Wide view of an amazing lake surrounded by the forest. The location is Cortina d'Ampezzo (Veneto, Italy) in the Dolomites mountains during the summer season.

When I think of living off the grid, a lot comes to mind, specifically, living sustainably and self-sufficiently while using renewable energy to provide electrical power and water. But what does living off the grid actually mean?

“The grid” refers to the electrical grid that provides us with electrical power, water, and sewage and trash removal. Living off of it refers to a disconnect of this power, perhaps by using no power at all or using renewable energy you produce yourself. Some people choose to do this so they can live life simply and sustainably, while others want a new experience and a unique place to live.

The truth is this: Completely living off the grid isn’t that realistic, particularly in the 21st century. Who really wants to move to the middle of nowhere, use a composting toilet and forgo the Internet?

We spoke with individuals living nearly off the grid, to get some tips and tricks to help you live more sustainably and reduce your reliance on electrical power.

Solar Panels as an Alternative Energy Source

Truly off-grid homes are built with only sustainable resources and use no electrical power. Typically, they’re easier to build in rural areas where you have more land. If you want to keep your home in the city and still use electricity, purchasing or making solar panels can allow you to reduce or completely eliminate your reliance on the electrical grid.

Solar panels work by absorbing the sun’s energy and converting it into electricity. They can be installed on the roof or near the house and convert energy to the inside of the home.

One of many alternatives to using the electrical grid, solar panels are a cost-effective and green way to bring energy to your home. Even if you don’t live in an area where the sun shines all the time, a generator allows you to store energy for future use, so you can capitalize on the sun when it’s out and still have energy when it’s not.

Dede Cummings, founder of Green Writers Press tries to live sustainably in all aspects of her life. She doesn’t consider herself a true off-gridder (she still drives a car, for example), but her passive solar home is just about as energy efficient as it can get.

She recommends using solar panels as a first step to living off the grid; it has allowed her to heat her home and water efficiently, completely eliminating her reliance on outside electrical power for these comforts. In order to heat water, she installed solar hot water pipes connecting the roof to a water tank used for storage.

You can save the power your solar panels generate for your future use, or because some utility companies will pay you for your excess energy, you can convert this power into a small stream of additional income.

Cummings says using alternative energy sources isn’t all that challenging if you budget correctly and take advantage of state and federal government tax credits and rebates.

Solar Water Pumps and Water Storage

Solar water pumps are powered by solar panels, allowing you to access nearby water in a cost-effective, sustainable way. Small amounts of water can move over a longer duration of time, perfect for residential consumers who don’t need mass quantities of water.

Sia Mohajer from Ontario Solar Panels recommends solar water pumps, as they are great even in low sunlight conditions. Plus, the solar output remains constant throughout the day, so you receive a steady output of water. In order for solar water pumps to be effective, you’ll need to be near some sort of water source, such as a well or lake where you can retrieve water.

To further reduce your need for outside water sources, purchase an additional water storage tank to collect rainwater. You can store water either above or below ground.

Growing Your Own Food

Maintaining your own garden to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs can drastically decrease your reliance on outside food sources. Not only can your garden be healthier than processed foods, but often it’s healthier than alternative fruits and vegetables because they’re fresher and have less pesticides.

Most of our food travels thousands of miles from farm to table, requiring tons of energy. By growing your own food, you reduce your reliance on outside vendors and reduce your green footprint versus had you purchased all of your food from an outside source, like a grocery store.

If you live in an area where you can’t grow food year-round, consider purchasing or building a greenhouse that uses solar energy to heat itself. You can grow food regardless of the season or local weather conditions.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

If you truly want to live off the grid, you can hand-wash clothes instead of using an electric washing machine and burn candles instead of using light bulbs, for example, but this isn’t realistic for all people.

You can make small changes to reduce your overall energy use, which will decrease your reliance on energy in general. Running the dishwasher in the evenings, washing only full loads of laundry, lowering the temperature in your home while you’re at work and purchasing energy-efficient appliances are all ways to help reduce your energy usage.

Americans represent only 5% of the world population yet consume 24% of the world’s energy, and a lot of this energy is wasted on things we don’t even use, such as appliances plugged in but not in use. Before you leave the kitchen, make sure to turn off the lights and unplug that blender – it will save you a lot of energy, and money, in the long run!

True off-gridders are minimalists: They make do with what they have or go without; they recycle and reuse everything from glass containers to building materials. They’re creative and find ways to reuse everything. When they need something, they purchase used items online or at local thrift stores. All of these items required energy and power to make, so by purchasing used items, you’re reducing the energy required to make new items.

Composting is a great way to recycle greenery. By decomposing unwanted food and greens, the nutrients of food waste are returned into the soil. This is the ultimate reusing tip because you can then reuse this soil to fertilize your garden. You can also compost items you probably never considered eating, like flower petals.

You don’t need to purchase fancy or expensive composting bins. Composting can really be done anywhere in your backyard, no bins required.

The ultimate off-grid goal is to have zero waste so you don’t have to rely on waste removal services. Reducing your waste in general is a great first step.

Green Technology

Green technology can be expensive, but don’t let the cost deter you. Costs have gone down in recent years, and you can save thousands of dollars on electricity bills over the course of their lifetime. A small cost upfront can allow you to live sustainably for years to come.

The government offers some rebates and incentives to encourage green technology usage, which can help to partially offset the high costs. If it’s still too expensive, you can even build your own solar panels. Think long term: green technology increases the assessed value of your home, and they are increasingly in high demand due to rising energy costs.

Do you have any tips for living nearly off the grid in the 21st century? Tell us about them in the comments!

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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. I am trying to buy a home that is off grid in Montana, but I don’t want to pay 20% down. Is there any way to finance an off grid (totally) off grid home without putting this much down?

    1. Hi Angela:

      I can’t comment on whether there’s any way to do it anywhere, but I tell you that for any property we finance regardless of down payment size, we require that you be connected to local utilities including electricity. I’m sorry.

      Thanks,
      Kevin Graham

  2. Hi kevin.here is my situation.i brought some mountain property off the grid.plan on paying land off next yr.and planning on possibly getting a loan to build cabin for permanent residency.is this something you can help me with?i can go over more details.let me know thx.n.segura

    1. Hi N:

      Unfortunately, we don’t do loans for the construction of homes. It has to be built already. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have home financing needs in the future.

      Thanks,
      Kevin Graham

  3. I just went through 90 day process to refi with Quicken Loans where I told them up front I was totally off grid solar only no public power.I was approved but at the end of the 90 days I was informed that they cannot do the refi without public power hook up. I think putting out an article like this is totally hypocritical on the part of Quicken Loans they wasted my time and money.

    1. Hi Craig:

      I’m sorry you’ve had this experience. We don’t do solar loans where you’re totally disconnected from the power grid, but we do want to look into what you were told. I’m going to have someone reach out.

      Thanks,
      Kevin Graham

    2. We bought out property, paid cash for it, got sort of equity loan so that we could use the equity in our old home to finance a well and septic system, then we financed a a mfg. home, got the title eliminated so that it was legally attached to the property, then refinanced it. They never asked if we were off grid. If they don’t ask specifically about grid tie then simply shut up, and get your loan. They will never check up on it later unless of course you default on the loan and then I’m not real sure what happens.

      This is a hot button subject for me too. The financial institutions could easily support a move to more and more solar and relieve the burden on global warming with very little change to their bottom line but they won’t. Your congress person could make this a priority but they won’t because they are sheep. Scream and holler at anyone who will listen, you local government representative, your local bank manager…yell and scream till some one hears you. There is no reason solar power with a generator backup should not be an accepted source of power.. So Mr. Graham are you listening, take it to the board, get something done for people who are willing to go the extra mile to help minimize our damage to this planet.

      1. Hi Linda:

        Mortgage policies aren’t something I can change on my own, but I will absolutely pass this along and make sure it gets seen. I love that you’re so passionate about this subject. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

        Thanks,
        Kevin Graham

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