Going Off Grid, The How-to Book of Simple Living and Happiness

Reader Contribution by Aur Beck and Advanced Energy Solutions Group
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First I want admit that I started reading this with a prejudice that there’s no way 150 page book would provide enough insight on how to build an off-grid place but I was wrong. The author is honest and straightforward, while giving enough overview to make it possible for someone to build the conventional home off grid using professional help in most aspects. I really like the subtitle “the how-to book of simple living and happiness.”

The author does fall into the trap of the old way of thinking living off-grid, which historically means moving to the boonies and being your own power/utility, company which is the traditional way. It is unlike what I advocate, which is learning to simplify your life while living within society.

As he writes, “living off the grid as I define it, means creating a home that is autonomous and does not rely on public utility connections.” After starting to live off-grid in 1991 and starting to install full-time off-the-grid homes in 1999, I feel that many people can start the living-off-rid mentality within society. The author himself did that as he downsized and simplified his life in preparation for moving to the country. As he wrote, ” I believe getting off grid is about a simpler, more streamlined approach to life.” 

I agree with the author on not recommending following the tiny house on wheels trend (why not just buy a travel trailer?), however I think a small house (300-1,200 sq ft) well built is better than a regular sized house. I only found two bits of information that I completely disagree with one is him bad-mouthing composting toilets and his formula for figuring out power usage.  

Composting toilets, which if done correctly, the material that comes out the other end is soil. Also he completely skipped the septic system that we use on my Yestermorrow Farm, which is a composting septic system very conventional but it’s required because our water cable is within 26 feet of the surface. 

The other is an inaccurate formula for designing an off-grid system unless you have a backup generator as he designed for average use when if you only use renewable energy you have to design for worst case scenario. Since the price of Solar has dropped 70% since 2010 we no longer having need to advocate for the overuse of propane and/or a backup generator as it is very easily possible to go a hundred percent renewable. His solar system size seemed small until I realized later that he was planning to add a generator and/or wind generator later but when this book was printed he hadn’t hooked up either of those. If you do have a secondary backup power system you can design your solar for average use as he did instead of lowest Sun highest power worst case scenario.

Instead of going for a conventional propane heater like he did, I would recommend a dual fuel propane and wood outdoor furnace to utilize all the wood in his area. 

Overall it was a quick very realistic not sugar-coated in any way book about moving to the country and living a conventional lifestyle with modern utility conventions. I try to be impartial and not recommend specific products but I would recommend this book for anybody wanting to know realistically the trials and tribulations of figuring out how to buy land, find good contractors, and build an off-grid conventional, with all standard utilities, house in the country.

Going Off Grid, The How-to book of Simple Living and Happiness, by Gary Collins, MS; book review.

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