Here's How This Tiny Cabin Functions Completely Off the Grid

Here's How This Tiny Cabin Functions Completely Off the Grid

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Nancy Mitchell
Mar 31, 2018
(Image credit: Eirik Johnson for Dwell)

In the modern world, there are a lot of things we take for granted—like electrical and plumbing systems. You turn the tap, water comes out. You flip a switch, the lights come on. But imagine, for a moment, that you're building a vacation house in a location where you don't have any of that. Is it possible to build a comfortable home completely off the grid? Turns out, it is.

(Image credit: Eirik Johnson for Dwell)

If you're looking at a map, Ragged Island, a little outcropping 20 miles off the coast of Maine, looks like little more than a speck in a sea of endless blue. This island, which measures less than one square mile, is home to the community of Criehaven, making it one of the outermost inhabited islands on the East Coast. It's in this isolated spot that Bruce Porter, a journalist and retired professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, decided to build a home.

(Image credit: Eirik Johnson for Dwell)

Bruce had owned a 3/4 acre lot on the island since 1971, and envisioned several different structures to occupy the spot, but it wasn't until his retirement, and his daughter Alex's graduation from architecture school, that he finally decided it was time to build. Alex's design for the house, built as close to the waterfront as the law would allow, is a little cabin that rises gracefully from its surroundings. The metal siding of the cabin matches the rocks and the sea: the interior is clad in simple white pine.

(Image credit: Eirik Johnson for Dwell)

The island's remote location made building a challenge. Most of the materials for the house had to be brought over on an amphibious "sea truck," and much of the construction was done without the aid of power tools. The isolated location also meant that things we take for granted, like water and sewer services, had to be carefully planned for. Water for the house comes from a rain-catchment system on the roof: a device called a "roof washer" collects and disposes of the first five gallons of rainwater, to ensure that the water that makes it into the cistern is particularly clean.

(Image credit: Eirik Johnson for Dwell)

Since building a septic system on the island was out of the question, the bathroom is equipped with a composting toilet. Only the water heater and the stove operate off propane: everything else, including the refrigerator, is powered by solar cells on the porch roof. On chilly nights, a wood stove serves to heat the house. From the loft to the L-shaped sectional downstairs, everything is neat and shipshape.

(Image credit: Eirik Johnson for Dwell)
(Image credit: Eirik Johnson for Dwell)

As a New Yorker accustomed to looking at other buildings rather than rugged coastlines, I can't help thinking this looks like the perfect place to get away. No word on whether there's WiFi, but with surroundings like these, maybe you're better off without it.

To see more of this little house, check out the full tour at Dwell.

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