What it Costs to Go Off the Grid: A Financial Planning Guide
Thinking of going off the grid? If you want to reduce your reliance on public utilities, doing in-depth research is a great place to start. Building a self-sufficient way of life requires more than a desire to reduce your carbon footprint or unplug from public utilities. A complete understanding of what it costs to go off the grid is essential to embarking on this unique lifestyle.
What Does it Mean to Go Off-the-Grid?
Going off the grid typically means you do not depend on public utilities like electricity. The extent to which you go off grid depends on individual circumstances and resources.
Partially off the grid means not relying on electricity but using other public utilities like water, sewer, gas, and the internet.
Completely off the grid means a fully non-reliant lifestyle where all significant systems are self-contained, owned, and operated by the individual.
Although these communities are not a monolith, a sizable focus is placed on eliminating reliance on the public electricity grid. By doing so, proponents of this way of life limit their consumption of fossil fuels.
Methodology: For this blog, we take a purist approach and examine the cost of being completely non-reliant on public utilities, including electricity, water, sewage, and natural gas. We also look at the supplementary costs associated with composting and food cultivation. Our numbers are based on national averages for systems that can accommodate two adults.
Essential Components of An Off-the-Grid Lifestyle
Ensuring that all your basic needs are met is an essential aspect of a self-reliant life. Those include:
- Property & Housing
- Power Source
- Water Source and Purification
- Sewage Treatment
- Waste Disposal
- Sustainable Food Sources
Property & Housing
Depending on your needs, you may decide to purchase land and build a house to your specifications, or you may find a property with an existing home that you can modify.
Building a new home costs an average of $100 to $155 per square foot. Labor makes up around 40% of the total building cost, and the rest covers design fees, permits, and raw materials. The price for raw materials fluctuates, which can drastically change how much your home will cost to build.
Land prices vary from state to state. The average cost of an acre of land in the 48 contiguous states is approximately $12,000.
How Many Acres Do You Need to Live off the grid?
If you plan to grow your food and harvest timber for heat, the consensus is that you’ll need approximately 5 acres per person. However, the topography of your land, climate in your area, and agricultural needs may mean you need for or less than this estimate.
For example, if you plan to raise large livestock, you’ll need much more; think 30 acres minimum. Alternatively, proponents of aquaponics say that 50 sq. feet are enough for 90% of our dietary needs.
Solar panels are the most popular alternative power source for off the grid homes. Water and wind are also options. Once you have generated power, either by solar, water, or wind, you will need to convert it to a usable source.
Depending on how much power your solar cells generate you may be able to sell unused power back to the grid if your house is still connected to the grid.
How Do Solar Panels Create Electricity?
Solar-powered photovoltaic (PV) panels convert the sun’s rays into electricity by exciting electrons in silicon cells using the photons of light from the sun.
In most installation scenarios, solar panel arrays are placed on the roof. Ideal locations will have minimal shade during prime daylight hours: 9 AM to 3 PM. South facing installations are best, but if that is not an option, panels with a pivot feature can track the sun in the sky and adjust to get as much exposure as possible throughout the day.
Solar panels are typically priced per foot. The average cost of installing solar panels on a 2,000 sq. foot home is around $18,000.
Inverters usually range from $1000 to $1500 for an average-sized build. The cost can, however, go up quickly as the installation gets bigger. You should install enough panels to meet or exceed your estimated usage. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), average houses in the United States use between 2,000 and 2,499 square feet use 11,606 kWh annually, or 967 kWh per month.
Should I Stay Connected to the Grid?
Staying connected to the grid has its advantages, even if you plan to generate enough electricity on your own to power your home entirely. By remaining connected to the grid, you can sell back excess power and access electricity if your solar panels malfunction.
Water Source and Purification
Having a well dug professionally costs $10,000 to $15,000. Where you live and the terrain on your property will impact the final cost. Once the well is drilled and begins to fill up with water, you must install a pump to move it out of the ground and into your home.
Wells are an excellent source of water but may not be suitable for all property types. There must be enough groundwater present to replenish the well, and having a backup water system is usually recommended.
A Backup Water System
If your home has access to a municipal water system, you can use that as a backup. Other options include rainwater collection, ponds, and streams. Rainwater collection systems are inexpensive to set up and operate. They work best in areas where rainfall is predictable. The average cost for a rainwater collection system is $2.500.
Backup Water Storage
Another tried and true backup water solution is water storage tanks. Excess water collected from a well, pond, stream, or rainwater collection system can be stored long-term in food-grade plastics barrels or tanks.
Water collected from natural sources should be filtered and purified before use. Water treatment systems typically include filtration to separate solids and disinfection to kill bacteria or other contaminants. Treatment can produce potable water, which is safe for humans to drink or use on their bodies, or non-potable water used for dishwashing, laundry, toilet flushing and more.
Installing a septic system on your property will be one of the more affordable aspects of going off the grid. Sewer lines that connect to public systems are only available in urban areas, so self-contained septic systems are standard practice for homes in rural settings.
Traditional septic systems cost $3,918 on average. The complexity and size of the system and the local soil composition and water table can impact the cost.
Alternatives to the Traditional Septic System
Suppose you live in an area where a traditional septic system is not possible. In that case, you’ll need to look into alternatives like a mound, sand filter, drip, evapotranspiration, built wetland, and chambered. These might be a better fit for you if you have a small property, high water table, high bedrock, poor soil, or simply want to use less space.
Trash Disposal and Composting
Safe trash disposal is one of the most challenging aspects of going off the grid. Landfill technology is complex and intended to protect the environment from toxic runoff associated with non-compostable garbage.
Though not impossible, building your own landfill is probably not a great solution for most people. It may even go against local dumping laws in your area. However, there are plenty of ways to reduce the amount of trash you generate in your household. You can also limit what goes to the landfill by regularly composting and recycling.
Is it safe to burn my trash?
The Environmental Protection Agency advises against burning trash because the emissions and dioxins it releases are harmful both to the environment and people who may inhale them. This is especially true with petroleum-based garbage being burned.
Sustainable Food Sources
Growing your food or raising animals for their food products is one of the most rewarding aspects of a self-sufficient homestead. If you have never farmed or gardened before, starting with a simple fruit and vegetable garden and raising some small animals, like chickens, can be a great place to start.
Fruits and Vegetable Garden Options:
- Traditional in-ground garden
- Raised garden beds
- Container gardens
Building a climate-controlled greenhouse will be the most expensive option, while in-ground or raised bed gardens are much more affordable. Experts agree that before you embark on a garden, you should test your soil and follow many other best practices outlined in this vegetable gardening guide.
A traditional in-ground vegetable garden for two people, costs around $300 for the first season. You can easily exceed that number in your first season if you invest in expensive equipment like tillers and irrigation.
Every chicken coop needs 3 square feet per chicken. So a coop for six needs to be at least 18 square feet and cost an average of $650 to build. Baby chicks cost around $3 to $5 apiece, while mature egg-laying hens will cost at least $20 apiece.
Adding Up the Up Front Costs of Going Off the Grid
The Benefits of Going Off the Grid
Going off the grid can be a personally rewarding experience. Above and beyond the satisfaction of living independently, you can:
- Reduce your carbon footprint
- Reduce your energy costs
- Become more aware of your environment
- Take advantage of tax credits on solar energy
The federal solar tax credit allows you to deduct 26% of the installation cost of your solar energy system from your federal taxes.
Let Your Budget Be Your Guide
People who choose this lifestyle tend to be self-reliant and independent in nature. They are keen to do things their own way. With that in mind, this blog is merely a guide to average costs in various common categories that may be relevant to off the grid planning.
In many instances, there are solutions that are much less expensive than our research indicated. Some options are much more expensive than what we found.
Ultimately, it’s best to use your budget and available resources and skill sets as a guide to craft an off grid life that is best for you. You can leverage your unique skill sets, like farming and construction, to save money. You can tackle your transition in phases to spread the costs out and make the process more affordable.
For more information about living off the grid, check out these resources: