North Country News
Tue April 30, 2013
Vermont Family Living Off The Grid
Increasing numbers of Americans are leading self-sufficient lives, including the Lazzara family, which lives in the mountains of Vermont — off the electric grid. The family uses its own water supply and food. Reporter Elise Linscott spent a weekend with the Lazzaras, and found out why they prefer rural living over any city landscape – even if it means living without the modern comforts of a typical home.
Most Americans wouldn’t know how to cope without 24/7 access to their cell phones or TVs, but the Lazzara family moved from urban Connecticut to rural Vermont specifically to escape the noise and close quarters of urban life. They live off the electric grid. Their house is powered by a wind turbine and 14 solar panels. The soft whir of the wind turbine is a comforting sound to the Lazzaras, since it means their backup batteries are being charged.
Driving up the quarter-mile driveway to their house, located 1,700 feet above sea level, the house seems more old country than modern family. Dawn Lazzara is an elementary school teacher and a mother of two, and has enjoyed the peace and quiet of Groton, Vermont since moving here 14 years ago.
“The radio’s on now, but when I’m home by myself, I have nothing on. No noise, I should say, no noise on. And I just love the quiet, to go on the front deck and look out at the mountains and just hear nature," she says. "And to get in tune with yourself and to relax, that’s my favorite part, looking out the front door, or the door yard as they say in Vermont, and just seeing the beauty of Vermont.”
The Lazzaras begin their day by tending to the animals living on their 10 acres of land. The family used to have cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and ducks, but now only care for chickens and a goat named Gizmo.
“You do more things on your own for yourself. You don’t just run to the store to get an egg. If the chicken doesn’t lay it, you don’t have eggs that night," Lazzara says. "I have to go out and feed and water and hay the goat, and let him out because we lock him up at night. He lived with us in the house for six months when he was a baby, so he likes people. He won’t just go and roam, he wants to play with us. In the summer he’s out for hours with us, whenever we’re doing yard work. He’s about seven years old. That’s my Gizmo. Everybody has dogs, I have a goat.”
And although the family enjoys living on their own mountain with no neighbors in sight, it took a lot of work to get the house where it is, and to be able to keep in contact with loved ones. Dawn’s husband Vincent Lazzara, a tractor-trailer mechanic, built most of the house from the ground up.
“I installed the solar panels, they track, they actually follow the sun," he says. "So when the sun comes up in the morning they’ll be facing east. I put the wind turbines in. We actually built this place, it was just a hunting camp with no walls, just two by fours and an outside structure, no foundation and it was actually her cousin’s place so he gave me a hand, so we jacked the building up, poured foundations, set it back down on the foundations. Maintaining the battery bank for power, because we do run off batteries and solar and the wind charges the battery bank for us. We had an outhouse when we first moved here, we had the outhouse probably for I’d say about six months because it was a hunting camp so we had no running water, I had to put the well in. It was cold.”
“We have a special cell phone that has a booster, so you have to take your cell phone and put it into this booster that gives us power and the cell service, we just can’t pick up a cell phone like everybody else does and just talk on it, we have to have a special booster and antennae to get the service. We have satellite service for our internet because we don’t have any phone lines at all and we don’t have any kind of power from the road or anything. When we first moved here it was going to be $18,000 for a phone line and $45,000 for power to be brought up here, so we decided we’re going try it without that and so far it’s been wonderful.”
While Dawn and Vin say the move away from the high crime and traffic of the city has been easy, the adjustment has been more difficult for their kids, 21-year-old Teri and 24-year-old Vinny.
Teri has lived in Vermont most of her life, but now attends Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts. Neither she nor Vinny plan on staying on their family’s land long-term.
“At first it was really fun because I loved getting the eggs from the chickens and killing the animals was something new, and even just having that many animals and to be able to do what we wanted and not be restricted by neighbors was really fun," she says. "I also liked growing up in a small high school, but I’m definitely more of a city life person, I like to be able to go out now being older. I like coming home now from school now and relaxing, but just for about a week. And I can shoot my gun, I can go kayaking, I can go skiing, it’s just so nice to just chill. But then by the end of the week, I’m ready to go back to fast pace. But when I’m old maybe come back here, at least have a summer house or something.”
Dawn understands her kids’ need to live an urban life, but does hope they carry what they learned with them for the rest of their lives.
“I want them to be independent, I want them to do what they want to do, but it also makes me sad that they don’t like their home and they don’t like where they are," she says. "I don’t mind them moving somewhere but I don’t want them going too far where we can’t visit. But I think we did the right thing by moving up here, I think they got a great education and they learned that they had to work hard to get things, things weren’t just handed to them. They had to work with the cows and the chickens and the pigs and take care of the animals and do their chores, so they weren’t just the type of kids that just got things for doing nothing, and I think that’s a good thing.”
Living in relative isolation isn’t always the easiest way of life for the family, but for Vincent, the benefits far outweigh the downfalls.
“I see my wife giving me a cowboy funeral on this property, which is basically just put them out in the yard, kick some dirt over them and walk away. Yeah, I have no intentions of every leaving here, no matter how cold it gets or how bad my bones ache. I’ll die on the property as far as I’m concerned."