Living Off Grid – Does It Cost More?

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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I’ve been wondering how all of these off grid lifestyle
changes add up for costs compared to how I lived before. By lifestyle changes,
I mean living off the grid compared to living on the grid.
Remember I define living off grid as supplying my own sewer, water, and power.
It may mean other things as well but those three things are the most common
criteria. Did I save money by switching from on grid to off grid or not?

First of all, let me be clear – we can’t make a perfect
comparison. That would be impossible. Just take solar power vs. public power
for instance. Every single power jurisdiction in the US charges a different
rate for their product so my comparison would vary according to what part of
the country I lived in. The same goes for sewer and water costs around the
country. They vary considerably depending on where you live.
It also depends on what kind of home you build and the size of it. Propane or
natural gas costs also vary depending on your location.

So how can I make a cost comparison between on grid and off
grid living? I can look at my own circumstances in a very simple way and at
least get an idea about the above question of costs. I am a professional
estimator by trade so I know the difference between exact comparisons and
simple comparisons. I’m not doing this exercise for accounting purposes but
rather just to get an idea of what MY circumstances are and how WE came out
cost wise by making this change in our lifestyle.

I live in a well insulated home in the Eastern part of the
state at an elevation of 4200′. A relative of mine lives in a similar size home
in the western part of the state at sea level. So already we have a discrepancy
in elevation which is a big factor in this exercise. That’s okay, just take
that into consideration when reviewing the numbers I am about to share with

Both on grid and off grid homes are 1400 square feet.

Here is a simple list of MONTHLY COSTS:

Solar Power  $73.00                                                                        Public
Power  $48.00
Propane  $46.00                                                                                Natural Gas   $88.00
Water  $38.00                                                                                    Public
Water  $37.00
Sewer  $21.00                                                                                    Public
Sewer  $40.00
TOTAL  $178.00                                                                                  TOTAL  $213.00

This is not an exact
It does however give me an idea of where I stand cost-wise by
going off grid. Even though this is not
an exact comparison there is a lot we can learn from it.

My deductions from this simple comparison:
1. It would not have been economically feasible to go with solar power without
the 30% Federal credit.
2. The reason propane is so much less than natural gas is because I heat with
wood and the other house uses a furnace so this cost difference makes sense. It
will also vary either way for either home depending on where you live and what
your fuel costs are. We heat more than the other home due to our elevation so I
think this cost would triple if we also heated with a furnace.
3. The water is comparable but if you get into a deep well (over 250′) the off
grid cost is going to go way up.
4. I have a very simple septic system which is about 5 years old. The new
regulations have already raised septic system costs for three bedroom homes by
about 25% so these costs are closer than they look here.

 Over all it probably cost more to go off
grid with modern sewer, water, and power systems but it is nice to know that by
going off grid we didn’t spend much more money and these two columns of costs
will vary a great deal depending on where you live. If I have these same off
grid costs in an area that charges more money for power, fuel, sewer or water, then
it could easily be more cost effective to be off grid.
There is one other thing I like to consider in this exercise. We know that by
going off grid we have cut our use of natural resources considerably. It just
seems to be a natural byproduct of the off grid lifestyle so if we can stay in
the “ballpark” cost wise and at the same time lower our need for natural
resources. I would have to declare that “cost effective”.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in
the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their websites  and