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Many people wonder whether pursuing an off-grid lifestyle is a good idea. Especially given many recent events, living off-grid has become a popular retirement dream. For some, it’s a way to slow down on their own remote slice of heaven and live a simpler life. For others, off-grid means a level of self-sufficiency and disaster preparedness that could serve them well and keep them more independent into old age.
But if you have lived your entire life with the modern conveniences of the power grid and city water, there is a lot to consider before you make the switch to off grid living.
After all, living off-grid is not as simple as wiring up some solar panels to a cute little cottage in the woods and getting rid of that electric bill. There is a lot of hard work involved, and often there are additional costs and unexpected issues that you don’t have in town that you might face in more remote areas.
What’s the first thing you should even do?
How much is the cost of land? What about property taxes? How much electricity do you need? Can you live off the grid and still enjoy some creature comforts of modern life?
If your goal is to have a self-sufficient home where you can gracefully support your needs into old age, it is possible! Living off-grid, making your own electricity, harvesting your own clean water, and even having a thriving vegetable garden are all great ways to spend your retirement. It just takes some thoughtful planning and research so you can avoid some of the biggest mistakes off-gridders often make.
Today we’re talking with Clarke and Bethann.
They have been living off-grid for over four years and are planning on continuing into their retirement years on their off-grid homestead. We’re going to take a deep dive into their off-grid homestead setup and learn from their sage advice.
There is an absolute goldmine of information and advice here even if you’re a few decades away from your golden years. After all, the effort we put into our future plans is vital to our success and preparedness. The earlier you can start, the better.
Use the jump menu below to find the Q&A’s you are most interested in, or take my advice and savor this entire post. You’ll learn about everything from solar and water to the perils of rural internet and how to plan ahead for long-term living.
And don’t forget to PIN THE IMAGE BELOW TO SAVE THIS FOR LATER! You’re going to want to revisit this.
Living Off the Grid Into Retirement: An Interview With a Couple Making it Happen on 125 Acres
- Tell us a bit about yourselves.
- How long have you been living off-grid and how did you end up there?
- Why did you choose this specific property and area?
- How is your off-grid homestead different from a traditional home?
- What off-grid systems do you have?
- What are the specs of your current solar power system? Did you start with something smaller and work your way up?
- What can you run with the solar you have?
- Is there anything you DON'T run on solar?
- What are some of the pros and cons of living with solar?
- What is winter like with solar?
- What would you do differently in your system design if you could?
- How do you get water?
- How do you deal with wastewater?
- How are you currently getting internet? What has internet access been like for you in the past?
- Is there anything you have in your home that most people wouldn't expect to find in an off-grid home?
- What kinds of homesteading activities do you do?
- What are your plans as you head into your retirement years? Any insights on off-grid living at different ages and stages?
- What is hard about living off the grid that should you consider as you age?
- Do you miss anything about living ON the grid?
- What advice do you have for anyone considering homesteading off the grid?
- There you have it!
Tell us a bit about yourselves.
We are Empty-nesters in our late 50’s. We purchased 125 acres in 2017. The land is located in the middle of nowhere Kentucky. About 2 hours from the closest large, metropolitan city, and an hour from two smaller cities with big box stores and entertainment. We are reasonably handy, mechanical, cooking and gardening. Not afraid to take on more than we should.
How long have you been living off-grid and how did you end up there?
We have been living off-grid for four and a half years. We wanted to buy rural land and wanted to down-size from expensive big cities and higher taxes. For our retirement years, we wanted privacy, a bit of land, and lower total costs. The decision to go off-grid evolved with our land search. When we found our current property, it did not have utilities. We researched both what it would cost to bring utilities to the property and what it would cost and involve to live off-grid.
Why did you choose this specific property and area?
Originally our plan was to buy land and build a single-story barndominium on it. We were living outside Philadelphia, and the wife wanted warmer winters – so our focus was searching the warmer (southern) parts of the country. We searched for a couple of years but not finding anything in raw land that we liked: NC, VA, TN, and East TX.
Our search criteria were:
- good growing season
- warmer winters
- low taxes
- some terrain/hills and greenery
- good medical/hospitals within an hour’s drive
- limited (or no) zoning restrictions
- some land and privacy
We found this property by searching land sites on the internet. We had a budget in mind, wanted at least 10 acres, and were open to moving wherever was warmer than PA winters. One day, we just put our max land budget in, sorted by acreage, and on page two or three, came across 125 acres in Kentucky. It already had a 10-year-old 1800 sqft cabin but it was listed as a hunting property/cabin as there was no running water or electricity.
We took advantage of a business trip to Texas and decided to visit/evaluate the property and look at the various states on our list along the way to/from. We called the realtor a couple of days in advance to set up the visit and stayed in a nearby town to get a sense of the local amenities and services.
The drive out to the property was interesting. The first step leaving pavement? Cross a shallow creek to get to the other side. Then over a mile of two-track along a right of way. The property is accessible through a neighbor’s land, down a poorly maintained dirt and gravel road that turns muddy in heavy rain. A 4WD isn’t needed, but it does provide some comfort with mud and snow.
The house had signs of previous solar installs along with a battery bank – but it was all long gone with a bare pole for panels, roof-mounted array bolts, empty battery shelves, and disconnected wires everywhere. It looked to have had a propane-powered fridge in the kitchen area as well.
The house sat empty for a number of years before ending up in a bank auction and being bought by the realtor to flip.
The realtor said she had a lot of interest but she couldn’t list it as a house since it had no water or electricity, and most people couldn’t get a loan for it.
We talked it over and decided this would be our next adventure. We were fortunate to be able to purchase the property while living in our old home, which gave us time to make the cabin liveable. So we started doing regular 12-hour trips each way around weekends, moving a bit and setting up the basics to make the house liveable. We worked on our new house while we prepped our large suburban home for sale. Then we used the proceeds from that sale to pay for our new home and land, and to fund the major off-grid work: water and a big solar system.
How is your off-grid homestead different from a traditional home?
Although our house is off-grid, we have all the amenities of a “typical” home in the city connected to utility power: refrigerator, freezer, microwave, dishwasher, washer/ dryer, and air conditioning. We really don’t live any differently from when we had grid power.
A couple of difficulties we have had, have more to do with our remote location. Our trash drop-off is 10 miles from our house. Our mailbox is a mile and a half from the house (it’s a nice walk!} Getting package deliveries to our home is difficult but we bribe one of the delivery drivers with farm fresh eggs.
What off-grid systems do you have?
Solar provides our electricity (for lights, refrigerator, freezer, washer, microwave, air conditioning, heat pump, etc).
Water is from a hillside spring nearby.
We have a 500-gallon propane tank and get a fill once a year. Propane is used for hot water heating, cooking (gas stove/oven), backup heat using propane heaters, and the clothes dryer. We installed propane heaters when we first purchased the house as a means to heat the house to keep the plumbing from freezing when we weren’t there. It is also considered a “safe” form of heating for insurance purposes.
We use a wood stove to heat the house in winter. We are (slowly) installing underfloor radiant which we plan to heat from a heating loop added to our wood stove and maybe add on solar hot water on the porch roof. The wood stove covers 70-80% of our heating needs.
On sunny winter days with close-to-full batteries, we can use our four-zone mini-split in heat pump mode to do heat. We can only do heat or AC with electricity for three days before the batteries run low if there is no sunlight to recharge with.
We also have a diesel generator for backup.
What are the specs of your current solar power system? Did you start with something smaller and work your way up?
The quote from the local utility was a minimum of $37k to bring power back to the cabin. We decided to invest the same amount in solar and batteries and a large inverter. Our initial interim solution was about 2.4KW of solar, an 1800-watt 24v inverter, and 600AH of lithium battery at 24v. That lasted while we did the basic improvements and did the fixing up needed to be able to move in with basic comforts. We kept that after we moved in but it didn’t have enough battery or solar for what we considered comfortable living.
For the upgraded solar, we purchased 10KW of 72-cell solar panels from a discounted seller (sunelec.com), did a bunch of research on YouTube and from altestore.com, and started laying out an off-grid solar system based around Outback Power’s products: an Outback Radian 8KW inverter, three 100A charge controller (two primary and a backup) and lots of batteries.
In researching solar, the number one concern is load power consumption and battery life. We decided to go with lithium due to its long life, high energy density, and fast recharge time. Apparently, it’s quite common for people with lead acid batteries to kill their first set of batteries from overuse while they learn how far they can push them. Lead batteries don’t like being discharged, like being immediately recharged, and don’t take a charge as fast as lithium. The more you use lead, the faster they deteriorate.
We put a huge battery bank of used Tesla battery modules (with appropriate safety measures) and have ~1900AH of energy storage at 48v, or about 90KwH. The average US home uses 30KWH/day. We are 16-18KWH/day – without electric heat or A/C.
The old solar system that we used for less than a year and a half? Well, we sold it to a nice couple who have a blog and live in a cordwood home in Northern KY. They seem to have put it to good use.
What can you run with the solar you have?
We have all the conveniences: fridge/freezer, chest freezer, coffee maker, toaster, washer/dryer, lights, fans, AC and electric heat (limited), internet, security cameras, computers, TV monitors (streaming or downloads) and so on. We don’t really think about what we need electricity-wise. The most we have consumed at any one moment is about 5KW out of the 8KW our inverter can produce – and that was running AC, dishwasher, and laundry + plus lights and stuff. We probably could have gotten away with a smaller system, but we don’t like to push things to the edge.
Is there anything you DON’T run on solar?
Our clothes dryer, stove, and water heater are run on propane. Everything else is solar. In hindsight, we could have done an electric dryer, but would probably do laundry on sunny days – or just use the solar dryer (aka clothesline).
What are some of the pros and cons of living with solar?
- No utility outages – which are very common in our rural area
- Free heating/cooling when the sun is shining
- Can be DIY at 1/2 to 1/3rd the cost of a contracted off-grid system
- 30% tax credit
- Not looking at 1.2 miles of telephone poles leading to our home
- The solar just runs itself (mostly) but I do need to build an operating guide for the significant other.
- Needing to keep somewhat of an eye on our battery bank in winter
- The cost of batteries – they make up more than 50% of the DIY cost of our system- but should last 10+ years if we don’t abuse them.
- The need to occasionally run a generator if the sun doesn’t cooperate.
- Having to drill 57 holes in my roof for mounting the solar racking – no leaks but it makes me nervous over time. If I were to do it again, I would go ground mount.
- No telephone poles mean no phone lines, so no reliable backup land-line communication or DSL internet.
What is winter like with solar?
The limited snow we get can take a couple of days to clear if the sun doesn’t come out and hit the roof panels – which can lead to generator time if preceded by several cloudy days.
What would you do differently in your system design if you could?
I would do Ironridge ground mounts on a hillside and clear some of the trees that shade the house and panels in the early morning and late afternoon. With ground mounts, I could clear panels of snow easier, panels would run cooler in summer (more power output) and there would be no holes in my roof.
We would probably go with a Sol-Ark 10 or 12 K all-in-one (or two of them) for the simplified wiring. The Sol-Ark has many fewer connectors than a separate inverter/charge controller config like the Outback Radian and FM100 charge controllers. Just battery power connections, two AC connections (output and generator in), and two solar string connections. Compare that to about 18+ with the Outback setup. Outback makes an all-in-one unit now which I might also have considered if it had been out but definitely would have had to get two since they are only 5KW each and redundancy when off-grid is key.
How do you get water?
Water is from a nearby hillside spring a few hundred feet from the house. We added a spring house to keep the wildlife and debris from the water. The spring gravity feeds a 500-gallon cistern another 200’ downhill from the spring. We use a solar-powered pump to lift the water almost 500’ across and 150’ up to an 1100-gallon tank that sits above the house. The house water is gravity fed from the large hillside tank. We added a pressure-boosting pump and replaced all the broken house plumbing with PEX. Hot water is a propane-fed Rinnai tankless setup.
For drinking water, we use a 7-stage reverse osmosis system with a UV stage. Water has proven unreliable for our neighbors too – it’s not just utility power that is shaky out in rural land.
How do you deal with wastewater?
Black waste water goes into a septic system. The house had one thankfully (we had nightmares about finding we had a cesspool somewhere). Shower, sink, and washing machine water (grey water) goes into a drain field and irrigates our garden/orchard.
How are you currently getting internet? What has internet access been like for you in the past?
Ah, internet. There is no cell coverage or internet available at our location.
If you climb the 300’+ hills that surround the house, you can get cell phone service but no fast data. Initially, we picked up a Verizon home LTE router and ran 1000’ of outdoor network cable up the hill to a tall tree. I picked up an external high-gain antenna and pointed the antenna at the closest town with Verizon LTE service – about 9 miles away as the crow flies or about 18 miles by car. The network cable ran through two repeaters and carried power and data to the router. The LTE data connection gave us 3-5 MB download.
Then we got ViaSat Business – which is focused on higher satellite internet speeds during business hours. We kept the LTE connection with its slightly lower cost and data cap as backup. ViaSat worked best for my remote work/consulting job and basic website/social media. While a lot of people like to complain about ViaSat, the business plan gave us 25MB down and 75GB/month for $175/month – and they delivered.
ViaSat business was available where their “unlimited” residential plans were not. If you don’t stream video, the 75GB data cap was fine for email, browsing, remote work (not video calls), and social media. We also used the internet for LTE calling over the internet. Unfortunately, squirrels or mice kept chewing on the cables going up the hill, so we ended up retiring that to focus on ViaSat when it proved reliable.
Two years ago, I rented a massive trencher and with help from a friend ran 1.5M of direct burial fiber optic cable from the last Telephone pole closest to our property, alongside the right of way, to our house. This allowed us to switch to xDSL at 25MB/2.5MB for $60/month. The modem equipment lives in a small box next to the pole (friendly neighbor’s land) and is solar-powered. As soon as that was running reliably we canceled ViaSat.
The only downside is when local utility power outages hit (and they do hit frequently) the xDSL network goes down as the equipment up the road doesn’t have backup power. Here we are with our lights on – and no internet. The big change from DSL was the ability to stream videos and movies on demand as there were no more data caps.
We joined the Starlink waitlist 18+ months ago, last month, Starlink offered us their “best effort” plan for $110/month with reduced speeds over residential customers. Speeds have typically been in the 10-30MB range, but we are keeping the cheaper DSL as a backup. Their Satellite coverage isn’t perfect and complete yet – so we get several very short outages a day. I will probably ‘combine’ the DSL and Starlink into a bundled link to get 35-50Mb service and redundancy.
I’ve started working full-time remotely this year and have needed the speed and reliability of the DSL service. Having backup internet will be nicer.
From early on, for emergency communications, we added a cellular amplifier and external directional high-gain antenna on our roof. The product is from Cel-Fi-Go X ($1000) and has been excellent. We went from no cell service at the house to good enough service: allowing for mobile phone calls in the house and some low-speed data, but it’s only 90%. It works better in winter than in summer as there are fewer leaves on the trees blocking the signal. For most voice communication we use Verizon wifi calling.
Is there anything you have in your home that most people wouldn’t expect to find in an off-grid home?
I think it surprises people when they visit on a hot and humid sunny day and come inside to find cool AC and ice cubes for their drinks.
What kinds of homesteading activities do you do?
For homestead activities, we have 6 acres of cleared land. We have chickens for meat and eggs, and a huge food garden (90×30’) that feeds us and the deer. We have planted fruit trees (yet to see much in the way of fruit), berry bushes, and grapes. Wild blackberries abound so if you don’t mind a few scratches it’s fun to collect in the summer. We can/preserve food every summer, making good and quick meals for the next year. We get milk from a neighbor’s cow and typically split a local pig or cow once a year with friends, half each. Those fill our chest freezer and we eat it down over the year. And don’t forget bees for honey!
What are your plans as you head into your retirement years? Any insights on off-grid living at different ages and stages?
We have slowly been improving the house with the idea of “aging in place” in mind. Specifically, we chose a house with a single-floor main living area with wide halls and doors for our senior years. We have started a bathroom addition which will include a curbless shower for ease of access.
What is hard about living off the grid that should you consider as you age?
Keeping up with all the land. Just bush-hogging our cleared area and keeping up the right of way/driveway takes significant time and money. The right of way/driveway seems to swallow multiple loads of gravel every couple of years.
Bush-hogging and mowing in the peak of the growing season across 5-6 acres is a full day every week or two. Growing your own food isn’t easy. Gardening requires daily attention and physical labor. You are constantly fighting the weather, wildlife, and weeds. There is also the equipment necessary: tractors, mowers, and trailers. Everything needs maintenance and repair. Things break more often than we are used to. The tractor is down again with a bad leak, or the bush-hog wrapped fence wire around the spindle, or a tree fell across the right of way. It is always something. Just try and do a little every day.
Do you miss anything about living ON the grid?
Easy access to eating out. Everything is a trip. We keep a shared and synchronized list on our phones for things we need/want from town or the hardware store, so we don’t waste a trip. Each trip takes just under 1 hour round trip to the closest small town. You don’t want to get home and realize you forgot to get the dog food!
It’s a lot of work doing without maintained roads, no phone service, no electricity – except what you make or can bring in – to build a life off-grid. YouTube doesn’t show the reality of hours and hours of land clearing, garden work, or the devastation when a predator makes it into your chicken coop. Good neighbors go a long way to an easier transition vs. going it alone.
What advice do you have for anyone considering homesteading off the grid?
It’s not easy! It takes time and energy to build a homestead. It takes more time and energy to maintain it. If you can start it when you are younger, it will be much easier than in your later years.
Put aside funds regularly for an emergency. Budget now for the next set of batteries – they have limited life – even if it’s 10 years. Panels might last 20 years. Panels and batteries are both are significant expenses when off-grid.
Set your house up for living in your later years. Either ground-floor entrances, ramps, or simple things like wide hallways and curbless showers can make life easier as we age.
Do your research before you buy! Research your new town, research your zoning codes, where is the nearest grocery store(s), and where the closest hospital is. If you have shared roadways or easements, who is responsible for maintenance? Will your shared neighbors work with you on road upkeep?
If you heat with a wood stove, check your insurance. Many insurance companies will not cover homes with wood stoves as their main heat source (or charge higher premiums).
Make sure you have a good water source, a place for septic, and good southern exposure for solar.
Where will you place the garden? Where will you place the barn/pastures? Make sure property lines are well marked, and that easements or right of ways are well documented.
Get more solar and batteries than you think you might need. If you can afford it, go with lithium for your battery technology. Lithium will last longer and charge faster than lead.
If you need internet access to do your job or live remotely comfortably, figure out your needs in advance and test it before you move out to the middle of nowhere. I first tested my LTE-based internet solution at our old house before moving it to KY. I knew it would work and that we would have a way to make/receive calls and get internet for access to work.
If you plan to keep animals, do your research! Have a plan and have your infrastructure in place before you buy the animals. Have a basic understanding of what is needed to keep them healthy and safe. How much space do they need? What type of environment? What will you do if they get sick or injured? Where is the nearest vet? How will you get the animal to the vet?
Make friends and build community. We all help each other out down here. I know if we need something our neighbors will be sure to help, and they know they can come call on us if they need anything. We all look out for each other.
There you have it!
Advice from actual people living off the grid who aren’t young YouTube stars in their 20’s and 30’s.
Whether it gave you the hope and encouragement to know you can retire off-grid, or whether it made you rethink your plans, I hope you found their advice helpful. It is so important to do your research and make decisions that are truly right for YOU.
If you need help planning and brainstorming for what your next steps are, I highly encourage you to get on the email list to access our free Planning and Budgeting PDF Guide. It’s the exact same process we used when we were weighing our options of going off-grid when we got started and I’m sure it can help you too.
Learn more about our original cordwood homestead project here. And be sure to join us on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram for more homesteading goodies that don’t necessarily make it to the blog. Thanks for reading!