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Building a Home Off-grid: What to Consider

Last modified: 2021-02-23 | Approximate reading time 4 mins

Amanda Harvey

Many homeowners, as well as those aspiring to become homeowners, may dream of finding their way out of the city and living a life beyond societal confines. This means living a life off-grid.

Essentially, an off-grid home allows for independence from the power grid and from having to follow the rules and regulations that come with living in an urban area, such as building codes and trash collection. Of course, if this is a lifestyle you’re interested in adopting, there are plenty of practical considerations that must be taken into account.

Moving off-grid doesn’t simply mean leaving the city and never returning. In fact, it requires a resourceful nature as well as adaptability. In this article, we discuss what to consider if you’re interested in building or renovating a home off-grid.

Living off-grid: main considerations

off grid home

Living off-grid is really about a connection to the outside as well as living in response to the environment around you. This means that acute awareness is necessary to take this on successfully. We were lucky to get in touch with Danielle Chabassol of the YouTube channel Exploring Alternatives, an excellent resource for those looking for inspiration when it comes to living an alternative lifestyle or considering adopting one themselves.

We asked her what she believes are the key differences between living on-grid and off-grid? She writes: 

"Living off-grid by definition means you are not tied to the electrical grid.  In practice, a lot of people define it as being self-reliant for electricity, water, and wastewater treatment.  Some people do it because their location is remote and doesn't have access to these municipal services, but it seems like most people who choose to live this way do so because they want to be self-sufficient and because they want to reduce their environmental impact.  It does seem like a very satisfying way to live, knowing that your energy comes from sun and wind, but it can be quite costly and time-consuming to set up and maintain as well.  Chopping and storing firewood, replacing old batteries, fixing systems yourself, managing rainwater catchment –- it's a lot of work!"

With these considerations in mind, let’s discuss the things that are absolutely necessary for adopting this lifestyle. 

Mindset: the work involved in living off-grid

As Danielle mentions above, living off-grid is a lot of work! This is why it’s imperative that you go into this project with the right mindset. To make your off-grid life a success, you must approach it with a commitment to sustainability and independence. This lifestyle takes sacrifice, as many of the amenities we grow to know and love won’t be as readily available to you when you’re tucked away out in the bush. If you’re quite set on having access to modern conveniences, then an off-grid home may not be for you.

In contrast, if you’re ready to embrace rustic forms of electricity, heating, food collection and storage, and understand the sustainable practices required to complete these while being kind to our environment, then this could definitely be for you. 

rural road

The perfect location: where you should build your off-grid home

Choosing the location of your off-grid home will rely on many factors, including personal wants, needs and desires. On top of these, you must take the climate and local resources into consideration. Now, one consideration at the forefront of living off-grid is how far off exactly. If you’re hoping to avoid dealing with building codes completely, the further rural you go, the better.

We’d suggest exploring sparsely populated areas where there’s also a compatible climate and scenery. Make sure that you call the county or region building authority before you make a final choice, as you’ll need to know any and all local codes that could apply to building or renovating your off-grid home. Another serious consideration is making sure you have the right to access any existing waterways, roads, or paths in the area.

Power sources

Modern technology allows for a variety of options when it comes to powering an off-grid home. As mentioned, homeowners should still consider alternative methods of power that take sustainability into consideration. Commonly used off-grid power sources can be expensive, and require large batteries that store energy. Sustainable options include solar, hydro and wind power, but will of course depend on the location of the lot you choose. For wind power, the location of large trees around your home could easily block their source of energy on calmer days.

The same goes for solar power, as a South facing home is necessary to make the most of this. When it comes to hydropower, you’ll need to be adjacent to a running water source such as an all-season creek or river. If you do choose one of these energy methods, it’s important to also invest in a backup generator, since it’s impossible to guarantee that these energy sources will keep things running smoothly.

rural path nature

What you need to know about waste disposal

Sewage disposal and regulations are extremely important for those living off-grid. Even if you’re not dealing with building codes directly, Waste management is an integral part of this lifestyle and must be done in a safe and sanitary fashion. There are a few options when it comes to disposing of waste, including septic tank systems, open-air pits and composting toilets.

Do bear in mind that if you’re building a home off-grid from the ground up, it’s likely that you’ll need to install your desired type of sewage system yourself. Thus, do be certain to do plenty of research while also checking in with local authorities about regulations in your area. Remember, that anything you dispose of will affect the environment around you so it’s best to approach things from an environmentally-friendly headspace.

Here's an interesting video to check out on the Exploring Alternatives YouTube channel:

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