Consider the Why of Going Off-Grid
As I’ve interviewed several off-grid homesteaders doing research for my book, The Do It Yourself Homestead, I’ve asked for their advice for those considering taking the off-grid plunge. They all seem to say the same thing to start with: figure out why you want to go off-grid in the first place.
Just like with involving yourself in farming or homesteading, it’s important to have a lot of conversations ahead of time with your spouse and children. Make sure everyone is on the same page about expectations and desire. You don’t have to agree on absolutely everything, but having a common “mission statement” for your soon-to-be lifestyle will help keep you focused and cohesive as you work together.
Does Everyone See the “Why”?
If you’re thinking of adopting an off-grid lifestyle, a good first question to kick around is: why? Are you concerned about the financial drain that paying for modern conveniences requires? If that’s your primary concern, installing solar or wind power and reusing gray water may not require that you move to the country and start growing all your own food. Or is “getting away from it all” part of the vision you have for living off-grid?
Off-grid living isn’t an all or nothing venture; there are a lot of different levels and ways of going about it. As Teri of Homestead Honey tell us,
“Nowadays, if you have enough money, it’s possible to turn your off-grid house into a close approximation of an on-grid home. By this I mean, you can install adequate solar power to live as you were, you can create hot water with an on-demand heater, and you can purchase freezers and refrigerators that run on DC power. You can have a home as luxurious, or as rustic as you wish.
“So, I guess my biggest piece of advice, is to really reflect on WHY you wish to go off-grid. And to make lifestyle choices that support your vision.”
So, your “Why” should be defined with specific ideas about how your vision will become your lifestyle. Be aware that what you envision and what your spouse envisions may not turn out to be the same thing. Keep talking because through the talking will come the specifics. Be willing to be flexible in these conversations and able to explore ideas that may seem new to you.
Take it One Step at a Time
Jaimie, from An American Homestead, shares some sage advice with those who would jump in too fast or too far:
“I’ve learned to going off grid is more like a marathon. Things get easier over time. You learn how to do without things. You learn how to do things in other ways. But you also add back conveniences as you can afford them and have time to build up more of your infrastructure. It all takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight!”
Take it One Convenience at a Time
If it isn’t part of your off-grid vision to move to raw land and build a homestead from scratch, start with one convenience you can learn to live without in the home you have now. Kendra’s family has learned to live without a refrigerator, recycle gray water and hang dry their laundry. Kendra says,
“It can definitely be tricky converting a modern home to be off-grid. Many floorplans just aren’t designed to be energy efficient anymore. You just have to do the best you can with what you have.
“To keep your home cooler during the summer months, plant shade trees strategically around your home, build trellises for climbing vines to help absorb some of the heat around your home, install awnings over windows and doors, put up window shades and heavy window treatments to block out hot sunlight during the day, and cook outdoors as much as possible or eat raw foods more often.
“To stay warmer during the cold months, install a wood stove if possible, wear more clothing, keep the blinds open so the sunlight can heat your home, close off unused rooms, and pile more blankets on at night.
“Replace electric appliances with non-electric alternatives. There’s so much that can be done by hand if you just have the patience!
“Again, keep track of your energy usage and make goals to use less electricity.”
Get an Attitude Adjustment
Even when we’re deliberate about changing our lifestyle, it can still be hard. New things take time to adjust to and sometimes we are our own worst enemy when it comes to just allowing ourselves a learning curve. We shouldn’t get upset because we don’t do everything perfectly or aren’t simply thrilled to be washing our laundry by hand.
The key is to hold onto our “why” and push forward, especially during the adjustment period. As Jaimie says,
“In your adjustment period, don’t allow yourself to dwell on all the conveniences that you used to have. It’s not productive to be washing dishes and thinking about that dishwasher that you could just load and push the button. I believe the most ‘work’ you have to do in moving off-grid is to forget the conveniences you left behind.
“Different off grid families choose different ways to live. You have to decide what is important to you. But first and most importantly, make sure that you really want to make a lifestyle change and why. Define your reasons for doing so because when things get difficult, it’s easy to forget why you started this off grid thing in the first place. You’ll be tempted to give up and I’ve seen people do that. There is an adjustment period. I would say give yourself at least a year or maybe two. I feel that things start to get easier the 3rd year, but that was my experience.”
Tammy has found that having a positive attitude is the best way to ensure success in your off-grid efforts. Tammy’s family lived in a tent on their untamed Idaho homestead the year the moved there. She says she felt like a pioneer and truly enjoyed that time being completely disconnected and free of all modern conveniences.
When she and her family completed their cabin, moved in and eventually set up solar power, she said she was giddy with excitement when she flipped a switch for the first time in a long time and a light went on.
From Tent to Cabin
From those primitive, tent-living days came a time of comparative ease, though Tammy’s family deliberately works hard every day on their off-grid homestead. She says,
“Our kitchen COULD have every modern convenience if we so chose, BUT it was our desire when we decided to embrace an off-grid lifestyle that we did so in a very traditional fashion. We have found the traditional life so much more simple and rewarding. I do own a juicer, food processor, mixer, blender and a grain mill, BUT I also own the antique counterpart as well.
“In being 100% off-grid we operate power appliances when the sun is shining by choice. We could use them whenever we chose, but being that our evening power comes from energy stored in batteries we would quickly utilize all that power. To restore our batteries we would need to run a generator, which requires fuel and this is an expense we try to eliminate. So, by choice again, we only operate power tools while the sun is shining. This includes my husband’s tools and our washing machine. We also use a sun oven to do our cooking and baking when the sun is shining and utilize our wood stove to do a lot of our winter cooking, including breads and desserts.
“However, we do have running water, a shower, a washing machine and plumbing in the house. It really is very cushy accommodations for the wilderness.”
The Nuts and Bolts
Really, the nuts and bolts of going off-grid will work themselves out. As I’ve combed through my interviews with off-grid homesteaders, it is apparent that the hard work of going off-grid is more your mind and your heart. So, figure out your “why” first, then follow that up with taking a measured approach and keeping a positive attitude. Not enough for you?
No worries! For further reading on some off-grid considerations, as well as many other homesteading topics for all levels of experience, I hope you’ll enjoy reading our book The Do It Yourself Homestead. From the homestead kitchen to the homestead garden and everything in between, this book has something for every level of experience and every kind of homesteader. Click below for more information.
More Off Grid Information
Plus, all the ladies quoted above have excellent, practical advice for you as you move forward in building your off-grid homestead or converting the home you’re already have to a more off-grid set up.
To read about Kendra’s journey as she takes her conventionally built house and moves it off-grid, simply visit her blog at New Life on a Homestead.
To read about Jaimie’s adventures as she and her family build an off-grid homestead from scratch, please visit her at An American Homestead.
For your e-book reading pleasure both Teri and Tammy have just the book for you:
How to Embrace and Off Grid Lifestyle, by Tammy Trayer and Creating Your Off Grid Homestead, by Teri Page. You may not have made your mind up about all this off-grid stuff but these books can give you real life examples of how modern, off-grid families make it work.
Cover photo attribution to this Wikipedia Commons user.