Off-grid living


Continuing the discussion from Opinions: battery powered:

I thought a topic about off-grid living might be interesting following mention in the thread above.

Currently I live with one grid service (electricity) with rest being off-grid. I think electricity is maybe the hardest one to sort out both in terms of cost and potential impact on lifestyle. I like the idea of not using more energy than necessary although I think my wife-to-be might get a bit unhappy if we ran out of electricity on a cold winter night!

So, for the moment, grid electricity will stay. I do plan to start experimenting with solar energy though for a small workshop and polytunnel irrigation system I want to build myself and maybe scale that up over time to cover as much of our electricity use as possible…

Other off-grid type things I plan to do include rainwater harvesting and some grey water recycling (bath/shower/sink water will be used in the toilet cistern before heading to the septic tank). I’m also hoping to adopt some earthship methods for keeping the workshop mentioned above warm - mainly wall mass and the south facing greenhouse section.

I’d love to read other’s experiences and thoughts on the topic.


That is very interesting. The whole Free Party scene in the UK is like an urban version of this ethic. Perhaps they would be interested, too. We have a lot of sun in the desert; the Rave could eventually to signify the announcement of the establishment of an off-grid power station.

How do they do it at Burning Man? I’ve never been, but they must have off-grid party power tech down to an exact science by now.


I had visions of building an earthship myself some years ago. However, regs and land in Scotland were prohibitive to a sole individual. If you haven’t already I recommend reading Michael Reynold’s books on the subject. (His film is pretty good too. I went to a UK premier and was surprised to see him there taking questions afterward. Was a great evening!).


Mostly big stinky noisy generators, but some go solar. There are definitely some pros out there.

When we lived off the grid, our solar panels were from the 70s, our batteries were worn out old telephone exchange batteries. Nothing in the system was top of the line, recent, or in perfect repair. In fact, it was all in pretty bad shape.

This meant that during the winter, when there wasn’t a lot of sun, sometimes there’d be a bunch of us sitting around the dinner table and someone would say “have i had too much to drink/smoke/etc or is it getting darker in here?” and the answer was “it’s getting darker in here”.

The inverter switch was located in my wife and I’s bedroom, and it emitted a pretty loud buzz, so at the end of the night we switched it off altogether. Not only did the inverter stop buzzing, but you start to realize how the 60hz permeates the air, everywhere you go, and you never notice it until its gone.

Some appliances were simply out of the question. Anything that generated heat with electricity: blow dryers, hair irons, clothing irons, etc. The refrigerator was tiny and ran on propane. Heat came from a wood burning stove. Internet access was dialup, but this was 1998-1999, so that was fine.

A lot of people would say this all sounds awful. It does kind of sound that way. But I lived it for two years, and it was honestly just fine. We kept our full time Silicon Valley jobs. We even worked from home over dialup at times. We learned to adapt. To me, that was the key lesson. It wasn’t about technology at all in the end. It was about eliminating waste for the most part. When you look really hard at your own energy usage, when you’re ruthless about separating “need” from “want”, you may find that the vast majority of your energy use is entirely optional.


Yes, it’s the only proper human quest now: to scale back our monstrous techno-mechanical marvels to non-desctructive levels of power consumption.

I still like the exer-cycle as power source. For that matter, can’t we generate power through dancing?


I love living off-grid… its given me a much better understanding of the resources we use.

here we have photovoltaic for electric, solar water panels for heat, biomass incinerator (using almond shells/olive stone - ‘waste’ , for winter heating), (registered!) well for water, wifi max for internet :wink:

of course we do have an diesel generator for backup (about 2 days a year), and do use gas bottles for cooking, electric cookers are still a bit heavy for solar…though we use a wood burning pizza oven as much as possible.

modern technologies makes it easier… we have quite a large setup, as we have a house + 3 apartments (for ‘rural tourism’), so we can generate 15-20kWh/day brings a smile to my face, when I see my panels generating 4kW, and I’m really looking forward to ‘sharing’ this experience with our guests next year :slight_smile:

I do live in sunny southern spain , so that helps… but modern solar, can run modern amenities, e.g. underflooring heating (pumps are a big consumer for us), salt water pool (again, pumps hit you)


So fancy! Sounds really lovely.

I wasn’t trying to scare anybody away from solar with my tale of old funky equipment. Rather, I was trying to convey that it’s worthwhile to find a way to forego most of the amenities we take for granted for a period of your life. Even if afterwards you decide (like I have) to reintroduce many of those luxuries later, you’ll do so with a newfound appreciation for what they really do offer you (and also what they cost, in more dimensions than mere money, as well as what they can never ever provide).


yeah, I totally agree with you…

when we setup, frankly, having lived in cities all our lives we had no idea of our consumption… so we scaled back…

actually, with panels, inverters, and batteries being much more efficient these days, and also wide availability of ‘low energy’ devices (e.g. washing machines, lcd tvs, led lights ) - I don’t think electricity is the big issue these days (if you have regular sun, or wind if you use wind generators ;))
… though as I alluded to, some things are really surprising, like how many pumps are used in a modern house…

but there have been two massive eye openers for us:

  • water - amazed how much you go through, and how precious it is… unlike solar, its a real limited supply… and its difficult to ‘extract it’ , make it suitable for drinking (especially for ‘guest’ consumption)

  • heating - these systems can be really complex, especially to make them efficient… doing things like sizing solar water panels, incinerators… makes you realise the real value of investment in insulation… its not about saving money, its about saving resources, being more efficient.

we are not open yet, but Ive enjoy showing family and friends our installations, showing them what the grid really provides them… turning on a tap, has so much infrastructure behind it, which I certainly did not really appreciate…


we do this… though, as its so dry here, we really only get enough water to cover a bit of irrigation.

be careful with grey water, we take ours from all bathrooms/kitchens (toilets down a separate black water system into a bio septic tank) , it tends to have quite a lot of ‘fat’ in it, even if your using only biological products (important if you want to re-use it)…

we ‘accidentally’ got one thing right, we decided to put out rainwater (from all our guttering on the house etc) thru our grey water system, this is a bit ‘illogical’ , but its had a massive bonus, that when we get rainfall,it tends to be heavy, it flushes all the ‘c**p’ out of our grey water system… ive no idea how we’d clean it otherwise.

as I said though, we are in a catch 22 here, water is not an issue it the winter, then in the summer we have little/no rain… so the sure we get a few thousand liters of from grey water, but that’s non much for the few (thirsty) plants we have :wink:

(oh, and you cant keep grey water long, without it smelling… unless you chuck chemicals in it, which kind of defeats the purpose!?)


In places like California, where winters are wet and summers are dry as a bone, one strategy that our local water agency is pursuing is to recharge the aquifer by pumping surface water into specific places where groundwater can’t be easily recharged without intervention. It’s obviously a very geology-dependent approach that will not be a silver bullet everywhere.

I’m feeling ultra-fortunate (like silly crazy super lucky) that we managed to buy a farm in a spot that is sitting on a particularly rich source of groundwater. The local geology is very “patchy”. Lots of pockets for water, very unevenly distributed.


It’s a shame that innovative ways of doing things are often labelled as non-compliant and made really difficult to achieve. I haven’t seen that documentary yet - downloading it off Vimeo now. I found this video on youtube a while ago which is an interesting overview:

I like my old 1930s cottage so won’t be knocking it down to build an entire earthship but certainly some of the systems and principles could be adapted to how it runs and on a smaller scale to the workshop I plan to build.


That sounds like a great experience Jason.
While I enjoy technology and find that side of things interesting, for me it’s about doing something more sustainable that isn’t (totally) reliant on what the powers that be have decided my choices should be. And thinking a bit more about the energy (and other resources) that we do use as you say above.


That sounds like a great setup.

I was reading something the other day that said “propane is the dirty little secret of off-grid.” It does seem quite prevalent at times and I sometimes wonder how well many situations would manage without it. But, it’s maybe an acceptable solution compared to the alternatives. I honestly have’t looked into the pros and cons of propane production etc.

Thanks for the thoughts on grey water. Definitely need to research that a bit more! But, what you write about putting the rain water through that system could certainly be doable here. The video about earthships I linked above talks about grey water filtering although it doesn’t go into great detail how they achieve this.

Water in general isn’t really an issue here. I’m in Ireland so there’s an abundance of rainwater to collect and the house has a well that we’ve sorted out with all the necessary filtering to make fit for human consumption. Getting enough sun could be harder but I think solar is probably the way to go for my initial experiments as there isn’t really enough room here to do wind power well. Plus solar is a little less obvious to the authorities :wink:


This is why we live in a farm house built in the 60s instead of building a new house on an empty lot. Just being compliant with seismic codes around here would have required a $60K foundation before we put up a single wall.


Semi off-topic but this thread popped up so I thought I would ask…

My wife and I recently bought a travel trailer with the intent to get ourselves and our kids (and dog) out of the house as much as possible on weekends. So far, we love it. We have not ventured far from town and don’t plan any extensive activities - we usually just find a spot by a lake and hang out. An occasional walk or bike ride to get the kids to nap. A fire and cold beverages at night. We plan to take some bigger trips this fall. We used to tent camp a lot before the kids arrived - the kids raised our comfort requirements a bit (A/C for 90+ degree days and a clean, dry place to hang out on rainy days).

I realize its only part-time “off-grid” living but something about being away from the house and all the looming chores/maintenance allows us to relax a bit. I tend to also get some quiet time at night to play some music outside, which contributes a bit of creative energy.

Anyone else here doing anything similar? Any advice?


we had a 5V single-rail power system at the buchla ranch in ukiah
solar panels by the trout pond. surely 70s vintage
(formerly-little-known trivia)


Sounds like fun :slight_smile:

You might like this short but inspiring thread: