So, what does off-the-grid living mean anyway?
Off-the-grid living is a term that refers to living independent of common public utilities, such as power, water, phone and sewage. It is commonly used to refer to living in a more environmental friendly and self-sufficient manner. The term “the-grid” refers to the power grid, which most people are incredibly reliant one, and one that a growing number of people have decided to abandon. It’s been estimated by Home Power Magazine that at least 180,000 families are living off the grid in the United States and that number is increasing every year.
Some families have decided to go partially off the grid in manners that include adding solar panels to their homes, or, in many residential cities, using well water instead of public sewage. These are very simple ways you can reduce your carbon footprint while saving money. Although digging your own septic tank, installing a sewage system and installing solar panels will cost you thousands of dollars up front, the ongoing cost reduction will usually offset these expenses over time.
Solar panels are probably the most known methods for reducing your dependency on public utilities. Power is a great expense to many families and it’s no wonder that solar panels are getting more and more popular. The biggest deterrent for adding solar panels is the high upfront costs. Solar panel systems can range from just a couple thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the needs of your household. These costs are slowly coming down and more and more people are seeing the benefit of having no energy bill. Solar panels work by capturing the energy from the sun and directing it to a generator that either powers your home, or redirects that energy back into the main power grid. The systems that direct power back into the grid can find some extra income a month if they are able to supply more energy to the grid then they take from the grid. This is common is already populated areas, but are a less attractive option when access to a main power grid is not readily accessible. These type of homes require their own system that redirects the power captured back to the home, or store the energy for use later. In another article I will be discussing solar panel options, watch for it!
In addition to solar panels for power generation, wind power is also gaining popularity. Wind turbines are mounted high in the sky, and the energy in the wind turns two or three propeller-like blades around a rotor. The rotor is connected to the main shaft, which spins a generator to create electricity. This electricity is then shifted to a power grid that distributes the energy to homes, businesses and the like. There are more than 500 wind manufacturing facilities spread across 43 states in the US. Many states already utilizing wind power are in the Midwest, or West, with Iowa leading the pack with almost 1.5 million homes benefiting from wind power. To check out more stats on wind power The American Wind Energy Association has a ton of information to sift through.
Other things to think about when going off-the-grid?
When going completely off grid you need to think about more than just electric. Yes, you can do a lot with electricity like run a stove, a heater, appliances, charge your phone, etc., but you will need some option for sewage, and this can be quite tricky if you aren’t, or can’t dig a septic system on your property. Having a septic system basically allows you to flush your toilet and dispose of your waste in a sanitary manner. When going off grid you can do a few things, outhouses are making a comeback too, who wouldn’t want to see the outside every time you have to go to the bathroom. I’m kidding about that, but that is how it was done before modern septic systems were implemented. Now you can buy things such as composting toilets
Composting toilets use the natural bacteria found in fecal matter to turn waste into soil. You will have to add a mixture to your toilet after each fecal deposit, and empty out the soil tray periodically, but composting toilets take care of the entire process of turning shit into nutrient rich soil. This soil can then be reused on flowerbeds and other gardens. These systems are the most rapidly growing off the grid sewage disposal systems available. You can create your own, but with a ripe market, the options of composting toilets are pretty decent.
In addition to sewage you will have to think about water collection systems. Collecting and dispersing rain water can be a daunting task, but their are many ways to do it and many systems you can buy, or do it yourself. The most common method include rerouting rain that falls onto building tops and directing the water into large plastic barrels that store the unfiltered water. The barrel can then be filtered and sent into homes to use for drinking, washing or cooking water. Their are tons of water filtration experiment systems as well as full tried and true systems on the market. A do-it-yourself water filtration system might not be the best in your situation, or, alternatively, a cookie cutter water filtration process might not fit your needs. Finding the best one for your situation will be the most time consuming.
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Starting a Garden
Starting a garden can be a way to offset your grocery costs, and be less dependent on outside help. Most off the grid enthusiasts implement a garden, or multiple gardens into their properties. A garden can be built into most any landscape, and it’s not too expensive to start either. Growing more than necessary and canning or preserving fruits and vegetables is a good way to sustain your own food throughout the winter. Indoor growing, such as herbs can be all year around and really help to clean out the air in your living space.
As you can see going off the grid requires a decent amount of thinking and planning, but can be a very rewarding and educational experience. Check back often as I explore each of these areas and find what works best for me.