More and more people are looking for an alternative way to live, to be less reliant on "the grid" and more self-sufficient. There are so many advantages to this way of living, but it can certainly cause some challenges along the way. I've been running Wild Oak Trail with my husband for the past 6+ years, and we've come across every scenario and set-up imaginable talking to our awesome customers, so let's review the Pro's and Cons and all of the ins and outs of Living Off The Grid to get you set up for success!
Understanding 'Living Off the Grid'
Before you pack your bags, it's crucial to understand what living off the grid entails. It's a lifestyle choice that involves minimal reliance on public utilities, such as electricity, water services, and even grocery stores. Instead, off-grid living focuses on self-sufficiency: generating your power, sourcing your water, managing waste, and producing food. It's a holistic approach that often requires a shift in mindset, habits, and skills.
Preparing Financially and Legally
Transitioning to off-grid living requires an upfront investment, especially in your land, home, and initial setup. Plan your finances, considering long-term sustainability. Additionally, acquaint yourself with local laws regarding land ownership, permits, construction, water and energy use, and even homeschooling if you have children.
Costs to consider:
Land: What size will you need, does it need to have resources such as trees for lumber (heating and/or building) and what will the transportation to and from be like? Will you need to prep the land for living first, such as clearing out trees etc.
What will your property taxes, mortgage payments, insurance costs etc. be like?
Home Build or Purchase: Tiny Home, RV, Cabin, Mobile Home, House Boat, RTM (Ready to Move/Pre-Fabricated Home) There are a lot of options to choose from and vary greatly based on your needs and finances.
Power Source: Solar is by far the most popular choice. It's the most sustainable and easy to manage, but you always want to have backups in case of a storm or other problem. Wind Turbines and Gas Generators are popular options for backups.
Water Source: Will you have easy access to water from a spring, creek or river or will you need to dig a well or transport water to your site? And will you need to filter the water available to you?
Will you need to purchase heavy duty equipment such as snow plows to maintain access to roads?
Are you planning on purchasing cattle, chickens etc for your own meat, egg and dairy production?
Finding the Perfect Location
Your off-grid journey begins with finding the right location. Consider factors like climate, soil quality, water accessibility, and local regulations. Whether you dream of a secluded forest cabin, a mountain retreat, or a countryside homestead, make sure your chosen spot supports your self-sufficiency goals, particularly concerning energy production, agriculture, and transportation.
Things to consider:
Climate makes a huge difference on the type of structure you are planning on living in, your heat sources and solar sources, and how long of a growing season you have if you plan to grow your own food.
Soil quality not only makes a significant difference on growing food, but also the type of soil you build on and the road accessibility throughout the year. You certainly don't want to build where flooding is a reoccurring problem or possibility. You also don't want to build on wetlands. Proper bedrock for building is key.
Building a Sustainable Shelter
Your home is your sanctuary, and when living off the grid, it also needs to be highly functional. Explore eco-friendly construction methods like cob houses, straw bale homes, or shipping container houses. Prioritize renewable materials and energy-efficient designs. Remember, your shelter should work with the environment, not against it.
Some of the most popular home types we have helped our customers outfit with supplies are Tiny Homes, Cabins, RV's, RTM/Pre-Fab Homes and Van's (for mobile off-grid living of course!)
Generally, when people are preparing for Living off the Grid they opt for smaller builds and structures. This allows for less energy and water requirements; it's not as intrusive on the land and are of course, easier to heat.
Securing Water and Food Sources
Water is life, so establishing a reliable water source is paramount. Options include digging wells, designing rainwater harvesting systems, or utilizing nearby natural sources like creeks and rivers, always considering purification methods. For food, start a sustainable garden, considering permaculture principles. Learn about local edible plants, and if possible, consider small-scale livestock for additional food security. It's also a good idea to keep food storage (shelf stable, freeze dried food that lasts for 25 years) on hand in case your food supply is interrupted by weather or another anomaly.
Growing Your Own Food
When planning to grow your own vegetables and herbs, etc., there are a few options for planting:
Elevated Planters: Construct wooden containers and fill them with a mix of topsoil and compost. This is a swift and somewhat pricier method, ideal for smaller gardens.
Traditional Ground Beds: For a setup resembling a local farm, you'll need a bit more preparation. Begin by trimming down any existing vegetation. To suppress weeds, cover the area with a tarp for a few months. Afterward, spread compost in rows to form natural, elevated beds. Tools like a BCS walk-behind tractor can help mound the soil, and a broadfork is great for aerating the soil before sowing.
Layered Gardening: Transform hard, barren clay into a lush garden by stacking organic materials like straw, twigs, manure, compost, and leaves. This method nurtures the soil from its base and can be applied in both wooden planters and ground beds.
Perpetual Plant Beds: While the techniques mentioned above cater to plants that need replanting every couple of years, perennials like berries, bushes, and trees thrive in beds that are abundant in fungal life. Consider using carbon-rich substances such as wood shavings, fallen leaves, or even pine needles and sawdust for certain plants that prefer acidic conditions.
How will you water your garden?
Drip irrigation systems, overhead irrigation, using a wobbler on a hose or hooking up your rain barrel to your hose (you'll need the rain barrel elevated for this) are all good options. You can also use a combination of these, whatever suits your set up best!
Methods of Storing food
There are a number of different ways to store your food while living off the grid that don't require a refrigerator or freezer. Here are some common options:
Pickling / Fermentation / Vinegar
When it comes to long-term food preservation, many immediately think of canning. To can your food, you'll need:
Glass containers with sealing lids,
A canning device or pressure cooker,
A reliable canning guide, such as the renowned "Blue Book" from Ball, even though its cover color has changed over time.
It's worth noting that conventional metal lids for canning jars are typically used once and then replaced annually. However, there are durable canning lids available that can be used repeatedly.
The principle behind canning is to encase partially cooked items like fruits, veggies, meats, jams, broths, or even dairy in a sealed container. This container is then boiled to eliminate any potential contaminants.
A primary safety concern with home canning is the risk of Botulism, a rare but serious illness caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria and its relatives. These bacteria thrive in low-oxygen environments, such as inside sealed jars, but they can't survive in acidic, sugary, or salty conditions. As a result, certain foods like jams and salsas can be safely preserved by boiling them in water. However, for many vegetables, meats, and broths, the higher heat of a pressure cooker is essential to ensure they're safe for consumption.
Pickling and Fermentation
Pickling and fermentation are preservation methods that harness the power of beneficial bacteria to outcompete and eliminate harmful ones.
In essence, a wide variety of vegetables can undergo traditional fermentation. This process, known as "lacto-fermentation," is the same technique used to make staples like sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers.
Steps to Ferment Vegetables:
Prepare a saline solution by mixing 1-3 tablespoons of salt per quart of water.
Firmly place the vegetables in a container and submerge them in the saline solution.
Allow the mixture to rest for 1-2 weeks in a shaded, cool location.
Cold Storage and Dry Pantries
Certain foods thrive in chilly, moist environments, typically referred to as root cellars. This is because many root vegetables are ideally preserved in such conditions. Root cellars can range from simple dugouts in the earth nearby or beneath a home. Foods that are well-suited for root cellar storage include:
On the other hand, dry storage refers to a cool, dry space or pantry. Foods that are best kept in dry storage are:
All types of dried beans
Freeze Drying your own Food
While there are many companies that sell freeze-dried food that will remain shelf-stable for 25 years and simply needs to be rehydrated in order to be eaten, did you know you can freeze-dry your own vegetables, meats, and prepared meals? You can purchase your own freeze dryer from Harvest Right and preserve your very own food for up to 25 years. This can be a great way to put food away for the unexpected or to simply preserve it for as long as you'd like.
Creating your own Off Grid Water System
Embracing a life Living Off the Grid means rethinking everyday conveniences, especially when it comes to water. You'll need to establish and oversee your own water systems which requires some maintenance, but it's so rewarding!
It's essential to consider your water needs for drinking, gardening, cleaning, bathing, and even livestock. Then, design a system (and a backup) to secure and store this water throughout the year.
A well stands out as a top choice, though it also requires the biggest investment. The cost of drilling a well can exceed $5,000, with the price rising based on the drilling depth, which is determined by your property's water table. On the bright side, once established, wells demand minimal upkeep and often provide mineral-rich water. However, it's wise to test the water quality first.
For your well to function off the grid, you'll need a pump. Options range from solar-powered and manual hand pumps to conventional electric ones. And always remember: backups are crucial.
Lands with natural springs are rare gems. Springs are Mother Nature's version of wells, offering fresh groundwater emerging from the Earth's cracks or rock formations.
Collecting spring water might require manual hauling with containers or setting up a pump system. It's vital to ensure the spring remains uncontaminated. Typically, springs are best suited for drinking purposes, and you'd need an additional water source for daily tasks. You can also consider keeping a water filter in your home to run the water through.
If your property lacks water rights (water rights regulate how public and private landowners use water from a specified source and protect the fair use of water), which are increasingly scarce, rainwater harvesting can be your path to a plentiful water supply.
Determining the volume of water collected by a rainwater irrigation system is pretty straightforward. You just need to be aware of the dimensions of the collection surface, usually a roof. To give you an idea, a 20-foot by 20-foot roof can yield 220 gallons of water from just one inch of rain.
Here's a simple method to calculate your rainwater yield:
A = Roof's length
B = Roof's width
C = Rainfall amount in inches
Water Volume = A x B x C
A couple of things to keep in mind:
Rainfall is typically gauged over specific durations (daily, monthly, yearly, etc.). For a more accurate water harvesting estimate, gather as much data as possible. Using average seasonal rainfall data from local weather sources is a good starting point.
Note that rain measurements might come in different units. Some modern rain gauges measure in millimeters, indicating volume per square meter (1mm equals one liter per square meter). Others might use inches and gallons (1 inch equals 1 gallon per square foot). Ensure you're using the right conversions for your calculations.
Setting up a rainwater harvesting system is both straightforward and cost-effective.
Essential components include:
Safe roofing material
Rainwater storage barrels or tanks
Mesh screens for tanks
Connections to gutters or downspouts
A water filtration system
First flush diverter
Underground piping connected to indoor plumbing
A pumping mechanism
An indicator to monitor water levels.
Generating Your Energy
Living off the grid doesn't mean giving up electricity; it means producing it yourself. Solar panels are a popular choice, but wind turbines or hydroelectric systems might be viable, depending on your location. Research your energy needs, potential sources, and storage solutions to create a system that keeps the lights on without tethering you to the public grid.
Solar is by far the most popular option and what most people think of when they think of Living off the grid, and for good reason.
How much energy should you plan to produce?
Properly planning out how much energy you'll actually need from your solar set up is a must. A simple way to do this is by checking your monthly electricity bill. Your goal is to pinpoint the kilowatt hours (kWh) you consume each month. This figure is typically found at the base of your statement.
To get a comprehensive understanding, tally your kWh for a full year. This accounts for seasonal variations in power usage. Once you've got the yearly total, divide by 12 to find your average monthly consumption.
Remember, the smaller the home you build, the less energy you'll need as well. You can also consider using alternative heat sources like a Ventless Propane Heater to save you from using up stored solar energy for heat. Also be sure to opt for high-efficiency appliances!
How much does an average Off-Grid Solar Set up cost?
There are a ton of different options for solar panels, generators and batteries. There are two types of panels we will look at: polycrystalline and monocrystalline.
Polycrystalline solar panels might not be the top performers in terms of efficiency, usually ranging from 13% to 16%. This means they won't generate as much power for the space they take up compared to their monocrystalline counterparts. However, they come with a silver lining—they're more budget-friendly. Typically, you can snag a polycrystalline panel for anywhere between $180 to $230, with the cost rising as the power capacity goes up.
On the other hand, monocrystalline panels are the stars of the solar world, boasting efficiency rates that can exceed 20%. This means you'll get more bang for your buck in terms of power generation for the space they occupy. But, quality comes at a price. These panels tend to be on the pricier side, ranging from $250 to $400. To give you an idea, a 200W monocrystalline panel might set you back around $240.
Wattage indicates the maximum electrical power a panel can produce under ideal circumstances. Common panel capacities are 100W, 250W, 400W, and even higher. Naturally, on overcast days, the energy output will be reduced. So, if you're in regions like the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. or parts of Canada, where winters are often misty and wet, you'd benefit from opting for panels with greater wattage and having more of them.
Many solar kits feature monocrystalline panels. Opting for a complete solar generator package might be a more economical choice than piecing things together separately. When choosing a kit, I highly recommend choosing one that supports 240V and can plug directly into the transfer switch into your home to allow for versatility and maximum performance.
Depending on your solar generator set up, expect to invest anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000. You may also be eligible for a 30% solar tax rebate depending on your home type and the system you set up.
Planning Waste Disposal
Effective waste management is crucial for maintaining a healthy environment. Composting is an excellent way to recycle organic waste, providing rich nutrients for your garden. Explore eco-friendly options for handling sewage, like composting toilets or septic systems. The cost for a composting toilet runs around $1000, whereas the cost of a septic system to be installed is generally between $6000 and $10,000.
Waste Segregation System: A standout feature of the Nature's Head Composting Toilet is its distinct separation mechanism. When you use this toilet, it ensures that urine and solid waste are kept apart. The design channels urine into a dedicated container at the front, while solid waste goes into a composting section at the back. To dispose of the urine, it can be poured at the base of trees, and the composted waste can be used for non-edible compost or thrown in the garbage. The composted waste looks and smells like soil.
Air Circulation Feature: Adequate ventilation is vital for effective composting. The Nature's Head Composting Toilet is fitted with a 12-volt fan and a venting tube, ensuring a steady stream of air circulates through the composting area. This not only keeps unpleasant smells at bay but also fosters the waste breakdown process.
Composting and Breakdown: Inside the composting section, the solid waste gets combined with a filler material, usually coconut coir or peat moss. This mixture, in a regulated setting and with the help of good bacteria, speeds up the transformation of waste into a rich compost.
Routine Upkeep: To keep the Nature’s Head Composting Toilet running smoothly, some regular care is needed. This involves turning the composting drum for even mixing and topping up with filler material when necessary. Also, remember to empty the urine container once it's full.
Septic Tank Systems
Think of a septic tank as a personal sewage treatment plant. It consists of a compartment where wastewater collects and a septic leach field (usually located under a yard or open space) where the water is reintroduced into the ground. It's essential to note that not all ground types are compatible with septic setups, so seeking advice from a septic expert is crucial. Additionally, septic systems generally demand higher water consumption since they're often connected to conventional flush toilets.
Community and Communication
Off-grid living doesn't equate to isolation. Building relationships with nearby off-gridders or participating in local barter systems can lead to mutual support and shared resources. While you might be off the digital grid, maintaining some communication means, like radios or satellite phones, is wise for emergencies and occasional check-ins.
Educating Yourself Continuously
Living off the grid is an ongoing learning experience. From DIY construction and renewable energy systems to gardening and animal care, you'll need a diverse skill set. Read relevant books, attend workshops, and consider work exchanges in off-grid communities to acquire hands-on experience.
Embracing the Off-Grid Mindset
Finally, successful off-grid living requires patience, resilience, and a willingness to adapt. It's about embracing simplicity, valuing experiences over possessions, and continuously learning and growing with your environment.
Living off the grid is more than a survivalist's escape; it's a purposeful choice to live sustainably, independently, and in harmony with nature. It's a challenging yet rewarding journey that transforms not just your lifestyle, but also your worldview. So, are you ready to turn this dream into your reality?
Give Wild Oak Trail a call at 1-844-WILDOAK (945-3625), chat in at www.wildoaktrail.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you have, we're always happy to hear from you!
Hailey Funk, co-founder of Wild Oak Trail, harmonizes the pragmatism of prepping with a mother's protective instinct. Her journey alongside her husband, Saxon, is fueled by a shared vision, yet as a mother, Hailey's approach is imbued with an extra layer of love and foresight. She cherishes the peace that comes from knowing her children are always provided for, reveling in the independence and security her preparedness grants her family. Hailey's passion extends to every client she encounters, driven by an earnest desire to nurture similar confidence and self-reliance in others. Her expertise and maternal insight make her not just a businesswoman, but a steward of care and empowerment in the prepping community.