Each Christmas tech geek Graham Hill heads to Hawaii. At first he would shack up in a small, dilapidated cabin on Maui and spend afternoons kitesurfing at Ho’okipa beach.
Then he was offered a 2.2-acre plot of land. As founder of LifeEdited, a Manhattan property consultancy selling simple, small-space living, he had no plans to upgrade, he saw an opportunity. He would build an experimental eco house that would be similar to, yet different from, the two small apartments he had created with LifeEdited.
“At first I had no plans for the land,” he says, “but Hawaii is a great place for off-grid living. There’s lots of sun and wind, and where I am in Haiku, a decent amount of rain. It’s also the perfect temperature, so you don’t need heating.” He joined forces with the local architecture and engineering company Hawaii Off-Grid, and spent a year creating a 1,000sq-ft holiday home that is fully sustainable and creates more energy than it uses.
Wafer-thin, almost-invisible solar panels line the roof, lithium batteries in the garage store their energy, and a giant tank in the garden holds up to 20,000 gallons of rainwater. The two bathrooms come with compostable toilets and the whole space is fitted with the same sort of flexible, functional furniture that fills Hill’s micro-apartment in Manhattan.
Three of the four bedrooms feature fold-up beds and can change function; one becomes a games room, another morphs into a film room and the third becomes an office. The 330sq-ft lanai (terrace) is fitted with pop-up tables and loungers that swivel around a dining table.
When pushed to the max, the house can sleep eight and cater for 20, and every room offers views to the ocean and the West Maui Mountains, which shape-shift under ever-changing skies.
Thanks to two internet start-ups, 47-year-old Hill was already a millionaire before he founded LifeEdited in 2010. The first was a web-design company, which he sold in 1998 for $10 million; the second was sustainability website TreeHugger, which was purchased for the same sum in 2007. Featuring everything from how to build a chicken coop to the latest self-driving cars, TreeHugger presents eco issues in millennial language.
“It shows that going green and doing good doesn’t have to be non-profit,” explains Hill, whose mantra, “Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy,” has seen him invited to speak at TED conferences.
It’s new territory. Wind and solar technology is racing aheadEven for Hill, who is also a trained architect, going fully off-grid was a challenge. “It’s new territory. Wind and solar technology is racing ahead and it’s hard to know what to choose. Do you, for example, keep electric water heaters and have solar on the roof? Do you get a massive system that can deal with anything, or a small one with a generator …