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Climbing the off-grid property ladder with Brooke and Dave Whipple

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The idea of living off grid has huge appeal amid the pandemic, not least due to its association with more space, the lower cost of living, and living more sustainably.

But while many of us may have only just acknowledged its appeal during this past year, one couple has been investing in living off grid for more than two decades.

Dave and Brooke Whipple have achieved the mortgage-free dream by climbing the off-grid ladder through flipping homes that they have built with their own hands.

The American couple have not done it the easy way, having travelled to one of the most remote parts of the world to do it – Alaska

Dave and Brooke Whipple have achieved their mortgage-free dream by living off grid

Dave and Brooke Whipple have achieved their mortgage-free dream by living off grid

That makes their path a difficult one to follow for any Britons dreaming of climbing the off-grid property ladder, but their story is inspiring nonetheless.

The first piece of land they bought was five acres in Alaska’s Fairbanks, which cost them $14,000 in the year 2000, the equivalent of £10,200.

They built a tiny log cabin, which measured 12 ft by 12ft – not much bigger than some garden sheds.

Planning constraints mean it would be difficult to follow a similar route in Britain. It would also be a challenge to find a plot of land for a similar price today on this side of the Atlantic.

Brooke explains that they have always bought cheap land. She said they built up their property portfolio by finding ‘someone else’s broken dreams’, meaning that they bought land that appeared unattractive and worked hard on bringing it back to life.

For example, the land may have needed clearing or it may have been difficult to initially access.

The couple lived at their first off-grid property in Fairbanks for two and a half years, the last six months of which they shared with their baby daughter.

On the same piece of land, they built a second larger cabin, which they moved into on Christmas Eve in 2003. They sold the property with both cabins for $125,000, the equivalent of £91,000.

They continued to flip several more properties by buying land, building a log cabin on it themselves and then selling it for a profit. 

Brooke works on the property projects with her husband Dave, building cabins from scratch

Brooke works on the property projects with her husband Dave, building cabins from scratch

Girl in the Woods: Brooke has become known for her love of being outside and enjoying the wilderness

Girl in the Woods: Brooke has become known for her love of being outside and enjoying the wilderness

Working hard: The couple say that you need plenty of 'sweat equity' to make your off-grid property dreams come alive

Working hard: The couple say that you need plenty of ‘sweat equity’ to make your off-grid property dreams come alive

During this time, they have also become known for their love of the wilderness having appeared on the History Channel TV show ALONE, which takes 10 survivalists and drops them in remote areas of the world to see how long they can survive and live off the land.

At the heart of their property development has always been the concept of, what Brooke describes as, ‘sweat equity’.

She said: ‘It was all sweat equity. We put all the work into it ourselves, we paid cash for everything and lived in a tent while we built the first cabin.

‘With sweat equity we’ve been able to buy cheap land that needs work, then turn it into a nice piece of property, then flip it when we were ready to move on.

‘This put money in our pocket to buy and build the next thing with cash. Always cash. No mortgage. In order to do this you have to be reasonable with what you can afford, but it works for us.’

Living off-grid: Brooke and her husband lived in tents while they built some of their wood cabins

Living off-grid: Brooke and her husband lived in tents while they built some of their wood cabins

The couple’s fourth project saw them buy five acres in Delta Junction in Alaska, where they lived initially in a campervan while they first built a garage that they then moved into – before building a new log cabin.

By now, they had two toddlers and lived without running water. They eventually moved into the log cabin, which did have running water.

They had bought that piece of land for $11,500 – around £8,500 – in 2006 and sold it with the cabin for $215,000 – the equivalent of £157,500 – four years later.

Brooke explained: ‘A lot of people are not willing to make that sacrifice and do it the hard way. People see the Instagram picture of the cabin in the woods and say they want it now. But without the sweet equity, it is not rewarding.’

Wider family matters mean Brooke and her husband are currently based in Michigan, in the US, but are continuing with projects so that they still get spells living off-grid and somewhere to head back to when they commit once again to living off-grid full-time.

Brooke explains that what is allowed to be built in America depends on the land, but generally speaking there are few restrictions compared to Britain.  

‘There’s so much more freedom here. If you are in a city, things are more restrictive and will need more permitting and zoning considerations, but that’s not where most people want to build a cabin. There is a lot of rural land that is available for building a small cabin with little to no restrictions,’ she said. 

Climbing the off-grid ladder 

Dave and Brooke Whipple have achieved the mortgage-free dream by selling on off-grid homes that they have built with their own hands.

The properties include: 

1. They built their first cabin in Fairbanks, Alaska in 2000. It measured 12ft by 12ft. They lived there for 2.5 years. They bought the land – which extended across five acres, for $14,000, the equivalent of £10,200.

2. The couple built and moved into a second cabin on the same piece of land on Christmas Eve, in 2003. They sold the property with both cabins for $125,000, the equivalent of £91,000.

3. They then bought a piece of property nearby and built a stick-frame house to flip. They paid $6,000, the equivalent of £4,400, for the two acres. They never lived there and sold it in 2007 for $85,000 or around £62,300.

4. The couple bought five acres of land in Delta Junction, Alaska, for $11,500 – around £8,500 – in 2006. They moved onto the land and restored an old 12 ft campervan, which they lived in for six months – with two toddlers –  while they built a garage to live in. They lived in the garage for just over two years until their new log cabin was finished. They moved into the log cabin in 2008. They sold the garage and house in 2010 for $215,000, the equivalent of £157,500.  

5. In 2010, the couple bought an old farm house with 30 acres in Michigan for $113,000 in cash. They did a full remodel to live there, and still own the property.

6. In 2015, they bought five acres of land north of Fairbanks, Alaska, for $11,000, the equivalent of £8,000. They built two cabins on the property, and lived in tents during the build. They still own those buildings and the land.

7. In 2019, they bought 10 acres of remote land in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for $11,500. They currently use it with a wall tent, but they will build a cabin on the land later this year.

6. In 2020, they built a tiny cabin at the other end of their Michigan property for about $3,000, around £2,200. 

Brooke suggests that the key to living off-grid successfully is a person’s attitude and willingness not to give up.

‘You have to be determined and this has to be something you want to do,’ she said.

‘You learn so much in the process but have to be brave enough. People are too comfortable in modern life. It is like people want to do this, but they don’t want to put in the work.’

You don’t need to build the most expensive thing, you just have to put the time and effort in yourself. It is very gratifying 

She explained that the thing that most people seem to want – and worry most about – is having a shower while living off-grid. 

‘There is a lot of times when you will just have a kettle to have a wash with,’ she said. ‘It is not about plugging in your hairdryer. You have to go into a low gear. Modern life has ruined people. Living off-grid means you are choosing to live a tougher life, it is hard.

‘Everyone wants out of where they are now and wants more land amid the pandemic. You don’t need to build the most expensive thing, you just have to put the time and effort in yourself. It is very gratifying.

‘I like this lifestyle as I crave quiet. I just love the wilderness and nature. The fire is brighter and your food tastes better if you’ve worked hard for it. There is a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.’

While living off gird is hard, Brooke and her family seem to prove that it can also be emotionally and financially rewarding.

Brooke Whipple’s YouTube channel can be found at @Girl in the Woods and Dave Whipple’s channel is @Bushradical

Learn about green building

Based in Wales, the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) runs courses about renewable energy, green building, and sustainable growing.

Founded in 1973 on a disused slate quarry, CAT has evolved from a community, to a visitor centre, to an educational charity specialising in sharing practical solutions for sustainability. 

It began life as an off-grid community that acted as a test-bed for experimenting with alternative types of technology in response to the 1970s oil crisis and a growing concern about the environmental impact of fossil fuels.

Early experiments with wind and solar contributed to the development of the commercial systems that are now pivotal in the fight against climate change.

Since 2007, CAT’s main research focus has been its Zero Carbon Britain project, which provides a model for how the UK could reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions using technology available today. 

As well as a graduate school, the centre runs short courses and webinars. The focus is currently on online learning due to the pandemic.  Short courses cover sustainable building materials, solar panels, composting toilets  and making pallet furniture.

Peter Tyldesley, of the Centre for Alternative Technology, said: ‘The pandemic has caused many of us to reflect on what we want out of life and what is really important to us. 

‘For some people, living off-grid can help fulfil the desire for independence and a greater connection to the seasonal rhythms of nature. For those who choose it, this can be a deeply rewarding way to live. 

‘However, we can tap into renewables without going off-grid, and for most of us this is a more practical solution. Increased availability of green tariffs for electricity, for which there need no longer be a cost penalty, enable all of us to switch to renewable energy at the click of a mouse. 

‘Where circumstances allow, we can also generate our own electricity at home with the backup of a grid connection, exporting any surplus power to the grid, truly becoming part of the bigger solution. Achieving net zero in the UK will involve all 67 million of us, and, while the off-grid lifestyle is a dream for some, most of us will play our part while retaining the security and comfort of remaining firmly on the grid.’

 

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Leinster’s accuracy proves key as they see off Munster in demolition derby

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Leinster 35 Munster 25

A breathtaking and, it has to be said, physically punishing game, which ebbed and flowed from first to last, ended with Leinster getting more than they needed and Munster coming up short of their targets. Well, to a point.

Munster went into the last game requiring at least two match points for a home quarter-final and a bonus point for the additional carrot of a potential home semi-final.

In the end, they came up with zero, which was perhaps preferable in that it earned them an away quarter-final against Ulster rather than against the Bulls. Even so, the winners of that Irish derby in a fortnight will be away in the semi-finals against the Stormers or Edinburgh.

In the other half of the draw Leinster will host Glasgow in the quarter-finals, and the winners of that tie will have home advantage in the semi-finals.

The mix of requirements made for a thrilling game. Leinster were ultimately the more accurate and pacier side, epitomised by the jet-heeled Jordan Larmour, who made everyone else look like they were being towed and his counterattacking and running led to two of Leinster’s four tries. It was a timely reminder of his abilities, and might well earn him a place on the bench in the Champions Cup final against La Rochelle, who themselves welcomed back Will Skelton off the bench against Stade Francais on Saturday.

Munster’s game didn’t lack for ambition at all, and their similar mix featured classy performances by Thomas Ahern, Alex Kendellen, Jack O’Donoghue and Conor Murray. But they weren’t as accurate or quite as pacey.

This hungry Leinster mix of young and experienced were not in a remotely charitable mood, and shot out of the traps. Harry Byrne’s perfect kick-off was reclaimed by the recalled Ryan Baird and inside 80 seconds Leinster had scored without Munster touching the ball.

Generating trademark quick ball, with Baird making one big carry and Scott Penny a couple, before Ciarán Frawley used an advantage to crosskick perfectly for Penny to gather and use his footwork to step Joey Carbery and finish in the corner.

Harry Byrne didn’t land the difficult conversion, but added a penalty before offloads by Kendellen and Ahern and a couple of nicely weighted grubbers to the edges by Murray and Carbery earned an attacking lineout. The first scrap followed too. Yep, derby on.

Attacking wide and through phases, Munster used an advantage when Carbery pulled the ball back as Keith Earls worked across from his wing and flung a peach of a left-hander for O’Donoghue to take Cormac Foley’s tackle and finish well in the corner.

Leinster’s Rory O’Loughlin on his way to scoring a try despite Keynan Knox and Mike Haley of Munster during the United Rugby Championship match at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Leinster’s Rory O’Loughlin on his way to scoring a try despite Keynan Knox and Mike Haley of Munster during the United Rugby Championship match at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Next, after Frawley’s spillage, the recalled Andrew Conway chased Murray’s perfectly weighted kick to prevent Larmour gathering, Niall Scannell’s gallop earning another attacking lineout.

Again Munster engineered another free play, and after a strong carry by Kendellen from Murray’s pass behind his back, Mike Haley was sharply on hand to pick up and dive over under the posts.

The force was with Munster, all the more so after Conway cleanly reclaimed another box kick by Murray. But when Kendellen kicked through Larmour beat the flanker’s follow-up tackle and left a trail of four more forwards in his wake before being tackled by Murray. From the recycle, Jamie Osborne stepped and Frawley took a superb line on to his short pass for a clean break and had Foley in support. The 22-year-old showed the quickness from his formative years as a centre with St Gerard’s to complete his first Leinster try on his home debut, and some try too.

The game’s first scrums provided an almost welcome breather. Frawley, after his two sumptuous try assists, had to depart for one of several failed HIAs in the game, and didn’t return.

The lively Earls then countered with Haley, Carbery and Kendellen before Rob Russell’s deliberate knock-on prevented the ball reaching three unmarked players and earning him a yellow card. But Baird spoiled the Munster lineout to protect his side’s 15-12 lead until the interval.

But on the resumption Munster struck. Haley chased his own kick, preventing Osborne from gathering cleanly and Murray was sharply on to the loose ball to skip away from Foley’s tackle and score.

Harry Byrne brought it back to a one-point game after Foley’s high tackle on Josh Murphy, and although Munster were clearly now mindful of the chance for a fourth try when going to the corner, before accepting a tap over penalty to push them four points ahead.

Typical of this match, back came Leinster. First Foley executed a 50:22 and despite just changing their frontrow the maul was gathering speed when it collapsed and Frank Murphy adjudged it a penalty try and sinbinned Niall Scannell.

After Max Deegan’s covering tackle on the ever dangerous Chris Farrell into touch, a lovely launch play and a flatish pass by Foley for Joe McCarthy’s carry over the gainline, was the prelude to Leinster reloading right and another slaloming run by Larmour. An offload by McCarty and fine pass by Deegan created the space for Rory O’Loughlin to use a two-on-two and a mismatch with the covering Kenyan Knox to score.

Suddenly it was 32-22 to Leinster.

A spellbinding spell of offloading featuring Murray, Ahern, O’Donoghue and Kendellen ended with Earls finishing off O’Donoghue’s offload, but Murphy adjudged it forward. Instead, Munster had to opt for another Carbery penalty to complete the first task of getting to within one score before chasing a fourth try.

They became over exuberant and conceded penalties, and although Adam Byrne was brilliantly denied by Carbery and Haley, Harry Byrne’s penalty put them 10 ahead, and more relevantly left Munster without anything from the game and looking at a quarter-final away to Ulster.

They had eight minutes or so to do it. They conjured one punishing phased attack, Carbery’s one-handed pick-up and Murray deliberately knocking on with a penalty advantage and then quickly were two of the highlights, but when Carbery prematurely went wide with a looped pass to Jack Daly he was tackled into touch by Osborne.

And that was effectively that.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 2 mins: Penny try 5-0; 9: Byrne pen 8-0; 12: O’Donoghue try 8-5; 17: Haley try, Carbery con 8-12; 23: Foley try, Byrne con 15-12; (half-time 15-12); 41: Murray try, Carbery con 15-19; 46: Byrne pen 18-19; 49: mins Carbery pen 18-22; 51: penalty try 25-22; 54: O’Loughlin try, Byrne con 32-22; 61: Carbery pen 32-25; 71: Byrne pen 35-25.

LEINSTER: Jordan Larmour; Rob Russell, Jamie Osborne, Ciarán Frawley, Rory O’Loughlin; Harry Byrne, Cormac Foley; Ed Byrne (capt), Seán Cronin, Thomas Clarkson; Joe McCarthy, Josh Murphy; Ryan Baird, Scott Penny, Max Deegan.

Replacements: Adam Byrne for Frawley (27 mins), John McKee for Cronin, Peter Dooley for Byrne, Cian Healy for Clarkson (all 49), Devin Toner for J Murphy (55), Ben Murphy for Foley (58), Alex Soroka for McCarthy (66), David Hawkshaw for H Byrne (76).

Sinbinned: Russell (37-47 mins).

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Dan Goggin, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Josh Wycherley, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Thomas Ahern; Fineen Wycherley, Alex Kendellen, Jack O’Donoghue (capt).

Replacements: Jason Jenkins for Kleyn (49 mins), Keynan Knox for Ryan (54), Jeremy Loughman for J Wycherley, Rory Scannell for Goggin (both 55), Diarmuid Barron for Kendellen (58-61), for Scannell (61), Jack Daly for Ahern, Ben Healy for Carbery (both 64), N Scannell for Kendellen (65), Ahern for Daly, Patrick Patterson for Murray (both 76).

Sinbinned: N Scannell (51-61 mins).

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU).

URC quarter-finals (Fri, Jun 3rd & Sat, Jun 4th)
1 Leinster v Glasgow Warriors
2 DHL Stormers v Edinburgh
3 Ulster v Munster
4 Vodacom Bulls v Cell C Sharks
 
Semi-finals (Fri, June 10th and Sat Jun 11th)
Leinster or Glasgow v Bulls or Sharks
Stormers or Edinburgh v Ulster or Munster.
 
Shield winners 2021/22:
Irish Shield:
Leinster
South African Shield: DHL Stormers
Welsh Shield: Ospreys
Scottish & Italian Shield: Edinburgh
 

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Aparto debuts in Spain

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Aparto has unveiled its first student residence in Spain to open in September 2022. Aparto Barcelona Pallars, owned by Commerz Real, is located in the 22@, the city’s innovation district, and accommodates 743 beds covering 26,000m². The cutting-edge facilities at aparto Barcelona Pallars include an external circa 45-metre length infinity pool, a 900 square metre rooftop terrace, 2,500m² of gardens including the Butterfly Garden (named because of the type of plants that attract butterflies), the Smell Garden (due to the mixture of aromatic plants), 1,400m² of amenity space including a gym with a weight, cardio, and yoga studios, two cinema rooms, leisure areas, and a bar offering both food and drink services.

 

In addition, a central feature of aparto’s offering is its first-class experience with a focus on the arts including an initiative in which street artists will design some of the paintings on the building, and a mental health programme available to all students all year around, strengthened by aparto employees receiving mental health training to identify anyone who may need help. 

 

aparto Barcelona Pallars has been designed by the Catalonian architecture studio Battle i Roig, a pioneer in landscape architecture, interweaving structures with natural spaces like gardens. Upon construction completion, the building will receive the LEED Gold and WELL Platinum Certifications for sustainability. 

 

aparto offers students a unique safe study experience and flexible model offering medium and long-term stays, from a few months to a full year, with all-inclusive rates including cleaning, Wi-Fi connection, linen services, and some additional features related to sports and wellness sessions, cocktail and cooking classes, and a series of entertainment evenings including movie nights, sports matches and tournaments. Aparto’s focus is to create places where students feel at home living within a strong community.

  

Tom Rix, director of operations at aparto, UK, commented: “With Aparto Barcelona Pallars, Hines is introducing first-class student housing in Spain. Pallars mirrors what today’s students want in terms of facilities, amenities, community engagement, and wellbeing programmes. We have already successfully demonstrated that this innovative model is in high demand in Italy, Ireland, and the UK and we anticipate the same success here in Spain and can’t wait to welcome students to Barcelona.”

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Crossrail house price boom: Reading, Maidenhead and Slough set to become property hotspots

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Crossrail may be billions of pounds over budget and three-and-a-half years late but it’s finally ready to roll.

This extraordinary feat of engineering is due to be put into service on Tuesday, when it will adopt its correct title of the Elizabeth Line. 

The Queen made a surprise visit to Paddington station this week and officially opened the line.

On the line: The Thames flows through Maidenhead, which will now enjoy a direct link to Central London thanks to its new Crossrail station

On the line: The Thames flows through Maidenhead, which will now enjoy a direct link to Central London thanks to its new Crossrail station

Linking Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east with Heathrow and Reading to the west of the capital, it will bind together existing commuter railways, accelerating cross-city travel and relieving overcrowding on the London Underground — particularly the often hellish Central Line.

Commuters’ journey times will be slashed; Reading to London Liverpool Street, for example, will take under an hour.

When fully operational it will increase London’s rail capacity by 10 per cent, making it the largest single expansion of the city’s transport network in more than 70 years.

There are still a few glitches to be ironed out. Initially passengers travelling from Reading in the west to Abbey Wood and beyond will have to change at Paddington or Liverpool Street mainline stations. 

Also Bond Street is three months behind schedule. Trains will not call there until later in the year. Yet these delays pale into insignificance when you consider how the Elizabeth Line will transform rail travel in the capital.

Cross town: The Elizabeth line will run east to west across London, starting in Berkshire and ending in Essex

Cross town: The Elizabeth line will run east to west across London, starting in Berkshire and ending in Essex

The new station at Paddington, for example, is the size of three Wembley football pitches, with natural light as far as the platform entry from a nearly 400ft-long glass canopy.

More than £1 billion has been spent on upgrading 31 existing stations and tracks. Spacious tunnels will lead to airy 600 ft platforms, with glass screens at the edge of the tracks, making it impossible to fall under a train. 

Step-free access from street to train will make the service accessible to wheelchairs. 

The nine-car, air-conditioned trains will have colourful bench seats and open interiors with full-width walk-through connections between cars. It will be a world away from today’s cramped, cluttered carriages.

Few engineering projects change the way we live but The Elizabeth Line promises to do just that. People are already flocking to the new stations.

Research from Savills last year found that, over the past five years, homes within 0.6 mile of about half of the stations on the line have increased in price by 25 per cent or more.

It follows that when the sleek and airy new trains come into service, delivering people to their workplaces in double quick time, we can expect a migration to the west of London.

Here are the hotspots:

Reading revival

Outlay: More than £1bn has been spent on upgrading 31 existing stations and tracks

Outlay: More than £1bn has been spent on upgrading 31 existing stations and tracks

Not so long ago Reading was best known for its brewery and its biscuit factory — not any more. 

International companies, including Amazon UK, Virgin Media and KPMG have moved there and with reasonably priced homes, compared to London, the town is already popular with commuters.

‘I recently dealt with a young woman who sold her 750 sq ft flat in London for £600,000 and bought a 1,750 ft duplex in Reading for £650,000,’ says James Hathaway, of Winkworth estate agents.

The town has lots of green space, riverside walks, the Grade II-listed Thames Lido and great shopping, notably in Broad Street and the Oracle centre. The average price of a home sold in Reading was £384,000 last year.

Compare that to the £512,000 average price in, say, East London and you will see why an exodus from the capital is forecast when the Elizabeth Line makes commuting a doddle.

Maidenhead marches on

This Berkshire town is keen to attract the City bankers who had previously been put off living there by having to trek across the capital’s underground system to get to work.

‘The Elizabeth Line changes all that and buyer enquiries have already started booming,’ says Dawn Carritt at Jackson-Stops estate agents.

‘The prospect of living near the river in Maidenhead or in nearby villages such as Sonning and Bray is appealing.’

Maidenhead (with Theresa May as its MP) is on the cusp of a revival. Its 1960s shopping centre is to be transformed into The Nicholson Quarter, a swish mixed-use centre.

The area by the river is being developed and trendy cocktail bars and restaurants such as Coppa Club are thriving — a sure sign of a town on the up.

Slough expansion

Ricky Gervais did Slough no favours when he set The Office there. Yet the town has a lot going for it. It is well located for travel, nestling between the M4 and the M40 and within easy reach of the M25 and Heathrow airport.

First-time buyer portal Share to Buy claims that Slough has been one of the UK’s top ten property hotspots over the past decade with a 73 per cent increase in house prices. 

The Berkeley Group is redeveloping the former Horlicks factory and site to create 1,300 homes.

A small flat sells for £150,000 and a three-bed terrace house for £350,000. The centre is being improved and with the coming of the Elizabeth Line, things can only get better.

On the market… the hotspots 

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