I wasn't looking for an introductory course on sustainable living when I booked a working vacation at an In Forest cabin. I wanted to leave the city so I wouldn't have to sacrifice creature comforts for my kids. I took away more than I received.
I enjoy escaping to the mountains, beach, or desert whenever I can. Thanks to advances in solar panels, battery storage, data coverage, and flexible work-from-anywhere policies, it is now possible for many to work from anywhere. People can get their work done from any place that makes them happy.
The solar-powered cabin was already well-equipped for my energy demands. I had everything I needed to work from home. A Starlink RV internet-from-space kit is needed to keep it all connected. There is a full suite of kitchen appliances and utility devices in the cabin.
Even though I was completely disconnected from the grid, I was able to work and play from the middle of a forest in Sweden. The experience gave me a taste of what is currently possible with off-grid tech, and a better understanding of the compromises required when resources are scarce.
Petra Uvesten and her husband, Jesper, wanted to create a series of off-grid cabins for people who wanted to get close to nature. The first eco-friendly and self-sufficient cabin was opened in 2020. The Vilgot and Esther cabins were the first to follow. Each is named after a child.
Petra is dedicated to triathlon and works full time with the EU. They have occasional part-time help so they can take vacations. They want to expand from 3 to 10 houses.
Three small cabins are located in a dense forest dotted with lakes and hunting blinds in the hills of southern Sweden, about two hours east of Gothenburg or three hours west of Stockholm. The cabins are made by Treesign. The houses had to be moved by truck along several miles of dirt roads.
Esther was named after the daughter and oldest child of Jesper and Petra, who wanted the biggest house to carry her name.
The Esther house is powered by a large solar array on the rooftop with six panels helping to keep the batteries charged. If you want to find a 220V AC to wall outlet, you need to find a house that has an inverters.
Sweden's long summer days give power generation a boost. The solar system provides 1.5 kilowatts of charge per hour, which is enough to fully charge half-empty batteries in about two hours. Excess energy goes to the outlets. The house is dependent on the batteries for electricity during the day.
The cabins are challenged by Sweden's short winter days.
The low, weak sun makes it difficult for the cabins to charge their batteries. In Forest cabins can only be booked from March to October. Jesper would like to extend the season by buying an EV with dual charging capabilities.
He would like to buy a Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck, but it's not going to come to Sweden any time soon, so maybe the new Volvo EX90 SUV comes in 2024. He can charge his 100kWh battery at home before he goes to each cabin to charge his smaller batteries. The cabins need to be cleaned and the water tanks refilled every two to three days.
The fresh water comes from a tank of 250 liters. Five to seven minutes of hot water can be had from the house's 10- liter water heater.
Electric power is required for the cabin's lights, kitchen fan, DC fridge, heating fan, and water pump. The batteries can power the house for two days without charging if the house consumes 100 watt an hour when idling.
Electricity is only one of the things that the houses require. They have a stove and oven, as well as a combined air and water heating system.
All of the technology is housed in a utility closet that can be accessed from the outside so that guests don't interrupt the service. As soon as Jesper and Petra find a suitable EV, the batteries will be charged just as soon as the water is re-filled.
Thanks to a gauge mounted on the wall in the bathroom, I now know how much water I use. The tanks provide enough water for about three days of use by two adults. The average Swedish household uses 140 liters of water per person per day, but guests use about 11 gallons of water per person per day. Challenge accepted.
We were able to see how much water we had left on that gauge. We only had to refill the water once in our seven day stay. Shutting off the water while lathering up in the shower or brushing teeth is a fairly severe change in behavior. I have to admit that things I have never done before. It meant coming up with a way to use less water and energy.
It would be great if the cabin had a power meter. I don't know how close we came to emptying it's batteries or how much surplus power all those panels produced during the day Not knowing if the power would be turned off at a moment's notice was a motivator for everyone to keep their devices plugged in.
The urine-diverting toilet didn't have a meter, but seeing paper start to grow from the poop chute on the last day was a good sign that it was full. It was odorless because it wasventilated. Solid waste is collected in a bag and thrown into an off site compost heap.
Purists say that I am doing it wrong when I share my experiences. I have been told to leave my gadgets at home. I like to strike a balance between bending the will of nature to my needs at one moment and giving myself over to it at the next. On the other side of the fence, the grass is not as green as it is on the other side.
Upon my return, the lessons I learned at In Forest have turned into new habits. When I lather up in the shower, I still shut off the tap. A dozen rarely used gadgets have been unplugged. Having my home fitted with solar panels and battery backups is something I am looking into. Although I have access to what seems like a never ending supply of electricity and hot water here in Amsterdam, high energy prices make resources I've previously taken for granted suddenly feel scarce.
I knew I should do these things for a long time. It's easier to change my behavior if I attach emotional memories to the idea. Saving money is a good motivator.
Technology has progressed so much that off-grid living is a more viable option than I had thought. It is advisable to try it for yourself before committing.
In Forest is not the only one that provides off- grid getaways. Multiple local providers are likely to be found when you use a search on the internet. It's easier to find experiences like off-the-grid living for those who want to go to the woods to try living a bit more deliberately with the May redesign ofAirbnb.