How to live off the grid

So, as you might be able to guess, living off the grid means to live in a property that is not connected to any of these energy infrastructures. Or if there are connections, to choose not to use them in favour of other ways of generating electricity.There are a number of reasons why people live off the grid. Either because the property they live in is very remote and the cost of connecting to mains gas and electricity is prohibitively expensive or simply for ideological reasons.So, let’s take a closer look at what living off the grid really means, including finding out how people generate electricity, what sacrifices they might have to make and what the realities are in terms of cost and land requirements.
Last update: September 2021

More and more people are making the conscious choice to use less power or find new ways of generating enough energy for their own needs. A combination of reduced demand and improved home generation technology is making living off the grid a viable option for more and more people both in the UK and around the world.

What are some ways of generating electricity when living off the grid?

The energy grid is the infrastructure put in place to supply homes and businesses with power. The grid generally refers to the network of power stations, substations, cables and connections that transfer electricity from generators to end users but it can also be applied to mains gas and other forms of utilities, such as water. Unless you want to live a really extreme lifestyle with zero energy whatsoever, the realities of living off the grid involve finding some way to generate power at home. There are eight commonly recognised ways of doing this, which are:

  1. Solar power – This is when you turn the energy of the sun into power, converting photon energy into DC voltages using an array of solar panels, charge converters and batteries for storage
  2. Wind power – Wind can be used to turn propellers which in turn generate electricity to be used in the home
  3. Water power – Moving water has been used to generate power for centuries. Just think of an old fashioned water mill and instead of turning a large stone, the water drives a generator
  4. Fuel based generators – Stand alone generators run on conventional fuels such as petrol or diesel which can be bought and transported more easily
  5. Steam power – Using heat from the sun, wood, coal or gas, a boiler creates steam which at high pressure can be used to power a turbine and create electricity
  6. Thermoelectric power – A thermoelectric module converts heat into DC power through moveable pistons or immersed wires in water tanks
  7. Battery power – Charged batteries can be used to store energy and drive current around home electric systems
  8. EMF – An up and coming new power source based on old ideas created by Tesla, this is a way of transmitting electricity without wires

live off the grid

Can you live off the grid legally?

The short answer is yes, there is no law that says you cannot live off the grid and generate your own power. However, that means not breaking any other law in doing so and only doing it on a site or property where you have permission to live.

While not illegal, it can be difficult to live off grid, especially in a city where planning restrictions can limit the kind of infrastructure you can put in place to generate power. Wind turbines, for example, are subject to planning permission. For most kinds of power generation you also require outside space, which means living off the grid is generally better suited to more rural environments.

What’s behind the off grid living trend?

While there is no single specific reason why people choose to live off the grid, in general it falls into two camps: ideology or necessity. For people who live in very remote areas such as small islands, in forests and the like, there is very often no mains connection, which means finding some way to generate power.

However, the growing trend for off grid living applies more to people who have made the conscious decision to try and live in a more sustainable way. Rather than relying on gas and electricity being there at the flick of the switch, they feel that modern energy consumption is wasteful and damaging to the planet. There is some truth behind this.

Living off grid gives you a much clearer understanding of both your energy needs and how to live in a way that minimises your consumption. When every kWh of power counts, you are less likely to waste it. There is also the benefit of not having to pay energy bills or be beholden to a supplier and reliant on anyone else for your power.

live off the grid

However, while living off the grid does have its advantages, it is not always easy and certainly not for everyone. If you are thinking about it, then you might want to consider the following.

Eight things to consider if you want to live off the grid

  1. You need land – Almost all types of power generation require a certain amount of outside space. In fact, the more the better.
  2. You need at least three basic necessities – Water, food and shelter
  3. It’s hard work – Turning on a light switch is easy. Chopping wood, setting up solar systems etc requires effort and knowledge
  4. You might have to do without – mains power runs 24/7/365. You might not have that luxury with a solar, wind or steam system. Living off the grid requires planning
  5. It’s seasonal – You might find you have a surplus of energy when you least need it (in the summer) and a shortage when you really do need power. You always have to consider your seasonal needs
  6. There are costs – Once your system is set up you might get free power, but solar systems, wind power and generators all cost money to buy and install. Plus there is maintenance
  7. Reducing waste – This becomes a very important part of everyday life. Without a fridge or freezer to preserve food, and potentially power outages, you need to be able to manage your energy and minimise waste
  8. Not everyone will like what you’re doing – The idea of going off grid is not to everyone’s liking so be prepared to be confronted about your choices

Of course, these are things you need to think about before making your choice. But if you can manage, then going off grid can be very satisfying, affordable and better for your health.

Steps to live off grid

If you have thought through all of the above and still find the idea appealing, then you need to think about finding a suitable place to go off the grid. This would ideally be somewhere with land or space to generate electricity that’s within your price range.

It is always a good idea to try out living off grid first, so book a short break in an off grid place or volunteer at an off grid project to see if it’s for you. Gather information, ask for advice, do your research and make sure you are well informed before you start the process.

If you have a mains connection and are choosing to disconnect then you will need to get in touch with your local distribution network or supplier to arrange a safe disconnection.

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How expensive is it to live off the grid?

How long is a piece of string? You could choose to spend tens of thousands on a state-of-the-art solar system that could run washing machines and dishwashers or you could spend a few hundred on a small panel to power some lights, a phone charger and a radio. It all depends how you want to live your life off grid.

How many acres do you need to live off the grid?

For a small family, a ¼ of an acre is enough to have land to grow food and generate electricity from a solar system or generator. If you want to grow your own timber for harvesting, then you’ll need between 5 to 10 acres. Again, it all depends on what kind of off grid life you are looking to lead.

Would you like to know more about generating you own electricity? Great! Check out some of these related articles

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FAQ

What is off grid living?

Off the grid living is a life that does not come with mains power connection. This could just be electricity or could extend to other utilities too, including water. True off the grid living involves being as self-sufficient as possible, including growing your own food and generating your own power.

Can you live off the grid legally?

Yes, you can. There are no laws which say you can’t live off the grid, providing you are not breaking any other legal requirements and abiding by planning permission and other legislation.

What’s behind the off grid living trend?

While there is no one reason behind the move to love off grid, being self-sufficient and reducing both the costs of energy bills and reliance on others for your power are some of the main driving forces. But each off grid home will have their own specific reasons.

How expensive is it to live off the grid?

This is a difficult question to answer as it all depends on the off-grid lifestyle you are looking for. You could spend thousands on a state-of-the-art solar system or just a few hundred on a small panel to power some lights and a radio. It all depends on the kind of off grid life you have in mind. There are no rules to off grid living, so costs can vary.

Updated on 4 Oct, 2021

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