Preparing for off Grid Living – What You Should Know

My husband and I are on a mission. We really, really want to be completely off-grid. We are desperate to break our dependence on outside utilities.

32 pounds of sweet potatoes from our first harvest
32 pounds of sweet potatoes from our first harvest

Sure, we could just unplug and rough it, but it would be so much nicer if we were set up to have a few basic luxuries, especially since we have little ones in the home. I can do without a lot of stuff, but hot, running water is worth fighting for!

Going off-grid and living comfortably takes a lot of money though. Off-grid equipment is not cheap. And there’s a lot of stuff to get. We will have to achieve our goal gradually, buying a little at a time and building our resources as we go.

But we are determined to make our off-grid dream home a reality. Below I will share with you the major factors you’ll need to consider before you head out to make a go of it on your off-grid homestead.

Reasons to Go Off-Grid

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the reasons why it would be awesome to go off-grid. I thought I’d share my list in case you are on the fence about whether or not going off-grid is right for you.

Here are my top reasons for taking my homestead (and our family!) off-grid:

You Are in Control of Your Utilities

Going off-grid first and foremost means you are not at the mercy of the power company or the gas company.

We will no longer be held captive by whatever price increases they deem necessary, or the economy dictates. We will generate our own electricity and heat our home with alternative energy sources.

Hopefully, that means we’ll have to deal with fewer blackouts, too. It seems like every year service gets less and less reliable, and prices only go up. It just starts to feel like a bad deal after a while. 

Self-Sufficiency

An off-grid lifestyle is one where you are not relying on anyone else for your basic needs. You can grow your own food and generate your own power.

Much of what you need, you can provide in a way that makes sense to you. This means that you are not subject to the whims of the outside world. That notion is so freeing, and is one of the things I like the most about the prospect of going off grid.

Sure, it means an increase in responsibilities and maybe a little more stress, but it’s always worth working harder for more freedom in life.

Living Lightly

When you are off-grid you tend to use more renewable resources and more ecologically friendly solutions to sustain yourself.

This means that you are not contributing to the pollution problem. It really does change your way of thinking when you were forced to cope with the waste you generate in and around your home and the amount of garbage that is created in your day to day existence.

As you start to make do with less, reuse and recycle more the good you are doing starts to feel more real then tossing plastic bottles and packages in a blue bin once a week.

Life is Simpler

A home disconnected from the sprawling infrastructure of society usually means you are not relying on all the modern conveniences that require electricity.

That equates to living a more simple and rustic lifestyle. It is hard to describe how cluttered our minds and emotions are with all these blinking lights, screens, alarms and other noises. It depletes you without you even knowing it’s happening, most of the time.

woman harvesting sweet potatoes
woman harvesting sweet potatoes

Going off grid means you are living in a way that is much closer to the human baseline for the bulk of history. Sure, you have to give up some things, but what you gain is far more meaningful and lasting.

Adventure

It seems strange at first, but when you take full and total responsibility over your living arrangements and your life you are really going to get more engaged with what it takes to live.

You’ll work harder, but somehow feel more energized because it is you providing for you and yours, not some faceless bureaucratic minions or the flip of a light switch.

When you are off-grid, you are living a life that is far from ordinary. That means that you get to experience all the joys and challenges that come with living in an unconventional way- adventure, in other words!

Determining Your Power Requirements

The first thing we have to do before anything else is take an inventory of everything in and around our home which uses electricity.

This will give us an idea of how much power we will need to generate. It will also reveal what we can do without, or substitute with a non-electric equivalent.

I’ll have to go through each room and write down every single electric item there- every nightlight, hair dryer appliance, light bulb, and power tool.

The number of watts each item uses will be written on a spreadsheet. Most things have this information on a sticker somewhere. I’ve noticed that some of my appliances don’t measure in watts, but in amps.

To convert from amps to watts simply multiply the amps x volts, this will give you the total watts used. You’ll need to know how many watts your household consumes because generators and inverters are rated in watts.

(Some tools and appliances will have two sets of watts listed; one measures how much power is used to start it, and the other tells how much power is needed to keep it running. You only need to consider the larger of the two numbers when logging wattage.)

Once I get this list made I will have a better idea of how many solar panels we’ll need. Man, I’m going to have a LONG list!

Looking around me now, I’m realizing that we have a bazillion electrical devices in and around our home. We’re going to have to make some major changes.

We’ve talked about selling our two desktop computers and pairing down to one laptop. I can get rid of the clothes dryer, and only hang dry.

I can hand wash all of the clothes if I need to. We have the wood cook stove to cook on, though it isn’t in the house. I’d have to go out to the workshop every time I needed to cook.

We are working on an old waterstove; if we can get it working and plumbed into the house it will supply us with our hot water and winter heat using only wood.

There are lots of little things here and there that we could do to reduce our electricity consumption. None of this will make life easier, but for us, it would be worth the freedom.

The fridge, the well, and the A/C are going to be the biggest power consumers, I think. We have to have A/C. If it were only me, I could totally deal with not having it.

But with the babies here, there’s no way I’m going to make them sweat it out in the sweltering and humid summer months. I’m afraid the A/C is what’s going to keep us connected to the power company for a while.

Power Systems for the Off-Grid Homestead

Power Generation

The first question most people need to answer is how they are going to get electricity to their homestead since it is now off the grid, meaning the electrical grid. Usually, you will make your own if you don’t want to do without. 

Now, this is something of a contentious topic among prospective off-grid converts and long time adherents to the lifestyle.

There are plenty of such folks out there who think you should do without electricity entirely, and then doing otherwise sort of defeats the purpose.

I can see where they are coming from, and you have to admit the notion of living in a cabin by oil lanterns, fireplaces and candles is definitely charming. But for me and my family, the downsides outweigh the benefits.

Electricity provides power to all sorts of labor and time-saving tools that make running an off-grid homestead easier for a couple of adults.

Trust me, I’ve done the research, and you don’t want to do a whole lot of things without the benefit of electricity. You are just going to make things harder on yourself.

The trade-off is, of course, you’ll need to become fluent in generating, directing, and storing your own electricity.

Several technologies are available for reliably generating electricity on an off-grid homestead. There are four main types: solar power, wind power, hydroelectric, and thermoelectric.

a couple of solar panels
a couple of solar panels

Solar photovoltaic panels are generally the best option for most people because they are effective, viable in most climates, relatively low maintenance and have no moving parts.

A solar system is also scalable. You might start out with a solar cell equipped roof to run most things in your home and perhaps a few tools outside, but you could later put in freestanding solar arrays when you need more power.

Solar obviously has some drawbacks, namely that it doesn’t do anything for you when the sun is down and its efficiency is reduced when it is overcast. Solar is more viable in areas that get more sun, and less viable in areas that get less sun, as you think.

That being said, this technology is increasingly efficient and affordable every year, and that might make solar your go-to option for generating electricity on your off-grid homestead.

Wind turbines are another trusted source of off-grid power, the one that generally has more drawbacks compared to solar.

Whether they are big or small, wind turbines require more maintenance and only work if you have a consistent wind over your property. They also tend to be quite expensive if you want a turbine large enough to generate significant amounts of electricity.

They do have the advantage, however, of working even at night so long as the wind is still blowing.

In areas that are known for consistent or gusty winds, a wind turbine might be a great accompaniment to solar power, but it will rarely be a full replacement unless you use very little electricity overall.

Hydroelectric generators are situationally useful, and can be employed only if you have a moving or falling water feature near your property with enough force to operate it.

But assuming you have this box checked, they can generate vast amounts of power continuously so long as nothing impedes the flow of water.

For most water features, that won’t happen unless they get dammed or clogged somehow, although you must be cautious in areas where the water can freeze over hard.

Despite their expense and technical limitations, if you can take advantage of hydroelectric power you probably won’t have anything to worry about on your homestead concerning power demands.

Thermoelectric generators convert heat into electricity and can be used with wood stoves or other sources of heat.

These are a great option for homesteads that will rely on wood burning regularly for any purpose, but the obvious drawback is that they don’t create any power if you aren’t burning any fuel.

This means they are either a wonderful supplement to other methods of generating power, or viable only for those homesteads in frigid areas that will be burning wood or other fuel around the clock.

Generators are a simpler though expensive option most readers are already familiar with for on-demand power needs. Diesel, gasoline, propane or kerosene, whatever sort of fuel it uses they will reliably create abundant electricity that you can make use of.

a gas generator
a gas generator

Depending on the size of the generator, they can run lights and power tools or power your entire house, appliances and all. 

Using a generator means you only generate electricity when you need it, but they are noisy and the fact that you are dependent upon liquid fuel means you’ll be married to maintaining a fuel supply for it dependent upon your consumption.

Power Storage

The second piece in the off-grid power puzzle is how do you store the excess electricity you generate? For this, there is only one acceptable option: batteries.

Batteries are the most common way to store electricity, but they are expensive, heavy and require maintenance like anything else.

You’ll also have to set up your battery bank system to tie into your house or have outlets that you can draw power from with whatever device or appliance is needed. It sounds like a lot of fuss, but it really isn’t.

With just a little bit of study it is simple to set up your battery bank to service your house either manually, by flipping on a breaker, or on-demand, automatically supplying the stored electricity when generation levels from your solar, wind or other power source drop too low.

Once you have all the pieces in place, it is possible to live in your off-grid home with pretty much every amenity that you might want if you were living on grid.

Water Collection and Storage

Water is, as always, a precious resource, and is even more precious since you won’t be connected to a municipal or city water supply. You’ll use water on your off grid homestead for all of the things that you use it for when living closer to society.

Washing, bathing, cooking, waste disposal, gardening, watering animals, and more. Though you will want to be far more conservative then you would be normally, you are going to need water and a lot of it regardless.

There are a few ways to collect and store water on your homestead, including rainwater collection, wells, and springs.

orchard with citrus fruit trees and some rain barrels

Rainwater collection is the most common method because it is relatively easy to set up and does not require much special equipment. For households that don’t need much water, a rooftop rain collection system and a few water barrels might be more than adequate for your needs.

Larger examples might use the equivalent of a wide, shallow funnel built over some above ground tanks that will allow you to keep plenty on hand for irrigation or watering animals.

Wells are viable in most places, and can be used if you have access to groundwater, but they require more maintenance than rainwater collection systems. They also happen to be expensive to install, and get dramatically more expensive the deeper you go to reach groundwater.

That being said, in most areas that can support the use of a well you’ll have more than enough on demand water for any conceivable household use.

Irrigation and animals might put greater demands on your well, necessitating a larger well and pump in the first place, or perhaps even a second well elsewhere on your property.

Springs are popular if you are lucky enough to have one somewhere on your property, and will definitely streamline your efforts to access water.

A word of caution, however, because not all springs are what you might call true springs, where the water filters up through stone and soil to the surface where it is usually quite pure compared to most groundwater.

Some springs are a little more than the end of a below ground stream, river or other tributary and might prove to be quite contaminated. You’ll need to treat and filter such water before you can drink it, though it might be ready to use for other purposes with no issues.

Lacking a spring, you can gather and, if necessary, treat water from a lake, stream or river, though this is often laborious and only suitable for smaller tasks.

But that’s what our great grandparents had to do if they wanted something to drink or just wanted to do some laundry, so we can do it too.

The next thing to figure out is how do you store the water you collect? The most common method is to use water tanking. Storage tanks can be made to sit above ground or below ground, and can hold tens, dozens or even hundreds of gallons of water depending on your needs. 

Waste Disposal

The sad fact of life is that you will always have to deal with waste and garbage. That’s just the way it is. If you don’t, the conditions in and around your home are quickly going to go from bad to totally unbearable.

One of the challenges associated with off grid living is handling waste disposal concerns that you could usually take for granted.

There are a few such ways to manage waste on an off-grid homestead. 

Septic tanks and other similar systems are one way that is probably already familiar to you, but they can be expensive to install and maintain over time.

But so long as your property passes a “perc” test you’ll be able to make use of indoor plumbing pretty much the same way you always have. This is a necessity for some people!

Composting toilets are another option, and they are much more environmentally friendly than septic systems and have the added benefit of yielding compost that you can use for helping crops in your garden or fields.

They do mandate that you’ll eventually have to remove and reuse or discard the compost, however, and that concept is just too much for some people.

That being said, if septic systems are not viable because of your land or cost considerations, a composting toilet is reliable and will allow you to use the bathroom as normal, more or less.

Outhouses are a decidedly quaint method of dealing with the necessities of human waste, but they require a lot of maintenance and can be smelly. It is no fun at all having to leave your house to use the bathroom, and even less fun when it is cold outside or the weather is nasty.

You’ll also need to move them periodically or “refurbish” the pit in order to keep using them over the long term.

But beyond human waste factors, you’ll also need to cope with the usual amount of home and farm garbage. You cannot expect collection services to run everywhere, you know!

Burning common household trash is popular when you are really far out, but not everything can be burned safely without a significant environmental impact.

It can also be dangerous and is not recommended that you do this anywhere near your home or animals (if you have any) or anywhere it is prohibited by law.

Dumping and dump runs are probably the most suitable method for most off-grid homesteaders, but will always be inconvenient, and can be expensive depending on the dumping ground near you.

If your property is large enough to support your own on site dump, it might eventually need to be cleaned out or remediated before you can sell a property.

Transporting your garbage to a county or Regional dump is viable, but takes time, and considerable amount of effort and you’ll need a truck or trailer for the purpose.

Which methods you choose to rely on will depend on your budget, your needs, and your preferences. There is no one, “right” answer for everyone.

Consider talking to your prospective neighbors and see what they do with their waste and garbage if you are unsure about disposal methods.

What about Internet?

Just because you live off the grid, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the convenience of modern technology – including the internet! 

In fact, the internet has become so ubiquitous and such a facet of modern life you might argue that you’ll make things worse for yourself by going without it.

The internet enables instant access to information and also a variety of home-based businesses that might well work wonderfully in conjunction with your new lifestyle.

There are a few different ways to get internet service on an off-grid homestead. 

Satellite is probably the most widespread and also probably the most reliable internet service in a rural area or for a remote off-grid homestead. The downside is that it can be expensive, and you will need to have a clear view of the sky in order to get a good signal. 

Cellular internet is another option, likely available through your existing cellular data plan or as an add-on service.

This can be cheaper than using a satellite dish, but the signal can be unreliable in rural areas depending on terrain and bandwidth. You will also need to have cell phone service in order for this option to work; no plan, no service!

You might also want to consider using a combination of these methods to get the best possible signal. For example, you could use satellite for your main source of internet and then use a cellular data plan as a backup when the weather is bad or you can’t get a good signal.

There are a few factors to consider before you buy your internet service. Your options will be largely determined by your needs and preferences.

Keep in mind that you might only have a single viable internet service where you live, so manage your expectations going in!

Legality, Insurance and other Considerations

In some places, it is perfectly legal to build an off-grid home, and live completely independently from the grid. In other places, there may be restrictions on what type of dwelling you can build or how far away from the grid you can be. 

It sounds crazy, but that is how invasive and out of control the entrenched bureaucracy is in this country. even if you are living well away from anyone else, they might be able to tell you what kind of house you can build and what sorts of amenities or utilities it can make use of.

It’s always a good idea to check with your local zoning office or building department before you start construction on your off-grid home. They will be able to tell you what types of dwellings are allowed in your area and any setback requirements that might apply.

You should also check with your local utility company to see if they have any rules or regulations about going off-grid. Some utility companies require that you maintain a connection to the grid even if you are not using it, while others may have no problem with you disconnecting completely.

Only when you’ve done your research and you’re sure that going off-grid is legal in your area, then you should start planning the construction or conversion of your homestead.

There are a lot of factors to consider when planning an off-grid homestead, and in some areas it is easy to run afoul of the law. If you are ever in doubt, it is wise to consult a competent attorney before you commit to the idea.

But don’t let that notion dissuade you; with a little bit of research and planning, you can make your dream of living off the grid a reality.

Legality is one thing, but insurance is another. Most insurance companies are not set up to deal with off-grid homes, so you may have a hard time finding coverage for your home.

If you do find an insurance company that is willing to insure your off-grid home, be prepared to pay higher premiums than you would for a traditional home, especially if you rely on “non-traditional” heating and electrical systems. 

Another consideration is how you will deal with emergency services if you live far away from the nearest town or city. If you have an accident or medical emergency, it may take longer for help to arrive if you live in a remote area.

You should plan accordingly by stocking first-aid supplies and having enough medical training that you can deal with the most common ailments and injuries in a pinch.

Can Off-Grid Dreams Become Reality?

Definitely, though it’s a long journey. It seems like such a fantasy world, living off-grid. I don’t know how many years it will take us to be completely off-grid, but we will do as much as possible as quickly as possible.

We figure, if we can completely disconnect, and put that $200 savings towards paying off our mortgage, it would shave 15 years and over $44,000 in interest off of our loan. That would be an awesome investment. So, this is our goal. I hope we are able to achieve it quickly.

off grid living pinterest

14 thoughts on “Preparing for off Grid Living – What You Should Know”

  1. amen to being of the grid my wife 3 little girls and I are hoping to be completely off the grid this year alot of work just finished our root cellar big enough to store three years worth food forour family and others. looking for a good wood cook stove any Ideas?

    Reply
    • pastorchuck,

      Ours is a South Bend wood cook stove, and we love it. Just make sure you examine it REALLY well before making a purchase if buying a used one, and do your research. Make sure there aren’t any gaps around the door, no rusted out places… you can use an ultraviolet light inside the stove and firebox to see if there are any patched places- they will show up a different color. Poke any rusty looking spots with a screwdriver to test for weakness. As far as other models though, I only have experience with this one. Good luck!!

      Reply
  2. Hi there, I once lived in a solar and wind powered home that I designed myself. Was a dream come true and boy do I miss it. The reliance on man made power is etherial though it has worked thus far, mostly.

    We had wood fired stove and hot water heater. They were great and got them from Real Goods they have great products. The windmills were on each end of the house and allowed for more consistent power production. We used an inverter to convert the direct current (DC) to regular household voltage. Our refrigerator also was for the system we had that saying it was for solar generated power. We had a series of batteries that held the power that was generated. There were days that I had to look for how to use the power since it was full, that made it fun. The house was earthbermed and once it climatized after the first year, it was not hard to heat up the other 20 degrees needed. The house would never freeze solid. Was not hard to live at all, had a generator as back up which is just wise for anyone living with regular or self generated power. Learn what uses how much power and you will then know what is a good item to have and others that need some rethinking.

    Good luck with this, I wholeheartedly support your move to self generated power.

    Reply
  3. I always just assumed that solar ower was free, except for the cost of installing it and the materials needed. Is it free power?

    Reply
    • Sandra,

      Yes, the solar energy is free (well for now anyways, I’m sure the government will soon find a way to tax it as well!). But the cost of the solar panels, batteries, and inverter is very expensive. And then if you have to hire a professional for installation it is even more costly.

      Reply
  4. Many years ago (the 70s) I wanted more than anything to go off grid. I bought my house speciffically with getting off the grid in mind. When doing my research I realized I should include both wind and solar. When the sun is shining there’s usually no wind. When it’s cloudy the wind usually is blowing.

    When talking with the so called experts of the time, I was also told that I’d have to get my whole house rewired for DC instead of AC. I was told I’d need all DC appliances too. Basically, they were telling me to treat my whole house like a giant house boat or camper.

    I had planned to create a solar water heating system separate from the electric to eleminate the drain on the power. I designed a system that would cost less than $20 to make back then. I think it could be made for very little cost even today.

    I never lost my desire to go off grid. I simply gave up getting it done easily. I’m sure things have change a lot since those days so please keep us informed what you find out…. ok? I’m still hoping that solar will become cheaper and easier as more people get a desire to go off grid.

    Reply
  5. Our homes are very similar in size and mortgage, I think. I would love to be able to do this also. I hope you will post on your progress!

    Reply
  6. Get a Kill-a-Watt meter from Radio Shack. It will measure how much each plug-in device actually uses. I have been on [email protected] for a number of years. It is very inspiring to follow the path of self-reliance of the list owner,Gig, a retired man in TX. Gig is currently using a single alcohol burner and solar oven. He inspired me to make a universal solar cellphone charger out of a solar car battery topper, which can be made for less than $20! Very cool, might charge a netbook as well. Definitely consider cycling down toward a netbook when your desktop dies. Mine uses very little power and I have gotten used to using it for everything, even it is is a tad slow with 27 windows open at once…sigh. They are also pretty inexpensive. Most completely off-grid family homes use propane. Solar water heating is the only current technology that almost always pays for itself. If you are considering wood to heat your water, solar hot water would be a good thing to add or even try first if you can afford it, much less work and no fuel to constantly acquire. I teach solar cooking. You can make a solar cooker from so many free items- fishtank, car shades, coolers, even an old chest freezer and it works year round, even in February.You might want to dig a small root cellar for some almost refrigeration. Lastly add insulation- you can’t have too much if you are trying for net zero housing.

    Reply
  7. Kendra, this is so exciting but definitely a challenge! I’m with you… If there is one thing I don’t want to give up, it’s hot water!! Our home definitely consumes a ton of energy and so this is very interesting to me right now. I am being careful to only purchase energy efficient appliances when I must replace something. Hopefully, that would help in the long run whether or not we ever go off grid.

    Keep us updated on your off grid journey! I hope to learn a lot!

    Reply
  8. In the end, we’re hoping to live without solar at all, but I figure my hubby who has to “transition” to these choices will end up getting solar panels at one point.

    Reply

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