Deciding to live off the grid is one of the most significant and challenging decisions a prepper can make. If you can pull it off, you’re looking at a future that doesn’t rely on public resources like water and electricity --- one that’s sustainable, affordable, and possibly debt-free.
But this ideal future is not for the faint of heart.
Living off the grid is a huge lifestyle choice and one that’s not to be taken lightly. Maintaining your own power source, plumbing, and food supply takes a lot of work and getting used to, especially if you’ve lived in an urban or suburban setting all your life.
If you’re keen on giving up life as you know it and pursue the ultimate off-grid dream, you have to carefully plan your course of action. This guide should help you start your off-grid living journey.
Living off the grid essentially means living without being connected to public utilities like the local power grid and water supply. Often, it also means being independent of grocery stores and supermarkets for food and other basic needs.
There are different ways to live off-grid. You can have a fairly nomadic setup and reside in a boathouse, motorhome or RV, but most of the time, living off the grid is associated with living in a homestead several miles away from the nearest town.
Most folks are attracted to off-grid living because of the relative freedom it provides. See, when you live off-grid, you don’t have to worry about power or water bills. You should be capable of growing your own food, so you don’t have to spend a lot of money on groceries. Most of all, you don’t have to stress over crippling mortgages.
On a prepper perspective, living off the grid is the ultimate fail-safe against socio-economic collapse and turmoil. In a SHTF situation, you can safely hunker down in your off-grid homestead with a stocked prepper pantry, thriving survival garden, and alternative energy sources. In short, when the grid goes down, you don’t go down with it.
Living off the grid does not only ensure short-term safety from looting and riots. It also serves as a way to survive for in the long run as well.
How To Start Living Off-Grid
Living off the grid requires extensive research, careful planning, logistics and of course, money. This guide will help you plan your big move by discussing the following aspects:
- Acquiring Off-Grid Land
- Planning Your Shelter
- Alternative Energy Options
- Off-grid Water Supply
- Off-grid Communication
If you’re ready, let’s dive right in:
Acquiring Off-Grid Land
Living off the grid is essentially a real estate investment. That means it’s all about location, location, location. Knowing where you want to settle down will ultimately dictate every other aspect of your off-grid future like your water system, power source, and food.
While some think that acquiring off-grid land is near-impossible, it’s actually quite doable...and cheap, too.
First things first: narrow your location down.
Pick a state and county where you want to live and then scout the area for parcels of land that are for sale or lease. You can check the county papers for ads, or search realty websites for off-grid land.
Better yet, you can go on a weekend road trip and check out the prospective properties yourself. You might even want to visit the area at different times of the year to see how it holds up with the seasons.
Some people like to live somewhere temperate while some individuals want to settle down in warmer parts of the country. The decision totally depends on you. Just consider the following factors when choosing land for off-grid living:
Look For Raw or Agricultural Land
- Raw lands are far cheaper than developed ones. You obviously have to put in more work in clearing and making it habitable, but in the end, this allows you to save a lot of money. It also affords you more freedom to do what you want with your lot.
- If a raw parcel of land is too much work, you can settle for agricultural lands. They’re still more affordable than developed residential lots and are better equipped for farming or raising livestock.
Permits, building codes, and zoning ordinances
- Know the area’s building codes and zoning ordinances. Ideally, you’d want to have an off-grid property where building codes, permits, and zoning ordinances are lenient or even non-existent.
- Exercise due diligence and make sure that the land has a clean title. Have someone survey the land beforehand so you know just how large or small the property is and to avoid any ownership issues in the future.
- Stay away from lands with covenants or restrictions that can prevent you from building a small house, installing your own power and water sources, or growing your own food.
- Some states require houses to be hooked to the power grid or sewage system, while others even prohibit camping in one’s own land for an extended period of time. Take all of this into consideration when selecting your off-grid location.
Accessibility and Communication
- Even when you’re living off the grid, you still have to consider accessibility. The best off-grid locations are those far enough from the general populace but have access to roads in case of emergencies. Make sure that the path to your property is clear and passable for vehicles, even during inclement weather
- Do you need to be connected to the internet? If so, make sure that your area has internet service providers who can hook you up with a connection.
- Consider what makes the area ideal for long-term living. What crops thrive in the area? Does it have a viable water source, like a spring or well? Will it be easy to raise animals for a living? How cold is it during the winter? What other alternative energy sources can you utilize?
- And last but not the least, don’t discount the value of personal appeal. Hey, maybe you like the property because it’s got a nice view, is near your favorite hiking trail or you’ve got really pleasant neighbors. Remember, you don’t wanna live somewhere you don’t personally like, so don’t forget to take your personal preference into consideration.
Building An Off-Grid Shelter
Some off-grid properties already come with their own cabins or cottages. Other locations, as we mentioned earlier, need a bit more work.
While building an off-grid shelter with your own two hands sounds exciting, you gotta first make sure that construction is legal in the first place. Again, many states prohibit the building of structures smaller than the mandated building size. On the flip side, there are some areas that reward tax exemptions to small homes, so keep that in mind when planning your off-grid shelter.
Most off-grid folks like to build their houses from reclaimed wood or local timber so it’s cheaper and easier to transport. They usually employ traditional building methods and use concrete as little as possible.
Other off-grid dwellings are more eccentric. Some people live in giant circular tents called yurts, while others live in Earthships, or dwellings that are designed like giant greenhouses made mostly from upcycled materials.
When building your off-grid shelter, lay out an efficient floor plan and design it in a way that takes advantage of the climate and natural geography. For example, many off-grid homes have large, south-facing windows to allow passive heating, even during the winter months. The more natural light and ventilation you get, the less energy you have to use to heat your house.
As for heating, most folks use a good old wood burning stove, usually located in the kitchen or middle part of the house.
Many houses are also designed to reuse greywater to flush toilets, clean cars, or even water the plants.
Alternative Energy For Your Off-Grid Shelter or Homestead
Living without a power grid connection can take a bit of getting used to. When you’re on the grid, it’s easy to just flip a switch or turn an appliance on without second thought. That’s not the case when you’re trying to live off-grid.
For one thing, you’ll be generating your own power and it’s not unlimited. You'll have to be more conscious about using appliances that eat up power like an iron, vacuum cleaner, or air conditioner.
You’ll also have to be your own handyman. You'll have to learn how to install and maintain your power system. There may be technicians in your area, but for the most part, you’ll be flying solo. You’ll have to familiarize yourself with how electric systems work and how to fix them if something happens.
Solar Power For Your Off-Grid Property
There are many types of off-grid energy sources out there, but solar power is arguably the most common and feasible one.
Off-grid solar systems use energy from the sun to run appliances. Here’s a simplified explanation of how the process works:
- The solar panels absorb sunlight and convert it into DC power.
- Through an inverter, DC power is converted into AC, which is then used to run appliances.
- Any extra juice can be stored in batteries, to be used for later.
Using solar energy is ideal for off-grid setups because it’s renewable, virtually unlimited and highly accessible in many places. Solar power systems are also cost-efficient and, unlike hydro or wind power, don't require many moving parts. The fact that it doesn't have any harmful by-products is also a huge plus.
Solar energy is preferable if you're living in a place that receives a lot of sunlight. Maximize your solar power by placing your panels in strategic locations like your roof. Make sure to take care of any existing leaks or roofing problems before installing your panels.
If you're keen on placing your panels on an unshaded part of your property, you can have a movable frame built around the panels so you can adjust them to according to the position of the sun in the sky.
While solar energy systems are now cheaper than ever, the parts and installation will cost you a bit up front. It's always best to determine the amount of energy your house is going to consume before installing the system. Also, calculate the amount of time it would take for your investments to return as savings so you won't be pinching pennies along the way.
Of course, solar isn’t the end-all, be-all of alternative energy. If you're curious about other off-grid energy sources like wind or hydropower, check out this article.
Having a clean and sustainable water source is another challenge for off-grid living. Thankfully, there are many water solutions out there, including the following:
You can eliminate the need to set up an expensive water system by making sure that your land has a viable water source in the first place. Check if the property has its own water source, like a well or spring.
Having a single well in your property can provide you with a steady source of H2O for drinking, cleaning and watering your plants and livestock. Water from wells can be pumped up using an electric system or an old-fashioned hand-crank.
The downside is that wells can be pretty expensive to dig. Depending on your location, hitting the water is also not a guarantee.
Another sustainable and virtually free water source is rainwater. This is ideal if you live in an area that regularly gets several inches of rain each year.
All you have to do is plan and construct a rainwater catchment system. It's as simple as installing your home with a rain gutter that flows into a sturdy barrel or drum. Make sure that the barrel has its own spigot or tap so you can access the water with ease.
You can use this harvested H2O to water the plants and livestock, flush the toilets and clean the house. You can also purify rainwater through filtration and chemical methods to make it safe for consumption.
When implemented correctly, you can harvest as much as 600 gallons of water after a moderate rain shower.
If drilling a well is impractical and rainfall is scant in your area, you can look for alternative water systems, like the use of cisterns.
Cisterns can hold large amounts of clean water at a given time and can be placed underground to avoid contamination and freezing during the colder months.
The disadvantage is that cisterns are hardly sustainable or budget-friendly in the long run. Unless it's a spring-fed cistern, you'll need to have water delivered to fill your reservoir. It's not the most self-reliant way to go about, but cisterns are a solid interim plan while you dig that well or find something more sustainable.
The goal of going off-grid is to be self-reliant, and that idea applies to food as well.
You may have to do grocery runs at the beginning, but in the long run, you have to know how to be self-sufficient and eventually live off the land.
People who live off the grid tend to transform their properties into productive homesteads, where they grow crops and raise livestock for personal consumption and business.
Planting A (Survival) Garden
One of the easiest ways to produce food on your off-grid property is by growing a vegetable garden.
You can fill your vegetable garden with high-calorie, high-yield crops like mushrooms, berries, potatoes, tomatoes, kale, and even corn. You can consume your own produce or sell a portion of it at the local farmer's market.
Growing herbs like basil, thyme, and rosemary can also prove to be very beneficial. You can use these plants for both their nutritional and medicinal purposes.
While some preppers keep neat hedges and rows, others prefer to plant survival gardens where they grow edible “weeds” like dandelion and stinging nettles together with the usual food crops. The goal of a survival garden is to deter looters from stealing your crops in case SHTF by hiding your garden in plain sight. You can learn more about growing your own survival garden here.
Another sustainable option would be to raise your own animals for food and profit.
Poultry like chickens and ducks are ideal for beginning homesteaders as they’re cheap to acquire, easy to keep and can yield a lot of meat and eggs.
Ducks and chickens can virtually eat anything and can be left to roam free-range to take care of pests like slugs and worms. In harsher weather, you can keep them in simple shelters for warmth and protection. Their waste products contain a lot of nitrogen, which serves as excellent fertilizer to your crops.
Other livestock includes pigs, goats, and cows. Pigs are mostly raised for their meat, while cows and goats provide milk and other dairy products. These animals obviously need bigger space, more food and a higher level of maintenance, so try raising them once you’ve gained a bit of confidence after dealing with poultry.
If you want to know more about raising your own livestock, check this article.
Food Preservation Is Key
Of course, producing your own food isn’t enough--- you also have to know how to make your produce last longer. If you can’t eat or sell your fresh products fast enough, you have to learn how to preserve them.
One of the easiest ways to preserve food is through canning. You can turn your excess fruits and berries into jellies and jams and store them through this method. Meat products can also be canned, cured or dehydrated. For an in-depth look at food preservation methods, check out this comprehensive article.
Earning From Your Produce
For many homesteaders, their produce is not only good for sustenance, it’s also a great source of income.
A great way to earn from your homestead is to offer a special product or unique service. For example, if the farmer’s markets are full of the same crops, you can stand out by selling products like rare mushrooms or heirloom vegetables instead.
You can also start a plant nursery and give classes and tours to city folk.
Other ideas include producing essential oils from your plants, making cheese and other dairy products, creating spice rubs, selling live animals or marketing bee products like honey and beeswax.
A couple of decades ago, living off-grid would have been synonymous with living under a rock. But now, times have changed: you may live off the grid, but you can still be connected to the rest of the world, thanks to the internet.
Many off-grid properties across the country are still connected to the Internet for communication, business and information purposes. People with kids use them as mediums for homeschooling, while some folks run online businesses and transact from their laptops. Others simply use the internet as a backup in case of emergencies.
While challenging and costly upfront, there are internet service providers who can hook you up with WiFi even when you’re off the grid. If the upfront cost is too high for you, it’s possible to pool your resources with other homesteaders in the area.
Other modes of communication include having satellite phones and ham radios to reach people in case of emergencies.
Living off-grid is not a choice to be taken lightly. It’s a huge leap of faith, even for seasoned preppers. However, if you do your homework and put in the needed time and effort, you’re looking at a self-reliant future that’s potentially free from mortgages and bills.
Learning how to live without relying on the grid for water, power and other “necessities” can be daunting at the beginning, but in the end, it’s all going to be worth it. Sure, there’s going to be a lot of challenges, but if others made it, you can too!
Are you planning to take the leap and live off the grid soon? Share your experiences in the comments below!