Living Offgrid Affordably: Before Getting Started

Reader Contribution by Jeff Chaney
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Photo by Jeff and Kathy Chaney  

This series of articles will chronicle our journey into living off grid at the least cost, and as comfortably as possible. As with all things in life, the comfort level you enjoy will be directly proportionate to your available budget. This level can be raised massively using your knowledge and abilities. Our desire was to create a sustainable lifestyle using a minimum of investment. The wish now is to convey some of what we have learned along the way, and identify some of the mistakes that were made. I am not an expert in any field, nor do I hold a list of degrees. My sole qualification to write this is the fact that I am living it daily.

This story is not a how to guide. Off grid living is much more complex, as you will discover, and unique to each individual family. Every detail of one’s daily life, both current and future, must be given utmost consideration. I cannot stress enough that last statement. Actual cash outlay will also depend heavily on the exact amount of work you can do. Ninety percent of the work was performed by my two hands. We will not go into every detail, with the hope that you will come away with a clear understanding of what was done and why, what was successful and what was not. Our approach was far from common, but a lot of this information is quite adaptable.

A myriad of topics will be covered, including the purchase of land, obtaining materials, use of alternative energy, and utilization of alternative techniques. Standard construction methods were used, with few exceptions. Components will be critiqued. Certain products and procedures exceeded expectations, while others did not measure up. These are only our results. Yours may differ, and probably will.

Legalities and building codes vary widely with location. Please check with local officials before action is taken. Demolition and rebuilding are vastly more expensive. Do it right the first time, and only once. Since we were not connected to the grid, an electrical inspection was not required. This does not mean that electrical codes could be ignored. How sad it would be to build a structure, only to see it burn to the ground! Saving a few dollars to cut corners is not worth the result. Sustainable, remember?

On a similar note, we are constantly asked about the latest and greatest cutting edge technology. The next new invention may be better than sliced bread. But what if it isn’t ? We hope to sustain the lifestyle we are building for twenty to thirty years, or longer. We mostly use only tried and true products and techniques. Consider the consequences if something used turns out to be a failure, and what it will take to remedy the situation. The costs involved may be prohibitive. A workable solution may be impossible.

One must remember that we are off grid. There are times abundant power is not available. On occasion, especially during winter, weather patterns dictate electrical usage be curtailed somewhat. We will strive to be timely, and sincerely hope these articles will help to achieve your goal of a cost manageable and therefore sustainable standard of living.

Although we take advantage of cell phone and mobile broadband services, one is not required to support big oil, electrical distributors, water and sewer, or television cable and satellite providers. Those employees have a much larger annual salary than we ever will. Mortgage free also saves lots of money, but is not always feasible in the beginning. More about this in future articles.

If it happens you are one of the hearty souls that will attempt what we have done, on a very low budget, be prepared for a monumental amount of hard physical labor. I understood from the beginning this project would involve lots of hard work, and was in excellent shape, but was unprepared for the epic it turned out to be. If you are working with a minimal budget, as we were, the physical and mental toll can be unimaginable at times. My original philosophy was to hire help only when absolutely necessary, to control costs. I would question the wisdom of this decision many, many times. My wife questioned my sanity constantly. It has been said, “If you want to know whether your marriage will work or not, build a house together. If you both survive, it’s very possible the marriage will too!”

Please do not be discouraged or intimidated, just very well prepared. This will not be an undertaking which can be discontinued at any time. There are some stages of the project at which time you can take a break, and must do so. A strong will, determination, and perseverance are some of qualities that will enable successful completion of the adventure ahead.

A sustainable lifestyle is most interesting, lots of fun, and very rewarding. We hope this story will make you think. There is always more than one way to accomplish a goal. This journey will be a lot of things, but dull is definitely not one of them. Welcome! We hope you are entertained and inspired. Good luck, and please remember to recycle any and everything, if possible. If a recycling program does not exist in your community, please try to get one started.

You may access the Living Offgrid Affordably article archive here.