The promise of low mortgages and reduced expenses has people all over the country moving into what are called "tiny houses." Generally up to 400 square feet in size, the structures are an affordable, self-reliant alternative to typical family dwellings.
One tiny house, in Sharon, is about 400 square feet. It runs on solar power and is heated with a wood stove.
This is the second Vermont winter Nicole Antal, her husband Ben Servoz, who hail from Belgium and France, respectively, and their 6-year-old-son, Robin, have lived like this.
And after last year, Antal says she's found her bearings.
“If we can make it the first winter – yeah, we're going to make it for the rest of our lives,” she said, sitting at her kitchen table while snow picked up speed outside.
Servoz built the small wooden house and modeled it after a boat for efficiency. There is a shelf for everything, but no indoor bathroom. The family sleeps in bunk beds.
Servoz and Antal refer to themselves as homesteaders — and while that practice isn't new, Servoz says the economy was part of the inspiration for his generation to move toward off-the-grid living.
He and Antal had bought a house in Utah around the time the 2008 housing bubble burst.
“The end result of that was that we were very averse to having a regular mortgage,” he reflected.
Now, in Vermont, they have no mortgage. Their only bill is for an Internet connection. And on a very basic level, Servoz says, that makes for a better life. Common problems like high heating bills aren't something he worries about anymore.
“Every dad in the world has their hand ready next to the thermostat just in case, and I don't care anymore – I used to be like that,” he laughed. “It's for freedom and independence. Freedom in the way that we get to do whatever we want, and that's nice.”
As the storm winds blew outside, Antal braved the elements to go to her hand-powered water pump. She visits it twice a day; the family uses the water for drinking, cooking and bathing.
“It's potable water, so we can drink it,” she said while rhythmically pushing the pump’s lever. “For the showers, we just put it on the stove and add some cold water.”
During the winter, showering in this tiny house happens in the kitchen, over a basin.
You might expect to come to a Vermont homestead on a stormy day to find some version of the Donner Party, a group of pioneers who ended up eating one another — but inside their house, Servoz thinks stormy days are actually particularly peaceful.
“The day like today is actually really quiet,” he said. “We've prepared everything before, usually we do the chores by now, so we don't do them in the snow.”
He continued: “After, we need to plow and push the snow off the solar panels and all that stuff. But, the day itself is usually a really quiet day, almost meditative.”
And while the stormy world of politics, fossil fuels and technology rages beyond their off-the-grid lifestyle, Servoz says living this way helps to give him a clearer picture of the world.
“It's not just that we do what we want to do here, it's also the fact that because we don't depend on any special things, [like] energy ... We feel a lot more free to judge it,” he said. “Of course, we're still dependent on it, but we're a lot less dependent on it. And as a result, it changes our thinking.”
Their life is not one without challenges, but they will continue to weather the world from their tiny house homestead off the grid.