While we are stable in our current location, we will not be here forever. We’ve looked into ways to go off grid, how to afford it, how to make it happen, what we all need. Our demands for physical objects is low and we’ve found great pleasure in being able to reduce our possessions and increase our limited garden. I’ve rarely seen my wife as happy as she was when she made marinara sauce almost completely from ingredients grown ourselves. So in order to go off grid, we have to make an outline and a plan to make it happen and take steps towards putting it all together.
The basic things we need are fresh water, food, shelter, transportation, and regular supplies. The things we want are internet access, entertainment, and a way to save a little money at a time to expand our supplies, diversify, and grow.
To do all of that, we obviously need land first. Figuring out where we want to live is the hardest part, followed by how we can survive in that area with minimal support.
Land in central US
In the middle of the country, basically Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky, we have decent weather and a good supply of water. The major issue there is tornados in the spring and summer, and snow in the winter. While it does not get terribly cold compared to areas farther north, it’s still cold enough. While we could deal with a shorter growing climate and snow, having a cold winter means using a lot of fuel for heating. Depending on the exact area, it can be rolling hills, somewhat flat, heavily forested, or clear cut and pasture land. There are also rather lax building codes here and many areas allow composting toilets instead of septic and rain water collection. Missouri is especially friendly to off grid living.
Land in the Southwest
Out in the southwest, like Arizona, New Mexico, or Colorado, land can be found very, very cheap. But it is often flat and almost completely void of plant life. Water is also harder to get here, which means we would have to have water trucked in, either by ourselves or have a delivery service fill up our cisterns when needed. It can also get really hot in the summer, but also has plenty of sunshine for solar power. There are some areas that are more open to green building, and some areas that do not allow it at all. There is also the problem of having neighbors be extremely far away and wild animals like poisonous snakes and scorpions. Not a deal breaker, but a caution.
Of course, there is also Alaska, which has plenty of cheap land in the middle of nowhere, but then we’d truly be on our own and I’m not sure I’d want to do that.
Based on those factors, we have to decide between forest with risk of winters and tornados, or desert with heat and less water. If we could find somewhere that had a lot of runoff from the mountains in the spring and we could grab as much of that as possible for our own uses for the year, that would be ideal. We would probably do better in the sunlight anyway and maybe we can find a piece of land with a nice view of the mountains.
If we stick to the southwest, we have to figure out what we will build out of and how we will get water.
Because of the lack of large trees, cordwood building is largely out. But there are other methods more accustomed to desert dwellings such as earthbag and earthship. We could even go with adobe building. If our walls have enough thermal mass to absorb heat during the day and release it at night, then we would not need too much climate control inside. If we can add a central fireplace, then we have a way to heat when it does get too cold.
The same process works in reverse for keeping it cool. If we can have land with some varied topography, then we can build into a hillside and use the thermal mass of the Earth to maintain a temperature inside as well. With proper adobe building, we would even sculpt our house instead of build it and create a living, breathing home for us. It would not have to be too large, we do not have much space now, and likely much of it would be used for a greenhouse anyway. With a mix of concrete and local soil, we can build a house from the ground up that completely blends into the surrounding environment.
We obviously need water. Getting a well drilled would be almost impossible in most of the areas of the southwest. We would almost certainly need to get a supply of potable water from nearby that we can use for drinking water and have a separate supply of water from runoff or maybe grey water to use for other things. That means two water systems in the house and keeping them separate. Not impossible if done right. Maybe we can even have a third system for the waste water or find a way to clean and filter the runoff water for drinking. The grey water can be used for fertilizing the greenhouse and outdoor plants and would not need to go to waste in a septic system.
Fresh water tanks are not terribly expensive, but if we had one for incoming water and a storage unit for the grey water, we’d likely need at least 1,000 gallons of each. 1,500 gallon tanks are anywhere from $700-$1000 plus shipping, and we’d obviously need to add money for pumps, pipes, and all the other add-ons to make the system work.
I envision a buried, hidden, and secured system for the water so we can have a truck pull up, unlock whatever security we have in place, fill the water tank, and then lock it all back up. It could easily be right next to the house and well maintained, along with whatever filter we need beyond it to get fresh water to the house. If properly done, we can have rainwater from the roof go down into the water system as well after passing through a filter to avoid any debris from entering. It would need to be occasionally treated to maintain purity along with a filter or water softener afterwards. Additionally, we can have an interior water tank that is much smaller, but have it be filled when it gets to low all at once to reduce stress on the main water pump working every time we turn on a faucet.
Outgoing water will likely be free of human waste. Washing clothes and dishes, shower water, and that’s about it. Human waste will be handled completely separately. The grey water then can be used for watering plants outside and in the green house once we get in the habit of reducing any foot particles that may normally go down the drain as well as switching over completely to non-hazardous and non-toxic cleaning supplies. We are already partway there as it is, so it’s just a little research to do more.