Having your own off grid cabin is something many people fantasize about from time to time.
I suspect we all do every time we go to pay another water or electric bill. Here's the steps you need to think about before you dive in and bite off more than you can chew...
Some people create their own off grid cabin as:
• a good financial decision. Save a ton on utility companies whose prices only seem to go one way
• a step towards self –reliance and independence
• preparation for a global calamity - Create your own underground shelter- just in case
• environmental and “save the fossil fuels” reasons
Whatever your reason, it is certainly a growing trend and while it is not for everyone, it may be worth some consideration.
In fact this is recommended. There is a lot to learn and manage at first. In cases cases set up costs can be significant and it may take a few years to see pay back.
Firstly just focus on supplementing your energy requirements one at a time. Implement one source of power, learn it, make sure you understand what can go wrong and how to trouble shoot.
Or try renting an “off the grid cabin” for a week and see how you feel. Start learning the questions you did not even know you should be asking. Learn about all the systems and how it all works.
A typical house is connected to power, natural gas, water and telephone lines. It is hard to imagine life without all these services that we take for granted.
Check out these 10 Off Grid Cabins that might give you inspiration on the possibilities available.
It's is difficult to estimate how many people in the US live off-grid, but in 2006, Home Power magazine estimated that at least 180,000 homes were supplying their own power. No doubt that is a lot more now.
Another 27,000 homes use solar and wind energy to offset their grid-connected life [source: USA Today]. Some do this to move away completely from dependence on government utilities. Others are just looking to reduce their bills.
Power is the best one to focus on first.
Many people choose solar.
If you live somewhere with a lot of sun year round or are thinking of buying land in a sunny place like Nevada or Arizona, this makes sense.
If you live somewhere windy, then be sure to harness this natural energy around you. A turbine sits atop a 50-120 foot tower. When the blades move, wind energy is converted to usable energy.
Some people in developed areas, use solar or wind energy and if they have excess supply, can sell their energy back to the grid.
However if you go off the grid completely, you will cut all ties with energy companies and store your own excess energy in a system of batteries in a nearby shed.
Wind power is the cleanest and cheapest energy technology in the world. The average cost per kilowatt hour for coal-burning electricity was 10.4 cents in 2006 [source: Energy Information Administration].
Wind energy can be generated for a scant three cents per hour in optimum conditions [source: Earth Policy Institute]. Add to this that there are no greenhouse emissions produced, and it's no wonder that wind power is growing so fast.
There is usually plenty of water underneath us as groundwater.
There are more than 17 million homes in the United States that get their water from private wells [source: The Groundwater Foundation]. The principle is simple -- a hole is dug or drilled deep into the ground and a pump draws out the water.
There are many regulations that apply to private wells, so you should only use a licensed well driller. It's easy for harmful contaminants to leak into your well if it's not installed properly. The cost of a private well ranges from $3,000 to $15,000, depending on how deep you need to go.
The deeper the well, the more likely you'll find clean water. Install a filter for better-tasting water.
Another way you can provide your own water is by harvesting the rain with a cistern. A cistern is basically a tank that holds water. Home cistern systems have large aboveground or underground tanks made from concrete, steel or fiberglass. The water from your rain gutters is channeled into the cistern and then pumped back into your home as you need it.
If your cistern is above ground and higher than your faucets, you can use the weight of the water as pressure to get it into your home. Below ground cisterns require a pump to get the water to you, much like a well.
If you want a cistern, you need to live in an area that gets enough rain. If you live near a major source of pollution, like a major expressway or factory, then you should avoid going with a cistern.
If you want drinkable water, it's best to have a metal or clay roof because it's cleaner than a shingled one. Shingled roofs can be used, but they require a pre-filtering system before the water is deposited into the tank. If you're interested in harvesting rainwater, consult your local green building professional.
The best way to get off the grid's sewer line is to install a septic system. A septic system is basically a large metal tank that collects and releases your wastewater. Bacteria in the tank break everything down causing it to separate naturally into a top scum layer, bottom sludge layer and middle liquid layer.
As new wastewater flows in, the liquid in the tank flows out into a series of buried perforated pipes that release the water over distance into a drain field.
Soil acts as a biological filter, keeping the harmful bacteria buried beneath the ground until it's eventually absorbed as nutrients. The tank should be emptied and serviced by a professional once a year.
It is always important to be prepared and have back up energy sources in your off grid cabin. What if it is not windy or sunny for 3 weeks?
You'll most likely need a few other things in place as well to ensure that you stay warm, cool and have enough energy and water supply. Many people use propane as their source of gas. You can go all electric with your water heater and range, but that will use a great deal of your manufactured energy.
Whole-house propane tanks are basically large versions of the ones that you use for your gas grill. The propane is fed into your house by pipes, just like your natural gas line, and the tank is refilled as you need it by a propane service.
Another option for heating your water is to go with a tankless water heater. For your off-grid cabin, you'll need to buy a propane or electric tankless unit. They make natural gas versions as well, but you'll be on the grid. Tankless heaters don't store and heat water, they heat it on demand as you need it.
If you really want to go green, then you should look into a solar water heater. In this system, the sun's heat is harnessed and used to warm your water.
Most people that choose to go off the grid also have a backup generator, just in case the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine for long stretches. These generators run on propane, natural gas, gasoline or biodiesel fuel and are only used if absolutely necessary. They can be rigged to kick in automatically if the battery power supply drops to a certain level.
Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves can help offset the energy it takes to heat your home. In fact, most off grid cabins depend on burning wood as their primary heat source.
Electric and gas furnaces simply require too much fuel to keep a house warm on their own. You can even cook on top of wood-burning stoves.
If you build or design your off grid cabin from scratch make sure to design it with energy efficiency in mind. Use super-insulation, airtight construction techniques so you are not wasting energy and can efficiently maintain your home's temperature.
Another building technique that many people off the grid use is passive solar construction. Passive solar building is a design technique that uses the wind, sun and natural surroundings to heat and cool the home.
There are several ways to block and remove heat, including shading through landscaping, using a dark exterior paint, installing a radiant barrier in the roof rafters and good old-fashioned insulation.
Another way is through thermal siphoning, the process of removing heat through controlled airflow. Opening the lower windows on the breezy side of your house and the upper windows on the opposite side creates a vacuum that draws out the hot air.
Its funny how when you are responsible for generating and collecting all the energy ad water you need every day, how much more conscious you become about not wasting it!
Even with solar and wind power, you'll still need to limit your use of electricity. Most people interested in living off the grid do so at least in part to live a greener life, so conserving power goes hand-in-hand with this decision.
With adequate solar and wind systems, you should be able to operate most of your electric appliances and gadgets, but not necessarily at the same time.
If you're using a hair dryer, avoid using the microwave. If you fire up the blender, unplug your space heater. Major electricity users like washing machines should be operated at night, when your other power needs are minimal. True disciples of the back-to-land movement wouldn't use a washer and dryer anyway. Washing clothes by hand and using a clothesline is a rustic alternative.
The same goes for your water use. With a cistern system, in periods of little rain you might need to let the dishes pile up for a couple of days or limit your toilet flushes.
Some people go so far as to turn off the shower water while they lather or wash their hair. Collecting additional non-potable water in rain barrels is a great way to water plants, wash dishes and keep your pets hydrated without dipping into your well or cistern.
Energy Star appliances are the most efficient on the market and a good way to save money on your bills. Look for the yellow stickers on the appliances when you buy them and compare the ratings. In addition to saving energy, the government offers rebates on Energy Star appliances, so you'll be saving money as well. You should¬ also switch your light bulbs to the energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs.
If you truly "drop out" and live in an off grid cabin in a rural area, you'll likely have no mail or garbage service available. Most people will welcome the lack of junk mail, and no utility bills! You can maintain a P.O. Box if you want to receive mail and get them to scan anything to you, or go check it once a month.
Not having garbage pickup is another consideration. This can be readily solved by recycling and composting. If you're smart in what kinds of products you purchase, you can eliminate a great deal of potential garbage as well. Grow your own vegetables or raise some chickens and goats for milk and eggs.
Avoiding packaged foods will greatly reduce the amount of paper and plastic waste you need to get rid of. All your organic food waste and even some paper products can be composted and fed back into your soil. Most recycling centers also have Dumpsters for your non-recyclables.
If you need some rural land, check out our current listings...
If you would like to be on our VIP list to hear about our new parcels of land first, let us know here.
Get in touch if you have specific requirements. Some land sells so fast, it is sold straight to our VIP's before it even has a chance to go on the website