Amy Suarez | |

Building a tiny homeRyan Lapinski always wanted to be MacGyver, the TV character solving problems with a bit of candle wax and a plastic bag.

“I watched that show religiously … that pretty much got me interested in outdoors. Blame it all on MacGyver, I guess,” he said.

The 26 June show in the new series “America Unplugged,” on the Sportsman Channel, will feature. Lapinski and his wife, Adda Lamon, as they build an off-grid home in East Brady, Pennsylvania.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I just preferred camping over being in a structure,” said Lapinski, 38, a native of the South. (“Pick a Southern state and chances are, I’ve lived there for a little bit.”)

He met Wisconsin-born Ms. Lamon, 30, when they were students at Northern Michigan University. “She’s really into winter and winter activities, and I’m more into summer activities. This location gives us 50-50 … If we go any farther north, it’s too cold for me. Farther south, too warm for her.”

But Mr. Lapinski made friends in Kittanning from hiking trips here. After scouting for property, he and Ms. Lamon chose a parcel of land upon which they erected an Amish-built cabin. The two- story, roughly 500-square-foot building had insulated walls, but that was about it.

“It’s considered a tiny home, but actually, that’s a whole lot more space than you think. For two people, it’s plenty of room.”

He has a degree in health education with a focus on fitness nutrition, as well as a second bachelor’s degree in outdoor recreation, including outdoor wilderness survival and land management. Mr. Lapinski also worked in construction engineering and served two tours of duty in the military.

His wife has a degree in zoology plus one in outdoor recreation.

Once they have finished the home – plumbing has been roughed out and with the exception of a bathroom, each floor is essentially one big room – they hope to volunteer to work with youth groups such as the Girl Scouts or YMCA, as they did in Michigan.

Signing up for a reality show, he said, “was an excellent chance to show people they can live off the grid.”

They are adamant that simplifying their home life is also a money- saver. Living in their last house, he said, cost upward of $1,100 a month including utilities and upkeep. In 36 months, when the land and cabin are paid off, they figure their monthly bill will be $200.

“We will have the same standard of living off-grid and saving $900 a month.”

They have electricity but limit lighting to a few LCD fixtures that are rarely on at the same time.They’ll have Internet for their two laptops, but that’s about it for technology: “We haven’t had a television in over eight years.”

Providing power are a 600-watt wind turbine and another 100 watts is collected via solar panels. They also have a 418-ampere battery bank, and the whole house runs on a 12-volt DC power system. It doesn’t sound like much, he said, but it’s enough.

Mr. Lapinski said they can rely on a root cellar as well as one of the three springs on their property for natural refrigeration.

“The last time I put a thermometer on [a spring], it was 92 degrees out and the spring was running at about 47 degrees,” he said.

Opening their home in progress to television crews was … interesting.

“If you ask my wife, it was nerve-racking and scary and very stressful. If you ask me, it was fun and exciting and didn’t bother me one little bit. If you ask my dog, Ralph, who kept getting up early and waiting for them to show up the next three days after they were gone, it was great.”

America unplugged – Thursday at 8 p.m.

Buy our book - OFF THE GRID - a tour of American off-grid places and people written by Nick Rosen, editor of the off-grid.net web site

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