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.
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
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.
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.
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.
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. Even better, read through our post on how to live off the grid for beginners.
Find "Real Life" Learning in The City
For example, maybe your local college offers an introductory 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 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.
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.
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. .
You can 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.
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 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 July 2023: Now that we've lived here for over 10 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, 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.
And start thinking about how to make money off the grid now, before you make the move.
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 daily, 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 took two years to heal. I knew I had previous back issues and 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.
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 anyone, let alone someone who knew about the ins and outs of living off the grid in a cold climate.
Thank goodness my husband became acquainted with our closest neighbor, Morris, who has 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 Support Network
Find or create your 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 introduce yourself to your closest neighbors at least, 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 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 plan 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.