With the cost of solar plummeting, it is more and more tempting to go off-grid. It certainly is more economical than before, and people want to live cheaply and with the planet, maybe as rebels, maybe as environmental stewards. No matter the reasons, off-grid living is on the rise!
If you want to go that route, you are probably wondering where to start. You can retrofit your house, or buy land in a remote location (or not!) and start over. But even before you make those decisions, you need to change your lifestyle.
Cut your energy usage
First of all, start reducing your energy usage. Not just electricity, but water, gas and auto fuel. You should have already been doing this if you have been striving for a greener lifestyle over the last, oh, decade or so. But you will save money now, and again when you can install a smaller solar pv system.
- Turn off lights when not in use.
- Replace incandescent light bulbs with CFLs and LEDs.
- Put small appliances on power strips that are turned off when not in use.
- Use solar chargers for cells phones, tablets and laptops.
- Replace your fridge with an Energy Star model.
- Keep the fridge and freezer full for the most efficient energy use
- Ditch the electric coffee maker. Get a French Press or a cone with filters, and boil water on your stove.
- Your other small appliances can probably go to Goodwill, too.
- Learn to live without a clothes dryer. Hang clothes outside in good weather and on clothes racks during stormy weather.
Smarter water use
Take short showers. Use a solar camping shower to see how much water you actually need to get clean.
The same goes for doing dishes. If you have a dishwasher, invest in an energy efficient model. If you do them by hand, use as little water as possible. You’ll find you don’t need much!
Catch water, and use it for bathing and doing dishes. Water your outdoor ornamental plants with it when you’re done. If dishwater is greasy from meat, let it go down the drain. Always use eco-friendly dish and laundry soap.
Calculate your needs
Once you have reduced your energy bills, you will be able to calculate your energy needs for a solar system, solar hot water, and a water catchment system. By cutting your energy usage, your systems will be smaller, less expensive, and easier to maintain. Combine wind, solar and geothermal energy options into your plan. Decide if you want to be net-metered (tied into the grid for low power times or night time), although with the more efficient batteries being manufactured, you may not have to.
Get rid of things you don’t use. I give things a year. If I haven’t used them, I take them to the second hand store. How many pairs of shoes do you have? Do you need 10 sweaters? Wear your clothes for more than a day. This keeps you from collecting them, and it also saves on wash water.
Stop collecting. For each thing you buy (which should be necessary things), get rid of two or three.
Go digital. Do you still need 500 CDs and DVDs?
At this point, decide if you want to retrofit your existing house or move to a rural/remote location to be completely off-grid.
Living off-grid implies self-sufficiency. Aside from utilities, you need to learn to grow your own food and build a shelter. Subsistence farming is growing what you need, recycling the rest, and bartering for what you don’t have. Learn to barter!
Grow fruits and vegetables, and hunt, trap, fish and grow livestock for meat and dairy. Learn to preserve the harvest for winter. Eat seasonally (no carrots in spring, for instance) for the most efficient use of land, money and calories.
Use reclaimed materials to build a home. When you got rid of your extra stuff, you probably noticed you don’t need a large home. Consider a tiny home or whatever suits you and your family’s needs. Look around your house now and see how much space you actually use. You don’t need storage for all that stuff you gave away! I can live in 600 square feet with a home office.
This process may take a year or two! You have to get used to living a simple lifestyle before you can make a big plunge like going off-grid.
If you’re really adventurous, stay in an earthship for a week or two or an entire year! Learn first-hand what off-grid really means. You might change your mind about it, or you might be onto the next exciting phase of your environmentally aware life!