Reality Check / East Brady couple is living off the grid on Sportsman Channel


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Growing up, Ryan Lapinski wanted to be TV’s “MacGyver,” solving problems with a stick of chewing gum and a paper clip.

"I watched that show religiously ... that pretty much got me interested in outdoors. Blame it all on MacGyver, I guess,“ he said.

The June 26 episode of ”America Unplugged,“ a new series on the Sportsman Channel Thursday at 8 p.m., will feature Mr. Lapinski and his wife, Adda Lamon, as they create a home, creatively, in East Brady, Clarion County. ”America Unplugged“ takes a look at folks who are trying to live ”off the grid“ and become self-sustaining.

"Ever since I was a little kid, I just preferred camping over being in a structure,” said Mr. Lapinski, 38, a native of the South. (“Pick a Southern state and chances are, I’ve lived there for a little bit.”) 

He met Wisconsin native Ms. Lamon, 30, when both were students at Northern Michigan University, and while neither had family in Western Pennsylvania, the area seemed a happy compromise.

"She’s really into winter and winter activities, and I’m more into summer activities. This location gives us 50-50 ... If we go any farther north, it’s too cold for me. Farther south, too warm for her.“

But Mr. Lapinski made friends in Kittanning from hiking trips here. After scouting for property, he and Ms. Lamon chose a parcel of land upon which they erected an Amish-built cabin. The two-story, roughly 500-square-foot building had insulated walls, but that was about it.

"It’s considered a tiny home, but actually, that’s a whole lot more space than you think. For two people, it’s plenty of room.”

He has a degree in health education with a focus on fitness nutrition, as well as a second bachelor’s degree in outdoor recreation, including outdoor wilderness survival and land management. Mr. Lapinski also worked in construction engineering and served two tours of duty in the military.

His wife has a degree in zoology plus one in outdoor recreation.

Once they have finished the home — plumbing has been roughed out, and with the exception of a bathroom, each floor is essentially one big room — they hope to volunteer to work with youth groups such as the Girl Scouts or YMCA, as they did in Michigan.

Signing up for a reality show, he said, “was an excellent chance to show people they can live off the grid.”

They are adamant that simplifying their home life is also a money-saver. Living in their last house, he said, cost upward of $1,100 a month, including utilities and upkeep. In 36 months, when the land and cabin are paid off, they figure their monthly bill will be $200.

"We will have the same standard of living off-grid and saving $900 a month.“

They have electricity but limit lighting to a few LCD fixtures that are rarely on at the same time.They’ll have Internet for their two laptops, but that’s about it for technology: ”We haven’t had a television in over eight years.“

Providing power are a 600-watt wind turbine, and another 100 watts is collected via solar panels. They also have a 418-ampere battery bank, and the whole house runs on a 12-volt DC power system. It doesn’t sound like much, he said, but it’s enough.

Mr. Lapinski said they can rely on a root cellar as well as one of the three springs on their property for natural refrigeration.

"The last time I put a thermometer on [a spring], it was 92 degrees out and the spring was running at about 47 degrees,” he said.

Opening their home in progress to television crews was ... interesting.

"If you ask my wife, it was nerve-racking and scary and very stressful. If you ask me, it was fun and exciting and didn’t bother me one little bit. If you ask my dog, Ralph, who kept getting up early and waiting for them to show up the next three days after they were gone, it was great.“

• A new season of Syfy’s ”Face Off“ begins July 22, and as usual, there are numerous contestants with local ties. Drew Talbot and Gwen Crew live in the Mexican War Streets and Swissvale, respectively, while Keaghlan Ashley of Oxnard, Calif. is an alum of the Tom Savini Special Make-Up Effects program in Monessen. George Troester III of Panorama City, Calif., attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Talbot has been an instructor in the Savini program at the Douglas Education Center, as well as an alum. Two other contestants attended the program: Barry Mahoney of Southborough, Mass., and Cig Neutron of Los Angeles.

Ve Neill, who has served as a judge through the series’ run, will appear in only three episodes due to her commitment to ”The Hunger Games“ trilogy. She will be replaced with Lois Burwell (”War Horse,“ ”Lincoln“).

• Pittsburgh’s Tony Award-winning Billy Porter (Broadway’s “Kinky Boots”) stopped by the Philadelphia auditions for Fox’s always-impressive “So You Think You Can Dance” (Wednesday, 8 p.m.).

One of the best things about “SYTYCD’s” guest judges is, these folks have been around the block more than a few times, and unlike the guests on (you name it) vocal reality shows, they generally have more to offer in the way of comment than “You nailed it.”

One young dancer on this week’s show — Stanley Glover, 19, from Chicago — turned in one of the show’s all-time creepiest/fabulous interpretive auditions. Whether Mr. Glover can transition to other dance forms, as Season 11 winner “Fik-Shun” Stegall did so impressively last year, will be worth following.

• CBS’s “Big Brother” returns with a two-night premiere June 25-26. For the first time, there will be HD cameras, 76 of them, actually. There also will be numerous online feeds, subscription viewing, and former Houseguest Jeff Schroeder will be live-tweeting during the live feeds for the first 16 hours after the June 26 show ends. 

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.  


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