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Living Off The Grid: A Complete Guide

Erin Gobler9-Minute Read
UPDATED: July 25, 2023

Have you ever considered getting away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world for a simpler lifestyle? While many of us take advantage of vacations to escape from the modern world, there’s a more permanent solution: living off the grid.

Living off the grid is a way to have a more self-sufficient, sustainable, and environmentally friendly lifestyle. Are you wondering if the off-grid life is right for you? Keep reading to find out.

What Does ‘Living Off The Grid’ Mean?

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 energy sources like the sun or wind to power their homes.

The basic requirements of off-grid living include access to water, food, shelter and power. If your house is located off-grid – meaning there’s no access to utility sources – you may need to collect rainwater or dig a well, use solar panels and install a septic system. 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 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.

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How Much Does It Cost To Live Off The Grid?

It might seem like living off the grid would be cheaper since you’re creating a sustainable lifestyle that’s not reliant on many of the things we normally spend money on. But you might be surprised by just how much it will cost.

First, there are a number of large upfront costs required to live off the grid. Here are some of the biggest:

  • Land: If you’re going to live off-grid, you’re going to need land. Since you’re going to be growing your own food and living sustainably, you will need several acres to make your off-grid lifestyle work. The amount you’ll spend on land depends on where you live since land costs vary. A small plot of rural land is likely to cost $20,000 to $30,000.
  • Housing: The next upfront cost you’ll have is your housing. You may find a plot of land that already has a structure on it, but that’s not always the case. In other situations, you may need to build a home, purchase a small cabin, or buy an RV or something similar to live in on your property. You might need as little as $10,000 for an old RV, but could also easily spend over $100,000 on housing.
  • Power: Living off-grid requires that you generate all of the energy needed to power and heat your home. Popular sources of power for those living off the grid include solar and wind. Either way, you should expect out-of-pocket costs of at least $15,000. You’ll also need backup batteries, which will cost you several thousand dollars for enough to power your home.
  • Water: Living off-grid also means you’ll need a water source for your home. One option is to install a well on your property, which will cost between a few thousand dollars and about $15,000. But if you’re lucky, you may have a natural water source on your property. In this case, you’ll just need a way to treat and filter the water before you can consume it. A water pump can help you transport the water from the source to your home.
  • Septic: Many people living off-grid choose to install a septic system to get rid of their waste. These systems cost a few thousand dollars. A composting toilet is another waste solution that’s cheaper but requires more maintenance than a septic system.
  • Heat: If you live in a colder climate, you’ll need a way to heat your home. The cost of a wood stove ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. However, installation costs will also likely run you several thousand dollars. A propane heater is another option, often used in addition to the woodstove. Propane heaters can be purchased for just a few hundred dollars.

The expenses above are some of the larger upfront costs you should expect if you want to live off the grid. As you can see, just the expenses on this list can easily add up to more than a hundred thousand dollars, or even several hundred thousand dollars, depending on the type of home you’ll be living in.

Your upfront costs aren’t the only ones you should expect. You’ll also have ongoing costs each month or year that you’re living off the grid. Those costs include:

  • Property taxes
  • Gasoline
  • Livestock
  • Food
  • Gasoline
  • Insurance
  • Health care
  • Maintenance
  • Internet
  • Household items
  • Gardening supplies

Once you’ve covered the upfront costs of living off the grid, you can continue to live that way for significantly cheaper. Depending on your family size and how much you rely on the outside world, you can live off the grid for anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per month. If you’re considering this lifestyle, make a rough outline of what your budget might look like so you can make sure it works for your financial situation.

Other Factors To Consider Before Moving Off The Grid

If you’re considering moving off the grid, the financial costs aren’t the only things you consider. This type of lifestyle can also be physically, mentally and emotionally taxing. It’s important to make sure you’re prepared.

Remember that the whole point of off-grid living is that you’re self-sufficient. This means growing and hunting your own food, chopping wood to keep warm, and handling other tasks to keep your home running. There’s no doubt that these responsibilities can take a physical toll.

It’s also important to consider the mental and emotional toll of off-grid living. Depending on your lifestyle, it may be isolating. Sure, there are plenty of off-grid communities. But in other cases, you might find yourself on your own most of the time. And if your family and friends don’t understand your lifestyle choice, it can be particularly isolating.

All in all, taking the financial considerations out of the equation, this lifestyle isn’t for the faint of heart.

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How To Live Off The Grid In 7 Steps

Are you considering an off-grid lifestyle? Here are seven steps to get you started.

1. Locate Land

The first question you’ll have to ask yourself to create your off-grid lifestyle is where you’ll actually live. Unless you already own land that’s suitable for this lifestyle, you’ll probably have to purchase a plot of land.

Make sure whatever land you choose is suitable for what you’ll need. Look for land that has woods with trees you can use for firewood. Also, be sure there’s suitable space to farm or house your lifestyle.

It’s also important to learn about the local regulations before you purchase land. Find out if there are any permits you’ll need to use your land for off-grid living.

Depending on where you currently live, you might also consider relocating to a different part of the state or country. Certain regions are more suitable for off-grid living due to the quality of farmland, the weather patterns, the state’s laws, the risk of natural disasters, and more.

2. Build Or Buy Your Home

When planning your off-grid lifestyle, you’ll also have to consider what type of home you’ll live in. If you’re looking for traditional housing, you’ll have two primary options: building a home or buying a house. If you build a home, it may already come with the land you need. You could also buy a manufactured house and transport it to your new home.

Outside of traditional housing, there are plenty of styles of home you can choose from. You’ll likely also consider nontraditional homes such as tiny homes, yurts, recreational vehicles (RVs), shipping containers, and more.

3. Determine Your Water Source

One of the most important steps to establishing your off-grid lifestyle is establishing a water source. First, look for a natural water source on your property that you can transport to your home with a water pump (though make sure to read local regulations to confirm it’s allowed). In this case, you’ll need a way to treat the water to make it safe to drink.

More likely, you’ll have to drill a well on your property. It can be expensive, but it’s the most effective long-term solution.

Another option available — though likely not as your solar solution — is rainwater harvesting. You can put out rain barrels to collect water as it falls. Just make sure to purify the water if you plan to drink it. And remember that depending on where you live, there may be restrictions around rainwater harvesting. Some states actively encourage it, while others have limitations in place.

4. Develop Your Food Supply

Another necessary step of living off the grid is developing your food supply. First, people living off the grid often have livestock for meat and eggs. Not only will they provide food for your family, but they also give you a resource to sell or trade with others in the off-grid community.

In addition to lifestyle, you’ll also need a garden where you can grow fresh vegetables. The larger the garden you have, the more food you’ll be able to produce.

Another way of accessing food is by hunting or fishing. Depending on where you live, there may be only certain times of the year you can hunt. Then you can freeze the meat to use for the rest of the year. However, fishing is usually allowed throughout the year and can provide an excellent food source.

Depending on where you live, foraging and gathering may also be an option. Look for places nearby where you can collect berries, nuts, and other food sources.

Finally, it’s likely that you’ll have to get some of your food from the grocery store (or a local market). There’s nothing in the off-grid lifestyle that prohibits buying your food, and there are some items you simply won’t be able to produce at home.

5. Establish A Power System

You’ll need an energy source for your off-grid life. Producing your own energy allows you to remove yourself from the power grid without having to live without electricity.

The best way to produce your own electricity is through renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy. Solar panels are popular among the off-grid community. They allow you to turn sunlight into usable energy to power your home. You might also consider installing wind turbines. Finally, if you have a running water source on your property, then hydroelectricity is another option.

No matter what power source you choose, you’ll want to invest in batteries to store the excess power you produce. This allows you to power your home when the sun isn’t shining, the wind isn’t blowing, etc. You may also want a generator to use as a backup energy source.

6. Create A Septic And Waste Disposal System

Waste management is another important step in creating your off-grid lifestyle. You’ll need a way to dispose of your waste, both from your toilet and used water from your sinks and showers. Since you won’t be on a city sewage system, you’ll need your own solution.

Many people living off the grid choose to build their own septic systems (or pay to have one installed). Some areas may also allow you to purify your greywater – meaning the water from your sink, shower, etc. – to be used for other purposes.

Additionally, some people living off-grid choose composting toilets, which allows you to skip the septic system and convert the waste into usable compost.

7. Enjoy Off-Grid Living

Living off the grid is probably unlike anything you’ve done before, and many people find it to be very enjoyable. In fact, the off-grid community seems to have grown exponentially, with plenty of blogs and other resources dedicated to it. It’s clear that off-grid living comes with plenty of responsibilities and requires you to really be prepared for the lifestyle change. However, it also has many benefits.

Other Off-Grid Living Ideas

Remember that you can make your off-grid lifestyle whatever you want it to be. There are no strict rules you have to follow. Plenty of people living off the grid take it to the extreme, making everything on their own and staying true to the off-grid concept. This lifestyle can include making your own cleaning products, composting and finding eco-friendly home projects to improve your home.

On the other hand, you can choose to embrace certain parts of the off-grid lifestyle while still embracing certain parts of normal life. For example, many people choose to have the internet at home while living off the grid. In fact, many people working full-time jobs need the internet. And these days, it’s getting more difficult to live without.

Your off-grid experience is just that: Yours. You can make it whatever best suits your lifestyle.

The Bottom Line: Is Living Off The Grid Right For You?

Living off the grid is an increasingly popular choice for people who want to simplify their lifestyle and live in a sustainable, self-sufficient, and environmentally friendly way. This article will help you start thinking about whether off-grid living is for you. And remember, you can find ways to incorporate sustainable living into your life without fully switching to an off-grid lifestyle.

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Erin Gobler

Erin Gobler is a freelance personal finance expert and writer who has been publishing content online for nearly a decade. She specializes in financial topics like mortgages, investing, and credit cards. Erin's work has appeared in publications like Fox Business, NextAdvisor, Credit Karma, and more.