If you’re looking for an alternative to modern living and want to reduce your carbon footprint, you might consider living off the grid. This type of lifestyle can bring more independence and freedom than what you’re used to. Here’s a practical guide to living off the grid for beginners and frequently asked questions to help you decide if it’s right for you.
What does it mean to live off the grid?
When you live off the grid, you rely on the land and surrounding resources to sustain your lifestyle. It’s up to you to provide the essential systems and services you need for everyday life.
While living off the grid isn’t for everyone, it’s worth considering if you’d like to get away from the chaos of modern life, connect with nature, and live more sustainably.
There are a number of benefits to this lifestyle, including:
- Positive impact on the environment: In an off-the-grid life, you’ll likely rely on renewable energy sources, such as wind power or solar energy. In doing so, you’ll no longer consume fossil fuels — like oil, natural gas, and coal — which are heavy water and air pollutants. Not only does this promote a healthier environment, but it can also give you an incredible sense of satisfaction.
- Health and happiness: Embarking off the grid frees your household from the busyness of modern life. By sharing the responsibilities of a sustainable lifestyle — such as farming together — you can also strengthen the connection between you and your family. Another unique benefit is the ability to improve your health. With control over food production, you can eliminate processed foods from your diet — and all of the adverse effects that spawn from it.
- Control and self-sufficiency: When you commit to an off-the-grid lifestyle, you take complete control of your life. It’s up to you to sustain and nourish yourself, which can foster a great sense of independence.
- Reduced expenses: You’ll have the opportunity to live frugally and significantly cut the cost of living. In addition to reduced utility expenses, you can expect lower grocery bills, decreased transportation expenses, and less money spent on leisure purchases.
Preparing for off-grid living
There’s no denying that off-grid living offers many benefits. However, it can also be very challenging and requires a great deal of hard work and commitment. Here’s what you’ll need to do to ensure you’re ready for an off-the-grid lifestyle:
Choose the right location
If you move off the grid, you’ll need somewhere to do it. Ideally, you want to purchase a plot of rural land that offers:
- Access to a clean water supply
- Arable land
- Plenty of solar or wind exposure
- Close access to healthcare services
- Year-round accessibility to towns
While the amount of land you’ll need will depend on your personal preferences as well as how many people are in your family, it should be no less than a quarter of an acre.
Before purchasing the perfect location to suit your off-the-grid lifestyle, brush up on all local laws and zoning regulations in that area. Keep in mind that you may need permits for activities like collecting rainwater or installing a septic tank.
Consider essential off-grid systems
There are several systems that you’ll need to live comfortably and survive, including:
It’s important to have a power source. You’ll want to be sure you can produce the energy needed to power and heat your home — which makes solar power essential. A solar generator is a good option as it can allow you to harvest and store energy you can use at any time.
Typically, a solar generator has foldable panels and a portable, high-capacity power station. While solar power is often imperative for an off-the-grid lifestyle, it can be expensive, with an initial investment of at least $15,000.
Additionally, you’ll need to establish a water source. If you have the funds, you might want to drill a well to collect and move water around easily. Adding a well to your property can be costly, with the average cost to drill a well being around $5,500.
Another more popular and affordable option is rainwater harvesting, which costs an average of $2,500. Rainwater harvesting is when you collect rainwater for later use. You can attach a rain barrel to your home’s gutter or invest in a more robust cistern water collection system to collect rainwater from your roof. Check with your local authorities for rules regarding rainwater harvesting, as there may be some limitations you'll have to follow.
On par with having a water supply, you’ll need to take measures to ensure it’s safe and clean to drink. Water purification is a critical part of relying on your own systems. Some ways to purify your water are:
- Mechanical filters
- Boiling water
- UV water purifiers
- Chemical disinfectors
Waste management is another vital consideration in preparing to live off the grid, as you won’t be connected to a city sewage system. You’ll need to determine how to dispose of the waste from your toilet, used water from your shower and sinks, and other trash.
You can build a septic system or have one installed for an average of $7,409. It may also be worth exploring composting toilets. With such toilets, you can forgo the septic system and convert waste into compost. The downside, however, is that composting toilets require far more maintenance than a septic system.
Other popular waste management methods include:
- Reduce, reuse, and recycle whenever possible
- Composting to manage organic waste
- Greywater systems to reuse wastewater from sinks, showers, and washers
- Burn barrels or incinerators to dispose of burnable waste
Food production and preservation
If you choose to live off the grid, you’ll need to grow your own food and properly store it. You can grow fruits and veggies as well as raise livestock for meat and eggs.
Hunting is another strategy for meat but may only be an option a few times a year, depending on where you live. If you’re close to a body of water, it may be worth exploring fishing, as it’s typically permitted year-round and can provide a consistent food supply.
In addition, you can always go to the grocery store or local market to purchase some food. You may decide to do so if there are certain items that you simply can’t or don’t want to produce on your own.
To preserve food, you can use various strategies, such as canning, dehydrating, freezing, and pickling. The right approach depends on the type of food you hope to store and your personal preferences.
Heating and cooling
If you choose to live off the grid in a colder climate, you’ll have to determine how to heat your home. You may invest in a wood stove, but be prepared to pay a few thousand dollars in installation costs. It may also make sense to purchase a propane heater in addition to the stove.
For more cost-effective and simple ways to keep your home warm, you can invest in winterizing the property. For example, keep your home warm by insulating it with natural materials, such as wool.
To keep your house cool in warm temperatures, you can install shades to block the sun and keep the heat from entering your property. Fans may be helpful as well, especially in the summer months when temperatures are at their peak.
Building an off-grid home
In a perfect scenario, you’d find a perfect plot of land with your dream home already built. Since this is unlikely, you may need to build an off-grid cabin or home from scratch or explore another option like a manufactured home, yurt, or RV.
If you do build a house, remember to prioritize safety, functionality, and durability. Keep things simple and avoid complex designs and systems to reduce your expenses. Helpful tips to bear in mind when designing your home are:
- Weatherproof your home to protect its structural integrity and safeguard against the elements.
- Plan for natural ventilation to maintain air quality.
- Ensure your home is well-insulated.
- Give yourself enough storage space for food, water reserves, and other necessities that may be hard to get at a moment’s notice.
- Ensure that you design your home in a way that allows for plenty of natural light.
If you want to build your own home but lack the funds to do so, you can always choose a temporary option, like an RV or tiny home first. You can then save up to eventually build a larger, more permanent space for you and your family.
Sustaining your lifestyle
While off-the-grid living will significantly reduce your expenses, you’ll still need to pay property taxes, utilities, and routine home maintenance. You’ll also need to cover the cost of living, which includes food, transportation, and other expenses.
Fortunately, there are many ways you can earn money. If you’re currently employed and have a good relationship with your employer, you can negotiate a permanent work-from-home arrangement or hybrid schedule.
Freelance or contract work is another viable option, especially if you consider yourself an expert in a specific area. You can find flexible work online, such as being a social media marketer or virtual assistant. You’ll be able to pick up clients or gigs as you wish and have more control over the hours you work and the income you earn.
Other ways to mitigate financial volatility are to grow and sell produce, rent out your current home to others, or make and sell items online.
Frequently asked questions
How much does it cost to go off the grid?
There are many factors that will determine how much you may pay to move off the grid, including your location, needs, and preferences. While you can spend anywhere from $12,447 to $463,260, the average cost of moving off the grid is $101,087. It all depends on how you design your life and what’s important to you.
Is off-grid living legal everywhere?
You can legally live off the grid in any state. However, you’ll have to follow specific regulations and requirements imposed by your state or local jurisdiction. Before you decide to pursue an off-the-grid lifestyle, do your research and consult local authorities so you’re aware of and comply with all laws, zoning regulations, and permitting requirements.
What are the challenges of living off the grid?
While living off the grid can be rewarding, it requires a lot of hard work and commitment. Once you set up your home, you’ll have to maintain it and provide for yourself and your loved ones.
There’s also an upfront investment, which can be expensive. Other challenges include isolation — it can make you feel lonely, especially if enjoy regular human interaction.
How do I stay connected while off the grid?
Rest assured, you can still keep in touch with your friends and family when you live off the grid. As long as you have a reliable cell signal, you can use a smartphone with an internet hotspot. Another option is satellite internet, if it’s available through an internet provider at your location. If you decide to live at or near an RV park, you may be able to use its Wi-Fi.
Can I modify my current home to live off the grid?
Yes, you can change your current home to fit your off-the-grid lifestyle. To start, you can update your home to be more energy-efficient and sustainable. You can replace systems to leverage renewable resources. For example, you can change your utility power supply to solar. You can also grow a garden or raise livestock to change how you get your food.
What about healthcare and emergencies?
Since a health issue or emergency can strike when you least expect it, it’s essential to be prepared. Ensure you have a well-stocked first aid kit readily available. You can also better prepare for emergencies by enrolling in a Wilderness First Responder course. Additionally, choosing a location with easy access to healthcare services can help make responding to emergencies easier.
As with anything, living off the grid comes with a number of benefits and challenges. However, if you’re ready to leave modern life behind you in exchange for more freedom, self-sufficiency, and sustainability, it may be the right decision.
This is particularly true if you’re prepared to make the right initial investments and learn the skills you need to live a successful, fulfilling off-the-grid lifestyle. If you’re looking to cover the cost of off-grid living, consider tapping your home equity. Point’s Home Equity Investment (HEI) can provide you with the funds to support your off-the-grid lifestyle, with no monthly payments.