When I think of “living off the grid,” I imagine someone essentially disappearing and living among the wild animals in the thick of the forest. And while that’s probably an option, living off the grid these days really means embracing a slower lifestyle, living more remotely, not consuming so much, and producing far less waste.
Living off the grid is a something that people have been doing since we had a grid to live on. But these days, people who are burned out on our current fast-paced lifestyle, eco-conscious do-gooders, individuals who’ve lost trust in the government or fear economic collapse, and those looking for a cheaper existence are giving this non-traditional way of life a try.
How do you live off the grid?
Embracing an off-the-grid lifestyle means giving up the conveniences you pay the city (and sometimes the state) to use: electricity, water, telephone service (although, does anyone have a landline these days?) and gas.
That all sounds completely impossible to this city dweller, but it turns out that trading in public utilities for alternatives isn’t as difficult as you might think. “Most people thing living off grid is being without power…not true!” says “Just in Case” Jack of Skilled Survival. “Living off grid is living without grid power.” Jack says the first thing he’d look for is an off-grid location with “a reliable, large stream running through it.”
“If you have such a creek or stream running through your property, it is possible to harness this water power to turn a specialized turbine — essentially a water wheel attached to a generator,” Jack explains. If that’s not an option, you can get also electricity through solar panels or wind turbines. And for emergencies, you can purchase a back-up generator.
Once you’ve given up your city water, you don’t have to stop showering or washing dishes. You can obtain water by digging a well on your property or collecting rainwater. A septic system will handle your sewage and wastewater. Propane can replace gas to run appliances and your water heater, fed with a whole-house propane tank that you have filled using a servicing company. And a wood-burning stove and fireplace can provide heat for your home.
Of course, you’ll also have to grow your own food — raising animals (if you aren’t vegetarian) as well as fruits, vegetables and grains.
Could you live off the grid?
“If someone plans their escape from the grid intelligently, they won’t have to sacrifice as much as most people believe,” Jack says. But you should consider the modern (and not-so-modern) conveniences you’ll do without. If you’re truly off the beaten path, you can say goodbye to mail service. That’s probably not a big deal, given the fact that you can do most everything you need to online.
You’ll also likely lose garbage service, which means rethinking how you deal with waste. You’ll need to learn how to compost as well as get very good at recycling, but keep in mind you will have to haul in your recycling yourself.
If you want to live off the grid, you’re probably already prepared to live in a way that consumes less energy, but think of that in practical terms: it means cutting back in many areas and also learning how to juggle so you’re not using too much electricity at once.
How much could you save living off the grid?
Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to that question. It depends on where in the country (or world) you live and how much you’re willing to pare down. Trade in a big home in the suburbs for a tiny house, trailer or one-room cabin in the middle of nowhere and you’re likely to see some savings. But building a decent sized home with off-grid “amenities” in a rural area can add up quickly and in the end, you might pay more to live off the grid than you did to live on it.
Look at the big picture
If you’re thinking about living off the grid strictly for the savings, downsize is the name of the game and you may not come out as far ahead as you’re hoping.
But if you’re doing it for other reasons — to be further away from people, to live at a slower pace, to leave a smaller eco-footprint — and you wish to have as many conveniences as possible, you may not save a lot of money, but you might realize your dream.
You can watch this video about the cost of living off the grid. It might help you determine whether it’s a good option for you if you’re hoping to create a modern off-grid home.