We are about to tell you how to live off the grid. Electricity is essential for the life of people: cooking, heating air and water, and using the Internet would be impossible without it. However, in a survival situation, you can get cut off the grid and will have to survive with what you have at your disposal. In this article, we will tell you about living off grid, the batteries you should consider buying, and everything a camper needs to learn to survive without an electrical socket around.
Living off the grid requires some serious dedication, long planning, and skills. This article will shed light on the questions like what it means to live off the grid, how to do so, and what supplies you need. Here, you will also see some best off-grid solutions that will help you develop your own plan.
I myself have had the idea of moving off the grid for so long, I ate up lots of articles and visited many sophisticated preppers to get their view, tricks, and ideas on how to do so. Many years have passed by until I have finally compiled all the knowledge and experience that I got about starting your self-sufficient life and spurred them out into this introductory article.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s dive into off-grid living.
What does “Living off the Grid” Mean?
Before diving into any topic, it is especially vital to have clarity in terms of definitions since one thing may mean a lot of things to different people. To exclude this variability, we must come to a certain term that everybody understands the same way.
When it comes to living off-grid, many people mention that it means living off the electrical grid, which is, in fact, only a part of this phenomenon.
In my view, getting off the power grid is the first step of reaching 100% self-reliant living with the following steps: getting off heating, water supply, sanitation, and food.
If you are ready to jump on board with self-reliant living, then this article is the right place to start. Here, I will give you the steps and ideas for off-grid living and mention all the advantages and disadvantages. Altogether, this information will help you make the first steps towards independent living.
As with any survival, first, it is important to get yourself a place to live: a small home, a cabin in the woods, an RV, or a yurt, depending on your preferences and climate zone. If you are up to something exotic and unique, I would also add a shipping container or earthbag home options to the list.
But no matter what shelter you choose for yourself, they all will be small due to the advantages you get with the size. Compared to luxurious and huge mansions, small houses require less amount of electricity to get everything working as well as you need less heating capabilities to warm up the house. This way, you can get way more resources for off-grid living. Unless you are Bill Gates, you will definitely like to spend less money on power and heat supplies.
The most vital thing to start living off-grid is to get yourself off the power grid. And we will cover it in the next section.
Off the Power Grid
As with addictions, the first step of getting off the power grid is to start using less in the first place. The beginnings of a minimalistic approach to life will get you more smoothly off the power hook and provide the necessary ground for starting your life as early frontier homesteads did. At that time, they had no grid because no one had ever heard of electricity yet. But in the 21st century, getting rid of the always present urge to switch the TV on and look at the smartphone screens is getting harder and harder. But these are all fun electricity stuff, and what about things like refrigerators that also run on electricity? That is why the best way to start your off-power life is to limit yourself.
I would suggest you cut down on some modern luxuries like TV, computers, hair and clothes dryers, microwaves… Consider it power dieting. You will pay less, and chances are you will get off the power hook faster.
Sure, there are life-supporting things that are hard to get rid of, and most of the time, it is even unnecessary. In this case, energy-efficient appliances come into play. You should look for how much power they use since it determines your renewable off-grid power system’s cost, efficacy, and size. Such switching requires long-term planning. But no worries, it gets easier with P3 P4400 Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Meter. As you can guess from the title, this device allows you to track all your energy spendings device by device. This informations will give you more clearance for your off-grid planning, especially when it comes to determining the size of your power system: how many solar systems you might need, what wind turbines are going to be more of value for your needs, etc…
All in all, the lower energy spendings you have at the moment, the easier it will be for you to start your off power grid living.
At the moment, there are known just three ways of getting power:
- Solar Panels
- Wind Turbines
- Micro Hydraulic Generator
Or as many people and even scientists often refer to as Sun, Wind, and Water. These guys are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit of any off-grid power survivalist. Such options are great since they provide you with a renewable energy source, making them eco-friendly.
These systems use the power of natural energy resources that are omnipresent and renewable. With the right tools, we can get very close to getting Perpetuum mobile and alleviating our off-grid life at the same time.
1. Solar Energy Panels
The vast majority of people imagine solar panels on a hot tin roof when they think of living off the grid. They imagine it to be the simplest power source to think of under such conditions. However, there are some restrictions to that.
First and foremost, you have to consider power sources that are applicable to the climate zone you live in. If your homestead’s location is somewhere deep in Alaska with a few sunny days or in a smoggy town, then chances are solar panels are not the right option for you. However, do not assume that if you live in a part of the world with an abundance of sunlight per year, you will not need any back-up battery system. There are still nights when there is no sun, and eventually, there might be some cloudy days.
The thing with solar energy is that it is fairly inconsistent. You get no power at night, while you get the maximum of power only when the Sun is at its apex. That is why you need to find a way to keep the excess energy in bank batteries so that you can use it later.
I will give you brief details on battery options a bit later. For now, you just have to be aware of this specific limitation of solar panels for your off-grid living plan.
To get absolute knowledge on the subject, I recommend you watch this ultimate DIY off-grid solar panel video guide:
If you like crafting things with your own two hands and wish to know everything from the ins and outs of solar panels, you can check out this starter kit. Whereas if time is of the essence for you and you do not want to get deeper into the subject, then here is the solar generator available.
So, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the power system out of solar panels:
The strengths include:
- It is scientifically proven to work.
- Low maintenance since no motive parts
- Size can vary: from one little panel to a huge solar plantation.
- You can use all the sun you have in the region.
Whereas weaknesses are the following:
- You have to live in a sunny region.
- Inconsistent energy source
- You have to find storage options.
- May cost a fortune
- You should know some electricity to install the solar system on your own
2. Wind Energy Turbine
Wind turbines so popular in the Netherlands also grasp tons of attention from survivalists and scientists working in the field of renewable sources. This type of energy source has the same limitation as solar power – it is inconsistent since the wind comes and goes as air masses want it. Meaning, that you have to think of some storage compartment for excess energy.
When considering the power of wind, you should check the region and local surroundings of your off-grid homestead. Some parts of the United States are lucky to get lots of wind on a regular basis, so if you live there, then there is a great chance that wind energy can be an option for you.
Regarding local surroundings, it is wise to check for any wind-blocking obstacles like high hills and trees. In this case, you will have to install wind turbines higher, and this fact can cause more maintenance problems. It might be simply too hard to reach the turbine for a regular maintenance check-up. That is a problem if you like to keep everything in order at your place of off-grid living.
In fact, since the wind turbines are rotating devices, regular maintenance is vital for ensuring they work well and your safety is on a high. So, there will always be some spendings on their maintenance, and you will have to get your teeth into the turbine science if you plan to do DIY maintenance.
There are some other hidden technology tricks that you might not be aware of at this moment, so it is better to go for another power source option if you are not technically inclined.
Here are the pros and cons of a wind turbine:
The pros include:
- You can choose any size of wind turbine you like
- It is scientifically proven to work well.
- If you live in a windy region, then it is definitely an option to consider
The cons are:
- You have to take into account wind accessibility.
- It requires storage for excess energy.
- Inconsistent power source
- It requires regular maintenance.
If you are wondering whether the turbines can be installed and connected to batteries on your own, then check out this video:
If you are ready to get your first wind turbine but not sure whether you can install it yourself and do maintenance, then I recommend going for a 24 volt, 1600 watt Missouri Freedom Wind Turbine. The company helps with the installation process and has a 24/7 customer support line. I would definitely opt for this option if I were a newbie on the subject.
3. Micro Hydro Energy Generator
But from my point of view, the most reliable source of renewable energy is a water turbine. The only limitation it has is the availability of the flowing water source nearby.
Though, there are some requirements for such a turbine to work. The most vital one is the steadiness of your flowing water source. If you have a river or even a waterfall near your off-grid shelter, then you are in luck. You will not get any consistent power if there is only stagnate water (think lake) or seasonal flows in availability. And also, check the place for being prone to draughts. You will lose the energy you could have gotten in dry seasons, meaning you have to get an additional energy source.
The idea behind energy from the flowing water is the same as for the water wheel invented way before people had even thought of electricity. The waterfalls down on the pads and starts the wheel moving, and the whole system is mechanically put into the game. Nowadays, technology changed a bit to allow you to use smaller than the water wheels turbines and get electrical power as an end source via a set of wires.
Depending on the water flow’s consistency with the water turbine, you might even forget about the battery systems for storing excess energy. I might sound a bit against battery systems, do not get me wrong. Even though they are great, there are still some disadvantages that make your life easier without them.
Anyway, even if you have a storage system, it will always be full in the morning with the water turbine, whereas with wind and solar power systems, there is always an energy deficit at dawn.
Water turbines sound just amazing, so you may ask what is the hidden trick here? The biggest downplay is finding a piece of land with a flowing water source. Usually, it is more than just hard as well, as such properties cost a fortune, especially if you are aiming for an already established off-grid homestead. You will pay less for a remote location, but you will have to spend more money and time on building road access.
Even if the area you chose for your off-grid living is not prone to draughts, anything may happen, so you have to know where the water source starts and how it works within seasons. What if the mountain show melts too much this year? Will you face a flood?
Here is a video on setting up a micro water turbine:
If you are technically inclined and more on a DIY side, then here is a video on the installation of a vertical water turbine with permanent magnets:
And this video shows you how to use a creek on a steep grade for generating power:
So, to conclude, let’s go over the positives and negatives of water turbines.
The positives are the following:
- Consistent energy source
- You may be able to get away with batteries.
- No regional limitations
The drawbacks are:
- Locations with flowing water are rare.
- The cost of a piece of land
- Possibility of draughts
- Water turbine also requires some maintenance.
So, we briefly discussed three main off-grid energy resource options: solar power, wind power, and water power. And let’s talk a bit about battery systems and why I do not recommend installing them.
For sure, humanity has used batteries for many years now, but this technology has evolved dramatically in recent years, and I doubt it will stop its way. Think of the Tesla Power Wall that will make battery bank systems accessible for everyone.
Even though sophisticated preppers have used batteries for so long now due to the ratio of money to quality, I truly believe that this technology will make new and large steps in its development in the upcoming years. The sooner it happens, the more people will go into self-reliance and start living off the grid.
But yet, though the batteries we have at the moment work just fine and do their main function of storing energy well, the biggest disadvantage is the chemicals that are employed in batteries and that you have to store somewhere in your off-grid location.
All batteries have a well-determined lifespan, which depends on the chemicals that allow a specific number of charging cycles and no more. But you have to know how to recharge the batteries properly.
Probably soon to replace the battery will be way harder than buying a new one.
If you want to go deeper into the subject, here are a few videos on the battery systems you can use in your off-grid homestead.
This one deals with what battery sizes and of what capacity you should use:
This video gives an overview of a simple DIY battery system and tells you about the mistakes you might make on your way to be set with batteries:
Off-Grid Energy Systems
To be on the safe side in any situation, I highly advise you to go hybrid: install as many energy source systems as possible, provided it does not affect your budget in any drastic way. Solar power system and a wind turbine? A better combination to live off-grid than a solo solar panel.
Any backup source of energy will benefit you greatly in times of trouble, especially if even part of your off-grid lifestyle depends on electricity.
Heating Off-Grid Home
For sure, electricity is not the only thing that should be on your mind when you plan your life off-grid somewhere in the deep forest in a small wooden cabin. Another vital for survival aspect is heat. Of course, unless you live in sunny and hot areas, like Hawaii in the USA, you should not worry about heating all year round.
Here I will cover a few alternatives to heat your shelter except conventional heaters that work on electricity. To be honest, it might seem quite counter-intuitive to get away with electrical heaters since we have just discussed the electricity. But in fact, such heaters take up an enormous part of produced electrical energy to convert it into heat. Meaning, that the power systems that you have already installed might not be enough to support the rest of your homestead, and you will need to invest even more. This, of course, if you did not happen to grab a delicious piece of land with a continuously flowing water source. In this case, you may be able to get away with just electrical heaters and good insulation.
But since most of us will not be this lucky, you can further read on my favorite non-electrical options, like using firewood, geothermal setup, and waste. You can choose something from these three alternatives depending on their drawbacks and what is applicable to your specific situation.
1. Off-Grid Rocket Stove
Remember our old ancestors who had no idea about electricity at their time? Well, these guys used firewood to heat up their homesteads. Those were the days of the endless chore of chopping down wood, which is a tremendously challenging chore for your body. And if you are lucky to have your property in the area with lots of trees, then this chore is transferred to you for the entire summer months.
There are some rules for having a consistent amount of firewood to go through the autumn and winter. First, you have to be one season ahead since fresh wood does not provide as much energy as you may need. And also, it gets messy due to increased soot production. In this case, in a few of the first winters, you may just buy firewood from a local landscaper and forget about chopping. For sure, you are not fully self-reliant in this case, and then it is not true off-grid living.
You may start stocking up on firewood yourself and get into one of our forefathers’ daily chores. Here, the second rule of having good firewood comes into play: wood has to dry for at least 6 months before you can put it into your fireplace and enjoy the heat it produces. This means that every summer, you stockpile for the next winter.
So, the main drawback of having firewood as your main heat resource is the time and energy that you have to spend on getting a consistent amount for living and not worrying. You cannot simply install a machine and do maintenance as with electricity. Here you have to work daily and annually to fall into the category of true off-grid survivalists.
I recommend using such heating systems working on firewood to heat up small cabins or a tiny house with extremely useful and easy to use rocket stoves. The efficiency of wood burned in such a stove is way higher than in the usual fireplace thanks to modern technologies. It all amounts to less amount of wood you have to stockpile and, hence, less amount of work you will need to get done.
This video gives an overview of rocket stoves that is essential for any survivalist:
2. Geothermal Heat Systems
Nowadays, people pay tons of heed to geothermal heating systems since they are considered fairly efficient because they use just a third of the electrical energy any power system can supply. Such systems do not convert electricity into heat right away. They use constant earth vs. air temperature to exchange heat. To better understand how these systems work, you can read this article and get full knowledge of why the electricity in such systems is used only for transferring water and air within tubes and fans.
Check this video to get convinced that geothermal is one of the best heating options on the market now:
3. Compost Energy
This option is extremely appealing for me since it can actually be considered as a no-waste system. You have to get rid of your biowaste in any way somehow, and if you can use it to get some heat, why not use this opportunity? And I’m sure you have seen these systems in an “on”-mode if you or your friends and family have a garden.
All organic products decay within a short time, producing a massive amount of heat at the same time. This heat can be transferred into your off-grid cabin and warm up your living space with a set of tubes and the right air-flow mechanics’ tricks.
The major turnoff for using compost is that you have to feed this setup with new waste. Anything comes into play like grass, leaves, leftovers, wood chips, and manure if you plan to raise livestock on your grid land. Manure might be even the best source for composting since you will get it every day, considering you have fairly big livestock and it has the biggest amount of hidden heat in comparison to other sources.
The next videos I post here are all about some key parameters and things you have to consider when choosing a compost system for heating up your off-grid home:
Off-the-Grid Water Systems
Electricity and water management come hand in hand in case of using less. The basic rules for water management are showering less and fast and do the dishes manually in separate water tubs.
Your water supply system has to run a constant water resource. I would suggest you would better think twice before buying grid land with no water sources present. Otherwise, it will be a real struggle. Any river, stream, or lake nearby will only benefit you. With a water source, you are self-sufficient, and with any disaster, you will not be left with no water at all (if it is not a flood, for sure).
Next, I will give you a few alternatives for water supply systems taking into account that you have some kind of water source nearby.
1. Carrying Water
Manually filling up water tanks is not a long-term solution since it requires a lot of time, strength, and desire. I doubt this chore was one of the favorites in our forefathers’ time. You can use WaterBricks to bring water home manually.
I would also suggest adding some distance into your grid home plan from the water source to the actual place where you want to live.
2. Perfect Water Setup
In an ideal world, the ideal water setup should have storage compartments for water and a compressor so that later you can pump water into the bathtub or a kettle with no need to carry it from your storage place.
Stored water allows you to be more flexible with water and live on your self-sufficient terms for a time. You fill the tanks with water and use it whenever you need it. Though, make sure you use a septic system for storage purposes so that your stockpiled water does not spoil fast.
A compressor will pressure the tanks needed to flow it into the taps at your grid home. I highly advise investing in the pressure setup to save up yourself future trouble, time, and energy. Or you can put the water tanks up above your home and let the Earth’s gravity do the work.
To wrap it all up, ideally, your water source is located above your storage tanks while the latter stay above your home. This way, gravity does all the work for you. You just have to open up the taps and use the precious water.
And do not worry about water purification since it is possible to do so even with big water storage tanks.
3. A Water Well
Another doable water supply system option is drilling a well. One of the dangers here is to dig up a dry well. So, first, check whether your neighbors have some wells on their property. If they do, chances are you will also be successful in this matter.
How do wells work? You basically drill a hole with a special tool or with your hands (if you live in areas with a high water table) till you reach the water table (usually it takes hundreds of feet). You put a water pump down the bottom of this well, and with the help of electricity, you send this water to the taps at your grid home.
Remember that drilling a well might cost a fortune, but in my opinion, it is a great investment into your property.
Some water sources can be places naturally higher than your off-grid home. In this case, you just need to install a pipe system to allow gravity to do the water transfer from the water source to your storage system. With the right difference in heights, you may have enough pressure to fill up your water tanks automatically.
Different Gravity Off-Grid Setups
Storage Tanks Setup As Personal Water Tower
I have mentioned several times that it is best when your storage tanks are places above your home in general or higher than the taps at your home.
For local filling up of the water tanks, I recommend investing in a hydraulic ramp up water system which can save the trouble via check valves. Here is a video on how it is done and how it works.
After you have installed the ramp up, you have to create a water tower storage system. These two videos will show you how to do so yourself. Do not be confused that they talk about the garden. There will be enough pressure for most home appliances.
One of the important factors to take into account with such water storage systems is the temperature drops in the climate zone you live in. If there is a mild climate with no possible freezing in winters, then an above-storing system will work just fine for you. When everything is prone to freeze (like in Alaska), it is better to keep your water somewhere underground, such as in a buried cistern. In this case, though, you might not be able to use the Earth’s gravity and will have to invest in a pumping system.
Suppose your location has some up and down corners. Then it is best you bury the storage cistern in the upper corner, then no pressure system needed, the gravity will help pumping up (well, in this case, to be correct down) the water into the taps at your home located in the down corner or side of the land. And what’s important here is that the possibility of water freezing during winter falls drastically.
In some locations prone to have a very high amount of annual precipitation, you might be able to collect and harvest rainwater. In this case, you get drinking water right away with no need for further purification. Nonetheless, I do not recommend relying on using this method for your primary source of water. No one ever canceled such natural disasters as draughts. Just use it as a subside way of collecting water. It is still a good idea to have some tanks put somewhere on your land so that in times of rain, the water will automatically run into them.
Here are some videos on the matter of off the grid rainwater harvesting:
What to do With Waste Streams Off the Grid
When we live somewhere, we usually have three categories of waste: literally human-made, gray water, and trash wastes. They all have to be disposed of somehow. Let’s find out how you can deal with these wastes in the next sections of this article.
1. The Man and Water Waste Streams
There is an old option of using a septic tank for human and water wastes, which might be quite expensive. before installing such a septic system, you have to consider such factors as:
- there has to be accessible for the big equipment to your land for installation. So, if you plan to live in a small cabin in a remote area, this option might not work for you.
- You are ready to get rid of the solids once every two years to have the system working steadily.
This video gives you the idea of how such systems work:
As I said, this system might not be work for you, but no worries, there are other alternatives for managing human and gray water wastes:
2. Human Waste – Compost
It is a win-win situation when you can use human waste converted into compost, which later in its turn gets converted into the heat to warm your house and water. All you need for that is a simple Composting Toilet.
Moreover, you may use the decayed compost to feed your garden, expanding your self-reliance and self-sufficiency. And this all with just a simple waste.
3. Gray Water Waste
It is a bit less win-win for the gray water waste since you cannot really reuse these waters. You have to get them out of your home water system so that these waters can go into the ground on your land naturally. A good option here is to use this waste to water the garden. But here, we have a safety concern, especially if you use a lot of chemicals (like soaps or shampoos) that end up in the gray water. Such contaminated water is not only harmful to the plants but also for humans in large concentrations. So, check your water from time to time in some laboratories to make sure the chemical content falls into the safe range.
Trash Waste Options
Non-Compostable Trash Waste
Here again, you will hear nothing new from me – simply produce less trash waste. I know, it sounds harsh… But when you live off the grid, you have to reduce the amount of trash and sort it out. Everything that can burn goes into your rocket stove. Everything that is organic and can decompose with time goes into the compost bin. The only things that have to be dealt with specifically are plastics and rest waste. Here are the options you have:
- You may create a designated area for such wastes, kind of a local dump, collect the trash there, and then once in a while, get it to the nearest disposal center. Beware, though, that the area that you chose for such actions has to be secluded so that no animals can come in and play with your trash producing even more trash.
- You may bury such wastes on your land. This option is not viable if your piece of land is fairly small and/or you have no equipment suitable for digging this landfill. And I guess not a lot of people would like to live near a waste dump on their property.
- Burning this trash in a burn pit or barrel can be an option, too, if you are not very concerned about carbon dioxide emission. I remember when I was young and lived on a farm, we used to dig burn pits, filled them in with wastes, and then have them lit on fire. Once the ash and soot-covered the pit’s upper edges, we would bury it and dig a new pit. Then the circle continued once more. Actually these pits with soot you can use later for growing some crops and vegetables on them.
Off-the-Grid Food Independence
The last step to complete your move off-grid is to achieve food independence. The off-grid lifestyle requires you to be inclined into gardening, aquaponics, having animals, preparing preserves, having some underground food storage, and so on. I will not get into all of these numerous topics in this article, but I have to say some words on the matter.
Living off the grid means having nothing and all in your possession at the same time. You will get nowhere without food since it is the basic source of energy for any living beings. That is why it is as important as having self-sufficient power and water source.
I highly recommend reading more on how to get food from the supermarkets and via skills like gardening or hunting and fishing. These skills are efficient for your survival in any situation.
You can prepare some kind of a food chain for your off the grid living: your wastes can become compost that you later use as a fertilizer for your garden. The foods from our garden can feed you and your livestock. Livestock can feed you, give you clothes, and even provide you with heat (if you add the manure into the compost bin).
So, the bottom line here the more options of obtaining food not from the shelves, except they are in your pantry filled with home-made jams and preserves you use, the more independent you are.
I hope that this article helped you get your head around the off-grid living, and possibly in the foreseeable future, you will start planning your move off the grid. Remember that everything can be solved via dedication and deep research. You can start with reading an introduction article to a certain area, then swallow a few books and try things on practice, and you are all set to share the knowledge you have with local communities.
Why is living off the grid illegal?
Living off the grid is not illegal, but a country administration can put some restrictions that can make the off-grid lifestyle simply impossible. So, if you thought that living off the grid in Florida or Alaska is illegal, you are extremely mistaken. But before planning your off-grid living, first, check rules and regulations in the region you want to live in/
Is it possible to live off the grid?
For sure, the grid lifestyle is not for everybody. Still, with the right dedication and planning, it is possible to make your life amazing off the grid, especially if you are a sophisticated prepper. I’m sure that if our ancestors could do it, we can do it as well.
How much does it cost to live off the grid?
It is hard to give a certain number. But a simple piece of land will cost you no less than $100,000, then add the cost of building materials for your cabin and add the cost of all the systems I have covered in the article. In the end, it will amount to a very high number.
What do you need for off-grid living?
To live off the grid, you have first to have a dedication, then a detailed plan that includes everything on your independence from electricity lines, centralized water carriage, and food chain supplies. You also have to think about off the grid shelter and waste management.
How to manage waste streams off the grid?
Managing waste streams off the grid is a wide topic. But the most important is that you can always reuse human or gray water wastes. In contrast, for the other wastes and plastics, there are only a few ways: you either collect them in a certain area, or bury them on your property, or burn them, or combine the last two options together.
How to get land for no money?
There is only one legal way to get anything in your possession with no payment. And it is called inheritance. So, if you are lucky and someone decided to give your a piece of land, possibly with a cabin in a remote area for off-grid living, then grasp this opportunity right away. And in any way, you will have to pay property taxes annually.