Living Off Grid – Step 1 Research and Planning

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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In our last blog we looked at the meaning of “off grid” and gave a brief overview of our experiences this past year in our new lifestyle. The next few articles will detail a step by step process we went through and the choices we made in order to transcend the leap from city condo life to off grid “modern homestead.”

 Research played a big part in the planning process. We talked to other people, checked out library books, read a multitude of magazines and then subscribed to the ones we felt were most beneficial to our goals. Combining research with the experiences described in the next few paragraphs will give you a pretty clear picture of the first steps we took to enter into a new lifestyle.

We each have our own set of circumstances that help determine the direction and choices we have to make. Laurie and I had purchased 40 acres of property in the east side of Washington State, 250 miles and five mountain passes from our west side condo. Our original intent was to use it for recreational purposes. I had always loved the atmosphere of a pine forest and that is what we ended up

The property already had a drilled well with a 1500 gallon holding tank, so water wasn’t an issue. The next thing we did was install a septic system for a three bedroom home (just in case) and after that we built the barn. Finally, we purchased a used 28′ travel trailer to stay in whenever we could find time to go visit our little place in heaven.

This was our first off grid set up. Power came from our generator and trailer batteries. We also used the generator to pump water into the holding tank which was located up the hill from our trailer and barn. Gravity flow took care of the water pressure into our trailer. We ran 150′ of 4″ sewer pipe from our trailer to the new septic tank. We used the barn to store our trailer and other belongings (toys) over the cold winters. We now had a secure and fully functioning off grid system in place to practice and learn with.

As a homeowner since the age of 20, I had never been hooked up to a well or septic system before. I always had City sewer and water services. Power came from a local utility service. When Laurie and I decided to build a house on our recreational property and live there full time we had a lot of homework to do.

The first thing we did was to go to the county courthouse which had legal jurisdiction and look at what the property was zoned for, what building permits would be required, and what other permits might be required. While we were there we also discovered that our property had been surveyed and recorded. That was important because it meant our property corners would be recognized by the County as “official and approved” in case there was a dispute with adjoining property lines, corners, or fences.
We also discussed the rules and regulations for ‘access’ roads. Our property is located almost three miles from the nearest paved maintained road. We needed to know how wide the access road is, who maintains it (if anyone), can we maintain it and if so are there any limitations to what we could do, after all, the road belongs to all that it serves and passes through different private properties from beginning to end.

It turns out we were required to get an Adequate Water Supply permit, a Site Analysis permit, a Septic System permit, Building permit, and we would also have to get an Electrical permit from the State. I used the well driller notes for the Water permit. We already had a Septic permit. I drew a scaled plan showing the property lines and locations of the buildings for the Site Analysis permit. We were going to need a house plan for the building and electrical permits.

One decision we had to make was whether or not we could live on this property in the winter at an elevation of 4200′. As stated earlier, we were three miles from the nearest maintained road with plenty of snow and ice in between. Only one other person lived on this access road and his solution was to park his car at the bottom of the hill and ride his snowmobile down to the car and back once in a while for supplies. One more thing to research – snow removal.

In our case we had one other item to consider. No phone service and no cell phone signal. We had no desire to be cut off from the outside world. We just wanted to become a little more independent from public services than we had been. To make a long story short, our research turned up a cell phone signal booster system that allowed us to have service where none had existed previously. I’ll describe it in detail in a later blog because there isn’t very much information available right now and it isn’t as simple as going online and purchasing a cell phone amplifier and antenna.

So as you can see, there are a lot of things to consider and a fair amount of time spent in research. Before you even break ground you need to make sure of the following:

·         Your property can be used for your purposes

·         Find out what all of the permitting requirements will be

·         Consider access to your property the year around

·         What communications are available?

·         What services are available such as fire and law enforcement?

·         What medical services are available?

·         Can you get insurance?

·         Are you going to have to give up Wal-Mart or Costco?  (quit laughing, it was Costco for us)

·         If there are two of you are you both excited and committed?

Coming up next – the type of home you build will be an off grid factor. What are your choices?

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State, where they operate their website Good Ideas For Life.