Are you tired of the hustle and bustle of city life? Do you long for a simpler time, when people lived off the land and took care of their own needs? If so, you may be thinking about transitioning to an off-grid lifestyle.
Though it is the dream of many preppers it can be a daunting task, but one that is definitely achievable if you are willing to put in the work.
In this guide, we will discuss some of the basics of living off-grid, as well as some tips for getting started on your own path out of suburbia or the urban jungle.
Table of Contents
Should You Go Off-Grid?
Before you go any further, you must be totally honest with yourself. You need to eliminate the distractions and devote some quiet time in a location where you are most at peace.
For me, that is usually on some deserted parcel of land in the middle of nowhere. For you it could be a quiet room in your home or your garage workshop. But then it’s the time for you to take stock.
You must first ask yourself, and then honestly answer what you truly desire from your life. There is nothing wrong with being honest. There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you do actually enjoy living and working in suburbia.
The middle-class American dream is indeed alive and well for many! If you count yourself among them, and are happy with your life, that is great! I’m genuinely pleased for you.
These days, most individuals aren’t really happy; therefore, you might have already achieved what most people won’t.
But if you aren’t happy in spite of all the things you buy, the way you live and everything else that society tells you will make you happy, it’s time to dig in and delve deeper.
What exactly are you looking for? It isn’t more possessions, probably, because in general, most people aren’t satisfied with what they have and no amount of “stuff” will satisfy. Chances are you’d still be happy, even genuinely joyous, with a lot less.
So why do you want a huge mansion that takes years to build, costs a literal fortune, and is heated and cooled when you only live in a small portion of it at any given time? It simply becomes a huge “container” for all the other things that won’t give you fulfillment in life.
All of these things, these “motivators” are ones that drivers of society set for people and communicate through peer pressure and advertisements, a never-ending feedback loop that ensures you’re always chasing some finish line you’ll never, ever reach.
But there is another way. If you want to be more secure, have more choices, less stress, and live better on less money, it’s time to start thinking differently. You can’t patch over a huge hole in your spirit with consumer products that you buy to impress people you don’t even like or care about.
If you want to downsize your possessions and yet protect what is truly valuable then perhaps off-grid living is for you. Keep reading.
Breaking the Cycle of Societal Dependency
The first step to going off-grid is breaking the cycle of dependence on society. This can be a difficult task, as we are so used to depending on others and the “features” of civilization for our needs.
However, it is important to remember that we are capable of taking care of ourselves and our own needs once we learn how. There are many resources available to help you learn how, including books, websites, and even YouTube videos.
Once you have decided that you want to start reducing societal dependency, and how to do it, the next step is determining your needs.
What do you need in order to survive? What do you need in order to live comfortably if not extravagantly?
I say again for emphasis, this is a very personal decision, or rather one that a family must make together. Don’t give in to that “keeping up with the Joneses” mindset by comparing your wants against those of others.
Do you need electricity? Is running water or indoor plumbing a must-have? How much land do you need, and for what purposes? Farming crops, raising livestock, hunting and gathering? How about your home itself? How big does it need to be? What features must you have for you current (and maybe growing!) family?
Once you have a good understanding of your needs, you can begin the process of finding a suitable piece of property.
If you are interested in living off-grid, it is likely that you will want to purchase some land in a rural area, as most communities and larger cities have restrictive building codes, utility requirements and various bylaws that all residential structures must adhere to, or else.
Your land is your new home, your basecamp, where you will build your off-grid residence, and begin living self-sufficiently.
Basic Off Grid Necessities
The survival necessities that you’ll need to asses and account for during your initial planning phase, in general, are:
We will talk about each of them in the context of off-grid living below.
One of the most important things you need to consider when living off grid is water. You will need to have a source of fresh water, and you will also need to be able to store it and treat it properly (if required) to make it drinkable.
There are a few different options for sourcing water when you are off-grid. One option is to collect rainwater.
This can be done by installing a rainwater collection system on your home or separate from it. These systems consist of gutters on your roof or a catchment tarp or panel that routes rainwater into a storage tank.
Another time-tested and generally reliable option is to dig a well, and use a pump to raise water to the surface. If you have access to a spring on your land, you can also use this as your water source. Note that spring water may still require treatment before it is safe to drink!
Once you have collected or sourced your water, it is important to treat it properly before drinking it. This means boiling it or filtering it with a high-efficiency filtration system. Generally, most naturally sourced water is safe enough to use as-is for bathing, washing clothes, washing cars, irrigation, and the like.
Off-grid home owners are also wise to reduce water waste by repurposing “gray” water- waste water that does not contain urine or feces- for irrigation and other uses.
Purpose-installed drainage and tanking for the task that integrates with plumbing is easy to install while your home is being built.
One of the great things about living off grid is that you have the opportunity to grow your own food, either by raising crops or livestock. This means that you can be sure of its quality, and you will also save money by not having to purchase groceries.
You may already know that the average grocery-buyer depends on a “food chain” 7 to 10 major steps long!
- First, you need to make sure that you have enough land.
- Second, you will need to choose the right crops for your climate.
- Third, you will need to have a plan for storing and preserving your food. Reducing waste by keeping more of your harvest is important for saving money and also remaining self-sufficient.
One small scale way to start producing your own food is to start a basic garden. Another option is to use raised beds or containers, scalable for how much space you have to work with.
You can also choose to build a greenhouse or similar enclosure to protect plants and gardeners alike from inclement weather or climate.
If you are interested in raising animals for food, livestock, you will need to ensure that you have enough land and proper fencing. You will also need to consider what type of animals you would like to raise and whether or not you will be able to care for them properly depending on their needs.
Know that not all species of livestock are suitable for every environment, and some, namely cows and pigs, are difficult to work with and can be dangerous.
A full discussion of the pros and cons of different livestock is a bit beyond the purpose of this article, but we have plenty of articles on that very subject here on the site.
There are many different ways to preserve food, including canning, pickling, drying, and freezing. Waste must be avoided when you live off-grid: you will no longer have everything you want or need readily available at the flip of a switch.
You’ll also want a root cellar or other storage area that is cool and dark in order to store your food without modern refrigeration. A home capable of supplying its own electricity in abundance may be able to make use of a freezer. See the section on power, below, for more info.
Another important consideration when living off grid is heating your home. You need to find a way to keep it warm in the winter or on any cool nights.
I know some of you might be concerned about AC, but in that regard I have some bad news. In all but the most liberally powered off-grid homes AC is just too energy intensive. That means you will probably be doing without. Sorry!
The default choice for off-grid heating of the home is a fireplace. If you choose to go this route, you will need to make sure that your chimney is properly installed and that you have enough firewood to last the winter.
Stockpiling enough wood for this task is a job unto itself, let me tell you! Fireplaces are great and a reliable way to heat a home without electricity, but they will only reliably heat one room adequately through the winter. On the plus side, fireplaces can also serve double-duty for cooking as they have for generations.
Another way of heating your home is to install a wood stove. Wood stoves are generally more convenient and easy to manage compared to fireplaces, and may be able to heat more rooms adequately. They can be used for cooking food, only you’ll use the top like your rangetop back in “civilization”.
Another choice you might consider is a pellet stove. Pellet stoves are less labor-intensive than even wood stoves, and they can also be used for cooking just the same.
If you live in an area with abundant sunshine, you can use solar panels to heat water, which can then be circulated through radiant pipes in your home. A solar power system may produce enough electricity to allow the use of electric heating elements in strategic places, or the use of a hot-air blower.
You can also use solar energy for heating in an interesting and holistic way through the use of passive solar design principles when building your home in order to keep it warm.
Passive solar heating and design means specially locating and orienting your home in such a way that it will make the best possible use of the sun’s rays day to day in order to warm the interior.
This often means solid insulation to trap heat, plenty of sunside-facing windows, stone or brick floors (to absorb and slowly radiate heat) and heavy drapes to stop loss due to drafts at night. Though initially challenging to execute in the build phase, this is a great idea for an off-grid home.
Living on-grid or off, it is critical that you have a plan for dealing with human waste.
One proven off-grid method is to install a composting toilet. This type of toilet uses very little water and turns human waste into fertilizer that can be used in your garden.
Another option, though one with some lifestyle challenges, is to install a classic outhouse.
Septic tanks are yet another way most folks are already comfortable with, so long as you can supply enough water and water pressure to your house to operate a modern toilet.
Another thing to consider when thinking about sanitation is how you will bathe and wash your clothes. Again, so long as you can supply water through plumbing modern showers and bathtubs remain viable.
You don’t have to give up every modern luxury just because you are going off-grid!
One low-tech way to bathe is to use a solar shower. This type of shower heats water using the sun, and then stores it in a bag.
Campers and hikers are probably familiar with this method, though it’s not the most comfortable one given the low flow and limited amount of water.
Washing clothes presents similar challenges to overcome. Without the infrastructure to run a washing machine you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way. Your great-grandparents washed their clothes by hand using a washboard and bucket, and you can too.
Wring them out by hand or with a hand-cranked wringer, then line dry them in the sun. Though the idea seems quaint or even a tad backward in this day and age, your clothing and linens can be made remarkably clean this way.
For some off-grid living prospects, the single biggest challenge, or perhaps question, is how they will supply electricity to their homestead, if at all.
Though considered optional by strict adherents to the off-grid lifestyle, electricity brings with it many benefits, and you shouldn’t be too hasty in forgoing them as you make your transition to this new way of life.
One of the most popular options today is to use solar panels, either at a large or small scale. Solar panels today are effective enough to power everything from lights and tools to full-size appliances.
The deciding factor as to their efficiency is how much sun (and preferably full value, direct sun) they receive. Cloudy, overcast skies on the regular means solar is less viable.
Another choice is “harvesting” wind through the use of wind turbines. Wind turbines can be used to generate electricity as with solar power, or put to use mechanically to pump water.
Wind is appealing to many homesteaders but few places are windy enough, often enough, to make anything but small scale turbines for limited use viable.
There are also a variety of other options for powering your home, including hydroelectricity if you live near a source of moving water and thermoelectric energy if you can afford to feed a burner system. Both generally work best as supplemental power to one of the above options, however.
No matter what type of power generation system you choose, it is important to have a backup plan in case of bad weather or an emergency.
This could include a liquid-fueled generator (gasoline, diesel or propane) or a deep-cycle battery bank that can be used to supply power in the event that your primary source of power fails or is unavailable.
Making a Living While Living Off-Grid
After you start living off-grid, it can be a challenge to make a living as we used to. We have to be creative and resourceful, and often we have to go without some of the conveniences that people who live on-grid take for granted. It is, nonetheless, possible to make an income while living off-grid.
Depending on your profession and the duties required of you, you may be able to complete it from your new homestead for the foreseeable future, the same as you always have.
Only now you’ll be spending your time at your homestead! Depending on how tightly intertwined your job is with modern civilization you may be able to work from home with the right setup, but maybe not.
Will you continue to commute into a 9-to-5? Will you continue to labor away at a remote workstation in the middle of your rural homestead for someone else?
The final major barrier you will encounter is when you have made your decision and know what it is you want to do. What exactly do you want out of this new way of life that you are embarking on?
The internet, despite its shortcomings, makes a lot of things achievable for one-man or one-woman startup side-hustles that were completely out of reach not too long ago.
Without much more than a computer and an internet connection, you can learn and do almost anything: from online diplomas and skill certification to consulting and publishing, and even retail arbitrage.
I would like to emphasize that, in rural areas, a stable internet connection can be difficult to near-impossible to achieve. Expect lower speeds than you are used to in the city.
That being said, modern satellite based internet is increasingly viable and affordable, at least compared to similar options from a decade ago.
But maybe you want to leave digital workplaces behind, and go genuinely old fashioned. Whatever you want to call it – analog, real-world, in-person – that’s fine.
If you have any genuine, marketable talents that you can put to use in your new area on commission or some other manner, they might prove to be more than capable of covering your expenses, especially if you can get your expenses way down as a component of your new lifestyle.
If that isn’t the case for you, you may try part-time employment on something else and make your new “ideal” job a moonlighting project until you can do it full time.
Living the Off-Grid Dream
Living off the grid is a challenge, but it is one that is well worth undertaking. It requires careful planning and preparation, but the rewards are great.
With a little bit of effort, you can live a life that is more fulfilling and satisfying than anything you could experience on-grid. There’s no better time than the present moment to start planning for something, so start working on your off-grid dream today.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
17 thoughts on “Living Off Grid: How To Get Started On Your Own Path”
Living off the grid is a goal our family strives for in the long term, I commend you for making it happen. It’s a lot of work and a real commitment.
It’s a shame – here in North Carolina, we can’t go off-grid due to housing regulations. But I hope to at least have enough energy raised from wind and solar on my property that we can feed INTO the grid and make a few bucks!
Has your situation changed or gotten better since you posted?
I Would LOVE To Live Like You Do So My Kinda Living Thank You For Sharing!!
I read another book about off the grid living. I would be interested in reading yours too.
This is an encouraging post. I am no where near off grid living, but homesteading and making a more self-reliant lifestyle has always been a dream of mine.
Very interesting! We are going to work towards going off grid over the next several years and I’m hoping I put some good choices into the building of our house to support that!
Oh, wow! That really is incredible. I’m struggling just to get a small garden and compost going on our town property. Not too sure hubby and I would have the courage or know how to live off grid 100% but I would love to try some things:)
Living like this will be the future for many. I would never be able to get my family to do this but this article gives me some ideas about doing a garden and looking into getting an outdoor wood burning stove to save on heating bills.
Our goal is to someday live off grid as well. It’s so neat to hear stories of people that are doing it!
I’d love to read your book on using solar power to stay off-the-grid. My land is miles from the nearest utilities, and I’m planning on keeping it that way. I could definitely use the information as I’m mostly solar and electric illiterate.
Wow that’s a amazing! I don’t think it will ever be an option for me, but I’m so happy to be influenced by off grid living, like our own solar and raising chickens. It’s not much, but you are leading the way for those of us who are more urban.
I am impressed that you are 100% solar power, that must make you feel pretty good. Self-provision is an effort worth working for. I will be keeping track of your homestead progress.
I am so trying to work towards a simpler lifestyle. Husband is not onboard so it is difficult. I got chickens 2 years ago for eggs and have started baking from scratch as much as possible. Buying in bulk and buying local. Baby steps. I am scared of the solar pricetag and lost as to how to buy a panel or two and hook them up to use on my own. I would love to hear more about your solar experience and how you would go about picking a panel or two for those of us who would like to start small.
This was nothing more than a tease for me… I would love to learn more about the way you have ran your system and also a few questions about other system designs that may or may not have been incorporated into your design plans…. did you build your house to take advantage of passive solar? What about geothermal heat and cooling? Solar water heater? Bio-digester instead of septic system? There is a million questions I have that I would love to talk with others about…
It is just creepy how much our lives (and appearance) seem to mimic eachother : p
We had no intention of going off-grid but the relief of having no utility lines to accidently dig through was quickly replaced by sticker shock of $30K EACH to extend water, gas, electricity and telephone to our property. We won’t be able to occupy our new home fulltime for a couple more years until more of the off-grid options have been worked out but, thank goodness, we don’t have to sell out.
Did you set-up the solar system yourself, or have one put in professionally? I looked into both wind and solar options with a local company and he told me NOT to buy wind turbines as they are higher maintanence than solar and cost more to keep running. He could quote us on what type of solar system to sue based on our current usage from our electric bill. Roughly $10,000 for a system to operate a new house (currently in a doublewide) and all our farm use. I ran the numbers and it’d pay for itself within 5 years.
You mentioned hydro power, just be cautious because I know in OUR state of Michigan it’s illegal to tamper with waterways and hydro systems are not allowed, even tiny ones.