Living off-grid is an exciting desire for many, particularly once you decide to take the plunge. But careful planning is key, make a wrong move and you may find yourself thrown back into society once more. In this post we’ll go through some important factors you should take into consideration when planning to live off-grid!
Predictably, the first thing you will probably want to consider is where you plan to live. For most, this will be guided by affordability. If you live somewhere like the UK, finding affordable land away from civilisation is just not realistically going to happen. And if you do find something, well good luck trying to get legal rights to live there. So choosing a place to lay down your home will be your hardest and most important decision to make.
Living truly off grid will mean no mains water, no gas, no electricity – so if you plan to go the full hog and totally ditch all modern day societal conveniences then you’ll want to make sure the land you buy has some natural resources.
A forest or at the very least a small wooded area if managed well can provide enough fuel for your heating and cooking needs.
Building an off the grid home is one of the hardest, but also one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.
A small stream can provide water, though you will need to check the legality of this in the area. A working well on-site would be even better, alternatively find somewhere where boring down to the water table is affordably possible.
Windy or sunny or maybe both? If you want electricity, you will need some way to generate it. Wind or Sun are the two most likely weather conditions you will be wanting to harvest the energy from. Just how windy the area is and how much electricity you will use will determine the setup required, the same applies to harvesting energy from the sun. How much exposure do you have?
Most likely you will need both to have a continual power source all year around, there are exceptions to this, so research the climate in the area.
You can’t go off-grid without growing your own food, so the quality of your soil is very important, with great soil you can grow food in abundance. You can get an idea of just how good your soil is by looking at the existing plants and foliage that are growing on a piece of land. If the land is bare, with dried out colourless bushes and plants with lots of bare barren land, then it’s a good chance the soil quality is poor. Whereas if the area is bursting with deep greenery, then the soil quality is likely good.
You will also want to check the pH level of your soil, this can be done using a pH tester which are readily available online. Ideally you want soil with a pH of around 6.0 – 7.0, ideal levels can vary depending on what you intend to grow, but for most commonly grown fruit and vegetables this range is perfect.
Both soil fertility and pH levels can be rectified if they are poor, though just how much work is required to do this will depend on just how bad the soil is. If you plan to have horses or cattle on your land, they can provide great fertiliser for your land, you will also want to be composting all your own compostable throw aways, which also makes for great fertiliser.
pH levels can be adjusted, to reduce acidity ground limestone is generally used and in the rare instances where acidity may be required to be increased Aluminium sulphate or sulphur is commonly used. However, we would recommend looking into more natural ways to increase soil acidity, particularly if the soil is to be used for growing your food.
A little tidbit from sfgate.com will point you in the right direction:
Organic substances frequently used to reduce soil pH are peat moss, rotted manure and rotted leaf compost. Canadian sphagnum peat moss, with a pH of between 3.0 and 4.5, can be worked effectively into the top 8 to 12 inches of soil, although it may be too expensive for large areas, and gardeners may avoid peat moss because of sustainability issues. Horticulturalists suggest that shredded evergreen bark, pine needles, home-composted leaf and vegetable refuse and even coffee grounds can increase soil acidity. Be prepared for some trial-and-error with organic acidifiers. Test soil pH before application, then at monthly or half-year intervals to determine change.
Finally you will want to check that potential land for growing has suitable drainage, you dont want to go to the hard work of planting and cultivating your crops only to find they are wiped out in Autumn by the rising water table.
You will want some form of drainage for your washing, showers, and so on. A simple soak away can be achieved by digging a hole at least 1 meter deep and filling with rubble and broken bricks then run a drainage pipe to the hole.
You will also want to ensure the area is safe from potential flood water, if it isn’t there are flood defences that can be put into place but this will come at a significant cost.
The bit no one likes to think about and face, but a very important factor to consider is sewage. How do you intend to deal with human waste?
The two main options you have are a septic tank or compost toilets. Personally I prefer the compost toilet option, it’s relatively cheap to build and maintain, you can easily move the toilets and it requires no third party to get involved. Of course there are disadvantages, your compost toilet will need to be away from the main living space.
Alterntively a septic tank can be installed which will allow for a modern toilet system in your living space. Septic tanks and installation are not cheap however and require maintenance.
There is far too much to cover in a single post, however there are plenty of books and blogs entirely dedicated to this subject. It’s well worth reading up and educating yourself on the subject before leaping into it. Though, many will tell you that you can never be prepared for everything and living off-grid is certainly no exception, but a head start is a must!