Everyone has a different idea of what kind of home they’d like to live in when retirement comes a knockin’. Some may envision a spacious apartment in the city while others may opt for downsized ranch house (goodbye stairs!) on a suburban golf course. And, of course, there’s always the option of sharing a four-bedroom pad in Miami with two of your closest friends and a wisecracking octogenarian from Sicily.
Me? I have a long ways to go, but I’m mighty intrigued by this ambitious eco-development in the California desert.
Los Angeles expats of a certain age Margy and Wayne Lutz took a decidedly unique route when selecting where exactly to hunker down after taking an early retirement from their careers in education. In 2001, they got the hell out of Southern California and relocated to coastal British Columbia’s Powell Lake, a pristine and somewhat remote (it’s only an hour or so northwest of Vancouver, but getting there is somewhat tricky and time-consuming) body of water famous for its abundance of float cabins, permanently anchored structures that float above the water on wooden platforms.
Originally used as portable bunkhouses for loggers and weekend getaways for mill workers in the nearby city of Powell River, float cabins are popular rental retreats for vacationers who flock to the Sunshine Coast region every summer for a little R&R.; Having vacationed in the area a few years prior, Margy and Wayne Lutz weren’t looking for a rustic floating cabin to spend a few summer weekends in. They were looking for a full-time floating residence that would allow them to go completely off the grid.
And so as the story goes, Margy and Wayne purchased their very own float cabin to the tune of $35,000 Canadian dollars ($25,000 USD back in 2011) and began the process of converting the structure into a self-sufficient floating retirement paradise with the help of a local float cabin guru (also the home's builder) named John. Accessible only by boat, the 420-square-foot home (plus a 200-square-foot sleeping loft) is powered by solar, wind, and thermoelectric energy with some additional help from propane during the winter months.
They have 3 main solar panels, each one for a specific function. Two panels (200 watts & 125 watts) feed into the main cabin, charging six 6-volt batteries (wired in serial pairs to produce the requisite 12 volts they need to run most of their cabin. There’s also a 300 watt panel on top of Wayne’s floating ‘writer’s retreat’, a boat called Gemini (it can be switched to feed the boats’ needs or the cabins’).
For heat, they rely on a wood stove (fueled mostly with driftwood) that has been rigged with an experimental thermoelectric system that uses the cold water from the lake for a good differential in temperatures. Whenever the stove surface is about 300 degrees C, they are generating a trickle charge to their batteries.
As for the facilities, Margy and Wayne installed a composting toilet within the dwelling after hiking up a granite cliff to use an outhouse provide to be too burdensome. In the absence of a conventional water heater, the Lutzs boil water on the stovetop. When it's time to do dishes, water in the kitchen sink is hand-pumped directly from the lake. The couple also grow much of their own food in a floating vegetable garden that's adjacent to the cabin. In addition to the contents of the toilet, all waste generated by the couple is composted as there isn't a garbage barge that services the area. It's also worth noting that Margy and Wayne lease their "lot" for $500 a year from the B.C. government.
Says Margy: “Living off the grid makes for a very simple life ... just all the things I don't need is what I think about when I'm here. I don't need a lot of light, I don't need a lot of electricity. I need a little propane to cook with. So I'm not without comforts of home I guess you could say. But I'm with all the comforts of living in the middle of nature.”
Take a tour of chez Lutz in the faircompanies video tour that I've embedded below (the video was shot by Margy herself). It’s also worth spending a few moments checking out this blog maintained by Margy where she waxes on the myriad joys — and occasional hardships — of living detached from the grid in a floating cabin in remote British Columbia. As for Wayne, an amateur astronomer, pilot, and prolific author, he spends his days writing books for his own publishing company, Powell River Books. While Wayne primarily pens nonfictional accounts of life on Powell Lake through his “Coastal British Columbia” series, he also has a soft spot for sci-fi as evidenced in one of his newer releases, “Anomaly at Fortune Lake.”
I’d love to know what you think of the Lutz’s set-up in the comments section.