UPDATED on January 24, 2019.
If you follow any homesteading, green living, prepper or even do-it-yourself websites, you’ve come across the terms “living off the grid” or just plain “live off grid.” But what’s the meaning of living off the grid?
I think about this as we say”off the grid” to regularly describe our lifestyle and home. Yet I’m often asked how we can be off grid when I depend on the internet for work and for homeschooling our kids. And I realized that to create and prepare for an off grid life that best suits your own vision, it helps to start with deciding on your own interpretation of the meaning of living off the grid.
The Meaning of Living Off The Grid According to…
So like any good writer, I started with research – a quick internet search on “the meaning of living off the grid”. Despite over 1 million hits, I found few definitions from valid sources.
Wikipedia (okay, I know you may question the validity of this as a source), explains the meaning of living off the grid this way: “off the grid is a system and lifestyle designed to help function without the support of remote infrastructures, such as an electrical grid.” The Wikipedia entry then goes on to say that off the grid homes are autonomous, meaning they don’t depend on municipal water, sewer, natural gas, electricity, or other utilities.
The MacMillan Dictionary entry simply says the meaning of living off the grid is “not using public supplies of utilities such as electricity, water, etc.” So a similar definition to Wikipedia.
However, the Urban Dictionary has an entry regarding the meaning of living off the grid from 2004. It reads “unrecorded, untraceable through normal means.” Another entry from 2006 says off the grid is the term for a person not on a social networking site!”
My conclusion: the meaning of living off the grid has evolved over the past two decades. Today it generally means a home and lifestyle that’s independent of public utilities.
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Not Reliant on Any Public Utilities
In a nutshell, living off the grid means a home and lifestyle without the following:
- municipal water – you aren’t hooked in to town water and are dependent on an off grid water system instead
- sewer – instead of a sewer you have either a septic tank or field bed, outhouse, propane or composting toilet
- natural gas – no natural gas to heat your house, run your stove or dryer – but no natural gas bills either
So if you like the idea of being independent, autonomous, and self-sufficient, an off grid life could be the right choice for you. The key question to ask yourself is just HOW independent, autonomous, and self-sufficient do you want to be? And how does your significant other feel about it? Not everyone likes the idea of chopping wood or using an outhouse. Your spouse may think it’s fun for a weekend, but not a lifetime.
Related: Why We Live Off The Grid
Not Dependent On The Electricity Grid
The meaning of living off the grid suggests you operate independently of an organized electrical power grid. This may mean you live without electricity. Or that you make your own through alternative energy such as solar or wind.
Various Degrees of Self-Sufficiency
The meaning of living off the grid is different for different folks. Notably, there are various degrees of self-sufficiency involved. Some people think you aren’t truly off the grid if you need to buy diesel or propane to run generators or to provide supplementary heat. Others say they’re off the grid because they’re generating solar power with panels on their roofs. Yet they have the option to sell the power they generate back to their local power grid.
If You Need Propane, Oil, or Diesel, Are You Off The Grid?
Let’s say you live in a wood-heated cabin with an outhouse, honey bucket, or composting toilet. You have your own water source. Maybe you depend on solar or wind power for electricity. However, you don’t have propane, oil, or diesel anything. I think it’s safe to say most people would consider you completely off the grid. All other scenarios could be open to argument.
Read More: Off Grid Toilet Options
Going Solar Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You’re Off The Grid
There’s a certain trendiness at the moment around the meaning of living off the grid. Solar panels and windmills are becoming more popular and visible across the country. Some homeowners believe solar panels on their roof mean they’re off the grid. And it’s true they’re generating electricity from the sun. Yet they’re still connected to the power grid.
In many American states and some Canadian provinces (like British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) you can sell your solar power back to the municipal power grid, in a process called net metering.
Can You Have Internet if You’re Off the Grid?
Yes, I think so. In some areas where there’s good cell service, off-gridders use the data on their phones for internet access. I have a wireless hub that works well and that lets me work from home so we can afford to live off the grid in a remote area. And internet access has been invaluable for connecting with other like-minded folks through Facebook groups and forums.
What is the Meaning of Living Off The Grid To YOU?
So there doesn’t appear to be any hard and fast rule on the meaning of living off the grid. So my advice is this: decide what it means to you so you can flesh out a vision of your own off grid life. Turning your dream into an achievable lifestyle takes some planning. Decide on an off grid living definition early on in the planning stages so you can take the steps to make your dreams a reality.