Ever wonder what it feels like to break free from the grid's grasp? Whether you're living in an urban jungle or on a dirt road, learning how to survive off the grid will boost your self-reliance and resilience. Here's how to get started.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
What Does Living Off The Grid Mean?
As I've learned over the past eleven years, living off the grid means different things to different people. And boy, oh boy, discussing the meaning of living off the grid is a surefire way to get people riled up.
Defining Off Grid Independence
When I think of the phrase "how to survive off the grid," the first image that springs to mind is that of Dick Proeneke, the author of Alone in the Wilderness — living in a hand-built log home far from grocery stores in the Alaskan Wilderness—my hero.
Living off the grid can mean different things based on one's approach. Years ago, the phrase 'living off-grid' evoked images of self-reliance and independence from the municipal power grid, public utilities, and water systems. But today, off-grid living has evolved.
It's no longer just about unplugging from modern conveniences and generating your own power; it's also a commitment to autonomy. To grow your own food. To homeschool your kids. To live on your own terms and choose a more sustainable way of life.
Choose Your Own Path
As we did, those who choose this path spend countless hours building, modifying, and maintaining their off-grid homes. They monitor their solar system on a daily basis. They adjust the wind turbine to best harness wind power, and work on a system to provide their own water.
Some people interested in off-grid living opt for an entirely technology-free existence. Others maintain selective connections with modern off-grid technologies. In our off grid cabin we use Starlink to run our businesses, stay in touch with our adult kids, and for select homeschool classes.
What binds these choices together is the desire for independence and control over one's living conditions.
The first step in the off-grid journey was a major leap for me. It meant swapping city life for a lifestyle choice grounded in sustainability and skill-building. It meant leaving the Toronto suburbs and my career as a financial advisor to learn how to run an off-grid house in Canada's far north.
But I quickly learned it wasn't simply about what I gave up. Instead, it was what I gained: knowledge, confidence, and an independent lifestyle.
Define Your Off Grid Lifestyle
If you're wondering how to survive off the grid, first decide exactly what an off-grid lifestyle means to you.
Just how disconnected do you want to be from traditional utilities, modern life,—and, by extension—society itself? One way is leaving behind modern technology altogether.
In this idealistic, off-grid dream, you'll find cheap land in a good location and build a small home and self-sufficient homestead.
You and your family will follow nature-based practices, such as seasonal eating, wood-fired cooking, artisan crafts, and candlelight reading.
Another option involves disconnecting primarily from government-provided services like the electrical grid yet still using a modern alternative source of energy. For example, you might use portable power stations or incorporate other green tech innovations without completely giving up modern comforts.
Whether you choose between rustic reclusion or eco-conscious connectivity, list the important things you and your family need to live a simpler life. Do your research on the best option for generating your electricity, alternative power sources, location, and conditions for growing your own food and supporting farm animals.
How to Survive Off The Grid: Minimum Requirements
Going off the grid can be simple. But that doesn't mean it is easy.
At the very least, you need to find the right location, get clean water, decide on your power sources, and then decide on your food sources.
Here are a few things to consider while pursuing the simple life.
The Best Place to Go Off Grid
Endlessly scrolling real estate listings in rural areas regularly is a common pastime for people dreaming of moving off the grid. Yet learning how to survive off the grid and building a successful off grid homestead is more than having a patch of dirt and a solar energy system. It's about soil quality, access to clean water, hard work, and knowing the local laws that could affect your grid life.
Whether you dream of vast acreage or cozy tiny houses, make sure you can build what you need—greenhouses or chicken coops — to sustain your lifestyle choice for the long term.
A good idea is to consider buying land with enough water and space to grow food, raise chickens, and provide eggs and meat.
If you're interested in living off the land in a remote area but are still deciding whether to buy, exploring off-grid communities can give you insights into how others survive off the grid.
Note: In Canada, some provinces have what are known as "unorganized townships." We own some acreage and a cabin in northern Ontario that falls into this category. It's been our experience that unorganized townships have fewer (if any) building codes that could throw a wrench in your plans.
Finding a Water Source
Once you've found your spot, you'll need an independent water system. A reliable water source is non-negotiable when leaving behind city water services. Rainwater harvesting with a rain barrel isn't just quaint—it's practical. Water catchment systems are great options here; they capture fresh water from rainfall storing it for use in watering plants or as potable water after purification.
Wells and Springs
A well on your land is like striking liquid gold. Yet, as we found out, it also comes with challenges.
Whether drilled deep or dug by hand, wells tap into underground aquifers, providing clean, potable water—if all goes well (pun intended). But drilling a well doesn't come cheap.
Nor is it always feasible depending on soil quality and depth of groundwater levels.
Luckily, there's another option — springs. Securing access rights is crucial, though, because nothing sours neighborly relations faster than disputes over who gets what from which spring. Check your local bylaws to find out about accessing spring waters responsibly.
Purification: Making Sure It's Safe To Drink
Catching or pumping water is half the battle—the other half? Making sure that sip doesn't come with surprises no one wants.
Boiling works fine if energy resources allow; otherwise, look towards filtration systems designed specifically for off-grid use. We've used our Big Berkey system for years and absolutely love it.
In our case, we live on a lake in Canada's Northwest Territories and enjoy gallons of water year-round from our custom off grid water system, which sounds pretty fancy, although it isn't. In Ontario, we have a dug well that needs work, a future homestead project.
Anyhow, an electric pump connected to well-drawn groundwater can provide clean, potable drinking water for your entire home.
Solar as a Primary Energy Source
Next up, you'll need an off-grid power system. Solar panels have become synonymous with sustainable living, partly because they dramatically lower carbon footprint compared to traditional fossil fuels used at power stations elsewhere. However, pay attention to other renewable sources like wind turbines too. This is especially true if located in an area prone to gusty conditions.
One of the most popular options for energy off grid is solar power. Honestly, we're on our third solar setup since buying our home eleven years ago.
The tech has advanced dramatically in the past decade, and we now have a Tesla 2 power wall with our solar panels, which has been a game-changer for powering our larger off-grid cabin.
True, solar energy can be expensive. While there's an upfront cost to consider, think long-term: lower energy bills and independence from fossil fuels make solar panels more than worth it, especially if you qualify for any alternative energy grants or subsidies, as we did.
Beyond fixed installations, portable solar panels offer flexibility if you need to move around or want extra backup for emergencies. Portable solutions work well for smaller devices or keeping essentials running during travel or unforeseen power outages.
Consider Adding Wind Turbines
Not all days are sunny. In fact, we only get about four hours of daylight here in December, and that's why we're looking at adding a wind turbine.
A wind turbine could fill part of our energy gap in winter and on cloudy days. Harnessing even gentle breezes can spin high-quality design wind turbines fast enough to generate clean electricity— especially if your off grid homestead sits atop windy hills or open plains.
I like the idea that this combination of wind and solar makes the most of nature's power. Sunny days pump out volts via photovoltaic cells, and blustery days keep turbine blades whirring happily away. I think of it as an elegant dance between earth's elements that keeps lights on and my laptop humming away without tapping into traditional grid life resources.
Diversifying with Hydroelectric Power Systems
If you live by flowing water sources such as streams or rivers, why let all that potential go downstream?
Capturing kinetic energy through micro-hydroelectric systems converts running water into yet another form of renewable electricity. This method is efficient because it doesn't require vast dams; small-scale operations also work.
In regions where sunshine is less reliable but rivers abound, hydroelectric power provides steady output throughout the seasons. Pair hydroelectric power with a good battery bank, and you get a powerhouse combo that keeps the lights on rain or shine.
How to Survive Off the Grid: FAQs
You have questions. We have answers.
How much money do you need to live off-grid?
It varies widely depending on how simply you want to live. Unless you're squatting, you'll need money to buy land for building supplies, homesteading, hunting, fishing, and trapping equipment and supplies, too. If you plan for alternative energy sources, they cost money, too. And remember; you'll need to pay property taxes.
How do beginners live off the grid?
They figure out what being off the grid means to them. Then, they research and start learning hands-on skills like wilderness survival, emergency preparedness, living without power, etc. They never stop learning.
Is there a way to live completely off the grid?
If you mean without depending on the electrical grid, absolutely. If you mean completely cut off from all government and societal systems and constructs, I think that's pretty close to impossible these days.
Can you live off the grid without money?
The short answer is no. The longer answer is that you can live with little money if you hone your bartering and self-reliance skills.
As I've seen since starting this site back in 2013, interest in learning how to live off the grid continues to grow. And learning how to survive off the grid means more than simply disconnecting from the electricity grid.
It involves making conscious decisions every step along our journey towards independence. That might mean starting with growing lettuce in your urban backyard and or preserving food without the grocery store through methods like dehydration, canning, or freezing.
It could mean learning about wood stoves and other good options for keeping your entire house warm without electricity during the winter. Or how to create an off grid homestead to support your extended family. The great thing about learning