Off The Grid: Difficulties

By Matt Valzania

When deciding to live off the grid, many people think of the positives that come with it. Reduced utility bills, increased independence, a stronger connection with nature and the feeling that you are leaving less of an impact on the environment. Unfortunately, it’s not all sunny days and plentiful water supplies. There are challenges and difficulties that come with living off the grid. This post will bring some of those to light.

Limited Power

Off the gridWhen a home is connected to the power grid, it can consume an almost endless amount of electricity. The drawback of this is the size of the bill you receive at the end of the month. However, when a home is off the grid, there is a finite amount of power stores available to use. If the solar array and/or wind generator is large enough to keep up with peak demand than the worry is less, but often times there is a delicate balance between the size of those systems and the budget. Batteries are used to store excess power generated in off-peak times so during peak times, when power consumption is greatest and the generating systems can’t keep up, the consuming devices can dip into stored power. However, if these devices are drained the batteries will run out of juice, and you will be without power until they can be brought back up.

To avoid this scenario, a balance needs to be in place. Careful monitoring of power consumption is a must when living off the grid. Devices like the P3 Kill A Watt enable a homeowner to see exactly how much power a device is consuming. This makes it easy to determine which devices are the heaviest consumers and whether or not it should be put on a timer to eliminate off-use consumption. These consumption numbers also help in calculating a more accurate generation system size requirement.

Limited Water

If your home is disconnected from a municipal water supply and you’re in a location without good ground water, the only options left are to truck in water or harvest the rainfall. In either case, your water is limited. Gone are the days where you leave the garden hose dripping or put off fixing that running toilet. Every gallon of water used matters, and it makes for a pretty miserable living situation when it runs out. With electricity, the last resort is a gas-powered generator. Unfortunately, there is no such solution with water.

With that being the case, careful monitoring and utilization of water consumption is a necessity. Water saving showerheads and low flow toilets are a must. Tasks like washing dishes and taking showers need to be modified. These small steps can go a long way in stretching water stores.

Along with these steps, efforts to reuse water wherever possible can really stretch your water resources. One method, especially for gardeners, is to plumb your various sink drains to run through plant beds setup within the home. These plants thrive off the constant water and food waste flow. At the same time filtering the water makes it perfect for use in toilets. The plumbing simply takes it from the beds to the toilet tanks where it can be used to carry waste out of the home and into the septic system. For this to work, the systems need to be designed and built into the home during construction.

Upfront Cost

As mentioned earlier, the initial investment into power generation equipment and designing a home to be water efficient can be costly. It is common that the power generation equipment can cost anywhere from $20,000 – $40,000 depending on the size of the system. If the overall home value is $150,000 then spending 20% of the budget just on power generation can be a tough pill to swallow. Fortunately some states and municipalities offer tax incentives, and as technology becomes more and more popular, prices are coming down drastically. Even so, this is a considerable expense that needs to be budgeted. This equipment will end up paying for itself over the course of its life, so return on investment calculations should be taken into account. Solar Simplified has a great calculator that provides some numbers on the probable return on investment.

There are other challenges that can arise when living off the grid, however most individuals that make the switch find the rewards far outweigh the disadvantages. With proper planning, due diligence and some changes to your way of life, these disruptions can be minimized. With that in mind, check out other posts on Land University regarding off the grid living.

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