How To Live Off The Grid: The Ultimate Guide

Wondering how to live off the grid? Check out our ultimate guide to help you prepare for life off the grid. Spoiler alert: batteries required

Harold Thompson


Harold Thompson


Aug 3, 2023

How To Live Off The Grid: The Ultimate Guide

How to Live Off the Grid: The Ultimate Guide

So you want to learn how to live off grid... boy, do we have the guide for you! Believe it or not, there's a lot of ways to live off the grid. From survivalism and doomsday prepping, to private islands and desert compounds, to digital nomads and crypto communes, to glamping and #vanlife, the term "off the grid" can mean a myriad of different things to different people.

It may surprise you to know that 1.7 billion people are currently estimated to live off-grid, although a significant portion of that likely comes from the 600-770 million people who simply live without electricity whatsoever. In the U.S., roughly 250,000 earned the title of officially "off grid" in 2022.

The modern off-grid lifestyle has its roots in 1970's New Mexico and its pioneer, Michael Reynolds. Reynolds designed homes out of tin cans and discarded steel, which he called "Earthships." These original designs have since been iterated upon over the following decades to incorporate solar power.

Going off the grid involves more than just "disconnecting" your power from public electricity networks. It requires comprehensive planning, encompassing aspects of food production, waste management, heating, healthcare, security, transport, and acquiring a broad knowledge base and a variety of supplies and tools necessary for this self-reliant lifestyle.  

Below, we delve into what off-grid living entails, its various forms, and how you can initiate your off-grid journey with the right power source.

What Does Off The Grid Mean?

"Off the grid", or "off-grid", refers to a lifestyle (or state of being) of self-sufficiency where a person, building, or system operates independently without a reliance on public utilities. Utilities in the context of "off the grid" usually means those that supply electricity through a centralized grid network, but it can also extend to other centralized utilities like gas and water.

Off-grid living means living without a physical connection to the main electrical grid in your area. The perks of that are no bills from utility companies or retail electricity providers. Therefore, a hallmark of off-grid living is the ability to generate all your electricity to meet your own energy needs independently, usually through installing solar power systems, wind turbines, or other forms of power generators to gain complete energy autonomy.

In a broader sense, the off-grid lifestyle may also mean you don't use services like bank accounts or other public services, which could enable your activities to be monitored by the authorities. This is why when people say they or someone else is going "off the grid", it usually means not just physical disconnection from public utility networks, but a detachment from all societal tracking systems. However, when we refer to living "off grid" in this guide, we're broadly speaking about the concept of living energy independent; that is, without a connection to the larger electrical grid.

Living off-grid isn't without its problems. For instance, recent headlines told the tragic story of one family that moved to Colorado to live off-grid without properly preparing and wound up dead. As the sister of the deceased told The Colorado Gazette, they had no previous outdoors experience before embarking on their journey, and told no one else what they were planning to do.

This is why it's so important to prepare as much as you can before you deicide to live off-grid, and why you should read as many articles on the subject as you can. Off grid doesn't have to mean you live without any power whatsoever. As it turns out, only about 1% of those who live off the grid actually do so "naturalistically" according to the foremost cultural researcher on the topic.

This guide is meant to introduce you to the concept and share some potential ideas of what you can expect, but it is by no means meant to be your only resource. For a step by step guide to growing your own food, creating your own irrigation systems, or wiring your own power, you should probably look for in-depth resources on those particular topics.

A Guide For How to Live Off The Grid

First, the costs: 

  • Going off-grid entails initial costs, such as land, construction of the home and outbuildings, a power system, well digging, septic system, and equipment.
  • The expenditure can range from $10,000 to over $200,000 depending on the quality of land, size, and the complexity of systems.
  • There are also recurring expenses with off-grid living, including property taxes, septic tank maintenance, replacement parts for equipment, vehicle fuel, propane, heating wood, insurance, and equipment rentals. While comparable to grid-tied living costs, these can surprise those unprepared for them.
  • A reliable source of income remains necessary for off-grid living to cover recurring costs.

You can summarize the key elements of off grid living in these four steps:

  1. Attain shelter. Find or create a home away from urban centers with access to natural resources such as timber and water.
  2. Attain power. Harness renewable energy with installations like solar panels, and consider a secondary power source like a wind turbine.
  3. Attain water. Ensure water and waste management by professionally drilling a well and installing a septic tank on your property.
  4. Attain food. Attain food self-sufficiency by growing and preserving your own produce, and hunting or foraging on your land.

But let's break that down more specifically:

  1. Procure Land with Natural Resources: First, it's essential to find a suitable location for your off-grid life. Selecting land for off-grid living requires consideration of its size, water availability, and fertility, along with local laws regarding off-grid living. The cost of land varies by location and size, with an average cost of $3,160 per acre in the US as of 2020. Opt for an affordable piece of land distanced from metropolitan areas, but ensure it has road access and is abundant in natural resources like trees and water. Be aware of local laws regarding off-grid living and potential land taxes or zoning regulations.
  2. Acquire or Build an Off-grid Dwelling: For an off-grid lifestyle, most traditional homes, especially those in urban areas, may not be suitable due to their reliance on public utilities. Instead, explore alternatives such as buying a rural home for conversion, building an off-grid house from scratch, or investing in a tiny home. For more mobility, consider living in a modern RV, or join an off-grid community to maintain some social connections while living independently. Shelter options for off-grid living are diverse and legality varies. Cost-effective solutions include used RVs and shipping containers, A-frame homes, and log cabins. However, legality and building codes might limit choices. 
  3. Develop Solar Power Independence: One of the cornerstones of off-grid living is energy self-sufficiency. Powering an off-grid home can be done through solar, wind, or hydro resources. Solar panels, installed by professionals, can provide independent electricity by harnessing sunlight. These systems also have the capability to power hot water heaters. Costs for a comfortable off-grid solar system setup can range from $20,000 to $30,000.
  4. Plan to Generate Heat: Various heating options exist for off-grid homes, including woodstoves, active solar heating, electric heaters powered by renewables, propane heaters, and biomass heating. The cost of a wood stove ranges from $1,000 to $7,000, and the cost of firewood per heating season can range from $300 to $3,000.
  5. Secure a Backup Power Source: To mitigate potential issues with solar panels, such as extended cloudy weather or mechanical problems, it's advisable to have a secondary power source, like a backup battery or generator. Micro hydropower turbines or wind turbines can serve as robust alternatives, depending on your location and resources. For a comprehensive list of battery options for living off-grid, scroll down to the section on batteries. 
  6. Arrange for Fresh Water Supply: Water sourcing and management is a crucial aspect of off-grid living. Most off-grid households rely on wells for their water, which can cost between $1,500 to $15,000 for 150 feet, or use rainwater harvesting systems that cost between $1,000 to $3,000. The reliability and safety of water supply is crucial, so consider hiring professionals to drill a well. Although self-dug wells can serve the purpose, deeper, professionally-drilled wells significantly reduce the likelihood of water contamination. 
  7. Install a Waste Treatment System: An efficient sewage treatment system like a septic tank is essential for off-grid living. Ensure you have a legal and effective way to manage waste on your property. Septic tanks are commonly required, but some areas also allow composting and incinerator toilets. The cost of installing a septic system can range from $3,000 to $8,000, while approved composting toilets start around $1,700.Professional installation is recommended given the complexities of excavation and setup.
  8. Implement a Greywater System (Optional): Though not essential, a greywater system could be a valuable addition to your off-grid setup. By treating water from dishwashing, sinks, showers, and baths for reuse in toilets or irrigation, it can extend the lifetime of your well.
  9. Cultivate and Preserve Food: Growing your own food enhances off-grid viability. Aim to supplement your diet with homegrown fruits and vegetables, and learn methods like freezing and canning to preserve your produce. While producing some of your own food is common, living entirely off the land may be unrealistic. The cost of starting a home vegetable garden is around $238 according to the National Gardening Association, but raising animals requires a larger investment.
  10. Hunt or Forage: To further food self-sufficiency, consider hunting, fishing, or gathering food from your environment. It's important to note that not all off-gridders fully rely on these methods and may still make occasional grocery store trips.
  11. Secure a Vehicle: A vehicle can facilitate trips to town and transportation of gear, but it will incur additional expenses like insurance, gas, and maintenance.
  12. Gather Supplies and Tools: Depending on your lifestyle and comfort preferences, a variety of tools and supplies will be necessary for off-grid living. These could range from a hand-crank washing machine to farming equipment.
  13. Build any Outbuildings: Additional structures like a toolshed, greenhouse, barn, workshop, or animal stalls may be necessary depending on your lifestyle. Costs for these can vary significantly. 
  14. Security and Fencing: It's important to consider various threats including harsh weather, natural disasters, wild animals, and pests. Fencing will likely be a significant expense, with an electric fence for a garden and orchard ranging from $3,000 to $4,000.
  15. Healthcare: Don't overlook healthcare needs while living off-grid. Be prepared for a higher risk of injuries and ensure you have a healthcare plan in place.
  16. Stockpile Seasonal Clothing: It's important to have a sufficient stockpile of clothing to suit different weather conditions. This will help you manage any potential power outages or additional needs.
  17. Maintain Physical Fitness: The off-grid lifestyle often demands physical exertion, making regular exercise and maintaining good health vital. Focus on strengthening your core and upper arms to facilitate daily tasks.
  18. Minimize Electricity Usage: The transition to off-grid living often means adopting a more energy-conscious lifestyle, including reducing the use of high-energy appliances and implementing more manual labor. Given that you're generating your own power, it's crucial to keep usage in check. Simple adjustments like using LED bulbs, turning off idle appliances, and properly insulating your home can significantly reduce energy consumption.
  19. Reduce Household Waste: Minimizing waste improves your self-sufficiency and reduces environmental impact. Techniques like composting, recycling, and smart shopping can greatly contribute to this goal.
  20. Adopt Creative Saving and Earning Strategies: Initial setup for off-grid living can be expensive, and unexpected costs may arise. Save up before going off-grid and continue to save whenever possible afterward. Additionally, monetize your hobbies or off-grid experiences for extra income.
  21. Expand Your Off-grid Knowledge: Living off-grid requires a wide range of skills and knowledge. Investing in learning resources like books, courses, and visits to off-grid properties can help reduce costly mistakes. Immerse yourself in resources about off-grid living to make informed decisions. Participating in workshops on related topics can equip you with valuable skills for this lifestyle. Even if you're not going fully off the grid, being more self-sufficient and environmentally conscious has its own rewards.

Living Off the Grid: How, What and Why

Going off the grid has become an increasingly popular lifestyle choice for those seeking self-sufficiency, cost savings, and environmental stewardship.

Why people decide to live off-grid stems from the desire for a "serene escape" from the bustling urban life, and the opportunity to embrace a sustainable, self-reliant lifestyle.

However, the journey towards off-grid living isn't always a smooth one. It requires dedication, skill development, and a strategic accumulation of the right resources.

An essential aspect of living independently from modern utilities is a reliable power source of your own. This typically takes the form of solar panels with some form of battery storage system.

Individuals seeking self-sufficiency and a harmonious relationship with nature often choose off-grid living, focusing on generating their own power using solar, wind, or hydropower systems.

Living Off-Grid: A Lifestyle Choice

Living off the grid implies a complete or partial separation from these centralized services, instead relying on alternative, self-sustaining means to provide these necessities.

Off-grid living can offer increased independence and sustainability, a lower carbon footprint, and potential cost savings.

Transitioning from a conventional way of living to an off-grid lifestyle offers a chance to reconnect with fundamental aspects of life – freedom, nature, and community.

While it's often been associated with a greater connection to nature and a reduction in materialism, it's not a given. Although, off-grid living does involve making more conscious and sustainable choices about consumption out of necessity.

One effective solution to this requirement are solar generators. These devices comprise efficient solar panels and portable power stations, converting sunlight into electricity and enabling the powering of various appliances.

Exploring The Types Of Off-Grid Living

Adopting an off-grid lifestyle can foster independence and reduce reliance on public utilities. Here are a few different forms of off-grid living:

  1. Extreme: This form of off-grid living arises out of dire circumstances, such as natural disasters. This lifestyle involves living in a shelter without access to standard electricity hookups or running water. You may have to rely on a nearby potable river or lake for water. Any power you have is from a generator or natural-occurring source.
  2. Partial: Unlike extreme off-grid living, partial off-grid living seeks to significantly reduce dependency on municipal resources while improving self-sufficiency. This typically involves having a septic system instead of connecting with a public sewer system, using wood burners for heating instead of electric heaters, and installing solar panels on your home alongside battery storage.
  3. Modern: Suitable for those willing to enjoy modern conveniences while staying self-sufficient, modern off-grid living allows access to a variety of power sources, modern amenities, and clean water. You can also opt for raising livestock and cultivating your own food, but you'll need a different guide to help you do that.

Reasons To Adopt Off-Grid Living

The escalating effects of global warming are pressuring more people into adopting the off-grid lifestyle as a means of environmental protection. In addition to minimizing environmental impacts, it also offers a solution to high utility bills. Here are a few more reasons to consider off-grid living.

  1. Low Carbon Footprint: Living off the grid encourages a reliance on renewable energy, which can lead to sustainable practices that reduce waste and increase self-sufficiency. This is the central conceit of the "Earthships" from the 70s.
  2. Reduced Stress and Anxiety: When you live closer to nature, it promotes relaxation, which contributes to improved mental and physical health. This might be why the #vanlife movement has caught on so quickly. Good vibes only!
  3. Boosted Confidence: By living off grid, you learn new problem-solving skills for survival without public utilities. This can foster self-confidence and enhances self-reliance, which is why doomsday preppers tend to prioritize these skills.
  4. Embracing Minimalism: Disconnecting from modern power sources and selecting renewable ones involves simplifying one's life and possessions, contributing to a heightened sense of fulfillment and purpose. This is about as close to homesteading and living off the land as you can get in our modern world.

Weighing The Pros And Cons Of Off-Grid Living

Before delving into the specifics of how to live off the grid, it's important to understand the potential benefits and drawbacks of this lifestyle. Carefully weighing the pros and cons can assist you in making a calculated decision.


  1. Financial Savings: Escalating electricity costs are pushing more people to seek alternative power solutions. Off-grid living can result in significant savings by cutting down utility, food, and general consumption expenses.
  2. Sustainable Lifestyle: As off-grid living significantly reduces carbon footprints, as it fosters an eco-friendly lifestyle.
  3. Protection from Power Outages: Relying on grid-supplied electricity leaves you susceptible to power outages, so when you transition to off-grid living can alleviate concerns about sudden grid-level blackouts that you have no control over. When you pair your home's renewable energy system with energy storage like a battery, you gain a certain amount of protection.
  4. (Some) Freedom From Government: While living off grid has different meanings depending on your location and distinct level of "off-grid", the general consensus is that supplying your own utilities can free you from some of the control that local governments have over you. For instance, if you build your off-grid home in an unincorporated plot of land, you won't be beholden to some of the local city's regulations. Because of this, many states have passed regulations specifically targeted towards folks who live off grid, so be mindful of the rules in whatever area you're considering building in.


  1. High Initial Cost: Setting up your energy source, water supply, and waste disposal systems can require a hefty initial investment. For example, it can cost as little as $25,000 for an off-grid tiny home to $350,000 for a "ZeroHouse" with built-in compost toilets and solar systems. And for just solae alone, an off-grid solar systems can cost an average of $45,000–$65,000, which is nearly 2x the cost of your typical solar system connected to the grid. The average monthly expenses can cost between $35 up to $2,200.
  2. Significant Work Involved: Going off-grid implies a considerable amount of work, including maintaining power and water sources (which as we just covered, come with significant expenses to maintain). See below for a case study on the work required to go off the grid.
  3. Less Local Services: As mentioned above, if you set your off-grid community in an unincorporated area, there are certain cons that come with that, such as fewer services, less road maintenance (see below for a case study on living off-grid), less representation in government, and higher insurance premiums. Plus, certain regulations have been passed to create disincentives for those who go off grid.

How to Live Off-Grid: A Case Study

Check out this series on off-grid living from Eric Mack at CNET. Mack details his first-hand experience as a family that transitioned to an off-grid lifestyle during the pandemic and detailed the pros and cons across a series of articles. Prompted by the frustrations of pandemic lockdown, Eric and his wife decided to transition to an off-grid lifestyle. They aimed to reduce living expenses by eliminating rent and utility bills through moving to an "off grid" location. So they purchased a small, unfinished house located in an off-grid community outside their town. Let's look at Mack's experience as a case study.

The family adopted a minimalist approach, residing in a home under 1,000 square feet with a 1.23 kilowatts-rated solar array. The house had a unique architectural style inspired by Earthships, but lacked crucial infrastructure like solar systems, electrical wiring, or plumbing. Eric decided to take on these tasks himself, using his past DIY experience and leveraging online resources like YouTube and consultation with knowledgeable friends and relatives.

The cost of living off-grid

Mack said that the cost savings from the components he used equated to the price of the property itself within three years. However, the transition came with its fair share of unexpected expenses and big purchases.

Mack's water supply was handled through rain catchment systems. Taking control of their water supply necessitated big purchases, including two 1,600-gallon plastic tanks for water storage, a waterless compost toilet, and an on-demand hot water heater. They used a community well and delivery by tanker trucks during dry spells. To conserve water, they swapped a flushing toilet for a compost toilet and an outhouse, and reused gray water for gardening and irrigation.

The implementation of off-grid electrical and plumbing systems primarily took place during COVID lockdowns. The process involved consulting professional installers, experienced handy people, and online forum discussions. The cost variance, especially for installing a new solar system, was significant with estimates ranging from $2,000 to $20,000. Eventually, a local solar industry expert guided the setup of a system costing between $3,000 and $4,000, enough to meet most of their needs.

Among the retained or newly added "luxuries" were a modest-size flat screen TV, a conventional washing machine, and a wood pellet stove for heat. Mack said this was an unusual choice in their off-grid community where propane or simple wood stoves are common.

Extra storage space, which often goes overlooked, was another significant expense, especially in remote locations. An outdoor shed was one of their earliest projects. And off-grid living typically requires more than a conventional vehicle to transport supplies. In their case, a truck or trailer was needed to haul building supplies, water, wood pellets, and more, increasing fuel expenses.

The single largest expense for Mack and his family? The cost of repairing a long dirt driveway that turned into a mud bog during monsoon season.

How To Set Up A Solar Energy System Off-Grid

Mack's reliance on solar power for electricity opened his eyes to how basic geometry could impact the energy collected. The magic of solar power - deriving energy directly from the sun - is underscored by the need to grapple with the Earth's axial tilt and the varying amounts of sunlight it brings throughout the year.

He also found that living off the grid made him acutely aware of the difference in daylight hours between seasons. Per Mack's analysis, there is a daily energy deficit of over 10 hours between summer and winter solstice for most people living in the US.

Mack originally set the angle of his panels to split the difference between summer and winter solstice. but soon optimized the angle to maximize power with solar panel upgrades, such as installing an adjustable racking system to optimize sunlight capture during different seasons.

Mack came to understand that winter not only brought less sunlight and thus less electricity, but also an increased demand for energy. With people indoors more due to the cold, there is increased use of lights, screens, heaters, and more. Additionally, the performance of batteries stored outdoors can degrade in cold weather. The energy demands are further compounded by occasional multiday snowstorms that cover the panels and block out the sun.

Mack's experiences highlighted the importance of having a backup energy source, in their case, a generator running on gasoline or propane. To mitigate reliance on the generator, he suggests installing more panels and/or battery capacity to maximize the use of sunny days.

How To Set Up Energy Storage For Living Off-Grid

To power the initial solar energy system, Mack used a pair of six-volt golf cart batteries wired in series to create a 12-volt system, connected to an inverter that managed the wattage from the solar panels and a 4-kilowatt backup generator. The system was small compared to modern energy consumption standards, so the family disposed of energy-intensive appliances like high-powered vacuum cleaners, clothes dryers, and Instapots.

To Mack, ensuring all electrical gadgets functioned as if they were on the grid was of utmost importance, which meant he would eventually need to install high-quality batteries, inverters, charge controllers, breakers, and wires (as cheap inverters often result in damaged appliances).

His initial choice of flooded lead acid golf cart batteries, which require significant maintenance, was eventually replaced by safer, lower-maintenance, longer-lasting, and costlier lithium batteries. Ultimately, Eric Mack decided to invest in a set of lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4, or LFP for short) batteries, which replaced the lead acid batteries with new lithium units that Mack cited as costing 3x as much but are designed to last 2-3x as long.

These are different from the lithium-ion batteries you'd find in a smartphone or an electric vehicle. They can't pack quite as much energy into the same space, but they're safer, more stable and handle harsh conditions better. These batteries require less maintenance, can be drawn down to almost zero without causing damage (unlike lead acid ones), and don't need to be kept in a well-ventilated area, all of which make them more suitable for off-grid living.

In fact, lithium batteries can cost up to 5x more than lead-acid batteries per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of storage. To Mack's point, under the right conditions, LFP batteries can last for more than a decade, which explains one analysis that found LFP batteries to be 2.8x cheaper when comparing the cost per stored and supplied kWh (in that the initial cost is offset by the fact that you may not need to replace them for 10-15 years).

After Mack installed the LFP batteries, he noticed a significant improvement in his energy supply. He could use electricity more freely without having to worry about running the generator or damaging the batteries. His house felt more like a 'normal' house, just one that happened to be off the grid.

Battery technology was the key to his independence. It allowed him to live comfortably off-grid, with a reliable source of electricity that he could control. He came to understand electricity in a new light, notably likening it to water in its behavior, flowing across the path of least resistance and filling reservoirs with energy.

Key Takeaways

Mack soon realized that living off grid wasn't just about survival, it was about learning to value resources, understanding how systems work, and appreciating the role that energy plays in his daily lives. Here are some key points from his story:

  1. Energy Conservation: Despite having free solar energy, the family maintained a conservative approach to electricity usage to adhere to their minimalist lifestyle goals. Mack used a device called a Kill-a-Watt to monitor the power consumption of all appliances.
  2. Networking and DIY: Mack learned that having a network of skilled people can make the off-grid transition more manageable and affordable. He recommended organizing work parties where friends and family can help with projects, ensuring mutual benefit by reciprocating when they need assistance.
  3. Understanding and Appreciating Resources: Mack realized that taking responsibility for essential utilities like water and electricity led to a deeper respect and appreciation for these resources, leading to more conscious consumption.
  4. Solar Panel Installation and Maintenance: Eric recommended installing solar panels on the ground if possible due to easier maintenance, potential for a tracking system, and reduced need for expensive emergency shutdown safety equipment. He also suggested buying used or discounted solar panels, as they're generally reliable and can perform efficiently for decades.

In summary: building DIY skills, savvy resource management, social networking, and smart research is what's required for a successful transition to live off the grid.

A Leap Worth Taking

Living off the grid is not a decision to be taken lightly. It requires significant planning, financial investment, and a shift in lifestyle. It seems that the benefits for those who embrace off-grid living, such as increased independence, reduced environmental impact, and a deeper connection with nature, can often outweigh the challenges (as long as you're prepared).

Whether you want freedom from utility bills, independence from local governments, a lower carbon footprint, or simply a more meaningful connection with the natural world, off-grid living can be an empowering and fulfilling choice.

Did this guide help you? Why or why not? Email us and let us know! 

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