How to Start Living Off the Grid
One of the ways that people tap into their own survival instincts is by going off the grid. Whether you’re tired of the rat race, or you have an independent streak and love to tinker, you should definitely consider going off the grid.
Most people in America rely on public utilities to provide energy for heating our homes, running our appliances and supplying our water. Can you imagine what it would be like to live off of your own renewable energy sources and drink water directly from nature instead?
According toHome Power Magazine, 180,000 people in the U.S. live off the grid. And that number grows each year. Not only does this lifestyle put you in touch with nature, it can save you lots of money over time and reduce your carbon footprint.
What does “living off the grid” mean?
The grid refers to the electrical grid used by the public utilities to supply power to homes. However, the Going “off the grid” usually means your home functions independently of all public utilities, including electricity, water, natural gas, telephone lines, garbage services and even sewers.
Not everyone interested in self-sufficiency goes one hundred percent off the grid. For some, it’s a matter of cutting back on fossil fuels, so they focus mostly on generating their own renewable heating and electricity sources without giving up on the water or sewer.
For others, it’s a personal test of self-sufficiency and ingenuity, so they unhook everything and set up their own systems. This could mean drinking from a well and depending on a household septic tank for the toilet. It could also mean adopting a zero-waste lifestyle in which all excess material is reused or composted.
People who choose to live in off-the-grid homes also take into consideration the overall footprint of household consumption because they closely monitor their energy supplies. This may require some sacrifices. You might have to give up your microwave and your energy-sucking vacuum cleaner in order to go off the grid. Indeed, the work that household appliances usually do might have to be done by hand.
A lot of people living off the grid also make sure to cut back on waste, grow their own food and minimize their ecological footprint in other ways, too. It’s really a 360 degree rethink of contemporary living that comes with lots of novel solutions.
How to start living off the grid
Step One: Choose your home base
A lot of the details of off-the-grid living depend on the size, location and needs of your home. If you live in a large home with lots of appliances, you’re probably not going to be able to go all of the way off the grid. However, if you want to set up a tiny-home in a secluded wilderness area, you’ll have to make yourself ultra-resourceful.
There’s no right or wrong approach to going off the grid. You can do so in both urban and rural settings. It all boils down to the level of commitment you’re willing to put in and the up front investment you’re willing to make.
Shack in the woods
If you’re dead set on going off the grid the cheap and hard way, this method is for you. You might purchase a small piece of land, set up a shack and an outhouse and hope for the best. It’s really going to test your survival skills, though!
A more rational approach to going off the grid requires planning, ingenuity and some groundwork. Before jumping in, you’ll need to think about the overall environment you live in, your energy needs, and your plans for supplying food, hot water, and heat along with your anticipated strategies for bathing and washing clothes and dishes.
Tiny home in an eco-community
Some of the legwork of starting and planning an off-the-grid lifestyle can be minimized if you join a community of like-minded people already invested in making it work.
Half on/half off the grid urban system
Not all off-the-grid systems need to go all in all at once. You can opt for altering hand picked aspects of your home.
Modern, deluxe off the grid manor
Green architects are experts at designing comprehensive off-the-grid homes that provide comfort and eco-benefits for their inhabitants. If you have the budget, you can hire out the design process and set up the most high-tech system currently available.
Step Two: Set up independent, renewable energy sources
In order to go off the electrical grid, you’ll need to install a system for capturing and storing electrical charge from the wind or sun. Another popular renewable heating option is geothermal heating. According to the American Society for Solar Energy, all of theserenewable energy strategies can be combined along with energy efficiency as well.
First, you should calculate your overall energy needs to see what type of off-the-grid energy system would suit your lifestyle best. Here’s an overview of the different renewable energy sources and strategies available.
For solar, you’ll need roof-top solar panels that ideally face south and tilt at the same angle as your home’s latitude. These connect to a battery and an inverter to convert the DC charge to AC for use with standard outlets.
Most of these hook up to a service panel and you can use a smart meter to monitor electricity use and maximize efficiency.
The advantages of photovoltaic (PV) panels, is they last a long time. They also surprisingly work more efficiently in colder weather.
Currently, there is still a high tax credit incentive to instal solar panels on your home. The schedule for the federalSolar Investment Tax Credit which began in 2006 offers a 26 percent tax credit in 2020, a 22 percent tax credit in 2021 and then no credit for residences in 2022. Now, is the perfect time to instal residential solar panels before the tax credit wanes.
Before you invest in a wind turbine, you’ll need to check the average wind speed in your area of at least nine mph. Check the Department of EnergyWind Resource Maps to see how much annual wind you get in your area.
For wind, you’ll need a wind turbine rated for roughly 5 to 15 kw. The taller the turbine, the greater speed of wind it will reach. Typically, turbines are mounted on a concrete foundation that likewise connects to an inverter and a service panel. As with solar panels, the final hook-up is a smart meter that regulates energy use and tells you how much energy is generated and used in your home.
Keep in mind that a turbine can start in the range of $20,000 for the parts and another $20,000 for installation. It can take a total of 15 to 25 years for a residential wind turbine investment to pay itself off in savings.
Batteries are the most important renewable energy tool of the future. Much research and development is going into the development of batteries to capture and store renewable energy. The current options are sealed modular, lead-acid and lithium ion batteries.
Another alternative to traditional heating is geothermal renewable energy heatnig. This design taps into the naturally occurring heat stored in the earth’s crust. For geothermal heating, geothermal rods are installed underground near the house and they connect the HVAC system.
Passive house design
A combination of energy efficiency that draws from insulation and shading techniques, solar panels, geothermal heating and wind can all be used together in a passive house design that minimizes the need to rely on energy-converting sources for heating.
Read up on your local laws
The important thing for off the grid living is that your energy source is independent of the public utilities. A lot of the specifics of setting up this kind of energy source depend on which state you live in.
- CheckSolar Power Rocks to learn more about the tax rebates and incentives for installing solar panels in your state.
- Check WindExchange’sSmall Wind Guidebook for in depth details on setting up a wind turbine energy system for your home.
Did you know that not all renewable energy is off-the-grid?
To be clear, it’s a misconception that you have to “go off the grid” to do this. In fact, various utilities around the country have grid-based established community solar and wind-farms that allow users of public utilities to choose renewable energy. However, that option would not constitute going off the grid.
Step Three: Supply your own water
In the U.S., roughly 15 percent of all homes supply their own water. Whether you’re collecting rainwater or tapping into the groundwater beneath our feet, freshwater is not hard to find. However, you should take precautions to make sure your water supply is potable and sanitary.
Drill a well
Choose a licensed well driller to dig a deep enough well to collect clean water in your area. It is important to work with a professional, as different areas are subject to various regulations on well drilling. You may also need a water filter to remove contaminants from the water.
Collect rainwater in a cistern
A cistern is a large tank that collects water either above or below ground. Rainwater is collected from the gutters on your roof and channeled to the tank. To access the water, you’ll need to install a pump if your faucets are above the height of the cistern. Otherwise, you can rely on gravity.
To improve the cleanliness of your water, it is best to have a roof made of metal or clay and a pre-tank filter may be required depending on your roof-top building material.
Step Four: Install a septic tank
To disconnect from the sewer, you’ll need your own septic tank. This system collects wastewater from your home into a tank that uses bacteria to break down the effluent. The tank’s pipes redistribute the wastewater into a drain field, where soil neutralizes the harmful bacteria and filters the water.
Keep in mind that the size of your septic tank should match your household water use and they should be pumped once a year.
Step Five: Choose a back-up energy supply for emergencies
Since it takes a lot of sun and wind to supply all of the energy you need for your household, most off-the-grid homes rely on back-up or supplemental sources of energy. This is especially true for water heating, which requires a lot of energy.
Wood burning stove
A good old-fashioned wood burning stove is an essential ingredient to a self-sufficient home. This method provides warmth to the home and can double as a place to boil water and cook food. You’ll need a source of wood to burn inside of your stove, which might not be available in urban areas.
Using a stand-alone propane tank water heater ensures that you won’t deplete too much of your renewable energy sources. Propane tanks can be refilled on an as-needed basis.
Generators can run on a variety of fuel sources, including bio-fuel if you want to eliminate fossil fuels from your home. This back-up solution ensures you won’t get stuck without heat when you most need it during a weather emergency.
Step Six: Reduce, reuse, recycle and grow your own food
If you’re ready to really get back to the land, you’ll have to manage your waste and food supplies too. This could mean planting your own garden, cutting back on processed, store-bought foods and using canning and pickling techniques to store food. You can even forage for the local, edible plants in your region.
If you decide to cancel your garbage service, managing waste can be one of the most difficult aspects of off-the-grid living. It requires lots of planning and diligence to avoid the plastic you get at the store and manage waste responsibly.
Composting is a no-brainer if you already have a food garden, these systems work exceptionally well together.
However, before you cancel your garbage service, you should read up on the laws surrounding solid waste, household hazardous waste and illegal dumping in your area. TheEPA website is a great place to start.
Step Seven: Assemble your tool shed
Having survival tools on hand will make your life easier in an off-the-grid setting. Here’s a list of helpful items you may not have thought about since the advent of modern technologies:
- Refillable Healthy Human Bottles, Cruisers and Straws
- Hand-crank laundry washer
- Wood-chopping axe
- Mason jars
- Lanterns and flashlights
- Battery-charged radio
- Butane camp stove
- Waterproof matches or a lighter with lighter fluid
- A large bucket
- Work gloves and boots
- Lines and clothes pins for line-drying clothes
- A place to stack chopped wood
- A ukulele, deck of cards and books for extra kindling (just kidding--they’re for entertainment)
Not quite ready to go off the grid?
Try these off-the-grid Airbnb rentals instead!
Now that you’ve seen what it actually takes to go off the grid, you probably realize that it can take a lot of investment and planning to accomplish. However, you don’t have to go full monty before experiencing life in an off-the-grid home. Check out these great Airbnb off-the-grid vacation rentals instead: