Confession: When I booked a working holiday at an InForest cabin this summer, I wasn’t looking for an introductory course in sustainable living. I just wanted to get away from the city without sacrificing the comfort my three teenagers demand. I got that, but I took away so much more.
I enjoy the invigorating effects of nature and escape to the mountains, the beach or the desert whenever I can. Thanks to advances in solar panels, battery storage, data coverage, and work-from-anywhere policies that have proliferated in the days since COVID-19, this has become increasingly possible for many. Now people can get their work done from almost anywhere that brings them joy.
I knew that my energy needs would push the already well-equipped solar cabin to its limits. I had all the equipment I needed to work remotely while supporting my family. That means an e-bike, a video projector, two Bluetooth speakers, five phones, two laptops, a tablet, three smartwatches, and a Starlink RV internet-from-space kit to keep everything connected. Add to that the lights and the full suite of kitchen appliances and utilities already in the cabin.
This summer I was able to work and play in the middle of a Swedish forest for a week, even though I was completely disconnected from the grid. The experience gave me a taste of what’s currently possible with off-grid technology and a better understanding of the trade-offs required when resources are scarce – lessons I’ve since applied to daily life after Europe’s energy prices plummeted have gone down the roof.
InForest is owned and operated by Jesper (40) and Petra Uvesten (41), who had a dream of creating a series of off-grid cabins for people who want to get closer to nature. The couple opened the doors of their first eco-friendly and self-sufficient cabin, Ebbe, in 2020. Cabins Vilgot and Esther soon followed. Each is named after one of their three children.
Jesper also works full time at the EU working on rural development while Petra is a dedicated triathlete. The two run InForest alone, but also occasionally have part-time help to take vacations. Your goal is to expand from three to 10 houses.
The three small cottages are nestled in a dense forest with tranquil lakes and hunting grounds in the hills of southern Sweden, about two hours east of Gothenburg or three hours west of Stockholm. The cabins are handcrafted by Treesign, a local builder of tiny homes. Each house had to be moved into position by a truck over several miles of dirt roads.
I booked Esther, named after Jesper and Petra’s daughter and eldest child, who (rightly) insisted that the largest of the three houses bear her name.
The Esther house is powered by a large rooftop solar array, with six 320W panels helping to keep a pair of 2.4kWh lithium-ion batteries charged. Each home is equipped with an inverter that feeds 220V AC outlets, which are located wherever you want to find one.
Power generation benefits enormously from Sweden’s long summer days. Jesper tells me their solar system is configured to deliver about 1.5kW of charge per hour, which is enough to fully charge half-depleted batteries in about two hours. All excess energy is then diverted to the outlets. When the sun goes down, the house is completely dependent on the batteries for electricity.
Sweden’s short winter days are a real challenge for the cabins
Sweden’s short winter days present a real challenge for the cottages as the low, weak sun cannot keep batteries charged. This means that InForest cabins are only bookable from around March to mid-October. Jesper hopes to extend the season by purchasing an electric vehicle with two-way charging capabilities.
Ideally, he’d love to buy a Ford F-150 Lightning pickup, but he’s not scheduled to come to Sweden any time soon, so perhaps the new Volvo EX90 SUV will come in 2024 instead. Whatever he buys, he can take his relatively large battery with him charge more than 100kWh at home before heading to each cabin every few days to recharge his much smaller batteries. Jesper or Petra have to visit every hut every two to three days anyway to clean them and fill up the water tanks.
Fresh water comes from a 250 liter water tank. The house is also equipped with a 10 liter water heater, which is enough for about five to seven minutes of hot water.
Cabin LED lights, kitchen fan, DC fridge/freezer, heater fan and water pump all require power. Jesper estimates that each home uses about 100W per hour when idling, allowing the batteries to power the home for about two days without recharging.
However, the houses need more than just electricity. They are also fitted with a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) system for the combined air and water heater and stove and oven. There is also a Separett waterless composting toilet, which InForest takes care of after guests check out.
InForest homes are designed to be easy to maintain, which is why all technology is housed in an externally accessible utility closet so as not to disturb guests. External connections allow the water to be topped up and finally the batteries to be recharged once Jesper and Petra find a suitable electric vehicle.
Thanks to a meter mounted on the bathroom wall, I’ve never been more aware of my water consumption. InForest says its 250-liter tanks provide enough water for about three days of average use by two adults. According to Jesper, guests typically use about 41.6 liters (11 gallons) of water per person per day when staying in their cabins, compared to 140 liters (27.5 gallons) per person in a typical Swedish household. I was traveling with a family of five including three picture obsessed teenagers. So, challenge accepted!
Seeing how much water we had left on that gauge did more than any amount of scolding could. In our seven days in the house we only had to have the water refilled once, I can proudly say. But that meant a pretty serious (but simple) change in behavior, like turning off the water when soaping in the shower or brushing your teeth. I have to admit things I’ve never done before. It also meant developing a dishwashing process that saves as much energy and water as possible.
I just wish the cabin came with a power meter too. I have no idea how close we were to draining the batteries or how much excess energy all those panels were producing during the day. As I learned reviewing solar generators, it’s easier to change energy use habits when you see them on a map over time. However, the uncertainty of whether the power would eventually go off was a strong motivator for everyone to leave their social media consumption devices plugged in during the day while the sun actively powered the ports.
The urine diversion toilet also lacked a gauge, but seeing paper begin to sprout from the poop chute on our final day was a pretty good indicator that it was getting full. Luckily it’s vented so it was odorless. The toilet collects solid waste in a biodegradable bag, which is thrown onto an external compost heap after guests leave.
Purists who quote Thoreau often tell me I’m doing it wrong when I share my off-grid experiences. I’m supposed to switch off completely and leave my devices at home. But I prefer to strike a balance, bending the will of nature to my needs one moment and surrendering to its wilds the next. The grass can’t be greener on the other side when I’m living life on the fence.
Lessons learned this week in my InForest rental have turned into new habits upon my return. I still turn off the faucet when brushing my teeth and soaping up in the shower. I unplugged a dozen rarely used devices that were slowly losing power. I’m also investigating adding solar panels and battery backup to my home. Despite having access to a seemingly endless supply of electricity and hot water here in Amsterdam, the resources I used to take for granted suddenly feel scarce due to high energy prices.
Of course I’ve known for years that I should be doing these things. But somehow, attaching emotional reminders (stress!) to the idea of changing my behavior made it easier for me. And let’s face it, saving money is also a powerful motivator.
My key takeaway is this: Technologies have evolved to the point that living off the grid is a more viable option than I previously thought without having to make too many compromises. But it’s a good idea to try it for yourself before committing fully.
InForest isn’t the only company offering off-grid getaways. A Google search will likely turn up several local providers in your area. Otherwise, May’s Airbnb redesign makes it easier to find experiences like off-grid living for those who want to head into the woods to try living a little more consciously.