Dark Brown Small Home With Solar Panels In The Woods

Living Off The Grid: Your Questions Answered

Katie Ziraldo8-Minute Read
February 03, 2021

In the hustle and bustle of the modern world, there’s no arguing the appeal of getting away from the noise. But while some are satisfied by a quick getaway, others seek more permanent changes to their daily life to align themselves with nature in a cost-effective, simple way: living off the grid.

“Before moving off the grid, my idea of ‘getting back to nature’ was a weekend away on a camping trip,” says Mike Miller, the editor in chief of Wilderness Times, an outdoors and camping website, who has also been living off the grid with his family for over 2 years. “Now, I feel a deep connection to nature in my everyday life, which is something I find incredibly rewarding.”

Living off the grid may be attractive to those wishing to save money and embrace a more sustainable and independent lifestyle. In this article, we will address common FAQs to help you decide if living off the grid is right for you!

What Does It Mean To Live Off The Grid?

Living off the grid is a lifestyle focused on sustainability and self-reliance. It means you are totally reliant on your land and its resources to sustain your lifestyle. People who live off the grid survive by hunting, farming and foraging. They utilize natural power sources like the sun or wind to support their homes.

The basic requirements of off grid living include access to water, food, shelter and power. But there are various extremes of the lifestyle, as “off the grid” means different things to different people. Gray areas include internet access and other forms of modern technology. Although some see using the internet as a direct link to the grid, others rely on it for personal or professional obligations, such as working from home. At the end of the day, whether the internet fits into your off-the-grid lifestyle is a personal choice.

What Are The Main Advantages To Living Off The Grid?

“One of the greatest advantages [to off-the-grid living] is knowing what you’re eating,” shares Miller. “In today’s society, we’ve completely lost touch with the food we consume. When you’re producing everything for yourself, you know there aren’t any nasty chemicals and pesticides on your veggies and fruit.”

In addition to having direct control over your food source, there are other virtues to living this lifestyle, including:

  • Self-sufficiency: While living off the grid, residents have to learn to be self-reliant, as they are responsible for services on grid residents pay for, such as setting up and maintaining energy sources and growing and preparing their own food.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Homes located off the grid are generally more cost-effective for various reasons, including their use of renewable energy. Although there is a significant upfront cost to set up these energy sources, they eliminate monthly utility costs and pay themselves off over time.
  • Sustainability: Most off grid homes use solar panels and other sustainable technologies, although standard homes can also be made more sustainable if living off the grid does not fit your lifestyle.

What Steps Will I Have To Take To Live Off The Grid?

If you’re interested in moving toward an off-grid lifestyle, there are several steps you will need to take to get started.

  • Deciding on a location: Will you look for an off-the-grid community or go it alone? This is an important decision in more ways than one, as laws and restrictions vary depending on the city and county.
  • Deciding how much to DIY: Most notably, this includes the decision of whether to buy a house or build one.
  • Identifying required skills for the chosen lifestyle: These skills may include farming, canning, animal husbandry, first aid and more.
  • Preparing financially: In addition to the purchase of the land or home, other financial responsibilities include the cost of setting up and maintaining your energy sources. On average, it costs about $18,000 to install solar panels in your home, so although you will save money over time through renewable energy, you will need a chunk of change upfront.

What Legal Considerations Will I Have To Contend With?

At its core, off-grid living is not illegal. Choosing to produce your own power, grow your own food, raise livestock and even build a greenhouse is within your rights. However, certain cities and counties have zoning restrictions that can limit your ability to do certain things with your property. Because of this, it’s crucially important to understand the zoning laws when buying land or modifying an existing property to live off-grid.

The biggest and most impactful of legal barriers is that certain counties will not allow you to be disconnected from their utilities. There are also specific laws regarding waste that will affect your septic system.

But there are other legal barriers to consider, depending on where you are planning to live. For example, camping on your own land for more than 2 weeks is illegal in most parts of the United States, so you would be unable to camp on property while building your permanent residence, unless you get a long-term camping permit from your city.

There are also zoning restrictions that dictate the minimum square footage of your home. Although this will not prevent you from living off grid, it means it isn’t as simple as buying land and building what you want on it, as you will need to ensure you meet all zoning requirements before building.

Diane Vukovic, an expert on off-grid living who writes for Primal Survivor, a survival and prepping website, explains that these restrictions vary vastly depending on where you live. “Sewage disposal laws are usually very strict,” she says. “Many places require you to hook up to the municipal sewage system if one is located within 200 feet of your property. Outhouses are illegal in many places too. By contrast, outhouses are considered a ‘conventional treatment system’ in New Mexico and the laws are much more relaxed.”

How Do I Live Off The Grid In The City?

Although it’s easy to automatically associate living off the grid with rural environments, it is possible to adapt the off-the-grid lifestyle in urban environments as well. There are many people who are unable to move to a rural area due to work obligations or a lack of funding. For these people, learning to live off-grid while staying in their city home may be the simplest and most affordable option.

One of the biggest benefits of living in a city is the ability to abandon traditional forms of transportation, meaning you don’t necessarily need a car for your daily life. Depending on where your home is located, you may be able to rely on public transportation and other green alternatives, like riding a bike, to get your necessities.

If you live in a city, a good first step toward living off the grid is growing a garden. Although you will still be within reach of grocery stores and other essential services, making your home as self-sustainable as possible is the goal. By growing a garden, you can begin to support your own needs. If you do not have enough room in your yard to grow a garden, you can also look into community gardens. They exist in many major cities and offer plots to grow vegetables at a relatively low cost.

In addition to creating a self-sustaining food source, you’ll also need to decide what form of renewable energy you’ll use to power your home.

“The best way to live off-grid in a city is to completely disconnect from your utility company and produce your own energy through solar panels and battery storage and a small natural gas generator, [as] these components form a microgrid,” explains Scott Laskey, president of Sandbar Solar & Electric, a solar and electrical company out of Santa Cruz, CA. “The solar panels create energy. The battery stores the energy for use when the sun sets or it’s particularly cloudy. The natural gas generator provides resilient power only if you ever need it.”

Laskey’s company runs almost entirely on 100% renewable energy via their microgrid, meaning both the warehouse and office space are off-grid, completely disconnected from the local electric utility.

“After all the PGE blackouts that left thousands of homes and businesses without power this past fall, people want to reclaim their energy,” adds Laskey. “Rebuilding our power infrastructure with a renewable clean power source and delivery is critical to achieve any climate control goals.”

How Do I Live Off The Grid In The Woods?

Living off the grid in rural areas typically requires stricter self-sufficiency, as there is no inherent sense of community. These households tend to rely on homesteading, which is a lifestyle in which you’re completely self-sufficient by using the land and its resources to take care of your own needs, while also limiting any interaction with the government.

Although both homesteading and the off-the-grid lifestyle are dependent on self-sufficiency, they differ in their access to utilities. Living off the grid is also about living autonomously, meaning you aren’t reliant on society for any of your needs, and therefore are not connected to any local water or gas utilities. In rural areas, this can prove to be challenging unless there is easy access through existing fixtures on your property, such as a well.

Jobs While Living Off The Grid: What Are My Options?

If you’re living off the grid in an urban environment, jobs may be easier to come by. But with increasing opportunities to work from home, working while living off the grid, even in rural areas, is easier than ever! However, if working from home is not an option for you, there are other off-grid careers you can consider.

Depending on your skills and location, some careers may suit you more than others. The most common ways to make money from off-grid living include renting out your land, hosting events on your land and selling what your land or animals produce. It’s important to note that your local laws will dictate your ability to do these things; for instance, some counties limit what and how you can sell your food.

Do Off-The-Grid Communities Exist?

Although living off the grid has its advantages, it can limit your ability to make connections in your area. This is where off-the-grid communities come in. Some of these communities are simply subdivisions beyond the reach of utility companies, while others have more concrete commune systems in place, allowing all residents to live cooperatively.

“There are some really great off-the-grid communities out there, and we were actually considering becoming a part of one,” says Miller. “In the end, we decided to go it alone, [but] having the support of a community can make things much easier.”

Keep reading to learn more about some of the most notable off the grid communities!

  • Three Rivers Recreation Area: Located in Bend, Oregon, this subdivision relies on solar panels, wind turbines and back-up generators to support its residents. While some homes have wells on property, others rely on water that is brought into the community through a professional service. This area is primarily made up of vacation homes, although there are some permanent residents.
  • Breitenbush: Located in Detroit, Oregon, this community houses about 60 permanent residents, who utilize the onsite hydropower plant for electricity.
  • Greater World Community: Located near Taos, New Mexico, this development offers Earthships, which are solar houses made of natural materials located on large lots of two acres or more. Residents also have access to community land, including parks and areas for hiking or biking.
  • Earthhaven: Located in Black Mountain, North Carolina, the buildings in this planned, sustainable community are powered by solar panels and hydropower. It currently houses about 60 residents, although it hopes to grow to about 150 residents spread across the 320 acres of land.
  • Emerald Earth: Located near Boonville, California, this intentional community is unique as it does not offer multiple homes. Instead, nearly a dozen residents share a communal house on 189 acres of land.

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    Katie Ziraldo

    Katie Ziraldo is a writer focused on financial learning for current and future homeowners. She found her love of writing through her experience working with various newspapers, such as the Detroit Free Press. Her financial literacy stems from her four years as a Recruiter, when she learned the details of every role in the mortgage process. As a writer, she uses that knowledge to create relevant content for homeowners to help them reach their goals.