Lagro man builds cabin that is off the grid

Andrew Chinworth talks about the solar panels at his home in Lagro.

By Josh Sigler

LAGRO – As a child, Andrew Chinworth was enamored by the book “My Side of the Mountain.”

Particularly, he was taken by the part of the book where a young boy hollows out a tree and lives off of the land.
His life has taken its twists and turns, and now in his mid-20s, is living out a real life “My Side of the Mountain” in Lagro with a cabin run on solar power.

“I never thought I’d do it,” Chinworth, a North Manchester native, said. “If you’d have told me even five years ago that I would own property in Lagro, Indiana, I would’ve laughed in your face because I was living in New York, with dreams being a diplomat in Russia or something. But, here I am working on a small farm and living in the woods. Things change pretty quickly.”

Chinworth attended Hiram College for his undergrad studies, then went to NYU to study environmental policy.
He learned a lot about sustainable energy, fossil fuels and their effect on climate change, and wanted to try solar power out for himself.

“I had been renting a place in North Manchester for a long time and started to realize I’d be here a while, so I was looking at buying a place or maybe building one,” Chinworth said. “If you’re going to start from scratch, you’d be kind of dumb not to put solar panels up.

“People think they’re for the wealthy, but it’s just as cheap as paying the utility. The utility quoted me about $5,000 to put a line back here, and by the time I pay for energy over the next 20 years, I can pay the solar panels off in half that time.

“And, then there’s the ethics of it,” he added. I don’t want to be too self-righteous about it, but through the master’s program I learned about all the issues of energy production globally, and it just kind of made sense.”

Chinworth’s cabin sits back in the woods in rural Lagro. It’s 720 square feet, with a 100 square foot porch and a 120 square foot loft. There’s also a bathroom and a little utility closet where the solar batteries go.

“It’s just me for now,” he said of the cabin’s occupants. “I’d say two people could live here comfortably, but you’d really have to like the other person.”

He first found the land last February. He said it was a prolonged closing process, and he didn’t actually own it until June 1, 2017. By May he was sawing down trees and clearing away brush for the footprint of the structure.

The construction crew was just two people, Chinworth and a co-worker, Dan Winger.

“He’s a very experienced carpenter that I’ve gotten to know through work.”  Chinworth said. “He’s a German Baptist who’s a jack-of-all-trades. He just knows how to do a little bit of everything. I was mostly his assistant through the whole process. If it was just me there’d still be just posts in the ground.”

The solar grid sits just outside Chinworth’s front door.

It takes about 45 minutes of direct sunlight to replenish what energy he uses in a day. The cabin is equipped with a TV, stove, washer and the loft serves as his sleeping quarters.

The only amenity the solar power couldn’t support is a dryer, but Chinworth has drying racks and a wood burning stove to help with that.

“It is small,” Chinworth said. “But, I was renting a three-bedroom place before and I lived in about half of it. I just don’t need much space. I was going to build something smaller, but the county told me if I wanted a building permit, I had to build it 720 square feet for two stories.”

Work on the cabin itself is nearly complete, and Chinworth stays there more often than not. 

“Once I get the floors done, I can move furniture in and be here full time,” he said. “There’s still some exterior siding and a little bit of trim to do. That’s stuff I can chip away at. The essentials are already here.”

It’s a pretty gratifying feeling to know he’s doing his part to help the environment.

“It feels pretty good just in terms of every day stuff,” Chinworth said. “In the summer I’ll be able to run an air conditioner in here and not feel bad about the cost. I’ll be able to keep my fridge going all the time and not feel bad about the energy use I’ve got in that.

“Solar panels are such a testament. People drive by them and see that it’s kind of cool. Getting the message out is a big thing, that this is available for people to do in a pretty affordable way now.”

Posted on 2018 May 22