Living Off The Grid- What You Need To Know
You might have heard of living “off the grid” before. Perhaps those three words bring to mind hippy communes, or living a life of drudgery as you bake bread from scratch and hand wash your own clothes in cold water.
It’s a funny picture, and fortunately for us one that’s not accurate at all. Living off-grid doesn’t mean that life is any harder than our modern life with washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and hot and cold running water. All it means is that you and your family and responsible for producing your own energy.
Off-grid life is definitely one that’s empowering, secure, and responsible.
Sound intriguing? Then let’s take a look at what off-grid really means, and what you need to know before diving in.
Off-Grid Living Defined
Living off the grid means that you produce 100% of your home’s energy needs yourself using renewable energy sources like solar, wind, or hydro. It also means you’re not depending on any kind of city system for your water or sewer needs.
You’re 100% self-sufficient.
Now, there is some flexibility in the term “off grid”, and it has to do with whether or not you’re actually tied in to a utility company.
Some families produce 100% of their own energy, and yet remain tied to their utility grid so they can sell their excess power back to the company. This earns them money and ensures that their clean energy isn’t wasted if they can’t use it.
Other families are not connected to the grid at all. They rely entirely on renewable energy sources, and use an array of batteries to store their excess power for when the sun goes down, the stream dries up, or the wind stops blowing.
Benefits To Living Off the Grid
According to growth rates reported by USA Today, 2007 saw a huge increase in the number of families living off the grid. In the United States, it’s estimated that there are now at least 250,000 families that are supplying their own energy needs.
The average growth in off-grid living has been around 33% per year, which is an astonishing rate.
As far as why families are choosing to live off the grid, there are several benefits.
- Sustainability- Living off the grid means that you’re not depending on a fossil-fueled power plant for your energy needs. Your energy comes from completely clean sources, and many off-grid folks consider this choice to be an act of conscience.
- Increased Awareness- Think about how much you’d watch your energy consumption if you knew exactly how much you got to use in a day. Running the TV, vacuum cleaner, and the washing machine all at once simply wouldn’t be an option. Living off-grid means you become incredibly aware of how much energy you really need to get by. So, you use far less than grid-tied homes.
- Independence- Many people can’t put a price tag on their feeling of independence once they start living off the grid. After all, when you produce your own power you never have to worry about blackouts or brownouts, or what you’d do if you lost power because of a terrorist attack. You’re able to take care of yourself.
- Saving Money- To be fair, setting up your home to live off the grid isn’t cheap. But many systems pay for themselves over 5-10 years, and once you’ve recouped your investment the system saves you money. You don’t have to worry about the price increases for fossil fuels, or dread those monthly utility bills. For those willing to make the upfront investment, it’s a no-brainer.
- Flexible Home Sites- Many families like the idea of living way out in the country. The problem with that is the homesite itself: many rural land parcels are located quite a distance from a utility line. This means that if you want to buy that parcel of land, and have power going to your home, you’re going to have to pay $10,000-$50,000 or more to connect to the grid. Going off grid means that you can skip that steep connection fee, and buy the land of your dreams.
Considerations For Living Off-Grid
There’s no doubt that there are several great benefits to living off the grid. But, this lifestyle takes work. Here are some important factors to off-grid living that you need to be aware of.
- Off-grid means you’re the power company. Home Power Magazine points out that when you get an electric bill each month, you’re partly paying for all those workers and executives to make sure the lines and power plant are working. When you’re the power company, however, you have to do all this work yourself. And, off-grid systems take regular maintenance. So, you’ll spend a fair amount of time getting your off-grid system set up, and taking care of it along the way.
- Off-grid systems usually require a hefty investment. Yep, you’ve got to spend money to save money here. Solar, wind, and hydro systems cost money. How much money depends on the size of your system and your part of the country. USA Today published a great feature article on off-grid living in April 2006. They profiled several families who’d made the transition, and they spent anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 to set up their systems. The good news is that you quickly start earning that money back, but it takes time to recoup the full investment. Home Power Magazine estimates that depending on how big a system you need, you can expect to spend anywhere from $10,600 to $59,300 on an off-grid system.
- Off-grid systems require a regular investment- If you end up going completely off-grid you’re going to have to purchase a battery back up system or a generator to account for excess energy and power fluctuations. Batteries will need replacing every 5-15 years, and generators require fossil fuels to keep running. So, there are some regular costs that go along with your off-grid system.
- Off-grid systems work better for smaller spaces- Which home do you think would require less energy to live in: a 1,000 s.f. home or a 3,000 s.f. home? Obviously, a 1,000 s.f. home is going to take less energy to light, heat, and cool. The smaller home you have, the smaller system you’re going to need. Which means if you like the idea of having a palatial home to store all your “stuff”, you might not be happy with an off-grid home simply because you’ll need a much bigger system to run it (and thus, a larger up front investment).
So, what’s the last word on off-grid living?
Well, there’s no doubt that living off the grid offers several great benefits. Not only is it a responsible, sustainable way to live, but it also gives families freedom from monthly utility bills and the security of having control over their own power.
On the other hand, off-grid living requires a hefty investment up front as well as important, regular maintenance. These costs should not be underestimated.
If you don’t mind the idea of learning the ins and outs of your home’s energy system, and you think you could pare your family’s energy consumption down to a bare minimum, then off-grid living might be for you!