FreeHouse: An "Off the Grid" Experience
A Rustic, Sustainable Way to Vacation
By Sierra Sumner
In a busy world filled with constant contact on cellphones and the racket of Facebook, Twitter and the connected web, FreeHouse offers a solution to disconnect from the constant stresses of daily life. The company offers rentals WITHOUT a popular amenity--being connected. They rent properties that are hard to get to, and are off the grid.
"We decided to start because of our personal passion," said Jason Stillman, founder of FreeHouse. Sarah and Jason Stillman got married two years ago "off the grid" in Baja, Mexico, where Sarah's father has a vacation rental. The start up company began building its business last June, then officially launched their website in June 2016.
It's similar to companies to Airbnb in the sense that you have a short-term rental directly out of people's homes, but FreeHouse has a different aim: rugged, sustainable vacations. Right now, the majority of their properties are located in Colorado, but they plan to expand.
Sustainable Locations to Rent
All the destinations are typically equipped with a range of amenities such as hydroelectric power and solar; the important part is that the "dwelling is not tied to any municipal outlets," said Sarah Stillman, founder of FreeHouse. Some houses have no solar power, with an outhouse and a propane burner, while other houses have amenities such as a pool or washer and dryer.
There is a certain amount of skill needed to stay, such as how to start a fire for a wood-burning stove or how to use a composting toilet, but "almost anyone can learn how to do that," said Sarah, "most properties have no prerequisite." She continued to say that anyone who has not stayed before can be perfectly comfortable. While there is "some level of intuition, but we cater to a broad-range."
Some Reachable Only by Foot
For those who do want a more rustic experience, there are options for places that can only be reached on foot. There you have to know how to use a map and "some level of no-know," said Sarah.
There is a variety within their customer base -- largely people do solo trips, couples, or small groups; it depends on the size of the property. They recently received an inquiry for a larger group and are working to accommodate them.
The vacations are offered all year round. Fall attracts hiking and mountain biking; winter for skiing and "hut trips," where you ski into back-country cabins. "It's very busy all year long," said Sarah.
This rustic vacation style tends to attract the"outdoor recreational group of people. Inherently, it's a very good demographic to be in front of," said Jason. The groups tend to be the "REI-type of shopper and person who wants to get away off the grid. The company has done research on millennial work culture and demand for responses, they "advertise what we're doing as a digital detox from the high level of stress of being connected all day," said Stillman.
"We were thinking of us and our friends... people in this area tend to travel a lot," said Stillman about why they started. FreeHouse caters to the Denver crowd who gravitate towards more outdoors and "off the grid" style vacations.
There is no limit yet to the length of your stay, similar to Airbnb, it varies case-to-case with the property owner."We don't own the property, we represent the business," said the Stillmans.
Each property listing has three scales: rustic, accessible, and unplugged scale. The rustic scale depends on how remote the location is from busy places, such as distance from a city, airport, or road.
Property owners are starting to reach out and there is an interview process. For each location, they aim to "have visited for quality control" and if it's not possible for them to visit, then they spend time on the phone with the owner. "At this time, we do not have people log in [to FreeHouse's website]," said Stillman.
They will review pictures of the property and see if the properties are listed elsewhere for reviews. It's to "make sure it's a good fit for our specific demographic," where they check for reliability and the "off the grid" essential factor.
Potential renters directly review vacation rentals, but the company also has the option to have direct contact with the client. They can monitor customer and property owner communication and can choose to respond first.
Expansion for FreeHouse
There are looking to expand their company; they currently have properties in Mexico, Nicaragua, a peninsula in Mexico, and Canada. They are interested in lots of "pockets" for rentals such as the West Coast, Northwest, Idaho, Massachusetts, and England to name a few.
They are also working on expansion with other companies. "We are trying to run a lot of promotions," said Stillman. They are partnering with a craft brewery, called Oscar Brews, to offer specials.
They are interested in offering two nights in a year, with a location stocked with coffee and beer. In spring, they plan to have a skiing-type promotion, where they will offer a back-country ski hut with a back-country tap room. These promotions can be found primarily on their Facebook page.
Find out more about FreeHouse by going their website here.
Sierra Sumner is a writer from Massachusetts, Hawaii and California. She loves the outdoors, such as hiking and kayaking, and has traveled all across the US. She hopes to continue her explorations and to encourage others to expand their horizons.