Living off the grid likely conjures pictures of people in Alaska living in the depths of the wilderness. Or hippies in Vermont living in tiny houses. Or anti-government compounds out in Texas. In other words – every TV show you’ve ever watched on the Discovery Channel.
While Alaskan Bush People is absolutely one of my favorite TV shows – there are plenty of everyday folks, who don’t have their own TV shows that are just looking for a life away from technology, and away from the hustle and bustle of today’s world.
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Around my neck of the woods (rural Maine), living off the grid is simply a reality for many people. Someday, I’m hoping it will be my reality as well. So, I wanted to take a look at the cost of living off-grid. Is it cheaper than a traditional home? How feasible is it for even those with lower incomes? Today, I plan to answer those questions and more, so you can decide for yourself if living without modern-day luxuries is something for you.
I’m going to use the research I’ve done in the past, so much of the costs I discuss will be associated with living in Maine/New England, but I will also provide average costs around the U.S. for those who aren’t Maniacs.
What does “living off the grid” mean?
Living off the grid means different things to different people, and there are various extremes. In general, however, living off the grid means living – typically in the wilderness – with no reliance on modern technology. That could include electrical grids (hence the term “off-grid”), electric and propane heaters, and other utility lines (like sewer and water). Essentially, you’re entirely reliant on the systems you create.
Living off the grid requires sustainable living. So you’ll need to find your own source of heat, electricity, and even shelter and food, all without the help of our modern-day conveniences. Fortunately, there are ways that you can give yourself a financial head start, ensuring that you can afford to purchase all of the things that you will need in order to live off the grid.
Let’s start by talking about the cost of land
Before I start talking about the actual costs, it’s important to point out that these are average costs. The cost will vary based on many factors such as:
If you have a view.
If it’s farmland or woods (farmland is typically more expensive).
If you have access to water.
How close you’re located to a major city.
So, if you buy acreage right on the ocean next to a major city, you’re going to be paying a premium. Since I’ve been looking at land over the past few years, I’ve found that to get land for next to nothing in Maine, I’d have to go about three to four hours away from a major city. To be fair, we only have a handful of major cities to begin with.
To give you a sense of what some averages of land cost are across the country, here are a few states in each region:
Maine – $2,410/acre.
New York – $3,250/acre.
Florida – $5,950/acre.
Texas – $2,120/acre.
Kansas – $1,960/acre.
Michigan – $4,960/acre.
Arizona – $3,800/acre.
California – $10,000/acre.
Montana – $915/acre.
As you can see, the Midwest has some of the cheapest land per acre, while the most-popular U.S. states, California, Arizona, and New York have some of the highest costs when it comes to land. This is an important point to keep in mind when you’re searching for a place to build your off-grid home.
What about housing?
Living off-grid doesn’t necessarily mean you have to build a log cabin deep in the woods. When it comes to housing, you can go a couple of different ways:
Buying a home already off-grid
If you want to do things the easy way, there are many houses that are already set up off the grid. Any of the real estate websites (i.e. Zillow, Realtor.com) have “keyword” options that allow you to search off-grid homes. Below is a quick snapshot of some of the available homes near me:
I want to take a moment to point out one major theme in off-grid homes – they’re not million-dollar houses. Most off-grid homes don’t come with a ton of bells and whistles, which is exactly why most folks look for them. As you can see, off-grid homes are MUCH more affordable than traditional houses, but they require a larger time commitment.
Building your own home
Depending on where you live, you can buy land for as little as a couple of thousand dollars. Often, building your own house can be cheaper than purchasing one. If you stick to a smaller home, with local materials, and do most of the work yourself, you’ll save thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.
This is especially true for homes that are off-grid. They don’t come with complex electrical systems, they have simpler sewage systems, and their heating systems (when needed) are also simpler.
I’m a huge advocate for tiny houses. They’re portable with the added convenience of having most of the creature comforts many of us are used to. They’re also incredibly cheap to build. You can go super simple or decked out, and you’ll still spend less than you would on a grand home.
Plenty of people make their tiny homes stationary, and since most people who live off-grid value spending a lot of time outdoors, a tiny home is the perfect place to relax in at the end of the night.
I’m an even bigger advocate for van living, as you’ll see from my piece here. If you’re a frequent traveler and want to be off-grid while living in your van, it’s very easy. Most people who do travel in their van already are living off the grid without even realizing it.
One thing to note here, however, is that you’re entirely dependent on the resources around you. You’ll need to find somewhere to shower, places to stop and eat/make food, and a place to park your van every night.
How do I get the money to build an off-grid home?
Now you’re probably to the point where you’re wondering how you even go about financing a whole off-grid project. That depends entirely on how much you’re going to spend. If you have to finance the land and the building of your home, you’ll need a construction home loan, which is a lot like a traditional mortgage, except it’s for building your home and comes with some more stringent rules.
If you’ve got some cash saved up, or you’re willing to do everything on the cheap side, you can always take out a personal loan. With Fiona, you simple filter and choose from the top loan offers and then see if you qualify. It is one of the most comprehensive and effecient ways to search personal loan offers from top providers.
Moreover, if you’re worried about having a less than stellar credit score, rest assured that Fiona provides loan offer options for virtually any credit score across all of the lenders on their platform.
Not everyone that wants to live off the grid is Henry David Thoreau. Some people still want a community, they just don’t want to rely on government resources to live. That being said, you’ll have more options when it comes to living on your own. The world is your playground at that point.
But, if you’re looking to still live in a community, know that you’ll likely end up living in small towns. Below are a couple of places you may want to look into:
Three Rivers Recreation Area
In the wilderness of Oregon, you’ll find the Three Rivers Recreation Area. It’s home to a little over 600 off-grid homes. Since such a large community has formed here, you will find some creature comforts, like satellite TV, high-speed internet, and a large solar farm where your electricity will come from. You can find everything from basic homes, to million-dollar homes.
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage
If you want to live in a very small community of just 45 people, and you like funny names, Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage has a lot to offer. They’re an entirely sustainable, off-grid community that is dedicated to totally reusable materials in all that they do – including building their homes.
Tinkers Bubble, England
If you’re willing to move across the pond, you’ll find a charming, sustainable village nestled in English woods. If it’s sustainability that you’re looking for, this 28-acre community has built everything from their homes to their farms off of sustainable materials.
And, if farming is your game, all the income generated from this community comes from their farms and orchards.
Electricity will have to come from natural sources
If you want to truly live off-grid, you’ll need to find a way to get electricity. Luckily, renewable energy is taking off, making it easier for the average person to access it. Know that there will be a hefty cost upfront for many of these power sources, but they pay off tenfold in just a few months or years.
It costs about $18,000 on average to install solar panels in your home. Now, before you give up on the idea altogether because of the terrifying costs, know that solar panels also start paying for themselves in a little over five years. After that, you can expect to save thousands every year.
And an added benefit is the fact that there are tons of tax breaks you get when you have solar panels, and if you have electricity that you simply don’t use (solar panels generate a LOT), electricity companies may be willing to buy it from you. There’s a side hustle I bet you never thought you’d have.
Most people opt to have a professional install their wind turbine, as they’re typically tall, heavy, and somewhat dangerous to install on your own. And, unfortunately, that’ll cost you a pretty penny (upwards of $15,000 – $50,000 depending on the size you need).
That being said, there are a surprising number of DIY wind turbine kits that can be as little as a couple of hundred dollars. These won’t generate as much electricity, but if you offset it with a small solar panel setup, you can likely find something that’s low-cost.
You’ll also need to figure out a water source
There are tons of ways you can get water to your home when you live off-grid. Here are just a couple of the more cost-effective options:
Digging a well is the most common method people who live off-grid use. In fact, many land sites near me already have wells dug, since that’s what most people throughout the state use. Again, this method will require some work and or money upfront. You’ll need to dig the well, which almost always requires drilling into the ground (and no, not with a hand-held drill). You can do this yourself, but you’ll need to rent equipment you likely don’t know how to use.
My suggestion, since water is one absolute necessity you’ll need, is to hire someone for this. This will be in the thousands to the tens of thousands range. Again, after the work is done, you’ll have a viable water source for years to come.
If you’re really a do-it-yourself kind of person, I recommend this read to get you started.
Live near a natural water source
This is obviously one of the easiest methods to get water. If you live near a river or lake (that you know is safe to drink from – check with the town if you don’t), you can get water directly from the source.
Of course, always make sure to check with the town you reside in about water access, just in case there are any restrictions.
You’ll also want to consider a pump system that can help you get water up to your home. Unless, of course, you build your home very close to the water (which can be tricky if things flood often, so do your due diligence and learn about the land you’re buying).
Getting hot water is a whole different beast
Getting running water to your home is just the first process if you’re a person who needs hot water. The simplest way – and the way that’s the biggest pain – is to simply heat up your water on a stove and use that to take baths and do your dishes. Honestly, this is something most people looking to save the most money do.
The other way is by having a water heater. You can get ones that run off of electricity, as well as ones that run off of propane. Now for this to work, you do have to have a well system or a water tank system. The cost to install a water heater is modest, but not nothing. It’ll be around $1,000 – $3,000 depending on the size of the heater.
Heating your home is important for those who live in colder climates
A wood stove or fireplace is one of the most common methods of heating off-grid homes. Again, how much you’ll have to pay depends on the size of the home you’re heating. The cost typically ranges from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple thousand, while the cost to get it installed hovers around $1,000 – $4,000.
Propane heaters are typically used in addition to wood stoves to heat places the wood stove may not reach. The important thing to remember about propane heaters is that they can be dangerous if left unattended for too long.
Propane also is one of the more expensive ways to heat your home (trust me, that’s how I heated my last apartment). I paid about $175 during all the winter months to heat my one-bedroom apartment, and the heat didn’t even reach the back bedroom. So a large house could be two to three times that much.
It’s not glamorous, but don’t forget about your bathroom needs
There are two major bathroom setups when you live off-grid: composting toilets and water tank systems.
This method is usually the one that trips people up. That’s because it’s pretty different than the way most of us think of modern-day toilets. Composting toilets are similar to ones you’d see in RVs. They do require more maintenance than your average toilet, but they’re also an incredibly eco-friendly alternative. Composting toilets range in price from $800 – $4,000, depending on how simple you’re willing to go.
If you have a water tank water system connected to pipes or using a pressurized system, this can double as your sewage system. You’ll need a separate tank for grey water (waste), and you’ll need to have access to a place to empty the tank (you’ll need to contact your town to ask). This is, however, a somewhat cheap option, as the tanks themselves are usually only a few hundred dollars.
Can I still get the internet when I live off the grid?
Whether or not you have the internet while living off the grid is entirely up to you. Many die-hards will say that having the internet defeats the whole purpose of living off the grid, but so many job industries are based online these days that not having internet access may not be a reality for everyone.
If you do opt for internet access, you’ll need to get a little creative. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
Using an unlimited data plan (if you have cell phone coverage)
If you have cell phone coverage in your area, you can get an unlimited data plan and use your phone or tablet as your sole internet source. Most people do everything they need to on their phones anyway, so why not take advantage of it?
Some rural communities have satellite internet options. While there aren’t many satellite internet options on the market right now, if you’re in the range of either Viasat or HughesNet, you could potentially get internet much cheaper than those who use traditional providers. Both companies have plans ranging from $30 – $150/month.
Find others who have it
In Maine, there are Dunkin Donuts even in the most remote areas of the state. And they almost always offer free WiFi. Coffee shops, libraries, and even plenty of parks offer free WiFi. You can always head over to one of these places if you absolutely need to use the internet.
Plenty of people opt to keep their regular nine-to-five jobs and go home to their off-grid homestead. But if you’re not close to a hub where there are a lot of jobs, you’ll need to figure out some form of employment.
If you opt to have the internet at your home (if you can get it), freelance, online work is always an option. You can blog, edit, do design work, submit your photography to photo sites, and the list goes on and on.
If you want to make off-grid living your full-time job, you can. Just know that not anyone can up and decide to move to the country and be a farmer. It takes some serious know-how. In the meantime, you can work on local farms, which typically need help during harvest seasons.
If you live in a rural area, there’s more often than not going to be many farms for you to choose from. You can pick up skills from local farmers in your area, and learn a thing or two.
Even if you live off-grid, chances are there are people around you who don’t. If you’re already a skilled trade worker (electrician, plumber, carpenter, etc.), you can benefit from the fact that those around you still very much need help with their on-grid systems.
Make sure you also have proper health care
There’s no doubt about it, living off the grid is tough. Most of your day-to-day job is learning how to survive on your own without the convenience of modern technology. That can wear your body down a lot faster than if you live in a home with on-demand heat and AC, electricity managed by your town, and a grocery store down the street.
Just because you want to live off the grid, doesn’t mean you don’t need health care. In fact, you may need to visit a doctor more than the average person.
I’m self-employed, so I know that finding health care is one of the things you want to do least as an adult. But, since some people who live off-grid don’t have regular W-2 jobs, having to find health care all on your own is a common practice.
One of the best places to search for all of your options is through eHealth. They’re an aggregator – a shopping portal that lets you compare insurance from multiple different carriers – with over 10,000 health plans from over 180 companies. When you use eHealth, you can easily see which carrier offers the most affordable plan for your budget, and all you have to do is fill out one simple form. eHealth is available 24/7 with online chat function, email, and telephone support from licensed health insurance agents.
One of my favorite things about eHealth is their dental insurance coverage options. Through an aggregator similar to that for health insurance, you can get instant quotes from some of the best dental insurance providers. When living off-grid, it is important to remember that your dental health is an important part of your overall health, definitely if part of your plan is to chow down on wild game that you hunt on your own land.
Who is off-grid living for (and who isn’t it for)?
If you want to live a simpler lifestyle, off-grid living is for you
Living off-grid is best done by those who know what they’re getting into. Most of your time is spent simply surviving.
If you’re looking for a way to maintain a simpler life, living off-grid is the perfect answer.
If you want an extreme way to save money, off-grid living is for you
All-in-all, once you get everything set up, living off-grid is a cheaper way to live. Renewable energy is cost-effective, living off the land food-wise is cheaper (but takes more maintenance), and living in a less extravagant home can save you money, too.
If you can’t sacrifice modern-day amenities, you won’t like living off the grid
Many people take for granted how easy it is just to flip a switch in your home and have light. Or to turn on the faucet and get clean water. If you don’t want to be maintaining solar panels, a well system, growing your own food, and scaling down your life in general, living off-grid likely isn’t a good situation.
Living off-grid is not for everyone, but for the brave few, there are savings to be had! Since you do without most modern amenities, there goes the cost of subscription services, high-cost heaters, and air conditions, among others.
You’re forced to live a simpler lifestyle off-grid, which is what some people crave. At the same time, living off-grid does come with a high upfront cost in some cases. So make sure you weigh both sides before making a decision.