In California, Frida and Cal Friedman are forced to live off the land without electricity or running water, growing the food they eat. While the couple has no choice but to adopt such a lifestyle, off-the-grid living has been gaining traction in contemporary society. Traditionally, the term refers to living without public utilities, particularly electricity. One doesn't have to be cut off from the food system as well to qualify. However, in recent years, off grid living has taken on a wider connotation - of somebody living apart from, or under the radar of, modern society.
The motivations for going off the grid can include environmental and economic concerns and a desire to lead a homesteader's life. Even if most home alterations (such as extensive networks of solar panels) do require a significant financial investment upfront, the long-term advantage to the pocketbook is apparent. Electricity needs can be met through use of solar panels and any extra generated can be diverted to storage batteries for backup use. Residential wind turbines are also an option and can be used in tandem with solar panels.
Wells can tap groundwater but these can be an expensive option costing thousands of dollars and, additionally, are not a reliable solution in areas where groundwater tables are already low. A cistern, a large tank, is often used to store and use water. Water coming into the home through the cistern needs to be filtered before use. A septic tank in which bacteria can break down wastewater is useful for going off the grid. Composting toilets are another option.
While generated electricity can be used to heat the home, consumption might exceed capacity, in which case giant propane tanks can be used as backup for heat. Generators running on biodiesel or propane are also used for electricity in case existing, more environmentally friendly options don't meet needs.
It is obvious that going off the grid necessitates decreased consumption and serious lifestyle changes. Adoptees of such a lifestyle will often hand wash clothes and dry them on outside lines, for example. Not surprisingly, off-the-grid living is closely tied with the tiny house movement whereby a typical house is 100 to 400 feet. Living in such small quarters poses its own kind of challenges but minimizes the resources needed to live off the grid.
An off-the-grid adobe house, courtesy of theinnovationdiaries.com
An off-the-grid artist's studio and living space, courtesy of emergencyresponsestudio.org
An off-the-grid boathouse, courtesy of shantyboatliving.com
This article was originally published in August 2014, and has been updated for the
July 2015 paperback release.
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