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How to Successfully Live Off the Grid as a Family

LTM's small farm is completely off the grid. Her family uses solar and alternative power sources for lighting, cooking, animal fencing, etc.

All but one of my children are grown up, so the time seemed right for our family to try sustainable living. Successfully living off the grid requires lifestyle changes. My family embraced the challenges, and now we celebrate our ability to function every day without needing to access mainstream power.

Here are some of the ways we make family life fun and sustainable off-grid.

Control Box for Solar System

Each evening I check the 'charge', 'load' and 'SOC' (state of charge). During winter I check readings in the control box at least twice a day. This photo shows a charge input of 16.6 from my solar panels.

Each evening I check the 'charge', 'load' and 'SOC' (state of charge). During winter I check readings in the control box at least twice a day. This photo shows a charge input of 16.6 from my solar panels.

My Off-Grid Lifestyle

My family and I live 100% off the grid, so we have not had an electricity bill for years. Gone are the power bills associated with our previous six bedroom house with air-conditioning and a swimming pool.

We no longer have multiple bathrooms and the only taps in our garden are directly connected to water storage tanks. If I feel like a swim I can jump into the dam, dug deep and designed more for water storage and swimming than as a water source for animals.

I still visit a supermarket but I don't spend nearly as much money there as I used to. I have not bought any pre-packaged meals from the frozen section for over four years and my family is thriving on fresh home-grown produce.

My social conscience and desire for a more sustainable lifestyle kicked in long before we found and purchased our current two-acre property. My husband and I began researching appropriate locations and made a wish-list of ideal features in a home off the grid, but with the benefit of hindsight we wasted a lot of time in the planning process that would have been better spent making immediate changes and reducing electricity use and power bills even before moving completely off the grid.

Changing to Solar Power

Our current home is powered by solar panels that feed into deep cell batteries and I am now experienced at checking the charge rate (when the sun is shining) and the load rate (when any appliance is plugged in or turned on) and anticipating the state of charge (hopefully as close to 100% as possible) by the time the sun sets.

Our solar system is relatively small compared to the system we aim to upgrade to, but I can still have lights and phone chargers and laptops charging and watch the tv news and a movie or two in the evenings for most of the year without using all our stored power.

Many of the solar-powered lights and energy conserving appliances I use now are perfect for using even while you are still on the electricity grid.

Reducing carbon emissions while saving money on electricity bills should be sufficient incentive to invest in a few items that instantly save power. They will all be useful when you fulfill your dream of self-sufficiency, plus you have the added advantage of still having lighting in your home and the ability to prepare food despite interruptions to your current electricity supply from the grid.

Controls of Dual Power-Source Refrigerator

Our large upright refrigerator and freezer (with dual power source) can be powered by electricity from our solar system - or LPG cylinders, needing no electricity at all.

Our large upright refrigerator and freezer (with dual power source) can be powered by electricity from our solar system - or LPG cylinders, needing no electricity at all.

Cost-Saving Benefits of Winter

In the sunny months, there is no end to the free electricity we can use during the day. The children can play the Play Station or the Wii and run the big screen TV in fine weather, but they know to keep an eye on the clock and turn power-guzzling appliances off in time for the batteries to top up before the night.

When visiting children told my daughter the other day how lucky she is that her parents don't care how much electricity she uses she was quick to point out that it is summer and sunny. She doesn't have the same luxury in gloomy winter weather. When you are off the grid and relying on solar power, winter is far less forgiving of overindulgence in electricity demand. However, winter also brings its own benefits.

We purchased a large upright refrigerator/freezer that can be switched between electricity and gas. It has a catch that effectively locks the door so presumably it was made for use in RVs that may change between powered and unpowered camping sites. Because we prefer not to put such a demand on our existing solar system, we choose to connect it to a large LPG cylinder during the summer; however, when we upgrade our batteries, we will switch it to electricity.

In the winter, however, we turn the refrigerator off. A large covered area that embraces the entire length of one side of our home and is enclosed with shade cloth has one window opening from the kitchen. During the coldest winter periods, we simply open the window and treat it like a fridge door. A cupboard in the undercover area sits beneath the window, on it is a large plastic storage container in which we place any items that need to remain cold.

Many solar powered appliances including lights and torches can receive enough light through a closed window for charging – and the low winter sun is ideal for placing small solar panels between a window and the protective curtains on the appropriate side of your house.

Solar and Dynamo Flashlights

We never buy batteries for flashlights or torches. These are just some of the solar and dynamo flashlights we use around our home.

We never buy batteries for flashlights or torches. These are just some of the solar and dynamo flashlights we use around our home.

Lights That Take You Off the Grid

Your electricity bill is directly influenced by the amount of electricity you draw from the grid. It stands to reason then that every light or appliance your family stops using through your grid power source should result in a smaller power bill.

The most obvious choice for making immediate savings is lighting. There are many torches that are either solar powered or powered by hand. My flat red torch in the photo is solar powered, the other small torch is powered by squeezing the side with your hand.

My large yellow torch is solar powered. It also has a built-in radio and a siren and flashing light for emergencies. If there's no sun, it can be powered by turning the handle. If you have access to power, it also can be charged with electricity.

I like the fact that it also has back-up batteries in case they are needed. Of course, I use rechargeable batteries.

Amazon is advertising the same kind of torch as my yellow one. It is surprisingly cheap, yet it works extremely well for me. Worth mentioning, however, I cannot get reception on the radio here at my home but that's because of my location. Other radios don't work either without an antenna. The radio works fine when I am in a high reception area.

Very Useful If You Lose Power

Cheap and Easy Solar Lighting

Every home should have at least one effective internal solar light. There is little point to illuminating your garden during a blackout if you still can't see inside your home.

We have a small solar panel with a long lead to a battery pack which in turn leads to two lights. (Only one light is shown in the photo because I rarely use the second one and it is packed away in case the first one breaks.)

There's a button in the centre of the light to turn it on and off so it is perfect as a bedside light or to light your kitchen bench or desk space. My family uses ours for hours at a time and it has not run out of power yet.

The solar panel stays in the window for convenience and the leads are long enough to extend to different parts of a room. It is easy to unplug the panel and take the unit elsewhere when required.

One of the nicest features of this unit is the USB port for charging cameras, iPods, mini speaker capsules, etc. It is a particularly good gift for teenagers who forget to turn the bedroom light off when they leave the room. There's no bill from a power company because it is off the grid!

Easy Lighting Off the Grid

Taken  outside in the undercover area, the reflection in the solar panel is a clear section of the roof above. Note the small blue light on the right side indicates the panel is charging even in low light.

Taken outside in the undercover area, the reflection in the solar panel is a clear section of the roof above. Note the small blue light on the right side indicates the panel is charging even in low light.

Solar-Powered Electric Fencing

Here's one for the farmers ... including families with just a pig or two. Running electric fences can greatly inflate your power bill.

There's a nice range of solar-powered electric fencing available. The size of the unit is determined by the distance of electric fencing you'd like to run. Some have the ability to be charged by a generator (or your solar or grid power if that's how you operate now) should you expect more than a few days without adequate sunshine. Others are just 100% solar. We have two different units - one is just a small one and the other can run up to 2km of electric fence. More powerful versions could save a lot of money on a real farm.

We use the one in the photo in the winter time to run two levels of electric fence around a large summer vegetable garden and confine two pigs in the area instead of using the rotavator to clear and prepare the ground. We have three large vegetable gardens and lead them from one to the other without any need for restraint. We simply call them in the same way you'd call a dog to follow you and they run alongside us obediently. The trick to training pigs is to call them by name every time you approach them with food. They soon learn to come when you call.

After the pigs have cleaned the gardens, we feed them daily with all sorts of produce and greenery from elsewhere on the property.

There are two settings on our solar-powered electric fences, high and low. We use the high setting when the pigs have moved into a new area until they've yelped a few times and learned the lesson to stay away from the fence, then we drop it down to low.

Not only is the garden area cleared before planting and fertilised with lovely manure, but there's always an abundance of tomatoes and pumpkins and other plants that sprout up without any effort from our family. I doubt the pigs would leave so many seeds uneaten so I guess they must make the trip through the pig's digestive system before being distributed throughout the garden.

This summer we have hundreds of tomato plants growing strong and tall despite the heat. The girls are off at a nearby farm becoming mothers. There will be plenty for them to eat when they get back.

Save Money, Save Fuel Off-Grid

Thanks to the pigs, we retired the rotavator to the shed and no longer spend money on fuel. It helps to put nature to work when living off-grid.

Thanks to the pigs, we retired the rotavator to the shed and no longer spend money on fuel. It helps to put nature to work when living off-grid.

Outdoor Solar Lighting

I always installed motion-detecting lights in my previous homes to light the path when people approached the front door. It annoyed my husband immensely when the light was triggered by the cat from next door or one of our dogs passing by because the bulbs were massive and it was an unnecessary expense.

I wish I had discovered solar powered motion detector lights decades ago. They're great. I have them positioned in lots of places around the property ... even on the side of sheds just in case I need to wander down to find tools or pick something from the greenhouse after dark.

I strongly recommend you turn off your existing outdoor light and opt for a solar-powered alternative.

Great Value for Money

After years of rain, hail, sunshine, howling winds and neglect, our outdoor motion detector spotlights are still reliable. We bought them very cheaply on ebay not really  confident they would work at all.

After years of rain, hail, sunshine, howling winds and neglect, our outdoor motion detector spotlights are still reliable. We bought them very cheaply on ebay not really confident they would work at all.

So Many Options

There are many other items I could recommend to people who hope to make the transition to successfully living off the grid but there's a danger of providing a shopping list that extends beyond one's budget. These items are a good starting point.

The money you save on your electricity bill can go towards even more purchases that will be useful in your family's pursuit of a self-sufficient lifestyle.

Off-Grid Cooking With a Solar Oven

Harness the power of the sun with a solar oven. It is a great way to cook if you live off the grid.

Harness the power of the sun with a solar oven. It is a great way to cook if you live off the grid.

A diverse range of cheap appliances can be put to use in an off-grid kitchen. Or used in any kitchen if you want to reduce your power bill.

A diverse range of cheap appliances can be put to use in an off-grid kitchen. Or used in any kitchen if you want to reduce your power bill.

Nature Helps the Clever Off-Gridder

My goal is to one day have raised water tanks like these. A solar pump can lift the water for storage, then gravity feeds the water to the house.

My goal is to one day have raised water tanks like these. A solar pump can lift the water for storage, then gravity feeds the water to the house.

More About Living Off the Grid

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 LongTimeMother

Comments

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on June 17, 2015:

Thanks for your comment, Paul Westphal. If you make it a goal to live off the grid, you'll get there!!

I've written lots of articles about my life off-grid. Perhaps you can start accumulating useful off-grid items for your kitchen, lighting etc to have ready for when that day arrives. :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on June 17, 2015:

My best advice for you, DebMartin, if you want to get connected to solar power as cheaply as possible, is to contact a local solar power installer ... and ask if they have any second-hand components they could sell you - while you save up for a new system. (They can test them to make sure they still work. Even if not at full capacity, decent second-hand items should get you started!)

I am in Australia and you're in North America. While the principle is the same and you'll need solar panels, batteries, an inverter etc, the costs and specific items will be very different. Find a friendly distributor, and ask how much it would cost for them to set you up as cheaply as possible.

Let me know how you go. :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on June 17, 2015:

Yes, solar ovens are great, Glimmer green. As far as your hubbing goes, the best advice I can give you is to read the info in the 'help' section ... and keep writing until you develop your skills. There's really no point asking for feedback until you've done the best you can with help from the Learning Center files and written lots of hubs. Feedback from others will help with fine-tuning after you master the basics.

If you want an overview of how to get your hubs past 'pending' and published, I've written a hub you can access from my content page. Just click on my name at the top of this page to find it. Good luck.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on June 17, 2015:

Hi Kara. I am so pleased to hear you harvest your dandelions to use! Too many people just consider them weeds, dig them up and discard them. Such a waste.

A solar-powered cell phone charger is a good start. Maybe when people ask you what you want for Christmas, you can request some solar lights. lol

Paul Westphal from Starke,FL on June 16, 2015:

This is simply awesome! I hope to get there one day.

DebMartin on June 16, 2015:

I'm so ready to live off the grid. Downsizing comes first and then it's off the grid for me too. But I'm finding it is expensive here in Michigan to get started with solar power. Was it costly for you to set up your system? Would you be willing to share your "system" purchases? Thanks.

Jaydyn Ramsey on June 15, 2015:

Okay that solar oven is truly the coolest thing I've ever seen. But could any of you do me a favor check out my blog follow me maybe give me some constructive criticism

Kara Skinner from Maine on June 15, 2015:

It's nice to know you can live off the grid without giving up modern conveniences like TV and computers. Being a bit of an environmentalist nut, I've wanted to go off the grid as soon as I'm able to. Right now I have a solar-powered cell phone charger and I harvest dandelions in the yard to make tea for the winter from the roots and use the greens for salads. Not much, but it's what I can do now. Thanks for these excellent tips to do more sustainable living.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 23, 2015:

Hello DebMartin. It is not cold enough right now, so I still have the refrigerator indoors working. My slightly eccentric approach to winter food storage won't kick in again for another month or more. :)

Each year I use a slightly different model, lol, depending on which container I have available at the time ... or if I don't have any empty, so have to buy a new one. I'm sure you'll have similar containers available in your part of the world. Essentially I just use a large plastic storage container with a tight-fitting lid. Last year it sat on top of a wooden cupboard I use for storing firewood, at a height that's convenient for reaching through my kitchen window. (Dammit. It just occurred to me I've moved that cupboard elsewhere ... and already filled it with firewood. A few more cold nights needing a fire and I'll be able to move it back.)

On super cold and frosty nights, I covered the box with a small blanket so the milk didn't freeze.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 23, 2015:

Hi darciefrench. May I suggest you start buying items now and using them so you can start getting in the off-grid mindset. Birthday presents and Christmas presents for a few years will give you a head start! If you have the dream, it is only a short step to doing it. Good luck. :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 23, 2015:

Hello, Melissa. Good luck with your renovations. Solar hot water is pretty easy to arrange. You can buy systems on ebay or amazon. The ones that cope with freezing temperatures cost a bit more than the basic ones for using where the weather stays warm all year.

A quick-fix however would be one of those black plastic 'bags' (probably called a 'solar shower' or something like that when you're searching online). You put cold water in it and lay it out in the sun to warm up. I used to rest mine on the front of the car in the sunshine, and it would heat up really quickly!

Then you hang it up high, and use the little shower nozzle at the bottom. We used one for a while when we first moved to this house. We had a shower cubicle, but no hot water connected. I rested a wooden broomstick handle over the top of the shower cubicle, and then put a short 'meat hook' on it so I could hook the shower bag on.

It worked great for me and the kids ... but my tall husband used to swear at it a lot.

Here's another tip ... test the heat of the water before you get in the shower. You may have to add some cold water to the mix so you don't get burnt. Oh ... and we also used the bag on cloudy, cold days. I would boil up a big pot of water on the top of the wood-burner stove, then put some cold water in the bag followed by the really hot water to make a nice warm shower. :)

Those solar shower bags are very cheap and might help you in the short-term. :)

DebMartin on April 19, 2015:

Good for you! I love to hear about how others are living off the grid. And I would really, really like to see a photo of your winter refrigerator setup. This is a super idea for me in the north. Fantastic hub. Thanks!

Darcie French from BC Canada on April 18, 2015:

Many thanks for the awesome off grid hub - it's a dream of mine and hubby's to live the same way once our youngest is old enough to make the decision to come with or venture out on her own.

Melissa Orourke from Roatán, Islas De La Bahia, Honduras on April 18, 2015:

Thank you for sharing this information! We are living in Roatan right now. Will probably not stay long term, three years? Anyway, we use outside solar lighting. We have a cistern under our house, which stores our rain water. It's for the house and gardens. Our stove is propane, I would love to try a solar oven! It gets hot to cook! Our electric bill was high this month, $25.00 US dollars. With that said, electric is very, very high here! Many expats use their own generators, solar, or wind, or a combo. Solar outside helps us. We are remodeling, so we don't have enough lighting , nor do we have hot water! We are looking into solar hot water! This is part of the reason our bill was only $25.00 I would really enjoy a hot shower right now! I miss it! Thumbs up and useful!

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 18, 2015:

Hello kranthimitra. I have a wonderful solar oven I use for cooking off the grid in summer. It was made in India. Hopefully solar panels and off-grid power systems will be available in India soon. Thanks for your comment. :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 18, 2015:

Hello csmiravite-blogs. The Philippines would be perfect for solar power and living off the grid. If you're a farmer with animals, I am sure you could save lots of money with solar-powered electric fencing! Solar lighting options are available online if you can't buy them locally. With your sunny climate, I suggest you try transitioning away from the grid. :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 18, 2015:

Thanks, melissae. I'm pleased you found it interesting. Hope you found a few ideas inspiring enough to consider transitioning to off-grid living. :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 18, 2015:

Hello canadian. If your youngest child is ten, that's a good age for moving off the grid. The transition is pretty easy for kids who like the idea of playing outdoors - particularly if you build them a tree house, and let them have a few animals to look after. It is a completely different life compared to living in a city.

Get motivated and get moving. :)

kranthi mitra kancha from warangal,india on April 18, 2015:

i love you idea.i would like to install solar panels in my house but it is bit difficult to purchase here in india.i try to keep up my thoughts about solar panels if i get a better amount.

Consolacion Miravite from Philippines on April 17, 2015:

As a farmer, I find this hub interesting. Living off grid is a new lifestyle, suitable for countries like the Philippines that is sunny all year round. We can use solar power to run our homes and farms. An upvote!

Melissa Reese Etheridge from Tennessee, United States on April 17, 2015:

This is such an interesting toic and very well written.

Mike St. Pierre from Pembroke, ONT on April 15, 2015:

I am like you Have 3 kids 2 of which are older now and just heading to University, I am left with my 10 year old and have put the last 2 years of research logged in a book, reading articles like this motivate me even more thank you

Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on March 28, 2015:

You are very welcome! I shared the link within the group, hopefully if they have questions they will comment. Although your hub may very well answer some of the questions people have been asking!

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on March 28, 2015:

Hello Cynthia. Thanks for thinking of me. :)

I'm always happy to answer any questions about my solar life if your homesteading group need any tips.

Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on March 27, 2015:

I hope you do not mind, I shared this in a homesteading group I am in on Facebook, someone was looking for solar info.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on March 22, 2015:

I agree, Viriginia. And solar hot water systems are surprisingly cheap on ebay. Everyone in a sunny climate should have one!!

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on March 21, 2015:

Solar just makes so much sense. We have a solar hot water heater where we live in Florida and previously in Alice Springs. It's a start.

Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on March 08, 2015:

I had a good little giggle, I too should be a little more worried about snakes and critters. I do keep a rifle by the front door. Unfortunately I have a sensor light on the porch and yet an opossum still munches on my trash every night. I think he likes the light honestly lol. We have seen some coyotes here on the farm too. I can't imagine a kangaroo in my backyard, pretty awesome. I do understand the worry that they will munch your plants! I have the same issue with deer. They like to nibble on apples, I find it irritating since they only nibble and move to another apple instead of eating the entire thing. I just try and tell myself it will make them taste a little sweeter come hunting season! Very glad to have connected with you! I am learning a lot from you!

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on March 08, 2015:

I use motion-detecting solar security lights outside, Cynthia. Not because I feel unsafe, but because I don't like the idea of stepping on a snake in the night. lol. Of course they don't detect the movement of snakes, but they help light the ground once I start walking.

We repositioned a couple of our outdoor lights because the kangaroos and wallabies kept triggering them. The light doesn't stop the roos from grazing, and I live in hope they might not eat my favourite plants if they can't see them.

Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on March 03, 2015:

Before we lived on the farm our electric ran around $170.00 a month. We have the old style glass fuzes still. I think that helps, I am unsure why though. Part of it could be since I feel safer here I am not leaving on outside lights while I am gone. Coupled with unplugging the things we don't use. I can not complain! :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on March 03, 2015:

Hello Cynthia. Some friends of mine were complaining about their power bill recently. I can't remember how much it was, but it was a lot more than $30 a month. So either power is a lot cheaper in the US than here in Australia, or you are doing a remarkably good job of reducing your usage.

Or both! :)

Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on February 28, 2015:

We have been heading in the off grid direction as well. Great article! I am looking to invest in solar panels in the future. Although by just unplugging appliances that are not being used my average bill is only $30.00 a month. So my main focus is on farming, I very rarely visit the market to buy food. Voted up, interesting and useful! I will be followinv too!

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on February 09, 2015:

If you're a tech-savvy person with enough money to spend, you could live completely off the grid, toptengamer. You'd pay to set up a bigger system than mine ... and establish your home where you have access to fast broadband. :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on February 09, 2015:

In California, you certainly have enough sunshine for solar. Thanks for your visit, Mypath.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on February 09, 2015:

I certainly believe it is worth it, JPac1. The system works brilliantly for my family. You'd have to find out about local prices to establish the cost of setting it up. After that, it costs nothing to run. When there's a few days of foul weather, we put fuel in the generator and run it long enough to top up the batteries.