense to me.”

Back in 2009 before he and Rosemary became “earthship” pioneers, Andy worked as a senior financial analyst in corporate America. Now he’s completely reversed direction and become an off-the-grid home designer, consultant and builder.

Rosemary, meanwhile, works as a professional henna tattoo artist and body painter.

The entry point into their unique lifestyle was buying seven acres of land outside Athens, Ga., with an eye toward fleeing the city life. The couple lived in an old Airstream Globetrotter while Andy built the house for four years.

“The Airstream was a blessing and was probably the very best investment I have made in my life, giving us a home and shelter to sustain us while we built our earthship,” he wrote in a blog post. “I would highly recommend a travel trailer for those looking to do something similar.”

Construction moved slowly at first on their new home. First they had to tear down a derelict house on their property. Next they had to frame their new home, which Andy roped a few friends in for.

Once the actual building began, the couple repurposed anything they could. They found a sink on the edge of the woods that made its way into their new home, and they built a shed from 100% reclaimed heart pine wood that was junked from the prior home.

No mortgage and no utility bills? 5 lessons from one couple living off the grid

Today their “earthship” has a humanure composting toilet, a solar-powered battery charging station with a storage device that provides power for up to five days, giant cisterns to catch rain water, a shower house, a tankless water heater and a propane tank.

Construction cost about $160,000, which includes the purchase of the land.

Having paid off that modest housing debt, Andy and Rosemary now enjoy a life with no mortgage and no utilities.

“We’re not connected to any municipality. We get all of our water from the sky,” Rosemary says.

“Our only bills are propane every year, which runs about $300, and taxes,” Andy says.

Think about all the money they’re saving each year without those major expenses! The average consumer pays $3,000 annually in utility charges, according to Clark. “[Saving] that could be retirement. That could be college savings. That could pay for the house in some situations,” Andy notes.

While Andy and Rosemary’s lifestyle may seem a bit extreme, there are some elements of it that you can easily adopt today to put more money back in your wallet every month…

Look at your lighting

For most of us, a good, basic starting point is changing your light bulbs to CFLs (compact fluorescent bulbs) or the even-more-energy-stingy LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs. They may cost more upfront, but they’ll save you a lot over time.

Get a smart programmable thermostat

Programmable thermostats can reduce heating and cooling costs in your home by 25 to 30%. One that Clark particularly likes is the Nest Learning Thermostat, which was designed by a former Apple executive and borrows the clean, minimalist design of the classic iPod click wheel. The Nest uses algorithms and artificial intelligence to learn your living patterns and figure out when to bump the temperature down a few degrees to save you money.

Reduce your water consumption

Older toilets routinely used 3.5 gallons a flush. But more modern ones use somewhere in the neighborhood of just one gallon a flush. Getting a newer toilet represents a big savings on your water bill over time.

Consumer Reports gave its vaunted “Best Buy” checkmark to two toilets that both sell for about $100: the single-flush Aquasource AT1203-00 (available at Lowe’s) and the Glacier Bay Dual Flush N2316 (available at Home Depot).

In addition, try installing a low-flow showerhead that uses a blast of air to simulate a strong stream of water. You may qualify for a rebate if you outfit your home with water-efficient devices. Check with your municipality to see if they participate.

Insulate your attic

If you have an attic, be sure to insulate it. You can either pay a professional to do blown-in insulation or do it yourself. But be sure to wear proper gloves and a mask if you do the latter. Visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency to see if there are any incentives available where you live for this job.


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