My husband and I recently bought a piece of property with some family members in the hope of transitioning to off-grid living. For those who might not be familiar with the concept, going off-grid means creating a lifestyle that does not rely on public utilities (water, electricity, et cetera).
There are many different reasons people choose to go off-grid. Some of the most popular reasons are:
- to decrease environmental impact,
- to prepare for disaster, or
- a desire to be independent and self-sustained.
We jumped into our endeavor with almost no knowledge or experience. We have had to learn some things the hard way. While I would not trade the experience for anything, there are some things that I wish we had known from the start. Here is a list of tips I can offer to help make the transition to off-grid living a bit easier.
- Have a backup plan.When we switched to off-grid living, we thought switching to a solar system would be a relatively quick and easy process. We expected we’d soon have all the modern conveniences at our fingertips, but we were wrong. In the beginning, we had to use a generator to charge the batteries when the solar panels were not collecting enough sun. (I will talk later about buying extra supplies.) A camp cooler was our refrigerator for nearly a year before we had enough solar equipment to run a real refrigerator. We still do laundry at the laundromat. To have a washing machine would require we expand our system And we still do not have a television.Starting small is not a bad thing. However, the key is to be prepared. If you plan to buy property and cannot afford to buy all the off-grid equipment at once, perhaps look into a piece of land that has utility hookups available to make the transition easier. We chose land with no hookups, so our transition was a bit rough. However, starting with nothing has made us realize how much we can live without.
- Have a flexible budget.Before we started building on our property, we had a certain amount of money set aside for each expense. Like fools, we thought we had everything figured out and were pretty proud of our budgeting skills. As you would expect, we went over budget on almost everything. Drilling a well? Buying a solar-powered system? That stuff is expensive anyway. However, when you find out you will need more than you thought, it is quite a blow to morale.We live on a mountain that has quite a few natural springs. So, we figured we would not have to drill our well very deep before striking “gold”. (Let’s be honest; fresh well water is as good as gold.) Unfortunately, we ended up having to drill over 100 feet deeper than planned, which added up to several thousand dollars extra. As for solar power, we did our research and found a reputable supplier. They gave us a quote for the equipment we would need to run our appliances. As you might have guessed, we needed more power than our equipment could supply, which meant having to spend more money.
- Start small.Given that things usually end up costing more than anticipated, my recommendation is to start small as you build your off-grid system. Also, since there is so much trial and error that goes into the transition to off-grid living, buying all the best equipment right away can be pretty risky. It’s easy to accidentally drain your batteries beyond repair. If that happens, your decision to start with a lower grade setup and requirement to replace certain components will hurt less if you don’t start with a “Cadillac” system.When we switched to off-grid living, we also made the transition to tiny home living. Without a large house to power, the small square footage has helped save money on our solar system and has made it so we can be self-sustaining sooner than if we had tried to go off-grid in a large house.
- Get familiar with solar power.Setting up and running a solar system is not too complicated. But there is quite a learning curve, when it comes to planning and buying the equipment. Be prepared to have to buy more batteries and/or panels than you thought you’d need. Cold weather can impact your batteries’ ability to hold power. Obviously, cloudy days will affect how much sun your panels absorb. Having extra of both will help keep your power supply where you need it to be.It’s also a good idea to check all of your smaller appliances for how much power they use, and keep a running total of watts/volts. Anything that has to heat up to operate, such as a coffee maker or toaster, draws more power than you might expect. On the other hand, some televisions and gaming systems draw very little! Knowing all of this before you get a quote for a system will save you a headache or two down the road.
- Invest in products that do not use electricity.To lighten the load on our solar system, we bought an off-grid oven that runs on propane and uses a C battery. Regular natural gas ovens can be converted to run on propane. (Please have a professional do the conversion, as it can be very bad if done wrong.) However, most gas ovens will still use some electricity to ignite the flame and regulate the oven temperature. The battery in our oven takes care of those things and will last about three years before it needs to be replaced.We also bought a camping “toaster”, which we use on our stovetop, a portable solar charger for our phones, a French press to make our coffee, and tap lights to use during winter when daylight and solar power are both in short supply.
- Do the necessary research on local regulations for human waste and gray water.We moved to a rural area that has pretty lax building codes. But we soon found out that the health department is not quite as forgiving. Most areas have strict regulations regarding runoff of gray water (relatively clean waste water from baths, sinks, washing machines, et cetera) and human waste disposal. We failed to do the proper research and spent weeks in the August heat digging an outhouse that we couldn’t use. Oops!Composting toilets are a good alternative to an outhouse, and they smell much better. Some fancy composting toilets can cost around a thousand dollars, while simpler models run a couple hundred. Or, you can build your own! (LINK 1)
- Make friends with the locals.If you are moving to a new area, this is a necessity. If you are not relocating, it is still a good idea to network with people who already have an off-grid system. You want to pick their brains on what has and has not worked for them. We have made some pretty good friends here, who are like-minded when it comes to self-sustainability. They have been invaluable resources.We have received tips on how to garden in the tricky mountain soil and short growing season and how to keep out pests that we never imagined would be a problem. Our new local friends directed us where to go locally for quality supplies and who to hire for labor. When it comes to new areas, there is only so much you can learn on your own!
- Dig a root cellar.A root cellar is a hole in the ground where you can store vegetables, fruits, cheeses, and any other food that requires cool temperatures to stay fresh. Since refrigerators only have so much space, and larger models require more power than smaller models, a root cellar can be a way to decrease your solar needs. Remember how I said we used a camping cooler? We would have been much better off having a root cellar from the beginning and not having to buy ice every few days.If you plan to have your own garden, this should be a priority. If stored properly, some vegetables harvested in summer can last throughout the winter in a root cellar! This option for food storage greatly increases your self-sustainability and can also shrink your grocery budget.
- Plan on using alternative methods of climate control.When going off-grid, temperature regulation of your home can be tricky. Air conditioning is a massive strain on a solar-powered system, as are electric heaters. Investing in newer, insulated windows and doors as well as window treatments can help immensely.We do not have air conditioning, but we do have strategically placed windows to create a cross breeze in the summer evenings when temperatures are low. During the day, we close our windows and blinds to keep the heat from creeping in. In the winter months, we heat with a woodstove and keep the blinds closed to keep the heat from escaping.
- Do It Yourself.The Internet is full of ideas and tutorials to make off-grid life a bit more manageable. Want to heat water without draining your batteries or using propane? Build a solar water heater! (LINK 2) Sick at the thought of how much solar power it takes to run an air conditioner? Build your own! (LINK 3) There are even tutorials on how to make a bicycle-powered washing machine!Not only can DIY projects make life easier, they can also be good for the environment. Plastic bottles, aluminum cans, scrap metal, and lots of other materials can be repurposed in DIY projects. Anything that uses less electricity is good, but recycling materials at the same time is even better!
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been another entry for Round 70 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate that is good for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,195 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper with a hammer forged, chrome-lined barrel and a hard case to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel, which can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools and a compact carry capability in a hard case or 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- An infrared sensor/imaging camouflage shelter from Snakebite Tactical in Eureka, Montana (A $350+ value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value).
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- A pre-selected assortment of military surplus gear from CJL Enterprize (a $300 value),
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site, and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A custom made Sage Grouse model utility/field knife from custom knife-maker Jon Kelly Designs, of Eureka, Montana,
- A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances,
- Montie Gear is donating a Y-Shot Slingshot and a $125 Montie gear Gift certificate.,
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value), and
Round 70 ends on May 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.