CHRISTMAS — After a year of living with no indoor shower, dishwasher or central air conditioning, an east Orange County couple calls it an off-the-grid paradise.
Terry and Tia Meer built their electric-sipping, super-efficient log cabin down a gravel path alongside the Econlockhatchee River as a way to live what they preach — making as little environmental impact as possible.
"You don't have to live uncomfortably, totally cut off from the world or in a tent to use less energy," said Tia Meer, 30, recently as she tended one of the couple's vegetable gardens on their 5-acre plot near Christmas.
The Meers, who met about a decade ago when both were students at the University of Central Florida, are among the founders of the Orlando-based nonprofit called the Simple Living Institute.
They moved into their 1,024-square-foot Florida Cracker-style house last fall.
Unlike the hippie idealism of the 1970s that encouraged people to homestead like early American pioneers, today's off-the-grid movement doesn't shun all modern conveniences. The Meers have electric lights, a small air conditioner for the bedroom and a refrigerator. They wash clothes at coin-operated laundries. And during a summer heat wave, the pair admitted to fleeing to the air-conditioned comfort of a public library.
Solar panels linked to a bank of batteries give them the electric juice to run a few appliances and recharge batteries in their cell phones and computers. Rain catchers on the roof store up enough water for the Meers' showers, their banana grove and vegetable gardens, as well as their five red hens and a stray cat.
They also have a backup well.
The Meers have no water bill, and their electric bill is only about $30 a month, which includes a $10 minimum monthly service charge, said Terry Meer, 34.
Tia Meer, who works as a native plants expert, and Terry Meer, who has a low-energy advisory company, spend a lot of their spare time tending to their squash, tomato and bean gardens.
Their monthly grocery bill is about $50, Terry Meer said.
Tia Meer said that after a year there, she can't imagine living anywhere else. "This is our home; we live here for real and probably for the rest of our lives."