Living Off Grid: A Focused Beginner’s Guide With 8 Pro Tips

by Oliver Guess | LAST UPDATED March 21, 2021

a beginner's guide to off grid living
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The notion of living off grid is an idea most people have thought about at one time or another, especially since the covid pandemic hit.

In general, the idea of the off-grid lifestyle entails giving up the comforts of modern society in exchange for more freedom and the chance to embrace a self-sufficient lifestyle. Regardless of what the concept means to you, understand that it's a way of life that requires dedication, knowledge, and lots of time and money.

Now before you decide to boot your possessions and high tail it into the mountains, make sure to read this beginner's guide to living off grid, so you know what it takes to survive. Let's get started.

Living off grid: A beginner’s guide

Off-grid living - a house on a hill

The first thing to consider about living off grid is the amount of planning involved. In all honesty, there's a lot to think about, and the decision to be self-reliant is a big one.

In most cases, living off grid and building the ultimate homestead require intense preparation regarding your house, property, and utilities like water and electricity. And don't forget about financial resources because sustainable living is expensive. If you're serious, we hope you keep reading because we've laid it all out in this beginner's guide to living off grid.

Living off grid: What does it mean?

Off-grid living - a river separating two hills

The off-grid life is a philosophy that revolves around independent living without relying on one or more public utilities. For any dwelling to be considered off-grid, it must autonomously generate food, energy, potable water, not to mention waste management. However, there are no official prerequisites that define off-grid communities or structures.

The truth is, everybody has different reasons for living off grid and vastly different resources to achieve it. So, what it means to live off-grid is largely subjective aside from a strong desire to exist sustainably and independently of government utility structures.

How much does living off grid cost?

A person calculating their finances

There is no way to know exactly how much money an aspiring homeowner needs to start living off grid, but there are plenty of ways we can shed light on the cost of living. On average, an off-the-grid move can cost around $100,000 to get set up, although there are an infinite amount of variables that affect the cost. For now, consider $100k a safe middle ground.

To better understand how we came to this number, we'll go over some startup costs that might affect your budget. Our aim is not to influence what you buy and how much you spend but to share insights about the topic. Below we'll explain eight things to help you embrace sustainability by creating an autonomous grid system and more.

8 tips to consider when living off grid

A vintage room's interior

Most of us don't want to admit this, but the main reason why we haven't given in to living off grid is that we're still attached to our possessions and modern conveniences.

There's nothing wrong with having a few luxuries in life, but if you're planning to cut most of them out, then you'll need to become a jack-of-all-trades.

We're not saying you can't call a professional when you have a problem, but simply that you'll need to be able to take care of your home and utilities on your own. If you want to generate electricity, you'll need some knowledge about wind turbines, solar panels, and generators, as well as their maintenance procedures.

If you want to grow your food, you're going to need to learn how to maintain crops, livestock and provide them with clean food and water. You get the drift. The point is, you'll need to pick up many new skills if you want to develop a sustainable off-the-grid homestead.

1. Prioritize energy consumption

Most modern houses require significantly more energy consumption than expected. When using public utilities, the answer is to pay the bill. But when you're generating an independent electrical grid, your wants and needs change.

There are a lot of minor modifications you can make to optimize your power usage and ensure that you don't run out of electricity. But odds are, you will need to reconfigure power-saving tactics.

Take the time to go over every electrical appliance in your house and determine what you don't need. In reality, the more you can do without, the better. Just be prepared to make considerable adjustments in day-to-day life. Regardless, understand that prioritizing energy consumption will play an integral role in your off-grid success.

2. The size and location of your home matters

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

When it comes to energy consumption, even a moderate-sized house will cause problems. The preference for tiny homes is pretty self-explanatory - the less space you cover, the less energy you need to keep it powered. It's not uncommon for people to design a new home from the ground up to accommodate life off the government's power grid.  

As for the location, rural areas provide more space to set up utilities, and there's less red tape involved. Even if you own a sizable piece of land in the city, there are probably too many things that can interfere with your power generation capabilities. 

These interferences can be anything from neighboring houses blocking your solar panels to a lack of wind. In some cases, nearby structures may block the wind flow, making it extremely difficult to pull the right amount of power.

In essence, the further you are from civilization, the more freedom you have to set things up your way. When living off grid, open land is more like a blank canvas.

3. Setting up a power grid: electricity or solar power?

Light bulb

Creating an independent power system is a big task for any homesteading project, and it's also the first step towards building a sustainable home that will last. Although there are many ways to generate renewable energy, it's essential to find a simple solution when first getting started.

Many off-grid newbies resort to solar panels for energy rather than learning how to set up an electrical system. You can always start with a small single cell and build it out as you go. In reality, how much power you need is subjective to your home's size and your level of consumption.

When configuring your layout, keep in mind that the average household in the US uses nearly 900 kWh per month. Using solar panels to pull that much power would cost at least $10,000 and take up as much space as a basketball court.

However, you don't need powerful panels if you listen to our advice and streamline your power consumption as much as possible. Living off grid is about doing things efficiently and with a minimal carbon footprint.

Solar panel pro tips

If you decide to go with a solar system, we suggest the HQST 400W Solar Panel Kit. It will set you back at around $534.

Why we like it: The HQST is used in various off-grid applications that include 12 and 24 volts arrays, water pumping systems, signaling systems, and more. It's great for off-grid applications, such as RVs, trailers, boats, sheds, and cabins.

No matter which solar panel you choose for living off grid, ensure you have the tools and hardware to set it up correctly. In some cases, solar panels come as individual items without any hardware. Other times they come with everything you need, including batteries, inverters, and even portable power stations

Also, take your location and weather conditions into account. The western and southwestern regions of the US experience more sunlight, so they have more potential to produce solar energy. In general, the closer you are to the equator, the more solar power you can generate.

4. Wind power is advantageous

Turbines produce wind energy. Generally speaking, they are much 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 a tenth of that.

Since solar panels rely on sunlight to charge, there are days when the weather doesn't cooperate. While this doesn't render the solar panels useless, you're going to get the best performance out of them in the summer months.

On the other hand, turbines produce energy all year long and are much more reliable when the temperature drops and the winds pick up. Remember that the wind is 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 the wind turbines are unobstructed, you should be fine. It's always a good idea to build them on a high spot to increase your output, although there are many variables for generating consistent wind power. We recommend the Tumo-Int three blades wind turbine, mainly because they come with a kit that has everything that you might need, and for a product that's just under $1000, you're getting a lot of output.

5. Backup power is a good idea

When preparing for living off grid, it's always a good idea to have a reliable backup energy source. Although our advice regarding backup power might go against everything you're trying to do, we still recommend a small gas or propane-powered generator for your off-grid home in case of an emergency.

There will be situations where clean power isn't going to be an option, and you're going to need a backup plan.

Backup power pro tips: 

You can't go wrong with the DuroMax XP12000EH Generator, as it's reliable and provides more than enough power until you get your energy sources back up and running again.

Why we like it: This generator is low maintenance and doesn't eat up that much gas. Additionally, all 50 states approved it.

Consider a wood-burning generator.

Experts agree that wood-burning generators and thermoelectric wood stoves make for an excellent alternative to solar panels when it comes to providing power for your off-grid home. In addition to the essential functions of space and water heating, wood-burning generators can produce enough electricity to power appliances, lights, batteries, and more.

Another benefit of using wood to power your homestead is that you can readily refuel with a bit of manual labor. This option may be problematic if you don't own wooded land, but that's for you to decide.

6. Locate a water supply before you build

A well - water supply

When it comes to finding clean water, you'll need to make daily trips to a water source, start digging or set up a rainwater harvesting operation.

Trying to hit an underground water vein is the best option for a long-term clean water supply for many reasons, but mostly because having a water source on-site is incredibly convenient. Tapping mother earth for water may sound intimidating, but the truth is anybody can turn a hole into a water source using a simple pitcher pump and a little bit of elbow grease. The same is valid for rainwater collection.

The bad news is that clean water sources aren't as common as you'd think, and there are tons of rules, regulations, and building codes about digging wells. So be sure to familiarize yourself with the local laws concerning water supply.

If you're new to living off grid and don't know much about water supplies, be prepared to pay good money for this kind of labor because hiring a crew to help you set up a well and pump will cost you thousands of dollars. If you're lacking startup funds, a common alternative is to locate a nearby water source, filter, and refill as needed. All you need is some plastic buckets, a quality water filtration device, and possibly a pump.

7. Set up an efficient bathroom and sewage system

A toilet

While we're on the topic of water systems, we'll share a few tips about bathrooms and sewage systems for the off-grid homestead.

First, no running water means no functioning sewage system either. Now, a workaround involves creating a septic system by connecting a cistern 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, time, and it's costly to build. Instead of opening up a potential DIY nightmare, we suggest employing a more straightforward approach to your bathroom and sewage layout. 

Our bathroom suggestion:

We like the XKMT- 5 composting toilets (with a removable septic tank). You can easily find a place for these toilets inside or outside your house, they're comfortable, and the five-gallon tanks are easy to remove and clean.

Don't forget that building codes exist, and there's a good chance they will affect what type of sewage system is best for your home. We can't stress the importance of compliance enough because your entire off-grid project could be compromised if things go wrong.

Ideas for off-grid toilets:

There are many DIY options and a plethora of indoor and outdoor toilet options for the modern homesteader. Here are four toilet ideas to help you develop a good solution for your off-grid bathroom.

  • Detached outhouses: Detached outhouses are a simple solution to off-grid toilets. If you go this route, be sure to install it at least 35 feet from your clean water sources. Also, be sure to position it above the water table and flood level.
  • Incinerator toilets: Gas or propane-powered incinerator toilets burn away your waste, so disposal is unnecessary. While practical, they do eat a lot of energy, and the startup costs are well over $1,000, so weigh the pros and cons for your situation.
  • Bucket toilet: This toilet option is as simple as it sounds, and there are obvious pros and cons to doing your business in any makeshift container. A bucket toilet consists of nothing more than a plastic tub with a liner, so it depends on your wants and needs.
  • Composting toilet: The composting option is a simple yet effective way to manage bathroom waste at your off-grid location. Compost toilets evaporate the liquid from human waste and convert the solids to odorless dry material/fertilizer via composting.

8. Produce independent food sources

Food served on a table

Growing food and raising livestock can be a much healthier alternative than buying goods from your local grocery stores, especially when you have a dedicated space and know-how.

You know for a certainty that your garden doesn't contain chemicals, and they aren't artificially enhanced either. And we all know it's significantly cheaper, so growing your food also helps save money. While the process of creating a healthy food source requires a considerable amount of time, dedication, and planning, we can confidently say it's gratifying in the long run.

Yes, in the beginning, you might over-water your plants, and you might need to pick up a few essential garden tools and seeds to get you started, but most people pick up on gardening pretty quickly.

A note on raising livestock:

You'll have a tough time living off grid if you aren't growing food or raising livestock—especially if you're a meat-eater. While all this may seem a bit intimidating, remember to start small. A good jumping point is a chicken coop. Acquire a few chickens and raise some eggs. It's a good idea to get in the habit of feeding the animals, cleaning their area, and harvesting a regular yield. After you feel comfortable with the chickens, move up to pigs, and so on.

If you want to thrive with the off-grid lifestyle, you can't be afraid to learn new things. If you're new to the scene, there's a good chance raising livestock is going to be a challenge.

Final tips for living off grid

Off grid wooden house

We spent the entire article explaining what you need to think about to start living off grid, but the truth is that every little thing you do to make yourself more self-sufficient counts for a lot. 

The secret to living off grid is all about planning and careful preparation. Regardless of the tips mentioned above, take the time to decide what is suitable for your financial situation and individual needs. 

We hope you took the time to consider what it takes to get started living off the grid. Implement as many suggestions as you feel comfortable with, and pretty soon, you'll realize just how much better your off-grid experience will be with a little bit of careful planning.

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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