How to Successfully Live Off the Grid as a Family
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
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
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
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
This looks like a similar design to mine. (See my photo above.) If you live off the grid like I do, you never want to be caught without access to basic essentials - even in bad weather. This radio, flashlight and cell/mobile phone charger is solar powered, but also has the option of charging by hand. Even if you are currently connected to the grid, you'll wish you had one 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
Mine is the exact same product as this one, and is still going strong after four years. The reviews, however, are not good. I wonder if it is because people don't realise there are two places to turn it on (power pack plus center of the light) or whether the units have aged too long in a warehouse. Anyway, look for a similar product if you don't trust this brand, offering the same convenience. :)
Off-Grid Lifestyle ChoicesClick thumbnail to view full-size
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
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
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
Nature Helps the Clever Off-Gridder
More About Living Off the Grid
- Off-Grid Water Supply | How We Harvest and Store Rainwater
We live off the grid so we harvest and store our own rainwater. Here's how we set up water storage tanks to collect enough rain to supply our home and gardens. Instructions and photos.
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