If you're planning to move off the grid, chances are you're probably working on a tight budget. And you may have even researched off grid costs like the price of an off grid solar system, generator, and battery bank. I did.
As a former banker, I love numbers, especially when it comes to money. So I researched, budgeted, researched again, (and re-budgeted) to estimate the cost of moving off the grid.
Yet despite my best efforts, we ran across some expenses I hadn't foreseen.
5 Off Grid Costs We Didn't Foresee
#1.Off Grid Home Insurance
As someone who has always lived within a 10-minute-drive to a fire department or fire hydrant, I didn't realize that homeowner insurance for an off grid home can be an issue.
First of all, some insurance companies (at least in Canada, where we live), won't insure properties that are off the grid. For one, in some areas of Canada, like"unorganized townships", it's possible to build a home that doesn't meet the local building code. Because there simply isn't a local building code.
And these homes may include DIY electrical panels for off grid electricity or other not-so-savory features that send insurers running. So these homes don't meet the insurance company's requirements for an inhabitable property.
In our case, although our off grid cabin was insurable, it was SUPER expensive. And we didn't discover this until AFTER we bought the house.
Although the home we bought was built to code, we live outside the service area of the closest fire department. We do, however, live on a lake. So there's a good water source nearby.
We also depend on our wood stove, along with a propane boiler and in-floor heating, for heat. And while we love the beautiful birch trees and spruce trees surrounding our home, they add to the insurance premium because they're a fire hazard.
This combination of factors means that homeowners' insurance makes up a hefty portion of our off grid costs.
What to do instead
Call for a quote on off grid homes insurance for any off grid property before you buy. You'll be able to create a more accurate budget. And it will help you make a wiser financial choice between properties.
#2. Generator Repair Costs
When we bought this off grid property we expected we'd have general maintenance costs associated with the two generators that came with it. But we thought our bills would be similar to what we'd pay for a heating and air conditioning repair company in the city.
We weren't prepared when our generator wouldn't start. Little did we know that finding a good generator mechanic this far north is tricky - and expensive. (Just one of my many off grid living mistakes.)
And you know what else is expensive? Trying to buy a generator or even generator parts in a remote part of Canada!
Over the past few years, our off grid costs have included new glow plugs, fuel pumps and a new starter for one of the generators. Even buying them online, shipping costs can easily add $50 or more to the bill.
What to do instead
Finding ways to save money off the grid takes some creativity. Save money on generator costs in several ways:
- Learn how to carry out basic generator maintenance before you become dependent on a generator to charge the batteries of your off grid home.
- Learn to troubleshoot your generator. Knowing four or five things to check for when your generator wouldn't start could have saved a couple of $300 service calls out to our cabin.
- Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to save on shipping costs for off grid supplies like fuel pumps, water pumps, glow plugs, etc.
#3. Diesel & Propane Off Grid Costs
We do know of several households that depend solely on wood stoves for heating, even up here in Canada's Northwest Territories where winter temperatures routinely hit -40 degrees Celsius in winter.
Yet most families will have at least a portable generator, which requires either diesel or propane fuel. And fuel is one of the off grid costs that surprised us. Now, I knew we'd have to pay for diesel and propane, I just didn't realize how much it would be!
Part of the issue for us is that our home is kind of big and has an in-floor hot water heating system powered by a big old propane boiler. And it eats propane like crazy. Plus, the winters here are long, dark, and cold.
From about mid-October through mid-April our propane bill averages about $1,100 monthly. Diesel for the generators adds another $200 per month.
On the upside, through the spring and summer months, we don't have any heating or hydro bills at all. And our off grid water system lets us pump our water up from the lake all year round for free.
What to do instead
If you're considering buying an off grid home that depends on diesel, propane, or gasoline to power generators or heating systems, ask the homeowner for copies of their bills. Especially winter bills.
This will give you an idea of your monthly off grid costs. If they're higher than you've budgeted for, research newer, more efficient equipment that could cut your fuel costs.
#4. Wood is Expensive Up Here
I took a shot in the dark and budgeted $50 per month for firewood. Because I just assumed we (meaning my husband Dan) would chop most of the wood we'd need, and we'd only have to buy a couple of cords to get us through the winter.
Boy, was I wrong. On several counts.
Firstly, we live about 457 kilometers (that's 284 miles) south of the Arctic Circle. Although we are below the Northwest Territories tree line, the trees around us, mostly white and black spruce, plus birch, are sparse and spindly.
Nothing like what we were used to when we lived down south in Ontario. Or Alberta. Or Manitoba. So good firewood is hard to find.
Secondly, we use far more wood than I was expecting. On average, we go through about nine cords of wood each winter. We run the wood stove 24/7 from mid-October through mid-April.
Thirdly, firewood is expensive in this area. Because it's hard to come by. Area residents need a license to chop wood (it's free, but still), and then drive to one of the approved tree-cutting areas in the Territories.
Some of these are a two-to-three-hour drive away, so there's the cost of gas. And 1 ½ cords is the most that fit in the bed of Dan's Dodge Ram 1500.
While it's a fun family outing, between the cost of gas for the truck and the limited amount of wood we can haul, it isn't cost-efficient.
We pay anywhere between $300 and $400 per cord to have wood delivered. So according to my records, we spend about $3,200 per year on firewood.
What to do instead
Ask around! This is where online research just doesn't work. And this is why it's important to have a network of other people who live off the grid in the area you're moving to. They can tell you things like where the best woodlots are. Who will deliver firewood? Who has good wood?
#5. Shipping Costs to a Remote Location
We love living in a remote part of Canada. We love the fresh air, the clean water, the wildlife, and the off grid lifestyle. However, the distance from a major shopping area has its downsides. And one of those is the cost of getting goods shipped up to the north.
I simply had no idea how expensive it would be to send and receive parcels up here.
What to do instead
Get a more accurate idea of shipping costs by inputting the zip code (or postal code for Canadians) of your off grid property into an online shopping site. This will give you an idea of shipping costs.
Only shop online at places that have free shipping. For example, Amazon (if you have a Prime membership), LL Bean, and Walmart ship free to our area.
Plan your purchases to avoid shipping altogether. For example, we recently spent a week in Edmonton, Alberta, about a 1455 kilometer (904 miles) drive south. Before we went we made a shopping list and brought our purchases home to avoid shipping charges.
The more you know about potential off grid costs, the less likely you'll be to face surprise expenses.