An Interview with Off-The-Grid housing expert LaMar Alexander

Today’s blog post is an interview with Off-The Grid Housing expert LaMar Alexander. If you’re interested in small sustainable housing, prepping or Off-the Grid concepts, this is a name you should know if you haven’t heard of him already. Lamar is a highly rated author on Amazon for his book Off The Grid. His personally designed low- cost cabin has been featured on well-known websites such as Mother Earth News, and InHabitat. He has a youtube channel @SolarCabin with nearly 120K followers and he hosts a popular website called

I learned about LaMar a little over 8 years ago when the Tiny House movement was gaining massive mainstream popularity. This was the summer before my final year of graduate school.

LaMar was hosting a competition for Tiny/Small Off-The-Grid housing. For about a month, I went home and worked every night, reading anything and everything I could about small sustainable living. After a submission that came down to the wire, I woke up the following morning and found out I was the grand prize recipient in a competition with 31 entries. As a designer, it’s easy to look back at your old projects and think about the ways you’ve grown, especially when it comes to visual representation, but conceptually, I don’t think I ever went so deep into a design project. It was a proud moment early into my architectural career. For reference, I’ve added a rendering from the project and a link to an article written about it below.

I’m very appreciative of LaMar taking the time to answer my questions and he responded with thorough answers in lighting speed! Without further ado, please see his amazing story and responses below. 


1. You built your first Off the grid home nearly 20 years ago? How did you get into this? What made you go off the grid? What made you start your website and competition?

My off grid building and design experience started at a very young age as a kid growing up on my folks homestead where we had to build things ourselves and I learned basic carpentry from my dad and at 14 I remodeled a tiny cabin to have my own place. In public school I took drafting classes and in college I studied architectural drafting and started a small business designing and building sheds. I was very much into Mother Earth News and sustainable living and after a divorce and sudden illness I found myself homeless and broke so I decided I wanted a simple life and moved back to our family property and designed and built the 14×14 off grid solar cabin I have lived in for the last 20+ years.

I made some videos of that project in 2007 and there was a lot of interest so I started designing small cabins and making plans for other people and teaching people how they could use solar and that turned in to a nice side stream business while helping people that wanted to simplify their lives. I was just doing it for fun mostly but word got around and my cabin design was published in Mother Earth News and in Tiny Homes Simple Living by Lloyd Khan and that was a real honor to be included in publications that had inspired me.

I started doing design contests to inspire other people and to encourage people to consider smaller and sustainable housing and that was the Tiny Off Grid House Contest you won and we had over 30 entries and lots of interest and support for those designs. I am very happy that you and other designers are now focusing on smaller houses and sustainable living.

2. Over the years, you have surely seen some innovative projects. How have these projects changed over the last 10 years? What kinds of technology gains are you seeing? This can be anything from alternative energy to waste removal to construction materials.

Things have changed a lot from when I first went off grid and tiny houses and cabins and off grid living and solar power were not main stream and even looked down upon by some people and states.. After the economic crash of 2008 when lots of people lost jobs and homes that changed and more people were looking for ideas to simplify their lives. I promoted building smaller DIY homes and cabins that people could afford without a big house payment or rent and solar and wind power so they wouldn’t have utility bills and that appealed to lots of people.

Solar panels and batteries were expensive and hard to find back then and we had to use some batteries that were not very good and our systems were often cobbled together from 12 volt automotive parts but we made it work and as demand increased for solar more companies started producing panels and batteries that we could use and now that is a massive industry and solar equipment is affordable. Lithium batteries and more efficient panels was a game changer for people as now they can get a decent sized system to run a whole house at a reasonable cost.

Commercial composting toilets are now available instead of an outhouse and there are fridge/freezers designed for off grid use and power stations for energy storage and lots of equipment that works for off grid and camping that all grew out of that movement. Today most off gridders have and use all the same appliances as grid tied homes and the internet and cell phones make it much safer to live off grid and give people the opportunity to run a business from home. I have promoted home based businesses as part of sustainable living and many off gridders like me work primarily from our homes.

One of the latest trends for off gridders is to also get an Electric Vehicle so they can charge at home from their own power system instead of buying gas and I got in to Electric Bikes and have been promoting those for sustainable living.

3. When Planning an Off the Grid home, What initial costs do you often see people overlook that they need to keep in mind?

Off grid property used to be easier to find and cheaper and it is getting harder to get good affordable property. Things people need to consider is water, septic and zoning. Drilling a water well and installing septic tanks is a huge expense and some counties require those to build and require approved blueprints for a code home and inspections. Always check with the county you want to live in and get the code requirements before you buy land and build. There are still counties with fewer codes but they are harder to find.

People also tend to over estimate their building skills and building any structure to live in takes skill and a good set of plans. Building materials are very expensive and you should have a materials list and plans to stay within your budget. You can get basic building skills in a vocational class and lots of skill videos and off grid systems videos and help online. 

4. How do you believe the impact of the pandemic has changed what you’re seeing in the Off the grid community? What do you see for the future? 

The Covid pandemic hit many people and businesses hard and I lost family and friends. Being off grid many of us were able to stay at home and keep working during the pandemic and maybe rode it out a little safer. Not having a house payment or utility bills makes a big difference and off gridders can thrive in good times and survive the bad times.

I think more people will go off grid and take their grid homes off grid using solar power and use EVs and start a home business or work online. There are great benefits in saving money when you work from home and you make what money you earn go farther without the expenses that comes with driving, day care, eating out and work expenses. Or as I tell my followers all the time- No house payments, no utility bills and freedom!  

5. Let’s talk about design and construction - What have you learned over the years in terms of what makes a good design?

I think foremost people want more efficient houses and that means much better insulation for hot and cold climates, smaller homes but cozy not cramped and multifunctional with a workspace.. The trend for many people now is houses on wheels so they can have mobility and the freedom to take their home with them but people are also building Accessory Dwelling Units for their kids to live in or for a rental or home office.  

More people are living in the city but buying recreational property and building an off grid cabin or home they use on weekends and to have for retirement or in the event things go bad and they need a place to live. More tiny home villages and dedicated off grid communities are popping up all over. Because of climate change, high interest rates and inflation there is a lot of pressure on people to migrate to safer areas and they do not want to be tied to a 30 year mortgage and utility bills because they may have to move again.

If you are a DIY builder focus more on insulation and sealing your homes and better doors and windows. Those will save you the most money and focus on setting your home up to take advantage of the sun for solar panels and passive solar heating and cooling. Heating and cooling are major expenses so research new technology like heat pumps that can run off grid.

6. What are some of the most innovative techniques with layouts and use of space that you’ve seen?

I am seeing more pre-built modular homes designed for single people or couples without kids that don’t want or need a bunch of bedrooms and bathrooms. More space means more construction costs, less efficient and people want good storage that can hide away stuff for when it is needed. Gaming is big and watching movies at home so consider that in your designs.

You will see more houses designed to use solar and recharge an EV car or Ebike as a package deal and the EV will also act as power storage for the home. Heat pumps without ducting and efficient appliances that take less space are the trend.

7. I am a big fan of mixed zoning concepts that involve integrating small businesses into local communities at the micro-level. Think a tiny library or coffee shop in a neighborhood. That made me very interested your idea of using portable structures for small businesses. That's a bit different than the Off the Grid concept, but can you go into more detail about this concept as well as your other new ventures such as your E-bikes and emergency housing?

I ran a local pest control business out of my truck for many years and more people now want to work either from home or set up a portable business structure that they can set up temporarily or permanently. These can be as simple as converting a cargo trailer to a business you tow where needed or setting up a flat pack structure used for seasonal business or dedicating part of your home as a business and with the internet anyone can start a business these days.

I have designed several portable structures for that use as fresh market stands or the Big Tex plans that would work for many businesses that need to be mobile. A portable structure is great because it can be used for different businesses in different seasons and in some of these you can also live in the structure and run a small business and travel where you please. You are providing a local service that helps people while supporting yourself to be self sufficient.

Ebikes have become a recent passion of mine because they are affordable and can be charged from even a 200 watt solar power system and are great for off gridders. I use mine for supply runs and adventure riding and with gas prices so high it has replaced my car for many uses. No gas, no license or insurance to buy and you get some exercise outdoors.

Ebikes are now selling faster than EV cars and people are choosing to bike and are used for delivery services which is another small business trend. It is much more of a trend in countries outside the US but it is catching on here and will increase in the future.