Lessons from Our First 3 Months Living Off Grid
We moved into our off grid house in the beginning of January. While January isn’t an ideal month for this type of venture everything has gone surprisingly well. Our house is warm and cozy, we still have the internet, and we’re pretty happy with the place. For folks interested in transitioning to off grid living, here are the basics of our system and a few of the things we’ve learned so far.
- Gutters and a 2500 gallon tank to collect water from our roof.
- Berkey water filter for drinking water. We’re not affiliated with Berkey but we love our filter.
- Four 190 watt solar panels and eight lead acid, deep cycle, 6 volt batteries power lights, computers, a water pump, and small tools/appliances.
- Back-up candles, oil lamps, and re-chargeable battery powered lights help conserve energy if we have weeks of overcast weather.
- Propane instant hot water heat provides hot water to our sink.
- Wood burning cookstove heats our home and food during the winter.
- Propane two-burner camp stove heats food when it’s too hot for the wood stove to be used.
- Backup kerosene heater to provide additional/emergency heat.
*The propane/kerosene we use isn’t a perfect solution but neither is purchasing electricity. First, it would cost us greatly to have power run to our property. Secondly, living in West Virginia our alternative to propane would be electric from a coal fired power plant, not what you’d call green energy.
You Can Get By With a Lot Less Power Than You’d Think
I think people have the impression that living off the grid means you’ll be headed back to the stone ages. While many things are different living off grid, many are the same. We still have internet and phone as well as hot water and electric lights.
While we’re more careful with our energy usage, I still work full-time online and we regularly charge/run two computers. We moved in during the short days of January and have been managing with our small system.
It Helped Us Go to Bed and Get Up Earlier
We often spend our evenings with just a few candles, oil lamps, and or a small strand of battery operated string lights. Not using lights or watching hours of television has meant we get sleepy a lot earlier.
This one may also be reflective of our particular circumstances. The previous house we lived in was quite dark even during the summer. It was divided into many rooms and had small, mostly east facing windows.
Our new home is basically one big space (except the bathroom) and features large windows on the east, west, and south sides. We get tons of natural light as soon as the sun rises which I think contributes to our early rising.
Spending Money on a Composting Toilet Isn’t Worth It
I affectionately refer to our toilet as a “composting toilet” but it would probably be more aptly described as a “honey bucket.” It’s basically a little box with a regular toilet seat on it and a five-gallon bucket inside.
We fill the bottom with a layer of sawdust and then add another layer every time we use it. When it’s full we take it out to a large compost bin where we’ll let it break down for a few years before using it on fruit trees.
*Don’t use this type of compost on vegetable crops.
I’m glad we didn’t spend money on a commercially made composting or a septic tank.
Comfort Is Largely About What You’re Accustomed To
We’ve already gotten a fair share of, “I don’t know how you live like that” or “I could never do that” type of comments. What I’ve found is that what you “need” with the exceptions of basics like clean water, food, etc. is really about what you’re used to having.
Some changes we’ve had to adjust to quickly while others we’ve been working on for some time. Like when we decided to stop using a microwave years before we really needed to.
Practicing doing hard or uncomfortable things makes them easier.
It’s Already Saving Us Money
Moving into our off grid home has already saved us a bit of money. We don’t have an electric bill anymore which used to run about $150 per month! Our only utility bill is our internet/landline I use for work which is about $40 per month.
It should be noted that building this home cost about $10,000 (solar and appliances included). However, without this home we would likely being paying rent or a mortgage living somewhere else. We do expect some future costs associated with additional projects and general maintenance.
Using Rainwater is Awesome
The home we stayed in previously had a drilled well with hard water and sulfur. It wasn’t dangerous but it didn’t smell great. It also left white build-up on items like our tea kettle and made white sheets and clothing dingy looking.
Since using rainwater we haven’t had any of these problems. It’s beautifully clear and smell free!
Living Without Refrigeration Isn’t Impossible
Yes, we’ve been living without refrigeration. Despite the fact that it’s a relatively modern invention this is one feature of our house that people find really strange.
For us, it hasn’t really been a big deal. Leftovers never last long around here anyway. In the winter we can set things on the porch to stay cool. In the summer we’ll focus a lot on fresh meals from the garden.
This summer, we will probably switch from canning quarts of certain items to pints to ensure they’re used up before they spoil. We also may start work on a root cellar.
Heating is So Much Easier
Again, this one may not be true of all off grid homes. We opted for a small house and are managing to heat it primarily with a wood cookstove and a backup kerosene heater.
The last house we lived in, we also heated with wood but it was much bigger and had a much bigger stove. The pieces of firewood we burn now look like kindling compared to what we were burning. On a cold day in this home, we probably burn two to three 5-gallon buckets of wood we’ve split up small.
Being a Minimalist Helps A Lot
One of the main features of our home that allows us to make this system work is its size. It’s approximately 500 square feet with a sleeping/storage loft that you can crouch but not stand up in. Some of the main floor is taken up by necessary off grid “appliances” like our battery bank, wood cookstove, and water pump.
This small size means less energy is used lighting, heating, and keeping the place clean. In order to make this work we have to be intentional about our possessions.
There’s Always More Projects
In future, we hope to become less reliant on fossil fuels and better equipped to face certain challenges. Here are few future goals that would improve our homestead:
- Install solar hot water panels.
- Build a root cellar for refrigeration.
- Build a methane digester for cooking.
- Get the water tank on our wood stove repaired (it’s old and rusted out) to help heat water.
- Make a cob or mud oven for summer baking.
In the meantime, we’re pretty happy with where we’re at. What self sufficiency projects are you working on?