With everything that is happening in the world today, from riots and viruses to economical collapses, it is no wonder that more and more people seek out to live off the grid. While this way of life was known for decades, recent years saw a swift rise of individuals and families, who wish to start anew and try off grid living.
What is off grid living? Living off the grid means living autonomously without relying on public power grid and utilities. Off-grid life incorporates producing clean and sustainable energy, growing your own food, and experiencing a financially and emotionally rewarding lifestyle.
There is a lot to discuss as to how you even begin to live off the grid, what investments and preparation this move entails, where to build your new home, how to make your own energy and food, and even whether or not it’s possible to still be off the grid while remaining in the city. You might even consider living off the grid while driving a van or an RV. Thankfully, I answer all these and other questions in the article that you are about to read.
Before we continue, I would like to recommend my book, “Going off the Grid: The Complete Guide to Your Personal Freedom”.
It covers everything I discuss in this article, but also much more than that. To have the complete and comprehensive knowledge about living off the grid, you must have this book as your trusty companion.
Preparations, budget, legality, off-grid energy, farming, list of places and off-grid communities, how to run your off-grid property – this book has it all!
Table of Contents
- How to Start Living off the Grid
- How Much Would It Cost to Live off the Grid?
- Is It Legal to Live off the Grid?
- Where are the Best Places to Live off the Grid?
- How to Generate Power off the Grid
- Off-Grid Water and Sanitation
- Off-Grid Farming
- Off-Grid Communication and Internet
- How to Live off the Grid in a Vehicle
- How to Live off the Grid in the City
- Final Words
How to Start Living off the Grid
Living off the grid requires thorough preparation and meticulous planning. You are not suddenly escaping from the civilization and into the nature. You are establishing a new and clean homestead that has to run smoothly and answer all your needs.
Starting to live off the grid means following these steps:
- Build or purchase a house
- Find or create a water source
- Grow food
- Establish an energy source
- Purchase tools and equipment
- Learn local laws and restrictions
- Prepare your body and mind
Let’s elaborate on each and every one of these steps.
Build or Purchase a House
If you have the right skills and right tools, you can build your own off-the-grid house on a lot that you own. If not, there is always the option of purchasing a house. Certain lots come with a previously inhabited house, which might require some repairing before you move in.
If you don’t have a budget for a large house, there are some alternatives to consider:
- Tiny house: This type of house is usually the size of an ordinary living room. It’s on budget and can be easily moved into another location, if necessary. Naturally, you can’t stuff it with a lot of personal items and furniture, so a minimalistic philosophy should be applied here.
- Shipping container: A popular choice in the recent years. It’s greener than building a house or a cabin, since no trees are cut down in the process. With some creativity, a shipping container (or several containers linked together) can become a great and affordable off the grid house.
- Cabin: Similar to the tiny house, but usually located far away from the rest of the civilization. Many off-gridders build a cabin by themselves, by using nearby wood. You can gather and hunt for food, and fully live off the land around the year.
- RV: Living in a vehicle is where the true off-the-grid adventure begins. You are not limited by one address, you can still be off the grid while enjoying the entire country. Always make sure you park in the right parking lots for the night. I go into more details on living off the grid in an RV or a van later in this article.
The following amazing video from Exploring Alternatives demonstrates an actual off-the-grid house:
Find or Create a Water Source
Existing without water is impossible. Since you’re living off the grid, you probably don’t plan to connect to the utilities. So, in order to have enough water to wash, cook and drink, a few solutions are possible.
- Well: You can dig a well by yourself (it’s recommended to hire an expert) or get a lot with an existing well. Fresh and natural water from a well will also answer whatever farming needs you have.
- Rainwater harvesting: This can be as simple as putting several barrels in the yard. If you’d like to be more advanced, you can shape the roof like a bowl or a series of steps, and it will collect water during rains. However, you must learn whether or not rainwater harvesting is permitted in your area, and how you can filter and purify it. For more important information on these issues, please take a look at my article on how to harvest rainwater.
There is much more to learn about water, which is why I included a whole part dedicated to off-the-grid water and sanitation, further down this article.
So you have established your off-the-grid homestead and have water, now it’s time to address another basic survival need – food. Thanks to the fact that you have your own plot, you can turn some of it into a garden or a small farm.
I would recommend planting perennial flora, which will produce berries, nuts, fruits and mushrooms for many years to come. Additionally, you should plant a lot of vegetables, using either seedlings or seeds. Leafy, root, red and green vegetables will add tons of important nutrients to your diet.
If you’re not vegan, consider having livestock and chicken. The animals you raise will supply you with meat, eggs, milk, leather, wool and even pillow feathers.
If you have excess produce, you can trade it with your neighbors, for products and service that you currently do not have. A barter system is what strengthens a friendly off-the-grid community.
Exchanging vegetables, eggs and meat frees you from growing all of them at your mini-farm. You can enjoy food that you currently do not grow, while giving away the food that you have too much of.
In a later chapter I will go into more details on off-the-grid farming.
Establish an Energy Source
We now touch the very definition of being off the grid – producing your own energy. This is commonly done by installing solar panels. They are often quite affordable and east to install and maintain. Having a clean electricity produced by the sun saves money in the long run and promotes your sense of independence from the government-controlled grid.
Always remember to connect a battery or a generator, they will provide electricity when it rains or there are a lot of clouds.
Solar energy can also be utilized by means other than the solar panels. For instance, using a thermal heating system you can direct the sun’s warmth to your water tanks, thus having hot water without any electricity involved.
Furthermore, your house’s temperature can be controlled with a passive solar design. Windows, thermal masses and thermal chimneys can make your home warmer or colder, if designed correctly.
The sun is not the only source of free and eco-friendly energy. Wind turbines are another popular method of getting electricity created when the wind spins them. Similarly, water turbines, spun by a natural flowing water, can supply you with electrical power as well. You can read more on this in a later chapter of this article.
Purchase Tools and Equipment
In other to live off the grid and run your own homestead, you need to have the right tools and equipment. The list below does not take into the consideration your personal circumstances. For example, if you don’t own a garden, then you don’t need gardening tools at the moment, and you can cross those off the list.
- Furniture: Your new house is mostly walls, so you will need at least a bed, a table and some chairs. If you have the appropriate skills, you can make the furniture by yourself, or purchase it nearby. Take it one step further and turn your house into a welcoming abode: get curtains, carpet, shelves, kitchen cabinets, and so on.
- Gardening tools: To have a flourishing garden and tend to your crops, you will need to purchase such tools as hoe, shears, shovel, rake, gloves, and so forth. If you planted trees, a pruning saw can be of great help.
- Toolbox: Fixing things around the house demands that you purchase a toolbox, preferably with all the necessary and common tools, such as a screwdriver, wrench, hammer, pliers, and so on. Additionally, make sure you always have the basic repairing supplies: duct tape, glue, bolts, nails, and such.
- Electronic devices: Besides work, you will need something to keep you entertained. TV, mobile phone, tablet, laptop, even a radio or a DVD player – any of these can be plugged into your off-the-grid energy system for your personal entertainment and online communication.
- Food storage and kitchen: You can buy food locally or grow it in your vegetable patch. Whichever you choose, you still need items that help you with food preparation and storage. This includes utensils, plates, pots, tong, grater, spatula, colander, and others. A small fridge plugged into your power system will take care of the excess food that you buy or produce.
Learn Local Laws and Restrictions
While living off the grid means living a freer life, you still have to comply with the rules and regulations of the area/county/state/country of your current residence. Even before moving to your new off-grid location, you must find out what the relevant local laws are.
For instance, every municipality has its own building and zoning codes, which means you can’t just build your house and run it however you see fit. Generally speaking, the house has at least to have electricity, water and sewage. Some regions have restrictions regarding livestock and rainwater harvesting, you must find out what they are as well before attempting to do anything.
Taxation is also something you cannot avoid. Take local taxes into consideration when you’re planning your monthly and yearly budget. I discuss the legality and laws of off-grid life further down the article.
You also need to learn whether there are any future developments planned in the area nearby. You might buy an undisturbed lot surrounded by nature, but then a couple of years later a polluting factory appears nearby. And if you’re living near a stream, it’s always good to find out whether there are any factories or mines upstream that might make the water completely undrinkable.
Prepare Your Body and Mind
Moving off the grid demands a lot of work. You have to be prepared both physically and mentally. You will need to have a determined and calm mind that welcomes challenges and possible hardships. Because living off the grid is not as cozy and convenient as a regular city life.
You also must be in a good shape and health. Running an independent homestead, raising livestock ad crops, making furniture, digging a well, performing regular maintenance – all of this demands you being energetic and strong. Consider this final factor before deciding whether or not you will make this significant change in your life.
For more important information on these topics, please read my article on how to prepare for off grid living.
How Much Would It Cost to Live off the Grid?
Starting your new off-the-grid life requires some initial investment. As it was stressed before, going off the grid does not mean becoming a recluse in a remote cave. You will need to purchase a house and a lot, as well as assorted tools and equipment.
The initial cost of living off the grid is $50,000 to $350,000, which includes buying a land, house, power system, gardening equipment, water system and sanitation system. There are also monthly expanses that can run up to $1,000, such as taxes, healthcare, insurance and maintenance.
Don’t let these numbers deter you, because there are a lot of ways to cut down the costs. Let’s take a more detailed look at the expenses and see where you can save a lot of money.
You can find some free land, but its condition is less than desirable, and you won’t be able to settle and farm there.
You will need between 1 and 5 acres for your off-grid property. The usual cost for such a piece of land is $20,000 – $30,000. It’s better to get a land in a region that allows good farming and gardening, to save costs.
House and Other Buildings
A land needs a house as well as other necessary buildings. Here is a list of costs that you can expect.
- House: Hiring a contractor to build a house for a family of four costs $120,000 – $150,000. If you wish to save money at first, you can try a basic manufactured home ($20,000), an RV ($15,000 in average) or as a temporary solution – a large tent for $500.
- Chicken coop: you can build one yourself, or purchase for $150 (enough for 4 chickens) or $1,500 (a more advanced and spacious coop).
- Greenhouse: Functions as an additional garden and gives crop throughout the year. The prices range between $750 and $10,000, depending on the size.
- Barn: The cost of this building depends on its height, flooring, stalls, temperature control and a few other factors. Depending on all of them and on your actual needs, raising a barn can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000.
Power and Heating Systems
I discuss power and heating systems in length further down the article. At this point I will only briefly mention their costs, and then later you can read about their purpose and advantages.
- One solar panel or one wind turbine plus an inverter cost about $1,000.
- Enough turbines and panels to power an entire household cost $30,000.
- Batteries for an off-grid power system cost $200 – $300 each, so the whole household requires $7,000 worth of batteries.
- Geothermal pump is an alternative way to get heat into the house by utilizing the Earth’s nature heat. It’s hard to estimate how much such a setup would cost, since it depends on the size and age of your house, its insulation, and so forth. A special contractor needs to be contacted and asked for a quote.
Gardening and farming also demand some initial costs, but these pay off in the long run.
- Seeds for the first year will cost you less than $100. You can save future seeds from your garden to re-seed in the following season and save money.
- Wire fence can be a necessity, because your garden needs to be walled from the animals who crave your produce. The cost is about $500 to $1,000.
- Trees and bushes that produce fruit and berries are bought as is, ready to be planted, since growing one from a seed can take years. The cost is $15 – $100 per a bush or a tree.
- Aquaponics can be a great idea, a combination of fish and plants. Such a system costs $500 – $1,000, and it supplies you with vegetables and fish to consume all year long.
- Livestock needs some initial and constant investment, too. For instance, a chicken can cost $10 plus a monthly feed for $2. Pigs are pricier, $50 in average, plus $500 for housing, plus $50 monthly feed, although you can give them plants that you grow and scraps from the table.
Water System and Sanitation System
Water is a basic need, but so is the sewage and elimination of waste. Taking care of these important factors is a must when establishing a good off-the-grid homestead. Let’s have a look at the costs involved.
- Well: If you don’t have a natural water stream nearby, digging the well is the logical solution. This involves drilling and then adding a pump. A well-digging business will charge you by the depth they have to drill into the ground, approximately $15 – $100/foot. Thus, a 100-150 feet deep well will cost anywhere in the range of $1,500 – $15,000. Add to that $800 – $2,000 for the pump, its wiring and the plumbing, and also $500 to $1,000 for the water storage in a tank.
- Grey water: A grey water system takes water from the shower, bath, washing machines, and so on, and then re-uses this already used water for garden irrigation or toilet flushing. There is a low cost version of this system that costs $500 and does the basic work. And then there are more complex systems attached to all your sinks and appliances. These can cost over $10,000, but the grey water gets perfectly recycled.
- Septic system: This one is actually a small investment that can function for many years, if maintained properly. Some factors may raise the price of a septic system, such as a soil that does not have sufficient drainage. Do a survey of all excavation companies in your vicinity to get the best price for the digging.
- Composting toilet: Human waste can be recycled and used as a fertilizer for your miniature farm, as a compost. Composting toilet will do the work for about $1,900 if you buy one, or $100 if you build the system by yourself. If you have several toilets, you can invest in a large system for the price of $10,000 or more.
Day-to-day expanses should also be added to the calculations. Once you have the land, the buildings and the equipment, there is the monthly cost to ensure that everything keeps running smoothly. The entire cost can add up to $1000 a month, and it includes:
- Maintenance of your existing power, water and farming systems, to ensure their longevity.
- Taxes and insurances are personal expenses that everyone must pay.
- Food to add to your crops and livestock. Things like salt, condiments, sugar and so forth cannot be grown in your garden and must be purchased.
- Household items that run out and need to be replaced with time, from soaps and batteries to light bulbs and tool.
- The Internet is a modern day necessity, not a luxury. You would probably want to stay updated about the outside world, get useful information and communicate with others. See more in a later chapter about off-grid communication and Internet.
For much more detailed review on all the costs, please refer to my article on how much living off the grid costs.
Is It Legal to Live off the Grid?
The expression “living off the grid” has an almost criminal tone to it in a daily lingo, but in reality it’s far from being anything menacing and illegal. You are not running away from the authorities, you are simply establishing a clean and independent way of living.
Strictly speaking, living off the grid is not illegal in most English-speaking counties, such as the USA and Canada. In some parts, it’s even encouraged. However, you do have to abide by local regulations, especially zoning and taxing laws. Your house must have running water and electricity.
As you already can see, the government of any modern country does not prevent you from living off the grid. But it also does not want you living without any access to electrical power, water and sanitization systems. And it definitely demands you pay your taxes and build your house according to the established regulations, just like every other citizen.
Let’s review what various countries’ laws are saying regarding the off-grid living.
The United States of America has always been the symbol of pioneering and free lifestyle. If you choose to live off the grid, you will be persecuted. Nonetheless, there are a few quite important laws and limitations to be familiar with, if you wish to live legally.
- Taxation: Simply put, you must pay taxes if you wish to be left alone. There are property taxes for the land and the buildings on it. There are also taxes for those who provide livestock, crops and various services for the living.
- Zoning codes: Wherever you move, get yourself familiar with the demands that your new home must meet. There are many building codes, minimal footage requirement, rainwater harvesting limitations, and so forth.
- Hunting and fishing: You need permits for these. Some creatures are allowed to be hunted only during specific seasons, according to their biological nature.
- Sewage: You are not allowed to dispose it anywhere you like. This can harm the environment and is completely illegal. This is why you will need to install your own septic system, including buried septic tanks.
For more detailed information, please read my article on whether or not living off the grid is legal in USA.
It’s perfectly legal to live off the grid in Canada. However, like in many other places, you are restricted by a few reasonable demands from the local authorities. For instance, you can’t just live in an eco-friendly tiny house without following basic building codes. Some detectors and ventilation are a must. If you refuse to install them, the law will get you.
Additionally, you are not allowed to place your house just anywhere, or worse – decide to live in the woods. Canada has no squatter rights. You can’t occupy someone else’s lot; you must own the land under your off-grid home. Paying taxes is also a must.
For more detailed information, please read my article on the legality of living off the grid in Canada.
The biggest issue with living off the grid in the United Kingdom is a planning permission. However, you do not always have to get one. If you live in a yurt or a caravan, then it’s OK to get by without the permission. A permanent dwelling place does require contacting the UK Planning Permission System.
All in all, remember if you wish for your off-grid life to remain legal and harassment-free, always get planning permission whenever you’re expanding an existing house or building a new one.
For more detailed information, please read my article on living off the grid in UK.
Where are the Best Places to Live off the Grid?
Now that you know what it takes to start the off-grid life, you are probably wondering: what is the best location for it?
The top ten best places in the world to live off the grid are:
- Alaska, USA
- Alberta, Canada
- British Columbia, Canada
- Arizona, USA
- Florida, USA
- Missouri, USA
- United Kingdom
- Vieques, Puerto Rico
- Raoul Island, New Zealand
Let’s elaborate what makes these places the primary candidates for establishing your off-grid homestead.
Alaska is the perfect candidate for off grid living. It’s mostly untouched, very quiet and peaceful. Living off the grid is completely legal there, as long as you follow the local laws. Alaska is full with many lakes and streams, which noticeably improves your off-the-grid situation. You can buy a lot with a cabin already built on it, with cabin sizes (and prices, accordingly) ranging from small to large. As for taxation, it’s the lowest among all American states.
There is much more useful information in my article on living off the grid in Alaska.
Specifically, we are talking here about the region next to the Canadian part of Rocky Mountains. Settling to live off the grid there rewards you with great crop growing, since the soil is fertile and the plants are defended from the cold winds thanks to the nearby mountains. Other areas in Alberta are less than ideal for off grid living, because of the weather conditions and high influx of tourists.
You can get more information about Alberta and other Canadian provinces and territories in my article on the best places to live off the grid in Canada.
British Columbia, Canada
British Columbia is another excellent place for off grid living, especially the Okanagan Valley. It’s known for its welcoming climate, forests, lakes, good soil for crops and small settlements with supportive communities. This is a terrific location to start your new life among the nature.
The land prices in the northern portion of Arizona are particularly low. The weather conditions allow to safely grow the crops and run your off-the-grid house and farm. There are less water sources nearby, though, so make sure that the lot you purchase definitely has one.
There are more attractive places in the USA, so feel free to see the list in my post on the best states for off grid living in the USA.
Thanks to its remoteness and abundance of space, Australia has become a world known destination for off grid living. Self-sufficient and creative folks frequently choose this country to start their off-the-grid life. With the right permits, you can settle literally anywhere. As always, you will have to grow your own food, generate your own power (from the sun or the wind) and use a nearby water source.
There are several established off the grid communities in Australia, and you can see their list in my post on living off grid in Australia.
Florida is a terrific choice to settle and live off the grid. You don’t have to worry about the legality, and you can install whatever clean energy generator you wish. The area is full with natural water sources, as well as trees that can be used for timber.
Living off the grid is actually encouraged and supported by the local government. You are even allowed to collect rainwater. The land is very suitable to establish a farm, and the weather comes to your aid, too. Humid summers and wild winters are great for both livestock and plants.
Here is a firsthand testimony about the advantages of having an off-grid homestead in Missouri:
The UK can be another favorable location to live off the grid. The off-the-grid movement is on the rise, with more and more British citizens joining this free and eco-friendly way of life. This means that you can find established off grid communities and locations to start your own home. Try settling in a woodland that can provide you with good soil and timber. A fresh water source is also a must.
There is much more to learn about the off grid living in this country, so I invite you to check out my article on living off the grid in the UK.
Vieques, Puerto Rico
A beautiful, paradise-like island. Its seclusion and slow-flowing life make it an enticing option for off grid living. The population is not dense at all, living you enough space and free fertile soil to carve your own off-grid niche in this gorgeous location.
Places like this and many others have communities that welcome newcomers. I have made a list of worldwide off-grid communities, feel free to check it out.
Raoul Island, New Zealand
New Zealand is another beautiful location and a highly recommended destination to start your off-the-grid life. Raoul Island is especially suitable for this lifestyle, as it offers great soil, abundant water sources and breathtaking natural views.
There are more outstanding places like these around the world, see their full list in my article on the best places around the globe to live off the grid.
How to Generate Power off the Grid
We are now about to address the very heart of the off-grid life: producing clean and independent energy.
There are 3 major ways to generate off-the-grid power:
- Solar panels: Using the sun power is a popular way to produce free energy.
- Hydropower: If you’re living near a river, you can convert the water’s movement into electricity.
- Wind power: A wind turbine can supply electricity all year long.
Let’s talk about these three in more details.
Solar panels are the well-known signs of an off the grid house. Sun is free, it’s everywhere, and its rays can be used to produce clean electricity. The photovoltaic cells of a panel are where the sun’s photons release electrons from the atoms, thus creating an electrical flow.
A solar panel system is easy to install and maintain. It usually has the following components:
- Several solar panels
Solar panels are the ones where the DC electricity is produced. How many do you need to place on your roof or near the house? First, you will need to calculate the total sum of your electrical load, by adding each and every appliance’s consumption needs. Then, you’ll need to divide this number by a single panel’s output. Round up the number you get, and this is the minimal number of panels you’ll have to wire to your electrical setup.
A battery is a much needed addition to the setup, it stores excess power for all those dark, rainy and cloudy days. In some regions you are able to sell excess electricity to the local grid, making a few bucks while saving on your electrical bills.
And since the photovoltaic cells produce a direct current (DC) electricity, you will probably need to convert it into AC. Most of modern devices and appliances run only by AC electricity. An inverter will take care of this problem. It will take DC from panels or battery and transform it into AC.
Solar polar require periodic maintenance. If the rain does not occasionally wash them, a layer of dust accumulates on the panel, reducing its productivity. Which is why it is advised to wash the solar panels from time to time. Use warm water when cleaning the panels, since a cold water on a hot surface can damage them.
There is more to read on different solar setups, and at this point I would like to direct you to my article about off grid VS on grid solar systems. It covers the difference and advantages of several popular setups that you should decide on before installing the panels.
Living nearby a water stream, however small it is, opens the possibility of using hydropower, i.e. transforming the movement of water into electricity. A typical hydropower system has a waterwheel or a turbine. The water spins the turbine, and the turning motion is translated into electrical power.
An alternator or a generator is the part responsible for the aforementioned transformation. The produced electricity is DC, so you either have to purchase devices and appliance operated by DC electricity, or attach an inverter that will perform another transformation, making DC into AC electricity.
When testing whether or not the stream you have is strong enough to power up your household, always remember that the water flow depends on seasons. It can be weaker or stronger in different portions of the year. Calculate the water flow in the weakest season, just to be safe.
Please check out my article on off-grid hydropower that teaches how to measure your water flow and estimate whether or not it meets your power needs.
If your off-grid lot’s topography and climate allow it, you can harness the wind power. An electrical system run by the wind power is eco-friendly and quite efficient. It saves you money in the long run, as well as keep providing electricity even during outages and blackouts.
The heart of a wind power system is the wind turbine. The turbine is spun by the wind, and this movement is translated into electricity, just like in the case of the hydropower mentioned earlier. More advanced systems even have an overspeed component, which takes over whenever the wind is too strong.
How can you know whether or not your area is suitable to harness the wind power? You will need to check a few resources in order to get an assessment on just how reliable the winds in your region are. One good source for such an information is the data supplied by the American Department of Energy on the WINDExchange website. Additionally, you can contact a local airport, they most certainly have the historical data regarding the wind patterns in your neighborhood.
Knowing where to erect the wind turbine is another challenge. The wind turbine needs to be at least 30 feet higher than any other structure or natural formation in its vicinity. Trees, mountains and building might obstruct it and reduce the received wind power. So your property should have the appropriate location that meets all these demands.
I have more useful information on installing wind turbines and calculating their power output, which I share in a separate article about off-grid wind power.
Off-Grid Water and Sanitation
Getting water as well as taking care of sewage is at the very center of living off the grid. You need to learn how to receive your water and how to remove used greywater.
Living off the grid requires having a reliable water source for these purposes:
- Cleaning and laundry
Since all of these things are essential to run a stable off-grid house, we will cover all the possible water sources your house can have, as well as the topic of sewage and sanitation.
Off Grid Water Sources
There are several off-the-grid water sources for your disposal:
- Natural (wild) water: Living near a natural stream is always a plus. You can re-route some of it to your house using pumps.
- Well: A well requires some initial investment, which I mentioned earlier. This water source is plentiful and reliable. Keep in mind that the well water can taste different from time to time. This is due to the local weather that changes over the year and affects which minerals get into the water.
- Rainwater: Rainwater usually comes in large amounts, and with proper filtration can complement your water supply. Some people use it only for livestock and irrigation. However, the rain might not come for weeks, so don’t rely on this method to supply you with water 365 days a year.
- Stored water: You can always purchase a large tank to store water in or near your house, no matter what source it came from. This can function as an addition to the sources listed above.
Filtration and Purification
Even if the water seems clear, it must be filtered and treated. A proper purification system should take care of the pathogens, pollutants and bacteria that lurk in the water.
There are quite a few options and methods to treat natural water. Some of them do not filter, others do not disinfect. Here is the list of the most common options:
- Boiling: does not filter, disinfects
- Bio-filters: filters, does not disinfect
- Chemical: does not filter, disinfects
- Ceramic: filters and disinfects
- UV system: does not filter, disinfects
- Distillation: filters and disinfects
Making your water drinkable is an aspect of both off the grid living and survival. I thoroughly cover this entire subject in my post on best ways to purify water.
Dealing with Greywater and Blackwater
If you don’t wish to face severe health issues while living off the grid, then taking care of sanitation should be among your priorities. There are two types of used water that must be processed.
- Greywater’s source is showers, washing machines and sinks. It’s possible to recycle it and use again. For instance, it can be re-used to flush a toilet, or water your garden.
- Blackwater’s source is toilets and dishwaters. It contains too many pathogens and dangerous bacteria. Therefore, it needs to go into the ground. A blackwater sewage can be treated by a composting toilet, cesspit or septic tank system.
Naturally, the information provided here is basic. There is much more to learn about off grid water and sanitation before tackling these issues, which is why I posted a detailed article on off-grid septic system and sanitation.
There is no greater pleasure than consuming the food you grew by yourself. Contrary to what you might think, living off the grid does not demand having a huge lot, like a big farm. You can have a small garden where you grow vegetables and fruits, as well as a spot where you raise livestock.
Off grid farming can be done by following these steps:
- Checking the soil health
- Using compost and no-till gardening
- Supplying plants with irrigation
- Growing crops
- Storing seeds and crops
- Supplying livestock with feed
- Calculating the workload
Let’s get into more details on each of these steps.
Checking the Soil Health
This is the first thing to do before you attempt any sowing and planting. A lack of healthy soil can kill the plants. You can test your soil by simply scooping it with your palm and trying to form it into a ball.
- Clay soil: If you get a sticky ball, then you got clay soil. It drains too slowly and compacts too easily, which makes it a bad candidate for planting because soil needs aeration.
- Sandy soil: If the soil sample crumbles and seems granular, then it’s a sandy soil. Although its aeration is quite good and the soil is highly permeable, it’s also infertile and dry.
- Loam: If the ball in your hand seems loose and fluffy, it’s a loam, a balance combination of clay, slit and sail. This type of soil is great for farming, since it retains nutrients and water, while still providing necessary aeration and drainage.
Once you assess the composition of your soil, you will know what adjustments are needed to be made to enjoy good crops, such as providing more nutrients or controlling the irrigation accordingly.
Using Compost and No-till Gardening
No-till gardening means that you allow the decomposition of the old organic matter, which becomes the next layer of soil. This is a very sustainable method, in the spirit of clean off-the-grid life. You plant the crops into this new layer. When you’re not tilling the soil, you ensure that the worms and the bacteria below continue doing their hard work.
By sticking to this method, you make your garden more productive over the time. Furthermore, the unwelcome weeds get pushed further down and become less frequent with time.
You can also make a compost pile that consists of any organic scraps and natural debris. Adding compost to the soil greatly improves the crops.
Here is a great video that explains everything about no-till gardening:
Supplying Plants with Irrigation
Plants cannot grow without water. However, you can’t expect to stand and water the plants 24/7. You can redirect water from a natural stream. You can install one of the popular irrigation systems, such as overhead irrigation or drip-tape irrigation.
Use gravity and topography to your advantage, work with a sloping lands, otherwise you’ll need to install a pump. A pump is an additional investment and requires frequent maintenance.
Deciding what to grow, after you check the soil and learnt about no-till, demands careful investigation. Find out what usually grows in this area. Ask other people who grow crops nearby, or research the history of this region.
Afterwards, check your personal preferences. It’s always better to start growing food that you actually like, before you become accustomed to the food that you’re less familiar with, yet it grows well in this soil. Your crop rotation should include different types of plants, to maintain the soil’s balance as well as to stay healthier as you consume wide variety of nutrients and vitamins.
Here are the categories of the crops you can grow.
- Fruit and nut trees: This can take a while (usually years) to give any fruit, so plant them first and be patient. They also make noticeable shadow, so know where to plant them. Don’t deny the sun from other crops that are planted nearby.
- Berries: A berry patch is a great addition to your miniature farm. These are perennial plants that can give you berries for years.
- Vegetables: A large, tasty and nutritious group of plants. Know how to rotate between them, which seasons they prefer, which demand more water and which produce more crops.
- Herbs: Another terrific addition to your garden. Herbs can be used to add flavor to your food, as well to heal some ailments. Grow herbs near your kitchen, so that you can grab them quickly to add to your meals.
- Grains: Unlike what people tend to say, grains can actually be grown quite easily. Plant them in a spot that receives a lot of sun. Grains can be used to make bread and other tasty food.
Storing Seeds and Crops
This is another basic and highly significant part of the off-grid farming. Naturally, you won’t be able to eat all your vegetables during the summer – but you also won’t be able to grow more of them in the winter. It’s advisable to can excess produce, make it into paste or dry it. This way you can enjoy soups, salads and sandwiches even when your garden rests during the cold seasons.
Preserved food should be stored in dark and shaded places, such as a pantry or a cellar, far away from windows and ovens. Canning involves either a pressure method or a boiling pot method. Don’t forget to label the cans after sealing them.
Washed and dried seeds should also be stored in a dark place, preferably in a sealed jar. Saving seeds to plant them later saves you money and strengthens your sense of independence.
Supplying Livestock with Feed
If you have animals, you will save tons of money by growing their food on your lot. To stay healthy, livestock requires nutritious food. You can sow oats, wheat and rye, among other crops, for your animals to consume.
If you plan to eat their meat, know that animals that feed on fruits and vegetables (and not just grains or even chemicals and preservatives) grow to be much healthier. Some people grow additional vegetables especially for the livestock’s feed.
Table scraps can also be a great idea, just make sure they are safe for the animals. When you’re cutting the lawn, give your goats the brush. You can even share canned vegetables with the pigs. There are many ways to keep your animals happy and healthy throughout their lives.
Calculating the Workload
Knowing what amount of workload to anticipate is a large part of the farming endeavor. Prepare yourself to face at least two years of difficult and somewhat chaotic work. Mistakes will be made and failures will be met, but it’s all a part of a natural process.
While preparing, keep in mind that the spring/summer period will be significantly busier than the rest of the year. You will have to allocate more time, energy and resources. Food harvesting and preservation demands more time than the usual maintenance.
If you have other chores and tasks around the house, farming might put additional strain on you. Ask family members or even outside people to land you a hand.
Nonetheless, after all the hard work is done, off-grid farming will reward your copiously. The following years will be much easier and less frustrating.
If you wish to learn more about this topic, I have a detailed article on how to grow your own food.
Off-Grid Communication and Internet
Living off the gird often means living in a rural and remote area. This can make communicating and using the Internet somewhat challenging. But don’t worry, there are several quite accessible solutions.
The most reliable ways to communicate and get online when you’re living off the grid are:
- Cell phone
- Satellite communication
- Personal hotspot
- Ham radio
I will now explain what all of these mean and how you can use them.
Communication and Internet, as provided by a cell phone, is the popular choice in this day and age. Even if your off grid location is quite removed from the bustling civilization, the chances are that there are cell towers not far from you.
A cell phone has a few obvious advantages to the communication devices I will list below. It’s light and portable, can be easily recharged, the costs are relatively low, and you can use it as a hotspot to provide the Internet to other devices and people. Just make sure that your area is covered by one of the main carriers, and you’re good to go.
If a cell tower is too far from you and no hotspot can be reached, a satellite communication and Internet are a great option. Satellites cover large portions of the world, even the farthest off-grid houses. Satellite companies can get you high-speed Internet for a relatively low price, and even include satellite television in the bundle.
Bear in mind that satellite connection can be influenced by weather and hours of the day. Its quality somewhat drops when the sky is cloudy. Some communication apps, like Skype or WhatsApp, seem to be laggy when used over the satellite connection.
With the right equipment, you can get your entire household connected and online. You will need to choose a reliable wireless provider. Your personal hotspot, in combination with a Wi-Fi antenna and an amplifier, will then provide the Internet to every device in the house – phones, tablets, laptops, and so on.
You can read more detailed information about this and similar methods to get online in my article about off grid Internet.
While a landline can seem outdated these days, there are obvious advantages to this solution. In some cases, cell and satellite communications might not be available. A landline will still work, since it relies on phone lines and can work even when the other grids and connections are down.
It also does not rely on a cell tower for a signal, and does not experience congestions. A landline can serve any area that is too remote to have a wireless connection.
A ham radio might seem dated as well, but it’s affordable and can serve you when all other options fail. You can even use it as an Internet connection. It won’t be strong enough for videos and games, but you can rely on it to send messages, emails and documents.
Ham radio can function as a backup for extreme circumstances. During emergencies, when other sources of communication are down, it can be used to contact the outside world.
You can read more detailed information about this and similar methods to communicate in my article about off grid communication.
How to Live off the Grid in a Vehicle
You might decide that living off the grid in a house is not affordable at the moment, or simply wish to take this off-the-grid adventure on the road. In this case, consider tasting the freedom while living off the grid in an RV or a van. You might ask, how is this possible and what needs to be done?
If you’re living off the grid in an RV or a van, these are the things you need to take care of:
- Vehicle selection and equipment
- Electric setup
- Water and sewage
- Washing and showering
- Earning money
Let’s extend these topics and discuss them further.
Vehicle Selection and Equipment
If you decide to go for an RV, also known as a motorhome (definitions sometimes overlap), choose one that perfectly fits your needs and the size of your group/family. You can either buy an RV or rent it, if you don’t wish to invest a lot at the beginning, but rather take one for a test.
There are 3 major RV types, as described in the following table:
Since you plan to live off the grid in an RV, make sure it includes the following facilities that can make your life on the road much better:
- Water tank that can connect to an external water system for a refill
- Kitchen with at least a sink, a fridge and basic cooking appliances
- Slide outs, to enlarge the RV size
- Security lock to protect the RV when you’re leaving
- Basement storage for outdoor chairs, tables, bicycles, and so forth
- Sleeping area large enough to accommodate all members of your group
- Dining/seating area
A suitable RV must include everything that makes it into a complete household. You can read much more on this in my article on self-contained RV.
Choosing a van is a somewhat easier task, since due to its size, it cannot contain most of the things mentioned earlier. A van should have enough room for sleeping area, as well as storage for every necessary item of your daily activity, such as cooking items, personal hygiene items, first aid kit, books and entertainment, etc.
Living in a van is an art and a science, and it’s tough to cover every aspect of this lifestyle in a couple of paragraphs. Which is why I would like to direct you to my comprehensive article on how to live off the grid in a van.
It goes without saying that your budget for the off-grid vehicle should include periodic maintenance as well as insurance, just like any other car would demand.
Your devices, such as TV, laptop, fridge and mobile phone, can be powered by 12V 220Ah batteries. Just a couple of them is enough to supply power and turn your off-grid vehicle into a real home. You can re-charge the batteries using solar panels that can be installed on the roof.
Should the weather currently be rainy or cloudy, a split charge relay will come to your rescue. This addition to your electrical system will use the working engine to keep charging the batteries whenever the sun is temporarily unavailable.
When you reach a campsite, make sure it can supply you with electrical hookups. You can safely recharge your van or RV from an electrical hookup and use the supplied power during your stay. Some campsites offer their services for free, while others charge a fee.
An alternative solution to hookups and panels is a portable power station. It’s a very smart investment that can reliably supply you with electricity whether you’re on the road or camping. See more information in my article on the best portable power stations.
Water and Sewage
This applies most to an RV, since you probably won’t have any shower or toilet in a van. A complete, self-contained RV contains a large water tank for all your washing needs, and also greywater and blackwater tanks for waste and used water.
The aforementioned campsites usually have both water hookups to refill your regular water tank, as well as a dumping station. Whatever blackwater and greywater you have, dump it only in the dumping station and nowhere else, to avoid harming the environment. Although you’re on the road, it’s still a good idea to remain as green and eco-friendly as possible.
Your mobile off the grid vehicle needs a spot to park for the night or even several days. There are many spots that offer parking, either free or for a minimal fee:
- Camping sites
- Truck stops
- Rest areas
- Walmart parking
- Churches and temples parking
- Casino parking
- Repair shops
Washing and Showering
A well-equipped RV already comes with a shower and other washing installations. It’s more challenging to tend to your personal hygiene if you’re living in a van. However, some simple solutions exist:
- Natural bodies of water, such as lakes, waterfalls and streams, as well as beaches. Some beaches have public showers, too.
- Rinse kit, which is a camping shower you can use outdoors. Some come with a solar option to give you a hot shower.
- Gyms are also an available alternative, some of them run 24 hours a day. You are required to have a membership, though.
- Friends and acquaintances are a good option. It never hurts to befriend a few people who would occasionally let you shower and wash your clothes.
Here are a few creative ways for moneymaking while living in a van or an RV:
- Delivery: Working in deliveries is a doable option, thanks to the constant rise in online shopping. Companies like Walmart and Amazon are always looking for more people to deliver their items.
- Seasonal work: There are seasonal jobs all over the country in such industries as commercial fishing, farming, security jobs, theme parks, and so on. Furthermore, if you’re in the Western part of the USA, you can join a crew that fights wildfires.
- Temp agencies: A temporary job is a good way to make money, so visit a few temp agencies in the nearby area.
- Working from home: If you have Internet and a computer, you can work from the vehicle. There are tons of work for people with various skills. Check out sites like Upwork and Fiverr. You can also make a living as an affiliate marketer, promoting others’ products and services and earning commission. Even consider starting a blog and a YouTube channel, where you share your experiences while living off the grid in a van. You will earn income from the ads seen by the visitors and viewers.
How to Live off the Grid in the City
Living off the grid does not always require moving to a village or your own lot near the nature. It’s quite possible to live off the grid while still remaining in the city. You’re probably wondering whether or not this contradicts the whole idea of being off the grid. Allow me to put your mind at ease.
Living off the grid in the city requires the following:
- Producing off-the-grid electrical power
- Harvesting and saving water
- Using wood instead of gas
- Growing your own food
- Recycling water waste
Let’s get into more details on each and every one of these topics.
Producing Off-the-grid Electrical Power
Solar energy is probably the one way to generate off-grid power in the city. You many even create extra power that can be sold back to the city.
I have covered earlier the topic of solar panels. They are not different than those you use in the rural areas. However, make sure you have the access to the roof and enough space for the panels. You can even install them on the ground, as long as there is nothing nearby that might harm them.
Remember that your solar energy system must have a battery. It will supply electricity to all your house appliances even when it’s not being charged (during the dark or cloudy portions of the day).
If you’re limited by the space or have to move the panels to catch the sunrays, then you should really go for portable solar panels.
Harvesting and Saving Water
Living in the city prevents you from drilling a well or having an access to a natural water stream. Nonetheless, other off-the-grid methods can be applied.
For instance, you can harvest rainwater. I discussed this method earlier in the article. Always make sure you have the permit for the rainwater harvesting. The surfaces that collect the rain must be clean and non-toxic, and the water will have to be purified. I would like to direct you once again to my post on harvesting rainwater for much more detailed explanation.
If you’re not 100% off the grid and you use the urban water pipes, it’s OK as well. Consider using a few popular methods that will save water, such as:
- Reducing shower time
- Recycling water from the bath and the sinks into the garden
- Making sure your faucets and showerheads do not drip
- Installing showerheads and faucets that reduce the water usage
Using Wood Instead of Gas
If you’re living off the grid, you wouldn’t want to rely on gas pipes. Get a wood stove instead, preferably an eco-friendly one. This way you will produce significantly less emissions.
If your house is well insulated, using a wood burning stove saves you money. Bigger stoves can take care of any needs you have:
- Room heating
- Under-floor heating
- Boiler Heating
Growing Your Own Food
I have covered the types of plants you can grow in the “Off Grid Farming” chapter: herbs, fruits, vegetables, berries, nuts and grain. As long as your off-grid house has a place for a garden, you should really start one. As always, test the soil’s health and rotate between the crops throughout the year.
You can even raise animals, but being in the city does limit your choices. You most will be able to have chickens, since bigger mammals and birds require a lot of space and sometimes a nearby pasture.
As for chickens, all they need is a coop and some space next to it. They mostly require shaded shelter and a spot for a dust bath. They consume fresh water, food that includes protein and calcium, and also bugs that they catch in the grass. Their poop can even be reused as a fertilizer for the garden.
Recycling Water Waste
A typical household creates two types of used water:
- Greywater from showers, sinks, bath, washing machines, etc.
- Blackwater from toilets.
If you wish to run an eco-friendly house while living off the grid in the city, you can treat and recycle this water waste by any of the following methods.
- Greywater system: Greywater can be re-used, which will also save you money. You can rig your sinks and showers to deliver used water to the toilet and the garden.
- Composting toilet: This type of toiler does not use water and plumbing. The blackwater and human waste are recycled as a compost. This method can also save a lot of money in the long run.
- Septic system: The waste water can be drained to a septic tank, where the solids eventually break down. The installation of a septic system is usually approved by the local authorities.
- Lagoon: If the soil does not filter the wastewater, you can use earthen basins known as lagoons. It’s more difficult to get a permission for a lagoon, so find out whether they are permitted before you install one.
I have a much more detailed article that covers this topic, feel free to read more on living off the grid in the city.
There you have it, the most comprehensive guide to off-the-grid living in one big article. I made sure to include links to additional articles that expand every topic I listed above.
Living off the grid is a liberating adventure, one that requires discipline, work and some investment. But it also gives back tenfold, transforming your life into a much better experience. Armed with the right knowledge, you can eventually overcome whatever challenges may come your way.
I have one final recommendation. My blog is also dedicated to survival and camping. These subjects have a lot in common with off grid life. You need to possess many similar skills and gear. Which is why I would like to point out a few articles that can make your off grid living much easier.
There are a few useful skills you can learn from my article about basic survival skills; these can help you when you live off the grid in a distant area.
Throughout this guide I frequently mentioned items that you would need for your farming and daily activities. There are additional tools that can greatly assist you in your off-grid life. Check out my article on best survival gadgets and best multi-tools, they can help you in a large multitude of tasks and chores.
There are tons of helpful information on my blog, I sincerely hope you bookmark it and come back to find more answers to whatever questions you’ll have in the future.
I wish you best of luck in your new off grid life!