Andrew Wright utilizing wood, solar and wind energy sources
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
When Andrew Wright first began looking for property north of the Twin Cities, the structure he had in mind to build on it was a two-car garage with an apartment above. What happened next is not anything like what he envisioned.
Wright, who grew up in Grand Forks, N.D. and has lived in and around the Twin Cities for many years, wanted to get away from the traffic and noise of the city.
“Living right in the middle of a metro area neighborhood convinced me that peace and quiet were in my future,” Wright said. “I’d known for years I wanted an acreage property a little off the beaten path, and always liked the idea of off-grid power.”
Once he purchased 40 acres in Eastern Morrison County in 2003, it was the prospect of having to pay $18,000 to bring electric power one more mile down the road to his property that cemented his interest and commitment to off-grid power sources.
His interest in alternative power systems was developed while reading a Mother Earth News subscription given to him by his mom.
“The first article I ever read in it led me to a $200 tax credit for high-efficiency skylights,” he said.
With a background in engineering, Wright is self-employed with a variable work schedule and rents a room from his sister in the Twin Cities while working there. He also maintains an office in Milaca.
Dirt work was begun on his new property for an A-frame house with tuck-under garage in 2004. Wright has worked on it as often and for as long as time and money allowed. He has hired contractors when necessary, but tries to do much of the work himself.
“The garage is buried on three sides by an earth berm,” said Wright. “The temperature is better-regulated that way. There is wood-fired in-floor heat.”
He is utilizing many energy sources, including wind, solar, radiant floor heat, wood and solar hot water.
“I’m still learning how much production I will get from particular components,” he said.
Wright started documenting the project with a website detailing each step along the way. After several years he switched to a blog, which is easier to update.
“I wanted to let people know it could be done without being grotesquely expensive,” he said.
He readily admits to making mistakes, which are also documented on his website under the heading “extras 4.”
“I learned a lot of things not only the hard way, but the expensive way,” Wright said.
While he often finds high-quality materials and one-of-a-kind items on Craigslist, he is committed to using local companies and labor. Area businesses he has used are listed on his website under “credits.”
His only regular expenses include insurance and upkeep for his car, snowmobile and motorcycle, property taxes and a cell phone.
Wright points out that his commitment to off-grid energy is not completely uncivilized.
“I’m separating from a dependency on electricity,” he said. “But I will probably still have a propane tank.”
He also hopes to do some experimenting with the use of waste vegetable oil (WVO) to run diesel engines as well as possibly building some version(s) of a Stirling engine, which is an engine that runs solely on heat.
“This could be for pumping hot water through the floor or even generating electricity from the heat of a wood stove,” he said.
Wright anticipates finishing the electrical wiring this season with a final inspection for the state.
He wants to get a battery bank set up and a wind generator running, with at least one solar panel installed.
His other major goal for the year is to get chimneys installed for both the wood stove and the wood-fired boiler.
“People ask when it will be done,” Wright said. “What’s done? I tell them, ‘never.’”
He has a broader perspective about the whole building project. It’s not just about building a house — it’s a life project.
“Things in life don’t happen for no reason,” he said. “God has allowed me the time, the money and resources to go through this learning process.”
Meanwhile, he has been able to use his construction skills in other ways. He has taken four trips to Mexico where he has helped put roofs on churches, among other things.
“When I go to Mexico it’s about making the world a better place,” he said. “Clean water should be available to everyone. You can have solar and wind energy anywhere.”
Despite having an incomplete house, Wright is pleased with life in the country.
“Mostly I just like the peace and quiet and the stars,” Wright said.
To find out more about Wright’s project, visit www.wrighttrackenterprises.com/off-grid/off-grid_1.html.