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Off the Grid NY Island Abode for Sale

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A couple weeks ago, I highlighted an off the grid island residence near New York City. Although we’re all used to stories of the world’s mega rich’s island homes in the caribean and other tropical regions, I’d never heard much about private islands in the North East. Beyond the novelty, however, I was really interested in the home’s self sufficient energy system. 

Michelle Cohen, who described the islands for 6SQFEET, detailed the setup, writing: “The modern home was constructed to be completely self-sufficient. Systems include a solar-supplied electricity and diesel generator back-ups with quadruple redundancy; a reverse osmosis water filtration and desalination system, the same state-of-the-art system used in surgical settings to provide extremely pure water; and triple-redundant flood and storm protection that the system’s builder calls “considerably better than lower Manhattan’s.’”

Just a few days ago, I was surprised to come across the island again in the New York Times. The reporter, James Barron, goes into far greater detail on the owner and the islands themselves. It turns out that owner Albert Sutton, a real estate investor and pathologist among other things, originally bought the properties in hope that they would inspire him. In the end, however, he now admits that they’ve just become money pits. All in all, he spent over $8 million in renovations, including a hefty sum for storm-proof doors imported from Norway. 

Despite all the money, Sutton is now selling his two islands after having spent just one night in the house. He attributes some of his disillusionment to old age: ‘“You know, I started in my 70s. Now I’m 85. I’m less adventurous,” Dr. Sutton said. “It’s not about me or my wishes or dreams any more. I can dream in a chair.”’

Henry Craver's picture

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 5, 2019 7:33 pm GMT

Henry, this story reminds me of one in the NYTimes a few years ago, describing a Manhattan resident's adventure when he set about to make his vacation home in the Maine woods self-sufficient.

Several factors worked to his disadvantage, but one in particular: he planned to harvest most of his electricity from plentiful solar panels covering his roof. Though he had a wood stove which worked well for space heating and cooking, latitude, cloudy weather, trees, and snow rendered his panels largely useless.

Eventually, he purchased a 250-gallon propane tank and generator. "If I'm not completely self-sufficient," he thought, "at least I'll have cleaner electricity than my neighbors." Then he met his neighbors, and discovered 80% of their grid electricity was carbon-free hydroelectric generation imported from Canada.

As he recounted his story to the reporter he seemed wistful, and a bit disillusioned. I think most of us don't appreciate how much we take a reliable supply of grid electricity for granted - clean, or not.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 5, 2019 10:01 pm GMT

More than anything I get frustrated at those stories of people trying to go off the grid for the sake of cleaner power and/or a smaller carbon footprint because, unfortunately, the effect of one person/family doing so is in the end completely negligible. I'll never denegrate someone wanting to take personal responsibility over their impact on the world, but it always seems like the people who do this could do so much more positive towards their goals by trying to influence systematic changes, to education others and create the change they want to see, not just take themselves off the grid and feel better about the impact they have on their little corner of the world. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 7, 2019 11:45 pm GMT

Matt, I think most of us understand the impact our own actions have on climate, individually, is negligible. I'm more worried millions of NYTimes readers, after reading an article about a homeowner who has been able to save money on his/her electricity bill with solar panels, might be led to believe solar is the answer to preventing climate change.

One question we might ask is "What's the total environmental impact on climate of $8 million in renovations - the workers' trucks, manufacture of materials, flying storm-proof doors to New York from Norway?"

or another:

"Will the negative environmental impact of 22,771 delegates flying from around the world to attend the 2018 COP24 conference in Poland be greater than the positive impact of the accords reached at the conference?" Given the history of climate accords, there's no evidence it won't.

or another:

"What's worse: the climate impact of driving to the store to pick up a candy bar after dinner, or riding your bike to do the same thing?"

Answer: depends on what you ate for dinner (find out why in How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything).


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