Living off grid has a lot going for it. You’re more independent when you’re not relying on outside suppliers for necessities like water and power. You can save a fortune on overpriced utilities, and also insulate yourself from crises – remember how energy prices spiked after the 2020 pandemic?
You’re also building in a layer of resilience. If you’re not connected to the grid you won’t be affected by problems with the grid. If a storm brings down power lines that’s only a problem if your electricity arrives through those lines.
For preppers there are other big advantages to being off grid. It’s excellent training for surviving in a post-collapse world; if society collapses the utility grid will be an early casualty.
Everyone will be off grid, and if you’ve been living that way for a while you have a huge head start. Related to that, if you’re off grid already the transition to a crisis will be more seamless. Everyone will face challenges when the world as we know it ends. For many the biggest challenge will be surviving without power and water being delivered on demand. If you’ve been living off grid, though, you won’t have this problem.
You’ve already set everything up, got used to how it works and ironed out the bugs. When everything falls apart you can focus on coping with other things, because where your water and energy come from is already under control.
I don’t live off the grid, usually, but I decided it would be a good idea to try it and see how I got on.
Would This Be Possible?
Before starting my experiment I sat down and worked out what going off-grid would actually mean. Obviously utility connections were out, so I wasn’t going to be using mains electricity, gas or water.
Did I want to be totally self-sufficient, though, or would it be OK to buy things I can’t produce myself?
The reality is, right now, I’m not in a position to be self-sufficient. The big drawback is that I don’t have enough land to grow all the crops I’d need, or to keep any livestock except maybe a couple of chickens.
So for my one-month experiment should I rely on my food stockpiles, then build them up again later, or would going to the grocery store be acceptable?
In the end I decided that I’d rely completely on my own stockpiles and resources for a month, with one exception – the internet. I’d throw the main power supply switch, turn off the gas and water, and live off what I could produce or already had stored, but I couldn’t disable my internet connection because then I wouldn’t be able to work for a month. Obviously in a real crisis that wouldn’t be an issue, but it just wasn’t an option for this trial.
So what did that leave me with? For power I have 1,200W solar panel setup that will cover the essentials during the day, as long as I don’t try to run the PC and much of anything else at the same time.
Any surplus power from the panels goes into a pair of 200AH batteries, but I don’t live in the sunniest part of the world, so I can’t rely on having too much power available from them at night. If I urgently need power at night I have a small gas generator that will put out 1,800W consistently and 2,550W peak.
I had 110 gallons of drinking water stored in a pair of blue barrels, and a rainwater barrel to collect rain from the roof for non-drinking purposes. I had a composting toilet, a month’s worth of canned protein and vegetables, three times that of rice, pasta and beans, plus a small vegetable garden that would add at least some fresh produce to my diet.
How Did It Go?
With my house cut off from utilities, I quickly identified some changes I’d need to make in my routine. Unless I wanted to run the generator for long periods every day, work would need to be done during daylight when the solar panels, with their output stabilized by the batteries and inverted to domestic voltage, would be enough to run my PC reliably.
The good news was that I could also run my crockpot from it, so if I prepared a meal after lunch and put everything in the crockpot it would be cooked by the time the sun went down and the panels stopped working for the day.
A couple of times I didn’t quite get dinner cooked in time, but the batteries managed to cope with the extra demand. I also used a charcoal grill to cook outdoors when the weather allowed. This works fine for burning wood, and in a long-term situation it would also be easy enough to make charcoal for it.
I did find that, unless I wanted to run the generator, what I could do after sunset was limited. The batteries held enough power to run my laptop for an hour or two, or boil the kettle a couple of times, but I had to be very careful about how much power I used.
Switching lights on was a habit I had to get out of, because while lights don’t draw a lot of power in the big scheme of things, leaving them on for hours adds up. I tried lighting my living space with candles and oil lamps, but these are basically hopeless for anything more than avoiding walking into furniture in the dark.
The solution was rechargeable LED lanterns. You can get these on Amazon for less than $30. I just plugged them in to charge during the day, then used them at night.
They still don’t replace domestic lighting but they’re more than bright enough for reading, doing small repairs and so on.
The ones I got were rated as having a 12-hour battery life. They don’t; I found it’s more like eight hours. That’s still enough to get you through to bedtime, though. You could also use a Coleman lantern or something similar, but these consume fuel.
As long as you have a way to generate electricity an LED lantern is basically resource-free and will give you light until you run the battery through a few hundred charge cycles and wear it out.
I didn’t have any problems with water. A hundred and ten gallons of clean drinking water will easily last much longer than a month, without even being particularly careful with it.
If I was surviving without a water connection in the long term, though, I’d need to think about drilling a well, and that could be a major expense considering I live on a hill.
On the bright side there was plenty rain during my off-grid month, so my rain barrel was a reliable source of non-drinking water. If I had to I could filter and purify rainwater, but that wouldn’t work in a long dry spell.
Food was more of an issue. I was in no danger of starving – I had plenty of rice, pasta and beans, along with oil and canned vegetables. The problem was protein.
I thought I had plenty, both in the form of dried beans and as canned chicken, chili, beef stew and so on, but I’d tailored my supplies to the daily requirement of protein – about two ounces – and I found that unsatisfying.
Rice and beans with vegetables is nutritious enough, but didn’t feel like it was.
I resorted to seasonings that made things taste meatier, like Worcestershire or soy sauce, or curry powder and other strong spices, but I’m planning on increasing the ratio of canned meats in my stockpile. Longer term I would definitely need some livestock; rabbits might be a good option here.
I can also see myself, in a major crisis, spending a lot of time roaming the nearby woods with my bow looking for small game or even a deer. Basic food will keep you alive, but more enjoyable meals make a huge difference to morale.
Fresh vegetables also made a big difference. I don’t grow enough for that to be my only source of veg, so over the long term I’d need to supplement that with foraging, but having fresh carrots, lettuce and tomatoes was a real bonus.
If you have the land for it, being self-sufficient in produce is a really worthwhile goal. Root vegetables are good. Diced rutabaga, browned in a pan and heavily seasoned before adding to stews, help when you don’t have a lot of meat available.
What Did I Learn?
The first thing I learned is that my solar power and battery storage aren’t adequate. If I had twice the power generation, and three times the battery storage, I’d have been able to do a lot more after the sun went down.
Unless you have really good power generation, an electric oven is a bad choice for off grid living. I’d say a solid fuel stove is pretty much essential, and an Aga-style one will also keep your house warm and provide hot water.
I used a lot of energy heating water that could have gone into my batteries instead.
Cold showers are fine in summer and early fall, but in winter they’re not really an option. Any viable off-grid plan needs a way of heating plenty of water.
Working out the right quantities of carbs, protein and fat you need to keep you alive should just be the start point. More protein will make meals much more satisfying, and if you’re happy with your diet your morale will be a lot better.
Bread is also essential to morale, at least for me. I buy flour by the sack and keep a big barrel of it in the kitchen, but my electric bread maker uses a significant amount of power and takes over three hours to make a loaf.
I need to figure out how to make – and use – a wood-fired bread oven, because when it comes to turning a bowl of stew into a truly filling meal nothing beats a couple of thick slices of fresh bread.
Overall I found this experiment fairly encouraging.
If you have an average-size roof you can install enough solar panels to meet your power needs; the hard bit is having enough battery storage to get you through the night, but larger batteries like the Tesla Power Wall look promising.
Being self-sufficient in food takes more land than I have, and water is a problem, but I think it went pretty well and I’ve certainly identified some areas I can improve on.
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