Living Off Grid – What Does It Mean?

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex

                                                                                                                                                                                                       November 2011 – My wife Laurie and I have been in our off grid home for exactly one year now. We live in the Okanogan Highlands of Eastern Washington State at an elevation of 4200′. We are both in our late fifties. This past year has not been anything like the condo lifestyle we came from. Although our backgrounds have well prepared us for our late life adventure I could still fill a book with brand new experiences.

Most of our friends and relatives seem to think we have lost a marble or two but that’s okay, we moved so far away we won’t see them for a while anyway.

This past year we have experienced building a home and moving 250 miles away, living off grid with all new unfamiliar systems, record rainfalls, sub zero temperatures, a 4.6 magnitude earthquake, and a forest fire. Our property is almost three miles from the nearest paved road and no neighbors. Well, there is one neighbor, sort of, but he doesn’t talk to us. I don’t think he likes having neighbors. What in the world did we get ourselves into?

We love it here. We have a “view to die for.” We are surrounded by National Forests, lakes, pine, fir, tamarack trees, green grass and sagebrush. It is beautiful the year ’round.

So what about Off Grid? Simply put, off grid means that you are responsible for your own power, water, and sewage disposal. In our case we chose solar power with a backup generator, water from a drilled well, water cisterns, and an onsite septic system.

Each of these three off grid requirements has multiple methods to choose from. For power, you could choose to go without. Some people in this area live with only a small generator for electricity. The three main sources for off grid power are solar (AC or DC), wind power, and hydro power.

For water we chose a drilled well as our main water source with a 220V pump. That’s right. Our solar AC power is both 110v (regular household) and 220v for the pump. We also put three 1200 gallon underground water cisterns in, one at the barn and two at the house. We use the barn cistern to water the horses year round and the two cisterns at the house are for the garden in the summer time. That puts a lot less strain on our solar power to pump water. It only takes about 1 inch of rain to fill the cisterns off our metal roofs.

For sewage disposal we chose an onsite septic system which is the most common. We use it for both gray and brown water. Some people separate the two types of water. The brown water goes to the septic system and gray water may be used to water landscaping, trees, plants, and even gardens. Others get by with a gray system and an outhouse, chemical, or compost toilet. There are many options to choose from for all of these systems. Of course your local Health Department will have something to say about it and you may even have to educate them.

So how do you learn about all of these things and where do you start? I will talk about all of them and more in follow-up blogs in a step by step process that we went through but I can give you a hint right now on where to start………. Commitment. Making a commitment is the first step.

Laurie and I made a decision to change the way we live. There may be others who are “greener” or more “sustainable” than we are but ANY change you make that is better for your health and the planet is worth committing to.

Coming Up – Planning and research for our off grid home.

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