What Is Off-Grid Homestead: 15 ideas that you must know
Off-grid living means living by yourself away from civilization, in the lap of nature. Technically it means disconnecting from public power, water, and waste systems. You live by growing your food in your plot of land, getting your water, producing your power, and generally taking care of yourself.
Off-grid life is peaceful and sustainable. You are far from the madding crowd of the city, and your lifestyle can be as sustainable as you want it to be: no more depending on authorities that keep denying climate change is real and watching sunsets as birds go back to their homes.
But here’s the truth: an off-grid life is not easy. If you want an easy life where everything is taken care of for you, stay within civilization. But if you’re going to enjoy life and the wilderness pulls you, here in this article, we will discuss 15 ideas that will make your off-grid life so much easier.
What is an off-grid homestead?
An off-grid homestead is a home that is detached from public systems such as public water supply, public electricity grid, or public sewage system. Typically an off-grid home will be sustainable, using the bare minimum resources and producing as little waste as possible. An off-grid home will also be self-sufficient: it should be able to produce its own food, generate its own power, and treat its own sewage.
1. Types of off-grid homes
Once you are free from civilization, you can have more freedom in choosing what kind of a house you want to live in.
1. Cob house:
Some of the oldest houses ever built by humans were cob houses. They are made out of mud, mixed with sand or clay to get the right consistency, organic matter such as straw or moss, and sometimes lime.
Cob houses may look straight out of medieval times when most humans were professional off-gridders: public services hadn’t been developed yet. They are fireproof, waterproof if treated with linseed oil, and can withstand even earthquakes if built correctly.
2. Earthship houses:
Earthship houses are self-sufficient houses that usually look like spaceships. Developed by an architect named Michael Reynolds, who wanted to make “off the grid ready homes,” Earthship designs are built to accommodate solar power systems and greenhouses, can withstand extreme weather conditions, and mix upcycled and natural materials.
This is probably what everyone thinks when they hear off-grid homestead. And with good reason, too: They are easy to build using locally available lumber and are very sturdy.
4. Bamboo houses:
Bamboo is a very cheap and sturdy building material. It is very sustainable, but bamboo needs treatment with borax to prevent biological damage from insects and bacteria.
5. Shipping container home:
A relatively new practice is to use old shipping containers as a tiny homes. The upsides are impressive, to say the least:
- You can buy a shipping container for as low as $10,000.
- They do not require much prepping before you can live in them.
- You can add more shipping containers to increase the size of your off-grid home.
However, shipping container homes are also notoriously difficult to get right, mostly because shipping containers aren’t designed to be houses.
Cut out windows and doors and compromise the structural integrity; snow on the roof can bend the fenders, while proper insulation, electrical, and plumbing work can be challenging.
A yurt is just a sizeable octagonal tent. Cheap to build and has lots of Ghengis Khan vibes.
2. Best materials for making your off-grid homestead
When choosing the best materials for building your off-the-grid homestead, you have to consider a few things:
First, location: You cannot build a cob house or a log cabin if you live in the desert; hauling clay all the way to your site will be very expensive.
Check for local availability of materials and calculate how much it will cost to get them on site.
Second, insulation: Proper insulation can make or break your off-grid living experience. It can cut down on your home’s electricity and energy requirements, and if you are in an area that has extremes of temperature, it is something that you cannot survive without.
Concrete, mud, and wood give natural insulation, while metal and bamboo do not have insulating capabilities.
Next, we will discuss a list of ideas that you must consider for your off-grid homestead.
3. Off-grid power for Your Homestead
If you are going off the grid, you will need to produce your own power. You can use a diesel generator, but that’s not sustainable or environmentally friendly.
While you should keep a generator on hand in case of emergencies, renewable sources such as solar, wind, and water energy should meet the main bulk of your power requirements.
Solar panels are the most commonly used renewable power sources. They have become relatively cheap in the last decade and can quickly meet your energy needs if you live in a sunny area.
Residential wind turbines harness the power of the blowing wind. They do not depend on the availability of sunlight and are useful in northern regions where sunlight is low, and it’s very windy, but they are costly to build.
A micro-hydro system harnesses the power of water flowing through a nearby stream to power your house. Unlike solar and wind energy, a micro-hydro system can generate power irrespective of the weather. Perfect if you live in a hilly region.
4. Biogas Systems for Cooking
Cooking and heating your off-grid home will require energy. Either you can use all electrical appliances or use propane or methane for cooking and heating. That way, you can keep the heating process clean without producing carbon dioxide. Please don’t use coal or wood.
One way to indeed heat via sustainable means is to use biogas. See, under the right conditions, human feces can produce methane, which can be used for cooking and heating.
You will need a biogas chamber into which your toilet blackwater will flow. This will then produce methane and organic fertilizer for your off-grid home and care for your sewage worries.
If you have animals, you can also use their waste to produce biogas. However, you will need help from a professional to build a biogas system.
5. Batteries and Charge controllers for power storage
Since you are disconnected from the public power grid, you will need to depend on your power generation to meet your needs. And most of your power generation will hopefully come from renewable sources like solar and wind.
While these sources are more than enough to power a small family, one disadvantage they have is that they are not available all the time.
Solar cells will only produce power when the sun is up, and wind turbines will stop if the wind dies down. So what do you do in such cases? Do you go down when the sun goes down?
Preferably not. You will need to store any excess power you generate using a battery to use after sundown or in emergencies.
One big problem is that battery and charge controller systems are quite expensive. Sometimes even more costly than the whole solar setup. But they are getting better every day, and we would recommend having a battery and charge controller setup.
6. Dual Generators
Dual fuel generators operate on a mixture of two different fuels.
Say a dual fuel generator uses diesel and natural gas as its fuels. Diesel has a lower combustion temperature, so a generator using diesel as its primary fuel will crank up much easier, even in low temperatures.
But diesel is costly, and burning diesel to power your homestead may become economically unfeasible. Enter natural gas: it has almost the same energy density as diesel, costs a lot less, and burns a lot cleaner.
A dual-engine generator may function using a mixture of 15% diesel and 85% natural gas. This mixture, combined with the efficiency of dual-fuel engines, allows for lower costs and lesser emissions than a generator using diesel as its sole fuel source.
Further, you can run the generator on any one type of fuel, which is very helpful if you suddenly run out of fuel and live away from gas stations.
7. Terracotta pot heater
Terracotta pot heaters are great. You would never expect something so small to be this useful, but it is, especially in an off-grid home during winter. It won’t be able to heat up a big room but works quite well for a small space or a tent.
This little heater you can make using some terracotta pots, metal washers, and a nut and bolt powered by a little candle gives off a surprisingly large amount of heat.
You can find some great tutorials on Youtube on how to make one yourself, and we suggest you make one as it can save your tush in a sudden cold spell.
8. Powered Water Pumps
Proper water supply is essential for any home, but you cannot just turn on a tap and get water in an off-grid setting. You will have to source water from either a well, spring, pond, or river. Or you can collect the rainwater that falls on your property.
But once you collect and store your water, you will face a problem: insufficient water pressure. The water pressure in your taps will depend on the elevation of the storage tank or the level of water in the tank.
One way to overcome this problem is to use a pressurized pump that feeds a storage tank with compressed air. As the water is emptied into pumps is more air to maintain the air pressure. This requires a constant power supply but only uses power when the pressure drops.
9. Solar-Powered Greenhouses
Yes, you read that right, greenhouses that generate electricity and grow crops simultaneously! The idea is that plants do not need all the different wavelengths of light in sunlight. So we could use the wavelengths of light that plants don’t use and use them to generate electricity!
This is made possible by transparent solar cells that let some wavelengths through while absorbing some to generate electricity. While this is a developing technology, it could soon lead to net neutral greenhouses that don’t require power even in winter.
We humans have only achieved a fraction of nature’s efficiency and sustainability. The way we live creates so many problems, both for the planet and us.
And this is probably the reason you want to move off the grid. If off-the-grid living means aspiring to live a more sustainable life, permaculture is the system, the method, the framework that lets you achieve that level of sustainability.
But permaculture is not a concrete method or process and is often looked down upon for its ambiguity. Still, it strives for a sustainable and eco-friendly life and is something you should read up about as an off-gridder.
11. Solar Ovens
A solar oven uses sunlight to cook your food. It basically reflects sunlight falling on an area onto a container containing food ingredients, and the heat from sunlight cooks the food.
Very easy to build and can be made using old cardboard boxes and aluminum foil. And it will save you a lot of energy if you live in a sunny area.
12. Can Candles
You will need candles as an off-gridder, at least in the initial days of making mistakes and learning how to take care of everything. Also, candles are great to have around in case of an emergency or just because they are so peaceful.
Instead of buying candles from the store at a markup price, make your ones at your off-grid home!
The easiest ones to make are probably can candles, where you just pour molten wax into a used can with a wick. Super quick to make and no fear of molten wax getting everywhere. The flame is also protected against the wind. But the can will get very hot while the candle is burning, so be careful touching it.
13. Composting Toilets
Off-grid living is about managing your needs and taking steps to live comfortably while using the minimum amount of resources. One very important resource is water- you can survive without electricity, but water is indispensable.
When you are off the grid and not connected to a reliable water supply, you have to look for ways to conserve whatever water you collect.
And one way to do that is by using a composting toilet. A composting toilet is a dry toilet, which means it does not use water to remove your waste.
Instead, it allows the waste to break down in controlled aerobic conditions, in a process called composting, to produce a biofertilizer that you can use in your fields.
14. Manual Washing Machines for Your off-grid home
Your washing machine cannot follow you into your off-grid home in most cases. A traditional washing machine consumes too much power to be used with solar panels or generators without becoming very costly.
But washing clothes by hand is very hard work. But fret not because you can effectively use a manual washing machine to do your laundry with minimal effort. You can buy such manual washing machines online or build one yourself.
15. Pot in pot refrigerator
A pot in pot or zeer refrigerator is a low-cost and zero energy way to store your fruits and vegetables in low temperatures. It consists of two jars with wet sand in between and needs a dry, hot climate.
The inner jar holds food or anything that needs to be cooled. As the water from the sand evaporates, it draws heat from the inner jar, cooling its contents. This has been known to keep food stored for up to 20 days.
These are 15 ideas that will hopefully help you in your off-grid life. It will not be easy, and you will need a lot of grit and willpower to adapt to this lifestyle. But once you do, all the hard work will be so worth it. Just keep trying; a much better life awaits you.