The American Dream is changing – drastically.
There’s a growing number of people who no longer want a big suburban house, with a white picket fence and a Cadillac in the driveway – or the burden of debt that goes along with it. These folks have realized that material possessions do not necessarily equal happiness, and they’re creating a new dream, a new vision: one of simplicity, sustainability and environmental responsibility.
They’re going “off the grid.”
Why Go Off Grid?
The dream of living off grid is not exactly new – it dates back at least to the 1850’s, and Thoreau’s excursion to Walden Pond. If anything has changed over the years, it’s that there are more reasons than ever to drop out of the rat race and carve out a quiet life in the countryside.
There are almost as many reasons for living off grid as there are people who do it. But some of the most common are:
- Save money
- Security, self-sufficiency
- Freedom & independence
- Distrust of government & corporations
- Live simply, consume less stuff
- Live sustainably, conserve energy
- Get away from urban life, get closer to Nature
- Live sustainably, go green
Some go off grid out of necessity, others are longing for an alternative lifestyle. One that doesn’t involve working your life away at some mindless job, just to pay for stuff you don’t want or need. Living off grid means less stuff, but more freedom. It’s hard work, for sure – but on your own terms.
5 Examples Of Off Grid Living
Of course, another thing that has changed since the Walden days is technology. Some brilliant minds have turned their creativity toward off grid living. And through the magic of the internet, they can share what they’ve done with the rest of us!
If you’ve dreamed of living off grid, here are 5 of the most impressive, and most affordable, ways to go about it:
1. Tiny House
Tiny houses are all the rage these days. Often built on trailer frames (as a way to get around building codes), these mini-homes average just 186 square feet – which is one third the size of a studio apartment (average 550 sq. ft.).
That’s pretty damn cozy.
The average cost to build one for yourself is just $23,000 – considerably less if you can source recycled materials. And there is a wealth of tips and advice online, which include composting toilets, solar panels, and everything you need for going off grid.
Of course, you’ll need some land to park it on. So you’ll have to pay for lot rental, or save up and buy your own land. Even, then you’ll be paying property tax. But if your land has a well, stream or other source of clean water, then that’s pretty much all you’ll be paying!
2. Shipping Container Houses
Building homes out of shipping containers dates back at least to the 1970’s, and a British architect named Nicholas Lacey. Since then, they’ve also been used for office buildings and commercial spaces – the U.S. military even used them as portable shelters during operation Desert Storm, and fortified them with sandbags.
Shipping container homes vary wildly, from the basic “Tin Can Cabin” to luxurious, sprawling ocean front mansions. They can be built for as little as $20,000, but average much more. The Container of Hope (pictured above) was built in Costa Rica for only $40,000.
Again, you’ll need to buy or rent some land to build it on. But if you invest in quality solar panels, rain catchers, composting toilet and other off grid essentials, you can keep your living costs pretty low.
3. Solar Cabin
People have been living in secluded cabins since before there was a grid to get off of. But now, solar panels and satellite dishes make it possible to take the classic cabin in the woods to a whole new level.
And there is no better example or finer resource for those interested in solar cabins than LaMar Alexander, founder of simplesolarhomesteading.com. LaMar built his cozy little palace for only $2000 (yes, you read that right – just two grand), and started his own website and YouTube channel to teach others how to do the same. You can find everything there, from cabin blueprints to how to find affordable land and build your own wood furnace.
Oh, and be sure to check out his original songs too. Seriously, this guy is my hero…
Ecocapsules are tiny, portable dwellings equipped with built-in solar panels, wind turbine, toilet, shower and kitchenette with sink and stove – all somehow compressed into a futuristic, egg-shaped pod which is less than 8 ft. wide and 15 ft. long.
While they are designed to be temporary dwellings – for camping, wilderness research, disaster relief, etc. – I see no reason why you couldn’t live in one permanently. They can supposedly hold a year’s worth of food and supplies before needing to be restocked, and they are small and light enough to be hauled just about anywhere.
The bad news: the price is yet to be announced. And the cost of shipping alone, from Slovakia (where they’re made) to the US, would be around $1,500.
5. Earthship Homes
Earthship is a registered trademark of Michael Reynolds of Taos, NM. It took him decades to develop and perfect the idea of these extremely energy efficient homes, built largely of recycled materials.
Earthships are constructed using rammed earth walls – used tires that are packed full of dirt, stacked like bricks and plastered into place. Their passive solar design keeps you warm in winter and cool in the summer, using only sunlight and air flow. They usually incorporate rainwater collection, water recycling, solar panels and indoor greenhouse into the design, for the ultimate in self-sufficient, off grid living.
The most basic model can be built for around $20,000, but the more elaborate, modern and comfortable designs will cost quite a bit more ($70,000 and up). And besides the cost of land, it can be challenging to even find a place where building codes permit this type of home.
But living off the grid doesn’t get any better than this – if you can afford it.
Whatever type of home you choose, the true cost of off-grid living depends on a few different factors:
How much time can you afford to spend on researching, designing and building your home? You can save A LOT of money by sourcing recycled materials and doing the labor yourself – but it takes time. A long time. Like a year of full-time (if not more) devotion, maybe two.
You can always save on cost by cutting back on quality, but do you really want to? In the long run, it’s often wiser to invest more in the beginning for a home that is going to more comfortable, more durable, and ultimately better all around.
This is the big question: what do you really need, and what are you willing to do without?
Can you live without running water, television, internet, central heating and A/C? Can you stand the isolation of living way out in the sticks, miles from your nearest neighbor? Are you willing to grow your own food, raise livestock, chop wood, fetch your water from a mountain stream?
The more simple your lifestyle, the lower your cost of living. Period.
So going off the grid requires some serious planning and deep introspection. It’s possible to live on no money at all, if you really want to. But most people are going to want to find some middle ground between roughing it like a pioneer, and the cost and convenience of the urban jungle.
Take a look at your life, your habits and expenses. Look inside yourself, and ask, “What do I really want? What do I need to be happy?”
And consider these inspiring examples of how we can live simply and comfortably, while greatly reducing our cost of living, and our impact on the environment.