Living off the Grid, Can It Be Done?

| January 27, 2014 |

off the grid 1


Given the state of the country and the world today people are beginning to wonder if they can survive when municipalities can no longer provide for their citizens. Recent natural disasters have proven that some communities are not prepared for a crisis.

Antiquated infrastructure that has been patched together for years because of financial woes is weakening by the day. Storms that at one time would have hardly been felt are now causing untold damage because of the weakened nature of power grids and other infrastructure. Then there are manmade disasters just waiting to happen.

The question now becomes can you live without municipalities supplying you with all the things you have become accustomed to. Garbage removal, sewers and sewage treatment plants, plowed roads, sturdy bridges, electrical service, treated water piped to the home and gas for cooking and heating are just some of the things that are provide by your local municipality.

In some ways, you cannot break the bonds completely because there are things that you cannot provide for yourself but this has been the case for thousands of years. In any village or town throughout the ages there have been engineers, carpenters, medical practitioners, and farmers that others have turned to for needs that families and individuals could not meet on their own.

Therefore if you think you can escape to the backcountry and never see another human being again maybe you better rethink certain things, but there are things you can do to lessen your dependency on others and on municipalities.

Redundancy is the best Backup System

The questions you must ask yourself include what happens when the power goes out, do you have a backup plan. What happens when the transportation hubs breakdown, do you have a plan to supply food, water and other necessities to your family. What happens when energy is no longer affordable or available do you have a plan for, transportation, cooking and heating your home? What do you do when the toilets no longer flush?

Alternative Sources

There are of course alternative power sources that can supply your home with electricity. Power is the key because without it you will find life much harder and once simple tasks will become complicated ones. It may be exciting or even romantic to think of you sequestered in a nice warm cabin all winter living off the land and being independent. However, a few trips to the outhouse when it is raining, below zero or you have to shovel a path because it snowed last night and things may not look as exciting.

Electricity is important in today’s world. In years past, it was common for people to own hundreds if not thousands of acres of land. Fuel was not a problem because they could cut wood for heating and cooking. They had enough land to where new growth kept up with the cutting in other areas. Today a few acres of hardwoods could literally be gone in a matter of years if it was the only source of fuel. Wood is considered a renewable and sustainable energy source but it takes decades for hardwood forests to renew themselves. You need an energy source that renews and sustains itself. Solar, wind and water are such sources.

solar systemSolar panels are expensive but you can start out small by getting just a few panels to operate just a few appliances, in particular heating and cooling appliances, water pumps, refrigeration and hot water tanks. Illumination is down on the list of priorities because you can make candles, lantern oils and use the daytime hours to accomplish tasks.

Solar system using single panels to operate certain appliances but are not adequate for the entire household. This system does require the home be connected to the local power grid to absorb any surplus electricity generated. Solar panels are expensive, but you can buy one or two at a time to operate larger appliances or a heating/cooling system, while using power from the grid for smaller appliances. This not only reduces the monthly bill it also reduces your dependency on the grid. In the event of a power failure, you would have the means to keep your foods chilled, heat water and operate heating and cooling devices.

In many cases, any surplus generated is sold back to the power company to be used, as a credit for power at night and on days there is limited sunlight. Today most homes are connected to the power grid but this does not mean you have to use that power. However, any system that operates with the power grid system must be in compliance.

Any source that generates electricity and supplies electricity to the grid must be approved by the power provider and in some cases, they will have to inspect your system and put safeguards in place to prevent high voltage feed back along their lines that may cause harm to anyone servicing the lines.

You can off course purchase or build a structure that is not connected to the grid giving you free rein to develop whatever system works best for you. Some people have homes in areas that simply do not have any infrastructure in place at all, so solar wind and water is an ideal way to generate electricity.

battery bankThis system uses a battery bank to absorb any excess electricity generated. The solar panels would generally be installed on the roof for the greatest access to direct sunlight. Once the sun goes down or on cloudy days, the battery banks would provide the needed electricity. Obviously, there are some drawbacks to this system, one being the battery bank.

Once you are no longer connected to the local power grid and the sun is absence for a few days your battery bank will be depleted. However, whenever the sun is shining the panels are generating power and recharging the battery backup system.

wind powerWind power is another alternative and if you plan to go completely off grid, you would probably need a wind turbine(s) along with a solar panel array. Once again, you will need a battery bank to absorb any surplus electricity, but when used with solar panels you are assured of a constant supply of electricity.

You first have to determine how much electricity you need generated and then position your turbine at a height sufficient to generate the desired amount. Many areas of the country have zoning laws and ordinances that may restrict height, position or outright prohibit the use of wind turbines.

Your Water Source

Being off grid means you need a reliable water source and this means a drilled or dug well on your property and you must have the means to pump water from the ground, possibly filter/treat it and then distribute it throughout the home. All of this would require a dedicated power source, such as a solar panel array and/or a wind turbine to operate the water pumps, water softeners or filtration/purification systems.

Turbo power is another option, which harnesses the power of water to operate an electrical generator. This would require a water source capable of operating the turbines however. The obvious downfall is the water source to operate the turbines.

You may have a source on your property but the source originates miles upstream in areas you have no control over. In the event of a disaster, the water source can be interrupted from natural causes or from someone or even a town damming up the river for their own water and power needs.

You need electrical generating sources that you have complete control over and fast running rivers while you may control a portion of one you do not control the entire river or stream.

Dug wells can be useful if you have one as a backup water source. You should have it set up to where you can pump water from the ground by hand. Drilled wells are ideal because of their reliability but deep wells require large pumps, which require electrical power to operate, so consider a shallow hand dug well that you have control over as a backup when power is unable for a few days for whatever reason.

hand pumpHand pump for shallow hand dug or even some drilled wells. Any well you dig or drill must be properly incased and capped to prevent contamination. Open wells are dangerous and are easily contaminated by animals and humans.

Windmills are another option for drawing water from deep wells. Windmills do not generate electricity but they can be used to pump water from deep underground into holding tanks and then gravity fed to your home, to irrigate crops and to holding tanks for livestock.

windmill

Before you decide to run off and start building that cabin miles up in the hills you not only need to worry about power you need to also consider food sources that you will need. You cannot pack enough supplies into the cabin to last forever so you need a plan to raise/grow your own food. This means gardens and livestock.

To raise enough food you need land, so this must be a consideration as well when deciding just how far “off grid” you want to go.

In today’s world much of once was farmland is now parking lots and strips malls. Land is a finite commodity in other words you cannot make it and it does not appear one day off the assembly line. That does not mean that land cannot be repurposed for the sake of growing foods and raising livestock and in the event of major catastrophe you will likely see buildings come down and crops being planted in their place.

Sanitation

septic tankUnless you want to be digging latrines every few months and moving the outhouse over the new pit because the old one is full then you will need to install a septic system if you want to go off grid or now live in an area that does not provide a sewer system. Many homes in the country have their own septic systems but if you live within certain areas, they are regulated by the city or state.

You may think right now the nearest bush or tree will do but this is impractical and unsanitary. Eventually uncontrolled waste would find its way into your water source by leaching into the soil or from runoff caused by rains. Human waste piled up and lying about will harbor bacteria and create a rodent and insect infestation.

Septic systems are not complicated but to do it yourself you will need certain skill sets, lots of energy and time especially if you plan to do all the digging by hand. Your biggest concern is contamination of any wells you have on the property so make sure you plan carefully.

You have to make sure the soil can accept the waste by conducting a perk test to rate the absorption and retention level of the soil. Septic systems use leach beds along with a series of piping that allows the liquid waste to be distributed into the leach bed/field for absorption into the soil. This is usually accomplished by the use of lateral lines that collect the waste as it rises in the septic tank.

 Living off the Grid Can Be Done

You have to decide to what extent you want to live off grid. Do you want to be completely free and independent of power companies and water treatment plants? On the other hand, you may simply want a backup system in place for when there is a crisis and you are left to fend for yourself. If you do not believe, you would be on your own during a crisis research some of the more recent events.

Whatever you choose can be accomplished, but it will take time, effort on your part and money. To reduce the economic burden you can acquire the skills and knowledge needed and do much of what has to be done by yourself and start small and build up gradually so you do not have to spend so much money at one time.

However, you need to begin before disaster strikes and have a plan in mind before building that cabin high in the mountains because it will not take long for you to realize just how dependent you really are on your local municipality.

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