Taking Your Home Off-Grid. How To Live Off-Grid on Your On-Grid Home.

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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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I recently wrote a post that compared and evaluated being off-grid against being on-grid; in that post, I brought up the concept of “partial” off-grid living where people who live in traditional on-grid homes find and utilize innovative technologies and techniques to run their home as if it were off-grid.

This post is going to be taking a deep-dive look at exactly what partial off-grid living looks like and how anyone even you, can take their traditional on-grid home, off-grid, and reap the benefits of doing so.

So to begin,

What is partial-off-grid living?

As stated above, partial off-grid living or “taking your home off-grid” is the process of implementing modern technology and techniques to reduce or completely remove their dependency on on-grid services and utilities.

On-grid services and utilities will usually come in the following 4 forms:

  1. Power supply – Electrical grid.
  2. Water supply – Water grid.
  3. Heating – Electricity.
  4. Waste – Sewage system and national dumping services.

I will further discuss the above 4 below; defining and differentiating them, as well as listing and describing their potential off-grid alternatives.  

Just be aware of this, modern partial off-grid technologies range so much in their capabilities that homes can go from just running a few lights and electrical sockets to entirely making the household self-sufficient in one or multiple areas of home utility requirements.

How To Partially Go Off-Grid While On-Grid?

As I previously stated, there are 4 areas to which you can convert you home off-grid, which are the following

  1. Power supply –  means of generating electricity for select appliances.
  2. Water Supply – means of generating water for drinking, cleaning, bathing, and utilities.
  3. Heating –  means for generating heat for cooking, bathing, and temperature regulation.
  4. Waste – means of disposing of sewage waste and general garbage disposal.

These are the areas of creating a habitable environment that is usually taken care of by “on-grid” government services and utilities. It’s not necessary to have an alternative “off-grid” alternative for all 4 of the above areas but you will have to focus on at least one to go partially off-grid.

Below, I’ll be further discussing each of the 4 potential avenues and listing and explaining their potential off-grid alternatives.

Off-Grid Alternatives.

1. Power supply.

The following are the off-grid alternatives for generating electricity for appliance and utility use such as for charging devices, running the fridge, and watching TV.

  1. Inverter systems.
  2. Batteries.
  3. Generator.
  4. Solar Energy.
  5. Wind turbines.
  6. Micro-hydro turbines.

a. Inverter Systems

A power inverter is an electronic device that allows for the absorption and transfer of power from a power producer (grid electricity, solar, or batteries) to a power absorber such as electronic devices – televisions, adapter cables, and appliances. The system converts Direct Current (DC) to Alternating Current (AC).

 The majority, if not all electrical grid alternatives will employ an inverter system when organizing an off-grid system.

b. Batteries.

Batteries are the off-grid practitioners’ tool of choice. They not only provide energy that will be used to power appliances and any other electrical demands but they also allow for energy storage for backup available power when the main energy source is not available.

Batteries can be charged on-the-grid, from generators or more renewable energy sources (solar, wind, and hydro).

c. Generator.

Home generators are devices that create electrical energy through the conversion of mechanical energy normally produced by burning a fuel source such as diesel. Generators, aside from a typical inverter and battery setup; are the most accessible form of going off-grid.

This is because the initial investment in acquiring a generator is not too expensive. The one limiting factor that makes generators not the most ideal way of going off-grid is that they require a consistent supply of the fuel they are burning to create and convert mechanical energy.

Generators are usually only worthwhile as backup off-grid systems for when the grid or you other off-grid alternative fails; running them is too expensive otherwise.   

d. Solar Energy.

The first source of three that provides “fully” renewable energy – is not diminished by the use of one person for another.

Solar energy systems convert energy produced by the sun through sunlight into usable electricity for daily use. The power produced can either run independently and only be of use while the sun is out or more commonly and efficiently; will be used in conjunction with batteries.

When batteries are used, the home is capable of being independent for longer periods as the batteries can be put to use when the sun is not available to be the main provider of electricity.

Solar energy is only viable in areas and seasons where there is consistent not-obscured sunlight. It also requires a large and costly investment if the aim is not to take all the electrical requirements of a traditional home off-grid.

e. Wind turbines.

The second source of three that provides “fully” renewable energy – is not diminished by the use of one person for another.

Wind turbines do what solar and hydro systems do but through the conversion of the kinetic energy produced by the wind into electricity. Wind turbines are less viable for most people because of the cost investment, their noise pollution (they are extremely loud), and their visual pollution (they take up a lot of space and can be an eyesore).

Wind turbines are typically only viable for off-the-grid while on-the-grid for properties that have large areas of space all to themselves such as for farmstead properties.

f. Micro-hydro turbines.

The third source of three that provides “fully” renewable energy – is not diminished by the use of one person for another.

Unlike traditional hydro systems that would require access to dams or large reservoirs; micro-hydro systems are capable of converting the kinetic energy of moving water into electricity for daily use through smaller bodies of water like rivers or from ocean waves.

This makes the micro-hydro system more viable for off-grid use of traditional households that are located on farms or suburban areas that have rivers nearby or for beachfront homes.

Micro-hydro turbines do depend on having consistent water of a specific level that is consistently moving at a specific rate; to be viable.

2. Water Supply (Drinking and Utilities).

The following are the off-grid alternatives for producing water for household use such as for drinking and plumbing services.

  • Water tanks.
  • Private companies.
  • Water wells.
  • Borehole.
  • Rain catching systems.
  • Local water bodies.

a. Water tanks.

Water tanks are for the supply of off-grid water what inverters and batteries are for the supply of off-grid electricity. They allow for the intake, storage, and distribution of water that was either collected on-grid (government water system) or off-grid (everything covered below).

Water tanks allow households to have available water stored for use in periods where water is not easily available – droughts or when the grid goes down. Water tanks are usually placed on elevated ground or towers as to not require the use of pumps to get water into the property (gravity at work).

b. Private companies.

Remember, being off-grid only requires that you don’t directly take provisions from the grid (government). Private companies, friends, and family – are all free game.

There are plenty of private companies that deliver and supply clean drinkable water that can be delivered to properties and stored in water tanks for use later on.

Using private companies for water is like using generators for electricity and should only be done as a backup for when water is not available on-grid or through the other more sustainable options suggested in this segment. It will be far more expensive in the long-run otherwise.

c. Water wells.

Wells are the light versions of boreholes. they are structures that involve the excavation of land to tap into a water source below ground.

A benefit of water wells is that they are a relatively inexpensive means of getting consistent off-grid access to water. And though most excavations of land on a property are regulated by the government; because wells rarely go too deep into the land – they are less regulated and restricted.

Wells can use both mechanical (your hand, a crank, and bucket on a string) or automatic (electronic pump) means to retrieve water but the available water is usually more finite as wells do not tap deep into water lines.  

d. Borehole.

A borehole is more or less an advanced water well. Boreholes are very deep rounded excavation into the land to tap into underground water aquifers (water stores) which then has a large pipe shaft placed to tap into the water line and connected to a seal and pump that allows water to be transferred directly into a home or stored into a tank.

Boreholes are the most common off-grid water alternatives because they can consistently provide access to large amounts of independent water. Boreholes require electricity to function as they use a pump system to distribute water.

Boreholes are more regulated than wells, because of how deep tap into the water line; if too many people tap too deeply into the same water line; they can permanently damage its ability to seasonally produce enough water to provide long term use.

e. Rain catching systems.

This is a system that uses a combination of property design, augmentations, and water storage facilities to collect and store water from natural rainfalls for internal off-grid home-usage.

Rain catching systems focus on redirecting water that falls on a property during a rainfall (gutters and other pipes) into storage facilities (tanks, swimming pools, reservoirs) which can later be distributed into a home through other pipes.

Rain catching systems occasionally live in a legal gray area where governments may or may not regulate what you can do and how; some states may not even know how to regulate them but it is always best to consult the legal system first.

f. Local water bodies.

The last off-grid water supply alternative is also the most convenient; for people who have access to a viable source of it.

Having access to dams, rivers, the ocean, the sea, etc are all-natural off-grid water bodies that can allow individuals who live near these sources to have off-grid access to large amounts of water.

Households opting for this form of water supply need to be the most proactive when it comes to monitoring the water source for harmful properties that can be hazardous to a persons’ health.

Another consideration aside from filtration is whether or not the water is saltwater; which is not drinkable and requires additional systems and equipment to convert into usable water.    

3. Heating (cooking and temperature).

The following are the off-grid alternatives for generating heat on the property for cooking and household heat regulation.

  • Wood.
  • Gas.
  • Solar geysers.
  • Downsizing

a. Wood.

The oldest fuel source for heat generation to cook and keep you warm is undeniably wood.

An issue is that firewood is a non-renewable; renewable source of energy. That is to say, though it is technically renewable; it requires a long time to replace. This has led to the government; in most states regulating where you can get the wood and how much wood you collect seasonally or annually.

There is also the health concerns of using wood that comes in the form of smoke pollution. This does not dispute the fact that wood is largely still among the most used source of off-grid heating.  

b. Gas.

Gas has slowly been becoming the rising star of off-grid heating; especially for cooking and the heating and cooling of homes.

The reason why gas is becoming a fan favorite is that it is normally far cheaper than electricity and easier to control.

c. Solar geysers.

This is a dedicated solar system that uses the heat provided by sunlight to heat up and store hot water using a solar thermal collector.

Solar geysers  only take the property off-grid specifically for water heating services are are only viable where there is consistent and continuous sunlight. But where they are viable, they save homes on the huge on-grid and off-grid energy requirements to heat up water.   

d. Downsizing for solar and generators.

There is a reason why I didn’t place heating and electricity into the same category as power supply; it’s because most utilities that require heating (stoves and air-conditioning systems) use huge amounts of energy that are difficult to generate from most off-grid systems.

Unlike fridges and systems that focus on cooling a home; heating systems are not easily made energy efficient. One of the few viable means of taking a households’ heating requirements off-grid is to downsize them to an often large degree.

Far smaller, less demanding, and less capable electrical heating utilities can be viable through off-grid energy alternatives like generators and solar.

4. Waste.

The following are the off-grid alternatives for generating electricity for handling waste on the property such as for sewage and garbage disposal. 

  1. Septic tanks.
  2. Composting and recycling.
  3. Private disposal.

a. Septic tanks.

This is a large off-grid container that is usually installed underground on a property and has all plumbing lines directed into it to store waste produced from the household.

The one issue with septic tanks is that inevitably, they will need to be emptied. On the other hand, on-grid plumbing and sewage systems can conveniently run forever without stopping. Emptying a septic tank, though inconvenient and expensive when it needs to be done; is not an issue that happens often.

Most septic tanks will only need to be cleaned out after 3-5 years if not more.  

b. Composting and recycling.

For biodegradable waste such as organic materials or cardboard; households can forego the need for on-grid disposal services by composting the materials for garden usage.

For non-biodegradable waste such as metals, technology, glasses, and plastics; an off-grid alternative is to recycle the materials for personal or resale use.

Both composting and recycling are efficient ways of handling waster off-grid; the one issue is that both means require space and time to utilize; which may not be viable for everyone.

c. Private disposal.

The last way of dealing with waste in an off-grid manner is to simply hire a private business to simply take care of everything for you.  Remember, as long as it’s not the government – it’s off-grid.

Is Going Off-Grid, On-Grid Worth It? – Pros and Cons.

Pros Of Fully Being On The Grid Over Partially Being Off-Grid.Pros Of Partially Being Off-Grid Over Fully Being On The Grid.
No big initial Investment.Security.
Consistent – no seasonal requirementsCheaper utility bills.
ConvenientPotential tax breaks.

Pros Of Fully Being On-The-Grid Over Partially Being Off-Grid.

1. No big initial Investment.

Unlike with all forms of off-grid alternatives; on-grid services and utilities are passive and inherently offered to the household. Your home is automatically built into the grid and put on a list for garbage pickups.

Going off-grid often requires large investments in both time and money to set them up and get them running.

2. Consistent – no seasonal requirements.

On-grid offerings will usually have the infrastructure and support to run continuously and consistently year in and year out.

Off-grid services are usually only seasonally or periodically viable because they rely on nature and not only is that seasonal but it is also unpredictable. If your main water source is rain catching, you never know if next year is going to be a drought or not.  

3. Convenient oversupply.

Complete reliance on the grid is much more convenient because it does not require any monitoring of wattage and water use. When you partially go off-grid it needs you to be actively aware of the limitations of the system and you will have to work around those limitations to make the system viable.

Pros Of Partially Being Off-Grid Over Fully Being On The Grid.

1.Security.

When you go off-grid, you become independent and gain a portion of control over vital utilities and services in your life. Depending on where you live, it will either seem impossible for national on-grid services to fail or they are already failing.

Either way, having off-grid technology in place; prepares you for the worst-case scenario.

2. Cheaper utility bills.

Off-grid technology saves you money on utilities in 2 ways;

Firstly, it redistributes the usage of utilities between grid-payments and renewable off-grid supply which is usually cheaper. Secondly, when you decide to go off-grid, even partially, it often forces downsizing in most appliances and usages; this organically leads to cheaper utility bills.

3. Potential tax breaks.

The final benefit of operating off-grid is this; when you go off-grid through renewable energy means – like solar; you may be able to apply for specific tax breaks that can save you money.

Who Should Take Part In Partial Off-Grid Living?

As I mentioned in my first blog of off-grid living (HERE); I believe that for any household that can afford it, making use of any partial off-grid living technology or practices would save money and brings stability and security for any household.

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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.