How to live off the grid

Shack in rugged landscape

In an increasingly busy and interconnected world, the idea of returning to a simpler lifestyle can be an attractive option, which is why living off the grid is on the rise. There are many reasons besides escaping societal obligations to choose this lifestyle. Some want to become more self-sufficient, live in harmony with nature, reduce their carbon footprint, live anonymously or increase their skill set in case of emergencies.

Learning the basics, such as cooking game meat and plotting a vegetable and herb garden, can help you get started on your journey to unplug from the grid. Although this lifestyle may not be easy, it is an enriching and empowering experience that can teach you to meet all your basic needs sustainably and self-sufficiently. Other benefits include reduced stress, greater personal satisfaction and better health from a more active lifestyle.

What Living Off the Grid Means (and What It Doesn’t)

The expression “living off-the-grid” initially referred to a lifestyle where your house or dwelling is intentionally not connected to the electrical grid. Today, this term refers to a 100% self-sufficient lifestyle, with no connection to public utilities, such as power, water, sewage or gas, and relying on as little technology and modern conveniences as possible. The basics of off-gridding are about meeting essential needs independently: finding or building a shelter on suitable land and finding or producing your food, water and power independently.

Although there is significant overlap between the two concepts, living off-grid is not the same as survivalism; the latter is mainly about preparedness and stockpiling supplies to survive disasters and emergencies. Survivalism may, but does not always, include plans to live off-grid.

Finding a Good Location

Many factors determine the ideal location for your off-grid set-up: local climate and temperatures, proximity to civilization, soil quality and local laws. Whether you prefer hotter or warmer climates, wet or dry conditions or want to be close or far from the nearest city, these details are up to you and your personal preferences and capabilities.

Even if you own land in a dream location, you’ll have to research building codes if you plan to build your own home. If you want access to water from local sources, you’ll need to check local water rights and determine whether you’ll need permits. Additionally, you may need to research local gun ownership laws and hunting regulations if you plan to use firearms for self-defense or hunting. Some of the most popular states for off-grid living have vast expanses of natural, undeveloped land and relatively permissive laws, such as Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Montana, Texas or Wyoming.

Off-Grid Shelter

Unless you plan to live in your vehicle, typical off-grid homes take inspiration from traditional housing, such as log cabins, wood-framed homes or tents (such as the Native American-style tipi or the Central Asian yurt). Unusual examples include micro-houses and tiny houses. These ultra-compact homes have a surface area of 200 to 400 ft², typically featuring minimalist architecture and styling to prioritize function over form. Most micro-houses are mounted on wheels, functioning as a trailer or an RV pulled by a car or truck.

Sourcing Food and Water

Securing sustainable food and water sources is one of the most gratifying experiences and greatest challenges of living off the grid.

How to Source Water

Water should be your priority when setting up your new home away from civilization. Your water source must be accessible year-round, reliable and clean. It must also provide enough water for all your activities, from drinking to crop irrigation. If you have the means and the permits, drilling a well is the safest and most reliable option. Otherwise, look for springs, rivers and other bodies of water. Depending on the local climate and weather, consider additional water gathering methods, such as rainwater collection or snow melting. You may also be able to create a gray wastewater recycling system to use the water from your sink, shower and laundry to irrigate your crops.

How to Find Food

When living off the grid, your options for finding or growing food depend mainly on your location. To keep your meals varied and nutritious, you should get food from different sources, such as:

  • Farming: Growing your crops is an essential off-gridding skill – research what crops grow best in the local climate and dedicate patches of your land to them.
  • Foraging: Foraging local fruits, plants, herbs and nuts is an excellent way to supplement your diet.
  • Hunting and trapping: Hunting and trapping are some of the few ways to obtain fresh, quality meat when off-gridding. Most mammals and birds are tasty, from the smallest (geese, jackrabbits, raccoons) to the largest (deer, elk, bear). You may need to purchase additional gear such as a deer blind or tree stand to increase your chances of taking down enough animals to fill your freezer during the hunting season.
  • Fishing: Fishing is a more passive and less energy-intensive alternative to hunting and trapping if you need protein. You don’t have to catch fish with a fishing rod; many off-gridders improvise with alternative methods, such as fishing nets, spears or weirs.
  • Domesticating animals: If you don’t want to catch animals in the wild for food, you can raise and domesticate them instead. Goats, chickens, ducks and turkeys provide excellent sources of meat, eggs and milk.

Off-Grid Power

If you want refrigeration, heating or simply a way to charge your electronics, you’ll need a sustainable source of power. Standard gasoline-powered generators only work as long as you have fuel and are not a good long-term solution. Instead, you’ll need battery banks and ways to generate power sustainably. Sustainable off-grid power falls into three categories: solar, wind and micro-hydro.

  • Solar power is the simplest and one of the most practical. All you need are solar panel arrays and a place to install them, such as the roof of your dwelling. However, their power output depends on sun exposure. Unless you live in a very sunny climate, the main disadvantage of solar power is its relatively low output.
  • Wind power relies on generators connected to wind turbines. The more the turbine blades spin, the more power it generates. Wind turbines are less expensive than solar panel arrays. However, they require open space to work correctly, and you must contend with unpredictable factors. The wind is neither constant nor guaranteed to flow in a uniform direction to make the blades spin.
  • Micro-hydro power is essentially a downscaled version of hydroelectric dams, utilizing the constant flow of a water current to generate power. Although it is the most consistent source of power, it is also the least practical. If you don’t live near a river or another suitable location, this won’t be a viable option for you.

Prepare to Live Off the Land

If the idea of disconnecting from civilization and modern amenities sounds appealing to you, then try living off the grid. Remember that off-gridding is challenging, especially as a newcomer. However, if you stick with it, you will find this lifestyle highly rewarding, empowering you with multiple practical skills and unparalleled freedom.

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