Off Grid Living Manual For Beginners And Newbies

More and more people are turning their backs on the rat race and opting to live their lives on their own terms. Off-grid is one of the more extreme choices.

The most popular way to take full control of your destiny is to find a place somewhere in the middle of nowhere and then to disconnect from “the grid” (that is public utilities) and to live on what you can produce. That's off-grid living.

The off-grid lifestyle can be a dramatic change for most of us and our guide to off-grid living for 2020 is not designed to cover every last detail of this change but rather to get you thinking about what’s important in off-grid living and how you can plan to go off-grid in a way that’s safe and sensible and which leads to lasting happiness.


The Big Questions Before You Get Started With Off Grid Living

Off-grid living is a massive change in your life and it’s not something that you can do half-heartedly for most people, you’re going to have to plan this kind of transition very carefully. The off-grid lifestyle is a severely different way of life.

You’re going to cut your ties to work and society in many respects when you start off-grid living.

You’re going to stop relying on public services as part of your off-grid living arrangements and start relying on yourself. You’re also going to buy and consume much less than you did before.

So, before you sell everything you own and rush off into the wilderness (yes, it makes us want to rush off just typing that) and go off-grid, you need to have a solid think on the major questions relating to this off-grid lifestyle:

  • You need water – how are you going to make sure that you have enough? What are you going to do to make sure that you can drink that water? Off-grid living's no fun if you die of thirst.
  • You need to get rid of waste – are you going to dig a septic tank? Who will empty the septic tank? If not, how else will you deal with this? A septic system isn't the easiest think to manage even if you want to be completely self-sufficient.
  • You may need to generate your own electricity (not everyone does) but if you do, how are you going to make that electricity? Wind turbine? Solar power system with solar panels? (We have a list of awesome solar generators that can help with that). There are many off-grid power options but you must have a replacement for the power grid if you want living off the grid to last.
  • You will still need money (not as much of it but some) where will it come from? How will you earn it? How much is going to be “enough”? Off-grid living will require expenditure on certain items when they break. You may also need to cover property taxes and if you raise livestock, vets fees.
  • You may need internet and phone services (again not everyone off-grid does) but again, if you do how will you get them? An off-grid home doesn't need to be isolated.
  • How many people are going to be involved in your off-grid project? Will you seek out another community to live among (like these awesome tiny house communities?) or create your own? How will vital tasks be assigned among you?
  • You need your own food – how are you going to obtain it? Will you grow it, hunt for it or buy it? How will you cook it? A wood stove is a popular option but it has an impact on your carbon footprint. If you're really living off the grid, then you might consider using renewable energy to power a stove once again, you might need solar panels and solar power or a wind turbine.
  • You need to keep your off grid home safe – if you’re not relying on law enforcement, how are you going to do that?

If that feels daunting, it should. Off-the-grid living isn’t easy to get started with and once you start, it’s going to get harder before it gets any easier.

Off-grid living also requires a substantial amount of resources for most people to go off-grid. Money, time, and effort are all needed to get things up and running.

Solar panels, a wind turbine, your own food, a battery bank, complying with strict building codes, a wood-burning stove, etc. don't come free. Becoming completely self-sufficient won't always be low-cost in a practical sense. In fact, off-grid life can be very expensive to begin with.

The plus side? Once you’ve done it, you’re truly free and in charge of your own destiny. There’s nothing that beats that feeling. And, for example, once you've installed your solar panels, all that solar power is free and your off-grid living costs start to drop dramatically.


Where Do You Want To Go Off Grid (How To Avoid Red Tape)?

OK, so the first thing to do is to decide where you’re going to live off-grid. Let’s be upfront about this – wherever you go in the USA, the odds are pretty good that it won’t be perfect. Some states don’t want you there and ban off-grid homes. Others will be hard to get water in. Some may be in the fallout zones for nuclear conflict. And so on…

So, you absolutely need to pay careful attention to where you live. We’d recommend that you pick somewhere:

  • Not too far from a highway (and never more than one tank of gas away from one). Off-grid homes are rarely in the real wilderness.
  • That is typically free of natural disasters (you don’t forest fires, mudslides, flash floods, etc.)
  • Establish the nuclear fallout pattern if it bothers you, off-grid life can continue after a nuclear war, in the right place
  • With an established off grid community, even if you want to go it alone having folks nearby in the same boat can be really helpful and you can share resources like solar panels in an emergency too
  • Access to water – that can be groundwater or a river or at the very worst, a place with a ton of rain
  • Gun laws – if you feel you have to defend your own property, some states aren’t going to be OK with this
  • Hunting laws – if you intend to hunt for food, make it legal, it's best not to upset the law when you live off-grid
  • Healthy soil to grow plants in

The folks at Homestead Survival have put together an in-depth guide into the best 10 states to live in off-grid and they include: Maine, Texas, Montana, Ohio, Tennessee, Arizona, Vermont, Missouri, Oregon and North Carolina.

These are the best places to avoid too much red tape.


How Are You Going To Get Around?

If you intend to live out in the middle of nowhere, there’s no getting around it – you need a 4 x 4.

Now, you might want to consider a 4 x 4 which is also a camper van (if so check out our guide to the best camper vans of 2020) to give yourself some additional flexibility in living arrangements.

You may also need a snowmobile (find out how to buy a used one here) if you’re going to live somewhere with harsh winters.

You may want a motorbike or two for cheap transport locally.

Also, there’s no getting around the fact that bicycles and even skis (for cross-country) can be brilliant and nearly free-to-use when you’re off the grid.


You’ve Got To Get Water Sorted And Fast

Human beings can go weeks without food (even if it’s not very pleasant) but they can’t make it through more than 2-3 days without water. That means your number one priority when you live off the grid is water.

You need water that you can drink without getting sick or poisoned. You need water that you can wash in and that you water your crops with. You might be able to drill a well if you want to live completely off-grid but be warned this isn’t an easy process and it’s not cheap, either.

If you opt to go for rainwater collection, then we’d advise you to have lots of storage facilities because you can’t rely on rain and snow when you want them. Most people will opt for a combination of the two and maybe even live near a stream too for emergency use.

One thing you can be sure of, it always pays to have more options for water than you need.

As for a toilet? We’d recommend that you invest in a composting toilet – it’s much better than digging a cesspit. Check out our guide to composting toilets here.


Food Sourcing | Grow It, Gather It, Hunt For It?

The other thing that you can’t live without is food and you want to ensure that you have multiple sources of food just in case something goes wrong.

Growing Food

This is fairly easy, assuming you have decent soil (we mentioned this at the start). Ask around locally and find out what grows well in the climate and soil and then buy the right crops accordingly.

There are some challenges to this:

  • Watering. You may need to revisit the watering section if you just planned for enough water for you, if you want to grow crops, you need enough water for irrigation too.
  • Composting. We've got a great guide to composting at home to help you out with this.
  • Pest control and disease control. Unless you are bringing a lot of extra cash with you, you also need to find out the best natural pest control and disease control measures that work locally to you too and invest in them. You will also need to fence off your crops from deer and the like.


Gathering Food

We’re assuming you’re living somewhere in nature. Well, nature offers plenty of free bounty, if you know what to look for. Gathering food is a great way to top up on what you grow. Just be very careful with mushrooms, mistakes are likely to be fatal.

off grid

Bartering For Buying Food

Just because you went off grid, you’re not banned from stores. As long as you have some cash handy – you can always buy food from a farmer’s market or local ship.

If you’ve got no money, then see what you have to trade for food and try and trade for it, instead.


Hunting, Fishing and Trapping

You can also catch wild animals for good assuming you have the skills to do so and the license to allow you to do so legally. If you have no experience in this area, then survival fishing is probably the easiest thing to get started with.

Hunting, Fishing and Trapping

Farming Animals

Chickens, rabbits, goats, pigs, ducks, turkeys, etc. can all easily be farmed from home if you want to and birds can also provide eggs. Goats can offer milk too. You may need to find someone else who will slaughter and butcher them if you’re a little squeamish, but you can probably trade some meat for that.

In addition to everything above, you also want to learn to store and prepare food for the long-term. Learn to dry, salt, can, pickle, etc. because refrigeration and freezers are going to be a serious drain on power.

You may also want to learn to cook over an open fire because it’s cheaper than running a stove.


Clothing Yourself Off The Grid

Assuming you’re not made of money then eventually you’re going to need to learn to make your own fabrics and how to dye them, in order to make your own clothes.

You will also need to master off-the-grid washing techniques which allow you to keep your clothes clean without using a washing machine or tumble dryer.

A lot of off-the-grid living guides fail to tackle this subject but unless you were planning to revert back to the times of Adam and Eve, we think clothes are a pretty important part of modern life even when you’re living off-the-grid.


How To Protect Your Off The Grid Home

You also need to attend to your own safety and security and that means you’re going to need to consider several things and ensure that you’ve got ways to deal with them.

Protect Your Off The Grid Home

Now, given the fact that most people who go off-grid are going to be constructing their own place from scratch rather than wandering into something that’s already been purpose built – this means you want to consider these questions before you build your home and not after it.

  • What natural disasters typically affect the area in which you live? How can you ensure that your home can withstand these? Earthquake protection is very different from tornado protection. So, make sure you understand the problems your home may face and deal with them.
  • If there are wild animals nearby, how will you keep them out? Sure, a deer in the garden can be cute but a herd will demolish everything you’ve been growing and if a bear follows them in? Dangerous chaos awaits.
  • If you were to come under threat from other people, how would you keep them at bay? Solid doors, locks, etc. can be very handy and even, potentially, in remoter areas having a “panic room” might be a good idea. We’re not suggesting that bad things will happen but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • You also need to secure all the equipment that you will need and much of this takes up some fairly serious space. Water filtration, for example, can really eat up land as can a bank of generators.
  • Finally, we’ve never known someone go off-grid without some kind of outbuilding like a barn – you need to secure that too.

Do You Need Firearms If You’re Off The Grid?

We would like to say no but we offer a cautious, “yes”, instead. We think mostly you need weapons when living off-grid because it makes hunting easier. But there may be occasions when you might need them for self-defense.

Most people living off-grid will keep a shotgun for home defense and a bolt-action rifle for hunting because they’re easy to clean and keep ready for use. You must, of course, have some ammunition handy too.

We’ve seen other sites recommend that you invest in handguns and semi-automatic rifles too but we’ll leave that up to your own judgement based on where you live.

You might also want to invest in some dogs that can act as watch dogs or guard dogs and that can run off an intruder or disable a determined one without hurting them too much. We’d recommend that you look at bullmastiffs for this as they’re really good at this job.


Off The Grid Power Systems

We’d recommend that you look at our articles on the best portable generators, the best portable solar panels, and check out our review of Mobile Solar Power Made Easy! They’ve got some useful insights to get you started with this.

Off The Grid Power Systems

If you need off the grid electricity (and not everyone does) – the most important consideration is getting enough power (just add up the watt ratings on everything you have and then add another 50% for safety’s sake). You will be amazed at how fast this can add up.

For most people, off-grid, you want a 6000-Watt generator at most and you need to learn to live without many of the appliances that you take for granted now.


Off The Grid Plumbing

Plumbing is a complicated area and it’s really important to get it right.

The more you can cut back on, the better and you may find that if you use a composting toilet (as suggested above) other than a decent irrigation system, all you need to cover indoors is the toilet, the shower and a single sink.

You can find out more about how to set up off-the-grid plumbing here at Mother Earth News, their advice can really help you work out the best way to work for you and your needs.


Off The Grid Communication Systems

Sure, you’ve opted out of society but unless you really are never going to talk to your friends and family again – you’re probably going to want to send the occasional e-mail or make the occasional call.

The good news is that if you can get a landline service it consumes almost no power.

Off The Grid Communication Systems

Cellular service can be patchy in the middle of nowhere, though, so you may need to invest in a satellite connection if you want a reliable internet setup.

They’re nowhere near as expensive as they once were and for most off-gridders it’s the one place they just don’t want to cut corners.


Last Word on Off-Grid Living

It’s not cheap and it’s not easy to go off-grid but it’s easier than it ever has been these days and that’s because technology has evolved so much to support your decision to cut your ties with the grid.

It’s not the sort of thing that happens over night either and you will need to plan in some detail to make your transition a successful one.

We hope that our guide to living off grid has been helpful to you and that you’re now starting to ask the right questions to guide your life off-grid in a safe and happy manner.

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