Hi, everybody! Here is…the Fouch-o-matic FAQ page!!! I hope this is helpful to those who are new(ish) followers, or to those who have always had a question that wasn’t answered. I’m happy to add to this as time goes on (and will figure out how to keep it somewhere where people can find it), but this is as much as I could do in one busy evening. Love to all. I hope you’re all living this crazy day with some joy, some courage and some rest. <3
Fouch-o-matic Frequently Asked Questions:
How big is the Mountain Dream Home?
The house is designed to be 892 square feet, not counting attached greenhouse or food storage.
Where does your income come from?
We both work from home. Esther is a writer and Nick does finish carpentry and miscellaneous building work.
What did you do for a living before you moved off the grid?
Before we moved off-grid Nick worked in the scenery department at American Repertory Theatre, which is attached to Harvard University. Before that Nick and Esther both did freelance theater work.
Where did you live before you moved off the grid?
We lived outside of Boston, but we’re originally from Idaho, where we are now.
How far are you from town?
We are about a half hour’s drive from a convenient store, and 45 minutes from the closest gas station and grocery store. Unless there’s snow, in which case longer.
How do you keep food cool in the summer?
At this point we really don’t. We have changed the way we eat to minimize the need for refrigeration. We use an insulated cooler and the pond. However, we also store frozen food, especially whole frozen chickens, in a freezer in town, which is a temporary solution. We’re not sure yet if we’re going to stop freezing chickens or try to work out a freezer solution at our home. TBD.
How does your solar power work?
Our solar power system is a phase one system for us. We do plan to expand it, but we had to start somewhere with a technology that was unfamiliar to us both. It’s 4 panels, two batteries, inverter and backup battery charger, and we paid $1000 for the whole thing. We are limited in the spring/summer/fall by storage (batteries) and in the winter by sun. Nick wrote it out in an article for Molly Green Magazine here.
What percentage of your food do you grow yourself?
We can’t really answer this question because we aren’t established enough to have a set pattern. Each year has been different. Our goal is to have a working garden and food storage system (not expanding) at the end of five years. Even at that point we won’t be growing everything we use, but the plan is to be growing enough that we could survive.
What is your climate like?
We are in hardiness zone 4c/5a, with winter temperatures down to -20 F.
How do you have Internet?
It’s a point to point provider. Nick built a tower for the antenna and buried the CAT line himself, but we pay for the Internet service. We have wifi in the house but we turn it off at night. The video on our Internet is here.
Are your kids bored or unhappy? Do your kids ever say “We don’t want to live like this. We want to live like our friends?”
Our kids are pretty young, and so far they really like the way we live. So we’ve not really been through the challenge on this. But here are two things that we know.
One, it’s really important to have friends who respect and admire our way of life. We even have some friends who are living (or are planning to live) in a pretty similar way.
Two, if parents are making a choice to live off grid, then we have to expect our kids to be making choices as well, in their own time. For this reason we try to keep lots of doors open for our kids. We don’t expect them to be just like us and also we don’t expect them to do our projects all day long. Our kids do have chores, and they are required to learn skills in home school, but we also give them a lot of free time and encourage them to think of their own projects and discover their own passions.
How do you cook?
We have a wood cook stove, which is currently outdoors, on the yurt deck. And we use a propane burner to boil water.
How will you cook in the Mountain Dream Home?
This is still an open question. We may have the opportunity to have a very special and beautiful stove that runs on propane. But we won’t give up our wood stove, or the option to use the wood stove if we needed it.
How do you handle garbage disposal?
When you don’t get garbage service, you’re inspired to make less garbage, which is a good thing. Also producing your own food and other elements of DIY lifestyle can lead to less garbage anyway. But we’re not there yet. We load trash onto the back of the truck and take it to the county dump once every month or couple of months.
How do you stay warm in your yurt?
Our yurt is insulated. It isn’t insulated as well as our home will be. But it isn’t like camping, either. In the winter time we have temps as low as -20. On a night like that we have to keep the fire going, someone might get up at 3am or so to make sure it doesn’t go out. But as long as the fire is going we’re fine. We also all sleep up off the floor and have nice heavy homemade quilts on our beds.
What will you do with the yurt when you move into the house?
It will become our guest room! Also possibly a school room. Also possibly eventually a teenager hangout. It’s a great space. We won’t let it go to waste.
Do you own your land?
How much land do you have? Is it enough?
We have 3.5 acres of wooded hillside. The question of whether it is enough is extremely subjective, and we’ve been everywhere you can be on the question.
How do you pay taxes and health insurance?
We don’t enjoy paying either of those things, but we do. The income comes from our freelance work, which also pays for groceries, gas and other things we wish we didn’t have to buy.
How and where do you do your laundry?
We have a bike-powered washer that is awesome, but inefficient in the wintertime (after the water lines freeze). During the winter we take laundry into town to a laundromat and wash small items by hand.
Can you share the plans for your bike-powered washer?
We plan to do a bike powered washer 2.0 for the house, and when we do that we’ll do a how-to video. The prototype was kind of worked out on the fly and wouldn’t necessarily translate to repeatable instructions.
How long have you lived off-grid?
We moved into our off-grid yurt in April of 2013. We had purchased the property and started building the yurt in the winter of 2012, about a month after our youngest child (Sadie) was born.
Were you both gung ho about this idea or did either one of you have to be convinced?
Amazingly, both of us were really into it. Esther wanted to quit after the first year, while Nick didn’t, but otherwise our interest in off-grid lifestyle has been pretty equal. We inspire each other.
Do you plan on staying off-grid into old age?
Probably. But this depends a great deal on what support network we’ve built by then. Do any of our adult kids live on the property? Are any of them interested in maintaining the homestead? Do we have neighbors who can help us when the going gets tough? These are open questions, but we hope for the best.
Did you run into any zoning issues for your structure, power, water etc?
No. Zoning laws that tolerate all our choices — including alternative housing, no electricity and responsible human waste composting — are a big reason we chose the land we did, which is beautiful but also comes with other challenges. We’re in a low red tape area.
Have you thought about raising rabbits for meat?
Yes. Absolutely. It’s been something that has made the list of possible things to do every year since we started. Maybe this is the year.
What’s with the name “Fouch-o-matic”?
Nick acquired the nickname “Fouch-o-matic” (based on his last name, Fouch, rhymes with couch), when he was just out of college and already building complicated and occasionally automated projects in the scenery shops where he worked. He named his first business Fouch-o-matic Industries and it was his first e-mail address. Now it’s also our YouTube channel.
I didn’t quite get to all the questions, but will add to this as we can; feel free to add your own question in the comments or on our Facebook page. (All blog comments currently go to moderation, but we see them all, and that will change in the next month or so as this website gets a makeover.)
Thanks for being our DIY community!
Love, from the yurt.