Living Off The Grid – Part 1, by V.F.

When I was a child, my mother moved to a very remote area of Eastern Washington and we lived off the grid. This was long before the term had been coined, as far as I know. The property did not have a house. We lived in a little travel trailer. We went to town once a month and did laundry at the laundromat. We boiled water from the creek to wash dishes. The creek was also our refrigerator. We ran a PVC pipe in the creek and placed a horse trough in the creek. This is where we kept drinks cold and we didn’t have to worry about them going down the mountain. I don’t remember any of it as a hardship but I was a child and the responsibilities were not mine. I did not know that much later that I too would choose to live Off the Grid.

Fast forward. I joined the Army after high school and married a man I met while I was in the Army. After we were done with our service, we relocated to his home state of Illinois and bought our first house. We worked for years, myself in retail, my husband in the medical field. We relocated again for job promotions to the Chicago area and we had a wonderful life. Then something happened. My husband and I woke up!

When I think back to when I became awake, I realize that it wasn’t something that happened overnight. It was very gradual. It took years of semi-consciousness before it happened, but when it did happen, my life changed forever. There is no going back, you can not go back to sleep, back to dreaming, back to not knowing. You can not un-know… But sometimes I wish I could. It would be so much easier to not see what is going on. Once you awaken, you realize how brainwashed and asleep nearly everyone else is! The sad part is the realization of how unwilling everyone else is to see it for themselves.

As I was sleepwalking through my life there were the occasional few who would comment about something and a little spark of life might flare up in my mind. But I would always gradually nod off again. I think to myself, thank God, some people do still try to reach out sometimes to awaken others. I remember when a friend gave me a copy of George Orwell’s novel 1984. I read it because I enjoy reading. And I found it quite disturbing. But it took years for me to realize how truly accurate the ideas in the book actually are. It was a small piece of the puzzle. I went through a long period of denial. All that are awake know what I am talking about.

When you are truly awake, you understand finally, that evil forces are alive and well, thriving really, all around you. That the stories from childhood are real, there really are big bad scary monsters out there who want to kill you any way they can and they have disguised themselves is sheep’s clothing, or should I say flashy ads. This is the fundamental truth that all people who are not awake will deny. If you tell them that corporations that make food and personal products are putting ingredients in that will eventually kill you, they will label you as a kook. If you tell them that the makers of pharmaceuticals and vaccines are trying to drug you and inject cancer into you then they will say that you are part of the problem. Being awake is like being condemned. You can no longer have many friends. They don’t have time to do the research, or to worry about these things, or the energy, or the ability to do anything. So they shrug and they laugh and they just go on sleepwalking.

Finding Our Country Place

In 2011, my husband and I decided to start a family. We had already been married for 15 years. When my mother passed in September of that year, I finally started figuring out that if you don’t have children, then what is the point of it all? We got pregnant on our first try, and so began a lot of radical changes for us. We decided to move out of Illinois, a gangster state, and move to Wisconsin, where my husband had spent the best part of his youth. When I was 9 months pregnant we found our new place. It was an Amish farm on 7 acres in a little tiny town in the middle of nowhere. This property was on a dead end gravel road. The closest gas station and grocery store were 9 miles away. When the realtor took us to see the property, I remember that it was 90 degrees F, and I figured that since no one was living in it, it would be hot and stuffy. On the contrary, it was nice and cool. It was a ranch style home with white siding but it was situated lengthwise East to West. The front of the house looked North and the back side of the home was set right up next to a wood line, so it was in perpetual shade. We knew that we wanted to have solar power, so the fact that the house was so cool without air conditioning, was a real deal maker for me.

Since it was an Amish house, the home was not wired for electricity, which fit in well for our solar power plans. The well was operated by a gas pump that had a gravity feed system to the house but we couldn’t get the makeshift plumbing to work. We could get water from the well but we had to put it into 5 gallon jugs. There was no septic system. When we sold our main residence, we planned to use the profit and built-up equity to install a septic system and plumbing in the new house as well as solar power. This home had a large root cellar and a separate pantry for storing canned goods. It also had a wood storage room connected to the house so you never had to go outside to get wood. We could pull up to the garage with a truck (or buggy) and there was a little door, about 2′ x 2′ that we could open at chest height, and we could unload our firewood right into the wood room: Genius! Garbage service was included in out taxes, once every other week. There was a huge fenced garden and the metal shed was set up, on one end, for animals. I called the shed a barn for some time until the local farmers corrected me as to the difference between a shed and a barn. We had fenced pasture and enough hardwood on the property to keep us in wood for the rest of our lifetime.

Moving In

We officially moved in that spring. We used coolers for refrigerators. We already owned a handicap porta-john that we had used on our camping property (our old bug-out location) in Illinois and we moved it up on Mother’s Day. What a gift! It was large enough that we could fit our portable shower system inside of it. When I contacted the local porta-john folks to find out how much it would cost to have ours pumped, it was $60. We figured it would last a month or so. She wound up letting us use one of her units even though we had one of our own because she felt it was easier for her. That worked out pretty well. Our extra large outhouse was just a shower room for us. We used a Zodi hot water system. It cost $500 at Gander Mountain and was worth every penny. You hook up the Zodi to a 20 gallon propane tank and a little battery, then put the cylindrical water pump into a water tank. We started out using the 5 gallon water jugs people sometimes see at the office. The pump fits in there perfectly. It is a hard thing to adjust to taking a 5 gallon shower. Even with the reduced water flow, you must get wet first. Then shut the water off and wash up. Then turn the water back on and rinse. You do not have time to shave your legs or condition your hair. You learn, in time, that if you wash your hair and let it air dry, you don’t need conditioner.

We purchased a 1.5 kilowatt solar power system from Backwoods Solar in Idaho, along with a chest style freezer and refrigerator that were built for solar power. These appliances cost a thousand each but they have extra insulation around them so they work better and consume less energy. The system had 3 panels and a 4000 watt inverter that would allow us to create a much larger system in the future if we wanted. The energy we collected from the sun was stored in forklift batteries. We had to test the batteries all the time and if I were going to do it again I would get gel cell batteries that don’t need to be tested often. We only had to run a generator about every four days or so if there was no sun. We never ran out of electricity and we never had a power outage.

Since the house was so close to the forest we ran our panels 200 feet away from the house in a field that had no trees around it. The system worked great. We only used it for the bare necessities but we could have used it for more than we did. We wired each room with one light bulb and each room had two or three outlets; all lighting was LED. We did not use the electricity for garage door openers, no plug in alarm clocks, no curling iron or blow dryers and certainly no heaters of any kind. Another thing we did to save energy was to keep everything unplugged unless it was being used. Almost everything uses energy even when it is not turned on. (“Phantom loads.”) We were able to watch television, and listen to the radio. When I needed to vacuum, I did it when the generator was running. We did use a toaster, but that is only on for a minute or so. The system we purchased cost ten thousand dollars. We probably could have gotten it less expensively if we hadn’t bought a package, but we didn’t know enough about it to piece our own kit together when we first started out.

Some Important Outhouse Talk

I feel that it is very important for me to talk about the outhouse for a little bit. For those of you that have fantasies about becoming self-sufficient, the harsh realities are just that: harsh. You can only poop in an outhouse for a couple of weeks before you discover that the poop piles up like a termite hill and that the only way to deal with it is to grab a stick and knock it over. The logistics of pooping in an outhouse are simple but it is hard to cope with mentally. The flies are many by the time you start having to knock it down and I could not stop thinking about the flies landing on me while I am using the facilities. Needless to say, I only paid to have our outhouse pumped out three times. I knew that I was not going to be able to continue this through the summer or winter. Just couldn’t do it. I need to be able to relax when I go to the bathroom and that is not possible at all with an outhouse…just forget it, ladies. Since our house had no plumbing, there was no bathroom. The master bedroom had two closets, so we converted one of the closets into the bathroom.

An Off-Grid Bathroom

Here is how you can make any small space in your house into an off the grid indoor bathroom. What you need first is a Coleman portable toilet. It is for peeing only. No more flies!!! The Coleman toilet has a mechanism for flushing with water, but it isn’t necessary. It holds a couple of gallons of pee. With three people using it, we had to empty the pee reservoir once per week. We made a pooping toilet out of a 5 gallon bucket and a toilet seat lid was purchased at Farm and Fleet. It is made to fit on a 5 gallon bucket. Put a plastic garbage bag inside, line that with another paper bag (fold the edges down to fit inside) and pour in enough sawdust to cover the bottom, then put your toilet seat lid back on and you are in business. Always cover your poop with sawdust, so that  the stink is minimal. Make a separate paper bag garbage for toilet paper. You could put that inside of a garbage can with a lid, if you like. Do not throw your toilet paper waste into either toilet. You can burn your toilet paper. Sounds gross, I know, but that is why you line your toilet paper waste can with a paper bag, so it can be burned, ince it is full. The reason for the paper bag in the pooper is to absorb excess liquid. We did burn poop for a while — yes, it can be done. But we found it much easier to bury. Make sure you have a bottle of CLR for cleaning your Coleman toilet.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)




27 Comments

  1. Re: Out House.

    Tried to find a good one stop shop link for constructing a well ventilated out house and found that it would take awhile to find the information I used in the past. Look for plans that clearly show how to ventilate the outhouse, and preferably install 2 or 3 different ways to ventilate, that so that each method can use the changes in temperatures, and in wind directions, as well as changes in seasons to best effect. A modern out house does not need to be smelly. If desperate, we could always use solar powered fan to reduce the smell and moisture as well, but a good design can use natural air flow effectively, 24/7 for years, and without maintenance.

    The pit should be at least 5 feet deep, and in soil that is easy to dig. Hopefully you can avoid clay. The out house can also be of a design that is easy to clean, and be a structure that can be dragged on it’s skids to a new location, as needed, should the pit need to be shallow. And of course, a major consideration to make, is just how big it is should be. The larger the family, the larger the out house and the pit should be. A two’ holer’ ( a two seater), means the pile below can form in two different locations in a wider and deep pit. The longer the trench, the more seats that can be installed, the longer the structure can remain in service.

    Modern designs can make the structure appear to be what it is not, perhaps a bit more homey, or perhaps it is disguised at a tool shed. However, if form can fit the function, the result will be best. Regardless of the form, put the money and effort into ventilation, and practical considerations, so that even if it will look more like what it is, you’ll be happy that it will do the best job it.

  2. It is important that people know the reality of off-grid living; it may give you freedom, but it is not an easy life for a family. Sanitation is just one issue and there are many more; just start at a younger age and go into it with a can-do attitude.

  3. Hmmm, I remember well using the old outhouse, both summer and winter, and the use of old catalogs and newspapers for you know what. I was 11 when we moved to the farm whee I grew up and it was 3 yrs before Dad was able to afford to put running water and a bathroom in. the outhouse a WPA built structure. Dad would have 1 k to 1500 gallons of water trucked in once every one to two months, depending on usage. Yes, we had a well out by the barn, but it was so loaded with iron that it would turn red when you heated the water up. Do I miss those days, yes in a way I do and then again I don’t. Being past 70 makes a lot of difference.

  4. I read 1984 in high school and college in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I remember class discussions were unanimous in a belief that it could not happen because the government could never have that kind of information and control. I graduated from a federal service academy in the early 1960s, for the last several years a number of my classmates and I have a Facebook group and have discussed that naive view and the fact that the technology is now in place that 1984 is an impending reality. We are just one election away from domestic and international 1984. 2016 was to have been that election. The population has been indoctrinated and dumbed down to the point it will not resist. God help us.

    1. Orwell’s real name was Eric Blair. He was an insider who was told the plans for us. His book was a warning. He died shortly after it’s publication and I believe he was murdered. His life is worth investigating.

  5. I’m enjoying this article about “learn as you go” off grid living. I can relate completely to your outhouse situation with the many flies. Our family cottage has gone from outhouse to porta-john 20 years ago , and hopefully to indoor plumbing this coming year.

    As a fellow Sconnie, I enjoyed the reference to Farm and Fleet (or Fleet Farm in our neck of the woods). What would we do without that place?!

    Looking forward to part 2.

  6. My grandmother had a small farm with an outhouse. It did not have flies or odor because she kept a small bag of lime in it to throw on top of the hill from time to time. Also, it was about 5 feet below ground level, as someone suggested above.

  7. In the 60’s we made a big road trip around the US visiting numerous relatives. One stop was in Eastern Oregon visiting my Mother’s Uncle. Unless my memory is flawed (quite possible) he had a 6 hole outhouse! I remember looking at that thing and thinking when would 6 people sit next to each other going to the bathroom?!

    As an adult I thought my daughter may have contracted worms on a missionary trip to Mexico. Turns out she did not but in the process of research I ran across old pictures of WPA projects building outhouses. According to my research prior to the Depression many US farms had no outhouses or indoor plumbing. People just want out on the ground (supposedly) and hook worms were a big issue.

    I now wonder if that 6 holer was a WPA build. Maybe even moved onto the farm from some public location.

  8. Great story V.F., can’t wait for part 2.

    I spent a few years in South America and for one five-month period had to take a three-gallon shower so I can empathize with you! Easier for us guys though. There was an open/shut valve right above the shower head which made it much easier. I bought a valve just like it for $4 at my local hardware store and use it on my shower today even though I don’t have to restrict myself to 3 gallons. It saves a lot of hot water.

    My grandpa told me they weren’t privacy fanatics back in his day like we are today so a two-holer outhouse was great because you could take your dear sweet time and if someone else needed to go, well, there was the other hole.

    He also told me this one: There were two cowboys sitting in a two-seater outhouse. The first one gets bored so he pulls the change out of his pocket and starts counting. The second cowboy says, “How much ya got?” First one says, “I got 54¢.” As he’s putting it back in his pocket he drops it down the hole! He cusses, stands up, gets out his wallet, pulls out a $20 and throws THAT down the hole. The second cowboy says, “What’d you do that for?!!? And the first cowboy says, “You didn’t think I was going down there for 54¢ now did you?!

  9. I built a small septic field using an old fuel oil drum, some perforated pvc and lots of coarse gravel for less than $150, backhoe fees included. A gravity/manually charged flush toilet and tub…small sink, everything has worked fine for quite awhile but it’s a low volume system…off grid…and satisfies the need for proper sanitation.

    1. Re: Hillbilly Septic System

      Four, 55 gallon drums on a single perforated 4 inch line, all covered in a layer of 2 inch drain rock, worked reliably for years with a 5 gallon per flush toilet. The less water that is used, the longer the system will hopefully continue to operate. The more drums used, allows for more decomposition to occur before it goes into the leach line, and the more drums used in the system, should collectively retain the ability decompose the waste adequately for a longer period measured in years. The cost was only a couple of hundred at most, for all the plumbing, including the toilet. Fortunately we had an excavator at that time, and could go deep below the frost line that is approximately at 4 feet in valley. It was an easier project than building a good quality outhouse.

    2. Herbert and tunnel rabbit,the cost is not in the supplies but in the perk test to be sure the system will drain properly and not contaminate the water table. Putting in a makeshift system can make your dream property(and neighbors) unliveable. Proper maintence is also a must,regular pumping(2-5 years depending on use),avoid antibacterial soap/cleaners,unnecessary antibiotics because the system works on bacteria breaking down waste. A real problem with extended time between pumpings is forgetting where the tank openings are and having to relocate them(make a map or install cleanouts(makes removing clogs easier too).
      The other option would be a composting toilet as used in rv’s or boats,urine is seperated but feces don’t have to be removed for months(they breakdown) and only require a small solar fan exhaust.

  10. We found our little slice of heaven by checking USFS maps and looking at the white squares that indicate private property. While out exploring near where we live, we went up a road where there was a lot of willows indicating springs which is very rare on the edge of the Great Basin. There were four old spring fed apple trees and it was clear that no one had ever lived there full time. It was at 6,000 feet in elevation with incredible views of mountains over 13,000 feet high. I obtained the owner’s information and called him. He had not used the property for grazing since the 1970s. He had not paid property taxes for four years. The property was zoned agricultural so property taxes on the 100 acres, surrounded by federal lands, was about $500 a year. Total cost was $10,000, ($100.00 an acre).

    Since we were carving a place out of the wilderness, we rented a Caterpillar backhoe on many occasions. We put our well on top of a hill so the solar pump would pump into two 3,000 gallon tanks. The pump, pumps at 5 gallons a minute which is 300 gallons an hour, 3,000 gallons a day in the winter. The pump automatically shuts off when the tanks are full. We have 45PSI at the house.

    I put in a septic tank and infiltrator leach system. There are a few things that I don’t like to deal with and one of them is poop. Our septic tank is sized for a large 5 bedroom house, and our cabin is 800 square feet. It may have to be pumped every 20 years, perhaps longer. It is only a few hundred dollars more to get a large septic tank.

    I originally purchased a used 2Kw solar system for $10,000 in 2004 on eBay. It was a screaming deal. I cashed in some vacation pay to pay for it. It came with two 4Kw sine wave inverters, 24 90-watt panels, and two charge controllers. I changed out the charge controllers MPPT charge controllers. That was when solar panels were $5.00 a watt. That solar system is retired now, and with solar panels at .30 a watt, we have a very large system of 36, 300 watt panels. Living with Solar full time is all about the winter when the days are short and the sun is low, you want to capture every photon possible. We have nine 300 watt panels facing east, nine 300 watt panels facing south east right where the sun rises on December 22nd to catch the first rays of sunlight when the sun comes up. We have twelve 300 watt panels facing south, three 300 watt panels facing slightly south west where the sun sets on December 22nd, and three 300 watt panels facing west where the sun set in the summer. It is important to understand that you lose 45 degrees of sunlight in the winter, 22.5 degrees from the west and 22.5 degrees from the east.

    We cashed in some deferred comp to purchase a 60 Kw battery system.

    I have helped two friends find their own remote places. One has a year round creek running through it and is accessible only by snowmobile in the winter. The other one is about 7,000 feet with springs. The common denominator with these remote parcels surrounded by thousands of acres of Federal lands (USFS and BLM) is water. Most of these counties out here in the west are 95% Federal lands.

    If you are looking for a retreat, it is worth checking the maps and traveling to them to find one that would work for you.

  11. I bought 20 acres for $2000. with my (then) wife in wilderness Maine in 1970. I never got “homesteading” out of my system. I’m starting over at nearly age 70, in NW Arkansas (Ozarks), moving in to a double-wide trailer on a mountain.

    Most important to this conversation, I think< is why do some people 'Wake Up" and others continue to Sleepwalk? I attribute my Awakinging from not being exposed to TV for many years.

  12. A Christmas story from a fine historian: Tara Ross: This Day in History
    Yesterday at 7:33 AM ·

    On or around this day in 1776, an American spy completes a task for George Washington. He conveys false information about the American army to the Hessian commander at Trenton. The Hessians would thus be unprepared when George Washington’s army attacked in the early morning hours of December 26.

    Alternatively, John Honeyman was never a spy, and the story is simply a folk tale. You can decide what you think. Apocryphal tale? Or was Honeyman *such* a good spy that later generations have trouble following his tracks? 😉

    One CIA analyst argues for this latter explanation: “[E]ven in the case of Revolutionary War spies, Honeyman included, seldom will the public, including academic researchers, find documentation regarding successful intelligence activities.”

    The details are murky. Honeyman either decided to be a spy or he was recruited by George Washington. He may have met Washington in Philadelphia, but he soon moved to Griggstown, New Jersey. Once there, he created a persona for himself as a supporter of Great Britain. Indeed, it seems that he was hated by much of the town because the townspeople thought he was anti-American.

    In reality, he was working for George Washington, behind the scenes.

    Honeyman was a beef purveyor and purchaser, a job that gave him a ready-made excuse to move around among soldiers’ camps. He was generally trusted by the British because of his prior military experience fighting with the British during the French and Indian War.

    Fortunately, the commander of the camp at Trenton, Johann Rahl, especially liked Honeyman.

    Honeyman and Washington went to great lengths to meet in secret at the end of December 1776. Honeyman pretended to be looking for cattle along the Delaware River. When he spotted a group of American soldiers, he pretended to flee. The soldiers caught him and hauled him back to camp. Washington questioned Honeyman in front of others, then demanded that the two be left alone. Washington’s soldiers were instructed to keep watch outside, allegedly in case Honeyman tried to flee.

    Once they were alone, of course, Honeyman told Washington everything he knew about the Hessian camp.

    Following their secretive talk, Washington resumed the pretense that he distrusted Honeyman. He had Honeyman imprisoned. But a fire occurred near the prison the next morning, allowing Honeyman to “escape.” Honeyman immediately found his way to Trenton and gave Rall misinformation about the American army. He convinced Rall that the Hessians were in no danger from an immediate attack.

    Thus, the Hessians felt free to celebrate and make merry on Christmas. As we all know, that turned out badly for them.

    Carry on

  13. Great article, looking forward to part 2! I have visited numerous Amish communities, I appreciate their quiet way of life and self-sufficiency, but a great reminder that they rely on their community and don’t try to go it alone.

  14. In the late 50’s and early 60’s we lived at my grandparents dairy farm in west central Wisconsin. Next door farm was my great aunts and a couple of miles down the road was my other great aunt’s farm. Some had ‘running water’, my great aunt next door had a hand pump in the kitchen that as a youngster I used to see how fast I could get it going.

    Anyway at my grandparents farm they had indoor plumbing until the middle of winter. When it would get 10 – 20 below zero the pipes would freeze coming from the pumphouse and the outhouse was the destination of choice. Amazing how quickly you could get your job done after fighting through the snow drifts and sitting on that coooollllddd seat. Never remembered the outhouse having to be moved and I have no idea how my relatives maintained them.

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