Over the years that I’ve lived off grid, the general attitude about my lifestyle has changed from “Are you freakin’ crazy?” to “I really want to try that!” But, even though more people want to try the off grid life, most people are faced with not knowing exactly where to start. Additionally, people are intimidated about what type of off grid home to build. These concerns are typically centered around cost and functionality.
Speaking of functionality, an internet search for “alternative housing”, “mobile housing options”, or “temporary housing options” quickly brings up with some very interesting and unique options for an off grid home. I will admit that these “unique” options are interesting and fun to learn about. However, they are not very viable as far as a long-term living situation.
Consequently, in this post, I cover five realistic options for an off grid home. These options vary according to budget and the ability to use them as a long-term living situation.
This is by far the least expensive method of having an off grid home. However, it is also the least desirable. I know because I’ve done it. Besides, the bottom line is that you have to establish a decent standard of living. This is vital in order to live off grid long-term and actually enjoy it. However, roughing it these days does not have to be that bad. There are several options.
-Temporary shelter: Build something small and practical that is semi-permanent and can potentially be repurposed at a later date. When I first moved onto my off grid property, I built a 200 square foot log frame, covered it with canvas, put on a plywood roof, insulated it, and installed a wood stove. It cost less than $200. I lived in it for 5 months while building the cabin. Afterwards it served as a storage area for several years.
-Outfitters tent: These large tents are designed for maximum functionality and are typically designed to install a wood stove. However, these tents will go for upwards of $1000.
A small out building is a great option if you have some basic carpentry skills and are going to be roughing it for some time. Build a shed that can later be repurposed as a storage area. Put in some small windows, insulate it, and even install a wood stove. If I had it to do all over again, this is what I would do. You can build a very nice shed for about $1000. I built a 10 x 20 shed with a loft area, covered it with sheeting, then sheet metal for less than $2000.
Pros of roughing it: very inexpensive, quick to build
Cons: can be an undesirable lifestyle long-term, life is very basic, less desirable for a colder climate.
This is a very quick, relatively inexpensive, very desirable option for an off grid home. Like most things, it depends on your budget. The big advantage to portable housing is that they are self contained units and come ready to use. Transport it to your property and you have an instant off grid home.
-RV: This is a great option simply because it is specifically designed to be portable. Used popup campers can be found for a few thousand dollars. However, a fixed walled travel trailer is going to be a much better option for colder weather.
-Mobile tiny house:
While these are very attractive, they can also be very expensive. Some are priced up to $50,000. Small homes such as these have been popularized by the “tiny house” movement. I highly recommend that you do your homework before making this investment.
-Sheep camp wagon: These rigs can actually be very fancy and attractive. They are easily mobile.
Pros: inexpensive, self contained, ready made home
Cons: limited size, difficult to customize, possible zoning issues
Prefab or modular homes are built in large sections in a factory setting. They are then moved to the home site and assembled. Manufactured and modular homes have similar construction methods. Manufactured homes are required to adhere to HUD codes. Modular home construction is governed only by state and local building codes.
Pros: High quality, speed of construction, less expensive, great financing options, delivered directly to your building site, easy to customize, home price is usually all inclusive for the home itself.
Cons: while less expensive you still have to purchase the land, the loan process is more complicated, possible land restrictions, more difficult to resell, perceived as low quality, not mobile, price does not include connection to facilities, high transportation cost (several thousand dollars)
Kits are a very affordable option for an off grid home. Most of the components for a kit home are prefabricated then brought to the building site and assembled. Framing is either steel or timber.
Pros: very cost effective (less expensive than contractor built homes), flexible design, easy to customize, you can assembly the home yourself and save even more money, very quick construction
Cons: Must purchase land suitable for the home, lack of common standards between manufactures (For example, some prices include the foundation, others do not.) You must organize contractors for foundation work, perk test, electrical,plumbing, etc, cost of the kit only represents about 25% to 30% of the total cost.
For a great read on kit homes, visit shelter-kit.com
Yurts are also another type of kit that makes a great off grid home.
A yurt is basically a tent with a circular frame. This home design has been around for centuries. Modern yurts are strong and efficient structures produced from premium materials. They withstand high winds and harsh weather. They are perfect for a guest house, an office, a studio, or a cost effective off grid home. As with anything else, if you want to live there full-time, there are advantages and disadvantages.
Pros: Not on a permanent foundation which makes them portable, easy to build and can often be put up in a day, very economical housing choice, durable, easy to customize, easy to heat and cool, comes in a variety of sizes, ideal for someone that wants to move around
Cons: it may be more difficult to keep out insects and other pests, lack of interior walls for plumbing and electricity, open design and not a lot of privacy, due to circular design, installing windows can be a challenge, not sound proof, limited storage space, for some people the simplicity of yurt living is undesirable, zoning challenges, age faster, difficult to insure.
To learn more about yurts, go here.
Building your own off grid home provides maximum flexibility. You get far more bang for your buck because you are saving on labor costs. With doing it yourself, your options for an off grid home are truly limitless. However, in the end, the type of off grid home you build will likely be somewhat determined by the climate zone. The following list of possibilities is by no means complete:
Pros: the most cost efficient way to have an off grid home, you get exactly the type of off grid home you want, building your own place means you can perform all of your own repairs
Cons: very labor intensive, must possess reasonable carpentry skills, numerous tools required, very time intensive, takes much longer to build your off grid home.
My first off grid home was a log cabin. I harvested the timber, hand peeled the logs, and built the cabin the old fashioned way. At the time, this was the most economical thing I could do. Additionally, it cost me very little money. I was extremely financially challenged at the time and needed to spend as little as possible.
My second off grid home was traditional framed construction with log siding. I truly needed more room. It is less rustic than the first one but it has some nice hard wood floors, a water cistern, a regular shower, and some other modern improvements that make life easier.
What type of off grid home you choose to have will depend on your financial situation and your skill level. I hope you enjoy your life of living off the grid.
For further reading about off grid homes, continue with one of these articles:
Go off grid and live well,
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