Living 'Off the Grid' in the Hills: 'Along the Way'

Published: May. 24, 2016 at 8:43 PM MDT
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Sometimes a house is just a house: a place to live.

But for some people, a house is far more than that. It's a philosophy and a lifestyle.

And that's the case with one man, choosing to live "off the grid" : 'A Long the Way" somewhere in the Central Hills.

At the base of a valley, down a long gravel road, somewhere between Hill City and Rapid City, there's a driveway leading to a house that combines innovative thinking with old fashioned living.

Jeff Schlukebier says, "I cut Ponderosa Pine trees on the property, cut them up, 16 inches long, and set them in mortar and so the house is thick, it has a lot of mass which is good because it helps maintain a constant temperature."

It's called Cordwood Masonry, one of many concepts Jeff Schlukebier used in building his home: "off the grid", and partially 'into' the side of a hill.

It's a sort of idyllic scene-- with his 2 dogs roaming around, and his cat relaxing over on a wooden step. He even has little goslings running around in what he calls the meadow.

But what is not running up to his home is electric power lines: and that's how he likes it. In many ways, the 'sun', is what 'powers' both his home and his lifestyle.

"So in the winter when the sun is low, the sun shines in and heats the house up, yet in the summer when the sun is high, when it's facing due South the sun is shaded by the overhang," Schlukebier says,

His home's 1 level, about 800 cozy square feet, with majestic views. But, Winter in the wilderness of the hills can be bitterly cold...which is why he has a Mason Stove to heat his house.

Jeff Schlukebier says, "I heat with it every evening I fire it for at least 4 hours but no more than 8. And the idea is that I fire wood and I burn it real fast and hot but efficiently."

The stove heats more than just air.

"This thing probably weighs over a ton and so it heats up a lot of rock, a lot of fire brick, a lot of mortar, and so it holds heat for most of the day," Schlukebier says,

For water, he has a solar powered well.

Jeff Schlukebier says, "It's about 80 feet deep well and the pump which is a submersible pump is down about 70 feet and how the pump is run is a solar voltaic. I have 4 panels that run the pump, so when I turn that on during the day it can pump water to my cistern which is up the hill."

And with his water stored up on the hill, gravity creates water pressure for his sink, and bathroom.

On top of the house, he has a living roof.

Jeff Schlukebier says, "The roof is maybe a foot thick but half of it's dirt and I planted buffalo grass up there , some wild flowers, and of course there's a lot of volunteer plants."

The thick roof provides insulation from above. He has a small solar panel up here to power his lights. Back down on the ground, there's more to see. He built this sauna before he actually built the home. And if you walk just a bit further you find his greenhouse.

"Right now the dill is taking over and I need to thin that out, but I have a lot of lettuce in there. I planted all that in February so all of March and April and May I've been eating lettuce out of there," Schlukebier says.

He has a combination miniature barn and chicken coop too

He keeps the little chicks fenced in so they don't get eaten by predators. While his full grown chickens are free range.

Jeff Schlukebier says, "But they always come back to lay their eggs here and they always come back at night to roost."

When you pump your own water you can also have your own wading pool.

And, in the summer he uses an outdoor solar oven, which he says is slow, but very tasty.

Jeff Schlukebier says, "I just put rice dry on the bottom and the juices from the meat and the vegetables will cook into the rice eventually, and the rice will take on the flavor of the meat and the vegetables."

He's lived in the house about a dozen years now and it's pretty clear there's no place he'd rather live, than 'off the grid', here in the hills.

While his home itself is off the grid, he says he still buys most of his food at the grocery store.

If you've met someone cool "Along the way", please e–mail or call us with your story ideas.