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Could You Live Off the Grid?

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Solar PanelsOne of the movements growing in popularity, among the environmentally-conscious and the survivalists alike, is the idea of going off the grid. There are different degrees to which you can become independent of the services offered by utility companies and local governments. Some are interested in disconnecting from the electric grid, while others take it even further and disconnect from water and sewer.

However you decided to do it, though, going off grid requires planning and preparation. In some cases, it can even mean an outlay of tens of thousands of dollars. Many of the systems required to make going off the grid work cost a great deal of money up front. You need to weigh the up front costs with the long-term savings, and you also need to consider the value to being self-sufficient, with no need to rely on others to bring you the services you need.

Disconnecting Your Electricity

Before you can disconnect your electricity, it’s important to make sure you are able to generate sufficient energy to perform all those functions. The first step is often to do what you can to make your home more energy efficient. This includes considering the placement of your windows, the use of insulation, and the use of energy efficient appliances. Some consider making sure they have electric heat so that they don’t have to rely on heating oil deliveries. You will have better success if you use less electricity to begin with.

Next, figure out which systems to use. It’s often a good idea to use at least two different systems. Many people use a solar system, and then supplement with wind. You can also get access to geothermal energy on your own, with the right system. You’ll want to store energy for further use as well. This can be done with DC batteries, and then the right conversion system to turn it into AC power when ready for use. As a backup to your backup, it’s also possible to use propane generators to charge the DC storage batteries. However, if you want to go completely off grid for self-reliance, even propane might not be the best choice.

Consider creating your system a little bit at a time. Few of us can afford to pay for a wind and a solar system sufficient to provide the estimated 10,000 kilowatt-hours your home will need each year. Instead, you can go green and off grid a little at a time. Create a plan to buy a little at a time, and make use of local rebate programs and tax credits to help you with the cost.

Some enterprising individuals don’t disconnect from the grid. Instead, they sell electricity to the grid. With the right equipment, and the right power company to work with, any extra electricity you produce can be sold to the system, so you can make money on your efforts.

What About Water?

Going off grid with water takes planning as well. You can have a well drilled on your property, and a pump installed to get it to your home. You need to check with local regulations before taking this step, though. Even if you don’t completely off grid, you can reduce your need for water from a utility company by using cisterns.

Getting rid of waste is probably about the trickiest aspect of going off grid. My in laws live in a very rural area, and have a septic tank. They don’t have sewer services. However, there is maintenance that needs to be observed, and you might need someone to come clear out some of the waste. There are other methods of disposing of waste and waste water, but it can get tricky. Check with local regulations before proceeding.

Could you go off grid?

(Photo: Powerhouse Museum)

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11 Responses to “Could You Live Off the Grid?”

  1. Wilma says:

    Going off grid is not only expensive to do but time consuming. There are different types of grids and set ups to buy. If you choose to go solar than you have to monitor your electric usage like a hawk. It’s just like a bank account. When it’s gone your done till the sun comes back. So you better have back up like a generator or still be hooked up to the grid. Some companies pay you for your solar power extra. You also have to monitor your system several times a day to make sure everything is hooked up and working properly. I would love to do this but my research says it’s very expensive to get started and time consuming to maintain. It’s not easy or every one would be doing it.

  2. Glenn Lasher says:

    I grew up in a farming family, and knew no other way of life than getting water from a well and flushing it into a septic tank. We also had a wood stove and a generator to get us through times when the power failed for extended periods of time (in the neighbourhood of a week), which it sometimes did. We did not have a cistern at our house, but my grandparents did at theirs (which was the main farmhouse).

    My first personal experience buying water from a utility didn’t happen until I got an apartment near where I was going to school.

    I don’t ever remember anything special being done to maintain the septic tanks, but at both our house and my grandparents, I do remember upgrading the pumps from jet pumps to submersible pumps some time in the 80′s. In both cases, we had good rapport with our respective neighbours, and they let us connect a hose from our house to theirs so the plumbing would still work for the two or three days that the pump was out of commission.

  3. AndrewB says:

    I designed my home with about 3000sq feet of south facing roof in central Florida intended for solar panels. When the price of solar installed comes down to $1-$1.50/watt I will install, but still be tied to the grid. The house is super efficient with sprayed insulation and double pane windows.
    I will be installing a thermal water heater this summer to lower the heating part
    We already have well water and a septic system.

  4. freeby50 says:

    I live in the suburbs and you can not drill water wells here. I doubt most cities would allow that.

    I think that going off grid is generally only practical in a rural or at least semi-rural area.

  5. Tony says:

    You might consider that many (most?) utilities won’t actually buy power you generate from you — they’ll credit you the prevailing rate to offset any power you use from them, but they won’t pay you for any excess you generate over what you use.

    That is still a decent arrangement, though, as it allows you to use the grid as your backup power for times when you aren’t generating enough for your needs — and then pay for this through the offset credits you get when you generate an excess.

  6. Cole Brodine says:

    I think supplementing your own power (solar, wind, or however you decide to generate it) with grid power is a much better idea than going completely off grid.

    You save a TON of money, work, and space by not having a battery backup system (or at least by having a very small system). Also, the batteries are usually not the safest thing to have around (speaking both electrically and chemically).

    By staying on City Water and Sewer you usually save a huge up front cost, and most (I’d assume all, but who knows?) cities do some sort of water purification which can be pretty important.

    A lot of places in the US are looking at a greater then 30 year payback on installing your own renewable generation, without any battery backup. If you are doing it strictly for economic reasons, you should really run the numbers for yourself first.

    The National Renewable Energy Labs have a neat online app to calculate how much solar or wind you can generate at your location: http://mercator.nrel.gov/imby/

  7. zapeta says:

    I think getting off the grid would be very difficult – no internet! But I would be interested in adding some renewable energy sources to my home and reducing my dependence on the grid.

  8. Sinjin Smythe says:

    Here in New England, with the average annual rainfall and square footprint of the roofs, there is a real opportunity to be building homes with cisterns and using reverse osmosis to serve up the water to the house. The average rainfall is more than enough to provide 10,000 gallons of water or more month in and out. Problem is four 2,500 gallon tanks and the requisite plumbing makes for a fairly expensive conversion. Better to have this rolled into the mortgage at time of construction.

    A shame in a way because piping water to every home is needlessly cost intense over the long haul and prone to interuptions, contaminations, and the persistent water bans for lack of supply.

  9. Julie says:

    Why “no internet”? Our internet access comes through the phone line and electricity would come from the renewable energy source of choice.

  10. alexoscarew says:

    You power regard that many utilities won’t actually buy knowledge you create from you they’ll title you the rife order to printing any cognition you use from them, but they won’t pay you for any spare you create over what you use. That is still a clean decoration, tho’, as it allows you to use the network as your approving state for present when you aren’t generating sufficiency for your needs and then pay for this finished the construction credits you get when you generate an immoderateness.

  11. Finance Blogger says:

    This is something I am just looking in to myself. I think the state of the world’s economy today is only going to get worse so being as self sufficient and sustainable as possible is going to be key in the years to come.


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