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Family Successfully Living Off the Grid

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

Successfully living off the grid requires lifestyle changes. Here's how my family approached off-grid life in the early years. I wrote this article back in 2013 after we’d been living off the grid for enough years to be comfortable and confident with our new lifestyle choice.

We have since moved and are still off the grid, and so many of our appliances (like my solar oven) came with us. Our current solar system is bigger and better, but this article shows how we lived as a family for about eight years.

The hints are still relevant. If your family dreams of living off the grid, I hope they help you.

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.

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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.