Living Off the Grid and Thriving!

Although their adjustment to living off the grid wasn't always easy, this Ontario family is successfully generating its own power and growing its own food.

| February/March 2010

More than a decade ago, my wife, Michelle, and I moved from a busy suburban street to 150 acres in the Ontario bush, where our nearest neighbors are three miles away. Ditto for the nearest utility pole. We'd transitioned to living off the grid with little knowledge about renewable energy — or electricity, for that matter — and had to quickly put into practice our home-schooling mantra of “lifelong learning.”

To say that the learning curve was steep is an understatement. Back then, there were no good books on the subject of renewable energy for homes, and the information you could find was pieced together by pioneers who were learning as they went along. Consulting with any local electrician was a waste of time, so we learned by the seat of our pants. Luckily, we developed a network of helpful and skilled friends along the way. We came to realize that the more things we learned to do ourselves, the more independent we would become, which is the theme of the book I’ve just written, Thriving During Challenging Times: The Energy, Food and Financial Independence Handbook.

As we begin to experience the converging challenges of resource depletion, climate change, and the ongoing financial crisis, we need to make ourselves more resilient to shocks to the system.

If you do decide to go off the grid, generating your own electricity from the sun and wind provides an incredible sense of well-being — not only from a sense of independence, but also from the realization that you aren’t using any electricity that comes from coal. Powering your home with renewable energy is a huge step toward reducing your carbon footprint. We started with a fairly small solar-electric system that the previous owners of our home had installed, and we’ve steadily added more panels. As we learned more about peak oil, we were determined to reduce our use of nonrenewable fossil fuels for both cooking and powering our gasoline generator; there are times when there isn’t enough sunlight or wind to charge our off-grid batteries, so we use a fossil fuel-powered generator as a backup.

Wonderful Wind, Super Solar

When we moved in, there was an old wind turbine on a 60-foot tower on our property, but several years ago we decided to replace it with a new Bergey 1-kilowatt turbine on a 100-foot tower. We are surrounded by forests (not optimal for wind generation), so putting up a 100-foot tower set the turbine about 30 feet above the trees to capture some of the stronger winds. We decided to film the installation process and sell a video of it via our publishing company, Aztext. I’m a visual learner, and if I could have watched a video of the process of putting all the pieces of our off-the-grid system together, it would have made our efforts go more smoothly.

The new turbine required us to upgrade our battery bank from a 12-volt to a 24-volt system, so we also upgraded our inverter and added more solar panels. In the previous year, we ran our backup generator about 15 times. In the year after we put up the turbine and added solar panels, we ran the generator just twice. This means that, on many days, we now have extra electricity to use for cooking, offsetting our propane use.

8/28/2013 7:53:38 AM

Article is OK, but the contention in the first few paragraphs that there was no information out there 10 years ago for people trying to live off the grid is just not true. My husband and I were part of the homesteader movement back in the 70's. While we did have electricity, some of our friends didn't. There were a lot of articles and books written on homesteading without power. There were do it yourself wind turbines, solar hot water heaters, passive solar greenhouse heat for your home, methane digesters using animal and human waste to produce bio gas for cooking, etc. I applaud younger people continuing this trend, but don't try to act like you invented the ideas. I have Mother Earth News in print from the first volume on for about 12 years. I intend to get them out, brush off the dust and return to that life when I retire in a couple years. Right now we still heat entirely with wood from our property, have a huge garden. passive solar greenhouse, and window solar collectors. We stopped raising animals when we both got good full time jobs in endeavors that were environmentally friendly, but I see rabbits, goats and chickens in our future again!

Belinda Brewster
4/8/2013 11:27:56 AM

This was a great story. I learned some new things from your article, and motivation to continue making my own home self-reliant. Thank you for taking the time to write this article.

Wendy Galbraith
4/7/2013 4:53:15 PM

I think the next big change will be to STOP using drinkable water to flush our toilets!!

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