What any homeowner can learn from off-grid living
Imagine living in a house that's totally off the grid. No unsightly power lines, no water or sewer system hookups. I've been living the off-grid dream, and I'm here to share what I've learned so far.
This year, we bought a home unlike any other home that we’ve ever owned.
It has all the features of a traditional home: Lights, full kitchen, bathroom with a shower and a garage. The biggest difference?
There are no utility hookups. At all.
No power poles. No water lines. The house is it. What you see is what you get. Well, with a couple of significant exceptions.
The home is equipped with a powerful solar system that we upgraded shortly after buying the home. And, there’s a water tank that feeds the house with high-quality H2O. Our current home improvement project is installing a rain catchment system so we can rely almost entirely on rainfall to satisfy our water needs.
Sustainable cinder-block construction, upgraded insulation and efficient design make this off-grid house a truly unique, yet super exciting, place to call home.
While it is unlike anything we’ve lived in, our house provides all the same amenities of the traditional home. The biggest change is in how we use it. Living off-grid makes us uber aware of our power and water usage, to say the least.
We have learned a ton by living off-grid… things like how to conserve and live using basic energy-saving habits. We know exactly how much power and water we use each and every day. We’re connected much more closely with the resources that we use because they aren’t “unlimited” as they seem to be in traditional homes.
And, this knowledge is incredibly powerful. It can turn any homeowner from a consumer into an ultra-efficient user of only the resources they need, reducing demand on “the grid” and lowering the cost of living through monthly utility bills.
But you don’t need to live without utility hookups to get to this level of sustainable living.
What any homeowner can learn from off-grid living
Resources are everywhere
Power comes from the sun. Water comes from the rain. Though we don’t tend to think about where our power comes from, natural resources surround us in a way that makes us appreciate them when we aren’t connected to “the grid”.
For example, solar panels provide millions of homes with power - it’s clean to generate and is accessible enough for most people to install on their own properties.
“There are now 1.3 million solar installations across the United States,” writes CNBC, “with a cumulative capacity of over 40 gigawatts. The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that 1 megawatt of electricity can power 164 homes, so 40 gigawatts is enough capacity to power 6,560,000 U.S. households.”
Suffice it to say, the solar industry is growing, and more and more households are using utilities provided by something other than traditional power sources (like coal or nuclear power plants).
Also, rain catchment systems provide water, the lifeblood of every human being, to many homes. In fact, rain catchment is the only reliable means of drinking water in many areas of the world.
It’s nice to be connected to “the grid”, but many areas of the world rely on the natural resources provided organically by the Earth. First-world nations can learn something about how resourceful more rural communities truly are, and this knowledge could lead to a better understanding of just how much of an impact our daily habits have on our planet.
Most of us overuse utilities
If you’re like most people, you’re probably running computers and lights for the majority of the day. Many of us leave electronics and other power-consuming devices perpetually plugged in, each device using enough energy to make a serious impact on our utility bills.
In fact, many of us have no idea how much power we use. And, there are things in our homes that use much more power than we think - these are called “stealth” power hogs.
You probably have a few stealth power hogs in your home right now.
Like what? Improper HVAC systems are a primary culprit, as are water heaters, power strips and non-LED light bulbs.
National Geographic published a nice resource to help determine stealth energy draws that you probably have in your home. Things like smart phones, gaming consoles, microwaves and furnace fans all tend to eat a lot of power, and understanding the larger power draws in your home - as anyone who lives in an off-grid home knows, is critical to pumping up the efficiency of your home.
More than what’s in season—there’s a science to sustainable cooking
Most of us cook whatever we want, whenever we want. But off-grid homeowners very often chose their meals based on weather. Wait, what?
Yes, believe it or not, there’s a science to choosing the right meal to maximize the efficiency and sustainability of your home.
For example, colder days are ripe for a nice warm soup, risotto or any other warm meal. Not only will the warm meal warm you up, but it’ll also warm up your home as well without the need for external heating sources like furnaces. While cooking warm meals may not eliminate the need for heating sources, it might reduce how long or hard they run.
Likewise, warm days might be the perfect time for that pasta salad. Extra points if you cook the pasta during cooler parts of the day as well—minimizing any additional heat inside the house during the warmest part of the day (which for most of us is shortly before dinner).
Additionally, it doesn’t require a degree in dad jokes to know warmer days scream for the grill rather than the stove. Grills are an excellent way to keep heat outside the home rather than inside, and as an added benefit, they are often a conversation piece if you have friends or family over for dinner. Grills encourage conversation!
Off-grid living teaches us to use the weather to dictate our meals. The less we add to the demands of our internal comfort (like extra heat in the summer), the less resources we’ll need to use to counteract those choices to ensure our first world comforts.
Insulate through basic habits
Curtains and blinds are essential to help control one of the biggest sources of heat in the summertime: windows and glass doors.
Also, checking for drafts can help uncover areas of your home that are leaking your precious resources to the outside, which is something that needs to be controlled in off-grid living. Drafts are unsealed areas around doors or windows that allow air from the outside into your home.
Other ways to help insulate your home?
- Stay up-to-date with maintenance and upgrades of appliances and entryways
- Don’t forget to insulate your attic
- Wrap your water heater to prevent heat loss
- Always use curtains during the winter months
We don’t always need light (or technology)
We all use light, but many of us habitually turn on the lights every time we enter a room. While LED lights drastically reduce our electrical consumption (by about 75% compared to incandescent bulbs), the use of lights - especially during the day, may not always be necessary.
In fact, many off-grid homes are designed specifically to utilize the power of daylight (a free resource) inside the home, reducing the need for artificial light.
Most homeowners can cut back on their use of lights by re-training their minds, over time, to use lights because they need them, not simply because they are there.
There are several ways to reduce your energy consumption when it comes to lighting, such as:
- Use LED bulbs whenever possible
- Consider lower wattage bulbs (regardless of the bulb type)
- Use dimmers to customize brightness of light
- Install multiple switches to control different lighting areas
- Solar lights for outdoor use are super efficient
- Motion-sensor lights for outdoor use are popular and effective
Plus, remembering to turn the lights off when you leave a room can make a drastic difference in your energy consumption (not to mention your monthly bill).
Remember, resources aren’t as unlimited as they seem
Off-grid living certainly won’t be for everyone, but there’s a lot that most of us can learn from those who live in homes that aren’t connected to “the grid”, like electric and water service. While resources might appear to be unlimited in your area, they aren’t. And, your monthly utility bills could be suffering due to resource-hogging habits or stealth power hogs that you have no idea are draining your pocketbook every month.
Use these tips and techniques to reduce your draw on the grid and also help to limit the money you pay every single month for the resources that you use.