Off-Grid Communities Overview

An off-grid community combines two alternative ideas – unplugging from the grid and living communally.  Off-grid living can be anything from an earthship, which is a completely sustainable and food-producing structure, to a net zero home that produces more power than it uses.

The basics of off-grid living

Solar panels, wind turbines and hydro-electric power can produce electricity. Solar can also heat water. Water can come from a well that is powered by solar, or it can be collected off a roof, stored in a cistern and filtered for domestic use. Grey water can be used for irrigation, and black water can go into a septic tank.

Off-grid homes can be heated with wood, geothermal systems and sunny windows. Lights can be candles for the hard-core. Composting toilets and outhouses can replace water-hogging toilets.

Eco-village off grid communities

John Willoner’s Eco-House at Findhorn. Turf roof, passive solar, solar panel.(Source: W.L Tarbert)

Values of off-grid communities

Like I said, off-grid can be extreme or simple, and people unplug for various reasons – wanting a smaller footprint or escaping from anything to do with government (municipal infrastructure).

Putting those ideas into a community creates the flavor potential residents will be attracted to. Some communities use candles for lighting. Some are fancy homes far from a power source. All the residents, though, have chosen their particular community because of similar value systems, aside from unplugging from the grid.

Models for self-contained communities living off-grid

Some communities ask that residents work outside the compound, while others give residents room and board for working the community business. Some are egalitarian, which means everyone shares everything, including money and vehicles. Some have individual homes and common land, and some have private living areas with a common kitchen and bathroom. If you can think of a way to join people in a living arrangement, you can certainly create a community around it.

Benefits of off-grid community living

There are monetary benefits to living in a community. To buy land and build a home by yourself may be too expensive. In a community, you don’t generally have the land expense. If there are fees to join, they are much less than buying or building a house. You would have many hands for building and starting a garden, and that means you would have access to a lot of experience and knowledge.

There are personal benefits, too. You would have neighbors with your same values (haven’t you ever lived in a place where people thought you were the oddball, or vice versa?), and you could form close friendships. You might all be working towards a common goal, or you could all have separate lives. You would have privacy yet help and support would be available when you needed it.

Drawbacks of communal off-grid living

The basis of the benefits is the same for drawbacks. You might want more privacy than you are afforded in a community. Maybe you are too independent to work with others. There are communities that offer more individual lifestyles, though, where the off-grid home is the common bond.

Examples of off-grid eco-villages

Here are a few around the US with varied formats.

I’ll start at home with Greater World . This is an earthship community about eight miles from my house in Taos, New Mexico. Each home is an individually owned earthship on a three-acre maximum size lot. Over 300 acres of common land are set aside as a park, and each homeowner owns a share of it. This is the type of community where the home is the common bond. Each resident has his own life, job, family and business, and is not obligated to the other residents.

Earthaven Ecovillage is on 320 acres in Black Mountain, North Carolina. This is an artsy town in the western mountains just east of Asheville. The homes are powered by solar and their own micro-hydropower system on Rosy Branch Creek. Rainwater is harvested for irrigation. There is a fee to join, lease fees to pay for home sites and annual fees. Residents also have a work commitment in the community, but they have outside income.

Environmental sustainability is the basis of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage  in northeastern Missouri. Homes are built of natural materials and powered by the sun and wind. No fossil fuels are allowed for heating homes or water. Vehicles are not privately owned and run on biodiesel fuel. Anything that can be recycled or composted must be. Dancing Rabbit intends to create a local economy and currency, while their final vision is to be a fully functioning ‘city’.

Off-grid communal living: many examples and definitions

There are many definitions of community and of living off-grid. If this is something you might be interested in, do some research to find what suits your particular needs and wants. It is surely out there! Off-grid communities do offer a low carbon footprint simply by stretching housing, land and energy needs across a large group of people. It’s truly a green lifestyle.

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