Have you always dreamed of escaping cubicle life and traffic jams to live off the grid,independent and free? You know, being self-reliant, building cook fires with wood you chopped, or cooking on an old wood cookstove?
I did. But in all my daydreams, I didn't imagine I'd make a whole lot of off grid living mistakes. Mistakes that could have been avoided if I'd been more prepared.
From the time I was a child, I imagined myself living a simple, pioneer-style life. And in 2013 when I was eight months pregnant I joined my husband at our off grid home in Canada's far north.
We were excited. We were anxious. And we were unprepared.
In fact, I made so many off grid living mistakes that I'm amazed I lived to write this post.
Here are five key mistakes I made, and how to avoid them if your future plans include going off the grid.
Table of contents
- 1. Didn't Know Enough About Off Grid Power Systems
- Solution: Start Learning About Off Grid Living Power Now
- 2. Unrealistic Idea of Off Grid Homesteads
- Solution: Learn Homesteading Basics BEFORE Going Off The Grid
- Off Grid & Homesteading Sites to Visit
- 3. Underestimated Off Grid Home Costs
- Solution: Research, Budget, & Build Emergency Savings
- 4. I Wasn't Physically Strong Enough
- Solution: Start Working Out Now to Mimic Your Upcoming Chores and Activities
- 5. Didn't Have a Support Network
- Solution: Find or Create Your Own Support Network
- Learn What You Can to Minimize Making Needless Off Grid Living Mistakes
Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
5 Big Mistakes I Made Living Off The Grid
Here are the five biggest mistakes I made when we first moved to our off grid homestead in 2013. Learn from my own errors - prepare before you move!
1. Didn't Know Enough About Off Grid Power Systems
I've always considered myself a can-do, resourceful kind of person. Years ago I earned a university degree as a mature student with two kids in tow.
Then I worked all day and studied at night to get financial planning designations and promotions at work.
Yet that knowledge wasn't going to help me much on a -40-degree afternoon when it was dark at 3:00 pm, and there was no electricity.
The sad fact is that when it came to living off the grid, I didn't even know what I didn't know.
Sure, I'd heard of solar power. I was vaguely aware that somehow the sun's heat was converted to electricity. Yet I'd never given any thought to how solar panels actually worked.
I didn't know a thing about off grid home systems. And I sure didn't know what to do when a generator won't start.
I didn't understand the concept of a battery bank. Or the importance of batteries for off grid living. And I don't think I'd even heard of an inverter, which converts the DC (direct current) output of a solar panel to an AC (alternating current) output in order to power an off grid set up.
If I'd planned and prepared to live off the grid sooner, I could have read up on the basics. Solar panels, off grid electricity, inverters, charge panels, batteries, generators, and how they work.
Not to mention off grid toilets or water systems. How to read the digital messages on the charge panel screen. How to adjust the alarm system. And how to troubleshoot our generators when they wouldn't start.
Solution: Start Learning About Off Grid Living Power Now
If you don't know much about this stuff, start learning about solar power basics while you're still on the grid.
Read Will Prowse's book Mobile Solar Power Made Easy! Yes, it's about installing solar panels on an RV. But it has a simple, easy-to-understand introduction to the basics of how an off grid solar system works.
Or check out his Off Grid Solar Power for Dummies videos on YouTube. Free and simple.
Online, Solar Power World has a huge library of free articles on all things solar including charge panels and inverters. And while you're at it, take a look at this Mother Earth News post on generator basics.
Find "Real Life" Learning in The City
For example, maybe your local college offers a basic small engine repair course. That would give you some hands-on experience to help troubleshoot your own generator when the time comes.
Alternatively, look for community college workshops to get started learning bushcraft skills. This is particularly important if you plan to move off grid to a remote location.
2. Unrealistic Idea of Off Grid Homesteads
One of the biggest off grid living mistakes I made before moving here was spending time daydreaming instead of learning useful off the grid living homesteading skills.
I knitted and envisioned a "Little House on The Prairie" future of quilting by the fire, baking homemade bread, and planting a big vegetable garden.
What I should have been doing was learning what I didn't know about off grid homesteading challenges and being self-reliant.
Like how to grow beans indoors and save tomato seeds. Or how to plan a garden, and then start a backyard garden (a low-maintenance garden is a good place to start.)
Or watching videos, taking courses, and reading up on how to hunt, fish, forage, preserve food, build a DIY chicken coop and raise chickens and goats from the comfort of my suburban home.
I should have taken advantage of the unlimited internet. Then I would have been better prepared to jump right into these activities once we moved off the grid.
Related: Internet Off The Grid: 4 Ways to Get Online When You're Off Grid
Solution: Learn Homesteading Basics BEFORE Going Off The Grid
Making off grid living mistakes is pretty much a given in this lifestyle. Yet the explosion of homesteading, prepping, survival, and off the grid websites means there's a ton of information out there. And yes, apartment homesteading is a thing.
Use this information to educate yourself BEFORE you move off the grid.
For example, our free resource library includes 25+ free printables including a list of 95 online courses and resources you can start almost any time.
You will also find quite a few free Off Grid resources on Kindle Unlimited. Remember, knowledge is power. Take charge of your own learning.
Off Grid & Homesteading Sites to Visit
Finally, some of my fellow off grid and homesteading blogging pals have AMAZING sites with valuable information to share. I refer to articles, videos, and free webinars available through each of these sites and hope you get a chance to check them out.
- Abundant Permaculture (Justin Rhodes)
- The GROW Network/ The GROW Network Membership
- Melissa K. Norris/ Pioneering Today
- Mother Earth News
- GRIT Magazine
3. Underestimated Off Grid Home Costs
As a former banker and financial advisor, I know the importance of budgeting and planning.
I'm a big believer in financial self-sufficiency. And I assumed that the off grid lifestyle we wanted would be cheaper than our previous suburban lifestyle.
In many ways it is. We no longer pay bills for satellite TV or electricity, and we pay much less in property taxes than we did in our previous homes.
But I had no idea that our homeowners' insurance would be five times what we paid in the suburbs.
Or that we'd spend almost $3600 a year on firewood (9 cords at about $300 per cord) to keep the house warm(ish) through the winter.
Or that propane bills add up really fast when you
have an old boiler (we got a new one in 2019!) and in-floor heating.
In a part of the world where the temperatures get deadly cold in winter, lack of research when it comes to off grid costs on my part was one of our more costly off grid living mistakes.
(Update December 2021: Now that we've lived here for almost nine years we have a better handle on what needs to be prioritized in our off grid homesteading planning. Check out our Off Grid Homesteading Challenges post to learn more.)
Solution: Research, Budget, & Build Emergency Savings
So here's the thing; despite all your research and budgeting to move off the grid and homestead, unexpected costs will pop up. It's a fact of life.
Prepare for it by building emergency savings, if you haven't already.
Look for ways to cut costs and make money now, before you're desperately trying to scrape together funds for a new generator/solar panels/firewood.
And start thinking about how to make money off the grid now, before you make the move.
Related: How Much Does It Cost to Move Off Grid?
4. I Wasn't Physically Strong Enough
Okay, so I'll cut myself some slack on this one. As mentioned, I was heavily pregnant when my then-three-year-old and I joined my husband at our off grid home.
And, of course, I spent a couple of months recovering from childbirth. I also wasn't in great shape to begin with.
But the truth is that the off grid lifestyle requires a certain level of physical strength.
You're active every day, especially if you homestead and heat with a wood stove. And one of my biggest off grid living mistakes is that I wasn't in good enough physical shape.
What went wrong?
Well, I was a middle-aged, out-of-shape woman with a weak back and abs. And I threw my back out in the spring of 2014. From simply carrying an armful of wood.
It literally took two years to heal. I knew I had previous back issues, and I should have worked more diligently on strengthening my core and upper arms sooner.
Solution: Start Working Out Now to Mimic Your Upcoming Chores and Activities
Don't wait to get in shape. Work on building your upper body and core strength now. This will reduce the chances of a back injury or muscle strain resulting from the daily chores of homesteading off the grid.
Don't waste money joining a gym though. Download a free fitness app on your smartphone, or check out the free workout videos on YouTube.
Think ahead to the physical activities you'll do for fun as well. Are you strong enough to enjoy them without injury? What about if things don't go as planned?
What I should have done was to start a regular fitness routine and followed a four day workout plan for females in their 40s.
For example, can you lift the back end of a snow machine out of a big drift? I still can't, but my husband can.
And think about the realities of what you may have to do to keep things humming along at your off grid home or homestead.
Can you lift or carry a small portable generator? What about chopping wood for kindling? Or hand-digging a garden?
Living off the grid and homesteading means you'll probably be more active than ever before.
Avoid the mistake of thinking you'll get whipped into shape when you move off grid. Reduce your chance of injury by getting fitter now.
5. Didn't Have a Support Network
One of the biggest off grid living mistakes I made that I didn't even realize was not having a support network.
When I moved here, I didn't know a single person, let alone someone who knew about the ins and outs of living off grid in a cold climate.
Thank goodness my husband became acquainted with our closest neighbor, Morris, who has since become one of our dearest friends.
An experienced Northerner who built his own off grid cabin from the ground up, Morris is a unique combination of Yoda, Santa Claus, and David Crosby.
His extensive mechanical and survival knowledge has been such a blessing to us.
It's pretty remote out here, and that first winter when I was spending long days on my own with a preschooler and a newborn it would have been nice to have had some other homesteading, off grid mamas to connect with.
Solution: Find or Create Your Own Support Network
Find or create your own support network, whether it's online or in "real" life. Join online communities and forums where like-minded people share their challenges, successes, and knowledge.
Check out the off grid and homesteading Facebook groups like:
And try to at least introduce yourself to your closest neighbors, if you have any.
Now I know not everyone is socially inclined. And many of us choose to live in remote, rough areas because we like our privacy.
But when you're far from emergency services, getting help from your neighbors can be a matter of survival.
Learn What You Can to Minimize Making Needless Off Grid Living Mistakes
Being independent, living simply, and being self-reliant are three common reasons people want to live off the grid.
But you can't be self-reliant if you don't know what to do, or even where to begin. Become more self-sufficient by learning, then applying what you've learned. The practical hands-on experience is gold.
But you can't be self-reliant if you don't know what to do, or even where to begin. The biggest mistake is to be unprepared.
Off Grid Living for Beginners
The best way to get ready to pursue your off grid dream is to become more self-sufficient in different ways. The first thing to do is to start learning, then apply what you've learned. The practical hands-on experience is gold.
Start by envisioning your perfect off grid life. Research off grid homes for sale. And ask yourself the hard questions.
Do you want a tiny home to pull to remote locations? Or do you prefer your own land where you can grow your own food and homestead?
What about an off grid property near a water source? One where you could connect your off-grid system to on grid systems if needed?
Maybe you'd like to generate your own energy by harnessing wind power with a wind turbine. Or make the most of solar energy with a solar panel system and charge controller.
It's important to note that there is a very wide range of ideas about the off-grid lifestyle. And how much money you're willing to spend can also come into play.
Some off grid homes come with a septic tank, modern conveniences, easy access to nearby towns in rural areas, and the option to connect to public utilities. Others, like ours, are similar to a traditional home, but depend on a solar array and backup generator for an energy source.
While you're making your plans to move off the grid and/or homestead, consider the amount of energy you have, how much time you have, and the lifestyle changes you can live with in the long run.
It's a good idea to build your knowledge, your strength, and your problem-solving abilities. You'll have a better chance of minimizing costly and dangerous off grid living mistakes.
While you're making your plans to move off the grid and/or homestead, build your knowledge, your strength, and your problem-solving abilities. You'll have a better chance of minimizing costly and dangerous off grid living mistakes.
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So,... my husband and I lived off the grid for 18 years in Wis. Too long 🙂
But the biggest thing is about gas refrig, gas lights and range in the house/ cabin. It's the Low levels of carbon Monoxide that's giving off every single day! Almost killed us many times and will mess you up like you wouldn't believe. Tired, crabby, and can't think. Those Things always had to be cleaned. Bugs or spiders would plug the flow and create Carbon Monoxide! If you have a porch, gas refig and lights even the range should be on porch. When it comes to carbon monoxide detectors, Do Not Get Kidde!!!
Buy a low level detector .Kidde other brands only work once and it's at high level when it goes off and you and your partner are already really messed up from it. Not kidding. FYI, after 18 years finally have power:) Cost about $9000 but so happy and We missed it.
I live in Maine and live off grid. I am very ",handy" and have built a two story conventional house with city building codes by myself years ago. I also grew up on a tree farm and use a woodstove with "free" wood for cooking, heating, drying cloths in winter etc. and usually have to open windows even below zero degree weather sometimes. I had an off grid trailer set up once on a wood lot I was cutting on. There was a snow storm coming so I went to my on grid city home. We got 13" of slushy snow and it did the worst damage to trees, power lines etc I have ever experienced. I spent a week of misery with candles, a tiny wood stove and other meager supplies until electricity was back on. The irony is I would not have even noticed a difference in my living style if I had stayed at the wood lot off grid trailer,! I am off grid now and breeze through the blizzards we get in Maine and do not have to worry about my furnace breaking down in sub zero temps or electricity going out. No surprise electric bills like the one a female made that lived with me in my city house...$450 in one month cause she used an electric heater,!!!
My husband and I built our entire off grid farm ourselves. From having the sugarbush sustainaly logged to having some logs for building. We were middle aged. I daid animal rescue and we raised purebred cattle and made maple surup. Totally off grid with solar and wind. We heated with wood. We never felt deprived of anything. Miss that life terribly. Only had to sell because of ill health...
This is a very practical article, and I like that it hits many areas where a woman may be needing more knowledge. I like that you are encouraging your readers to begin now, where they are.
I can relate to just about every area you mentioned. Some things you will never know until you take the plunge, and then you do find out just how much you don’t know!
We are slowly getting some things figured out. Currently doing research into what kind/how much solar we are going to need. That’s kind of daunting, but little by little we are learning.
Glad you are sharing at the Homestead Blog Hop!
John L Raymond
Just found your blog sarita, I fell really blessed being partially off grid I do produce all my own electricity and most of my water up grades are just so slow, I have a propane heater and a wood heater but live in hot and dry central texas with lots of good oak free to me the one thing people will find strange about off grid is the peace of disconnecting from society and all its problems, this life truly is solving one problem at a time and working daylight to dark every day.
Great advice! I’m 44 and the thought of moving off the grid is becoming more appealing as life goes on. Yet, it just seems like such an expense to start with. All I know is to keep researching. Maybe I need to start with just buying a piece of property?
A great read, fascinating to learn things about off the grid life and the endless things one wouldn’t think of. Admirable way of life and no doubt a remarkable experience. Stay healthy, safe and warm!
Thank you for keeping this blog, Sarita, and for all the tips! Our family is looking into going off grid by buying a house with existing solar PV panels / batteries (luckily my husband is a power electronics engineer, but even he isn't sure yet). The house has a septic system, but I've also started reading about home biogas systems that have me interested. You can hook up a toilet to a self-contained biogas digester that generates cooking gas for a clean burning gas stove/burner (much cleaner than woodsmoke in both greenhouse gases and cancer causing particles)... You can also add food scraps and animal manure. Plus, the remaining solids make great soil! I saw similar systems in rural China and Nepal years ago and it was life changing for farming families there, and very low maintenance... Hope the technology can take off here for homesteaders!
My fiance and I are making plans to live off the grid in the near future.We're not young by no means however we do have a wealth of knowledge but certain things I didn't take into consideration the big one physical yes I'm fit but the lifting thing I need to work on.I injured my back years ago so I need to be careful However my fiance is physically fit has been in construction for 35 + yrs & knows small engine repair he's my MacGyver I'm a nurse (retired) so that will come in handy And farming isn't new to either of us but I am going to continue to educate myself more but I do feel we're ready for this journey & we look forward to it
Hi Jackie -thank you for your comment and for stopping by. What a blessing to have had a son with such a talent. Sounds like a lovely off-grid house plan.
I have been there done that and I loved it. We were not totally off the grid. We had electricity because of our health but my son drew the diagram for a house for me the day before he died in 2017. It has a big walk in fireplace, a space for a wood cook stove in the kitchen, A small summer oven wood stove kitchen. A wood heat stove for the living room, a fireplace in the master bedroom and a way of using the heat from the fireplaces and wood heat stove to heat the rest of the house. He was ingenious in the way he drew it. A door in the kitchen leads to a pantry (really large) and in summer you could close the door if it is too hot in the kitchen and go through 4 rooms and open the door on the other end of the house for air. Anybody going through it would think it was weird because all the doors in the house except the kitchen and living room have doors that will be invisible unless you know how to open the doors.
He was a prepper and didn't even know what it was
Hello Sarita, my name is Billy. My girlfriend and I live in the United States in the south east part of Kansas. We purchased a small 4 acre farm located 8 miles from a small town in the middle of a farming/ranching community. After living here for 8yrs we finally had enough of the consistently rising costs of electricity from the electric
co-op that we were connected to. We took 10 months prior to actually going off-grid to get accustomed to a off-grid lifestyle. The day we contacted the electric company and told them to remove us from the electric grid was one of the best things we ever did. It was actually a relief and a sense of freedom. The lady at the electric company just couldn't grasp the concept that we could actually survive without them. She actually stated that they will discontinue our service but they don't make a point of actually removing the meter. They just click a mouse on their computer to shut off the so called Smart Meter. Lol. Not a very smart device if nobody wants it. Anyway I do like your advice of learning as much as you can about off-grid living and take the time to acclimate yourself with the different lifestyle of off-grid living. It isn't for everyone, but it is a alternate way of thinking, learning and understanding in case the day comes when the big light switch does get turned off and doesn't come back on for a very long time. That would not be the time to start learning how to do things differently. Keep up the great articles and put another log on the fire.
Great article. As someone who has been living off grid for 5 years and who moved 900km north where we did not know a single person, I can so relate. I would suggest grabbing a Kill-a-Watt ElectricityMonitor to get a good grasp on the power draw of various appliances We spent 2 years with only a 400W Goal Zero Battery system and then added in our full 6 250W system. That is when I finally got a freezer and felt like I was once again part of the 21st Century. LOL
Hi Jessi - thanks for the comment! And you are exactly right. We actually just had a brand new high-efficiency combi-boiler installed to run our propane in-floor heating and water heater. It WAS indeed expensive, but in the long run we think it will save on both the expense of firewood and use less power than our old boiler - so less wear-and-tear on our diesel generators in the winter. We also just upgraded our solar about a month ago and now have 9x250-watt panels instead of 8x80 watt panels. So hopefully we'll find all of our costs going down!
I love the post. One think that is sticking out is you are paying for wood. I think this is a good point to make. If someone is looking to go off grid heating and cooking then of course a wood stove sounds great. If you don’t have woods to support yourself this is a very bad route. I almost went that way but then realized the forever expense of firewood because I don’t have a wooded area of land. Maybe look into high efficiency gas options or panels to run a high efficiency electric system. It is very expensive up front but worth it in the end.
Really glad you pointed that one out. A wood stove is awesome and romantic but not always practical.
We have friends who are able to work solely off the grid and others who have a solar backup. My husband was part of a strawbale construction project that ended with around 10 homes, some of which were off the grid or very economical in their management.
Great advice - thanks, Dawn!
I cannot imagine moving off the grid at 8 months pregnant! Oh my!!! You're a better woman than I am!
One suggestion I would make to anyone reading: If you need to get in shape to go off-grid, don't necessarily join a gym, but a couple of sessions with a personal trainer who can point you in the right direction as far as appropriate and useful exercises to do might not be a bad thing (and yes, I am a personal trainer!) You may not have the resources to figure out the best way to go about things, but a trainer will, and they can help you do it efficiently and safely. Many gyms don't require a membership for you to work with a trainer (mine doesn't) and it will be money well-spent.
I know enough to know that I am lazy and don't want to work that hard. LOL I do however, love living in the country and would like to have a couple more acres to grow more and have a few animals.
I do love reading about all that you go through living off grid.
This is some great advice. Even if you are just homesteading I think people are surprised at the amount of physical work it takes to keep up a rural property. On or off the grid!
I need to learn more about solar power and battery storage.