Living Off The Grid

Living Off The Grid
John Wells
Photograph by James Evans

NAME: John Wells | AGE: 50 | HOMETOWN: Outside Terlingua | QUALIFICATIONS: Runs the Southwest Texas Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living Field Laboratory, a personal experiment in green living / Chronicles his experiences online at

• After working in fashion photography and set design in New York City for twenty years, I moved upstate to work as a building contractor. I had a huge, beautiful house on 32 acres, but the mortgage and property taxes were killing me—I was paying $1,000 a month in taxes. I decided I would try a debt-free lifestyle. I knew a couple, Abe and Josie Connally, who were practicing sustainable living in West Texas, so in October 2007 I packed up and moved. Now I own 40 acres in the desert, and my property taxes are $100 a year.

• I had experimented with sustainable living in New York. In the summer I would rent my house to what we called “cidiots”—weekenders from the city—and live in this trailer out back. I had a couple solar panels, a hot-water heater, a gas grill, and that was it. I enjoyed the simplicity.

• As soon as I got here, I built the basic box of my house in ten days and moved right in. I used four-by-eight-foot panels of oriented strand board, which is like plywood but cheaper. There are seven little windows and a big glass door.

• My family was sure I was going to become a hermit. But once I got DSL and a phone line, they weren’t as worried.

• The solar oven works the same way your car does when you roll up the windows and park it out in the sun all day. It’s a double-paned black box, so it absorbs all the heat. I throw my food in at around four p.m., and by six-thirty or seven it’s bubbling away. The only bad thing is if you start something like chicken and after an hour it gets cloudy—then you’re screwed.

• I do a supply run to Alpine about once every ten days in my truck. It’s about an hour’s drive each way. I’ll stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables, but I’m a big fan of Spam and Dinty Moore beef stew and different stuff in cans.

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