I frequently get posts on my Facebook page from a group called, “A Gathering For Kindred Souls Looking to Live Off the Grid.” There is usually a swell picture of some tiny rustic cabin out in the woods, on the prairie, or on the shores of a lake. Right away the questions come to mind:
Where is your woodshed? Where is your workshop; your boneyard? Is your vehicle four-wheel drive? Does it have a garage? In your 15-by-15-foot cabin, just how big is your pantry? How often do you think you will be going to town for supplies? How far away is town? Do you have to commute to a job? Where is your garden? What are your power sources?
Call me jaded, but it is hard for me to look at a tiny home in the middle of nowhere and not think of how many things can go wrong—and of all the safety nets needed. Even after 28 years of living off-grid, my husband Bob-O and I are not immune to inevitable “adventures,” as we like to call them.
When people ask me what it is like to live off-grid, I tell them it is wonderful—and it is. I describe our canyon—so small that we cannot see neighbors. Living off-grid means you do for yourself. You take the responsibility for your own life. Instead of writing a check for water, garbage, and power services, you do for yourself.
No water at the tap? Go find your plumber’s wrench. You sustain your water supply. If water stops coming to your house, it is up to you to go find the problem and fix it. It’s good to have an assortment of tools and spare plumbing parts on hand. That’s where a well-stocked boneyard comes in.
Full trash cans and recycling bins? Load up the truck! Nobody comes to take away your trash. You have to haul it to the landfill or transfer station. Recycling is part of this life. The more you recycle, the less garbage you generate. We have a small shed lined with barrels for the various recyclables. Twice a year, a local recycling program hosts a plastic round-up, when we can take in all the odd-numbered plastics for recycling. When a container gets full, we load it up and take it to the recycling center in town. Sometimes we can get a little money for the glass or cans. Sometimes that money pays for the trip gasoline. Like recycling, composting lessens garbage and the payoff is excellent soil for your garden. Coin of my realm, you could say.
No electricity? Don your deerstalker, Sherlock, the mystery is yours to solve! By using solar, wind, and microhydro power, our electrical systems are honed to our microclimate and our lifestyle. Depending on the time of year, I could have excess energy every day or we could be running our generator to charge the batteries. When we have excess electricity, I play it fast and loose, doing laundry every day and using my new induction cooktop, with the TV on in the background to keep me company. On those days, I can be happy-go-lucky about my energy usage. But when the water and wind are gone and the sun is only peeking through the clouds, I can rein in my energy consumption to almost nothing
Unusually cold weather is another battle that off-gridders occasionally face. Even though the acorn crop was not abundant this year—the theory being that a plentiful crop means plentiful cold during the next winter—we got some really cold weather for an extended period of time. And that means potential freezing of our water supply, even though we have taken precautions.