Beginner's Guide to Living Off-Grid

by Oliver Guess | LAST UPDATED March 21, 2021

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Living off the grid is something that’s crossed all of our minds at one point or another.

For you, this may have come as a result of receiving one too many high utility bills, or maybe even because you wanted to do your small part in keeping the environment clean.

Regardless of the reasons, there are plenty of ways in which you can easily implement a few small but significant changes to your house in order to make it more self-sufficient.

Why Go Completely Off-grid?

Off-grid living - a house on a hill

There are a lot of people that don’t like the idea of being as surrounded by technology as most of us are every day and simply want to live a simpler life in the countryside somewhere.

Others don’t appreciate the monopoly that the government has on everything from the public utilities to the water system and strive to become more self-reliant as a sort of political message against something that they might see as an abuse of power.

And there are also those that don’t want to send any sort of message but are still dissatisfied with the absurd rates that they have to pay for what they see as basic necessities.

If you don’t fall into any of these categories and are looking to change a few things around your home for your own reasons, then we’re not saying that you shouldn’t try.

All we’re saying is that with an undertaking this large, you’re going to need to plan everything, from your budget to the location of your modifications, otherwise you won’t get anywhere.

What Does Off-Grid Living Actually Imply?

Off-grid living - a river separating two hills

The first thing that you need to decide when it comes to going off the grid is exactly how drastically you’re prepared to change your lifestyle.

To some people, off-grid living means completely cutting your house off from any city-provided utilities and trying to survive with only the power and resources that you can generate yourself.

To others, installing a few solar panels on their roof and maybe a wind turbine in their front yard is about as deep into the off-grid lifestyle that they’re prepared to venture.

This beginner’s guide to living off-grid is meant to be an all-inclusive list of items that you need to know about in order to become completely independent.

However, there’s no reason why you can’t simply do certain modifications that we mention but leave out others.

The severity of your home redesign is going to depend on you, but just about anyone can make the changes that we’ve listed below if they feel inclined to do so.

How Much Does It Cost to Go Off-Grid?

A person calculating their finances

The biggest issue when it comes to making drastic changes to your house is going to be the financial factor.

It’s undoubtedly true that an off-the-grid home can really save you a lot of money on utility bills and the general cost of living.

However, the money you’ll save in the long run won’t mean much if you don’t currently have the necessary budget to implement the necessary changes.

We’ll go over some of the monetary issues that you’ll be faced with in our article, but suffice it to say, you’ll need to be prepared to spend tens, if not hundreds of thousands for a large-scale project.

Preparing For Off-Grid Living

A vintage room's interior

Most of us don’t want to admit this, but the main reason why we don’t go for this way of life is that we’re used to the conveniences that we have at our disposal.

There’s nothing bad with having a few luxuries in life, but if you’re planning to cut most of them out, then you’ll need to develop some skills and become a virtual jack-of-all-trades.

This isn’t to say that you can’t call a professional when something like your water heater breaks, but simply that you’ll need to be able to take care of your home energy needs on your own.

If you want to generate your own electricity, you’re going to need to learn a lot about wind turbines, solar panels, and generators, as well as their maintenance procedures.

If you want to grow your own food, you’re going to need to learn how to maintain a garden, or which feed you’ll need to give to your chickens for better-tasting eggs.

If you want to cut off your water pipes, then you’ll need to get used to manually bringing in water from either a well or a different water source.

You get the drift - you’ll need to pick up a lot of new skills if you want to develop a true off-the-grid homestead.

Choose What to Keep

Off-grid living

You’ll need to cut out most electrical appliances right off the bat.

Most devices aren’t exactly sparing in their energy consumption, which isn’t really good news when you’re running on your own electricity.

You can keep certain small items like your phone or electric kettle, but you’re going to need to prioritize tower drying your hair instead of using a hair drier or cooking on a propane stove rather than with a microwave.

There are actually a lot of small changes like that that you can make in order to optimize your power usage and ensure that you don’t run out of electricity.

This will naturally lead to a few changes when it comes to how you spend your free time as well.

For example, you might want to pick up reading instead of watching TV, or doing more yard work and exercising over sitting on the computer.

These sorts of power-saving tactics will come as a welcome change of pace to people that are looking to get out of the house and become more active, but a lot of people might have a bit of a hard time adjusting at first.

Additionally, not having a readily available hot water supply will really cause you to put more thought into how much water you used to actually waste on a day-to-day basis.

The Size and Location of Your House

A man planning the size of a house with a cardboard house

When it comes to energy consumption, even having a moderate 2-floor house is going to be an issue most of the time. This is doubly true if you’re located in a heavily populated area.

The preference for tiny homes is pretty self-explanatory - the more rooms you have and the more surface you cover, the more energy you’ll need to keep it all powered.

As for the location, the reason why more rural areas are the preferred choice is that you’ll have more space to set up all of the equipment that you’re now going to need.

Even if you own a sizable piece of land in the city, there are still too many possible things that can interfere with your power generation capabilities for it to be a viable option.

These interferences can be anything from your neighboring houses blocking your solar panels to simply there not being that much wind due to your home being surrounded by other structures.

In essence, a more rural area will provide you with a lot more room to work with and allow you to plan out your setup more optimally.

This being said, we’re not saying that you need to go out and buy a plot of land in the countryside in order to be as self-sufficient as possible, just that it makes things easier.

Electricity

Light bulb

Creating your own power system for electricity is a big step for any homesteading project, and it’s also the first step towards becoming a true prepper (a person that prepares for every eventuality).

That being said, while being more independent from electrical appliances and reducing your carbon footprint sounds like a great idea, there are still some essential items that you’ll really want to keep around and hooked up to a steady source of electricity.

These items include any refrigeration units that you might have, vacuum cleaners, as well as any lamps and other light sources in general.

There is also the most important item that you or any of us will ever own and the one item that no human being alive should ever go without - a coffee maker.

Joking aside, all of the essential appliances are going to need to be run on a steady supply of electricity, and you can only get that from two sources - solar and wind power.

Solar Power

Solar energy is probably the first thought that people have when you mention renewable energy to them.

Their second thought is how they have a solar panel on their roof that can’t charge their phone, let alone their entire house.

And yes, it’s true that a small solar system won’t get you very far, but there is no rule that you need to only use a single cell for all of your needs as far as we’re aware.

Keep in mind that the average household in the US actually uses nearly 900 kWh per month, which might not mean much to you, but trust us, it’s a lot.

The only solar panels that can achieve that sort of energy would set you back about $10,000 and would take up about the same amount of space as a basketball court.

However, you actually don’t need very powerful panels if you listened to our advice and streamlined your power consumption.

Your best option is either to go for the Xinpuguang Solar Panel 100W, which will set you back around $450, or you could go for the 150W version of the same model that comes in a bit cheaper at somewhere around $230.

Both of these panels are available on Amazon and they come with everything that you need in order to set them up and connect them to a battery and inverter, or to a much more convenient to use portable power station.

Depending on the exact size of your home and the level of power you’re getting on average, you might need to set up more than one set of these panels.

However, you’re very unlikely to have to cover your entire roof and the affordable price makes them a bargain even if you get them in a pack of a dozen.

The number of panels in your grid system is also going to depend on the location since places like Alaska or even certain regions of Arizona are going to need a bit more panels in order to achieve true self-sufficiency.

Wind Power

Wind turbines are actually a lot more power-efficient than solar panels.

The average backyard wind turbine can output about 1000W of power at a time, while solar panels are usually limited to somewhere close to a 10th of that.

That being said, solar panels are very reliant on weather conditions and get virtually no charge on cloudy days or colder months.

While this doesn’t render the solar panels useless, you’re going to get the best performance out of them in the summer months.

Turbines, on the other hand, shine in the other 3 seasons and are much more reliable when the temperature drops and the winds pick up.

However, the wind is even more temperamental than the sun in terms of consistency, and you might get a gale in the summer and nothing but smooth sailing in the winter.

As long as you set the wind turbines on a high spot and your location isn’t obstructed you should be fine, but that output is never going to be in any guaranteed range all year round.

We personally recommend the Tumo-Int 3 blades wind turbine, mostly because they come with a kit that has everything that you might need, and for a product that’s just under $1000 you’re actually getting some pretty good power output.

Backup

This might go against everything that you’re trying to do, but we recommend that you also include a small gas or propane-powered generator in your off-grid home

This will serve as a backup in the eventuality that both of your power sources fail.

In our opinion, you can’t go wrong with the DuroMax XP12000EH Generator as it’s reliable and it’ll provide you with more than enough power until you get your other energy sources back up and running again.

If your goal with going off the grid is to reduce your carbon footprint, this might be the last thing that you would want to do, and we understand.

However, there are going to be situations where clean power isn’t going to be an option and you’re going to need to have a plan B handy.

This generator is very low maintenance, doesn’t eat up that much gas, and it’s barely a drop of water in the ocean in comparison to how much power you were using before you made the switch to renewable energy anyway.

Water Supply

A well - water supply

When it comes to getting your hands on clean water, you’re either going to need to make daily trips to a water source near you, or you’re going to need to start digging.

Trying to hit an underground water vein is the best option simply because of the convenience of having your own personal water source close to your home.

All you’ll need in order to turn a hole into a water source is to simply buy a pitcher pump and put in a little bit of elbow grease.

The bad news is that these sorts of sources aren’t as common as you might think, and even hiring a crew to help you set up such a pump is going to set you back anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000.

The more reliable alternative is to buy about a dozen 5-gallon water bottles and simply go to fill them up with clean water.

Additionally, you might also want to invest in getting a few water filters in order to make sure that the water you’re going to be drinking is as clean as possible.

Food Supply

Food served on a table

Growing your own food can be a much healthier alternative than simply buying whatever you find in your local supermarket.

You know for a certainty that the veggies you grow in your own garden won’t be covered in any chemicals, they won’t be artificially enhanced, and that they won’t be overpriced.

Gardening might seem hard at first, but it’s incredibly rewarding in the long run, and it’s not all that hard to pick up and get the hang of.

Yes, in the beginning, you might over-water your plants and you might need to buy some good equipment in order to get started, but you’ll develop the know-how soon enough, and you’ll find that your homegrown produce tastes much better now that you’ve had to work for it yourself.

Plus, you’ll also be able to grow your own coffee plants, which as we’ve established before, is the most important plant that you can grow.

Additionally, unless you’re a vegan, we’d also recommend that you buy yourself a simple chicken coop and keep chickens for the fresh eggs rather than their meat.

Chicken coops take up very little space, and chickens are easy to feed and take care of, so there are virtually no downsides.

Bathroom

A toilet

Well, we knew we were going to have to talk about this sooner or later, so let’s just get this over with.

No running water will of course mean no functioning sewage system either.

Now, there is a workaround that involves creating a septic system by connecting a cistern down to a few underground holding tanks that can allow you to keep your flushing toilet privileges.

However, this will take up a lot of space, will take a lot of time to set up, will cost you quite a lot, and you’ll have to manually fill up the water that the toilet uses.

Instead of that DIY nightmare, by far the easier and more cost-effective solution is to simply get the XKMT- 5 composting toilet with a removable septic tank.

You can easily find a place for these toilets both inside or outside your house, they’re more comfortable than they look, and the tanks are very easy to remove and clean. 

Do What You Can

Off grid wooden house

We spent the entire article talking about the most drastic changes that you can make in order to disconnect yourself from the system and gain as much independence as you can.

The truth is that every little change you make towards making yourself a bit more self-sufficient will count for a lot.

You don’t need to immediately put into action everything that we mentioned all at once and turn into a homesteader in the span of a single day.

You don’t even need to do any of the items that we mentioned that you think are a bit too much for you to handle.

Make as many small changes as you feel comfortable with, and pretty soon you’ll realize just how much all these small changes have altered your lifestyle for the better.

Oliver Guess
Oliver is an off-grid living enthusiast currently residing in the mountains of New Mexico. His interests in sustainability originally lead him down the path of an off the grid lifestyle. When he's not tinkering with his broken solar panels, Oliver enjoys searching out hot springs, whittling and cooking.

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