Off the Grid Living: The Comfortable Way

Source: Cea on Flickr

By Josh Rueff on April 10, 2013

What I used to picture of when I heard the words “off the grid”, was some raggedy old mountain man sitting next to the shambles of a run down cabin, eating pork and beans he just warmed over the campfire, his only source of heat and energy.

And while many “off the grid” individuals are more than happy with the idea, my wife didn’t take to well to the thought, and to be honest, I didn’t either.

So one of my goals is to figure out a way to live off the grid comfortably.

Most of the aspects of a comfortable lifestyle are taken out of the picture when the decision is made to get off the grid, and I think that the general consensus is this: In choosing between a civilized lifestyle and a bill-free lifestyle, you have to sacrifice either comfort or money.

That is, if I want to get rid of my bills living off the grid, I have to become “uncivilized” and sacrifice the comforts of civilization such as:

-Running Water/Plumbing
-Electricity
-WiFi/Internet
-Frozen TV Dinners
-Hot Water
-Central Air

And if I decide to live like everyone else in America, I’ll be stuck paying off mountains of debt and outrageous monthly bills for the rest of my life. That’s stressful and annoying.

I decided I didn’t like either of those options, and set out to find an alternate lifestyle that provided me with the best of both options.

Is it Possible to Live Off the Grid Comfortably?

As I pored over my laptop, taking notes with pad and paper (strange mix of new and old technology I know), I began to realize that it would be nearly impossible to gain all of the good aspects of living off of the grid without sacrificing something.

For example, I learned that you can pump water throughout your house from your main water supply (lake, river, pond, and/or harvested rain) with a well pump, and you can even keep the luxury of hot water by heating it with a solar water heating system.

But here’s the catch: That all costs money (surprise). 

Many people switching over to this lifestyle would easily be able to nab a $200 well pump and a $500 solar water heating system from Amazon and have the set up running before the end of the week! But even though I could (barely) afford it as well, I had a number of other things I needed to buy as well, and when I calculated it all up, I realized I’d have to wait on some of the lower priority “essentials”.

So the question was: What do I need to live comfortably?

Living Comfortably Off the Grid: The Priorities

Because I could not afford the entire set up, I had to determine what comforts had to be sacrificed, and whether or not it was worth it to pursue a lifestyle without these luxuries. So I started making lists.

Grid-tied vs Off the Grid

Civilized Electricity: Reliability is the key word – I hate to sacrifice that, but if it means shaving off an entire electricity bill, it may be worth it.

VS

Solar panel/Wind power combo: Again, the main problem would be reliability. I believe a generator is more than enough to carry me through the short down times though.

One Time cost: $12,000 minimum. Ouch.

Monthly Bill: $0 – That helps a little…

Civilized Plumbing: One of the nicest things about living in a civilized society is being able to shower and flush poo. I’m not going to lie, that would be hard to give up. But getting rid of my water bill sounds pretty awesome too.

VS

Off the Grid Plumbing: Yikes. This could get hairy. I know there’s plenty of options, but a sawdust outhouse is not quite convenient enough for me. And adding the chore of disposing the waste every week seemed annoying. But after reading up on it I found the idea of installing a compost toilet, which seems to be a viable option considering I’d only have to harvest my manure once every month or so.

One Time cost: $100-$900.

Monthly Bill: $0.

WiFi: The thought of giving up WiFi makes me sad, and as a freelance writer, my career ceases to exist when my connection fails. So this is a tough one for me. If I’m going all out though, I’ll just have to suck it up and do my work at my favorite coffee houses, or whatever other location that offers free WiFi. I do that all the time now anyways, just for a change of scenery.

One Time cost:$0.

Monthly Bill: $0.

Air Conditioning and Heating:  This actually falls under the solar/wind power category, unless I decide on a wood burning stove, which is actually very appealing to me (I grew up with them, and the regulators most of them come with now eliminate the problems we had growing up). At very least this would be a good back up option, should the solar/wind combo prove to be more unreliable than expected.

One Time cost:$250 for a good panel heater system, $200 for a window AC unit.

Monthly Bill: $0.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • NO MORE BILLS.
  • No more bills=complete and utter freedom.
  • If I have no bills I can pretty much retire, working 5-10 hours a week to cover my property taxes and food bill. I’m not the retiring type, so I won’t do that – but I could (:

Cons

  • Unreliable electricity is one of my biggest concerns. I’m positive there’s plenty of ways around it, but getting the kinks worked out may take some time.
  • Cleaning my own poo is less than desirable, and certainly a sacrifice. But it’s more than worth it.
  • Loss of WiFi – This is actually the worst one for me because it does take away a certain level of freedom, and increases the difficulty of working. Even though I often decide to work somewhere other than my home office, I’d prefer to have the option of working in my office, and since my overall goal is to simplify, I may choose to suck it up and pay a $30-$50 monthly WiFi bill.
  • The unknown. The Devil’s in the details they say. And they’re right. I’m pretty sure the main thing that keeps people from venturing out into a new lifestyle is fear, and to a certain degree it’s warranted. But not enough to keep me from trying!

The Final Outcome

After making my lists, researching all of the options, and calculating costs and risks, I decided that the off the grid lifestyle was well worth the risks. I still have more planning to do, but the main thing I want to nail down is the most viable alternate housing option.

That’s why I started the Alternate Housing series – so far I’ve explored the option of Tiny houses and Living in a Yurt. These are two great options that drop the $12,000 price of solar electricity to a more reasonable cost of roughly $3,000. Thomas Jefferson had a great strategy too.

In the long run it is certainly possible to maintain a high level of “civilization” in your lifestyle, even while living off grid. But because it’s a road less traveled, there are many hurdles to jump, and many kinks to work out on your own. I think the hardest part is saving up the dough for a fully capable off the grid system, and if you’re able, the best decision is to start out by roughing it a bit, and upgrading as you raise the needed funds.

So yes, you can live comfortably off the grid, but no it’s not easy breaking in to that kind of lifestyle. But people do it all the time, and are in increasing numbers. I’m looking forward to experimenting with off the grid living, and I’ll be sure to log it all here on the blog.
Josh

2 Comments

  1. John A. May 3, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    Getting off the grid is definitely a goal of mine! I hate being a slave to money…to the government.

    Reply

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