Off the Grid
Living off the grid - true energy independence
“The grid” is the common name for the power grid -- the linked system that delivers electricity to the masses. Going off-the-grid means cutting oneself off from public utilities (electric, natural gas, water, sewer and telephone) and naturally becoming more energy independent. Living off the grid means embracing the use of renewable energy sources like solar, wind and biomass, and focusing greatly on energy efficiency to live lightly on the land.
What are some major reasons to go off the grid?
People go off-the-grid to reduce their carbon footprint, save money, avoid reliance on fossil fuels and assert their independence. Generally, it's one of the most satisfying things you can do - and it's quintessentially American.
How can I power my home without relying on utility companies?
You can rely on solar energy and wind power to provide power. Residential homes that use solar power have photovoltaic (PV) solar panels located on the roof or near the house. When the sun’s rays hit the panel, semiconductors collect the energy and knock electrons loose so they can flow freely. An electric field in the panel takes these electrons and forces them to flow in one direction, creating an electrical direct current (DC). The DC is passed through an inverter that converts it into the alternating current (AC) that your home uses.
Wind power works in a similar fashion. A typical residential wind turbine looks like an airplane propeller sitting atop a 50 - to 120-foot tower. When wind blows, the blades start moving and spin a shaft that leads from the hub of the rotor to a generator. The generator takes the energy produced from the rotation and turns it into electricity. Like solar cells, energy created by wind turbines is converted into usable AC power with an inverter.
Energy created by solar or wind power is stored in a system of batteries as DC power and converted to AC power, as you need it. The battery system is typically located in a garage or shed near the power source.
Energy off the grid
A tankless water heater will heat water on demand. A solar water heater harnesses the sun’s heat and warms your water. A back-up generator is a good to have in case the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine for long stretches of time. These generators run on propane, natural gas, gasoline or bio-diesel fuel and are only used if absolutely necessary. Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves can help offset the energy it takes to heat your home. You can even cook on top of a wood-burning stove. Super-insulation, which counts on airtight construction and additional layers of foam insulation, is an efficient way to maintain your home’s temperature. Passive solar construction is a building technique that uses wind, sun and natural surroundings to heat and cool the home.
Lifestyle changes for success off the grid
The best way to live successfully off-the-grid is to use what you have in the most efficient way possible. With adequate solar and wind systems, you should be able to operate most of your electric appliances, but not necessarily all at the same time. Major electricity users like washing machines should be operated at night, when your power needs are minimal. Wash clothes by hand and use a clothesline to dry them. Let your dishes pile up and limit toilet flushes to conserve water use. Use energy star appliances and energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs. Recycle your trash and compost garbage. Grow your own vegetables or raise chickens and goats for milk and eggs.
Water and sewer services off the grid
You can dig a well and pump water out of the ground. There are many regulations that apply to private wells, so you should use a licensed well driller. The cost of private wells ranges from $3,000 - $15,000, depending on how deep you go. The deeper the well, the more likely you’ll be able to find clean water. Another way you can provide your own water is by harvesting rain with a cistern. A cistern is a tank that holds water. Home cistern systems have large above ground or underground tanks made from concrete, steel, or fiberglass. Water from rain gutters is channeled into the cistern and them pumped back into your home, as you need it. If you want a cistern, you need to live in an area that gets enough rain.
The best way to get off the grid’s sewer line is to install a septic system. A septic system is a large metal tank that collects and releases your waste water. Bacteria in the tank break everything down causing it to separate naturally into a top scum layer, bottom sludge layer and middle liquid layer. As new waste water flows in, liquid in the tank flows out into a series of buried perforated pipes that release the water over distance into a drain field. Soil acts as a biological filter, keeping the harmful bacteria buried beneath the ground until it’s eventually absorbed as nutrients.