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Arizona Republicans exaggerate voting issues to sow fresh doubt about elections.

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Republican candidates and conservative media organizations seized on reports of voting issues in Arizona on Tuesday to re-up their case that the state’s elections are broken and in need of reform, even as state and county officials said the complaints were exaggerated.

“We’ve got irregularities all over the state,” Mark Finchem, who won the Republican nomination for secretary of state in Arizona, said before his victory was announced.

Gateway Pundit, a conservative website that breathlessly covered the election rumors on Tuesday, wrote that Arizona’s largest counties were apparently “rife with serious irregularities that have been occurring all day long, sparking even more concern for election integrity.”

There is no evidence of any widespread fraud in Tuesday’s election. But the concerns raised were bolstered by a number of problems in Pinal County, the state’s third-most populated county, located between Phoenix and Tucson. More than 63,000 ballots were mailed with the wrong local races on them, requiring new ballots to be issued. On election night, at least 20 of 95 precincts in Pinal County were running low on ballots or ran out entirely.

Sophia Solis, the deputy communications director of Arizona’s secretary of state, said voters could still cast a ballot at those precincts using voting machines that are typically used by disabled voters.

“We did not hear of any widespread problems,” Ms. Solis said, adding that “one of the main issues that we did see yesterday was the spread of mis- and disinformation.”

Kent Volkmer, the attorney for Pinal County, said there were more in-person voters in the county than had been seen before, including far more independent voters. He added that many voters surrendered their mail-in ballot so they could vote in person, possibly motivated by the ballot-printing issues.

“We don’t think that there’s nearly as many people who were negatively impacted as what’s being related to the community,” Mr. Volkmer said.

One common talking point on Tuesday resurrected a false theory from 2020, known as Sharpiegate, which claimed that markers offered by poll workers were bleeding through and invalidating ballots. Election officials have said that machines can read ballots marked with pens, markers and other instruments, and any issues can be reviewed manually.

“This is Sharpiegate 2.0,” Ben Berquam, a conservative commentator, said on a livestream. Mr. Finchem shared the conspiracy theory on his Twitter account. The campaign for Ron Watkins, a congressional candidate for Arizona’s Second District who came in last place in his race on Tuesday, also suggested that Mr. Watkins’s votes were being artificially slashed.

Many election fraud theories focused on the governor’s primary race between Kari Lake, the Trump-endorsed former news anchor, and Karrin Taylor Robson, who was endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence. Ms. Lake was badly trailing her competitor for most of the night, whipping up election fraud theories among her supporters. She eventually took the lead.

Ms. Lake’s allies suggested during a livestream that the results were suspicious because many other Trump-aligned candidates were winning their races. In Arizona, mail-in ballots received before Election Day are counted first, and polling suggested those would slightly favor Ms. Taylor Robson. In-person votes were counted on election night, and Ms. Lake’s supporters preferred voting in person.

As counting continued late into the night, Ms. Lake claimed victory while she was still trailing Ms. Taylor Robson.

“When the legal votes are counted, we’re going to win,” Ms. Lake said at her election night party. The Associated Press has not yet called the race.



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Roomba Combo j7 Plus review: now with a mop on top

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The Roomba Combo j7 Plus is a top-of-the-line robot vacuum that can also mop and empty its own bin. Thanks to its ability to map your home and avoid common household clutter, it’s one of the few bots I’ve tested that rarely gets stuck. All this autonomy makes it a good household cleaning companion, though it’s a better vacuum than a mop, and you do have to refill its water reservoir fairly often. But it’s one of the only robot vacuums that can reliably vacuum all your rugs and carpeted areas and vacuum and mop your floors in one go without dragging its damp, dirty mop over your nice rug.

iRobot’s first combo mop / vacuum, the $1,099 Combo j7 Plus takes the excellent j7 robot vacuum and adds some new sensors, a bigger battery, a small water reservoir, and a robotic arm that raises and lowers a very small mopping pad. 

That robot arm is key. Almost every other robot vacuum with a mop requires manual intervention: you have to remove the mopping pad so it will tackle carpets and put it back on when you want mopping action. But the Combo j7’s arm keeps the mop pad tucked away on top of the robot when not in use, then lowers itself behind and underneath the robot when needed. This operation is entirely autonomous and worked reliably and smoothly in my testing. It’s also very fun to watch. 

The mop only deploys when the robot is on a hard floor surface — wood, tile, concrete. If it’s in mopping mode and encounters a rug, it won’t go over it (I tried to trick it, but it always backed away). Cleverly, when you send it out on a job it vacuums all the rugs and carpets first, then deploys the mop and and cleans and vacuums the hard floors. It’s not entirely hands-off, though; depending on the size of your home, you’ll have to refill the water reservoir at least once to mop it all.

The Plus in Combo j7 Plus means it comes with iRobot’s Clean Station, an auto-empty base that charges the robot and sucks the dirt out of its bin. The regular j7 vacuum can be bought with the base (as the j7 Plus) or without it, but you can currently only buy the Combo with the base, which partially explains the eye-watering $1,099 price tag. 

The Combo works well if you have of hard flooring combined with lots of plush rugs and carpets

Design-wise, the Combo j7 looks almost identical to the j7. The only difference is the smooth top piece of the robot is broken up slightly by the mopping plate. This is still a good-looking robot; it’s easily the best design in the world of robot vacs. Its matte black plastic doesn’t show dust or fingerprints, and small touches — like the brushed aluminum top piece with a small iRobot logo — are much classier than the loud designs of competitors such as Shark and Roborock. 

The Combo has all the smarts of the j7, including AI-powered obstacle avoidance plus new onboard acoustic sensors to determine the floor type. It uses those sensors, plus the knowledge it gleans from mapping your house, to determine its cleaning pattern. When it enters a room, it vacuums the rugs and carpets first, then mops and vacuums the hard floors before moving on to the next room. There is no option to mop only; the robot is always vacuuming and sometimes mopping. 

It’s a decent mop

It can only mop if you attach the pad (which is removable so you can clean it) and if its 210 ml water tank is full. Without both of those in place, it just vacuums. When it runs out of water, it continues to vacuum, and you get an alert in the app to refill the tank. This does require manual intervention: you have to take the combined dust bin and water reservoir out of the back of the robot and fill the water tank. (iRobot says it’s fine to use any cleaning solution in its bot; most robot mops only take water or their own cleaning solution). 

The small tank does not last long: after mopping my kitchen floor, it was generally spent. You can get more mopping out of it by reducing the water flow level in the app, but in my testing, the highest setting was the most effective. Handily, you can set different water levels for different rooms. I had it take two passes and mop on the Ultra setting for the kitchen and dining room floors but had it use Eco for the living room. 

The mopping pad is a small semi-circle that is easily removable for washing.

The water reservoir is built into the removable bin.

The water reservoir is built into the removable bin.

The Combo doesn’t use any scrubbing action to clean the floors, just the downward pressure from the mop arms and the friction from the pad dragging across the floor as the robot moves. iRobot says that programming it to do two passes is the most effective way to use the mop for more stubborn stains. In testing, that was true, but with two passes, I was filling up the tank a lot more often.

While its rug-avoiding method works well, its mopping is lackluster.

The only other robot vac / mop that doesn’t need you to attach its pad when you want it to mop is the Roborock S7 line. Roborock handles the “don’t drag a damp mop pad over my rug” problem by lifting its mop a few millimeters when it encounters carpet. But this only works on low pile rugs and carpets, whereas the Combo j7 can go over any rug or carpet, thanks to that robot arm.

While its rug-avoiding method works well, its mopping is lackluster. This is true of almost every other combo vacuum and mop I’ve tested, however, especially compared to a Swiffer-type mop and some manual labor. 

Yes, it works well enough to pick up fine dust the vacuum misses, but it won’t get dried milk up unless you send it out four or five times, even with a cleaning solution, by which point you may as well have grabbed the Swiffer. iRobot has a dedicated mopping robot, the Braava Jet M6, which does a much better job at mopping — it obliterates dried milk stains. But it’s very slow and can’t handle rugs or high-room transitions in the same way the Combo can.

Both the Roborock S7 Plus and the S7 MaxV Ultra do a better job at mopping floors than the Combo j7. The S7’s mopping pad is twice the size of the Combo’s and vibrates ever so slightly to simulate scrubbing. The S7’s oscillating motion did a better job of cleaning a dried milk stain in one pass than the Roomba did in two passes, though it didn’t completely remove the stain in its regular mode. The Roborocks have a high-intensity mopping level where the bot doesn’t vacuum at all, moves more slowly, and scrubs more intensely. That mode did completely remove the dried milk and left my floors feeling like someone had actually mopped them.

Roborock also sells an Empty Wash Fill dock for its S7 MaxV Ultra robot that automatically refills the robot’s water tank and scrubs the mopping pad, in addition to emptying its dust bin and charging its battery. While the Roomba Combo j7 Plus does come with an auto-empty dock, filling the water tank and cleaning the mopping pad are on you. And you do have to refill the water tank frequently, despite iRobot’s hands-free claims; it never got through my 800-square-foot downstairs without needing to be refilled.

In iRobot’s corner, the Roomba’s auto empty station is much less of an eyesore than the Roborock’s, and the Combo j7 Plus with the station usually costs about $300 less than the Roborock with the Empty Wash Fill base. Plus, Roombas don’t talk to you, unlike almost every other robot vac I’ve tested, including the Roborocks. Seriously, these things are Chatty Cathys — “I’m going to clean the kitchen.” “I’m stuck, and I need help.” “I’m very annoying.” 

Top-down shot of the Roomba’s auto empty base with the lid lifted.

The auto-empty charging base has a bagged compartment that holds the dirt from the vacuum and another that holds a spare bag.

…but a great vacuum.

Ultimately, the Combo j7 Plus adds a bit more convenience than most vacuum / mop models and will get your floors a bit cleaner than the regular j7. And while it’s an okay mop, it is an excellent vacuum. Roombas are the best at actually vacuuming of all the models I’ve tested. This is partly because of a unique dual rubber brush system that helps it dig into carpet fibers and pick up dirt better from hard floors.

The j7 and Combo j7 have the same software and the same vacuuming features. I reviewed the j7 when it first came out, but thanks to several over-the-air updates to its robot brain (or operating system), it has gotten significantly better. I encourage you to read my earlier review of the Roomba j7 for more background, and I’ll go into some of the updates here.

The underside of the Roomba Combo J7 showing its dual green floor rollers.

Roomba’s dual-brush system is very good at cleaning hard floors and carpet alike.

The underside of the Combo j7 showing a rotating brush with three sets of close-packed bristles a few inches long.

A side-spinning brush draws debris into the roller’s path.

The j7 is the only iRobot vacuum with AI obstacle avoidance. This means it’s smart enough to know to go around that sock, cable, or pile of poop. Roomba’s AI obstacle avoidance is very good, much better than the Roborock S7 MaxV, its closest competitor, and better than the Samsung JetBot AI that I originally pitted it against.

I put this down to the Roomba’s ability to figure out what objects are in its way and decide what to do about them rather than just avoiding anything lumpy. This is key: you want a vacuum to clean right up close to a litter box or pet bowl but definitely not dog waste.

In testing, the j7 almost always gave pet waste and cables a wide berth (if it does make a poopy mistake, iRobot promises to send you a new robot). It got close to — but not in a tangle with — socks, baseball caps, and backpacks and right up to pet bowls and litter boxes. You can give the robot more definitive directions in the app, which lets you designate clean zones for areas you want to target cleaning, no-mop zones, and keep-out zones. 

This is worth doing if you have anything delicate you want it to avoid; Roombas are very bullish and will bang into furniture, and AI avoidance isn’t foolproof. While the Combo j7 rarely got tripped up by anything in my testing, it did occasionally get stuck under a piece of furniture.  

Screenshots from the iRobot app. On the left, a screen showing the vacuum status and some controls, including a favorites section with routines labelled “Kitchen quick” and “After dinner.” On the right, a floor plan labeled “Main Floor” showing several designated clean zones and carpeted areas.

The iRobot app is easy to use, and its mapping is effective. It automatically identifies carpeted areas.

You designate these zones on the map the iRobot app creates when you run the robot. (Of note, iRobot was recently purchased by Amazon, a move which may be to gain more insight into our homes through those maps. The deal has not yet closed.)

The j7 maps more quickly than previous Roombas, thanks to its onboard camera. This helps it identify not only rooms but also furniture and appliances. I could easily set up a clean zone in front of the stove and send the robot there with a voice command to clean up after dinner. 

The bot can also identify things like Christmas trees and pet bowls and suggest clean zones for you — although I didn’t have any of these set up during my testing. It will also suggest keep-out zones after each run if it encounters obstacles.

Voice commands are a great way to control the Roomba, and it works well with Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri (using Siri shortcuts). The Combo also has specific mopping commands, so you can tell it just to vacuum or to mop and vacuum. 

Smart home data privacy: iRobot

Bringing connected devices into your home also brings with it concerns about how the data they collect is protected. The Verge asks each company whose smart home products we review about safeguards it has in place for your data.

The primary home data managed by a robot vacuum like the Roomba Combo j7 are the maps it generates and image data from its onboard camera. iRobot says it does not sell customer data and that no data is shared with third parties without the customer’s knowledge or control. It outlines its Privacy Principles on its website.

The robot vacuum collects usage data, the level of dirt detection, the Wi-Fi signal strength it receives, and the map of your home, including furniture and obstacles. iRobot says this data is encrypted and stored securely.

Image collection is opt-in and helps with navigation and obstacle avoidance. iRobot says images are not viewable by the company unless you opt-in both to image collection and to sharing each image with iRobot. If you view your map or obstacle avoidance images on your phone the data is shared through the Cloud. You can opt-out of sending map data to the Cloud in the app.

You can also choose to share data from the robot with third parties such as Amazon and Google for voice control.

The Roomba Combo j7 does not need to be connected to Wi-Fi or the Cloud to work — but you won’t be able to use features like scheduled cleanings, customized cleaning features, and voice control.

iRobot’s app is also one of the cleanest and easiest to navigate, especially compared to Roborock’s cluttered interface. A couple of new app features address some of my biggest gripes with the Roomba. First is a new on-the-fly skip option. When Roomba starts on a job but encounters resistance — say, a husband watching TV — instead of stopping the job entirely, you can tell it to skip this room, and it will go off and continue the rest of its job. 

There’s also a new quiet drive feature, so when you send it to clean a specific room, it doesn’t start up its loudest motors until it’s there, again making it less likely someone will turn it off because it’s annoying them. Roomba is one of the few robot vacs where you can’t set the suction level; others offer quiet and medium modes in addition to regular and ultra.

Of course, the best way to ensure a robot vacuum finishes its job is to run it when no one is home. You can do this with the iRobot app using IFTTT and your phone’s location or events from other connected devices you might have — such as an August smart lock locking, an Ecobee thermostat going into Away mode, or by connecting it to a smart home platform such as Alexa. 

I tested the IFTTT and the Alexa integrations, and in both cases, the Roomba started to run when I left and docked itself when I arrived home. If you don’t want it to stop every time you arrive home, you can also set it to pause and ask if you want it to continue. 

These quality-of-life touches go a long way to making Roomba’s robots some of the best you can buy. And the iRobot OS that runs them is on all the bots the company currently sells, not just the high-end models. Another thing I like about Roombas compared to much of the competition is their repairability. You can buy (not inexpensive) replacements for many of the moving parts on these bots, greatly extending their lifespan. 

Floor-level photo of the Combo J7 right alongside a tasseled rug. The mop is is deployed but is not touching the rug tassels.

The Combo can detect rugs and won’t go over them with its mop is extended.

The Combo j7 Plus is a relatively small improvement over the j7 Plus. I would have liked to see more scrubbing action from the mop and also a bigger footprint (that mop is really small). But it does clean hard flooring better than the j7, so from that perspective, it’s worth the price difference, especially if you have a lot of rugs in your home. But I’m not sure slightly cleaner floors are worth the $300 premium. If you have a j7, you certainly don’t need to upgrade, but if you are looking for your first Roomba, it is a small step up over the non-mopping j7.

If you want a robot to really mop your floors, I prefer the Braava Jet M6, a dedicated mop bot that you can get in a bundle with the j7 often for less than the Combo j7 Plus. But it is slow and limited in its maneuverability, so it’s best suited to keeping single rooms like a kitchen or bathroom clean. And two robots take up twice the room. 

Another option is robot vacuum mops from Ecovacs, DreameBot, and Yeedi, which use two large round oscillating mops. In my testing, these do a very good job of scrubbing your floors, and some come with bases that can refill the mop for you. But these won’t clean carpets and hard floors in the same run; you have to manually attach the pads when you want to mop.

This is where the Combo j7 does best — better than the Roborock S7 line, thanks to its ability to clean high-pile carpets. Just press the button and it will clean it all (until it runs out of water). If you have lots of hard flooring with lots of plush rugs and carpets, then the Combo j7 will work well for you. Otherwise, the regular j7 vacuum, without the conversation piece robotic mop arm, is a better choice.

Speaking of that robotic arm, it is an impressive piece of engineering design. It’s not too out there to extrapolate that this type of accessory mechanism could be deployed in other ways. A robot arm to pick up clutter, perhaps, or a robot foot to help the vacuum crack the final frontier for these impressive cleaning bots: stairs.

Photography by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge

Agree to continue: iRobot Roomba Combo j7 Plus

Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

You need to register for an iRobot account using an email address to use the app (Android or iOS) and agree to iRobot’s Terms of Service, which include:

  • iRobot Terms & Conditions
  • iRobot End User License Agreement
  • iRobot Privacy Policy

In total, you get three mandatory agreements.

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Kanto’s YU2 desktop speakers are a great gift for $190

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With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all of Cyber Week behind us, it’s time to let off the gas a little. These deals are going to be a little different. For the main pick of today’s roundup, I found a significant deal on a pair of Kanto’s YU2 minimalist desktop speakers that I own and enjoy. I was disappointed not to find any Black Friday deals on them, but thankfully, they’re available for a good price right now.

Amazon, Walmart, Adorama, and Target are offering sets in multiple color schemes for $190, a big price drop from their usual $270 price. There are countless desktop speaker options, but this particular unit fits the bill for me with its low-profile design, great sound, and USB DAC. The speakers connect to each other with standard speaker wire, and as far as other ports go, there’s a 3.5mm auxiliary input, as well as an output in case you want to expand with Kanto’s equally fetching subwoofer. Here’s a page that lists the specs.

Speaking of speakers, Sonos is having another one of its sale events on some refurbished audio gear. To set expectations, these aren’t the lowest-ever prices we’ve seen, but they’re still pretty good if you were hoping to gift some Sonos stuff. Its first-generation Beam soundbar from 2018 in the deep gray color scheme is $239, which is an $80 price reduction from the usual price this refurbished product sells for. It lacks Dolby Atmos support found in the second-gen model, but hey, that newer Beam costs $200 more than this one.

To provide some surround sound support, you can get the Sonos One SL (similar to the second-generation model, but without a microphone for voice controls) for $119, which is $80 less than the new price.

I mentioned that these were smaller discounts than we’ve seen in the past, but they can sure add up if you’re building up a new audio setup at home.

I need only one thing to put me to sleep, no matter what time it is: my white noise fan. The particular model that I use and really enjoy is discounted (via Slickdeals), so I figured I’d share the good news. The LectroFan white noise machine in white or black (the black color won’t ship until mid-January, but the white one is available now) is about $30 at Amazon, down from about $50. It includes a power cable that ends in a USB-A port, so you can power it with a computer, or by supplying your own USB wall wart.

This is another product category that’s filled with many, many options, but this one stood out during my search because it offers non-looping sounds and it can get loud with surprisingly deep sound. I can’t guarantee that it’ll satisfy all sleepers who need noise to fall asleep, but it has certainly helped me throughout the years. I’ve brought it on every vacation domestically and abroad and it has survived for about five years so far.

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Lessons learned after living in an off-grid rental

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Confession: when I booked a working vacation at an InForest cabin this summer, I wasn’t looking for an introductory course on sustainable living. I just wanted to escape the city without sacrificing the creature comforts my three teenagers demand. I got that, but took away so much more.

I thrive on the reenergizing effects of nature, and escape to the mountains, beach, or desert whenever I can. It’s something that’s become increasingly possible for many thanks to advances in solar panels, battery storage, data coverage, and flexible work-from-anywhere policies that have proliferated in the days since COVID-19. Now people can get their work done from just about any place that brings them joy.

InForest cabins are completely off the grid, but that doesn’t mean you have to go without modern luxuries thanks to advances in solar power and Starlink internet. Can you spot the dish?
Photo by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

I knew going in that my energy demands would push the already-well-equipped solar-powered cabin to its limits. I had all the gear I needed to work remotely while also keeping my family entertained. That means one e-bike, a video projector, two Bluetooth speakers, five phones, two laptops, one tablet, three smartwatches, and a Starlink RV internet-from-space kit to keep it all connected. That’s on top of the lights and full suite of kitchen appliances and utility devices already inside the cabin. 

For one week this summer I was able to work and play from the middle of a forest in Sweden, despite being totally disconnected from the grid. The experience gave me a taste of what’s currently possible with off-grid tech, and a better understanding of the compromises required when resources are scarce — lessons I’ve since applied to daily life now that energy prices in Europe have gone through the roof.

The Concept

InForest is owned and operated by Jesper (40) and Petra Uvesten (41) who had the dream of creating a series of off-grid cabins for people looking to get closer to nature. The couple opened the doors of their first eco-friendly and self-sufficient cabin, Ebbe, in 2020. The Vilgot and Esther cabins soon followed. Each is named after one of their three children.

Jesper and Petra in front of one of the InForest cabins named after their three children.

Jesper and Petra in front of one of the InForest cabins named after their three children.
Photo: InForest

Jesper also works a full-time job with the EU working on rural development, while Petra is a dedicated triathlete. The two run InForest alone, although they also have occasional part-time help so they can take holidays. Their goal is to expand from three to 10 houses. 

The three small cabins are situated in a dense forest dotted with tranquil lakes and hunting blinds in the hills of southern Sweden, about two hours east of Gothenburg or three hours west of Stockholm. The cabins are handmade by Treesign, a local builder of tiny homes. Each house had to be hauled into position by a truck along several miles of dirt roads.

I booked Esther, named after Jesper and Petra’s daughter and oldest child who (rightly) insisted that the biggest of the three houses carry her name. 

The Tech

The Esther house is powered by a large solar array on the rooftop, with six 320W panels helping to keep a pair of 2.4kWh lithium-ion batteries charged. Each house is fitted with an inverter to provide 220V AC to wall outlets located everywhere you’d hope to find one. 

Power generation benefits immensely from Sweden’s long summer days. Jesper tells me that their solar system is configured to provide about 1.5kW of charge per hour, which is enough to recharge half-empty batteries to full in about two hours. All excess energy is then diverted to the outlets. When the sun goes down, the house is wholly dependent upon the batteries for electricity.

Sweden’s short winter days present a real challenge for the cabins

Sweden’s short winter days present a real challenge for the cabins as the low, weak sun can’t keep the batteries charged. That means InForest cabins can only be booked from about March to mid-October. Jesper hopes to extend the season by purchasing an EV with bi-directional charging capabilities.

Ideally he’d like to buy a Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck but it’s not scheduled to come to Sweden any time soon, so maybe the new Volvo EX90 SUV coming in 2024 instead. Whatever he buys, he can charge its relatively large 100kWh-plus battery at home before driving to each cabin every few days to charge their much-smaller batteries. Jesper or Petra already have to visit each cabin every two to three days anyway to clean them and refill the water tanks. 

Jesper stands in front of the utility closet where all technology can be found. A water hose connects at the back of the house to replenish the 250-liter tank. We brought our own clothesline.

Jesper stands in front of the utility closet where all technology can be found. A water hose connects at the back of the house to replenish the 250-liter tank. We brought our own clothesline.
Photo by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

Fresh water comes from a 250-liter (66 gallon) water tank. The house is also fitted with a 10-liter (2.6 gallon) water heater, which is enough for about five to seven minutes of hot water.

The cabin’s LED lights, a kitchen fan, a DC refrigerator / freezer, heating fan, and water pump all require electric power. Jesper estimates that each house consumes about 100W per hour when idle, allowing the batteries to power the house for about two days without any charging. 

The houses require more than just electricity, however. They’re also equipped with a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) system for the combined air and water heater and also for the stove and oven. There’s also a waterless composting toilet from Separett that InForest takes care of after guests check out.

InForest houses are designed to be serviced, which is why all of the technology is housed in a utility closet that can be accessed from the outside to avoid interrupting guests. External connectors allow the water to be refilled and, eventually, the batteries to be recharged, just as soon as Jesper and Petra find a suitable EV.

The Experience

I’ve never been so aware of my water usage, thanks to a gauge mounted on the wall inside the bathroom. InForest says its 250-liter tanks provide enough water for about three days of average usage by two adults. Jesper says guests typically use about 41.6 liters (11 gallons) of water per person per day when staying in their cabins, compared to 140 liters (27.5 gallons) per person in the typical Swedish household. I was traveling with a family of five, including three image-obsessed teenagers. So, challenge accepted!

This water gauge is my mortal enemy — and agent of change, as it turns out.

This water gauge is my mortal enemy — and agent of change, as it turns out.
Photo by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

Seeing how much water we had left on that gauge accomplished more than any amount of scolding could. In our seven days in the house, we only had to have the water refilled once, I’m proud to say. But that meant a fairly severe (but simple) change in behavior, like shutting off the water while lathering up in the shower or brushing teeth. Things I never did before, I must admit. It also meant devising a dishwashing method that would conserve as much energy and water as possible. 

I just wish the cabin was also equipped with a power meter. I have no idea how close we came to emptying its batteries, or how much surplus power all those panels produced during the day. As I’ve learned when reviewing solar generators, it’s easier to modify energy consumption habits when you see them mapped over time. Having said that, not knowing if the power would shut off at any moment was a strong motivator for everyone to keep their social media consumption devices plugged in during the day while the sun was actively powering the ports.

The urine-diverting toilet also lacked a meter, but seeing paper begin to sprout from the poop chute on our last day was a pretty good indicator that it was getting full. Fortunately, it’s ventilated so it was odorless. The toilet collects solid waste in a biodegradable bag that is tossed onto an off-site compost heap after guests depart.

1/9

Esther’s kitchen is fully stocked with all the appliances you’d expect, except a dishwasher.
Photo: InForest

Purists who quote Thoreau often tell me that I’m doing it wrong when I share my off-grid experiences. I’m supposed to totally disconnect and leave my gadgets at home. But I prefer to strike a balance, bending the will of nature to my needs at one moment, then giving myself over to its wilderness at the next. The grass can’t be greener on the other side if I’m living life on the fence. 

Lessons learned in that week at my InForest rental have turned into new habits upon my return. I still shut off the tap when brushing my teeth and while lathering up in the shower. I’ve unplugged a dozen rarely used gadgets that had been slowly leeching power. I’m also investigating having my home fitted with solar panels and battery backup. Although I have access to what seems like a never-ending supply of electricity and hot water here in Amsterdam, high energy prices make resources I’ve previously taken for granted suddenly feel scarce.

Of course, I’ve known I should do these things for years. But somehow, attaching emotional memories (stress!) to the idea has made it easier to change my behavior. And let’s be honest, saving money is a strong motivator as well.

My biggest takeaway is this: technologies have progressed so much that off-grid living is a more viable option than I had previously thought, without having to make too many compromises. But it’s a good idea to try it for yourself before fully committing.

InForest isn’t alone in providing off-grid getaways. A Google search will likely yield multiple local providers near you. Otherwise, Airbnb’s May redesign makes it easier to find experiences like off-the-grid living for those who want to go to the woods to try living a bit more deliberately.

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