How to Live Off the Grid
How long has it been since you've thought, "I want to live off the grid?" If it was recently, you wouldn't be alone. In America, 250,000 people live off-grid, a number projected to expand significantly over the next decade. But knowing how to live off the grid isn't all sunshine and stargazing; preparing to live off the grid takes tons of planning.
Understanding how to survive off the grid requires knowing about local off-grid laws, finding land, building shelter, securing resources, and disconnecting from utilities. As we said, it's a lot of work.
Does the statement "I want to live off the grid" still sound like something you're up for? If so, keep reading, and we'll break down the different ways to go off the grid and the essential steps to free yourself from the oppressive and pricy grid system.
What is Off-Grid living?
First, to know how to go off the grid, you must know what "off-grid" means. But just as importantly, know what it doesn't mean.
Going off the grid doesn't mean dropping ties with all friends, loved ones, and associates and living as a hermit. Some do this. But let's be honest; it would probably get old. Ultimately, to be truly off grid means completely untying oneself from public utilities like the electric grid, municipal water, and sewer. So you can't call yourself a true off-gridder if you rely on public power or utilities at all to survive.
In essence, to answer the question, "What do you need to live off the grid?" all you need is to dissociate yourself entirely from the electric grid and public utilities. But why do people want to know how to go off the grid and live off the land in the first place?
You'll hear people say, "I want to live off grid" for several reasons, including:
- Sustainability and eco-consciousness: Adopting renewable energy systems like solar or wind energy
- Energy independence: Cutting ties with utility companies for financial reasons or because they experience continuous poor quality or reliability issues
- On-the-go lifestyles: RVs and van lifers who bounce around and camp anywhere, not relying on campsites to provide electricity, water, and sewerage
- Natural disaster preperation: Installing systems in case of periods of prolonged power outage due to a natural disaster
- Homestead lifestyle: Creating a plot of land completely independent of public utilities, services, and businesses
To return to that initial statement, "How do you live off the grid?" clearly, there isn't one answer. It might look like 1,001 different ways. It can even be a gradual process as you understand what you need to live off the grid as you see fit.
Alright, now we've established what living off grid is. Next, we'll dive into how to start living off grid.
Preparing for Off-Grid Living
Here's a hint: the first thing to do after asking, "How can I live off the grid" isn't tying a knapsack to a broom handle and trudging out into the nearest forest. You must understand the technical and legal issues before embracing the rugged lifestyle you've dreamed of.
The best way to live off the grid is according to legal boundaries, safety standards, and regulations. Following the rules may seem counterintuitive to those looking to turn their noses up at society. But don't be dumb. Educating yourself reduces the probability of hassle and headaches later on.
So, if someone asks, "How do you go off the grid?" tell them the first steps to going off grid are to understand the local, state, and federal laws around off-grid living. Laws and regulations vary by location, and many counties require residents to be tied to public utilities, making these locations ineligible for those looking to get off grid.
Next, select your preferred type of off-grid lifestyle. For example, preparing for an on-the-go setup is massively different than figuring out how to prepare to live off the grid in a home.
Once the style is nailed down, select what you'll do for food, survival gear, utilities, water, waste management, and more. These are all necessary for getting started living off the grid.
You may be feeling overwhelmed and questioning how do people live off the grid in the first place. Don't sweat, we're about to tell you what you need to live off grid in greater detail. Then you can decide if it's for you.
Choose where to live, choose how, and choose wisely
There are three rules to understanding how to live off the grid. These rules are the same as choosing to live anywhere else: location, location, location.
As soon as you begin wondering, "How do I go off the grid," begin to research the various states and how they handle off-grid living. Then select somewhere that appeals to you and has lax enough off-grid laws to accommodate what you need to live off grid.
Living off grid in every state is legal. But the laws vary; some are stricter with zoning regulations and building codes than others. Also, remember that just because it's legal to live off the grid in areas of all 50 states, that doesn't mean it's legal everywhere in the states. In fact, it's illegal to live off grid in most areas. So, when figuring out how to get off the grid, conduct heavy research to ensure you've learned all you need about zoning, building codes, utilities, internet connectivity, and more.
Lastly, some want to know how to completely go off the grid and disappear. This takes the heaviest preparation, as it requires eliminating your online identity, financial trail, and physical presence. It also likely requires ditching the smartphone and other internet-connected devices. In extreme cases, you must also cut ties with relatives, friends, and loved ones.
Then, finally, you'll need to ask yourself, "What do I need to live off grid," from a traceability standpoint. You must evaluate locations based on traffic, surveillance cameras, and isolation. After choosing the location, you face more work setting up reliable ways to harvest resources to ensure you won't have to rely on stores, contractors, or services for help.
Build or convert a living space
There's no answering the question, "How can you live off the grid" without referring to living space.
Whether you want to know how to live partially off the grid or go full throttle and disappear, you'll need shelter equipped with the right tools and systems to break away from public services. There are a few options to consider when choosing a living space. The first is whether you want to go mobile or stationary.
If stationary is your style, most recommend building a tiny off-grid home. These homes are affordable, minimalistic, and geared for off-grid systems. Often, it's just as financially sensible to build a small house as to convert an existing one, but it also largely depends on how much space you need. However, a small house gives you more flexibility regarding where you can build the house.
Perhaps the little house on the prairie isn't for you, and you'd rather live everywhere. In that case, you'll need to check out vans, RVs, campers, and other mobile domiciles with off-grid utility systems. There are fewer legal hoops to jump through with mobile options. Of course, you'll need insurance. Also, you still must research how to legally live off the grid for vehicles, as there are still regulations around waste management and utilities.
Dig for water, or take it from the sky
Anyone trying to figure out how to be off the grid needs water just as much as they need shelter.
Start by planning how you'll procure a consistent source of potable water. Many who embrace the homestead lifestyle choose to install a well. You can install either a hand pump or a mechanical pump; just ensure it won't run dry. If you aren't sure how to do this, call a professional to install it and provide a full inspection. After installing the well, get a pressure storage tank or cistern that holds enough water for you, your family, and any livestock. Storage is crucial in case the well dries up, and you'll need a good purification system to protect from bacteria and harmful particulate.
Another option for water is to set up a rainwater catchment system. But this requires more legal research because collecting rainwater in some states is illegal.
Let there be light: How to power an off-grid home
Once you start questioning how to get started living off the grid, never forget about power. In sunny areas, solar energy is an excellent option that's becoming more affordable and effective each year. To start, owners can purchase complete off grid solar kits with a simple setup and even have extended service to help install and maintain the system. Perhaps the best part about solar energy kits is that they allow users to add battery capacity and panels as their need grows, and many are plug-and-play systems, making upping power storage super easy.
If you want a budget option, the most affordable option for power is wind energy. There are plenty of DIY wind turbine systems you can create with PVC pipe and sheet metal. You can construct these for free if you can access a scrap yard, but these are less reliable and effective than solar energy kits.
How Hard is it to Live Off the Grid?
Now we've established how to start off grid living. But what does it take to live off the grid in terms of know-how? The level of difficulty comes down to two things: knowledge and planning. If you know a lot about building shelters, harvesting resources, hunting, fishing, farming, and off-grid living, the process is much easier.
Suppose you aren't that handy when it comes to outdoor survival. Don't let a lack of knowledge deter you. Figuring out how to survive off grid is possible with the right research. Start by reading articles and books explaining how to begin living off the grid. These will provide plenty of information on preparing the soil for gardening and plenty of survival techniques.
How Much Does it Cost to Live Off Grid?
Figuring how to go off the grid and live off the land successfully does not come at a small cost, but it provides immense returns over time. Being independent in terms of utilities, food, water, and resources eliminates many recurring costs and saves thousands every year.
Of course, if you're interested in figuring out how to go off the grid completely, it costs more than just going so partially. You can expect the overall cost to be between $30,000-$100,000. Here's a basic breakdown to answer the question, "What do I need to go off grid" in terms of cost:
- Land: $1,000-$30,000
- Shelter: $25,000-$50,000
- Water: $1,000-$10,000
- Power: $10,000-$30,000
- Food: $5,000-$10,000
These numbers are generalizations. But they are useful to understand what do you need to live off grid in terms of cash. Then, you can choose which areas to prioritize or budget for going forward.
How to Live Free and Off the Grid
After reading the above, you might wonder, "How can I get off the grid for cheap?" For the tightwads out there, you may not be thrilled to learn of the costs attached to off-grid living. Congrats if you read this far because guess what? There are ways to figure out how to live off-grid, virtually for free. But it requires work!
Ask yourself, "What do I need to live off the grid for free?" The answer is a pre-established off-grid community.
Many off-grid communities take on new members as long as they commit to doing work for a set period of time. Normally, this work includes farm labor, gardening, or general upkeep. The benefit of joining a community is less isolation, and you don't have to worry about setting up your utilities or shelter. It's also a great method to begin understanding how to start off-grid living. However, if you get tired of community life, you'll leave knowing how to get off grid by yourself with greater expertise.
Begin Your Off-Grid Journey Today
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