Thursday, March 12, 2015


I'm hearing from a number of people who are wanting to live off-grid like I do. I suspect they think that it's a case of having free electricity and living life as usual. I don't see it as being that simple. So I'd like to answers all the various questions emailed me via the post. 

.....Off-grid electricity isn't free. It's paid for upfront with the cost of installing a system, be it solar, hydro, or wind. It continues to cost via maintenance, repairs, replacements. 

.....Basic home systems are moderately low usage packages. Most people used to being on-grid are energy hogs, even when they think they are conserving. So if one really plans on switching to off-grid, you need a plan to use a heck of a lot less electricity than you're use to. 

.....You're the repairman! Yup, you need to learn about how your off-grid system works and how to keep it running. Off-grid systems need to be maintained and repaired (so does the grid, but the power company does that for you). 

.....Power back up. Batteries can only store power for a few days of normal home usage. So what happens if there's no sun, or wind, or the creek dries up during a drought? You'll need a back up system, such as a generator. 

.....Learning curve. Not much to learn when you're on the grid, other than learning to pay your bills on time. But having your own off-grid system means learning how electricity works, what the various words mean (watt, volt, amp, resistance, etc), how to figure the equations, how to wire the system, how to care for batteries, how to keep it operating, and how to not kill yourself. If you manage to kill yourself the first day, at least you won't have to worry about learning the rest of the stuff. 

.....Learn to use less. (And if you killed yourself the first day, you've accomplished this step most effectively.) This is a biggie for making a successful transition to off-grid. Even those of us who think we are conserving really well while on-grid will have a surprise to see what life is like off-grid. For many people its a steep, tough learning curve. 

.....The feeling of freedom. Many off-gridders say that they don't intend to rehook-up to the grid. They like the independence, of being out from under the thumb of Big Oil, lack of monthly bills. They have a sense of energy self-sufficiency. There's a bit of security of knowing that when the grid goes down, they will still have power. There's a "feels good" feeling off-gridders report. 

Ok, could you learn to use less? We had too. Yes. It was difficult for us to change our habits. Now it seems normal....and easy. But it wasn't in the beginning. 
.....stop using energy hogs. No clothes dryer. No regular freezer. Efficient refrigerator only (no ice maker, no water filter/dispenser). No hot tub/jacuzzi. No electric range/oven. No electric hot water. No dehumidifier. No anything that gobbles electricity. 
.....limit the use of energy users. Limited use of hair dryer, clothes iron, kitchen appliances, electric tools, etc. 
.....eliminate or unplug the constant drains -- unplug chargers, eliminate electric clocks, no nightlights, no outdoor floodlights on for periods of time, no lights on in unoccupied rooms, nothing running unless actually being used (such as computers, printers, TV, etc). 
.....change all light bulbs to LED. Only switch on lights that you are actually using. 
.....use power tools, clothes washer, vacuum cleaner, etc on sunny mornings where sunny afternoons are expected to recharge the batteries. 
.....change habits to eliminate unnecessary power use. Example, use an iPod rather than running the stereo system all day for background music.....or eliminate the background music altogether. Kick the TV habit. Eat more raw foods rather than baked or broiled. 

We took dozens of steps during our change to off-grid. Some were giant steps. Others were baby steps. 
...change all incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent. We now are gradually switching to LED. 
...use a propane frig. That's how we started, but we quickly discovered that they use a lot of propane. We switched to a small energy efficient electric frig. Then when the time was right, switched to a dc chest frig. a chest freezer at someone else's house that is on-grid. Many off-gridders do that here. We finally bought a dc chest freezer when our electric one quit working. It feels like luxury having the freezer in my kitchen. 
...learn to use a propane on-demand hot water heater. Also, we learned how to cut our propane useage by over half. 
...use a clothesline to dry the laundry. 
...use appliances and tools on sunny mornings. 
...limit dependency on electric kitchen appliances and gadgets. We actually changed our eating habits when we moved here. Not so much to avoid electricity usage, but it turned out to be a nice side benefit. I no longer use a breadmaker, seldom ever use the oven, actually seldom use electric appliances on a routine basis. 
...switch from desktop computers to laptops, and later to iPads. 
...and take dozens of little steps to cut back our dependence on electricity. Every light turned off, every item unplugged, every electric item all helps break the electricity habit. 

When we were on-grid, using a non-electric item took a conscious effort. Now it's the opposite. I'm aware of each time I use an electrical device. It's a mindset change, I suppose. 


1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. This is the lifestyle shock folks don't realize will happen because we have no true concept of how we use electricity. I've read more than one off-grid blog where the day begins by checking to see if there's enough juice to use the electric coffee pot or kettle, and sometimes there's not! I sincerely doubt Dan and I will ever get off grid, but I think about our power usage every time we're faced with replacing an appliance or now, with building a barn. Our modern lifestyle costs us more than we think.