So, you want to know how to live off the grid. It’s simple, really. Move to the woods, build a cabin, throw on some solar panels and a wind turbine for power, and drill a well. Then start raising chickens, cows, and pigs, start a garden, and sit on your front porch while sipping coffee and staring out at the beautiful natural wilderness around you. Easy, right? Not really.
It takes planning, preparation, and work to make the move off grid. And once you’re there, the work will continue with the maintenance and upkeep of your homestead.
Let’s make this as simple as possible by breaking down, step-by-step, the most important things you need for off grid living. It all goes back to the basics. Living a sustainable life while being self-sufficient is key.
Are you ready?
How to live off the grid: the basics
First, you’ll need a good location. How do you find that? Well, we wrote an in-depth article explaining How To Find Land For Living Off The Grid. It details how to find and pick the perfect property for your needs.
Your land is the foundation of your off grid life. To go off grid, you need a parcel of land that lends itself to your new lifestyle choice. That will usually mean finding land in a remote area, far from strict building codes and permitting regulations. Land in these areas is less expensive, property taxes are lower, and you can get more acreage for your money.
The next thing you need is shelter. This is a fundamental need every human being requires to survive. Your off grid home can come in the form of a cabin, a traditional wood-frame home, a tiny house, a cob house, an Earthship, a strawbale home, or even a yurt, which is basically a large octagonal-shaped tent.
There are many different types of shelters and it’s a good idea to choose which type of shelter you will build or buy long before moving onto your land.
3. Water & Water Collection System
A good clean potable water source is vital for living off the grid. You will most likely not have access to city water or municipal county water sources on your land so you must choose a piece of land that either has a natural water source, or where it’s convenient to haul water.
The other resource you need is a water collection system. This could be something as simple as rain barrel water catchment attached to your home’s gutter, or a more complex cistern water collection system that collects all the rainwater from your roof.
Grow your own food! Since you most likely will not have everyday access to grocery stores and convenience stores to shop for food, you’ll benefit by growing your own in a garden and/or greenhouse.
Ideally, it’s wise to have a traditional garden, some raised beds, and a greenhouse full of fruits and veggies. Meat and eggs can also be produced on your homestead if you have it set up for livestock.
Learning how to preserve and can your own food will also allow you to store your food away in a safe place and build up a nice supply of food in case you need it for an emergency. Then your trips to town can be used to stock up on other necessities.
5. Power Generation System
Off grid power. This is where the actual off grid part comes in. Since you will not be connected to the power grid, you will need to be able to generate electricity yourself. This means having a power generating system with backups that can provide you with all the electricity you will need to run all your appliances, stove, refrigerator, washing machine, tv, computer, and charge your cell phone and other mobile devices.
A few 250 Watt solar panels and a good 250-500 Watt wind turbine will probably suffice for most homes depending on how much power you use at once.
Keep in mind the wind turbine is a good backup for the solar panels. When the sun is not shining there’s usually some kind of wind, but when the wind is not blowing you’ll need the solar panels. Using both power generation technologies will supplement your electricity production and they complement one another.
Another consideration you must make is how much power you use. Most likely during nighttime hours, you will not have any power generation unless the wind is blowing if all you have are solar panels and a wind turbine with no power storage device. We’ll get into that in a minute.
Figure out how much power all your devices and appliances use. To do this, look on the back or underside of your electronic devices and there should be a label or placard detailing the wattage and amperage each device uses. Now take all those numbers, add them up, and that will give you a good idea how much power you might use during any given 24-hour period.
Granted, you most likely will not be using all your devices and appliances at once all day long, but this will help you figure out how much power in wattage you will need to generate, which will help you design your solar power system. You’ll know how many solar panels to buy. Typically four 250 Watt solar panels should be enough when coupled with a wind power system. A 1500 Watt solar system is about average.
It’s also a good idea to have a backup gas or preferably bio-diesel-powered generator. You can get a 1500 to 3000 Watt generator fairly inexpensively for under $1000.
6. Power Storage System
So… You’re generating your own electricity during the day. That’s great. But when the sun goes down and the wind stops blowing, guess what? Unless you have a storage system, you won’t have electricity. So, if you plan on watching movies on Netflix or surfing the internet late at night, then you’re going to need a battery power storage system.
This is where it gets expensive as battery technology is kind of lagging behind solar panel technology. Batteries, however, are getting better and are able to store more electricity for longer periods of time more efficiently than ever before. But you’re going to pay for it. They are not cheap, and the battery bank and storage system complete with charge controller, inverter, etc. could set you back as much as the solar panels and wind turbine combined.
Many folks opt out of purchasing a battery storage system because it could double the cost of any solar power system.
All in all, this is a personal choice that you need to make. I personally would choose to have battery backups rather than rely solely on the power coming directly from the solar panels and wind turbine. If you have the money, a good battery power storage system is worth its weight in gold.
7. Waste Disposal & Septic System
No one likes talking about it, but it’s a fact of life. You’re going to have to deal with waste disposal. You’ll have to have some sort of composting waste disposal system, or you’ll dig a traditional septic system. Either way, you will have to follow local and federal guidelines on waste disposal.
Besides the law, it’s just not sanitary to dump your waste into a hole and hope for the best. This is not to say that this is wrong, just don’t do it near your water source or your animal’s water source if you raise livestock. Build a proper septic system. If you’re into using your own waste as fertilizer, then more power to you. Just know that the city, county, federal guidelines probably won’t allow it.
8. The Mindset & Will to Live Off The Grid
Perhaps the most important thing you need to live off grid is the mindset and the will. It’s easy to talk about and say you’d love to live off the grid, free from the confines and drudgery of modern life. The idea of that kind of freedom can be enticing. It takes hard work though, and lots of it.
Living sustainably takes a solid commitment, sharp focus, and motivation. The self-sufficient lifestyle is at the heart of independence and with that independence comes responsibility, not just for your lifestyle choice, but to your family and those depending on you.
Living off the grid can be expensive to get started and will take lots of hard work on your part to keep it going.
But if you’re ready, willing, and able the rewards are great.
These people are living off the grid!
To help inspire you a bit, we’ve decided to show you some of our favorite stories of people who decided to leave their old lives behind and move off grid. They built their own homes, set up their own power and waste systems, and most grow their own food.
California Earthship – This couple built their beautiful 500-square-foot Earthship home for less than $10k. They knew nothing about construction before undertaking this project. They had a goal and learned along the way how to make it happen.
Cabin built in 12 days in Canada – This family’s off grid tiny cabin was built in just 12 days! Like many of the off grid homes we’ve featured, this cabin is built with many recycled materials to keep costs low.
Off grid tiny house in Australia – This house truly has it all. This family decided to go off grid and build a completely self-sustaining homestead with no prior experience.
Off grid A-frame in the Catskills – This A-frame in New York’s Catskill mountains is one of the most beautiful cabins we have featured. When we say off grid living doesn’t mean primitive living, this is a perfect example.
Joshua Tree shipping container home – We can’t talk about off grid homes without mentioning shipping containers! Shipping containers are the perfect building blocks for resilient sustainable homes.
Australia shipping container homestead – A couple in Australia downsized from their large suburban home and built their off grid homes out of 3 shipping containers.