Don't panic! Off Grid Builders, Inc. specializes in preparedness construction

Address:  119 Old Country Club Road                           

Area:  Green Springs, Louisa County

Year built:  2013

Square footage:  824 finished, 512 unfinished

Asking price:  $189,900

Assessment:  $65,100

Curb appeal:  7 out of 10 

Listing agent:  Mike Peters, Roy Wheeler Realty Co., 434-981-3995

A house with a panic room? Now that’s something you don’t see every day. Add in access via a trap door set in the floor of the master bedroom closet, and the coolness quotient of the new mini-cottage built by Off Grid Builders, Inc. multiplies.

Off Grid specializes in preparedness construction, a building style based on a philosophy that’s rapidly gaining momentum in the construction industry, according to company president, Steve Canterbury. Preparedness is a growing concern, according to Canterbury, who says his clients want a safe place to store valuables, stash food supplies, or use as a retreat in case of a home invasion. But there's more to this cottage than just the room that doesn't immediately meet the eye.

"In 2008 when the economy tanked, people got sick of working themselves to death so they could make large house payments on large houses with large utility bills,” he says. “Price conscious, energy efficient homes started moving well as part of a simplification movement, a trend toward living small.”

“I wanted to take the challenge of building a high-quality home with an extraordinary level of energy efficiency and extremely low maintenance,” says Canterbury, who was fascinated by the miniature homes built by Katrina Cottages and Tumbleweed Tiny Houses— some of which are less than 100 square feet— but found that nearly all of them contained an unliveable feature (like a bathroom smaller than a motor home's). Together with Roger Bryant of the Gaines Group, recipient of the Virginia Sustainable Living Network’s Best Green Designer Award, Canterbury worked to create a liveable floor plan for the 16 x 32 mini-cottage.  The result, he says, extends beyond green living to extreme energy efficiency, as evidenced by cumulative utility bills of less than $60 per month for the 1,336 square-foot residence.

Greenmont, situated off Old Country Club Road in Louisa County, is slated to be a four-cottage Old World style development with all the homes fronting onto the cul-de-sac. The location and the house designs will allow homeowners an increase in self-sufficiency, a quality more and more buyers are seeking, according to Canterbury.

“Self-sufficiency includes living in a comfortable space, in a healthy environment, growing your own food, enjoying low payments and maintenance costs, and having a place where you can protect yourself and your family, if need be,” he says.

A walk-through of the cottage offers an opportunity to put his definition to the test.

Comfortable space? A valuted ceiling, a spacious and well-appointed bathroom, and a fully tricked-out Pullman kitchen with stainless appliances and granite countertops help fulfill this requirement. 

Healthy environment? LED lighting, bamboo floors, plenty of natural light, and south-facing windows that allow the home to self-vent have this one covered.

Growing your own food? Agricultural status allows for this option, whether your food of choice grows in the dirt, has feathers or roams on four legs.

Low payments and maintenance costs? With an asking price of $189,900, the cottage represents an affordable choice in today’s market while Trex decking, a high-efficiency mini-split, a tankless hot water heater, and the solar-ready status of the home ensure that repair and operating costs will stay low.

And the safe area? That would be the panic room, which occupies approximately one-third of the unfinished, concrete-block basement area. So how secure is this secure storage area? 

"Well, the ceiling isn't concrete," says Canterbury. "And the access is through a commercial steel door, which is more secure than most doors, but less secure than a vault door." With no dedicated HVAC or plumbing, this panic room is rather simple compared to others Canterbury has constructed, which he describes as being "quite elaborate."

When pressed for details about other examples of his work, Canterbury smiles and shakes his head. "I'm not afraid of being described as the guy wearing a tin-foil hat," he says, "and a lot of my clients choose me precisely because of that, but we're called Off Grid for a reason."

It’s difficult to see this home being comfortable for most families with children or for those who balk at scaling a ladder in order to reach either the loft above the living room or the safe zone below the master bedroom. While the unfinished basement could be transformed into a comfortable family room, the fact that it has no interior entry might put some people off, but Canterbury is quick to point out that adjustments for individual preferences can easily be made.

Because Off Grid is a contract builder, it’s unusual for the public to have access to one of its projects, and though the mini-cottage may be a bit too unconventional for the majority of the mainstream masses, there are several subsets of purchasers who would do well to take a tour: Those who embrace the philosophy behind preparedness construction, those who want to learn more about it, and any purchaser who appreciates quality work at an affordable price.

Steve Canterbury of Off Grid Builders, Inc. can be reached at 434-960-5008.