Living Off Grid: Four Realistic OptionsNov 10, 2020
It seems that in recent years there is an increased interest in living off grid. Although a lot of people think about this type of lifestyle, most never take the first step. Perhaps this is due to most people either not knowing where to start or what their options may be. In this article, I discuss four realistic options for living off grid. The possibilities are endless and it truly depends on how far you want to stretch your comfort level.
Four Realistic Options for Living Off Grid
What I have discovered is that there are many more people comfortable with what I call being “off-grid ready” as opposed to living off grid and being completely independent.
Being “off-grid ready” simply means being prepared for when the grid goes down for days to weeks. We have all heard numerous news accounts of when a major storm takes down the grid and many people are forced to live off grid without choice, albeit temporary.
Hurricanes, snow storms, ice storms, or other natural disasters can cause extensive damage that results in the utility grid being down for days to weeks. The end result is that thousands, maybe millions, of people are without easy access to basic services for an extended period of time.
To avoid this scenario of living off grid without a choice, you simply need to plan ahead for backup services and power to cover your basic needs. This means having an alternative source of electricity, the ability to purify water, having extra food and a means to prepare that food, alternative refrigeration, lights, and waste disposal. I know this sounds like a lot. But, it is easier than you think.
Back up electricity can be a very simple system or it can be very complicated. You can spend a few hundred dollars to a few thousand depending on what you want to accomplish.
There a numerous, simple plug-and-play solar electric systems you can purchase for a few hundred dollars. This can be used to charge a small battery bank to supply some basic lighting. You could also wire a few solar panels into your home to power dedicated circuits, such as refrigeration and some basic lights. This can also be wired to a battery backup.
Extra water can easily be stored in the event you have a disruption in your fresh water supply. An alternative means of water purification and filtration is a necessity as well.
Extra dry goods and basic necessities that have a long shelf life should be staple items. It is easy to store enough extra food around the house to last you days to months if there is a major disaster. You can take this a step further by having a garden and canning the excess produce at home.
And finally, waste disposal can be taken care of with a simple homemade composting toilet.
The reality is that being off grid ready is not truly living off grid. This is just a matter of advanced preparation for when the utility grid goes down. By accomplishing this level of preparation, when the grid does go down it will simply be a minor inconvenience for you and your family.
Living Off Grid and Roughing It
The least expensive way of completely living off grid is what I would refer to as camping out in style. This is something that I actually see people do on a regular basis.
Most people that do this have a piece of property where they park a small camper, set up a tent, or maybe even build a semi-permanent structure. Generally speaking amenities and are very basic and living is very rustic. You may have to haul water, use lanterns, use an outhouse, and have a temporary shower set up. Cooking may be over an open fire or perhaps a camp stove.
Although with modern technology it is easy to achieve some level of comfort in roughing it, it is still a very, very basic lifestyle.
This is actually how I lived for the first few years on my property. I lived in a tent for 5 months while building the cabin. Once in the cabin, I used a wood stove for heat, had a cellar for food storage, kerosine lanterns for lighting, used an outhouse, and had a small gravity fed shower. Clothes were washed at the local laundromat.
It worked!! It was cheap and I did it because I had no money.
But, if you want to live like this long-term, I can tell you from experience, you have to be very, very determined. Only the most resilient and stubborn personality will persist in this type of lifestyle on a long-term basis.
If you truly want to be living off grid long-term, you have to achieve some level of comfort and security. This leads to a better lifestyle and long-term happiness.
Living Off Grid Part-time
Living off grid part time is a very popular option for those who are not ready to do it full time.
I have met a number of people that own an off grid cabin and simply use it as a weekend get-away, vacation spot, or family meet up place. Installing a simple solar electric system, having a small propane stove for cooking, a composting toilet, and even a small refrigerator would take care of all the basics.
If you own completely undeveloped land, another option would be to park an RV on it. This provides an easy, self contained off grid option. Or you can simply use it as a camping spot. Be sure to check local regulations as some counties limit the number of days you can camp on your own property. Hard to believe but true.
Since this is a part-time adventure, things can be left pretty basic. There are many simple “plug and play” mobile solar electric systems. This makes it easy to have electricity. If you have local access to a water supply, take along a water filtration system and keep a small storage tank.
Living Off Grid Full-time
This is more of the pure off grid lifestyle.
In order to do this, and do it well, you have to strive to achieve some level of comfort and a decent standard of living. Think long-term. You can rough it for awhile but you are not going to want to do that indefinitely. You can accomplish a great deal of comfort with a simple marriage between old country wisdom and modern technology.
In order to accomplish a comfortable lifestyle, you are going to have to cover all the basics of living. This includes a decent house or cabin, electricity, refrigeration, a source of water, the ability to cook and store food, be able to manage your own waste, and ideally produce a certain percentage of your own food.
Think in terms of producing 100% of your own electricity. Solar electric is likely the most versatile option. If your property is in the right location, adding in hydroelectric and wind power should also be considered.
Performing a proper power analysis, meaning an accurate analysis of how much electricity you need to produce, is key to sizing your renewable energy system. It is possible to match your off-grid usage with your on-grid usage but be prepared to spend a lot of money. It is far better to learn to conserve electricity as much as possible and thus reduce your costs for the solar array.
Learn to conserve electricity in every way possible. Use LED lighting and highly efficient appliances for refrigeration. I have a refrigerator and freezer than run directly off DC voltage. Their combined electricity demand is less than a 100 watt light bulb per 24 hours. After I switched to all LED lighting, I cut my electricity usage for lights by 70%.
A source of fresh water is imperative. Depending on your location, drilling a well is a great option. Then you are completely independent. If you cannot drill a well, the next best option may be to haul water from a local source such as a stream or lake. Water can be stored in a cistern then chlorinated and/or filtered for drinking water.
The best option for cooking off-grid is to use a stove that requires a solid fuel source. Electric stoves use a tremendous amount of energy and it is difficult to produce that much electricity from renewable energy sources. Propane is a great option, which is what I use. One 100 lb propane cylinder lasts me 6 to 9 months. I keep three of them full all the time.
Propane grills, smokers, and table top stoves are also a great option. In the warmer months, I use solar ovens to conserve on propane usage. In the colder months I utilize the wood stove for a lot of cooking since I have to heat the cabin anyway. I also keep a camp stove around as an additional back up.
If you have electricity, food of course can be stored in the refrigerator. A cellar is also a great option. I used a cellar as my primary source of refrigeration for 15 years and I still use it today.
For food production, plant a garden, raise chickens, turkeys, rabbits, and anything else that suits your fancy.
Advantages and Disadvantages Living Off Grid
As with all things, there are advantages and disadvantages to living off the grid. That is why you should not make this decision lightly. Make sure it is the correct choice for everyone involved.
In my opinion, there are many.
Most people living off grid have a strong desire to be more self sufficient. Part of being self sufficient is producing your own electricity, growing your own food, raising animals for meat, and suppling your own water.
The HUGE advantage here is that you have much more control over your own resources. This means you have much more control over your life. You are independent and likely have much more personal freedom. This in turn gives you a lot more personal security.
Well, not to point too fine a point on it, living off grid full-time can be a lot of work sometimes. Self reliance requires a strong motivation to keep going even when things get tough.
For instance, if you heat with wood, the chore of cutting, splitting, stacking, and hauling wood is never going to go away. After a long day of work, you may come home to a cold cabin which means your first chore is to start the fire. If you have to haul water, that is never going to go away either. Raising animals can take a lot of time and attention, not to mention the garden.
The point to this is that it’s not for everyone. Even if living off the grid is something you have always wanted, you can still get burned out or maybe even bored with this lifestyle. In fact, this is the primary reason I take time away from living off grid on a regular basis. I enjoy traveling so I take trip. All of my family lives out of state, so I take some time and visit family. It just provides a little variety and when I return I am really happy to be back.
I have been living off grid full-time for most of the last 20 years. That said, I will admit that it was a progressive change, sort of. Point being, I have experienced all of the scenarios presented above so I can speak from experience. I lived in areas where a major storm took out the grid in the middle of winter and there were no utilities for 10 days. Since I was off grid ready, it way only a minor inconvenience. When I first purchased my property in Colorado and moved into a tent, I was roughing it for several years because I simply had no money and therefore no choice in the matter.
As time passed, I took jobs out of state because I made more money. Then I would move back to the cabin. So, I was essentially living off grid part time. I eventually installed a nice solar array and made certain other improvements. All of this result in living off grid full-time with some nice modern amenities.
For more fun stuff, read about the major concerns for building an off grid home.
Or learn about the best reasons to live off the grid.
Go off grid and live well,
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