Living Off The Grid – Everything You Need To Know And Consider!

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I am absolutely in love with learning and sharing all things real estate. I’m an agent for Jacaranda Real Estate In Harare, Zimbabwe. This blog will be the ultimate resource for all things real estate so subscribe and stay tuned.

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Hollywood has this gritty and rugged outlook of anyone who decides to partake in the voyage of off-grid living; where it’s this rare situation of man and nature melding to fight corporate and government oppression.

The unfortunate or fortunate reality (depending on your preferences), of off-grid living, is that it is rarely ever as dramatic and is becoming a much more common and “closer than you might think” occurrence year after year.

So in this post, I aim to prove that it by decrypting and demystifying the realities of off-grid living. Let’s begin.     

What is off-the-grid living?

When speaking literally, being off-the-grid or off-grid describes a situation whereby within a specific area or home; there is no attachment and use of publically provided utilities such as water, electricity, and the sewer system.

This traditional definition is what people associate with carrying everything you own and moving to the wilderness where the government offers no provisions and vigilance.

The more modern rendition of living off-grid is more a combination of lifestyle choice and property augmentations than the previously strict decision or mandatory requirement to go leave public utilities behind.

With the modern way in mind, there are 2 forms of being off-grid:

  1. Partial Off-Grid Living.
  2. Total Off-Grid Living.

1. Partial Off-Grid Living.

This is a form of off-the-grid living whereby the home and the occupants of the household make use of both publically provided and independent utilities throughout their lives on the property.

Partial off-the-grid living can be seasonal; such as if a household was to primarily use solar energy for electricity over the sunny seasons in their location but re-connect and use publicly provided electricity over the seasons where sunlight is not adequate for the use of the household.

Partial off-the-grid living requires the household to have access and make use of some form of independently acquired utilities; whether it be electricity, water, gas, or sewage systems. The household does not need to have an independent alternative for each public utility it uses.

2. Total Off-Grid Living.

This is the traditional view of being off-grid; whereby the household and the occupants of the household make 0 use of public utilities.

 It’s not necessarily required to have 0 access to public utilities such as water or electricity (though that is often what practitioners would prefer)  just that they don’t make use of any of them.

Most practitioners of total off-the-grid living will usually accommodate properties that are not connected to the grid either in far off estates where utilities are not provided or from personal construction of properties that have no access to any “on-the-grid” services.

Why Do People Go Off The Grid?

The following points are 7 of the most common reasons why practitioners decide to live off-grid:

  1. Peace and Privacy.
  2. Environmentalism – Going green.
  3. Financial freedom – no utility bills.
  4. Freedom to do as you please.
  5. The challenge
  6. Minimalism.
  7. Security and necessity (safety net/independence).

1. Peace and Privacy.

Primarily a benefit reaped by practitioners of total off-the-grid living; when these individuals decide to get off the grid, they usually do so by physically moving to where the grid does not exist.

This will normally lead them to live where not only the grid (of public utilities) Is not available but also, it’s likely they will settle in a location that is not occupied by many or any on-the-grid norms such as in locations like forests and woods.

People, traffic, businesses, and anything else you would normally expect to see if you lived in the suburbs or city would likely not be available. The absence of such things is often sought after by off-the-grid practitioners who consider such things to be distractive noise in their lives.

2. Environmentalism – Going green.

Both partial and total off-the-grid practitioners are often persuaded into the lifestyle as a means of being environmentally conscious and taking part in a far more sustainable way of living.

By partially or relying on the use of renewable resources and utilities to sustain themselves, off-the-grid living practitioners are greatly reducing their negative imprint on the world

Households are usually forced into efficiency when going-off grid as their access to utilities that were otherwise near-infinite are now very finite and must only be used when necessary.

3. Financial freedom – no utility bills.

It’s debatable (as I’ll cover later on) whether or not going off-grid is cheaper than being on the grid but the fact of the matter is this:

On the lower end of being off-the-grid through partial off-the-grid living; practitioners can enjoy greatly reduced utility bills and in some states where there are solar incentives; you can deduct a substantial amount from your tax.

For practitioners of total off-the-grid living, the household will have minimal to zero financial interaction with the government for utility bills as well as many tax charges that are incurred for living within specific regions and making use of many free-rider utilities like street lights and roads.

4. Freedom to do as you please.

This again is mostly a reason for practitioners of total off-the-grid living. Most of these practitioners are not only removing their dependency on the government (the grid) for their utilities but they are also severing their ties to the lifestyle and norms of living in general society.

Jobs, home designs and regulations, multiple rules and laws, and general expectations are for the most part non-applicable to individuals and households that live completely off and away from the grid.

Partial off-the-grid practitioners still have to abide by general societal and government laws.

5. The challenge.

Being off-the-grid is essentially a form of long-term camping. Usually but not always, total off-the-grid practitioners not only detach themselves from the government but from society as a whole as well.

This means that they are detached from a vast majority of societal provisions provided by businesses. This means they these individuals would have become independent of providing themselves with the requirements for making a living through food, water, and shelter.

Some (but not all) of these individuals or households are drawn in by this. Rising to the challenge of foraging, farming, and hunting their food source and building and maintaining their shelter.

6. Minimalism.

The minimalist living and off-the-grid living are essentially cousins as when you live off-the-grid you will usually have to adopt minimalist tendencies and when you become a minimalist; your overall reliance on the grid decreases.

It’s not uncommon off-the-grid to overlap with minimalism and have individuals or households who either completely or partially go off-grid for minimalist reasons.

7. Security and necessity (independence).

For both partial and total off-the-grid practitioners, there is often a shared desire of having control of specific aspects of their life and them not having to wholly be dependent on the government for necessities.

Individuals who have boreholes for water and solar systems for electricity and water geysers are in a way of protecting themselves from collapse in the face of government failures.

In some countries, not having these off-the-grid measures in place would mean not having water and electricity at all.  

*When individuals or households occasionally go off-grid (vacations at cabin retreats, wood, etc) it is still considered being partially off-the-grid but partial practitioners may do it for some of the reasons I mentioned above for only total practitioners – albeit on a short-term period.

Considerations – Is going off the grid a good idea? 

The big question is whether or not going off-grid has reasonable benefits that would entice people to leave on-grid living.

On the grid vs off the grid.

The following comparison between living on-grid or off-grid is presuming that off-grid refers to total off-grid living and on-grid refers to complete reliance on on-grid services and utilities. Partial off-grid characteristics are not being accounted for.

Table.

Pros of being off-grid instead of on-grid: Pros of being on-grid instead of off-grid:
Completely in your control of necessities. No large investment and setup cost.
Environmentally friendly. Convenience.
Cheaper land. Energy surplus.
Quiet. Neighbors and numbers
Freedom and self-regulation. There’s a guide and most problems are not your problem.

Pros of being off-grid instead of on-grid:

 

1. Completely in your control of necessities.

When you’re living off-the-grid, you are forced to take responsibility and ownership of aspects of your life that are necessary to your life and that you would have otherwise left completely in control of someone else.

For both partial and complete off-grid living, you will likely have a backup for an emergency scenario for important utilities you would not have thought of before (electricity and water).

2. Environmentally friendly.

You are usually automatically forced to reduce your expenditure of most utilities and resources when you decide to go off-grid. As well, your means of acquiring energy and utilities often stems from more renewable resources.

3. Cheaper land.

If you are starting afresh, off-grid land is usually significantly cheaper to acquire than on-grid land because it has had less invested in it and few people see it as prime real estate – unless you are a savvy future, off-the-grid practitioner.

4. Isolation and Quiet.

Total off-grid locations are usually less occupied by societal norms and offer a sense of serenity and closeness to nature that you would not normally find in on-grid locations.

5. Freedom and self-regulation.

When compared to what is enforced in on-grid locations, there is a greater sense of freedom to live a lifestyle that you want that is not heavily regulated by society and the government.

Pros of being on-grid instead of off-grid:

 

1. No large investment and setup cost.

Though off-grid living is cheaper, it often requires a large initial investment to get off the ground. Setting up the property, the plumbing, the electrical system, and purchasing all the alternatives for the utilities you would normally be provided on-grid (water, electricity, sewage system) can be very immediately expensive.

And you will likely have to pay for all these things in a short space of time for the property to be habitable. When you live on-grid, all these things are inherently provided and setup.

2. Convenience.

Aside from the fact that setting up the above-mentioned system will not only be expensive but very time consuming, the inconveniences do not end there.

Depending on how you plan to live sustainably, food acquisition will also become more cumbersome in both forms of either having to drive long distances to get them or having to set up and tend to a garden.

3. Energy surplus.

When you live on-grid, there is constant energy and general utility surplus that you can immediately tap into without hassle; Need to charge a big battery, set up a new TV or you everyone in the house just wants to take a large hot bath? When you’re on-grid you don’t have to worry about a thing.

When you are totally off-grid, everything becomes a numbers game and you are on a tight budget for what you can and cannot afford to do. Great considerations and planning need to be done when deviating from the norm.

4. Neighbors and numbers

Sometimes, having people to keep you company is great; we are social beings after all. In the city and suburbs, you are close to friends, police, paramedics, and just a general friendly hello from a random stranger. When you are totally off-grid, you will likely, for the most part, be alone.

5. There’s a guide and most problems are not your problem.

Yes, we sometimes wish we didn’t have to answer to anyone or just get to play by our own rules as you would largely be able to when living totally off-grid but as the great uncle, Ben once said, “with great power comes, great responsibility” – which we often don’t want.

When something breaks off-grid, there is no one to blame or call to fix it but, there is no one to guide you on what’s safe and what’s dangerous and there is no one to regulate everything into order like you would get when you’re on-grid.

Sometimes, the heavy thing on your back is the shell that will give you protection.

Considerations – What You Should Know Before Going Off-grid.

Moving on, if you’ve gotten this far and you’re still thinking you’d want to go off-grid, here are 5 final considerations you should think about before making a decision:

  1. The cost of going off the grid.
  2. Legality.
  3. Cell phones and the Internet.
  4. Where is off the grid?
  5. Making a living and living.

1. The cost of going off the grid.

There is are levels of investments involved in moving from on-the-grid living to off off-the-grid living. If you aim to only partially go off-grid, the investment would be the cost of the renewable resource provider that you want to use as an alternative for what you currently get on the grid. This can be solar systems, boreholes, or privately purchased gas.

If the aim is to totally go off-grid, the required investment becomes more encompassing but not necessarily significantly more expensive. When you totally go off-grid, you need to be certain you can independently acquire the following:

  • A continuous stream of nutritional food and clean water.
  • Access to a shelter that can protect you from the elements
  • A fuel source (electricity, fire, gas, etc)

An off-the-grid home is often less demanding and less expensive than a traditional on-the-grid home but you must have reasonable access to all 3 of the above. The above are the minimum requirements needed.

2. Legality

The basis of going off-the-grid (becoming self-sufficient) is not in itself illegal where legal complications can arise when the government enforces specific zoning laws in both on-the-grid and off-the-grid areas that can restrict certain off-the-grid actions you would like to perform.

For “partial” off-the-grid living, this can involve the implementation of specific drilling laws that can influence how deep you are legally allowed to burrow into your land to find water with a borehole or gas laws that dictate how you install solar systems on your property.

For “total” off-the-grid living, these restrictions can include clearance and development laws that can influence where you want to build your property and whether or not you can cut trees down for use to build or make fire with.

There will always be laws to abide by, but some states are stricter than others.  

3. Cell phone coverage and the Internet.

Moment of truth, is using the internet and your cell phone cheating if you want to live off the grid?

Answer:

Sometimes but probably not. Remember, the founding laws of being off-the-grid are that you limit or outright neglect the use of government services; not the services of the community (businesses).

Though it may not sound like it fits the narrative, if your cellphone and internet provider are private providers; it’s still living off-the-grid. If not, it’s technically not.

4. Where is off the grid?

As I mentioned above, being off-the-grid as much as various movies would have you believe; it does not require you to live the life of a lumberjack out in the woods (though you can if you want to).

Anywhere can be off-the-grid, as long as you are substituting government provided utilities with independent utilities permanently or occasionally (total or partial off-the-grid living).

Though total off-grid living is usually synonymous with living away from society boundaries; it’s not a requirement. It’s just easier to do away from society as most homes are inherently built connected to the grid and manually separating a home on-the-grid, off-the-grid can be difficult and illegal.

5. Making a living and living.

I lightly mentioned how total off-the-grid living is more demanding that partial off-the-grid living in point no1 of considerations but I think it’s important to go a bit deeper into this area of consideration.

Because permanent total off-the-grid living often (but not always) involves living away from most of the general societal and government provisions; practitioners need to be aware that they can continuously sustain independent living.

Likely, practitioners will no longer have their usual income (job), a food source (shops and stores), medical providers (hospitals and clinics), repairmen, and security (law enforcement). Practitioners are largely or completely on their own and must be prepared to handle most obstacles on their own.

So Who Is Off-Grid Living For?

In theory, anyone can benefit from a form of off-the-grid living in that they become more secure in the case of a crisis where the government cannot provide a required utility. It gives a practitioner more control and assurance of their life.

That is not to say that going off-grid is simple and easy; the cost investment can be on the high end and when considering totally going off-the-grid, the considerations and challenges that need to be considered can be immense and daunting for the unprepared.

Partially going off-grid is far more convenient and less daunting and practitioners can use this as a stepping stone for completely going off the grid. If you want to learn about the easiest ways to begin the journey of going off-grid whilst being on-grid; I have just the post you need (HERE).

Concluding Thoughts On Off-Grid Living – Should We Live Off-Grid?

From personal experience with the benefits of partially going off-grid with solar and boreholes; I do think that the security you gain from knowing that you have total control over specific necessities in your life (electricity and water) would be immensely beneficial for anyone.

I will not dispute the fact that the cost barrier of going off-grid, even partially can be too much for some people and in some states where the economies are reliably stable it may not seem like a worthwhile investment.

My sole debate for that is this, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

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I am absolutely in love with learning and sharing all things real estate. I’m an agent for Jacaranda Real Estate In Harare, Zimbabwe. This blog will be the ultimate resource for all things real estate so subscribe and stay tuned.