Whether you are prepping for armageddon or prepping your budget, living off the grid can be a dream come true to many.
The term ‘off-grid’ has been flying around like wildfire over the past few years. I’m not sure if it’s because of all of the crazy news stories or zombie movies, or if people have just had enough of being a slave to the modern world.
But for whatever reason, going off-grid seems to be one of the fastest growing trends around.
However, I’m surprised to find how high the curiosity level for going off-grid is, but so many people still know so little about it.
So just as I did in the ‘What is Homesteading?’ article, I’m going to try my best to explain to the world what it means to go “off-grid” and what it could look like for you.
Have I caught your attention yet? Great! Now let’s walk through the off-grid lifestyle.
What is Living Off the Grid?
Let’s pretend that you’ve never heard anything about off-grid living. You may or may not know that we all live on the electric grid, but we do. If you have power running to your home from the city you live in, then you are considered ‘on the grid.’
So this means that every time something goes wrong at the electric company, and they suffer a power outage so do you.
Well, off-the-grid living means the opposite. It means that you would live with either no electricity or a self-sustained source of electricity. You would also either use an outhouse or a septic tank, and you would have a water well or another water source nearby to collect water from.
Also, a lot of those that are off-the-grid continue the thought process into other areas of their lives, including being totally self-sustained by raising their own food.
Does this lifestyle peak your interest? That is great! Just understand it takes a lot to break free of ‘the grid’ and takes quite the commitment to stay that way.
3 Options to Live Off the Grid
I will tell you upfront that I am not totally off-the-grid yet. We use septic and well water, but are looking to purchase a larger homestead, so have postponed with moving off of the electrical grid for now.
However, we’ve done a ton of research in order to get to where we are and where we hope to be in the next year. Which is why I’d like to share with you what we’ve learned.
Basically, in my opinion, there are three ways to get off-the-grid. These three will all depend upon your comfort level.
1. Roughing It
Going completely off-grid in the cheapest form possible would be what I call ‘roughing it.’ You would build a small home on a piece of land that would basically be a ‘dry cabin.’ This means there is no water, and it would basically just be a structure.
Then you wouldn’t hook up to the electrical grid either. You would build an outhouse and presumably create a garden and begin a small homestead as well.
However, your only source of power would be a generator, and you’d be spending your evenings seeing things by fire and candlelight. You would have to haul in your water because you don’t have a well.
Unless you choose to collect rain water and store it in a large bladder underground, though this would still cost more money that a lot of people choosing this option might want to spend.
Basically, you are choosing to live Alaskan style. Truthfully, if it were just my husband and me, I would like to give this lifestyle a chance because of how inexpensive it would be to get started and to see if we had what it took to live this way.
But it should be mentioned, a lot of those off-the-grid using this form have to wash their clothes by hand or spend a lot of time at the laundromat. Showering also becomes interesting as well because you don’t have running water in your home.
Also, you don’t have the luxury of just firing up your electric stove when cooking either. You will be cooking using alternative methods as well, and you would have to use alternative methods for refrigeration too.
So before jumping into an off-grid lifestyle, these are all things you should think about and plan for if you decide to go off-grid in this way.
2. Half On / Half Off
This is where we are right now. My husband, children, and I are what we consider small-scale homesteaders. We are aiming for full self-sufficiency where we raise our own food and don’t have to rely heavily on the modern system.
However, we are still relying upon the grid for our electricity. We do have a well that is powered by electricity, and we also are on septic.
So I’m not depending on my town to pump water to my home or to take care of my sewage. A septic tank and well aren’t astronomical expenses so most could afford to implement these options when building their home.
But beyond those two changes, most everything else is still the same. You still cook the same way because you can still have electrical appliances, and you still have the options of turning on lights when you want to.
Most wouldn’t consider this an off-grid lifestyle and truthfully, they are right. This is the first step in going off-grid with the next option.
3. Modern Off-Grid Lifestyle
A lot of people are off-grid, and you probably don’t even realize it. Considering I have a large family, when we do go off-grid, this will be our method of choice. The reason is that you can still have modern conveniences, but you cut your expenses drastically, and you aren’t reliant upon the grid for anything.
So if you decide to go off-grid in this form, you’ll have an electric powered well for your water. (If you are a prepper, I recommend adding a hand crank option to your well, or following this method for utilizing your electric well in time of an emergency.)
Next, you’ll still have your regular indoor bathroom, but it will run to a septic tank instead of into a city sewage system. You can learn how to take care of your septic system here.
Finally, you will depend upon an alternative method for electricity. This can be through wind power, a hydro-powered (water) system, or through solar power (sun).
Truthfully, I know a lot more about solar power than any of the others because this is the source we have chosen. The reason why is because I don’t live in a great place for wind power, and water can unfortunately dry up.
However, we always have the sun. For that reason, we feel it would be the best investment for us. This could be different for you.
But let me tell you what we’ve learned through shopping for solar panels. The price of solar panels is dropping each year. They are finding more and more ways to make them affordable. The latest we’ve heard of has been dealing with solar shingles.
Also, when we looked into the initial purchase of solar panels we were told about this neat battery that they are offering. They no longer have these large battery packed systems that store power.
Instead, you have this neat little battery attached to the side of your home. You can stay attached to the grid this way and this battery stores energy from the sun for your house. When you don’t get enough energy for the day, then the grid kicks in and you still have power.
However, if the battery consumes more energy than your home needs, it kicks energy back to the grid which then you get credit for on your next power bill. That sounded like a great option to me.
But you must realize that purchasing solar panels can be an investment if you have a larger home and use normal amounts of energy.
Yet, they are making financing for solar panels much easier to obtain. Usually, they are paid for over 20 years, and you do still get tax credits for having them. The downside is if you go through a solar bank (banks that specifically finance solar panels) they give you a low monthly payment that is usually much less than your electric bill, but they want your solar tax credit which is a large chunk of money usually.
So if at all possible, you may want to consider saving for this investment, or even using a home equity line of credit versus financing them.
But be sure to do your own research and talk to your own solar installation crew. You can also install solar panels yourself (and purchase them here.) Some states allow you to lease solar panels, but that isn’t an option in my state. There are all kinds of options. I’m just sharing my experience, but yours could be different. So be sure to check all of this out for yourself.
After you obtain solar panels, you can then switch to solar powered appliances such as stoves and refrigerators.
Basically, you’ll be living totally off-grid but feel as though very little has changed.
The Advantages and Drawbacks of Living Off the Grid
The off-grid lifestyle has a lot of advantages and some drawbacks too. They should each be weighed carefully to ensure you make the best decision for yourself and your loved ones.
The advantages to off-grid living – you are completely self-sufficient. If the power goes out, so what? It doesn’t impact you. If an emergency happens at the local city water plant, you won’t be impacted. Not to mention all of the money you WON’T be spending on monthly appliance bills.
Also, though going off-grid could require an initial investment, if you choose one of these smaller alternative housing options your investment may not be as large as some might think.
Plus, there is freedom in living a completely self-sufficient lifestyle, and you can’t put a dollar sign on freedom.
But you can’t forget the disadvantages of going off-grid either. You may have to move because a lot of places will not allow you to be completely off-the-grid, unless you are choosing to go solar, add a well, etc.
Also, if you have a family, you need to consider your children’s well being in this process. Though going off-grid is appealing and the ‘roughing it’ method is obviously more cost-effective, a lot of states frown upon children living this type of lifestyle. You could easily be heading for legal trouble. So take all of your local laws into consideration before taking the off-grid plunge.
Plus, you must consider the investment you will be making into your property if you decide to go with the ‘modern off-grid’ option. It is not cheap, but you may very well deem the expense worth it. (Which our family does.)
Let’s also not forget some of the lifestyle changes going off-grid might cause you to have to make. If you choose to go totally off-grid without any help from wind, solar, or hydropower your whole life will change. You will no longer be able to just run to the bathroom for a quick shower, or run water in your sink to wash dishes. You should really consider all of the lifestyle changes that will have to be made to adjust to this new off-grid lifestyle.
Whichever form of off-grid lifestyle you intend to entertain, we just hope that you find happiness in the process. I think we are all slowly learning that it isn’t the material lifestyle we lead that brings about genuine joy, it is the moments in life.
So I hope that this off-grid guide has given you a little more information to think about what your off-grid lifestyle could look like. I also hope you will think deeply about all of the changes that come along with this lifestyle.