The hows and whys of going off grid
by WRETHAOFFGRID on FEBRUARY 21, 2012 - 23 Comments in OFF-GRID 101, SELF-SUFFICIENCY, WRETHA

So you wanna go off grid… now what? How far do you wish to go? There are lots of decisions to be made when you are deciding your future. Are you on your own or do you have a family? Are you at the beginning of your adult life are are you in your twilight years? Do you have lots of money to spend on this or are you wondering how you’ll pay this month’s bills? Do you want to do this on your own or do you want to start or join a like minded group?

From now on, when I say “off grid”, I’m generally referring to independently taking care of all of your utilities, electric, gas, water, sewage and such. There are differing levels of being off grid, one isn’t superior to another.

Each person is different and has different reasons for wanting to go off grid, I’ll not answer every question, but I’ll give you the answers I have now, if you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment, I’ll do my best to answer whatever questions you have.

Everyone has differing skill levels, meaning the ability to do things for yourself, your own plumbing, electric, building and such. I will tell you, from personal experience, the more you can do for yourself, the better off you will be, both for yourself, and to be able to barter with other people for the things you can’t do or for things you need to acquire.

If you are just starting out and wish to go off grid, one of the things I would recommend is learn as much as you can about building, electricity (AC and DC), plumbing (water and gas), small engine repair, as I said, the more you can do for yourself, the fewer things you will need to pay someone else to do. Also, the more privacy you will have, there is nothing like having to call in a plumber or electrician to fix something and have them looking at and wondering about everything you have and are doing. There are plenty of nosy people in this world who would love nothing more than to cause you trouble because of some perceived code or law they think you might be breaking, bending or getting around, especially if they think it’s taking money out of their pocket.

Unless you are independently wealthy, you will need to start saving and working toward getting the things you will need to go off grid. Before we moved off grid, while we were both still working full time jobs, with full time salaries, we began buying up things that we knew we’d need, solar panels, wiring, breaker boxes, pipe… we scoured the paper and the internet looking for used building materials to take with us, windows, dimensional lumber, anything that we thought we could use.

We also purchased food to bring with us, dry foods, dehydrated and canned foods, anything that didn’t require refrigeration. Don’t forget you will need storage for this food, the kind that the critters cannot get into, mouse proof, and if you have bigger critters like bear and such, you will need take that into consideration too. You don’t want to stash some food at your off grid place and come back later only to find someone else has enjoyed your food before you could.

Don’t forget about water, you will need a way to store water if you don’t have a well, we store ours in water tanks, our water is good but since we store it before using it, we choose to filter it with a Berkey Light Water Purifier, it doesn’t require power or water pressure, it’s gravity fed and works great.

You will also need a piece of property. That is the sticky part for most just starting out, that is such an individual thing, what do you like? Mountains? Flat? Desert? Wet? High or low? You will need to learn about the people in the area, restrictions, codes and laws, you don’t want to buy a property only to find out you can’t build what you want on it. Can you hunt there? What about taxes and property values? What is it next to?

All while this is going on, you will have to figure out how you will support yourself once you move off grid. There are lots of ways to support yourself, especially if you live frugally and are creative, again the more skills you have, the better off you will be in this area. The more frugally you live, the more you can be creative about living, the less you will have to work in a regular job, the more hours you have to give to someone else is hours taken away from you being able to build your life, and enjoy your life.

I just asked hubby what the most important skill is to him for living off grid, he gave me several answers, first not injuring himself (being coordinated), being safe, knowing how to use hand tools, how to build things strong (pretty or straight is way less important), how to do things by himself and in pretty short order, and how to make use of things that aren’t standard or perfect (re-purposing and reusing things) think MacGuyver, think outside of the box.

These are the things we did, it might not work for you the same way it did for us, in fact I can guarantee your way will be different from ours, and that’s OK, there are as many different ways of doing things are there are people.

Just don’t wait to do it, if this is something you truly want to do, if this is your dream, then set goals and work toward them, let nothing get between you and your dream, especially yourself. Each day that goes past can either be another day closer to your dream, or another day that went by without your dream coming true. Be flexible, know that you will have to adjust your plans as time goes on, nothing is written in stone, but keep working toward what you want.

Some great resources about living off grid can be found here:

Don’t have much money? That’s OK, that just means you will have to be more creative, save every penny you can, do you really need cable or satellite TV with all of the channels? Do you really need to eat out as often as you do? Can you take a lunch to work? Can you bring your own water or drinks with you? Do you really need that $3.00 cup of fancy coffee, that 6 pack or case of soft drinks, bottled water or beer? How about shopping at thrift stores instead of paying full retail for clothes and such… Cut expenses, cut coupons, cut whatever you can, it’s possible to shave even the tightest of budgets, we did it, so can you.

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23 comments

1 elnav { 02.22.12 at 11:26 am }

Great post Wretha! On the subject of land, I would like to suggest renting in the region where you would like to move. Once you actually live in an area you have a chance to look around. Quote often rural areas have unused property that are not listed but the owner may be thinking of selling . They just haven’t got a round tuit. Conversely you may learn details about listed properties that would make it unsuitable to buy for off grid use. Rent to own is yet another option not always listed in the real estate market.

2 Wretha { 02.22.12 at 11:30 am }

Thanks Elnav, great info as always. :)

Wretha

3 Solarbum { 02.23.12 at 5:11 pm }

Great article Wretha. Lots of great things to think about as we are planning a big move.

4 Wretha { 02.23.12 at 10:25 pm }

Thanks Solarbum :)

Wretha

5 Rudy { 02.24.12 at 2:28 am }

To this day, I have not ound one single place in the U.S. where a guy can buy some land and place a small cabin, and live in it “legally” all year round. Can someone suggest a lot for me somewhere, maybe New Mexico, but anywhere where I can place a small cabin , and live on it, without “the man telling me it is too small, and not permissible? Near some fishing, or swimming would be ideal.

6 Wretha { 02.26.12 at 11:32 am }

Rudy, Texas has fairly easy laws about living on your own land… you just have to check with local codes and such before you buy. Go rural, the farther away from towns, the better chance you have of being left alone about things like building codes, minimum square footage and such.

Wretha

7 Charlie { 02.27.12 at 6:15 pm }

Rudy,
Middle TN is very flexible. I know you were asking about out west, but you can get land for between 2-3000/acre that is heavily wooded, has trees and gets lots of rainfall and if you’re not near a town, the counties ONLY requirement is a septic tank. Tell them its a small, one bedroom house and the septic will cost around 2500 total, installed. If you’re interested, send me a comment or personal message on my YouTube page, “SgtCharlieKelley” and I’ll send you the link. I am NOT affiliated with the sellers, my wife and I just almost bought there until we found out we were being transferred to Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX. One more thing about those sellers is they do “in-house” financing and also have property in TX, CO, MO, CA, and OK. The more money down, the lower the interest rate.
Good Luck finding some land and God Bless you and yours.
SGT Charlie

8 carol colombo { 02.28.12 at 3:01 am }

I am moving to fiji, several islands live off the grid, anyone there know how to live in a house already built, can one convert to “off the grid” grow your own, have a chicken house? cook all on a bbq? please

9 Terri Street { 03.16.12 at 12:03 pm }

Carol, having a chicken house is a great idea. But remember, you will need bird food and hay. Cooking on a grill is great. I live in CT and my in laws have property in upper state NY. We cook on the grill the entire time we are there. You will need some old pots and pans, preferably cast iron. They wear better and last a lot longer. We have had some bad storms in New England over the past few months, so if we wanted to eat at home and the power was out, we needed to cook on the grill. I even made coffee on the grill too. I’m not sure if that would be the right thing for me, but I wish you all the luck.

10 Jessica { 04.09.12 at 10:02 am }

Rudy, not sure where you have been looking but try just about any Southern state AWAY from cities and outside of any city limits. Get out in the country and you can pretty much do your own thing as long as you don’t violate any fed and state environmental laws.

11 Sonya { 05.19.12 at 4:23 am }

I enjoyed everyones questions and comments, I think I found a new favorite site :). I grew up in Alaska and love off grid living, looking forward to returning to that lifestyle.

12 Emerie { 05.20.12 at 10:32 am }

Can one go totally Off the Grid living in the city or on the outskirt? Do you have to be in the country ?

13 HandyBob { 06.05.12 at 10:46 am }

Going off grid takes a change in mind set. How we so quickly went from a populace willing to go out to the pump in the yard to get water and be willing to light a lamp for light, to thinking that we will die if we cannot just turn the spigot and get 40psi, or flip a switch and have light is mind boggling. Off grid can be done by changing your life, or by spending a fortune. We are somewhere in the middle of that out in the wilds of Montana. No power line & no well, but living a very good life.

14 Curtis Johnson { 06.25.12 at 1:25 am }

Hello all! I’ve been reading up on living “off-grid” for some time and I am very intersted in taking up the lifestyle. I am a 23 year old, and have recently finished a 4 enlistment in the Marine Corps. I was wondering if anybody knew of any apprentice programs, or a way to get into contact with some sort of mentor. I am very comfortable living in austere or outdoor environments, but I don’t know anybody who lives this way in the states, making getting started a seemingly daunting task. I am a fast learner, and obviously am willing to work my butt off in trade for the invaluable knowledge of being self sufficient and independent. Any advise on where to go will be greatly appreciated. Curtis

15 PZ Dingo { 06.30.12 at 4:30 am }

Curtis Johnson, I also am a Marine and am very interested in the same thing. Have you looked at WWOOF or NEFSI apprenticeships?

16 Jean { 07.02.12 at 6:06 am }

Hi Wrethra, I always enjoy your articles, I have a small house in the country, not off grid yet but plan to be in the next 10 years. Jean

17 Mike { 07.06.12 at 8:10 pm }

We found a 10 acre piece of land in Central Oregon in 2001. We were from the rat race of London, England. We moved on with a trailer, a 3000 gallon water cistern and a couple of 80w solar panels and the biggest smiles. 11 years later we are still finishing our house, we have two kids now and a business that we started on our land. We use a lot of the products we sell. Our business http://www.thesolarstore.com is geared around helping people achieve energy independance in off grid situations. We design solar and wind systems big and small as well as solar water pumping systems. The reason we started our business is we felt like a lot of the other solar companies were only interested in helping the grid tied customers and would not give us the time of day. Sorry if this sounds a bit like an ad! Good luck to everyone.. some days it is a bit overwhelming how much there is still to do but the benefits and rewards are huge. I would not worry to much about your ability to build, i was lucky to find a friend and seasoned builder who got me started in one day on the basics of building frame structures and then it just blooms from there. After a couple of months in our trailer, we found an old horse shed that someone wanted to get off there place, i took it apart and put it back together on our land. Start off with a small structure because storage of tools and protection of people is going to be one of your first goal after getting the temporary water and power supplies setup. When you need to figure out a detail or how to fix something get a book from the library or search the internet. You are going to need to be able to have some of the skills and tools of a plumber, electrician, builder, designer and be a problem solver if you are in a remote location otherwise when something breaks or needs repair you are going to either have to fix it yourself or end up paying a lot for the travel time for a house call.
Good luck to everyone.. some days it is a bit overwhelming how much there is still to do but the benefits and rewards are huge.

18 Cindy { 08.31.12 at 7:42 pm }

My husband and I are ready to live off the land with a cabin but the hard thing is for us is finding one, for the right price, along with have to wait u til after next year June, our son will graduate then my husband and I want out of the rat race, we have thought long and hard about this and it’s something we would like to do, we would prefer a state that has four seasons. We do not like southern living, people on here always seem to want to do something like this and have help, when I have emailed them I get no response. Husband is from Maine and I’m from Vermont so we know how hard winter can be. Would like some input or information on where we could go to find land for hunting along with being able to fish. Thanks

19 Wretha { 08.31.12 at 11:57 pm }

Hi Cindy, not sure how much funds you will have available to live your dream of living in a cabin on acreage, hope you have lots :) I can’t speak for the other people here not replying to your requests, I always try to respond, unless something slips by, and that does happen on occasion. The writers here are not really affiliated in any way except that we all write here, we don’t have contact with each other. As far as the readers and commentators, well, lets just say there are many who dream but few act to make said dreams come true. I can’t tell you how often I hear statements like “I admire you for what you are doing, but I could never live that way…” or “I wish I could do what you do…” but they never actually take the steps to attain their dreams. Not judging, just my observations.

I do love southern living, with the exception of the 9 months I lived in Oregon (near Portland), I have always been a southern gal, so that is the life for me. :) I can’t really give you any advice about where to live, you will just need to go out and look around, be sure to research the area and learn about any building codes and restrictions, how close are the neighbors, hopefully not so close as to cause problems. What skills do you and your husband have for living like you want to live? What are you doing now to get ready for this life?

Not sure how much I helped, but I do wish you and your hubby well. :) I would be happy to answer any other questions you have.

Wretha

20 offthegridinok { 12.21.12 at 10:53 am }

Rudy,
We found that Oklahoma laws worked for us. Portable buildings do not fall under building codes in the country. We have our cabin built out of one. Take a look http://www.solarcabin.org. we have a lot of information on the work arounds since they don’t say our home is a home. Just a portable building

21 carolyn { 06.27.13 at 3:52 pm }

Pittsburg NH has a lot of unused land and a lot of it is for sale. You can live off grid and be able to hunt and fish.

22 Teressa and Dylan { 08.20.13 at 9:26 am }

hello we are a married coupple looking to start an adventure of spirituality and connecting with god .. to do this we are going to live off the grid and travel.. has any one els done this or thinking of doing this. any advice feedback please e-mail me at tumblin_toiltles@yahoo.com thank you!

23 Kimber { 02.27.14 at 6:42 am }

I’m looking to live off grid in Tennessee . Anyone currently doing it here in TN . I would love to learn how ya did it and your story my family and I are sick of paying big bills and not being able to save money so we are considering going off grid but really want to hear from folks doing it what challenges they faced etc .it would be great to see what you have done and make a new friend

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