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Top Tips for 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.

This home is down the road from me. My home has more grass and clear area around it to provide better access for sun to my solar panels, and a greater fire break if the bush catches alight during summer fire season. No shortage of wood in winter!

This home is down the road from me. My home has more grass and clear area around it to provide better access for sun to my solar panels, and a greater fire break if the bush catches alight during summer fire season. No shortage of wood in winter!

What Does "Living Off the Grid" Mean?

To be a genuine off-gridder, your home is not connected to electricity from the power grid and your home does not access a town or regional water supply. You are without access to community utilities, including waste disposal.

In the days, before the invention of mobile phones, living off-grid represented significant social isolation. Traditionally, living off-grid meant no connection to power, water, or telephone, so life off-grid was very tough.

In the 21st century, however, living off the grid is a lifestyle choice that can be remarkably comfortable and incredibly rewarding.

  • We can access solar, wind, and/or hydropower (and store it in batteries for later use).
  • Water storage tanks are larger, lighter, and easier to install than the concrete or metal tanks of old.
  • Composting toilets are much less trouble than old-fashioned septics.
  • Satellite and wireless technology allow us to communicate with the world.
  • A better understanding of insulation and home design can reduce our need for heating and cooling.

As an increasing number of people choose to pursue off-grid lifestyles, it is interesting to note that even homes connected to community power and water supplies are beginning to embrace off-grid technology, including passive solar home design, solar hot water, and solar cooking.

What Do I Need to Know Before I Move Off the Grid?

Over the years that my family has been homesteading and becoming more self-sufficient with our orchards and vegetable gardens etc., I have often been quizzed by individuals and families seeking a more independent and sustainable lifestyle.

People ask me what are the most important things to know before making the move off grid. They want to make lists, but don't know where to start.

Well, here's the five key points I decided provide the best starting point. Keep these five facts in mind, and focus on them to inspire and compile your own list of what you'll need to cope with your new lifestyle.

  • Summer is hot.
  • Winter is cold.
  • Nights are dark.
  • Gardens need good soil.
  • Water doesn't run uphill.

If you can meet the challenges associated with these five basic facts, you can develop a plan for sustainable living.

Here's a few more helpful tips for successfully living off the grid.

Tips for Getting Off the Grid

  1. Create an Off-Grid Heating System
  2. Redefine What's Essential
  3. Learn How to Reuse and Recycle (Nearly) Everything
  4. Give, Swap, and Barter
  5. Plant a Garden
  6. Explore and Learn Your Local Environment
  7. Network With the Locals, Including Other Off-Gridders

Below, you'll find full instructions and details for each of these steps.

This basic slow combustion heater is put to work helping dough rise. The bowl is elevated from direct heat. This also works as dual-purpose heating.

This basic slow combustion heater is put to work helping dough rise. The bowl is elevated from direct heat. This also works as dual-purpose heating.

Create an Off-Grid Heating System

Generating heat is always a major challenge when living off the grid. Solar power solves most problems, but you'll find it difficult to warm an entire house if you are simply relying on photovoltaic panels and deep cell batteries.

Our main strategies for keeping our home warm in the winter include:

  • Slow-combustion wood fire: in our main living area
  • Insulation: walls and ceiling
  • Passive heating: large glass doors in the kitchen face positive sun direction
  • Clever home design: including window size and placement
  • Appropriate garden design: don't let evergreen trees block your winter sun
  • Interior design: including choice of window coverings

Redefine What's Essential

When you make the move and live off the grid, suddenly many of your prized possessions are absolutely useless. Even more interesting is the way that things you once considered to be worthless suddenly become gems.

For instance, we bought a second-hand water pump and, on the way home, my husband and I laughed out loud at the fact we would never have considered buying such an item before we lived off the grid. Yet we were genuinely excited by getting such a good deal.

Of course, the invention of solar-powered water pumps makes pumping water in sunny weather easy, but what about during lengthy cloudy periods. What will you do then?

Generators require fuel. Hand pumps just require a little effort.

A hand-operated pump allows you to retrieve water from a well without needing power. What a gem!

A hand-operated pump allows you to retrieve water from a well without needing power. What a gem!

Reuse and Recycle (Nearly) Everything

When you live off the grid, recycling becomes much more than just separating your glass from your plastics and putting them out on the curb for collection.

Suddenly everything is viewed with the question, "How can I put this to good use?"

Egg cartons make great seed-starters, until such time as you have your own hens. When you are collecting your own fresh eggs each morning, an egg carton is recycled until it falls apart.

The interior drum of a discarded washing machine is surprisingly perfect for containing small fires outdoors. The perforated holes in the sides allow sufficient airflow to feed the fire with oxygen, without allowing embers and debris to blow out onto nearby grass. Made of stainless steel, it is ideal for resting a barbecue grill on the top.

When word spread that my husband was incorporating a greenhouse extension into the sunniest side of our big garden shed, everyone we spoke to seemed to have a spare window or glass door.

Our new greenhouse extension on the garden shed is built mainly from recycled windows and doors.

Our new greenhouse extension on the garden shed is built mainly from recycled windows and doors.

Give, Swap, and Barter

Off-grid currency takes many forms. At harvest time, it is easy to swap your own produce (particularly if it is organic).

As word spreads of my husband's magnificent chili spread, made from our home-grown, organic tomatoes, chilies, garlic, and other herbs, he is being inundated with offers to "name his own price" in return for a precious jar.

Fortunately one of the fans of his chili spread is a local builder who has a constant flow of excess building materials including timber and insulation materials. The wall between the garden shed and the greenhouse is now nicely insulated.

I am sure there must be some people living off the grid who have a high disposable income and are happy to purchase everything they need from a retail store and to discard items without thought for who else might need them. I haven't met anyone living off the grid who fits that profile yet.

In my world of off-grid living, everyone checks with others before taking anything of potential value to the community rubbish tip. Once the decision is made to discard an item like an old washing machine or an old electric oven, conversations with friends make at least a passing reference to its availability.

Just last week, I requested an oven door. I'm in the process of creating a rammed earth wall around the entry to my below-ground fire bunker and have been giving thought to "peepholes."

Hmmm. Oven doors survive extreme heat. I wonder if I could ram earth around an oven door, leaving just a small portion exposed to allow me to see through it if I wanted to check the progress of a wildfire. I now have a door so I can experiment.

Before taking anything to the tip, there are a few questions to ask yourself.

  • "How could I use this now, or in the future?"
  • "Is it worth keeping?"
  • "Who do I know who needs one of these?"
  • "Do they have something I'd like to ask them for in return?"

Living off the grid provides a real appreciation for the saying "One man's trash is another man's treasure."

The entry to my fire bunker, built using my own earth plus recycled materials including old metal water tanks.

The entry to my fire bunker, built using my own earth plus recycled materials including old metal water tanks.

How I Turned Old Water Tanks Into a Safe Fire Bunker

  • How to Build a Fire Bunker
    I built a fire bunker, because we live in a high fire danger area. Here I describe the construction method. Photos show how my old water tanks created a strong dome structure. Good tips for off grid living.
Mmmm. I love preparing meals with my own organic home-grown foods!

Mmmm. I love preparing meals with my own organic home-grown foods!

Plant a Garden

Nothing keeps fruit and vegetables fresher than leaving them on the trees or in the ground. Once you are living off the grid, you will definitely need a garden.

When you are looking for a place to buy, consider the climate and take a look at the soil. If you can successfully grow organic fruit and vegetables, you can feed your family and still have enough left over to barter with others.

Within your garden, be sure to plant medicinal herbs so you can tap into nature's medicine chest. I grow a wide variety of herbs including comfrey for healing broken bones.

Reliable rainfall is essential, because you'll need to harvest rainwater and collect it in storage tanks for use during dry periods. The bigger your garden, the more water you'll need.

Explore Your Local Environment

We were lucky with our choice of land. It wasn't until we'd bought and moved in that we became aware of the history of gold mining in the area.

Now we are hobby prospectors with a range of gear including metal detectors, pans, and sluices. By talking with locals, we learned the best places to look for gold—with an encouraging amount of success.

You might find your region has one of many precious stones hidden underground. Keep an eye out for sparkles while you are digging your vegetable garden.

Many small towns have an annual show with novelties for children. Visit your nearest show and talk to the locals.

Many small towns have an annual show with novelties for children. Visit your nearest show and talk to the locals.

Network With the Locals, Including Other Off-Gridders

Taking yourself off the grid generally involves moving home. It is hard to imagine a city dweller successfully living off the grid without relocating to the country.

When you arrive at your new destination, it is important to network with the locals.

These are the people who will identify the most reliable tradespeople, the best retail outlets with the best prices, and point you in the direction of someone who might be about to upgrade their solar system and may sell you their old one cheaply. You can't find this kind of valuable information on the internet.

Personally I think arriving in a new location with a child in tow is always a bonus. You get the chance to meet other parents at the school, chat with onlookers at the kids' sporting events, and a child always offers a good incentive to attend the local show.

Whether you have a child or not, my top tip for anyone living off the grid is to get out and meet people.

Strike up a conversation in the supermarket, even if it is to comment on a good bargain to another shopper. Frequent the local small businesses and chat with the owners, telling them you are new to the area and that you appreciate the convenience of stores like theirs.

Enjoy Your Off-Grid Lifestyle!

I have had the good fortune of visiting many countries in the world and, without exception, it is the people who live in rural areas who I find are the friendliest and easiest to engage in conversation.

Living off the grid can be great fun. Enjoy the process of becoming as self-sufficient as you can.

The rewards are wonderful!

Solar Hot Water for Off-Grid Living

When you know nothing about sheep but you want to buy one, it helps to have an experienced local tell you if the cute one is a good investment.

When you know nothing about sheep but you want to buy one, it helps to have an experienced local tell you if the cute one is a good investment.

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


LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on September 13, 2015:

I don't think anyone could live on bartering alone, Marie. Off-gridders either have jobs or investments or some source of income. Without some kind of cash flow, you'd have trouble paying a phone bill or buying a car or obtaining many of the goods and services essential to life.

Bartering is a fun way of keep costs down, but it doesn't replace having cash to spend. :)

Marie on September 13, 2015:

It seems like a lot of work and time to start up and keep it going and i was wondering do you also have jobs or do you soley rely on bartering?

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

Margy, your lifestyle sounds wonderful! I'd love to see a photo of your floating garden. Such a great idea! Please email me at longtimemother at gmail dott com. I would greatly enjoy chatting with you. :)

Margy on September 09, 2015:

This is a great article. I've lived off the grid in a floating cabin on Powell Lake in BC since 2008. We use wind, solar, an experimental thermoelectic woodstove generator, with generator backup. Propane is a standby for my stove, refrigerator and lights. I have a similar blue hand pump, but my water is easily accessible under the floor of my cabin's cedar log float. A small woodstove takes care of our heating needs, so we can live here all winter long. An indoor composting toilet has replaced our outhouse up the hill, so much easier. I don't have any land for gardening, but my friend built me a floating garden with four raised beds. Watering is easy with a solar boat bilge pump and hose. We have cell phone and limited Internet coverage because of our distance from the tower, but it's enough to keep in contact. We did try a satellite phone but gave it up. We love living at our cabin and stay here about 75% of the year. We like to travel some in the winter, but only about a week a month. Can't stay away now that we know how wonderful it is to live so close to nature. - Margy

M L Morgan on August 14, 2015:

Hi LongTimeMother, I love this Hub. I am a part of a large social media network of off-gridders. I will be sharing this hub on the UKoffgrid community page. We are about 4000 strong. Hoping you'll get lots of lovely feedback and exposure. Would love it if you could share one of mine in return?

maggs224 from Sunny Spain on August 01, 2015:

What a fascinating hub I loved every bit of it. If I was just twenty years younger I would be very tempted to give this a go. I am going to share this hub with my daughter, I think a lot of what you have shared will be of interest to her :D

I will be voting this up and hitting the relevant buttons and thanks again for a riveting read

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on July 10, 2015:

Hello aesta1. Sunshine is a definite advantage when living off the grid. Not only is it essential for growing foods and passive heating a home, but it can be used for solar cooking, solar hot water etc. Who knows, maybe one day you might move to a warmer climate. :) Best wishes.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on June 17, 2015:

We love to do this in the cottage and we have done some research but have not started yet. We seem not to have enough sun.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on June 14, 2015:

Hi Hendrika. I will continue to write about my off-grid lifestyle and share lessons I've learned along the way in the hope it helps others. I'm sure most people will be as unprepared and inexperienced as I was when I threw myself in at the deep end. lol. It's been about seven years for us now.

Thanks for your encouraging feedback. :)

Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on June 14, 2015:

Thank you for a very interesting article. Of course living off the grid is not possible for everyone, still I think striving for independence, at least far as possible, should be on everyone's mind if they want a fulfilling life.

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

Hi canadian. I added the tip about water not running uphill after I visited a new off-gridder who bought and installed a water tank to collect rainwater, but positioned it above the level of the roof of their house. lol. The pump he'd bought wasn't going to help him collect the rain. :)

If you are having trouble finding a property with good soil, let me give you another hint you might find helpful ... It is much easier to compensate for poor soil than a poor climate. You can build raised garden beds for growing vegetables, plus use compost and mulch to help improve most soils, grow comfrey and other natural soil improvers etc ... but you can't make the sun shine or rain fall where nature doesn't put it.

When you're planning on living off the grid, you might not manage to meet everything on your list for a perfect off-grid location. Some things are more important than others, so have clear in your mind exactly what you need. For instance, I think it is better to buy a place where trees grow (so you have the potential for firewood) and then concentrate on creating gardens - instead of buying a property with great soil for gardens, but where you'd have to wait 10 years for any hope of firewood.

It is cheaper to buy a few bales of straw to mulch a garden bed, than buy a few years worth of firewood. Know what I mean?

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

It sounds like you have already begun the transition to living off the grid, colorfulone. Keeping batteries charged for emergencies is a good start. By the sound of it, you'll have firewood for cooking and to keep you warm in the winter plus plenty of sun for solar power in the summer.

Hmmm. Only a matter of time. :)

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

Water does not run uphill too funny. I am also moving in the off Grid direction, you mention having good soil, that is the hard part in searching for location. Thanks for all the good tips.

Susie Lehto from Minnesota on April 14, 2015:

I do not live off the grid, but I would like to move more in that direction. About 50 or so big old tall trees in the yard to the south provide much shade from the hot summer sun. They would need to be cut down for firewood, then solar panels could harness the sun's energy better. For now I do have power from the sun charging batteries for emergencies. For some reason, electricity costs are much higher living out in the wilderness as I do.

What a wonderful lifestyle you live. Great hub!

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

Thanks, peachpurple. We can all learn from each other. :)

peachy from Home Sweet Home on April 08, 2015:

awesome hub, learning different things from you, thumbs up

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on January 06, 2015:

Tasmania certainly has a lot going for it, czzzy. The climate could be challenging, but the lifestyle (and people) seem great.

czzzy on January 05, 2015:

Thinking of buying about 5 acres in Tasmania somehere...your tips are interesting to read..many thanx

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on December 01, 2014:

Your move to a little house in the woods sounds very exciting, prairieprincess. Taking yourself off the grid is a natural progression. It is such a lovely feeling to be self-sufficient. It requires some effort, but personally I think it is well worth it. Good luck with setting up your new home. :)

Sharilee Swaity from Canada on November 30, 2014:

Hi LTM, so cool! I was doing a Google search on how to stay warmer off the grid, and came across your article. At first, I did not notice that the article is listed on HP! Anyway, great ideas here, and I look forward to reading more of your stuff. My husband and I just moved to a little house in the woods last year, and are trying to slowly get off the grid more and more.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on October 06, 2014:

Happy to help, dd. We all perform best when we are inspired. :) Good luck with your transition to off-grid living.

dd on September 29, 2014:

We are looking to live off grid, thanks so much for the inspiring article. I know behind the scenes is lots of work, but this has inspired me and given me a lot of practical help!

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on September 03, 2014:

It's a great dream to have, C_MarieWeber. Make it your goal and it may well come true. Good luck. :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on September 03, 2014:

Hello smine27. Living off the grid is definitely achievable. I'm pleased you now have an interest in the idea of getting off the grid. There are more people who write about it online than who actually do it, so try to take your advice from others who actually live the life. Perhaps you can find some off-gridders in Japan who would share the benefit of their experience. :)

C_MarieWeber from Wichita on September 01, 2014:

I've had a dream of living off the grid these last few years. Something just makes me want to get away and get back to the basics. Great write up.

Shinichi Mine from Tokyo, Japan on September 01, 2014:

Wow never knew this was possible. Great article and definitely and interesting one.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on July 26, 2014:

Hello Johnny. For many people, moving off the grid is a transition rather than a jump. I'm sure you'll do fine once you feel the time is right. :)

And carrie Lee Night, thank you for feedback. :)

Johnny Parker from Birkenhead, Wirral, North West England on July 25, 2014:

This is great stuff. I have an allotment which produces loads of fruit and veg but haven't ventured into being off grid properly. But articles like this are moving me in the right direction

Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on July 24, 2014:

Very interesting and unique topic :). Sounds peaceful. Thank you for sharing :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on May 04, 2014:

Hello Daniella. It is very rewarding to cut out the need for cash. So pleased to hear your community is open to good old fashioned trading. :)

Daniella Lopez on April 09, 2014:

Great tips! I have just recently become very active in bartering within my local community. Its been great!

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on February 11, 2014:

Hey, aussie. A shack in Tasmania is an ideal place to set yourself up. Don't forget to put some water tanks in to catch and store rainwater. With water, you can establish your gardens. I've written hubs about all these sorts of things. Hope you find some helpful ideas.

Creating your own little piece of paradise is hard work - but can also be so much fun. :)

Anne from Hobart, Tasmania ~ Australia.(The little bit broken off the bottom of AUS) on February 10, 2014:

Awesome hub! Love the ideas - we've just brought our own little shack that we are trying to make as self - sufficient as possible, will be keeping these ideas in mind.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on January 04, 2014:

Hello brownella. I do hope you buy the cabin. With all the solar technology available today, your life will be much more comfortable than in your great grandmother's day. :)

Take a wander through some of my other hubs about living offgrid and I hope you'll feel inspired. Maybe by this time next year you'll have created your own little piece of paradise. Best wishes.

brownella from New England on January 04, 2014:

Great hub. I've been considering buying an off the grid cabin on my great grandmother's old land. I am from a big family so the "re-use principle" was pretty ingrained, as was the garden, but it's great to get the perspective of someone actually living off grid for all the little details, thanks for sharing :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on October 30, 2013:

Hey, Jodah. Thanks! So much to write about ... such little time. :)

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on October 30, 2013:

Great hub, full of invaluable information. Keep up the good work.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on July 13, 2013:

Interesting thought, FirstStepsFitness. I actually feel more comfortable in the country than the city. I suspect it has something to do with my personal space being left unruffled. Country people tend to leave more space around you even when they talk to you. In the city there is far more jostling and shoulder rubbing. I always miss the country when I become a sardine in a city elevator. lol.

FirstStepsFitness on July 13, 2013:

Very well written Hub ! Country folk may be nicer because they are used to conquering natures elements . City folk many not be so nice because we may be used to conquering crowded human elements ? Possibly true ?

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 25, 2013:

Thanks Insightful Tiger. I will continue to write more hubs about my experience living off the grid. Like most aspects in life, it helps to have an insight into what to expect. :)

Insightful Tiger on April 24, 2013:

Thank you for all the useful tips! I will be sure to pass them along to my friend who is working on living off the grid. I am also trying to learn all I can so that one day I can too! Voted up and pinned!

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 22, 2013:

Thanks stephanieb27. I hope my organic gardening hubs might be helpful as you get your garden going. :)

stephanieb27 from United States on April 22, 2013:

Inspirational hub! We live on 3 acres. We are attempting our first garden this year. :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 10, 2013:

Hey, peeples. If you are in the middle of nowhere, you must be one of my neighbours !

You can achieve an awful lot with 5 acres. You'll be busy ... but so much you can do to further your goal of becoming self-sufficient. I trust your children will love the lifestyle as much as mine do.

When you get a chance, give me a few clues about your climate and the type of soil and whether or not you already have yard areas for animals etc. I know you're interested in goats. Have you seen any of my hubs that mention my pigs? Pigs will prepare your new vegetable garden much more effectively than any other animal.

It is really helpful for me to have images in my mind about other people's circumstances when writing about off-grid living. Otherwise I'm left wondering if I'm hitting the mark or not. There's so much I could share, but I'm just guessing if it will be relevant. lol.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 10, 2013:

sunflowerforests, I apologise for not acknowledging your visit earlier. Thank you for visiting me here and elsewhere. I am sure we will continue to cross paths as we swap experiences. :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 10, 2013:

GetitScene, what a life!

One of my friends spent a lot of time sailing the world when we were younger. She told me about containers and refrigerators that fell off big ships and floated, submerged just beneath the surface. Every time she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean it sounded like a bit of an obstacle course. lol. The Pacific, she said, was less eventful.

I imagine you'd have to superglue your solar panels to the boat!!!

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on April 10, 2013:

Love, Love, LOVE this hub. I live on a boat at anchor, not at a marina, so you can imagine that I face a lot of the same issues as you.

Peeples from South Carolina on April 07, 2013:

Enjoyed reading this. A few months ago we purchased our middle of nowhere home on 5 acres with the goal of becoming less dependent on outside sources and more dependent on ourselves. You articles are going to be of great help!

sunflowerforests from The light in the forest of doubt. on April 02, 2013:

I appreciate this article. It gives me so many ideas that I would like to implement in my own day to day living too. Thank you.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on March 26, 2013:

lol. There's not many places where you need a snowmobile in Australia, Alise-Evon, but I can imagine the picture you are painting. It is great to be part of a community where people help each other out.

Lots more photos coming in future hubs because, like you, I always find photos are useful. Thanks for commenting.

Alise- Evon on March 26, 2013:

You know what part of this reminds me of? I grew up in the country where it snowed a lot in the winters. We had lots of neighbors nearby with whom we had very good relationships, and when winter storms were so heavy we could not get our car out to go to town, we could always count on the neighbors' boys coming around on their snowmobiles to see if we needed anything. Our busy world has led many of us to get away from those kinds of relationships; getting off the grid has the added benefit of re-establishing such again.

Loved seeing all your photos. It helps to get good "pictures" of the goals one might set for oneself as s/he transitions to living off the grid.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on March 24, 2013:

Thanks, cygnetbrown. I have a bunch of topics to work through. Experience is a great teacher!

Let me know if there's any particular aspect of off-grid living that you're most interested in and I'll try and address it. :)

Cygnet Brown from Springfield, Missouri on March 24, 2013:

Another great article! I can't wait until I can follow through with also living off the grid. Thanks for the inspiration.