How many people are living off the grid in the UK?
In 2010 Off-Grid.net estimated there were 100,000 living off the grid in the UK. We think it has increased since then to 200,000, mainly due to the increase in mobile off-grid living – in vans, boats cars and buses. But also due to a growth in the number of off-grid communities and the increasing size of each of those off-grid communities.
Types of off-gridder
There are many reasons for living off-grid – the most common is wanting to live an ecological life – reducing your carbon footprint- – but there are also survivalists and preppers who think they are protecting themselves against the coming social collapse. Then there are those who live this way because they have no choice – they are living off grid to save money. Even if that is not the primary motive you are likely to save money when you cut out Utility bills and remembering that off-grid properties are likely to be cheaper to buy or rent than connected properties. The environment will supply you with energy, heat, water, and food.
It may seem daunting as you contemplate setting out on your off-grid life – but remember: over a billion people already live off the grid around the world. And their challenges are probably far greater than your own.
But let’s not underestimate the problems.
UK Off-Grid Living, Living Off the Grid in the UK – Which is the Correct Phrase & What does it all mean?
In the UK we tend to say “off-grid”. In the USA they prefer to say “off the grid” except when talking about technical energy infrastructure arrangements.
It makes a huge difference where you choose to go off-grid – every part of the planet is different and UK off-grid living is vastly easier than, say, off-grid living in Alaska where the extreme cold magnifies the problems. There is an initial cost of setting up and it is greater in the UK than for example going off-grid in India. And it is hard work – in general, the less you pay, the harder the work. But if you intend to live off the grid in the UK, there are no insurmountable obstacles.
You will be adding to your workload when you run your own power supply, water supply, and deal with your own waste. You may miss the urban support systems – but in exchange, you will be spending more of your time in nature than you did before stepping outside the system. You find you feel closer to nature, as the weather on any given day will affect your life much more directly, in terms of your renewable energy production as well as the temperature.
You may also decide to produce your own food – but that is not necessary, and can add an extra back-breaking load to an already busy life. If you earn your living in some other way, you will find the cost of food is not necessarily worth the effort of growing it.
You should expect and be able to handle problems such as a dud battery, a broken wind turbine, or a week without sun or wind. You may not be the one responsible for the maintenance of your new off grid home and surroundings, but you should make sure your suppliers are local since that way you have the best chance they will return to fix issues in a timely manner.
Benefits to UK Off Grid Living
These are the advantages of living off the grid, both in the UK and elsewhere:
- Save Money
- Eliminate endless advertising and commercial messages
- Reduce pollution and stress
- More time for friends
- Letting nature into your life
- Taking charge of your own life – becoming more self-reliant
- Increasing the resilience of society as a whole through your own self-sufficiency
You can live comfortably and well off the grid in the UK, but you will have to deal with planning restrictions and prejudice against the lifestyle from those who think it is just for the homeless and travelers.
First steps to Off-Grid Living
Finding the ideal land for UK off-grid living
This may not be the first or most important thing when planning to live off the grid – that depends on whether you are living a mobile off grid life, or opting for a fixed location. You need to find land that is both affordable and suitable for off grid living and that might well be in Wales or Scotland rather than England. If you are able to afford land with an existing off-grid residential unit then England tends to have better year-round weather. But Welsh laws on eco-living are more tolerant of off-grid lifestyles and Scotland crofting laws are also advantageous.
Once you find suitable land, you will probably need to learn and follow local planning restrictions before you can start building your new off grid home (Our editor at Off-Grid.net wrote a great introduction to all these issues – buy it here – How to Live Off-grid by Nick Rosen ).
Here are a few more things to consider when deciding on a type of land:
- Orientation – is there good sunlight and some level of wind protection? either from trees or a valley.
- Avoid north-facing land – to maximise solar gain.
- Arable land: Fertile soil permitting you to grow food, plant trees, and raise livestock.
- Water source: No problem if you don’t have water, as the UK has plenty of rain at the time of writing.
- Woodland: valuable asset, both as a source of fuel source and material for building.
- Freshwater is crucial for survival, so prefer a location near a stream, river, or well, and remember to purify the water if needed.
If you plan to live off the grid lifestyle in a static caravan or a yurt, then you still have to worry about planning permission. But, if you’re planning to live in an existing permanent home, then you would not need to apply for Planning Permission.
You will need planning permission in the following cases:
When you are planning to build something new
When you want to make a big change to your building
When you want to change the use of the building
For more about UK planning permission and to learn how to apply for it, please visit the Planning Permission website.
Living off the grid does not mean you have to live in the dark. Off-grid living does not mean going back to the stone age. You can still generate power, charge your laptop and cellphone, cook on a wood stove, plug in a washing machine on sunny days, and use some other devices.
Some use wind (wind turbines). Others use water power (hydroelectric power, which can be very inexpensive) to generate electricity. The most common source to generate power and electricity is by using solar panels.
The most popular technology to generate power when living off the grid is solar panels on a roof or a frame located anywhere on your land. It’s important not to buy the cheapest solar panels if you want a reliable energy source. It’s best to go for the highest efficiency you can afford, and buy ones tailored for the actual use you will put them to – if your most important use is charging your phone, then buy ones like this – Jackery SolarSaga 100W Portable Solar Panel for Explorer 240/500/1000 Power Station, Foldable Monocrystalline Solar Cell Solar Charger with USB Outputs for Phones. You will also need powerful batteries to store the energy. Different appliances use different amounts of energy, so you may decide to do without a washing machine or a fridge in return for lower energy needs.
Most houses in the UK can gather enough water for cooking, washing, and general living, but drinking water is another matter. Non-drinking water sources can come from rainwater or a borehole with a powerful deep pump (buy it from Amazon). Companies that dig a borehole can be expensive. You can dig your own borehole, and the equipment necessary can then be used to run a profitable side-hustle. Here is one example of the borehole-digging kit from Amazon: GOWE 100m Water Well Detection Equipment Borehole Drilling Machine Well Cameras Inspection Sensor Size:1/4″; Horizontal Resolution:700TVL; Signal System: PAL
You may need to purify and sterilise the water before consumption because it can be contaminated, but you might equally conclude from experience that you can tolerate the water without any treatment. Here is a simple, inexpensive purification unit: ZIPZULU Insulated Self-Cleaning UV Water Bottle – Stainless Steel UV Water Purifier Bottle – Purifies Water from Any Source – Smart Water Bottle keeps Water Cold 24 hours and Hot for 12.
Collecting rainwater is always a possibility, but you will probably need a 1000 litre underground water tank (or a few of them) to collect the water and then filter it using a special system. This can cost up to £10,000 or more. but it also might cost you no more than a few hundred. There is a great video that shows a working example of harvesting the rainwater on off grid Youtube channel.
The most important thing to remember about off-grid heating is not to allow the house to become cold. Super-high quality insulation is expensive but will save you a huge amount of time and money in the long run. And stop your feet from getting cold. Remember to insulate all walls, floors, and ceilings, but use a special vapour barrier so the damp from the air inside your house has a way of escaping once it is heated.
Heat pumps are probably not the best option, when it comes to heating your off-grid house, since they need a lot of electricity to operate.
The best option is biomass (which means burning wood or using organic matter) and solar thermal collectors for hot water heating. But a wood-burner is usually enough in a tiny home. And a tiny home is the best home off-grid since it is cheaper to build and maintain and to heat. And you will be spending more of your time in nature that way. Use a wood-burner fan on top of your burner to circulate the heat more efficiently.
You can also purchase portable heating appliances and products that are not bad at all for heating purposes. I have written a separate article about different types of heaters, which can warm up either a tent or a room in your new house.
Some people believe that if you truly want to live off the grid, then you must grow your own food. You can grow vegetables, fruits, grains, raise livestock for the purposes of dairy products and meat, build a coop, and more.
If you’re a complete newbie in the farming area, try “The Encyclopedia of Country Living: The Original Manual for Living off the Land & Doing It Yourself” which will teach you some of the necessary skills and help you towards the essential knowledge. This book tells you how to grow all sorts of food, how to store it, how to forage, keep bees, tend to livestock, and much more.
Drainage and Waste Disposal
Sometimes, this subject is neglected and overlooked, yet you must have a plan for the disposal of waste. Improper disposal not only damages the land, nature, and the environment but can also lead to fines.
There are two common and popular ways to dispose of waste:
- Composting toilet: Many off-gridders install composting toilets. They are waterless, compact in their size, and do not smell (completely odorless).
- Soakaway: This is a simple hole that you dig in the ground. It is filled with coarse stone and rubble, which allows the surface water to percolate back into the ground. The hole should be 1 meter deep (give or take).
How much does it cost to start living off the grid?
There is the initial investment (land, house, various equipment, septic system, power system) and the daily costs (household items, maintenance, Internet, healthcare, taxes, and so forth). But don’t let these costs deter you from achieving your dream!
Overall, off the grid living is going to take more time & effort to achieve simply because our cultural society isn’t built that way. But if it’s something you are strongly passionate about and truly want to achieve some level of off grid living, then it will be worth all the effort you put into it.
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