Four years ago we moved from our cozy convenient condominium to a custom off-grid home in the mountains of Eastern Washington State. We are located 20 miles from the nearest small town and 40 miles from something larger.
Our new home is at 4,200-foot elevation and is a homestead of sorts with goats, chickens and horses. We grow much of our own food and have learned to garden the year ‘round.
I’ve always defined 'off-grid' as providing your own water, septic, and power. So what did we give up by going off-grid?
We installed a larger than needed septic system on our property. It is designed in the simplest form. It is gravity flow down the hill from our house and consists of two 60’ lines and a 1,000-gallon, two-compartment tank. The only maintenance required is to have the tank pumped out periodically. Recommendation is once a year but with only two of us using an oversize system it won’t be necessary to do it that often. We are now responsible if anything goes wrong but with this simple gravity system it should last for years to come trouble free. If there is an issue we have 40 acres to choose from on where to relocate our present system. Once installed the only thing we have given up to provide our own waste management system is the monthly bill (from the local government sewer provider) which always seems to go up.
We get our water from our 300-foot-deep well. It has two sources, one at 118-foot and another at 200-foot. Our well has been in operation for about 10 years and has never run dry. The water is clean and delicious. We have to maintain our well, pump, and waterlines. With a public water source you don’t have to maintain anything except for maybe the waterlines on your own property. As a tradeoff for assuming full responsibility for our own water we had to give up the following: Rising costs on a yearly basis or the threat of rising costs due to a “less than average snowfall” each year. Water additives like chlorine and fluoride. Agencies fighting over control of the water. Private and public fighting over the use of water from lakes, rivers and streams. Where I came from there was always a discussion or battle concerning water control and use.
We get all of our power from our solar panels and battery backup system. We have all of the conveniences and appliances that any modern household has but since many of you find that hard to believe I will list them here specifically: microwave oven, TV, computer, washer and dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, freezer, and vacuum cleaner.
Our water pump is ¾ HP 240V. I can plug in a 240V welder and use it if I want to. Solar power has come a long way in the past 10 years. We are now in our fourth season with solar power. Again, as in the two examples above, we have to maintain our systems. No one is going to do it for us. What have we given up for the use of the sun? To date our system has been operational 24/7 since we made the final connection. No more worries about outages due to downed power lines from wind and ice storms or someone taking out a power pole with their car. No more unsightly power poles and lines. No more monthly bills or threats of rising costs, in fact solar costs have been going down.
All in all we haven’t really had to give up anything except convenience for producing our own sewer, water and power and the maintenance and repairs do fall on our shoulders. Public services are more convenient but come with a list of negatives from rising costs to battles over jurisdictions and what we should or shouldn’t add to the water or whether we should or shouldn’t have dams and on and on and on. I’ll take off grid anytime now that I’ve lived both ways because self reliance generates more old fashioned values, conservation, and benefits than the alternative.
Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their websites GoodIdeasForLife.com and OffGridWorks.com.