If you’re wondering how to live off the grid, you’re probably dreaming of a simpler life—much simpler. But just how do you do that? And what exactly is the “grid,” anyway?
Originally, the grid referred to the United States’ electrical system. An estimated 200,000 Americans have unplugged from this power network and have embraced off-grid living, opting for more self-sufficient and eco-friendly alternatives such as solar and wind power.
Today, the term “living off the grid” also refers to shunning gas and sewer lines (at least as much as possible), cutting off your cell service, and generally getting away from dependence on technology and outside resources. Sometimes far away. Off-gridders aim, essentially, to reduce their carbon footprint and, all in all, lead a simpler, more self-sufficient life.
It’s tough but, if you’re committed, fully doable to leave the electric grid behind. If you want to learn how to leave the grid, read on. (Then get off the internet already—that’s the first step for weaning yourself from the grid.)
How to embrace off-grid living…
If you’re going to live off the land and embrace an off-grid lifestyle, you’ll want it to be a land of plenty, right? For that reason, people who’ve figured out how to live off the grid usually build homes in rural areas with cheap land, abundant natural resources—and maybe even room for solar panels.
Locations with energy sources for electricity like wind or sun and water reserves like rivers, lakes, and wells are ideal. (You can search for waterfront property on realtor.com.)
… or live like a modern-day nomad
Others like living off the grid while on the move.
Steve Santagati, author of the bestselling “The Manual,” said farewell to the energy grid last year by swapping his home in Los Angeles for a 72-square-foot van that he converted into a fully functional home.
“The idea is to have the comforts of a normal home but be completely self-contained, relying only on Mother Nature (via solar power and panels) and your wits,” says Santagati.
Downsize your shelter for off-grid living
Most off-grid homes are custom-built for maximum efficiency—that means no wasted space to heat or cool and no utility and energy bills to worry about. (Tiny homes are perfect if you think leaving the grid is all about cutting back.)
“Spend a lot of time researching and planning a cozy space that suits your lifestyle,” says Santagati. He recommends designing something that’s simple and ergonomic, with space that flows. Keep it clean and reduce clutter.
“Remember, you won’t have a huge house, so you will make compromises,” he explains. “But the rewards and freedom from the grid are worth it.”
Use the wind to generate your own electricity when living off-grid
You may be completely off the grid, but you can still generate electricity (you just won’t have to pay a utility bill). We’re talking about sustainable resources like a wind turbine (prices range from about $500 to $2,500) or solar panels (Santagati used Renogy Solar 100 watt monocrystalline solar panels), as well as a Goal Zero Yeti solar generator (“It retails for around $1,300”).
Since you no longer have the grid, you won’t own traditional outlets, so a generator provides a place to plug in electronics.
Be sustainable: Grow your own food for off-grid living
Many people living off the grid grow their own food in gardens. Meanwhile, cooking is best done “with a one-burner propane stovetop,” Santagati says.
Outdoor fire pits and a barbecue also work as part of an off-grid lifestyle. If you find like-minded neighbors, you can create an off-grid community and share your resources, including solar power, waste disposal, and microhydro systems.
Figure out refrigeration for off-grid living
Many people can live without microwave popcorn (at least for a while), but all of us need to keep food from spoiling. Santagati bought a Whynter portable fridge, which consumes very little electricity (79 watts when running).
“Your refrigerator, water pump, and TV monitor will burn the most juice, so choose wisely,” says Santagati.
Find or install a water source for off-grid H2O
You can still have a shower, sink, and toilet off the grid, but the amount of water you’ll use will radically decrease.
“Install a 15- or 20-gallon storage tank, and it’ll be more than enough,” says Santagati. “Where you get water”—whether in a well, cistern, river, etc.—”will depend on your situation.”
You’ll also need to figure out a way to deal with what everyone else flushes down the toilet. If you don’t have a bathroom—composting toilets that use zero water are an option—there’s no need for a waste-holding tank. Set up your shower outside your home to save precious indoor space.
“Use a propane tank for your hot water on-demand Eccotemp heater,” says Santagati. “I got the latter for $125, and it came with a pump.” Also keep in mind: No washing machine means you need to choose your wardrobe (and lifestyle) carefully for function, utility, and durability.
If this off-grid primer leaves you feeling intrigued (as opposed to grossed out, stressed out, and clutching your iPad for dear life), then who knows? Not having to depend on an electric system has many advantages and you can probably figure out how to live off the grid easily.