In Touch With Nature

Set 185 feet above the Caney River, just south of Bartlesville, deeply imbedded in the woods and cliffs of the Cross Timbers, is a 1,200-SF home operating completely off of the energy grid.
Its owners, Roger and Angela Box, aren’t tree-hugging hippies who want to live sustainably in order to protect their environment. They’re retired grandparents who, when they began designing their summer cabin in the country, realized it’d be cheaper for them to go off the grid than on.
The Boxes designed their log cabin home and Levi Richmond, of the Bartlesville-based Levi Construction, built it from dead-standing trees cut in Idaho.
The two-bedroom cabin boasts two beautiful porches, one in front and one in back and each about 200 SF.
The view from the back porch is exquisite.
Inside, the cabin has a rustic, almost post-Colonial feel. The log walls are stained a muted hue; the d√?cor is comprised of an antique quilt and old family photographs.
The furniture is a hodgepodge of found and gifted items, mix-matched perfectly. The banjo music playing in the background accentuates the simplistic charm of the place.
Windows provide the lighting, and, upstairs, the beds are dressed in old quilts.
The cabinets lack doors; instead, curtains keep their contents discreet.
The family generates electricity with the aid of six 160-watt solar panels purchased from Harvest Solar Energy in Tulsa. They collect water off of their tin roof, and they live without air conditioning or a heater. A small wood-burning stove in the family room keeps the cabin warm in the winter.
The Boxes have owned their property — about 100 acres — and finished construction on their house in October. They live full-time in Bartlesville and use their cabin as a retreat and place to entertain family and guests.
They planned to build so high on the hill and so far from civilization that getting electricity to their cabin would cost $20,000, Roger Box said.
The solar panels cost them $14,000.
It was difficult to pipe in city water to the home because of the altitude and the thick clay they found 18 inches into the earth, so the Boxes collect rainwater and use a septic system.
Though going off the grid wasn’t originally what they had planned, Roger Box said, “It became fun. I like being independent.”
The whole project, minus the cost of the land, cost the couple about $200,000, but they’re happy with it, they said, because they “got what we wanted.”
Heating Up
The Boxes generate electricity through photovoltaic cells. They face precisely due south and are pitched at such an angle as to draw the most energy possible. They generate about a kilowatt per hour, Roger Box said.
The energy is collected and transported through a current to the 12 six-volt batteries under their house. An inverter converts the direct current coming to the batteries into an alternating current, which is sent into the house to run the lamps, ceiling fans and other small electronics in the house.
There is no air conditioner; no clothes dryer.
“Probably the weakest part of this whole design is the solar system,” said Roger Box. “It’s not because of the solar system itself; it’s because of battery technology.
“As you know, even with cars, they’re still working on battery technology. The same is true here. We’re just not quite there yet. They’re still fairly expensive, and controlling them and making sure everything is coordinated is still acting up on me.”
“What we experience because of that,” he continued, “is that, in about a two-day period, if it’s cloudy, our batteries may reach that 50-percent (capacity) level and it just shuts down.”
“It’s not too bad because we’re not here all the time, except I have refrigeration and I have water purification,” he said.
He called the science behind the battery technology “dodgy,” but he said he hopes that, in the near future, scientists will have worked it out so that there aren’t as many problems associated with that component of solar energy.
He pointed out that those who utilize solar energy but aren’t off-grid don’t have to worry about the batteries, and he said he’d recommend solar panels in that capacity to just about anyone.
He keeps a small generator on hand in order to charge the batteries when needed.
He keeps the energy captured sustained with the insulation provided by the log walls, an insulated roof and double-pane windows.
Water Under the House
The Boxes’ cabin doesn’t have a dishwasher, nor a clothes washer, but there is one shower, one toilet and a kitchen sink. Because of the difficulty of laying pipe and importing Bartlesville city water, the couple chose a septic sewage system and collects rainwater, purifying it and filtering it into their home for everyday use.
Roger Box explained the water collection and purification system:
He said the water runs off his gutters into a pre-wash tank, which can hold about 40 gallons.
The water trickles through a valve into a cistern, leaving behind the dust and dirt collected from the roof. The water is pumped from the cistern, which holds about 1,200 gallons, into the cabin via a direct-current pump, which runs off of batteries. The water is pumped into a pressure tank, located underneath the cabin, the bladder of which sends it into the cabin.
A purification system cleans the water, first through a 20-micron filter, then through a five-micron filter and finally through a UV light that finishes off the last of the microorganisms.
The Boxes get their hot water from a demand tank that only switches on when they turn on the hot water faucet. It’s not electric; it’s hydroelectric, using a fan to light propane to heat the water. Once the hot water is turned off, the hot water tank shuts itself off as well.
“It’s all a learning process. It took me four months to get the water good and hot. I found out reading the instructions helps a whole lot,” said Roger Box, laughing.
“And the other thing — I just messed up my water system a little bit. I learned that once a year you need to put a little chlorine in there, just to clean things out a bit, microorganisms and whatnot,” he said. “In order to do that, you have to calculate how much sodium hydrochloride — Clorox — to dump in your cistern. We have a 1,200-gallon cistern. So I calculated that and figured it’d be about 1.2 gallons. And, like anyone, I figured a little more might help.
“It does, but unfortunately, until we get another major rain, our water tastes a little like drinking out of a swimming pool.”
The Boxes said that, even in a drought, they don’t worry about overusing their water supply. He said energy and water conservation are always on their minds because they can easily see how much of each they use, but he said they don’t ration water or worry about running out, simply because they don’t live there full-time.
“I heard of one family who tried this, and it was a family who lived there all the time, and they had problems during droughts,” said Angela Box.
If they did, Roger Box said, they’d worry about conserving water; but, the cistern has a cap on it that he can unscrew and deposit city water if he needed to.
The fact that the Boxes’ sustainable cabin is only lived-in part-time makes managing the details of the lifestyle easier, they said.
And they agreed that they would recommend the lifestyle to others.
But, Roger Box said, it’s not for everyone.
Sitting high on the mountain, surrounded by nature — foliage and living things — the green lifestyle is perfect for the Boxes. When they want to get away awhile.

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