Off the Grid Living: How to Get Started


Living off-grid means different things to different people. No particular meaning is wrong. For some people living off-grid simply means being free of utility company control, for some it means being able to add to household produce to supplement food availability, and for some it means being completely independent of any external resource for either utilities or food. How far off-grid you go will depend on a couple of things.

The first thing that will determine how much you will go to be off-grid is where you live, and if you are willing and able to relocate if necessary. It may be possible for an apartment dweller in New York City to put a few tomato plants on a window sill and even add a small solar collector to a window frame, increase efficiency with better windows, doors, and adding energy saving features to the interior of the home, but they aren’t likely to be keeping livestock in the living room, or putting a wind turbine on the roof.

While that is certainly an extreme example, the idea remains that not all locations are ideal for all methods of off-grid living. However, even someone with modest means, an inability to relocate or physical limitations can do some things that will decrease their dependence on the system.

The next thing that will determine what you need in order to get started is your particular skill set. It makes very little sense for someone to invest in a large scale energy system if they are not capable of maintaining it. Knowing your limitations and what you can expect to be able to improve on over time is important.

Even if you do not have the skills to maintain a large system now, if you know you are physically able and have the desire to learn and strengthen your abilities in the future, you can plan to work towards a full-scale energy system, or even a complete homestead if space and legal limits allow.

The Off-Grid Frame of Mind

Before you buy your first solar panel, pack your bags to move to the outback or bring home a cow, you need to do some serious self-examination. Off-grid living is wonderful, but the differences of the realities of the lifestyle can truly shock a city-dweller’s system if they aren’t really ready for it.

That doesn’t mean give up. It means take it slow. Going too fast and ending up frustrated, broke and lonely sends many people scurrying back into the system’s arms. That can easily be avoided by taking the time to learn about what is involved in any area you are interested in about living off-grid.

Be prepared at all times. Living off-grid means you are going to be responsible for many things you took for granted living under the city or county’s protection and the safety of constant grid energy and supplies. The further you live away from supplies and city hustle, the more bucolic and relaxing life will be, but it also means there aren’t repair companies within a few miles.

You are going to have to face the fact that if you really go off-grid in a location that allows you the ability to do a wide range of homesteading type activities, it also means you are going to be away from all other types of convenience.

If you are handy, or love to learn how to make things and fix broken – well anything, then off-grid living will be a great experience for you. If you are more likely to hammer your finger nail than a board nail, take it slow, and don’t jump into a full-scale operation until you are more comfortable with being totally self-sufficient.

Learn Before You Buy

Going off-grid and living independently are such wonderful ideas and most people are really excited about the prospect of being more, or totally, self-sufficient. Unfortunately, that excitement can lead to jumping in full speed ahead without knowing what to do with the products or land acquired. Don’t buy a solar system until you understand how one works. Don’t get a cow until you know what you need to feed it, house it and make use of the produce it provides.

Gardening is a pretty great first step. It doesn’t take a lot of money. It takes a little hard work and there is plenty of time to learn as you go. So if you are really excited about getting started, plant some food crops like lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables or fruit, and then start learning about the other resources available.

You don’t have to know everything about what you want to do in order to live off-grid. You just need to know a broad overview of what is expected, and have a good ability to judge your financial and physical resources. The rest you will learn as you go, and you will never stop learning. There are always better ways of doing things, and more options available to improve on your off-grid life.

Will You Stay or Will You Go?

Because everyone starts from a different place in life, what you need in terms of property to live off-grid also depends on where you are located. If you live in a very rural area with few county restrictions on what can be done, especially if you’re zoned agriculturally, you are in good shape no matter what you want to do. Your only limit will be on how much land you own, and how much money you need to add equipment, buildings or other startup needs to the land.

If you live on a small piece of land in a suburb or city, your first stop should be your local zoning board. They will be able to tell you if any of the items on your “off-grid to do list” are not allowed. You may have to abide by certain positioning requirements if you want to add equipment or housing for solar panels and battery banks, or there may be restrictions on how tall a wind turbine can be.

You will likely have restrictions on any types of livestock you can or cannot keep. Never assume you know what is allowed. Even some areas that allow certain types of livestock, such as horses, may not allow other typical barnyard type animals such as chickens and cows.

Check out the Logistics and Legalities: Location will determine the types of off-grid capability your property will allow. The legal restrictions placed by towns, cities, counties or state may also determine what you can and cannot do.

Types of Off-Grid Equipment and Produce

When you have settled on a place to begin, whether that means staying put or moving on, your next step is going to be to decide where to begin. Getting away from power systems means deciding on solar or wind (or a combination of both) power. That will depend on where you live and what you can afford. Wind power is better in areas of high elevation, especially if they do not get a lot of sunlight each day.

Even if you live in a sunny region of the country, if your property has a lot of trees, you may have difficulty obtaining enough direct sunlight to fill the batteries, and wind may be a better choice. For homesteaders living near a fast running stream, there are even hyrdo-power options that can be helpful in producing all or some of the power needs of a family.

As you can see, getting started the right way is more about knowing yourself and your options in order to make the best choices, and no two people or families are going to be in the same situation at the start. You can learn about most of the procedures you need if you are handy and physically capable of putting in the work.


About Author

Tami lives in rural Illinois with her husband of 32 years where they raised their two children in the homestead lifestyle and now share their love of living off the land with their grandchildren as well.

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