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Primer: How to Live Off The Grid

Off the grid. We use these words to describe everything from camping in the backcountry to traveling across cellular “dead zones” without service to removing ourselves from contemporary society in favor of a more in-tune relationship with nature. But, you may ask, what is “the grid.” And how does someone live off of this seemingly elusive mechanism? Well, in short, it’s all about self-sustainably in just about every aspect of the phrase. This includes shelter, power, food production, harnessing and recycling water, and managing waste without the assistance of outside influences. And while this may sound foreign in a contemporary communal age of convenience, it’s not impossible.

Before we go into more details on how to live off the grid we need to establish a definition of what “the grid” actually means. In this instance, the grid in question here is referred to as the power grid – which is the linked system that delivers power (in the form of electricity) to the masses. Here, we have what is actually a fragile ecosystem of dependence that transfers energy generated on a mass scale from extra high voltage producers (such as coal, nuclear, or hydroelectric plants) through a distribution grid and into the homes or offices of consumers. Needless to say, just about every aspect of our daily lives is reliant on “the grid,” so it’s no secret that removing yourself from this system with the intentions of self-sufficiency is no easy task – the rewards, however, are quite fruitful. With that said, here’s a brief guide on what you need to consider and how to get started.


Gimmie Shelter

It’s no surprise you’re going to need adequate shelter for such an expedition but odds are you’re going to have to downsize a bit depending on your current home. Here, size matters and more space means great maintenance and power dependency. It’s for these reasons we don’t find any McMansions in the wild. Instead, off-the-grid individuals opt for small hand-built cabins, trailers, or any number of tiny homes that are easily powered and maintained. Again, considering the amount of energy you need to sufficiently power your home without the assistance of government-run energy is key to successfully undertaking this task.

With this in mind, if building your own home isn’t an option, there are a few options out there to get you started. Fortunately, an off-the-grid mentality isn’t a new one these days so a handful of small brands work to cater to individuals looking for quick and easy ways to relinquish their dependency and start forging their own path. The Greenmoxie cabin, for instance, is one such example of an all-inclusive off-the-grid package that works to encompass all the necessary elements of sustainable living with the exception of food production. There are also new flat-pack housing options as well that come equipped with solar panels and rainwater tanks that are portable and can be transported atop a trailer. These modules also allow families living in the backcountry to add more space to their homes when the time comes.


Harnessing Your Resources

Possibly the key ingredient to living off-the-grid properly, energy in this instance has to be entirely self-sustainable. That means, most if not all the electricity utilized by you and your home needs to be generated onsite in one way or another. These days, the most popular means of accomplishing this is through harnessing the sun via solar panels and battery packs and fuel cells. Additional options include utilization of water and wind energy.

Whatever source you choose, you need to make sure the method is properly converting the raw energy into alternating current for your home. Solar panels, for instance, contain cells made up of silicon semiconductors that collect the suns energy and knocks electrons loose allowing them to flow freely. From here, the panel then forces these electrons to flow in one direction (creating a direct current) which is then covered into alternating current through an inverter. Wind energy works in a similar manner but in a more old world fashion in which propellers spin a shaft that in turn attaches to a generator via the hub of a rotor. The generator then converts this energy produced by the rotation into usable energy for your home.

Your Green Energy Power Grid At Work

Whether you choose solar or wind as your source of energy, the process is somewhat similar. For example, solar panels contain cells made up of silicon semiconductors that collect the suns energy and knock electrons loose allowing them to flow freely. The panel then forces these electrons to flow in one direction (creating a direct current) which is then converted into alternating current (AC) through an inverter.

Wind power – the cleaner of the two options – works in a similar fashion but in a more old world fashion. Here, propellers spin a shaft that in turn attaches to a generator via the hub of a rotor. The generator then converts this energy produced by the rotation into usable energy (AC) for your home.

Depending on where you decide to set up shop, you can power a home utilizing natural running water from rivers. Dubbed “micro-hydro energy” home-scale hydroelectric power is made possible by mechanical systems put in place that converts the force of flowing water in electricity for your home. Simply put, the flow from a river or stream is directed towards a wheel in a turbine that then converts the resulting rotational energy into usable electricity. Naturally, the amount of energy produced depends on both the volume of water and the angle through which it’s flowing through the system. Because of such variables, these systems can produce anywhere between 75 to350-kilowatt hours a month and can get quite pricey at times.  Therefore, caution should be exercised when installing these systems – since location and reliability of the water source should be strongly considered.


A Necessary Find

The next step in off-the-grid living is removing yourself from the ubiquitous city water lines. Surprisingly, unless you’re opting to live in an arid desert, this is easier than you think. That’s because water is practically everywhere. It falls from the sky, runs through rivers, streams, and lakes, and even beneath our feet as ground water. Therefore, tapping into these systems can be a great way to keep your produce alive and well (more on that later), your dishes clean and yourself washed.

It’s worth noting that no amount of preparedness can make up for a mindset that’s not in sync with this lifestyle.

By far the most highly recommended means of harnessing water is through digging a well. However, the biggest pitfall here comes from the cost involved and the need to license a well driller to complete the task in an appropriate manner due to the risk of contaminants seeping into your well if it’s not constructed properly. Keep in mind that the deeper you go, the cleaner the water – though it’s also a good idea to install a filter to improve the taste.

Catching rainfall through the use of a cistern is another way to keep the water flowing through your off-the-grid domicile. These tanks are commonly made out of concrete, steel or fiberglass and collect rainwater as it’s collected via rain gutters on the roof of your home. If you opt to place the cistern on the top of your home, the weight of the water will allow easy access from inside, however, a pump will be needed if your tank is located below or at ground level. In addition, metal or clay roofing is the best option since they’re much cleaner than shingled roofs.


Hands-On Sustenance

Just like water, there is no life without food. So, ideally, you’re going to want to find ways of growing and harvesting your own food around your newly established home. This can be accomplished through basic farming techniques in which you can grow perennial vegetables, even planting a few fruit trees in the process. And, depending on the size of your land, growing and harvesting wheat is also an ideal way to keep living expenses on the low end. Also, if you know how to hunt and dress wild game in addition to farming you can essentially live a hearty and fulfilling existence without the need to ever head into town for food. And for those looking to keep their dairy fixation alive and well. Adding a few goats and chickens into the mix couldn’t hurt either.

However, if the “survivor man” approach isn’t in your repertoire, it’s suggested that you proceed with caution when purchasing products. We say this because without utilizing city waste disposal or sewer lines, garbage can pile up quite quickly. That’s why when purchasing food items, recycling and composting are two things to strongly consider – especially the latter if you plan on removing yourself entirely. Therefore, growing your own fruits and vegetables, and avoiding packaged foods will go a long way in keeping your carbon footprint to a minimum. It’s also wise to pick up some literature on the subject. From guides on permaculture to field manuals on edible fruits and berries in the wild to field-dressing manuals on wild game, all options are highly advised as education shouldn’t cease to be part of your daily routine when living out in the backcountry.


All About Management

Finally, getting off the city’s sewer line is the last step in ensuring your independence from public utilities. And unless you want things to get really miserable real quick, we advise in investing in the simplest and easiest way to manage the day’s waste – a septic system. Basically, the right septic system will catch and release your waste water and slowly release it into a nearby drain field through a series of perforated pipes. And since the soil acts as a natural biological filter, the harmful waste bacteria are then absorbed as nutrients by the soil.

There is one caveat, however, despite the seemingly simplified and sustainable nature of a septic system, they do require yearly service by a professional in the field. Now depending on how removed you are from civilization, you could install your own septic system with a little know-how, but these are illegal in most areas and could result in hefty fines so it’s highly recommended to proceed with caution here. Another option, albeit a more old-world one, is to build an outhouse or privy. Here, privacy is granted thanks to the small structure and a basic vent system. One thing to consider when building an outhouse: you’re going to want to make sure it’s downhill -but above the flood plain – from your water sources. It’s also useful to occasionally add lime or sawdust down the outhouse pit to help control odor and aid in decomposition.

Mechanics Of A Septic System

Simply put, a septic system consists of a large metal tank that collects and slowly releases your wastewater over time. Naturally occurring bacteria in the tank break everything down into three layers (outlined above) and as new wastewater flows in the liquid in the tank is released through a series of perforated pipes that lead to a drain field.

One Last Thing

It's About The Mindset

Conclusively, it’s worth noting that no amount of preparedness can make up for a mindset that’s not in sync with this lifestyle. That is, overindulgence of first world conveniences is not a reality here. Expect to work harder and longer for seemingly simple pleasures like dinners, leaving the lights on, taking extended showers, or even washing dishes. Washing clothes by hand would also come highly recommended. Remember, your resources are fragile in this environment so it’s important to treat your energy and water reserves as gingerly as possible. It’s important to manage your energy use as well. Because while appliances and lighting will work with the help of solar and wind power, they may all not function properly at the same time. Therefore, it’s important to live a more conservative lifestyle out here.

All told, living off the grid at its core is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint on the world while gathering a deeper understanding of the world around us. The lifestyle offers peace and quiet in the wilderness while forcing you to live an examined and minimalist lifestyle. Sure, some of the pleasures of contemporary urban life are gone, but so are the stresses that come with the modern day hustle. It’s a small price to pay for the independence and fulfillment you’ll feel when enjoying a meal you’re caught, grown and prepared yourself inside a sustainable home lit from the previous day’s sunlight before an evening shower compliments of your personal well. No utility bills, no junk mail, no crowds.

8 Survival Skills That Will Come In Handy

Self-sustainability is a huge part of off-the-grid living – this includes survival in a crisis. Therefore, these 8 basic survival skills every man should know should help keep you safe and alive when in inevitable does occur.