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 was 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.
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Mistake #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 this 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 better, I could have read up on the basics. Solar panels, inverters, charge panels, batteries, and generators. 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 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.
Look for opportunities for “real life” learning while you’re living in a city or town.
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.
Mistake #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 homesteading and being self-reliant. Like how to hunt, fish, forage, preserve and raise chickens and goats from the comfort of my suburban home. The one that had 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. 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 88 online courses and resources you can start almost any time. (See bottom of the post for more information) Knowledge is power. Arm yourself!
Mistake #3: I Underestimated Off Grid Home Costs
As a former banker and financial advisor, I know the importance of budgeting and planning. 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 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.
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.
Mistake #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. And I 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 wood. 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 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?
For example, can you lift the back end of a snow machine out of slush? (Note: 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.
Mistake #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 Dan became acquainted with our closest neighbor, 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 neighbours, if you have any.
Now I know not everyone is socially inclined. And many of us who choose to live in remote, rough areas like our privacy. But when you’re far from emergency services, getting help from your neighbours 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.
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.