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16.5 acres and a whole lotta chutzpah.
That is what we started with when we began this off-grid homesteading journey back in 2015.
It took us over two years to build it by hand. We’ve been living in it for five and counting, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We’ve built something wonderful and I feel blessed to be able to call this place home.
But it’s not a bed of roses.
Most folks who are actively seeking to off-grid homestead know this in the back of their minds, but still. It’s one thing to watch YouTube videos of guys setting up their solar panels and quite another to do it yourself.
If you’re driven by the idea of homesteading and living off the grid, here are NINE things you need to know before you dive in.
9 Things to Know About Off-Grid Homesteading
1. It’s a lot of work.
Well of course. You probably read that and rolled your eyes because, I mean, you KNOW it’s going to be hard work. That might be one reason why you’re attracted to it. The idea of building something meaningful with your own hands. Getting your fingers deep into the dirt. Sweating it out while you preserve the harvest.
All of those things are great. I don’t like to sit down and am usually happiest when my hands are covered in dirt. But there will be times that will test you.
Times when you’re unrolling PEX tubing at 3 am to have it ready for an 8 am inspection. Times when you’re frantically trying to stack the huge pile of firewood you just finished splitting before the rain hits. Or times when your power suddenly cuts out and you’re the only one who can troubleshoot it.
There are moments that make me ponder what life would be like if we had stayed in suburbia. I’ll think, “Man, it would be great if I could just have the heat on instead of having to build a fire in the wood stove.” Or, “Sure would be nice to have a big electric fridge and A/C without worrying about how much power we’re using.”
But if I reflect honestly, off-grid is a great way to live. It just isn’t instant or easy.
Related: What is living off-grid anyway?
2. Buying land or an existing homestead can be a frustrating process.
If you don’t already have raw land or an existing home, tiny home, or small cabin, buying property can be daunting. Land prices and the housing market writ large have been in a constant state of flux and uncertainty. Maybe it makes you wonder if this is even a good time to try to buy property.
Then again, maybe the constant flux and uncertainty in the world is exactly why you want to go off-grid in the first place. Perhaps preparedness is top of mind for you.
If that’s the case, there are many things you need to know before you buy your own land. For starters, raw land purchases typically require a much higher down payment if you aren’t buying it outright for cash. You may also have to contend with surveys, environmental studies, soil testing, easements, or verifying the ownership of water, mineral, or timber rights.
Buying land is a huge topic on its own, so I invite you to check out these related posts:
- 5 Things to Know Before Buying Land
- 17 Tips From Real Buyers You Need BEFORE You Buy Land
- 6 Financial Tips for Buying Land
- 18 Things to Look for in a Homesteading Property
- 3 Harsh Truths About Buying Homestead Land (and how to deal with it)
I also invite you to check out The Homestead Land Buyer’s Guidebook for a comprehensive walkthrough of the land-buying process.
3. Maintaining your property can get expensive.
From the outside, this whole off-grid homesteading thing might look pretty quaint. As if you don’t need a lot of money to make it work. Just quit your day job and stay home and live off the land, right?
That is technically possible, but it is not the norm.
A small solar power setup can run $5,000-10,000 on the low end. Even then, you’ll still likely need to pay for a generator and ongoing fuel costs to run it when there isn’t enough sun to keep the batteries full.
Related: How much solar power do I need?
For water, you’re looking at several thousand dollars for a cistern with a pump for rainwater catchment. Same if you choose to dig a well and run a line from there.
Don’t forget the septic system and the cost of pumping it every 3-5 years.
Long driveway like ours? You’ll likely spend several thousand dollars every few years when it needs new rock. Oh, and don’t forget the tractor and grader blade to maintain the driveway in the meantime. You’ll have ongoing fuel and maintenance costs on that too.
We might not have power and water bills, but we have other expenses that we wouldn’t have if we were still living in town. Consider it in your budget as you’re planning.
You can grab our free PDF planning and budgeting sheets here:
4. Consider your food sources.
One thing many off-grid homesteaders often aspire to do is grow as much of their own food as possible. Even if you’re a seasoned gardener and have lots of experience with growing and preservation, having a plan for your food is critical.
- Will your land be able to accommodate the size and type of vegetable gardens you want to grow?
- Are there existing fruit trees or room to plant some?
- Do you have a plan for perennial foods you can plant, such as asparagus or berries?
- Will you have the space and resources for any livestock you may want to keep?
- For any food you will NOT be growing on your own, do you have a plan for how to get it?
- Are there any grocery stores nearby?
- Have you identified local farmers, co-ops, herd shares, milk shares, etc. from whom you can get meat and dairy?
- Are you able to forage for wild edibles on your land?
Having access to healthy food is vital right along with this next point:
5. Plan your water sources.
Water is an increasingly critical resource. In many parts of the world, climate change and prolonged extreme heat are altering the way a lot of people access and manage their water. That’s true even (or sometimes especially) for those with city water.
Having a clean, reliable water supply is paramount to any lifestyle but is especially important on an off-grid property.
Related: How Our Family Uses a Big Berkey to Make Our Rainwater Safe to Drink
Our property is located in the Ohio River Valley region with a yearly precipitation of roughly 42 inches. Depending on the weather patterns, rainwater harvesting alone is enough to sustain us without needing to haul extra water. But when we DO need to haul water, we have plan in place for how to do it. We have a large tank on a trailer that we take to the nearest water filling station. (Thankfully it’s less than a mile from our house…we got seriously lucky with that and we know it).
But most of you won’t have a water filling station that is gloriously close to your house. You may even be in an area experiencing extreme drought. What then? Do you have a plan for how to get water? Have you investigated the water rights of your particular state, county, or township? Because it varies and is vital to know.
Related: How We Use Roughly 1/10th the Water That Most American Homes Use
As for us, we know we have an adequate supply of fresh water, but are always looking for ways to improve this. We hope to add a pond in the next few years for backup water and to be prepared in case of a fire. Designing and digging a pond is another expense of off-grid living that many might not think of. Our excavator doesn’t work for free, after all, and farm ponds aren’t just holes in the ground. There’s a science to it, and his knowledge doesn’t come cheap.
6. Solar and Wind power still cost money.
As I mentioned before, solar energy is not cheap or necessarily free. If you choose to install an off-grid system, the components alone cost a significant amount of money. It isn’t just solar panels, of course. You also need batteries, an inverter, and a charge controller at the very least.
Related: What We Ran on Our Small 1.14 kW Solar Power System
Say you choose to add wind or hydropower to that. There can be a significant cost in whatever wind turbine or hydro turbine you choose, not to mention any extra components they might require.
There are other devices you can get too, like remotes, displays, or battery monitors. And there are numerous configurations that, if you aren’t well versed in the technology, can get pretty complicated and grow more expensive the deeper you get into your project. Aim to keep these costs lower by planning your project with an actual solar professional.
Related: How to Get Started With Home Solar
I list several companies that we worked with and loved in our free Beginner’s Guide to Going Solar, which you can get below:
But once you have a solar, wind, or hydro system in place, it doesn’t just keep running ad infinitum.
Depending on the battery technology you choose, you’re going to need to set aside money to replace that battery bank every few years.
Some battery types, like flooded lead acid batteries, tend to last a lot longer but require a lot more maintenance to keep them working safely. Others, like the sealed lead-acid AGM batteries we currently have, require almost no maintenance but don’t last as long. Lithium batteries may outlast either of those, but they have different maintenance requirements and will still need to be replaced at some point.
Related: How We Went From 1.14 to 3.26 kW of Solar Power
The point is this: you might not have to pay bills to the power company when you live off the grid, but your power still isn’t “free”. Still, there are so many good things about not being tied to the electrical grid that it might be worth it for you to pursue it. There is a lot of freedom in being able to supply your own power. I love not having power outages during storms or rolling blackouts during high usage. But on the flipside, there’s this next point:
7. When your power goes out, there’s no power company to rescue you.
Sure, our power doesn’t go out during storms like it did back in town. But sometimes, things just happen. Most likely is that we ran the voltage of our battery bank down to its cutoff point and the system shut itself off. Solution: go run the generator to charge the batteries back up.
Sometimes though, you might have something weirder happen. Perhaps a wire got bumped somewhere. Or maybe a component is malfunctioning.
If for some reason the power DOES go out, we’re the ones who have to fix that. There isn’t some solar guy we can call to come look at our system for us. Most solar companies in our region only deal with grid-tied residential installs or large industrial or commercial systems. They won’t even call you back if you’re a small fish like us. So what should you do?
I recommend starting with one of Heatspring’s free online courses to get started. Or you could go overkill like we did and take a course to become a NABCEP certified solar installer (also through Heatspring).
My husband, Mark, actually did this when we were preparing to build our solar shed and expand our solar system back in 2020. This was partly to appease the electrical inspector who wanted a certified installer to put the system in. Mark also wanted to have a deeper knowledge of how to design and implement a good off-grid solar power system. After all, if the only people who can fix it are us, then we need to be as prepared and knowledgable as possible.
He took two classes through Heatspring and sat the certification exam, but you don’t necessarily have to go this far. You can take any of Heatspring’s free online courses to get started. You can always pursue the deeper coverage of a paid class after that if you need to.
Either way, maintaining your power system is a level of self-reliance you need to be ready for if you choose to live off the grid.
8. There are many different ways to off-grid homestead.
People are attracted to an off-grid lifestyle for loads of different reasons. For some, it’s about being self-reliant and not dependent on the system or public utilities to take care of your needs. For others, it’s about being connected to the land, practicing sustainable agriculture and food preservation. Others may be more interested in the sustainable living part of it. They feel good about preserving our natural resources and using solar power instead of being connected to a power plant that burns fossil fuels.
Ours started out as a practical necessity since we are too far from the road to reach the power grid, a water source, or local waste management. But we always had an itch to do things that are healthier and more environmentally conscious. We also like to be able to provide for ourselves without relying on anyone else too heavily.
Related: What even IS an Accidental Hippy anyway??
In short, our motivations were a mix, continue to evolve, and on the whole, we really enjoy living this way.
The nice thing is you can create a doable off-grid homestead basically anywhere. You don’t need much land and you can keep it small without much work if you only have a little money to start with. Heck, you don’t even have to start by being off-grid. You can have a homestead lifestyle in an apartment or even in a travel trailer.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to homestead; it’s a matter of personal preference. What you make of it is up to your mindset and practices.
That leads me to the last point:
9. Off-grid homesteading will change you as a person.
I feel like a totally different person if I look back at my writings from before we started homesteading.
There are so many things I’ve learned since 2014 when we first started looking for land. I think about what I learned from walking properties and going through the purchase process for the parcel we now have. What I learned from physically building this house from the ground up. The skills I’ve learned from gardening to soapmaking to bread baking and more.
I think about all the amazing folks in the online homesteading space who have become my very best friends, and how I never would have met them had I not taken this huge leap of faith.
Sometimes I wonder if I ever would have bothered learning about permaculture, solar power, or even homeschooling.
How likely would I have been to stay in a system that wasn’t really serving me?
I’m not sure I can ever know the answer to that, but I DO know this: even for the vast majority of people who are NOT living off the grid like we do, the homesteading space is large and growing.
I see more folks now than ever on Instagram sharing great information about gardening, permaculture, food preservation, sustainability, zero-waste, self-reliance, and various heritage skills.
Maybe I would have stumbled into this lifestyle anyway given its increasing prevalence. I don’t know.
But I know that if I wasn’t actively living in a home where I had to think about my water and power consumption on a daily basis, those self-sufficiency Reels would probably hit differently.
This lifestyle has changed me and will probably change you too if you are bold enough to pursue it.
May it change us all for the better.
Ready to learn more?
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!