We live in a fast-paced, complex, ever-changing reality that can be somewhat overwhelming at times. In the modern world of economic instability, fluctuating energy prices, geopolitical and religious conflict, and environmental threats, it can be easy to feel vulnerable and even fearful. For these reasons, more and more families are going off-grid to reclaim their independence and sense of lifestyle purity. But going off-grid does NOT have to be all “doom and gloom.” Many enthusiasts go off-grid for their own positive reasons, and thanks to innovations in renewable energy and housing design, a comfortable and modern off-grid lifestyle seems to be more attainable and affordable than ever.
Living off-grid can mean different things to different people. There are different ways to live off-grid, as well as different degrees to which one can live off-grid. For example one family may choose to live completely off-grid, supplying their own power, water, food and heating/cooling; while another family may choose to simply retrofit their home with solar panels to curb their electricity bill. Living off-the-grid can be as extreme as building a remote wilderness cabin high in the mountains, or as simple and practical as growing a vegetable garden.
To understand off-grid-living, it is helpful to first understand what “the grid” actually is. Most households and businesses in the western world rely on a few large utility companies to supply them with the electricity, water, natural gas (primarily for heating and stoves), and garbage collection services that they require. Because these things are so essential for both human life and modern living, relying on these large, central utility companies arguably makes us exceptionally vulnerable. Natural disasters, economic shortages, and drought are only a few of the very real possibilities that can have devastating effects on the utility grid and other infrastructure that we rely on so heavily.
Many people choose to live off-the-grid for many different reasons. Some choose an off-grid lifestyle as a way to live sustainably and efficiently. Utilizing on-site, renewable methods for generating power, controlling indoor temperature, and collecting water can save a homeowner hundreds or even thousands of dollars on annual utility bills. Some homes, like the Earthships of Taos, NM, incorporate all of these techniques in an effort to achieve full off-grid autonomy. Earthships heat and cool themselves using passive methods, collect all of their own water, treat their own sewage, have the capability of growing food, and generate their own power.
Other people are motivated to live off-grid by personal ethics or environmental consciousness, and others still move off-grid to protect themselves from economic or environmental disaster. Whatever the reason however, making the move off-grid can not only be very rewarding, but surprisingly affordable and simple as well.
How to Live Off-the-Grid
The first step in deciding to live off-the-grid is defining your goals and expectations for off-grid living. Everyone defines off-grid living differently, which makes it extremely important to determine what your definition is, and how you will live up to it. It is also important to ask yourself appropriate questions in order to develop a plan that will save you time and money. Do I need to move into or build a new house to reach my off-grid living goals, or can I retrofit my current home? How much power and water do I need every day, and can I meet my needs with new systems? Do the local laws, regulations and building codes allow for the changes I want to make? These are only a few of the issues that one ought to consider when making the switch to an off-grid lifestyle.
After you’ve developed a realistic, well-organized plan for your off-grid living aspirations, the next step is to start executing that plan. Yes, this may in fact be one of the most exhilarating steps for many budding off-gridders; shopping for and purchasing your new off-grid gear. We all know how much fun it can be to hop on Amazon and start clicking away at new solar panel kits, rain-catchment gear, or the droves of great Off-Grid Living books, but it’s important not to go too crazy with that “Add to Cart” button just yet. Remember to stick to the budget that you set for yourself and be a smart shopper. There’s nothing worse than discovering – the hard way – that you just spent $3000 on the most poorly-made gas generator on the market. In other words, do your homework.
Finally, your quest for an off-grid lifestyle must culminate in the actual implementation of your newly-acquired off-grid systems and accessories. Translation: time to assemble your new gear and integrate it with your home! Depending on your level of experience with and willingness to work on plumbing, electrical or HVAC systems, it may be highly advisable for you to hire licensed and experienced contractors to help you complete your third and final step.
There are four basic systems on which humans rely for both survival and modern comfort:
In modern, developed societies, all of these systems are connected to some form of distribution infrastructure. Food is typically distributed to consumers through a long supply chain of large factory farms, grocers and food distributers. Household power and water systems are typically connected to a utility grid, which is maintained and provided by a utility company. Finally heating, ventilation and air conditioning (or HVAC) can be addressed using a number of different methods, but typically requires the use of grid-supplied electricity or gas. Thanks to modern inventions like photovoltaic solar panels, geothermal heat pumps and greenhouses, however, all of these traditional, grid-based systems can be fully replaced or retrofitted with fully “green” and sustainable options. In many places, for example, water can be supplied by installing a rain catchment system and disposed of with a sustainable septic system.
After deciding what systems you are interested in building or replacing, it is advisable to consider things like labor and costs. For example, are you qualified in safely installing your own solar panel system? If not, you will need to consider the costs of hiring a licensed electrician. How big will your greenhouse need to be to produce the amount of food that you want? Is your roof big enough for supplying all of your rain-catchment demands? No matter what questions you may have, Off-Grid Gorilla is here to help.