Who here hasn’t thought about the pleasures of going off the grid -- the concept of removing oneself from the trappings of modern society, Thoreau-like, in favor of something a little simpler?
Wayne and Margy Lutz -- 65 and 63 respectively -- did more than just think about it when they pulled up stakes from their home in Los Angeles and moved to British Columbia in 2001. But it’s not so much their remote location that makes the Lutzs' off-the-grid life interesting. It’s their house: a 675-square-foot floating cabin on Powell Lake in Powell River, B.C.
“We both lived in the city all our life,” said Margy Lutz, a former educational administrator. “We just wanted something very different.”
The couple has a well-documented love for the outdoors and adventure: It’s actually how they met.
“[Wayne] was a good friend of my ex-husband” Lutz explained (the pair were already divorced when she met Wayne). “We all took an airplane camping trip together and after the trip, my ex-husband said, 'Hey, you two would be great together.' And so we were.”
The two married and made a life for themselves in Pomona, California. Wayne worked as a teacher, so they took their plane, Piper Arrow, on regular trips during summer vacations, camping and checking out potential retirement locations. After considering places like Tucson and Flagstaff, Arizona, fate brought the couple to what would become their future home in the summer of 2000.
“We landed in Powell River just to get gas for our airplane,” Lutz recalled. “It's a paper mill town -- you see large stacks with smoke and exhaust coming out of them and you say, ‘Well, this can't be a very nice place.’ We had to rent a car and drove all of our camping stuff down to a campground down on the water in town.”
The Lutzs appreciated the coastal town’s glacial beauty and the simple, off-the-grid way of life it offered. “We ended up spending both weeks [of our vacation] there,” Lutz said. “There was so much to do. So we decided that [it] might be an interesting place to retire.
“It was unique. It was off the grid, it was away from town. Sometimes you just know inside that something's right,” Lutz said. “We decided the one we ended up purchasing was perfect: it was newer, it was hand-built, it came with everything.” The couple worked with a real estate agent in the summer of 2001 to negotiate the deal, and for $35,000 the floating cabin was now their home.
“Our bill of sale was a sheet of lined paper on a legal pad handwritten by the owner that said, ‘You are now the owners of the float cabin.’ And that was it.”
Friends were confused by their choice to say the least. “Everybody thinks it’s a houseboat,” Lutz said, laughing. “In their mind they see something that’s got a motor and putts around, so we quit trying to explain it to people.”
Although there was steep learning curve, the Lutzs learned how to do basic things like use a chainsaw to cut wood, and do minor electric and mechanical work, with help from a neighbor named John, who sold them their home and has since become a good friend. The Lutzs used their floating cabin for short holidays until they both retired in 2005. Because the Canadian government has a six-month stay requirement, they became permanent residents in 2008 (they’re still U.S. citizens though and have a home in Bellingham, Washington).
Their 675-square-foot home definitely provides them with the off-the-grid simplicity they were looking for. There’s no television or Internet, and the couple uses a wood-burning stove for heat. Before their recent remodeling job the couple had “quite a climb” to reach an outhouse (now they have a 6’ x 10’ indoor bathroom with a composting toilet -- "It’s a wonderful device,” Lutz said).
But the Lutzs are far from homebodies; the day-to-day requirements and joys of off-the-grid life bring them outdoors regularly. “You gotta cut the wood, you gotta run the boat,” said Lutz as she ticked off a list. “If it's spring you want to go fishing, if it's nice weather you want to go hiking. So you're always busy doing something. Pretty much during the daylight hours there's always something drawing you outside to enjoy nature.” Their home can take up to eight hours to reach for outsiders, but they visit with people in their neighborhood of around 200 floating cabins regularly.
It’s the time to do “more simple things” that the Lutzs love most about their unique retirement, Lutz said. “I have a floating garden, I can grow some things, I can do some canning and preserving,” she said, “things I never had time for in the States because we were both working so much. Even on the weekends we were taking work home. Now we have time to do things that we love while still working.”
Their "work" is managing Powell River Books, a website which publishes ebooks -- “regional non-fiction accounts of Canadian life in the geographic area of Powell River” and Wayne’s science fiction novels, Lutz said. The couple had to start the Canadian company to overcome the legal issues that came with their new home: It enabled the non-Canadians to lease the rights to the water under the cabin, which is moored to a rock wall of a cliff with steel cables). The Lutzs also work with a tax accountant to deal with the complicated and expensive tax issues of being a U.S. citizen in a different country.
While Wayne is there most of the year, Lutz said she goes back to the States three weeks each month to act as primary caregiver of her ailing mother.
When asked if she could see herself spending the rest of her life on Powell River, Lutz pauses. “Probably not realistically,” she answered, sounding somewhat disappointed. “My mom’s 96, so hopefully I’ll have her genes. [But] as long as we can, we will.”
The Lutzs Before Moving To Powell Lake
"We used our [plane] Piper Arrow to travel each summer," Margy Lutz told <em>Huff/Post50</em>. "We've been as far as Cancún in Mexico to the Arctic Ocean on the Northwest Territories. After traveling to all of those wonderful places, we discovered Powell River and our float cabin on Powell Lake. We knew instantly it was the place we wanted to live for the rest of our lives. We still have our plane, but we travel a lot less these days. We love it so much up on the lake that it is hard to leave home."
The Lutzs' Previous Home
The Lutzs' townhouse in Pomona, California -- their last L.A. home before moving to their cabin in Powell River, British Columbia.
The cabin seen from above on the Lutzs' cliff stairs. It is free floating but anchored to the cliff by 3/4" steel cables. There's a gangplank and transition float with a bridge to shore.
The front porch shows the cedar log float that is the foundation for the float cabin. This is a traditional construction method used for floating cabins and shops used at logging and fishing camps along the British Columbian coast since the early 20th century, Lutz said.
The cabin is water access only so the Lutzs have a runabout boat to make the 25-minute trip to and from the marina. "We can't travel on the lake when the wind is strong and the waves get too high. At those times we either stay in town to wait or stay at the cabin safe and sound," Lutz says. You can see their good friend John's -- who sold them their cabin -- home across the bay in this image.
"We have a 14' aluminum boat for working around the cabin and fishing of course," Lutz says. Her husband Wayne is pictured here.
"Kayaking in our protected bay is fun," Lutz says. The lake has about 250 cabins, 200 of which are floating cabins like these. There is a moratorium on new cabins to keep the environment safe and to maintain its remote lifestyle. Most cabins are used only in the summer. The Lutzs live on theirs about 75 percent of the year.
Wayne cutting firewood to store for the winter.
Margy sharpening the chainsaw. The Lutzs store firewood on the front porch to keep dry and for easy access during the winter.
Bathroom Compost Toilet
Bathroom Tub And Storage
The entire bathroom is 60 square feet.
The Lutzs' loft bedroom under the peak of the cabin roof.
Downstairs Great Room
This is a photo of the living room portion of the Lutzs' downstairs great room -- including the wood stove used for heat, simple stovetop cooking and thermoelectric power generation in winter (solar panels help during the sunnier months).
Wayne writes about science fiction and coastal British Columbia in this corner of the great room.
The Lutzs' downstairs guest room. It is lit by an electric light on the left and a propane light on the back wall.
The kitchen portion of the downstairs great room, viewed from the loft. It features a new 13-cubic-foot propane refrigerator with large freezer compartment, a sink with a hand water pump, a new propane stove (on the right) and custom built-in shelves. Dried onions harvested from the float garden hang for easy access.
"We use propane for the refrigerator, stove and lights in the kitchen and two downstairs bedrooms (one of which is used for storage)," Lutz says. "One 40-pound bottle lasts about 25 days. We take them by boat to and from town to get refilled at the gas station."
The Lutzs put in new shelves during their kitchen remodeling project last fall; storage and decluttering are important when living in a small home. The propane chandelier saves battery power especially during the winter.
"[The] wood stove runs 24/7 from about November to April," Lutz says.
"Home canning is something I learned from my grandmother but put into practice at the cabin," Lutz says.
Hand Water Pump
Closeup of the hand water pump that draws water up from the lake below the cabin's float structure. "We drink the water after boiling," Lutz says.
"We gather wood from the lake and store it here to stay dry for the winter," Lutz says. The kindling is kept in plastic barrels.
Solar panels on the cabin and Gemini (a boat converted into a writer's retreat for Wayne) charge the cabin batteries. In winter the sun angle is so low it is hard to keep the batteries charged, Lutz says. The Lutzs also have a wind generator that works during storms. "Only in winter do we need to use a gas generator to recharge the batteries," she says.
"We have been using an experimental thermoelectric generator that uses the heat from the wood stove and the cold water from the lake to generate electricity to help recharge our batteries in winter," Lutz says. "It doesn't do much, but in the winter every electron helps."
The Lutz's floating garden has four 4x10 raised beds, which hold fruits and vegetables like strawberries, onions, carrots, beets, lettuce, spinach, chard, asparagus and herbs. Log booms behind the garden help protect the cabin from wind waves and boat wakes.
Containers on the deck are used for plants such as garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, rhubarb, peas, beans, peppers and cucumbers.
The Cabin Under Construction
The cedar log float under construction before the cabin and deck were built by their friend John.
The Cabin In Winter
"We don't get much snow, and it usually only lasts a few days before melting. Just enough to enjoy. The weather is cold in weather, but the wood stove allows us to live here year round," Lutz says.
Wayne And Margy Lutz
Logging roads accessed by boat can be used to explore the backcountry.
Exploring The Backcountry
Logging roads and trails built by the Powell River ATV Club open up the backcountry for exploration.
Corrections: A previous version of this article stated that Margy Lutz went back to the States for one week per month. She goes back for three weeks each month. It also stated that their floating cabin was located in the Yukon -- it is in British Columbia.