Recently I received an email asking for advice. It got me to thinking about people who want to live off the grid but have no idea where to start. It can be overwhelming to think of all the things a person needs to learn before they can become off grid and independent.
The person who sent the email will be buying undeveloped land and wants to start out being off grid all the way. This is a plus for them since they are not already tied to some property they might not be able to modify because of where they live.
Because each family has similar and unique needs, it is important to evaluate all those needs before land is purchased. Persons with medical conditions which will require frequent medical attention or may have life threatening attack probably should not choose to live 120 miles to the nearest hospital. The longer it takes for an ambulance to arrive, the lower the survival rate for some emergencies.
With that being said, what you need depends on both your lifestyle, number of people and the ages of those who will be living in your home. Factoring in how usage might change as people age. You can get a rough estimate by gathering the annual usage statement for water and electricity. Remember, older people often like a home that is warmer than a healthy 30 year old.
Search the internet for suitable locations in your state to put up windmills. If there isn’t going to be enough wind, you won’t be able to generate electricity. Your windmill should be taller than any trees that might be near it for maximum output. That being said, some generators will work at wind speeds as low as 4 mph. The department of energy put out this wind map. Solar panels to be roof mounted need to face the proper direction. That determines the direction your home will face too.
Choose your contractor wisely. One who doesn’t know about off grid housing is probably not for you. Quiz him. Ask him questions that beginners wouldn’t know. The contractor who is building your house, if he is reputable, should be able to finish your home with those things in mind. Perhaps with solar panels and wind generators included.
If you have not purchased the land, you will need to be sure to put a condition on the land purchase that the water and soil tests within acceptable levels of contaminants. Likely the seller will want you to pay for those tests, but check with the local land office to see if there are tests on record.
Given the water and soil test return a safe result, a water purification system will still be necessary for household use of well water. The cost of having a well drilled on your property will not be cheap. The deeper the well, the more it costs. The more water you want to pull from the well per day, the more the cost. There might even be a need for two wells if you are watering livestock. Don’t fool yourself, cows drink a great deal of water. Be sure to have a hand pump ready in case your pump stops working. If you are moving to a community, you need to check the local laws because some cities don’t allow private wells.
If you are not going to be hooked up to city sewer services, you will need to consider what kind of septic system you want. Get a good one, and larger than suggested. Having guests for a long period of time will increase the demands on your septic system significantly. If you plan for two people, and some event causes another couple to move in, the demands on the septic system, and water resources, have just doubled. Be sure to place the location of your septic system according to which direction the water will flow once it leaves the septic system.
Do not put trees near a septic system because the roots will clog up the system and you may have to dig up your yard and have it routed out. Look at mature trees of the type you want because what you see above ground is what you will see below. Where the yard grows the best is where to put your garden.
If you purchase land with maple trees, you will be able to tap the trees and sell the syrup for a good price. We have friends who do it every year. Some years they sell it and some years they have just enough for their use depending on annual rainfall. The same holds true for fruit trees, if there are any on the land, you can sell the produce for money as well put up the harvest for the year by canning and making jams and jellies.
Try to get flat land, with no rocks. If you get rocky ground, gardening will be difficult at best. Removing rocks from the soil is tedious and time consuming. Fortunately, you only have to do it once. Try to look up online the regions you are interested in in terms of geology of the area. This will tell you where good soil is and where the land is rocky and difficult for gardening.
Before you decide what kind of house to build, check out land prices. The better the quality of land, the more expensive the acres are. Five acres can make a great homestead to raise food for your family and to sell in farmer’s markets.
If you are going to go full off grid, consider livestock. You might be able to include barns and what kinds of housing and fencing for your animals. Remember to consider the winter months in your state. Some animals might have to have at least some heat in winter.
The worst thing people do is not plan before they buy land and build. Once you find out how much it all costs to get started, you might decide you want to build a much smaller home than anticipated, or maybe even buy a modular or pre-built home. Some people even choose a mobile home because of the amount of space for the money. It is best to dream big and then bring it back into the budget.
Lastly, don’t let all the planning issues overwhelm you. Take it one step at a time. Choose and buy land one year. If you aren’t ready to build or move, you can at least decide where the house is going to be located. Which makes it the optimum time to plant your fruit trees. Do just a little as time goes and you will see in a few short years you will be living off grid and be independent.
By no means is this intended to be a road map for every person who wants to become independent and off grid. This is strictly a narrative on how to get started. Everyone who wants to get off grid has to get started some how. Hopefully this will at least give you some food for thought and some good ideas. Good luck!