Want to learn how to live like you’re off grid?
If you’re intrigued by the idea of living off the grid but aren’t ready to make the leap just yet, give it a trial run. Get a taste of living a simpler, less energy-dependent life by making a few changes while living in the city or suburbs.
If you want to "practice" the lifestyle before moving to an off grid home, here are a few ideas to get you started.
You'll get a feel for living without public utilities. You'll also benefit from minimizing waste, reducing your electricity dependency, and simplifying many of your daily activities.
Now I should point out that modern solar panel systems have evolved quite a bit in the past few years since I first wrote this post. So if you have the desire and the money, you could live off grid without giving up all your favorite energy-hogging activities.
1.Minimize Household Waste When You Move Off Grid
You think twice about generating waste when you’re loading up your garbage and lugging it to a landfill site. Especially if you must pay to dump it. Start preparing for life off the grid by reducing the amount of waste your family produces.
- Stop buying food in non-reusable packaging.
- Choose reusable glass containers (like mason jars) instead of plastic wrap and sandwich bags.
- Reuse margarine tubs, coffee tins/jars, and peanut butter containers for food storage.
- Plan your meals carefully, compost, and use up your pantry staples so you aren’t throwing out a ton of food scraps.
- Wherever possible use leftovers in recipes for soups, stews, omelets, casseroles, or even as pizza toppings.
2. Rearrange Furniture to Maximize Natural Light
Since moving off the grid we are a lot more aware of how much off grid electricity we use. Even though electric lights don’t use a lot of energy, we maximize natural light sources and minimize our dependence on electric lights. By rearranging the seating in our living room so the comfy chairs are close to the windows, we have more natural light for reading our favorite homesteading and self-reliance books.
3. Stop Using Personal Grooming Small Appliances
Things like hairdryers, flat irons, and curling irons use far too much electricity. Plus they're a real strain on the energy system in an off grid cabin. Electric razors are also energy hogs. Grow a beard instead, or try waxing your legs.
While you are in the washroom, pay attention to how many times a day you and your family flush the toilet. When you live off grid, you won’t be on a city sewer system. And if your new home has a septic tank, you will have to pay to empty it periodically.
Septic tank systems usually have a leach field, so liquid waste seeps into the field and solid waste fills the tank.
With our off grid toilet setup, we have a septic tank but we don’t have a leach field, because our home is built on bedrock. So every time we flush, the tank is filling.
The less we flush, the longer it takes to fill the tank. And when the tank is full, we pay to get it pumped out. Less frequent tank-emptying means less expense.
4. Get Rid of Your Coffeemaker When You’re Off Grid
Make coffee like your grandparents used to — boil water, measure coffee, etc. And while I’m on the subject, it’s also a good idea to get used to living without your blender, breadmaker, and a food processor — all heavy energy users. Instead, get some hand-cranked kitchen tools.
If you think you just can’t live without one or more of these items, invest in a Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitor. Attach this nifty tool to any small appliance. It will tell you how much electricity it actually uses, giving you a better idea of what your family’s total energy consumption is before you move off the public utility grid.
5. Minimize Use of Smal Kitchen Appliances
Like so many other time-saving small appliances, these items use a lot of energy and really draw down power. I didn’t think about this until we had already moved into our off grid cabin.
I finally realized that the loud buzzing coming from the inverter panel in our battery room only happened when I used one of these appliances. By dashing to our digital readout screen, I could see the energy levels dropped significantly. That is, until the toast popped, the microwave bell dinged, or the electric kettle clicked off.
On one memorable occasion, when making toasted cheese sandwiches and coffee, our energy system just shut down completely. The combination of the electric toaster, coffeemaker, and microwave all running simultaneously was just too much for our batteries. I had to throw on my parka (it was -37 degrees C outside) and head out to start the generator.
6. Sell Your Gaming System or Big Stereo
If you are really serious about learning how to live like you’re off the grid, get rid of your electronic entertainment systems. They just use way too much power.
Does your stereo system run on rechargeable batteries? If so, wait until they’re on sale and stock up so you can still play your favorite tunes. Don’t buy disposable batteries. Not only are they just more waste to get rid of, but they’re also a pain to dispose of safely.
If you have an xBox or Playstation, it might be time to get a different hobby. Choose one that isn’t so dependent on electricity. Take an online course to become more self-sufficient. Take a look at learning skills like
- homesteading skills
- dehydrating food
- how to secure your food supply
- furniture building
- generator repair
- batteries for off grid
These will be more useful skills than killing dragons when you move off the grid anyway.
7. Use Energy-Hungry Appliances When it’s Sunny or Windy!
Can’t see yourself living without your gaming system, stereo, or a favorite energy-hungry small kitchen appliance? Try only using them when it’s sunny out, or when it’s windy.
If you are dependent on solar or wind energy, there will be times when your system seems to produce surplus energy. And you may choose to invest in an off grid washing machine or even a propane fridge (be warned, they're expensive.) So while the sun shines or the wind blows, microwave or toast all you want.
8. Stop Taking Long Hot Showers and Don’t Run the Dishwasher
Now I did NOT say to stop taking showers altogether, nor did I say to forget about washing the dishes. You just have to change the way you do both.
Depending on your setup, moving away from public utilities usually means you’ll have to either drill a well, have water delivered, or pump it from a nearby water source. You will also depend on one or more energy sources like solar, wind, wood, propane, or diesel to power your hot water heater. So be frugal with your hot water use. Get used to showering faster and washing your dishes by hand.
Related: Our Off Grid Water System
Note: we live on a lake and pump water up to our 1500 gallon water tank about every three weeks. (It’s in a room just off our front hall.)
We know some off grid families in this area who get water delivered from town. Others drive down to the lake on Sunday afternoons to fill up large containers or small water tanks to use during the week.
In the winter this means using an ice auger to get through the ice. In case you’re wondering, a 305-gallon water tank will fit in the back of a full-size pickup truck like a Ford F-150, a Dodge Ram, or a Chevy Silverado.
Living off grid isn't for everyone. Give it a trial run with these suggestions before you make the move.