Thinking of going off the grid? No, I’m not talking about that hot food truck spot in Northern California. I’m talking pure living, growing beards solar panels and no utility bills on a minimum of 5 acres of land.
An estimated 1.7 billion live off the grid worldwide and at least 180,000 as estimated by the Home Power Magazine are in the US. The number of those going off the grid is anything but a dried up stream.
What is moving so many to go off the grid? Could it be the drop in Solar powered energy costs? They have decreased by 60% since 2011.
In general going off the grid means going off the power grid, becoming self-sufficient or capable of producing your own electricity, heat and sourcing your own water. Since these are the major bills that most American households face across the country, it only makes sense that many are braving the move to create and produce their own.
Still yet others long to rekindle the warm feelings they had while growing up in the outdoors. For them, there’s no better way to get back to nature than living in the middle of it. Before, it may have seemed nearly impossible to succeed at. But, with a persistent turn to green living, Youtube and DIY tutorials and blogs, building your own homestead is more of a reality than a dream.
So how do you define going off the grid?
“We are surrounded by pure virgin forest, where the only human tracks are our own and the only neighbors are animals.” Is that how you would describe going off the grid? That is how Ron Melchiore describes his off the grid experience in his book Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness.
For 16 years Ron Melchiore and his wife have lived in a location so remote they can only be reached by float plane. For others going off the grid is as simple as living on your own land and putting up a few solar panels and collecting rain water. But not so fast. One Alabama veteran Tyler Truitt did just that. Now the state authorities are seeking to charge him with trespassing on his own land. So I guess there are a few factors to take into consideration so you don’t get in trouble with the law.
Still others feel that you should not be connected to any grid to be considered a true off gridder. Here, I recognize that going completely off the grid is a process, that is both timely and costly. Any who make the effort in that direction whether they get off one grid at a time or all at once are to be commended and praised from my point of view.
Having said that, this article is designed to encourage and support all of those who are looking into and might be a little hesitant about making the move.
Getting off one grid is a step in the right direction and before you know you’ll be off another grid. Without a doubt making a success of living off the grid would definitely be the ultimate DIY project for many. So maybe now is the right time to make the move and start reskilling yourself in the ways of the outdoors.
What do you need to consider when going off the grid? Is it possible for the average Joe and Jane to foot the cost that this lifestyle involves? And what are the best places for going off the grid? Aspiring off gridders, read on.
What is the appeal of going off the grid?
Put simply, living off the grid means to live hands on. It means replacing city life with the woods. When you go off the grid, you decide to take the responsibility for getting your utilities. You go from a home that runs independently to one that depends on you to know why it works, how it works and why it’s not working.
Granted, many who opt for this lifestyle, are debt-free and are in a position to completely dedicate themselves to life on their homestead. For some of you, you might be thinking this sounds something like Little House on the Prairie. Do I really want to go back in time? Is it really a step forward? Will it really be appealing enough for the whole family? Aren’t we too spoiled by modern comforts? I think in general, we are looking for the right balance.
Maybe we aren’t interested in going back to horse and buggies, but, the hustle and bustle and just spending all of your time on the grind, is not where it’s at either. And maybe that’s why it will take you longer and me too, to slowly wean ourselves off of the city. But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You just need to know what you are getting yourself into in order to prepare to make it a success not only for you both your family and kids. Maybe I can explain it this way, living in the city or living off the grid both require sacrifices, you just have to choose which returns are more in your interest.
If you are willing to adapt your lifestyle and make adjustments, you can be rewarded not only with a smaller footprint and a more efficient use of your resources, but you can enjoy a different, may I say, better quality of life with your family. Even if it’s not for you in end, you may know a friend or someone else who is. So let’s get talking about how this works. How can you find the best places to live off the grid?
How to find the best places to live off the grid
If you are looking for a list of states, I’m sorry to tell you that it’s just not that simple. Well if you really need one, you can check out this article at smallerbutsmarter.com.
Before you can decide on a state, the first thing to decide on is what you imagine when you think of going off the grid. Then compare your needs and wants to what each state has to offer. Are you interested in building an earthship or living in a Yurt? Not all states allow for such new age designs. Do you have kids? Will they be home schooled? One state may be great for farming on the land, but the education may be the lowest in the country.
Are you interested in growing and trading food to make a living on your homestead? Is there a nearby community you can participate in? If you are planning on going off the grid one grid at a time, will you be able to still source the utilities you need? So you have to decide which state offers enough of what you need and that will make it one of the best places to live off the grid for you.
On the other hand, not everyone that is considering going off the grid is ready and able to invest in solar panels and wind turbines – and if you are anything like me, you may not even know how to operate or install them.
How can the average Joe and Jane go off the grid without breaking the bank- breaking the bank you may never had to begin with? I mean living naturally off the land, should not be expensive right? But, the reality is that it can be.
Let’s consider the big seven: food, climate, electricity, water, heat, work and housing. What are the options and alternatives to becoming self-sufficient and enjoying life on your homestead?
For most, going off the grid means growing your own food, there is a nice setup of a greenhouse and it seems so easy. If you are like me and still trying to keep a houseplant from dying, you may not have much success with your green thumb the first year. So what do you eat in the meantime? There are quite a few options.
Many find it totally acceptable to get food from local coops or even trade goods for food. Take John and Victoria Jungwirths, for example. John Carlisle (Twitter @_johncarlisle) interviewed this couple in their late 50s who successfully raised two boys while living off their land in the Upper Peninsula. They choose to fish and trade maple syrup with other farmers for potatoes, carrots and onions.
Starry Hilders from offgridevolution.com suggests learning how to forage on your own land. This is a great way to save money and truly live off the land. You might find things like berries and mushrooms. The best part is they are organic and free. She gives some good guidelines about how you can do it safely.
So yes it means a little more ingenuity but, either it’s hitting the 9-5 or 6 or getting out and being more proactive in your meals and livelihood. It means hard work. But as John Jungwirth describes it, “it’s really nice to inhabit your dreams”.
When choosing to go off the grid, it may be easy to choose the 5 acres that are remote as possible. If that’s what you want, there’s nothing wrong with that. Remember that now you are responsible for heating up and keeping your homestead warm. So be sure to factor this in. Well, you may be brave enough to face the cold weather snow and winds. But what about your crops?
If you are interested in growing your own food, what impact will the new climate have on your crops? Or if you are beekeeping, will you be able to keep them from freezing in the winter? If you need some hacks on gardening and how to avoid frost, check out Jaime’s tips.
Electricity- Lighting up the night
This is where the big savings come in. As we mentioned earlier the cost of solar power has decreased by 60% over the last 5 years and even IKEA sells solar panel kits now. However, you may not be able to harness enough energy from a solar panel kit which may mean a hefty investment right off the back. If you are still on the road to being debt free, this may not be an option.
So what do some do to cut back on costs? To stay true to living off the grid, many consider using propane as a dirty little secret. And again, in order to go off the grid and make a success of it, you have to be realistic with yourself. Many have seen that as they settle into off the grid lifestyle and became more self-sufficient in this area.
Brian Schulz has incorporated some really neat ideas. He has a fully functioning off grid organic farm in Oregon. He finds that a mix of alternative electricity options work best. In the winter he uses wood and hydro electricity and in the summer photovoltaic and solar hot water and is a firm believer in solar thermal energy. To find out more, check out a tour of his farm in this video.
Since going off the grid means going hands on, when choosing lighting options around the homestead, it’s important to keep your hands free. Alyssa and Jesse from pureliving.com have made an interesting choice. They stash headlamps all over their house, in their car and outside. Their headlamps turn into a portable light switch that they can click on and off as they need.
Eventually, you might want to invest in some more permanent source of lighting system or recharging system and hey, once again, everyone’s dreams of living off the grid, comes at different degrees. The degree that’s right for you, is the right degree. Go with it. Stick to it.
While you can play around a bit with electricity, it may not be so obvious with water and waste disposal. This can play a key factor in where some choose to settle down. Many choose to look for property that has a river on it, that isn’t prone to drought and where wells can be easily found.
While you may find great land, it may be very unlikely that it comes with unlimited rights to the water on it. On the flipside it may be very difficult to shoulder the cost of drilling a well on your homestead right off the back.
Going back to Alyssa and Jesse, acquiring property that has unlimited water access is definitely a goal for the future. Here’s a trick that they have found to be useful when it comes to water. They used 6 gallon jugs and placed them at strategic points. You can find out why the size and this option worked great for them for their first year and their pocket here. Would one of these options work for you or a friend? What do you think?
Generally, one of the first tests of fire for new off gridders is dealing with the winter. Spending a weekend in the snow is not the same as living in that type of climate for three months without central heating.
Dealing with the cold, may also have an effect on the type of house you build. Many that opt to live in a Yurt, notice that they are hard to keep warm in the winter. Why even one couple would wake up at 3am every morning to stir the fire to keep from getting frostbite. And besides fighting cold winters, you need heat for cooking, heating water and other tasks around the homestead.
Wood seems to make out the best for your pocket, yet propane seems more practical due to space and the fact that it burns cleaner than wood does. Starry Hilders over suggests being open to different sources of heat. Try solar, wind, wood and propane. They find that a combination of all four throughout the year make for success.
For some alternative cooking methods, check out this great article.
If you are anything like me, going of the grid will mean still having to work. What do some do to support themselves? When choosing property for their homestead many balance the idea of a remote location with being able to get internet so that they can blog or trade online.
The Jungwirths make money by selling canoes, others do gardening, make preserves and sell at local markets. Many are joining the Earthineer community. It has been described as the “social network for sustainable living” where you can connect with small herdsmen, gardners, home brewers and more and can even establish trade networks. While a simple life means less income coming in, it also means less expenses. As you are willing to simplify your life, you will see that your expenses will decrease.
How to keep the costs down on building a home
Building their own home for many is a dream. And having at least 5 acres of land to build as you want is like being a kid in a candy store. Nonetheless, when the Jungwirths set off to build their home they both felt that it was more work than they expected. It took three years instead of one to build their cabin.
When Brian Schulz wanted to build a yurt on his land in Oregon, the state authorities wouldn’t allow it and he had to build a code approved home. Thus, one reason why building codes and CC&Rs were an important factor for Alyssa and Jesse when choosing their property.
Nonetheless, alternative building styles fit the off the grid lifestyle like a glove. And there are quite a few options out there. For example, micro cabins, yurts, earth ships and even shipping containers. Yes, we said it earthships. What are they? They are the dream child- or dream house shall we say- of Michael Reynolds. After 35 years, he has successfully designed self-sufficient housing strictly made from recycled material, designed to catch water to supply water for showering, washing and watering plants. While the design may be a little out there, if we may say so, the comfort is right up your alley.
If you are still looking to build it yourself and cut down the costs, then you might opt for what Hannah and Tim did. Before he went off the grid he had never even started a fire. How did they manage to keep the cost down while building their home? They acquired a lot of reject and odd size pieces off of Craigslist and even washed up wood to complete their 196 square foot home. If you need something a little bit more structured you could try what Kam Kasravi and Connie Dewitt did. They made an interesting use of shipping containers for a custom design for less money and a very small footprint.
So are you to ready to go off the grid? Can you break the rat race and start living where you want how you want? For many they do agree that less stuff means more life and time to enjoy your family and the outdoors in the outdoors.
The key to making it a success is to make every part of life on the homestead become something that you love. Find out what you are comfortable with and with patience and ingenuity living off the grid doesn’t have to be for the economically comfortable. But, it can be within the reach of everyone.