How to Live off the Grid in the City

Imagine this scenario. You live in the middle of the city, everything is in reach, yet you are free of urban infrastructures, self-sufficient and dependant just on yourself. Oh, and you save a lot of money in the long run, too. Does that sound like something you wish to achieve?

I have talked a lot in this blog about off grid living, but was I concentrating on living in a remote area, alone or with a community, but basically outside the city. Now, I would like to cover this subject from another point of view: how to enjoy all the benefits of living off the grid, while staying in the city, in a close proximity to everything you know and love.

So, let’s cover this subject and see how you can live off the grid in the city and stay close to friends, family and everything else you’ve been accustomed to.

Benefits of Living off the Grid in the City

Aside from environmental and mental benefits of living off the grid, I want to focus mostly on the financial benefits, which probably interest you a lot more. So, here are some of the main benefits to consider when deciding to live off the grid in the city:

  • You can save 90% of energy as well as water usage in comparison to regular homes. This means that you save a lot of money!
  • You can save up to 50% or more when it comes to households utility bills.
  • Start living off the grid and save up to $1,314 per year only on utilities.
  • You save a lot of money when you grow your own food (even some of it) instead of purchasing at the store.
  • You don’t have to care if the power in your neighbourhood is out, there’s no running water or other problems with the city’s infrastructure. You’re all self-sufficient, produce and supply for yourself.
  • Life becomes less stressful when you’re self-sufficient and not dependant on anyone or anything.

Producing Off Grid Electricity

Living off the grid means you’ll start producing power and electricity on your own, which will save you a lot of money. If you have surplus power, check with local authorities if you can sell them the power you’ve stored. This way you can even make money from your own produce.

What are the components required?

  • Solar panels
  • Battery pack
  • Solar inverter
  • Battery inverter
  • Wiring equipment

I will now cover the main components when it comes to producing your own power source, so you’ll have a better idea how this works and how to choose the battery to store the energy. The other components are important as well, but these are the two main ones to elaborate about.

Solar Panels

The easiest and most popular way to generate your own power and electricity is by installing solar panels. The best place to install the panels are on the roof of the house. If this is not possible, you can install them on the ground as well, just make sure they are not near anything that can damage them or fall on them, like trees for example. Also, make sure they are exposed to enough sunlight in order to produce the sufficient energy your household and appliances require.

How does this work you ask? Solar panels contain photovoltaic (pv) cells on their surface and they convert the sunrays to electric direct current (DC). Solar panels contain multiple cells and all of them are linked together. Solar panels are available with mono cell arrangement, half cut cell arrangement, shingled cell arrangement, or busbar cell arrangement. The bottom of the solar panel comes with wire connectors and they transfer the power generated into your house.

Solar panels are rated according to the amount of DC current that they produce after exposing them to sunlight for a period of time. That is why you should purchase solar panels that are able to charge the battery pack fully in one day.

Installing solar panels is not that difficult, just as the following video demonstrates:

Battery Pack

The battery is extremely important because it stores the energy that you produce. With that energy, you are able to use devices and appliances that require electricity. More than that, because there will be times when there is not enough exposure to sunrays, like during the winter, night-time, when there’s a fog and other times when the sunrays are blocked, the energy stored in the battery will allow you to use it in later use. Additionally, the power becomes more stable inside the battery before it reaches electrical appliances.

There are different kinds of batteries to choose from:

  • Lead-Acid batteries: This type of battery is very durable, it can be used until it almost discharges completely. These batteries will not shut down all of a sudden, as compared to other types of batteries. Moreover, most inverters on the markets are compatible with these batteries, making them my first choice.
  • Lithium ion batteries: This type of battery is compact and therefore portable. They are light, small, yet have high efficiency. Charging this battery takes less time than charging a lead-acid battery, and there are no worries about sulfation (a more common problem with lead-acid batteries). All this and more makes this battery also ideal for off-grid solar power setups.

Here’s the thumb rule for picking a battery to store the power and energy: pick a battery that can hold enough charge in order to power all the devices and appliances in the house until the next time it needs to be fully charged. This means that the battery pack must hold enough charge in it to power all equipment in the house overnight, so that the battery can be recharged the following day.

Here are some recommended solar systems to consider:

  • Grape Solar GS-400-Kit Off-Grid Solar Panel Kit: This is a standalone and fully equipped solar system kit. It comes with four mono-crystalline solar panels that can generate enough energy to power bulbs as well as small electrical devices and equipment. The panels have an included junction box with LED lights that improve the performance of the kit. It also includes a 35-amp charge controller and an inverter with an output rating of 2000 watts. However, bear in mind that the kit does not include a battery pack, so if you want to store power in order to use it later, you need to purchase a battery separately.
  • Astronergy Medium Solar Off-Grid Solar Power System: This medium-sized solar system kit comes with nine solar panels each having an output rating of 260 watts. It also includes a remote controlled 4400-watt inverter and eight deep cycle batteries that hold enough charge to power small as well as heavy-duty electric devices and appliances.
  • RENOGY Solar Panel Kit 400W, Off-Grid, with Mounting Brackets: This kit comes with four 100-watt solar panels. They are rated A for energy efficiency, and sold with Z-shaped brackets that hold the panels at an optimum exposure angle and can be mounted even on a flat surface. The solar panels can also withstand brutal and harsh weather conditions and produce enough power even when sunlight is low. The kit does not include batteries to store power, so purchase them separately.
  • Eco-Worthy 1000W, 10 Pieces, Solar Module for Homes: This kit comes with 10 100-watt solar panels, generating all together an output of 1000 watts. The kit also includes 10 180-centimetre long solar cables and 10 MC4 extensions. The polycrystalline solar panels have an inbuilt bypass diode that negates the shadow effect on the panels, thus allowing conversion of sunlight into electric power even in low sunlight. The junction box that comes with the panel is waterproof and weather-resistant, so it enables the solar panels to withstand heavy rainfall as well as snow. The heavy gauge aluminum frame surrounding the solar panels also protects them from corrosion.

And if these options are not enough, consider a portable power station as an alternative way to have your devices powered, especially during emergencies.

Getting Off Grid Water in the City

There are different ways to enjoy water supply when living off the grid (digging a well, borehole, etc’), but in the city, the best way to have your own source of water is probably by collecting rainwater. Living in the city, you can save a lot of money in two ways:

  1. Build a simple rainwater harvesting system to collect rainwater and store it inside tanks.
  2. Use techniques to save water.

Rainwater Harvesting System

Rainwater harvesting system (also known as rainwater catchment system) can range from simple barrels that collect rain to sophisticated systems that use tanks, pumps and advanced filters. The non-potable water can be used to wash the car, flush toilets, landscaping and washing the clothes. Water that was purified is safe to drink and consume.

The simplest harvesting systems for rainwater are non-pressurized systems. These can be rain barrels, where rain gutters and a tank are connected by pipes. These “dry systems” don’t hold any water in the pipes after rain has stopped falling, and so don’t create breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other insects.

Other systems are known as “wet systems”, where the pipes don’t run directly into the tanks ebcause such a configuration is not available. When the water tanks are located away from the surfaces collecting the rainwater, pipes from the gutter are placed underground and then go up into the tanks. Most of the times these systems will be pressurized so that the pipes won’t retain stagnant water.

A quality rainwater harvesting system will ensure that the pipes and other openings are well proofed against insects. This is highly important in wet systems.

As for the surfaces that collect the rainwater (mostly roofs), they must be made of materials that are not-toxic. Avoid paint that is lead-based and membranes. The tanks that store the water should be made from a material that is non-toxic as well as non-corrosive. The draw-off pipes and outlet pipes must be 4 inches or more above the tank’s floor. This is done to ensure that sludge is not being drawn out. Some systems come with washout pipe and sump pump that take care of the sludge. Still, you must regularly clean the inner tank surfaces, no matter how advanced your rainwater harvesting system is.

Also, remember to clean and keep the catchment clean from moss, dirt, lichens and various debris, and cut back tree branches that hang over the catchment surface. Regularly clean the gutters, inlets of the tanks and make a yearly inspection to see that everything works properly.

Now, let’s talk about the quality of the water. Rainwater can mix with different materials from the surfaces it lands on, thus collecting pollutants and dust. Contaminants in the water may include fungi, plants, metals, chemicals, dissolved minerals, water-soluble paints, and more. If you wish to use the rainwater for gardening or cleaning, they do not require purity in a high degree. However, they are not suitable for cooking or drinking.

When you separate the first flush of rainwater from the roof, gutters and other surfaces that collect the rainwater, you actually improve and make the quality of the water better and safer to drink. Rainwater for the purposes of household and consumption must be purified.

Water stored in the tanks can get contaminated with bacteria, different chemicals and other organic material that settle on the bottom of the tank as sludge or form films on the surface of the water. You can remove it by processes of settlement, biofilm skimming and flocculation. You can also purify the water with chemicals such as calcium hydroxide, fluoride and potassium permanganate.

Here is a terrific video tutorial that shows a reliable method of harvesting rainwater:

Techniques to Save Water

If you prefer to stay connected to the city’s pipelines instead of collecting rainwater, that’s fine. There are still ways to save water and money. Here are a few techniques to use in order to save water and spend less money living in the city:

  • Cutting shower: If you cut your shower by 1-minute only, you can save up to $160 per year for a household of four people.
  • Reusing water: You can reuse the water of the dish washer and the bathtub in order to water the garden.
  • Fixing dripping tops
  • Water saving showerhead: Using a special showerhead in the shower can save you a lot of money when not using too much water.

No More Gas

Instead of using gas, install a wood burning stove. There are different types of burners, but I suggest choosing a new and eco-friendly wood stove burner. This way, you’ll reduce emissions of particle by no less than 90% compared to an open fire and 80% compared to a stove that is old.

The cost of the material you need to use in order to burn in the stove is cheaper than using gas. If you can insulate your home well, you will save even more money. The bigger the system, the more you’ll be able to use it around the house. You’ll be able to cook, heat the water in the boiler, use heating under the floor, secondary heating to room, and more.

Grow Your Own Food in the City

If you have enough space around your house and a room for setting a garden, it’s time to think about growing your own food. It’s not that difficult, and apart from the food being much tastier than store-bought, you’ll be saving a whole lot of money here as well. I won’t go over the types of soil that each crop or vegetable requires, so let’s assume that your soil is suitable for growing food (naturally, you must ensure that your soil is fertile for you start anything).

Here is what you start growing on your own:

  • Herbs: Herbs spice up your typical foods and make them taste even better. Apart from them being delicious, they are also healthy and grow easily. It’s best to have a separate garden for herbs. Grow different types of herbs by making an herb spiral. It’s basically a pile of dirt with stones that spiral down, and this way make a little spiralling ramp.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Because it can take years to enjoy fruits, you should first plant fruit and nut trees. Set up a berry patch. Because berries are perennial plants, they will come back each and every year. They can be used and eaten when dried, preserved into jams, jellies or frozen.
    As for growing vegetables, they go into three categories: heavy feeders, light feeders, heavy givers. It’s important to know that you have to rotate between the groups in order that your soil is never depleted.
    The heavy feeders are asparagus, beet, broccoli, corn, strawberries, and okra. These should be followed by light feeders like garlic, carrot, sweet potato, Swiss chard. These should now be followed by heavy givers like beans, peas, alfalfa, peanuts, clover.
    If the space in your garden is not enough, you should check for community gardens. You can find them in many cities, and you can grow vegetables on their plot for a low cost or even freely. Fruit trees are also great resources for off grid food. Cities and urban areas are filled with them, so you can forage for wild or semi-wild plants, just like in the country.
  • Grains: Grains are very easy to grow and you don’t need many acres to grow them. After you purchase them, spread them in the ground, planting them 6 inches deep. Make sure that this spot gets a lot of sunlight. You can use a seeder to spread the seeds evenly. A seeder is something like a jar with perforated lid. When the crops are ready to be harvested, use something like a hedge trimmer or pruning shears to collect them. Beat the stalks with a stick to loosen the seeds from them. The final stage is freeing the grains from their coating, which can be simply achieved by pouring the grain between two containers before an operating fan. Basically, 1000 feet of soil is enough to get a bushel of wheat, which produces 60 lbs. of grain.

Now, if you have enough room and space, you can even raise livestock. Animals are good at taking care of themselves, if they have the proper environment. Because you live in the city, I will stick to easier livestock to raise, and these will probably be chickens (living away from the city allows you to grow pigs, cows, sheep, ducks, and other animals).

Raising chickens is not difficult at all. They don’t take a lot of space and once they have a coop and a piece of land, they are all set. Chickens prefer free range, and can provide you with an egg a day. All they require is fresh water, a good and reliable source of calcium and protein, shelter (to include shade), and a place to take a dust bath. Chicken poop is also a great crop fertilizer. They poop on the ground, and eat the bugs and the grass. When you move them, you have a perfect plot of land to grow in: great fertilizer, no bugs and the grass is gone.

Here is a great video example of growing your own food while living off the grid in the city:

Off Grid Sanitation and Water Waste

This is not a must, but if you’re interested living life off the grid, this can be applied to sanitation, meaning you’ll be using less water and save more money, again. First, let’s understand two main phrases when it comes to off grid sanitation, greywater and blackwater, and then I’ll go over 4 different options for off grid sanitation.

  • Greywater: This is used water from sinks, showers, tubes and washing machines.
  • Blackwater: This is used water from toilets as well as other sources of water with human waste.

Now, let’s go over 4 options for off grid waste water and how to deal with them:

  • Composting toilets: This is one of the best and most common ways to deal with blackwater when it comes to off grid. Composting toilets take some getting used to, but they are great since you’re saving a whole lot of water (and with that money), because there’s no flushing involved. These are dry toilets that compost human waste biologically. Therefore, it does not require plumbing or flushing and does not require the use of any chemicals. However, if you decide to use composting toilets along with a septic system, then you actually divert the waste from the tanks and this way extend the system’s life.
    There are different types of composting: aerobic composting (oxygen is applied to aid in the breaking down of waste material), anaerobic composting (usually takes little effort, if a composter is present), and vermicomposting (involves the usage of worms, moisture, and oxygen to aid in the breaking down of waste material).
    Composting toilets usually include a ventilation unit, storage container, access opening and diversion system. Human waste is collected with the same container (or “chamber”).
  • Greywater systems: If you reuse greywater properly, it’s a great way to conserve water and resources. Here are a few ways to design your private greywater system at home:
    1. You can purchase a greywater tank and system
    2. Rig different appliances like your shower, which diverts the greywater to the toilets or to outdoor tanks in order to use in the garden.
    3. Create a greywater system on your own from materials you have at home.
  • Lagoons: Lagoons are utilizes wherever the soil cannot filter effectively. Lagoons are earthen basins. The wastewater is drained into them and processed by microorganisms. They may be very effective, however not always approved. So, before setting or installing one, check to see if you have permission for a lagoon.
  • Septic systems: Off grid septic systems are the most common systems to deal with waste water. They are also the ones that are easily approved. The wastewater from your home simply drains into a septic tank. Inside the tank, the solids begin to settle at the bottom of the tank and then break down. In the meantime, water gradually filters out through holes in pipes, which are located at the septic drain field.

At this point, I would like to recommend an excellent book by Lloyd Khan, titled The Septic System Owner’s Manual. Written in a very accessible way, this manual teaches your everything you need to know about maintaining various septic systems. A highly rated Amazon book, the manual covers conventional septic systems, natural purification, composting toilets, graywater systems, and so much more.


Off Grid Internet and Communication

If you mustn’t be connected to the internet for the purposes of work, streaming or gaming, there is no reason to pay a provider or sign an Internet plan. These days, a lot of places like coffee shops and even public places offer free WiFi. This makes connecting to the Internet easy and free. If you need to use a computer, many Internet cafes and libraries offer logging in to the Internet for free as well.

There are other easy ways you can get online, some are free and some are not, yet they are still cheap. These ways include using cell phone, satellite, private hotspot, ham radio or a service called Unlimitedville. You can read my complete guide about off grid Internet where I elaborate about all these ways to get online.

There are also devices that allow you to send messages, share your location, download maps, and so on. They work even if there is no WiFi or satellite signal available. They are used mostly outdoors, during hiking, camping activities and emergencies. If this interests you, please read my guide about off grid communication.

Final Words

This covers almost everything you need to know about living off the grid in the city. You don’t have to go the whole nine yards and implement everything you’ve just read. Maybe start with one or two things, see how it goes, how much money you save, how your life improves, and then decide on your next step.

Living off the grid can be quite challenging, yet rewarding experience. I encourage you to read more helpful information on this important topic, such as how much it costs to live off the grid and how to prepare for off grid living.

If you wish to both live off the grid and stay mobile, please read my guides on living off the grid in an RV and living off the grid in a van.

I wish you best of luck! Let me know how your off-grid lifestyle progresses.

Alex Rejba

Alex is a seasoned survivalist, with a passion to all things related to prepping, hiking and living off the grid.

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